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


Wednesday, November 27, 2002  

A couple of weekends ago, I decided to do something I’d never done before in my life. I decided to rake and bag all of the leaves in the yard. By myself. It was also something I’ll never do again.

I guess I’m lucky that I never had to handle the project solo before. My parents never made me do it by myself when I lived at home, and when Trash and I lived in apartments the landlords used to let us help each other (although how we got stuck raking Hennepin Avenue that year still puzzles me). After we moved in to the house, we adopted one or more of the following strategies: get one of our parents to come over and help us, pay the neighbor kids to do it, or just wait for the leaves to blow away. But this year I didn’t get around to scheduling any help. Plus the neighbors have a fence now. And since Trash (who was busy and therefore couldn't help me) had refused to let me set fire to the lawn on Halloween, I had some cleaning up to do.

The most important thing to keep in mind when raking leaves is timing. When I do it, I only want to do it once. I don’t understand people who start bagging in late August. What could they be thinking? Sure, it’s warm outside, and it gets dark later, but here’s a tip: if you’re bagging leaves in the shade, you’re wasting your time. It’s like vacuuming your living room before the cat dies.

Vastly preferable is my method of waiting until every tree in the neighborhood looks like something out of an Edward Gorey illustration. Of course, there are a lot of years when that doesn’t happen until there’s already a foot and a half of snow on the ground, and there’s no way you can get at the leaves until spring. Like I said, my method is vastly preferable.

But this year’s weather conditions conspired to leave me with bare trees and a Sunday afternoon that was warm enough to allow me to be outside for extended periods of time without my blood freezing. Also, this is my first autumn as a proud chiminea owner. And there’s no task, no matter how tedious, that can’t be livened up with some fire. Am I right?

Besides I figured that if I got too bored with the raking and bagging and raking and bagging, I could just stuff the leaves into the chiminea, saturate it with lighter fluid, and torch the whole pulpy mess.

I was prepared. I had my rake. I had my electric leaf-blower. I had the biggest, best, strongest bags you can buy (it even said so on the box, and the fact that the bags went from black to nearly transparent when I unfolded them is merely more proof that they were constructed from some indestructible space-age polymer, and the way that green leaf stems poked through them when they pressed on the surface at the correct angle simply demonstrates their adaptability, and the lack of drawstrings, tieable handles, or twist-ties only shows that the manufacturers wanted to concentrate on making the best bag possible, and I’m sorry, but this parenthetical has gone on so long that at this point I don’t think I’m even going to bother closing it.

Four hours later, the sun went down and I was about halfway finished with the backyard.

How do people do this every year? It’s boring! It’s soul-draining! It takes forever! It turns your fingers into filthy Popsicles! Maybe I could have gotten more done if I hadn’t bothered to pull the larger and medium-sized sticks out of the leaves for the fire (and also to keep the sticks from shredding any bags that also contained, you know, leaves), but then I wouldn’t have had a fire. Or any intact bags.

I’ve been meaning to get back to the project, but my weekends have been too busy and the window of sunlight on weekdays is more or less equal to my workday and I’m not about to bag leaves by the illumination of the garage light. Not to mention that I don’t think it’s going to get much warmer any time soon. That means I’m either going to have to finish the job in arctic gear or look at the leaves until the snow covers them.

Come on, snow!

* * *

We went to another bar trivia contest last night, this time at a different bar. The difference between that trivia and the one at Kieran’s is like the difference between Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. The comedian Drake Sather used to have a bit about the difference between those two shows. On Jeopardy, people would get introductions like “Don is a particle physicist, and in his spare time he enjoys building brains,” whereas on Wheel we’d get to hear introductions like “Jan is interested in small, shiny objects.” Let’s just say that last night, it would have been wise to cover up anything glittery.

That’s actually pretty churlish of me to say considering we ended up third. Actually, we’d only missed two out of forty questions all evening, which put us in a three-way tie for first. The only reason we dropped out was because we didn’t know one of the questions in the three-point tiebreaker round. The question was “Who is Vincent Furnier?” and if you already know that off the top of your head, keep it to yourself, because even I know it now. We could have held on if the second and third tiebreaking rounds had come first, because they all had to do with Star Trek. Shut up. Cool is immaterial when trivia prizes are at stake.

That first place team at Kieran’s had still better look out, though. We’re in training and everything.

posted by M. Giant 3:30 PM 0 comments

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Tuesday, November 26, 2002  

It’s kind of nice to have a hair salon five blocks from my house. It’s kind of a pain to never be able to go there.

It’s not because I got banned for stealing hair to create my voodoo fetishes, or for guzzling the jars of comb goo, or whatever. It’s because I got tired of always getting a bad haircut.

My coif is really not all that demanding. I don’t expect to get out of the chair looking like James Bond. I do expect to get out of the chair not looking like Tim Blake Nelson in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, however.





“Vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred.”


Given my modest tonsorial goals, I feel perfectly comfortable going to the local chain salon. Just not the most local chain salon, because there lurks Gary.

Gary (not his real name) sports an orange, purple-tipped mullet. That in itself isn’t such a warning sign; you know what they say about the barber with the worst haircut in town. But it turns out, once again, that they lied. I don’t know why I ever listen to them.

Making me look like I’d just been admitted to a prison for the developmentally disabled was bad enough, but Gary’s insistence on Chinese-water-torturing me with his weak attempts at “humor” were, I’m fairly sure, in direct violation of several provisions of the Geneva convention. But for some reason, I kept going back. I figured that being within walking distance of the place outweighed the odds of ending up under Gary’s shears yet again. I miscalculated the odds.

I think I know where I made my mistake. I based my calculations on a staff of five to six stylists on duty at any given time, then subtracted my estimate of Gary’s off-hours, assuming he had a forty-hour work week. That last assumption was my downfall. Gary is there all. The. Time. He’s there on weekends. He’s there weekday evenings. He’s there weekday mornings. He’s there during holidays, eclipses, and street riots. He is never not there. He has always been there, and he will always be there. When the strip mall that contains the salon gets knocked down to make way for a Starbucks or a prison or an active volcano, he’ll still be standing there terrorizing unsuspecting barristas, inmates and/or grotesquely mutated futuristic squirrel-men with his dull clippers and duller wit. That’s because he sucks so bad that nobody will ever tip him, so he needs as many hours as he can get. And is anyone else going to hire him? Let’s just say that’s never going to happen unless I steal a lot of hair.

I know I could have requested a specific stylist. But that would require me to learn the name of another specific stylist, and the specter of Gary would always drive any other names from my mind. Including my own. And even if it hadn’t, all the other stylists would have been snapped up by people just as keen to avoid Gary as I am. And it’s not like Minnesota Nice allows a person like me to walk into a hair salon and say “I’d like a haircut from someone who’s not Gary. My name is M. Giant. Okay, I’ll wait. Thanks, Gary.”

Why didn’t I just get my hair cut someplace else, you ask? Because I’d been hooked. I was chained to the nearby store by a bond I couldn’t break: and incomplete punch card. Yes, for over a year I carried around in my wallet a slip of cardboard that entitled me to one free bad haircut after I paid for ten bad haircuts. I wasn’t about to turn down that kind of bargain. Eventually I got the card filled up and claimed my free haircut. It was worth every penny.

So now I drive two miles to the next-nearest discount dead-tissue-trimming emporium and take my chances with whoever happens to be wielding the scissors that day. I still don’t know any of the stylists’ names, but none of them is Gary. And that makes it all worth it.

posted by M. Giant 3:18 PM 0 comments

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Monday, November 25, 2002  

Trash and I normally start our Christmas shopping sometime in the middle of December. If you’re wondering how we get it all done in a couple of weeks, let me clarify: we’re shopping for next Christmas.

This is one of the areas in which Trash and I differ. She’s an organizer, a planner, a doer. I’m a rester, a hanger-outer, then a flailer-around-at-the-last-second-in-abject-panic. Don’t think for a second that I don’t appreciate her organizational abilities, because they leave me more time for resting and hanging out in the long run, what with the abject panic in which to flail around at the last second having been exponentially reduced by her planning skills. Plus it’s so much easier to do what they call “enjoying the season” after she’s bought and wrapped all the gifts and neither of us has to worry about it any more. And when I say “enjoy the season,” I’m referring to the time of year when the landscape is transformed, when everyone smiles at each other a little more easily, when the air itself feels magical. Especially here in Minnesota. Yes, I’m talking about spring.

No, I’m exaggerating a little bit. But it’s not unheard-of for us to be finished with our Christmas shopping by Halloween. Then all we have left to do is go through and write down what we have for everyone. Of course, Trash loves this part so much that I suspect her of hiding the list from me as soon as we’re finished so we can do it twenty or thirty more times before the twenty-fourth. She denies it, but I can smell the paper on her breath. Of course, I can’t really complain when everybody else is spending their December screaming from store to store in mounting panic and I’m on my third nap of the day.

Not this year, though. I don’t know how it happened, but the holidays totally sneaked up on us this year. One minute we had thirteen shopping months until Christmas, and the next we were making Thanksgiving plans with no gifts purchased except the seemingly random contents of a few boxes from Amazon. Cue the flailing-around-at-the-last-second-in-abject-panic, times two.

But it’s a lot better than it might have been, because we’re doing almost all of our shopping online this year. Trash pilots the computer while I sit behind her as her RIO, reading off of our list. Then we keep going until we reach the vendor’s free-shipping threshold and move on. Then a couple of days later, a box of crap appears on our deck and we get to find out what we got. It’s like many, many Christmases for the price of one.

And it’s so, so much better than loading into the car, driving around to a bunch of stores we hate, looking at a bunch of stuff we hate, getting it all crammed into those maddeningly rustly plastic bags that we hate, loading it all into the car which we’ve come to hate, driving it all back to the house that we now hate because it’s completely clogged up with stuff for other people, who we hate, and fight about who’s going to wrap everything because now we hate each other. Seriously, shopping online is the way to go. Plus, have you ever tried taking a Solitaire break in the women’s department? Nobody respects our nice, neat rows of cards on the floor when they’re clawing at each other over the last pair of electric slippers.

Basically, the convenience is making up for the time we wasted. We’re feeling a little stressed because we’re behind. But we’re only behind by our standards. And the Internet is helping us catch up quickly.

After we’re done, I’m going to ask Trash to make up a macro for next year so we can buy everything for everyone with one mouse click. She’s clever. She’ll figure out a way to do that.

Click. Nap. Happy Holidays.

* * *

By the way, if you're planning on shopping on Amazon, go there via this link. That way all your stuff is free.

No, it's not, really, but that way a part of your gift-buying dollar goes towards supporting a website that really deserves it. And then I get all of my stuff free.

Okay, not that last part.

posted by M. Giant 3:34 PM 0 comments

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Friday, November 22, 2002  

"A man with one clock always knows what time it is. A man with two clocks is never quite sure."

Check that out. I started today's entry with a quote. Do you think it makes me look smarter?

Okay, moving on.

One thing I collect is clocks. I'm not saying that because it's a month before Christmas, by the way. Trust me. I'm running out of places to hang the things as it is.

Who asked me, you wonder? Fair enough. Moving on. Again.

Another complication is that since Trash and I both hate getting out of bed in the morning, our getting-ready-for-work routine is synchronized to the nanosecond. Or it would be, if we didn't have so many clocks in the house disagreeing with each other.

For instance, she has her alarm clock set an hour ahead so that when she wakes up she thinks it's later than it is. I've got my alarm clock set a random number of minutes (anywhere between twenty and fifty) fast so I'm never sure how much earlier it is than my clock is telling me. And my other alarm clock is set a different random number of minutes ahead. The theory is that the uncertainty will motivate us to get up before the last possible second (or, as is often the case, fifteen minutes after the last posible second.) Yes, that's three alarm clocks for two people who get up at the same time. Did I mention that we hate getting out of bed in the morning?

So then I strap on my watch, which is set to work time, which is a few minutes slower than the rest of the Central Time Zone. Trash doesn't wear a watch at all, so she has to go by whatever clock in the house is closest to her. And since I generally don't have time to look at my wrist while throwing myself together, so do I. We go downstairs, past the "modern art" clock in the stairwell that's clever looking but impossible to read because the face is all askew, and even if it weren't the time would probably still be off. Trash might take a minute to check her e-mail, and then take another couple of minutes because the clock on Windows tells her she's got ten minutes more than she thought she did. Then her glance will wander up to the small mantel clock on the shelf above the monitor, and in the time it takes her gaze to rotate those forty-five degrees, thirteen minutes have disappeared. Meanwhile, I'm in the shower with the waterproof clock radio telling me a different time than the DJ is saying, and that's after I've looked at the clock in the kitchen while I was feeding the cats which told me it's yet another time. And more likely than not, the grandfather clock in the living room, the pendulum of which I've spent five years adjusting one atom at a time to try to get the thing to keep better time, has probably wound down. Trash is basically left to poll the various timepieces in the house and calculate an average. Not the most efficient way to go. She could go down to the basement to check the clock on our VCR, because that has to be accurate in order to tape our shows when we're gone, but since we switched to a Fisher-Price model in September, we don't have a VCR with a clock on the front. Of course, she could check the wall clock while she's down there, but its battery is going flat and it's anywhere between one minute and six hours early or late on any given day. So we're stuck just hurrying as quickly as we can, and then we get in the car and look at the car clock and say, "How the hell did it get to be that time?"

Finally Trash had enough. She asked me to synchronize the clocks in the house. She didn't care if they were off or not; she just wanted them to agree.

I could do better than that. I went above and beyond, you might say. I synchronized all of our clocks to the time given by the atomic clock at the U. S. Naval Observatory. I started with the computer clock (which was probably a waste of time, given the clock in Windows is so notoriously inaccurate that people make money by selling add-ons to fix it), then the mantel clock on the shelf above the monitor. Then I had to carry the mantel clock around the house because not only does my watch not have a second hand, it has only one number on its face. It took me about twenty minutes to get every timepiece in the house (except the alarm clocks, of course) within a second or two of agreement with the atomic clock. I replaced batteries where needed. I even went outside and reset the clock in the car.

It was great. You could look at a clock in one room, and then go look at a clock in the next room, and the only difference between them would be the time you spent in transit. Our mornings stopped being a time of confusion, frustration, and haste. Just having the haste was a lot easier to deal with.

This was, of course, a week and a half before the end of Daylight Savings time.

Four weeks later, I'm pretty sure I got most of the clocks back to the correct time. Not all of them, but most of them. I left the VCR clock for last, of course, since you can't see it unless you're setting it, so I mistakenly taped some shows that were on an hour before the ones we wanted to see. Whoops. But like I say, I think all the clocks are right.

Give or take ten or fifteen minutes here and there.

I really should do the synchronizing thing again. Maybe I'll get around to it by the end of April.

posted by M. Giant 3:21 PM 1 comments

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And more likely than not, the grandfather clock in the living room, the pendulum of which I've spent five years adjusting one atom at a time to try to get the thing to keep better time, has probably wound down.

That is sad. That's exactly how I felt when my Howard Miller grandfather Clock broke down too.

By Anonymous Sandra, at September 16, 2007 at 10:36 AM  

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Thursday, November 21, 2002  

One of the best things about the Internet is that you can use it to prove the existence of things that everybody else thinks you just imagined. Like the TV show Small Wonder, the lyrics of “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”, or a Democrat-controlled Congress. It has its limits, though.

I remember a daily comic strip from a local paper in southeastern Kansas. The title of the strip was Mighty Funny. It “chronicled” the “adventures” of a “superhero” named Mighty Funny and his nameless sidekick.

I’ve complained about Bill Watterson descending into formula. Compared to Mighty Funny, the last years of Calvin & Hobbes were like a Dadaist anthology strip. Mighty Funny wasn’t just boilerplate. It was an entire boiler table setting. Here’s an example. I’ve reconstructed it from memory, so some details might be off. That includes the “jokes*,” but it doesn’t matter. As you’ll see:

Panel One: Mighty Funny, dressed in a cape and tights with the letters MF emblazoned on his chest, stands in an heroic pose, arms akimbo, squarely facing the reader. “Why was the broom late?” he asks nobody. His sidekick, a twerp less than half the size of Mighty Funny himself, also facing the reader, says, “I give up.”

Panel Two: Mighty Funny, with no change in posture or expression, announces, “Because he overswept.” The sidekick, apparently afflicted with the same paralysis, lies: “That’s Mighty Funny.”

Panel Three: Mighty Funny, looking exactly the same but somehow less heroic now that we haven’t seen him so much as blink for three panels, asks nobody: “Why wouldn’t the bald man let anyone use his comb?” His sidekick again says, “I give up.”

Panel Four: Mighty Funny joylessly recites, “He couldn’t part with it.” The sidekick again intones, “That’s Mighty Funny.”

Where do I start?

I don’t plan to waste a single pixel going on about the quality of the jokes themselves. The fact that “That’s Mighty Funny” was invariably the best joke in the strip twice a day goes without saying. I could talk about how some aspiring graphic novelist tried to build a career out of drawing one—count it, one—crude panel, then finding several years’ worth of banal riddles that would fit into the dialogue balloons. I could talk about how as superheroes go, the best thing one can say about Mighty Funny is that he probably keeps his secret identity very closely guarded, because he makes Zan from the Wonder Twins look like a bad-ass. I could go into a discussion about how Mighty Funny and his seemingly obsequious but actually strip-stealing partner in nothing are trapped in an existential nightmare, doomed to stand frozen day after day, pinned flat against the newsprint like butterflies in a case, except ugly, relating gags that will never, ever, ever get a laugh, as if some particularly vindictive Greek god is still not done being really, really pissed at them.

But nobody will know what I’m talking about, because nobody remembers this strip but me. And I can’t find one byte of information about it on the Internet. Google is, for once, no help. As far as the web is concerned, it didn’t exist before today.

Here’s what I know, and it’s not enough. I saw it during one or more of my family’s visits to our relatives in Kansas. I don’t know what year it was, or how long the strip ran. I don’t know the name of the strip’s author, and even if I did, I can say that if I produced such crap every day, I’d sure come up with a pseudonym. Nobody else in my family seems to remember the strip. So nobody believes me when I talk about it. Which I must, every time the subject of “your least favorite comic strip” comes up, because as hard as Fred Bassett works at being not funny, Fred’s sharp-as-a-cue-ball observations are downright Menckenesque when compared to the wit and wisdom of Mr. Funny.

All I can hope for is that someone reading this remembers reading Mighty Funny over breakfast back in the day and gets back to me. Okay, that’s not all I can hope. I can also hope that the person getting back to me is not the author of Mighty Funny. That would be mighty awkward.

Which, interestingly enough, is the name of my superhero alter ego.

* * *

I have to post a correction. We didn't take eleventh at the Brits pub quiz; we ranked eighth. My mistake.

We did better at Kieran's last night however. Second place once again, baby! Second time in a row! At this rate, we'll never have to buy wine again. But now we're going to be gunning for the team that came in first the last two months. Look out, first-place team.

* Thanks to Samuel Stoddard’s Really Bad Jokes for the “jokes.” I actually had to look through a lot of them because 95% of them were too advanced to have ever been featured in Mighty Funny. Seriously.

posted by M. Giant 3:25 PM 1 comments

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'course, it's years later, but I totally remember Mighty Funny. I particularly remember how he was always drawn with his head facing straight up, which I thought was odd. Well-remembered!

By Anonymous AAlgar, at August 26, 2008 at 3:00 PM  

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Wednesday, November 20, 2002  

Last night I was on my way home from work with a five-gallon pail of white paint in the passenger-side backseat of my car (never you mind why; you people are on a need-to-know basis until Christmas). I had the seat belt latched around it, in hopes that that would keep it from tipping over and spilling when I made a right turn. Even so, I frequently reached back and held it up with my hand, just to be safe.

That wasn’t any help when I got broadsided, though.

A gigantic Ford Behemoth came barrelling out of a parking lot, its driver giving my car less consideration than he would a speed bump. Its license plate frame struck the dent-resistant door panel of my car just below the rear window on the right side.

Of course the lid popped clean off the bucket immediately on impact. One gallon of paint will cover 400 square feet of surface area. Five gallons will cover 2000 square feet. The back seat of a car is approximately six square feet. You do the math.

My problems were just beginning, though, because my car was rolling.

I must say, the Saturn safety cage really does its job. I never feared being killed by the trauma of impact. Drowning, however, was another matter. Because my safe, secure station wagon had been turned into a latex-based washing machine. Nanoseconds stretched into hours as five gallons of Glidden™ flooded every micron of the car’s interior, saturated the upholstery, filled my clothes, soaked every item in my car (including everything in the glove compartment), and poured up my nose and down my throat.

When the car finally came to a stop, I wiped as much paint as I could from my eyes (my glasses had been washed off at some point). I appeared to have ended up right side up, but I was so disoriented that the only way I could tell was by the direction of the paint drips cascading from the ceiling. All of my windows were opaque and every surface was covered with a thick layer of white. It was like I’d been teleported into an igloo made of frozen yogurt that was quickly melting. I coughed and spat out enough paint to redo a large closet.

See, if I were a TV character instead of a blog writer, this is the point where I’d gasp and sit bolt upright in bed, indicating that what just happened was a dream sequence. But I can’t do that, so I’ll just tell you: what you just read was a dream sequence.

I did have a five-gallon bucket of paint strapped into my back seat yesterday, and I did periodically reach back and hold it up, and five gallons really will cover 2000 square feet. But the Ford Behemoth stopped before it actually hit me. Thank god.

Also, it was a two-door Nissan.

But still, can you imagine what a mess would result from five gallons of paint flowing around loose in a closed car? They’d have to total it, I reckon. I wonder if I’d get compensated for the other stuff that would get destroyed. The insurance companies would probably have to fight that out, and God knows I don’t get along so well with those people.

After that near-miss, and the show my imagination gave me immediately afterward, I reached back a lot more often. My shoulder is a little sore today, and I think Trash might have been starting to get a little frustrated with the way I kept steering one-handed up onto the sidewalk, but now all five gallons are still safely inside the bucket where they belong.

And the bucket’s back at the store, where it belongs. I’d explain, but you’re on a need-to-know basis, remember?

posted by M. Giant 2:43 PM 0 comments

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Tuesday, November 19, 2002  

There’s this commercial for mLife that bugs me more every time I see it.

Fade up on a couple, sitting in a diner. The business-suited woman smirks pixieishly across the table at the ragged hole she’s just torn in her boyfriend’s chest. “That’s great,” he lies. “So, you’re going to be traveling a lot more. For work.” His fork waggles in his hand as he fights the impulse to lunge across the table and jab it into her throat. The woman is unconcerned for her safety, her attention fully occupied by the tasks of finishing her meal and looking smug. The boyfriend tries to smile supportively, but his eyes are the eyes of a drowning victim and the blood is rushing from his head so quickly that it’s actually visibly deflating. Meanwhile, she’s giving him nothing. Nothing. Refusing to speak, sucking on her straw all adorable and shit while he neatly lines up his internal organs on the table for her incurious perusal. Making him wiggle on the hook until he tires, letting his fuse burn down to the charge, watching him watch his life go completely pear-shaped. Because it’s fun to make him squirm and she thinks she kind of looks like Amélie. “I could come with you,” he flails, because there’s nothing like sacrificing your last shred of dignity to someone who doesn’t seem to know or care that you just did it.

Finally, after a whopping twenty seconds of watching her fail to notice the coppery smell of panic he’s emitting from every pore (as if this woman would notice heavy traffic before getting wrapped around the axle of an eighteen-wheeler), he takes the passive out of passive-aggressive and accuses, “You know, you’re going to meet somebody else.”

All right, then. He’s put it out there. He thinks he’s being dumped. The relationship’s over. Check, please.

It hits her: she’s gone too far! Her eyes widen in stunned contrition, she’s up and around the table and holding him—

Well, no. She’s just casually reaching into her purse, because all along she was merely waiting for him to work himself up into this state and now it’s time for the second act. He watches her movements, his every cell suffused with dread. Is she going to produce legal papers? A weapon? Doctored photos of him in compromising positions?

No, it’s a wireless phone. It has a jaunty little ribbon and bow around it which are not in any sort of disarray after being hauled around in her bag all day and then sitting next to her in the booth while her significant other developed a perforated ulcer in twelve seconds flat, two feet away. The boyfriend picks it up and looks at it in puzzlement, wondering what this could possibly have to do with his sudden tunnel vision and this new roaring in his ears.

“It’s for us,” she chirps, dispelling—just in time—our rapidly forming notion that she doesn’t speak a word of English.

Okay, first of all. These two actors? Look like siblings. Creepshow.

Secondly, what’s with the one phone? Do they take turns? How many trips is she going to take before they figure out that a phone conversation requires equipment on both ends? Is she planning on speaking into it and then FedExing it to him so he can respond?

And thirdly, these two have about as much chance of maintaining a long-distance relationship as I do of winning an Oscar. He’s desperate and needy, she’s uncommunicative and manipulative. And this is when they’re in the same room. Can you imagine phone conversations between these two?

He: I’m glad your presentation went well.

She:

He:
I knew they’d like you.

She:

He:
So, did anybody, like, especially like you?

She:

He:
Anybody who might be, say, sexing you up in your hotel Jacuzzi right now and infusing your hoo-hah with a deadly payload of groin cooties to bring back to me at the end of the week?

She:

He:
You know what? I can’t do this any more.

She: I miss you.

Actually, that might explain why there’s only one phone. Same outcome, less money.

He knows damn well that a wireless calling plan isn’t going to cut it. You can see it in his face when he picks up “their” new phone. The script probably calls for the actor to convey “relieved wonder,” but all I see is “you dumb slut.” If I squint my eyes, I can sort of see “I’m so much better off without this moron,” which I’m pretty sure is not what the advertisers intended.

mLife. Kills dysfunctional, torturous, V. C. Andrews-esque relationships dead.

Gee, where do I sign up?

posted by M. Giant 3:22 PM 0 comments

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Monday, November 18, 2002  

Saturday night, we went out to Kieran’s to meet up with some other fans of Television Without Pity, including TWoP recapper (and fellow Damn Hell Ass King) Miss Alli. It was really great to meet everyone who came and I would have liked them even if they hadn’t said nice things to me about this website. Hi, guys!

It was also a pretty clear demonstration of what a small world it is. For instance, the organizer, omega, works with somebody my wife knows. And her SO works for a school where Trash will be speaking in a couple of weeks. And she’s registered at my band’s website, which she found when both of us helped Sars with 24 Vines in 24 Hours. When we started getting e-mails from her regarding the upcoming meeting and I saw her real name, it rang a bell. But I never would have put it together if she hadn’t mentioned registering on the band’s site. When she said that, my brain finally made the connection: “That’s where I know your name from!” I exclaimed. I might have exclaimed more quickly a beer or two previous, but there was an exclamation nonetheless.

It was surprising because we don’t have all that many people registered on our band’s website, and we know pretty much everyone who is. Or at least every registered user is known to at least one of us. Or so we thought. I assumed that omega was a friend of my bandmate King Coil, since he knows people in the city she registered from. Not so much, as it turned out. She found us through me, over a year ago, and we never even met until two nights ago. Weird.

All of these assumptions and ignorance stem from the fact that in groups, guys don’t talk much. If we were, say, the Go-Gos or L7, we would have realized that there are people on our fan list we don’t know (espcially since those bands obviously have much bigger fan lists than we do). My three bandmates and I don’t spend any time together outside of directly band-related activities, so there’s not much opportunity for conversation there. And even when we’re at band, there’s too much rocking going on for a whole lot of conversation. Less talk, and more rock, as they say. We don’t even have to yell out the title of the next song we’e going to practice; one of us will play a few notes and the rest of us will just join in without having to speak. We'll bring up pressing topics, like "We need to put together a setlist for the gig we're playing in five minutes" or "We're about to get sued" or "The drummer's on fire," but none of us are much for idle conversation. It’s efficient, in its way. But I think we might be missing some interesting information.

Next practice, I’m going to ask which one of them knows the two people who are registered in Indiana. It could be someone that one of them knows separately from the band. Or it could be the two people that Kraftmatik and I played our guitars for at a Black Hills campground back in September 1999. They were from Indiana, as I recall. If they went to the trouble to find our website, after the band changed its name and everything, then they were a lot more impressed with us than I thought they were.

Also, I saw a bartender at Kieran’s whose dad was our Shakespeare professor in college. I’m back to the small world theme, in case that wasn’t clear.

* * *

Thanks to Shrednow for listing this site as their blog of the day. That puts me in some pretty impressive company, and you know how much I like being in impressive company. Thanks, Shrednow!

posted by M. Giant 3:22 PM 0 comments

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Friday, November 15, 2002  

Some people shouldn’t be allowed to have credit cards. People like me, for instance.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the local grocery megaplex to pick up some stuff. Mainly it was an excuse to use the newspaper coupons you can only use at the store. So I loaded up my cart, rolled it up to the register, got rung up, handed over my ragged sheaf of newsprint scraps, and made for the exit.

At this point, I realized that I’d forgotten to alert the clerk to the four dozen cans of soda in the bottom of my cart. To all intents and purposes, I’d stolen them. My mind flashed up an image of myself loading the contraband into my car next to the legitimately obtained groceries. Then it flashed up an image of my immortal soul simmering in a pit of boiling sulfur while a legion of foul imps snipped off sections off my intestines for their neckties. I parked my laden cart next to the door and went back around so I could pay for the soda in the express lane.

While I was waiting, I wondered how I could forget to pay for the soda. I must have been distracted or in a hurry or something, and now I was paying the price of adding a few more minutes onto my errand. There was nobody to blame but myself. I resolved to be more alert, more aware of what I was doing while I was doing it. Be Here Now, as they say.

I got my soda rung up, and now I was at peace, having exchanged currency for every item now in my possession. My path and my conscience were clear, and I could head out to the car without dreading a vicious side-tackle from some beefy grocery megaplex security guy that would rap my head sharply against a metal doorframe and give me a head injury that would leave me permanently unable to visualize faces or perform quadratic equations or something. Although if someone did stop me, I’d be able to point proudly at my totally valid receipt and the little strips stuck to my pop cases which showed they were legally my property (and which nobody probably would have missed anyway).

I was halfway to my car before I realized I’d forgotten the cart inside the store.

* * *

A week ago this moment, I was at Home Depot trying to pick up stuff for the ceiling project. Nothing’s ever easy at Home Depot. You get there with your list that includes items like “red paint, mop head, pliers” and you get there and you’re confronted with an entire aisle of mop heads, each of which fits a different model number (a number you don’t know, because your mop’s at home), pliers in so many shapes and sizes that you need one pair for 14-gauge insulated copper wire and another pair for 16-gauge insulated copper wire, and enough shades of red to paint an actual-size portrait of the planet Mars.

So my list, consisting of “ceiling tiles, ceiling grid, light fixtures, garbage bags” turned out to be fairly problematic. I knew I was in trouble when I vacillated over the best brand of garbage bag, and it was just downhill from there.

For instance, light fixtures have their own section, with recessed ceiling lights occupying an entire aisle of their own. We were replacing existing fixtures, so I didn’t know how much fixture I needed to buy; did I just need the trim, or the baffle with the trim, or the box with the wiring and the socket and the switchcase and halogen filter and optional pull-chain attachment? Hell if I knew, so I just grabbed a box of something cheap.

Ceiling materials were another matter. For some reason, they share an aisle with the toilets, which was where my self-esteem was when I was trying to make the decision between the expensive grids that are easy to hang or the cheap grids that are harder to hang. I went with expensive and easy, loaded five crates of ceiling tiles onto one of the rolling pallets that Home Depot calls carts, and wrestled it to the front of the store.

Why didn’t I just buy the stuff I was sure of and get the rest later? you might ask. I was asking that myself. The answer was in the form of a coupon for 10% off a single purchase in my coat pocket. I was determined to get 10% off my entire ceiling, not just 10% off a box of garbage bags.

My trepidation built as I approached the register. What if I had the wrong grids? What if I had the wrong lights? What if I had the wrong tiles? Okay, I wasn’t so worried about that last one, but I was worried about whether I’d be able to fit them all in the back of my station wagon. And the lights that I thought I was getting for forty dollars per half-dozen were actually going to cost me forty dollars per.

In order to use the 10% coupon, we’d had to open a Home Depot charge account. Trash had made the phone call earlier that day, so it was ready to go.

Except it wasn’t. I won’t bore you with the details (I got all kinds of other stuff to bore you with, after all), but I couldn’t use the coupon. The cashier was incredibly apologetic.

I thought, Hmm, I have six hundred dollars worth of stuff here and I’m not sure if it’s right. I’m thinking that not being able to use that coupon right now isn’t such a bad thing.

“How about if I come back tomorrow?” I asked the clerk. He was fine with it, bless his heart.

Turns out he was wrong about my not being able to use it, but that turned out to be a good thing. This way my dad could meet me at the store the next morning, where I learned that I’d picked out the wrong grids, the wrong lights, and no electrical wire for the lights. I saved three hundred dollars by not getting the expensive and easy grids, because Dad’s experience was that the expensive and easy grids are really expensive and difficult. So everybody wins. Especially me.

It’s just too bad I had to spend an hour in the pliers aisle trying to find the right tool to cut my new electrical wire.

* * *

Trash thanks those of you who came through with birthday greetings for her today. As for the rest of you, you still have a few hours. Yes, even you guys in New Zealand. I know you’re there.

posted by M. Giant 3:44 PM 0 comments

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Thursday, November 14, 2002  

So I was going to post some before, during, and after pictures from our basement ceiling replacement, but that would require something in this twice-damned project to actually work properly. And there’s no way that was going to happen. For some reason, our digital camera won’t unload onto my computer. Whatever gremlin cursed our downstairs renovation, it doesn’t appear to have been all that discriminating. I should have known better. Now I’m just going to have to illustrate the project using pictures I found on the Internet.

I’ve already explained that our house was once owned by a man we call “Dr. Jellyfinger.” Even if you picked up on the Fletch reference, I don’t know if I made it clear that I call him that because he is an actual doctor. I don’t know what his specialty was, but given what we’ve seen of his skill at cutting things and put them together, I hope to God it wasn’t surgery. Otherwise there could be any number of people walking around this city breathing with their spleens.

I’m aware that surgery and carpentry are two different skill sets, but come on. How can you trust a guy to tie off an artery or or reattach a nipple or rotate someone’s glands or whatever if he doesn’t know what a right angle is?

You heard me. Now you’re getting an idea of what we had to deal with.

The plan was to just get a bunch of ceiling tiles and hang up the grid following the lines of the wall. It’s a good plan in theory, but once we started slinging the framing squares and tape measures around, it became clear that it wasn’t going to be that simple. Let me show you what I mean:







Like this room, it appears to be a perfectly normal room. It is only when humans attempt to interact with it that it reveals itself as a mind-wringing wormhole of Lovecraftian geometry. Since ceiling tiles are pretty much only available in rectangles, and not trapezoids or parallellograms or rhombuses or tesseracts, getting them hung up straight was like trying to flatten a Pringle™.

“Oh, it couldn’t have been that bad,” you’re thinking. “He couldn’t have altered the structure of the house. I mean, the foundation was still in place, right?”

Sure it was, but Dr. Jellyfinger had done everything he could to make it useless to us. Instead of putting up studs and drywall against the cinderblocks, he simply glued a layer of Styrofoam™ to them, then glued a layer of Masonite to that. This “construction,” after a few years of hanging half a foot from ground that goes through a hundred-and-fifty-degree (Fahrenheit) temperature cycle every year, pulled away from the foundation and bulged inward like the walls of a submarine at crush depth. Attaching ceiling brackets to that would make as much sense as attaching them to window curtains.

What we had to do was pull the cheap layers away from the wall (and we had to blow on them pretty hard to get them to come off), then attach framing studs to the newly exposed bricks. Ever hammered a nail into a cinder block? They don’t like it much.

So Dad went home to get his nail gun. When he said “nail gun,” I was expecting him to come back with one of those Trading Spaces tools that Ty and Amy Wynn wield that allow them to construct wall-sized bookcases in the time between commercial breaks. Instead, he produced a metal tube into which he would load a nail and a shotgun shell. Then he’d tap the shell with a hammer and the gunpowder charge would explode and literally fire the nail through the wood and into the cement. It was scary and loud and I totally want one.

Unfortunately, it was also very time-consuming. Rebuilding the wall took up time that we should have been using to measure every wandering wall edge and less-than-true corner angle. Which we had to do anyway once the wall was rebuilt.

As of this writing, the ceiling is 95% finished. Three of the four new lights are installed, wired up, and giving lots and lots of illumination. We have to level out the ceiling grid some more in a few spots, and there’s one tile that I want to replace because I cut it just a hair too narrow and the jagged edge shows. It still looks better than anything Dr. Jellyfinger did.

I can understand incompetence, being the proud owner of a healthy dollop of my own. What I can’t understand is why somebody went to so much effort to do everything wrong. This guy wasn’t lazy, and he wasn’t cheap (the volume of wood he installed in this house over the years probably cost him more than medical school, which probably explains why he didn't have enough money left over to invest in a square, a level, a chalk line, or a tape measure). But every ten minutes, one of the three of us working on the project would suddenly bellow, “What the hell did that moron do over here?” Answers like “Left the edge of s sheet of Masonite waving in the breeze,” “Built a wall that’s thicker at the top than at the bottom” and “Never met a right angle he liked” stopped surprising us after a while.

Sometimes I’m tempted to just tear the whole mess out and start over. But I don’t have that kind of time or money. And frankly, I’m not sure if I could do a much better job.

Besides, bitching about other people’s foul-ups is a lot more fun than bitching about my own. Why do you think I started this blog in the first place?

* * *

Remember the other day, when I mentioned that my wife’s birthday was November 15? I don’t know why I forgot to include her e-mail address so you could all wish her happy birthday. Don’t know what I was thinking.

posted by M. Giant 4:23 PM 0 comments

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Wednesday, November 13, 2002  

When we bought our house, it had what’s called a half-finished basement. Generally that means that half of the basement has been converted to usable living space. Our basement was finished by a previous owner. Except when I say “finish,” in this case, I’m not so much using that term in the “decorate and make livable” sense as I am in the “Mortal Kombat” sense.

If anything had made us decide not to buy the house, it would have been the basement. The lower half of the walls were covered with cedar paneling, which was nice. But that was about it. Everything else looked like it had been phoned in by Hildi on Trading Spaces. I’ve already told you about the ceiling. The upper half of the walls were done up in Masonite—you heard me—that had this vomitous orange-and-brown-on-cream wheat pattern printed on it. That shit had primer covering it within an hour of our closing and two coats of paint before we went to sleep. And the carpet was an abomination of seventies shag that was so orange, so deep, and so very, very orange (and did I mention orange?) that when somebody accidentally spilled a can of Sunkist™ on it and went to clean it up, they couldn’t find the spill. That carpet was gone within a month, and it only lasted that long because I needed time to find a hazmat suit before I was willing to rip it up.

The previous owner in question is a man we’ve come to know as “Dr. Jellyfinger.” Through the discovery and repair of one of his half-assed projects after another, we have concluded that he is the worst carpenter in the entire world. Worse than Gene Hackman in Unforgiven. Worse than Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor. Worse than me, even.

That didn’t stop him from trying, though. A lot. Way too much, in fact. In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, his legacy to us included an ugly-ass curio wall/divider thingy in the kitchen (now gone), more Masonite-as-building material in the bathroom (still there and needing to be re-papered every few years), and enough sub-code electrical wiring to build a time machine. My favorite thing that he did to our house was when he bought a king-sized mattress and couldn’t fit it up the stairs, so he tore the stairs out, hauled the mattress up, and “built” new stairs with what appeared to be scrap lumber. I could have done a better job with Legos™. When he moved out, he abandoned the mattress and our realtor had to have it sawed into pieces to get it out of there. Now every couple of years I have to rip out a step and replace it with a new one because it’s starting to rock loose and threatening to pitch us off into space. Thanks, Dr. Jellyfinger. If someone had done that to my house after I’d bought it, I’d sue the bastard. Then I’d make him build his own house and force him to live in it, but he pretty much already did that and it didn’t seem to bother him.

In fact, one day he actually showed up on our doorstep asking to come in and look around. I wasn’t home and we were in the middle of building our deck in the back yard, so the house was quite a bit short of presentable. Trash should have shut the door in his face, but he had his toddler with him and Trash was feeling so harried that night that she couldn’t formulate a polite refusal. So in he tramped, proudly pointing out all of the artifacts of his incompetence that we hadn’t yet stamped out (and mourning the ones we had, including the acid-flashback basement decorating scheme). If I’d been there, I probably would have responded with comments like “Yeah, that’s great. What the hell were you thinking?”

For the most part, we just live with our house’s amusing little foibles. We talk about fixing them a lot, but mostly we live with them. Because it’s when we go to fix them that the nightmares begin.

This past weekend, my dad and Trash’s stepdad came over to help me put a new ceiling in the basement to replace the old one that I hated. On Thursday night, I’d moved all of the lighter stuff out of the room (“lighter” meaning “everything but the TV and the couch”, which should not be confused with “nonessential,” oh, no, not at all). Friday night, Trash and I tore down what was left of the crappy old ceiling, as well as about nine hundred board feet of trim and crown molding.

Saturday morning, we began the actual project. And the bottom dropped out of our world.

More on that tomorrow.

posted by M. Giant 3:17 PM 0 comments

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Tuesday, November 12, 2002  

If you’re reading this in the twenty-first century, chances are pretty good that at some point in your life, you’ve called a customer service line. Chances are slightly less good, but still pretty good, that before you got through to a real, live customer service rep, you heard an announcement stating that “For quality and security purposes, your call will be recorded.” Maybe you have that little flare of self-consciousness, followed by the thought that the recording is for your own protection. But do you ever think about the poor bastard who has to actually do the recording?

Well, you’re going to today, because that poor bastard is me.

It’s really not as bad as it sounds. It’s not like I have to sit in a dark room for eighteen hours with a sludge-filled coffeepot and a reel-to-reel tape recorder like Agent Mulder after he’s been bad. Our Call Center is more sophisticated than that. Our coffee’s good.

No, I’m kidding. When potential clients visit the site, it’s my job to crow about our digital recording system that automatically records a month’s worth of audio for the entire site onto a tape that’s about a third the size of a pack of cigarettes. I boast about the efficient storage-and-retrieval system I created for the tapes so I can pull up any call from the past six years and play it back in a matter of minutes. All I really have to do to keep the thing going is change the tapes every once in a while. And the truth is that it’s really pretty cool.

When it works, that is.

When it doesn’t, it’s a nightmare. I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret, which is that calls are recorded not just for your protection, but also for ours. If there’s no record of a conversation, there’s nothing to prevent John Q. Client from calling in, sinking 7.3 million dollars into the Amalgamated Suckers Fund, then calling back when his balance is thirty-two cents and claiming that 1) we screwed up, 2) he really meant to invest in the Gates-Buffett Guaranteed Free Money Fund, and therefore 3) we now owe him North America. Nothing, that is, except John Q. Client’s conscience, and you know how reliable that is when the White House is included in the pot. Multiply that by several thousand calls per day, and you can see how going off the record could get expensive in a hurry.

The recording system has two tape decks. We generally use one to record the calls, and the other one to play back old ones when we need to. Last week the deck we were using for retrieval started telling me all of our old tapes were defective, so we switched that one to recording and used the other one for retrieval. Now the current retrieval desk is not only hosed as well, it won’t release the tape I was trying to pull calls from yesterday. And when I try to play back calls that are supposed to be stored in the machine’s memory buffer, all I hear are clear, detailed instructions from Satan, which corporate confidentiality prevents me from revealing here. One deck will still record, but that’s all. The bottom line is that instead of two tape decks, we have half of one.

It’s all right, though, because we’re scrapping the whole system for a new one. This one won’t even require tapes at all, and will instead store calls on a server that I’ll be able to access online. The new equipment is scheduled for installation in September 2002, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Oh, wait.

For one reason and another, the higher-ups have postponed the upgrade indefinitely. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the company that provided tech support for our current recording gear has gone out of business and left us without a service contract. I don’t know how that happened, considering how busy we kept them, but it did. Now we have to pay someone else to come look at our recorder, to the tune of a pretty big chunk of the Gates-Buffett Guaranteed Free Money Fund, just for walking in the door. It’s frustrating because with one deck out of commission and the other one partially so, I feel like I’m trying to fly a 747 with only one engine (with a few slight differences, viz., it’s much easier and a lot less scary and I’m unlikely to kill anyone).

One way or another, it better get fixed soon. Otherwise I might just open an account of my own, if you know what I mean.

* * *

Some marvelous people did a marvelous thing for me today. Judging by my referral logs, that’s how about eighty per cent of you found me here. I’m very grateful to Deborah, Glark, and my wonderful wife Trash for the banner ad on the Television Without Pity forums. I wasn’t expecting that at all. So, big cyber-hug for Deborah; I’ll spend the whole evening reading this for Glark; and for Trash…well, some of you are reading this at work, so never mind. I will say I'm going to have to come up with something pretty damn good for her birthday on Friday, though.

With all this new traffic, I just hope I can deal with all the pressure I’m going to be putting on myself to write gooder.

posted by M. Giant 3:24 PM 0 comments

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Monday, November 11, 2002  

I knew months ago that my wife was going to be spending yesterday evening in the same room with American Idol’s top ten finalists (as well as twenty thousand other people). What I didn’t know at the time was that I’d be there too.

For weeks, I gave Trash a hard time about her not inviting me to come along. “I want to go,” I’d say, and she’d say, “No, you’ll just mock the whole time,” and I’d say, “Why do you think I want to go?”

Eventually, I started wearing her down. “You can come if you promise not to mock,” she’d say, and I’d say, “I think you know me better than that.”

In the final week, one of her guests fell through and I was in for sure. “No mocking,” Trash warned. “I’m going to mock,” I insisted. “Okay, no mocking when we’re there,” she asked. I refused. “That’s my prime mocking window,” I pointed out. Eventually she wore me down to the point where I agreed to her proviso “Please do not spit directly in Kelly Clarkson’s eye where I can see you do it.” And although I never had any intention of doing so, I even made her negotiate hard for that.

Saturday, she mentioned the concert again. “I don’t know if I want to go,” I said nonchalantly. The look she gave me was more penetrating than an MRI.

The main reason I wanted to go was to experience the executive suite. The Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul is ringed with swanky executive boxes between the upper and lower decks. You can’t even get onto the mezzanine level without an executive suite ticket, but once you’re there you can stand above the main level ticketholders and try to drop pennies into their butt cleavage (theoretically). As for the suites themselves, these ridiculously expensive chunks of real estate have been the source of much contention, especially in this town where everyone and their elected representatives spend so much time arguing not over whether we need a new stadium, but how many we need and who’s paying for them. I’m not interested in that argument. I’m much more interested in the fact that the suite had free beer.

The free beer also made it a lot easier on Trash, mocking-from-me-wise. Not that she got off scot-free, mind you. From the moment EJay Day appeared on stage sporting the fugliest hairstyle in the history of the universe (and I’m counting combovers, Londo from Babylon Five, and everything ever done to the collective heads of Christina Aguilera, David Letterman, and every Saturday Night Live castmember ever) until the group singsong at the end drove us bodily out of the venue, she spent a lot of time studiously avoiding my gaze. Every once in a while she’d venture a guarded glance in my direction and see me staring back at her with a dead-eyed “this is all your fault” expression on my face. This would happen during the tackier examples of choreography, costuming, pyrotechnics, blocking, stage banter, and musical performance. So it was pretty much constant. Eventually she started thumping me to make me stop.

At this point, I need to print a retraction. Some people have compared Justin Guarini to Sideshow Bob because of his hair. I am one of those people. However, having seen him perform live, I now understand that Sideshow Bob, a two-dimensional representation of a humanoid figure rendered entirely in ink, has more bones in his legs than Justin Guarini does. It’s a little confusing, because watching Justin on TV gave the impression that the man was constructed entirely from cheese, so watching him caper around on those Gumby legs of his made me wonder where all the calcium went to.

Here’s what I learned about some of the other finalists:

Without his glasses, Jim looks way too much like James Van Der Beek. Or maybe that was just all the smug he was wearing.

Were all the guys required to have a J in their names, preferably in initial form? I don’t know, I’m asking. Throughout the evening, the Jumbotron showed a couple of shots of the crowd in which people were holding up signs celebrating the idols. They would have us believe that someone held up the initials A J and then later someone else held up the initials R J, but I’m pretty sure it was the same J both times. I’m not that easy to fool, punks.

Ryan Starr is painfully aware of how out of her depth she is. She handles it by trying to distract us with seven miles of bare torso.

Nikki McKibbin is so bitter that she put up with Simon for so long and then lost and still doesn’t get to go home. Getting to twirl around in a Stevie Nicks shawl while warbling “Rhiannon” doesn’t come close to making up for that.

Seeing Kelly Clarkson turn around and do that ass-shakin’ move like a belly dancer in a hip-hop video is more than a little incongruous. I thought she was supposed to be a big spaz, you know? Clearly, I’m not the only one who thought so. One of the signs held up during her performance simply read “DUCKA DUCKA DUCKA.” That cracked me up.

I think there’s somebody on the tour whose entire job is to brief the kids on what city they’re playing in. I heard the words “Minnesota” and “St. Paul” more times in two hours than I could have in a week inside the State Capitol. Maybe somebody mistakenly addressed “Cleveland” as “Columbus” or something, and now everyone’s on double-secret probation. I don’t know if they spend the entire bus trip between stops drilling the name of the next city into the kids’ heads, bit it even worked on Ryan Starr, who couldn’t even remember Christina’s last name.

There are worse things than being a starving musician. For instance, there’s being a musician in the American Idol touring band.

As far as I’m concerned, it was all worth it for the hospitality suite. If I’d paid money to see this show, I would have gotten what I deserved. Instead, I got paid—in beer! That’s better payment than I’ve gotten most nights when I was providing the music.

* * *

For a more detailed recap, check this out. It’s about the show in Long Island, but it sounds just like the show I saw here. That implies an almost total lack of improvisation and spontaneity, doesn’t it? Excuse me while I defibrillate myself.

posted by M. Giant 3:20 PM 0 comments

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Friday, November 08, 2002  

Last winter, Strat was getting a little, shall we say, less than discriminating about where he was shooting his whiz (I’m talking about my cat, in case you’re just joining us today). After a few weeks of having to smell our clothes before we put them on, we appealed to the veterinarian for help. The vet subscribes to my number one rule of problem-solving, to wit: when narrowing down possible causes, the first thing you check for should be the easiest thing to fix. That approach has served me well in the past, although it does have limits; for example, filling a dying car with high-octane gas is only going to do so much when the clutch has worn down to a featureless disk. But in this case, the vet suggested we try to rule out a bladder or kidney or UTI infection before we tried to address psychological causes.

All we needed was a urine sample. No problem, I’ll just wander around the house wiping up noisome damp spots on the carpet, or I’ll wring out something from the laundry hamper, or I’ll scrape those golden crystals off my dress shoes—what’s that you say? It has to be in liquid form? Oh, fine.

At this point we had two options. One was to park the cat overnight in a cage at the vet’s office, and they monitor him and collect the sample when…you know. When it’s time.

The other option was to send him home with a collection kit. This consists of a bag of plastic beads and a plastic catbox liner. What you do is take the regular litter out of the litterbox, put the liner down in it, and scatter the beads onto the liner. The beads don’t react with cat juice, so it allows for a clean sample. Then you lock the cat in the bathroom overnight with the plastic litter. It has to be a small room because a cat would rather pee anywhere than into a catbox filled with components for cheap jewelry. Then, in the morning, you gather up the warm yellow slushie, double-bag it, and drop it off at the vet’s office for analysis. The urine goes to the lab and the beads go to the factories that supply Claire’s Boutique. Pretty ingenious, really. Vastly preferable to following the cat around the house all day holding a vial under where his little kitty winky used to be. Naturally, we went with the option that was less expensive and less traumatizing to the cat, even though it involved a little more work on our part and lacked the reliability of the other option.

Yes, we had spent weeks trying to get rid of cat pee, and now we were trying to get some. We’re all about the irony.

The first night we did this, Orca was thrilled. She was so happy to not have to share us and the bed with Strat for the night that she woke us up at four a.m. to express her joy. Yeah, I’m happy too, cat. Now stop headbutting me.

In the morning, I discovered that Strat had peed in the litterbox, but he had pushed the liner aside to urinate directly into the plastic bin, shredding the liner in the process. The sample was useless. We’d have to get another kit and try it again.

It was another couple of nights before we got around to it. One of these nights, I had a dream that Strat had actually died from a kidney infection, and it was all my fault for not getting it diagnosed and taken care of in time. I had no idea how close to prophetic that dream of my cat’s death would prove to be. Although not in the way you’re thinking.

That next day, I was using our bathroom in its non-cat-confining capacity. I was just sitting there, minding my own business. Strat came in, looked at me, turned around, and peed on me.

Let me say that again, just in case you were skimming: MY CAT PEED ON ME.

Once again, for the Google searchers: MY+CAT+PEED+ON+ME+!!!!!

I know I should come up with a funnier way to say that, but it’s still too upsetting, even months later. One second I was sitting on my throne, receiving a respectful visitor, and in the next second my leg, pants, underwear, and sock had been baptized with pure liquid ammonia stink.

Trash heard my cry of shock and disgust and more shock, and came to see what happened.

“Your cat just pissed on me!” I accused as I chased him down. Any of you with a household of three or more beings knows what the phrase “your cat” or “your dog” or “your kid” or “your roommate” or “your Attorney General” means, so I’ll just assume I can move on without clarifying.

“I think this proves that he’s sick,” Trash managed between poorly suppressed guffaws.

“He fucking better be!” I bellowed, holding the cat by his tail and using mighty overhand strokes to crack his head repeatedly on the top of the doorframe.

What the hell kind of cat will come up (more accurately, back up) to the person who has for over a decade provided him with food, water, shelter, and unconditional love, and VOID THE FOUL CONTENTS OF HIS BLADDER on that person? On CHRISTMAS EVE?!?

I’ll tell you what kind. The kind that spends Christmas Day stuffed into the Brita™ pitcher in the fridge.

We got a usable urine sample the next business day (since I lacked the presence of mind to squeegee piss off of myself into a bottle when I had the chance) and the vet confirmed that Strat did indeed have a fire in his loins that could only be quenched by antibiotics. That’s why he’s still alive. Not because the antibiotics saved his life but because the excuse did.

The antibiotics were contained in a colloidal suspension that we had to squirt into his mouth twice a day using an eyedropper. God, he hated that. God, I didn’t care.

After ten days, the infection was cleared up. Since he didn’t feel like his litterbox was sticking live electrodes up his peehole any more, he struck up his relationship with it anew. He’s been much better behaved, urine-wise, ever since. Maybe the reasons for that are purely medical.

Or maybe he knows that even though the medicine is gone, I still have the eyedropper. And payback’s a bitch.

posted by M. Giant 4:56 PM 0 comments

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Thursday, November 07, 2002  

When Trash’s sister Lisa lived with us, she didn’t always get along with the cats, as I mentioned yesterday. Of course, she didn’t always get along with us, either.

Lisa and I had a sort of low-grade prank war going on intermittently throughout her tenure with us. Mostly that involved creative placement of a Bendy Santa™ doll. I’ll tell you more about that some other day.

What I’m talking about today is the way her makeup brush kept turning up all over the house. We’d spot it in the middle of the living room floor, pick it up, and toss it into her room. We’d notice it on the center island in the kitchen, and we’d toss it into her room. We would sit on it when we sank into the basement furniture, pull it out from under our butts, put it next to us, watch our movie or whatever, forget about it, and a couple of days later toss it into her room.

At first we wondered why she was being so indiscriminate about where she applied her makeup, but as time went on it became clear that she was messing with us. But neither Trash or I wanted to be the one to call her on it, since we’d been so slow to catch on to such a weak “prank.”

When we woke up one morning and it was on our bed, we decided it was time to put a stop to it. Trash took the brush downstairs and tossed it into Lisa’s room, where Lisa was reading or something.

“Okay, it was a little bit funny for a while,” Trash lied.

Lisa was confused.

“I didn’t think it was funny,” Lisa said. “I’m tired of not knowing where my makeup brush is all the time.”

Now Trash was also confused.

“Then why do you keep leaving it all over the house?” she said.

“Why would I hide my own makeup brush from myself?” Lisa demanded.

This might have gone on for days, with each accusing the other, except that Strat came into the room, spotted the makeup brush on the floor, picked it up in his teeth with a practiced snap, and dashed out. Every hair on his body announced “Mine!”

“Eeeeeew!” Lisa exclaimed, as the mystery of the migrating makeup brush solved itself. She thought back to all the times she’d used it while it was moonlighting as a cat toy. She wondered how many molecules of dried cat spit she’d applied to her face, and how many feline oral cooties were setting up shop in her makeup. She said “Eeeeeew!” again.

To Trash, the entire situation had just gone from not at all funny to very funny indeed.

Lisa decided to let the cats keep the makeup brush, which I thought was rather generous of her under the circumstances. The brush is still in their toy collection, and it still shows up on our bed every once in a while. It hasn’t seen any makeup for a long, long time.

* * *

Fresh from last week’s triumph at the Kieran’s pub quiz, my team reassembled last night for the Brit’s pub quiz. Well, some of us did, at least. Trash’s coworker MC and our friend Bitter filled in the vacancies. Since we generally do a lot better at Brit’s than we do at Kieran’s, we were confident of our chances at winning first place.

Do I even have to go on?

We came in eleventh.

I blame a variety of factors. We were sitting where we couldn’t see the quizmaster. We were cocky from last week. Our table was too small. Also, we didn’t know enough of the answers. I think it was that last one that really did us in.

posted by M. Giant 3:19 PM 0 comments

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Wednesday, November 06, 2002  

Strat and Orca are both indoor cats, but sometimes we let them wander around in the yard while we watch them and make sure they don’t wander off and get lost (or worse yet, adopted by someone else). Normally all they want to do is rub themselves on the concrete steps and eat some grass. Orca’s usually happy to go back inside after a few minutes, but we have to bodily pick up Strat to bring him back in. Then later that day he’ll try to get outside again, completely oblivious to the gravel already in his fur and the chlorophyll-laden blobs he’s been yacking up.

Every time someone goes out or comes in, Strat is right there waiting to make an escape attempt. It grows tiresome. We have to close the front door before we can open the storm door, or he’ll squirt out between our feet as we step outside. We used to lock him in a bedroom while we brought in groceries (in the pre-Simon Delivers days) because he’d try to make a break for it every time the door opened, effectively turning a food-burdened human into a soccer goalkeeper. We got so tired of his numerous jailbreaks that we punched a hole in the back of the house for a new door. This one leads out from a bedroom, so he hasn’t figured out yet that when we go in there, we’re actually leaving. He will, though, and then we’ll have to start putting doors everywhere else until our house looks like M. C. Escher’s pad or the door aisle at Home Depot.

See, Strat tries to get out of the house every. Single. Time because once a year or so, he actually succeeds in escaping without anyone realizing it until much later. Those odds make it worthwhile for him, I guess. Even the times when he gets caught right away are worth it, because of the time he got to terrorize a German Shepherd.

Oh, I didn’t tell you about that? This was the summer we moved into the house, and Trash’s sister (who I’ll call Lisa, although that’s not her name) was staying with us. Somehow Strat got outside while someone was walking past with a big yellow dog, and fur flew. Surprisingly, most of it was the dog’s. Lisa, being the only one around, waded in and pulled Strat out of the fray. “Rescuing” Strat turned out to be about as easy as rescuing a running garbage disposal from the leftovers. He put a claw through her lip for her trouble. I’m not kidding here. The point of the claw entered the flesh of her face and came clean through into her mouth. Ow. While she was dragging her new, furry, enraged, twelve-pound lip piercing into the house, still attached to her face, Orca picked up on the visible waves of battle endorphins rolling off of Strat and assumed Lisa was killing him. So she attacked Lisa as well. Basically, Lisa endured several minutes during which she must have longed for the peaceful and relaxing confines of a wood chipper.

By the way, that dog was still terrified of Strat years later.

That wasn’t the only problem Lisa had with Strat. The next year, Trash and I were out of town and Lisa, although she’d since moved out, was housesitting for us with her boyfriend Tigger. We got a panicked call in the evening telling us Strat was MIA. I suggested some of his favorite outdoor hiding places and rang off. Later, we heard the story about how they found him.

It was raining at our house (can I say it was a dark and stormy night if it’s not at the beginning of the entry? No? Okay, moving on) and it wasn’t until two a.m. that Lisa and Tigger finally cornered a muddy, pissed-off animal hiding in the neighbors’ bushes. They had to wrap a blanket around it and they still felt like they were bagging an inside out Cuisinart™. They hauled it into the house and pushed the muddy, spitting, thrashing, screaming bundle into our bedroom, shutting and latching the door.

“What are you doing?” Lisa asked Tigger.

“That might not be Strat,” he said.

They watched the door nervously, wondering if they’d accidentally nabbed someone else’s cat, or a rabid stray, or a genetically enhanced wolverine. After an hour, they opened the door, ready with another blanket, a tranq gun, and a velociraptor cage.

Of course, a clean and dry Strat ambled pleasantly out, looking up at them with a “Hey, guys, what’s up?” expression on his fuzzy white face.

Lisa stayed with us for several months without paying rent. Considering all the unpaid kitty-wrangling she ended up doing, we didn’t get such a bad deal in the end.

posted by M. Giant 3:22 PM 0 comments

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Tuesday, November 05, 2002  

Most people realize that when a household has two cats, one of those cats is going to be the boss. We have a big dumb friendly cat and a smart little pissy cat, so guess which one is the alpha cat around our place?

That’s right. They take turns.

There’s been a certain amount of on-and-off tension between them ever since we brought Orca home eleven years ago. We tried to keep them separate for a couple of days, but being youthful, wiggly, prickly little beasties back then, they breached their containment and Strat started chasing the interloper all over the apartment so he could rip her throat out. She was about the size of a chinchilla then, but she was still pretty fast. Although not fast enough. When it looked like Strat was going to catch up with her, she would just roll over on her back with all twenty of her claws pointed straight at his throat, whereupon he would decide her throat could stay where it was for now. The Spy vs. Spy routine didn’t last long, though. He was giving her baths within a week, a tradition that survives to this day as a result of the OCD so common to white cats; and she always gets very upset when he’s missing. She’s loudly alerted us more than once to a Houdini-esque escape that he’s effected.

But even though they get along ninety-five per cent of the time, spooning and snuggling like—well, like their humans—there are times when the détente breaks down. Sometimes it’s for a few minutes and sometimes it’s for a few months. But they always seem to come out even because they have different tactics.

Orca, being smaller, is understandably predisposed to hit-and-fade surprise attacks. If she’s on a chair and Strat walks by without seeing her, she’ll grab his tail or an ear, jump down on top of him, and ride him like a tiny, panicking bronco. Or if we’ve picked him up and we let him down on the floor near her, she’ll try and pull off his head while he’s still disoriented. It doesn’t matter if she’s mad at him at the time. She has a window and she’s using it. She’ll just mark it down against some other time when she actually is pissed at him.

That’s because she knows he’s bigger and can take her in a fair fight, even though he lacks her tactician’s brain. Every time she takes a shot at him, she has to weigh the amount of damage she can do against the ideal time to disappear. Sometimes she miscalculates and ends up pinned underneath his bulk, making the cat noise for “Hey! No Fair!”

That’s not to say that she always starts it. Sometimes Strat will decide to chase her or thump her or sit on her for no apparent reason. I think he’s just trying to show her who’s boss. What he doesn’t realize is that she already knows who’s boss. The fact that their answers are completely different doesn’t seem to matter to either one of them. Orca thinks she’s the alpha cat because she’s smart enough to know how to get the last bit of milk out of the bottom of a glass without tipping it over. Strat thinks he’s the alpha cat because he can make the deepest dent in the couch cushion. And they’re both right. It’s a constantly shifting balance of power.

Of course, every once in a while something will happen to shift that balance. On one of these occasions, when BuenaOnda was living with us, Strat was in a room with her. Orca came in. Strat made as if to leave. He had to pass closely by Orca to do so. Somehow, Orca sensed hostile intent from him as he approached. She leaned back and flattened her ears, ready to withstand and possibly return an attack. Strat just glared at her coldly and walked on by. Orca relaxed visibly.

Then Strat turned around and bit her right square on the anus.

Now BuenaOnda knows the cat noise for “What the fuck was that!?”

Orca seemed more shocked at having been outsmarted by the big dumb lug than by the sudden sharp pain in her little kitty fundament, and I can’t blame her. None of us expected the cat who gets lost inside the house to come up with something that clever and twisted, least of all the cat who watches us talk so she can learn how.

Strat did it a couple of more times, but since then he’s either forgotten about it, or Orca has decided to quit letting him get anywhere near her rectum. There’s probably a lesson for all of us there, but I’l be damned if I’m going to waste time looking for it.

* * *

Speaking of wasting time looking for things, I just discovered the other day that the timestamps at the bottom of my entries are actually permalinks! Who knew?

Well, a lot of people, probably. Now I can link to myself without those awkward little parentheses showing the relevant date stuck in there. And so can you! Link to me, I mean. If you want to, that is. You don’t have to. It’s just that some people do, and I appreciate it, and…

I think I’ll just stop now before somebody bites me on the pucker.

posted by M. Giant 3:23 PM 0 comments

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Hey! Don't forget to vote today.

More later.

posted by M. Giant 6:48 AM 0 comments

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Monday, November 04, 2002  

Several weeks ago, I made a reference to the time our cat Orca tried to kill me. You all just let it go. I think it’s because you thought I was kidding. Since we’re talking about a domestic cat not much bigger than a large squirrel, I really can’t blame you for thinking that. But you’re wrong.

One thing Orca likes to do is reach out and make a grab for a pant leg when one of us is walking past her. She does it for different reasons, depending on her mood. Not that her mood is always easy to discern, since her default expression is a baleful, heavy-lidded glare through her eyebrow whiskers. But sometimes she’s doing it because she really wants to get you, and other times she’s just being playful. We hope.

It was on one of the playful occasions that I pretended to actually get caught. Her claws scraped my trouser cuff, and I acted like she’d succeeded in throwing me off balance and I thumped heavily to the floor. She looked at me sprawled full-length in front of her, completely freaked out. Oh, shit, now I’m in for it, I could see her thinking before she ran away to hide.

She’s much more blasé about it now. These days when I pretend she’s “caught” me, she’ll stand victoriously over my helplessly prone form. “Yeah, who’s the man?” she seems to be saying.

What? You never do anything nice for your pets?

But sometimes she does the grabbing thing because she’s pissed off about something. We never know what it is; what with there being such a staggering breadth of things in the world that piss her off, it’s rare for us to be able to isolate a single stimuli. If she’s pissed off, she won’t just stick out a paw for a playful swipe as you go by. She’s trying to get you. These angry swings are generally accompanied by an enraged snarl, and she’ll go out of her way to get into yours. And while slashing at a pant leg is one thing, when she gets into these moods she doesn’t particularly care if you’re actually wearing pants.

On one such day, I was busy doing something—I don’t remember what—that required me to make a lot of trips between the study and the kitchen. Orca had placed herself in the hallway. I’d keep trying to step around her, and she’d keep trying to bring me down.

Finally, I had enough. I picked her up with both hands by her torso and held her at eye level. “Knock it off!” I began to say, but I never got that far.

That’s because her front legs were free, which allowed her to reach out, dig her front claws into either side of my head, pull herself forward, and latch her jaws onto my nose. Which she did. There was no helpless flailing or slashing; she came up with a plan of attack and executed it perfectly. I was totally gobsmacked by her speed, strength, and clearly murderous intent. She meant to do no less than rip my face clean off of my skull, and if she’d been big enough, she would have.

Of course I threw her in the bathroom (and not into the bathtub with the shower running, or the toilet, like I wanted to). How long of a time-out do you give a cat that has just attempted murder? The training books don’t tell you that, do they? After I’d dumped Orca in there, I won’t say how long I planned to leave her. I will say that I considered bricking up the door and building a new bathroom entirely.

Needless to say, our relationship was a little strained for a few days after that. She made overtures toward me after I let her out of the bathroom a few days later, but I wasn’t having it. “She tried to kill me!” I told Trash, who was trying very hard to not find it funny. I wanted to think that Orca really thought her life was in danger and her prehistoric reptile brain took over in self-defense, but that’s not the case. She knows I’d never hurt her. She was just pissed off, and decided I didn’t need my face any more.

Eventually we made up, and she was back to being curled up on my chest and purring softly while I scritched her between the ears. People who live with cats joke about how if the size differential were reversed, cat owners would quickly become cat snacks. Guess what? It’s no joke.

Orca and I have an understanding now. She doesn’t try to kill me any more, and I’m a lot more careful about the way I pick her up when she’s grouchy. That works out a lot better for both of us.

posted by M. Giant 3:32 PM 0 comments

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Friday, November 01, 2002  

Remember last month when I boasted at length about how my team placed third in the Kieran’s Pub Quiz?

Just imagine how tedious I would become if we placed second.

Actually, beginning with the next paragraph, you won’t have to imagine.

That’s right, the second-place team on Wednesday night was the one to which I belong. Again, we cleaned up on the music and movie rounds, getting a perfect score (and a free round of drinks) for the latter. We were even in the lead between the first and second rounds, which is something else we’ve never accomplished before, even briefly. We ended up five points behind the winning team, which means that we would have been in first if we hadn’t talked ourselves (and each other) out of several right answers.

See, that’s what nobody ever tells you about pub quizzes; the hardest part is to not outsmart yourself. But someone has to outsmart us, and we’re running out of other teams who are capable of it. So there you go.

Did I mention that one of the rounds was co-created by Trash?

Our friend Bitter is the scorekeeper/co-host of the Kieran’s Pub Quiz (and before you get all suspicious, I’m going to point out that she did us no good at all the time that a team consisting of her then-boyfriend, some random guy from Denver, and me came in second-to-last). Last month, the host decided to ask Bitter to put a round together. So she enlisted Trash’s help and that’s what she did. Specifically, they made up the movie round.

What? No, we didn’t get a perfect score that round because Trash knew the answers! I’ll have you know that not only did she sit out the entire round until we’d turned in our answer sheets, she wouldn’t even give me the slightest clue of what the round was about until after it was over. So there. It was a fun round, too; for each of the ten questions, the host would name three actors, and we had to name the one movie in which they all appeared together. Trash and Bitter were both happy with the results, specifically a good range of scores, and the rest of the players were as well. Everyone said they wanted a similar round next month, including the teams who crashed and burned. Success! That’s my wife for you; she can totally humiliate you and you’ll ask her to do it again.

I just wish I could commit to my long-term memory the name of the person who appeared on the cover of the first People magazine*. That question always comes up and I can never remember.

But we still got the second place prize, which was several bottles of what appears to be a rather nice cabernet sauvignon. It’s a trophy you can drink!

Plus it prevents the same teams from winning every month. Giving the smartest people a free tool for killing off brain cells keeps a nice churn going in the upper ranks.

* * *

Last night’s trick-or-treater turnout was better than last year, but not by much. Apparently terrorist threats are more likely to keep the anklebiters inside than twenty-some-degree weather. Not that that information will eve be of any practical use to me. I got about twenty kids, all told. That’s not counting the group I clearly heard coming up to the door trying to work up the nerve to actually ring or knock, because they failed. They punked out. They left their little cojones on the front stoop amongst the plastic bones and screaming welcome mat. For the rest of their lives, they’ll be looking at cowards in the mirror. I tested the courage of these little Francis Macombers and found it wanting.

I knew they were there. I was standing right on the other side of the front door, listening to them dare each other. Yes, I could have opened it without waiting for them to make the first step, but come on, honestly. They have to put in a little effort, okay? They have to initiate the transaction. I’m not even being a hard-ass about this. If a kid is struck speechless upon beholding a six-foot-plus figure in an executioner’s robe, I’m not going to stand there glaring at him while he works up enough moisture in his mouth to say “trih…trih…” Life’s too short. If the kid can manage to hold open his pillowcase he’ll get rewarded for it.

Of course, if he forgets to say “Thank you” then I’m reaching into the bag and I’m not going to be too discriminating about what comes back out. The kids have gotten a lot more appreciative over the past few years.

We still have a lot of candy left over, obviously. The formula of one fistful per kid, multiplied by twenty kids, subtracted from seven tons of candy, still leaves 6.999999999 tons of candy. But that’s what coworkers are for.

And I have a new reason to love Halloween. What other night of the year are you going to hear a suburban soccer mom on your front sidewalk mildly telling her sprog to “Put the skull down, honey”? You just can’t buy that kind of entertainment.


*It was Mia Farrow. Mia Farrow, dammit, Mia Freaking Farrow! God!

posted by M. Giant 3:24 PM 0 comments

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