Children, meet your new baby brother

From the autobiographical Life Among the Savages, by Shirley Jackson:
They followed him into the living room, and stood in a solemn row by the couch. "Now don't touch," their father said, and they nodded all together. They watched while he carefully set the bundle down on the couch and unwrapped it.

Then, into the stunned silence which followed, Sally finally said, "What is it?"

"It's a baby," said their father, with an edge of nervousness to his voice, "it's a baby boy and its name is Barry."

"What's a baby?" Sally asked me.

"It's pretty small," Laurie said doubtfully. "Is that the best you could get?"

"I tried to get another, a bigger one," I said with irritation, "but the doctor said this was the only one left."

Firesign Theatre for Jack Poet Volkswagen

In order to advertise the virtues of the repair shop at Jack Poet Volkswagen, Firesign Theatre performed a commercial in which a satisfied customer testifies, "Hi there, I'm Tony Gomez, and I wanna tell you that I get my car fixed at Jack Poet Volkswagen every morning before I come to work..." (Link)

Bad for productivity

Every day at work I get a few spam emails that sneak through the spam filter and into my inbox, and they usually mention Viagra in the subject line. What is it like for employees of Pfizer, Inc. where they make Viagra? I feel sorry for them. You could stand in the middle of hundreds of office cubicles at Pfizer, and all day long, near and far, you'd hear Pfizer employees going "D'oh!" when they open an email and it's not work-related. Those Pfizer employees must be receiving Viagra-spams from the people at Eli Lilly and Company, makers of Cialis.


My mom came to town and she brought her addle-pated friend Mrs. Paulsen. We were downtown and they were looking at the Board of Trade building, an Art Deco skyscraper, when Mrs. Paulsen asked about the figure seen at the top of the building. I told her, as I had just read, that the figure was of the Roman goddess of grain, known as Ceres. "Circe?" Mrs. Paulsen said. "Ceres," I repeated. "Ah, Circe," she said slowly, looking up to the building.

P.G. Wodehouse

The short story collection Mulliner Nights, by P. G. Wodehouse, includes "The Knightly Quest of Mervyn," in which
Mervyn tells me that he got a good laugh out of a photograph of the girl's late father on the mantelpiece -- a heavily whiskered old gentleman who reminded him of a burst horsehair sofa...

Lush Life, by Richard Price

In the novel Lush Life (2008), Richard Price depicts a young man from a housing project on New York City's lower east side:
Then one of the other kids, without ever looking at him, began to slowly waddle-walk in his direction, his oversize T and mannered side-to-side gait making him look like a hard-core penguin.

The things from September that I didn't understand

I had to email a large PDF document to someone in the course of a business transaction. The following day she emailed it back to me without comment. I asked why. She wrote, "I had to clean out my mailbox it was full to capacity!"

A co-worker died unexpectedly, and the memorial gathering at a funeral home was hosted by her brother. I was there talking to a friend and someone entered the room, came straight up to me, and asked "Are you the brother?" The deceased and her family are Asian; I'm not.

I ordered a part direct from a toilet manufacturer; they promised delivery time of five to seven days. On the seventh day I called again, delivery time was now 28 days. I didn't dare call again, at that rate of change. Actual delivery time: 12 days. Lesson: If you plan to use your toilet every day, be aware of how long it takes the manufacturer to FIND ITS OWN PARTS.

Dove chocolate

Dove Chocolates are good; I eat a little one every day at work. The irritating thing is the profound sayings printed inside each wrapper. Last week one was "Think of every day as a Sunday." I only eat these things at work, so it would be depressing to think of every day I'm working as a weekend day. "Think of every day as a Sunday." OK, now I'm thinking of spending the morning sitting on a hard pew in a church sanctuary. Think of doing that every day. Thanks, Dove!

The candies are less than one square inch, and the bag says one serving would be five pieces, so I prefer to think that I'm only having one-fifth of a serving, which is better for my mental health than pretending the day of the week never changes.

Interior decorating

"And there was the trio of college students who had each managed to drink thirty ounces of vodka in about as many minutes. After the students had been bundled to the hospital and pumped clean, some rookie paramedics talked about how they had never seen puke on a ceiling before."
-- From the article "The Strange Happiness of the Emergency Medic," by Chris Jones in the August 2009 issue of Esquire.

Rarely available

So I'm trying to sell my condo, and the day before it goes on the market, the toilet stops working the way it should. I ordered a small part necessary for the repair (the "flapper"), but it'll take a week to get here.

While this is going on, my real estate agent comes by the condo to put out promotional literature and special cards (that look like place setting cards) with handwritten notes to point out special features of the condo to prospective buyers. These cards are preprinted with the name of the real estate agency over the word "Feature" and then there's a space to write a note.

Unfortunately, those cards were the only paper we had available to place a warning on the toilet, so it says "Feature! Toilet not working, parts for repair on order."

Moving tips

When the movers have their hands full with heavy things, help them keep cool by spraying cool water into their eyes.

The last thing to do when you leave your old apartment is to place a bowl of potato salad on the kitchen counter for the next tenant as a "Welcome!" It's good karma.

When tipping your movers, it's a mark of distinction if the quarters are freshly minted (current year).

Christopher Hitchens on graffiti

I missed this when it first appeared on, but found it published in The Best American Magazine Writing 2008: Christopher Hitchens on the subject of bathroom graffiti, inspired by the 2007 "wide stance" incident of Senator Larry Craig.
The graffiti in cottages [British gay slang for public bathrooms] was all part of the fun: On the toilet wall at Paddington Station was written: "I am 9 inches long and two inches thick. Interested?" Underneath, in different handwriting: "Fascinated, dear, but how big is your dick?"

Nose Down, Eyes Up by Merrill Markoe

Gil, who converses with his dogs, has a problem with Dink, the dog who can't remember the difference between "inside" and "outside."
...the other dogs all ran out into the yard. Only Dink stopped and came over to consult with me for a minute.

"Right now: Are we inside or outside?" she asked.

"You're inside," I said.

"Oh, good," she said, as she began to squat and pee.

"NOOO," I said, picking her up and quickly carrying her outside, where I deposited her on the lawn. "Pee outside."

"Right. Right. Got it," she said as she squatted on the grass.
"Okay. I have one other question about being here," said Dink. "Should I pee in the outside where the trees are or the outside where the stove is?"

"The stove is inside," I sighed.

"Right, right, I knew that," said Dink. "I got confused for a second because I always pee wherever there are rugs."

"Yes, but that is always wrong," I said. "Rugs are inside."

"When did that start?" said Dink.
-- from the novel Nose Down, Eyes Up, by Merrill Markoe

What's his problem?

I like the flavor of coconut; I have a box of coconut cookies in the pantry right now. Unfortunately, this week they've furnished the office bathroom with coconut-scented hand soap. It took me a moment to identify it, but this is bad news. I get back to my desk and while my mind is occupied with whatever's on the computer screen, one of my hands tends to move up to my nose and I inhale. It smells really good. Now whenever my boss glides silently past my cube, he's apt to find me sniffing my hands.

My magnetism

First time: I was the first one to board the Greyhound bus for the 90 mile trip. I had about 60 seats to choose from, and I took an aisle seat about five rows back. After a while a second passenger came up the steps into the bus, a nondescript man who had 59 seats to choose from. He chose the one directly in front of me and reclined.

Second time: I rented a huge Ford Explorer SUV to run errands and get some large items at Target. I drove into the Target parking lot on a Sunday morning; the lot was completely empty. I parked about three spaces away from the store. I got out and had opened the SUV's doors on both sides while trying to figure out how to lower the back seat for loading big stuff. A second car drove into the lot and parked next to me, inches from my open doors, when they had 300 spaces available.

Third time: I like to do these things in threes, but I don't have a third one yet, so... kids! Don't do drugs!

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I started watching Jon and Kate Plus Eight on The Learning Channel earlier this year. In various episodes I watched that family travel from Pennsylvania to Hawaii, California, Utah, Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, and New York, and I realized that any one of those four-year-old kids have accrued more frequent-flyer miles than I'll ever have.

The last time I traveled for a vacation was September 1997: We hadn't heard of Monica Lewinsky yet, Princess Diana had just died, and America was learning to fall in love with a band called Chumbawamba. After that, I fell into a rut.

When I was a kid my family went on vacations all over the place, and in 1974 we visited Washington DC. I decided to go there again by myself. Last week I landed at Reagan airport around 8:30 on a Thursday morning and rode the subway into the city. The commuters all looked just as bored as a trainload of Chicago commuters, in contrast to bug-eyed me, on my first trip in years.

Thirty-five years ago, as we remember it, our family had free, unescorted access to most of the Capitol building. Inside, we had climbed marble steps that were so old they had depressions worn into the areas used most often. In 2009, the Capitol has a newly completed underground Visitor Center with lots of great exhibits, but visitor access to the actual Capitol is limited to a short walking tour and any tourist caught away from supervision is removed by security. This is all understandable.

One of the dozens of exhibits in the Capitol Visitor Center was about Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman elected to Congress. Her first term started in 1917 and she voted against the US joining in World War I. After her first term ended in 1919, she didn't win a second term until 1941, and after the Pearl Harbor attack in December of that year, she was the only member of Congress to vote against the US entering World War II. An exhibit photo shows her after that vote waiting in a phone booth until she could get a police escort to safely get her out of the Capitol. Well, she was consistent.

The best part of the trip was visiting the Newseum, a one-year-old institution devoted to the accomplishments of journalism. In addition to exhibits on all aspects of print and electronic news, the place has several slabs of the Berlin Wall (1961 - 1989) and a twisted lengthy piece of the radio tower that slid down from its position on top of the World Trade Center in 2001. The Berlin Wall presentation included an interesting note on how East Germans used television and radio as a means of "intellectual escape" when the wall prevented them from going west.

Another Newseum exhibit open for this year only covers the FBI's most newsworthy cases. It includes a poem written in Arabic on a legal pad by Saddam Hussein, as a gift to an FBI agent. He had grown to trust (and apparently like) the Arabic-speaking agent who was assigned to establish a rapport and gather information on what Saddam really knew once he was captured.

I also toured the headquarters of National Public Radio. Our little tour group got to see various studios, lots of employee cubicles and computer equipment, and NPR host Scott Simon in a glass-walled room recording an interview (for later broadcast) with a professor speaking from London. Many thanks to Alan the tour guide for his depth of knowledge and restraint in not making a direct solicitation for donations even as NPR had major layoffs in Los Angeles.

The most crowded spots were the Lincoln Memorial and the National Air and Space Museum, so if you ever go there but dislike crowds, you might try those things as early in the day as possible.

On Saturday, April 4 the city had its annual Cherry Blossom Festival parade down Constitution Avenue; it was the peak week for this year's blossoms. While I skipped the parade, I did see some of its participants. I came down to my hotel's lobby at 7:30 that morning, hearing a pronounced clattering sound around the corner. I found a group of children in cherry-blossom-pink sweatshirts, all wearing tap shoes and testing them on the linoleum floor.

Later that day I noticed that the Navy and Army had set up recruiting booths near the parade route but I assumed they did that every Saturday. I couldn't imagine they assembled downtown just once a year to snag the demographic interested in both (1) the peak of the cherry blossom season and (2) serving their country in a military capacity.

Tom Waits on Disneyland

While cleaning out my closet, I found this magazine with an article that quotes Tom Waits. He had just finished recording something for a CD of songs from Disney movies.
Tom Waits traces his mordant version of "Heigh-Ho (The Dwarves Marching Song)" to a trip to Disneyland with his kids. "It was a living hell. They hit you up for 30 bucks to go in there and the whole thing is like a Ralph Steadman drawing. I spent an hour trying to get out of there, and we were jammed in like lemmings. I think my version of 'Heigh-Ho' came from that.

"Part of exploring these songs now," Waits observes, "it's like, what did they represent to you when you were young, and how did it change? For me, that [original] 'Heigh-Ho' with the whistling and all... the dwarves are going to work in the mines, they don't know who they're working for, it doesn't matter, they just love working... which is like the people who work at Disneyland. 'We don't get much, we wear these little uniforms, but that's okay, we like to work.'

"This is more of what it is really like, with the jackhammers and piledrivers and machinery. So it seems to me like we got something that could almost be a new ride at the park," Waits muses. "The 'Heigh-Ho' ride: They put you in there and chain you to a machine you don't understand and make you work for eight hours straight. And at the end you're paid absolutely nothing. That's the ride."
-- From page 31 of the January 1989 issue of Musician magazine, article by Mark Rowland.

Technology is not that hard to understand

My friend Joe was working in a bank in the early 1980s when they were introducing Automated Teller Machines. Part of his job was to show inexperienced customers how to use the ATM. He was showing a tiny elderly woman how to withdraw money by first inserting her card, then pushing the buttons, etc., and at the end of the transaction she said, "...and then the man inside the machine pushes the money out the front."

Joe said, "No, actually the machine does that automatically; that's the whole point of having the machine."

"No, I can see the man there inside the machine," she said.

Joe leaned down to the level of the tiny woman and looked where she was pointing, through a horizontal slot in the ATM. He could see a bank employee refilling the machine with new bills. "OK," Joe said, "there's a man there now, but..."

Mission of love accomplished

It looks like my initiative to raise awareness of Valentine's Day was successful. I hadn't seen enough publicity about the holiday and worked to promote it in all mainstream media and businesses. Everyone but the local funeral home cooperated. (Wait 'til next year!)

My parents have been married 48 years and because of this, my dad has never had to prepare meals or wash clothes. Likewise, my mom has never had to understand investing or the economy as my dad does. I trust that they will never experiment with switching roles because if they did they'd be broke, starving, and naked in about an hour and a half.

At dinner with O, she noted that her grandparents will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary this year. She lamented the fact that, at her age, if she ever got married she'd have to live until age 102 to have a 65th anniversary. That's too long though; you don't want to be married 65 years. Call it quits at 50 years, and after that party, pull off the ring, claim irreconcilable differences, and hit the singles' bars.

A message to immigrants, perhaps

"Way I see it is, if English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for us."
-- A man in Oklahoma shares his thoughts with Mark Slouka, as recounted in his editorial, Harper's Magazine, Feb. 2009.

Notes to self

Johnette Napolitano - Lead singer of Concrete Blonde
Janet Napolitano - Governor of Arizona and Barack Obama's nominee for secretary of Homeland Security

In the search for a macho bar soap, do not buy any more Irish Spring MoistureBlast with HydroBeads because it smells like bubble gum.

Overheard at the office: "All married couples have problems sooner or later. It's normal. But it's no reason to consider getting all mixed up in an office romance. If every married person cheated on their spouse by sleeping with a co-worker, the whole US economy would go down the tubes... Wait."