Mightier Than The Pen

Making The World A Bitter Place

Archive for May 2010

A Vast Waistland

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While most students cowered in terror or resignation at the mere thought of exams, this youngster looked forward to them. Which raises the question: how does one cower in resignation? Is that like shuddering with beauty?

It’s possible I relished tests because they meant I didn’t have to pay more attention to the teacher that day. It’s also possible, though less likely, that my superior intellect and memory accounted for the phenomenon. If you believe that, well, you might have fit in swimmingly with my classmates, if you catch my drift.

Another possibility is the motivational tool my father employed starting in about eighth grade, but possibly earlier: every ten tests on which I scored 90% or higher could be redeemed for an ice cream sundae. Even better, ten perfect scores would be good for a full pint. A pint of chocolate ice cream with hot fudge over the top.

This fell into a pattern of incentives my parents employed through our childhood, most notably the contract binding the children not to watch TV in the house for a full year, in exchange for one hundred dollars each. Exceptions could be made for special events, such as the Word Series, or school assignments, et al. In fact the original contract recently turned up, and perusing it allowed me to reacquaint myself with some of its provisions, to wit: payment would take place in fifty-dollar installments every six months; one violation would reduce the reward for everyone, and a second one would cancel the arrangement entirely; TV at other houses was not covered by the contract; video game systems attached to the TV were not included (but there were some short-lived limitations on that at some point). We renewed the contract year after year, until such time as our parents were satisfied that they had instilled in us a lifestyle free of dependence on TV.

That dependence loomed when my younger brother convalesced in a body cast following leg surgery. To help occupy him, we subscribed to cable, and pretty soon the tube was in operation almost continuously from about 8 AM to 11 PM. It was a fine time – we became acquainted with all sorts of classic shows on Nickelodeon: The Monkees, Mr. Ed, Donna Reed. But that came to a swift end when the body cast came off. We whined. We pleaded. We beseeched. We made all sorts of promises, to no avail. And that’s definitely a good thing. We don’t have a TV in our home now, at least not one connected to an antenna or cable. Instead, we spend our time trying to get the kids to clean their room.

Incentives might work for them, but we’re even more neurotic about junk food than my folks were about TV (interestingly, my father spends much of his time watching downloaded TV shows, whereas we couldn’t care less about Lost, American Idol or whichever incarnation of Survivor or Fear Factor is all the rage this year). We need alternatives. How about I get an ice cream every time I pick up all of their books?

Written by Thag

May 31, 2010 at 4:01 pm

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Are We There Yet?

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One of my favorite lines in all of literature comes from a Tom Clancy novel (cue complaints that I have referred to Tom Clancy novels as literature)(yet we need not worry which novel it was since, let’s be honest, they’re all the same – but we enjoy them anyway, like ordering the same dish every time you visit that one dairy restaurant that used to be at the corner of Prospect and Central Avenues…)(You know which place I mean: they had a salad bar that you were allowed to use if they gave you one of those thin wooden bowls, and they had the best baked macaroni and cheese, and no matter how many times our parents took us, that would be what we got, to the point that they all but begged us to try other items on the menu, of course to no avail)(I remember going there on a date. Well, not a date, but yeah, a date. It was wonderful and awkward at the same time. You see, the outing was a birthday treat from a friend, with the awkwardness stemming from the fact that this friend was, um, my brother’s girlfriend, and I had no compunctions about expressing affection for her, though to this day I remain uncertain to what degree that was just for the effect it had on my brother, over whom, in general, I had precious little influence, so I did relish the moments I could exert some control)(You’re just waiting for the main topic of this post to emerge. Be patient. We’ll get there, inshallah)(To get to that restaurant without the medium of parental transportation, an early teen had to take a bus through six Long Island villages from where we lived, and then of course do the same on the way back. I don’t remember the ride there, but I do remember sitting with her in discomfited silence at the back of the bus most of the way back. For all that we were friends, I had no idea how to talk to her alone)(That’s one thing that’s changed about me in the last twenty or so years: I can walk up to people and start a conversation without being paralyzed by fear of social rejection. Time was, I could barely breathe when a girl walked by, let alone – gasp! – engage one in conversation. They were these untouchable goddesses, especially the pretty ones)(that changed during high school when, in less than two years,  I went from Hopeless Dweeb to, in the words of the hottest babe in the school, hot, at least as she expressed to my other brother, who of course never had a problem talking to girls, only at the time, I was so flabbergasted by his report of the remark that I couldn’t eat for the rest of the day, and thankfully had the timidity not to call her up right away and ask her out, which, come to think of it, would have been a hopelessly dweebish thing to do, not to mention put my brother in the uncomfortable position of having obviously relayed a tidbit that might not have been meant for me, although honestly, why would she say that to him, of all people, if she really expected it not to reach me?)(I promise, we’ll get to the point, inshallah)(And thereafter I don’t recall any social unease, a result probably attributable to the very different populations of the elementary and high schools I attended, the latter of which allowed unfettered association with classmates regardless of whether one’s wardrobe featured Benetton, Girbaud or Banana Republic in minimally acceptable proportions)(Not that I am bitter)(Damn straight I’m bitter. How do such shallow people cultivate and sustain healthy relationships? What kind of parents broadcast shameless conspicuous consumption without regard for the effect it has on their kids’ development? I used to envy them; now I pity them)(we’re almost there, inshallah), in which a character muses that the Arabic inshallah is, “like mañana, but without the urgency.”

Written by Thag

May 30, 2010 at 8:34 pm

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Wrestling with Reality

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We shall now address the hordes of MTTP readers considering a career in professional wrestling.

(Let’s just pause for a moment and consider that line. Rife with implications, it all but cries out for analysis, or at least a stiff drink. You go ahead; we’ll be right here when you get back.)

(While those idiots are gone, feel free to make fun of them. Thank you.)

(Oh, good! Welcome back! Ooh – better sit down carefully, now. You wouldn’t want to spill that raspberry-artichoke daiquiri all over your keyboard.)

Yes: a career in professional wrestling. I need not tell you that such a direction necessitates equipping yourself with any number of skills and tools: drive to succeed; grace under pressure; surliness and chest-thumping; complete lack of nuance of expression. But most of all, you need a stage name. Your current name, as beautiful and inspired as it is, fails to conjure up the necessary flouting of authority, and certainly does not call to mind the terrible violence and humiliation to which you intend to subject your opponents.

You have given this some thought, that much is clear. However, your selections, albeit preliminary, indicate a lack of clarity regarding the effect you wish to achieve.

Let’s start with your first choice, The Human Frisbee. It certainly has absurdity going for it, but you must combine that with ferocity or cruelty. Indeed, The Human Frisbee all but invites your opponent to hurl you over the ropes and into the cheering crowd, which will look on, hoping to see you spin as you fly through the air.

You should also reconsider The Human Pancake. The reasons should be obvious by now.

Let’s move on then, to Dead Man Walking. You did manage to capture something of horror, but the effect is quite the opposite of what you should seek, at least if your goal is to intimidate. The same can be said for your last suggestion, God’s Sloth. That one conveys mystery, but the mystery lies mostly in why you would choose such a name.

You have a number of other suggested names here, but I think you will see we can dismiss most of them out of hand: The Flower Petal. Dirty Diaper. The Walking Wedgie. That last one does have the capacity to horrify, and you could take that in some interesting, pander-to-the-lowest-common-denominator Jerry Springer directions, but really: you’re just inviting humiliation upon yourself.

So please, go back and come up with some fiercer suggestions. You might wish to work in the concept of “killer,” but do please avoid Killer Diarrhea. And we mean the name, as well.

Written by Thag

May 30, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Any Resemblance to Real Persons Is Strictly Coincidental

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A recent poll of household nine-year-olds reveals that, contrary to parental expectations, sharing a room with siblings aged five and three provides a primarily positive environment.

Widely publicized statements originating with Robert Homer, the target demographic, had in the past led researchers to believe that younger siblings were considered “annoying” or “in my way all the time”. The new study, conducted in mid-May, produced its share of surprises, according to Dave Homer, who co-authored the study with his colleague, Debra Homer. “Casual observation of the relevant population indicated a relatively high level of resentment of brother and sister,” writes Homer. “However, direct interviews conducted after school and just before bedtime consistently featured positive, even affectionate dispositions toward the Peter Homer and Maxine Homer population segments.”

As evidence, the study authors point to specific characterizations by Robert Homer of Peter and Maxine as “really funny” and “really cute”, respectively. Further, the researchers state, the target demographic’s willingness to share dessert and snacks with the other relevant population groups has only grown in recent months. They also cite an incident in which the subjects were observed not fighting over the special green chair in the playroom.

“These findings point to exciting new developments in Robert Homer behavioral modes,” said Claire Dugan, Debra Homer’s mother, who was not involved in the research any more than the parents would allow, for fear that her tendency to shower the target population with undivided attention might skew the results. “The maturity that the nine-year-old group has shown in this survey testifies to the skilled parenting in action recently.”

Others criticized the study, saying that it failed to account for a number of important factors. “That woman is far too strict with the subjects,” said Myrna Homer, a grandmother of three and a critic of Homer maternal parenting. “Later bedtimes were in order at least a year ago, and implementing that policy could have forestalled any of the perceived antagonism expressed before the survey. This really should surprise no one.”

The study authors expect to follow up with research into the morning routine of the same demographic. According to Debra Homer, “The number of times the parents must remind the target population to ‘get moving’ on school mornings warrants further study.”

Written by Thag

May 24, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Brew Haha

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If the reports extracted from my derrière are accurate, the number of regular coffee drinkers has only grown over the last few years (I’ll just pause here to let you reflect on the occurrence, in the same sentence, of the terms “derrière” and “regular”).

This hardly comes as a surprise, given the always-awake, always-on-line world we inhabit (and not, as Paul McCartney denies he redundantly sang in Live and Let Die, “world in which we live in”. Listen and judge for yourself, however. Sir Paul has let a fabrication or two past his lips from time to time), and the pressure to perform, achieve, accumulate meaningless masses of Facebook friends.

All well and good. Personally, I only sporadically imbibe the stuff, such as when a particularly tempting brew is tendered after a restaurant meal, or when my sleep deficit has reached unmanageable proportions and bedtime will not arrive for another half-day. But I do acknowledge a common need, often developed when you were young and stupid, to stake your functionality on the presence of caffeine in your cellular receptors. What attracts my notice, however, is the continued flourishing of high-end, pretentiously named coffees who have managed to convince legions of consumers that blowing a few bucks on some roasted bean granule extract is a good thing if said concoction bears an Italian title. Does it occur to you, I ask, that you just laid out an amount that could feed a pauper, just for a cupful of something named “milk” in Italian? Do you think that if you went to, say, Milan, and asked for latte in a coffee shop, you would get coffee, or just strange looks? I suggest you try it and report back to me.

Given the way some people take their coffee, “milk” describes the beverage reasonably well; one can only expect, then, that particular variations of it would also go by Italian for “sugar”. But that doesn’t sound pretentious enough, even in Italian.

Written by Thag

May 24, 2010 at 11:41 am

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Repast Its Prime

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OK, new rule: if it takes me more time to wash the dishes you’ve used than it does for you to eat the food, you haven’t had enough.

I respect your efforts to maintain or reduce your weight; to control your intake of whatever ingredients the dietary zeitgeist deems verboten; and to subscribe to the unproven prevailing wisdom that fat = bad. But I take it as a personal affront that you will not consent to take more than an obscenely thin slice of my cheesecake – cake that you now concede, or already knew, ranks far higher than any other.

Not that thin slices in and of themselves pose such a problem. Indeed, some desserts will do only in that form. Cheesecake, however, does not answer to that description. Cheesecake, properly made, must weigh on the fork as would weapons-grade uranium, only more precious and dangerous.

(The local sensibilities regarding cheesecake result in a pathetic, airy concoction that produces violent retching in anyone with New York cheesecake expectations. Follow this simple formula, you pathetic excuses for pastry chefs: sponge cake ≠ cheesecake. You do not want fluffy; you want dense, rich and creamy. Now go reread that formula until you feel capable of using something other than low-fat, runny swill. Cream cheese, dear people, not hoity-toity substitutions or cheap imitations.

This pontification carries the risk of exuding more arrogance than usual, which constitutes quite a feat. However, those of you who have sampled my cheesecake will understand how the situation at hand justifies the superciliousness.

This does not mean to imply that someone who cannot afford to pack a cheesecake with upwards of two pounds of cream cheese must close up shop; far from it – you work with what you have. I address my vitriol to the so-called bakers in these parts whose establishments otherwise serve passable, even downright fabulous, baked goods, including some of the most delicious cheese danish this side of the Lower East Side. It mystifies me that when it comes to this one type of dairy dessert (breakfast, lunch, dinner at midnight snack, ideally, but let’s stick with the pretense), someone stuck the accursed idea in their heads that the goal is light and fluffy).

But back to your plate. When you enter my dining room, you play by entirely different rules. Here, crispy, greasy potato slivers baked in chicken fat rule, and our philosophy is reflected in a a line from an undeservedly obscure Shoe strip: vegetables ain’t food; vegetables are what food eats. Take your sprouted wheat this and your tofu that and leave them at the doorstep – preferably your own. If dinner did not result in overeating-induced discomfort, dinner failed.

So please, help make the meal a success. Come here and get stuffed.

Written by Thag

May 23, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Perhaps “Original” Is Too Weak a Word

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Rock-a-bye baby on the treetop,
The child welfare agents will put a stop
To the abuse that does them appall –
What parent would put you on something so tall?

Ring around a rosy
The neighbors got too nosy.
Ashes, ashes,
Their house burned down.

As I was going to St. Ives
I came down with a case of hives.
Each hive had seven pustules
Each pustule, seven lives.
Lives, sores, pus, hives:
Remind me why I should be in St. Ives?

Jack be nimble,
Jack be quick:
Jack’s real secret:
An asbestos wick.

Thirty days have September
The rest of this I can’t remember
Mostly because there are myriad ways
To render the dog’rel ’bout months and their days.
Some versions struggle to fit in a rhyme
Using “February,” which, uh, doesn’t really lend itself to that.

Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb
Mary had little lamb, whose fleece was white as snow.
She had it with a side of rice, side of rice, side of rice
She had it with a side of rice and a baked po-ta-to.

Written by Thag

May 23, 2010 at 10:42 am

Return of the… of the… You Know

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I hereby apologize to my loyal readership of seven people for neglecting to share my random synapse contents with you over the last five days or so. The other eight of you can jump in a lake. And just to demonstrate I have no hard feelings, you get to choose which lake.

Having virtually no internet access since Sunday morning has brought a certain clarity to life. It has become clear, for example, that I don’t like having virtually no internet access (“Excuse me, tech support? I ordered a pizza online. How do I download it?”).

Fortunately, many other aspects of life have managed to fill the void quite nicely; I refer here to cheesecake and ice cream. Specifically, Ben and Jerry’s chocolate ice cream contained within a pie consisting of an Oreo crust and a fudge topping. Our dear guests can rest easy knowing they saved us the daunting task of finishing off more leftovers than we expected. They didn’t know this at the time, but we still have a second one in the freezer. That’ll probably serve as dinner for two this evening. To hell with the leftover salmon.

What? I hear you respond. Is that all your life consists of? Well, no; there’s also going through the motions of cleaning dishes, and bossing the kids around as they “sort” laundry. You have not lived until you have experienced the cluelessness of a kid who cannot (yet?) tell the difference between men’s and women’s briefs (helpful hint: there are no more helpful hints. Fashion has declared war on the traditional shapes, styles and colors of undergarments, and you will be hard pressed to distill a truly universal rule for distinguishing. But you may try. Call me when you finish and we’ll both share a laugh at your expense).

Now, however, some semblance of order has returned to the universe, as I have restored, though still very limited, access. Unfortunately, like the unnecessarily passive voice, the new wireless adapter leaves much to be desired. But access will continue to be had, even if the appliance must be returned to the store and exchanged for a superior model. No fear should be had by you; only a brief additional period of limited posting should be anticipated.

And a good night should be had.

Written by Thag

May 20, 2010 at 8:36 pm

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Eat, Drink and Be Merry, for Tomorrow We Dry

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One of these days we’ll get a pet, but that will have to wait until our children are old enough to take care of it by themselves, because WE sure won’t.

Oh, we love animals – and I don’t just mean in the same way as we love chocolate, though the thought of a good steak has my mouth watering right now. But we have enough trouble caring for the few plants unfortunate enough to have us as owners. Even the sturdy old mainstay, Julius (of course we give our plants names – how else would we distinguish among them, since we have no clue what kinds of plants they are?), a tree that lasted about ten years, up and died on us last year. We didn’t change anything about his care, the same policy of strategic negligence that allowed him (her?) to outgrow his first two containers. But we couldn’t reverse the loss of leaves, and were far too lazy to do anything more demanding than sweep them up.

The plants we have owned did not reach our possession by request (not ours and DEFINITELY not theirs). They arrived as gifts, and many lasted more than a month or two before our black thumb kicked in. The sole survivor right now is a semi-desiccated vine-like thing we call Floyd, who flourished for a while but has seen better days in five years with us.

So yeah. Pets will wait.

The funny thing is, it’s not like either my wife or I grew up (I was SO tempted to end the sentence there, but that would get us more sidetracked than usual) in homes devoid of pets. We have plenty of exposure to pet care between us: she had a cat, and apparently a hamster existed way back when; we had an assortment of easy-to-kill fish, followed by a snake or two, and a bunch of guinea pigs thrown into the mix at its peak.

But the kids, at least in my family, always served as the primary caretakers of the animals. The major exception involved the boa constrictor, whose diet demanded a live mouse every couple of weeks, which required a parental drive to the pet store.

Therein lies the primary difference between then and now, consistent with our current lack of desire to bring another creature into our care and thereby guarantee its premature death. If the kids are willing to shoulder the burden of care, we’ll go along – but that won’t happen for quite some time. Come to think of it, they do look a little thin. I wonder what to do about that?

Written by Thag

May 13, 2010 at 4:10 pm

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Cleanliness Is Next to Impossible

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You know that feeling wildlife afficionados get when they discover that a species they thought had gone extinct in fact appears to be flourishing? We get that feeling around here every now and then.

For example, I could swear that the boys’ bedroom actually had a floor at some point, but we go long, long periods without catching sight of it. We see plenty of toys, books, laundry and assorted trash, but no floor. I’ve learned the hard way not to enter the room barefoot, lest a stray piece of LEGO pierce my sole. Imagine my excitement, then, upon overseeing the operation that cleared the landfill, when the original floor became visible!

Generally, porcelain does not change color as it ages, but our bathroom sinks have made us challenge the prevailing wisdom in that regard. They certainly started out white, but for quite a while they have been getting steadily and gradually darker, with brownish yellow ochre becoming the predominant hue, though it does sport a blue splotch or two in places. Well, just about two months ago we had occasion to wipe something out of the sink, and lo! A flash of white! It was hiding underneath the brownish yellow the whole time!

My wife accused me of painting the sink, but she should know better; I couldn’t paint myself into a corner. My prowess in household maintenance remains a secret even to me: we needed to fix a wooden training bicycle, and the task required drilling. We do own a drill, but only two or three masonry bits and no standard ones.

My father, of course, has a fully functional set of Y chromosomes and therefore possesses a full complement of power tools and their accessories, whereas other people have used our drill far more often than we have in the eleven years we’ve had it. I made some noises about not being able to repair the bike because we don’t have the bits. So Dad took the bike and patched it up, returning it to us with a set of standard bits and an admonishment that I really should know how to do all this typically masculine stuff.

It’s not the lack of know-how that dissuades me, however. A combination of apathy, laziness and fear of my own klutziness does that. Even if I knew precisely where to make the hole in the bike and which bit to use, I’d end up destroying the whole thing, and possibly ruining the drill, bit and all.

A similar philosophy appears to pervade the other spheres of household maintenance: laundry sits in hampers (and of course on floors) until clothing begins to run short, and then again the dryer and baskets until it runs short again, until every so often when all the baskets get dumped on our bed and the contents sorted. Once there, however, a pile of laundry can sit for days at a time until returning to its place in drawers and closets. Better to contort oneself at night than to make the effort to properly stow the stuff. I mean, it belongs all the way in the other rooms, a full fifteen or twenty feet away!

We have two dishwashers, but working up the will to load them – especially when that requires unloading first – usually demands more effort than we tend to deem acceptable. The kitchen sinks, countertops and dining room table, consequently, spend much of their time buried under a rotating assortment of dishes and implements. Just this afternoon I actually washed a few dishes and caught a glimpse of the stainless steel sink bottom peeking out from beneath a protective layer of what seems to be egg, rice, curdled milk and terminally soggy corn flakes. I reassured the sink surface that it would not remain dangerously exposed for long. You can’t be too careful with these things.

Written by Thag

May 12, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Amazon.com Still Won’t Return My Calls

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It’s time for more entries in our continually inexhaustive list of  Children’s Books You Will Never See.

What Bears Do in the Woods
Hansel and Gretel and Other Recipes
Mouse Tail Soup by the Farmer’s Wife
Flossing Is for Losers
See Spot Have the Runs
Pus in Boots
The Very Hungry Caterpillar with Anorexia Nervosa
The Scat in the Hat
Adolf, Heinrich, Josef and Hermann Get into Trouble
You, Too, Can Look Like Barbie!

Written by Thag

May 12, 2010 at 2:42 pm

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Read this Post or I’ll Beat You Up

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My mother is fond of quoting a friend who once characterized the job of a two-year-old as follows: to destroy the world.

We have four children, currently ages one through nine, and I must admit I find that assertion problematic. It completely ignores the significant contributions of three-, four- and five-year-olds.

Moreover, it casts all two-year-olds from a single mold, when if fact our experience demonstrates an acute difference between the male and female sets in this regard: boys of that age do tend to destroy everything in their path – likely the precursor of the propensity of (ahem) mature males to disassemble anything that prompts curiosity. The girls, however, focus their destructiveness more narrowly.

Our nearly three-year-old daughter would never tear apart a book, or bang toys until they break, or carve patterns into the table with a knife (and even her graffiti on our staircase walls seems more artistic), but she has become quite adept at blitzkrieg attacks on her one-year-old brother. I rather suspect that if cultivated, this, uh, skill will manifest itself years from now as a talent for artful character assassination of high school peers. It’ll be so very.

But back to the main objection: the two-year-old capacity for resentful, wanton physical destruction pales in comparison to that of the more highly developed child, one capable of violently taking out anger on the possessions of the perceived perpetrator of injustice. What’s more, that capacity does not necessarily wane for many years: at age 14, I got sick just in time to stay in the infirmary at summer camp while the rest of the kids in the division embarked on a three-day camping trip. They released me on the second day of the trip, and upon returning to our empty quarters, I used that opportunity to completely wreck the bed and strew the cubby contents of a bully. More on that story some other time.

I realize I’m making some big generalizations here, and yes, perhaps you have an unholy terror for a daughter (or niece or student or neighbor). Shut up. This is MY blog.

Written by Thag

May 12, 2010 at 7:52 am

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Sighs, Matters

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In a classic Peanuts strip, Snoopy sits atop his doghouse plunking away at his typewriter. A Tale of Two Cities, he types. Woodstock chimes in with a comment, and Snoopy revises: Of Human Bondage. Again, Woodstock has what to say. Snoopy gnashes his teeth in frustration and exclaims, “I have a great idea for a novel, but all the good titles are taken!”

I have the opposite problem: I came up with some very good titles, but they denote content I feel incapable of producing properly. The most illustrative example occurred this afternoon as I mulled over titles for my previous post.

My father mostly goes by the name Sy. He doesn’t have a blog, but the flash of inspiration I had today makes me want to assume his identity just to produce it under the name: Sy’s Matters.

For some reason, he didn’t feel compelled to adopt the writing project solely based on the sheer unbelievably awesome doodness of the name.

Written by Thag

May 10, 2010 at 7:25 pm

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The Unbearable Heaviness of Being

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Those of us with a deep-seated psychological need to have someone to mock will be thrilled that it’s still OK to make fun of fat people.

You might hear some grumbling from atheists that they remain the only group against whom one may freely spout venom – and they do attract their share of vitriol – but when it comes to sheer, unmonitored, uncontrolled received quantity of mockery, fat people just crush atheists. They make much easier targets.

What’s more, atheist-bashing generally tends toward the earnest end of the spectrum, with existential, ideological and political issues underlying every utterance; whereas it’s just plain fun to make fun of fat people, and who wants to be so grave all the time? How often, comparatively, do the kids in the schoolyard all gang up on poor little Bertha for not believing in a Supreme Being? “You’re so fat” carries a heck of a lot more weight than most other jibes – even when it fails factual examination, the label, however loose-fitting, can nevertheless do irreparable damage.

The issue is much broader than that, of course, extending way beyond the schoolyard, and modern society feeds us a steady diet of infatuation with appearances much more than it addresses anything related to belief. Perhaps this stems from the American sensibility that obeisance to religion remains an essentially private, laissez-faire affair, whereas people publicly display their girth by default.

Only in recent years has there been anything close to growing awareness of this phenomenon and its possibly morbid implications for psychological well-being. Naturally, those who subscribe to the ethos of, “I ridicule, therefore I am,” will eventually have to find a more politically correct outlet.

In itself, though, fatness lends itself to ridicule because people see in it a massive character flaw: lack of self control. If you demonstrate gross negligence of yourself and your appearance, why should I exert myself to do otherwise? Obviously, a host of factors beyond an individual’s control join to lay the groundwork for an unhealthy, fat-friendly lifestyle, but since when does mockery focus on complexities? Even if fatness ever ceases to fill a negative niche in the public psyche, that day remains quite a long way off.

So if you happen to be among those who absolutely must find someone to mock in order to feel good about your pathetic, fat self, you can go ahead and indulge that urge for now. I’d do the same, but all this typing has winded me.

Written by Thag

May 10, 2010 at 11:32 am

Funny, My Thumb Doesn’t *Feel* Sore

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We don’t fit into our granola-centered neighborhood very well. This observation will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with either us or our little slice of the world, but only recently have we come to appreciate the full extent of our square-peggedness.

This comes as something of a surprise to me, though, because neither I nor my wife ever considered ourselves remotely normal. But in considering our situation, characteristics, habits, likes and dislikes, we came to the undeniable conclusion several months ago that we live hopelessly bland lives, at least in comparison to everyone in the immediate vicinity.

For what it’s worth, when we shared this conclusion, and the evidence supporting it, with dear friends who have known us for many years, they lost their ability to speak, so suffocated were they by laughter. Yet when pressed to point to a even a single trait that made us weird, they could not – though they did well in the just-look-at-each-other-and-laugh department.

As for our, um, seamless integration into the neighborhood: neither of us comes from Middle Eastern ancestry; neither of us plays an instrument, let alone has cut a CD (my wife’s college a capella group CD notwithstanding); we eat white flour – heck, we eat wheat; we eat refined sugar (and margarine!); we eat meat, eggs and fish; and we adhere to Western modalities of medical treatment instead of homeopathy, therapeutic touch, aromatherapy, and myriad other alternative approaches; and our wardrobes feature clothes that wouldn’t stand out anywhere in the modern world. In short, we’re normal.

But try telling that to our friends, who have become so wedded to the idea of us as misfits that they could not wrap their heads around the alternative. I put it to the readership, then: is it abnormal to harbor an intense like of chocolate? To like penguins or moose? To sing lines from Broadway or Hollywood musicals? To plan dessert first? To ignore laundry until the only clean clothes available would shame a blind hobo? Stop me before I get carried away.

This revelation carries with it a sense of relief: in our ‘hood, we can be misfits just by being our bland, nondescript selves. Want a brownie? No, it’s not “special”; What kind of a freak do you think I am?

Written by Thag

May 9, 2010 at 6:33 pm

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*Almost* All Things Great and Small

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Few creatures drive me into a murderous rage as do mosquitoes. Fortunately, I have the perfect outlet for the resultant aggressiveness: a zapper paddle.

About ten years ago, my in-laws were staying with us,  and were roused in the middle of the night by the following series of sounds emanating from our bedroom:

Paff! Paff!
Swish-Whap! Whap! Whap!

In case that eloquent, cogent narration somehow failed to convey the sequence of events, that was me flailing at a mosquito somewhere near my pillow; turning on the light; fetching a random item of dirty laundry from the hamper; swinging away and eventually crushing that bit of bloodsucking hellspawn into a blotch on the wall, producing a victory yelp, followed by turning off the light and returning to bed.

No doubt this midnight sound and light show provided all the entertainment my wife’s folks sought at that hour, but they knew talent when they saw it, and soon purchased a simple contraption that has paid great dividends in the murderous catharsis department ever since: it looks like a badminton racket (if one is mentioning badminton, is one allowed to use that déclassé spelling in the same sentence, or must one use racquet?) with a button on the handle. Press the button and a current flows through the wire mesh of the racket top, zapping whatever deserving vermin with which it happens to make contact (the current is enough to hurt a person slightly, but otherwise does no harm).

Different mosquitoes seem to die in myriad ways with this zapper. Some merely stick to the mesh, apparently bonded to it as a portion of their exoskeleton cooks; some actually channel sparks up and down their writhing little bodies; a few do me the favor of exploding dramatically with a satisfying “pop!”

Lest it seem that I revel in the destruction of fellow life forms, rest assured that mosquitoes are not life forms in any reasonable sense: they fill no indispensable ecological niche, pollinate no (or vanishingly few) plants and exist merely to reproduce by feeding their eggs with blood. I rather suspect that their existence stems from some sort of cosmic joke.

Ministering angel 1: Lord, what a wonderful universe!
Lord: Indeed, but I must say that was predictable, given My nature. I have an itch to do something different.
Ministering angel 1: Different? In what way? Will You create another universe?
Lord: No, this one will do. I’ll just create a group of creatures so purposeless and annoying – not to mention disease-ridden – that man’s ego will be kept in check.
Ministering angel 2: Do you mean politicians, Lord?
Lord: No, but the way you think has found favor in My eyes. I shall make those, too.

So I shall continue to roast mosquitoes at every opportunity, whether or not avian flu is upon us.

Anyone know where I can get AA batteries in bulk?

Written by Thag

May 8, 2010 at 7:02 pm

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Barnes & Noble Keeps Hanging Up on Me

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About nine years ago I began compiling a list of children’s book titles that you will never see. OK, so “began” is too strong a word; I came up with a list one day, and revisited the subject a few times over the intervening years. I suspect that we cannot exhaust this topic in one post, so expect another revisit or two soon, especially if my writer’s block comes back. Feel free to submit your own suggestions in the comments.

As a caveat, although the original list(s) included entries of a less-than-family-friendly nature, we shall refrain from such explicit titles here. You know, because we harbor so much concern for the young’uns.

Jeffrey Dahmer’s Fridge
101 Rhino Poop Recipes
Nobody Likes You Because You’re Just Ugly
It’s OK to Make Fun of Fat People
Freddy Krueger’s Big Book of Bedtime Stories
Curious George Pisses Off the Man in the Yellow Hat One Time Too Many
Loretta Lamaar Loves to Lynch!
If You Wet the Bed, the Monsters Will Get You
Life After Death: the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Maggot-Ridden Corpses
Start Your Own Booger Collection
Vegetables Will Kill You
Seat Belts Are for Losers
Yummy Blue Pills
Words that Will Get Mommy and Daddy Very Angry
Help Yourself to Some Scotch
Put the FUN in Fundamentalism!
Lawsuit Linda and the Roman Catholic Priest
Pickpocket Primer
Daddy’s Secret Stash
God Took Mommy Away Because You Don’t Deserve Her

Written by Thag

May 6, 2010 at 11:31 am

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We Hold These Truths to Be Self Evident, but Some People Need Reminding

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This installment of Maintaining Your Spouse touches on hygiene and cleanliness, but not really.

Ladies, I wish to address you first, but not because I believe you require more urgent attention in the hygiene department. To the contrary, you have shown time and time again that the extra bit of genetic material in the second X chromosome carries with it overwhelmingly positive traits that manifest themselves in cleanliness, patience and a willingness to see past superficial characteristics.

That last item explains the first: without a keen sense of the beauty under the dust and dirt, why bother removing the protective film?

So when it comes to household cleanliness, the female portion of our species has it going. However, I do wish to point out a number of points that require some attention if we seek to see this whole enterprise through.

– Please leave absolutely no trace of feminine hygienic products in plain sight. Men may grunt through the pain, never scream on a roller coaster, specifically attend the goriest, scariest slasher flicks and  (claim they) never cry, but some things lie beyond the masculine capacity to handle. If male exposure to such products occurs, refrain at all costs from referring to his reaction with terms such as “sissy,” “girly-man” and a certain reference to cats.

That’s it for women, really. As for anything else that irritates the other half, well, suck it up, guys.

And now to the meat of the issue: tips for men.

This subject covers a broad range of sensitive points, most of which revolve around the paradox of masculine security. We shall attempt to establish basic behavioral rules, adherence to which at once demonstrates the masculine virtues of discipline, courage and vigor. Also, keep in mind that they might help you get some. If your primary attitude toward your domestic relationship focuses on same, more power to you, but never, ever let on that your behavior in any way stems from motives other than romantic altruism.


– Pet names shall never rear their heads if anyone else over the age of 11 months is within earshot. Men, you’ll notice that women enjoy more latitude in this respect – they can and do use such terms as sweetie, honey, etc. without so much as a trace of irony, but that freedom does not extend to you. Permitted exception: bitterly ironic use of patently facetious terms of endearment, employed in the context of explosive domestic disputes on full display for a houseful of guests, preferably in the presence of a teenage daughter or two. You can determine the skillfulness with which these appellations are used by the various shades of crimson those daughters’ faces turn as a result; bonus points for causing them to flee the room with their hands over their faces. Similarly, cloyingly sweet use of pet names can be used to induce squirming in the targets of your choice, but be aware that many people are not equipped with the requisite ick detector that sets off the squirming. Oddly, most of these people are women.

– Wipe all traces of previous romantic partners from your memory. I say this specifically to men because in the popular perception, women, even if they do get drunk, do not tend to phone former lovers and try to reestablish a bond. This measure extends even to the casual mention of said former partners. Really, all you did in college was study and hang with the guys and watch sports. That’s your story and you’re sticking with it if you know what’s good for you.

– Hygiene, gentlemen. At minimum, hygiene in a household shared with a woman requires immediate remedy of inaccurate fire in the bathroom, plus of course showers at reasonably short intervals. Note: your interpretation of “reasonably” may differ from hers, as may your interpretation of “short,” but we shall not open THAT particular can of worms right now, if you catch our drift.

Further instructions to follow at some point. Me, I gotta go get my hair out of the sink. The things I do for her…

Written by Thag

May 5, 2010 at 7:32 pm

See that It Doesn’t Happen Again

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Thank you for gathering here this morning, gentlemen. You don’t mind that I call you a gentleman, do you, Simms? It’s just much more efficient that way. Thank you.

I’ve summoned you all here because we have an important task to fill, one that we really should have addressed some time ago. It seems there’s no milk milk left in the break room refrigerator.

Recall, gentlemen, that our policy clearly assigns a rotation to procure backup cartons of milk. If you consult the binders placed before you in the table, you will note that page 341, line 21 indicates as much. You all submitted signed statements to the effect that you have read, understood and will fully comply with the contents of the binder.

Bear with me, Norton. No one accuses you of malfeasance; we did not assemble to trade barbs. You may do that after the meeting, amongst yourselves, if you wish. Please refrain from taking this personally.

In keeping with our policy, Harper here diligently collated the names of the staff and assigned specific weeks to specific individuals for the two-year period ending July 6, 2011. Staff members on the list had ample time – was it two months from the date of issue, Harper? I knew that time frame stuck in my head for a reason – to apply for changes or updates.

But in recent weeks chaos has reigned on the milk procurement front. The chart in the break room clearly delineates the identity and responsibilities of each acting milk procurement agent, including the number of cartons of which varieties, the proper placement of purchased cartons in the refrigerator, and the procedure for submitting receipts to Weber – no need to raise your hand, Weber, we all know who you are – for reimbursement, which you will receive as part of your paycheck in the month subsequent to the rotation. But somehow, gentlemen – and here I specifically exclude you from any implication of complicity, Norton; your behavior through this entire period remains nothing short of exemplary – neglect of these responsibilities has grown to the point that this past Monday morning, at 10:09, DiGiacinto discovered the complete lack of milk in the break room refrigerator. I shall not name names in this forum, but such forbearance has little relevance when all of us have seen and noted the names specified in the relevant portions of the rotation chart. I remind you all that at the time, DiGiacinto clutched a hot cup of Java in his hand, and the lack of milk forced him to consume the beverage black. Is that how we wish to treat our associates?

Now, I can understand the desire to mistreat certain members of this staff – goodness knows I’ve done it often enough – but I shall be forced to resort to extreme measures if adherence to the milk procurement procedures falters again. If I must restrict the beverage selection to soft drinks and spring water, I shall – your protests fall on deaf ears, I’m afraid. Collective punishment indeed – collective enforcement is what’s necessary here.

I believe that will suffice. O’hara, have the minutes of this meeting on my desk in half an hour.

Good day, gentlemen.

Written by Thag

May 5, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Greatly Exaggerated

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Just to let you know: I haven’t died.

See, I knew you were wondering. So, I’m putting those rumors to rest, as it were. Burying them.

You can stop worrying now, because I’m very much still alive, even though my online existence remained unfelt since Friday.

That’s the problem with having an expectant audience. No, I don’t mean y’all are pregnant, but if you are, congratulations; hope everything works out well for you. I mean expecting new installments of my navel-gazing drivel. So here ya go. Knock yourself up. I mean off. No, I mean out. Yeah, out.

Written by Thag

May 4, 2010 at 8:54 pm

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