Good thing I didn't play it on speakerphone

I did a lot of Christmas shopping online this year. My apartment has no place to receive packages when they're delivered, so I have all boxes sent to the nearest Ship N Save and I pick them up when I can.

The Ship N Save has my office phone number and they call and leave a message when one of my shipments has arrived. But when I played back the most recent notification, the lady with the raspy voice chose a new kind of phrasing:

"Hello William this is Judy from Ship N Save. You have a small package. Goodbye."

Holiday reruns:

(Link to Nov. 2004)

(Link to Dec. 2006)

Child rearing

"The kid's in there drinking my best gin. Get him out of here before I drive a spike through his head and make him a decanter."
-- W. C. Fields

Changing the clocks affects everybody

There's a store nearby that has two orange and white cats living in it. I walked past the storefront this morning and the cat in the window was obviously disturbed. Normally the cat and his sibling would be lounging in the window looking relaxed. But here it was 11:15 am, the store was closed, and this one cat was frantically looking out for the owner to arrive and set out their food.

We had turned the clocks back an hour last night, but the cat didn't know that. The store would open at noon. So this morning at 11:15 the cat was clearly not cool about thinking the owner was late. His head was snapping left and right, looking worried. I would like to have been there to see the cats greet the owner, but I'm not in the market for used women's clothing.

Disgruntled, disheartened, and bewildered

While waiting for the train yesterday morning, a guy asked me if I had a cigarette. I said sorry, and he sat down and pulled out his phone. He said, "Hi, it's me. I just woke up five minutes ago, outside, and I didn't know where I was. I have never been to this neighborhood. I didn't even know the train stopped here! Yeah. I went to a party last night, then I wake up outside, and all my merchandise is gone..." By then the train was pulling up so I missed the rest of the conversation. And that man was Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago. No no no, that last sentence is not true.

Still, my neighborhood, which is not that remote, has pulled in this kind of traveler before. (Link) This spot must be the end of some wormhole, receiving people somersaulting through multiple dimensions of space and time, only to crash here in the Chicago area, disappointed, disoriented, and far from home.

What the Tea Party Doesn't Know Yet - A Haiku

What's worse than losing:
Winning and then becoming
Gasp - an incumbent

Insufficient persuasion

There was an interesting story this morning on the radio:

[Beginning of transcript excerpts, NPR's Morning Edition, Sep. 21, 2010]

STEVE INSKEEP: ...We begin in the Senate, where a single provision is holding up a big Defense policy bill. Senate Republicans object to that provision, the one that would allow the Pentagon to end the policy called Don't Ask, Don't Tell. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried for the second time in two months to bring up the policy-setting Defense Authorization bill... It would take 60 votes today for the Senate to take up the Defense bill and that's why one person in particular has been urging people to call their senators.

LADY GAGA (Singer-songwriter): My name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, also known as Lady Gaga.

WELNA: Lady Gaga went to Maine yesterday in a bid to sway the votes of that states' two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of whom remain uncommitted. Earlier, the pop singer recorded herself, calling her own senator, New York Democrat Chuck Schumer.

LADY GAGA: I'm calling to ask the senator to vote with Senators Harry Reid and Carl Levin to repeal Dont Ask, Dont Tell, and oppose John McCain's shameless filibuster.

WELNA: That kind of pressure has failed to sway South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham.

[End of transcript]

Let the record show that NPR's David Welna delivered that last line with a perfectly deadpan tone, and that the Republicans today resisted the political acumen of Ms. Gaga, even if it means they're lagging behind the increasingly tolerant minds of the American voting public.

It would have been a significant speech to witness if any Republican senator had faced his or her constituents to say that their vote on today's Defense bill had been influenced by someone of Ms. Gaga's notoriety.

Still, it brings to mind comparable instances in our history. Liberace and the Agricultural Act of 1954. Buddy Hackett and the Supplemental Defense Appropriations Act of 1967. Cyndi Lauper and the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.

War of the Worlds panic explained

When I was a kid and learned about how many Americans panicked in 1938 because they heard a radio dramatization of War of the Worlds and thought Martians were truly invading, I always thought they were just stupid people.

It wasn't until I heard this episode of Radiolab that I began to understand what made that 1938 radio show seem so realistic. The Radiolab hosts convinced me that a combination of luck, timing, and audio techniques could've fooled me too, if I were alive back then and not listening carefully.

The episode from 2008, about 60 minutes long, is the single best podcast I've heard this year: (Link)


Lately I've found that I do things unconsciously while I'm reading. At work I was proofreading a document for quite a while. I got up to use the bathroom and noticed in the mirror that I had been apparently gouging a groove in my forehead with my thumbnail while proofreading. On other occasions I've caught myself twisting my ears while reading; afterwards my ears were all red in the bathroom mirror. Solution: Quit looking in the mirror.

If you've ever been on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, maybe you've seen a guy with a face painted silver and wearing silver clothing. At first there was just one silver man, standing perfectly still on a box, and I believe he had a container conveniently placed where people could contribute cash for whatever his solo tableau was worth. Later another silver guy or guys dressed in the same way, across the street, but I think they used music and robot movements in their act; I never stopped to watch. Last week I stood next to one of those guys on the morning train to work. Fun fact: His silver clothes smell like they've never been washed.

I was getting ready for work and checked out the condition of my pants before putting them on. There was a hole worn through the seat of the pants. How long had they been like that? I'm sure I wore those pants a couple weeks earlier. Supposed comments from fellow commuters waiting on the train platform: Gee, if it weren't for the gouge in his forehead, the red ears, and the hole in the seat of his pants, that old man would look pretty friggin' suave.

Dear Mr. Answer Man

Dear Mr. Answer Man,
Why do I keep seeing news stories about competitive eating? Where do people get the idea to do this stuff? I saw one where a guy ate 50 hot dogs in ten minutes.

Dear Gary,
It's all from the Christian faith. In a Bible story known as the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus ate one hundred loaves of bread and seven fishes in one sitting. And since He did it on his birthday, it was a Christmas miracle. Thank you for your question.

Oh bother

Last week I moved to a new apartment and it's better than the old one, except for the water pressure.

My old apartment building went up around 1960 and the plumbing apparently was never modified to 21st century standards. The shower stream was forceful, the bathroom faucet blasted out the water, and the toilet flush was deep, resonant, and sustained like a nuclear bomb. I demonstrated it for friends, and I think it inspired the same shock and awe in them as it did in me.

On the other hand, the new apartment is great but in the shower, the water comes out so slowly it falls like feathers, hitting the tub floor... eventually. Standing under that shower nozzle with the water running is like being hit by dozens of watery little Winnie-the-Poohs, giving tiny hugs that you can barely feel.

Take Your Bike to Work Week

Chicago just finished Take Your Bike to Work Week, and while the event was again a success, some Chicagoans applied a personal interpretation, taking their bike to work on the train. Yes, this burns extra calories, lugging that handsome $1,000 machine up and down the stairs to the train platforms, but I feel it misses the spirit of the event.

I understand why people take their dogs on vacation; the dogs are family members who clearly enjoy the change of scenery, looking out the window at new sights and smells. But I never saw a bicycle display the same amount of enthusiasm, even when going on a big exciting train ride. Sure, they look interested, but they're always able to stand motionless, never drooling or panting.

Taking your bike to work on the train does serve to publicize the event, not only to the train commuters who see or step around the bike, but also to the two or three would-be riders who can't fit on the train because of the space taken by the bike itself. Those folks even participate in some indirect way, watching as the full train leaves the platform. Still, there is no better way for bicycles to learn firsthand about the opportunities available to them in the working world, so ideally more people will join in next year.

I'm no fun

My bank cracks me up. Every time I go over there for some errand that can't be accomplished through an ATM, the staff has to sit me down and try to sell me on some great new checking or savings account. I had almost forgotten that a friend who used to work at this bank explained what goes on there. It's a nationally known bank, rhymes with Space.

My friend's department got year-end bonuses based on how many "new" accounts they signed up. The best part was, it didn't have to be a new customer or new money. If they got somebody to move some of their money within the bank from Smiling Young Models Checking to Shiny Happy Checking, it counted toward their year-end bonus. The employee with the biggest bonus was the one who gamed the system most blatantly.

Today they also wanted me to start doing more banking online. In order to get on with my life, I had to bite my tongue and not tell them about my co-worker losing money during online banking when a computer virus read his keystrokes and fed his password to a scammer who was depleting his balance while he watched. (He got reimbursed, but still, I wouldn't volunteer for it.)

Mr. McCluskey in the Library with a Candlestick

"You are responsible for the death of my husband!" said the voice by way of introduction when I answered my office phone. I had given the usual greeting for my company and department, but after hearing that much instead of "Hello," I was so surprised I stayed silent for a moment, and the lady went on. "My husband did a lot of good work and you took his job away and he died!" she said. She went on to say that she had just received some bit of company mail from us, and didn't want to receive any more. She hung up as soon as she had unburdened herself. I got her phone number from my caller ID display.

After researching the issue, it turned out that the husband had concluded his employment with the company six years ago, and three years after that, he died. We couldn't find out if he was fired, or why, but he had worked in another state. I guess the lady had received company-related mail for a long time before deciding she'd had enough, but Jeepers. I was relieved to find out that I hadn't actually killed a guy on the east coast.


Got a flat tire on the highway of love.
Lost a second hubcap on the highway of love.
Drove into a ditch just off the highway of love.
Let off with a warning on the highway of love.

Eight-car collision on the highway of love.
Turn-signal flashing for ten miles on the highway of love.
Not looking at the roadkill on the highway of love.
Got stuck behind a Wienermobile on the highway of love.

Four miles to the Stuckey's on the highway of love.
Reading Spiderman #149 on the highway of love.
How long to the rest stop on the highway of love.
That car is from Delaware on the highway of love.

I sure could use a Nehi on the highway of love.
That trailer is "The Nelsons" on the highway of love.
I'll turn this car around right now on the highway of love.
I've heard the wind so long I can't hear it anymore on the highway of love.

Hypnotized by phone wires along the highway of love.
That truck is shiny clean on the highway of love.
A UFO has landed on the highway of love.
Inordinately proud of our hood ornament on the highway of love.

New radio stations, old music on the highway of love.
Fairly light traffic on the highway of love.

Can't resist

It was early on a spring Thursday morning near Michigan Avenue and a Streets and Sanitation worker was using a tool to open the valve for one of the water fountains that had been off all winter. He stood up from bending over the valve and tested the handle. A graceful stream of water shot twenty feet into the air, making a glittering parabola for a second. The worker looked over his shoulder, turned back to bend back down to the fountain, and completed his adjustments.

I think I can, I think I can

A few days ago: "We need a Brown Line train over here!" shouted the man on the northbound Belmont platform, although I didn't see if he was shouting at anybody in particular. I'd never thought of this: public transit on demand. Imagine a fleet of trains held in reserve so that when a citizen shouts, a crack team of CTA staff leap into action.

Fellow riders: When you step onboard the train, planting both feet to stand just inside the doors while you survey the area left to right for the Ultimate Seat, are you waiting for your name to be superimposed under your face like you're in the opening credits of a sitcom? 'Cause you're blocking my head shot; I'm right behind you.

I must've just missed the bank robber whose stolen money exploded with red dye at my subway stop after work tonight. The Tribune article couldn't be any more specific than to say it happened during "rush hour." Note to robbers: If your getaway vehicle is the Red Line, be prepared for waits of 5 to 8 minutes during that time of day. Unless you're counting on that new "Public Transit on Demand" to be in effect.

Craig Ferguson, young punk rocker

In his memoir, Craig Ferguson remembers the punk revolution of 1977, when he was a kid:
I formed or joined a slew of different but always awful bands with memorable names such as Night Creatures, the News, Prussia (what the f***!), and the Fast Colours. Truly woeful outfits that would rehearse in garages. They were literally garage bands, and they had the trademark of all fledging rock outfits, the one kid crowbarred into the group despite playing a hopelessly inappropriate instrument (flute/oboe/accordion) because his father had a car and was willing to ferry our instruments to practice. You have never heard "Anarchy in the U.K." butchered until you hear it with a clarinet solo.
-- From "American on Purpose."

A book about the making of The Simpsons

An animation executive producer talks about the reaction of producer James L. Brooks upon seeing the first episode of The Simpsons come back from the Korean animation studio in 1989:
He got really disappointed because none of the jokes worked, and then all of a sudden he started to scream and yell, saying, "What is this?" He just went off and he even started to demand extra camera angles, which was the funniest thing ever -- he never did animation in his life. He asked for coverage like when you're shooting a live-action movie. "So where are the other camera angles?" My producer and I were just looking at each other.
-- From The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History by John Ortved

Work, or the like

At the office, Jane is seven months pregnant and her baby-to-be, a boy, is doing a lot of kicking, we hear. That is, Jane told us he is kicking a lot, we don't actually hear the kicking.

A friend wrote about the current job market and theorized that she'd like a less demanding job, like "product tester in a Sharpie factory."

All I meant to say at work was that I'm sorry about my manager's poor health, and that I understand it's common for the parents of small children to catch whatever sickness the little ones bring home from day care. But in referring to his darling daughters as "germy kids" I'm afraid I may have used a poor choice of words.

Porn Star Steps Down After Allegations of Legislative Activity

Adult film actor Thomas Fryble announced in an emotional press conference today that he is dropping out of production on his current movie in order to devote more time to his once-secret second occupation serving on the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Mr. Fryble's position on the Board was alleged yesterday in an anonymous call to a local radio station.

Mr. Fryble admitted before reporters that he is active in Cook County government helping to pass ordinances, levy taxes, and oversee spending of numerous county agencies.

Fellow board commissioners were astonished to learn of Mr. Fryble's primary occupation as an actor in dozens of X-rated direct-to-DVD films. Correspondingly, members of the adult film community were appalled to find that Mr. Fryble had been elected to the Cook County Board in 2004.

Mr. Fryble's co-star Misty Meadows was expected to be standing beside him at today's press conference, but did not attend. A family friend speaking on behalf of Ms. Meadows stated that Ms. Meadows had just learned of Mr. Fryble's position in local government yesterday and didn't want to be seen with a politician.

[I'm sure this kind of story has appeared elsewhere, but I couldn't find it.]

Dear Mr. Answer Man

Dear Mr. Answer Man,
Today at noon I was in a crosswalk walking north, halfway across the street, and a little black SUV coming south made a left turn before I was out of its way. The SUV clipped me and the driver's window was open and I heard the man say "oh!" like he was surprised at the sound of the impact. The SUV spun me around in a counter-clockwise direction but I never fell down. I assume that the driver never stopped or slowed down because he saw in his rearview mirror that I remained on my feet. Is that proper etiquette?
Intact in the Suburbs

Dear Intact,
No, of course it's not proper etiquette. As far as I can tell, you never apologized for hitting the SUV, which, as a vehicle, had the right-of-way. If possible, try to get a witness who can give you the SUV's license plate so that you can track him down and mail a handwritten apology and a small amount of cash, less than $100, as a token of your sincerity.

Dear Mr. Answer Man,
Your lack of empathy makes me wonder how you got that job.

Dear Intact,
Given that we are typing to each other via the fingers of Bill McCluskey, I'd say you have better things to worry about than how I, a figment of his/your imagination, got an imaginary job. Which is about to be farmed out to Bangalore, anyway.

Clive James on nuts

Clive James writes about Macadamia nuts:
When I left Australia fourteen years ago, the only way of getting at the kernel of the Macadamia was with a large hammer, since the nut came equipped with a casing of the same dimensions and consistency as ball-bearing ammunition. If you swung the hammer absolutely vertically the casing fractured and the kernel rolled away. If your swing was even slightly angled, the nut disappeared with the sound of a ricocheting bullet, and you might see an old lady collapse in the street, clutching her forehead.
From the anthology Flying Visits.

Al Franken, boy caddy

In Tom Davis's memoir he passes along a story from his old writing partner Al Franken, from when Al was a boy:
At thirteen, he earned money as a caddy at a country club golf course. One golfer was playing poorly and became cranky with his caddy.

Golfer: "You must be the worst caddy in the world."

Al: "That would be too big a coincidence."
From Thirty-Nine Years of Short Term Memory Loss by Tom Davis

Status update

If that damn cockroach would just step into one of the ten roach motels I've set up around this apartment, I think it would be like winning the Powerball Lottery. UPDATE: He did, and it isn't.

Hypothetical Facebook status settings for my dad:
This country is going to hell in a:
a. handbasket
b. bucket
c. second, because of the Democrats
d. '68 Camaro

I admit that advertising influences how I spend my money. Old commercials for Snickers candy bars said: "Packed with peanuts, Snickers really satisfies." Every couple of weeks I get a jar of peanuts, just because of that ad.

The mother and her three-year-old daughter got on the train and sat down in the seat just ahead of mine. The girl was quiet and looked out the window for a minute until she got bored. She got up on her knees and turned to face me sitting behind her. Tired already, she leaned against her mom and stuck her thumb in her mouth, looking at me the whole time as I read. It had never occurred to me to try this on the morning commute. I could turn around in my seat and stare at the person behind me. I'll let you know how it goes.