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

Posted in Uncategorized

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

Posted in Uncategorized

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