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


Tuesday, August 27, 2002  

Since I’m leaving town early tomorrow morning, Reader Mail is early this month. That’s right, I’m inconveniencing all of you to accommodate my vacation. You’ll just have to deal. I know it’s unfair, especially considering how many of you e-mailed me with such great suggestions for making the most of that very vacation. Therefore, full refunds are available at the door.

Some of the wonderful people who took the time (in some cases, a lot of time) to send me ideas are Fran, Emily, Jennifer, Sundry, Lacrosse Dude, Kate, Ty, FishDreamer, and Matt, as well as a couple of personal friends. I wish I had the time to include all of their e-mails in their entirety, but I will try to distill their essence by culling the most important phrases from each message:

Dear M. Giant,

Chuckanut flat bluff cute heads Rainier yummy yummy yummy fish-throwers paraphernalia DON’T GO THERE 3-inch tall stack of napkins Gasworks drool Ballard Locks kerflopping Boeing (monorail…monorail…monorail) Prawn burritos incredibly cheap Campers dirty don’t bother going up the Needle I Love Sushi Hooters thugs Russian sub silly pretentious college students Troll.


Don’t worry. It makes sense to me. My sincere thanks to all of you who wrote in.

In other e-mail, Regan pointed out that there are forty quarters in a roll. According to my admittedly shaky calculations, that’s approximately ten dollars, give or take. Multiply that by fifty states and you’ve got, like, a third of my monthly car insurance bill. Suddenly this isn’t just a collection or a hobby; it’s an investment. Which I guess is good, because I’ve been meaning to start investing in something anyway.

Dawn elaborates:

If you get rolls of all 50 states, your grandkids will be able to do laundry forever... unless, of course by then, laundry has inflated beyond requiring quarters and is using the newly-released $5 coins.

True. I was the one who brought up the laundry thing, but it later occurred to me that by that point, everyone will be wearing one-piece plastic coveralls that you can clean with a moist towelette. Either that, or people will be getting their entire wardrobes from replicators, like on Star Trek. I mean, heck, it’s going to be the year two-thousand-something. That’s the twenty-first century, people! That’s the future!

Yeah, whatever. By the way, if those fiver coins have Richard Nixon on them, my grandkids are leaving the country with Alec Baldwin’s grandkids.

Remember when I drank all that water last week? I said it wasn’t a Jackass-level stunt, but Zen Viking doesn’t entirely agree:

Stop drinking!

Ya poor bastard, you're gonna blow a kidney right out the side of your chair.


Now that would suck, because then I’d never be able to get my seat adjustments back the way I want them.

Sweet zombie Jesus, man. 96 ounces!… The term is "hyponatremia." If one drinks a ludicrous amount of water, one can reduce the sodium level of the blood so much, it screws up the functioning of cells.

Well, that explains why I felt that irresistible urge to stop off at the grocery store to pick up a snack in the form of a forty-pound sack of water softener pellets. By the way, if you’re having a salt craving, always go with the Morton’s System Saver™ in the yellow bag. That’s what the best pretzel carts use, you know.

Anyway, the overall message (here I go again with the reckless over-editing) was that while it’s good to stay hydrated, especially when sick, that amount of water in that short a time was probably too much of a good thing. Ten to twenty liters in a few hours can be fatal. For real. If I’d kept at it, I could have messed myself up something fierce, up to and including anoptic hydrous toxaemia, which is what it’s called when your irises are all but rinsed clear away. Weird (but not for real). So, you know, don’t try this at home, kids. And if you do, don’t sue me.

That’s it for this month. By this time tomorrow I’ll be in Seattle. I’d give my flight info here, but then we’d be looking at a scene like when the Beatles landed at JFK in 1964, and nobody wants that. I’ll be back the Tuesday after Labor Day, which means I’m missing the offical last day of summer here, which means I’m returning home just in time to be crushed beneath the merciless heel of winter’s icy boot. That’s Minnesota for you.

posted by M. Giant 3:27 PM 0 comments

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Monday, August 26, 2002  

It happens at least once every workday. One of the phones on my desk rings. Somebody needs me. There’s not a second to lose. I zing my chair across the two feet of distance separating me from the phone. With a single, efficient motion, my hand snatches the handset off the cradle and snaps up to my ear.

I’d look pretty smooth if the handset weren’t clattering around on the floor right now.

When our phone system got “upgraded” a couple of months ago, everybody got new phones as well. The new phone consoles are ultramodern-looking, with snazzy round buttons and a matte charcoal finish. The handsets are sleek and stylish, the latest word in telecommunication ergonomics. Unfortunately, that word is “sucker.”

When I go to grab a phone, I want a phone that responds properly to being grabbed, in the sense of staying grabbed. I don’t want a phone into which decades of research and development have gone to enable it to fool my fingertips into thinking they’ve got a hold on it, when really it’s just executing—once again—its nefarious plan to deafen my caller by banging on the edge of my desk as it wriggles free of my grasp like a live greased carp. Sure, it looks plenty nice just sitting there innocently on my desk, but it deviously awaits every ring, seeing every attempt to pick it up as a new opportunity to rendezvous with its one true love, gravity.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking maybe I should try not to be so clumsy. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t exactly have the hands of a neurosurgeon. How many other people can say that they’ve ever managed to spill an entire can of Cherry Coke under the bottom shelf of a floor-level kitchen cabinet? That kind of accomplishment takes some doing. As did the cleanup. Sure, I could have just left it under there. I also could have emptied a teeming ant farm onto the linoleum. Same effect, in the long run.

And it’s not like I never dropped the old phone, either. I’m not claiming to have Spider-Man fingertips or anything. But with the old phones, it was an infrequent enough occurrence that people had the decency to laugh about it. Now they just sigh wearily, because it happens to them all the time too. It’s not just me. It’s the new phones. And everybody is having the same problem. I have no idea how many phone calls in this office begin like this:

* Ring *

[Click as handset comes off the hook]

[Faint whistling sound as handset hurtles uncontrollably through space]

[Eardrum-rupturing crack as handset ricochets off nearest piece of furniture at barely subsonic speed]

[More whistling]

[Thump as handset hits carpet]

[Faint creaking noise from the headset jack as the person being called uses the cord to reel it back up off the floor]

[Awkward pause]

“Sorry. I dropped the phone. Are you still there?”

“I’m sorry, what was that? I just dropped my phone.”

It’s bad enough for those of us who don’t have to type while on the phone, but if holding onto these handsets is like trying to hold onto handfuls of overcooked pasta drenched in olive oil, imagine what it’s like for the employees who can’t even use their hands. Until they recently got their new hands-free headsets, those poor people’s necks were disappearing from the effort of trying to stop their phones squirting out from between their faces and shoulders like a wet bar of Lifebuoy in a prison shower. They were starting to hunch over sideways all the time, and at the end of the day they’d be out in the parking lot wandering in wide, palsied circles. It was tragic.

I feel a little self-conscious complaining about new phones. It feels like it’s only a few steps away from whinging about not having a big black bakelite box on the wall with a crank on it that you turn and then bellow into the mouthpiece, “Clara, get Homer on the line for me right quick.” That wouldn’t be a defensible position for a guy in my line of work. But I do miss the old, clunky handsets because at least they didn’t force me to test my grip before I lifted them. I guess I’m some kind of Luddite because I don’t appreciate a phone that’s as easy to hold onto as a leaky balloon filled with motor oil.

But far be it from me to stand in the way of progress. Let’s hope my phone is a harbinger of a world filled with ungrippable everyday objects, and we can look forward to power tools with handles that shock the user, purse straps like epileptic salamanders, and steering wheels made entirely of butter. The future’s so bright, I’d be wearing shades if they didn’t keep slipping off my face.

* * *

Thanks to those of you have expressed concern about my health. How's my cold, you ask? Well, Trash and I got to share it over the weekend. We took turns medicating each other. Basically it was one long Nyquil-fueled fever dream. We're getting better, but let's hope we can bat it back and forth between us for the next couple of weeks.

posted by M. Giant 3:24 PM 0 comments

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Friday, August 23, 2002  

I’ve been dong this here weblog for a little while now, and I’m starting to feel guilty that the only information that many of you have about me is what you’ve been able to piece together out of the insignificant scraps of data I’ve dropped here and there. So, using one of those ubiquitous e-mail questionnaires as a framework, I’ve decided to make today’s entry a veritable clearinghouse of cold, hard facts about little old me.

By the way, if you feel a cold, hard fact slithering down inside the back of your shirt, don’t look at me. I’m way over here, see?

1. LIVING ARRANGEMENT? I find that constant respiration, combined with regular metabolization and evacuation, is the most efficient way to continue living.

2. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? I’m not reading a book right now. I’m writing an entry for my weblog. Duh!

3. WHAT'S ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? Mousepads say a lot about a person. Mine, for instance, say I care not at all about mousepads.

4. FAVORITE BOARD GAME? I used to tag my sister upside the head with a two-by-four. Wait, that’s not what you meant, is it?

5. FAVORITE MAGAZINE? Entertainment Weekly. The best part is trying to get it away from my wife.

6a. FAVORITE SMELLS? Oh, yeah? Well, your favorite smells! Thhphphptt!

6b. LEAST FAVORITE SMELLS? Depends on where I am. If I'm in bed, it's cat pee. If I'm on a plane, it's smoke. If I'm in the car, it's oranges because it means I'm about to have a psychotic episode and I hate when that happens on the road. If I'm at work, cat pee again because it means I'm wearing some. These are perfectly pleasant smells in their proper contexts. Except for the cat pee.

7. WORST FEELING IN THE WORLD? "I am so busted!"

8. FAVORITE SOUND? “All charges have been dropped. You’re free to go.”

9. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU THINK OF WHEN YOU WAKE UP IN THE MORNING? "I can't belieeeeve I have to go through this every day." But the second thing is usually "Hey, naked hottie next to me!" so then it's all better.

Yes, I mean my wife! What did you think?

10. FAVORITE COLOR? Suddenly I'm being interviewed by Tiger Beat over here.

11. HOW MANY RINGS BEFORE YOU ANSWER THE PHONE? On ring to rule them all, one ring—ow! Sorry. Depends on how long it takes me to find it. Damn cordless.

12. FUTURE CHILD'S NAME? I have no plans to be a future child, so I'm passing on this one.

13. WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT IN LIFE? Me. Start acting like it, people.

14. FAVORITE FOODS? Chocolate, chicken, Mexican, Chinese, or anything I've never made before that against all odds turned out really well. Preferably all at the same time.

15. CHOCOLATE OR VANILLA? Chocolate or who with the what now?

16. DO YOU LIKE TO DRIVE FAST? Okay, if you don’t know the answer to this already, you really haven’t been paying attention.

17. DO YOU SLEEP WITH A STUFFED ANIMAL? I stopped doing that a long time ago. The stuffing kept clogging up my bottle of Astroglide.

18. STORMS - COOL OR SCARY? In 1996 I fled three hundred miles inland before the power and fury of Hurricane Fran, and I thought even that was cool. Geo Storms, however, scare the bejeezus out of me.

19. WHAT TYPE WAS YOUR FIRST CAR? A 1985 Chevrolet Celebrity station wagon. $1250, and I drove it three years in twelve states. With three clutches. Not all at the same time, obviously. I don’t have that many feet.

20. IF YOU COULD TALK TO ONE PERSON DEAD OR ALIVE? See, the only person in Dead or Alive I can even remember is the lead singer, and I found him a little off-putting with all the hair and the makeup he was rocking back then. Maybe he’s settled down a bit so we can have a nice conversation about mutual funds or something.

21. FAVORITE ALCOHOLIC DRINK? “El Dr. Dew”: equal parts Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, and Dewar's over ice. The best part? Your reaction just now.

22. WHAT IS YOUR ZODIAC SIGN? Capricorn, same as Jesus Christ. Make of that what you will.

23. DO YOU EAT THE STEMS OF BROCCOLI? I'll eat a brain stem before I eat any part of broccoli.

24. IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY JOB YOU WANTED WHAT WOULD IT BE? Either rock star or X-wing pilot. I’m not picky.

25. IF YOU COULD DYE YOUR HAIR ANY COLOR? I regularly dye my hair its natural color. It's better that way, because I can go for weeks and my roots won't get all skanky.

26. IS THE GLASS HALF EMPTY OR HALF FULL? Depends. Have I spilled it yet? Because I will. It's only a matter of time.

27. FAVORITE MOVIES: At 7, Star Wars. At 15, The Blues Brothers. At 19, Apocalypse Now. At 26, The Philadelphia Story. At 29, The Matrix. See a pattern? Me either.

28. DO YOU TYPE WITH YOUR FINGERS ON THE RIGHT KEYS? I find that when I put my fingers on the wrong keys, I tend to hit the wrong letters. That's messed up, yo.

29. WHAT'S UNDER YOUR BED? Monsters. Seriously, what the hell kind of question is that? You can just rock me to sleep tonight.

30. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE NUMBER? Thirteen. I like to tempt fate.

31. FAVORITE SPORT TO WATCH? I hate watching sports, so I'd have to say curling. It's never on, so it works out fine.

Now you know more about me than I know about any of you. I feel so naked.

posted by M. Giant 3:22 PM 0 comments

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Thursday, August 22, 2002  

Got a very nice shout-out from Deborah over at Chicklit today. Funny story about that site: I recommended it to Trash about a year ago, because she loves books and she’s always running out of stuff to read. I figured she’d love it. This is a Master of Library Sciences who did an undergraduate senior paper on Virginia Woolf, after all.

Then, a few months ago, she was browsing through Damn Hell Ass Kings to learn a little more about the impressive company I’d just weaseled my way into. Suddenly she called my name in that tone that lets me know when I’m in deep trouble.

“What is this?” she demanded.

“That’s Chicklit,” I said in that tone that lets her know when she’s asking a ridiculous question. I wasn’t even sure I was answering the right question; I actually wondered if I should have said, “That’s your monitor.”

“Why haven’t you told me about this?” she accused. “I need this! This is, like, a site just for me!”

“I know that,” I said. “That’s why I did tell you about it.”

Trash wasn’t having it. If this existed and I knew about it, there was no excuse for her not to know too. Clearly, it must be my fault.

“Are you telling me you’ve never seen this?” I asked incredulously. She hadn’t, and she wasn’t happy about it. Frankly, neither was I, because what does that say about her opinion of my recommendations?

“Remember?” I said. “I told you about the really cool site with the book reviews and articles and essays and stuff? Written by women? Chicklit?”

Hearing it sounded out flicked a switch in her head. “Oh, Chicklit,” she said sheepishly. “I thought you were saying Chiclet.” Thus she had dismissed my recommendation. “I always wondered, ‘why does he keep telling me about Chiclets?’ I don’t even like Chiclets. Why would I want to read about Chiclets?”

“You know,” I pointed out, “Chiclets actually have a long and noble history—“

“Oh, shut up.” Suddenly she had a lot of reading to do. Book reviews and articles and essays and stuff. I left her to it while I basked smugly in my rightness.

I’m relating this story not just because I appreciate Deborah’s compliment, but because I don’t need anyone else blaming me because they don’t know from Chicklit. Ninety percent of you probably already know about it, but now the other ten percent of you have no excuse. So there.

* * *

The overhydration “cure” I tried yesterday didn’t work. I’m still sick. That pretty much nixes our plans for going camping this weekend. I’ve heard about lots of unusual cold remedies, but spending a couple of days sucking down clouds of campfire smoke and sleeping on the ground isn’t one of them. Bummer.

That’s not going to stop me from going to Seattle next week, because we have an indomitable spirit of curiosity that drives us to never stop exploring our world, an insatiable wanderlust that cannot be quelled by mere germs. Also, we already paid for the tickets.

So I’m putting out a call for suggestions about things we can see and do in Seattle. We’ve already gotten a lot of great ideas from people (including Gael and Monty), but we never consider our vacations a success unless we can spend the flight home moaning about all the stuff we wanted to do but didn’t have time for. Send me an e-mail, and perhaps your suggestion can join the distinguished list of things we didn’t get to. Plus I’m a little low on Reader Mail this month, so you’d really be helping me out.

Feel free to tailor your responses to first-time visitors who have a rental car, six days in town, and an appreciation for bargains. There’ll be two of us, one of whom is going to be intermittently hocking up great yellow spoonfuls of lung-butter.

posted by M. Giant 3:25 PM 0 comments

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Wednesday, August 21, 2002  

I’m fighting off a cold right now, and I think I’m losing. My sinuses keep trying to melt out of my nostrils, and the back of my throat feels like I’ve been juggling sandburrs with my uvula. Normally I wouldn’t fight it so hard, because I like getting a day off to stay in bed now and then. That’s not going to work this time, because I’m getting on a plane a week from today. I don’t even want to imagine the horror of dealing with cold symptoms on a plane. A guy my size barely has room to roll his eyes in an airplane seat, let alone burn through a box of Puffs while periodically undergoing bone-shaking nasal detonations.

So I’m fighting it. I’m taking vitamins, sipping honey tea with lemon (or maybe the other way around), getting back on my allergy meds, and of course, drinking lots of fluids.

Ah, yes, fluids. This is the one I’m most serious about right now. A few years ago, Trash was fighting a cold. A doctor gave her a rather unusual suggestion for an early remedy: eight glasses of water in three hours. Apparently drinking in such great volume over such a short period has the effect of completely flushing you out. It works best before the cold is fully entrenched in your system. That’s what I’m trying to do now. In case you’ve never tried it, it’s really hard.

As I type this, I’m two hours and sixty ounces into my little regimen. I know it’s sixty ounces because I have this big plastic mug that holds twenty-four ounces and I’m halfway through emptying it for the third time (in turn, I know the mug is twenty-four ounces because I used to mix entire cans of Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper in it. Cringe all you want, but it was pretty tasty and gave me a nice little caffeine boost on sleepy days). My only problem is that I don’t know how much “a glass” is supposed to be. Is it eight ounces, or twelve? Because there’s a big difference between sixty-four ounces and ninety-six, I can assure you. If it’s sixty, I’m almost done. If it’s ninety-six, I’ve got a mug-and-a-half to go. I don’t know if I can do another mug-and-a-half.

Already I’m feeling like a giant water sack. Sling me over the back of a mule and you’re ready to cross Death Valley. It’s a good thing my desk is so close to the restroom, because I’m going in there more frequently than a pregnant cat with a bad prostate sitting between a fountain and a river (I know most beings can’t be pregnant and have a prostate, bad or otherwise, but go with me here). I feel like Senator Kelly in the X-Men movie, right before he burst open on the table like a two-hundred-pound water balloon and became a mighty deluge that sluiced onto the floor and Halle Berry’s feet. Actually, my ears have already popped. That can’t be a good sign.

I’m sorry, I have to take a little break from typing for a while because my fingers are starting to prune from within. I’ve certainly never seen that before.

* * *

Well, I did it. I drank ninety-six ounces of water in three hours. That’s three quarters of a gallon. While this isn’t a stunt that’s likely to get me on Jackass, I’m going to feel like one if my cold is still here tomorrow. As it is, it’s hard not to feel self-conscious about the fact that I’m peeing a small bottle’s worth of clear, pure, distilled spring water every five minutes.

So if this didn’t work, I’m going to have no option but to dose myself up with as much cold medication as I can safely metabolize. Not that that will cure the cold. Not that that will even address the symptoms. It’ll just make me feel like a tiny little guy trying to go about his day inside an unwieldy, full-sized M. Giant suit. My face will still be sore and runny, but I won’t care because I’ll be a full six inches behind it. And my screaming sneezes will startle everyone but me, because everything will sound all distant and echo-y at the bottom of the snot-lined well that is my cranium.

Actually, everything kind of sounds that way now. Is there such a thing as water intoxication?

Wish me luck. Drink to my health. I’d do it myself, but that doesn’t seem like such a good idea for me right now.

posted by M. Giant 3:24 PM 0 comments

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Tuesday, August 20, 2002  

I'm glad I didn't spend a lot of time arranging my Zen Rock Garden just so, because apparently it's community property. People just love to push the little wooden rake through the sand when they come to my desk. So I guess it's good that I didn't spend a lot of time getting it just right. I'd feel like quite the jerkwad if I stood up from my desk every couple of days and bellowed, "WHO'S BEEN PLAYING WITH MY SAND?!?"

T. Rex is the most creative about it. For a while, she had the stones arranged so they were standing up in a little circle, one of them lying on top of two others so it looked like a teeny-tiny little Stonhenge. It made Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge look almost like the real thing by comparison. People who say you can’t be funny with pebbles just aren’t trying hard enough.

I forgot to mention this the other day, but the Zen Rock Garden is probably the best thing I could have at my desk that's associated with the word "garden."

I used to have a plant at home. It looked like Jean Reno's plant in Leon, aka The Professional, and I paid it about the same amount of attention. Then we got a cat, who kept eating the plant until he finally pulled it off the windowsill and killed it. So no more plants at home for me.

Then I won a plant at work, to keep at my desk. But I was like, "hey, I'm working here, not gardening," and I forgot to water it, and it died. By the next time I looked at it, it was a dessicated stick poking out of a lump of dirt that had shrunk to half the size of the pot it was in. I tried to rescue it anyway, even though I was pretty sure it was hopeless. I’d pour water in the pot and it would go right into the saucer. However, after a week or so, the lump of dirt was a little bigger. I got a small sense of accomplishment from that. Then I accidentally brushed the remains of the plant with the glass. The stem shivered into a small puff of dust, and that was the end of that.

Then T. Rex got me a cactus. She thought it was funny. She thought I wouldn't be able to kill it. She was half right. One watering and three years later, somebody pointed out to me that my cactus was kaput. Again, I made heroic efforts to revive it, but since it looked exactly the same after a couple of weeks, I had to give up hope. Not that it looked all that different than it had the day I got it. Shut up. Cactuses are hard!

So now I have my Zen Rock Garden. Fortunately for it, it’s fairly low-maintenance. But if there's a way to kill it, rest assured that I'll find it.

I just wish I could figure out why it doesn’t seem to be growing.

* * *

One of the most difficult things about maintaining a blog is trying to stay out of a rut. Especially if you write every day, you run the risk of settling into a routine, you stop taking risks, and before long the blog is a shadow of its former self, a ghoulish, lifeless revenant shambling hopelessly towards the big bit bucket in the sky. So today I’m doing something I’ve never done before.

Are you ready?

Here goes:


Chicago: Ravenswood Manor/Horner Park
(AVAILABLE NOW AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2002)

Archivist/part-time grad student and her dog seek respectful roommate to share:

large 2 BR vintage apt. in HORNER PARK (Montrose & California)

3 blocks to Francisco Brown Line stop

furnished (except bedroom) in 6-flat

$500 rent (includes all utils: DSL, heat, gas and electric)

12 x 12 sq. ft. bedroom with spacious closet

3-season porch, eat-in kitchen, back yard

free washer

possible use of garage

About Me: 38, gay, good sense of humor, considerate, reader, radio listener, cyclist wannabe, German speaker, moderate
drinker, non-smoker; neat.

About Dog: 25-lb. female terrier, loves walks.

e-mail: betharthur@yahoo.com

Okay, that wasn’t really all that exciting. I’m just doing this as a favor to a friend of Trash's from grad school. If you’re looking for a roommate in Chicago, there you go.

posted by M. Giant 3:43 PM 0 comments

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Monday, August 19, 2002  

Dear Trash’s Uncle:

During our weekend in Iowa, it was nice to have the guidance of someone like yourself when we were “making the scene” in Des Moines’s famously vibrant nightlife. Thanks for knowing all the bars in Des Moines where the "cool people" hang out. Those places would have been a lot less entertaining than the places we actually ended up going to.


Dear Des Moines sports bar:

Thanks for having such a wide variety of alcoholic beverages on tap. With a selection that included everything from Budweiser to Bud Light, I was overwhelmed by the embarrassment of riches laid before me. I look forward to subsequent visits, when I plan to delve even deeper into the veritable telephone directory that is your beer list. There’s nothing quite like being awakened at five a.m. the next morning by a jackhammering Budweiser headache, and I am in your debt for making that experience available to me.


Dear guy parked in front of the big-screen at the sports bar:

I agree, John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars is a visually arresting tour de force of cinematic storytelling. I have nothing but respect for the way your attention was utterly riveted by every onscreen development, every transgressive image, every nuance of Natasha Henstridge’s multifaceted performance. Even without the benefit of sound or closed-captioning, you displayed a level of focus and concentration that would be the envy of any Lama, Shaman, or Jedi Knight. When the channel abruptly changed in the third act to a football game, you responded with nary a twitch. I could only assume that your spirit had entirely departed the corporeal plane, and reacted accordingly.

Dude, next time? Give the guy behind you some sign that you’re still alive. Preferably before he starts CPR.


Dear seven-piece country band playing at the Des Moines shit-kicker bar:

Stop that. Just stop it.


Dear Des Moines shit-kicker bar:

My God, are you for real?


Dear seven-piece country band still playing at the Des Moines shit-kicker bar:


Stop it right now. I’m serious.


Dear guy practicing his line dancing by himself:

It’s admirable to try to hone a skill until you’re the best you can possibly be at it. But once you are the best you can be, you’re allowed to stop. Seriously. Maybe someone will be impressed that you’re able to click your bootheels together four times in one leap, but is that really the kind of person you want to date? Broaden your horizons a little bit, and I’m sure you’ll meet a nice woman who appreciates you for your finer qualities like your patience and determination. But not if her first impression of you evokes the image of a speeded-up leprechaun trying to perform the choreography from HMS Pinafore in its entirety in sixty seconds flat. And since you look like one of those little handheld trapeze artist toys anyway, you don’t have to start over every time you miss a step. Nobody noticed, I promise you.

Actually, let me amend that. If you start over from the beginning one more time, I swear to God I’m going to push your face in.


Dear seven-piece country band who will not stop playing at the Des Moines shit-kicker bar:

Okay, I asked you nicely. Did you think I was kidding?

When I paid my two-dollar cover charge, I was expecting some innocuous Alabama and Sawyer Brown covers in exchange for my hard-earned money. And yeah, there was that, but this? This? Which one of you seven morons decided that a good idea was to do a dance-club megamix extendo-version cover of the Beverly Hillbillies theme in the style of the Beastie Boys? Two days later, I’m still tortured inside my head by the sound of you repeating “Bub-bub-bub-bubblin’ crude! Bub-bub-bub-bubblin’ crude!” over and over again, for, like a half hour. There’s no reason for you to have left the place alive after that. I’m going to have to get that surgically removed, and I’m sending you clowns the bill. I don’t care if the keyboard player thought he was in a classic rock band, I don’t care if the fiddle player made less noise than I did, I don’t care if the bass player was the J. D. Salinger of live music, you’re all equally complicit in the scars I’ll bear for the rest of my life. And when the singer ripped the front of his shirt open all the way down to his gigantic belt buckle, came down off the stage, and gave some poor woman a lap dance, for the love of Merle Haggard, the rest of you all forfeited your claims to humanity by failing to throw down your instruments and storm out on the spot.

And you do this every weekend? How is it that you’re still at large?


Dear Minneapolis:

Hi, there. It’s good to be home.

posted by M. Giant 4:11 PM 0 comments

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Friday, August 16, 2002  

One of the personal items at my desk at work is a "Zen Rock Garden" kit. Maybe you've seen these things in the store or at some of your coworkers' desks. Basically, it's a little 6" x 10" wooden tray, with some rocks, a funny little rake, a slim volume about rock gardening, and some white sand. I'm fine with everything except the last part.

Trash and I got it for Christmas, and she sent it to work with me to put on my desk. It wasn't going to her office because she has a little Zen fountain there already, and it wasn't staying in our house because we already have two catboxes to scoop out, thank you very much.

So this box was under my desk for a month or so with the shrink-wrapping still intact. At some point, the women in my office started noticing it.

"When are you going to open your Zen Rock Garden?" my boss asked.

"I don't know," I answered distractedly.

"When are you going to open your Zen Rock Garden?" asked T. Rex, one of the managers.

"I have to figure out where to put it first," I said.

"When are you going to open your Zen Rock Garden?" asked the other manager.

"You know, I hadn’t thought about it," I said straightfaced.

It quickly became apparent that this shrink-wrapped box was like catnip to these people. Apparently it had become a whole topic for speculation in our department. I am many things, but a topic for speculation is not one of them.

I got back from lunch one day, and T. Rex was there. "Can I open your Zen Rock Garden?" she asked.

I don't like people messing with my stuff at work. It's probably because I sit at a desk (5/20) that has to be staffed all the time, even when I'm gone, so other people have to spend time here. I understand that, but it just makes me more protective of my space. Don't move the reference sheets I have hung up. Don't change my computer wallpaper. And don't even think about adjusting my chair unless you want to be the target of a multi-agency statewide manhunt. T. Rex has been known to ignore all of the above rules because she knows it makes me crazy. Also because she knows she’s one of the few people who can do it and survive.

But I decided it was time to stop putting off the Zen Rock Garden, for its own protection. "I'll open it today," I promised.

A bit later, I broke the seal on the shrink-wrap. A tiny puff of dust escaped. Made sense, I figured. There's sand in there. Obviously some of it is fine enough that it escaped the hermetically sealed plastic bag in which it was packaged.

Have I mentioned that I'm an idiot?

I got the rest of the shrink-wrapping off, and about a quarter-teaspoon of sand spilled onto my desk. Now I was nervous.

I started trying to pull things out of the cardboard sleeve, but a gritty hiss from within cautioned me. I slid the book out, and more sand spilled.

By the time I figured out where the tray was, the thing was starting to look like a prop from The Mummy (1999). It occurred to me that the good people at Acme Zen Rock Garden Company appeared to have dumped the sand in there loose, like two scoops into a package of Kellogg's Raisin Bran.

Actually, the sand was in fact intended to be contained in a plastic bag, as I was able to ascertain once I’d succeeded in digging to the bottom of the small dune that had formed on my desk. Except there was a hole in the bag. A hole through which nearly all of the sand had escaped into the package, and thence to the surface of my desk. As for the bag, it now contained the ideal amount of sand for seasoning pudding.

I did manage to salvage a lot of the sand and get it into the tray; there's enough to cover the bottom. But now my desk was all gritty, I had to take my shoes off and dump them out like I’d just been walking on a beach, and there was even a grain stuck between two of my teeth. To this day, the mouse on the computer closest to the rock garden doesn’t slide across the worksurface so much as grind across it.

I finally got the thing situated on my desk and plunked the rocks randomly into it. I know I did it wrong, but I don't care. Okay, that's a lie. I do care. I kept the book so I could look at it later and figure out how to fix what I did wrong. This rock gardening shit is hard, man. If T. Rex hadn’t stepped in and figured it out, it would still look like ass.

For something that's supposed to relax me, it's not freaking working.

posted by M. Giant 3:27 PM 0 comments

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Thursday, August 15, 2002  

Short entry today because, much to my chagrin, I found myself in the position of actually having to work the entire day. That’s a heck of a way to mark the date of my eight-year anniversary with the company, don’t you think?

Pretty much all I have for you is this link. My friend and reader Corpkitten sent it to me yesterday with a brief note of warning. If you don’t already know about Florida’s new “stealth cops,” you should click on it because I don’t have time to explain it to you right now.

Now I’m a little embarrassed about all my complaining last week. Remember how I was carping about how hard it is to speed from Minneapolis to Chicago? I didn’t realize how lucky I was that I don’t have to drive between Jacksonville and Miami instead. These stealth cops are sneaky with a capital eek. Hey, do you suppose it’s a coincidence that they’re focusing on violators in roadwork zones, where the fines for speeding are doubled?

Yes, the article his heavily laden with propaganda about how this program is aimed at reducing traffic accidents and fatalities. And no, I’m not coming out here in favor of accidents and fatalities, although I can’t imagine that doing so would hurt my hit count in the short run. I’m just saying that I wish people would admit that speeding tickets also serve as an arbitrarily applied tax on highway users. I don’t mind paying taxes, but I’d just as soon get them taken care of all at one time rather than getting pulled over without warning for a chunk of them, which in turn gives my insurance company an excuse to gouge me even further.

I’d be more upset about this, but I’ve only had two speeding tickets in the past thirty-five months myself. Last week, you would have had to peel me off the ceiling.

Don’t bother questioning my objectivity on this, because I don’t have one. It’s a good thing I’m not a real journalist or something.

posted by M. Giant 3:02 PM 0 comments

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Wednesday, August 14, 2002  

As regular readers know, earlier this year Trash and I gave a lot of thought to moving out of our overvalued house and trading it in for a much larger house in a cheaper neighborhood, wiping out most of our other debt in the process. Logically, it would have made a lot of sense, so naturally we decided not to (6/20). We’ve been much happier ever since.

The only problem was that the huge chunk of equity we were sitting on wasn’t doing us a lick of good. I realize the word “problem” is a crashing misnomer here, to the point where I’m wishing the same “problem” on everyone I know. It’s just that as nice as it is to know that we could clean up if we decided to sell, it’s not like you can easily convert equity into shiny metal disks that you can feed into vending machines or something. Or send to creditors, for that matter. Sure, we could take out a home equity loan and have plenty of dollar bills to slip into g-strings all over town, but that would just mean more debt, and more payments, and I’m willing to wait until the next model year of Lamborghinis comes out rather than commit to signing away another slice of our paychecks every month.

Fortunately, I married a smart lady.

Trash figured out that if we simply refinanced, we could save a fair amount of money simply by consolidating our various loans into a new mortgage. That way we’d be paying down the same amount of debt, but at today’s low, low mortgage rates rather than the usurious interest payments that we’ve been paying to that unibrowed guy named Bandsaw over on East Lake Street. We’d have less debt, lower payments, and still get to stay in our house. Brilliant! We free up more of our income and everybody wins. Theoretical funds change hands and the world keeps turning. This is what a free economy is all about.

Trash has years of experience in the mortgage industry (so do I, but not as many, plus that was years ago, plus I’ve put a great deal of effort into forgetting everything I learned there), plus she’s able to do math, so she was kind enough to take care of getting the whole thing set up, from getting the house appraised to scheduling the closing. All I had to do was show up and sign a bunch of papers. Naturally, I couldn’t even get that right.

We’ve refinanced before a couple of times, and the closings have always been in an office building twelve blocks from where I work. That’s where I went today. I was waiting for the elevator before I realized that I was in the wrong place. Oops. It’s not Trash’s fault. She told me last week that the closing was at a different location this time, but I learn by seeing and doing. When my brain does a Google search on “mortgage closing,” my experience and place memory will trump a conversational exchange every time. Hence my ending up at the wrong place. Fortunately, I had a letter from the title company with me, and they had been thoughtful enough to provide the correct address on the letterhead for the benefit of morons just like myself, lest we show up at the front desks of random offices all over the metro area demanding mortgage closings. Even more fortunately, the correct place was just another eight blocks up the road. Unfortunately, I overshot the entrance to the parking lot and had to sit through three traffic lights just to get back. Oops. I was about ten minutes late for the closing time. I spend precious seconds glaring at a red left-turn arrow, threatening it with dire punishments if I didn’t get to the closing before all the money went on its lunch break.

Trash was already there, of course, and we went into the closing and its standard intensive session of signing and initialing. Early on, it became apparent that one of the institutions involved had failed to execute a small but vital step. This was the stuff by which deals are broken and closings are postponed and names are called, but Trash simply whipped out her cell phone and got it taken care of in ninety seconds flat. She’s my hero. I, meanwhile, facilitated the process by refraining from drooling all over the paperwork and remembering how to spell my initials.

And yet, as stupid as I am, they’re still going to let me stop by the office to pick up a check for a nice sum in a few days. I love this country.

posted by M. Giant 3:19 PM 0 comments

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Tuesday, August 13, 2002  

One of the tenets of my personal code is, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” It’s a pretty easy one, actually. It’s not that I can’t say anything nice, it’s just that I generally choose not to. Big difference. Gives me a lot of leeway.

And I’m ready to prove it, in case yesterday’s entry wasn’t enough. Here are a few things I really dig, and why.

Simon Delivers: It’s like Netflix with groceries, except you don’t have to send the food back when you’re done with it (which would be pretty gross, now that I think about it). You log in, select your groceries, and on the next delivery day there’s a stack of green plastic bins on your doorstep. I haven’t seen the inside of a supermarket in two years, and I miss it not at all. The only way this could possibly be more convenient would be if they put the food away for you, then waited around in the kitchen to cook it for you when you’re hungry. But that would be a little creepy. It’s a bit more expensive than getting your own, but we had to ask ourselves: is it worth four or five extra dollars to not have to drive to the store, navigate aisle traffic using a rickety cart with a wheel that’s stuck sideways and leaves a long black mark on the floor tracing your movements like Billy from Family Circus, load up several weeks worth of provisions, stand in the checkout line for seven hours, bag everything up in the five-second window between the garden slug ahead of you and the walking aneurysm behind you, load it out to the car, drive it home while trying to keep the bags from tipping over, and load it all into the house? We really think it is. Of course, we’ll starve to death if anything ever happens to our Internet access, but we’ll worry about that when the time comes.

Bonus: they pack the frozen food with dry ice which you can drop into a pot of water on your stove and then play mad scientist. Bwa ha ha.

IKEA: We don’t have IKEA in this town, so I really didn’t know what to expect. When we drove up to the Schaumburg, IL store, I had two thoughts. One: nothing that big has any right to be that blue. It’s, like, hyper-blue. It’s blue all the way down to the subatomic level. It’s so blue it makes the surrounding sky look yellowish by comparison. I mean, holy cow, it’s so blue it actually bends time. Two, obviously that can’t all be store, so most of it must be factory or something. Wrong. No factory. Just three sprawling, airplane-hangar-sized floors of things I didn’t even know I needed, but which became an absolute necessity the moment I laid eyes on them.

Yes, I’ve heard all the complaints. Their stuff is cheap, the stores are elaborate shrines to a cult of acquisition, the company is a front for the Swedish Mafia, whatever. Whether those things are true or not, I don’t care. We spent most of a week there and escaped only thirty-seven dollars poorer. Our friend Bitter, who just moved into a new apartment, was able to buy shelves, lights, kitchen stuff, wall art, a dresser, some chairs, a bed, and a leather sectional sofa with a fold-out, king-sized bed for less than a hundred dollars. Try that at Target.

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind: One of my favorite things to do in Chicago. A handful of ridiculously talented men and women who call themselves “Neo-Futurists” perform thirty plays in sixty minutes. You heard me. No, that’s not a typo. These people write thirty complete plays, list the titles in the program, and the audience yells out the number of the one they want to see next. When the hour’s over, the show’s over. It’s like punk theater or something. And it’s hilarious. On any given night, you might see a ninety-second version of Hamlet or the complete works of Jane Austen, get pulled up on stage, hear something inexpressibly sad, see the funniest thing you’ve ever seen anyone do, and watch any number of theatrical and storytelling conventions turned unceremoniously on their ossified ears. And in the unlikely event that you don’t like one of the plays, it’ll be over in two minutes anyway. So I think you can hang in there. The roster of plays changes constantly too, which is why they say that “if you’ve seen the show once, you’ve seen the show once.” Normally I’d give you details here, but I don’t have to because you can click on the link. I will tell you this: get there early, because it’s a dinky little space above a funeral home that fills up quick. The space, I mean, not the funeral home. You’ll love it. If you’re in Chicago, see it. If you’re not in Chicago, go to Chicago so you can see it.

Did I mention that some of their alumni were behind the Tony-award-winning musical Urinetown? Well, that’s only because I couldn’t figure out a smoother way to work it in there, not because it isn’t true. Because it is. True, I mean.

See? I can be nice. Don’t worry; I’ll try not to do it very often.

posted by M. Giant 3:32 PM 0 comments

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Monday, August 12, 2002  

For a while last year, I had a little side gig where I would review DVDs for a movie website. It was a pretty good excuse to spend way too much time watching a lot of movies, but it didn’t exactly keep gas in the Bentley, if you know what I mean. Especially since we had to supply our own DVDs to review. Seriously. Even that wouldn’t have been so bad if they could have assigned movies to us. But we lowly freelancers were on our own. What we had to do was log on to the website and look for DVDs that hadn’t been reviewed yet, then snap up whatever was available. There were any number of occasions when I went to Blockbuster while Trash stayed home to plug titles into the website’s search engine. You know those people at the video store who browse the aisles with cellphones clapped to their melons, rattling off movie titles? We hate those people, right? Yeah, I was one of them. It was embarrassing. Especially since people heard me asking about films I would never, ever, rent. Angel Eyes? No. Driven? No. Dick? Score!

Then I’d get the movies home, and I’d have five days to review them before I they were due back. That’s five days to review, on average, three movies, four commentary tracks, two hours of deleted scenes, twenty minutes of “making-of featurettes,” a dozen theatrical trailers, and every other menu option they decided to toss on there. Think I was able to do that every time? Think again. I started doing daily cost-benefit analyses:

“Okay, I’m done with this one and it’s only one day late, so I can bring it back today and still get paid enough to hold onto these other two a little longer and still be ahead, but only if I finish this one tomorrow, because it’s a two-day rental, but it has more features, which means it’ll take me longer to get to the third one, by which time my late fees will be more than my fee, so maybe I should do this one first after all, and while I was thinking about all this I forgot to return the first movie and someone else got a review of it up before I did anyway. Crap.”

I know it’s not easy to get rich doing freelance writing work, but I didn’t think it was supposed to actually cost money. When they started requiring us to get our review selections approved in advance, that was pretty much the only excuse I needed to quit doing it.

Then, last month, Trash and I signed up for Netflix. Dude, you need to do this, unless you don’t own a DVD player, in which case you need to get a DVD player and then do this. It’s a totally different model for renting movies. It’s like the movie renter’s version of TiVo.

Maybe you’re not familiar with Netflix, in which case I can only assume that its banner ads are somehow being blocked from appearing on your browser by the walls of your cave. Here’s how it works: you pay twenty dollars a month. They send you DVDs in the mail, up to three at a time, as many as you want. When you’re done, send it back. There are no late fees, and the only limit on the number of movies you can rent is the speed of the Postal Service. You can only have three movies in your possession at a time, but if you can’t make those last a couple of days, you’re spending too much time with your DVD player in the first place.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Twenty bucks a month? What a rip-off! Who spends that on movies? For that to be worth it, I’d have to rent, like, six movies a month! Six! A half-dozen!! That’s one or two a week, for cryin’ to Jesus! Okay, where do I sign up?”

Did I mention there are no late fees?

I’m a little worried that they won’t be able to do this indefinitely, and here’s why: tens of thousands of DVDs are being shuttled furiously back and forth in the mail, protected by nothing more than a couple of flimsy paper envelopes. I don’t know how long they’ll be able to take that. I know, digital media is supposed to be practically indestructible, but tell that to my friend The Engineer (7/12), who had to quit using CD wallets to cart his hardcore between his house and the radio station because the music was getting damaged in transit. I can’t help thinking that the same phenomenon is going to catch up to Netflix eventually, at which point it’s going to get more expensive. So don’t wait around on this, people.

Now that I’m in a place where movie rental has joined the “utilities” category of the monthly budget, I’m seriously considering going back to the reviewing gig. A good deal is even better when you can make it pay for itself and then write it off on your taxes. Of course, I wouldn’t be doing it for the money, but for the writing practice. Right now I’m only churning out about a thousand ‘Net-published words per weekday and I’m afraid I might lose my chops if I keep stagnating like this.

* * *

Okay, this cracked me up. Sometimes compliments make me blush. Oddly enough, the blush from this one is shaped a lot like the back of Ana Ng’s hand. Heh.

posted by M. Giant 3:28 PM 0 comments

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Friday, August 09, 2002  

My wife’s coworker MC is having a little bit of car trouble. Oh, it still starts and runs fine. Everything’s totally hunky-dory under the hood. The problem is that the back of his front seat has fallen off. And, as Paula Poundstone has rightly said, the back of the front seat is a piece of driving equipment easily taken for granted.

Now MC’s daily commute has taken on a new dimension, as his new cockpit configuration forces him to abandon the everyday “casually guiding the wheel” style of steering with a “white-knuckled deathgrip” style of steering. Pretty much the only thing keeping him from sliding into the backseat every time he accelerates or goes uphill is his hold on the car’s directional control interface. Hence a commonplace activity—like, say, eating a banana on the road—becomes fraught with peril should he come to a curve.

I met Trash and MC for lunch today, and Trash was still laughing when we got our food. Apparently her favorite part—and I have to agree—is that MC still straps on his seatbelt. That’s kind of unfair of us, because what are you gonna do, not put it on? It’s bad enough that you have to drive perched on the seat like a milkmaid on a rollercoaster without also worrying about flying through the windshield in the event of a head-on collision. This way is much better, because a head-on collision will turn his seatbelt into a slingshot that will launch him through the rear window instead. It’s a lot safer back there, after all.

You might imagine that driving in this position would get a little tiring. You would be right. MC told us about how he came to a stop at a red light and just lay back for a minute to give his arms and stomach muscles a rest. From that vantage, he watched the sky and the top of a semi-trailer in front of him. When the top of the semi-trailer pulled out of his field of vision, he knew it was time to sit up and keep driving. You gotta feel bad for the guy when you hear something like that. With the shape I’m in, I would just have to follow semi-trailers everywhere, whether they were going to my destination or not.

MC is starting to feel a little self-conscious about it, because other drivers notice. Imagine pulling up to a red light next to a sporty little car that seems to be empty. You curiously look over to confirm your suspicions, and there, staring back at you balefully, is a pair of eyes just above door level. It’s hard to look cool when the only thing people can see is the top of your head. Even Schwarzenegger couldn’t manage it after he ripped the shotgun seat out of Rae Dawn Chong’s car in Commando. MC says he keeps wanting to roll down his window and yell, “Shut up! My seat’s broken!” Too bad his window won’t roll down far enough.

I asked him if he plans to keep it that way. He doesn’t, but it’s going to be pretty expensive to fix because the seat has electrical adjustment controls. In the meantime, Trash is tormenting him at the office by playing an mp3 of “Low Rider” by War on her computer over and over again.

* * *

I don’t know what you people are doing about the Clear Channel thing (7/19), but obviously it’s working. Keep it up.

posted by M. Giant 2:54 PM 0 comments

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Thursday, August 08, 2002  

Today’s kind of a big day for me. It’s an anniversary of sorts, really.

Those of you who have followed the link on the right to my Hissyfit from last June already know that my driving record is a bit…shall we say…checkered. Another way of putting it would be to say that I’ve gotten three speeding tickets in three years.

I deserved the first one, so I didn’t fight it. Even if I’d wanted to, I didn’t feel like traveling to Utah just to go to traffic court. In hindsight, maybe I should have, because that ticket made it impossible for me to get out from under the second two, which I absolutely did not deserve. From that experience, I learned that you need to fight every ticket that comes your way, whether it’s justified or not, because it’s the only way to ensure that you won’t be sent spiraling uncontrollably into a chain of events that will eventually threaten to deprive you of all rights of the road. I’ve already told the story, so I’m not going to bore you further with it today. I’ll be boring you with something related instead.

The reason today is a big day is because it’s the thirty-five-month anniversary of that first ticket. That means that as of tomorrow, as far as car insurance companies are concerned, it never happened. From here, it’s only four-and-a-half months until my next ticket never happened, another month until my accident never happened, and only one more year after that before my driving record is totally clear! Today marks the beginning of the end of my long nightmare. Not only will I be able to stop driving under what is effectively a suspended sentence, I’ll get to stop paying monthly insurance premiums that would get me a spacious three-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.

Being this close to the final lap made me extra nervous during the drive to and from Chicago last week. I don’t know if you’ve ever driven across Wisconsin, but since that state’s primary export is speeding tickets, it’s not a trip to be taken lightly. The 289-mile corridor from Hudson to Beloit is a terrifying gauntlet for any scofflaw. Every time I run it I feel like Rosie O’Donnell sneaking behind the back row of seats at an NRA convention.

So far I’ve been lucky. I can’t tell you anything firsthand about getting pulled over in Wisconsin, but I’ve heard horror stories. Most states, they give you a ticket and you have two weeks to pay it by mail. Not in Wisconsin. You have to pay immediately, and if you can’t cough it up right then, you’re subject to getting summarily shot through the head. At least that’s what I hear.

We do have a radar detector, of course. Wisconsin hates radar detectors. I can tell because they’ve not only made them illegal, they’ve deployed a statewide jamming field to prevent them from actually detecting any radar. Plus they’ve equipped their cop cars with instant-on, undetectable, detector-jamming, laser-powered speed-gauging technology that was reverse-engineered from crashed UFOs. That’s the only explanation for the fact that my radar detector never makes a peep when I drive past any of the seven or eight hundred State Trooper vehicles crouched malevolently on the side of the road between Minnesota and Illinois.

And I know it’s not my detector, either, because it works fine at home. I know something's going on in that little electronic brain. It's not just a paperweight with some LED’s on it. Even in Wisconsin, it screeches at me every time I drive past a bank. I assume it's being set off by whatever high-tech burglar-proofing they have surrounding the vaults. You know, the laser beams you can only see when you put on the special goggles, but if you interrupt them a glass cylinder drops down over you and instantly fills up with phosgene gas or something. I don't know. These countermeasures must be pretty dangerous if my radar detector deems it necessary to warn me about them when I'm passing within two hundred yards. And while I appreciate its concern, I want it to be a radar detector. Not a bank detector. Banks tend to be not very furtive, what with the solid looking brick buildings and large signs announcing not only their name and function, but frequently the time and temperature as well. It's not like my radar detector is doing me a favor by warning me about a bank that's hiding behind a bridge support just waiting to pull me over and give me a home equity loan. But if I set it on a Wisconsin State Trooper’s hood, it’ll just stare innocently back at me while the officer paints my chest cavity with a tachyon beam that could read the registration numbers on the side of a cloaked Romulan Warbird.

As of today, though, things are getting better. A crushing weight is being lifted from the stack resting on my chest, and the ones underneath it won’t be there much longer. It’s only a matter of time before I’ll be able to safely get on the freeway, set the cruise control to ninety-four, and relax. Because, hey, what’s just one ticket?

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Wednesday, August 07, 2002  

I don’t claim to be a numismatist. I also don’t claim to be a coin collector. I do dig those state quarters, though. I collect those.

That doesn’t make me at all unusual, I realize. Lots of people collect them. They’re not exactly difficult to come by. According to the U.S. Mint’s website, over seventeen billion of them have been minted. Of those, maybe half are actually in circulation. The rest are in a jar in my bedroom.

What, you thought I was just collecting one of each? Heck, everyone can do that, and probably is. God knows how many unassuming little eighteen-coin stacks are hiding in drawers, just waiting to be joined by Indiana so they can see daylight again for one brief moment. Think about those cardboard maps they sell at the drugstore, the ones with the fifty quarter-sized sockets. If everyone has one of those, imagine how long it’s going to take before an everyday one-coin-per-state collection is actually worth something.

That’s right. Seven thousand years.

Since I’m hoping to retire sometime in this millennium, my project is a little more ambitious. I plan to collect an entire roll of each quarter. It’s the perfect compromise; it’s hard enough that not every United States citizen who handles currency will be doing it, but it’s not so hard that I actually have to work at it.

Here’s what I’m doing: keeping state quarters that come into my possession and my wife’s, and occasionally buying state quarters off of friends who work in the service and retail industries. Then I put them in the aforementioned jar. That’s it.

Here’s what I’m not doing:

· Buying state quarters just for the sake of buying them. I’m not ordering rolls from the mint. I’m not going into banks or stores to trade cash for brand-new rolls still in the shrink-wrap. That might be a perfectly valid way to collect coins, but it would take all the fun out of it for me. I only want quarters that come to me in the course of everyday circulation. What? It makes sense in my head.

· Worrying about the condition of any of the coins. And I’m not just talking about not putting the coins in little Mylar envelopes, either. Right now I have in my pocket a Virginia that in its short life appears to have been sandblasted, dipped in acid, and sucked through a jet engine. I don’t care. It’s going in the collection. I’m aware that to serious coin collectors, condition is everything. That’s why I’m not talking to them about this.

· Paying attention to the little letter under “In God We Trust” that tells me whether the coin was made in Philadelphia or Denver. If I thought about that, I’d have to collect twice as many rolls, and I’m just not up for that kind of commitment. Life’s too short, dude.

Here’s what I plan to do but haven’t yet:

· Actually count how many coins I have so far. I have a general idea, sure; I’ve got enough Connecticuts that I could use those the wood from those little trees to build a second home. Georgia has mooned me so many times that I’m beginning to wonder if the state prohibits pants. On the other hand, I only have a couple of Ohios (am I the only one who finds that faceless astronaut a little sinister?) and Louisianas. So maybe those will go on the ends of rolls that are stuffed with Eagles. Don’t tell anyone.

· Get a hold of some coin rolls. I know where to find them; I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Hey, it’s not like there’s any hurry. We’re only a third of the way done here. It is, however, slightly embarrassing that I don’t know how many coins fit into a roll. Maybe I should research that.

Obviously I’m not actually serious about getting rich off of this quarter-assed hobby of mine. But maybe someday my eccentric little collection will be something worth passing on to my grandchildren. Just think of all the laundry they’ll be able to do.

posted by M. Giant 3:17 PM 1 comments

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40 in a roll. Are you still doing this?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at September 4, 2007 at 9:08 PM  

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Tuesday, August 06, 2002  

Most people who live in a city with more than one Chinese restaurant tend to have a favorite. Trash and I don’t. We used to. It was about two blocks away from where I work, and I would often call in a takeout order and pick it up on my way home. We would also meet there for lunch. We would also take friends there for dinner. Not for nothing did we call it our favorite Chinese restaurant.

Late one afternoon, I called to put in an order. The owner of a heavily accented voice answered: “He-oo?”

Somewhat discombobulated by the other person’s failure to answer with the name of the restaurant, I asked, somewhat hesitantly:

“Is this the Dragon Jade restaurant?”

“Wee ow binness!” he shouted, and hung up the phone before I could take a breath.

I was disappointed, but not surprised. The place had weird hours, it had never been full, and there had been any number of occasions where we were the only ones there. It had only been a matter of time all along. I called Trash and broke the bad news. Our favorite Chinese restaurant was no more. She took it a little harder than I did. I think we ended up eating from Leeann Chin that night. And no, it wasn’t the same.

For weeks afterward, every time the subject of Chinese restaurants came up, we would sigh wistfully in memory of our favorite one. I would call Trash towards the end of the day to ask her what she thought we should do about dinner, and she would say “Dragon Jade” in tones of either sadness or frustration. She was having trouble letting go.

Finally, one day she couldn’t take it any more. She insisted that I call again to make sure they were really and truly gone. She pointed out that the sign was still out front, after all. I pointed out that that only meant that there wasn’t a new tenant yet. But Trash wasn’t prepared to abandon hope. She prevailed upon me to try, as if together we could somehow will the place back into existence.

I dialed the restaurant’s old number with the air of a trauma surgeon standing over a patient who has been down for twenty minutes, but his wife is begging me to shock him just one more time. Fine, I thought. One more jolt, and then I’m calling it.

Clear!

“Dragon Jade, how can I help you?”

What the…? We have a pulse!

“Are you open?”

“Yes.”

“I’d like to put in a takeout order?” I said, in the same tone one might use when asking Bob Hope to breakdance.

“What would you like today?” he asked, completely unaware that his words were having the same effect on me as if he had said “Phil Hartman is alive and well.” I was so gobsmacked I had to tell him I didn’t know what I wanted and I had to call him back. Which I did.

Needless to say, that evening we had one of the best Chinese meals of our entire lives.

Over the next few weeks, we packed away plate after plate and box after box of yummy Dragon Jade fare. Our near-loss had only enhanced our appreciation of the place. Until the day came when I called in one of our last orders. I heard the ring on the other end. Somebody picked up.

“He-oo?”

My stomach dropped. “Dragon Jade?” I said, but there was no force behind the words. My stomach had shredded my diaphragm, what with the sudden dropping and all.

Wee ow binness!” he bellowed. Click. Silence. The light on my phone console went as dark as my soul.

“They’re out of business again,” I told Trash once I had her on the phone.

“No they’re not,” she said confidently.

“They will be soon if they keep answering the phone like that,” I said.

“Just stop by and order it in person on your way home,” she said, and that’s what I did. While I was waiting for the cooks to whip up our tasty, tasty food, I sat in a chair next to the podium that held the cash register and the phone. During those ten minutes, I never heard anyone answer that phone by announcing “Wee ow binness!” That may be because the phone never rang.

The nefarious saboteur of Dragon Jade was doing his work well. He was getting the word out. People were giving up on them. There weren’t that many people who knew about it in the first place, and even fewer people who would continue trying to get food there even in the face of a peremptory announcement of bankruptcy. It was, in the words of Midnight Oil, the end of the beginning of the end.

I decided to take action, although it would turn out to be insufficient. The next time I called the restaurant and got a hold of someone who was willing to, you know, actually sell me some food, I intended to warn that person that someone was answering the phone without the restaurant’s best interests at heart. Somebody was not only secretly dragging his feet, he was also sticking branches in the spokes and spraying glue on the bearings. He had to be stopped.

But the next time I called, there was no answer at all. I was too late.

Maybe there was no malicious intent. Maybe there was just a Dragon Jade employee who only knew two phrases of English: “Hello” and “We’re out of business.” Maybe if that guy hadn’t been allowed to answer the phone, we’d still have a favorite Chinese restaurant.

Instead, now we just eat a lot of Thai.

posted by M. Giant 3:31 PM 0 comments

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Monday, August 05, 2002  

The regular readers of this blog know that when I tell stories about people I know, I generally give them pseudonyms. This story is about a guy I'll call Steve, because a) it's his real name, and b) I hate him.

You know a guy like Steve, or at least you used to. He's an asshole. We met him because Trash used to work with his then-fiancée. Everyone at their workplace liked the fiancée, but then they met Steve, and they would all say to each other, "Wow, she should not marry that asshole." But these were work friends, not close friends, and they thought it inappropriate for them to say, "hey, don't marry that asshole." That was a job for her close friends. The work friends (including Trash) didn't realize they were the close friends until they got to the wedding reception and there were no other friends there, by which time she had of course already married said asshole, and nobody had ever told her not to. Oops.

Anyway, about this time, Steve and his wife move into a new house. They throw a housewarming party. We go to the party. I complain like the whiny bitch that I am the whole way there, because I don't know if I mentioned this, but Steve is an asshole.

We get there. We're among the first people there. Some other people show up. We get introduced. Nobody cares.

At some point, Steve rounds up the guys for a tour of the new house. Just the guys, because Steve is a guy's guy. Not the way you're thinking. He's one of those guys for whom men are men and women are pets. And, you know, if he spends any time with women, people might start to think he is one. Yeah, you know the type.

So anyway, he drags us all on this interminable tour of the house, from top to bottom, pointing out all of its remarkable features and its infinitely more numerous unremarkable ones. Eventually we get to the basement. The very last stop on the tour is the water heater.

I don't know, I think Steve is enjoying this tour guide thing to an unhealthy extent. Maybe it gives him some kind of control buzz. Anyway, he doesn't seem to want the tour to end. So he starts rambling on about the water heater, and how his grandpa told him that every once in a while, you need to drain the water out of the bottom because it gets dirty. I've never heard this pearl of wisdom before or since, but I and the rest of Steve's all-but-captive audience watch as he gets an empty bucket, sticks it under a valve on the heater, and opens the valve.

"Uh, yeah," someone (not me) observes politely. "That water's pretty black.” We all nod in agreement.

Steve, reveling in his vindication, shuts the valve. Except the water keeps coming out.

Nobody says a word.

Keep in mind, I think I'm an outsider here. I assume all of the other guys know each other. I won't find out until later that the only other guy each of them knows is Steve. Who is starting to lose his cool in a big way. Not that that’s hard, because his “cool” was a very small thing to begin with. Steve gets another bucket. He gets a hose, so he can direct the flow of water out through the basement window.

"Boy, do I ever not need to be here for this," I say to myself, and I head up to the kitchen, where life is much better because the kitchen contains spinach dip and my wife. I tuck in, grinning fiercely and not saying a word about what's going on downstairs.

"Is the tour over?" Mrs. Steve asks me.

"Pretty much," I tell her gleefully.

She's in the process of preparing a meal for a houseful of people. Which sort of hits a snag when she goes to turn on the water in the sink and there isn't any.

"What's going on with the water?" she asks the room in general.

"This is really good spinach dip," I say.

After about ten minutes, guys start trickling up from the basement, one by one. While they didn't abandon their host to his fate as readily as I did, they make up for it in their lack of discretion. Our hostess asks each of them what's going on as they come up the stairs, and she eventually puts together what's going on.

I've never enjoyed just sitting and eating spinach dip so much in my entire life.

Since cooking in her kitchen is obviously over for the day, our hostess calls her mom to try to arrange some sort of backup for providing food. While she's working out the details, Steve brings up the rear of the upstairs caravan. "Get off the phone," he all but yells at her. Because how dare she try to cover their ass after he's idiotically disabled their indoor plumbing? His only option in this situation is to be unconscionably rude to his wife in front of everyone they know. Except the opposite of that.

Clearly, this was the worst housewarming party ever, as a bunch of people who didn't know each other milled around upstairs, while the "host" cursed a blue streak that encroached on his neighbors' property, stomping up and down the stairs with his dad and his dad's plumber friend.

The best part is that we later learned that that night, Steve and his wife had the following exchange:

Steve: Do you think people thought it was weird what happened today?

Mrs. Steve: Uh--yeah.

Steve: Well, it wasn't.

Mrs. Steve: What?

Steve: It wasn't weird.

Mrs. Steve: Okay, whatever.

We don't so much hang out with these people any more. Not just because Steve was an asshole. Also because his wife did what so many other women do after they marry assholes: she became an asshole as well. The moral?

Ladies, don't marry assholes.

posted by M. Giant 3:18 PM 0 comments

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