M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Friday, June 28, 2002  

I’m just going to say it: this month has sucked.

You already know about Trash’s cousin. That’s not the only thing that happened, though. During this June, various other members of Trash’s family have had run-ins with congestive heart failure, radon poisoning, a car-becue on a remote highway, kidney stones, and potentially crippling foot injuries. Furthermore, a couple of friends have terminated their relationship, another old friend lost his stepfather in a plane crash, and I lost one of my personal heroes. So I’m glad that June is almost over.

And the last entry of the month means more good news: the second installment of the Reader Mail Slot!

Oh, whatever. Like you care.

Dear M. Giant,

Deep Throat is not Jimmy James from NewsRadio. Jimmy James is a fictional character, and while some of the details about Deep Throat may have been obscured to protect his identity, he does actually exist. Deep Throat is also not Ben Stein, who is also a fictional character. As for your belief that Pat Buchanan is Deep Throat, you were being sarcastic, right? Just making sure.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

See, there’s another one of those imprudent denials. Woodward and Bernstein have always said that they would keep Deep Throat’s identity a secret until he died, which strikes me as being even more reckless. Seems like some unbalanced Watergate groupie is liable to completely jump the rails and start taking out Nixon staffers and Secret Service agents, forcing W & B to go on the chat shows and say “getting warmer…warmer…oh, no, you’re FREEZING!” every time some erstwhile wonk or retired G-man gets fished out of the Potomac.

Dear obscure Matt Drudge-wannabee:

You have no idea, you ignorant punk.

Patrick Buchanan
aka Deep Throat

Okay, this I did not expect. I can only assume that Pat figured that telling me the truth was the same as telling nobody. What Pat doesn’t know is that for a brief time, doing a Google search on the phrase “pat buchanan deep throat” brought up, as the number one result, this very blog. Right now I’m down to Google’s fifth “O,” but today’s entry ought to fix that. Pat, Pat, Pat. How very indiscreet of you. You keep your head down for three decades, and a hack like me flushes you out by sheer uninformed wise-assery. Thanks for the Pulitzer, dude.

Just to be sure: pat buchanan deep throat pat buchanan deep throat pat buchanan deep throat.

In non-Watergate-related mail, here’s this, presumably from one of the coasts:

M. Giant -

How on Earth do you get fresh fish in Minnesota? I wouldn't eat sushi more
than 20 miles inland if you paid me. Gross. Frozen Midwest fish sushi.

Nice blog though, thanks.

Observo the Omniscient

No, thank you. To answer your question: I wouldn’t know; I had the chicken.

You’d be surprised how easy it is to get fresh fish in Minnesota, unless you’re familiar with the state’s “Land of 10,000 Lakes” slogan. If there’s a spot that’s twenty miles away from a body of water in this state, I’m not aware of it.

I am, however, aware of the difference between freshwater fish and saltwater fish, so your point is well taken. I too am inclined to limit my seafood intake to places where I can see the actual sea, but then I’m not such a seafood fan to begin with.

Funny story: a few years ago, Trash and I visited some friends on the coast of South Carolina. The road they lived on was lined with Mom & Pop seafood places, two-star buildings with six-star food where you could give the waitress your order, and then look out the window to see her jump in the boat to get it for you. All of these places were doing okay, as far as we could tell, but there was one restaurant that was outdoing them all. It had a parking lot big enough to service a large mall, and it was packed all evening, every evening. The name of that place?

Red Lobster.

Yes, hundreds of people every night were forgoing food that was alive and swimming ten minutes ago, ten feet away (not counting the tank in the lobby), and for what? Sea critters trucked in from Maine, Florida, and probably across four time zones from the Pacific Ocean for all I know. Go figure.

But not you and I. You and I know better. Bon appetit, and ahoy.

posted by M. Giant 3:32 PM 0 comments


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Thursday, June 27, 2002  

I’m back. First of all, my wife and I want to thank all of those readers who sent sympathy e-mails over the past week. I hope I’ll always be amazed that people are out there and paying attention, let alone responding. Your condolences are much appreciated.

When Trash and I went to Iowa this weekend for her cousin’s funeral, we checked into a Holiday Inn Express, so named because apparently you can get a full night’s sleep there in just forty minutes. I have no idea how that works, but it must be quite a boon for the busy traveler.

Despite our longstanding curiosity about this marvel of temporal engineering, the Express probably wouldn’t have been our first choice if Trash’s brother hadn’t already been staying there with his family. We figured that staying across the hall from Deneice and her parents, combined with the hotel’s proprietary wormhole-powered sleep enhancement amenity, would provide us with the ultimate in convenience.

This was before we met the desk clerk.

We showed up at about two in the afternoon. Trash went in to secure the room while I waited outside and chatted with her aunt. As I later heard, “secure” was an unfortunately apt word for what Trash had to do. She was forced to “secure” it in much the same way that US Marines “secured” islands in the Pacific during World War II.

“Hi! We need a room,” Trash announced, pleasantly enough. Especially given the fact that we had just come from a brief visit to one of Trash’s other aunts. Yes, that aunt. The one who’d just lost her daughter.

“Are you with the wedding?” the clerk asked.

“Um, no.”

“Oh. Well, we have this big wedding party coming in so we’re not going to have a lot of rooms.”

We didn’t need a lot of rooms. We just needed the one. We’re simple people, really.

All I can assume is that the desk clerk was hoping we would go away so they would be able to accommodate all of the wedding guests, if and when they all showed up. Which is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of: “Let’s turn away random people who walk in and want to pay to sleep here, so we can fill our entire hotel with people who all know each other, and are here to celebrate a happy occasion, and will therefore get loudly and boisterously and perhaps destructively drunk, all under a lower group rate! It’s so brilliant it just might work!” Or maybe entering us into the system as individual customers rather than part of a group would have required her to perform an additional keystroke or mouseclick, forcing her to miss another precious second of whatever TV infomercial was regaling the empty lobby.

Anyway, for whatever reason, the desk clerk was persistently reluctant to, you know, do her job and just get us a damn room, already. Trash, naturally, was getting pretty impatient with her attitude, which was taking most of the “hospitality” out of the phrase “hospitality industry” and leaving only the “spit” part.

Finally, Trash said, “we’re not here for a wedding. We’re here for a funeral.”

Here’s where a human being would instantly melt into a contrite puddle of sympathetic ichor and gristle. In this case, we discovered that Holiday Inn Express has harnessed not only the space-time continuum, but evil robots as well.

“Oh,” the desk clerk said snottily.

“Oh”, you say? “Oh”? “OH”!?

Whereupon my sweet, gentle wife reached across the counter, grabbed the malevolent clerkdroid by the scalp, and pounded its head-unit repeatedly on the counter bell.

BAM!/ding! BAM!/ding! BAM!/ding!

All right, obviously that didn’t happen. Most hotels don’t have those little bells any more. But obviously someone’s operating system needed a good rebooting.

The only reason we didn’t vote with our feet that second was because, as I said, Trash’s brother was already there. And we had to check in, if for no other reason than to warn him and his family that they were under the care of soulless replicants.

Basically, it was a lose-lose situation for us. We leave, and they get their way. We stay, and they get our money. Nothing we can do.

Other than post a pissy rant about it on the Internet, of course. Too bad I’m above that kind of behavior.

posted by M. Giant 3:54 PM 0 comments


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Friday, June 21, 2002  

I'm not laboring under any sort of illusion that what I'm doing here has much importance, in the grand scheme of things. Helping y'all pass an idle moment at work is all fine and good, but I don't delude myself that I'm doing anything terribly vital. Like trying to raise two kids as a single parent, for example. If I drop off the 'Net today, the hole I leave will fill up pretty quickly. You can't say the same about a mom.

Today in Iowa, there's a big, big hole where yesterday two kids had a mom. That mom was my wife's cousin. Today the family is in mourning, and in the next few days we'll be burying her. After that, things get less predictable. We don't know how long it'll take for this unusually close-knit extended family to heal, we don't know how long it'll take for her 8-year-old son to adjust, and we don't know when her 3½-year-old daughter is going to be able to understand that Mommy isn't coming back.

Obviously I'm taking some time off from the blog, but I'll be back next week. In the meantime, do me a favor. Hug your kids. Hug your parents. Hug your cousins. And for God's sake, drive safely.

posted by M. Giant 4:23 PM 0 comments


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Thursday, June 20, 2002  

Trash and I have been talking for months about the possibility of cashing in our absurdly overvalued house and moving to a nearly debt-free existence in a bigger house in a cheaper neighborhood. We’ve been taking steps to prepare for the transition ever since the house next door sold for five times what we paid for ours. Weeks have been spent buffing the place towards a condition in which our consciences will allow us to accept a fistful of annual median household incomes for it, and while it’s not quite there yet, we can see it from here. We’ve been (okay, really, Trash has been) combing the real estate pages, watching homes in our neighborhood going for twice the price of houses twice their size in the suburbs. But most of all, we’ve been talking. Talking and thinking about what we’ll need to do to make this happen, and what our lives will be like after we do.

Well, there’s a time when talking stops and action begins. My friends, we have reached that point.

On Sunday, we found a great home while an open house was going on there. It’s a postwar rambler in beautiful condition, with a completely finished basement that’s barely smaller than the ginormous back yard. It’s thirteen blocks from where I work. We loved it.

But it wasn’t…quite…perfect. The upstairs floor plan was just a little too standard for us and there wasn’t quite enough character in the neighborhood. We went home, where Trash pulled a bunch of new listings off the Internet, and in a few minutes we were back on the streets, stalking the elusive Dream House on our suburban safari.

We didn’t find the perfect house, but we did find a perfect neighborhood. There are a couple of blocks in Bloomington where every house has a different style of mailbox by the curb. All of them were unique, and most of them were works of art. One had, in place of a standard pole, a sculpture of a stylized human figure lunging toward the street like a four-foot-tall hood ornament. This, we agreed, was an expression of neighborhood individuality that we could get behind. Oh, the houses were nice too.

On Monday, Trash made an appointment with the family realtor. She asked him to come over, take a look at the house and everything we’ve done with it in the nine years since he helped us buy it, and tell us what we could charge for it. Kind of an informal inspection, during which he’d make suggestions about what we need to fix, what we don’t need to fix, and what we can hide.

That’s when it his us: this isn’t just an intellectual exercise any more. This is actually happening. We’ve actually involved a grown-up in this process, a grown-up who will rightly expect to be paid. We’re going to find a house. We’re going to put this house on the market, and everything that entails—the fixing, the cleaning, the packing, the donating, the storing. We’re going to conscript every man jack of our friends for whom we’ve ever carried so much as a tune to schlep all of our possessions out of the city and into our capacious new dwelling sitting on a huge green lawn like an afterthought.

This is it.

This is finally it.

This is…not what we want.

Smash cut to analogy: you’re on a rollercoaster, and the chain is slowly ratcheting you up that first hill. You’re not sure you want to be there. You can’t look straight ahead, because the length of track between you and the naked blue sky is getting shorter every second. You can’t look behind you, because behind=down, and you NEVER LOOK DOWN. If you look to the side, you have to deal with the fact that the horizon is so very much not where you left it. And closing your eyes or keeping them on your shoes is out of the question, because you want to be ready for the next thing that happens.

There’s only one thing to look at: the staircase running alongside the track. It’s incongruous—a strangely practical detail in a world that stopped making sense the second that that padded bar locked into place across your lap. You know it’s there so maintenance people can climb up and change the light bulbs, but that’s not what you’re thinking about now. No, you’re thinking about how long it would take you to disengage from your safety gear and hop out of the car onto those nice, solid steps. You’re imagining a leisurely walk back down with one hand on the railing; maybe you’ll wave at the next train when it’s on its way up. That, or sit there helplessly and wait for gravity, momentum, and countless other forces from centrifugal to G have their way with you.

We cancelled the appointment with our realtor. Being the gentleman he is, he graciously assured us that whenever we’re ready, he’ll be there. That’s appreciated, because someday we will be ready. It took putting things in motion to make us realize that we aren’t yet. We’ve been getting used to the idea of moving for months, and we never quite pulled it off. Now we’re getting used to staying where we are, and it barely took us a day. The bottom line is that our house got really expensive because people really, really want to live here. And as it turns out, we’re two of those people.

That walk down the stairs was a lot shorter than we thought.

posted by M. Giant 4:44 PM 0 comments


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Wednesday, June 19, 2002  

Went to a new sushi restaurant last Friday. There are probably cities where a sushi restaurant will open and everyone will rush to check it out. The new place will have some openings for dinner reservations, but only if you eat with strangers during a fifteen-minute window some time before 3:00 p.m. on a weekday. Inside, people have to crowd-surf to get to the bathroom. Outside, excited patrons camp out on the sidewalk with their kimonos and katanas, reenacting memorable snippets of Kabuki theater. Such is the way of things in some cities. Not in this one. People in this town will check out a new place when we get around to it, and if it’s not still there by then, it couldn’t have been very good anyway if it only lasted fifteen years.

That’s my theory on why the new downtown sushi place was practically empty at 6:00 on Friday night. Either that or everyone was at the perfectly good sushi bar that’s been a block away for years.

Trash and I went with our friends G. Grod and the Girl Detective (See that? That’s what happens when you let people pick their own nicknames for your blog) and we were instantly led through a factory showroom’s worth of empty chairs to our table. We were just wrapping up a rather salty conversation that involved a sling, a police baton, and post-modernism when our server popped up. She was the peppy, friendly type, the kind who would sit down at your table with you if this were Applebee’s. She looked witty and clever, and she had our attention when she offered to tell us the amusing story behind the Band-Aid on her finger. We all dig funny waitron stories, so what the heck?

“I cut it shredding vegetables. Blood everywhere.”

Hmm. Okay, well, at least the story was short. Plus now we knew not to order anything with vegetables. And another first impression dies screaming.

It’s not unusual to get a server who’s inattentive. It’s a bit more unusual to get a server who’s too attentive. This one was really something, though; she managed to be both.

During our preorder banter at the table, she seemed almost preternaturally attuned to the rhythms of our conversation. Our blathering would hit a lull and she would appear at our elbow, as if our social yammering had been some kind of supernatural incantation by which we had been unwittingly keeping her at bay. We soon realized that our table was right next to an alcove that the waitstaff had co-opted as a sort of bullpen. You know that scene in Fargo, where Frances McDormand abruptly stops talking while the waiter is there? Minnesotans actually do that. Try eating a whole meal that way. There’s being an attentive waitperson, and then there’s stalking. Yet somehow, before I could get her to bring me a spoon, I’d eaten half my soup with chopsticks.

We tipped her twenty percent, of course. We’re not barbarians, you know.

* * *

Collectively a Benjamin poorer, we strolled over to the new park in the shadow of the old Federal Reserve Building. It’s a Cancer Survivor’s Park. Whatever comic abilities I have are utterly blunted in the face of this. Like, what’s making fun of people with cancer if it’s not pure, 24-karat comedy gold? I can make fun of the building, though.

As I understand it (and I’m too lazy to actually research any of this), the Federal Reserve Building was on its last legs for years. We now have a shiny new Fed a couple of blocks away, and for that we can all thank Tim McVeigh. It seems the old building had a configuration that allowed any disaffected right-winger to drive right under it with a bomb cleverly disguised as a rental truck. After Oklahoma City, federal buildings aren’t allowed to have that any more. Go figure.

There was some question as to what would happen to the building after the feds bailed out. There probably would have been more talk about tearing it down, but there wasn’t for three reasons. 1) It’s unique and recognizable, and there’s always resistance to razing anything unique and recognizable. That resistance is typically overidden by the people with the money and the power, but that brings us to reason: 2) Drive-up bombability or no, the place is still a fortress. Typically things are easier to destroy than to create, but this beast wasn’t coming down under anything less than an airstrike. And even if it did, there’s still reason: 3) As I understand it, the place is built like a suspension bridge. That inverted arch on the face of the building basically represents a giant bowstring. Dismantling the building would be like disarming the world’s biggest mousetrap; you start taking it to pieces, pull out the wrong girder and SPROINGGG! You’ve just catapulted seven floors of offices into the northern suburbs. Oops.

Ergo, the building’s still standing. It’s been bought and refurbished, but not to its original state. A huge addition has been glommed onto the southeastern face, and the less said about that, the better. But from the park you can see the shiny new windows, returning sparkle to a structure that a couple of years ago looked as if the airstrike had already begun. The building was sick. Now it’s well again, even if it looks different from some angles. Sick people in need of inspiration can come to the park and look around at the prosaically uplifting thoughts on the plaques, but they can also look up and see towering proof that yes, things can get better.

Okay, I was wrong. I can’t even make fun of the building. Those cancer people wreck everything.

posted by M. Giant 3:44 PM 0 comments


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Tuesday, June 18, 2002  

Minnesota readers, show of hands: how many of you voted for Jesse Ventura?

Now, how many of you would have voted for him if you thought he would actually win?

Damn, all of a sudden it’s like a Saudi Arabian klepto convention in here.

I admit it. I voted for The Body partly because I didn’t think he had a shot, and partly because I wasn’t terribly impressed with the other guys. But mainly because I didn’t know that Fancy Ray McCloney was running. With his mom.

Jesse liked to talk about how “we shocked the nation.” Whatever. Nobody was as shocked as Jesse. He recovered quickly, though. In record time, he convinced himself that his 33.4% share of the state’s 10%* voter turnout indicated a massive groundswell of popular support that would allow him to decisively grab the reins of government and steer the North Star state unmolested into a new utopia of peace, prosperity, and legalized prostitution. Velcrometer has obtained (never mind how) a page of the governor’s day planner from his first week in office. It reads, in part:

Sunday: Inaugural gala.
Monday: Implement unicameral legislature.**

Ever since Jesse’s first faceplant into political reality, he’s been acting more and more put upon all the time. He’s like a kid who gets his learner’s permit and then gets all pissy when his dad tells him that No, Really, That Red Light Means Stop.

“The people of Minnesota have had enough of politics as usual,” Jesse would respond shirtily, and before anyone could answer him he’d get broadsided by a gas truck. Again.

He did accomplish some stuff. I can afford to buy license tabs now without having to sell my car, and there were those rebates from a few years ago (everybody calls them “Jesse checks,” as if the governor had reimbursed our state taxes with funds from his personal account). Plus there are any number of things he got done that I’m too ignorant to know about.

Unfortunately, his screwups got a lot more attention. He blames the media for that, but nobody could have dinged Jesse as badly as he dinged himself. There was the Playboy interview, in which he unwisely trashed organized religion and expressed a desire to be reincarnated as a bra. There was the Letterman appearance, where even Dave cringed at Jesse’s hamfisted “drunk Irish” crack. I wouldn’t mind the transgressions themselves, but Jesse’s petulant attitude whenever somebody called him on his behavior—and someone always did—was unimpressive. A big mouth and a thin skin do not make for a good combination in an elected official. You don’t get to have both, Jesse. Pick one or go home.

Well, he announced today that he’s going home. Given his very public and increasingly lengthy foul moods, I can’t say I’m surprised.

Jesse’s a big one for wanting it both ways. He said he wanted to be treated like an elected official and not a celebrity, then got all grumpy when the media took him at his word. He pursued public office, but whenever somebody questions anything that goes on outside his office he turns into J. D. Salinger. He defended his gigs refereeing for the then-WWF and announcing for the then-XFL, saying they were totally separate from his gubernatorial duties, but is Vince McMahon going to keep calling him after this year?

I’m ambivalent about the Ventura years. I’d feel better about him if his default response to criticism from any direction weren’t an outstretched finger pointing somewhere, anywhere else. He’s not a mature guy. He’s not a smart guy. But he’s not a bad guy. Plus it’s kind of cool, if occasionally embarrassing, to have one of the two or three governors whose name everybody in the nation knows, and the only governor in the country who was on The X-Files (a Darin Morgan, episode, no less). Will that happen with Moe or Pawlenty? I think not.

So, yeah. It wasn’t always good, but it was different. If nothing else, Jesse blew the dust out of a few valves that had gotten pretty grimy over the years. Showed us that there’s more than one way to do things, and that’s worth something.

But take it from me, America. Ten years from now, if you’re trying to choose a POTUS from between a career politician from a rich old Republican family, a career politician from a rich old Democratic family, and The Rock? Keep this in mind: if you’re thinking “what the hell,” over a third of your fellow voters are probably thinking the same thing.

* These statistics are made up. Jesse got 37% of the vote. I could look up voter turnout for that election, but whaddya know? Apathy strikes again.
** These notes are made up. The truth is too bone-chilling to relay here.

posted by M. Giant 4:14 PM 0 comments


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Monday, June 17, 2002  

Today’s the thirtieth anniversary of the Watergate break-in. Blah blah unmaking of a president, bleh bloo public trust, Woodward and Bernstein yadda yadda, reshaping of American political culture and discourse blee blibbedy bloo. I’m not going to get into the ramifications. I was about four years old when the whole thing went down, and I only remember it because my parents said they wanted to watch the Watergate hearings on TV. This sticks with me because with three kids in the house, it was unusual for my parents to express a desire to watch anything. Most of what I know about Watergate is stuff I picked up from the director’s commentary track on the DVD of Dick. I’m sure you can find someplace on the net that has something to say about it, and I really don’t have anything to add.

Except this. On the way to work this morning, I heard a teaser on the radio that alluded to an upcoming story about the possible identity of Deep Throat. Deep Throat, as you know, was the government insider who was a vital source to Woodward and Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who broke the story. They’ve kept Deep Throat’s real name a secret ever since, and Deep Throat himself has never come forward. For decades, people have thrown names out, and Woodward and Bernstein always sit back and say “No…no…no…” which seems like a bad idea to me because eventually someone’s going to come up with the right name and they’re going to have to say “Maaaaybe.”

Anyway, someone’s come up with a new theory as to who Deep Throat is. The theory? Pat Buchanan.

Now, this might just have legs. Buchanan’s still somewhat in the public eye, so that makes him a great candidate. People normally come up with names most people have never heard of, like some obscure FBI agent or White House staffer. That’s no fun for anybody. But with Buchanan, they’ve really hit it out of the park.

Now that I think about it, Buchanan’s persona is a perfect match for the Deep Throat profile. I mean, if you’re going to engage in a little covert whistle blowing against the President of the United States, you want to keep your head down afterwards. Spend a few years in an out-of-the-way place, like on the panel of The McLaughlin Group. Make a couple of runs at the Oval Office yourself, just to blend in. Try hijacking America’s biggest political third party, which will have pretty much the same results as the hijacking of the fourth plane on September 11; nobody will accuse the same guy of bringing down a president and a political party in the same lifetime. And by all means, keep your name off people’s minds by becoming a national lightning rod for attention and controversy.

As you might gather, I’m not buying it. It sounds like someone went down an alphabetical list of people who worked in the Nixon White House and latched on to the first name he or she recognized. I know the list was alphabetical because there’s no other reason for not picking Ben Stein.

Besides, we all know who the real Deep Throat is.

posted by M. Giant 3:37 PM 0 comments


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Friday, June 14, 2002  

I kind of have a problem with authority. It’s not that I rebel against it; quite the opposite, in fact. I’m one of those guys who pulls over to the side of the road whenever a police car goes screaming by with its siren blaring. That’s not unusual, but I do the same thing when I see an empty cop-mobile in a parking lot.

When I saw Star Wars in 1997, for the first time as a responsible, law-abiding adult, I found it jarring that Han Solo shot his way out of Mos Eisley spaceport. To me, that was like some guy at the docks taking on a couple of shady passengers offering a suspiciously high fare, then blazing away without hesitation when the Port Authority showed up to nab them. What he should have done was simply hand them over and pocket the two grand. But no, paying off Jabba was worth killing a few guys in uniform because he fully expected to get away with it. Just as he expected to get away with shooting down TIE fighters later on. Can you imagine a modern-day drug runner climbing into a gun turret and sinking three or four pursuing Coast Guard vessels? The Emperor may have ruled the galaxy with an iron fist, but it was a fist fashioned from an iron colander.

They say that everyone has a price. Perhaps everyone also has a point at which they think it’s a good idea to engage in a shootout with the authorities. I don’t know where that point would be for me, and I hope I never find out. I just know that point is very, very, very far away, and would require a catastrophic breakdown of either my psyche or the existing societal structure, and possibly both. For some people, like Branch Davidians or Han Solo, that point is a little closer. Others, as I learned yesterday, are pretty much already there.

Like these guys. If you don’t feel like clicking the link, let me sum up: some guys stole some DiGiorno™ frozen pizzas out of a parked delivery truck and walked into their house with them. A couple of cops who were doing surveillance in an unrelated investigation followed the pizza thieves to the house, displayed their badges, and identified themselves. Whereupon six guys from the house proceeded to start beating the hell out of them and trying to take the officers’ guns out of their holsters.

So I’m wondering, what was the next phase of their master plan? Were they going to have a little party in the back yard complete with a frozen pizza feast, shooting empty beer cans with their newly acquired police service revolvers? Did they expect the cops to bang impotently on the front door, whining “You guys, come oooooon” until they got bored enough to slink back to headquarters with their tails between their legs, asking the chief if they could have some new guns, please? Or did they figure they could just shoot a couple of police officers on the front steps of THEIR OWN HOUSE and the Police Department and the city and the Mayor would chuckle ruefully and say, “boy, they sure got us good this time, but if they fail to observe the speed limit, they just better look out.” They must have realized that the cops were going to strenuously resist either scenario. What positive outcome could they have possibly foreseen for themselves?

I realize I’m ascribing this behavior to stupidity, when it was more likely a combination of panic, rage, and desperation. It usually is in cases like this, which is what makes those police chase videos such gonzo TV. It’s one thing to see some poor sap trying to drive a ’73 Pinto a hundred and twenty miles an hour across a swamp on its brake drums because he has a pissed-off parole officer and a grocery bag full of stolen cash. This is different. I don’t care how much you like pizza. It’s not worth getting shot over.

But shot they were, and today two guys are in the hospital with new holes in them because those puny little Totino’s Party Pizzas™ weren’t cutting it for them any more. DiGiorno’s™ commercials claim that their pizza is so good, it’s indistinguishable from delivery pizza. “It’s not delivery, it’s DiGiorno™,” they say. Maybe these guys saw the truck parked across the street and figured they could have it both ways. In any case, I’d love to see DiGiorno try to incorporate this incident into their ad campaign.

It would be even better if it was a different brand, though. I can just see a somber trauma surgeon in the Critical Care Unit standing over an operating table, shaking his head helplessly at the perp’s bullet-riddled body and asking him: “What do you want on your Tombstone™?”

posted by M. Giant 3:01 PM 0 comments


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Thursday, June 13, 2002  

We have neighbors on both sides of our house now, for the first time in a year and a half. It’s kind of an adjustment, like if when you move from an apartment at the end of the hallway to one in the middle. Except your apartment probably doesn’t have windows facing the next-door neighbors’ windows. It has occurred to me that I can no longer wash our north windows naked. I used to do that in order to keep my clothes Windex-free, but that’s all over now.

Don’t worry. I still used a sponge.

The occupants of the house to the north when we moved in were a sweet older couple. A few years ago, she retired. A year later, she passed away. Another year later, so did he. So it goes.

A few months later, their kids threw an estate sale preparatory to putting the house on the market. We woke up late that morning, so by the time we got up the police car was already there. Did you know that the police typically get called out to estate sales just to maintain order? I didn’t either. Apparently the boys in blue come out to defuse any possible contretemps that may arise over a collection of thirty-year-old potholders. Or so we thought at the time.

The crime scene tape that encircled the adjoining back yard later that day was a little confusing. How wild did that estate sale get, anyway?

It wasn’t until a few days later that we found out, via the neighborhood grapevine, what had happened.

One of the sale patrons, taking full advantage of the unspoken “Everything Must Go” vibe projected by the total accessibility of every area of the house, wandered towards the basement stairs, where he promptly stumbled upon an arsenal of weapons sufficient to arm several Latin American revolutionary forces. And their opponents.

Guns? Sure, plenty of guns. Also hand grenades. Also dynamite. Yes, dynamite. I know that stuff is hard to get. Apparently he got it before it was hard to get. Which meant it had been sitting in the basement for God knows how long, probably sweating nitroglycerin, twenty feet from our dining room table. Our next door neighbor, you see, was retired military. Demolition corps. I flashed back to our Halloween party, to which he’d shown up in fatigues and camo facepaint, draped in ordnance with a knife in his teeth. Good God I thought, that stuff was real! Suddenly I felt a lot better about the Post-Its and paper clips I’ve walked off with over the years.

Also in the basement was the assorted detritus of our deceased neighbor’s hobby—his avocation if you will. Some guys build model trains in the basement. Others build a darkroom and develop photos. No such pedestrian pursuits for our neighbor. No, he preferred to amass alarming quantities of hazardous chemicals and combine them experimentally. Perhaps he was trying to develop some new compound. Perhaps he was seeking the universal solvent. Perhaps he was trying to synthesize artificial protoplasm. Whatever the case, it wasn’t until after his death that we learned we’d been living next door to an amateur mad scientist.

Hence the police tape. For all anyone knew, any empty container in that basement might once have held fifty gallons of whatever melted Paul McCrane in Robocop, now long since escaped by seeping through the cinderblock walls and saturating the soil. Fortunately that turned out to not be the case, as the squads of moon-suited cleanup technicians dispatched by FEMA quickly ascertained.

(Okay, they were from the University, and I didn’t see a moon-suit. I’m just trying to punch this up a little.)

So why didn’t the surviving children notify anyone about this? Why didn’t they at least mark the basement off-limits for the sale? As far as we can figure, it just seemed normal to them. Sure, Dad spends his spare time futzing around in a roomful of stuff that could blow us all into a commercial flight path. So what? That’s what dads do, right?

Um, no. Not every dad does what your dad does. I certainly don’t assume that all dads like fishing and cars just because mine does. One guy does not a representative sample make. Especially one who heads downstairs after dinner to try to make some ice-nine.

We were later told that if all of those explosives, weapons, and chemicals had been…how shall I put this…destabilized…the resulting explosion could have potentially taken out the whole block. I’m skeptical about this. I have to think that the ground would have absorbed most of the shockwave. Much of that ground would have ended up in our rec room soaking up our liquefied remains under the charred splinters of our house, but the guy on the far corner would be safe until the fallout cloud reached him.

It’s good to get along with your neighbors under any circumstances. We liked our neighbors, and we were sad when they died. After we found out they owned their own munitions dump, we were gladder than ever that they liked us too. They could have decided to drop our house through the crust of the earth at any moment.

Anyway, the place is long since cleaned up, sterilized, purged, and voided of anything more exotic than Tilex. A couple of twentysomething students live there as of a month ago, and they seem just as nice as the old neighbors were. I’m looking forward to hearing about how they’ve set up a nice, safe meth lab.

posted by M. Giant 3:49 PM 0 comments


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Wednesday, June 12, 2002  

Seen from above, our house is shaped like an “L” with a very short cross-stoke. The peak of the roof runs along the L’s longer axis. As a result of this, the entire northwest quadrant of the roof is serviced by about a foot and a half of rain gutter. As you might imagine, a good, healthy downpour has a tendency to rinse about a metric ton of dirt, leaves, seeds, and residual shingle schmutz towards nine square inches of downspout area. As you might suspect, this has the salutary effect of clogging the downspout tighter than a wine cork. As you might have already concluded, I forget about this every single time. Until somebody steps in a puddle in the kitchen.

The thing is that when the downspout is clogged, that foot-and-a-half of gutter fills up pretty quick. There’s nowhere for the rainwater to go except over the edge of what has become a small giraffe-trough. That would be fine, but the curve of the gutter seems specially designed to maximize surface tension. So instead of falling straight down, the water gets imparted with a jaunty inward swing, making it possible—nay, inevitable—for great drenching bucketfuls to curtain merrily against our house exactly at windowsill level.

Now, our house is reasonably weatherproof, but it’s not SeaLab, okay? When a lake at eave-level drains into a newly forming lake at window-level, some of that water is going to end up inside the house. What normally happens is that the water seeps through the sash and down into the wall below the window, which it eventually abandons in favor of the floor (yes, my new floor) and creeps over to the spot where your feet will be when you’re getting a towel out of the drawer in the center island. Which actually is kind of a convenient little twist, but still. Rain is supposed to be outside, not in here soaking the bottoms of my socks.

I need new gutters, you say. I have new gutters, I say. These suckers just went up not five years ago. Part of the problem is that the very next winter, weather conditions conspired to create massive ice dams on the roof. For those who doubt the kind of damage ice can do, I refer you to exhibit A, what I like to call the Great Lakes. Unsurprisingly, when several slabs of ice with the size, weight, and consistency of sidewalk sections spend a couple of months trying to slide off a steep roof and continually fetching up against the rain gutters, the micron-accurate calibration of those gutters is bound to suffer a bit. I fixed them, sort of, but they haven’t been the same since. The one over the kitchen window, being the most important one, the one that’s expected to handle the greatest volume of rain per inch, is the worst.

Two years ago, Trash and I got home from a long afternoon, evening, and late night out. Our constitutional had coincided with a hammering rainstorm. Trash, sitting at the kitchen table, abruptly found herself immersed to mid-calf. We investigated the source and found that the foot-and-a-half of gutter had apparently emptied itself into the casement window a hundred times over. The plaster below the sash had been completely saturated and now possessed all the structural integrity of an Icee. Trust me, that’s not something you want to see when you’re a homeowner.

It’s now long since plastered over and the entire kitchen is freshly painted and almost entirely redecorated and remodeled. So you can imagine my reaction the other night upon discovery of a new puddle in the kitchen, and the ominous damp streaks on the wall below the window. In fact, you’re just going to have to imagine it, since my parents read this.

Time to haul out the ladder for the annual ritual of Band-Aiding the gutter back to the house. Of course I got up there and immediately saw that the gutter had become a stagnant pool. Clogged downspout, as you already know if you read the first paragraph. I scooped out a couple of handfuls of slippery muck and flushed the rest out with the garden hose. Then I decided that if I just do this a couple of times a summer, I don’t have to mess with hammers and nails and crowbars trying to get it straight again. There’s no effort I won’t exert trying to avoid effort.

After that was done, I got the third hinge installed on the bathroom door. I know I’m getting better at this kind of project, because in the old days I would have forgotten to force the door into shape before marking the spot and then bolted the hinge firmly to the door in such a way as to preserve its swing-preventing warp forever. Then I’d be hosed because the screwholes I’d made would preclude the possibility of drilling new ones because they’d be too close and I’d just end up with three ragged gashes in the wood and we’d be back to “Just pick the door up and sort of lean it against the doorframe.” That didn’t happen, though. Totally made up for the fact that I couldn’t find a chisel to countersink the hinge plates and I had to use a screwdriver instead.

So, to wrap up: I used a garden hose to fix a piece of equipment designed to protect our home from the encroachment of the elements, while a wide plank designed to conceal the performance of a natural bodily function now has as many hinges as the door of a bank vault. Perhaps some kind of profound societal statement can be extrapolated from this. But that’s someone else’s job. Having fixed two, count ‘em, two things around the house, I felt justified in spending the rest of the evening shooting at Imperial Stormtroopers.

posted by M. Giant 4:38 PM 0 comments


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Tuesday, June 11, 2002  

I have to go back to Menards today because I got the wrong size hinge yesterday. Yeah, I’m clever. I’m on top of things.

I also have to get a couple of keys made. The Brazilian hottie who made my keys yesterday is going to think I’m stalking her. Who gets keys made two days in a row? What possible reason could I have? Perhaps she’s used to lovesick swains showing up day after day just to have her grind something for them, but I’m not one of those guys. I actually have a legitimate need for keys today that I didn’t have yesterday. Maybe I should gesture emphatically with my wedding ring hand and make loud remarks like “BOY, THAT WIFE OF MINE SURE LIKES HER KEYS, YES INDEEDY. SHE LIKES KEYS MORE THAN ANY NATURAL-BORN AMERICAN CITIZEN I’VE EVER MET. NEARLY ELEVEN HAPPY, FAITHFUL YEARS OF MARRIAGE, AND SHE NEVER GETS TIRED OF NEW KEYS. SOMETIMES I THINK SHE MARRIED ME FOR THE KEYS, BECAUSE IT CERTAINLY WASN’T SO SHE COULD GET HER GREEN CARD.”

That should indicate pretty clearly that I just want to keep things on a professional level.

* * *

This reminds me of another time I went to Menards to have keys made. Okay, so we both like keys.

So I'm standing there at the key counter, and the key guy (old, white-haired, not at all paranoid about being stalked) is doing his thing. Grinding keys. Grind, grind, grind.

As is my custom when something is happening that I can contribute nothing to, I glance around idly. A few aisles away, I notice a woman in her thirties, pushing a cart. She has her back to me and is walking in the opposite direction. With the woman is a young girl, about eight or nine years old. The girl is wearing a yellow t-shirt and she has blonde hair on both of her heads.

I'll give you a moment to read that last sentence again.

The first thing that pops into my head, because I'm a huge geek, is the image of Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed hipster from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The thought of Mark Wing-Davey in costume makes me want to get a better look at the girl so I can see which head is fake. During the second it takes me to reject the idea that some little girl is walking around in public with a fake second head (because really, that's impossible), the girl and her mom have disappeared from view.

I think, "Wow, that's really weird." I wonder if I really saw what I thought I saw. Maybe the girl was carrying a doll with a large head over her shoulder. Maybe she was following another girl, one the same height, veryclosely. Distracted almost beyond the point of functionality, I take my new keys to the cash register, pay for them, and leave the store.

Halfway to my car, I stop in my tracks in the parking lot. I've realized that if I don't go back in there right now and confirm what I saw, I'm going to wonder for the rest of my life if I really saw a two-headed girl at Menards. I go back inside.

I wander the aisles for a few minutes (this is a big store) and finally get a sighting. Again, I see them from the back, so they don't see me, but now I'm much closer. And it's clear that there are two necks coming out of the top of that yellow t-shirt.

I think conjoined twins, and I count the other limbs. There are two of everything. Weird.

I get back to work and I call my wife Trash at her job.

"I just saw a two-headed girl at Menards," I say.

"You did not."

"I did so."

Please read the previous two paragraphs several hundred times in order to get a sense of how the conversation progressed.

I don't remember how the call ended, but she finally rung off, only partially convinced that I was serious. I kind of have this bad habit of messing with her head for my own amusement. Specifically, I only tell her the truth when there's no freaking way she can possibly believe it. This is actually a pretty good example of that.

Anyway, at the time, one of her co-workers was a psychologist-in-training. In fact, she had just been admitted to Johns Hopkins and was going to be leaving soon to get her Ph.D. Her head was all full of stuff she'd learned about abnormal psychiatry. Which, once Trash relayed my news, she proceeded to try to apply to me.

I'll call this coworker "Doc." Doc hears my story and proceeds to fill my wife's head with all sorts of things that could possibly be wrong with me, many of them involving the word "dementia." She whips Trash into a panic to the point where she's calling Menards, asking the manager if any two-headed girls have visited the store that day.

The manager is understandably resistant to having his time wasted this way, but Trash is able to talk him into canvassing the people at the registers and confirming that a mother and two daughters did in fact come through, but the three females were only wearing two outfits. So there. Thus was I saved from being carted away to be fitted for my new Napoleon hat.

The moral is look out for psychiatrists in training. Pretty weak moral, I know, but it's really just an excuse to tell this story.

posted by M. Giant 3:40 PM 0 comments


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Monday, June 10, 2002  

Back when we quit renting and bought a house, my main objection—heck, my only objection—was the fact that if something broke, it was going to be our responsibility to get it fixed. If, for example, one day the bathtub spontaneously filled up with noisome black sludge, it was our problem. No more calling the manager, having her track down the super, trying to schedule a time when the super could come by and take a look at it and go, “hmm” and then disappear for three weeks from the world of men, only to eventually return with a bucket and a flashlight, whereupon he would disappear into the bathroom, his presence betrayed only by a disembodied torrent of cursing, at the end of which period he would stalk wordlessly out the door, leaving us to discover the bathtub sludge level two inches higher than at the time of his arrival, forcing us to again call the building manager, who would tell us that her records show the problem was fixed. No, the days of that kind of convenience were over.

But if you’re thinking about buying a house and holding off because you won’t know what to do if your furnace shuts down in the middle of an arctic winter night, don’t worry. It’s amazing how quickly you figure things out when you wake up to discover that your cats, in a desperate search for warmth, have climbed into your pajamas with you.

For instance, I never used to understand the mechanics of a toilet. I knew the names of the parts you can see without taking the lid off the tank, but my entire repertoire of toilet-fixing procedures consisted of a) jiggling the handle and b) calling the building manager. Now I’m an expert. If I had to build a toilet from scratch, I could probably do it. I know how the water in the tank…I mean the water in the bowl…okay, I have no idea how those two things are connected, but I know it’s bad if the flappy thing doesn’t close.

Our house was built over a half-century ago, so it has a few idiosyncrasies. Everything always takes longer to fix than I think it will, because I always run into something I didn’t expect. Electrical projects are particularly dodgy, because the house was built in a time when, if you asked somebody about ground wire, you got a handful of copper filings.

Think about it.

The upshot is that after almost nine years of living in this house, it can still surprise me every once in a while. Like it did this weekend, when the bathroom door abruptly stopped closing. The latch would get to within about a foot of the strikeplate, and the outer edge of the door on the hinge side, the part between the hinges, would abruptly bump against the jamb. People were peeing with the door open all weekend, and I think some of them resented my camping out in the hallway with a camera. On the other hand, I just got a rare excuse to use the word “strikeplate.”

I think what happened is that the door has warped a bit. This is odd because my dad just helped me install an exhaust fan in the bathroom a few months ago. By “helped” I mean that my dad did the work, and by “install” I mean that I handed him tools, but the fact remains that all the moisture that used to stay in there cracking our paint and loosening our wallpaper isn’t a problem any more. It never occurred to us that that same moisture was apparently helping the door maintain its shape, and removing it would eventually result in the loss of said door’s full functionality.

Clearly this situation is untenable, and not just because film is expensive. It is possible to force the door shut, but before it thumps home the hinges pull away from the doorframe in a most threatening manner. The message is clear: “keep this up and six screws are going to rip themselves and a cubic foot of wood out of this doorframe, stripping themselves in the process.” And then where will I be? Patiently explaining to every one of our guests that “The bathroom door is right up against the wall in there—just pick it up and sort of prop it against the frame.” Eventually the flow of guests will drop off, but we’ll still have to deal with the problem of resale value.

Neither of the two obvious alternatives—grinding off part of the door or grinding off part of the jamb—appealed to me. Either one would leave me with a stripe of bare wood to deal with and a bunch of sawdust to clean up. And there was no guarantee that I wouldn’t have to do it again in six months, and again, until our bathroom door was a swinging, upended U-shape with a paper-thin inner edge.

Instead, I hit on a novel solution: adding a third hinge between the existing two, where the door hits the jamb. That’ll force the door back into shape and prevent the problem from recurring. Assuming I do it right, which is by no means guaranteed.

I’ll still have some sawdust to clean up, but I’m usually much more cheerful about cleaning up messes that I’ve made in the course of being clever.

This is the kind of thing that would take a lot of landlords a few months to fix, but I’m already on top of it. It almost makes up for having to get my lightbulbs from the store instead of the hallway.

posted by M. Giant 4:12 PM 0 comments


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Friday, June 07, 2002  

Hey, kids! Want to look twenty years older than your actual age? It’s easy! Just spend two-thirds of your life with a homicide charge hanging over your head. With every waking hour devoted to fretting over the possibility of your eventual arrest, you’ll be able to age at twice the normal rate! And since there’s no statute of limitations on murder, the only limit to your success is the speed and efficiency of the criminal justice system. Take a look at this satisfied customer:

(Extraordinary case. Your results will vary.)

Would you believe this dyspeptic, sexagenarian middle manager is none other than 42-year-old Kennedy relative Michael Skakel? Here’s an artist’s rendering of how Mr. Skakel might look today if not for this revolutionary program:

Just imagine: you can shorten your life and decimate your health by making just a few lifestyle changes! And once you start, you’ll feel the effects every day. Look forward to:

 Feeling your bowels turn to a thin gruel every time the phone rings!
 Stealing nervous glances at every police officer you pass on the street!
 Wondering whether you should come out shooting whenever somebody knocks on your front door!
 Calculating how long it would take you to reach the border every time you open the mail!
 Budgeting for legal fees just like you currently budget for food and utilities!

Call now to get all the secrets of the amazing Raskolnikov Makeover!

Seriously, would you look at this guy? I haven’t been following the case, so I don’t know whether his conviction today for a 27-year-old murder is fair or not. I didn’t hear all the evidence, so I don’t know if he did it. If so, I don’t feel the least bit sorry for him, especially in light of the victim’s family and their quarter-century search for justice. I’m just saying that he looks like his sentence started 27 years ago. If he’d confessed at the time, he’d be out of the joint by now. Or possibly dead. Either way, he wouldn’t look like this, and everything’s a tradeoff. Like they say, don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Or, in this guy’s case, don’t do the time if you can’t do the time twice.

posted by M. Giant 4:53 PM 0 comments


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Thursday, June 06, 2002  

Something unexpected is happening to the barren, black wasteland of my back yard. It’s turning green.

It shouldn’t be unexpected, because I did actually spend part of my Memorial Day weekend scratching grass seeds into the ground. I just didn’t think much of my chances of seeing any trace of them ever again. Especially after the thunderstorm two days later that I was sure had washed them into Lake Harriet. I’ve seeded the area before, and I’ve had it seeded by professionals. The results have always been the same as they would have been if I had gone over the lawn with a drop-spreader full of Cajun seasoning.

I wasn’t terribly optimistic about this time, either. I was just determined. Believe it or not, this time around I actually have followed the directions on the seed bag and watered the lawn twice a day, except on the days when it rained. I suppose I could have watered on those days too, but I’ll jump all over any excuse to be lazy and the neighbors think I’m weird enough as it is.

After last Tuesday’s post saying I’d planted new grass, a friend of ours in Michigan (the grad school classmate of Trash’s I mentioned the other day) sent me an e-mail detailing a way that you can prep soil before you try to grow a new lawn. There’s this whole process involving multiple layers of dirt and compost and peat moss and cardboard boxes and live worms. Do it right and you can make rich, hearty loam out of cat litter. Apparently it makes the soil so fertile that you can drop the severed head of Lex Luthor on the ground and it’ll grow hair in a matter of hours. Seriously. It’s been attempted, with great success. It’ll even grow a full beard in moist climates.

If our friend had known I was planning to re-seed, I’m sure she would have e-mailed me about this process in advance. All I can say is thank God she didn’t, because it sounds like a whole lot more work than complaining about my bare-naked yard.

It got me thinking, though. Maybe this was the reason I’d never been able to grow grass back there; I just wasn’t trying hard enough. Over the next few days, I’d be driving around town, and I’d see all these yards where people were really making an effort to get some grass growing . I’d see bare patches that had been liberally dosed with whatever that teal-colored crap is. There were areas where people had covered their yards with cheesecloth or tarps, as if their property was a third-degree-burn victim or something. Others had erected stone circles and kept them staffed 24/7 with chanting Druids. These people, I realized, were not. Fooling. Around. In a couple of weeks, their toddlers would be gamboling barefoot on a luxuriously verdant natural carpet while I’d still be spending an hour a day hosing down a forbidding moonscape to keep the rising dust from blinding the crews of aircraft passing overhead.

Except something happened to my forbidding moonscape. It turned into a luxuriously verdant natural carpet. I guess the soil was in better shape than I thought.

Okay, to be honest, we’re still a long way from luxuriously verdant. A more accurate phrase might be “intermittently patchy,” but it still looks better than it has in years. I don’t know why it’s working this time. Maybe it’s all the branches my dad and I have sawed off the tree, which functioned as a gigantic beach umbrella. Maybe it’s the fact that I didn’t wait until mid-July before getting the seeds in the ground (or, to be more precise, on the ground), sparing them their usual race to germinate before they bake like tater-tots. Maybe it’s all the rain we’ve been getting this past week, which has combined with my watering to transform the yard into a very small rice paddy. Maybe it’s the high-quality Scott™ brand grass seed, in which case it richly deserves the plug I just gave it.

Either way, I plan to enjoy my success, as well as the greatly improved view out the back window. All I have to do now is wait for it to die so I never have to mow it.

What? You want pictures? Oh, okay.



Not really. That was the driveway and the front yard. I kid. Doesn’t the front look nice, though?

Here’s the back yard, as it looks today:

If you kind of squint your eyes the right way at this one, you can almost see where the tines of my rake went:

And, in conclusion, the expected final result:

That’s going to be cool.

posted by M. Giant 4:10 PM

Wednesday, June 05, 2002  

It occurs to me that I never gave y'all an update on how my floor-refinishing project went last month. I said I was renting a floor sander and never said another word about that. I should probably rectify that, even though it may be the only reason some of you keep coming back.

So, how did it turn out? Well, normally, I'm not one to brag, but I think the following photograph of my professional-quality refinishing job pretty much speaks for itself:


I should do this for a living.

Okay, not really. That's a picture of our back deck. Hence all the little seed pods.

Here's what the floor really looks like:

Not bad, if I say so myself. I still don't think I should do it for a living, though; who would be able to afford me?

Let me tell you, that floor sander is a scary beast. You've got a sandpaper-covered drum revolving so fast that each little grain of sand on it emits a teeny little sonic boom. Once you engage it, it's like trying to push a wheelbarrow full of concrete down a steep hill, but slooowly. I was wrong when I said that leaving the drum engaged would result in the sander ending up in the basement. If I had let go of the handlebars, the thing would have been through the house's outer wall, in the driveway, in the neighbor's house, and halfway to Des Moines before I had time to react.

Of course, one has to wrestle this monster while wearing earplugs against the noise and a dust mask against the...well, against the dust, obviously. It's hard to feel like one is at full capacity under such conditions. On the other hand, I looked goood.

What surprised me the most was the amount of sawdust produced. The sander has a huge cloth bag for collecting sawdust, but only some of the stuff actually makes it in there. Even so, I had to empty the bag several times. There was so much sawdust that I was amazed that there was any floor left. I could have made an entirely new floor just out of the sawdust.

Something to keep in mind if you ever decide to do somthing like this: make sure that the place you rent the sander from will let you return any unused sandpaper. The room isn't that big, so I had a lot left over to bring back. That's good, because the rental price of the sander is left than half of the total cost. Being stingy with my sandpaper saved me roughly seventeen million dollars.

Applying the polyurethane finish was pretty uneventful. That made me happy at the time, but now that I'm writing about it I'm sort of wishing that I had an embarrassing story to tell in which I started by the door and worked my way further into the room until I painted myself into a corner and had to spend 24 hours curled up on four square feet of floorboard due to bad planning. That didn't happen. But let's pretend it did so we can all have a good laugh about it, whaddya say?

After I finished applying all three coats, which took 24 hours apiece to dry, it was time to bring the stuff back into the room. Except not. What happened instead was that Trash talked me into making the second bedroom into the study, and vice versa. So now I'm updating this page from atop my fancy new floor instead of the dinky little room that used to contain my desk. That room's a bedroom.now. It's kind of cool because unlike most bedrooms, it has a door to go outside. Let's hope a teenager never lives in there, shall we?

Overall, the project was a lot of work, requiring a great deal of time, expense, and inconvenience. Naturally we're planning to do the same thing to the rest of the main floor.

posted by M. Giant 12:57 PM

Tuesday, June 04, 2002  

You know that old saying, “If you so smart, how come you ain’t rich?” Sooner or later, everybody has to come up with his or her own answer to this question. In my case, the answer is that I ain’t so smart.

A few years ago, I decided that the best mechanism for converting my staggering brainpower directly into something I could exchange for goods and services was the stock market. Keep in mind that I know enough about high finance to fill the white border of a postage stamp, but this was back when all of those online trading companies were burning up airtime telling us that the only reason we still had to work at all was because our ignorant brokers were dragging us down with their jaded Wall Street worldviews, shady recommendations, and hefty commissions.

I believed the hype, and I made fourteen thousand dollars on my first trade. In one day.

I’m going to savor that paragraph for a little bit before I explain.

Fourteen large.

In one day.

Who’s the man?

Okay, that’s enough.

The fourteen thousand was based on an initial investment of a hundred thousand. I know enough about high finance to calculate that this was roughly a fourteen per cent return. Give or take.

Fourteen per cent isn’t exactly doubling your money. But a week or so of fourteen per cent a day is. In your face, Warren Buffett!

Obviously I didn’t get fourteen per cent the next day. In fact, I lost enough to bring me back down to three percent. And that was the last day that my portfolio had six figures at the closing bell.

Here’s where I should clarify, in case you haven’t already figured it out, that all of this stock trading was totally virtual. I was participating in the Yahoo! Investment Challenge, an online game in which competitors started with a hundred thousand dollars at the beginning of the month. The winner, simply enough, was the player with the highest portfolio value at the end of the month. It only took me a few months of playing to realize that I didn’t have the slightest chance of winning. Mind you, this was the golden age of the dot com stock. It wasn’t unheard of for some obscure tech security to suddenly balloon to five or ten times its price in one day. This would happen several times a month. Whoever was sitting on them (and someone always was) would immediately have a virtual portfolio worth millions of dollars, and nobody was ever going to catch the lucky bastard.

But as easy as it is to blame my failure on the game’s roulette-like nature, the truth is that I couldn’t even beat gravity. The only way to hold onto my hundred grand was to not buy anything. I tried everything I could think of. I bought obscure tech stocks, hoping they would balloon in value. They went down. I bought infrastructure stocks like Intel and Cisco, which at the time were considered a slightly less dangerous investment than Tokyo real estate. They went down. I did market research, learning which companies were going to be the Next Big Thing. They went down. I bought five-dollar stocks in lots of twenty-thousand, waiting to cash in on the inevitable eighth-point uptick because they had nowhere to go but up. They went down.

There was a time when I imagined borrowing a few thousand dollars from the bank and dumping it in the market. I’d hop nimbly between the fastest-rising stocks on the street until I had enough capital to quit my job and stay home all day ogling Maria Bartiromo, earning what used to be two days’ pay every time one of my stocks traded up a quarter. I never won the Investment Challenge’s $5,000 prize, but I did spare myself the humiliation of defaulting on a bank loan and losing everything I own in the stock market. If Yahoo! Is still hosting the Investment Challenge, I can’t find it; the $5,000 prize might be factor there. But while it lasted, it was an invaluable educational tool. It taught me that if I were to try day trading, the likely result is not leisure and luxury, but a wardrobe that consists of a single barrel. I played the Investment Challenge for five months. My virtual investments, which originally totaled half a million virtual dollars, are now worth less than ninety thousand. And fifty thousand of that is virtual cash. So much for “buy and hold.” I’m just glad I found an easy way to learn that I’m a virtual moron.

* * *

A related story:

When Trash was in grad school, she took a finance class. One of the projects was for each student to create a virtual six-stock portfolio based on an initial, imaginary investment of $150,000. When the class met to discuss the assignment and Trash’s turn came around, here’s what she said:

“I don’t know how you guys all raised $150,000 so fast. All I could come up with was $35,000, and I had to get a loan and take out a new mortgage and max out my credit cards and ask everyone I know for money.”

Stricken silence.

“Um…” the professor began.

“She’s kidding,” interjected Trash’s friend and classmate.

We laugh a lot at our place.

posted by M. Giant 3:48 PM 0 comments


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Monday, June 03, 2002  

I’ve been stuck in kind of a dilemma for the past year or so. Fortunately, something happened over the weekend that completely resolved it, without my having to do anything. That’s the best kind of resolution of all, I think.

The conundrum was one of those good news/bad news situations. The good news is that I got my first novel published last year. The bad news is that it's shit.

I know, people who have been trying and failing to get published for years are looking at me and going, "ohh, poor M. Giant. You're published. Boo freaking hoo." And I can't say I blame them, because I, too, tried and failed to get published for years.

It actually is a legitimate dilemma, though. On the one hand, I wanted to say to everyone I know, "Hey, you can buy my book now! I'm published! Buy my book!" But I didn’t, because I was too worried that they'd read it and be pissed at me because it sucks so bad. And again, I wouldn't be in a position to blame them.

I couldn't even decide whether or not I should be happy that the book wasn't exactly flying off the shelves. First of all, it wasn't technically on any shelves to begin with, since it was only published online as an e-book and never existed as a physical artifact. Second of all, I was an idiot and published this tour de crap under my real name, so I hate to think of some unsuspecting soul buying it, reading it, and someday seeing my name connected to something that's actually good (shut up, it could happen) and thinking, "eeeeww, I'm never going near that guy again."

On the other hand, I spent most of my first-year royalties on a single trip to the vending machine.

Yet another issue is that I’ve been doing some light trolling for freelance writing jobs, and I could never decide if I should be pointing out the sucky novel to prospective employers, just to prove that I'm "publishable." Should I just show that it exists and hope they won't actually shell out bucks to slog through it? Or should I just use the few shorter (and much better) freelance articles I've done since? I suppose I could direct them to this site, but since I have a day job things aren’t that desperate yet.

Finally, the decision has been made for me. The other day I got an e-mail which stated unceremoniously that my publisher has run out of money and is shutting down for good.

Yes! Not only am I out of print, I sank a publishing company! My writing was horrible enough to stop the presses! Lots of people have published bad novels, but how many can say their work was bad enough to bring a literary empire to its knees?

Now that I have this particular notch on my belt, I’m sure Scribner and Random House will be showing up at my door any minute now.

posted by M. Giant 3:23 PM 0 comments


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