Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks
Monday, September 30, 2002 I’ve been writing this site for over six months now, and I have yet to get a full-on, toxic, screen-melting, eyelash-bleaching hate e-mail. I can only take that as a clear indication that I’m doing something really, really wrong.
Maybe it’s because when I complain about something, I tend to go for the easy targets, like U-Haul or Clear Channel. So earlier this month (9/6) I decided to go after Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes. My inbox was flooded with responses. Or at least it would have been, if my inbox had a capacity of one.
One of the e-mails I got on the subject consisted of the subject line “9/6 Entry.” And that was all. No text whatsoever. I like to think that the message was so corrosive that Echelon, the FBI’s e-mail spying program, stripped it clean away and now the sender is being secretly detained somewhere awaiting his inevitable railroading into a perfunctory show trial before a military tribunal. What? It could happen.
The other e-mail, this one from Ernos, was perfectly nice, sharing some information about the golden age of comics. It also included this sentence:
Watterson pontificated quite a bit on comics as an art form, not just whining about the lack of space devoted to *his* art.
Unfortunately, since the sender was helpful and polite, I don’t feel right about pointing out all of the times Watterson never volunteered to give up his huge Sunday leader panel, thus possibly giving somebody else some breathing space for a change, instead preferring to grab as much real estate as possible so he could have room to create art elaborate enough to camouflage the fact that he was fresh out of ideas. I also won’t mention how Watterson’s refusal to license any C&H merchandise has forced us all to live in a world where the only enduring public artifact of the best comic strip of the late eighties is that picture of its urinating protagonist stuck to the pickup in front of you at the traffic light. In fact, I’ll even give Watterson points for quitting in the same decade that he realized he was tapped out. For examples of daily comic strip artists who failed to do that, I give you…90% of today’s comics page.
So, yeah. Even taking cheap shots at a popular and beloved figure yielded an unsatisfyingly benign response. But I’m not giving up. In October, I’ll explain how Anne Frank was a filthy slut.
Getting back to easy targets, Tim Bratcher has gone above and beyond the call of duty in the war against Clear Channel:
I’m the guy who wrote you about XM being Clear Channel. You know…they are based in SA, and when I pass their corporate headquarters, I make sure to shoot the bird out of my sunroof at their new, shiny building. It makes me feel better, without actually requiring me to do anything… activist-like. Or maybe I’m just a big kid.
ANYWAY, yesterday, I got pulled over because a police officer thought I was flicking HIM off. Yes officer, that’s right, I’m SURE you have a problem with the rowdy Volvo-drivers shooting you the bird…
I simply explained my distaste of all things Clear Channel, and he sent me on my way, admonishing me to not be QUITE so visible about my disdain.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us that civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance can bring about social change. We can bitch about Clear Channel all we want, but things aren’t going to get any better until more people start spending a few nights in jail with Tim once in a while. So get to it! I’ll coordinate things from out here.
By the way, Dr. King was an uninspired dresser. I’m just saying.
I thought someone might take offense at my entry about babies with glasses (9/16), but nobody did. Why won’t any of you think of the poor, defenseless babies? That’s not to say I didn’t get any responses at all, because I did. Like this one from Sam:
Now, as to the question of how to keep the glasses on: kids are always taking adults' glasses off, maybe because they very badly want to wear them. It makes people take them more seriously, after all. I, for one, would be damn sick of everyone cooing, "ooh, whadda CUTE widdo baby!" all day. I'd relish the occasional opportunity to see grown-ups turn and run, screaming in terror from the evil they expect me to wreak upon the heretofore unsuspecting masses. And hey, what's this? I get to wear glasses all day? Rock on!
Actually, that theory rings pretty true. My face has a somewhat youthful aspect, and I can vouch for the fact that all the cooing got pretty old about halfway though my sophomore year of college. Sadly, I didn’t get glasses until it was far too late to scare anyone with them. I had to resort to scaring people with my driving.
Did I mention that babies are evil? Not just babies with glasses, but all babies? Evil, I tell you. Including yours. If you have a baby, consider yourself warned.
Finally, after my entry about M Giant’s Law (9/12), Girl Detective wrote about her method of finding stuff that’s lost (this is actually from her 9/15 blog entry but I’m using it anyway):
Perhaps the Girl Detective method for lost stuff is that if you insure it, you won't lose it. Our life insurance guy says that he's never yet had a claim in all the years he's been selling policies, so apparently for him this even works on lives, not just belongings. But outside of insurance, I've had great luck with the St. Anthony prayer, so keep it in mind the next time you lose something, big or small.
That’s great that the insurance thing works for her. Unfortunately, I lose everything. So in order to pay the premiums, I’d have to sell everything I own. And then I’d lose the money.
Hey, ever wonder why St. Anthony knows where everything is? Maybe it’s because he traffics in stolen goods and he’s trying to fence it. Something to think about.
Okay, that’s the mail for this month. And if you can’t find something up there to get pissed off about, you’re just not trying. posted by M. Giant 3:27 PM 0 comments
Friday, September 27, 2002 Trash and I are sort of into camping. We’re not fanatics or anything—you won’t ever see us in one of those dorm-fridge-sized bubble tents dangling from the side of a mountain in the Yukon in January, and we’re not the type to strap everything to our backs and hike seven miles from the car—but we pretty much know what we’re doing. We’ve got this tent that’s so huge it has a guest room, and I’m able to pop it up like a safety button on a botle of Snapple. Trash can build a roaring campfire in three minutes with a magnifying glass and a pile of rocks. We keep all our stuff organized in these cunning little plastic bins, so we can potentially set up camp, make dinner, clean the dishes, and strike camp in the time it took you to read this sentence. We’re not hardcore, but we’re experienced. Over the years, we’ve camped at dozens of campgrounds in seven different states.
(Told you it was a big tent.)
But this has been kind of a weird summer, so Trash and I haven’t had a chance to go camping. We were going to one weekend last month, but I got sick so that wasn’t happening. Trash went to meet BuenaOnda at a campground in Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago, but my band was playing that weekend so I couldn’t go. And there was that morning I woke up in a Dumpster behind Dreamgirls, but I hadn’t planned that so I don’t think it counts.
We’re going camping this weekend. I’m pretty sure this is the latest in the year we’ve ever gone. We’re a bit apprehensive. In this part of the country, camping after the autumnal equinox can be an iffy business, and the weather forecast isn’t encouraging. But even if we end up spending the weekend shivering under a frigid gray drizzle and taking turns positioning our camp chairs directly over the fire, we do have a few things going for us:
We have these bulky, silvery sleeping bags that are thick and heavy enough to allow us to spend a comfortable night on Pluto. Wrestling them back into their rolled-up form is a bit like trying to store a jumbo marshmallow inside a cocktail straw, but the effort will help keep us warm.
So what if we get snow or freezing rain? After it stops, we can just strike the tent, spend the rest of the weekend in our new temporary igloo, and have a head start on packing the car when it’s time to go.
We probably won’t need to buy much ice for the coolers. We’ll just preserve our perishables by packing them in frozen beer bottles.
If all else fails, we have a backup plan. Trash tried to camp in April one year. That was when she discovered why God invented hotels.
So I’m a little curious to see what we’re made of. What kind of campers would we be if we only went when it was fun? The people who are really serious about camping are the ones who aren’t deterred by the prospect of a little suffering and misery. If we can’t hack this weekend, we can just forget about ever going pro.
* * *
I actually wrote that yesterday, since I didn’t think I’d have time to do an entry today, what with us leaving early so we could spend a weekend chipping away at the layer of ice on our gritty camp coffee.
And…this just in:
We’re not going.
We were planning to meet friends of ours who live in Michigan, but they’ve just informed us that hurricane-force winds, monsoon rains, and an impending blizzard were all it took to dissuade them from spending the next two nights in a small nylon envelope. Wusses. One of these days, somebody’s going to be looking for people to join an Antarctic water polo expedition, and you know who they’re going to call?
Well, not us, I hope.
* * *
Hey, Wil Wheaton! I know you’re reading, which is why I didn’t bother making a link out of your name so my page will show up on your referral logs. I don’t have to. Why? Because I know you’re already reading.
So hook a guy up with a link, would ya? I sat through that entire ST:TNG episode where you spent an hour mooning over the shapeshifter chick. Dude, you owe me for that shit. Link to me and we’ll call it even. posted by M. Giant 3:08 PM 0 comments
Thursday, September 26, 2002 For some reason, I'm thinking about my first visit to Roswell, NM. This was back in 1997, before Roswell meant a lousy TV show, but just as it was starting to really embrace (read: whore) its status as a UFO capitol. Trash and I had flown into Albuquerque to get away from winter for a few days. We rented a car and drove all over the state, which doesn't take very long considering that the average freeway speed limit there is 115 m.p.h. We visited Santa Fe, Taos, Soccorro, and, of course, Roswell.
So we're on the road into town, having just passed a large military convoy (presumably loaded with reverse-engineered alien weapons and propulsion systems) and Trash asks me, "What are we doing here, anyway?"
I say, "Start looking for wreckage."
"You know," I say. "Along the side of the road. Hey, you're not going to find anything if you keep staring at me like that."
Fortunately, I was mostly kidding. Which is good, because I later learned that the crash site was actually in a town called Corona, which we'd driven through obliviously an hour before. If I were Corona, I'd be kind of pissed about Roswell stealing my E.T. thunder like that.
Still, there we were in Roswell with no idea of what we should see or do there. Fortunately, someone told us about the UFO museum on Main Street.
We get there, and there's this overly friendly volunteer. She greets us effusively and hands us a colored pushpin so we can indicate on a large map where we came from. This volunteer is waaaaay too proud of this map. At the time of our visit they've only been in the building, an old movie theater, for a couple of months, so there are still some blank spots on the map. I stick the pin roughly where our house would be, and prepare to move on.
Except that this woman has just gone into raptures because she's from the Twin Cities area too. "Oh, my goodness!" she gushes, "What part are you from?"
Trash, the pathological conversationalist, lets slip that I grew up in Possum Holler, one of the northern suburbs of Minneapolis. Okay, it's not really called Possum Holler, but the real name of the town is too embarrassing. Garry Trudeau made it semi-famous as the headquarters of the Duke 2000 presidential campaign. And you thought he’d made it up.
Anyway, the museum volunteer nearly soils her pants at this. She's from Possum Holler too!
So now we're stuck. I have to listen to her run down this list of names of people who still live in a town I fled years before. Trash is trying to be nice about it, but I can tell she's wishing she'd kept her cakehole shut. The volunteer takes a picture of us in front of the "alien autopsy" prop in a display case that is the museum's most prized possession. She goes and finds one of the museum's founders, Glenn Dennis, so she can introduce this poor, old, ex-funeral director to some guy who used to live in her hometown. Glenn was nice, but he had even less of an idea why he was meeting me than I did. If you don't know who Glenn Dennis is, he was friends with a nurse who was present at the original alien autopsy in July 1947. So now that I’ve met him, I'm only three degrees of separation from an actual Gray, just because I lived in Possum Holler for most of my childhood.
Basically, here was a woman who dedicated all of her spare time to the contention that an alien spacecraft had traveled thousands of light years from Zeta Reticuli or something, across the trackless depths of space, using technology we can only dream about, only to smack into some guy's ranch seventy miles from where we stood.
Yet it was almost unbelievable to her that from a town of 45,000 people, two of them would end up at the number one tourist destination in New Mexico. Go figure. posted by M. Giant 3:26 PM 0 comments
Wednesday, September 25, 2002 I’ve spent an unhealthy percentage of my time on this earth trying to win money from Ben Affleck, and it doesn’t show any sign of letting up. One might say that when calculating the percentage of one’s life spent trying to win money from Ben Affleck, anything over zero is probably a sign of nothing good. Yet I can’t seem to stop.
It started a couple of years ago, when I entered the first Project Greenlight competition. Since I don’t have a file cabinet overflowing with finished screenplays, I didn’t have time to do more than a screen adaptation of a stage play I’d written a couple of years before. It isn’t accurate to say that I actually wanted to win the contest, per se; I just thought it would be good to make it to the later rounds and maybe get a little attention for my work. God knows that learning how to direct actors, figuring out camera angles, and teaching myself how to helm a feature film in front of the cameras of a reality TV show wasn’t exactly my idea of a prize. Look at what happened to the “winner,” Pete Jones, and his movie Stolen Summer. He got to deal with casting and logistical nightmares, being screamed at by the executive producer, looking like a schmuck to every viewer in HBO’s audience, and rumors that he only won because the “real” winner passed up the grand prize, all so his movie could get dumped onto three screens nationwide with all the fanfare and publicity of a Black Ops mission. Weigh that against the possibility of a few interested phone calls from someone at Lions Gate or Sony Classics and my real reason for entering should become apparent. Fortunately, my screenplay was idiosyncratic enough that I never had to make that decision.
I’m currently working on final revisions to the screenplay I’m planning to submit for PGL2. This time the deal is a little more tempting, since there are two separate contests for writers and directors. That means the winner of the screenplay contest a) wins $35,000, and b) doesn’t have to direct. Woo hoo!
But that’s not all. I’m also seeing what I can do to win the “million-and-change” that’s being given away in conjunction with Affleck’s current TV series, Push, Nevada. Although in this case, it’s not really accurate to say I’m trying to win it for myself. I’m sort of trying to do this with a group.
To be honest, even that isn’t accurate, since I don’t seem to be contributing much to the effort. Other people are much smarter and more committed than I am. On the other hand, judging from the show’s ratings, the field of potential winners is going to be fairly small. So there’s that.
I don’t know what it is that makes me so keen to relieve Ben Affleck of large bags of money. Could it be some kind of deep-seated envy I might feel towards a guy who’s younger than I am but already has a screenwriting Oscar? Nah, too obvious.
* * *
Several years ago, Trash and I took one of those online quizzes that supposedly match you with your ideal celebrity mate. This was before the Internet was awash in personality tests that tell you everything from your I.Q. to which character from What’s Happening!! you resemble the most. My results matched me up with Jennifer Lopez. Like I said, this was several years ago, so she was post-Out of Sight and pre-pop-diva-backlash. Not to mention years before anyone heard the phrase “J. Lo.”
Guess who Trash’s celebrity match was? I’ll give you a clue: he was post-Good Will Hunting and pre-Oscar-backlash, years before anyone had heard the phrase “put on this earth to make Matt Damon look smart.”
So now our celebrity matches are dating. Some of the gossips have claimed that their relationship is not long for this world. I’ve heard the talk. But if whatever is going for my wife and me is also going for them—and by the transitive property of equality, it may well be—I think these two smug, overexposed media whores might just stand a chance. Best of luck to you, kids. I mean that. posted by M. Giant 3:25 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, September 24, 2002 I have to hire a plumber, and so far I’m sucking at it.
I’ve done a little light plumbing of my own since we’ve owned the house. I replaced the kitchen faucet a few years ago. When I was done, hot water came out of the cold side and vice versa, but it worked. Besides, that wasn’t my fault; the hot water hose wasn’t long enough to reach, but the cold water hose was, so I had to swap them just to get them both connected. I had no choice.
Also, I was really getting tired of being under the sink by that point.
I liked to pretend that the catty-wompus arrangement was a deliberate manifestation of my penchant for non-conformity, but nobody bought it. That might have had something to do with Trash rolling her eyes like 20-sided dice at my B.S., but whatever. Now that the faucet works the way it’s supposed to (thanks, Dad!), I tend to keep quiet about it. Um, er, usually.
Another project that went okay was when I replaced the innards of our toilet last summer. For whatever reason, we were getting about a teaspoon of water per flush. Maybe that’s good for the environment, but not when the environment in question is your bathroom. When you have to keep an emergency kit next to the toilet containing a plunger, another plunger, a plumber’s snake, and a box of cherry bombs, it’s bad enough. When you have to crack open the kit every time you want to flush something less water-soluble than cotton candy, that borders on untenable. But I eventually got around to fixing that, and now you have to open the bathroom window every time you flush or the house implodes from the pressure differential.
But at least the water’s going down the pipe. Now the problem is that it’s not all going down the inside of the pipe.
I don’t know when or how this happened, but we’ve developed a leak from our toilet. Every time we flush, just a little bit more water splashes into our basement. The pipe runs down through the little-used utility room area of our basement, which is why we don’t know how long it’s been happening. Obviously, things would be different if every flush doused people on the other side of the basement while they were sitting on the couch watching TV. We’d have to take immediate action in that event. That couch would be moved so quickly that the cushions would appear to hang suspended in air for a moment.
But since the water is currently dripping into buckets we’ve placed on the concrete floor, the situation is, as they say, desperate but not serious. Since it’s not an emergency, I can take my time finding the best plumber for the job, and the one who will do the best work for the best price.
That’s a task that almost makes me wish I had raw sewage flooding my kitchen. At least then I could call the first plumber in the book and not wonder if I’m getting screwed. There’s really no price that most folks won’t pay to make the sewage not be in their kitchen any more, so it’s practically impossible to get more screwed than you already are. But when all you’ve got is a little drip, you feel obligated to keep the repair cost down to one house payment rather than two or three.
This is where it gets tricky. First of all, there are hundreds of plumbers in the phone book. Secondly, they all have full-page ads. And none of them give you the information you really need, like “We acknowledge the passage of time before you get your bill” or “We wear overalls to every job.” So you have to call them all to find out how much they’ll charge you. And even that doesn’t tell you anything. Some plumbers charge by the job rather than by the hour, and those guys won’t even give you a guess as to how much it’s going to cost you until they get out there. And it’s going to cost you this week’s grocery bill just to get them out there. Some of them charge less, but they make up for it by tossing in a truck fee, as if their vehicles run on sawbucks instead of gas. Trying to figure out how much your bill is going to be with those guys is like solving for x on an algebra equation that consists of x=x.
But I’m still reasonably sure that that method is going to set me back less than the plumbers who do charge hourly. That’s because they don’t charge hourly. Like the other guys, they have a minimum fee for each visit, plus an additional one-hour minimum that could potentially amount to trading a PS2 for a drain clog, plus a quarterly-hour rate that would be equal to having a parking meter in your house that you have to keep feeding with Spanish doubloons. Solve for y when x*y=y*x.
The bottom line is that I just don’t have enough information to make an informed decision, and that makes me crazy. I’ll probably just end up going with one of the companies that don’t charge extra for after-hours or weekend calls. Either that or talk my wife into sitting around the house some afternoon waiting for a guy who probably won’t show up until 10:30 p.m.
And no, trying to fix it myself is not, I repeat, not an option. I’m the reason “plumber” rhymes with “dumber.” I didn’t mind fiddling with the toilet when I was on top of the water, but this is entirely different. Furthermore, if I screw it up, I run the risk of effectively turning our basement into an open pit latrine. And then nobody will want to come over and watch Buffy with us.
On the other hand, if that happens, I get to stop shopping for plumbers and just pick one, because there won’t be time to call around. Hmmm… posted by M. Giant 3:23 PM 0 comments
Monday, September 23, 2002 I'm just going to start out today by saying that my wife is really, really lucky that John Entwistle is dead.
Now I'm going to back up.
As I've mentioned previously in this space, the last few weeks of summer saw American Idol fever invade our home like the foul contagion that it is. And it's a good thing that show ended when it did, because things were starting to get out of hand. Trash was showing everyone that clip of Anakin Boogie (we've decided that our favorite part is that liquidy snorfle that he uses to signal that he's done), and even our friends Dirt and Banana were sucked in.
As a few of you will admit to knowing, there's actually an American Idol concert tour on the road. All of the finalists from the show will be on the bill. Not only Kelly, Sideshow Bob, and Nikki, but also Tamyra, Christina, Ejay, R.J., A.J., D.J., P.J., Q.J., X.J., I.J., and that chick named Ryan will be there in person. You can bet I would be all over this if the tour ever came to the Twin Cities. That kind of mocking opportunity doesn't come along every day. That's probably why Trash refused to invite me.
There was talk about camping out for tickets or wearing out the phone's redial button on the on-sale date, but we're not in our twenties any more. Now one of us works for a corporation that owns a hospitality suite at the local concert hall. And really, nothing says "rock & roll" like a corporate hospitality suite. Right?
This meant that last week, Trash had to send one of her coworkers to the meeting in the downtown office where the tickets for the arena's various events are doled out. While people were furiously bidding and negotiating for the use of the suite during various hockey games, concerts, and other respectable events, Trash's coworker had to pipe up with, "Trash wants to use the suite for the American Idol concert."
Trash had been somewhat concerend that someone else might have dibs on the suite for that show. She needn't have worried. When Trash's coworker put in that bid, she might has well have placed a turd on the conference table.
Given the amount of respect that Trash's intelligence and abilities command at her workplace, there were several minutes of the meeting that were occupied by confirming that her coworker was actually talking about the right person. "Does she want the tickets for her child?" asked one attendee, presumably unaware that we don't have one. Or, more likely, fully aware that we don't have one, but eager to give Trash an out.
So Trash and Banana are going to the American Idol concert when it comes to St. Paul in November. Maybe I'll get them to write me a guest entry about it.
Today, I was talking on the phone to Trash and she mentioned how other coworkers were making fun of her AI jones. One of them had said, "Now, you're sure you wanted to see American Idol and not the Who, right?"
Anyone who's been reading this blog since July 1 is well aware of how I feel about the Who, and is therefore well aware that I wasn't about to let this pass.
"Excuse me?" I snapped when Trash let that comment slip. "You guys have the suite for the Who concert? And you didn't tell me? And you got tickets for American Idol instead?" But it was really more out of habit than anything else.
Since John Entwistle died (and hey, what's with all the recently-dead bass legends hogging the cover of Bass Player magazine this past year? I'm starting to think it would be safer to play underwater synthesizer), I don't have a lot of interest in paying good money to see the "Who's Left" tour. I might see it for free, though. As it turns out, the suite is already spoken for the night Roger and Pete are playing. So that decision is out of my hands.
Which I'm actually okay with. On the night Trash goes to hear Kelly Clarkson belt out a few, I'll be dropping my Thirty Years of Maximum R&B box set into the CD changer and see how many bass strings I can break before she gets home. Call it a tribute.
But if I were missing the chance to see three-quarters of the Who so Trash could sit through N.J., ¨¡.J., and ¥ð.J., I would have wheeled out the Big Guns of Guilt and opened fire.
See how I brought that back around to my lede? I don't know why you don't trust me more. posted by M. Giant 3:17 PM 0 comments
Friday, September 20, 2002 Our friend BuenaOnda is coming for a visit this weekend, a month and a half after moving to Chicago. She’s been attending grad school and working as a Spanish translator down there. Which reminds me of a story.
A couple of years ago, BuenaOnda was getting ready to go to Chile for a semester. As you can imagine, this involves a great deal of preparation—administrative, financial, and linguistic. I couldn't really help her with the first two, so I thought I'd give her a little opportunity to practice her Spanish. So one day, I wrote her an e-mail from work. Pretty standard, really. How's it going, what are you doing this weekend, do you want to see a movie with us, that kind of thing. Except I sent it in Spanish.
Of course, all the Spanish I know is what I learned from watching telenovela stars suck in their cheeks and glare at each other while surfing past Univision. So in order to communicate with my friend en Español, I had to run my e-mail through Babel Fish. I was all over it. Plus I'm a sucker for anything that has a name from Douglas Adams.
Anyway, a couple of hours later, I get a call from Trash.
“Why did you do that to BuenaOnda?” she demands.
“What?” I say, all innocent-like.
“She just called me up, totally freaking out, going ‘when the hell did M. Giant learn Spanish? Why is he better at it than I am?’”
“Huh,” I say. “Sounds like she's lost it.”
Finally, Trash gets me to confess what I've done. Actually, “confess” is probably the wrong word to use, considering how pleased I am with myself. I was just trying to do something unexpected. Getting my friend to nearly lose her shit over it is a huge windfall.
Keep in mind that this was before so many of us discovered the joy of mistranslation by software. For those of you who still haven’t, it turns out that while Babel Fish is a remarkable resource, it is subject to the limitations of machine translation. These limitations, I soon learned, are severe. Getting a computer-translated e-mail is a lot like getting a letter from a Chinese pen pal. It's like that episode of NewsRadio where Jimmy James holds a reading of his book, translated from English to Japanese and back. You end up with phrases like “Jimmy has fancy plans” and “American yum-yum clown” and “Donkey donkey donkey donkey.” Futhermore, for some reason it translates Trash’s name as “Dark-brown.”
So when BuenaOnda got this e-mail from me, saying the Spanish equivalent of:
“Hello! How is to the thing leave? Because they are the end of the week is good being. So now blibbety over toothpaste blah blee bling pants movie with forever liking. For Dark-brown is a eight needed. You you something when special is time. Purple monkey dishwasher. There what?”
Her growing confidence in her Spanish collapsed like a house of Kleenex.
See, she thought she couldn't understand it because my Spanish skillz were so much madder than hers. When in fact even Pablo Neruda would have been unable to decipher that guirigay.
(That's Spanish for “gibberish.” Or at least it is according to Babel Fish. It could mean “buttplug” for all I know.)
By the time I had a chance to talk to BuenaOnda about it, she had already printed it out and shown it to her Spanish professor, who quickly exposed my perverse composition as the buttplug it was.
I like to think that it was a character-building experience for her. BuenaOnda, who now speaks Spanish fluently enough to work at the U.N., still gets all righteously indignant and calls me horrible names when she tells this story. Which just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It's almost as much fun as when she sends me e-mails in Spanish. posted by M. Giant 2:37 PM 0 comments
Thursday, September 19, 2002 I’ve been going to bar trivia contests downtown on and off for the last year or so, and Trash joined me earlier this year. We always enjoy going, even though we never win. Actually that’s not true; we won once, but in order to do so we had to fly to the West Coast and join forces with other web celebrities to form a Voltron-like juggernaut of unstoppable trivia power (read about our triumph here).
I’m not saying that to diminish the brainpower of the people we play with here at home. After all, the questions at Kieran’s and Brits tend to be harder than the ones we had to contend with in Seattle, and I’m also not saying that to diminish the brainpower of our Seattle peeps. I mean, here on the Internet, nobody blinks an eye if somebody asks you what percentage of the British Isles is occupied by Britain, or what percentage of Minnesotans claimed to be Irish in the 1990 Census. Anybody reading this can probably do the research and have an answer inside of three minutes. But when you’re sitting around a table, and the nearest computer is the one that’s keeping track of beer orders, and the host asks that question in his thick Irish brogue or British lilt, and your only resource is the faces around the table that are just as blank as yours, you can kiss that point goodbye. And you’d think that a question like that wouldn’t hurt you in the standings, but you’d be wrong because there are thirty other teams in the bar and somehow all the rest of them know it. I don’t know how. They just do.
I tend to prefer Brits because the questions are easier. Also, for the music round, they play actual snippets of songs instead of having the host read them in his trademark arrhythmic and atonal cadences. I’m used to being in a top three team there (although the last time found me walking out at the end of the evening with a sixth-place prize, i.e. bupkes). But last night wasn’t the night of the Brits pub quiz; it was the night of Kieran’s.
Which is why, after three or four of the six rounds, at which point we learned that we were more than twenty points behind the leaders, and tied for third-from-last in a field of twenty-one teams, we were more resigned than surprised. It’s good practice, we told each other; we’ll do better next month, or the next time we play at Brits. We’ll be back.
“And hey,” I said with bleak gallows humour, if everyone else bricks the next two rounds and we get perfect scores, we might still pull this out.” Nobody even bothered laughing, because it was too far out of the realm of possibility to be funny.
That was before the movie round and the picture round. Quick: who played Chet, Buddy Holly, Willy Wilhelm, and Carl Showalter? Get away from IMDb, you cheater. Yes, it was Steve Buscemi, and it was one of the few we got wrong that round. We did even better on the music round, where we got nineteen out of twenty points. Between having a musician and two record store employees on our team, it would have been hard to screw up that round. So it’s good that we didn’t.
After the final round, we were daring to hope that our recent surge had landed us in fourteenth place. The host started reading off scores and team names, lowest to highest. After the first few losers, we expected every team name to be ours. Instead, team after team was read off, including some of the local barroom think tanks. We began to suspect that we’d missed our name somehow.
If this were a movie, we’d be at the point where the underdog team pulls out the last-minute victory, redeeming the aging veteran, humiliating the villain, and saving the orphanage. Fortunately this isn’t a movie, so you all have no choice but to believe me when I say that we ended up in third place.
We celebrated. We exulted. We reveled. We emptied coolers full of Guinness over each other’s heads. This was the highest any of us had ever placed at Kieran’s, and we’d earned it. Even better, we were more then ten points behind the second-place team, so there were no recriminations about the correct answers we’d talked ourselves out of. We had a third-place finish we could be proud of, and damned if we weren’t.
Next month we’ve decided to shoot for last place, just for novelty’s sake. posted by M. Giant 3:36 PM 0 comments
Wednesday, September 18, 2002 From www.StarTribune.com, September 18, 2002:
An 88-year-old woman was charged Tuesday with first-degree assault in the shooting of a 63-year-old friend at a senior citizen high-rise in Minneapolis. According to court records, after the shooting the woman told the victim that she hoped he suffered like she had.
This is yet another example of the toxic culture of violence in which we live. We’ve all read the stats about how many murders a child sees on TV before age ten. Not that we can remember the number off the tops of our heads. But whatever it is, multiply that by 8.8, and you realize that your average senior citizen has a holocaust going on inside his or her head at any given moment. The question isn’t why her moral compass failed her, but how she was able to hold onto it for so long in the first place.
Someone needs to seriously study the effects that a daily diet of syndicated Matlock and Murder, She Wrote reruns is having on our aging population. In some TV markets, seniors can watch up to twenty times a week as people who have broken the law suffer nothing worse than being led away at the end of the episode. We can’t continue to saturate the minds of our old people with the concept that violence is without consequence, and not expect some damage to their fragile psyches.
Furthermore, one mustn’t discount the influence of violent games. Wander through the common room of any nursing home, and you’ll hear older men and women carelessly tossing around violent expressions like “slam” and “shoot the moon.” It’s no wonder that some of them are beginning to think that violence is the way to solve all of their problems.
And what of the music they listen to? Imagine all of the dusty speakers across the country playing the music of artists from Glenn Miller to Rosemary Clooney, every note driving home the message that even death isn’t final. No wonder life seems so cheap to anyone who’s ever sat through an entire episode of The Lawrence Welk Show.
It’s clear that the entertainment industry needs to take some responsibility for the havoc it’s wreaking on our society. Otherwise, we’ll have nothing to look forward to but a day when today’s responsible adults become roving gangs of Geritol-fueled desperadoes, tottering confusedly from crime scene to crime scene. A gray reign of terror will grip our helpless land in its merciless, papery fist.
Perhaps I’m being alarmist. But even if my prediction never comes to pass, isn’t it tragic enough that this one woman has thrown away the last years of her life? Her future now holds nothing for her but the dreary environs of an underfunded institution, with little chance for meaningful contact from outside and even less chance for freedom outside of the walls that confine her.
Somebody has to answer for that. posted by M. Giant 3:29 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, September 17, 2002 My wife is a master conversationalist. She can talk to anybody, about anything, for any length of time. It’s amazing. And she doesn’t just do it to fill space; she actually has interesting things to say and is interested in what is being said to her. Sometimes I just sit and stare at her in awe, thinking about the many awkward gaps in conversations I’ve had in my life, when I’ve been all but reduced to Ralph Wiggum asking, “So…do you like…stuff?”
Trash’s gift of gab comes in quite handy at her job. She works for a company that helps laid-off employees find new jobs. She enjoys it not just because she’s helping people, but because there’s like a rotating family atmosphere. The clients come in during the day and do various job-hunting tasks using the vast range of resources and training that Trash’s company provides. Then, when they find a job, everyone in the office, employees and clients alike join together for a Champagne Toast in celebration. It’s an uplifting ritual for everyone involved. The toast-ee is happy to have gotten a job, the employees are happy to have helped it to happen, and the other clients look forward to their own toast coming up one day in the near future. No matter how many they have, each one is a big deal. Which is how it should be.
So when it’s time for a Champagne Toast, someone has to do a quick sweep of the office and make sure everyone knows about it and makes an appearance. One day a few weeks ago, Trash volunteered for this quick task.
Some of the clients get to do their job-hunting from within offices. Actual offices, with doors and windows and everything. Which means that for some of us, unemployment would actually be a step up. In any case, one of these offices was being occupied by a brand-new client. Trash poked her head in the door to introduce herself, give a brief explanation of the Champagne Toast, and invite the new client to the Toast that was then imminent.
What came out was this: “Aaaaaaaaaaaaehhhh.”
I can’t really accurately spell the noise she made, because it was basically a short “A” sound. Like if you were to say “cat” but leave out the “c” and the “t” and stretch the vocalization out for about three seconds.
For some mysterious reason, my wife, who can effortlessly string together long and complex sentences as if her mind were a harpoon fired unerringly though the English language, had completely and catastrophically lost the power of speech.
The client looked up from his desk in horror. Trash tried again.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaehhhh,” she reiterated.
Trash leaned nonchalantly against the doorframe, trying to look cool and no doubt failing. She took a breath. The client probably wondered if the fourth-floor window behind him could be opened. Trash took a second until her ability to form words returned.
“Champagne!?” she cried/demanded/accused.
She should have waited until she could form entire sentences.
But she was committed now. “Champagne!?!” she said again, with even greater urgency.
The terrified client just stared at her. Trash became uncomfortably aware of the first impression she must be making, and suddenly she could form a sentence:
“I haven’t had any,” she blurted.
Great. Just in time to clear things up.
The client nodded as if he were being taken hostage. Trash fled in embarrassment.
The funny thing is that everybody knows Trash is the best talker in the house. Every time I meet one of her coworkers or clients, they gush about her intelligence and her infectious energy and enthusiasm. Of course, I haven’t yet met the one client whose first impression of her was “Aaaaaaaaaaaaehhhh.”
Later, she reported to the training room to teach one of the classes she runs. In the class was none other than that same client. She got through the class, but she couldn’t help thinking that for this client, her credibility was a potential issue.
There’s nothing particularly remarkable about this client, but Trash, still laboring under the inexplicable humiliation of her first meeting with him, still goes into a state of discursive vapor-lock whenever he’s around. She’ll talk to all the other clients about their families, their job searches, and their lives, making them feel important and interesting. Then she sees this guy, remembers her moment of “aaaaaaaaaaaaehhhh,” and all she can think of to ask is “Looking for a job, huh?” and “Is that your lunch?” and “Do you like…stuff?”
It’s a spectacular ability she has. That’s probably why it failed her in such a spectacular way. I suppose I should come up with some kind of punchline that demonstrates how this is a cautionary tale, but I don’t think it is. It’s just funny.
Wait, I know exactly how to wrap this up. You’re going to love it.
Damn, that’s not what I meant to say at all. posted by M. Giant 3:42 PM 0 comments
Monday, September 16, 2002 I was in the grocery store the other day, and someone in the produce department was staring at me owlishly through a pair of circular, wire-frame glasses. I glanced away and continued shopping, still aware of the bespectacled eyes following my every move. As I looked back, my watcher abruptly let fly with a wordless, high-pitched shriek. No warning whatsoever. One moment he was glaring omnisciently at me, and the next he was splitting the pesticide-laden air with the sonic equivalent of a magnesium flare. It was like the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. My eyes darted around in panic; I’d been found out! Sinful thoughts I didn’t even know I’d been having were being brought into the unforgiving light of day, to the attention of fellow shoppers who would certainly be so overcome with revulsion at my subhuman nature that they would be pummeling me to death with a hail of ugli fruit in a matter of seconds.
Then my accuser fell silent and thumped the restraints holding him in his stroller. I relaxed. Somewhat.
The thing is, I’ve never seen a six-month-old baby wearing glasses before. I’m here to tell you it’s a little unnerving. I’ve never watched Baby Bob, and it’s been years since I saw an episode of Family Guy, so I’m not as media-prepped as I might have been for the sight of an infant who looked smarter than me. And even if I had been, unusual-looking people have more of an effect on you when you see them in person. So a baby wearing glasses on TV is one thing. A baby wearing glasses is something entirely different when he’s six feet away from you, and his face is being made sinister by lenses cannibalized from a pair of binoculars that manage to simultaneously magnify and focus the ocular beams of infantile hatred into the keen, bright coherence of a cobalt laser. Babies tend to resemble each other quite a bit. But slap a pair of baby-sized prescription glasses on one—any one—and you’ll immediately see just how badly he wants to kill you.
Intellectually, I’m aware it’s an optical illusion, but it’s an uncommon one and therefore fairly convincing. It boils down to a simple dichotomy: you see a baby, and you see an adorable, innocent, unspoiled bundle of pure hope for the future. You see a baby with glasses and you see a Nazi war criminal still seething over his run-in with a shrink ray.
posted by M. Giant
Saturday, September 14, 2002 When I was in high school, there was this girl at another school who I was totally smitten with. She was way out of my league. Fortunately, being at a different school, she didn't know that. We became friends, went out a few times, hung out, I figured she dug me. Sadly, I was an idiot, so I blew it.
Whoever said there were no second chances in life, I’m glad they were wrong. I ran into her one freshman spring day at the University of Minnesota. We started talking. We started hanging out again. We started talking about how much we’d miss each other when she went away that summer. Basically it was Say Anything.
Not coincidentally, we saw that movie several times together.
Except instead of us both leaving at the end, she ended up not going. Thank God. I shudder to think what my life would be like today if her plans hadn’t been upended by a life-threatening allergy.
If you haven’t figured out yet that I’m talking about my wife Trash, then this is your first day of reading this blog.
I can only imagine that some catastrophic error in karmic paperwork somewhere resulted in my even getting a second glance from her. Only a really high level of ignorance about how special she was could have allowed her to go out on a date with me. And she never, ever, would have fallen in love with me if we lived in a fair universe.
Fortunately, being with her has made me a much better person. Some of my best qualities are ones I owe to her. Without her, there’d be no Velcrometer. I’m not just talking about the way she set up my Blogger account for me; she's believed in my abilities from the beginning, before there was any reason to. She's someone for whom "life isn't fair" is never a good enough explanation for anything. She's waaaay smarter than me, charming, funny, easily the hottest woman I've ever met, and nobody can meet her without loving her. Try it sometime. You can't do it.
Today marks the end of the eleventh year we’ve spent as husband and wife. I’m a writer, so I should be able to convey how lucky and grateful I feel that she's chosen to spend another year of her life in mine. Sorry. I've tried, and I can't do it. All I can do is wish her a happy anniversary, and do what I can to try to make her feel even a third as special and important as she's made me feel for the past thirteen years.
What, you wanted snark instead of schmoop today? Too bad.
posted by M. Giant 5:39 AM 0 comments
Friday, September 13, 2002 Short entry today. Imagine that the place where you work is dependent on several high-tech systems. Many of you probably don’t have to imagine that, but you can probably imagine what it would be like if all of those systems lost their shit at about the same time.
I’m in a position where I’m thinking that would actually be kind of nice.
Instead, our office has been dealing for months with a situation that is like nothing so much as a glacier derailing. Ever since our upgrade, we’ve been operating somewhere between 40-50 per cent. It’s frustrating. It’s like trying to drive a car down the freeway, but all of the windows are blacked out instead of the back one and you have to go in reverse with your rearview mirror as your only source of input from your vehicle’s surroundings.
Then you try and get it fixed, but the mechanic either doesn’t care or doesn’t understand why it’s a problem, (or, more specifically, why it’s his problem) and before he does anything he makes you put together an executive summary about why you need all those other windows in the first place, and then he explains that he’s neither qualified, authorized, or, frankly, inclined to do anything about your problem because he’s too busy, but he’ll install a sunroof for you as a temporary workaround. And you could complain to the shop’s owner, but the owner seems to think that you’re doing just fine with that rearview mirror setup thing you’ve got going, and why don’t you appreciate that great sunroof? So what if it got installed on someone else’s car? As far as the owner’s concerned, the problem’s been addressed and it’s time for you to be on your way.
This has been going on for months, and my boss and I are running out of patience with the whole situation. We keep trying to convince people that the situation is untenable, but none of those people seem to have any control over the “shop owner.” It’s like we’re driving the back end of a fire engine, but we’re the only ones who know where the fire is.
Could I torture any more similes today? No, that question doesn’t count. That was a metaphor. Entirely different animal. And that was another metaphor.
Anyway, I’d rather offend literary devices than coworkers who could conceivably a) make things even worse, or ) get me in trouble, which would also make things even worse. So I’m sorry I can’t explain it a little more clearly. Maybe I’ll be able to in the future.
* * *
Speaking of stuff going completely haywire, what the hell is going on in Florida right now? It’s like the Dave Barry version of End Times down there. Bomb threats, election foul-ups, a CSI spinoff, and now this:
Thursday, September 12, 2002 I was about eleven the first time I noticed the phenomenon that would be a ruling force throughout my life. It was a banal enough occasion; I was assembling a model airplane one midsummer afternoon. I’d reached the point where you glue the little decal onto the little piece of plastic that simulates the tiny little wee instrument panel. The only problem was that suddenly I couldn’t find the decal. It had just been there and now it wasn’t. It wasn’t on the instruction sheet. It wasn’t under the instruction sheet. It wasn’t under the papers on my desk. It wasn’t on the floor under the desk. It wasn’t in the chair. It wasn’t anywhere. It wasn’t in this universe. It disappeared, or worse.
I’m sorry, I’m going to stop talking like Dr. Seuss now.
It had been sucked into a tiny wormhole, broken down into its constituent subatomic particles, been devoured by the very aether, something. Because that little decal just plain didn’t exist any more. I gave up on ever seeing it again, painted the teeny little wee instrument panel black, jammed it into the teeny little wee cockpit, and picked up the instruction sheet to read the next step.
At which point the decal fluttered innocently onto the desk.
Some of you read that and think, “Well, obviously the decal was there the whole time. You just missed it. Eleven-year-olds are invariably idiots, after all.”
The other ninety-nine percent of you know better, though (except the part about eleven-year-olds, which I think everyone on this side of their twelfth birthdays can agree on). You know exactly what I’m talking about.
Over the next several years of repeatedly losing things and then seeing them mysteriously reappear the moment I no longer needed them, I formulated the following theorem: The fastest way to find something is to replace it.
It may be unprovable and unscientific, but it’s got a better track record than some laws I can think of. Murphy’s Law, for instance. “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong?” Okay, it’s cute, but it’s pretty hyperbolic, and therefore demonstrably false. I mean, most of us manage to get through the day without choking to death on our own snot, right? That could happen, but I feel fairly comfortable flouting Murphy and saying that it won’t. Not to jinx everyone or anything. If Murphy had his way, the planet’s entire atmosphere would have been instantly incinerated in July 1945 by the first nuclear detonation. Instead, he just has a lot of egg on his face, which is admittedly preferable to having a face like a plate of overdone fajitas. That would have taken all the fun out of being right.
And the law of gravity? Ha. Ha, I say! That law is violated so routinely that when it actually does wake up and pay attention to the occasional airplane, it’s a big damn deal. And we’re talking about one of the elemental forces in the universe here.
But M. Giant’s law is different. I think that’s because it’s not a function of just this universe, but countless others. Think about it. A portal opens to another plane of existence, and your tape measure drops through it. You search everywhere for the tape measure, realize you need a new one, and pick one up at the hardware store. The alternate dimension senses this event, and burps your old tape measure right back on to your workbench. This kind of efficiency would not be possible if the various universes were not working smoothly in concert with one another.
Interestingly, the value or importance of the temporarily missing item is directly proportional to the time it stays missing after its replacement is in place. I bought a new pack of guitar picks this weekend and the missing ones turned up that very day. On the other hand, my W-2 forms from last year are still AWOL, months after I got new copies at some inconvenience. I don’t know what’s behind that. Maybe it’s something to do with conservation of matter. Or maybe it’s the cosmos’s way of not making you feel too stupid about having two BMW Z3’s because you “forgot where you parked” the first one.
Trash didn’t buy into this theory for a while, because she’s smart and organized and has this mutant ability to know exactly where she put everything she’s ever picked up in her life. Sadly, she didn’t have to buy into it; she married into it. I explained it to her several times, but she didn’t believe me until she lost her glasses one April, squinted throughout the summer, gave in and bought new glasses in September, and found her old glasses in the pocket of a jacket she only wore in April and September. She’s been a believer ever since.
It is possible to use M. Giant’s law to your advantage. It works best when the missing item is something non-perishable. For instance, it may seem easier to buy a new box of eggs than go in after the one that just rolled into the tesseract behind the refrigerator, but trust me when I say that the retrieval is worth the effort. And you can’t give up looking for something right away, like a babysitter playing Hide & Seek. M. Giant’s law doesn’t come into effect unless the item has entered a state I call “good and lost.” Good and lost only happens when you’ve looked every reasonable place that something could possibly be, and then some more places. When you’re utterly flummoxed, when you honestly can’t understand where your objective has gotten to, when you’ve gotten to the point where you’re sifting through the catbox for the remote control or looking in the freezer for the tent stakes, then and only then will the universes decide that you’ve had enough. And they’ll still make you get a new one.
But listen, just because figuring this out has made my life easier, that doesn’t mean it’s a foolproof way of finding, say, that extra sock or that one pen that writes really nicely. Don’t just run out and buy copies of everything you’ve lost track of, expecting to keep the receipts and return them when the original turns up. M. Giant’s law will not be taunted in such a way. What do you think is going to happen to the receipts, smart guy? posted by M. Giant 3:18 PM 0 comments
Wednesday, September 11, 2002 There’s a guy who collects misheard song lyrics in books. One of them contains somebody’s misinterpretation of “Love Bites” by Def Leppard. Sing along with me; you know the words:
Love bites, love bleeds.
It’s bringing me to my knees.
Love bleeds, love bites.
And so on. Except somebody had always thought that the words were:
The price of beans:
It’s bringing me to my knees
The beans! The price!
There was even a drawing of someone throwing a wobbler in the produce aisle while a more financially and emotionally stable fellow shopper looked on. Trash and I always thought of that when we heard the song on the radio, which is probably why we left it on that morning, singing along about extortionate legume wholesalers. We were feeling smug. Our ten-year wedding anniversary was three days away. Wing Chun was planning to run my second Hissyfit the next day. We were excited for our friend Laure, who was moving to New York that coming weekend. It was warm and sunny. Life was good. We’d just stopped off to vote in the mayoral primary and were feeling all self-congratulatory about having participated in democracy when the song on the radio came to an abrupt end.
“I guess they were done,” we observed archly. Yeah, they were. Because the DJs were cutting in to say—
Well, this was a year ago today, so you already know what they were cutting in to say.
All they knew was that one plane had hit one tower. They had a picture, and they described the smoke coming out. They wondered how big the plane had been. They wondered how such an accident could have happened. By the time I dropped Trash off at her office, the second plane had hit and it wasn’t an accident any more.
“Be careful,” I told my wife as she got out of the car. I didn’t know how she was going to do that, and neither did she, but she said it back to me.
I stopped for gas on my way to work. The irony escaped me at the time, but I didn’t know what I know now. I filled the tank with my car radio on and the door open so I could hear what was happening. Then I hurried to work.
Our office has a video wall with four large screens. Two of them are always tuned to CNBC and Headline News, partially so we can track market developments, but mainly because it impresses potential clients. By the time I arrived, a group of my coworkers were already standing there. Watching the smoke and the fire. Watching the plane hit. Watching it again. Watching it some more. The video wall doesn’t have sound; it doesn’t even have closed captioning. For once, we didn’t need it. The images were speaking for themselves. I switched the screens over to CNN and the Big Three.
I remember seeing the World Trade Center in person for the first time from the New Jersey side. Just like that shot in the opening credits of The Sopranos. My family and I were driving into Manhattan to spend the day. We took the subway to within a couple blocks of Central Park and went from there. I got a closer look at the Twin Towers from the sidewalk outside the Empire State Building. They seemed impossible. We walked a few blocks further south, and I think that’s as close as we got. I hoped to go up to the top one day. This was in May of 2001. They’ve now been gone for three times as long as they existed after I saw them.
When the first tower came down, I remember the horror and shock and grief, the unreality of it. And I remember thinking how strange it was going to be in a few months when the World Trade Center had only one tower. Obviously, that wasn’t the case even an hour later.
Nobody got much work done that day. I sat at my desk listening to the radio as confused and confusing reports poured in, both true and false. The attack on the Pentagon. The car bomb at the State Department. The plane going down in Pennsylvania, and another one near Camp David. The plane over Texas that wasn’t responding to attempts to communicate. Skyscrapers in every city in America being evacuated. Some wiseass getting arrested for signing into an office building’s security register as “Osama bin Laden.” Just like in New York, the sky here that day was clear and bright, but the ground was bucking beneath our feet. We were under attack, and it didn’t seem to be ending. I was relieved to see the sun set that night and I was relieved to go to bed. But I wasn’t relieved to wake up on the morning of the twelfth, because when I did the previous day had still happened.
It’s been a year of what ifs. What if the FDNY had radios that worked? What if the fighter jets had gotten there in time to shoot down the passenger planes? What if they had done it? What if someone fell through a timewarp and found themselves in Logan Airport at five in the morning? Could they have stopped it? What if there hadn’t been an attack? What would the Taliban be doing now? Would we be seriously talking about invading Iraq?
I thought about going quiet today, because really, who the hell am I? I wasn’t on the East Coast that day; I didn’t lose anyone; it turned out I wasn’t ever in any danger; a missing friend turned up a few days later, and Sars wasn’t seriously hurt; and I don’t live or work in New York or New Jersey and thus don’t have to look every day at that hole in the skyline. I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said a thousand times already by smarter people than I. I don’t have any answers, and even if I did, nobody who needs to listen would.
I don’t know. The same part of me that hoped we would only have to live in our dangerous new world for a day is still hoping that we only have to live in it for a year. Just like I felt for the first week, the first month, the first six months after the attacks. A certain amount of time would pass, a nice round number, and everything could go back the way it was. Some things have, for a lot of people, in big ways and small. And a lot of things haven’t. From the sub-trivial, like the fact that I’ll never hear “Love Bites” the same way as long as I live, to the enduring tragedy of the people who had to say goodbye that morning, and the people who didn’t get a chance to.
A year and a day ago, the words “September Eleventh” meant about as much as “March Twenty-Eighth” or “June Third.” Now they’ve taken on a totemic significance. For the first time since that nightmare, September Eleventh is today. It feels weird to be walking around in it; it’s like a temporal version of Ground Zero.
Probably because that’s exactly what it is.
I don’t know what else to say, except this: be careful.
posted by M. Giant 5:54 AM 0 comments
Tuesday, September 10, 2002 I left my ATM card in the machine the other day. It’s been turned in and cancelled, so don’t start running around and banging your heads together looking for it so you can drain my bank accounts. I was using it to withdraw cash, which I successfully withdrew, and then drove off, leaving the card in the machine. It was an incredibly stupid and careless thing to do. So stupid and careless, in fact, that I can’t understand why I don’t do it all the time.
Obviously I had no idea I’d done this at the time, because I was sitting complacently at home when the bank called. Even I wouldn’t have been blithe enough to realize my mistake and say, “Huh. No cash card. Must have left it at the ATM. Oh well, I guess I’ll pick it up next time I use that cash machine.” So I wasn’t even thinking about it. And when your bank calls you on a Saturday afternoon, you know it can’t be good news. Under the circumstances, “Someone just found your ATM card and is turning it in” is much better news than I deserved. Something along the lines of, “Mr. Giant, we were just calling to make sure you meant to clear out all of your accounts an hour ago” is what we’re told to expect when we screw up like that in this day and age. Nobody’s gambling away our money in Vegas right now, but that’s through no fault of my own. Thanks, Lady Who Didn’t Take All Of Our Money To Vegas.
I seem to remember reading about Pamela Anderson doing something like this a couple of years ago. Quoth Anderson at the time, “Oh, I can’t believe I did that. I’m so stupid.” You and me both, Pammy. I have nothing to add to that.
That's not true: I'll add at least I'm not dumb enough to date Kid Rock.
* * *
Update: MC, the star of my “Low Rider” entry, has come up with a temporary fix for his broken car seat. To keep the back of the seat propped upright, he’s jammed a cooler into the space behind it. A friend of his suggested the solution, having come up with it when he had a similar problem. I guess this kind of thing is more common than I realized. So make sure your cars are in good working order, and make sure to have a cooler ready in case of emergencies. You don’t ever want to find yourself stranded on the side of the road with no portable ice chest.
My car loan just got paid off a week ago, so I own it free and clear. I guess that means I can look forward to it starting to fall apart any day now. Until my back seat drops off, I’ll just take pleasure in the comparatively minor gripes of a wonky glove-box latch and a tire with a slow leak. And I'd better start doing ab crunches just in case.
* * *
A lot of you were probably reading the site I’m going to tell you about long before I came along, but I’ve got something important to say to the rest of you:
One of the links to your right goes to a website called Television Without Pity. You should too. And when you do, click on as many ads as you can. TWoP is in trouble, my friends. Deep trouble. It’s a specimen of an increasingly rare breed: the totally free and incredibly large content site without a corporate sugar daddy. The Internet economy’s downturn is finally catching up to it, and the income it gets from advertising isn’t covering expenses like bandwidth and writers’ salaries. And I know you all understand that writers deserve to get paid.
TWoP has always strenuously resisted suggestions to implement a subscription model or donation system, insisting that their site would always be free. Even now, with TWoP at death’s door and slowly being dragged inside through the mail slot, the only reason they’re even considering taking any money at all from readers is because of the overwhelming number of readers who are trying to give it to them. And even so, they haven’t agreed to anything. They’d rather take money from advertisers than from you. But the only way that’ll happen, and the only way the site will continue to exist, is if the advertisers are satisfied that you’re there to see them.
The Powers That Be over at TWoP have posted an announcement explaining the situation in more detail. Go check it out. If you don’t know about Television Without Pity, head over and read some of the recaps of the shows they cover. Your favorite is probably in there. After a week, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it. As many people already do, if the forums are any indication. If there’s a more entertaining television-related website on the ‘Net, I’m not aware of it.
Help it out while you still have a chance. And if it goes away because of your apathy, it won’t be pretty around here for a good long time. posted by M. Giant 3:44 PM 0 comments
Monday, September 09, 2002 A few years ago, Trash and I found ourselves in Asheville, North Carolina for the weekend. It’s a lovely little town, and if you ever end up there I strongly suggest eating at the Flying Frog. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. I order you to eat there. I’m not even kidding.
We hadn’t planned to go to Asheville in the first place, but we ended up there because the place where we were supposed to be, Myrtle Beach, was getting smacked around by Hurricane Fran. So we left. We’re wusses that way.
Our last night in the hotel, it was raining and we were out of stuff to read and we had to get up early the next morning to catch our flight, so we watched TV. This involved a lot of channel-flipping, since nothing good was on, and the batteries in the remote control, already weak, punked out entirely.
Carrying the remote, I padded up to the front desk in my stocking feet to ask for new batteries. The night manager said he’d check to see if they had any. He looked in a drawer, without success. He looked in another drawer. No dice. In a minute, both he and the desk clerk were giving the area behind the desk a thorough ransacking. They were coming up empty, and while I was starting to feel a little sorry for them, there wasn’t much I could do. I’ve never worked at a hotel, but I’m pretty sure it’s not appropriate for a guest to offer to hurdle the desk and start tossing it. Otherwise I’d be doing it all the time.
The manager dispatched the clerk to look in the office, where she again came up empty. By this time I could have driven to the store and gotten my own damn batteries, but it was one of those situations where you’ve already invested so much time into resolving it this way that you don’t want to walk away now. I should have known better.
Finally, it was established to everyone’s satisfaction that there were no AA batteries anywhere. I was out of luck.
A credit to his profession, the manager immediately offered an elegant solution:
“We can move you into a different room.”
Great. What a splendid idea. Just give us a half hour or so to pack up all of our crap so we can move across the hall to a room where we can watch twenty boring shows at a time instead of the one boring show we’re stuck on now. Since we’re checking out in nine hours, that just makes all kinds of sense.
I really didn’t want a functioning remote that badly, and I politely declined. Then I floated an alternate remedy:
“Can you take the batteries out of the remote in an empty room?”
The manager and the clerk looked at me as if I’d just invented electricity before their eyes.
“We can do that,” the manager said with frank awe. And so they did. It only took another ten minutes. By the time I got back to the room, Trash was operating the TV manually. She asked what had taken me so long.
I said, “You know, it’s bad for you to sit so close to the TV.” It’s a good thing I was still holding the remote, because she probably would have thrown it at me.
It’s nice to know that whatever else happens, I have the innovative thinking and problem-solving skills it takes to be a good hotel manager. Or at least a better one than some I can think of. posted by M. Giant 3:25 PM 0 comments
Friday, September 06, 2002 When you’re trying to wring out a thousand or so words of semi-readable prose every workday, it tends to develop your powers of observation. You notice things more thoroughly, because everything that happens to you is potential material. You do it for a matter of months, and nothing will get past you, ever.
Or so I thought.
I have a Far Side desk calendar at work. It’s the page-a-day kind, and from what I’ve read, it’s an annual best-seller. If you don’t have one, you probably either have a coworker who does, or you don’t have coworkers.
Anyway, I noticed something about it yesterday. A pattern, if you will.
Every day of this year’s calendar features a Far Side cartoon in which someone is dead, dying, or about to die. Sometimes it’s a human, sometimes it’s an animal, and sometimes it’s the entire human race. Naturally, those last ones are the funniest.
I don’t have the box any more, but I’m pretty sure the copy on the packaging didn’t say anything about that. The title is “Last Impressions,” which I thought meant this was the last year of Far Side desk calendars. A reasonable assumption, since I think those calendars have been getting published for more years than the cartoon was in the newspaper. They have to be running out of material. I thought it was a little odd that such a mainstay was disappearing with such little fanfare, but it’s not like I pay much attention to this sort of thing, And it’s not like Gary Larson does fanfare anyway.
And, also in my defense, what does it say about Gary Larson that he killed people in the daily funnies so frequently that I didn’t even notice the pattern until two-thirds of the way through the year? I’ll tell you what it says. It says Gary Larson is a sick, twisted bastard, that’s what. I sure miss him.
The fact that this year has had my favorite Far Side calendar ever now makes a lot more sense. But it doesn’t mean that I’m a sick, twisted bastard. No, not at all.
* * *
You know who I don’t miss? Bill Watterson. Yes, Calvin and Hobbes gave us four years of brilliant, hilarious, groundbreaking daily comics. Then it ran for six more.
It’s not just that his Tenth Anniversary book was saved from cover-to-cover self-congratulation by unattractive screeds about the economics of cartoons and the bloodsuckers who published his work all over the world and made him rich. It’s not that I’m down on people who get to a certain point and then coast, because, hey, look around. What bugged me about Watterson was how he took comics so seriously. And none more seriously than his own. He spent a ridiculous amount of time and energy complaining about how strips had shrunk so much in daily papers, which in turn was leading to the death of comics as an art form.
Someone tell me if I’m wrong, but back in the day of Pogo and Gasoline Alley, did comics take up two whole pages in the daily paper? Because they do in mine. If the funnies had a section of their own seven days a week, then I’ll shut up. But if they didn’t, there’s something I’d like to point out:
Bill Watterson wasn’t complaining because there wasn’t enough space for comics. He was complaining because there wasn’t enough space for his comic. One of the by-products of the incredible shrinking comic strip was that more people got to be on the comics page. And I’m sorry, but I can’t possibly see that as anything but good. I’m okay with a little forced minimalism in Blondie if it means I also get to read Boondocks, The Norm, The Duplex, and any number of others that nobody would ever get to see if Walt Kelly was still alive to draw a freaking mural every day.
You know what else I wouldn’t mind? I wouldn’t mind if we stopped seeing daily comic strips by DEAD PEOPLE. Peanuts is just the most prominent tombstone in a section that’s turning into a giant graveyard. If a strip doesn’t go away when its creator dies, when does it go away? Never? I’m not even talking about the artists who should have retired decades ago here, although there are any number of those. Even little Billy from Family Circus, who at thirty-plus is well past “precocious” and deeply into “catastrophically stunted,” is creatively tapped out in his increasingly frequent turns in the artist’s chair. Make a clean sweep and get strips like Red Meat, Tom the Dancing Bug, and This Modern World in front of the bigger audiences they’ve been earning for years.
And while we’re at it, all you newspapers who stick Doonesbury in the Op/Ed section? Don’t pretend you’re not hypocrites until you print B.C. right next to it. That dude’s losing it.
Yikes, he’s not the only one. Look at me. I’m turning into Bill Watterson or something over here.
posted by M. Giant 3:54 PM 0 comments
Thursday, September 05, 2002 I said I’d stop talking about Seattle for a while. I didn’t say I’d stop talking about Portland.
Much as our visit to Seattle coincided with Bumbershoot, our drive down to Portland happened to be on the same day as an event called “Bite of Portland.” We have something similar here called “Taste of Minnesota,” and I’m sure that other cities all around the country have similar events like “Mouthful of Kansas City” and “Edible Phoenix” and “Masticate Kalamazoo” or whatever. It’s basically a thing where the entire city gathers in one place and eats one item from every restaurant in the metropolitan area. Often there are concerts featuring some of the music industry’s most prestigious names, up to and including Chubby Checker. We didn’t attend “the Bite,” but we liked the fact that it didn’t seem to be driving up the price of hotel rooms that night.
Another thing I appreciated about Portland is how it’s so darn convenient. We drove in one direction from our hotel, expecting to wander aimlessly and hit whatever tourist attractions we stumbled upon at random. As it turns out, many of Portland’s top tourist traps are gathered together in one place. Now, that’s helpful. We were able to experience some of the finest things that the city of Portland has to offer, from the world-renowned Japanese Gardens, to the Rose Garden, to the Zoo, to the Children’s Museum, all in a matter of minutes, and without ever having to get out of the car. Thumbs up, Portland!
On the other hand, you can drive an hour in the opposite direction and find yourself at the foot of Mount Hood, the highest peak in Oregon at over 11,000 feet. That was cool. We don’t have that many mountains here in Minneapolis, unless you count Buck Hill, which you can’t, and that’s in the suburbs anyway. There’s a road that loops around Mount Hood, and as we wound along it, our ears doing impressions of a case of Pop Secret while the peak itself hovered in and out of view in all its lumpy, threatening glory, we could imagine the pioneers passing through the area along the Oregon Trail, and we’d remember how deadly this beautiful region might have been. Even today, we could get a flat tire and never be heard from again.
Then we’d pass another vacation resort just like the one two miles before and the illusion would be ruined. That’s what Mount Hood gets for being so close to Portland, I guess.
At one point I got out of the car to take a picture of the peak, dashing up a short ridge of scree to get a better shot.
“Huh,” I thought. “I’m closer, and yet the mountain looks smaller from here.”
“That’s because you’ve driven a third of the way up the side of it, you bonehead,” I reminded myself. I was actually impressed with myself that I was able to scamper back down the ridge without dropping the camera or racking myself in the process. My shoes still have some of that distinctive, light-gray Mount Hood dust on them. Good thing I wasn’t there to dispose of a body, because that’s the kind of thing that gets people nicked when they’re suspects on C.S.I.
Overall, the vacation was a success. Perhaps I’ll post some pictures from it over the weekend. Or perhaps that’s just a transparent ploy to keep my traffic from doing its usual Saturday morning drop. There’s only one way to find out.
* * *
I mentioned yesterday that American Idol has become appointment TV in our house over the past couple of weeks, implying that we’re equally into it. Trash read that, and she refuses to let me take the fall with her. So I have to say, for the sake of honesty, that she’s the primary Idol watcher in the house, not I. She saw some of the “performance” clips on the official website and just got reeled in. It could have happened to anyone, and none of us should think less of her for it.
That being said, Yay Kelly! posted by M. Giant 3:26 PM 0 comments
Wednesday, September 04, 2002 I could go on about the Seattle trip for a third day running, but since that feels like the blogging equivalent of making party guests sit through a box of vacation slides, I’m giving that a rest today.
Our VCR has been acting up since May. It still runs and records and rewinds and searches and does everything else you want your VCR to do, but when you go to play it back the sound has this annoying, high-speed waver to it. Especially on the higher pitches. We’d be watching an episode of The West Wing and Martin Sheen wouldn’t sound so bad, but Mary-Louise Parker would be incredibly grating. So obviously that needed to get fixed.
This is our second VCR since we’ve been married. The first one, a JVC, lasted seven years, then started bucking for a promotion to garbage disposal. Why it thought that would be a promotion was beyond me, but for whatever reason, it decided to shred any tape we put into it. This would have been perfectly acceptable if we had been using it to, say, edit Road Rules episodes or something, but it made it kind of hard to watch movies. So it was decommissioned and replaced by a Sony.
When the Sony started going south and the head-cleaner kit didn’t work, I figured we’d get through the end of the TV season and I’d bring it in to get it fixed. It would be gone a couple of weeks and come back good as new. Except I’m a procrastinator, and before I knew it Monk had started, and Tony Shalhoub sounded fine even though Bitty Schram sounded grating, and it was too late.
Here’s where it gets embarrassing. In the past couple of weeks, our house has been caught up in American Idol fever. Don’t judge us, dammit.
Our friend Banana is out of town this week, and she’s charged us with keeping her cats alive and taping the final two episodes of American Idol, with the two tasks assigned roughly the same importance. Given that the show ostensibly revolves around singing, it would be inappropriate to tape it using a VCR that infuses every sound with a strident, high-speed vibrato. Especially since Christina got voted off weeks ago. So we decided to buy a cheap-ass VCR to get us through while the Sony was in the shop.
That’s what I did yesterday. I don’t know if you’ve shopped for a VCR lately. It’s likely that few people have, given the ascendance of DVD and TiVo over the past couple of years. The poor VCR, that relic of the Reagan years, doesn’t even rate its own section any more. And it’s getting cheap. I could have bought a new Sony for eighty dollars, but since this was just going to be a temporary/backup machine, I merely flipped a coin to decide between the Playskool and Fisher-Price models, then used the same coin to purchase one. Needless to say, I forewent the “service protection” plan.
Today I brought the Sony in to the electronics superstore near my office. James Lileks can complain all he wants about the neighborhood that got wiped out to make room for the store’s corporate HQ, and he’s right, but it’s made a world of difference in the service we can expect at the nearest retail outlet. When I went into the store today, I expected to never see my Sony again until Christmas. Instead, a black-shirted tech cracked it open in front of me and diagnosed the problem in minutes. No charge.
The bad news is that it would cost more to fix than it would to buy a new one [insert standard rant about disposable culture here]. The good news is that the problem wasn’t in the motor or the heads, but the output jack. That means the problem only manifests itself during playback, which in turn means that our Buffy archive project is safe.
The only problem is that now I feel a bit silly owning the A/V equivalent of an Easy-Bake oven as my primary means of recording TV shows. What we’ll probably end up doing is continuing to use the Sony for recording and the Brand-Nifto recorder for playback, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. It makes us sound either like snobby technophiles, which we’re not, or rednecks who use one truck for hauling dirt and another for hauling scrap lumber, which we’re also not. And something tells me that in a few years, a VCR is going to be about as vital to home entertainment as record turntables are today.
Meanwhile, our friends keep telling us to get the damn TiVo already. It might be worth it, if only to make Mary-Louise Parker less grating. posted by M. Giant 3:34 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, September 03, 2002 Trash and I hadn’t reserved a room in advance of our trip to Seattle. We used to reserve rooms in advance. The last time we tried that, about a year and a half ago, we found ourselves in a Days Inn in New Orleans in the shadow of the Superdome with cinder block walls, way too many funky lifeforms incubating in the bathroom, and some guy relieving himself in the parking ramp (given the condition of the bathrooms, who could blame him?). For this, we had agreed to pay almost eighty bucks a night. We went from having reservations to having profound reservations. Naturally, we decided to see if we could find something better. We got back in our rental car and started trolling through the French Quarter. Those of you who’ve met Trash in person know that she’s got some kind of funky bargain-magnet Mojo going on that allows her to get great deals on stuff for no apparent reason. In New Orleans, she got us a sprawling suite in an eighteenth-century hotel with not only a kitchen, but also a balcony overlooking Decatur Avenue and the Mississippi River. This set us back less than we would have paid for a flop onto a slab of egg-carton foam rubber in a leprous motor lodge with a shared bathroom and a door that doesn’t lock. I don’t know how she does it, so I can’t tell you.
Anyway, with that kind of history, we weren’t too worried about finding a place to stay. The Mojo even worked at the rental car counter, where we were able to upgrade to a Chrysler Sebring instead of the rubber-band-powered soda can on wheels we had reserved. That out of the way, we proceeded downtown, fully confident that for a pittance, we’d probably be able to spend a couple of nights someplace really nice, like the Space Needle or something.
Interesting thing about Seattle: there seem to be a lot more apartment vacancies than hotel vacancies. While wandering the disorienting patchwork grids, it occurred to us that maybe it would be a little harder to get a good, cheap hotel room during a week that contained not only a holiday, but also the Bumbershoot festival. Oops. We briefly entertained the idea of just finding an apartment and paying a month’s rent, then skipping out when it was time to fly home. That was starting to look like the cheapest way to go. It’s like Seattle is saying, “no, you can’t visit—move in! There’s plenty of room!”
Our flight had landed at around 9:00 a.m. local time, and by 1:00 we were arguing over which one of us would get to sleep in the Sebring’s back seat. Finally, we found the Moore Hotel in Belltown, a charming old place with a marble lobby and lots of character (but not too much character, if you know what I mean). They could only guarantee us one night, but Trash worked her Mojo and we were in for as long as we ended up needing. There was no balcony, but we could see the boats on Elliott Bay from our window. As well as a lot of the actual bay.
My wife: don’t leave home without her. posted by M. Giant 4:33 PM 0 comments
Monday, September 02, 2002 I’m back again. First of all, I want to thank Gael, Rob, Kim, and Monty for having so much time for us while we were in their city. I’m also grateful to all of you who sent in tips on what to do and see in Seattle (including Jennifer, whom we also got to meet). I can’t say we did and saw them all, but we made a pretty decent dent. And we learned early on that when Lonely Planet and readers disagree, it’s best to go with the readers. Rest assured that on our next vacation, we’re going to be leaning on you folks again. Y’all rock
On Wednesday morning, our itinerary required us to roll out of bed at Oh God in the morning and get to the airport under cover of pre-dawn darkness. I phrased that as if it were possible to sneak so much as an illicit memory into an airport these days, but that’s obviously not the case. For the last year, the metal detectors have been dialed up so high that you can’t get through them if you have a Led Zeppelin song in your head.
Used to be I could walk through the beeping archway in a full suit of armor without slowing down, and the guards would wave me past as I clanked into the terminal. It’s a different story now.
Now I have to jettison my keys, wallet, pen, and whatever change I happen to be carrying into the little tray. But even that doesn’t do it. Then I tried zipping my belt and glasses into a coat pocket before I sent it on the conveyor. I was still hot. Apparently the grommets that hold my shoelaces would enable me to take over a flight cabin. So the shoes went too. After a number of occasions when I set off the metal detectors despite the fact that my person was entirely denuded of anything possessing a crystalline molecular structure, I started cutting meat out of my diet weeks before every trip in an attempt to reduce the level of iron in my blood.
It must have been extra frustrating for Trash to have to haul all of our luggage and other items past the guard station while I was getting a thorough wanding. I certainly wasn’t a threat to anyone that state: penniless, barefoot, legally blind, anemic, and almost fully occupied with keeping my pants from falling down.
So finally I just gave up and resigned myself to a total body-cavity search every time I got on a plane. The price of freedom being vigilance, and all that.
Which was why we were both a little surprised on Wednesday morning when my specs, keys, and change elicited nary a peep from the metal detector. I guess it hadn’t had its coffee yet.
posted by M. Giant 7:33 PM 0 comments