Typography matters

At the community center where we swim, a poster from the neighboring junior high school described the school’s four goals for developing character. The poster was pink, with the lettering in white, except for the first letter of each characteristic, which was black.

The first characteristic was “Self discipline”, except the black S didn’t contrast enough with the pink background, so all I saw at first was elf discipline.

“Elf discipline!” I thought. “This is my kind of junior high school.” Followed by the inevitable disappointment.

Color drawing of Santa Claus paddling an elf.
The naughty list

Big breasts and market research

On my Facebook home page, there are these ads asking me to rate pictures of beautiful women with enormous breasts. This begs a few questions. First, do all guys get these ads? I didn’t put anything in my profile indicating my breast size preferences.

Second, if all the women in the pictures are gorgeous and stacked, aren’t they likely to receive more or less the same ratings? I can’t imagine what insights could be gleaned after thousands of ratings of “four and a half out of five stars.”

Third, for which sinister commercial purposes could this information be used? Maybe it’s an inverted form of social engineering: instead of trying to figure out and then sell me what I’m mostly likely to buy, the advertisers believe I will buy anything if it is offered by a chick whose cup size is perfectly calibrated to my tastes. I imagine myself sitting and clicking in a ta-ta induced stupor, buying whatever a luscious pair of gravity-defying melons command me to buy.

There must be a lesson here, but a babe with a sweater-stretching rack is blocking my view of it.

Discussing the news

Lore was telling me about an article she read online about a couple who asked the staff at their hotel to send someone up for a couples massage. The concierge sent up a prostitute. This story begs a lot of questions, like:

  1. How did this get into the news?
  2. What happened before the couple realized that the lady was a prostitute?
  3. What other requests do the hotel staff think are euphemisms for “send me a prostitute”?

So in order to answer these silly questions of mine, she’s trying to find the article by typing key words of the subject of the article. Guess what comes up when you type “massage” and “prostitute” into an Internet search engine? Not the news.

As for answers to my third question, I nominate:

  1. Can you call me a ride to the airport?
  2. I’d like to order a glass of chocolate milk.
  3. The faucet is dripping. Can someone come up to fix it?

Things NEVER to say to Italian-American co-workers

“Did you see ‘The Sopranos’ last night?”

Italian-Americans NEVER watch movies or television shows about Italian gangsters, no matter how well written or compentently directed. Especially avoid praising “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II”. It is okay to discuss “The Godfather: Part III” as it is generally considered a lame movie.

“Hey, are you EYE-talian?”

Italian-Americans learn from birth to roll up the windows and drive as fast as possible when in parts of the country where people say EYE-talian. Also, be sensitive to Italy’s dialectically and culturally diverse regions. A Sicilian does not want to be confused with a Calabrese or a Neopolitan. Don’t you ignorant crackers know anything?

“I’m behind on my rent. Would you please garrote my landlord?”

No self-respecting Italian-American, even a sociopathic one, would seriously consider such an up-front and direct request. The appropriate etiquette is to arrange a meeting in a dark alley, bring a bag of money, and ask euphemistically “if you could make my little problem disappear.” Also, garrotting is a technique preferred by the Japanese yakuza, a sophistication to which no Italian-American could ever aspire to achieve.

“I love The Olive Garden.”

Italian-Americans have been known to gnaw off their own arms rather than eat at The Olive Garden. In general, Italian-Americans eat only foods that have been cooked by a toothless old matriarch who rarely leaves the kitchen and speaks pidgin English. The large Italian-American families depicted in Olive Garden advertisements are usually played by non-union Albanians.

Saved by chaperone

Yesterday afternoon at work, I took a walk up to the prairie to check out where we burned a couple of weeks ago. New grasses are already growing in. On the way up, I picked up a piece of trash, a white sticker (like a mailing label) with “Saved by chaperone” written in green marker.

What on earth does that mean? We’ve had a few thousand school kids come through the park in the last six weeks and presumably this was left behind by one of them. Sometimes the kids wear name tags. I’m picturing a fifth-grader walking around with a “Saved by chaperone” stuck to his tee shirt. When he got home, would his parents learn from this label that he was rescued from certain doom by the heroic parent of somebody else’s kid? Did the parents of the kids who didn’t make it get a sticker in the mail that said “Lost by chaperone (sorry)”? Now, without this label affixed to the child, the parents will never know just how exciting the field trip was.

Eat my oatmeal mush, Rachel Ray!

On Saturdays public television has a lot of home improvement and crafts shows. This morning I caught a few minutes of the Katie Brown Workshop. Katie Brown is a young, hyperactive Michiganian who makes things like Frida Kahlo placemats for serving Mexican dishes. During each segment she trots out one of her assistants, each more stunningly beautiful than the last. They’re supposedly part of the production crew, but I’m not sure what’s up with that.

Anyway, television is glutted with warm and fuzzy lifestyle personalities. It’s time for diabolical home crafts to make their debut. Even Martha Stewart and her prison record don’t make the cut here. What I really want to know is how to build a moat around my house and fill it with alligators. I’d like to decorate my mantle with voodoo dolls of people I can’t stand. How can I build effective booby-traps and trap doors? Or raise cockatrices? And so forth.

Editor’s note: My spell checker suggests Michigander or Michiganite instead of Michiganian. I can’t bring myself to call someone a Michigander and Michiganite sounds a little contrived. I personally prefer Michiganer as in mashugana.

Bring out your dead

I have an idea. Let’s turn death into a resource for energy independence. We can hook up crematories to the power grid so that our precious corpses don’t just go up in smoke without contributing to the economy. For those who prefer burial we can harness the awesome energy of cadavers released during decomposition, or at least harvest the methane. After all, our fossil fuel reserves are uncertain but our deaths are not. Why wait for our ancestors to turn into West Texas Intermediate when we can air-condition our shopping malls with them now?

Author’s note: I was going to title this post “A modest proposal”. A quick search reminded me that this was already used by Jonathan Swift, when he suggested in 1729 that the Irish eat their children. It’s quite funny. He really stole my thunder.

Vice President Richard B. Cheney

A repost of a satirical letter I wrote to the Vice President after the Halliburton-related scandals broke. I’m sure it earned me a file.

August 6, 2004

Like any patriotic American, I am disturbed by the proliferation of radical Islam that followed our invasion of Iraq. It might be time for the United States to fall back on more typically American devices for disseminating our values there.

War is business, as you know better than anyone, so I am offering a modest business proposal. I would like a government contract to sell breakfast cereal to Shias in the holy city of al-Najaf. The breakfast cereal would be called “Muqtada al-Sadr Cereal.” The box would feature the chubby, cherub-faced insurgent cleric chowing down on a bowlful of artificially sweetened and flavored grain (I prefer my cereal in “O” form; but we can use flakes or puffs if the focus groups suggest them).

The sale of “Muqtada al-Sadr Cereal” would accomplish two objectives. First, by saturating the Najaf breakfast cereal market with al-Sadr’s goofy face, we can accelerate his media overexposure. Shias will quickly tire of him and turn away from his violent brand of Islam. A good example of cereal box-induced infamy was the rapid decline of Mr. T’s popularity after he marketed a breakfast cereal in his own name. I believe Howard Dean suffered a similar fate more recently.

Second, with the sale of sugary, unhealthy breakfast foods, we can undermine the staying power of the al-Sadr insurgency by introducing long-term obesity illnesses to the region.

All I request of the US government is overwhelming military support of my venture. Muqtada al-Sadr may try to behead me for using his face on something as blasphemous as a box of breakfast cereal. Two or three battalions of mechanized infantry would be enough to enforce my trademark and concession rights. Please send American soldiers, not Uzbekistani or Bulgarian ones.

Though I have not contributed to your re-election campaign, I have no doubt that you are eager to enlist the entrepreneurial help of regular citizens such as me. Thank you in advance for your consideration.


Wyoming is very square.
Hardly anybody lives there.
Six months of long underwear.
Yellowstone has the grizzly bear.
Bring cattle to the county fair.
Prairie winds through your hair.

March 27, 2004

I originally wrote something like this for a high school English class. My creative writing teacher, Mr. Wolfsohn, assigned us to write poems in the shape of the subject. I either was having trouble with it or I wrote it at the last minute, so I “cheated” and chose Wyoming. Of course, the effect of shaping the poem like a rectangle doesn’t come through on the Web. After rewriting and posting it on the old site in 2004, I received an e-mail from a Wyoming resident complimenting the poem but suggesting I visit there to see what more there is to it.


‘Twas the second to last Thursday, November,
An afternoon I clearly remember.
At the table were seated an assortment of guests,
The Vice-Dalai Lama, Don Ho, Adam West,
The actress who played Pussy Galore,
Twiggy and Elvis and Zsazsa Gabor,
C. Everett Koop, Mike Schmidt, Akebono,
Snoop Doggy Dogg and Mario Cuomo.
Dan Rather was there, though I didn’t invite him,
But I couldn’t be rude so I had to delight him.
I sat him next to writer George Will,
And hoped he’d get disastrously ill.
Also on hand was C.O.R.E. leader Roy Innis,
And last, but not least, my neighbor McGuiness.
Everything was well, we were ready to sup,
And I poured Thanksgiving juice into everyone’s cup,
When I noticed- Great Scott! God’s wounds! and such-
I had forgotten one minor, one tiny final touch!
My first inclination was to dismiss them all,
But I settled down some and decided to stall.
“A toast,” I announced, “To cart-pulling oxes!”
“You know,” said Dan Rather, “I’m rather obnoxious.”
“To cart-pulling oxes!” said everyone else.
“To cheap foreign cars! To itchy red welts!”
We toasted and praised and toasted more stuff,
The Republic of Ghana, Dennis the Menace’s dog Ruff,
When, alas- Praise Be!- the doorbell rang.
“Tiny Bubbles,” my distinguished Hawaiian guest sang.
They all sang along, but over the table I vaulted,
Bruce Jenner my vaulting skills greatly exalted.
On my way out of the room Dan Rather I purposely jolted,
And then, toward the door, I hurriedly bolted.
I hoped and I hoped and I did some more hopin’,
As I vaulted and bolted and threw the door open.
“Great Caesar’s Ghost!” I exclaimed. “You’re late!”
“Now Thanksgiving at last will be truly great!”
And in walked the guest I’d been waiting for eagerly,
Without whom that day would be feasted more meagerly,
With a blank, stupid gaze and a guttural gobble,
He strolled ‘cross the foyer with a waddly wobble.
“I’m starved,” said the turkey, “Soon do we dine?
“I don’t eat white meat but white wine’d be fine.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “But you’ve been misinformed,
“You’re about to be culinarily transformed,
“Into a Thanksgiving feast- maybe quite juicy,
“Maybe real dry, like that fossilized Lucy.”
“You jest,” said the main course, “You pullin me drumstick,
“You joke. Either that, or you yumor is sick.
“You just cannot do that,” he said. I said, “We sure can do.”
“O bite me!” he spat. I said, “We intend to.”
“You shan’t! I’m protected by the U.S. Constitution.!”
“Like hell,” I replied, “This is a cultural institution.
“You can call us barbarians or scoundrels or sinnards,
“But in the end I will yummily cut out your innards.
“Then stuff you with stuffing and dress you with dressing,
“And bake you real hot and eat you with blessings!
“With cranberry sauce and real mashed potaters!
“Yams and carrots and peas and pumpkin pie later!”
“Punkin pie?” said the turkey. “Punkin pie’d be great.
“I meen, jeez, mister, what the heck did I do?
“To deserve to become what it is that you chew?”
I reflected on this. He was certainly right.
So I introduced him to my guests of the night.
I said, “This here bird is a very old friend,
“And I can’t with good conscience bring his life to an end.”
We all agreed not to make our new fowl friend dead,
So we cleaned Dan Rather and ate him instead.

November 22, 1995, while sitting in an astronomy class waiting to go home for Thanksgiving. It’s been through a number of minor revisions since.

On cats

I was thinking that I would like a cat. I would want my cat to be the best cat it could be. Except that now that I own furniture, I wouldn’t want it scratched up, so I’d have the cat de-clawed. And certainly wouldn’t want my cat further decimating North America’s dwindling songbird population, so I’d attach a bell to its collar. And I wouldn’t want my cat to go out fornicating and making little cats I can’t keep, so I’d confine it inside. Then to keep it from humping my leg I guess I’d have to have the cat neutered. Then I’d have this foul-tempered little beast roaming my apartment, playing with irritating plastic toys, and shitting in a box. I’d probably start cutting off more parts.

In short, what I’d really like is a warm lump of soft fur that I can pet in my lap while I watch rented movies. Therefore, I will go to Walmart this evening to find a soft hot-water bottle and solicit the donation of one feline pelt from a local shelter. Good old Mister Snoogums.