Tuesday, February 28, 2006

#222 Pillow-life

I read this article the other day. It was about pillows. You know, those things we put our faces on every night. Those things we prop up behind our back when we read in bed. Those things we cry on, and sweat on, and drool on. We rub our hands on ‘em. We prop ‘em between our legs when we’re sleeping sideways with a muscle ache. We wrestle our arm around ‘em to prop our head up differently, and jam ‘em into our armpits in the process. We put the back of our heads on ‘em, whether we’ve just taken a shower or whether we’ve been wearing a greasy baseball cap all day long. And how often do we wash ‘em? Oh sure, we wash the pillow cases. But truth be told, most of us wash the cases less frequently than we wash the kitchen dish towel.
But the pillow underneath doesn’t get much attention. Until now. A scientist decided to test pillows for microscopic flora and fauna. That’s plants and animals to non-scientists. Well guess what? They need to come up with a new reality show for TV. Instead of “Fear Factor,” they can call it “Face Factor.” Cause there’s all sorts of funky isht goin’ down in this city of dreams. It’s no wonder teenagers get acne. Oh yeah, that’s another thing we moosh into our pillows...
Scientists broke open pillows ranging in age from 18 months to 20 years. They detected more than a million spores and up to 16 species of fungi including bread and shower molds. Pillow-life as it were. Hypoallergenic pillows consistently had more diverse and abundant fungi than “down” pillows. They called the pillows a rich habitat. Oh the humanity. Mites eat fungi, fungi sop up nitrogen-rich dust mite dung. Mmm, dust mite dung. Both organisms live on shed skin flakes. “What’s for breakfast Mrs. Mite?” “Why, shed skin flakes, of course, Mr. Mite.” The organisms also vary their diet with Secretions and Bacteria provided by humans. Is there no end to human generosity? The scientists calculated that we add 20 gallons of sweat per person per year into bedding and then warm the area to 98.6 degrees with 100% humidity every night—what you may call the ideal culture for micro types. “I say, Mr. Mite how about some culture?” “Don’t mind if I do, Mr. Fungi. And may I say, you are one fun guy.” “But there’s a lot more where I came from ha ha ha.” The scientists think that down pillows may be better than hypoallergenic ones because their tightly woven fabric keeps out spores, mites, dust, and dog and cat dander. Oh, dog and cat dander—get out the Pet and Shoulders. Note to self: wash pillowcase daily, buy new pillow and leave on plastic. Get used to crinkly noise. Plastic crinkle noise better than noise made by dander-munching dust-mite
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, February 27, 2006

#221 Blow-ins in the Wind

I found something interesting when I was reading a science magazine. The magazine was Discover. I was looking at the credits page because I wanted to dash off a letter to the marketing department complaining about all the blow-ins they put in every issue. Blow-ins, or fall outs as I like to call them, are those loose subscription cards magazines add that then annoy you when you try to read the damn thing. In my last issue, I counted 6 separate blow-ins. Now if I havn’t decided to subscribe after the second blow-in, do you think I’ll be more inclined to after being totally aggravated by dealing with the other four? Not only that, but I’ve been a subscriber to this magazine for over twelve years. I think by this time I should qualify for non-blow-in status. They manage to address my issue separately, so why can’t they refrain from blowing subscription requests into the darn thing? I mean, here’s a science magazine, that advocates care for the environment. Does cutting down all those trees to make the cards and producing all that ink to print them, much less squandering the power to do so, constitute stewardship of the environment? I don’t think so. Even more bizarre, each of the cards has a place to sign your name, address, etc., along with a box to check indicating how you’re going to pay. Now understand, it’s a postcard type of card, addressed on one side, postage paid, to the magazine’s subscription headquarters. There are two little boxes to check. One of them says, “Bill me.” The other one says, “Payment enclosed.” Now maybe I didn’t catch the issue of this science magazine about how to enclose something in a two-dimensional space without folding it. But I’m sure there must be a way. It’s been on every card for the last ten years and no one has caught it. Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to see what we are all blind to. It was perfectly acceptable to say that the sun revolved around the earth until someone saw it otherwise. Eventually people said: Oh yeah, that works better. We nearly slaughtered every whale in the world to make lamp fuel until someone in Pennsylvania said, hey, how about this black junk oozing out of the ground? At some point someone else will say, I got an idea, heck with the Arabian peninsula, we got this frictionless wind turbine we can put in North Dakota.
In the meantime, I followed the credits page to the bottom till I got to the publisher and CEO information. At one time Discover Magazine was published independently, then it got swallowed up by the mega-Disney conglomerate. So I expected one of the Disney execs to be on the masthead. Nope different mast and head altogether, seems Discover has moved up in the world, all the way to the penthouse suite. The CEO’s name was Bob Guccione, Jr. Maybe he can put a new spin on this subscription card thing.
America, ya gotta love it.

#220 Ted and Ed

From time to time, I like to read popular science magazines. I figure it doesn’t hurt to keep up on things and you never know when they’re gonna find another moon beyond Pluto or a giant black monolith on a moon of Saturn or something. So I was interested in an article I read recently. It was on the subject of drugs for obesity. Some scientists have decided to target genes, and I don’t mean tight ones, as indicators for obesity. And promoters thereof. They figure there’s a slim chance that by suppressing the way cells uptake certain proteins they may be able to stop folks from eating so much, cause they won’t feel so hungry. In the case of obesity you are what you eat and part of who you are is your genes—brown hair, brown eyes, shape of your face, and tendency to stuff your face. The receptors they wanted to target are called MCR-3 and MCR-4. In case you’re wondering MCR receptors won out over the superior Beta receptors due to the market forces of evolution. Anyhow, there’s this mutant protein that has a really long name, so let’s just call it Ted. Protein Ted binds to MCR-1, which then causes a mouse to not produce pigment. It also binds to MCR-3 and MCR-4 and prevents them from telling someone when he or she is full.
This dermatologist theorized that if he could get this drug, called Melanotan II to bind to the MCR-1 instead of Ted he’d get people to produce more tanning pigment and protect their skin from UV-caused skin cancer. Unfortunately, the drug also affected receptors MCR-3 and MCR-4.
Long story short, not only did the drug cause you to tan more, but you lost weight, and, word soon got out, it caused unexpected erections. This perked up the interest of other scientists, who tinkered with the compound and renamed it PT-141. Why they felt the necessity to name the drug after a fierce navy gunboat is a matter of some Freudian speculation. But PT-141 has caught on a lot more than the original scientist’s name offering of Melanotan-II, which, really, sounds a lot like that old cheesy product ManTan.
So scientists, many of them middle-aged nerds, are agog at what they hath wrought. A drug that makes you lose weight, gives you a better tan, and promotes Erectile function. Goodbye Ted and goodbye ED too. The perfect mid-life crisis drug. Forget about wimpy old Viagra, that’s only good if you, um, have a girlfriend, and she wants to wait around for an hour. With PT-141, you can lose weight and get a tan so you can attract someone to start with, and bonus, it only takes a half hour to kick in so you don’t keep that someone waiting. Word on the street has it the scientists are looking right now for a protein that helps you afford a red Miata convertible.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

#218 Ghost Message

The other day I got a message from a ghost. Or at least it might as well have been. It was one of those messages you get on your phone from time to time. Whoever it is, is obviously leaving a message for someone, but it doesn’t appear to be you or any of your family members. The message-leaver definitely thinks he has the right number. And so he goes blithely on, supplying endless details about an event or thing, and since the message isn’t really to you, you have no idea what he’s talking about. One time I got a call from what appeared to be a frantic delivery guy saying he was really sorry but his truck broke down and he wouldn’t be able to make it until tomorrow. Tomorrow came and he never showed. I wonder if the person he actually intended the message for waited around all night for him to show. Postponed another appointment perhaps, or put off having dinner because he expected the delivery any moment. The message-leaver thought he had done his duty and would swear on a stack of bibles, King James, New Modern, and Concordance, that he did.
Sometimes the messages are amazingly personal. One guy left a series of messages on my phone about his unrequited love for someone. I had to laugh. Whoever the gal he was pining after was sure sneaky when she gave him the wrong number to call. My wife didn’t think it was that funny.
Now suppose the message leaver did realize he’d left the message at the wrong number. How would he call back and apologize? He doesn’t know what the wrong number was he dialed, if it was just a trip of the digit or one of those momentary dyslexic things like I from suffer.
There ought to be some sort of phone tree technology that lets you undue what you just did before you did it permanently. Record your message, review your message, and most importantly, review the number you’re sending the message to, before you press that finalization key. “If you are satisfied with your message, press the pound key. Please review the number and if satisfied this is whom you intend to send it to, press the star key. To expedite this message, press one. To hold this message for possible cancel and retrieval, press two. If you are absolutely, positively, certain that this is the message you want to send and the person you want to send it to and have no regrets whatsoever about the contents of this message and the possible ramifications for generations of any message left in anger, spite, or rancor, press three.”
Great idea. This’ll take the people who go back three times and check to see if their door is locked off the street forever.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

#217 Polly Wanna

It was a news story straight out of Desperate Housewives. Actually, I’ve never seen Desperate Housewives, well, not the show anyhow, but that seemed like a good opening line. Gotta have a hook you know. In any event, the story could as easily have come from Animal Planet. Seems it involve a parrot along with others. In fact, it formed that most terrible of problematic polygons, the love quadrangle.
To any of you who spent the first day of your freshman year being beaten up by the seniors because you refused to get on your knees and scrub it with a toothbrush, the word quadrangle no doubt conjures up some kind of post traumatic stress. But not, I’m guessing, the stress this gal had when her boyfriend’s pet parrot started spilling the beans. Seems that Ziggy the Parrot blurted out the words “I love you Gary” in Suzy’s voice. Very true rendition too. Only problem was, Suzy was the girlfriend of Taylor. Gary was the secret lover of Suzy. Ergo Suzy saying “I love you Gary” even if the voice was actually coming from a parrot, was not what Taylor wanted to hear. Suzy, of course, wanted to, at that point, flip the bird—preferably off his perch and into the garbage disposal. But too late. Suzy and Taylor hadn’t been getting along so she had an affair preparatory to flying the coop, but if she thought it was feathering her new nest, well, it turned out to be a bird of different feather altogether, fowl play as it were, nature red in tooth and claw. And in classic Greek tragedy style, it was the birdbrain that let the cat of the bag.
Still, Suzy should have known, don’t do anything you’re ashamed of in front of a animal that can talk. And worse, perfectly mimic other people’s voices. And even worser, as it turned out, cries of passion as well. And having your new boyfriend say things like I wouldn’t kick you out of bed for eating crackers is bound to trigger some sort of confusion in a parrot. And that can’t end up good.
The couple has since broken up. The extra boyfriend has also split the scene. Not often that someone wants to have a permanent relationship with someone who would have an affair, even if it is with their ownself. As Groucho Marx used to say, I wouldn’t want to be in a club that would have me as a member. The parrot was farmed out as well. Turns out he couldn’t be stopped from saying I love you Gary and making passion noises and generally using Taylor’s now ex-girlfriend’s voice. It’s good to be able to confront your past but it’s not necessary to have it thrown in your face everyday. Picking emotional scabs is for masochists. I don’t know though. Maybe I wouldn’t be comfortable with the idea of the parrot throwing up my dirty laundry in front of a stranger everyday either. Polly wanna what?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

#213 Ape-etite 2

One of my listeners pointed out after yesterday’s essay that this whole variety-means-more calories theory has merit. And perhaps that’s why we now say we “prepare” food rather than “cook” it. Any cooking these days seems to fall under the broader and more genteel appellation of food preparation. Cooks and chefs are still at the top of the food chain but the “Food Preparer” is sniffing at their ham-hocks.
But there are other theories besides variable appe-stat kickoffs for the causes of obesity. One is that our plates are simply too full. This theory relies on the “waste not/want not” and the “out of sight out of mind” hypothetical framework. Apparently, once the food is on your plate you feel impelled to eat it all—Mom’s admonition about the starving children in China grating through your brain like homily grits. So if you go to Applebee’s, say, and they serve you a three-course meal on Fridays, why goshdarnit, you have to be a member of dear old Mom’s clean plate club. Anything else would mean the terrorists have won. Couple this with the scientific observation that most people left alone with nothing to do will occupy their time with whatever’s handy, stacking checkers, playing solitaire or, if given a bag of chips, even if they’ve formerly proclaimed they’re not hungry, will snack, nibble, pick, and graze at those chips until they are gone or until the experiment ends. Those same people will even roll up the bag and take it with them, perhaps a vestige of our evolutionary squirrel period. Scientists suggest you can guard against this full plate combo notion by ordering dishes at restaurants “family style.” Having a larger plate of food to divvy up and put on your own smaller plate seems to mean you’ll have more leftovers to take home.
Another variation on obesity theory is the “paradoxical buffet.” Overwhelming the good intentions of the pick-and-put-your-own-portion-on-your-plate theory is the sheer quantity of the buffet and skinflintitis, the tendency of most people to want to get their money’s worth. Hey, I paid $7.95 for all I can eat and it’s damn well gonna be all I can eat. So folks stuff themselves to the waddling stage and then try to get back in their car without a hoist. And then they hit the road while they’re about to slide into a diabetic postprandial coma. Forget about D-W-I, how about D-W-E, driving while engorged? The subtext to this theory is that some people keep going back because the food is so bad—that the desire to keep eating comes from not having found anything good to eat yet. Which brings us back full circle. If your appe-stat only shuts off when you’ve had enough of a given flavor, then at some buffets it doesn’t shut off at all because you never get any flavor. In the end, I guess, diet all comes down to that optimism pessimism thing. Are you half empty or half full?
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, February 20, 2006

#212 Ape-etite

One of the big dilemmas facing modern culture is that human beings, once they get out of the extreme hunger desert, plunge hip deep into the obesity swamp. Scientists propose various theories to explain this, from genetics to dietetics to diabetics, but the real cause seems to melt away like ice cream in the sun. My personal favorite theory is we’ve got too damn good at cooking. And by cooking I actually include such non-gourmet offerings like quarter-pounders with cheese and Costco chimichungas. Quietly, insidiously, behind the scenes in every industrial kitchen in the world, flavor fuhrers have been perfecting the uber-taste. Not too sweet, not too salty, but a little of both. Throw in a savory over-taste and, voila, you have another addictive food. Yes addictive. Remember that now legendary challenge form the Lays Potato Chip company? “Bet you can’t eat just one.” They knew it would only take one exposure to set your lips quivering with anticipation over the next crunchy, salty, slightly sweet mouthful. But here’s the rub. Or butt rub with essence ala Emeril as it were. Our body has an appetite regulator. You’re supposed to stop eating when you’ve had enough. Hormones are supposed to kick in when you’ve gone over a fine line of satiety and make all subsequent food taste less flavorful. That first bite of cheesecake is great but after four slices, okay, five ...
The problem is our food isn’t straightforward enough anymore. It has all kinds of flavors in it. And while on some genetic level our bodies know they had enough corn when we consume, say, a “Big Grab” of Doritos, it doesn’t know that it’s had enough taco cheese flavor. So we keep eating long past the limit where fat production goes into hyperdrive. The other day I was eating a small bag of baby peeled carrots. I never cease to be amazed at how they train the babies to do this. In any event, after a while I’d had enough. There was almost no chance I’d overeat carrots. Why? Cause after about a bite and a half they started to taste terrible. Or how about mashed potatoes? Boil em up, mash em, don’t wanna eat that much. But garlic and cheese flavored mashed potato buds in a box? My god that stuff is good. It has flavoroids I can taste across the room. I like to consider myself a healthy eater, I don’t use much salt in my cooking and I don’t add sugar to everything I eat. But mashed potato buds in a box or salsa verde flavored Doritos? It’s like an ape with a banana, cause I can’t shut the ol ape-etite off. Why? Because of combined ingredients. Cavemen never added garlic and just a dash of paprika. They ate their food unadulterated and evolved methods of control. Try this experiment next time you go out for ice cream. See how much you can eat of plain vanilla. Then see how much you can eat of vanilla with chocolate syrup and sprinkles and chunks of chocolate and chocolate covered pretzels and caramel and bananas and...
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

#211 Peanuts Envy

As candy has got smaller in our culture, from regular to fun size, so has it also gotten larger. It’s possible, say, to get a desk size Kit Kat bar. Or a three pack of Reese’s peanut butter cups. The pack of Reese’s sport, by the way, the same label disclaimer as a Payday Bar that I find so amusing: “Caution, May Contain Peanuts.” Yeah. That would be that whole peanut wrapped around nougat peanut thing. Now I’m all for warning folks with peanut allergies that some things in this world that are not obvious may contain peanuts. We all heard the story a while ago of a girl who kissed her boyfriend and died because he had apparently consumed some peanut butter a half hour previously. Now that is an extreme nut allergy. But really, is it so necessary to tell someone that a bag of peanuts may contain peanuts. It’s a little disconcerting. When I unwrap a Payday bar and the whole thing is encrusted with peanuts I don’t think I’ll think that by some transmutation type miracle, these things that look, smell, and feel like peanuts are going to be anything other than, in fact, peanuts. And, if anything, the standard disclaimer on the bag that the product MAY contain peanuts just confuses the issue. If, lets say, I actually took the time to read the small print before I ripped into the wrapper, I would be led to conclude that there is at least a possibility that the product DIDN’T contain peanuts. May is not absolutely certain, is it? Now all peanut allergy people are not alike. Some, in fact, really want peanuts bad. They are jealous of the folk who can flag down a vendor at a ball game and have a warm bag of nuts tossed into their lap. You might say they suffer from peanuts envy. Perhaps if I was one of those, or a gambling sort of peanut allergy person, that MAY word, may be enough to encourage me to take the risk. What lawyers call an attractive nuisance. Like a pool in your backyard, even if it has a razor wire topped chain link fence and three Dobermans prowling the perimeter.
And there’s the other side. I could just as easily conclude when I see the “may contain” verbiage on a Payday Bar that the reason the company is saying “may” is that the apparent whole peanuts encrusting the nougat are, in fact, extruded candy imitations. Like a marzipan pig or roses on a wedding cake. Like they might also say on a packet of Twinkies, “may contain nourishment.”
Funny thing, they’re always pretty certain about, say, trans fat. Lots of products proclaim in bold letters that they contain NO trans fat. That’s good, because I think I’m developing a trans fat allergy. My wife kissed me the other night after eating some Fritos dipped in garlic tuna mousse and I nearly keeled over. I’m sure it was because the trans fat lingering on her lips caused an allergic reaction...
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

#210 Coffee Jugs

Something occurred to me as I was waiting for the microwave oven to finishing zapping my coffee back to relative warmness this morning. I was doing so for the fourth time for that particular cup. What an astounding waste of energy, I thought. We take microwaves for granted, but you know, they really suck a lot of power. And the funny thing was I still had a pot of coffee in my coffee maker with the warmer on. The problem, I deduced, was not in the microwave or not even in my apparent slowness to consume coffee. It was in the size of my cup. I know, I know, you say, I should get one of those little cup warmer goodies that you plug in next to your desk and that short out and set all your papers and subsequently your house on fire. Well, I tried one of those at my last house and it didn’t work out. And really, to be relatively safe those things eek out such a wimpy wisp of warmth that you can’t fry an earwig on them much less heat a big cup of coffee. And again, there’s the rub. The cup warmer would probably have half a chance to emanate its warmth all the way to the top of a cup if the cup was a reasonable size. But today’s cups? As my New York friends say slightly less intelligibly, Forget about it.
Just for fun, I dug out one of my old “good’ coffee cups. You know, the ones that come with saucers that you use for special occasions. I put it next to a mug I have from the mid-nineties. The mug was about half again larger. Then I put them both next to this one I got from the Puget Sound Blood Center. It was twice as big as the formal one. I got out my measuring cup and exchanged fluids. Eight ounces for the formal/normal, sixteen ounces for the big gulp. Now I think 16 ounces is a pint. And a pint is about how much blood you give when you do the right thing and give blood (Go give some today by the way) so perhaps the Puget Sound Blood Center was planting some subliminal reminder. But I have other mugs that same size. Or perhaps the word mug doesn’t cover it. Maybe the term coffee stein would be more appropriate. Or for those who like new words to rhyme with old ones, coffee mug could grow to coffee jug. Yeah, I’ll have a jug of joe please. But there’s the energy saving answer right there. Your coffee will stay warm to the end of the cup—if you use a smaller cup. Larger cup? Larger surface area, more and quicker radiation of heat. Smaller cup, less hole at the top, warmer fluid. The first law of coffee dynamics.
So forget about coffee warmers and radar ranges. Get a smaller cup. You’ll save money on your microwave power bill. And your coffee won’t taste like popcorn. America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

#229 Shrimp & Circumstance

So back in the travesty which was Super Bowl Forty, when the steel curtain had stripes, there was much ballyhoo about which was the best commercial. One of the most popular was a violent commercial featuring a cave man being unfairly fired for not shipping Fed-Ex even though Fed-Ex wasn’t invented yet it. It then showed the cave man exiting the cave in frustration, kicking a small dinosaur, and getting stomped flat by a giant dinosaur foot. Perhaps Matt Hasselbeck et al should have noticed, the giant stomping dinosaur leg was striped like a zebra. There was a message there. Try as you might, circumstance is your enemy.
I did see the commercial I hated the worst, and it was about shrimp—jumbo shrimp to be exact. Speaking of which, I saw a guy with one of those new widescreen laptops. When he unfolded it at the coffee shop wifi stop, I couldn’t believe how big the screen was. And it kind of made me wonder, like the name jumbo shrimp, is there something oxymoronic about a big screen laptop? It’s like having a carryon bag with wheels. Bigger is nice, but if something was invented for portability, shouldn’t it be, um, smaller?
So anyhow, the commercial in question was about big shrimp— specifically, animated talking big shrimp that, even though they were in a shrimp shape, acted and talked like people. The term is anthropomorphism. We act as if non-human things and animals are human and respond to them as such. When a dog curls his lips in a certain way we say he is smiling. Even if it’s just gas. The danger with anthropomorphism is we generalize all human attributes from a few. If it’s walking and talking, it should be loving and caring, and be bound by the same moral constraints as other humans. And constraints of taste. So the commercial features the husband shrimp offering some popcorn from Dairy Queen to the wife shrimp. They both eat some and then the wife shrimp says: “Something tastes weird. Is this popcorn or popcorn shrimp?” They both react in horror, having apparently just eaten their fellow beings. Then the wife says, “Where are the kids?” And they scream in horror again. Ha. Ha. First off, I’m guessing I will never eat popcorn shrimp again. Maybe I’m too squeamish but really, is it a good idea to sell a product by bringing up the idea of eating your own children? Cannibalism is bad enough. Hannibal Lechter aside, most people find themselves utterly repulsed by the notion of eating a fellow human being. But to take that one step further and introduce the idea of cannibalizing your own offspring...
Anthropomorphism is a double edged sword, cute can get gruesome in the time it takes to skin a cat. Or a seahawk.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

#209 What up

The other night I thought my house had been attacked by a gaggle of gangstas. I heard this buzzing noise and then a group of voices shouting muffled obscenities with a thumping back beat. Turned out my home hadn’t been broken into. My wonderful son had left his cellphone on the windowsill near the entryway. The buzzing was the vibrator of the phone and the gang of almost f-words was his ringtone. Great, just the thing to go off in church during Father Hart’s sermon on the breakdown of society caused by today’s youth.
In any event, when that gentlemanly young fellow that I call my son answered the phone, he did so thusly: He grabbed the phone, which by then had quit its string of pseudo profanity as the caller had given up and hung up. No problem. My son looked at its screen, ascertained both the last number and the identity of the caller and then punched the return button so the phone automatically connected him with his partner in puberty. Now this may sound unremarkable to you who are bluetooth enabled, but this beige-toothed old fart thinks it’s amazing indeed. In my day if you missed a call, you were just plain spit out of luck. Oh sure, if you were Broderick Crawford of the Highway Patrol you could wake up Millie, the switchboard operator and have her check her handwritten records in the middle of the night but for ordinary schmoes like us, uh uh.
At this point my young whippersnapper declares his readiness to converse amicably into the phone’s mouthpiece with these two words: “What up?” To which my brain instantly responded: “What is up with that?” Now it seems to me we’ve lost something here. It used to be “What is going on with you?” or “What is happening?” At some point, as it will always occur in or contraction-ifying society, that was shortened to, “What’s happening?” To which I say, dyno-mite. “What’s happening” flows so much nicer off the tongue. There was a brief period of convoluted queries with the odd question, “What it is?” Fortunately “What it is” was retired and replaced by “What’s up.” “What is up” to “What’s up.” But now, it appears to have been shortened even further to “What up.” We’ve contracted the contraction by totally eliminating the verb or any vestige thereof from the interrogative sentence. What up? What up is we don’t have a freaking verb. And that verb is “is.” “Is” is gone. Now perhaps “is” was sullied when a former president asked about its definition, but to retire it from conversation altogether is impossible. “Is” is the third person singular present indicative of “be.” Without is we cannot be. What will be up if we cannot be will be bad, bad indeed. Talk about a breakdown in society.
Why, I feel like muttering a string of obscenities...
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, February 13, 2006

#208 On your Lips

So I was watching some movie the other night, I think it was the Fantastic Four. Two things. One, it was kind of a loose plot. Less of a plot really than a vehicle for special effects. Okay. I guess I’m used to that. Eye candy is a respected genre in movie making. The Poseidon Adventure wasn’t long on existential angst either. And really, they are comic book characters so I wasn’t expecting Dr. Zhivago. Truth be told, I haven’t really expected movies to make sense since I first watched Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” way back when. Now there’s a movie that kind of petered out at the end. Birds attack village in incredible numbers and then... stop. For no apparent reason they just quit and then the harried tourists drive out of town. Okay. Maybe that was Alfred Hitchcock’s final fling of taunting monkey poo at us. The master of suspense doing the ultimate, leaving off the end of the movie and keeping us all in suspense forever.
Anyhow in this Fantastic Four thing, the woman they had playing Sue Storm just didn’t seem right. For one thing she was too young. The Sue Storm I remember from my comic book days in the sixties was more like an older mature adjunct and companion to the elasto-man professor guy. The other thing was that the actress’s lips were inflated to within an inch of suffocation. What is it these days with Hollywood plastic surgeons and lips? Lips are like the new breasts.
They got to enlarge something to inhuman proportions.
Jeez. I thought Sue Storm had picked up some of elasto-man powers with the expansion of her labial protuberances. Talk about pucker power. With lips like that, she could support The Thing and half of Manhattan with one super suck.
Why is it that the biggest inflation in our country in the last decade has been Hollywood lips? Is it some everybody gotta look alike thing like the Britney-fication of our young women? Do all girls have to show belly and pout a lot? Do all women have to look like the genetic lip equivalent of a cross between Angelina Jolie and Mick Jagger? Isn’t one Steven Tyler enough?
I mean, when I kiss someone I don’t want to think of Mt. Rushmore. I may want to take my gal in the back country but she doesn’t need off-road lips. What do the plastic surgeons call them? ATLs? All terrain lips. Sorry, but my woman doesn’t need to look like a clarinet player on steroids. Bassoonists don’t need a whole band’s worth of embouchure to hit the right note. One good thing, I suppose, when these gals get really drunk and fall down. It’s that whole on your lips thing...with balloon tires like that plastered to the front of their face they’ll bounce right back up again...
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, February 10, 2006

#207 Ought 5

A guy gave me this email thing the other day. He actually gave it to me in person, on printed paper, rather than forwarding it to me by email. Perhaps he didn’t know how to copy and paste, but he did know that I automatically delete any forwards, especially if they have attachments. I’m not saying every forwarded email has spam-cookies or viruses, but I don’t make a practice of walking through TB wards either. The line between cautious and paranoid is both thin and evanescent.
Anyhow, this piece told what things were like in the previous century’s Ought 5. Like in 1905 only 8% of homes had a telephone, and a 3-minute call to New York from Denver cost 11 dollars. And that was without roaming—unless you count the buffalo. Sugar cost 4 cents a pound, coffee 15 cents a pound. Machiatos and lattes cost equal amounts, nothing—cause they didn’t exist. Only 14 percent of homes in the US had a bathtub. And no, there were no showers. Most women only washed their hair once a month, and when they did, used borax or egg yolks for shampoo. Husbands still didn’t have a clue. “Um, Hon, did you do something to your hair? It looks less greasy and more yellow, runny, and snot-like.” The population of Las Vegas was only thirty people. And one guy was comp-ing rooms for the other 29.
Two out of every ten US adults couldn’t read or write. Glad to see some things haven’t changed. Strangely, five of them still couldn’t pass the WASL. There was no Mothers Day or Fathers Day. Back then, they didn’t give their parents little expensive cards to show their sentiment. They gave ‘em something far more valuable, respect.
On the other hand, 90% of all US doctors had no college education. Perhaps that’s why 95% of all US births took place at HOME. The five leading cause of death were, Pneumonia/influenza, Tuberculosis, diarrhea, heart disease and stroke. Cancer, which is essentially an old people’s disease, wasn’t even a contender, because the average life expectancy was 47. Crosswords, iced tea and canned beer hadn’t been invented yet. Marijuana, heroin and morphine were all available over the counter at the local corner drug stores. Back then, the pharmacist said: “Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is in fact, the perfect guardian of health.” Just ask Curt Cobain.
Finally, in 1905, there were only 230 murders reported in the entire US. Let’s see, no canned beer, life expectancy 47. Proof positive, statistics show the horrendous numbers of murders in the US in 2005 can only be due to one thing, old people drinking beer. Looks to me like we ought to rethink that heroin thing.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

#204 Kara-smokey

One of the incidental benefits of the new non-smoking laws is less karaoke. Karaoke, like bowling, seemed to evolve best into a social pastime with the assistance of alcoholic beverages. Alcoholic beverages, in their inhibition-reducing capacity, allowed people to shed the skin of propriety, and also, apparently, forget that they were tone deaf, and jump in front of teleprompters and a drunken crowd to belt out favorites from Neil Diamond to Kid Rock. Oh, wait a minute; Kid Rock does a few semi-karaoke songs of his own doesn’t he? When famous people do karaoke, they call it a cover. When Natalie Cole did duets with recordings of her dead father, I called it necro-karaoke.
The pronunciation of the word karaoke is subject to some regional interpretation. Here in the Northwest we most often employ the kary-okey version. In some parts you hear karah-okey. And I’m told in Japan they say kah-rokey. The word comes from Japan, of course, where such diversions, along with Anime and Jacuzzi-jetted toilets, bespeak a society with too many people and too much attendant psychoses. The first syllable of the word, kara, means void in Japanese and the second syllable, oke, means orchestra. I assume they mean void of orchestra and not band urine although with some karaoke performances I’ve seen it’s hard to tell. Hmm, void of orchestra. Too bad they didn’t use a last syllable that meant good sense. Then the void description would fit most of the folks I’ve seen indulging in this art form.
It’s true that when I first heard the term I assumed it was something yokels in from the sticks did instead of shooting possums— the “okey” in this case referring to the state from which they perhaps originated.
Some have proposed a grading system for karaoke, in which the top grade is A-okey. The middle or average level would be kara-okey-dokey. And those who are slow to pick up the verse are kara-pokey. A would be crooner who needs a cigarette to perform, is known as a kara-smokey―or perhaps that’s the little cocktail wieners he eats before going on. Some people need more than alcohol to reduce their embarrassment. Cocaine-enhanced karaoke? Kara-cokey of course. Those who need mari-jawana to loosen up? Kara-tokey. And who could deny the pleasure of watching a stand up kara-comedian doing, perhaps, an Adam Sandler song and tredding that delicate crowd pleasing line between being kara-jokey and just plain kara-hokey.
In any event all that is coming to an end. The drinkers are staying home with their ashtrays and the karaoke machines are collecting dust in deserted bars, there to crumble away till all their former users no longer karaoke out songs, but simply, cah-roak.
America, ya gotta love it.

#203 DeValue

It sometimes happens in our culture that enthusiasm gets the better of truth. Hype, that word we all have come to know and love, is the short form of the word hyperbole, whose mathematical cousin, hyperbola, describes a curve that shoots on to infinity. Linguistically, the definition of the word is somewhat underhyped in the dictionary as “over-exaggeration.” Yawn.
In any event, we get used to people hyping stuff to the point where most of us take just about everything these days with a grain of salt. Those of us who prefer to think on a low sodium diet simply discount all hype for good measure. When we hear a car ad or a loan ad and the announcer says “no interest”, we know they mean no interest for the one guy in the world whose credit is so good he doesn’t need credit. The rest of us pay 22%. Or, when we see a printed ad from a bankcard company that proclaims 0% introductory interest—that’s zero one-hundredths of zero for you math geniuses out there—we know that if nothing else the mail will somehow delay our first payment, the 25% penalty interest in the fine print will kick in, and we’ll get a visit from a couple of wise guys named Guido.
So when we see someone on TV being too forceful in talking about anything, that’s the time our suspicion antenna should start twitching, and we should start engaging both the hype radar and the anti-BS spray. So, you know, irrespective of how I may feel about say, Bill O’Reilly, I get really really worried that he spends as much time as he does proclaiming that his show is “no spin” zone. So, I suppose, technically, is a black hole but it’s the trajectory of the debris being sucked in that you have to worry about. No spin, no interest, I sometimes worry we’re devaluing the concept of no.
So I was a little interested the other day when the Parents Against Bad Television, or some such organization, was hype-r-critical of TV. They listed the worst TV shows in terms of objectionable content. 14 of the top ten were Fox shows of course, but oddly, some of the other contenders were the various versions of CSI. Turns out their subject matter, which deals with murder, cannibalism, and even necrophilia, was a little too tainted in the perverse sexual arena for the Parents Against Whatever. Plus, all the CSI’s show dead bodies in a mostly nude state. Making more than one wag say the CSI stands for Corpses Stripped Indiscreetly. Camera angles and digital fuzzy spots hide the naughty bits, but it doesn’t take too much imagination to connect the dots. One of the parents was appalled. “I didn’t know there was sex in the show,” she wailed, “I just thought my kid was mostly interested in science.” At least he didn’t have no interest.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

#201 Gaelic Galore

The other day I was talking to a friend and he said I should come down to the buffet at a local casino because they had jumbo shrimp galore. That got my attention for two reasons: First, I’m always intrigued by oxymoronic food like jumbo shrimp and secondly, and more importantly, my etymological antenna perked up when he used the word galore.
Now there’s a word I always wanted to google up: galore. From whence doth it emerge? The dictionary defines it as “in great numbers,” and, “existing with abundance.” The etymological dictionary says it comes from the Gaelic, “gu leoir,” meaning “sufficiently,” or “enough.” Interesting—at least to my get-a-life mind. Something that used to mean just enough now means over-the-top abundance. Funny how things change. Like when they had to add another size of latte cup cause “Grande” wasn’t enough anymore. Now they have “Vente.” Kind of like the coffee drink equivalent of a Big Gulp. Which itself somehow introduced the notion that people actually need to consume a half gallon of pop in a sitting. And also apparently led to larger cupholders for vehicles and larger SUV’s to hold the cupholders. Personally, if there isn’t a rest stop every thirty miles, I’m not drinking anything. Until they invent a catheter equipped SUV, the pop stand is off road, off limits, and off radar.
As more than one person has noticed, there’s an odd thing about lattes: there’s short and three kinds of big; tall, Grande and Vente, but no regular. Perhaps because there’s no fancy Italian word for regular. No, “short” and “tall” aren’t Italian. Why the sudden excursion into Italian descriptions of size when things get really big?
I digress. The concept of Galore has grown as well. Because apparently, saying in ancient Ireland that you had “beer galore” meant you had barely enough beer. When it crossed the Atlantic that prodigious quantity of beer must have seemed different to the tee totaling descendents of puritans. Now that same amount was abundant. Over the top. Too much. As history, and apparently etymology, belongs to the victors, galore now means a whole bunch. Dude they got a boatload of beer at that party, says the young man. Ah, you reply genteelly, they have beer galore. All depends on your point of view I guess. One man’s too much is another’s too little.
Perhaps we can look forward to a new latte size. And since it’s Italian, we’ll have to pronounce the final “E”. Tall, Grande, Vente, and an even larger and more beautiful coffee drink in all its Galor-eh.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, February 06, 2006

#197 Not so Sirius Radio

So I’m listening to a radio station. And an ad comes on. Funny thing is, the commercial is for a new type of radio. And that type of radio is a subscription type for which you pay a monthly charge in order to avoid having to listen to, yep, you guessed it, commercials. So in order to get the word out ad-free radio has to advertise on ad-rich radio. Is this a great country or what? Personally, I love advertising. It’s where some of the most creative stuff in the media is happening and as cultural barometers go, it can’t be beat.
A couple of observations. People are always talking about the death of radio. But like Darth Vader, the force lives on whether you burn off its limbs and fry its innards or not. People love to listen to the radio and they do it for very simple reasons. They love the connection it gives them to the rest of humanity. They trust it to keep them plugged in to their community. And they like the music. Ipod schmi-pod. People will always come back to radio. Why? It’s not just because even though you can program in two weeks worth of songs on an Ipod you only have a battery life of 3 hours. It’s because an Ipod, even on shuffle, is still your playlist. And, truth be told, it not only reflects your taste, it only reflects your taste. Having someone else introduce a different song every now and then makes life more interesting. And listening to someone else’s playlist is interesting too, because their minds wander in a different direction and it’s good to expose yourself to a different path. That’s known as learning, growth, and developing your potential. It’s not just sitting around with your earphones on playing the same old record over and over and over again like a, well, broken record.
And you know what, that’s what advertisements do too. They expose us to a different product, or a different place to do business, or a different restaurant. Ad-free radio won’t do that. DMX and Muzak have existed for years as ad-free alternatives. Great for elevators and doctors offices, but for life? I don’t think so.
So radio and DJs and Personalities and, yes, advertisements, immerse us in the milieu of growth and change and new things and new ideas—something I like to call living. I ask you this, if you’re serious about satellite radio, how’d you hear about it? And that dead Ipod hanging from your neck? How’d you find out about that? From a friend of a friend of a friend right? Who saw or most likely heard an advertisement. And, by the way, need someone to show up for your charity bake sale, or your kid’s concert in the local park? Sorry. Ad radio’s dead. Maybe you can tape a banner to that satellite flying by tonight.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, February 03, 2006

#196 Topsy Turvy

Ever feel like you’re just moseying along and the whole world goes topsy-turvy? Now there’s a sentence to challenge the English as a second language people. Both mosey and topsy-turvy in one place. Try finding those terms in a foreign language/ English dictionary. Topsy-turvy. Origin anyone? Perhaps how a top spins and then suddenly flips upside down, or maybe just wobbles weird. The derivation of “topsy” from “top” I get. Turvy I can’t figure out. When someone puts glasses upside down in the cupboard can someone else say? Hey, who put these glasses turvy? Or can I now call my favorite dessert “pineapple turvy cake?”
Anyhow, I imagine that’s how the listeners from KVSN radio felt when one day they turned on their beloved Christian AM station and suddenly started hearing NPR. Not that Christianity and in depth news are necessarily exclusive, but you know, the tone was probably just a touch more highbrow than normal. I also wonder how long it took the old listeners to catch on, and how many of them actually got a different point of view slipped in before they got their guard back up.
Lord knows doing the format switch during NPRs monthly evolution discussion was ill-timed.
Grownup people do the damnedest things. The other day I was watching TV, or possibly cable, I’m not really sure, I’d been channel surfing for a while and all the content seems equally unfettered these days. In any event I saw a picture of some really appetizing food on this channel and I was really hungry so I did what I’m sure a lot of people do. I turned up the volume. That’s right, I saw a picture of some really mouth-watering food and in order to enjoy it more I turned up the sound. So my question is: Is increasing the sound volume to my ears going to make me visualize the taste better? Hunger is a cruel and unforgiving mistress.
Speaking of empty feelings, this coffee culture stuff is getting out of hand. The other day I ordered a drip coffee at a local coffee-ing hole. First complaint: you can’t just say cup of coffee any more. In order to justify the high price for the liquid that sustained countless dirt-poor folk during the depression because it was so cheap, you have to specify whether you want your plain coffee “drip” or “Americano.” The barista then asked me: “Do you want room with that?” As if “room” was a solid object of some sort. Like, “...you want biscotti with that?” Or, “...you want sugar with that?” “Do you want room with that?” should, I would think, be more appropriately stated as “do you want room in the cup for cream?” or, “room in that cup?” or “room in that?” Empty space is not an object any more than zero is a percent.
I know because I once had some empty space in my hand and I tried to turn it topsy-turvy.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

#190 Don’t Worry, Pay Interest

So I get this news item. It’s about one of those payday loan companies charging more than the allowed amount of interest because they let borrowers roll over loans and charged them an extra fee to do so. All well and good. We all know that these places charge a lot but they also bill themselves as being cheaper than bouncing a check. Then the article goes on to show the legal amount such a place can charge—15% of the first 500 and 10% of any balance after that. Again on the face of it, not that much, except that works out to about 391% APR. This is the legal amount. For some reason the word cornhole comes to mind. So this one guy had literally thousands of dollars of interest/fees on one little revolving loan amount.
Couple with this is a commercial I heard the other night from a major bankcard company. It said, if you can’t make your minimum payment this month then it will be waived if you make a further purchase. Now there’s an encouragement to fiscal responsibility. Can’t pay what you owe? Charge more. We all know there are some people who just ain’t too good with money. And these are usually the people who are paying the minimum and charging the max anyhow. Do they really need any additional prodding to charge more and pay less? And why the sudden generosity on the part of the bankcard companies? Simple, the new anti-bankruptcy bill passed by congress forbids including bankcard debt in your bankruptcy, when and if you do declare. So the banks, certain that they’ll get the money somehow, sometime, are only too happy to open the door to any additional interest they can flay off your financial hide.
I’m sure I screwed up some of the facts somewhere, but to me the point is a larger one. Is our apparently healthy economy once again being sustained on borrowing? What’s going to happen when people can payday no more? Too bad they don’t have a fiscal example to emulate, like the feds. The federal deficit is huge, and that means as interest rates creep up the budget of the United States is going to have to devote a bigger and bigger share of monies to simply paying interest on the government debt. And like a payday loan denizen the feds are going to have to keep rolling the principal over and hope that somehow they’ll catch up on the next go around.
Of course they never will. Until their economy, personal and federal, collapses. Maybe bartering will come back. Hey buddy, I’ll trade you this latte for a pothole-free road. Senator Lloyd Bentsen said something to that effect many years ago. “I could give the appearance of prosperity too if I could borrow a trillion dollars a year.”
The two horns of the political dilemma: tax and spend, or don’t tax—and spend anyhow.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

#219 Nfc-hawks

Certainly there’s been more than enough hyperbole galore about this but what the heck, it’s not every day a regional football team wins a slot in the Superbowl. So let me just say first, Go C-Hawks. You’re A-Hawks to me. Or let’s just shorten the whole uncomfortably long phrase NFC Champion C-hawks to NFC-Hawks. Of course the jokes are flying in. What was most important in the NFC championship game, the full back or the running back? The answer, of course, was the hassle-back. And hassle the Carolina panthers Matt did. Or, that the reason our defense was so strong is because we had a big Lofa on it. Did you see that shot he took though? The other guy was sent out of the game with a concussion, or as one cruel wag put it Goings Goings gone. But Lofa Tatupu played on, even though it turns out he was concussed as well. Forget the con, he kept the other team cussing for the rest of the game, I’ll tell you that.
Weird though, one of the national commentators, apparently without irony, said at one point in the blowout: “The national media hasn’t been giving the Seahawks the respect they deserve.” Duh! Especially when it was the guy who was squeezing out this pithy remark that was being pithy the previous week about those same Seahawks. He was the one who wasn’t giving them respect and said Carolina ought to have field day cause Seattle never do well against a good quarterback and Delhomme was as good as they come. Well apparently he’s as good as they go too. As in, Go home Delhomme.
Shaun Alexander ran his way into vindication as well. The national commentators had said how he didn’t step up in playoff games. Given that the previous week—and only playoff game so far this season—was a week that he got a concussion early in the first quarter and that with the bye the week before that and the layoff the week before that in a game the Seahawks didn’t need to win, he’d had like a month off, it was only natural it would take him a couple of plays to work the kinks out. But out they worked and in classic strategy style the threat of Shaun was as effective as a runner on first in splitting the attention of the defense. Why don’t football players get removed from the game after a foul—or five—by the way?
Ultimately the outcome of the game depended less on Hasselbeck and the Seahawks than on the power of feng shui and color. Tattoo Blue versus Feeble Teal. How could we lose? Teal is not a color for football. Teal is a color for lawn bowling, or croquet. The smartest move the Seahawks made on the road to the payoffs was to change their colors. That and stick with the guy that’s making my home grin.
America, ya gotta love it.

#187 Home Texting

Perhaps children are getting more sophisticated in this generation. I watch them adapt almost instantly to a new technology like, say, text messaging, while us oldsters are still trying to figure out how to work the scroll wheel on our mouse. Perhaps there is some hardwiring window in our brains, like language learning, where if you don’t so it by a certain age tits a heck of a lot harder to learn after. Like two year olds immersed in a foreign language, all those cheat codes and joystick twitchings they learned in early video games are standing them in good stead today. Meanwhile, old folks like me who actually used to laboriously dial a single number around a phone at a time can’t quite pick up one button representing numerous letters numbers and syllables.
You know you’re getting old when a new tech company puts out an intuitive interface and you have no intuition at all about what you’re interfacing with. Intuitive, hell, you haven’t a clue. Intuition has to have a reference base. If I have a feeling that the guy coming down the street is a danger, it’s because my subconscious has assembled numerous clues—posture, stance, smell, expression—into a acute fear package. It’s not like the intuition is a direct message—text or otherwise—from a god. So when they say intuitive, I always ask, intuitive to whom? Fuddy-duddy me, or the cybergeneration?
I’m not convinced corporate America really gets youth a lot of the time anyhow, or I’m completely out of touch with the young. I heard a commercial for a new pizza from one of the home-bake chains. It’s funny isn’t it, how in our rush-rush work-work society the idea of home cooking is so idealized. Even if you’re cooking someone else’s raw stuff at your home.
So anyhow this pizza place is talking about a new pizza and it has roasted onions—apparently they can cook one part of it—and various meats and vegetables on it. In the ad, they announce it to kids and they all shout out in pleasure. Have kids changed that much? When I was in the pizza business, there were three kid choices: pepperoni, Canadian bacon and pineapple, and plain cheese. That’s it. No onions, roasted or otherwise, no green peppers, and no mushrooms or exotic fungus of any kind. Perhaps children are getting more sophisticated in everything, including their collective palate. But somehow I don’t think so. It’s like I used to tell my own Dad when he tried to dress hip in the 70s. It’s Murphy’s Law, Papa, just when you think you got it right is when you go the most wrong. Maybe one of you kids should text in a complaint.
America, ya gotta love it.