Mightier Than The Pen

Making The World A Bitter Place

Archive for February 2011

Buy the House and They’ll Throw in the Kids

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Good morning, Mr. Jacobs. How nice to see you again. And you must be Mrs. Jacbos. How do you do? I’m Jane Dunaway. Shall we go see the house right now? Excellent.

As you probably know already, this neighborhood in general, but especially this little street, has seen a good bit of gentrification recently: on this short block alone, five houses have been demolished and rebuilt over the last eleven years. The one we’re seeing today was finished in 2005, and since then two more have been rebuilt, with at least two or three more to come in the next year or two. As you can imagine, that means quite a bit of construction going on. Here we are: if you stand outside over here, you can see the kitchen window, and how it attests to the changes the block has undergone. Note the two different kinds of splattered concrete on the glass, each one from the construction of a different neighboring house. But let’s not get too caught up on the outside.

This wide, solid beech door is certainly attractive, isn’t it? What? Oh, that. Those are, uh, egg stains. Yes, it seems the little boy across the street got access to the refrigerator a few months ago while his mother wasn’t paying attention, and she was very apologetic, but has yet to make good on her promise to clean up the mess. Ah, here we go. Do come in.

Actually, Mrs. Jacobs, those markings are not pencil, but scratches: edges of toys, keys and various other objects that the children have used on the walls over the last few years. If you look carefully, you can also see the maturing artistic skill they display as they get older, and ¬†able to reach higher on the wall. You see how the higher doodles are much less random, and really look like a child’s drawing? Yes, you’ve got quite an eye for detail, Mrs. Jacobs.

If I may, I’d like to draw your attention to the dining room windows and the living room French doors leading to the patio. You see the elegant stone trim that frames them? Exactly. Those red and black splotches come from the children’s use of window markers, Crayola products meant specifically to be used on windows – which I assure you, they did enthusiastically. So enthusiastically, it turns out, that they ended up ignoring the whole “window” part of it. No matter how hard Dad scrubbed, the rough surface of the stone trim would never be rid of the color, right in the most visible part of the window and door frames.

Now, please follow me out to the patio. Note the artistic black squiggles. Who do you think was responsible for those? Well, I thought so, too, you know – but in fact it was the work of a three-year-old. Isn’t that something? Come back in to the kitchen and I’ll show you something else.

Those lights in the ceiling are halogen spots. Mr. Jacobs, would you flip that rightmost switch? They all go on, except for that one over in the corner. But if you wait a few minutes, you’ll see they turn off and on individually at random intervals. You never know which one of the ten bulbs will go out, nor which ones will come back on, or when. It’s enthralling.

Here in the dining room again, the breakfront has a delightful pattern of dried milk droplets on the lower left, where the baby’s high chair sat when he was just learning to eat by himself. He had an adorable habit of grabbing the spoon or bowl of corn flakes and milk, and flinging it behind him, where the milk splattered all over the lower cabinet. If you look carefully, you can see a few flakes of carrot, as well, where he flung the occasional spoonful of carrot salad out of his way.

Look down over the railing here to the basement level: what you see there is what remains after the parents despaired of picking up all the toys, clothes and other objects that the toddler dropped from the first and second floors. Some of those things have been sitting in the same spot for months. You can see the layer of dust on them from here.

Let’s go upstairs – and as we do so, pay attention to the wide band of doodles, fingerprints and plain old smeared dirt at the various heights along the wall. Now and then you may find yourself surprised by a remarkably coherent picture of a balloon, also the work of a precocious little one – when her brothers were that age, they were still using crayon on the floor; these are black marker on a wall. See how clearly they convey “balloon on a string”?

As we ascend to the next level, where the bedrooms are, note also the new materials introduced. Very good, Mrs. Jacobs! Those are boogers! You must have boys of your own; how else would you know? You can see the clustering of them on the bed rail of the top bunk bed, and more of the same on the wall right next to it. Don’t you just love the way the pattern looks just like the adhesive, glow-in-the-dark stars that also adorn the wall and ceiling?

Now here, you might think the kids have been at the wall with various implements again, but in fact all the chipped and cracked paint you see from here on upward actually comes from shoddy construction. The skylight was never installed properly, and by the time anybody noticed, all the fixes have been inadequate in sealing everything permanently. I must say I do like the yellowish brown tinge that has grown around some of the older leaky spots.

Now in this room on the top floor, you can see that not only did the rain leak through and begin chipping paint from the walls, but it even caused a mirror to fall of the wall! The cardboard back of the framed mirror absorbed just a bit too much and got warped, pushing the whole thing off its hook and rendering it useless as a wall hanging. Here you can see where the paint behind it puffed and fell away, right near the light switch. Yes, Mr. Jacobs, I was also surprised that given this family’s fortune in these matters, the water didn’t short-circuit the whole system. But there was the time that upper terrace had its drain clogged with dust, and during a torrential downpour, it started flowing in under the door. Dad was pushing the squeegee like mad – and in his pajamas in the freezing, driving rain. In fact, if you’ll follow me back down to the second floor, you can see in the master bedroom the spot right near the drain that wasn’t sealed properly, and all that accumulated water soaked clear through to the ceiling of the bedroom.

I do hope you’ll let me know what you think, Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs. You did say you were partial to houses that looked “lived in.” Oh, it was a pleasure. I’ll give you a call tomorrow. Oh, please make sure not to trip over the threadbare welcome mat on the front porch. The neighborhood cats love to bunch it up and use it as a bed. Bye-bye.


Written by Thag

February 28, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Nonce Upon a Time…

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In a previous post, we explored the important literary implications of altering a classic book or movie title by replacing one letter with another. Since one good turn deserves another, we shall continue with the theme of butchering pillars of Western culture, with a variation: instead of replacing a letter, simply add one and provide the premise or summary of the new title. Thus:

Tomb Sawyer: Injun Joe makes sure that the title character never the Twain shall meet.

Turn Off the Screw: Henry James on the effects of really, really long sentences on the libido.

The Old Manx and the Sea: There’s a good reason sailors are called dogs, not cats.

As I Lay Drying: It occurs to me that watching paint dry is quite the apt metaphor for reading Faulkner. Just sayin’.

How to Wing Friends and Influence People: You didn’t know Carnegie was an NRA prankster, did you?

The Emperor’s Newt Clothes: Mr. Gingrich’s “Contract with America”.

Munch Ado About Nothing: Old Mother Hubbard in iambic pentameter.

Live and Let Diet: Lose 007 pounds in no time!

A View to a Krill: A whale of a spy thriller.

A Fish Called Rwanda: A shoot-’em-up, of course.

Trading Plaices: Yet another fish tale.

Lord of the Ringos: Starring…

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stoned: She must have meant “potted”.

The Federalist Pampers: A portrait of a great nation in its infancy.

A Modesto Proposal: Dude…let’s eat the children.

Anne of Green Gambles: Scandalous!

Sensei and Sensibility: The Jane Austen Fight Club.

West Snide Story: Jets vs. Snarks.

The Craven: By Edgar Allen Poet.

Dearth of a Salesman: Hello? Hello?! Can anyone help me in aisle six with these¬†anvils? Anyone? Goddamn capitalists…

Further suggestions welcome.

Written by Thag

February 27, 2011 at 3:31 pm

To the Editor: What’s the Name of Your Publication Again?

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To the Editor:

George McIntyre’s insightful analysis of my mating habits (“Thag Has No Hope, Ever,” February 25) offers a good history of the phenomenon, but comes up short on two points:

– Contrary to the article’s assertions, no one has ever accused me of trying to establish a long-term relationship with a llama named Maude.

– All documented indications point to the squid enjoying my company, and any attempt to imply otherwise bespeaks either willful ignorance or malicious distortion.

I welcome incisive investigative journalism, but responsibility remains the top priority. The Times goofed on this one.

The Fourth Pit of Hell
February 26


To the Editor:

I take issue with your portrayal of Nazis in such a negative light (“Arthur Mills, Nuremberg Figure, Dies at 89,” February 22). Theoretically, the Times is supposed to represent open-mindedness, not prejudgment. Who are we, mere humans, to judge the behavior and philosophy of the National Socialists?

I trust your publication to refrain in the future from characterizing incidents of mass killing of civilians as anything other than an unpleasant event, devoid of biased descriptors such as “massacre,” “genocide” or “crime against humanity”.

Fourth Pit of Hell
February 26


To the Editor:

Your coverage of the US Open in tennis leaves something to be desired (“Federer ousts Roddick in Straight Sets,” February 24). Specifically, the fact that your paper chooses to cover such a “sport” in the first place calls into question your editorial judgment.

As anyone with half a brain knows, only baseball, football, basketball, hockey and NASCAR merit coverage in a publication of this caliber. Other sports may be mentioned occasionally, but only as a curiosity; assigning reporters to cover them permanently has no basis on logic, economics or social awareness.

You might as well put the crossword in the sports section.

Fourth Pit of Hell
February 26


To the Editor:

There was a typo in the early edition of the paper last Sunday. You might want to do something about it.

Fourth Pit of Hell
February 26


To the Editor:

Your epidermis is showing.

Ha ha!

Fourth Pit of Hell
February 26


To the Editor:

Why don’t my letters get published? My English is good; I send in the letters in timely fashion; I address them properly; and no one else seems to address the issues that I raise. I would appreciate an explanation.

Fourth Pit of Hell
February 28


To the Editor:

Thanks for the refund, but I didn’t cancel my subscription, nor did I delete my account. Is there some way to restore access?

Hello? Anyone there?

Fourth Pit of Hell
February 27

Written by Thag

February 26, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Winner of the Nobel Prize for Cheating

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Let’s revoke Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize if it emerges he used performance-enhancing drugs to do whatever it is he did.

OK, so Obama is probably a bad example of the phenomenon, primarily because he did bugger-all to earn the prize, other than not being George W. Bush. I, too, have spent upwards of thirty-five years not being George W. Bush, but somehow the Nobel committee overlooked that achievement. You’d have quite a time trying to demonstrate that, say, anabolic steroids played a role in that.

There’s Henry Kissinger, of course, but I don’t think drugs do anything to him other than keep him awake – and even then, it’s hard to know. How about Arafat? Well, we would have to consider his co-recipients that year, Peres and Rabin, but I don’t think the three can be accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs so much as mind-altering ones. In Kool-Aid, probably. But I do not believe the Nobel committee ought to consider disqualifying a candidate for such recreational activities, except perhaps in literature.

Because in literature we wish to give citation to the creative genius behind a work, and that creativity ought to come naturally, by which I do not mean from certain varieties of mushroom. However, considering the political undertones that the literature award often carries, one can only assume that the pharmaceutical proclivities of literature prize awardees will be overlooked when the august body wishes to send a political message (“legalize glue sniffing”).

But back to peace – which, of course, Rabin, Peres and Arafat clearly achieved, serving to explain why we never hear of any more serious problems over in this part of the world – you have to suspect the International Red Cross, which has received a number of Nobel prizes through the years. Consider, for instance, that a large part of what they do revolves around drugs! They’re natural suspects for this kind of thing: they have the access, the pressure to perform, the accolades that might motivate cheating a little. Oh, so they might save a few more lives that way. Whoop-dee-doo. What lives are those, exactly? A bunch of Sudanese? Rwandans? Impoverished Haitians or Burmese? Since when do people genuinely care about them, again? I’m trying to recall the last time sending Western troops in to protect the populace of some one-horse mudhole ended happily. I can think of Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq (Albania and Bosnia don’t count because they have at least three horses), but no real success stories come to mind.

Now where was I? Right. Performance-enhancing drugs. We might also discuss whether and how such drugs play a role in a candidate’s work toward the prizes in medicine, physics, chemistry and economics, but frankly, I don’t have the energy. I think I need more caffeine in my system.

Written by Thag

February 25, 2011 at 11:13 am

Oh. I Thought Boogers Were *Supposed* to Go There

with 2 comments



Purpose of Item According to:


Normal human







Instigating fights with six-year-old

Dissecting table pads

Dropping, feigning inability to retrieve

Holding in one hand while eating with other hand


Create rooms; hold artwork

Canvas for booger collages

Canvas for testing magic markers

Canvas for dirty fingerprints

Peekaboo accessory


Collection, disposal of waste

Collection, fermentation of waste

Toilet? What’s wrong with the floor?

Entity that only exists if parents force it to

Insertion of random objects



Object to be left out for younger siblings to damage

Pretext for ignoring parents





Shoe storage

Bad mood indicator

Place to hide instead of going to bed

Gravity tester

Garbage can

Collection, disposal of waste

Collection, disposal of waste


Knocking off lid

Invading; removing grossest item

Toilet paper


Pretending not to need

Bunching up in huge amounts for small cleaning job

Giving parent role in bathroom trip

Unrolling as far as the eye can see


Supporting people, furniture, possessions

Storage of school bag, jackets, laundry, toys

Place to lie down, preferably in someone’s way

Place to drop things

Place to fall


Playing music

Stacking CD cases

Watching digital display

Placing ear directly against speakers

Turning volume knob constantly

Laundry hamper

Dirty laundry storage



Premature disposal of clean clothes




Leaving open to dry out

Adding color to white walls

Adding color to face, hands

Adding color to face, hands


Written by Thag

February 24, 2011 at 4:01 pm

It’s a Good Thing My Three-Year-Old Doesn’t Need to Shave Every Morning

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I think I’ve figured out how to get out of the house on time in the morning: forget personal hygiene.

I don’t mean neglecting activities essential for health, such as brushing teeth or emptying the bladder. No, I mean such peripheral activities such as brushing or combing hair; shaving; applying deodorant (who needs it in winter, anyway?); and caring whether my socks match. It’s time-consuming enough just to make sure I take out all the right items of clothing; don’t saddle me with aesthetic requirements on top of that (shoes, in case you were wondering, fall into the “essential” category, as some cases of mismatch can lead to tripping, unsuitable protection from the elements, etc., and the consequent injury, illness and death. I think we can agree that’s not an aesthetic consideration, though it is something of a faux pas).

My children espouse the extreme opposite of this view. They will not don clothing until all elements of the day’s garb are arrayed on their beds. They often will refuse to remove pajamas unless and until this condition obtains, but not always; it frequently happens that one will remove pajamas and only then go about extracting the various sartorial items from the dresser or closet, as if prancing about in the altogether during the northern hemisphere’s tilt away from the sun is an acceptable, wise course of action. Any suggestion that one should don, say, the underwear, shirt and trousers, and only then initiate the search for matching (!) socks – especially when said search requires the assistance of a grown-up – will be met with resistance, puzzlement and pouting.

Overcoming this resistance cannot be accomplished by logic; logic has no bearing on the will of a young child resolved to wear only the underwear at the bottom of the laundry hamper. Logic cannot penetrate the youthful desire to wear three button-down shirts at once. Logic fails in the face of a child’s stated goal of wearing rain boots in the middle of the dry season.

Curiously, this insistence on getting dressed only one way or not at all has no bearing whatsoever on the youngsters’ bathroom habits. Their fastidiousness with clothing is inversely proportionate to their concern with matters hygienic or sanitary. Thus the streaks of toothpaste on the vanity; thus the stench of many a badly aimed urination; thus the utter disregard for washing hands. And we shall not get started on the frequency, lack of discretion and choice of disposal method when it comes to nose picking.

But they’ll come around. One of these days they’ll begin to find the inconsistencies in their behavior inappropriate, and adjust accordingly.

So the bathroom will still need constant cleaning, but at least they’ll make less fuss about getting dressed.

Written by Thag

February 23, 2011 at 3:25 pm

The Key to Anticipation Is…Wait for It…

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We live in a world of process. Despite an entire generation of youth raised to expect instant gratification, human gestation still requires forty weeks; fourth-period history still takes forever; and the National Hockey League playoffs still last approximately twelve years.

It is important to realize, even in this world of push-button, immediate stimulus-response, that some islands of patience remain vital to the functional person and society. E-mail might have removed the glorious anticipation of sending and receiving a real letter – try it sometime; it’s so retro – but Microsoft has managed to preserve, even in our high-tech environment, the need to wait about two presidential terms for Windows to restart. It might take mere seconds to find relevant research materials through Google and Wikipedia, while a trip to the library (remember those?) in days of yore could occupy a full afternoon or two just finding and collating the information – but it will still take the geek you’ve bullied into doing the research a good bit of time to do the actual reading for you.

Microwaves revolutionized the way people ruin food: now you can cook a potato beyond repair in less than ten minutes, whereas our ancestors had to boil them for half an hour or more just to get them to the mildly repulsive stage. Food preparation in general has become so hands-off, in fact, that rendering a feast for twelve inedible now takes a fraction of the manpower it used to.

I, for one, revel in the process. It’s special experience to watch circumstances slowly develop, as piece after piece of the situational puzzle comes together. The anticipation builds; the suspense and excitement crescendo, with the final moments of the well-planned, exquisitely choreographed pie in the face offering a catharsis. That catharsis would never happen if the pies were flying all over the place from the first moment, would it?

So I say, bring back select aspects of the old way: walking to work or school; reading an actual newspaper; using a phone with an actual cord that limits the range of all that ridiculous pacing some people seem to have a pathological need to do, as if absentmindedly tripping over things and walking into walls and falling down steps somehow enhances their focus on the conversation.

Will you stop that? I’m trying to type.

Written by Thag

February 22, 2011 at 3:30 pm