Mightier Than The Pen

Making The World A Bitter Place

Archive for September 2010

Dear Thag

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Dear Thag,

I have it up to here with my mother-in-law. She can never find anything nice to say about me or my work. She constantly tries to interfere with the way I raise the children, and tries to turn my husband against me. I’ve made many efforts to reach out to her and to get my husband to intercede, but to no avail. She’s as critical of me as ever, if not more so. What can I do?

At Wit’s End in Indianapolis

Dear Wit’s End,

What exactly do you expect me to tell you? That there’s some magic spell to get rid of jerks? If there, were, the world wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. We would never have developed the colorful vocabulary to react to people who change lanes in front of us without signaling. A large number of New York Yankees fans would not exist, which would seriously impact the tax revenues of the nation’s economic center. So wishing your mother-in-law away will not work.

What can work, however, is actively getting rid of her. There are many ways to do this, most of them not even illegal in some states. I suggest starting with training the children to treat her like the scum she is, and work up from there.

Let me know how it goes.


Written by Thag

September 29, 2010 at 10:20 am

We Have Reached a Millstone

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SOMEWHERE WITHIN A FEW HUNDRED MILES OF IZMIR, YET SOMEHOW LIGHT YEARS AWAY – At the international headquarters of the Mightier Than the Pen, the navel gazing has never been more intense. As MTTP releases its one hundredth post, its personnel have been coerced by upper management into answering all sorts of questions aimed at eliciting reflective thoughts.

Yet somehow, the carefully crafted employee survey has managed to elicit only a handful of non-facetious responses, and even among those few, management remains uncertain as to their level of sincerity.

“We’re seeing an unanticipated level of snark from our staff,” said Richard Liss, Vice President of Employee Exploitation. “We had been given to understand initially that MTTP’s employees scored very high on various employee satisfaction surveys, but the results of this most recent project call the earlier results into question. We shall have to reevaluate all the data.”

Liss declined to give specifics, or to comment on rumors that his own secretary, Mark E. DeSade, had massaged the data from earlier questionnaires. Employees, however, expressed little doubt.

“Dick Liss has been walking around for months with his head in the sand, and probably willfully so,” charged Justin Cayce, who has worked at the company since its founding this past April. “I’ve been trying to get him to sign on various insurance policies for various contingencies, and  he’s more interested in his blog than in trying to close our vulnerability gap. It’s no wonder everyone who works here is unsure of their futures. And that secretary of his knowingly falsifies data, completely emasculating his boss.”

DeSade was unavailable for comment. Fulla Vitt, a company spokesperson, said that DeSade was away, attending to personal business.

The survey included such questions as, “What historical accomplishments come to mind when you consider MTTP’s reaching one hundred posts?” The responses included:
– “Stalingrad.”
– “Columbus identifying his landing site as India.”
– “The shooting of the last passenger pigeon.”
– “That fateful moment when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and stepped in horse droppings.”
– “When Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger piloted that passenger jet to a safe landing in the Hudson River, there was this one guy who kept saying he wished the whole thing would just go down in flames, because it would be so much cooler that way.”

Liss remained optimistic that MTTP could swiftly develop and implement policies to improve the reliability of employee data. He pointed to a series of steps he has already ordered, including tightening the hand screws of Thag, the chief writer, and cutting Thag’s vacation time. “Heretofore, Thag has averaged about a post and a half per day, but we need to increase productivity. We’re considering taking on another writer and making both writers’ pay contingent on their synergy. The new company slogan, which we hope will have a far-reaching impact, will be, ‘I’ve upped my productivity; up yours.'”

Written by Thag

September 28, 2010 at 9:07 pm

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In Sickness and in Hell

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If you ever get the urge to try to function as normal when you have a bad head cold, smack yourself repeatedly about the head with a tire iron. If it doesn’t dissuade you, at least you’ll be prepared for how following through on the urge will make you feel.

Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for you – why the hell did you subscribe to this again? It certainly wasn’t the blackmail; those photos with the various animals weren’t even you), blogging requires so little concentration that even thus impaired I can compose a post (I can compost, if you will, quite an apt term here) with no adverse effectlkjs. You probably can’t telll the differencess. Eye noh EYE Kant.

So while this condition makes life difficult, it does not make me completely non-functional. The problem becomes capitalizing on the infirmity aspect so as to minimize work and childcare, but not overplaying my hand so that my wife suspects something is up (to anyone reading this who happens to be my wife, this is all meant in jest. Really. I feel just horrible. Awful. Very bad. Wouldn’t it be just terrible to add guilt to the mix?).

The kids, thank goodness, have shown remarkable adaptability, making sure only to complain to their mother about every little thing. Wait, I take that back: first they mete out their idea of vengeance upon the offending sibling(s), then complain to their mother that the target of the vengeance reacted in kind. If only they’d do that everyday. Oh, wait.

The good news, if there is any, is that the grandparents decided to take three of the kids off our hands for a little while, leaving us only with the one whose idea of a good time is to empty the most accessible kitchen drawers, hit accessible keyboards as Animal hits drums, and drop random items down the steps to see what happens (they fall). Of course that means we won’t be able to go to the parade scheduled for today, but gee, I’m sure you can sense my disappointment from there. If you can’t, I suggest using a tire iron.

Written by Thag

September 28, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Taken for a Ride, or at Least a Lurch

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Lesson number one from today: if you have a choice between the free buses and walking, hoof it.

You get what you pay for. Sort of. I mean, our municipal taxes definitely paid for the city-sponsored busing we “enjoyed” today, but it only appeared free because no one asked for tickets. Since thousands of people descended on the city, whose ancient parts attract oodles of visitors this time of year, the city wisely closed the central areas to private cars and arranged for free shuttles to and from several major parking areas around town. We would have avoided the central areas altogether, but (a) we live in the center and (b) we had a birthday party to attend smack in the middle of this tourist Mecca.

So far so good. Except that someone miscalculated the number of buses needed for each route; there seemed to be a glut of them for some outlying areas, but we waited a good half hour before one showed up to take the growing and increasingly agitated crowd to the destination nearest our home.

When it did show up, we and our children had to joust our way onto the bus. Now, you Westernized Protestants out there have no idea what it’s like among the barbarians of the Orient. This society views anyone who would wait patiently in line as a sucker. If you don’t know how to employ your elbows, shoulders, hips and feet to force your way through the competition, you will find yourself left behind. Age, sex, level of infirmity and encumbrance matter not a whit. Of course, once you do attain the prize of boarding, feel free to reserve any number of seats for the rest of your party; you’ve earned it. They just have to be good enough to find their way through the frenzied mob, as well.

I admit I am out of practice at this sort of thing. We got our car about eight-and-a-half years ago, so regular use of public transportation has faded into memory. The crowd-penetrating skills I honed for years before that began to atrophy, or so I thought. Fortunately, like riding a bike, they returned in an instant, even accounting for the folded stroller in one arm and the tired preschooler in the other. Somehow, my elbows knew exactly how to adjust to these new factors, and to position themselves so as to deny the persons adjacent any advantage in the forward campaign (I am even more impressed by my wife’s success, as she managed to navigate the scrum with a baby strapped to her back and a six-year-old in tow, while also keeping her eye on the nine-year-old, and not once did she have to pull rank by barking at those behind her to watch out for the poor baby on her back they were crushing).

The bus, of course, decided to break down after we’d proceeded about a hundred feet.

So we clambered our way off the bus and onto another directly behind, one originally slated for a different destination – and thus we managed to overhear an earful from the disgruntled passengers forced to disembark in our favor – passengers whose destination seemed amply served: I counted four buses for that route before we got our one, defective bus. Fortunately, the fellow in charge had no problem asserting his authority and telling them to file a complaint, though not in such polite terms.

Then came the traffic.

Lesson number two: If you plan to make pizza at home, make sure you have all the ingredients available BEFORE starting.

The aforementioned six-year-old attained that age today, so we went from one birthday party to another, albeit with the busing adventure in between (ABC Tours: we put the “busing” in “abusing”). Since no one anticipated a half-hour trip turning into a two-hour saga, we didn’t have time to go out to get the mozzarella before the guests started arriving. They were quite understanding of the situation, and remained patient even through two failed attempts to find the stuff at local stores. Finally, I trekked (on foot, of course) a bit farther and secured the cheese, and dinner was wonderful.

You might ask why we insisted on mozzarella, when other, less expensive and more readily available varieties of cheese can be obtained almost anywhere. You thus reveal yourself to lack any sense of taste. The local mozzarella may lack flavor – “may” as in the way Iran “may” be suspected of hostility toward, say, Israel – but as a pizza topping it still beats any of the other cheeses available here by a wide margin. They sell many different varieties of cheese, all called “yellow” cheese (as opposed to “white” cheese, which comes in a tub and might be confused with cream cheese if one’s idea of cream cheese is runny and bland), and which are standard fare in the pizza joints. The culinary hopelessness that such places embody makes that whole Iran-Israel thing seem rosy by comparison.

Lesson number three from today: keep your blog posts from getting too long.

Written by Thag

September 26, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Fear to Tread

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Deliberation is good. Considering many angles to a situation or decision is good. Taking one’s time to arrive at a course of action is important. You’d think that more processing = greater focus. You’d be wronger than a tutu on a Hell’s Angel.

One of my children walks slowly. We must always allow twice as much time to get anywhere than our own walking speed would indicate. This child tends to eat slowly, walk slowly, get dressed slowly, you name it. We can see in this one’s behavior a unique deliberateness, one that might prompt an observer to think that such a child would pay careful attention to the surroundings, to take extra care before proceeding. Such a child, you would reason, would never step in dog poop, because, well, so much attention is taken before each step forward.

Only it turns out that the attention is directed not toward the path in front of the child, but to everything but: conversations between random strangers; cats meandering through nearby yards; colorful decals on nearby vehicles; air molecules passing overhead. This need to take everything in, rather than affording extra awareness, actually diminishes attention to the task at hand: getting to the destination with minimal hassle. Thus the poop-covered sandal.

The kid gets it from somewhere, obviously. Yours truly has had his moments of absent-mindedness, notably the entire period between second and fifth grades (“Homework? What homework? We had homework today? I don’t remember any homework. Look, Mom, my memo pad doesn’t have anything written in it, so I couldn’t have any homework.”). Yours truly has also been known to walk into poles and slip off curbs, but yours truly prefers to attribute those incidents to fate and/or willful risk-taking.

But I am free to lapse into being judgmental when it comes to my offspring, of course. It’s also hard to square this one’s head-in-the-clouds approach to life with that of our oldest, whose ignorance of the environment is almost invariably and transparently contrived; the smarter they get, it appears, the stupider they pretend to be, hoping that might get them off the hook for engaging in verboten activities, such as continuing to pull on the handles of parked cars we walk past, then acting all surprised when one of the doors pops open. Gee, no one expected that. Imagine that! Pulling open a car door can cause the car door to open! Wow! Hey Mom! Look what I discovered! I’ll make sure to phrase it all nervously, though, because I don’t want it to seem intentional or anything. But wow, am I surprised! Really! I have my eyes open wide and my eyebrows raised to prove it!

And hey, how could they possibly foresee a sibling getting upset by the same thing that got the same sibling upset just a few hours ago? Really, I should refine my expectations of these poor souls. Only the super-intelligent could be expected to reason their way out of that paper bag.

The contrast also lies in the demeanor: the oldest, from a very young age, was always bounding ahead as far as possible, puppy-like, turning around occasionally to make sure he was still going the right way. The deliberate one wouldn’t be caught dead all the way in front; that might cause something important not to be noticed, such as that woman hanging out some laundry on her porch. Look, you can still see her from this angle if you just step right this –

Oh, yuck.

Written by Thag

September 23, 2010 at 11:25 pm

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Taking the Air Force’s Old “Aim High” Motto Too Far

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It turns out my brother is NOT stuck in Korea.

If this blog had a wider audience (you need to put on some weight, people), that statement would indeed seem to come out of nowhere. However, since most of the seven or so regular readers of this…thing…are related to me, the background is old news, so the rest of you will have to feign enough shock to account for everyone.

Not to minimize my brother’s erstwhile plight, but I could think of a number of places more unpleasant in which to be stuck: Dresden in February 1945; quicksand; my kids’ bathroom. I wish to emphasize that we should all be thankful not to be stuck in my kids’ bathroom.

It started out as a nice bathroom, and that niceness is probably still hiding somewhere underneath the grime, afraid to risk itself again. We put in two sinks, only one of which gets any use as such, a large mirror over the vanity, and a couple of towel hooks on the back of the door. Our intention was that the mirror function as a mirror, but we short-sighted grown-ups made the mistake of only seeing things as they are, not their potential: our children use the mirror mainly as a way to refine rude facial expressions and as a way to protect the wall behind it from dangerous toothpaste spittle.

The hooks on the back of the door decided they didn’t like it there anymore, so they detached themselves and jumped to their deaths. Every time I walk in there, I understand those door hooks more and more. The door doesn’t close, ever since the door frame got warped from all the water that mysteriously found its way out of the bathtub and onto the floor (obviously my children are innocent, because they claim not to know a thing about it). The little nudists running around don’t care very much yet (it’s just SO endearing, you know), but they will begin to care eventually (please? PLEASE?), at which point the non-functional door will pose a more serious problem.

And then there’s the stench of old urine. Where does it hide? Though I’ve wiped that place down like nobody’s, well, business, the stink lingers (“Stink Lingers” would be a fabulous name for a Dutch rock band). Or it disappears for a VERY short time and resurfaces later the same day. Perhaps the junior brigade feels so at home amidst the urea (doesn’t that phrase have almost an epic, poetic quality to it? You can thank me for not repeating it) that in its absence they feel ill at ease, and must replenish the olfactory deposits. This would make sense, considering the number of nights we failed to take a certain junior member of the household to the bathroom in the middle of the night early enough, with predictable results. Thus their bedroom has a distinct aura that must offer a certain familiar comfort. Distinct.

And we shall give only brief mention to various artistic streaks on the porcelain.

I do not envy my brother his travel travails. But I, too, would journey home via St. Petersburg if it meant that much more time away from that bathroom.

Written by Thag

September 21, 2010 at 11:42 am

One of These Things Is Not Like the Others…

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Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post coined the term “googlenope” to refer to a phrase for which Google’s search engine finds no results. The art of the googlenope calls for a phrase, in quotes, that makes grammatical and logical sense, but whose absence from the online world illuminates something about society. A web site or two sprang up to promote this idea, and a foray or two into the abyss of googlenope searching turned up a surprising result: some really, really, wacky sentences or phrases are out there already, and some shockingly plain ones are not.

I present to you, then, a short quiz. Your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it, is to identify the one selection from each group that is not a googlenope, and you may not conduct a search. You must go with your gut, or your reasoning ability, the existence of which remains open to question, considering how you’re spending these moments. This message wishes it could self destruct in thirty seconds.

a) Beyond stupid: Kissing.
b) My pants are not a cause for alarm.
c) A paean to dirty underwear.
d) A bassinet full of hairless cats.

a) Eventually, I ordered the offal.
b) I could kill for a Marmite sandwich.
c) Excuse me, do you have an extra diaper?
d) Elvis was a yid.

a) I smoke just to piss you people off.
b) Has anyone seen my pet virus?
c) That root canal hurt a lot.
d) I have a fatal eye spasm.

a) I wonder whether E. Coli ever…
b) My elephant can’t sneeze.
c) My petunias like water.
d) If I had a hammer, with a side of fries.

a) Forgetting the right word is like…
b) I am a professional heckler.
c) No onions for you today!
d) Unripe bananas make you poop less.

a) I’d rather be vivisecting.
b) I voted for Bush all five times.
c) Elvis would have been a poopreporter.
d) Sundays are for random sentences.

a) My poo turned orange.
b) The priest’s sermon contained garlic.
c) This menu doesn’t have enough pages.
d) Poodles taste better than retrievers.

a) The winning candidate claimed election fraud.
b) I much prefer tooth decay.
c) This suicide note practically writes itself.
d) Take this job and shave it.

Ready? Record your answers in the comments, please. Given enough time, Googlebot will catalog this page, as well, rendering all the answers incorrect, but as of September 20, 2010, they were right. Let’s see how you do, and no peeking. I’ll follow up with the “correct” answers in a later post. If I feel like it. I have a job to shave.

Written by Thag

September 20, 2010 at 8:34 pm

We’re Lucky No One Here Likes Jelly

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My brain must be showing its age. First, my three-year-old demonstrates how much more she knows than I do, and now the nine-year-old gets in on the act.

We’re very proud of our oldest, who prepares his own lunch and snack for school every morning. Lately, his selection from our vast menu (bread with peanut butter; bread without peanut butter; bread with hummus; bread without hummus; etc.) has included whole wheat crackers with peanut butter, which of course he spreads by himself. With peanut butter, it’s hard to avoid getting it somewhere other than on the target surface, so we expect a bit of mess. We did have to inform him, however, that he should use a plate or something, and not wind up with the spread in streaks and globs all over the counter.

All well and good. He seems to have taken to heart the part about not placing the food directly on the counter. What he did instead was use the table. I’d have thought the statement, “Use a plate,” unequivocal, but once again, my children have taught me that when it comes to unequivocation (it’s a word NOW), I have much to learn. And much to clean up.

Written by Thag

September 20, 2010 at 9:48 am

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Embryonic Ideas

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My wife had a brilliant idea today.

[Our marriage counselor, if we had one, would at this point insist I include a disclaimer to the effect that all of her ideas are brilliant, not merely the one she had today, lest the reader wrongly infer from the above that only today’s idea exuded such brilliance. Our marriage counselor, if we had one, would summarily be dismissed, as such a dynamic remains entirely absent from this marriage; any and all slights are assumed de facto to exist, whether or not they were intended. It keeps things simple.]

So as I was saying, my wife had a brilliant idea today. We have, at any given time, several pregnant friends; this is the nature of our stage of life.

[Our replacement marriage counselor, if we had one, would at this point caution me to include a disclaimer to the effect that I in no way mean to imply by the above that I wish my wife were pregnant, lest the above give the impression that I mention all these friends in order to exert subtle peer pressure on her. Our replacement marriage counselor, if we had one, would now be looking for new clients, as well. You know, it could well be that some successful marriage counselors achieve their success by getting the couple to work together against the perceived ill intent of the therapist. This demonstrates how much I know about marital counseling; it could also be that the Atlantic Ocean is really just a galactic spittoon.]

So yeah, we have a bunch of pregnant friends. Naturally, these friends know how far along they are in their pregnancies; that’s part of the job description. We, however, have quite a time keeping track of who is due when, and whether or not any given woman has had the baby yet. So her idea: a spreadsheet to keep track of the who, when and whether.

[Now that we have dismissed our fantastical counselor, you may feel free to draw the inference that my wife enjoys keeping track of things in Excel. It certainly beats keeping track of them in Minesweeper, as I’ve been trying to do, which is why my wife keeps admonishing me not to waste my time trying so much. Or so often.]

I realize that the idea may give some readers pause; if we can’t remember when so-and-so is due, can we really call ourselves her friend? Of course we can, you nincompoop. I don’t remember my kids’ social security numbers offhand, but does that mean I don’t love them enough?

[Your lawyer, if you had one, would counsel against answering that question.]

In any case, I do like the idea, but I think we both know it won’t happen. Too much work updating it all the time [“Hi, sorry to bother you, Anne; I just called to ask whether you’re still pregnant.”]. And our spreadsheets have a tendency to snowball. Give it just a few weeks and we’d start adding tabs to keep track of who looks pregnant, and did we ever get confirmation of that suspicion? If so, did we cut and paste her name to the other sheet? You probably don’t need a marriage counselor to tell you that’s not a productive field of gossip in which to engage, unless you happen to be a soap opera character.

In which case you’re probably having an affair with your marriage counselor, whether or not you have one, and said counselor is actually the father of your unborn child [insert sex-change operation here if relevant], which of course comes as quite a shock to you, because you didn’t even know you were pregnant. But if you had this spreadsheet, you wouldn’t have that problem.

Written by Thag

September 19, 2010 at 9:01 pm

I Think the Ivory Tower Was Really Plastic

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In my last year of high school I sat in on a history class at the college I eventually attended. It hooked me. Not the subject, mind you; I didn’t settle on History as my major until a bit later. It was the professor: he was brash, sharp and quirky, resembling a longer-haired Larry of the Three Stooges, but with half-moon glasses and a nasal voice that called to mind a very fast immersion blender.

I spent a year and a half abroad before returning to that campus, to find out that the professor had undergone surgery to remove a brain tumor, and the ordeal had changed him: he was brasher, crankier, more unkempt, and much more bitter. He proved so entertaining as a result that not only did I decide to major in History, I registered for every class I possibly could with him. My junior year he took a sabbatical, and I was crushed. Somehow, I muddled through the mild disillusionment, even succumbing to it briefly enough to declare a Business minor as well. I remember about eight things from that set of courses, among them: Present Value, Amortization, that there’s something meaningless called Total Quality Management, and that some people actually need to be taught to use Microsoft Word. People are morons.

People Are Morons, as a weltanschauung, came to illuminate a good bit of other subjects, including History, as well as prepare me for life in the much-touted Real World that was supposed to begin once I was graduated. In fact I’m still waiting for it to begin, thirteen years later, but People Are Morons nevertheless serves to explain much of current events, bureaucracy and pop culture.

I don’t have the chutzpah to adopt People Are Morons as a business strategy, P.T. Barnum style, because really, the way we treat our inferiors – in material, emotional or mental terms – provides the true measure of our character. The mantra functions mainly in an explanatory capacity, when nothing else quite accounts for the mind-blowing stupidity all around us: Lady Gaga; the popularity of Hummers; Glenn Beck as a torch bearer for Martin Luther King, Jr.; Scientology; reality TV; the 9/11 “truth” movement; and why desserts exist that do not contain chocolate.

But back to college (I would if I could – more on that some other time). The day I sat in on that history class, some of my colleagues audited a session in public speaking, a course I ended up taking – under the same professor who was in that speech classroom a couple of years before. I’m pretty sure it was the same room, in fact. There I was, a quiet, somewhat bookish eighteen-year-old, assigned to give his first informative speech, and I had to perform under the critical eye of – as far as we could tell – a seasoned, cynical observer of human expression, who dropped names (sometimes just for dramatic effect, I am convinced) and intimidated us little nerds. He could tell we were intimidated. Or at least it looked that way.

I chose, as my topic, the Protestant-Catholic violence in Northern Ireland, mostly because I liked Tom Clancy’s novel Patriot Games. Except that it took me a looong time to dredge up enough material to satisfy the structural and annotative material the professor demanded. When I finally stood at the lectern, my voice and gestures brimming with confidence and apparent mastery of the material, he just sat there, dumbfounded. Here was this little pipsqueak, proving the know-it-all judge of personality all wrong. When he got over his initial shock, we warmed to each other (and his critiques of my subsequent presentations were not as kind, even the one about chocolate, and even though I brought in the “visual” aids of Toblerone and its ilk and distributed them freely).

During my senior year he directed the dramatics society in a dynamite production of Inherit the Wind, and I can’t thank him enough for the experience. I was the Reverend Jeremiah Brown; the role called for one fabulous, fire-and-brimstone prayer meeting as my big scene. The director had us rehearsing it over and over one evening, and one element of the production had me slapping my kid for objecting to my calling down “Hellfire on the man who has sinned against the Word.” The actor playing the part was supposed to move with my hand such that the sound would resonate, but the pain would be minimal. Except that the last time we did the scene that evening, I didn’t hear the director’s instruction to skip the slap that time. So my interlocutor was unprepared for the blow. Ouch.

I have other fond memories of that period, not least because it’s when I met my wife (well, that’s what she is now; stop getting all picky with my language – that’s  MY job). The campus convenience store was open to students of the affiliated high school during certain evening hours, and my eventual brother-in-law taught there at the time. During some banter with a couple of high schoolers, one said to the other, “You know who he reminds me of? Mr. ______.” “Yeah!” said the other. I observed how funny that was, considering that I was dating his sister. They simply didn’t believe me. People are morons.

Written by Thag

September 16, 2010 at 1:59 pm

It’s a Good Thing There Are No Phone Booths Anymore

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As I walk – no, make that swagger – down the street, how many passersby are aware that they have just had a brush with none other than Thag, he of Mightier than the Pen?

That probably depends on where I swagger. I mean, this is (mostly) an English-language oeuvre (I swear that was unintentional). Precious few denizens of, for instance, Tajikistan, would ever have cause to wonder such a thing, probably because there aren’t any streets. And I challenge you to concoct a plausible scenario in which Thag winds up in Dushanbe (to the Tajiks and their admirers, rest assured I hold you in the highest regard; my choice of your homeland for the butt of a joke in no way reflects on the true nature of your country and culture, hopelessly primitive as it may be)(I did it again, didn’t I?)(Anyway, I’m sure you have streets, quite nice ones, at that, and the fact that mules outnumber cars on those streets only adds to the charm, as do the yaks. Unless that’s a different hopelessly backwards slime hole I’m thinking of).

This secret identity thing certainly is exciting. As I pass people, I remind myself that they have no idea just how much our lives are connected beyond that chance encounter (none). I must suppress a rush of pride and importance, lest I burst out and yell, “It is I! Thag himself!” and wait for the swooning to commence. It’s like wearing my race car underwear and just hoping for an excuse to show them off.

OK, so I don’t actually have race car underwear, and haven’t in about thirty years (no, I will not tell you my current choice). But that example certainly carried less baggage than the authentic memory of walking into the public library with a metal pipe in my inside coat pocket and feeling a sense of accomplishment at smuggling in a weapon (I can’t remember why I did it in the first place. If I recall correctly, I only discovered the thing in my pocket on the way in; the concealment was hardly planned. And it wasn’t really a pipe; I think it was a broken section of the metal bar from a school desk. I think I liked the way the end looked, when you looked at it in just the right light, from just the right angle, almost, but completely, unlike the barrel of a gun). Thirteen-year-old boys are far more complex creatures than the ones less than half their age. As if you needed to be told that.

In any case, I’m sure swooning is exactly what would happen if I proceeded to favor the public with displays of my undergarments. Or I’m not so sure, considering what passes for clothing nowadays. It seems perfectly acceptable for a man to forget his shirt at home in the morning, judging from the sartorial selections around me. For some reason, as well, women seem to think that walking outside with only a bra for a top would be wrong, but two bra-like garments suddenly make it OK. You know, because that extra third of an inch from each additional strap makes such a difference. And don’t get me started on navels.

So I suppose exposing my skivvies would not have the dramatic effect I originally assumed. I could, however, succumb to the urge to yell out, “I am Thag!” and that would just intimidate everyone. No one would mess with me. I blog. Isn’t that so unique and special? You can tell how impressed everyone is by the way they begin to keep a respectful distance.

Written by Thag

September 14, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Screed Saver

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I’m not bigoted; I tell things as they are. So when I say that [insert group title] are a bunch of [insert slur] and never had it so good, that’s just the way things are. In fact, some of my closest friends are [insert group title], so there’s no way I can be prejudiced.

Don’t bother me with historical oppression or discrimination that [insert group title] have suffered. That’s in the past, and I’m talking about today. Today, no one wants to hear about what they owe you because you happened to be born [insert group title].

And what’s so wrong about observing that [insert group title] all happen to share a certain set of characteristics? Don’t tell me it’s just not true; we all know it’s true, but PC idiots want to suppress anything negative about anybody who might deserve it. Because really, the PC agenda is all about devaluing everything so no one realizes [insert group title] is trying to [insert nefarious global/national goal].

This is America, damn it, and last time I checked, we still had freedom of speech, so don’t tell me I can’t speak the truth about [insert group title]. Their feelings can take a hike; I’m protecting America and all it stands for by keeping people aware of the threat that the [insert group title]’s [insert nefarious global/national goal] poses to everything REAL Americans hold dear.

Written by Thag

September 14, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

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Since the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the US military has received so much media coverage in recent weeks, months and years, I thought it germane to note that we, too, have a policy by that name, and that perhaps other parents might want to post the elements of this policy around the house for the offspring to review, then ignore at will.

Because that’s what they do. They would not be independent beings if they blindly performed every little task we ordered them to. They would not generate such vicarious pleasure if obedience and proper behavior were to be expected. If they actually cleaned up after themselves after, say, missing the toilet in such a way that the mechanics of the incident remain scientifically inexplicable, we would not notice. It must be thus.

That does not stop us from expecting the best from them at all times. I am pleased to present, therefore, Thag’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy:

Don’t ask:
1. For a snack unless you are prepared to accept an apple or carrot.
2. The same goddamn question again and again and again.
3. For pizza for every single meal.
4. To stay home from school. Not happening.
5. For more clothes. You have more than enough.
6. Why that person is so fat, unless you do so in a very, very soft voice. So soft that not even I will hear you.
7. For dessert until everyone else has also finished eating.
8. Me to help you find something unless you have looked ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE.
9. For a band-aid unless it’s for a band-aid-appropriate injury. The following injuries do not qualify: Invisible scratches; bruises; mosquito bites; soreness; nonexistent wounds.
10. For anything we have already told you you will not get, in the hope that we will forget that we revoked that privilege as a result of something you did.
11. Any question at all to which you already know the answer, but are just looking for the security of getting the response you expected. You will not like the response you get, so don’t ask it.

Don’t Tell:
1. On your siblings unless they are doing something dangerous.
2. Anyone they’re fat.
3. Me you weren’t doing anything when I clearly saw you or heard you engage in an activity I’ve told you at least four billion times, in the last three days alone, not to do.
4. Me you couldn’t hear me when you simply weren’t listening.
5. Your innocent younger siblings anything other than the unvarnished truth. Or your older siblings. Or your parents. Or anyone.
6. Your mother you’ll be back home at five unless you really WILL be back home at five, which means leaving your friend’s house a good bit BEFORE five to ensure that you get home on time.
7. Me to do your laundry because you have no clean clothes. In our society, we have this concept called “respect” that calls for making requests, not demands, especially when demands will make me simply say, “No.” You will find this mode of communication extremely helpful with anyone who holds any power whatsoever over you.
8. Your friends that your father has a secret identity as a superhero. Even if true, it only invites unwanted attention and makes my life more difficult. Goes-Eight-Months-At-A-Time-Without-Showering-Man cannot perform his duties with all that distraction.
9. Solicitors at the door or on the phone that we are available.
10. Me you’re not hungry right after I prepared you the food for which you just asked. Tough.
11. Me you won’t when I insist you will, or vice versa.
12. Me something happened accidentally when it happened because you were touching or playing with something not yours.
13. Me about anything less urgent than life-threatening danger before 6 in the morning, and even then, it might depend whose life.

Other policy elements shall be issued from time to time; please note them and internalize them. Other parents are naturally welcome to develop their own policies, as well as to suggest additions or amendments to the one delineated above. Just not before six in the morning.

Written by Thag

September 13, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Deconstructing Thag

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Opening statement intended to beguile, confuse or pique interest. Amplification of opening thought, with additional attempt at wit or wordplay.

Development of theme introduced in the first paragraph. Provision of specific examples from everyday life, most notably in terms of parenthood, with causal reference to literature or pop culture (long-winded parenthetical digression intended solely to wring every last bit of humor from said reference). Expression of annoyance, replete with outrageous metaphors or similes, especially those associated with relationships, animals, food or physiology.

Further digression to explore secondary themes (parenthetical autobiographical remark to ground the reader in reality and demonstrate that perhaps the whole essay is meant tongue-in-cheek). Self-deprecating remark about hygiene and/or diet.

Recollection of humorous episode from recent weeks or months, or perhaps from childhood. Analogy to current circumstances, with dry commentary on political developments. Feigned ignorance of important or everyday facts.

Resigned acceptance of position at odds with original thesis , with a joke to tie back to the first part of the post and to soften the blow to the ego required by the attitude adjustment.

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September 13, 2010 at 3:11 pm

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They Printed this Menu in the Wrong Order

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I think we have everything bass ackwards.

This evening, as I sat down with my wife to a dinner of cold pasta and grated cheese, I came to the realization that dessert always should come first. Sometimes it should replace the other food entirely. This is especially true when dessert includes, as it did tonight, Pepperidge Farm Double Chunk cookies.

You might attribute this epiphany to the stark contrast between the two elements of the meal. You might also observe that we could have warmed up the “main course” before partaking, a step that would markedly improve the culinary experience. While based on empirical facts, these explanations fail to account for another factor: sometimes we do make a meal out of Pepperidge Farm Double Chunk cookies. We take pains to split the eight-cookie package evenly between us.

You might now wonder why we would so restrict our diets. Wouldn’t it get dull after a while? Well, first of all, no, and second of all, we don’t do that all the time. Sometimes we have Pepperidge Farm Double Chocolate Milanos (in which case dividing it evenly poses a challenge, since the package contains an odd number of cookies. Somehow my most excellent help-mate manages to halve the last one quite nicely). It really depends what the store down the street has in stock. At the moment – and this is a decidedly temporary situation, as I’m sure you will agree – we have a stock of chocolate chunk cookies in our cabinet because last week we found them unexpectedly at a supermarket, for a price lower than we’ve seen in years.

If I’ve had time to putter around in the kitchen, and the weekend guests did not engage in the gluttony we have come to expect of ourselves (and how could they, if we deliberately serve only a fraction of the whole batch?), then homemade fudge occasionally fills in (ha!) for cookies.

Then we have the occasions when, following the discovery of a sale on Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie, we buy several pints. The ice cream serves as dinner, or as a post-kids’-bedtime supplement to a disappointing dinner. Alternatively, when the storage or shipping conditions of the ice cream have let it melt slightly and refreeze, leaving ice crystals that offend our senses and sensibilities, the whole thing (sans carton) gets chucked into the blender with some milk, and we have a heftier, two-person version of Slim-Fast™. Except that Slim-Fast™ uses the phrase “sensible dinner” in its advertising somewhere, as I recall. And the quantity we end up with might be considered by lesser appetites more than two servings. But really, since the two of us share a pint when eating the stuff straight, why should another cup of milk make a difference?

Naturally, we insist that the kids eat “properly” and only serve dessert on special occasions. These are the privileges of the parental set, or at least of the you’ll-eat-what-we-tell-you-to set. At least until they start doing the cooking and cleaning, in exchange for which I’d be perfectly willing to let them decide what to make for dinner.

As long as the catch of the day isn’t bass ackwards.

Written by Thag

September 12, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Beverly Cleary Just Won’t Do

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Get your kids to read. I say this not simply as a parent who seeks the best for his offspring; we all know how wonderful I am in that regard despite the little twerps’ constant efforts to sabotage my endeavors. No, I issue this recommendation as a matter of more immediate utilitarian import: once they gain a modicum of literacy, they take care of themselves for large chunks of time.

Our oldest, now nine and a half, struggled his way through a dozen or so books over the summer, at first complaining at every turn how difficult he found it. But as he stuck with it, the complaints about difficulty gave way to critiques of content (Ramona Quimby, Age 8 apparently is too dull for his tastes; he prefers the Magic Tree House series and its ilk. While this jibes with his age and sex, I do hope one day he discovers the pleasures of literature outside the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings genres).

But the last few days have seen an even more beneficial development: he’s taken over bedtime storytelling. That’s why I can sit here vegetating in front of my blog right now. I can clean up from dinner. I can do some laundry. But of course every minute or two I get the urge to listen in. When I do succumb, I hear a kid whose confidence went from near zero just a couple of months ago to through the roof – he just sits down with his little brother and sister and goes through several books with them, no prodding, no pleading, no cajoling. Last night’s offerings included Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and two Knuffle Bunny books, all by the inimitable Mo Willems; tonight the little ones got Wolfie, a relatively obscure book about a boy and his pet spider, along with Green Eggs and Ham, by God Himself.

The only downside of this trend is the boy’s tendency, following his father, to get sucked into a book to the exclusion of all else, and to peruse it until the cows come home (that’s liable to be a very long time, as we have no cows). But even at that price, I’ll take it. His brother, not quite six, expressed his intense frustration yesterday that he’s not learning how to read at school yet, just letters and sounds (oddly – as if any other adjective serves in the context of this boy’s quirks – he has taken to blurting out “ABC!” to denote frustration, defiance and other challenging emotions). With the older one leading the way, this TV-less household can look forward to many years of brain-intensive entertainment.

And with that, I’m off to YouTube to check out old commercials from the 1980s.

Written by Thag

September 7, 2010 at 8:39 pm

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If Memory Serves, It Usually Aces Me

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Unlike the lot of you, I am an extremely busy person. It’s only ten o’clock at night and I’ve already baked three pies. And debated going to bed. I must have done other stuff today, as well, because something must have happened between when I woke up this morning and now, but I have children-induced amnesia. I suppose that’s what happens when the screeching reaches a point that the brain simply blots out anything in the temporal vicinity.

Clearly we had pasta for dinner; the still-dirty-and-on-the-table dishes demonstrate that. There also must have been something apple-related going on today, based on the peels and cores in the trash. And someone must have brushed the kids’ teeth, pajamaed them (the kids, not the teeth) and put them to bed. But I can’t be bothered to remember any of that.

I suppose I could set up a camera to record the important moments of the day, then review them before bed. I would have to play it at high speed so as not to waste time, which means that son number two would appear to be getting up and dressed in the morning at a normal pace. Hmm. This idea certainly has its advantages.

Written by Thag

September 5, 2010 at 10:25 pm

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Tumor Update

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Went to the doctor today. He agreed with the gynecologist friend – that bump at my hairline is in fact a lipoma (from the Greek “lip” meaning “fat” and “oma” meaning “German grandmother”). I can drag out the process by getting a dermatologist’s opinion or just cut to the chase – rather, chase to the cut – and make an appointment with a surgeon.

Apparently, this kind of growth can’t just be sucked out through a tube; a lipoma removal requires an actual incision or two. The doctor assured me the scar would conform to my existing forehead wrinkles. I find that statement interesting, in that the growth lies a full inch and a half from the nearest existing wrinkle. Maybe he meant they would create a new set of wrinkles in with which the scar will blend. Maybe he thinks the 23-year-old forehead craters from my bout with the chicken pox could use a little company. I need more marks in my brow like I need a hole in my head. Or something.

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September 2, 2010 at 10:58 pm

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After considering the evidence for an entire sojourn in the bathroom, I have determined why the roads are so unsafe: other drivers.

Think, just for a moment, how many fewer car accidents would occur if all those other people were barred from the road. How “distracted driving” would all but disappear as a menace. How little hassle would be encountered on major arteries during rush hour. How the most convenient parking spots would always be available. How little wear the bridges and road surfaces would suffer. How infrequently DWI would occur. And, most glaringly, how often the other driver is at fault in two-car accidents – both drivers almost invariably agree that the other is at fault. QED.

Think of the budgetary savings that would result from implementing the most obvious solution. Reduced municipal costs from policing traffic. Reduced road maintenance. Reduced cost of running the DMV. Reduced paperwork and judicial bottlenecks. The list goes on.

After a successful demonstration of this new policy, we can look forward to the impact of this type of thinking in other areas of critical importance. Consider how many of the world’s problems originate with other people. Human-generated global warming. Arms races. Pollution. The spread of AIDS in Africa and Southeast Asia. Ethnic and religious conflict. If we could eliminate other people, none of these issues would have relevance anymore, and more important questions could attain greater priority.

What’s more, the annoying parenting phenomenon of Other People’s Children would never again rear its ugly head. You know what I mean: children who, from an obscenely young age, behave perfectly, especially in public, and sleep through the night as of a few weeks old. This would never happen to one’s own children, of course, so any jealousy or murderous rage this phenomenon generates could be eliminated outright.

Of course, getting rid of other people would also ruin the entertainment and gossip industries; that’s just one more reason to pursue this worthy goal. Me, I’m going to start by ignoring anyone who disagrees.

Written by Thag

September 2, 2010 at 9:42 pm

I’m Happy! Are You Happy?

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This blog has received a number (zero) of complaints that it focuses excessively on the bitter, the negative, the mockery-worthy. Although the editorial team disputes this contention, it decided to humor those readers who seek a more lighthearted, happy, go-lucky tone. Then the team shall repair to the commode and puke.

Hi! It’s gr8 2cu all again! My life is happy! Are you happy? Yay! Can we do some fun dancing now? Just the other day, I ha- BLAAAAAAAARRRRFFF!

Damn it. Couldn’t get to the commode in time. What a mess. The whole team.

Written by Thag

September 1, 2010 at 7:55 pm

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We Actually Got an Offer Like This Last Week

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You’re not spending enough money. If you were, I wouldn’t be calling you to offer you our new mobile phone plan.

See, right now you only spend thirty dollars per month on your mobile phone bill. If you pay more than that, I can offer you a deal that allows you to use your phone a lot more, even though that would require a systematic restructuring of the way you run your life.

You see, right now you only use your phone a little bit, which means it sits there in your pocket or purse or wherever, accomplishing nothing. If you pay us more money, though, we can make sure you use it instead of, say, your computer and its internet connection, for which of course you’d continue to pay anyway.

So it’s a great deal for us, the phone company. You would also benefit, of course: you’d get the satisfaction of knowing you’re part of a horde of other people who fell for this ruse. After all, we’ll waive the monthly fee – the fee already included in your previous bill that totals less than what we intend to charge you even without the fee. And we’re telling you up front. We just hope that you, as the countless others, lack the sense and basic arithmetic skills to call us on this scheme.

What’s more, we’re employing people to make calls to our current users just to get them to fall for it. It’s like stealing candy from a baby, really. We know what’s best for you – clearly, the money will be better managed by us than by idiots who don’t think through their commitments (What the hell were your parents thinking, giving you that candy? Haven’t they paid any attention to obesity and tooth decay statistics in the last couple of decades? Or did you get the candy from strangers?).

To sweeten the deal, we’ll also allow you to replace your current phone with a more advanced model that will enable you to take full advantage of the services and features in which you have never heretofore shown any interest. Naturally, this new model costs more than the plan; you can pay it off over the next several years if you wish. We’ll add it to your monthly bill. As it happens, the monthly amount is about the same as the monthly fee we told you we’d waive. Oh, and by the way, that waiver only lasts a year.

Written by Thag

September 1, 2010 at 11:04 am