Mightier Than The Pen

Making The World A Bitter Place

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.



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.


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