Mightier Than The Pen

Making The World A Bitter Place

Archive for August 2010

Music to My Ears. And Walls.

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It’s so considerate of the municipality to hold an open-air concert in the park around the corner. Anyone outside the neighborhood who wishes to attend must fork over a good chunk of change to have their hearing damaged. We get to experience that free of charge. Also, our kids get to be kept awake on the night before school starts.

I don’t mind so much, in reality; the kids were asleep before the first chords, registering about 4 on the Richter scale, came through the walls, and the little angels can sleep through most anything. The oldest, as an infant, once fell asleep in a bowling alley with blaring music (it wasn’t Chopin, I can tell you that).

At least this concert features a musician of some renown; a few nights ago the city decided to hold a concert at the same venue featuring a string of C-list artists performing forgettable “tunes”. It’s great living smack dab in the center of this metropolis, but local government should not be in the business of pagan “end-of-summer” rituals, even if it makes money for the relative of a council member who happens to own and manage a sound equipment supply company.

Far be it from me to accuse municipal officials of corruption. I’m sure they’re all squeaky-clean public servants with no personal agendas, vendettas or other words that sound right but will never make it as car names. That’s why the small square next to the house of the former deputy mayor down the street gets annual refurbishment while others lying within a quarter-mile radius suffer perennial neglect. That’s why the neighborhood civic organization, run by the brother of the former deputy mayor, has refused, year after year, to hold elections for its board despite its charter requiring it, lest the changing demographics of the neighborhood be reflected in the election outcome; heaven forfend that the growing number of residents of European ancestry get a say in local affairs when that might mean that the relatives and protégés of once-mighty local families lose their cushy jobs.

Want a guaranteed job? There’s always plenty of work available the morning after these concerts, picking up the beer bottles, cigarette butts and other garbage that the concert guests think the neighborhood needs more than they do.

Written by Thag

August 31, 2010 at 10:27 pm

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Post This on the Uterine Wall, Please

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You’ve been living in this house for a number of years, lady and gentlemen. Your mother is quite intelligent, so I thought perhaps you had inherited that trait from her, along with your existential love for chocolate. Alas, I see now that unlike most physical dispositions, comprehension of certain social and household norms is not encoded in nucleic acid sequences.

I regret that it has become necessary to compile this list, a list of rules I thought so self-evident. Oh well. Let’s hope you can extrapolate from this list to other situations. Notice I am not holding my breath.

1. When your diaper is being changed, keep your hands away from the poop. Really now; how hard is this concept to grasp? I’m here to clean you up, not to spread the yuck elsewhere. You’ll notice from the infinite number of previous diaper-changing occasions that not once did I use a bare hand, so I have no idea where you got that idea from.

2. Gravity is a constant. There is no need to test it repeatedly with the same or different objects. It is the same today as it was yesterday, the day before, and the first time you discovered that things fall when released. I, too, appreciate watching something fall a great distance and smashing with flair many stories below, but in this house there shall be no dropping of toys or books, let alone watermelons, one, two or even three floors down the central stairwell. Though we admit watermelons would be über cool from that height.

3. Shirts ≠ napkins.

4. The tush is soft for a good reason: you’re supposed to sit in your chair until you finish eating.

5. A finger to the lips means to stop talking at once, not to slightly lower the volume of your talking. It is now officially your turn to get the baby back to sleep, thank you very much.

6. Water stays in the bathtub or shower. Do not act so surprised that water ends up on the bathroom floor when you use the shower nozzle as a toy.

7. If you need help wiping, or pulling your clothes back up after using the toilet, calling your mother or me to help will suffice. Hobbling through the house with your pants around your ankles actually makes it harder.

8. Boogers go in tissues, not on walls. Not on furniture. Not on clothes. Not, heaven help us, on hand towels.

9. Missing the toilet happens sometimes, even to females, especially those still training. Cleaning up, however, does not consist of placing some toilet paper over the urine and forgetting about it.

10. “Helping” does not mean “doing what I want and hoping it will be useful.” “Helping” means “doing what I ask you to do.”

11. When you have friends over, propriety calls for you to play with them, not complain that they smell. As if you’re one to talk.

12. When your sibling has a friend over, you do not have an inalienable right to join the fun. The same goes for when grandma comes over and takes your sibling to the park: that is not a good time to take your bicycle to the park, considering that you’ve barely touched your bicycle all summer, and all of a sudden you want to ride it to where they happen to be going.

13. Spilling something means immediately trying to clean it up, not watching the liquid make its way toward and over the edge of the table.

14. The hamper’s position at the opposite end of the room from your bed is not an invitation to shoot hoops with your dirty laundry. Make a pile on your bed of the clothes you’ve removed, then carry them to the hamper once you’ve donned your pajamas. The rule is quite broad: inside the house there is no throwing of anything. Ever. No, not even that.

15. Just because you can’t see us, never assume we cannot see you. And even if we can’t we still know what you’re doing. We’ve been your age. Any shenanigans you’ve attempted, so have we. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to put one over on your folks, and although you do get up ridiculously and obscenely early except on school days, that won’t do it. Just behave, dammit.

I do hope this forestalls any more unpleasantness. And yes, I know you’re mocking me over there. That’s fine; I’m the one who controls who gets dessert.

Written by Thag

August 30, 2010 at 2:53 pm

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Warning: Not a Funny Post

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If my critics had their way, the warning in the title would be appended to every single blog entry here. So it’s a good thing I keep my critics locked away in the basement. It’s actually quite nice down there, if a bit dark. And that’s where we keep the extra boxes of corn flakes, so all’s well.

In truth, the title was originally intended for the previous post, about the tumor, but once I put that title in, it would simply be wrong to take it at face value, and there goes the post’s proper tone. That part in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? about toons being unable to restrain themselves from responding, “Two bits!” to “Shave and a haircut” actually comes from me. I am physically unable to suppress certain kinds of wisecracks. In sixth grade, we had a substitute teacher who voiced her amazement at the level of our misbehavior:

“Do you do this to all the substitutes you get?” she asked.

I yelled, “No, we do this to all the prostitutes we get!”

The uproar lasted for several minutes, as you can imagine. The teacher was so stunned she didn’t even react. At the time, I didn’t even know what the word meant. But the joke needed to be made, and there I was. I’m actually still proud of that episode, in a sheepish way.

I shall continue to wring every drop of mockery from my surroundings (get a load of those window treatments! Who did your interior design – naked mole rats?). My critics can stay down there in the dark, like naked mole rats.

Written by Thag

August 29, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Scary Words

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Some words scare people more than others. “Radish” isn’t such a scary word. “Deficit” apparently is, but apparently not nearly as scary as “socialist”.

What about “tumor”? Definitely a scary word. But more than scary: complicated. Another scary word. But as it turns out, not likely to be serious. Still with me?

I’ve had this bump at the front of my head for some time. I couldn’t tell you how long, with any pretensions to accuracy, but my wife and several friends started pointing it out to me a few months ago. Possibly earlier than that, of course, but I only started noticing it then, so be quiet.

The bump doesn’t hurt, and I have no symptoms to indicate anything unpleasant. My father-in-law, a retired radiologist, said it wasn’t extremely urgent, but of course I should get it checked out at some point.

Well, at some point (last week) I thought it looked bigger, and I noticed that it extended beyond my hairline – that in fact the visible portion of this thing was only its front edge. And when I pushed on the middle of the whole bump, it did hurt. So I asked a doctor friend what he thought. He’s a gynecologist, which of course doesn’t seem particularly relevant, but some phenomena do not restrict themselves to specific medical fields.

He looked for about a second and asked if I’d gotten hit. No, I said. Without skipping a beat, he said, “Lipoma”.

Of course anything ending in “oma” is scary (including MoMA, and to the French government, the Roma). But apparently a lipoma is a fatty, non-metastasizing kind of tumor that poses no danger of anything but increasing ugliness over time. Ugliness I can deal with. If I ever want to have it removed, though, that requires surgery.

I’ve never had surgery. I’ve never been hospitalized. I’ve never even broken a limb. I did get my finger caught in the car door at about age six, but that ended up needing no more than a band aid. And I did end up with three stitches in my forehead from walking into a chair while wearing a blanket over my head, back when I was much younger and slightly stupider. So the prospect of surgery scares me a little.

I have an appointment on Thursday with my physician, at which we shall determine whether that off-the-cuff diagnosis has any merit. You may express your concern via PayPal.

Written by Thag

August 29, 2010 at 12:08 pm

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Sliding Scales

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We’re raising a freak. And I mean that in the most positive way possible.

The whole family sat in the car on the way back from our nearly-six-year-old’s first-grade orientation. Bobby McFerrin’s Paper Music CD played on the car stereo. For those of you unfamiliar with the album, it features Mr. McFerrin conducting the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in various classical pieces, in some of which he uses his voice in place of one of the instruments.

The second track sees him conducting the orchestra in Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, the piece that was playing as we parked alongside a playground the children pass with some frequency and always beg to use. Pulcinella, like other Stravinsky pieces, has a strong brass section that carries much of the melody, in this case a rousing, rhythmic presto (I made that up; it could be an espresso for all I know)(actually, that would be quite an appropriate name for a tempo faster than presto). I switched off the car, and thus the music, at the same time as announcing that we were, in fact, getting out to go to the playground.

Our soon-to-be-first-grader, in his excitement, sputtered the Stravinsky brass melody. I’m not aware of any children who know any Stravinsky, let alone belt it out when excited. I don’t know any adults who do that, either.

Granted, Pulcinella is one of Stravinsky’s more accessible, tonal works. But it’s hardly Mozart’s variations on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (yes, I know it’s really a French folk song having nothing to do with astronomy). It’s not even the Stones. I’m simultaneously proud and worried – what if he progresses to Schoenberg? And how would we know?

Written by Thag

August 26, 2010 at 10:43 pm

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I’d Like to Spank the Academy…

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Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the first annual Curmudgeon Awards.

For the last year you have all worked tirelessly to get us to where we are today. Thank you for your efforts. This event is meant to recognize, in some small way, the individual and shared contributions of many, even if you don’t really deserve it.

But let’s get down to business. I shan’t burden you with a lengthy introductory address. I hate those. The one thing I can’t stand about the Oscars, for example, is the droning on and on before, during and after the actual award presentations. It’s gotten better, mind you, ever since they implemented the time limits on thank-you speeches, but there’s still too much clutter. To hell with the whole category of foreign films, I say; let those Frenchies go to Cannes, and stay there. The same for “sound” and “cinematography,” not to mention the fields no one ever heard of. Aside from a few industry nerds, who really notices or gives a damn? Pander! Have you lost sight of your mission?!

That’s why this awards ceremony will accept no acceptance speeches. We haven’t even invited most of the recipients. You may thank us for that later.

But I must lay the ground rules before we can proceed:

1. Unlike a certain awards ceremony whose name we shall try to avoid mentioning again, at least within a few paragraphs, this venue is not for displaying the latest in women’s exposu – I mean fashion. Keep it simple, people, and avoid even more ridicule.

2. Applause shall be withheld until all awards have been distributed. That way we shall avoid the insincerity that plagues this sort of event, along with the passive-aggressive faint praise or over-the-top, obviously false admiration we’ve come to expect from rival celebrities. Just applaud when we’re done because you’re happy to go home. Unless you’re not happy to go home, because you’ve spent so much of your life in the public eye that you no longer know how to maintain a functional space or private life with even a modicum of self-respect. In that case, just clap because you’re glad there’s no more of this nonsense to endure for the evening. Of course, if you’re on your way to another such event right afterwards, go right ahead and don’t applaud. No one will notice; we’re too busy chucking tomatoes at the stage.

3. Please chuck only fresh produce. The poor maintenance staff – hard workers who never get the recognition we all crave – will suffer the majority of the consequences, not the starlet who’s already cultivated an inability to accept criticism. Eggs are out of the question, and rotten ones – well, let’s just say that will reveal quite a bit about your character.

4. There will be no commercial breaks. No advertisers would want to be associated with this debacle, anyway.

5. No smoking, even outside the building. Do you really think it much of an improvement to force people entering and exiting to wade through a cloud of your self-induced smog?

That’s it for the rules. Let’s get right down to the awards; we still have a few minutes for those – oh, just one more thing: under your seats you will find a survey of opinions and attitudes toward a certain retail beauty product. The sponsor asked us to distribute them, but said nothing about what to do with them afterwards, so I hereby recommend that you roll them up and use them to poke the person in front of you in case of boredom-induced sleep. It probably works better if you roll up several into a single unit. When you’re done, please place the surveys in the round receptacles near the restroom sinks.

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce the presenter of the first award, former Jet Blue flight attendant Mr. Steven Slater…

Written by Thag

August 26, 2010 at 1:09 pm

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Write and Wrong

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I’m in the middle of writing a novel. It’s about…well, it’s about, uh…it’s about two pages right now, but once I get going, look out!

I started it about twelve years ago. It features a fabulous opening line and immediately launches into compelling character development, but then kind of loses steam. The problem, I think, lies in the fact that the compelling characters are all animals – four hamsters and a shark, to be exact – while the humans, ostensibly the focus of the work, lack depth. I understand this perspective obtains among many pet lovers.

I used to assure myself that one of these days I’d get back to that novel, but it has remained but a writing sample for prospective clients or employers ever since. I do not, as a rule, disclose to them that I worked to produce this partial masterpiece (or master partial-piece) on company time, lo those many years ago. It might prejudice the outcome of the interview, as you might imagine, and as the novel in its current state demonstrates, outcomes must remain open to all possibilities (“…when suddenly, an asteroid crashed into Earth and wiped out all sentient life. The End. Or maybe not. Can you hold on for a few billion years to see what the cosmos comes up with? “).

I did once get hold of a guide for aspiring writers, a how-to manual for anyone who wants to write a reasonably long novel in the space of a month. It made for good reading, but there was no way I was going to subject my life to the contortions its instructions required. I read it mostly in the bathroom, then mostly forgot about it until now. That was three years ago. So you can see how well the aging novel is doing.

Truth is, in the several times I’ve looked at it over the last decade, it occurred to me I should probably lop of the second half of what I’ve already written. The part about the hamsters (and the missing chicken, but it was dead and frozen, not remotely in the “pet” category, so it doesn’t count as a character) and the shark (a small one; don’t get too scared) really made for a good start, but once the first-person narrative had to go somewhere (to work, as it happens), the comedy quotient fell. I guess animals with quirky personalities provide better fodder than cubicles. Imagine that.

I could try to spice it up with intrigue – international espionage; demonic possession; celebrity shoplifting – but really, how much do I know about any of that stuff? Let’s take the random sample of ideas in the previous sentence:

– International espionage. While I have worked for the government of one country while residing in another, there wasn’t a lot of potential for espionage. I mean, the whole point of the job was to help the military of country A buy spare parts from the military of country B. What could I reveal – that country A wanted to buy a copying machine? That the air force uses generators? These would be the Deep Secrets I could pass on to interested third parties. I’m pretty sure I never handled a single classified document in the two years I worked there.

– Demonic possession. I will grant that writing about it does not require firsthand experience with it; William Peter Blatty did quite a fine job without, as far as anyone can tell, going through possession himself. However, that whole supernatural thing doesn’t do it for me. The empirical physical universe poses enough challenges of its own; I have enough trouble describing the feeling of a piece of oregano stuck between my front teeth, for example (it’s like…it’s like having a piece of basil stuck between your teeth, only slightly less so)(see what I mean?).

– Celebrity shoplifting. I did once steal a pack of banana Bubblicious from the supermarket when I was about seven. Bad move. I mean, strawberry, mint or some normal flavor I could understand, but banana? Boy, I regret that one. Spat out the first piece and chucked the rest. No more shoplifting for me. At least not personally, though at about age eleven I was once an accomplice whose job consisted of purchasing something to help distract the cashier from goings-on elsewhere in the store. So the shoplifting part I got covered, but I must concede I fall pretty short in the celebrity department. I’ve accidentally encountered one or two, including a former prime minister, but the limelight and I are not well acquainted. Collecting baseball cards was about the closest I ever got to consistent association with the famous. Other than that time Mr. Goodbody came to speak at our elementary school.

So the novel continues to languish. I should just start a blog.

Written by Thag

August 25, 2010 at 1:52 pm

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As the Dishes Rot

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I should be loading the dishwasher, but this post is far more compelling. You are free to disagree – it’s a free country, after all, unless you happen to be reading this in, say, Venezuela (“Venezuela”) or Iran (“Iran”) – but this is my blog, not yours, last I checked. Loading the dishwasher ceases to be compelling past the second time one does it, and besides, my youngest son is otherwise occupied.

He has a talent for detecting, even from the farthest reaches of the house, when the machine has been opened, and making a beeline for it. Loading the thing becomes a tug of war over the items he tries to remove, and a race to get as many things in before it’s time to give up and get him the heck out of the way. So it’s just boring without him.

Lest you think that posting here serves as my only entertainment, rest assured that the remaining three children provide plenty. Right now the older two are taking turns annoying and hurting each other, followed by taking refuge in this room in the hopes that the other will refrain from striking in my presence. Any suggestions that the wronged party find somewhere else to play, removed from the perpetrator, fall on deaf ears, of course; an annoyance-free zone just isn’t as compelling. Villains are always more interesting.

Take Captain Hook. Better yet, take Osama bin Laden. Take him to Neptune, preferably, with nothing but the January and March 1992 issues of Consumer Reports.

Then there’s the three-year old princess, who can’t seem to grasp that when I said, “Coloring is only on the paper,” I meant that she should not cover every exposed surface of her body with green crayon. I didn’t think I had to spell it out, but that goes to show you how stupid I am compared to a preschooler.

Now, the five-year-old, I can understand; he constantly explores new ways of getting around what we tell him to do. The other day my wife and I recited for him the lines we’ve gotten used to hearing from him, among them: “my belly hurts” and “I’m too tired.” He seems to have reached the initial stages of comprehending that using tiredness as an excuse not to clean up the toys only results in begin directed to bed. But his most frequent stratagem is to pretend he doesn’t hear us until we raise our voices and/or threaten some unpleasant consequence such as dessert loss. You know, because problems disappear if you ignore them. While it’s true in the very long term – I did eventually move out of my parents’ house – as a tactic for avoiding immediate responsibility it generally fails (not that I cared when it came to homework).

Then there are the songs and chants that the kids brought home from camp. Some of them are cute; some of them were cute the first time I heard them all those decades ago when they already had gray hair; some of them would be cute if the kids remembered them properly; and some don’t ever stand a chance of being cute, as they alternate among the offensive, the insipid and the poorly conceived, sometimes simultaneously (“Andrew farted, an earthquake started, and all the people died”). Truly the work of a mature, lyrical mind (actually, that one I might have found amusing when I was their age; the others, not so much).

*Sigh* OK, fine. I’ll go load the dishwasher. You’re no fun. Your farts probably cause earthquakes, too.

Written by Thag

August 24, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Good Fences Make Good Target Practice

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Dear neighbor,

We have not formally been introduced, but I do know your name – your surname from the black scrawl on your rusting front gate, and your given name from the yelling of visitors who apparently have never encountered a doorbell before. I therefore understand if you do not know my name, since those particular avenues of information are unavailable to you in my case.

But let us not allow that lack of familiarity adversely affect our neighborly relations. We haven’t needed a first-name basis to smile awkwardly at each other as we pass. In fact I think we can both agree that awkward smiles constitute a marked improvement over the pretending we didn’t see each other for the first few years of this arrangement.

And we must learn to give this relationship time to flower. I appreciate your investment in sharing, with us and the other neighbors, your vast collection of a single CD of music. A certain amount of comfort can be had from knowing exactly which ethnic pop selections I will hear emanating from your property at any given hour of day or night. This sharing has already cemented in my mind what to expect if and when we get to know each other better, and the anticipation defies description.

We can also rest assured that our children will interact even when we do not. Many a sunny afternoon has seen my five-year-old standing on our front porch as yours plays in your front yard, less than a stone’s throw away – an apt description, I might add, considering the way your son chooses to occupy himself while there. To hear my son yelling your son’s name as he admonishes him is to hear the most innocent kind of concern and care. I share that concern, especially when my car is parked in front of your yard. I do hope it becomes something mutual.

I wish to apologize for a mischaracterization, a conclusion to which I unjustly jumped in describing to friends some of your audible household characteristics. Apparently, insufficient exposure had led me to the conclusion that the loud video game sounds emanating from your house came exclusively from the Nintendo Super Mario Brothers game. Had I but waited, the unmistakable sounds of Duck Hunt would reach my ears in due time. I regret the rushed depiction, and any misimpressions it may have generated. Greater detail always helps us develop a fuller picture, and I thank you for providing that.

Finally, I would like to express my admiration for the wide latitude you give your son to experience the full range of situations in his world. Most parents would shy away from giving their child the experience of staying home alone at such a tender age, but you boldly exposed him to that. The sheer variety of random objects left lying around in your yard also contributes to his education in ways most parents would never consider, as he discovers firsthand the principles of aerodynamics, momentum, and the various distances associated with specific angles of release. What’s more, you benefit from the supplementary efforts of a preteen boy, perhaps a nephew, who has taken the young fellow under his wing and showed him how to really smash things with a stick. I know I don’t have time to show my children how to smash things; they have to learn on their own, and while they do not seem to need outside help, it is amazing to see how much effort your extended family puts into the development of your little one’s essential skills.

So I must say that living across from you has broadened my horizons and fostered in me a sense of limitless anticipation and curiosity: what will they do next? I know you join me in the hope that someday we will enjoy the relationship that only longtime neighbors do; the Serbs and Albanians come to mind, and you can look that up one day if you ever set foot in a library so you can fully grasp what I mean. After all, we want to avoid misunderstandings.

Yours truly,


Written by Thag

August 23, 2010 at 8:27 pm

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Great Expectations; Victorian Sensibilities

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I have never been pregnant, as far as I know. Certain facts about pregnancy have nevertheless become clear to me, merely by observing what pregnant women (they’re all women, right?) experience. So for the benefit of you cloistered people – or those of you reading this blog back in prudish 1951 via some space-time-defying RSS feed – I offer an unequivocally inexhaustive treatment of that magical time (pregnancy, I mean, not 1951, as magical as it was, what with Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning home run and all).

One thing we get used to as non-pregnant people is a modicum of respect for personal space. It varies from context to context, but generally, people we do not know tend to keep their hands to themselves. Apparently, the protrusion of a pregnant belly gives some people reason to believe that said belly is somehow excepted from the personal space rule. They thus feel no compunction about extending a hand to feel that belly, regardless of the nerve endings in and around that belly very much belonging to the belly’s owner. Recommended reaction: pat the perpetrator’s belly and admire how much it’s grown.

So if some people never cultivated an ability to refrain from inappropriate physical contact with strangers (inappropriate physical contact with loved ones is even creepier, but not the subject here), it should not surprise us that many otherwise harmless individuals think nothing of posing intrusive, offensive questions or offering unsolicited, ignorant input, most notably the friend-of-a-friend-of-friend horror story: “I know this woman who slipped getting out of the shower and her belly hit the edge of the tub; they had to amputate the front of the body and the baby was born with two heads, and now she can’t function because when one head wants to sleep, the other one’s always awake.” Recommended response: amputate the front of the perpetrator’s body.

Chivalry has not died yet; enough caring souls still inhabit our society, and will offer their seats to obviously pregnant women in waiting rooms, on buses and trains. Some even go so far as to send an expectant mother to the front of the restroom line, but reasonable women do have their limits. But the days when a pregnant woman’s presence will automatically prompt someone to offer his or her seat have sadly faded. Recommended reaction to this lack of consideration: sit on someone’s lap. Please note that this might not achieve the desired result going forward with a certain half of the species, unless I don’t know you as well as I thought (I’d probably be quite comfortable in 1951).

Seldom has there been a more frustrating misnomer than “morning sickness.” Perhaps the term is a sadistic bit of synecdoche. Perhaps the coiners of the term were only at home with their wives in the morning. Either way, pregnant women have been known to experience nausea at the most inconvenient times, such as always.

Many women experience aversions to, or cravings for, specific foods. A man of our acquaintance was dispatched to the local diner with his pregnant wife’s clear instructions: get me a grilled chicken sandwich, and I NEED TO SEE the GRILL MARKS. Said husband relayed the order to the person behind the counter, who replied, “Wife pregnant?”

Other physical and social phenomena characterize pregnancy, of course. Many of them defy adequate treatment in this context, since I refuse to refer to anything suggesting certain aspects of female physiology in anything more direct than oblique metaphor.

OK, maybe 1835, not 1951. But there were no famous home runs in 1835. And I don’t mean that as an oblique metaphor.

Written by Thag

August 19, 2010 at 10:18 pm

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Royal Pain

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We all find it shocking when a culture or society with a reputation for upright demeanor and civilized behavior produces deviancies that shock our sensibilities. Imagine our dismay and surprised horror upon discovering that a member of the British royal family had for years engaged in sadomasochistic “discipline” rituals. That’s because nobody expects the English Spanquisition.

Written by Thag

August 18, 2010 at 8:43 pm

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Wonderful Spam

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It’s a good thing I don’t care as deeply as I probably should about the amount of traffic this blog attracts. We avant-garde, experimental types must maintain the pretense that our material defies comprehension on the part of hoi polloi, thus eliminating mass-market appeal. Who needs to eat, anyway? A Study in Gnu Media: Wildebeest.

If the quantity (or lack) of visitors doesn’t bother me so much, the quality certainly does. The backstage portion of this production includes a detailed list of the links visitors used in order to reach these pages. Some, I am puzzled to report, seem to be users’ own home pages (of all the places on the web to link to, you single out this?). Some appear to be search results pages. Much of the rest appears to be bot-generated spam: scripts that “visit” the site while creating a fictitious online footprint pointing to a page that the bot’s operators seek to promote, pages that do not actually feature any links to my blog. The intent, apparently, is to have the blog owner follow the link, thus pumping up the spammer site’s “popularity”. Honesty is only one of the best policies (where we define the set of “best policies” as “every policy in existence, plus a few more for good measure”).

I understand spammers, I really do. They work hard to promote their businesses (and those of their clients). The annoyance they generate doesn’t bother them as long as they get a reasonable return on investment, which could mean one sale out of a few million messages or links. It doesn’t bother them that they occupy a societal rung somewhere below telemarketer, yet still somehow above flesh-eating bacteria, if only by a nose (hah!). It doesn’t bother them that a rather large number of people out there would have no qualms about beating the pulp out of them if they ever met in person. They somehow view it as a divinely sanctioned right to shove their unsolicited sewage in the way of everyone else’s important messages (can’t they see I’m trying to subscribe to the Volcano Worshippers weekly newsletter? The nerve!).

We must thank Google, Yahoo! and the various other mail providers for working their (long) tails off to keep spam from clogging up our inboxes. Of course, the existence of spammers has spawned an entire branch of the online economy, so they can’t be all bad. Just mostly. Hitler, after all, adored his mother, so we can’t just dismiss him as evil.

The hell we can’t. People who make a living (or try to) by spamming deserve hot pokers under the fingernails. They deserve to be hot-air popped. To spend a few weeks as a chew toy at a disreputable obedience school. To sleep; perchance to be trampled by wildebeest. Is it not as the bard wrote: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune 500 wannabes? Beware the Ides of Marketing! Friends, Romans, countrymen! Give me your e-mail! Hark! What light through yonder Windows 7 breaks!

Not that I am bitter. No, I quite understand them, to the point of sympathy, the kind of sympathy one reserves for a rabid dog about to be put down. The poor thing; it’s in the clutches of some horrible disease that makes it horribly dangerous.

Have pity, then, on the poor spammers; they’re just trying to earn a decent living, just like John Dillinger, Bugsy Siegel, John Gotti, Al Capone and countless other legitimate businesspeople through the ages, all the way back to Laban.

(Incidentally, for those of you other than my wife, the wildebeest reference grows out of an undergraduate Bad Poetry contest at Columbia University back in the late nineties. The winning entry:

Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Wildebeest.)

Written by Thag

August 18, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Please, Please, Don’t Read This. Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You.

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For some reason the blog software thought I wanted my text to be invisible. I can think of any number of valid reasons for that, most prominent and likely among them that you’re better off with a blank screen than actually subjecting yourself to this swill. However, having glanced at other blogs out there, we can rest assured that, your incredulous protestations notwithstanding, this hardly qualifies as more worthy of censorship than the torrents of literary sewage that do not get stifled.

But what this blog lacks in sewage, it can make up for in insipidity:
7:00 Wake up
7:05 Wake up
7:15 Wake up
7:30 Brush teeth
7:32 Begin shaving
7:33 Plug in shaver
7:34 Wake up

You get the idea. If you don’t, we can offer it to you now for a limited time only at only $9.95 per month! Act now! Before you come to your senses! You won’t find a deal like this anywhere else! Except maybe Crazy Eddie, and although his prices were IN-SAAAAAANE, he was a bit of a shifty character. They extradited him in the end, as I recall. And in UHF he threatened to club a baby seal if enough people didn’t come to his emporium to buy used cars. That wasn’t the same Crazy Eddie, mind you, but if you haven’t come to your senses yet that hardly matters.

Still not sure? If you call now, we’ll throw in this cordless water bottle ABSOLUTELY FREE! Crafted with precision from the finest…polysomethingorother, this water bottle can even be refilled after you’ve finished its contents! A forty-five cent value just for making the call! Our operators are standing by! ($4.95 the first minute, $3.95 each additional minute).

But wait…there’s more. As an incentive, for the first 50,000 callers we’ll throw in the towel! That’s right! You heard it here first!

As you can see, if you can see, that is, there’s nothing to see here. Why exactly did you bother putting in your contact lenses this morning? Could it be because you enjoy doing that thing where you hold open your eyelids with two fingers, and with the eye tearing ceaselessly, you somehow manage to shove the lens in backwards because you forgot you were right-handed and should have used your left hand to hold the eye open? Y’know, it’s been almost two decades now that you’ve had the damn things. You really should be better at it now than when you started, not worse. And how on earth did you cut yourself shaving with waxing strips?

Let us pause for a moment and try not to imagine the sensation of a waxing strip applied to, then removed from, the moustache zone. Thank you.

Written by Thag

August 17, 2010 at 10:10 pm

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The Name Game

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The names people give their babies, as you have no doubt noticed, do not reflect kindly on our society. Yes, for thousands of years, parents have given names to their offspring that reflect not only their hopes and dreams for the child, but express the parents’ relationship to the world at the time of the birth. The Bible is chock full of examples (“And he called him Boo-yah, saying, ‘The Lord shall heckle my enemies in all my endeavors.'” – Butch 12:3). The thing is, when everyone in the world is walking around with names laden with manifestly expressed symbolism and poetry, nothing seems too weird (I don’t imagine ol’ Methuselah suffered too much playground bullying. David, yes; but such a normal name back then must have seemed queer, so that’s no surprise).

Not so in the…(checks calendar)…twenty-first century. When, for generations, our society has done just fine (hold that thought) with perfectly reasonable, dependable names such as Peter, William, Jeffrey, Mark, Mary and Margaret, et al., the sudden burst of “creativity” by countless parents jars the sensibilities. Take note, idiots: giving your child a “unique” spelling or name does nothing to set your little angel apart from the crowd; the crowd, as you might have noticed, is right there with you, even going so far as to name their daughters “unique.” The best way, history has shown, to provide your child with uniqueness is to allow him or her to learn to do so independently. Little Jayden or Aidan or Allyson will just have to do what children have always done: grow up and accomplish something. Unlike their parents, I’d wager, who are probably sipping lattes as they fill up their SUVs and changing their surnames to Joneses so they can competitively conform while pretending they don’t (it’s even scarier than you think: the automatic spell check on this post submission utility didn’t flag “Allyson” as a mistake. The apocalypse is nigh, I tell you).

Of course, ethnic or religious names are fine, provided at least one of the parents has more than a tenuous connection to the ethnicity or religious tradition in question. More power to you for naming your daughter Fatima, if in fact you or the other parent can reasonably claim allegiance or affinity for Arabic culture. However, such a name simply will not fly if the parents are Claudette and Willard P. Throckmorton IV. No, Claudette and Willard P. must adhere to a narrower list of names: Muffy, Tiffany, Constance (true story: my wife found in her college directory an actual person named Aristotle Socrates. Yes, we assume he had some Greek blood).

But if you have about as much Irish in you as did Joseph Stalin, then Morgan, Aidan and the like are off limits (Stalin, by the way, was Georgian, not Russian, and he changed his unpronounceable last-name-shvili to the Russian word for “steel”. You could do worse if you wish to cultivate a reputation for coldness).

This really should not be so difficult to comprehend, but then, I never understood the need to assert my specialness. ‘Cuz, y’know, it comes out naturally. Excuse me, I have to pee.

Written by Thag

August 16, 2010 at 8:20 pm

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On the Other Hand, Illiteracy Has Its Benefits

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How Far Up Your Nose Will Your Finger Go?
Sleeping with the Fishes
Vera’s Viscera
The Three Little Prigs
Wendell the Vandal
Defeat Net Nanny!
Old Refrigerator, New Hiding Place
Long-Distance Phone Tricks
Provoke Mr. Policeman
The Decibel Doubler
Kick ’em in the Shins
Polly’s Projectile Puke
Grover’s Guide to Gravestone Toppling
Jihad Barbie Destroys the Infidel
Smack Mommy Right Back
Fun with Forks!
Wash Your Hands Every Four Minutes or You Will Die

Written by Thag

August 16, 2010 at 3:17 pm

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Hey, Beantown (Someone’s Losing a Game)

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Hey, Moron.

(Someone’s calling my name.)

Hey, Moron.

(And I hear it again.)

You’re wanted on the telephone.

(If it isn’t geek-face, I’m not home.)

Thus goes part of the sing-song chant that occupied many of us on portions of long bus trips during our childhood. The part quoted above remains free of dispute.

Where the controversy comes in, however, is the drivel my sons brought home today from day camp. I shall not name names, but it appears that the director of the camp comes from a certain city in Massachusetts with pretensions to sports grandeur and a propensity for thinking that the world-class academic institutions in and around its metropolitan area somehow grant it an aura of justified snobbitude. This region, it appears, fairly teems with corrupt versions of children’s playground and bus-ride chants.

I shall not dignify the perverse “version” of the song (it’s a “version” the same way cancer is a “version” of a healthy cell) by reproducing it here. I shall, however, once and for all, issue the authoritative – nay, the only – legitimate text, to which you must all hereafter adhere, hear?

The ignorant among you, please note: the terms “moron” and “geek-face” can also be exchanged for the actual given names of people present; in fact it was thus practiced most of the time, when girls were the main participants. The boys, however, played a game-within-a-game: finding a sufficiently provocative or offensive appellation that also had the proper number of syllables and syllabic stress. Fagot, ___head, loser, dorkwad, etc. were always popular. At some point the actual identity of the next participant became less important.

Hey, Loser.

(Someone’s calling my name.)

Hey, Loser.

(And I hear it again.)

You’re wanted on the telephone.

(If it isn’t Stupid, I’m not home.)

With a rick-tick-tickety-tick
This song is makin’ me sick
Hey, Stupid…

Next time, we shall address the episode of a theft of some cookies from their storage receptacle, and the way the children play the blame game all the way to the museum, with remarkable equanimity and sense of rhythm.

Written by Thag

August 15, 2010 at 9:14 pm

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How About Home Jurisprudence?

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Do they teach home economics anymore?

I ask this not because I wish to rant that no one seems to know how to cook (they cook just fine) or clean (just not in this house). I simply wonder whether the so-called sexism that spawned such classes in the first place has survived anywhere. I do know that when my own high school still offered Home Ec, back in the stone age of the early 1990’s, they restricted it to girls (“women”).

[When my cousin and his good friend took over the editorship of the school newspaper during our senior year they completely revolutionized the thing. One of their classic issues featured a Jeopardy board with the following answer-question: Flour and water make this. What is a fire in the Home Ec room?]

I wonder whether any girls (“women”) retained anything from those lessons. I know I remember diddly squat (also known as bugger-all or sod-all; those Brits sure know how to make a point) from those years, at least in terms of academic knowledge, with minor exceptions [to wit: basic sentence diagramming; a few lines from Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet; the basic plots of several classic literary works; and that one should refrain from directly quoting, with full attribution, an unpopular teacher to make a rhetorical point in a creative writing assignment for an unrelated class].

What I do remember falls under the “experience” category. Much of it actually did find its way into my consciousness during class, but I believe that was incidental:

– Rumors of romantic liaisons between students in and around the school building during school hours tend toward the non-factual.
– Serving as a lunch lady automatically turns a person into a slightly gruff grandmother type. I conjecture that this happens even to young males who take up the occupation.
– The square root of your mother squared is your mother.
– Wearing earphones on a bus near a group of girls (“women”) might lull them into a state of complacency, allowing them to feel free to discuss, er, hygienic matters that a male never wants to overhear, period. If you catch my meaning. (Here’s a good rule: if you can’t hear what’s coming out of my speakers, I can probably hear what’s coming out of your mouth).
– Fire drills tend to occur in nicer weather. If the fire alarm sounds during winter, be afraid.
– Only compact and sub-compact cars will fit through standard institutional double doors.

Oh, they tried to teach us all sorts of things that we didn’t need to know, or knew already (e.g. that high school girls tend not to care whether you call them girls or women; just be genuine about it). Like the why and how of human reproduction. Or that drug abuse is bad.

Maybe that’s what they taught them in Home Ec, then: what happens when you turn on a stove; not to mix certain ingredients; which holes not to sew up in a pair of underwear. Guys discover that stuff on their own as they’re busy burning things down, blowing them up, or pushing them through the school’s main entrance. Be very afraid.

Written by Thag

August 13, 2010 at 12:01 am

D Liver D Letter D Sooner D Complete Moron

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Perhaps you have reason to diss the United States Postal Service. Perhaps your encounters with USPS personnel leave you with a taste in your mouth you did not anticipate (that’ll teach you to lick self-adhesive stamps). Perhaps you have no idea how lucky you are.

In the US, where reasonable people grew up, postal carriers tend to know their routes with some degree of competence, perhaps because it’s a decent job that pays well and produces stability, such that a given carrier will have a specific route for quite some time.

Not so in this part of the world (that would be outside the US, for those keeping track). There may be non-US countries, even many of them, with professional, competent, efficient postal services – Germany and Switzerland come to mind, naturally – but try as they might, the local version seems trapped in the days and ways of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1923) (it’s amazing they lasted so long, isn’t it, ruled by a footstool?).

Perhaps our fortifications are too formidable. We have a front gate. It helps keep small children from crawling into the street. As a bonus, its simple locking mechanism makes a nice clinking sound when used, alerting us to the gate’s opening even before a knock or bell (giving us a few precious seconds in which to stop beating the children). Our fifteen-month-old mastered this piece of technology several months ago (he can only reach it, fortunately, when held high enough). Yet it somehow continues to defeat the intelligence of the postman, who tosses the mail through the gate instead of advancing past it to our door, which has a highly visible mail slot.

Naturally, on the occasions when the gate remains open and the path to the mail slot unobstructed, the postman suffers defeat at the mail slot’s hands (I grant that the metaphor in this case doesn’t work so well). It can’t be too difficult to open the slot, slide the mail in, and release. Seldom, however, have we found our mail inside. Most often we find it folded in the slot, as if the postman thinks there’s no room behind it; it’s just a big clip to hold the mail until collected.

So my wife fashioned a sophisticated piece of informative equipment: a piece of paper, secured by tape, above the mail slot. The paper reads: Please Put It All The Way In. Since then we have found it Part Of The Way In, or Not In At All, but never All The Way In.

I have wondered, over the several months since, as the sign has faded in the sun, whether there could in fact be someone who could not comprehend the sign, and whether a postal service could possibly employ, in a position requiring reading names and addresses, SOMEONE WHO CANNOT READ.

I got my answer over the last few days. The problem seems more fundamental than illiteracy: this induhvidual, to borrow Scott Adams’s formulation, lacks the capacity to determine which number applies to which residence. We have a light on the front of our house with a big “12” on it, followed by the street name. The number is clearly visible, even with the light off during daylight. Yet several days in a row, Einstein here has asked me and a random passer-by whether this was house number 12.

So we have a multi-tier defense system against which this poor fellow stands no chance: he has to match the number on the envelopes with the house number, a task that clearly lies at the far edge of his capacity; he then must figure out how to disengage the sophisticated lock on our front gate, which apparently only an infant can do; he must read the strange markings appearing above the mail slot, and comprehend them; and he must insert the mail all the way through the slot, which apparently requires either Herculean strength or Solomonic intelligence, which, as we have established, is not this guy’s forte (which, if he spoke English, he and the other ignorati would pronounce forté, but since the word in this context actually comes from French, should be pronounced to rhyme with port; thus concludes the lesson for today).

I shall grant the postal service the benefit of the doubt – in fact, I think it rather shrewd of the postal service, come to think of it: someone who lacks the capacity for matching clearly identical numerals will be in no position to know that he’s getting paid nothing. Hey, they’ve probably convinced him he owes them money for the job!

But boy, if this guy ever wises up and gets his hands on a weapon…

Written by Thag

August 12, 2010 at 11:44 am

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This Musical Interlude Brought to You Against Your Will

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I love summer. The outdoors. The fresh air. The folks across the street favoring the entire neighborhood with their choice of music.

Suffice it to say, these neighbors come from a culture that differs markedly from mine. My culture would never dream of leaving a five-year old at home alone while it goes shopping. My culture would try to clear out from its front yard the various smashed ceramic detritus that its five-year-old chucks into the street. My culture would find ways of disciplining its five-year-old in ways that did not include calling the child “crazy” or exclaiming how said child drives it crazy, for the entertainment of all within earshot.

But of course, that’s a different culture. I have to be understanding, you see, and accepting of a culture that thinks 11 at night means turn the stereo volume to 11. I have to accept a culture that subjects my children, whose room faces the street, to the endless blaring music, shrieking and, as of a few days ago, the sounds of old Nintendo games played with the volume apparently augmented by bonus Super Mario mushrooms.

I take that back; the video game sounds have only come during the day. Because it’s fine during the day to do such things in that culture.

To be sure, these are not the only neighbors whose household generates unpleasant noise. We have others whose proximity and location relative to us make every shout of the frustrated mother quite audible. Yet despite their seven children (and she’s pregnant), the volume of noise they generate pales in comparison to the single-child family opposite us (technically they also have an older child who doesn’t live there very much, at least not recently). Our small street also houses a dormitory, but we hardly hear from them. We had no idea, in fact, just how many students inhabited those buildings until one night about a year-and-a-half ago when an electrical fire prompted an evacuation. Dozens of people emerged from the afflicted edifice, while their colleagues emerged from the other buildings to gawk and console (turns out nothing much happened, but the electrical board, which had caught fire, was within a few yards of the building’s gas balloons, and everyone kept their distance).

Goodness knows I have achieved some familiarity with child-induced frustration. This summer has proved especially challenging with a certain junior member of our household whose identity shall remain concealed in this medium lest its disclosure serve as grounds for something unpleasant years down the road. We certainly raise our voices. But I’m willing to wager a good amount that our outbursts come nowhere near the crudity, sustained volume or regularity of those emanating from across the way.

Perhaps this reflects my sheltered upbringing, but I do believe you will not find many women approaching their fifties who listen to the same ethnic pop CD repeatedly at maximum volume.

So yes, this confusion must all stem from my cloistered youth; had I gotten out more, such behavior on the part of the neighbors would cause no alarm, stimulate no value judgments. Because, you know, values are subjective. Values such as mental health are just cultural constructs that my Western sensibilities are trying to impose on someone else. Values such as a good night’s sleep for children stem only from my blind acceptance of Western medicine and my own narrow experience, in which children who sleep less than a certain number of hours at night tend to have a lousy time the following day – who am I to decide on the meaning of the word “lousy”?

I’m not bitter, you see, because that would presuppose “bitter” as a negative term, which would simply be unfair to the term, not to mention people and societies who consider bitterness a positive value.

So yes, I love summer. Define “love” as you will.

Written by Thag

August 11, 2010 at 10:06 pm

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Where Credit Is Due

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I hereby give full credit to Mr. Dov Rabinowitz, creator of the following:

How many dyslexics does it take to screw in a light blub?

Written by Thag

August 11, 2010 at 3:54 pm

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A Play on Words, the Way a Cat Plays with Its Prey

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When bananas appear in the news frequently, that makes them topical fruit.

The guy who painted the dogs around a poker table had the right idea, but he just ripped off MY idea, which, you should know, involved chickens, not dogs, and he even threatened violence if I said anything. Talk about fowl play.

Went to a bar last week. A group of crazy revelers in one corner happily downed pitcher after pitcher of the most godawful swill the place had on tap; genuine daft, I thought. Turns out each time they ordered, someone else would choose. I saw them go through their third, fourth and fifth daft picks. It was a birthday party for one of them, a retired bounty hunter named Bubba, who liked to work solo. The others were croaking his tributes and dubious achievements to anyone who passed by; it was a real Bubba fête.

I have so many people’s schedules of which to keep track, and there are plenty of great online tools, but even Google’s got its limitations. I need them to develop a utility that can filter out the irrelevant stuff: Google Colander.

A group of gullible American tourists paid oodles of money to be photographed with Charles and Diana back in the 1980’s, but for all their trouble ended up with pictures of humpbacks instead. Hey, said the agent, you got your prints of whales.

Maurice Sendak’s first attempt was actually a lot tamer than the final version: Where the Mild Things Are.

Wendy’s now serves its burgers on a kaiser bun, but not everyone knows that they experimented for a while with Mediterranean flatbread, only the baking process required a specialized baking dish that so frustrated Mr. Houk, the plant manager, that he exclaimed, “I hate, I hate, I HATE pita pan!”

We have some children’s furniture, including a table that becomes a bench when turned on its long side. Most of the time it functions as a bench; it’s only a periodic table.

The people across the street have this great storage system for their outdoor furniture: an electric conveyor belt that activates when the weather cools off in September-October; all they have to do is fold up the stuff and it gets stowed almost by itself in their autumn-attic.

Margaret Stanley and Stewart Dupp had a child just after Nomar Garciaparra made it into the big leagues. Inspired by the Boston shortstop’s story behind his name – his parents’ surnames were Garcia and Parra, and Nomar is Roman, his father’s name, in reverse – they unwisely charted their newborn son’s entire career by following suit. This week at the Improv, meet Mr. Stan Dupp.

Ever played hide-and-seek in a forest? Most tree trunks are too narrow to conceal people effectively. But Redwoods? Now there‘s a hiding place I can get behind.

The lady on the next street might not understand newfangled technology, but she has a blog. Of course, to get any content on it she must recruit her son. That must make him the poster child.

Written by Thag

August 10, 2010 at 10:11 pm

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In MY Day, It Wasn’t Even MY Day, but I LIKED It

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It’s time to cease your whining, child. You have it easy.

Why, when I was your age, cable TV meant a few dozen channels, and that was only if you paid for the premium package! But did we complain? No! We knew we were lucky – that there were people out there with NO CABLE TV AT ALL. People who had no passive entertainment other than the three major networks and a few local stations, for crying out loud. And if they were lucky they had UHF, with lousy reception and lousier programming.

And don’t get me started on video games. No Wii or PlayStation for us, no sir; the lucky among us had an Atari 2600, and we spent hour after grateful hour engrossed in such advanced games as Asteroids, Combat, Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Donkey Kong. If we were extra lucky we could get cartridges for Return of the Jedi. We were HAPPY children. Who needed “realistic” graphics? We had imagination! Skill was what counted, not surrendering to some software developer’s idea of realism!

And when did roving everywhere with a Bluetooth stuck in your ear become such a good idea? I’ll tell you what happened: if you keep a consarned mobile phone stuck to your ear, sooner or later someone will whack you on the back of the head and the machine will stay there permanently! THAT’s why so many people are walking around with technology stuck in their aural orifices! Give me a coiled phone cord any day of the week, and twice on Saturday. If you can’t wander from room to room while you gab with your friends, that doesn’t mean you need a cordless whatchamacallit: it means you should stay put! In my day, “wireless” was what the old folks called the radio. And did you know that some cars only had AM radio?

[True story: our cousins’ car had only AM, and my aunt and uncle would always have some talk station on. Our car, a blue Plymouth Fury III, as crappy as it was, nevertheless had FM, and my mother switched back and forth between WQXR and WNCN (of blessed memory), two stations devoted exclusively, or almost so, to classical music. My oldest cousin once remarked to my mother, “Your car plays the niiicest music.”]

For the longest time, no one cared about so-called “special” effects. The old movies were good because the people who made them cared about quality. How come no one makes  musicals anymore? Give me State Fair over Avatar anytime. Give me Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, and take your Leonardo DiCrappio somewhere else. Yeah, he probably belongs at the bottom of the North Atlantic. You young people have no idea.

And what’s with all these divisions in baseball? Why is there a wild card in anything but poker? And where did all these variations in poker come from, anyway? And since when is there a World Series in anything but baseball? What huckleberry decided a World Series of Poker was an appropriate name for a bunch of seeming grownups sitting around some tables trying to keep a straight face?

It’s time you whippersnappers got back to basics: good old network television, maybe some PBS; mail that unequivocally calls for proper capitalization, punctuation and orthography, even if it does take a week to get there; candy bars priced in cents; newspaper comics visible with the naked eye. You have to rough it nowadays to appreciate how fortunate you really are, you spoiled brats.

Written by Thag

August 8, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Our Stance on the Issues: Wide

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The past few months have seen mounting supposititious demands that this blog proffer its positions on a host of hot-button political issues. However, since those issues number in the dozens, if not hundreds, we cannot but offer a few lines on a select number.

The conciseness stems not only from considerations of space: a screed or two has been known to bounce from inbox to inbox, in the process taking on new additions and misattributions. Just look at snopes.com (we mean later). We do not wish to contribute to the phenomenon; nor do we wish to attract unwanted attention from partisans of one side or another, unless they happen to be willing to pay lots of money for our time, which, quite frankly, stands about as much chance of being the case as we do of winning the Tour de France. The 2003 Tour de France.

In no particular order, then, we present our positions on the issues:

Abortion: Abortions may be performed only by qualified medical personnel, with the consent of the pregnant woman. You know, the one carrying the fetus slated for abortion. Requiring the consent of some other pregnant woman instead would be stupid.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Life begins when, exactly? The answer to that question determines one’s position on this issue. Life begins, according to our findings, in 1961 at a Quaker Oats facility (cinnamon and maple & brown sugar flavors were introduced later). What this has to do with Embryonic stem cell research, we have no clue, but we do like Life. Life should be less expensive, and maybe come with more to a package.

Gun Ownership: Guns don’t kill people; ammunition does, in addition to bayonets, which are generally attached to guns, except for the occasional bludgeoning death, which we guess can be attributed to the gun itself, except that none of that could happen unless something were moving or operating the thing, in which case the whole slogan loses its meaning. We’ll get back to you on this one, as will countless candidates for political office, repeatedly over the next gazillion years. We do understand that the constitution specifically enshrines the people’s right to bare arms, which we think strikes a firm blow for standards of modesty in dress. We do have to consider, though, that the original constitution did not mandate citizenship for women, which means they might not have enjoyed that right. That’s actually fine with us, because we know from experience that we can’t get our work done if we behold a bare-armed woman. Yowza.

Software Piracy: Arrrr.

The National Debt: There should be no “b” in the word “debt”.

Climate Change: We should fart less.

The Middle East: Is it “Near” East or “Middle” East? There should be a consistent way of referring to the area. It’s too confusing as it is. The same goes for the Midwest, which isn’t geographically the middle of anything, or particularly western. For that matter, why is Northwestern University in Ohio?

That’ll be it for now. Future posts might also detail our positions on other pressing issues (does that mean ironing trouble?), or they might just indulge in pontificating on nothing in particular. You’ll be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

Written by Thag

August 5, 2010 at 9:49 am

Lightning Rod

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My previous post ended with what some readers may construe as disparaging remarks regarding Mr. Rod Stewart’s work. To forestall any unpleasantness that may result, I hereby affirm, at the behest of my nonexistent legal team, that the content of the post in no way reflects my genuine opinion, neither of Mr. Stewart’s artistic endeavors, nor, of course, to Mr. Stewart himself, whom I hold in the highest regard. His numerous disagreements with band mates and managers dating back to the 1960’s have diminished my regard for him not a whit; his separation and messy, not to mention costly, divorce from supermodel Rachel Hunter remained completely unbeknownst to me until after my last post went live, and theretofore in that respect I had only admiration and envy for Mr. Stewart, considering that my only yearlong subscription to Sports Illustrated, back in 1990-91, featured only one issue that I opened more than once – many, many times more than once, as you might surmise – and no, it wasn’t for the articles.

Happy now, lawyers?

[Oh, we’re just dandy. Here’s your bill.]

Can I just pay this in…wow, that’s a lot of zeros. You know what? It’s probably cheaper to piss off Rod (that phrase is probably too equivocal, but I hope you appreciate as I do the comical imagery it evokes) than to pay you guys. Get out of here.

Written by Thag

August 4, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Why Can’t I Download Some Appliance Repair?

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The deterioration of our domicile and its contents continues. For weeks now, my wife and I have wondered aloud which system or appliance would fail next. Today the answer arrived: our stereo.

This has precedent, naturally. The reason we acquired this unit in the first place was its predecessor’s utter malfunction (as distinct from a screwed-up dairy cow, which would have udder malfunction)(you just know I’m going to milk this one for all it’s worth)(my wife, looking over my shoulder at this crucial moment in the proceedings, just wants to cream me for that one)(puns make her blood curdle)(I can’t continue this for too long; we know who the big cheese is in this house)(really, this digression merely serves to give my ideas time to ferment)(are you feta pwith this yet?), starting from the cassette decks and eventually extending to the CD trays. We searched high and low for a system that took cassettes. This was about seven years ago, and all the stores were pushing the mp3 format. We, who had accumulated several decades’ worth of taped music, remain loath even now to abandon those cherished cassettes. And now we have no illusions that we’ll find anything at all with tape decks in any electronics store. Antique shops, perhaps, but that’s for a different demographic: wealthy, with spare time to browse. Any browsing we do occurs in the cookie aisle. As it happens, antique shops have no cookie aisle (if they did they’d call them “biscuits”).

Perhaps the time has come to transfer the select elements of our collection to another format and be done with it. Some tapes have doubtless deteriorated in all this time. We’d just have to decide what stays and what goes. But from what little research we’ve done, it ain’t cheap. I know I’d love to hold on to those Vivaldi bassoon concertos; that Def Leppard mix, not so much (come to think of it, I haven’t seen that tape in more than fifteen years. Hmm.).

Alternatively, we could just trash everything and pay for downloads of the stuff we really want to keep. The quality would be better anyway. Either way, though, we’d clear a good bit of space in the media cabinet that we could then use for the kids’ toys, which seem to take up more and more space every week, even though we seldom buy a thing in that category. How does that happen? Do the stuffed animals reproduce? Do the things we discard sneak back out of the trash? Actually, I believe that not only do they sneak back out, they trade places with things we do need, such as that missing boot. And those oven mitts.

Of course we could try to get the damn thing fixed. But I suspect that, given our previous unit’s performance, the repair would last only so long, and suck up money that we’d inevitably spend on a replacement.

Next you’re going to tell me that stereo systems are obsolete; the newest thing is to have all the music you want directly implanted in your brain. Thanks, but I have enough trouble keeping old TV commercials from cluttering up my mental processes. I don’t need Rod Stewart in there, too: “Oh, the rhythm of my heart is beating like a drum…”

Or is it “river”? Why don’t you go check it out? In the meantime, where the ocean meets the sky, I’ll be sailing.

Check that: I’ll be here with the scouring pads, trying to rid my brain of that scourge.

Written by Thag

August 4, 2010 at 2:40 pm