Mightier Than The Pen

Making The World A Bitter Place

Archive for November 2010

The Dysfunction Championship Round

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Bob: Welcome to 2010 Christmas dinner at the Johnson home, brought to you by Jack Daniel’s and Big Bob’s House of Psychotherapy and Amusement Park. I’m Bob Costas, and with me is Greg Gumble.

This year’s feast once again pits two classic rivals against each other. In one corner we have Beatrice Johnson, a veteran housewife of twenty-two years, defending her title as author of the finest roast turkey. She has fended off challenges from many quarters in recent months, and now comes the final showdown of the year. Opposing her is her mother-in-law, Louise Delmar, grandmother of six and title holder in several categories, including Passive-Aggressive Put-Downs and Backhanded Compliments. Greg?

Greg: As you said, Bob, the drama has been building in the extended Smith clan for quite some time. Just last month, when Beatrice and Jared officially sent the invitations to today’s event, Delmar and her husband of eight years, James Delmar, waited until the very last moment to confirm their attendance, in a bid to make Beatrice stew as long as possible. But Beatrice saw it coming, and deflected the move handily by getting the skinny on her in-laws’ attendance from another relative in whom Delmar confides. Delmar tried to retaliate by insinuating to Jared that Beatrice had made a grave error in the family’s choice of upcoming vacation venue – Busch Gardens – and questioning her ability to properly raise Delmar’s grandchildren. However, the Johnsons had already talked over that possibility before that phone conversation last week, so Delmar’s move had little impact. We’ll see today how the two competitors continue to maneuver and try to score points.

Bob: Right now the guests are arriving, and the meal is scheduled to start in about five minutes. The Johnsons decided against serving cocktails before the meal, mostly to deny Delmar an opportunity to belittle their selection and taste in beverages. But she just muttered a wry comment just above a whisper, as if only to her husband, but really so everyone around could hear, something to the effect that Beatrice must be ashamed of her drinks, so she refused to serve any.

Greg: The Johnsons probably expected that kind of thrust, but are willing to relinquish the early, relatively minor, score in order to avoid a more specific, damaging move by the opponent. It’s hard to tell from the replay, but I believe that when Beatrice took Delmar’s coat, she intentionally hung it in the closet in such a way that it will crease badly. The Johnsons are definitely pressing the advantage they have at home.

Bob: With the children running interference, Beatrice now takes the time to check on the Turkey. Delmar exploits the opening and distributes candy to the young ones.

Greg: A shrewd move on her part, Bob. She plays to her strength as the grandmother. In one swift motion, she both gets the kids on her side tactically, and lays the strategic groundwork for ruining their appetites. That keeps open the possibility that no matter how good Beatrice’s food might be, the kids will seem not to like it because they’ve gorged on sweets. Delmar can exploit that opening to get in some important digs on Beatrice’s cuisine and parenting all at once. Let’s see how this plays out.

Bob: Here come Beatrice and Jared together now, inviting everyone into the dining room. The Johnsons take position near the door to the kitchen, at the head and down the right side of the table, with the Delmars at the far end near the hallway toward the bathroom. Down the left side of the table are assorted other cousins of different ages. The dozen or so people jostle around to find their places, and in the midst of the commotion, Delmar loudly critiques the tableware and color scheme.

Greg: That’s the real opening salvo of the evening. Delmar picked an inviting target. She pretended to admire Beatrice’s taste while actually highlighting that the colors are much more suitable to spring than to winter.

Bob: What a defensive play! Beatrice retorts that the children chose and set out the décor especially with their grandmother in mind, and yes, isn’t it bright and attractive? What a great play!

Greg: It’s a move right out of Delmar’s own playbook, when she was a rookie Johnson herself, hosting the family dinner back in 1975. She must be gobsmacked to have her own move used on her so well.

Bob: OK, it looks like the family is going to say grace. We’ll break here for a word from our sponsors.

Written by Thag

November 29, 2010 at 9:09 pm

And Moses Called, “Shotgun!”

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On the twenty-eighth day of the eleventh month, Thag emerged from his study, and in his hand were two sheets of paper. Upon those sheets were printed the holy utterances. Thag spake unto the children, saying:

“Thou hast driven me to drink, with thy ceaseless bickering regarding the front-right seat of the family chariot. Hearken to my words, for these are the utterances by which thou shalt abide in determining who shall sit in the front-right seat.” And he called the seat the shotgun seat, and thus it is known unto this day.

“1. I am thy father and the driver. The driver alone shall have the final say as to who gets to sit in the shotgun seat.

2. Thou shalt not invoke the authority of any other figure to rule on the occupancy of the shotgun seat. If I am not the driver for a given trip, the driver for that trip shall exercise said authority, and thou shalt hearken unto him or her as thou hearken unto me. For I am a jealous car owner and driver, and I shall not abide those who defy my direct or delegated authority.

3. Thou shalt not falsely claim that the driver granted thee the shotgun seat.

4. Remember to call “Shotgun!” upon the initiation of each journey; even if there have been six legs to a journey, the seventh shall not be exempt from the need to call it. Calling shotgun shall be for thee, thy handbag, backpack, book, water bottle and the mobile device that is in thy hand. Thou shalt take all thy stuff with thee upon alighting from the car, for I spend many days keeping the car in working order and clean; therefore I command thee to adhere to proper shotgun procedure, that we all may enjoy some peace as we ride.

5. Honor the driver of the car, that he or she allows thee to remain in the shotgun seat for a lengthy period. Touch not the radio or the CD player.

6. Thou shalt not gloat that thou hast snagged the shotgun seat.

7. Thou shalt not enter into illicit partnerships with a sibling or acquaintance to deny a rival sibling or acquaintance access to the shotgun seat.

8. Thou shalt not forcibly remove a smaller or weaker shotgun seat occupant.

9. Thou shalt not falsely call shotgun; only on the way to the car shalt thou call shotgun.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s shotgun seat, nor the legroom associated therewith, nor the view, window control, a/c vent direction control or access to the driver’s ear, nor anything the shotgun seat occupant doth possess.”

Written by Thag

November 28, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Twenty-Five-Year-Old Thanksgiving Leftovers

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We assume, with no justification whatsoever, that your Thanksgiving went swimmingly, especially if you are a salmon. We shall refrain from inquiring about family relations, heartburn, tryptophan, burnt or undercooked pumpkin pie, lousy squash, Superman reruns from the 1950s, King Kong, pointless parades, the Detroit Lions, or the onset of the “official” holiday shopping season.

We shall, however, share some memories of our own Thanksgivings of yore. Our cynical tone here – and our distant, formal use of the first-person plural – should in no way be construed as a lack of nostalgia, or of disdain for the experiences detailed below. Except for the commercials. Oh, my goodness, were they awful, exacerbated by their frequency. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

People make a big deal about turkey and various “traditional” Thanksgiving foods, but we remember no such fuss. There was definitely turkey, but our family Thanksgiving meals bore the unmistakable mark of our immigrant family experience, not the “native” lore. And it wasn’t about the food anyway.

It might have been about the TV, though, at least as far as the kids were concerned. We paid occasional visits to the dining room of whichever home the festivities occupied that year – paternal grandparents, cousins or our own home – but then only to ingest token morsels of turkey and to gorge on fresh rye bread.

No, not the actual painting, but I'll change this image if I ever find it online.

The most vivid memories involve our grandparents’ apartment in the Bronx, with its ornate décor and plastic-covered sofa underneath the painting of King Solomon ordering the disputed infant divided between rival claimants, across from the display cabinet with the never-used china and crystal. On top of that rested the candy dish, with the fruit-flavored rectangular candies that our grandmother carried everywhere in case she saw any grandchildren (and, we discovered in later years, in case she craved them, despite her chronic diabetes).

The children would lounge in the small den-cum-cosmetics-boutique (we loved to play with the lights on my grandmother’s three-part makeup mirror) where the ancient, hulking Zenith was tuned to King Kong, followed by Mighty Joe Young – though in slightly later years, it featured Superman reruns, hosted by the guy who played Jimmy Olsen, resplendent in an awful bow tie. The tie was almost as bad as the acting in that show. My parents’ generation grew up, for lack of a better term, watching that, and its rebroadcast every year on Thanksgiving may me suspect that their nostalgia might, just might, be completely unwarranted.

There’s something to be said for repetition: twenty-five or so years later, we still have a stupid commercial jingle stuck in our head, for a now-bust department store, thanks to the network airing the ad at every single commercial break during King Kong (“Consuuuumerrrrrs! We wrote the book – on savings!”). It aired almost as many times as the ad for the windows, with the breathless, this-is-the-most-exciting-thing-you’ve-ever-encountered voice over with images of money pouring out through open windows, then back in again when the Eliminator! windows were installed. Hey, sign us up. A distant, but by no means ignorable, third place went to ads for the similarly long-defunct Child World franchise, with some poor actor in a panda suit pretending to be amazed at the selection.

We never watched the Macy’s parade. Ever. We – and here we use the genuine editorial we, not the pompous, royal we – could never understand why anyone would. Football, of course, we can understand, even enjoy, although we get the impression some folks over in Detroit would rather the whole thing just disappear for a decade or two. In early-to-mid-adolescence, the scene shifted from our grandparents’ place to our cousins’, and football became the default, largely on account of my uncle, and we slowly forgot about King Kong and Joe Young.

And here we shift pronouns again, and you’ll see why. I miss my grandparents terribly. My grandmother died four years ago, and my grandfather, ten. The apartment they had in the Bronx – where they lived since about 1960 – is no longer remotely associated with them, but every now and then I get pangs of longing for the way the china cabinets and their delicate contents would jiggle slightly when we ran or jumped about the place – inevitably getting warned not to thus upset the downstairs neighbors in 4J; for the narrow hallway connecting the kitchen, bedroom, living/dining room and bathroom; for the ugly-as-sin carpet in the den; and for myriad other little irretrievable details that only accented the old-world sensibilities driving everything my grandparents did.

We have our own family celebrations now, and my parents lovingly fill the grandparent niche. I wonder how my children will remember these days. This I can guarantee, however: commercials will play no part in that. We’ve, uh, Eliminated! those from our home.

Written by Thag

November 27, 2010 at 8:01 pm

If You’re Young, I Hate You

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I say, reinstitute the draft, pronto.

This is not because I believe we need more people in military service; not because the military has a way of negating socioeconomic gaps; not because I believe the skills and experience one gains in military service are of irreplaceable value. No, I say reinstitute the draft because I have it in for young people.

I can’t help it. It seems to be a rite of passage into fogyhood, which, at age 35, I can lay claim to reaching, at least in the eyes of those young people I seem to detest so much. I mean, come on: the kids for whom I babysat are now parents themselves. How much more evidence do you want?

Oh. Well, I can provide some more.

The last time I attended a movie was in 1999. We still have a working VCR (two, in fact, though technically one of them belongs to my in-laws). I still feel the need to say “digital” before the word “camera”. I still drive the 2001 car we bought new. I have a mess of white hairs (I refuse to say at what age they began sprouting, but it was definitely in double digits). I get nervous around teenagers (instead of disdainful; I believe that transition occurs somewhere around age 25). My metabolism has slowed to the point that I might consider restricting my food intake.

But it’s not as if this development comes as a complete surprise. Every generation must have its fogies bemoaning the decline of contemporary youth. I never texted during class. I never engaged in cyberbullying, and neither did any of my schoolmates, even the really nasty ones. I never downloaded pre-written papers. I never listened to pirated mp3s.

Today’s youth? No standards, I tell you. No appreciation for process; everything must be available now. Well, the army would take care of that in a jiffy. There‘s your instant gratification, or at least mine. The army will teach those whippersnappers to hurry up and wait like nobody’s business. The army will show them what a Hummer was really designed for. Then we’ll see how quickly they change their Facebook status to reflect the latest inanity in their cloistered, coddled lives.

Why, when I was their age…well, I was their age, so my shenanigans were similar. I cut school to go to the mall and see Lethal Weapon 3. I went to the bathroom and flushed the teacher’s note instead of taking it to the principal’s office. I liberated a bag of Fritos from someone else’s lunch bag while the classroom was empty during recess (OK, that’s digging pretty far back; I think that was in third grade). But I never tried to defeat my parents’ Net Nanny – in fact they never even needed one. Our generation was clearly superior. It would have to be, if the historical pattern is to be maintained.

So I stand by my thesis. Draft all the entitled little whiners. Then whenever I encounter a gaggle of hormone-crazed teens I can hold the prospect over them, and regain a bit of control over the world they will eventually take over.

And when they do, I plan to be dead.

Written by Thag

November 25, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Needs More Condescension

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You guys are just not holding up your end of the bargain.

I slave over a lukewarm keyboard to produce what would be reams of exquisite drivel in meatspace, and all I get for my efforts is an average of twelve unique visitors a day. This has got to stop.

Let me remind you of the arrangement: I post about once daily, sometimes more, and you visit my blog in such numbers as to make advertisers slobber all over me (figuratively, please), thereby guaranteeing me a respectable income without my leaving the house.

Unfortunately, while I have been doing just fine on my end, the rest of you have been, shall we say, slacking. This forces me to consider seeking actual gainful employment, and as my former employers can tell you, that’s probably not a good thing. It’s not just my livelihood at stake here, people: the very health of the global economy rests on your shoulders. Do you want me toppling small business after small business with my strategic incompetence?

And you don’t have to buy a thing! I’m not exhorting you to blow your meager savings on crap just to prop up the corrupt, top-heavy capitalist system; that’s what the holiday shopping season is for. Me, I just want some perceived popularity so those very same top-heavy capitalists will see dollar signs in Mightier Than The Pen.

Lest you think me inflexible in the way I view this arrangement, I hereby attest that I am perfectly willing to waive all that advertising and accept a lucrative buyout offer. It can come from any of those top-heavy capitalist entities, but just as legitimate would be some philanthropic body that wishes to guarantee I never publish again. See, I’m willing to go either way to generate all that money – by writing or by not writing! Doesn’t such consideration, such flexibility, warrant an eight-figure offer? Microsoft, are you listening?

At the very least, y’all can put a little more effort into the “Liking” and “Sharing” or whatever it is that Facebook addicts do. If I’m willing to disgrace myself by asking that my friends and family exploit their Facebook “friends” for my personal gain, the least you can do is reward such destructive behavior by complying. It’s only fair.

So here’s a restatement of the implied arrangement: I post, you do the simple task of publicizing this blog beyond Frank Zappa’s wildest dreams. In return for your efforts, I will not post those photos of you with Pee Wee Herman.

Written by Thag

November 24, 2010 at 3:53 pm

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To Womb It May Concern

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Subject: Infant Smith v Mr. and Mrs. Smith

If it please the court:

I am writing on behalf of my client, Infant smith, who seeks redress on the following counts:

1. On 20 October of this year, at approximately 4 p.m., Mrs. Smith knowingly and deliberately separated my client from his source of nourishment, warmth and safety, into an unspeakably harsh environment. Although my client continuously expressed his opposition to this course of action, Mrs. Smith proceeded to expel my client from the premises he had occupied for nine months.

2. While this was happening, Mr. Smith, rather than provide assistance, encouraged Mrs. Smith to continue her actions.

3. In addition to encouraging Mrs. Smith in her mistreatment of my client, Mr. Smith himself seized a pair of shears and severed my client’s metabolism from its source.

4. As a result of Mr. Smith’s act of vandalism, my client, accustomed to receiving oxygen to his cells directly, must inhale a mixture of gases through an untested and immature respiratory apparatus. This mixture of gases has been shown to contain countless pathogens and harmful substances.

5. As a further result of Mr. Smith’s vandalism, my client, accustomed to having nutrients fed directly into his bloodstream, must engage in a humiliating act called “feeding” in order to obtain nourishment: he must hold his mouth a certain way against a very specific part of Mrs. Smith’s anatomy, and repeatedly use his mouth to try to stimulate Mrs. Smith’s endocrine system to produce a substance for my client to ingest. The effort and discomfort involved in both extracting sufficient quantities of this substance and converting its components into physiologically useful materials takes a physical and emotional toll, causing my client to be perpetually tired, upset and uncomfortable.

6. Moreover, whereas before his expulsion my client could efficiently dispose of his metabolic waste products through his circulatory system, he is now forced to expel much of the waste through his own anus, which can irritate his sensitive skin. He lies at the mercy of his abusers in this respect, as well, since only they posses the wherewithal to clean the area. My client’s immature muscular system simply lacks the capacity to address this need, foisted upon him by the defendants.

7. The harsh lighting and unfamiliar, loud sounds of my client’s unwanted new environment further contribute to his discomfort and displeasure.

8. In his rightful environs, my client had no need for garments, but now risks exposure to extremes of heat and cold, not to mention the fundamental violation of his human dignity inherent in that exposure. Here, as well, my client lies at the mercy of his victimizers, as they alone decide if, when and how to garb my client. In addition to the obvious humiliation this engenders, my client has no say in the sartorial selection process.

If it please the court, my client therefore requests his immediate restoration to his previous abode, under the same conditions to which he became accustomed over the course of his entire existence.

Written by Thag

November 24, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Being a Rubber Stamp Is Serious Business

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OK, everyone, thank you – we’re done with that agenda item. Let’s move on to the last one. Ivan, could you call in Ms. Yazova, who’s been waiting outside? Hello, Ms. Yazova. Sorry to keep you waiting – I hope you weren’t out there very long. Oh, good. Would you like some tea? As you wish. Please, sit down.

Now, Ms. Yazova, we on the Rubber Stamp Committee take our job very seriously. I want to caution you against assuming that just because you happen to be the daughter of a cabinet minister, your application for the position will sail through the process like magic. It doesn’t quite work that way: there’s a good bit of paperwork to process before things are official. I trust you understand what I am getting at, Ms. Yazova?

Good. Just to make sure we lay everything on the table here, then. In reviewing your application, we found some glaring omissions. Now, just because your father has threatened all of us with bloody retribution if we fail to approve you for the position does not mean we simply ignore whatever qualifications you happen to possess or lack. I, for one, am pleased to see that you take things seriously enough to have filled out at least three of the twelve required forms, and that you made sure to affix a photo to all the right ones. We shall return later to the little detail of whose photos those are.

But this is where we get tough, Ms. Yazova. Your father might be a man with considerable political clout, not to mention a private army and the requisite outsize ego, but we simply cannot process this application unless you complete at least forms five through nine. This committee may lack the teeth to object to anyone’s candidacy on substantive grounds, but by thunder, we will stand on principle when it comes to bureaucracy. As I told the minister himself when he asked me which I preferred to do for the rest of my life, push paper here or keep track of passing Siberian winters by the number of extremities lost to frostbite: I live for paperwork. And I meant it.

It all comes down to proper procedure. Without proper procedure, the system breaks down, and then even the most brutal thug is at the mercy of the administrative chaos. I’m sure even the minister himself appreciates the importance of what we do; otherwise, why would he maneuver to get obsolescent loyal party hacks appointed to this committee? Spineless we might be, but we do insist on having the proper forms to copy, distribute, stamp and file so we know exactly where to find them when the order comes down from on high to start shredding compromising evidence. Are we clear on the importance of having these papers in order, Ms. Yazova? Good, good; are you sure about that tea? The samovar is still hot.

Now, about those photos. The committee appreciates the challenges of gaining access to a good portrait photographer these days, what with the patriotic fervor that our secret service so effectively shepherds along – we can’t have just anyone printing potentially treasonous photos, can we? – but we did expect a woman with your, er, background to have some access to pictures, and not to feel compelled to resort to random clippings from back issues of Patriotic Motherland Youth.

Oh. Really? I didn’t realize that, Ms. Yazova. We had naturally assumed that all those different pictures were of different people, since they were clipped from many different articles we all were required to read in advance of party meetings. Hmm. Sergei, would you pass me the dossier? Oh, my. How embarrassing. We’re truly sorry, Ms. Yazova. Well, forget about that little bureaucratic detail, then.

The last thing that the committee considers worthy of comment in your application is the number of copies of each form. We very explicitly requested each form to be submitted in triplicate. Now, again, we understand that many people have difficulty finding a working photocopying machine, and not only for appreciable security reasons; toner and spare parts, not to mention competent technicians, seem to be in short supply theses days outside certain political circles. But since you, Ms. Yazov, might have entrée to those circles, perhaps you can ease our workload and have the forms resubmitted to us in triplicate.

It was a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Yazova. As soon as you get the paperwork in order, this Rubber Stamp Committee can fulfill its crucial function. We take that very seriously indeed.

Written by Thag

November 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm

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