Mightier Than The Pen

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Archive for January 2011

College Application Essay Tips II: Dirty Laundry Is Not a Major

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You are about to write your future college roommate a letter. Please provide the roommate with a personal story that will give him/her some insight into your personality. (St. Mary’s College, MD)

Dear Rex,

I know your name probably isn’t Rex, but the application people insisted I write you a letter, and they refused to provide a name. If your name is Rex, well, one thing you must assume about me at this point is that I’m clairvoyant. Keep that in mind if you ever consider messing with my possessions and not telling me. I know everything, Rex. Everything. Yes, even that time you thought no one was looking this afternoon when you picked your nose and wiped the snot on a lamppost. I wasn’t even there, Rex, but I saw. And the deed did not find favor in my eyes.

Fortunately, I am not the vindictive sort. Protective, yes, but that means you should strive to stay on good terms with me. As an aside, I like Godiva chocolates.

I hope your habits are an improvement over the last roommate I had. My previous roommate – we were forced to share quarters for more than a decade – was a real complainer. He had a thing about not showering. Not that he never showered – he did so nearly every day, in fact – he had issues with my not showering very often. Mom never believed him, fortunately.

Now, although my hygiene might not meet your exacting standards, Rex – and yes, I know all about your creative uses for used razors – I am something of a stickler for privacy. You might have a great body – I am not a good judge of the male form – but I do not wish to behold it in all its glory. The Lord created undergarments and bathrobes for a very good reason, Rex: my objections to exhibitionism. If you like, I can show you the underwear trick that I learned at camp all those years ago. It involves changing one’s shorts and/or underwear without removing the upper layer. Just let me know and I’ll give you a tutorial.

Though I might be gifted in the vision department, I must admit my olfactory abilities fall far short of most people’s. I can be standing atop the world’s largest pile of festering, fermenting, sweaty socks, and be blissfully unaware until it evolves a nervous system of its own and begins moving (that happened just the other day, in fact). So I will need you to tell me if the garbage requires removal; I cannot on my own determine at what point the burrito leftovers become intolerable. The same thing goes for the bathroom facilities – I can tell easily if the bowl needs a good scrubbing, and will be happy to assume that, uh, duty if required – but I confess that I am unable to detect any lasting effect from poor urinary aim. I do not mind cleaning up, but I require someone else to alert me to the need. Considering how groggy we will both be during the wee hours (ha!) and in the morning, I do not think we can assume that the perpetrator will always be aware just how far droplets splatter. I appreciate your cooperation, and so will you.

I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time together once we settle in, set up our computers and ignore each other. Here’s to the opportunity.

Thag

Written by Thag

January 31, 2011 at 10:38 pm

College Application Essay Tip: Try Not to Insult the Institution

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If you have ever, or will ever, apply to college, you will spend quite some time writing essays. As a service, I have provided some excellent selections upon which to base our work. This will be the first in a series.

You have just completed your 300-page autobiography. Please submit page 217. (University of Pennsylvania)

in debate with 9/11 “inside job” conspiracy mongers, which held about as much appeal as walking on my tongue through a sewage treatment plant. Twenty-five years, not a shred of evidence, and they’re still at it. I marveled at the lifelong dedication to stupidity that their cause represented, and came away with a newfound appreciation for the human capacity to find patterns where none exist.

This theme repeated itself the following month when the Podunk press went gaga over the appearance of the Virgin Mary in a local kitchen. The vehicle for this visitation was none other than the previous Tuesday’s cheese sandwich, which as we all know, affords the ideal environment for supernatural phenomena. Ironically, the only voice of reason throughout the debacle was the pastor, who subsequently left his position in the community and took a job as a chaplain at a home for the deranged. The residents there made more reasonable demands on his time.

But by far the most depressing, at least to me, episode in that vein spanned decades, and as of publication, still obtains: the cynical, yearly cycle of Chicago Cubs fans being made to believe that their team stands a chance to win it all. The local media, the team ownership, the political establishment and myriad commercial entities continually conspire to milk the Illinois citizenry of every spare cent, alternately nursing and dashing the hopes of millions that their team might take home the trophy. My heart aches for those poor Chicagoans, but only to a point: they did have Michael Jordan, which, in my assessment, is equal to about forty baseball championships. I did once share that observation with a friend from the Prairie State, who thought for a moment, then punched

What do you think people who know you would be surprised to learn about you? Limit your response to one page. (Rice University)

I’m not really human. I’m more of a superhuman. At least in some locations.

I discovered this quite by accident – only last week, in fact – when I was the only adult at the local McDonald’s who weighed less than 250 pounds. I could practically fly compared with everyone else around me! I could bend down without grunting. I could let my arms rest against my sides at less than a forty-five-degree angle from my body. I could occupy less than a full square yard of seating space. Was it Earth’s yellow sun? Was it a freak genetic mutation?

Curiously, however, this clear superiority did not present when I visited the library. Indeed, I was no swifter than anyone else, and enjoyed no more freedom of movement than the others present. This phenomenon warrants further study: why do I experience it at McDonald’s, the International House of Pancakes, Denny’s, O’Dwyer’s Sports Bar and Jeff’s Video Arcade, but never at Barnes & Noble, New York Sports Clubs, or the local basketball court?

My preliminary hypothesis holds that certain parts of Earth’s surface are uniquely situated vis-à-vis certain astronomical constellations, such that my particular genetic makeup reacts in a certain way. The implications of this hypothesis, if it proves correct, are astounding: that plate tectonics might play a role in the future disposition of these superpowers; that others might be similarly endowed, albeit in different locations; and that this set of abilities might have military, civic or law enforcement application.

Written by Thag

January 31, 2011 at 5:16 pm

What’s the Big Deal, Dad? You’ll Wash My Shirt Anyway

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Dear Dad:

We both know that I’m already six years old, and that a six-year-old is very different from a three-year-old or a nine-year-old. But it appears that our sensibilities regarding proper behavior for a six year old differ markedly. I seek here to correct a number of important misconceptions you seem to have, and the consequent expectations you harbor, expectations that I contend are unreasonable.

Let us begin with your assumption that I hear what you have to say. I do often hear you, especially when the subject involves junk food or dessert. Say the word “pizza” and I’m all ears, even from two floors away. But quite frequently, for some reason, you choose to speak of subjects that carry no interest for me whatsoever: doing homework; putting away laundry; getting out of bed. My ears simply do not pass on to my brain the instances when such subjects are addressed; they constitute little more than background noise. So if you wish to gain or retain my attention, I recommend restricting the subject of your conversations to chocolate, play dates, fun visitors and exciting trips.

Another flawed expectation on your part involves my clothes. You seem to be under the impression that the mere presence in my dresser drawer of, say, underwear that fits, means that I will willingly don it. Not so. The red pair has seams that bother me; that green pair is the wrong color; I just don’t like the white ones. If no other pairs are available, I will not be persuaded to put on any of the ones I do not like. Just pretend they do not exist.

Let us move on to getting ready for school. I realize this is a sensitive topic, as you seem to get agitated about it almost every morning. I therefore recommend that, as I do, you simply stop caring about it. Anyway, Grandma tells me that you did exactly the same thing when you were my age, and when she talks about it, she has a gleam in her eye.

This brings us to the subject of my doing things you just told my older brother not to do. You seem to be under the impression that telling him not to do something somehow translates into my not doing it, as well. I have no idea where you got that idea. You were talking to him, not to me. He shouldn’t be throwing in the house, yes; you made that perfectly clear. But you weren’t addressing me, so why do you expect me to follow suit? We’re individuals, after all.

Along similar lines, when you do admonish me not to engage in certain activities, such as hitting my little sister even though she manifestly deserves it, I do not automatically apply that admonishment to all future occasions. Each situation is unique; I simply do not presume that yesterday’s rules of engagement still pertain today. Especially not when I don’t feel like following those rules anyway.

When you instruct me to put my shoes or boots upstairs in the shoe drawer, what you really mean is that I should dump them on the floor of my room and come back down. Similarly, when you tell me to put books away, you mean to lay them haphazardly across the top of other books, not to place them neatly, spine out, on the shelf; that would waste precious time I could use to provoke my brother and sister.

About the dining room chairs: while they do well as surfaces for sitting at the table, they function at their best when leaned back just so on their rear legs. This allows the user to play a balancing game. And at the table, it seems you misunderstand why God gave us fingers. I do not need a fork. And as for the mess that gets on my hands, that’s why I have a shirt. I don’t know why this seems so unclear to you.

I hope this little letter has cleared up some misunderstandings. I shall be only too happy to address similar issues if you require, but if you wish to discuss these things, please at least take into account what I have written above. Then we can move on to more subtle issues, such as holding off on going to the bathroom until the moment before my bladder would burst.

Love,

Your six-year-old

Written by Thag

January 30, 2011 at 10:56 pm

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Stalin Had Right Idea, Comrade Mubarak

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Street protests swirling about Arab world call attention to one overlooked fact: modern potentates are wimps. I miss days of Leonid Brezhnev, when power is power, and everyone know it. Now people think that demanding democracy is good way to spend time.

Why coddle population? In Stalin’s day, security forces surround protesters with machine guns and mow them down, then pretend nothing happen. Comrade Petrov and I do that many times in forests of Belarus, getting rid of political refugees with our Kalashnikovs and swilling vodka whole time. Was great fun.

But now, so-called dictators of Arab countries look soft when population make demands. Where is good firefight between rival security forces? Why is army take side of protesters instead of pillage? Is that not role of good Soviet-equipped military? Does no one remember Berlin in 1945? Forests of Katyn in 1939? Budapest in 1956? Ah, those good times.

You never see Stalin, Malenkov or Brezhnev flee like little girl to political asylum in France, and they have many enemies, but Tunisian president run away like dissident who get shot when try to cross into West Germany. Where is bravery? Where is loyalty to Rodina? Where is firing squad of revolutionaries? I miss old days when overthrow government mean violent, bloody coup, follow by violent, bloody purge of old loyalists, then violent, bloody rule with iron fist. Make Derzhinsky proud.

World has gone soft. I blame America. America, with its mantra of human rights, democracy and liberty. Those pretty words, very good on political poster, but not very useful in government. Kalashnikov more useful. Liberty not make prisoner scream like woman and soil himself like little baby.

Iran had right idea, but too timid; they wait too long to repress protests. Now Egypt afraid to take bold steps. Is any wonder army not want to support government? Government not decisive; government is weak. Army stand better chance of violent, bloody action if side with protesters.

Only country with good recent history of repression is China.

Written by Thag

January 30, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Have Mercy, O Lord, and Disrupt this PowerPoint Presentation with Thy Power

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Oh, good. The meeting should be winding down soon. Jack said it should run until about eleven o’clock, and it’s already a quarter to. I’ll just drink the last of my water and place the cup down demonstratively, just to emphasize that point.

What’s this? Who is that going over to the screen? Uh oh. Oh please God, tell me Linda’s just picking up something, or fiddling with the equipment, not preparing to give a presentation. Her presentations drone on and on. No! No! She’s loading a PowerPoint file! But we’re supposed to finish soon! I’m supposed to get back to my cubicle and get stuff done! I’ll look over at the boss who’s…nodding at her and looking expectantly in her direction! Oh, crap!

Is this some mistake? Did I hear Jack wrong? Did he say eleven-thirty, not eleven? Cripes. What am I going to do? I have mounds and mounds of paperwork to get done. I can’t be trapped in here like some lab rodent, and get bombarded with bullet point after bullet point of utter BS. We’ve been at it for more than an hour already, and I can’t take anymore.

Got to think of some pretext to leave. I already went to the bathroom at about ten, so that’s out. And even if I did leave as if to take a leak, I couldn’t very well take all my stuff with me; that would give away the game. There’s got to be some way to manufacture a good excuse. But it’s got to be good enough to explain why I’m taking all my papers with me.

A hacking cough won’t do it; that’s just a distraction, and the boss will expect me to come right back in when the attack subsides. Same with sneezing. I can fake a sneeze with the best of ’em, but that’s not going to get me and my things out of here. It’s gotta be something more debilitating, something that lasts longer.

Abdominal pain? Maybe. But that’s not something that strikes suddenly; it has to build up. In the time it takes to establish a convincing crescendo of groans and grasping my midsection, the meeting will be all but over anyway. Maybe I can fake nausea. But that, too, doesn’t really set in at a moment’s notice if you’re just sitting there. Mental note: buy some fake vomit for use in emergencies.

If I do anything too drastic, though, I’ll call too much attention to my problem, and that will make things unnecessarily complicated: I’ll have to lie about how I feel, whether I need medical attention, the works. I just need a good way to excuse my departure. How I wish there’d be a fire drill or something! I could easily get away with pretending not to know to reconvene.

What about sabotage? The presentation equipment is all plugged into sockets on the floor underneath the table. Can I surreptitiously reach the cords with my foot and disconnect any of them? Let’s see…I’ll slink a bit lower in my chair and extend my legs…wait, is that a foot? I hope that’s not a foot. Tricia is across from me, but she can’t reach this far. Better withdraw before anything awkward happens.

Oh, Jesus. A technicolor pie chart. What a friggin’ assault on the eyes. What is wrong with you, Linda? I am beginning to loathe that woman, and I am not, in general, a hateful person. Think, man, think!

Hey, wait, it looks like she’s finishing up. It’s only four minutes to eleven. Would you look at that. I guess I won’t be imprisoned here in Hell after all. No need to risk embarrassing myself anymore. Now everyone’s getting up, gathering their things. Excellent. I’ll do the sa-

Oh, no. I can’t pull away from the table. My shoe – it’s caught on one of the power cords connected to the floor! And everyone else is now standing up! I’m still sitting here, looking like a fool! Quick, I’ll grab some papers and start writing random notes until everyone else leaves. Then I’ll slide under the table and disentangle my shoe from the cords.

Oh, Lord, no, don’t tell me the boss and a few others are sitting down again for another little meeting! I have no choice now!

(Points out the window) “What in the world can that be?” (ducks under table).

Oh, Lord, please let this meeting end quickly so I can escape and go kill myself.

Written by Thag

January 27, 2011 at 7:33 pm

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Can We Schedule Some Spontaneity, Too?

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OK, honey. Because I seem to have some trouble getting up and ready in the mornings, I sat down and hammered out a timetable for me, especially for those days when you have to get out early to work, and it’s just me on the kids.

I know that we’ve tried this before, and a million little unpredictable things cropped up that got in myway. But this time,  I’ve anticipated many of those little things and allowed for them. I think you’ll find this new schedule eminently realistic.

Proposed Daily Morning Routine

6:00 am: Wake up; vaguely recall that today is not Saturday. Try to remember exactly which day it is.
6:25 am: Wake up.
6:35 am: Wake up, take gander at watch, feel adrenalin rush; grumble, stretch.
6:37 am: Wake up, call to children to get moving, we’re late.
6:38 am:  Try to calm baby, who does not like being roused by yelling.
6:39 am: Check e-mail; trudge to bathroom.
6:40 am: Vacate bathroom in favor of letting wife use facilities. Trudge to children’s room.
6:41-6:45 am: Yelling match.
6:46 am: First threat to send whoever isn’t ready to school without breakfast.
6:47-6:51 am: Check e-mail. Second attempt at bathroom use; insert contact lenses, brush teeth.
6:54 am: Return to children’s room to resume yelling.
6:56 am:  Trudge back to bathroom; third attempt to complete tasks. Shave part of face.
6:59 am: Rush to children’s room to administer first aid and adjudicate first tort claim of day. Second threat to withhold breakfast for whoever isn’t ready. Check e-mail.
7:01 am:  Return to bathroom; finish shaving.
7:06 am: Yell encouragement to fighting children. Check online headlines. Begin dressing.
7:07 am: Return to children’s room; manually insert children into clothes. More yelling.
7:10 am: Herd children downstairs; distribute bowls, spoons, cereal, milk. Prepare sandwiches for two eldest.
7:14 am: Yelling match over choice of sandwich, rate of cereal consumption.
7:15 am: Notify elder children that time to leave house for school bus has arrived.
7:16 am: Manually put coat on second child, sandwiches in backpacks. Inform two eldest that the time to leave is past.
7:17 am: Bodily remove two eldest children from house; ascertain forward progress toward bus pickup location.
7:20 am: Receive call from bus driver inquiring as to whereabouts of boys.
7:21 am: Chase boys down street to bus.
7:23 am: Return to house; realize still only half dressed.
7:24 am:  Pour small heap of dry cereal on high chair tray for toddler.
7:25 am: Help three-year-old wipe.
7:26 am: Facepalm as cereal is scattered to the four winds. Listen to toddler whine about lack of food in front of him.
7:27 am: Abortive attempt to reason with toddler.
7:28 am: Acquiesce to toddler’s insistence that he be fed cornflakes with milk, spoon by spoon.
7:44 am: Remove toddler from high chair; wipe up Lake Milkchigan.
7:48 am: Return to room; finish dressing.
7:54 am: Help three-year-old wipe.
7:55 am: Begin preparing sandwiches for two smaller children.
7:56 am: Break up fighting children.
7:57 am: Continue preparing sandwiches.
7:59 am: Help three-year-old wipe.
8:00 am: Finish preparing sandwiches, cut up produce.
8:01-8:03 am: Debate with three-year-old over choice of sandwich; pack sandwiches and produce.
8:04 am: Realize sandwiches have been packed in wrong bags; switch.
8:05 am: Get children in jackets and hats if necessary.
8:08-8:11 am: Attempt to reattach mittens to jacket sleeves.
8:12 am: Place toddler in stroller; depart.
8:13 am: Put toddler’s mittens back on.
8:14 am: Return home, retrieve children’s bags.
8:15 am: Depart.
8:16 am: Put toddler’s mittens back on.
8:17-8:19 am: Engage in lively debate with three-year-old over practicality of taking the more stair-intensive, more interesting route to nursery school with stroller.
8:20 am: Put toddler’s mittens back on.
8:28 am: Drop three-year-old off at nursery school. Notice that one of her gloves is missing.
8:29-8:37 am: Retrace steps in futile search for lost mitten; take toddler to day care.
8:38 am: Find lost mitten in stroller, along with three-year-old’s bag.
8:48: am: Deliver mitten to three-year-old at nursery school.
8:49 am: Feel lack of breakfast.

Written by Thag

January 26, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Actually, My Dear Fellow, This *Is* All About Me

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I beg your pardon. Actually, this is about me.

You might not get that idea from the names on the wedding invitation, but you can’t believe everything you read. I know that this event merely serves as a vehicle to direct attention toward me; the festivities surrounding the so-called bride and groom are technicalities. So please give me the microphone posthaste.

The same misunderstanding cropped up just the other night, at that comedy club. Everyone in the audience seemed to think they should focus on the guy on stage. I had to correct that misperception by heckling that upstart mercilessly. Who does he think he is? He’s there to entertain me.

I’m beginning to think this is a trend. Are people really that dense, or only in large numbers? I fear numbers make no difference anymore: the cameraman at the baseball game did not put my image on the Jumbotron even once, let alone on national television, and he’s just one guy. Same with those reporters shoving microphones in the face of some politician – who cares what that loser has to say, anyway? I was right there, and they didn’t even notice! Or perhaps they merely pretended not to. Perhaps they were trying to project nonchalance at the presence of my august personage.

While theoretically admirable, in fact such a response has no place in the realm of truth. I deserve to be the center of attention under all circumstances, and any attempt to diminish that attention contorts and sullies that truth.

This calls for some proactive behavior. If I can no longer depend on society and its media to recognize and give my greatness and centrality their due, I must take steps on my own to secure that recognition and sustained appreciation. I’m not generally one to toot my own horn, primarily because until now I had always assumed that others would do the tooting, once they apprehended my awesomeness. Unfortunately, the masses have grown blinder and blinder; now, in addition to the greatness and epic purpose that I carry, I must also shoulder the burden of making the people aware of same.

I shall have to set specific goals: ongoing conversations that must be redirected toward my input; complaints that must be met with my experience of the incident, or a tangentially related one; vociferous insistence that a dining establishment seat me immediately in place of prestige, in keeping with my exalted station. These are but some of the activities in which I must engage in order to publicize the truth.

I maintain no illusion that this mission will be easy; no, the people have demonstrated clearly how far they have fallen from perceiving real light. It will require serious, sustained effort to keep my name and face in people’s consciousness. But with persistence, the ship can be righted, and my primacy in all matters imprinted in everyone’s awareness.

Depending on the progress of this initiative, I might have to start my own talk show.

Written by Thag

January 26, 2011 at 2:49 pm

No Hot Girl-on-Girl Action Here, Sir. I Think.

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I am grateful for my many friends, few of whom will ever read this.

I don’t really blame most of them, even though I’ve been shamelessly singing my blog’s praises for months and months. Clearly they feel nothing missing from their lives right now that reading another few paragraphs a day will add. I know exactly how that feels: for the first ten or so years of my life, I had absolutely no interest in sex whatsoever; its existence meant little to me, despite its manifest presence all around (“hot girl-on-girl action!”). But I have matured, and my relationship to sex has changed accordingly. I nurture the hope that others’ attraction to this blog will similarly mature.

Think not, however, that people who have never set eyes on Mightier than the Pen feel restrained in any way from offering unsolicited advice on how to make it more successful (“hot girl-on-girl action!”). The helpful tidbits sometimes arrive disguised as innocent or curious inquiries into whatever primitive marketing has been done, much in the way people pursue sex by talking about everything else. You have beautiful eyes, by the way.

One point of advice, however, I am considering, though becoming a hardcore adherent of it clashes with my principles. A gynecologist of my acquaintance has raised the point a number of times that I should dedicate this blog to sex. Sex sells. However, despite the benefits of exposure to the potential audience, I must admit I feel hesitant to compromise the family-friendly nature of this blog with references to “hot girl-on-girl action.”

Yes, I understand that people gravitate toward sex the way bonobos gravitate toward, say, sex. Humans even gravitate toward hot girl-on-girl action, though perhaps “gravitate” is not exactly a potent enough term. I have to find some way of engaging or arousing a desire to read my work with passion. Can it be done without sex?

We might just have to figure out non-sexual contexts in which the phrase, “hot girl-on-girl action!” nevertheless obtains. I can think of wrestling, though let us concede that it skirts the edges of the very realm we are trying to avoid. Another might be feminist firefighting. Or female fencers using flaming swords. You can see as well as I do that these are not possibilities that lend themselves to compelling exposition. At least not in a way that keeps it morally pure.

Which is not to say that sex itself is morally impure, nor is the desire to engage in it; quite the opposite. But as with any pleasurable pursuit, too much hot girl-on-girl action is too much. Moderation in all things. Except perhaps chocolate.

Which brings us to chocolate sex. Not that I have any coherent ideas on the matter – indeed, the combination of the two elements has my insides and head spinning with anticipation – but I do believe that to succeed, this blog must harness the power that those two attractive forces embody. I shall have to repair to my quarters after considering these two weighty subjects. Whether my, er, mind can handle both simultaneously remains to be seen.

And you’ll get a full report, if I can find a way to convey the results without resorting to the phrase, “hot girl-on-girl action!”

Written by Thag

January 25, 2011 at 4:34 pm

And at Forty Bucks a Bottle, Why Bother?

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I do not drink habitually. I have never smoked a single cigarette. I have never injected myself with any sort of drug. I have never snorted anything from outside my body. I have never huffed glue, gasoline, lighter fluid, paint thinner or air conditioner coolant. I have never taken LSD, PCP or any hallucinogen. I have never smoked marijuana or hashish. I have never chewed qat. I have never taken any drug recreationally.

I do occasionally enjoy coffee or a glass or two of wine, but almost never without accompanying food. I drink a cup or two of tea on most cold days, but rarely otherwise. Somehow I have managed to spend more than thirty-five years on this planet without partaking of anything more serious.

In all this, I am unique among my friends. Many of them cannot wrap their heads around what they clearly perceive is a gap in my life experience. “You’ve never been curious enough to try anything?” they ask. They ascribe too much power to curiosity, apparently. I am curious how fast my car can go, but I’m not stupid enough to floor it just to find out (and since I drive a ten-year-old minivan with a puny engine, the answer isn’t all that enticing).

But I am a curious person (my friends find me very curious indeed). I read all the time, discuss my reading with others and constantly seek out new sources of information. I welcome meeting new people. I love interacting with smart people. Nature documentaries enthrall me. Somehow, curiosity does not serve to explain.

It may be that I completely lacked any of the peer pressure that often gets cited in explaining why anyone takes drugs recreationally. The peer pressure of my youth consisted of seeing who could shoot the most spitballs at our sixth-grade science teacher, followed by who could fail most consistently at trying out for various sports teams. Then there was the intense pressure to amass a collection of that year’s baseball cards.

But something more fundamental can explain my staid past, which in fact was anything but staid, despite the utter absence of narcotics, stimulants, barbiturates, or the dangerous kinds of what-have-you: life is interesting enough, intense enough, challenging enough, pleasurable enough and rewarding enough without artificial enhancement. If anything, I contend that resorting to drug use shows a lack of curiosity about the world, a wish to enter a reality at odds with the only one that matters. I have no wish to pop peyote because it would compromise my constant exploration of the universe, the mind and the heart.

Alcohol does not enhance my romantic experience; it handicaps it. I want all my capacities to be fully present, fully able to absorb every element of love. Of learning. Of my children. Of my friends. Of watching The Princess Bride one more time. Of savoring Godiva chocolates one at a time (except those stupid coconut or fruit things. Ugh.).

I don’t need to get high. Life does that for me.

Written by Thag

January 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Dear Grandma: Where Did Those Sores Come From?

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Thank you for attending this lesson on letter-writing. No one does those anymore. In fifth grade, we spent several days learning the proper format for letters: where to put the recipient’s name and address, where to put the sender’s address if the letter were for business purposes, the greeting, body, closing, carburetor, etc.

The wholesale transfer of written human communication to the paperless medium has rendered many of those lessons moot. I may still cling to sensibilities enshrining specific formats, but e-mail simply does not lend itself to same. However, occasionally one of my dear readers might have a need for the old-fashioned kind of letter, and I am here to fill that crucial niche (Yeesh, it’s tight in here. Better lay off the croissants for a while). This may also prove helpful to the growing number of home-schoolers out there (really out there), who wish to impress old-time values and principles to their children and find that the formal frameworks for elementary education fall far short of the ideal, i.e. when we were their age.

OK, here we go:

The name of the recipient goes here.
The recipient’s mailing address goes here.*
Followed by the city, state and ZIP code, here.

Then today’s date, here.**

Dear (recipient name),***

This is the body of the letter. It is used to convey the actual information that the letter serves to impart. For example, you might be writing to your grandmother, who does not know what e-mail is, and you nevertheless wish to let her know what has been going on in your life. This would be the place to do so. You must remember, however, that your grandmother, or anyone else reading off a piece of paper for that matter, does not expect to see numbers used as letters, and expects sentences to begin with a capital letter and end with proper punctuation.

Ideally, letters should contain more than one paragraph. At this point you could further explore the subject you introduced in the first paragraph. For example, if you had informed your grandmother that you recently hooked up with a boy named Zachary, you could use this paragraph to explain what you mean by “hooking up.” Your grandmother, after all, might not understand teenspeak, and might need as much explicit explanation as possible for you to get your point across.

A third paragraph might anticipate and address some concerns that the first two paragraphs raise. Your grandmother, at this point, is probably still reading and rereading the second paragraph to make sure that she has read correctly, so you have some time to consider this one. In this case, keep in mind that in addition to harboring certain expectations and sensibilities when it comes to letters, people of older generations also tend toward older standards when it comes to romantic relationships. So you will want to allow for your reader’s reaction to the news in the previous paragraphs. Any potentially objectionable implications of the news should be mentioned, as well as arguments, gently expressed, to allay the fears or concerns that those objections represent. Your grandmother, for example, might feel jealous that you scored with Zachary, because she has a thing for youthful boys. You can reassure her here that in fact Zachary is about her age.

You can continue discussing the above topic, but usually, two or three paragraphs will do. If there are other items of interest, you can use the rest of the letter to relate them. This works especially well if all the topics you wish to discuss are related in some way. You can report on your visit to the doctor about some persistent sores around you mouth, for example, if you can find some way to make the topic relevant to your relationship with Zachary.

Eventually, you will close with a paragraph wishing your grandmother well and express a hope to hear from her soon, especially in person, but certainly in written form. If you follow the format of this letter, you can rest assured you will hear from her almost as soon as she finishes reading your letter, and possibly sooner.

Here is a closing, such as, “Yours truly,” “Love,” or “Get well soon.”

And here is your signature.

* “Mailing address” refers to the number and street name of a person’s residence. There is no @ in a mailing address.
**  This means the day you write the letter, not today specifically. “January 23, 2011” is only correct on January 23, 2011.
*** Use the recipient’s actual name, not (recipient name). Some people have special titles before their names, in which case the person’s last name immediately follows the title, and the first name is omitted entirely: Dear Rabbi Ahmadinijad, not Dear Rabbi Christopher Ahmadinijad; Dear Mrs. Hitler, not Dear Mrs. Martin Luther King Hitler.

I do hope this lesson proves useful. If not, you could always try to write to me about it.

Written by Thag

January 23, 2011 at 2:51 pm

NFL? Is That Some Psychiatric Problem?

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A survey conducted this week reveals that five out of six household members could not care less about the outcome of the NY Jets-Pittsburgh Steelers playoff matchup tomorrow.

The Steelers and the Jets advanced to the American Football Conference finals this past Sunday. While the teams themselves appear to be excited about the upcoming game, and nationwide media attention has focused on the NFL playoffs in general, the recent poll calls into question the accuracy and relevance of the media frenzy.

“The Jets? Weren’t they one of the gangs in West Side Story?” replied Migghta, 35 29, a mother of four and longtime household member. “I don’t understand football. My husband started explaining it to me last week, but I stopped him very quickly; I wasn’t interested to begin with.”

Other household members echoed Miggtha’s attitude, with at least one nine-year-old wondering why the sport is referred to as football when the name suggests a different sport entirely. “That’s not football at all,” said Ralph. “This is football,” he continued, demonstrating a move of some sort with a soccer ball.

Experts are at a loss to explain the incongruity of the media storm with the almost complete lack of interest on the part of this important demographic. “The Thag household seems to be the ideal population from which to draw viewers and possible revenue,” said Roger Thatt, an NFL.com analyst. “Thag and Miggtha both grew up in the New York area, and Thag himself has attested to enjoying football games on TV all through his formative years. But for some reason, Thag’s interest in tomorrow’s game is the exception in the household. We’re going to have to rethink some things.”

Other survey respondents expressed what NFL experts called a surprising apathy toward anything football-related, according to Dr. Liz Bunn of Auburn University, who was not involved in the study. “The numbers speak for themselves. What strikes me as most troubling for the NFL is that the three- and six-year-olds showed not only ignorance and apathy, but that the one-year-old, who actually moves more like a football player than any of the other household members do, seemed more interested in kissing the researchers than participating in the study itself.”

The three-year-old, in fact, presents a double challenge, as she is female, and therefore much less likely in the first place to develop a long-term devotion to any professional sports franchise.

Researchers initially thought that the rambunctious behavior of Thag’s brood made them natural candidates for interest in watching grown men fight over an inflated oblong pigskin. On top of that, the same children tend to get preoccupied by random inanimate objects whenever their parents want them to do something such as get dressed or clean up. This misled the researchers into thinking that the football itself would pique lasting interest. In fact, said Thatt, it appears that any interest they did show was merely a by-product of unfinished homework and stacks of folded laundry not yet put away.

The NFL has not completely despaired of capturing this coveted demographic, but it may be too late to do so in time for this year’s Super Bowl, scheduled for February 6 in Arlington, Texas.

“I’d love to go,” the study quotes Thag as saying, “but I’ve never actually been to a football game. I did see the Jets practice at Hofstra once, back in like 1988. Who was their quarterback then? Ken O’Brien? It’s been a while.”

Written by Thag

January 22, 2011 at 10:30 pm

How Are You? Wait, Wait, Please Don’t Answer.

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Nothing beats clear communication. The quickest way to establish closeness and constructive relationships involves clear, honest expression, such as when your kids contort their faces in unnatural ways when presented with the food you worked so hard to prepare (just in case you were wondering, it means you’re an utter failure as a parent).

Unfortunately, vagueness, euphemism and cowardice have taken their toll on our discourse. I have nothing against politeness, but politeness is meant to soften, not negate, the directness of a message, saying, “How do you do?” instead of, “I acknowledge your presence, but actually have little or no interest in your welfare, so please, either bring up something interesting or signal an end to our conversation.”

To help combat this scourge, I have compiled a litany of some of the most egregious examples from everyday conversation or news coverage, followed by a translation into plain English.

It’s not about the money: It’s about the money.

How dreadful: I don’t care all that much, but feel the need to acknowledge that some tale of woe has just been related.

Just a minute: I intend to keep you waiting as long as I damn well please. I might even forget that I was supposed to address you. Either way, I pray that you give up before trying to get my attention again.

He’s in a meeting: He has no intention of conversing with you, as he perceives you as unworthy of his direct attention.

I’ll get back to you: I will promptly forget about this conversation.

Take care: I really could not care less what happens to you after this point.

Read my lips: I am lying through my teeth.

…I see: Sweet Jesus in a bikini! Are you out of your mind?!

The greatest X since Y! X isn’t nearly as good as Y, but by invoking Y, we want you to think it is.

If you liked Y, you’ll love X! See above.

Each sold separately: You can only have all the fun we show in this ad if you spend oodles of money.

Ask your doctor about X: We’re not allowed to directly market our drug, but come on.

Four out of five dentists chose X! …and the fifth one determined X to be painfully fatal.

How nice: How disgustingly boring.

Mmm-hmmm: I’m not listening.

You have lovely eyes: You have lovely breasts.

How dare you! I care far too deeply about perceived affronts to my dignity.

Is there a problem, officer? Oh, please, oh dear God, no breathalyzer…

Excuse me, sir, you got some spare change for the bus? Excuse me, sir, you got some spare change to help me drown my sorrows in alcohol or drugs of some sort?

Guns don’t kill people; people kill people: We care more about guns than about people.

Got anything to add? Go right ahead. I’ll get back to you.

Written by Thag

January 20, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Closed Captioned for the Thinking Impaired

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To Mr. Glenn Beck:

This letter stems from the recent realization that a good bit of the trouble in our world stems from your inability to keep your mouth shut. I believe I have hit on an approach that might address this problem at the source, so please continue reading.

If nothing else, the continued reading will give you an idea, if only for a moment, of what it is like to read and absorb material instead of spouting it. That is a necessary and not altogether unpleasant first step, although I understand that some people find it uncomfortable.

But the main thrust of my message is not one of passivity: no, I recommend that you find a proactive solution to the ignorant incitement that regularly spills from between your lips. This can take many forms, but I will gladly lay out for you the various treatment options, and you can choose from among the list. In keeping with our American ideal of freedom of choice, you should know that selecting one option does not necessarily rule out all of the others; some options lend themselves easily to being combined with others.

1. Staple your lips together. Though crude, this technique has been known to eliminate verbal drivel entirely for extended periods. While sealed, the mouth cannot produce coherent statements, which means that the entire time your lips are stapled, the world is spared your idiotic pontification. Advantages: uses supplies found at home or office. Disadvantage: some pain, severe impact on nutrition.

2. Glue your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Slightly more sophisticated than option 1, gluing your tongue to the roof of your mouth still allows you to subsist on an all-liquid diet, but preserves the inability to express things verbally. Assuming you find the right type of adhesive, this option also tends to last longer than the staples, which might come loose, or require removal once they cause the inevitable infection. Advantages: long-lasting; less painful. Disadvantages: requires some knowledge of adhesives; foul taste in mouth; risk of poisoning.

3. Sew your mouth shut. This takes time, but the result is far more convincing than with staples, and overall, less messy, if you do it properly. Since it does require skill, it is recommended that you have someone else do the actual needlepoint. Advantages: aesthetics; justified sanctimony in receiving, in some measure, the wounds of Christ. Disadvantages: May cause itching; stitches may deteriorate or come loose; mild risk of infection.

4. Remove your tongue entirely. Few people, if any, can communicate effectively in speech if lacking a tongue. You must take care if you choose this option, however, as the tongue is dense muscle that has quite a bit of blood coursing through it. The best technique involves hiring a competent team of doctors, though that might prove expensive. Advantages: permanence; possibility of donating tongue to a patient in need. Disadvantages: loss of ability to taste; compromised ability to make faces at children.

5. Remove vocal cords. This option, as well, best serves one who can afford a team of doctors; trying it at home is possible, but risky. Removal of your vocal cords will allow you to eliminate normal speech but retain the ability to taste your food and make faces at children. And if you absolutely must, some whispering is possible, but doing so excessively will irritate your throat. As a bonus, if you know how to burp well, you can hone your ability to produce tonal speech even without vocal cords. This advanced technique will allow you to speak short words or phrases when necessary, but will nevertheless restrict you from holding forth at length in your customary demagogic manner. Advantages: balance between shutting up and tasting food; lack of unsightly external mutilation (if performed correctly). Disadvantages: loss of singing voice; raspy whispers when communication is attempted.

It is possible I left out a number of options, and I am sure others could suggest measures not outlined above. In that respect, please note that I have included only those options that maintain some semblance of your human dignity, which is more than you can say for the targets of your rants. If, however, you come to the conclusion that your life’s work has rendered you unfit to continue living, I remain available for consultation regarding recommended approaches to removing yourself from the population.

Yours truly,

Thag

Written by Thag

January 19, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Wanted: Personal Assistant. Must Keep Mouth Shut

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OK, Peterson. Time do get to the administrative stuff. Got a pen?

Smith must work at least eight shifts this week, but none of them may be consecutive. McBride has a doctor appointment on Wednesday afternoon, and must therefore switch with Keller, and that in turn necessitates shifting Zimmerman to the following morning. Zimmerman will handle two shifts in a row that day, so Wong will back her up in case she needs a break. That means Wong will get get a shorter evening shift on Saturday, so someone has to pick up the slack, because Wong, Jordan, Michaels and Gonzalez are all maxed out for the week.

We need more coffee supplies in the kitchenette, but not too many; there are only two small cabinets and a tiny fridge. But we need to supply coffee, tea, milk, sugar, artificial sweetener, snack foods and hot chocolate for all twenty staffers for the next five days. Jordan is allergic to peanuts. Meriwether won’t touch wheat. Gonzalez is lactose intolerant. Zimmerman keeps kosher. I find greasy foods repulsive. And McBride is off sugar for a while.

It’s Michaels’s turn to collect the incoming mail, but his kid is home with the flu for at least a day or two more, so maybe McBride can switch with him – oh, wait, McBride’s appointments always run late, so scratch that. Try Wong – no, Wong just did it last week. Well, maybe she won’t mind. Put her down tentatively and get her OK.

Jordan is up next to polish my shoes and pick up my children from school. Wallace will handle my manicure and pedicure, but he must also be on call for back and foot massages if need be.

My mistress is going to visit, but so is my wife, and it will fall to you this week to run interference and prevent each from knowing of the other’s presence; check with McBride to make sure the smoke grenade inventory is sufficient. This week, Gonzalez will alternate with Zimmerman in sleeping at the office and keeping the disgruntled DeVries from gaining entry. We shall not have a repeat of last February, when both Petrovich and McNeil managed to get in and take back their possessions.

Michaels will take care of reminding the various subjects of our blackmail to make their regular payments, expect for Duvall and Markowitz; I shall handle those myself. Once he finishes those messages, Michaels will report to me any recalcitrants, so that Jordan, Gonzalez and he can furnish some bodily reminders of why our continued relationship is so important.

If Gingrich calls, put him on hold for at least five minutes; the jerk deserves to stew a little. Same goes for Boehner, but for him it can be two minutes. If Martha calls about those playoff tickets, tell her we need six more, or her husband doesn’t come home from work this week at all.

Oh, and one more thing: put a notice on the board that everyone should relax.

Written by Thag

January 19, 2011 at 12:24 pm

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Will You Shut Up? I’m Trying to Swim

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Rules of Pool Use:

1. No one wants your bodily slime in the pool, and we hope you do not want anyone else’s there. So shower thoroughly before entering the pool.

2. Urine goes in the toilet only. We really should not have to tell you that it does not belong in the pool. If people wanted to swim in your urine, they would go to your toilet, not this pool.

3. Speedos are prohibited unless the wearer has a physique that is a pleasure to behold.

4. If you wish to run in the pool area, you must first sign a waiver absolving the pool management of responsibility for the consequences. As an aside, the pool facility does have some medical supplies, but we charge for their use.

5. Idling is prohibited in the lap lanes of the pool. Swimmers who encounter persons idling in the lap lanes may forcibly remove the swimwear of the idlers and hold it for ransom.

6. Do not flirt with the lifeguards.

7. All ogling of lithe bodies must be done discreetly. Catcalls, stares or other non-subtle appreciations of the human form in all its sensual beauty will result in dismissal from the facility.

8. The pool management accepts no responsibility for injuries or damage sustained to persons or property resting within twenty feet of the pool edge. You want to lie around and get a tan? Go to the beach or rent a lounge chair.

9. The pool is not a love nest. Couples who wish to embrace or intertwine their limbs must reserve this activity for more private environs.

10. Changing rooms function as their name indicates. Pool guests may not inflict their nudity upon others present beyond the bare minimum necessary for preparation and/or changing. Violators will find their names and photographs published on Facebook.

11. Food is prohibited in the pool area. So are littering, smoking, shouting, fighting, playing music, dancing and foul language. Your right to express yourself through these activities disappears when you enter this facility. Violators will be given violent swimsuit wedgies by frustrated children’s swim instructors.

12. When the pool is in use for swimming lessons, you must wait until the lessons end before entering it. Any mention of your “valuable time” in objecting to this arrangement will be met with a knee to the groin.

13. Faking a need for rescue will result in intentional drowning of the perpetrator.

Written by Thag

January 18, 2011 at 9:42 pm

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You Named Her WHAT?!

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Names that sound like good names for girls but are not:

Angina
Quiche
Melanoma
Lease
Artifice
Gonorrhea
Visa
Opticia
Police
Tuba
Anorexia
Bandanna
Hernia
Machine
Duplicity
Tamale

Names that sound like good names for boys but are not:

Spork
Fellatio
Specter
Frock
Louse
Blister
Jargon
Jiggle
Bimbo
Prank
Ulcer
Contrarian
Ogle

Further submissions welcome.

Written by Thag

January 18, 2011 at 8:59 pm

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WordPress Doesn’t Care About You

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To the anonymous folks trying to attract clicks by faking incoming links to my site:

I appreciate what you are trying to accomplish. I, too, wish to increase traffic to my site, and employ some strategy toward that end. Our strategies seem to differ from each other so markedly, however, that I am compelled to address the difference, and perhaps to offer some constructive comments.

The most glaring difference in our approaches manifests in the straightforward vs. the roundabout. My approach, the straightforward, requires real work to generate quality content and attract a loyal audience of readers who themselves feel driven to share my writing with others. Whether this eventually evolves into something more lucrative is not the current issue, but of course I have no problem with earning money from my creative efforts.

You, on the other hand, favor the indirect approach, i.e. tricking me – and I do not flatter myself into thinking I am the sole object of your automated techniques – into thinking that someone followed a link from your site to my own, and perhaps then clicking on that “referring” link as it appears in my stats, thus boosting the traffic of the referenced site. This approach in effect ignores the quality of the site in question, as well as the morality behind the technique it employs.

Each of our approaches presents challenges that the other might not, and still other challenges remain no matter which approach one chooses. My approach requires actual work, sometimes hours at a time, to generate good ideas and express them effectively. It might also involve addressing feedback, corrections and comments. Your approach requires hiring a shady consultant to employ a bot that fakes visit logs at countless sites, much in the way a spammer sends thousands upon thousands of messages to people’s inboxes in the hope that a tiny fraction will respond. This presents little challenge, of course; the challenge of your approach lies in the slow death of soul that any feeling human should sense upon embarking on such a cynical journey in service of Mammon.

Neither approach really guarantees quality traffic, the kind of traffic that sustains a site; the vagaries and competition of the sea of online information make any simple prediction impossible. But only one of the two approaches preserves the dignity and self-worth of the site promoter, and it’s not yours.

Perhaps you do not care. Perhaps you simply hired a consultant to boost your traffic, but did not specify that you wanted quality traffic, the kind of audience that actually takes an interest in your site and its content. Perhaps you are aware of the issues but are already so morally corrupt that none of it bothers you. All of that is immaterial. Your behavior offers me one undeniable benefit: each fake referred link gives me one more reason to feel smugly superior to you, furnishing me with more fodder for my own pontifications. One day, those pontifications will become popular enough that I shall wield enough clout to silence you and your ilk. And I will feel righteous in the process.

We all dislike sanctimonious behavior. So you must ask yourselves whether provoking it is such a worthwhile endeavor. While you consider that, I’ll be over here, mocking you. Cheers.

Written by Thag

January 18, 2011 at 10:58 am

Offend Your Hosts in *Any* Language!

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I should write some travel guides. Not because I’ve been anywhere or done any research; not because I have a desire to share my knowledge of far-flung locales; not because I believe anyone would want to read it. No, I want to write some travel guides because doing so would provide endless opportunities to mock people I’ve never met, and will never meet.

I’d get to indulge in stereotyping up the wazoo, all in the name of informing the public. It’s a curmudgeon’s dream. I could also showcase my ignorance, which is always good for sales to people whose egos need evidence that someone else out there is stupid and willing to say so. Here is my proposed series of titles on Europe:

Thag Tours Belgium: Putting the Twerp in Antwerp
St. Petersburg: Everyone Liked It Better as Leningrad Anyway
I’ve Got that Helsinking Feeling
Hamburg: Contributing Nothing to the World Since The Beatles Left
Germans Don’t Like When You Call them Nazis
Drink Your Way Through Warsaw; There’s Nothing Else to Do There Anyway
The Gulag System on Five Rubles a Day
Freeze Your Baltics Off
Cross Czechs: the Heckles of Prague Hockey Fans
The Best Amsterdam Canals to Pee in
If You Hate Showering, Blend in Among the Parisians
Europe to Your Neck in  Financial Crises
Britain: Where Good Food Goes to Die
Eat Your Way Through the Ardennes: Battle of the Bulging Waistline
Eastern Europe’s Most Polluted Scenic Waterways
Good Food, Good Wine and Statues of Naked People: Tuscany

Maybe some other time we’ll tackle destinations in the Western Hemisphere, such as Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, the place spell checkers never recognize.

Written by Thag

January 17, 2011 at 10:01 pm

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You Can Have a Pet When You Can Kill It Without My Help

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The question is not whether a houseplant will wither and die in our possession; the question is how much it will suffer until it mercifully expires.

Our thumb is black, not green. When it comes to horticulture, I have not the golden touch, but the gravel scratch. We have never knowingly brought plants into our care, but all the dead ones littering the house at various stages of our life have somehow not broadcast clearly enough to others to refrain from presenting any to us as gifts. Or perhaps the benefactors had it in for the poor things.

The children have yet to ask for a pet of any sort, but, like most parents, I, too, was once a kid, and it’s only a matter of time. I might frame a gentle refusal in terms of responsibility, commitment, the seriousness of caring for the life of another creature, etc. But behind it all, I know, lies my realization that if this household cannot sustain members of the plant kingdom for any respectable period, what hope does it have for actual vertebrates?

I should have taken the hint years ago, really. My parents bought us a succession of fish just begging to leave this mortal coil, never quite grasping what a death sentence it was for an animal to be brought within my purview. Some lasted for a time, yes, but it was not the fishes’ mortality that prompted my parents not to buy any more; it was simply that no one was interested in them any longer. So they decided to subject a different succession of doomed creatures to our pit of despair.

First up was a salamander that barely lasted a week; that was 1986 or 87. A little while later, a break in the gloom occurred when my younger brother was given a garter snake; he spent a while researching the care and maintenance of these reptiles, and that might account for that lone bright spot in the otherwise sordid history of pets and Thag. It subsisted on scraps of fish from the supermarket, which my mother procured free. We occasionally supplemented this rather monolithic regimen with freshly dug earthworms. You have not lived until you have experienced the unique set of willies to be had from observing a snake devour a live worm. It’s wriggles galore, with a dash of death thrown in as a bonus.

It’s possible the success of this mostly maintenance-free snake went to our heads, and in 1988 my parents bought me a guinea pig. It did quite well for a time, and I grew to love that creature. I willingly cleaned his cage on schedule, and tolerated the stink its presence imparted to my bedroom. I reveled in the squealing that heralded my arrival home from school. I felt flattered, even vindicated, when my younger sister requested a guinea pig later that year – whereas normally, her following in my footsteps would engender nothing but annoyance and dismissiveness.

Eventually, the happy couple produced two litters, of which we sold a bunch and gave away two babies to a friend. All was hunky dory in the Thag pet universe. Until January 1989, when my beloved guinea pig got sick in a hurry and died before we could get him to a vet; my mother even tried shielding me from the immediacy of the death when she took the cage into her bedroom when she realized the moment was nigh. He passed during the night, but my mother sent me off to school the next morning leaving me to assume there was still hope, that the little guy might make it to the vet that day and get treated for whatever was stopping up his digestive tract. Naturally, I couldn’t focus in school at all that day, my mind whirling with concern, and I rushed into the house that afternoon bursting with anticipation of whatever the vet said to do.

My mother gently broke the news; I didn’t actually start wailing until I touched my guinea pig’s strangely stiff corpse, the sensation bringing home the finality of the situation. That feeling didn’t hit me again for another ten years, at the burial of an elderly family member: the hollow sound of the first clods of earth landing on the casket underlined the permanence of the loss, and at that moment a new round of crying set in.

I interred my pet’s body in the back garden-cum-burial-ground that had served as the final resting place of at least one dead bird we had found over the years, and I marked the spot with a triangular rock I found nearby. It disappeared not too long afterward, under unknown circumstances, and I hadn’t even thought about that until now.

We got another snake in the meantime, a boa constrictor. Eventually, the garter snake also died, the boa constrictor and remaining guinea pig were given away, and pet life ceased from my parents’ household. All told, a mixed success, but at least all four children survived more or less intact.

The prospect of a pet for my children fills not so much with dread as with sorrow, really. But it’s precisely the experience of the inevitable loss of a creature for whom one has cared that makes me hesitant to rule out a pet completely. Do I really want to deny my children the depth of emotion that only such a loss enables? It’s a tough, tough question, with no easy answer.

I apologize, but not really, for the non-humorous turn this post has taken. I promise to make it up sometime in the next week with at least one irresponsible analogy, one remark to insult the intelligence, and one bad pun.

Written by Thag

January 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm

You May Only Read This if You Have Completed the Application Form

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We want your experience at the Museum of Pointless Rules and Regulations to be as educational and pleasurable as possible. To that end, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1. While in general, dogs are permitted throughout the facility, yellow Labrador retrievers are off limits except when accompanied by a six-to-seven-year old boy wearing a black fedora.

2. Food and drink are not permitted outside the cafeteria, which is across the street at the Museum of the Litterbug.

3. Please address all museum staff members as “Claudia.”

4. Persons with disabilities have priority on the down escalators only.

5. Please dispose of all refuse properly: on the ground floor, use only the red bins; on the second floor, use only the green bins; on the third floor, use only the blue bins; on the fourth floor, use only the orange bags hanging from doorknobs, but not those hanging from hooks.

6. No talking will be tolerated inside elevators while the doors are closed.

7. Hats are permitted only on weekdays.

8. Employees must wash hands at random intervals.

9. WET PAINT signs have been placed on random surfaces; do not remove them.

10. Items may be claimed from the stroller and coat check room by presenting a claim ticket and whistling the theme from The Singing Nun. Claimants who cannot whistle will be required to do twenty-one (21) push-ups.

11. The Surrealism wing is closed for permanent renovations.

12. In case of fire, use only the fire extinguishers located on the north wall.

13. In case of other emergency, please alert Claudia and follow his instructions.

14. Cellular phones may be used inside restroom stalls only.

15. Guided tours are available on alternate Tuesdays ending in “y”.

The museum administration team wishes you an enjoyable visit.

Written by Thag

January 16, 2011 at 2:28 pm

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I Didn’t Come Here to Be Insulted! That’s What TV Is for!

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You’re all a bunch of whiny, entitled, twits, aren’t you?

Every last one of you – yes, you too, Weasel, you little git – would gladly let an old lady get run over by a lorry than get off your bottom to help the poor soul, you lazy, good-for-nothing little whinging bastards.

I can’t believe your parents even let you out of the house, really. Especially you, Nipple. What could they be thinking, I wonder? That it might be beneficial for society to have you lot out and about, loitering in every conceivable inconvenient place like some badly dressed pachyderm, making urban blight look positively scintillating by comparison? Blimey. I can see where you get your altruistic tendencies, Sputum.

Come to think of it, actually, I can well see why your progenitors might want you out and about – it means having you out, after all, and having you out when they are in might allow them to experience what the rest of the world calls, ‘a good time’. Or at least some semblance of what life might look like without your mugs constantly reminding them of the horrid thing they did in bringing you into the world – yes, you, Nitpick. Might do them a bit of good to enjoy a cup of tea without the weight of your very existence driving them mad.

What’s that, Flotsam? No more insolence from you, either. Bilge, do shut up for once, please; it might allow you time to breathe in. On second thought, you and Deadwood can just keep at it; if you forget to breathe, we’ll all be better off.

Right then. Theoretically, you lot are supposed to be learning how to dispense invective, but let us face reality, shall we? You’re no more likely to absorb this material than you are to bother with table manners. I suppose I should just leave these whiteboard markers in the centre of the room and giggle like a schoolgirl as you all fight over them. What do you suppose they’re  for, Flotsam? No, I shouldn’t have asked you about anything more complicated than picking your nose, should I.

Pimple, sit down. Sorry to burst your bubble, but you are not here to give dance lessons. And tuck in your shirt, so we can all see the mysterious stains on your trousers. What did you spill there, Pimple? Radioactive nappy waste? Your sister’s nail polish again? Rub up against wet paint? Tell me, Pimple, is that your usual Monday morning routine, or did you go about this activity especially for today?

Right, then. The first rule of dispensing merciless invective is to ensure you have a captive audience of weak-willed imbeciles such as yourselves. That way, you can hurl insults of every conceivable variety at the people around you with impunity – shut up, Twitt, I’m the one talking here, you miserable excuse for a pair of lungs. Who untied you this morning?

The second rule involves assuming British intonation, accent and locution, if for no other reason than it sounds better – better than you, Belch, you bloody Yank. Can’t make a proper cup of tea; can’t play a real man’s game such as rugby; can’t pronounce “leisure” correctly.

The third rule requires an ability to sound superior no matter the circumstances – and no, Filth, I do not care that your father is a cabinet minister; if he had anything of value to offer, he’d be teaching, or running a charity, not embezzling tax revenue to feed the likes of you.

This concludes our lesson in invective. I trust you’ve let it pass straight through your pathetic heads without so much as registering. I, for one, thank you for making it so bloody easy.

Written by Thag

January 15, 2011 at 9:51 pm

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THIS Time, the Kids Will Listen for Sure. I Hope.

with 2 comments

We all know the importance of good communication, especially in relationships. You don’t want, “Please take out the garbage” to register as, “You make questionable political choices, and your sanitary practices leave something to be desired.”

Unfortunately, language often becomes an impediment to understanding because the people conducting the conversation use the same word to mean different things. When I say, “liberal,” I might mean it in its classical sense, economic laissez-faire; I might mean progressive; I might mean a particular party; I might mean it as an obsolete political epithet of mysterious merit. But you might understand it some other way than intended. You’d thus demonstrate your stupidity, because I always make things manifestly clear. When other interlocutors are involved, however, it’s not only the blithering idiots who foment misunderstanding.

We often associate problematic communication gaps with diplomacy and politics, or with friends and lovers. But the same obstacles to clarity occur when parents attempt to communicate with their children. It simply cannot be the case that the children are willfully disobedient; your angels would never knowingly defy you, of course. The only reasonable explanation involves some misapprehension of your intent. So as a service to the public, therefore, I offer this set of definitions so that children can grasp the intended meaning of adults’ words.

Stop that: Cease your current activity, right now. Not, “stop when you finish doing what I’m telling you to stop doing.” Synonyms include: cut that out; quit it; stop it.

No: The opposite of yes. As in: no, you may not pour the entire contents of the maple syrup bottle onto your pancakes.

Maybe: A decision has not been reached yet, or the yes-no dynamic is otherwise still unclear. It does not mean “yes.” Synonyms include: not now; I’ll think about it; we’ll see; we’ll talk about that later.

Get dressed: Don your clothes right now; do not engage in activities that will delay or disrupt the donning. See also: Get in pajamas.

Get in pajamas: Don your sleepwear, first removing your daytime garments if necessary, without getting sidetracked.

No shoes on the couch: Footwear typically worn outside may not come in contact with the cushions or arms of the furniture. Usage note: this term applies continuously, not merely during the moments immediately following its utterance.

Clothes go in the hamper: Used articles of clothing must be deposited in the receptacle designated for them; they do not go on the floor, on furniture, under the bed or hung over the bed rails.

Keep the door closed: The portal on the front wall of the house must remain in the position that actually blocks the passage of toddlers through its doorway and into the street.

Use a napkin: To wipe food or grease off your hands or face, employ the paper or cloth serviette provided for that purpose; this rules out the use of a sleeve, shirt front, jacket, trousers, tablecloth or upholstery.

Your brother is not a toy: The way you are playing with your baby sibling resembles the manner in which one treats an inanimate object for one’s amusement, but your sibling is a human being, not an inanimate object, and therefore deserves gentle, respectful treatment – stop treating him any other way, lest he get hurt. Note: sometimes occurs as “Your sister is not a toy.”

Use both hands: The item you are holding is delicate and will shatter or lose functionality if dropped, so you must hold it with all ten fingers.

No splashing: The water in the bathtub must stay in the bathtub. Note: though not explicit, the connotations of this phrase include bath toys and other related implements.

Get over here: Abandon your current activity and move hither. Note: although not explicit, the command denotes immediacy. Also rendered as: get over here now, get over here right now, come here, come over here.

Keep your hands to yourself: You may not touch things that belong to others, especially their persons – this even includes situations in which you really, really want to. Also rendered as: keep your cotton-pickin’ hands to yourself.

Be quiet: Produce no noise. Note: it does not mean wait a few seconds, then make noise again; it applies until further notice.

Stop slamming the door: The door must be closed gently, lest it break, and the noise from the forceful closing bothers people. Note: this includes doors of all sorts, not merely the house and room doors – it applies equally to cabinet and closet doors, and even to drawers.

No throwing: Objects may not leave your hand with any applied force that will cause them to move through the air. Note: this includes parts of the body not typically associated with throwing, and in practice refers to pushing and kicking objects, as well.

Hurry up: You must do whatever it is you are doing at a faster pace, lest I get angry. Note: this phrase often appears in conjunction with other commands appearing in this list.

Do your homework: Complete the assignments your teachers gave you, and do so without getting involved in other pursuits, no matter how attractive the pursuits or boring the assignments. Or your dinner will wait.

Would you like that done to you: You have just treated someone else in a manner you would not wish to be treated, and you must be made aware of the inherent impropriety. Usage note: this rhetorical device often accompanies a threatening gesture or look.

Ask your mother: I do not wish to render a decision on this question, and am passing the buck, either because I do not care one way or the other and perhaps she does, or because I lack the ovaries to make this crucial determination.

How many times do I have to tell you…: You seem to have forgotten an important datum that I have related to you more than once. See: use a napkin; stop that; keep the door closed; clothes go in the hamper; no shoes on the couch; get dressed; get in pajamas; your brother is not a toy; use both hands; no splashing; get over here; keep your hands to yourself; be quiet; stop slamming the door; no throwing; hurry up; do your homework; would you like that done to you.

I shall not pretend that this list is exhaustive, and I welcome your suggested additions. As it is, however, this one should go a long way toward clearing up all those misunderstandings, and your relationship with your children should improve immeasurably as a result. You’re welcome.

Written by Thag

January 13, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Come to the Dark Side. We Have Cookies.

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New rule: no blogging when I’m hungry.

Let me rephrase that: I shall adhere to the no-blogging-when-hungry rule. Because every paragraph ends up coming down to the same thing: all the delicious food I want but am not having, for whatever reason – too expensive; too far away; too much effort required to wrestle the chocolate chip cookies away from others. Mmm. Cookies.

So I decided not to do this, not to blog when I crave alimentary satisfaction. It should help me retain the serenity I wish to project, instead of maintaining the overpowering desire to positively inhale that package of Pepperidge Farm Nantuckets.

Struggle might build character, yes; but some struggles inevitable lead to the same result every time: a contemplation of that fabulous chocolate cake I made this past weekend. It was better than usual, in fact: moist all over, firm but not burnt at the edges, no need for frosting. Perfect with a glass of cold milk.

I should definitely find something constructive to do. We have some shopping to accomplish, so I should bundle the kids up and head out. We need potatoes, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, yams, melon and milk. While I’m out, I might as well stop at that new-ish ice cream place. Their chocolate was pretty good, last time I was there. I wonder if they have shakes now? Man, I could go for a good, rich milkshake, heavy on the ice cream and light on the milk. About a 2:1 ice-cream-to-milk ratio should do it.

Or I could get some laundry done. There’s plenty to fold and a bit more to wash, but at least we got the cumbersome tablecloths out of the way already. We had to have a couple of them dry cleaned because they got chocolate mousse on them, which we served in terra cotta flowerpots, with chocolate cookie crumbs over the top and decorated with realistic plastic flowers. Still have a couple of pots left in the fridge, actually.

There’s also some cleanup in the kitchen to do, as always. Still have to load the dishwasher and run it; still have to clean the mixing bowl and spoon from that batch of flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I had to do quality control, of course, and it takes a good bit of self-control not to down the rest of them. Man, those are good. You don’t suppose we really need all seventy, do you?

I could also distract myself by thinking about today’s failed car inspection. Had to take the car to get a few things fixed before the registration would be renewed. Costs a pretty penny, but they have some of the best free coffee there in the waiting room. I had a latte with just a touch of sugar, and it would have been the perfect accompaniment to a good cheese danish, like the one from the bakery over on the next street. Also not too sweet, unlike most of the other places around here. And they avoid putting raisins in, which provides yet another reason to like them. Sometimes I get to that bakery early enough in the day and the danishes have juuust come out of the oven; they go down silky smooth and soft. Yum.

Maybe I should just take a nap. I could sure use more sleep; was up late last night doing some shopping for a big weekend. We’re gonna have about forty people overall, which means lots of desserts. So we’ll probably make truffles – thus the shopping trip; part of it was to get chocolate and other ingredients. I love the way the bitter cocoa coating contrasts with the creamy, bittersweetness of the truffle itself. Might even coat some of them in cinnamon.

Yeah, it’s a good rule. I can see it working already. Why, it never even occurred to me to mention the chocolate coated almonds that I wanted to buy, but the store had no more. Maybe next week.

Written by Thag

January 12, 2011 at 2:34 pm

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I Could Use Some USB Hot Chocolate

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As I sit here in my USB gloves, wondering whether using them makes me more of a nerd or a geek, I realize that they do a very effective job of warming a full square inch on the back of each hand. The incongruity of cold fingers and warm hands has confused me. I need to lie down.

But I can’t lie down, because the gloves are plugged into the USB jack, and the lying-down surface is farther away than the cord will extend. So I sit here instead as my homeostasis becomes ever more precarious. All for five bucks plus shipping! I feel like Homer Simpson after he got each arm stuck in different vending machines. Or a deer in headlights. I think. I can’t decide which. That ability has been impaired.

Now would be a bad time to ask for my opinion on anything. Not that any other time is good; but at least at other times you can expect a semi-articulate answer, full of sound and fury and signifying the need to have an opinion about everything except cabbage farming (I’m in favor, unless I’m opposed; but if they are USB cabbages, well, sign me up).

OK, I take back that parenthetical comment. I just googled the phrase “USB cabbage” and discovered just such a product. Granted, it’s merely a USB flash drive shaped vaguely like a cabbage, but what is this world coming to? How unlikely a term must one use in order to find an object that has not been USBified? You can even find mention of a USB squeegee and USB toilet paper.

I am happy to report, though, that as of this moment, the phrase “USB toothpick” does not turn up any products by that name. So if you’re looking for an entrée into the market, you’ve got your niche right there. You might also try USB halibut. Act now, though, because it’s only a matter of time before someone else swoops in and snatches up these ideas. that’s what happened with AIDS. I was just wondering aloud, back in the early part of last century, when we might have a human immunodeficiency virus, and bam! Should have kept that idea to myself until I could capitalize on it.

And that whole exploding space shuttle thing. That was my idea! NASA stole it from me! Twice! I really should keep my mouth shut. Every big idea I have, someone else usurps. That’s not gonna happen this time, though. Nobody‘s gonna flood Brisbane before I

Oh, brother. What does it take, huh? Maybe I should keep it simple.

Say, anyone for a USB bathtub toaster?

Written by Thag

January 11, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Why Critics Don’t Write Reviews of People’s Home Cuisine

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Upon walking into Thag’s, the observant patron will first notice the way the fallen leaves have gathered helter skelter on the front porch, as if taking refuge from the northerly winds that deposited them there. They decorate the two doormats – one gray and threadbare with a fading pattern, the other a sturdy black-and-brown calico – as if to accent the accumulated dust that covers the porch almost entirely. The dust itself blends almost seamlessly with the parades of ants marching to and fro underneath the door.

In cold weather, one can immediately sense the difference between inside and out: whereas outside, one encounters cold, wind and occasional rain, inside one merely encounters cold. Thag, the chef, prefers not to turn on the heat unless it get well and truly cold outside. In answer to the questions whether this strategy grows out of his desire for patrons to fully enjoy their hot soup, he simply grins, and gestures with a gloved hand – fingerless gloves, no less – toward the large dining table.

The table, it turns out, was crafted specifically with this space in mind, down to the centimeter. The chairs, eight of them, are carved of solid oak, upholstered in subtle brown, with square legs that vaguely resemble a lithe calf muscle. The table, though the same color as the chairs, remains shrouded under an off-white tablecloth, with subtle patterns woven into it, placed in sharp relief only where the threads have begun to unravel. The hand-crafted quality of the table is readily apparent, as it bows in the middle, a feature that gets even more pronounced when Thag extends the table for more guests, adding one or two leaves. The floor is tiled, and the windows offer a stunning view of the rear patio, where feral cats frolic and diminutive, wind-blown piles of autumn leaves spend the winter.

My companion and I were offered wine, but only on condition that we finish every last drop. We had a fine Merlot from the cellar, which is fully accessible to anyone – just down a set of steps right near the table. While Thag’s wine list fluctuates in the predictability of its offerings, the wine is always poured generously, and no mind given to the pretentiousness that often surrounds the ritual. It seemed almost intentional, in fact, that a slight dribble of wine traveled down the side of each glass after pouring.

For starters, I had some hummus and freshly microwaved pita. The hummus was garnished with the herb blend zaatar, which tingled in the mouth and got stuck between the teeth. My companion enjoyed cut vegetables in fascinating shapes, the work of Thag’s six-year-old sous-chef, who is just learning to use a knife and peeler.

My companion and I, both lapsed vegetarians, then dug into our main course: chicken absolutely smothered in coarse garlic powder and baked for up to three hours over potato wedges. Thag proudly leaves the skin on the bird, and boasts about the extra chicken fat he adds to the pan before baking, so the potatoes bake and fry simultaneously. One might expect such an extended stay in the oven to dry out the flesh, but Thag does not care for the way food is “supposed” to be; the skin and garlic keep enough moisture in for his taste, and for mine.

We were halfheartedly offered salad, but declined. Before dessert we made selections from an eclectic assortment of herbal infusions and real teas, and were presented with a sugar bowl, the lid of which broke in 2002. I chose cinnamon; my companion, chai massala.

Dessert was fresh strawberries; moist, mouth-watering chocolate cake; a chocolate-and-peanut-butter confection with pretzel sticks; chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies; chocolate truffles rolled in cocoa or cinnamon; flourless chocolate chip peanut butter cookies; and a chocolate-chocolate-chip brownie pie in a delicious crust.

Thag’s is a keeper. Reservations are recommended.

Written by Thag

January 10, 2011 at 12:53 pm