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

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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

In the Beginning, Thag Wished He Could Sleep In

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It came to pass on the twenty-first day of the umpteenth month of the reign of Thag, son of Ogg, that the children did rise from their beds without parental nudging. And Thag was pleased, for slumber until the appointed hour was precious unto him and Queen Miggtha. They did dislike the need to prompt the offspring to don the daily vestments, as the campaigning politician doth dislike the absence of photographers.

Ralph, the firstborn did descend and prepare his morning repast, and did lay out the vessels for his younger siblings to do so in turn; Ralph then ate his flakes of corn with milk and did gently move his vessels to the sink. He then prepared his snack and midday meal, and did wrap them in his backpack as the Israelites did bundle the unleavened bread as they departed Egypt.

Thag said unto Miggtha, “Do I dream, or are the children today behaving upright as we have commanded them?” And Miggtha said, “Thou dreamest not, for lo, e’en the second son doth place his pajamas in the hamper and dress without delay. But be thou wary, Thag, for this can only portend a great and bitter cry to offset the good that thou dost experience this morn. For it be a rule of the universe that thy children only leave thee alone when they seek to do some evil.”

Thag thought to rend his garments, but did realize his pajamas already were torn, for he doth tend to wear pajamas far beyond the capacity of those garments to confer modesty, saying, who shall see me under the flannel covers?

And lo, Miggtha’s prophecy did transpire, as the firstborn and the younger one then did get into a fight over the firstborn’s use of a particular vessel that the second son doth desire to use. And Thag had admonished him many times that the taste of the food changeth not with the color of its vessel, but his son hearkened not to his words. As Thag opened his mouth to adjudicate the dispute, his daughter did call out from the facilities, “Finished!” And Thag ran to wipe her, for it be an evil thing to leave a preschooler without the wipe for more than five seconds; it doth incur the wrath of the rash and of the mother.

And all happened as Migghta the prophetess had foreseen: the boys did fight through the younger one’s breakfast, and through the preparation of crackers with peanut butter. They did fight unto the very moment that Thag banished them to the school bus, saying, “Havest thou a good day!”

And the land was quiet for forty minutes.

Written by Thag

February 21, 2011 at 3:49 pm

More Helpful Advice for You Kids to Ignore

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1. Gravity always wins. Playing at the edge of a raised surface is courting pain. Do not be so surprised when you fall.

2. Bothering people only works to generate friendship in made-up stories. In real life, it makes people not want to play with you. The whole I’ll-annoy-her-because-I-like-her routine is so passé.

3. Whining makes your parents less willing to give you attention, not more. If it does work, the attention will be grudging. That’s a good word to know, by the way; see number 6.

4. When admonished not to engage in certain behavior or else, there is no need to test the validity of the equation; you will not enjoy the result. Hey, what did we just tell you?!

5. Playing with things that do not belong to you will only cause problems. Yes, that includes your sister’s art project.

6. Adults outside the family are always impressed by children who know good words. Here are a few to practice: obstreperous; simultaneity, putrefaction; obviate; canard.

7. We have heard that joke before. Yes, that one, too. And that one. We might tolerate hearing it from you once, but trust us: it lost its humorous power decades ago.

8. When the TV commercial says that the cereal it touts is “part of a complete breakfast,” that means it does not provide everything you need. Stop requesting it for every meal.

9. Chairs have a seat designed for the human tush. When using a chair, keep your tush on the seat.

10. Chairs have a front and back. When using a chair, orient your feet, legs and body toward the front of the chair, and not toward the person sitting next to you.

11. Lying on the kitchen floor is an excellent way to get kicked, stepped on, spilled on, bumped or otherwise hurt. It is not so effective at getting you positive attention.

12. If your parent says it is cold outside and you must wear a jacket, you must wear a jacket. You may pout and stomp your way to your destination to demonstrate your displeasure with the ruling, but you will nevertheless comply; refer to number 4.

13. Making your parents repeat themselves is a surefire way to poison the next five minutes of interaction with them (that means it’s something you shouldn’t do; just so you know).

14. Taking your parents scolding or instructions literally in order to find loopholes will not have a happy ending, no matter how many junky snacks you end up with as a result.

15. Do as I say, don’t do as I do. “Hypocrite” is also a good word.

Written by Thag

February 20, 2011 at 2:59 pm

88% of American Mothers Agree You’d Better Clean Your Room

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WASHINGTON (AP) – In a study release this week by the Department of the Interior, nearly nine tenths of American mothers hold the opinion that you had better clean your room right now.

The study, which surveyed mothers in all fifty states, solicited the responses of over 1200 mothers, ages 30 to 55. The margin for error was irrelevant, since mothers are always right.

Colleen Davis, the study’s lead author and mother of three, noted that the results of this survey showed an increase over previous years: up to 88% from 85% and 82% in 2009 and 2008, respectively. “Mothers are getting progressively more fed up with the filth and obstacle course that just get worse and worse every time we look,” said Davis. She added that your laundry piles were especially unsettling, with no clear distinction between clean and dirty.

The figure of 88% brings the 2010 results short of the all-time high of 99%, first recorded in 1941 and repeated for the next twenty years. In the 1960s the figure began to slip, hitting a low of just 48% in 1973, when your room was occupied by a succession of those lovely Mueller boys, who always knew how to please their mother, unlike a certain teenager whose name will go unmentioned. The Muellers moved out in 1974, and the numbers held steady through the 1980s while the Emerson girls took turns using it. Once your family began to occupy the house, each year has seen an increase in the percentage of mothers who demand that you clean your room this instant.

Eugenia Del Vecchio, who was not involved in the study, said that the numbers seem reliable in light of your propensity for snacking in there at all hours and paying no attention to the accruing odor of sweaty socks and underwear. She questioned only minor details of the report, but agreed with the overall thrust: that you live like a pig. “I would have liked to see a finer distinction among the levels of urgency expressed, such as ‘immediately, if not sooner,’ ‘this minute’and ‘this instant,’ but I think the study more or less paints an accurate picture of the sentiments,” she said. The look of disgust was plain on her face when she beheld the random papers strewn about what used to be a desk.

A small but vocal opposition to the results has emerged from expected quarters. You, for example, do not see the urgency or necessity of cleaning your room. “If you don’t like it, stay out,” you are heard to say, not mentioning that you prefer to keep prying maternal eyes away from your stash of decidedly inappropriate magazines.

The team proposes to follow up this study with a survey of mothers’ attitudes toward your choices of snack foods.

Written by Thag

February 19, 2011 at 8:37 pm

The Mother of All Oedipus Complexes?

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Gina, I think we need couples’ therapy.

Please don’t misunderstand me – I don’t think our problems are a result of our individual quirks clashing; I think we need to see a therapist because only then will it become clear that all of our dysfunction is your fault.

I know a few things about therapy, and the course it tends to follow. A good therapist will get the couple to really hear each other, to understand that the other half is willing to listen and accept what is being said, without judging or answering. Eventually, we will discover in therapy that you have all these mental and emotional issues that produce ranting far in excess of any spouse’s capacity to listen to, let alone accept. Also, you refuse to listen to me.

Not that I have any particular things that I feel you must hear; no, I relinquished that expectation long ago. That’s why I’m having an affair: you simply aren’t there for me, so I am left with no choice but to seek a more willing partner to engage with me in what I have to express. In therapy, you will learn to change yourself such that eventually, you will be capable of earning my trust and affection again. Then maybe I can break off the affair. We’ll have to see how things work out.

Your reaction demonstrates exactly what I’m talking about – none of this would have happened if not for your obtuseness and selfishness. A skilled therapist will sense that very quickly, and find ways to get you to open up, and perhaps do something about all those self-inflicted, self-generated problems. Did you expect me to remain impassive when you tore into me for sleeping with your sister? Why, after all, would I look for someone else unless you weren’t providing something I need? Let’s remember whose fault this is.

As I said, I don’t need the therapy myself; I’m satisfied with my life right now, even if it hasn’t turned out the way anyone expected. I expected to be able to listen, but your mother lode of problems proved insurmountable without professional attention; I expected to find emotional intimacy with you, but it turned out your sister – and your mother, but that was just a few times – were much more forthcoming in that department than you; I expected to be able to share special moments, but you insisted on having those moments when important other events had already been scheduled for those times: the Super Bowl; the World Series; Happy Hour at O’Donnell’s. In therapy, you will begin to cultivate a sense of appropriate contexts for inviting intimacy.

So let’s schedule our first appointment right away. Obviously, it can’t be between six and seven p.m. on weekdays. Remember, that’s Happy Hour.

Written by Thag

February 17, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Yo Mama’s So Polite, She, Uh…

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Yes, thank you, I think I will go out in this freezing, wet weather for some exercise.

It’s actually quite considerate and timely of you to suggest I leave, considering that this is the perfect weather for a brisk walk, during which I might break into a run. I’d sprint, too, but with all the puddles and slippery surfaces, that’s just asking for trouble. So yeah, I’ll go. No need to get up; I’ll get my jacket.

Hey, I’d apologize for instigating that huge fight between your wife and daughter, but they’ve already left. I think I’ll give them a few more seconds, then jog past them on the walkway out. As you know, conversing while exercising provides extra aerobic and cardiovascular benefits, so the ensuing conversation should do all of us some good. I’m sure we’ll have plenty to talk about, even though we never quite got to dinner.

Do you suppose we should all walk briskly to a coffee shop or bistro to continue our discussion of the nouveau-riche and their pretentious manners? Perhaps a line of conversation in favor of communists or anarchists is in order. Or we could explore the territory we only touched upon earlier, of your entire family’s odd choices of décor, marriage partners, business associates, what have you. Say, if you’re starting to breathe heavily just standing there, you might benefit from an exercise regimen, as well.

It’s so kind of you, but no, I don’t think you need release the hounds to give them exercise in this weather, and besides, I can’t really enjoy a good jog with them constantly nipping at my heels; they might get hurt. Well, if you insist, but please make sure they stay nice and warm when they come back. Perhaps I’ll ask your wife; she does seem to know a good deal about dogs, considering the comparisons she made between you and them just a few minutes ago.

Well! You certainly want me to get a real workout! It’s a nice challenge dodging all those plates and statuettes. And you’ve made quite the impromptu obstacle course between me and the door with all those projectiles. I certainly underestimated your athleticism and stamina, what with the sheer number of things you’re throwing.

If I want to catch up to the ladies, Ill have to go right now. Thank you for the sportsmanlike sendoff – if you need some help putting the place back together later, just give me a call; it’ll be another great opportunity to burn some calories.

Written by Thag

February 16, 2011 at 8:44 pm

To Pee or Not to Pee: It’s Not Really a Question

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Life is like a sewer: what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. -Tom Lehrer

You’d better stop gloating about the supposed superiority of humans over dogs, especially as it relates to marking territory with urine. Just stop. It’s not true.

Oh, it’s very true that dogs urinate to mark territory; it is also true that many other animals engage in such behavior. But don’t believe for a second that people do not. The bathroom on our ground floor demonstrates as much.

A couple of weeks ago, a relative got so fed up with the aroma of the chamber that she spent an hour cleaning every available surface. It mostly worked: only the faint odor of something disturbing remained, and I don’t mean the offensively flowery “air freshener” spray that I made the mistake of buying six years ago (we smell it across the house when someone uses it; we leave it out in the open hoping someone steals it, but they keep getting the wrong idea). The respite lasted perhaps a day.

Upon my next visit to those facilities a wall of urine stench whacked me out of nowhere. I hadn’t been so olfactorily assaulted since bailing out our subterranean cesspool a few years ago. That tank, you see, sits below sewer level, and therefore uses a pump to rid itself of its contents, directly into the sewer line, as soon as the depth reaches a certain point. Ah, but the vibrations of the pump’s operation, over time, caused the pipes leading to the sewer to disengage, and the pump spent a day or so simply churning the contents of the tank before I realized where that incessant whirring noise was coming from.

So I worked for a while to get the thing open, steeling myself for the aromatic experience. It was bad, yes, but not enough to cause fainting. I beheld the disconnected pieces of plastic pipe floating atop the black water, and realized that the pump sat at the bottom of the tank, and I did not feel safe or wise trying to lift it via the power cord. So I got the crazy idea to enlist professional help.

Sadly, the professionals charge hundreds of dollars to come by and snake various hoses through the house, dollars for which I had other uses in mind, such as food for the family, or perhaps gas for cooking. Well, there was plenty of gas present, but not exactly available for harnessing toward culinary purposes.

That left only the option involving buckets, which also required traipsing up the steps with each bucketful, to the toilet on the ground floor (remember that one?), where the goods could be disposed of. A good forty or so trips were necessary before the pipe segment extending up from the pump became visible. Success! All I had to do was reconnect the loose pieces and plug the pump back in. I did so, but not tightly enough to stay for more than a second. But if I held the pieces in place for long enough, I could at least empty the tank and then deal with it. So I gave it a shot, and it started working; about a quarter of the remaining stuff in the tank was pumped out before the connection gave way again, this time with my upper body extending  into the tank itself, just a few feet above the pipe coming up from the pump.

At this point I would like to say a few things about physics – specifically, about force. A pump’s job is to generate force, in our case exerted upon a liquid in a confined space, directing the liquid along a specific trajectory. When properly configured, this trajectory follows the path of the pipes leading from pump to sewer. The amount of force generated by this pump is sufficient to move the liquid along at a noticeable speed; the tank, about a yard by a yard in area, empties at approximately one inch every second or two, so you can imagine the force involved.

Thus, when the connection gave way, the only pipe segment remaining in position was the one leading directly up from the pump, directly at my face and upper body. I recall the sight of that sewage explosion coming toward me at high velocity; but my human reflexes were far to slow to get me out of the way. I ended up getting smacked in the face, chest and belly by a torrent of sewage.

Eventually, yes, I broke down and hired a plumber, who ended up lifting the pump out by its cord (of course), then replacing the rigid plastic pipes with flexible tubing much more likely to remain in position through years of vibration.

So back to the bathroom on the ground floor (remember?). Telltale streaks of water, or perhaps pee, led me to worry that something had backed up in the sewer line, and we had another expensive job on our hands (and floor. Duh), like the time the kitchen drainage got stopped up and we had sewer slugs floating across the floor. Mmmmm…slugs. But no, nothing seemed to impair the flow of waste down the drains and toilet. So I grumbled, cleaned again and kept my nose open.

Finally, yesterday, the same relative was visiting again, and she remarked on the still-pleasant atmosphere in those facilities (of course it sounded like she assumed this state of affairs had prevailed since her cleaning marathon). I disabused her of the notion that anything could remain thus in a house with four children under the age of ten, including three boys with questionable aim.

As if I were prophesying, later that evening one of the boys visited that bathroom, and my own entry there a little while later revealed urine everywhere but the toilet bowl. He had decided, so it appears, to urinate on the wall behind the toilet, as well as the one perpendicular to it (and no, he did not flush; is that good or bad?). My subsequent interrogation seemed to bear out the volitional nature of the act, but he was as much at a loss as I over the why part of it, but at least we solved one mystery.

Hey, stick around and I’ll tell you more about those slugs…

Written by Thag

February 16, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Your Kitchen Was an Inside Job!

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Step right up! Step right up! Get your freshly generated celebrity rumors right here!

You, sir! Would you like to get your hands on purported monkey business between Lindsay Lohan and a pack of sewer rats? We have that! Vaguely suggestive photos doctored in support of a Sasquatch inhabiting the Washington Monument in the company of a slimmed-down, youthful Elvis? You got it! And for less than you might think!

Hey, I’m no fool when it comes to this kind of thing; been around the block, you might say. I know my kind doesn’t have a reputation for journalistic excellence, and I’ll be the first to admit it’s largely justified. But I know this stuff sells, as surely as Charlie Sheen will get in trouble again. Next time, in fact, it’ll involve a nest of poisonous spiders on amphetamines! You heard it here first!

That was your free sample, mind you; the really meaty, compelling stuff – new revelations about the Jonbenet Ramsey case, for example – can only be had for a price. Hey, I gotta maintain my competitive edge. I’m out here all the time, putting in a solid day’s work plugging this stuff, and it’s brutal. I know you find your life pretty brutal too, sometimes, which is why you need to escape into this sensational item about a UFO, piloted by a Hitler clone, wiping out an entire village in rural Korea. Come on, don’t tell me you’re not at least a little interested. And that’s all it takes.

This stuff is gold, I tell you; you can’t beat its appeal. You’ll forget all about your mortgage when you read about the real-life Hannibal Lecter running the Girl Scouts (Girl Scout cookies, indeed). Your impending foreclosure will fade into insignificance while you’re immersed in this story on the most popular web sites for your cats to visit while you’re out of the house. Your delinquency in alimony payments will recede into the back of your consciousness when you behold clumsily photoshopped images of Princess Di very much alive and well, living the good private life somewhere in Uzbekistan.

So come on. You know you want it. As sure as 9/11 was an inside job.

Written by Thag

February 15, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Happy *Cough* Cough* Valentine’s *Cough* *Cough* Day

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Wow, isn’t that just lovely? How did you get the cigarette smoke to come out of your nostrils in just that fashion?

I’m blown away, if you’ll excuse the pun. I had always thought that voluntarily inhaling and exhaling a mixture of tar, nicotine, smoke and various other harmful materials had little in the way of aesthetic appeal. But rowrr! You, sir, have just proved me wrong!

I have been wrong all these years to frown on people who display little regard for their health; I have misjudged the importance of the joy one gets from engaging in such activity, importance that far outweighs the disease, cardiovascular damage, impaired senses of smell and taste, and just plain yuckiness of the habit.

Is there some sort of ceremony to undergo now that I’m a convert? Should I immerse myself three times in a tub of saturated fats? Circumcise myself with a butane lighter? Take communion with lead-laced wine and salmonella-infested wafer? What does our deity, Baal Philip Morris, ordain? Wait, lemme guess: it involves a monetary offering, preferably twice a day, for the rest of my shortened life. Or a burnt offering every few minutes. Am I good, or what?

Addictive behavior is just an idea to me, so I don’t really know how to go about relating to all you smokers now that I no longer think of you as irresponsible, stinky, short-sighted, inconsiderate bastards with no self control. Would it help if I accompanied you outside in the freezing weather for your smoking break instead of continuing to do the work we’re all supposed to be doing? How should I deal with the omnipresent stench that settles upon clothes, furnishings and hair that have been hanging out with a smoker? Or do you have no idea what I mean? I suppose if I spend more time in your company the question will cease to have relevance rather quickly. At least for me; my family and other friends might still retain olfactory abilities, but I won’t have a clue what they’re yammering on about.

But back to that nose smoke. That’s just irresistible. It’s dragon-like. The sexiness and virility it radiates are on par with sticking an automobile tailpipe in there, minus the obstacle of getting the thing in. The casting of caution to the wind has always been romantic and adventurous, so what could be more romantic and adventurous than sustained and total disregard for one’s well-being? Funny, though, I’m still waiting for a satisfactory answer to why you don’t spend time with your date jumping off the roofs of skyscrapers. No rush, though; you’ve got plenty of time to think during the time your nicotine-starved receptors quickly negate your brain’s ability to function until plugged by more nicotine.

Associated with this change in world view is the realization that I don’t really need all that money for anything else, and the tobacco companies, with all those employees to pay, need my disposable income more than I. How much a does a pack cost these days? On a yearly basis, that’s a good chunk of change those American heroes at Marlboro can put to good use. Even if I don’t smoke, I can at least send regular checks their way.

But if I really want to secure those companies’ future, I should actively encourage kids to take up smoking. America is good at producing sexy people, and what could be sexier than a newly christened adult who already has the habit? Rowr indeed.

Written by Thag

February 14, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Thag’s Theory of Relativity: Entertainment Value Increases with Entropy

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Dear Aunt Beatrice,

Thank you for the Barbie doll. How did you know I never had one?

To be honest, that’s not a fair question. I’m not sure how I can expect you to know what I already possess and know whether a Barbie doll is an appropriate gift to give a man for his thirty-fifth birthday. That is indeed a hefty chunk of information of which to keep track, and I know you have your hands full already, what with the sixty or so cats with whom you generously share your living quarters. Goodness knows that also knowing what might be a suitable gift for a person in my demographic group lies beyond your everyday experience, and probably has for a long time.

I do not wish to be remiss in noting the care with which you obviously selected the wrapping paper, and the liberal use of Scotch tape in ensuring that it stayed in place. The colors are certainly vivid, and the Santa Claus motif playful. This being June, I certainly did not expect any such thing, not least because we are Jewish. It was nothing if not original.

The same level of attention and care obviously went into selecting the card. It is indeed very sweet of you to wish me, in honor of my birthday, congratulations on my marriage; how many people are lucky enough, ten years after their wedding, to keep receiving the cheer usually directed only at newlyweds? This is especially surprising in light of the fact that of those ten years, I have been divorced for the last eight. It is so kind of you to remind me of all the feelings associated with my marriage, feelings I thought had faded.

Now, some gift givers, especially the pretentious ones, insist on using their own stationery and inscribing their good wishes to the recipient in their own hand and words. I note that you dispensed with all that in favor of commendable practicality, and selected a card with the greeting already printed in it. This has been your practice, as I recall, for many years, and it is most considerate, I think, that you thus share in providing a living for writers whose job it is to come up with those greetings. You might not know, in fact, that those writers especially need the income, as they lack any marketable skills. I had not known you were so socially conscious. This certainly belies the image of someone who prefers the company of felines to that of humans.

But I think the most striking aspect of the card, and the gift as a whole, was that you addressed it to someone named Harold. I have consulted our extensive genealogy just to be sure, but I’m certain there is no one in our family named Harold. I must admit this mode of address caused me some confusion at first, but then I recalled the level of your social awareness. I reasoned that you must have a didactic purpose in mind, perhaps that our society places far too much emphasis on the self, and that I should be thinking of others in my time of joy.

I shall take that lesson to heart, Aunt Beatrice: I have already donated the Barbie doll to an animal shelter, where the residents can play with it to their hearts’ content. It will serve a more constructive purpose there, after all, than even its manufacturer intended.

So thank, you, Aunt Beatrice. I hope we have many more occasions to celebrate.

Yours truly,


Written by Thag

February 13, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Powder to the People!

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How can a blogger not react to the drama of Hosni Mubarak’s downfall? Can Thag remain obtuse to the revolutionary currents in his very neighborhood? Can he ignore the political and social earthquake occurring in his back yard?

You’re damn skippy he can. Thag loves democracy as much as the next guy, but he’s not the politically active type. Or curious. Or informed. Really, the world is better off if he stays ensconced in his little office, typing away at his little blog and keeping himself out of more trouble. Trust us.

Which is not to say he is unaware of the goings-on over in Cairo; he’s just happy that throngs of other people have been doing the real legwork. It’s cold out there right now. If he were involved, we get the feeling the movement would have become less about Power to the People and more about Powdered Donuts for the People. Or person. Is it just him, or did all those government officials addressing the public look like they could use a couple of scoops of Ben & Jerry’s to pick up their spirits? Bread and Circuses are exactly the kind of thing to keep Thag and his ilk out of the authorities’ hair. Just make sure the bread has poppy seeds or rolled oats on it, and we’re good.

It’s a good thing the Egyptian army has announced it will uphold the treaty with Israel. Thag can just see Israel demanding the Sinai back. Heaven knows there were enough people uprooted from there to make some political noise if push came to media attention shove. So Thag is grateful for that datum; he’d hate to be confused even further by people claiming there’s some historic opportunity to right a wrong that most other people don’t think was wrong – it was really right, and the people who feel wronged were wrong to think they had a right. As you can see, Thag has what to be grateful for; he wishes to convey his appreciation to the Egyptian military, who probably wouldn’t notice. But what the hey, go ahead and pass Thag’s wishes on to them, dear readers. Are they on Facebook?

What did grab Thag’s attention, though, was that Congressman from upstate New York who sent his shirtless likeness to a potential paramour via Craigslist. Yes, he lied about his age; yes, he lied about his occupation; yes, he’s married; yes, he resigned rather abruptly. What strikes Thag as incredible is that said Congressman claimed the shirtless photo was the only one he had available to share with this potential suitor. Is it just Thag, or is that one of the lamest excuses for a come-on this side of, “Was your father a thief?”? What would have been his backup choice, I wonder? “Hey, sorry for this one; my wife has all the other photos and all my shirts are in the laundry she’s doing right now, so I have to snap a photo with my phone right now. Also, I have this spasm in my right side that causes me to flex my biceps and pecs all the time, so that’s not me posing at all, no ma’am.”

You thought Thag disliked politics. You were right, except that occasionally Thag’s snark generator gets wind of the vortex of stupidity emerging from the political realm, and reflexively vomits out its reaction. Ooh, are those powdered donuts?

Written by Thag

February 12, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Have a Seat on the Couch, Please, While I Laugh at You

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When I grow up I want to be a psychiatrist, or a therapist of some sort. Maybe just a social worker. Anything, really, that will allow me to work with the less fortunate. That way, I don’t have to go looking for people who can make me feel good about myself.

See, it’s not about the clients at all; if it were, why would I bother? As if all those pathetic wretches are worth my time and energy. I don’t need to sit there, listening to some prole drone on and on about her strained relationship with her mother, unless I get something out of the arrangement. And since precious few therapists make truckloads of money in the profession, there had better be some enjoyment in it for me.

At the very least, my clients will provide me with enough fodder for feeling exalted merely by contrasting their problems with my own trouble-free existence. As a baseline, that’s pretty good. But I’m certain I can do better than that.

For one thing, there’s comedy gold in all that dysfunction. It just wouldn’t do to encounter so much of it and not mine it for all the attention-getting mockery I can manage. Nothing makes people laugh more than when they can feel superior to others – as I well know. So all I need to do is practice a few impressions of my more pathetic patients, and presto! Instant life of the party! My patients will do me the big favor of providing all the rich material, too, so I don’t even have to strain to be original!

Even that level of exploitation, however, is bush league. If the literature has it right, I can bet on a good bit of transference and countertransference. That’s right – I can get laid and get paid for it! And here’s the kicker – insurance companies will cover it! What’s not to like?

I do have to be careful, I know; for some reason, the various professional associations and boards frown on such liaisons. I don’t know what their problem is. Probably jealous of my good looks or something. The people running that show probably never grew out of the dorkwad status they had back in junior high, and are just as envious as ever of the more skilled, the better endowed and the cooler. I’ll just have to be discreet, to avoid all the hassle.

And here’s the icing on the psychiatric cake: I can write a book full of advice, or of reflection, and insecure dolts will buy it. All it takes these days to make a bestseller, it seems, is initials after the author’s name and a willing publisher. That means more attention, more money and more getting laid.

So it’s a good thing – for me, anyway – that I’m well adjusted. Can you imagine what goes on when screw-ups go into this line of work?

Written by Thag

February 11, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Wash with, Like, Colors, Dude

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I had started a post decrying the stupidity behind the care instructions on garment tags, but deleted it. I can try to reconstruct it if enough people clamor for it to be done. Who knows – might I have misjudged the social relevance of the issue?

Perhaps it can be ignored no longer. It might be that the masses are sick and tired of being told to tumble dry absolutely everything on low, or maybe medium, when the dryer clearly has the capacity to tumble dry things at “regular” strength. Dryer users must be feeling cheated if one third of the dial (or buttons, depending on your model) are completely useless.

And what of the washing instructions? Is there nothing that we are supposed to launder hot? Why is it always warm or cold? And while we’re at it, if you’ve got a plaid garment, how exactly do you wash it with “like” colors?

I shall leave you all to ponder these weighty matters, and perhaps respond. I shall refrain from leading a grass-roots movement against the care instruction industry unless bidden to do so by the masses. That sound you hear, by the way, is me not holding my breath.

Written by Thag

February 10, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Birthday Party: Abandon All Health, Ye Who Enter Here

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Dear parents of my six-year-old’s classmates:

Thank you for including my son in your child’s after-school birthday party. Aside from the obvious generosity involved in putting together such an event, the party provides a number of social and educational services that only became clear to me after the fact. I would like to share with you my appreciation of each one, first and foremost the junk food.

My wife and I attempt to restrict our children’s intake of sugary, greasy or only marginally nutritious snacks. We try to instill in them a like for green vegetables, for fruits, and for a variety of protein-rich foods such as fish, chicken and meat. This contrasts sharply with your philosophy, as demonstrated by your complete reliance, for the occasion, upon candy, potato chips, pretzels, buttered popcorn, cake, cookies and more candy.

I had anticipated, perhaps ignorantly, that a party for two dozen or so first-graders at dinnertime might include something vaguely resembling dinner. Granted, preparing dinner for two dozen first-graders can prove quite a daunting task; I did not expect anyone to take upon himself such an endeavor. However, I note the existence of at least four pizza parlors within a six-block radius of your home, all of which offer free delivery. Pizza is not the optimal dinner every single day, but its just-above-marginal nutritional value nevertheless renders it superior to candy, cake, cookies, and greasy snacks. I rather doubt these pizza places would have survived this long without the patronage of local families such as yours; I thus find your sudden reluctance to engage their services original, to say the least.

I do recall that in my youth, birthday parties in my area tended to feature pizza from a particular place followed by ice cream from a different particular place. They usually happened at the same skating venue. Now, I do understand that you prefer to conduct your party at home, and that skating venue is both six thousand miles away and probably defunct. Nevertheless, the experience of my youth conditioned me to expect some sort of party activity to accompany, or at least alternate with, the food. In your case, this activity seemed to consist of watching TV shows or movies of questionable merit, with occasional individual forays into the kitchen to ingest more candy, cookies, cake and greasy snacks. I applaud your bold disregard for stodgy, “mainstream” pediatric guidance.

This innovative, hands-off approach to kid partying offers the obvious advantage of leaving the parents free to engage in other activities; clearly, you seized this opportunity to pour even more effort in to party-related pursuits, such as opening and serving more snack foods. I stand in awe of your efficient ways.

My son had an advantage over most of the other children, in that he arrived a good bit before the other guests, and benefited from more individual adult attention. He informs me that this attention consisted of sitting him in front of the TV and serving him a sandwich with chocolate spread. Thus, in addition to the junk food he would receive a little later with the rest of the pack, my son also got to consume one additional portion of yet another permutation of grease, sugar and empty calories. Thank you for singling him out for such special treatment.

His early arrival time, as well, contained a lesson for us. While I had always been under the impression that the time listed on an invitation represents the time the event will start, you disabused me of that notion – when my son arrived, the preparations were nowhere near complete, which highlights yet another benefit of your robust sit-them-in-front-of-the-TV policy. I note that most of the other parents displayed keen awareness of this etiquette quirk, as they did not begin bringing their children until about twenty minutes later, judging by my son’s description.

The cumulative effect of your child’s birthday party, I must say, brought out a side of my child’s personality that I rarely, if ever, get to see: when his body, vocal cords and mouth work faster than his brain, as a result of significantly increased blood sugar. He was so excited about the party, he could not focus on getting in pajamas for a full twenty minutes after getting home, and then did not fall asleep until well after his usual bedtime despite continual encouragement. Thank you for enabling me to experience this phenomenon once again. I really do not get to do that frequently enough.

This has been an edifying, educational experience. Words cannot convey how I anticipate the effect of your child-rearing on my son for years to come.

Yours truly,


Written by Thag

February 9, 2011 at 3:21 pm

I Think We Need More Lawyers.

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What the world needs: Pollution reduction.
What the world got:
Talk radio.

What the world needs: Fair trade.
What the world got:
Chinese “Versace” knockoffs.

What the world needs: Inspiring ambassadors of the arts.
What the world got:
Barry Manilow.

What the world needs: Sober, informed discourse of important issues.
What the world got:
Radio call-in shows.

What the world needs: Competitive professional sports franchises.
What the world got:
The Detroit Lions.

What the world needs: Truth in advertising.
What the world got:
Election campaigns.

What the world needs: Leadership.
What the world got:
Dallas Cowboy fans.

What the world needs: Wholesome family entertainment.
What the world got:

What the world needs: Humility commensurate with talent.
What the world got:
American Idol.

What the world needs: Honest, non-cynical international arbitration.
What the world got:
The UN.

What the world needs: More Sixties music.
What the world got:

What the world needs: More Godiva chocolates.
What the world got:
Smurf Berry Crunch.

What the world needs: Less reliance on fossil fuels.
What the world got:

What the world needs: Classic Broadway shows.
What the world got:

What the world needs: Sports that highlight teamwork and athletic prowess.
What the world got:

What the world needs: Open, sincere communication.
What the world got:

What the world needs: Compelling, popular, enduring literary works.
What the world got:

What the world needs: Informed public opinion.
What the world got:
Radio call-in shows.

Written by Thag

February 8, 2011 at 4:02 pm

The Early Bird Gets to Step in the *Fresh* Dog Poop

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Since I’ve always found maintaining a rigorous daily schedule important – if impossible – it helps to have indications in real time regarding my adherence to it. I do keep my watch more or less accurate, but at times it can be inconvenient to check my wrist, such as when I’m pushing a stroller uphill with one hand, as the other hand tries to keep the stroller occupant from removing his hat for the millionth time.

I am grateful, therefore, for the myriad external indicators, primarily other people or objects I tend to pass along the way. I know, for example, that if the pile of dog poop in a particular place is still fresh, I must be right on time. When I’m running late, there are already wheel marks or footprints in it by the time I get there.

I can also judge my progress by the point on the steps to the toddler’s day care at which I must dance around with a specific mother pushing her stroller in the opposite direction. She, in turn, has been known to prod her walking preschooler to hurry, for if I have passed her by the time they get halfway, they must be running late.

If the panhandler is not yet at his post by the time I leave my son at day care, I assume I’m in good shape (but the beggar might not be).  Since we tend to leave the house at the beginning of the morning rush, the number of cars waiting for that light tends to increase the later we get there. So if the panhandler has a respectable lineup of waiting drivers from whom to solicit, I know I have to step up the pace.

Then there’s the speedwalking friend (OK, so he just has long legs) who takes his twins to the same preschool as my three-year-old. If he passes me , pushing his double stroller, any time before the last two blocks, I take that as a bad sign (he, too, tends to judge his progress by the timing of our daily encounters). He will occasionally slow down so our children can squeal together for a few hundred feet; this usually means we will both wind up running even later.

Sometimes I drop my daughter off at preschool first, which means that on the way from there to my son’s day care, I must assess my progress relative to the number of minivans blocking the sidewalk at a crucial intersection. Negotiating that obstacle course when the banked sidewalk edge is inaccessible becomes ever so harder when I am right on time, so I prefer to be running slightly late if my route takes me that way; the bigger cars tend to move on by that time, and I only need reckon with the bodega’s detritus.

The bodega gets a delivery of produce, bread and various beverages a few minutes before that each morning, and the delivery people thoughtfully leave the crates of merchandise in the middle of the sidewalk for pedestrians to bump into. The bodega staff, at most two people, of necessity must take the stuff inside only a little at a time; they then dispose of the empty cartons in more or less the same spot on the sidewalk as before. If the ratio of merchandise to empty cartons is high, I’m in good shape; if low, I must hurry.

A friend from the other end of the neighborhood runs much the same circuit as I, only in reverse; we pass each other once in each direction. If I pass her the second time after the bodega, good; if before that, I’m late.

When I need to cross the main street one last time, it’s easier when I’m late, because morning gridlock has usually set in by then, and I need not wait at the crosswalk; I can amble across the street more or less at will. But if it comes to that, I’m probably too late for it to help.

Written by Thag

February 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm

It Ceased to Be Funny When It Woke Every Neighbor in a Two-Block Radius

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OK, you got me. Score one for Loki. Or Lojack, or whichever entity is responsible for the timing and execution of automotive mishaps. Mischievous deity one, Thag zero.

I thought you had me last week when the mechanism for adjusting the height of the driver’s seat went kaput; it was annoying enough to make my posture cumulatively uncomfortable, but not so egregious as to require an expensive trip to the mechanic. Add that to the unresponsive buttons on the clock over the windshield – the clock that you’ve made perpetually forty minutes fast, regularly jolting me into thinking for a split second that I’m running offensively late – and you’ve got a good combination of nuisances guaranteed to dilute my joie de vivre just so.

You also could have stopped at the decaying paint on the hood and roof; it makes the ten-year-old vehicle look twice its age. Or the little dings and scratches juuust noticeable enough to appear as a serious blemish but not problematic enough to justify actual body work. Is it difficult for you to find just the right line to walk between outright hazard and mere bother? Is there a standard formula, or do you tailor your victims’ treatment to their specific personalities?

As a body of work, you already had what to be proud of; even my own children, as devilish as they may be, cannot muster the sustained psychological wrenching that you seem to deliver with ease. But you had more up your sleeve than mere nuisance, mere aesthetic or ergonomic offensiveness; several years ago you made that clear when I got a call from the police that my car alarm was going off, that I had better rush out of work to deactivate it. It turns out it was not the alarm at all: it was the horn, which went off on its own and would not be silent unless the car was running. As you can imagine, this did not sit well with the residents of the buildings nearby. I confess it did make for some slapstick comedy at the mechanic’s place, when the receptionist asked what the problem seemed to be, and the car proceeded to answer more emphatically than I ever could. It repeated the performance for the technician just as he stuck his head under the hood. That was more than five years ago, and I had almost managed to forget it.

So I had assumed your best days were behind you; what new and improved automotive hassle could you throw at me? Sure, we had battery failure and worn out tires and other routine tasks, some of them very ill timed indeed, but nothing really troubling. I was beginning to get complacent; cocky, even.

Then you took it to another level. You sure showed me. It turns out your little trick with the horn back in ’05 was just a warmup. Last night at two in the morning you did it again. Right under the children’s bedroom window. Right across the alley from the elderly neighbors and their grandkid. Within earshot of dozens of theretofore slumbering souls, there went the horn at full bore. And there I was, in my pajamas, out in the winter cold in my socks – of course you made sure this mishap would render the remote useless – fumbling with the key so I could get into the car and turn it on just to silence the beast. Your timing was exquisite: I turned the car on and off, then locked it and returned to the house; and you waited until I had engaged the door lock to sound the horn once more.

Out I ran, again, insufficiently clad for the elements, fumbling once again in the same manic way, beginning to think I had to spend the next few hours sitting at the wheel, until the repair place opened. What of getting the kids ready for school? What of sleep? Was carbon monoxide poisoning a risk outside?

As the adrenalin wore off and the cold made itself known ever deeper in my flesh, I pondered: Was this a rehash of the same old problem? If so, how did they stop it last time until the electricity tech could get to it? Wasn’t there a fuse somewhere that could be removed? It was near the battery, but where? Was that the panel? I can’t remove it! Dagnabbit! So now what?

There I stood, looking more like an idiot than usual – quite a feat, that – as the car idled and the neighbors emerged to glare and express concerned bewilderment, then go back to bed. Lucky bastards. Who knew how long I’d be out there? I rushed back inside with the car running to find the number for the roadside assistance people – naturally, it is liable to change every year as the insurance agent offers policies from different companies each year; which one would it be this time? There, right on page three of the policy. Excellent.

Dialing…what do you mean, my subscription to your service expired in 2009? This policy is a week old! Yes, yes, I’ll sign a waiver, whatever you want. Just send somebody to help me here. Within two hours, huh? Guess I’ll turn on the heat and get as comfortable as this malfunctioning seat will allow. OK, calming down. Slooowly warming up. Hey, this isn’t so bad after all. Maybe I can actually get some shut-eye, if this is really going to take two hours. Relaxing… beginning to drift…phone? Where’d I leave the phone? There! Hello? Yes, I can hear you. Can you hear me? Yes, here’s my address…no, it’s a one-way street – you have to make a right one block before. No, mister, it hasn’t been a dead end for about ten years now; it doesn’t matter what your map says. Just make your first right and curve back around this way. OK, see you eventually. Relaxing again…phone? Again? Hello? What’s the problem, mister? Street’s too narrow? Uh, why don’t you just park up on the main street and walk over here?

Well, at least he got there quickly. Only he was even more clueless than I. That was a good flourish on your part, I gotta admit: having the only available roadside tech be completely unprepared for what he encountered, such that he managed to set off the damn thing two or three more times before realizing he didn’t have the proper equipment with him. That was the icing on the cake.

But the sprinkles on that icing? Well, that was my having to explain to him, this supposedly technical person, what the diagram of the fuse box said (at least he figured out how to open it) so we could disconnect the right piece (“Do you read Korean? How about English?”).

So kudos to you, god of automotive mischief. I fully anticipate the aftermath of this experience ensuring that I pass the threshold of spending more money, cumulatively, on fixing or maintaining this car than its original purchase price. That is, if they can manage to fix it. How did you get the high beams to turn on when the horn button is pressed? Well done.

Now you’re finished with me. It’s someone else’s turn. I hear that Ahmadinijad guy could use to be taken down a peg or two…

Written by Thag

February 6, 2011 at 9:07 pm

The Terrible Twos: a Divine Conspiracy

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God: OK, Gabriel, I’ll take a look at the next match. What do we got?

Gabriel: Jessica and Arthur McBride. She’s five months pregnant with a girl, but they don’t know the sex yet.

God: (nods knowingly) Right. To make sure justice is served, we need to make sure this kid destroys everything in her path between the ages of two and eight.

Gabriel: Well, that’s the easy part, Lord, as You’ve pointed out before.

God: Quite right, Gabriel, quite right. Behavioral problems aren’t all that hard to find in our inventory of unused souls. I suppose that’s what happens when they sit around, gathering dust for all these millennia. They start to decay. You didn’t find all this namby-pamby sensitivity and softness in earlier generations, did you? Of course not. Take a memo, Gabriel: next time around, make sure My creation has an anti-entropy feature. Shouldn’t cost too much; I have more money than…well, than whoever.

Gabriel: (scribbling) Yes, sir.

God: So back to these McBride people. As I recall, Jessica caused her parents a good bit of grief with her shenanigans – that smashed set of decorative bone china in 1985 comes to mind – and Arthur never made good on paying for the four broken windows from that summer of baseball in the street. He also neglects to put recyclables in the proper bins, so we can piggyback on that.

Gabriel: Is this the Arthur McBride who once threw a cup of beer at a player during an NCAA game?

God: Yes, and we might throw an extra bit of aggravation his way as a result, but I haven’t decided yet if doing so via his offspring is the best avenue for it. I’ll let you know. In any case, his more or less constant mistreatment of his sister the entire time they lived under their parents’ roof is enough on its own.

Gabriel: Should I put them down for anything unusual?

God: Not especially; the standard set of parenting frustrations is pretty potent as it is. You’ve never been human, Gabriel, so you’ll have to take My word for it, but that little bit of Me that resides in the human soul feels every iota of suffering.

Gabriel: Yes, Lord.

God: Do you have a list of recommendations for specific troubles?

Gabriel: Yes, sir. The idiosyncrasies of the McBrides make them good candidates for a child who passes out from temper tantrums.

God: Excellent. That should give them some good cause for panic, at least the first couple of times. Once it becomes routine, however, we need something else.

Gabriel: (nods) And that’s where Uncle George comes in.

God: Wonderful! A perfect way to stoke their neuroses about alcohol. I assume he’ll be available routinely?

Gabriel: Mostly around holiday times, when the extended family gets together, but if You remember, Lord, we have George renting a place just a short drive from them from the time this kid enters first grade until the middle of fourth.

God: Yes, that’s right, George’s mishap with a sanitation truck will prove instrumental in yet another disappointment for Chicago Cubs fans. It never gets old, you know.

Gabriel: Of course not, Lord, but that’s small potatoes compared with that whole Arab-Israeli conflict, isn’t it?

God: Only in terms of the number of people it directly affects, Gabriel; the intensity of the emotion is far greater, I assure you. In any case, make sure George’s accident coincides with the McBrides’ trip to Disney: that way we can take advantage of the kid’s newly discovered allergy to peanuts to ruin the vacations of the four other dysfunctional families that are just asking for it.

Gabriel: I’ve taken the liberty of including a swarm of mosquitoes in that scenario, Lord.

God: Good thinking. And have the local pharmacies run out of topical treatments right before that.

Gabriel:(scribbles) Yes, sir.

God: Now, what about her teenage years?

Gabriel: A bunch of the other archangels were kicking this one around for a while. The consensus seems to be only mild acne, but a severely strained relationship with her father over an offhand comment about her complexion that he meant as a joke.

God: That’s good stuff, but you need to make sure it has staying power. Is she fickle, or strong-minded?

Gabriel: Strong-minded, Lord. Thus the prom disaster.

God: (shakes head) The poor Adams boy will have no idea what hit him. OK, Gabriel, this looks good enough for a draft proposal. I’ll review the specifics and get back to you, right after I schedule the premature deaths of a few heads of state.

Written by Thag

February 5, 2011 at 8:18 pm

If I have to Declare a Major, Make It Ultra-Awesomeness

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Hi, Jimmy. Please close the door.

I’ve been reviewing your essays for college admission, and we have a lot to discuss. As your guidance counselor, I feel a particular responsibility to make sure you have all the necessary information. But I’d like to begin by telling you what you might do differently.

You clearly are passionate about your opinions, and that comes through very well; colleges relish robust discussion of controversial issues. Where you would do well to alter your approach, however, is the whole subject of facts.

Facts, you see, are the lifeblood of real discourse – do you follow me, Jimmy? Good. It does not impress a college admissions board when an applicant asserts that Columbus should be credited with discovering America’s Funniest Home Videos. Nor that Hitler and Gandhi spent summers together in Vancouver. Or that the Titanic hit a giant iceberg lettuce. These are basic errors, Jimmy, errors you can avoid with just a little bit of fact-checking.

Yes, I know you feel pressured, Jimmy; who doesn’t? It can be a real challenge to complete these applications on top of all your regular school assignments and extracurricular activities. But that doesn’t excuse you from doing it right. Would the team coach say it’s OK for the quarterback not to make an effort to hit the open man because he’s got so much homework? Colleges don’t like to see applicants try to take an easy way out, and certainly not by inventing facts of their own.

Well, if that’s the case, Jimmy, you’re going to have to come to terms with something: playing video games and spending time on Facebook are not exactly “critical” activities. Leaving them out of your life for a little while will not result in your death or social impairment – somehow, the human race managed without either one for eons. I encourage you to see what happens when you disconnect the TV and Xbox in your room for a day or two.

As for the issue of facts, please do not plead ignorance. Wikipedia might not be the best source of information, but it is a very good starting point, so no one will object to looking things up there and using the source materials to which they refer. Oh, don’t look so surprised; celebrity bios are not the only thing it’s good for. This is called research, Jimmy, and colleges expect you to know how to do it. They don’t teach it to you; it’s one of the skills you were supposed to pick up during your time here, instead of, oh, figuring out the most offensive ways to misspell the principal’s name in bathroom stall graffiti.

I see we have an entitlement complex here. Jimmy, the world does not owe you admission to a school, be it a “party” school, as you seem to desire, or any other institution. The world owes you exactly nothing. This seems to offend you, as your parents have never disabused you of the notion that you can have the best of everything, with minimal or no effort on your part. The later you wake up to reality, the harder it will be to adjust. I suggest you do it now, before you finish college and discover that the world does not owe you a job, a good long-term relationship, well-behaved children, and physical or economic security.

Are you threatening me, Jimmy? That’s rich. If your father were as all-powerful as you think he is, we would not be sitting here reviewing your application; you wouldn’t need to complete it yourself. Your sense of entitlement seems to know no bounds. The truth, Jimmy, is that you can take my advice and do a bit of work, or keep doing things as you’ve always done them, and wind up as nothing more than a wannabe in a dead-end job, such as a high-school guidance counselor.

Written by Thag

February 4, 2011 at 4:05 pm