Monday, July 27, 2009

Pranks, Jokes And Really Bad Ideas

I’m sitting in the backseat of the car on the way into DC to see a play when I get ambushed. Without any preamble or forewarning, the person next to me says “You’ve lost your touch. You aren’t funny anymore. You must be going through a dry spell.” At first I don’t comprehend what she is saying- only the words “dry spell” and “lost your touch” have sunk in and I’m wondering how she knows about my sex life. Then the word “funny” gets absorbed by my brain, followed by “not” and then I realize she isn’t talking about sex, at least I hope not. Befuddling or bizarre would be more appropriate words anyway. Then comes her clarification, along with the coup de grace- “I read your blog posts and didn’t think they were very funny.” Ah! Oh. Wah!

Now I actually feel hurt. I don’t mind being criticized for a lack of sexual godliness, since I’ve never claimed that distinction, and I can always selfishly rationalize that it works out fine for me, but my writing is actually intended to be enjoyed by people besides just myself. Normally this lack of approval would make me start to sulk, perhaps suck my thumb and whimper in a ball in the corner. You know, a typical Thursday. I’m not a thick-skinned kind of person, despite my seemingly detached, remote fa├žade. In this case though, I was just confused. I didn’t recall trying to be particularly funny. I mean, look at the topics I’m writing about. I wrote about the death of Paul Newman and how I’m worrying about the mortality of my idols. I followed that up with a cranky-old-man diatribe about “Why’s everything changing, dag-nab it?!?!” and then how my sister spoiled our Christmas traditions. Plus a little bit about the existence of God and the cosmic connectedness of all things. Not exactly humorous, knee-slapping topics. Unless you are Steve Martin or Douglas Adams. They can make anything funny. Perhaps I could have thrown in a few other funny bits like how my sister spurted eggnog out of her nose and that it was really hilarious seeing how decrepit Paul Newman was looking there at the end but that would be entirely fictional- it never happened. Sometimes I stretch the truth for humorous purposes, but I don’t totally make stuff up. Not totally. At the very least, there is a grain of truth, like the piece of sand in an oyster’s shell that becomes a pearl. (Notice how cleverly I compared myself to jewelry in an extremely subtle attempt to equate myself with something precious. Well, maybe something semi-precious since pearls aren’t real gemstones. Then again, what are diamonds except squished lumps of coal?)

Luckily my critic had some solutions for me. She suggested I write about funny topics like poker and gay, black retarded fried chicken lovers. Yeah, those will work out much better. Everyone finds poker hilarious. That’s why there are all those poker tables in comedy clubs. Oh, wait- you mean those are regular tables, meant for supporting all the drinks you have to buy as your cover charge? No wonder everyone was looking at me funny when I started dealing out cards and stacking up chips in front of me. That also explains why I haven’t been too successful at a poker game when I giggle and chuckle after saying “All in!” Well, I can go with her other suggestion, which came about from a riff we went off on after seeing some pedestrians in DC. Although…. I’m not quite sure it would go over too well if I made fun of gay, black retarded fried chicken lovers, seeing as how I can only personally relate to one of those descriptions (I’m black.) Hmm, but then how do I satisfy my muse? Maybe I could do something stupid but funny like those guys on Jackass? No, I’m more of a Borat kind of guy. I could try pulling practical joke, like throwing a pie in Bill Gate’s face. No, she would probably say “Yawn. Been done already. You’re getting desperate.” Well yeah I’m desperate but so what? Aren’t cream pies inherently funny? They were funny when the Three Stooges used them and they were still funny when Bill Gates got creamed. Or is it pie-d? What’s the proper verb to use when someone gets a cream pie in the face?

Oh, you know what? I’ve got the perfect topic! It’s a naturally hilarious subject so I might get credit for humor even if what I write isn’t funny by itself. I’ll write about pranks and practical jokes I’ve been involved in. And get this- here’s the genius part: some of these pranks involve her, my critic (my nemesis?) so if she disparages the blog posting then she is pooh-poohing her own actions. Um, unless she likes the topic and hates my writing from aesthetic point of view. Then that would be bad. That would definitely be a “sulk/whimper/curl-up/mewl” moment. Let’s give it a shot though. What’s life without a little risk? (The correct answer is “Much safer and less painful, thank you very much. You are over thirty years old- have you not realized that yet?”) So, here are some of the pranks I’ve been involved in. Mostly these were concocted and carried out by me, because I like being the pranker. Not so much with the prankee.

Let’s start with a simple gag, just so you can see the progression of complexity in various gags. Everybody has stuck tags on someone’s back so that person goes around for a bit with a “Kick Me” sign on their back. Elizabeth and I would escalate the concept because we worked in a music store and our merchandise was tagged to avoid theft. Of course, since we worked at a music store, our security measures were very low-tech. Basically, what we did to secure our products was to take a piece of tape off a tape dispenser and attach it to the merchandise. The tape contained a magnetic stripe that activated the alarm if someone took it through the security panels by the door without deactivating it at the cashiers. It was incredibly hard to circumvent these security measures because no one was likely to guess that the piece of tape with a metal strip running through it on the back of the CD box was actually a sensory tag. Even if they could figure that out, there was no way to defeat the system, unless they did something crazy like take off the piece of tape or take the CD case out of the CD’s cardboard longbox. It would take a criminal mastermind to figure out how to defeat our store’s security system.

So, a simple gag that amused us for a couple weeks was to put a piece of tape on a fellow associate when they were leaving the store. Then the alarm would go off and everyone would stare at them before they walked back to the cashier, red-faced and embarrassed, saying “You jackasses. I’ll get you back.” And of course, they would. It got to the point where you were paranoid if someone touched you, especially if they patted you on the back. You’d crane your head around to see if they had tagged you. One day, we were particular ruthless to “Hoops” Avery, our unofficial mascot of the store. And, yes, just like in the movie One Crazy Summer, he was nicknamed Hoops because he could not hit the broad side of a barn with a basketball or a wastebasket with crumpled piece of paper. Anyways, we tagged Hoops four or five times simultaneously so he had to keep coming back from the security panels until all the tape was found and removed. That was probably the least complicated gag I’ve participated in. I put that on par with summer camp gags, like dipping a sleeping person’s hand in warm water or putting shaving cream on his hand and then tickling his nose. On a couple of occasions, I have also left notes on vehicles from the Yellow Cab company, saying “Your cab isn’t yellow- it’s orange. What’s up with that?” Maybe it’s not funny but I really wonder why all the cabs that Yellow Cab has in this area are orange. The ones in New York and other places are yellow.

A couple other simple gags involve the Blair Witch and Donnie Wahlberg. No, not together. Could you imagine what that child would be like if they got together? “Hanging tough” might be a factual occurrence instead of a goofy song title. Also, let me take a moment to dispel a Donnie Wahlberg rumour. That was not me at the New Kids On The Block concert last month. Why would I go to a New Kids show? They suck. No way would I get free tickets from the Washington Post and go to their show with John and Vicky and I certainly wouldn’t be singing along to the song Tonight (“La la la la la la tonight!”). That was definitely not me, especially if some hot mama (and at this show I mean that literally) claims I oogled her. I was home watching Dancing With The Stars. Wait- that doesn’t put me in a good light either. Which one would be the least embarrassing as an alibi? Um, now I remember- I was home doing shots, of whiskey, throat-burning manly whiskey. I only saw Dancing With The Stars for a second when I flipped between stations during a commercial for a baseball game. Or a basketball game. Definitely some manly sporting event. No Dancing, no NKOTB. No way.

Anyway, back to the pranks. A few weeks after watching the Blair Witch Project movie, I went over to John’s house one night and left a pile of rocks and a stick figure in front of his door. In the movie, that was the scary evidence of a visit by the Blair Witch. Somehow, I think John’s reaction was more annoyance than dread but I never found out since I didn’t cop to pulling the prank, until now. It’s kind of hard to ask someone’s reaction to a gag without giving away that you were the one who pulled it.

Now Donnie Wahlberg is a more complicated story. Back in college, I sometimes had a few laughs at my roommate’s expense. When I lived with Adam, there were always odd things going on. When your roommate regularly goes two or three days without sleeping, it’s impossible for odd things not to happen. One time, his angry girlfriend, or rather his very soon to be ex-girlfriend, trashed his stuff because she spotted Adam talking to a girl in his service fraternity. She wanted to punish him for this conversation so she tore things up, turned over furniture, and demolished any chance of staying together. Adam was not amused and sure enough, they broke up. A few weeks later, me and someone else that I can’t remember right now (no, really- I can’t) were in a restless mood and decided to create some low-grade havoc. We thought it would be fun to trash Adam’s stuff again. We didn’t break or destroy stuff though- we just put things in moderate disarray and minor shambles and left the room. Later in the day we came back to the room with Adam. When he saw the mess, I exclaimed “That crazy bitch tore up the place again!” He totally bought it and chewed out the ex. I only felt slightly bad, because she was a bit crazy and definitely a bit bitchy. Plus, I liked his new girlfriend better than the old one.

Later on, Adam did something to me in return since I broke the third rule of pranks- “Never admit you were the one who pulled the prank.” It is always someone else who did it. Even if you get caught red-handed, claim it was someone else. Maybe use a variation of the Marion Barry “Bitch set me up” excuse. So Adam got me back and I thought I would use my semi-patented “velvet hammer” response to return the favor. I swung by the Williamsburg Pottery’s candy and gift shop and picked up a couple dozen Gummi spiders, the big tarantula sized ones. I then hid them in various places around Adam’s room. He would periodically come across one and be momentarily startled and then exasperated while wondering how many more were hidden in the room. I can’t remember what he did with a gummi spider after he found it though. I’m not sure he was into gummi candy and I don’t think I ate them because I find tarantula shaped candy to be too creepy to consume, just like gummi snakes, gummi boogers and gummi eyeballs. Right about now you are either thinking about buying some gummi bears or wondering what the heck this all has to do with Donnie Wahlberg (or maybe wondering if they make Donnie Wahlberg gummies.) The connection is this- Adam has a birthday. After the spiders, we went back and forth for a bit, pulling pranks on each other and then when Adam’s birthday rolled around, I thought I would get him some gag gifts. I got things like a New Kids On The Block coloring book and a Donnie Wahlberg doll. They were remarkably cheap by then because, believe it or not, NKOTB had passed their heyday and people had moved on to the next pop music fad. When Adam opened up the “gifts” he was so pleased with them that he called me his best friend and promised to get me something too. Or maybe he called me a bastard and said he’d “Get me back”. It was one of those two.

After we graduated, I moved to Northern Virginia and shared a house with Michelle, his girlfriend, while he was in grad school. He would sometimes come to visit her and after one of those visits, I saw a familiar looking package in my sock drawer. He had given me back Donnie. Naturally, the next time I visited him, I re-gifted Donnie. When he visited me again, Donnie suddenly appeared somewhere in my house and so on. Once Adam and Michelle moved to California, it was a bit harder to accomplish, especially since Adam would check for Donnie in my luggage if I left it unattended too long, but we still managed to shuttle him cross-country and hide him somewhere during a visit. The last time we swapped it, Adam really drove me crazy because he said I had been tagged with Donnie but I couldn’t find it. I looked for weeks and eventually gave up, figuring he had just lied and still had it. A year later, I found Donnie on top of my laundry machine. Now, four years later, I have to figure out an excuse to go see Adam and stash Donnie someplace hard to find. I now also have a Paul Stanley (of KISS) doll to hide at the same time so Donnie will have company until Adam stumbles on whatever that hiding place is.

Let’s move on to some advanced level gags. These are gags that take either lots of planning, lots of time, or lots of beer to pull off. Occasionally all three are involved. When I was in Indianapolis for Advanced Camp for the Army, I lived on base for three months, at Fort Benjamin Harrison. I had no car and there wasn’t too much free time anyways, so I mostly stayed on base or in my room. As you would imagine, that got quite boring, especially since this was pre-email, Facebook or the Internet, and I’d read all the books I brought with me. I would wander the barracks at times, hoping to bump into someone to talk to. Whenever that failed, I would dream up some diversion to amuse myself. Around Easter time, I got some Easter candy from the PX and cartoons I had clipped from the newspaper and went around in the middle of the night, dropping off candy and cartoons in front of people’s door. I made sure to match the cartoon’s joke with the appropriate person, sometimes adding some text of my own. Then, in the morning when everyone left the room (usually way too early so we could do P.T.), they had a nice surprise waiting for them. It was harmless but it kept me amused.

When I did my laundry in the barracks, I would see random bits of laundry that had been left behind or accidentally dropped on the floor, like a sock or underwear. After a couple days, someone would notice it and retrieve their item. There was this black sock though, that kept lingering around the laundry room. It had been there more than a week and no one picked it up. I mean, yes it’s a black sock of no discernable value in a military laundry room where probably most of the socks are black or green, but shouldn’t somebody have noticed it and re-claimed it or at least thrown it out? Every time I went to do laundry that sock would still be on the counter. I began to feel sorry for it, because no one wanted it or could even be bothered to remove it. I wondered how the sock would feel about his abandonment and the loss of his partner sock. I decided that the sock would become depressed and eventually suicidal. I wanted to help the poor sock relieve his misery so I got an old shoelace and made a noose out of it, then strung up the sock to one of the drying racks. Next I taped a note the middle of the sock. It said something along the lines of “I can’t bear to be alone anymore so I’m going to end it all.” The poor sock didn’t have to suffer anymore. Maybe he wasn’t going to get into Heaven since he committed suicide but somehow, I imagine socks don’t worry about that kind of thing. They just want to find a way to snuggle onto people’s feet. Besides, the afterlife for a sock is just a nightmare-ish cycle of being turned into sock puppets before ending up as polishing rags for silverware and then getting tossed into the trash. At least this sock went out feet first, on his own darn terms.

Oddly enough, the noosed sock was gone the very next day. I supposed it’s okay to abandon a sock as long as you don’t have to see the consequences staring you in the face. Or maybe it was just too macabre for some people. That might be a bit pessimistic of me though. Maybe the sock was removed and given a proper burial? The thing that surprised me was that people were attributing it to me. I’m not sure how they would know that, because nobody was in the laundry room or hallway at the time. Plus, there were other people in the barracks doing things too, like tossing water balloons out the window and hitting people leaving the building. That’s probably what got me thinking about jokes and gags in the first place, but why they tied some things to me, I’ll never know. Do I look like the Dr. Kevorkian of socks? “Socktor Kevorkian?” Obviously I didn’t cop to doing stuff but the assumption was made that it was me, which I neither confirmed nor denied. Speaking of cops, there is one thing I couldn’t deny because there were witnesses, of the Military Police variety. Apparently, chalk is considered a deadly weapon and merits a response from the MPs.

One afternoon, I was hanging around, minding my own business. Well, that makes me sound too innocent which isn’t quite true. Let’s just say I was by myself outside and hadn’t yet done anything wrong. What I was doing was skulking past Lieutenant Harpold’s car. Harpold was the hot chick in our class, or rather the woman who most resembled Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, which to me equates to mega-hotness. She always parked her car in the same spot and got irritated if any else parked in “her” spot, a feeling I have all the time. So this particular afternoon, as I happened to be going past her car while there was some chalk in my hand, I thought I’d help dissuade the parking spot poachers by formally assigning her that spot. I started chalking out “Reserved for Harpold” on the asphalt. Part way into doing this, I heard this shout from a barracks window somewhere above me- “You better get out of there. Someone called the MPs.” Ha ha. I’m really sure that someone called the police because of chalk marks on the ground. Do the MPs come when someone draws a hopscotch grid on the sidewalk too? Maybe SWAT responds when little girls do a “double-dutch” on the jump rope? I ignored the heckler and then felt really silly two minutes later when the police rolled up.

They wanted to know what I was doing. I forget exactly what I mumbled in response, because I know I couldn’t say what I was thinking- “Um, I’m chalking something on the ground as a joke. Why on earth are you here? Did all other criminal activity suddenly stop and you have free time available to bust on me?” The cops told me I was defacing property so I apologized and said I would stop immediately. That wasn’t good enough for them and they said I needed to remove it. It was just chalk so the next rainstorm would take care of it but for some reason I actually said this out loud and I immediately wished I hadn’t because that set them off. They would return shortly and if it wasn’t gone by then I would be in trouble. Since they had guns and I didn’t, I said I would go get some water and a sponge and wash it away, which I did. When I finished and headed back inside, I heard the heckler holler out again- “I told you they coming. You shouldn’t have been doing that.” That prank really backfired on me. If the cops get involved, it’s not usually the sign of a well-executed gag. Consider that the fourth rule of pranks. Plus Harpold was annoyed as well. Most girls don’t like having their name associated with the police. For the next day or two, she gave me the cold shoulder in class even though I apologized. A few days later when she gave me a ride to class I gave her a “cassingle” (Cassette single- you know, what people had before iPod downloads) of her favorite song- Janet Jackson’s Escapade- and things were back to normal. That brings up the fifth rule of pranks- know your audience. Women don’t find the same things amusing that men do and they let you know it too.

One last joke I pulled while stationed at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, was the crepe papered door. One of my classmates at camp was a drinker and on weekends, he would drink so much that he sometimes got disoriented. Or maybe he just liked pissing out the window. I wonder where the MPs were then? Probably too busy with someone chalking a wall at 2 AM to handle things public urination. What I decided to do was really play on his disorientation. (For the record, I also enjoy making sudden, scary motions towards people on LSD and posing brain-teaser questions to potheads.) I got some red crepe paper and totally covered his doorway with it. When he opened the door, all he would see was a bunch of red paper. If this happened to me, even if I wasn’t drunk and I opened the door to totally different and unexpected view, I might get freaked out. Imagine if you were drunk and had that happen. Just to make it even more disorienting, I put a 6-pack of beer on the other side so when he finally figured out what was going on and tore down the crepe paper, he’d see the beer. Then he’d really be wondering “WTF? What’s going on? I thought it was a joke on me but now I see beer. Was this a giant birthday present? Is there a giant cake somewhere?” I enjoyed doing that one- it still tickles my funny bone every time I think of it.

In case you think that maybe there’s something wrong with me, I will point out that I’m not the only one pulling gags nor am I always initiating them. Sometimes I’m just retaliating. For example, when preparing a bank deposit at work, there is a plastic strip that needs to be removed in order to seal the plastic deposit bags. When I was over at the Tysons office, Amanda McDuffie would always leave them lying around on the back desk when she did the deposit. The next day, I would be the one to throw out her trash and grumble about “…lazy, sloppy employees… Do I look like a cleaning lady?” Of course, after awhile, she did it just to torment me. Then one day, she stopped leaving the strips lying around. She finally got a clue and stopped annoying me! At least that’s what I thought until I got back from a vacation. The reason they weren’t lying around anymore was because she was saving them up so that David and her could completely cover my desk with plastic strips. They taped them down to the surface of my desk, my telephone, my in/out tray. Even my poor old Swingline (black) stapler was assaulted by being enveloped in plastic strips. Considering that I’m a bit fastidious about my desk and about people messing around with it or putting things out of order, she knew that would be a guaranteed way to drive me crazy. It worked. I’ve been crazy ever since (although I was also crazy before, just not as much.) Eventually, I got some small payback for that gag of hers. When she got married I gave her not only a real gift, but also a box full of just plastic strips. After a couple minutes of digging around, she realized there was no gift instead and she shot me a really evil look. (And, man, could Amanda shoot evil looks.)

At Waxie Maxie’s, everyone knew about my crush on Deborah Foreman, the actress from Valley Girl. I mean, she’s a perfect girl, starting with her smile and moving on from there. I’m sure I irritated people at work when I would go on and on about how wonderful she was. Then again, they should have known how I would answer when they asked who my favorite actress or actor was. I can’t help that they couldn’t learn from repetition. I’m extremely loyal with my crushes. They don’t disappear very easily. Just for a joke, someone at work mailed me a fake love note and signed it as being from “Debbie”. It was very sweet, touching and romantic and I had no idea who Debbie was. I had the note in my wallet for awhile and would take it out, trying to figure out who Debbie was, to no avail. I thought it was sweet that she had a crush on me. At some point, I showed the note to Elizabeth and she smacked me on the forehead and said that it was a joke. She had sent me a note that pretended to be from Debbie Foreman. Oh, okay! Except that I never refer to her as Debbie so I would never have assumed it was “from her”. Plus I know celebrities would never be sending me love notes. So that was a gag gone a tad awry. Instead of me getting a celebrity mash note and thinking “Ha ha. Very funny, you all”, I think it’s a real note and wonder why this girl has a crush on me when I have no idea who she is. I was also a little disappointed because it’s always nice to think that someone has a crush on you, that you have a secret admirer. Sending yourself flowers and chocolate on Valentine’s Day only works once or twice. Then people start to give you pitying looks.

As long as we are talking about Waxie Maxie’s, I might as well discuss my favorite pranks of all, because I did them when I was there. Now comedy is all about the setup. Without the proper setup, there is no punch in the punchline, no zip to the quip, no fun in the pun. If I just said “Wee duck and cover”, you wouldn’t laugh. If I set up the joke, building up to the punchline though, you’d probably laugh. Although for my example there isn’t a real joke. I just invented a punchline that sounded like it could be funny. Feel free to use my punchline in a joke of your own. Now let me give you some background information so you can understand the premises before deciding if the jokes were funny.

During my tenure at Waxie Maxie’s, I had five bosses. Greg Marn was the first and he was a nice guy. Naturally he was gone pretty quickly, replaced by Frank Zoby. Not that Frank was a bad guy but he was a stickler for details. Nothing was ever good enough, even with things that didn’t matter and even if his standards were impossible to meet. If you gave him a 110% effort, he’d wonder why you only went 10% beyond perfection. Next was Ronnie Kim, who was a great dresser and got along well with people. Unfortunately, that was the extent of his talent. If this were the 1950’s, he’d be the boss that had 2-hour, 3-martini lunches while everyone else did his work for him. Since most people liked him, they let him get away with it although any one of us could probably have done his job better than him. In fact, he got promoted so that’s when Steve Rollins stepped into the picture.

Steve loved our team at the Skyline Mall store, i.e. the place that is now the Target store in Seven Corners. Our store was located where the toiletries, school supplies and candles are now located. The reason Steve liked us is because we were self-sufficient. We met our sales figures, we did our jobs properly, we didn’t cause him any headaches and we would step in and help do some of his tasks, which made his job easier. For example, in the prehistoric, pre-email era that I worked there, there had to be a way to communicate important information to all of his offices quickly. He setup a grapevine phone tree where he would call us and give us the scoop and then we would disseminate that to several other offices who would then call a couple more offices and the last offices would call us back to confirm the message had been conveyed- accurately- to everyone. Another example of him he trusting us was how he made our store the one that trained all the new managers. Eventually, he got promoted just like Ronnie Kim, but Steve deserved his promotion. My next, and last, boss was Brian Garland.

Brain hated us. Part of it was our fault. When we first met him, we mentioned how we had helped Steve with various tasks and we’d be happy to do the same for him. Since Brain wanted to prove how great he was, he didn’t want to duplicate anything his predecessor did, especially the stuff that worked well, so he totally ignored our offer. He was determined to shoot himself in the foot without our assistance, which he did with great accuracy. Multiple times. Both feet. On really bad days, he managed to hit some other body parts too. On top of that first misstep when we offered our help, I think there were also some psychological barriers to our working relationship. You have to factor in that I was white and I got the sense that there’s no way he could take any help from me without “betraying his people”. Then there was the problem with the female employees at our location. They didn’t find him attractive and weren’t swooning at his feet over his gorgeous looks. That bothered his ego because he was so used to female attention. Plus he was an idiot. That always cause problems.

To top it off, we always committed the cardinal sin of asking “Why”. When Steve Rollins asked us to do something, he would explain why it needed to be done, we would say “Okay that makes sense” and continue on and complete the task. Sometimes we would add, “Okay but wouldn’t it work better if we did…” and Steve would say “Okay, that makes sense, “and would make go along with our suggestion. With Brian in charge, we would say “Why” and he would try to explain, get confused and say “Just do what I told you to do. No exceptions.” If we sometimes said, ”Okay, but wouldn’t it work better if we did…”, Brain would huff and puff and say, “Look, just do what I told you.” We then said, “Okay, fine,” and would do it. A month later, Brian would come up with a brilliant idea about how his offices could improve on a process or task and it would sound suspiciously like our suggestion from before.

If some directive or procedure from headquarters was really complicated to understand, Brian would have an office manager (but never us) brief his district. That manager would then call us, get the scoop and brief everyone at the next district meeting. That manager became the point person for the topic, and any questions about it were to be directed to that person- not Brian. We all knew it was because he didn’t understand the processes and didn’t want to field questions he didn’t know the answers to. This may sound like sour grapes and I will ‘fess up to a bit of that. We didn’t like being brushed off from the very start, having our successes ignored or having a mental midget for a boss so we did what any disgruntled employee does. Make fun of the boss and ridicule the company.

The record store business is prone to shoplifting and internal theft so the Loss Prevention department had a very noticeable presence in the stores. The head of L.P. got carried away at times though. He would come up with questionable and somewhat draconian L.P. procedures and then write memos that went into excruciating detail about how to implement them. The most infamous memo he put out was the Bag Search memo. He explained how it was necessary to inspect the bags and purses of all employees when they entered and exited the store, to make sure they were not concealing stolen merchandise in them. That alone would have been an annoying but understandable procedure but our director of Lost Comprehension, er… Loss Prevention, went on to describe exactly what a bag was, how to search one, who was to search whose bag, what to do if merchandise was discovered, what he meant by entering and exiting the store and so on. We wondered why the Bag Search memo couldn’t have been more concise and direct. For instance- “Search all bags carried by any employee when they enter or exit the store. Report any attempted theft you discover.” Done. That’s the memo. So short you could even Twitter the memo to everyone.

We also wondered if he realized that there are other ways to conceal merchandise besides putting it into a bag and if so, would he move to the next logical step- body cavity strip searches? To amuse us all, I wrote up the memo I imagined would be forthcoming when that realization dawned on him (or more likely, when he finally got approval from the legal department to impose body checks.) To make it look official, I printed it on some company letterhead. We all got a laugh from that because it actually looked just like the memos we got every Tuesday in our delivery from headquarters. Then someone suggested we send it to all the offices in the district, so they could get a laugh to. Now we started getting into dangerous territory because some of the people in other offices did not have a sense of humor. Not only would they not find it funny, they might think it was something that should be reported to Brian. Of course, he would then cluelessly insist that we start implementing the procedures. That was his favorite word- “implement”. We never were supposed to “do” something. We always “implemented” it. If we had a sales promotion that week, we never set up the sale, we implemented it. If it was time for processing payroll, we needed to “implement the payroll process.” For emphasis, he would usually add “No exceptions”. To this day we still wonder why that part was necessary. Something is either implemented or it isn’t. If you don’t, or can’t, implement something it doesn’t matter if there are “No exceptions”. The expectation of performance is part of the concept of implementation. It’s kind of like what Yoda says- “There is no try. There is only do or not do.”

So we worried that if the wrong people saw the memo, Brian would know about it. If that happened, he would either immediately and erroneously implement the procedure or he would assume it was us and write me up even if there was no proof. I once got written up for playing basketball during work hours because there was a bucket in the backroom and a McDonald’s give-away toy basketball in the same vicinity so he leapt to a completely false assumption. Afterwards, for spite I started shooting the ball at the bucket since Brian neither confiscated the ball nor asked us to remove it from the premises. I also got written up for having a picture of a criminal in a display of Australian music. The kangaroos, Great Barrier Reef, etc… were fine but he didn’t think there should be a criminal in the display. When I pointed out that Australia started as an English penal colony, Brian said “But why do you have a criminal in the display?” These type of situations started our rebellion against his authority but we didn’t want him to have another excuse to get us in trouble so we debated sending out the memo. Yes, we were mocking him and corporate idiocy but we didn’t want to announce that publicly.

The other possibility is that the other offices would think the memo really was from headquarters and would follow the instructions, as ludicrous as they were. That could cause some real problems. There was the third, but less likely possibility, that they would think it was funny. Of the offices in the district, I would guess that the breakdown of the reactions would be 70% = “Not funny”, 20% = “Hilarious!” and 10% = “Okay, we’ll start doing body searches too. Geesh, what’s next?” In the end, we did the stupid thing and mailed it to certain offices, those we thought might find it funny. Remembering the third rule of prank club though, we totally denied being responsible for the memo. When those store managers called us up and said “Guess what I got in the mail today?” We just said “Yeah, us too. Someone is pulling a joke on us.” The other managers would say “That’s what I thought too. Amusing though, isn’t it? I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually happened next” Exactly.

Emboldened by that success, success meaning “Didn’t get caught.”, I started writing several other bits and when there were enough pieces, I created a fake company newsletter. Everyone gets company newsletters and usually they are just shilling company policies, in a more “personalized” way. You know, as if someone is really writing about the company time off policy because they love it so much. Nowadays it is hard to distinguish a company’s employee newsletter or blog from its’ advertising materials. For Waxie’s I wrote stuff from either an absurdist or satirical point of view. Every now and then I threw in real bits of information from the company and it was hard to tell which parts were real and which were my fictional bits. Some other people in the store contributed illustrations (we had someone who did awesome drawings) or ideas about what to write. I think I ended up doing three newsletters, by doing some old-fashioned cut and pasting and then Xeroxing a dozen copies of the legal sized newsletters. These newsletters were less dangerous because they didn’t advocate illegal strip searches or pretend to originate from company headquarters so I didn’t agonize over sending them out to a select few other managers. I just put those puppies in the mail. (By puppies, I mean the newsletters. I would never mail an actual puppy dog. It’s too hard to get the stamps to stay on them.)

As I’m writing this, I am realizing that just talking about the set-up for a joke isn’t quite as funny as seeing the joke or how it played out so I think I will have to include parts of the newsletter at the end of this blog post so you can get an idea of what they were like. I can’t include the actual newsletters, cool illustrations (including our logo, which was the Tristero symbol swiped from Thomas Pynchon’s book The Crying Of Lot 49.), graphics and all that because they were paper based (Remember this was the early 1990’s so cut-and-pasting involved actual scissors and glue, not a word processor) and I don’t have access to a scanner. These will just be some favorite excerpts. Also remember that these were done more than 15 years ago and are somewhat situationally specific to our circumstances, although everyone has likely had a point-haired boss or ludicrous company directive at some point. I was barely past my teenage years too, so bear all that in mind. Okay, fine- I’ll just say it. They may not be funny anymore. If they ever were, to anyone but me. Am I about to not only corroborate my ambusher’s premise that I’ve lost my touch but also make her realize that I never was? I guess I’m about to find out since this is going out into the ether for everyone to see. I feel naked. And not in the good way, the “I have a day off and I’m eating ice cream at the kitchen counter while reading the newspaper” kind of way. Nor in the “I just worked out and feel buff- you wanna fool around?” way. More of the “Oops, I got locked out of the house when I tried to get the cat back inside and only my towel is covering up my humiliation.” way.

Potential public embarrassment isn’t something to kill myself over though, especially since it had the great side-effect of getting me to continue writing stuff after I had finished school and was done with writing required papers. Now I was writing for fun, which is probably why I was inspired to do some of these things because normally I wouldn’t suggest publishing your diatribes against your employer. It could be either a bad career move (see Jose Conseco), dangerous (see any former Russian politician/dissident, former meaning “dead”), or just pointless. That’s why the phrase “bad ideas” is part of the title of this post. Sometimes you have to kill a gag because it violates the first two rules of pranks. See, you thought I had forgotten to mention the first two rules, didn’t you. Nope, just saving them until the end to create some suspense. You can all get off the edge of your seat now because it’s time to reveal them. The first rule of any attempted gag is that it must be funny. Maybe it will only turn out to be funny to you but you at least have to initially think that it will be something other people will find amusing. That’s why I never tried a fake vomit/dog poop prank because I don’t find those funny and can’t imagine other people would either. No one I’m friends with would ever see dog poop on a sidewalk and say “Ha! Look at that. Too funny!” Especially if someone picked it up and threw it at me because they knew it was just plastic poop. If you just mentally laughed, we are no longer buddies. Go hang out with Carrot Top.

The second rule is that it cannot be malicious or cause physical, financial or emotional damage. You know the scene in the cinema classic “Real Genius” where the douche-bag scientist’s house filled up with popcorn and shattered? That was supposed to be funny but all I could think while watching it was “So what if he stole their laser for nefarious purposes? They destroyed his house. Not cool. Not cool at all.” I don’t find it funny over-turning someone’s car, tipping cows or putting a firecracker in the toilet. Painting someone’s house electric-pink or filling their swimming pool with Jello is actually funny but who has to pay to re-paint the house or replace the swimming pools filter system? If you steal my clothes when I go skinny dipping and I have to walk through town naked and get a spare key from my neighbor, you will have inflicted untold emotional distress on me. I can’t think of many situations where I want to be naked in public. Another example of this principle is Ashton Kutcher’s show Punk’d. Yes, some of the gags are funny and at the end the celebrities act like they are happy to have been involved in the show, but I still think some of them want to punch Ashton in the face for the emotional distress he inflicted. Jokes are kind of like the doctor’s credo- “First do no harm.” If it doesn’t harm anyone and it is funny, go ahead. That’s why I killed one of the pranks we were going to pull on another Waxie Maxie’s store manager.

Elaine was a bitch. Other bitches would be insulted to be lumped in with her ilk. She was arrogant, demeaning, haughty, hot but not “excusably” hot, back-stabbing and a social climber. We wanted to teach her a lesson, so we tried to think up something that would fluster her and expose her bad qualities. What we came up with was a fake public event. She would have no idea what was going on and it would likely cause her to reveal her negative side (i.e. her front, back and inside) when dealing with the consequences. We created a flyer that we were going to put on the windshields of the cars in her store’s parking lot. The flyer promoted an in-store appearance by Ice-T, one the best and coolest rappers ever. That was sure to draw a crowd. Just to be certain, it had a line about the first 100 people to come would get a free cassette of his new album. It looked just like the flyer that had been used for an in-store by Marky Mark (Yes, I met Mark Wahlberg when he was the leader of the Funky bunch, and doesn’t that nicely tie back to the Donnie Wahlberg doll?.)

We had about 100 of them done up on blue paper and it was all set to go when I had second thoughts. If people called for more information like the flyer stated, we would have accomplished our goal of pulling a joke on Elaine and putting her in her place, with no serious collateral effects. But what happened if a hundred or more rap-hungry patrons in a slightly sketchy part of town showed up without calling ahead? The possible riot that might ensue would cause property damage and maybe physical harm. Even Elaine didn’t deserve what might happen in that situation. We didn’t care about any emotional damage because bitches don’t have hearts but the other consequences worried us so we pulled the plug on it. We saw the line, jumped over it, jumped back, did the Funky Chicken on it and then finally put a kibosh on the plan. The idea of the joke and the results we imagined happening were good enough. We made an exception and didn’t implement the gag.

Okay, that’s my attempt at a rebuttal to my critic. Here’s some live ammunition to support her claim because I’m deliberately writing something meant to be at least slightly amusing or at least more amusing than the specter of death hovering over celebrities. (And since that posting, it’s been R.I.P. Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Sorry guys- didn’t mean for that to happen.) I’m not just baring part of my soul and weeping in my tea. (I would say coffee but adding tears or water to coffee can only make it better. I recommend 2 parts coffee, 1000 parts water.) I hope I got you to make some kind of noise indicating that humor was achieved. Did I coax a chuckle out of you? Maybe loosen a laugh, or tease out a titter? Perhaps I cajoled a chortle, wiggled a giggle, grabbed a guffaw or squeezed out a snort? I know, I know. You can’t force funny. So I gave it my best, considering the challenge presented to me. It’s now been did or not did. The only thing left to do is include the Waxie Maxie’s newletter excerpts I mentioned. I would recommend a few drinks before hand. That way, if I fail to amuse I can at least blame it on the alcohol.

_______________________________

MEMORANDUM

TO: ALL LIVE SPECIALTY RETAIL EMPLOYEES

FROM: Joseph Cristoforetti, Director of Loss Prevention

DATE: February 5, 1992

SUBJECT: Body Cavity Strip Search

To avoid any misunderstandings and to protect the integrity of all employees, it is mandatory that the manager-in-charge conduct a full-body search of all body cavities of EVERY employee EVERY day.

Although we understand it is impossible for an employee not to bring his body cavities with him to work, that does not excuse the need to be security conscious. A few dishonest employees develop extra cavities just so they can conceal excess media on their persons. This is not to be tolerated at any level. The following rules apply to searches and seizures:

1) Body cavities are defined as any crevice, orifice, opening, fold of flesh, or depression that is able to contain an item or is designed to have something inserted into it. This includes, but is not limited to: ears, mouths, noses, eye sockets (for those people missing an eye), tracheotomy incisions, sucking chest wounds, kidney taps, the urinary tract of the penis, the vagina, the solid waste removal opening, armpits, between the toes, large folds of flesh, and briefcases.

2) Body checks will be conducted when an employee arrives to work, when they leave, and whenever the manager feels the urge to make an impromptu search. Crevices are to be kept on your person at all times or secured in a place agreed upon by the store manager in conjunction with the district manager.

3) All checks are to be conducted out of sight of any customers. If the store is open for business, the check should be conducted in the backroom and the employee is then given a kiss, told that the manager still respects them, and escorted to the front door.

4) The body search consists of a thorough visual inspection of the unclothed body of the employee. It then proceeds to a physical examination of all crevices outlined in #1. The manager should utilize fingers, toes, and any other bodily items needed to fully confirm the absence of any company property upon the employees person. At no point in this examination should the manager conducting the search experience any physical pleasure or visible satisfaction.

5) Employees will not put on outerwear until after the completion of the search. The manager-in-charge will request the employee to hold open the outerwear for visual inspection.

6) Any company property found within the crevices and orifices without an attached receipt or written explanation will be retained by the manager-in-charge. He will then notify his immediate supervisor, Loss Prevention, and the appropriate chain-of-command, who will all also conduct an inspection.

7) Any employee who refuses to allow the manager to conduct an unclothed full body visual and physical inspection, or any employee who reports such an exam to city, county, state, or federal officials, will be suspended from the ceiling pending further review and possible termination. If terminated, employees will not receive pay for that week, nor will their relatives be informed of the whereabouts of the body.

8) Any management person who does not conduct daily inspections, or does not completely fill out the accompanying 65 daily forms each day will be terminated. Any management person who allows an employee to report to a congressional subcommittee, police vice task force, newspaper, or discriminatory/illegal actions type organization will be terminated.

9) Any employee or management person who expresses distain, contempt, or ridicule for any person at headquarters will be terminated with extreme prejudice. It is the duty of the Lost Comprehension Loss Prevention department to terminate, kill, destroy, wreak havoc, and decimate all your little, meaningless lives. I am a god, I deserve respect, admiration, and adoration. I will crush and destroy all who ignore me or attempt to assert intelligence and free will. I hate you!!!! I'll get you, and your little dog too! Won't someone love me?? Mother, where are you? I've been bad, Mommy. Are you going to spank me??


cc:
Ivan Lipton, President
William A. Laupus, VP and COO
Regional Managers
District Managers
Store Managers (i.e. Peons)
Brandi, Chief Accountant and My Love Goddess
Penthouse Magazine

________________________________

Dear Sirs,

I was recently in one of your Virginia district stores, and was very impressed with one of your employees there. I wanted to write to voice my happiness with his exemplary service.

This is what happened: I was coming home from a very rough day at work (I work at the U.N. as a simultaneous translator) and decided to pop into one of your stores to pick up something relaxing. Just as I got to the parking lot, it started pouring down rain. I was drenched in seconds. When I got to the door, it swung right open, and your employee took my coat and offered me a towel, which I gratefully accepted. I walked into the store and looked around. Soon after, no more than 28 seconds later I would estimate, your employee -Chris Josephson- reapproached me and asked if there was any specific item I was looking for.

Without thinking, I said yes- but accidentally said it in French. He asked, in perfect French, what the item was. Feeling saucy, I told him in German what I was looking for. He didn't bat an eye- just spoke back to me in German. Well, let me tell you, I was amazed, so I went through several languages- Latin, Swedish, Russian, Aborigine. I finally stumped him with a little known Aztec dialect, then laughed and reverted back to English. As he escorted me down the aisle, we talked about general topics. It seems he is a student, interested in commercial banking, and on the side he does some painting and photography for galleries in order to pay the rent. He also had an article published in Vanity Fair recently.

On the way down the aisle, Chris saw a kid who had tripped and cut his finger. The child was crying, but Chris spoke to him and touched his finger, and the bleeding stopped. We continued on our way, and I asked him how he managed to look so fit. He replied that he enjoys hiking, and sometimes goes out into the wilderness to meditate and clear his head. He then handed me the piece of product, saying it had just come in last week. He had this feeling the store should carry the item, so he ordered it and even bought a copy himself. It was an Italian opera, and we discussed the tragic pathos that invariably occur in such operas. He also picked out another item he thought I might enjoy as well. He then excused himself to help another customer who just entered, and also mop up the water that had dripped from customers coats. I looked around a little more, feeling very comfortable, then proceeded to the front counter, where Chris was fixing the cash register- it seems the whole memory circuit shorted out and he had to reprogram it.

I mentioned I was thirsty, so he got me a glass of what looked like water. Chris said I should drink of his glass, which I did. It tasted sort of like wine, and filled me with the same warm light that radiated from him. I'm telling you, you could make a killing selling this stuff instead of those Elvis wands. He rang me up, saying that the moneychangers needed that which is theirs and he'd have to charge me $9.39 unless of course I desired one of the superior, high bias Fuji tapes that are being offered on sale this month, in which case the total is $12.01. I paid the amount, and turned to leave. He thanked me for shopping there and said he hoped my aunt was feeling better. I didn't remember telling him about her, but I said I would let him know on my next visit. He told me he might not be there then, since the schedule required him to work Wednesday nights and he had classes then. He said if the supervisor could work around that, and not fire him, then I could come back and tell him all about my aunt. He smiled and waved good bye, and this vast sense of peace washed over me. As his arm moved, the rain seemed to clear a path from the door to my car. I must say that is the best shopping experience I've ever had and I will be coming back often. Your company provided me with excellent service. Thank you!


From The Desk Of Frank Zoby

I'm frequently getting questions from managers as to what it takes to receive a 4 or 5 on annual reviews. It is hard to give a blanket answer- there are several factors that need to be taken into account. By talking on an individual level, I feel we can arrive at a reasonable expectation of job performance. On a general basis, and not to say this is the normal requirement, the following letter from a customer gives a good idea of the type of quality we are looking for:

This individual received a 4 on his last review, and was fairly close to reaching a 5. With a little more effort and committment, he could have made it. Unfortunately, Chris is no longer with the company because he refused to work on Sunday, a required day. It is not my place to change policy, and nor would I attempt to. The policy is clear and helpful- it states that we work through people, not around them. What is required for each ranking, is as follows-according to the manual:

1- Barely meets standards. Does nothing beyond compliance with the GUEST program, only 10% annual growth in sales volume, doesn't own Live Inc. stock.

2- Have gotten a third world oil-rich dictator to shop exclusively at your store.

3- Produced a major motion picture that is being distributed by Caralco Pictures and Live Home Video (Parent company of Waxie Maxie’s).

4- Lost a vital organ or body part in service to the company.

5- Knowledgable about all forms of music dating from 60 A.D. to present, perhaps having also composed a symphony or musical, served as CEO of a Fortune 500 company for at least 6 quarters of sustained growth, as well as the ability to walk on water.


____________________________________

Healthful Hints

by Nancy Roderick

As part of our ongoing efforts to provide health coverage to all employees, our goal for this year is to be able to extend benefits to all assistant managers and Somalian refugees. Due, however, to the large number of refugees, we may be forced to put off assistant manager coverage until next year. In the meantime, remember that the best health insurance is preventive medicine. That brings me to this month's topic- Cold Weather/Accumulation Tips.

We all are aware of the recent snowfall that covered the eastern coast, but were we aware of the proper safety procedures we should have followed?? I don't think so. Before going to bed the night of the storm, did anyone go outside and put a Car Cozy on their car? If you had, in the morning you could have just lifted off the cozy and your car would have been all set to go. You could have hopped into the car and been whisked away instead of standing outside scraping snow and catching a cold. (And if you did catch a cold, did you use soft tissues, or did you use harsh, abrasive tissues that turned your poor nose into a red, raw, gushing wound?)

Let's pretend you decide to try to drive to the store to do a little extra business, or perhaps the phone lines are down and your DM wasn't able to reach you and tell you to stay home. Certainly no sane person really expects the store to be open in this kind of weather. Talk about Manager-sicles!! When driving on snow, remember to go slow, and not apply the brakes quickly. If you slam on the brakes, you may go careening into a telephone pole, and explode the car into a thousand burning, bloody scraps of twisted flesh and metal. Now, once you reach the store, park near the entrance, to avoid undue exposure to the elements- which could cause frostbite. If frostbite occurs, place the damaged skin in cold water, and gradually increase the temperature. It must be done gradually, or the skin will crack and shatter off. If no water is available, put your hands or feet (or whatever part is affected) under your armpits or crotch, or if someone else is willing to help you, place the part in their crotch.

Now, inside the store the heat may not work, so it would be wise to start a fire. I recommend using cd longboxes along with smith's #3 butane. Be sure to take the plastic off the longbox though, or it may melt onto your skin and cause third degree burns. 1st degrees burns are light red patches of slightly burnt skin. 2nd degree burns are more severe and may have blistered or bubbling skin. 3rd degree is charred, cracked and bleeding flesh. You are seriously fucked, like that guy in the "Road Warrior" movie. Since retailing is like a combat operation, I quote the US Army Ranger Handbook: "Cover burn with dry, sterile dressing. Do NOT apply grease or ointment. Treat or prevent shock." Also, melted shrinkwrap plastic has dirty smoke which could set off the sprinklers and the water would ruin your hairdo. Now, get a few marshmallows and some sticks (no sharp points please!!) and you are all set for business. When you bend to pick up the sticks, remember to bend at the knees or you might hurt your back.

When customers arrive, hang up their clothing right away, and make them take off their shoes, so they don't track snow through the store. Help them find what they want, utilizing the GUEST program. When you bag the purchases, spread the weight evenly, using several bags if necessary. This prevents pulled muscles. Periodically, you will have to clean the front entrance or else the water from the customers clothing will freeze. If someone slips, they might crack their head. If this happens and the skull cracks like a rotten melon, you have two options. First, you can gently massage the brain back into the skull, and bind the wound shut with a tourniquet. The tourniquet must be loosened every 15 minutes to allow blood to circulate to the brain, or else brain damage will occur. Your other option is to pull out the company issued 9mm pistol, apply the silencer (to avoid damage to your eardrums.) and squeeze the trigger. Do not jerk the trigger, or it may cause the shot to miss its target and hit someone else, like say Frank Zoby. Some people prefer to shoot at the heart, but that is not as reliable as right between the eyes. To be sure, I prefer both locations, and a generous application of ammunition.

By this time, you must be getting hungry. What is there to eat? Well, remember those people you just shot? Now imagine them with a light Hollandaise sauce. Mmmm!!! Did you ever see that cooking show on cable called "Alive"? It dealt with the subject of airline food and how to prepare it. You might find yourself in a similar situation and have to use what is at hand to survive. The nylon BMI cases are recommended. Simply boil them in water along with onions and several beef bouillon cubes, and serve along with a baked potato. Yummy! That's all for this time. Next column we will discuss the techniques for partial lobotomies of shoplifters, and proper application of tattoos.

_____________________________

Notes from the Desk of Brian Garland

Live Inc. Entertainment was recently involved in a stock aquisition by Pioneer Electronics, and they became our majority shareholder. As a goodwill gesture, they sent each DM a typerighter, so from now on all notes from me will be implimented on a typerighter starting immeditly, no exceptions.

Cash Overs and Shorts Week of 3/8-3-15

Store Over Short

501 23.42 65.43
503 14.86 23.14
506 42.56 65.78
507 67.05 43.89
513 9.76 3.42
524 .52 98.61
525 7.00 6.98
531 18.96 25.67
534 2.67 54.68


Good job S-524!! Why can't the rest of you control your cash? This is not in 100% compliance! Read the procedures and respond to DM office and LP with what they say!! This must be implimented, no exceptions!! Their must be 100% compliance!!

Reminders- BMG product is on sale. This must be priced and signed. Hit Zone for April must be set up. Deletion #514 should have been transmitted last week. The following stores are closed for Easter: 501, 503, 504, 506, 507, 513, 524, 525, 531, 534. Happy Easter!!!

Congreatulations are due to Clyde Edward. During the recent hurricane, Hurricane Vishnu- Bringer of Doom, only one store opened. Clyde drove through 4 feet of water and mud in 75 mph windz, opened on time and still did 630% above last year despit half the building having been blown away. Good job to Clyde and staff!!! If weather conditions are bad, you must contact me first before deciding to close. You know I can be reached at home if I'm not at the office. Why do you continue to have a problem with this?

It has come to my attention that some stores are using blue toilet paper in there bathrooms. You must use white paper!! Read the procedure's manual! Also, timecards are not being totalad daily. This must be done so that you will have daily totals. The reason for being on top of this daily is so that we will have totals for each day, just in case. No exceptions. Furthermore, it is abhorant to discern that so many of you are disinclined to devoutly adhere to the prescribed standards, as outlined with lavish elocution in the manual. This presupposes a rather jejune and obstinate attitude that will not ingratiate oneself with there respective superiors. Remember:

Sell Sell Sell!!!
100% compliance, no exceptions.
"Heil Hitler!"

Monday, May 4, 2009

Life, The Universe And Everything

Today is my birthday so I’m feeling a bit contemplative and in the mood to post something here but I don’t have a lot of time to write something so I’ll use one of the tricks that musicians use to remain visible without producing new material: A greatest hits album. Take stuff you did before, spruce it up a little then offer it to people as a new product. Back when I was working at Waxie Maxie’s- a music chain in the DC area- there were times when the staff and I had nothing to do. Literally, every possible task was completed, the displays were organized and neat and there were no customers in the store. During those times, we would talk or do goofy things to pass the time. One thing we occasionally did was come up with top ten lists. One person would suggest a topic and the rest of us would come up with entries for the list. Sometimes a person would come up with their own list sort of like a challenge- “Can you make a cooler list than this?” A few years back, I came across these lists in their original form- written on paper bags and scraps of paper- and transcribed them into an electronic medium. I “published” them in my “Thirty Years On” booklet, which came out around my 33rd birthday. I only made 5 of the booklets which means most of you have never seen the lists before so just for fun I’m dragging them out now, 18 years after they were originally written, and seeing how relevant or outdated they may be. The ones included here were done completely by me and are my “Can you top this list?” lists.

Here’s the first list, which I came up with because I was tired of how the staff in store always mocked me for liking the Bee Gees. This list is still relevant because I still adore the Bee Gees and think they are great but I admit some of the entries I put on the list are a bit sarcastic. I’m not oblivious- I can see how people might disparage them, because they haven’t yet learned to love them, but how can you not appreciate the Bee Gees?

10 Reasons The Bee Gees Are Gods

1) The movie “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”
2) Excellent taste in clothing and gold jewelry
3) Family loyalty is an admirable quality
4) Barry Gibb wrote the songs Grease, Emotion, Guilty, Islands In The Stream
5) They have more number one hits than Madonna, the Rolling Stones, or Puff Daddy
6) Everyone is jealous of them- why else would they mock them?
7) They played Woodstock II, Live Aid, Farm Aid, and the Prince’s Trust
8) How else do you explain guys named Robin and Maurice becoming superstars?
9) They created the disco era, which beget house, dance, techno, jungle, industrial & new wave
10) No human voice sounds like that

The tardy-for-work excuses did not all come from my mouth. Some were what people gave me as semi-serious excuses for being late. I will cop to offering up #s 1, 3, 6, 10 at some point though. My most frequent excuse was # 1, which stopped being an issue now that I no longer drive the 30 miles it takes to get from Centreville to Bailey’s Cross Roads and then down Route 7 to Skyline Mall in Seven Corners. Now I just mutter something about how bad the traffic was along the Beltway or that construction closed some lanes. I’m normally one of the first to arrive at work so I don’t make that many excuses.

10 Reasons I Was Late For Work

1) The lights were against me. Really- they were all red.
2) There was an injured bird/squirrel/dog/baby on the side of the road.
3) Oh, was I late?
4) Well, um, you see, uh, um, because you know, um......I love you guys!
5) I had a counseling session with this policeman
6) I stayed late yesterday, so I’m using the extra time for today.
7) I forgot where I parked.
8) I have a really bad, bad hangover.
9) So do I.
10) I died so it was tough waking up when the alarm went off.

I love dance music, including disco, so it was fun to imagine how a contemporary pop artist would handle a classic disco song. Some of the modern artists have faded away but you can probably imagine how the remade songs would sound. I can hear Will Smith singing/rapping “Sunday, yeah Bloody Sunday, uh huh!”

10 Songs Begging To Be Disco-fied

1) Stairway to Heaven (as redone by Ace Of Base)
2) Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay (by Backstreet Boys)
3) With A Little Help From My Friends (by Beck)
4) Bittersweet Sympathy (by Enigma)
5) Nothing Compares To You (by the Pet Shop Boys)
6) Head Like A Hole (by, naturally, Hole)
7) Born In The USA (by Chemical Brothers)
8) One Headlight (By Donna Lewis)
9) Sunday Bloody Sunday (By Will Smith)
10) My Heart Will Go On (By Garbage)

I love Prince’s music and as a person he also fascinates me. He’s a bit bizarre, from his business methods to his personal style (Butt-less pants? Really?) When you see a song title by Prince, you know it’s his. You won’t confuse it with someone like Bruce Springsteen, especially since Prince also uses abbreviations, symbols and sexual innuendo on a regular basis. That’s the basis for this list- what odd song titles would actually be too strange or overt for Prince. Also, this list has one and a half vulgarities. I briefly considered removing them or altering them but then I remembered how offended I was when Looney Tunes bowed to political correctness and changed some classic cartoons so the characters didn’t smoke cigarettes anymore. Also, I really hated it when Steven Spielberg altered E.T. so all the guns were digitally altered into walkie-talkies and many of you remember the fan outrage when George Lucas “improved” the original Star Wars trilogy. So on the principle of the thing, the vulgarities remain on this list and you’ve been given fair warning. (Although most of my friends aren’t exactly known for their delicate sensibilities.)

10 Song Titles Rejected By Prince

1) I’ll Do U Cause Eye Luv U
2) Sodomy Is No Good For Me
3) (M Not 4 U) R 2 4 Me (M Not)
4) Sex Is Religion, Logic Is Slavery
5) R Dreams R Where We Can B Happy
6) This Song Is About Pussy, Metaphorically
7) Bunny Kills 4 U
8) My Name Is Unpronounceable And I’m Still Funky
9) Bounce On Me Baby
10) Can I Fuck 4 Ever?

Nine Inch Nails isn’t that popular anymore, nor are half the artists on this list, but at the time this list was spot-on and amusing to alternative types who worked in a music store.

10 People Who Should Cover Nine Inch Nails Songs

1) Tom Jones (“I want to whoa a whoa you like an animal”)
2) Brian Setzer Orchestra
3) Art Of Noise featuring Trent Reznor & Max Headroom
4) David Bowie (He should remake the Downward Spiral and Trent should re-do Earthling.)
5) Will Smith
6) Tiffany
7) MTV Unplugged with NIN
8) James Brown using NIN samples
9) “Head Like A Ho” by Puff Daddy featuring Lil’ Kim, Biggie, & Trent Reznor
10) Nike or Pepsi or Chevy

Don’t recall the impetus behind the next two lists- the only two times I recall having suicidal thoughts was in 2nd grade after I heard the songs “Windows Of The World” and kept thinking about the lyrics and then sometime in high school when I was with my parents at an evening presentation on Sweden. That second time is when I seriously contemplated suicide and decided there were a lot more reasons to live than there were to die. After that, my desire to live has grown ever stronger. If I ever go into a coma and become a vegetable, I do NOT want anyone to pull the plug on me. There is always a chance of pulling through. I think these lists were just a replay of that mental conversation I had in high school and an affirmation of how I have no plans to ever die, if at all possible.

10 Best Reasons To Die

1) You won’t notice if it’s boring
2) People have to say nice things about you
3) To make people feel guilty that they were mean to you
4) To make your beneficiaries rich
5) So you can take some assholes with you
6) To go to Heaven
7) In Heaven, they don’t expect you to dance
8) To become a legend (or at least get on a postage stamp)
9) To die in a really cool way
10) So you can come back as an angel and make that losing baseball team suddenly win the championship.


10 Best Reasons To Live

1) It’s easier than thinking up a cool death
2) To see if a comet really will crash into the earth at some point
3) To get back your social security money
4) Maybe no one will notice if you are gone
5) To make your mark on the world (or at least to pee in the snow)
6) So you don’t miss any Must-See TV (like the O.J. trial, Clinton’s deposition, & the video of the Rodney King beating)
7) There might not be a Heaven
8) So you can pay back everyone who was ever mean to you
9) Claudia Schiffer might drop David Copperfield and go for me
10) Just in case something exciting happens

I don’t think a single thing on this list has changed since it was written 18 years ago. Maybe exchange the button-fly jeans for my North Face convertible hiking pants? Other than that, still the same. Baby baby, still the same.

My 10 Favorite Pieces Of Clothing

1) Indiana Jones Hat
2) Biker Gloves
3) Button Fly Blue Jeans
4) Brown Leather Jacket
5) Running Shoes
6) Neon Pink Socks
7) Purple Socks
8) Camouflage Pants
9) Combat Boots
10) Yellow Terrycloth Bathrobe

Most of this list remains the same. Switch Michelob with the local brew of whatever bar or restaurant I’m in and exchange Yuengling for Coors and the list is ready for 2009. I’m still more likely to go for a fruity or frozen drink then for a beer but that’s a different list.

10 Favorite Beers

1) Corona
2) Heineken
3) Killian’s Red
4) Fosters
5) Michelob
6) Coors
7) Bud-Weis-Er
8) Sol / Tecate
9) Whatever is cheapest or free
10) Rolling Rock

Not a single change here.

10 Coolest Inventions Ever

1) Tape recording (audio & video)
2) The CD player
3) The Slurpee
4) PCs & word processors (& spell checkers)
5) Film (photographs & movies)
6) Automobiles
7) Pop-Rocks
8) Indoor plumbing
9) The telephone
10) Eyeglasses


So this is my stop-gap measure to fill space until I write something new to post. It was fun to look at the past for a few minutes and forget the fact that my current birthday means my age is the not-so-cryptic-anymore answer to life, the universe and everything as revealed in the book The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe. Anyone have any lists of their own to share? Or to tell me I’m not that old? Please?

Monday, March 30, 2009

25 Random Thoughts Or Facts About Me

Last month I got a slew of Facebook notes that people had tagged me in a note about “25 Random Things About Me”. I didn’t respond right away because I didn’t want to help perpetuate a viral lemming, to use the term a friend of mine applies to all types of chain/spam/forwarded email, since I have done so a couple times in the past to certain people’s annoyance. However, once that very same friend sent me the note, I decided to jump on the band wagon too, albeit after it had left the station and no one cares any more, if I may mix metaphors and Phil Collins lyrics. To freshen up the concept though, I decided to make it a posting to my blog where I could go into a bit more depth on each item. Of course that doesn’t mean I’m not going to tag you back, I just don’t expect you to forward it to anyone else. Not even if someone might die if you don’t pass it along to 25 other people! (Which actually might happen, the way my luck has been going lately. I don’t like the spectre of death noticing me, even peripherally.)

1: Let start somewhat basic. Not quite as basic as what my name is, because if you don’t know that already then you must be on the wrong site and if so, how on earth did you wind up here? (If I do a search on the internet, I can’t even find my own site.) Let’s start with my favorite colors. Yeah, I’m a guy but blue is not my favorite color. It’s my second and eighth favorite color. My very favorite color is emerald green. I have no idea why. I think part of it may be because my birth month jewel is the emerald. Another part of the attraction is that the emerald is cut to reflect light, similar to a diamond, but that also adds variation to the green color so that some parts of the emerald seem light green while others are a darker, more mysterious green that is still somehow optimistic. So when I see an emerald green color, it reminds me of the gemstone. I sort of lump hunter green in with emerald green because no (basically) two-dimensional object like a shirt or piece of paper can exactly capture the facets of a gemstone so hunter green is a close approximation of the dark angles of an emerald. That’s the same reason my second favorite color is midnight blue- it reminds of the moody, dark color of a sapphire although midnight blue is not as optimistic as emerald green. It’s a bit more passionate and troubled. My third favorite color is lilac. It’s like purple, my fourth favorite color, but with a friendlier attitude and I don’t look as pretentiously regal wearing it. Only Prince can pull off purple on a regular basis. Lilac is easier to do.

Next on my list is pastel green, then pastel yellow and then any other pastel, like blue, orange, pink, etc… Pastels remind me of spring, and warmth and Easter and they evoke happy feelings. I’ve never been harmed by anything pastel colored or by anyone wearing pastels whereas basic “boy” blue is a different story. After those comes all the other colors- sunshine yellow, typical blue, bright red, burnt orange, etc… I’m not sure where I stand on black however. That is the absence of color though (or it’s all colors depending on who you ask.) Black looks cool, and I have many black clothes and objects but don’t think I consider it a favorite color per se. I have a different issue with electric pink (and most electric colors are favored over their basic, non-pastel color counterparts) in that it is an enjoyable color, but it isn’t very practical. You shouldn’t buy furniture in that color, electric pink clothes take a lot of coordinating to work well (have you ever seen me wear my pink shoelaces?), and it isn’t an easy color to use as a computer font. So there you have it- more discussion of color than you’ve had since 5th grade art class.

2: Next time you go to see a play or a musical, try playing the Law & Order game like my friends and I do when we see a show. This is what you do: Once you take your seat, open up the show’s “Playbill” and take a look at the cast’s credits. Invariably some of the cast members will list an episode of Law & Order on their performance credits. For instance, from last month’s play A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee, there are six cast members in the production. The first one- Kathleen Chalfant- lists End Game, which she won an Obie Award for, the Broadway appearance of Angels In America, which gave her a Tony Award nomination and then continues on with a whole paragraph of other plays and television appearances including one for Law & Order. The next person lists his credits including his roles on “Law & Order(s)”. The third actor has only one television credit in her list and it’s for Law & Order. No L&O for the fourth person and none for the fifth although he does list a role on Homicide. The sixth did Law & Order and L&O: Criminal Intent. So more than 60% of the cast appeared on a famous cop show. The first play where we were cognizant of this fact, we thought it was an inside joke by the cast but after we started checking and saw that it was in every Playbill, we realized it was a badge of honor to be on the show. That’s when we started making guesses as to how many of the cast members will have it in their bios. It’s an amusing way to spend a few minutes before the curtain goes up. It may be an East coast thing though. I don’t know if any of you West Coast folks can play since Law & Order is set in New York and it’s a lot easier for people here to get to the Big Apple. You all may have to find a different version, like the CSI Game.

3: I often wonder why people who think they are “green” or businesses who try to promote green-ness miss so many opportunities to truly do something about pollution, waste and the environment. Let’s just look at grocery stores as an example. For the last two decades I’ve been miffed about the switch from paper bags to plastic bags. I think the only reason plastic became the standard is because no one could figure out a way to keep the handles on paper bags from tearing off. Don’t plastic bags take several hundred years to decompose, whereas a paper bag is gone in a few years? Or a few seconds if you carry something home in one during a rainstorm? If I want to eat healthy, I’ll get a salad which should be a good thing because it’s an (hopefully) all-natural product but then what do most grocery stores provide for you to put that salad in? Hard plastic containers or Styrofoam, both of which are horrible for the environment. There aren’t any alternatives either because I’m certain that if I tried to bring in my own container or reuse one of theirs, they wouldn’t let me because of some state or federal law worrying about if the container is unsanitary.

Bottled water- another thing I’ve been irritated by for two decades. You pay money for water in a non-biodegradable container. Why not install drinking fountains around town instead? Because the water is bad? Of course it is- you have factories spewing out waste so they can make plastic bottles. Catch 22. All the packaging in grocery stores- plastic. What ever happened to metal or waxed paper? Yeah, I know food would go stale quicker, but that’s a lifestyle choice not an environmental argument. Gift cards? Plastic shopping baskets? Shrinkwrap? Styrofoam trays for fish? Non-local produce trucked in from another country? (Although I really like my Chilean grapes at Safeway so that’s a bit hypocritical of me.) I question how much people are really willing to sacrifice in order to call themselves green. Heck, I still remember years ago when Adam and Michelle were turned away from the newspaper recycling location because they had “too many newspapers already and couldn’t accept anymore.” We aren’t equipped to really go green in a way that makes a difference and even if we were, I’m not sure people would buy into the concept because it would affect their lifestyle too much. Sorry to say it but just buying a hybrid car doesn’t qualify you as being a greenie. You are destroying the forest while saving a tree.

4: I have been to 34 states and 19 countries. Part of that is because I was a military brat and part is because I love to travel and have done a lot of it in the last 8 years. As a kid, I lived in Florida, Michigan, Germany and Virginia, plus often visited my grandparents in Sweden. In the last few years, I’ve done road trips to the Pacific Northwest, the South, the New England states, Texas and rural Virginia plus I did some overseas trips like Iceland, Russia and a Danube River cruise. The states I have not yet been to, either as a passenger in the car with my parents when I was young or as an adult taking a trip, are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming. The one’s I’m most eager to knock off the pending list are Hawaii, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah and North Dakota because they promise to have some interesting sites once I get there. Of the states I have been, I’m pretty enamored of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maine and Washington (State). Virginia appeals to me because I love variety in my landscapes. Virginia has a coastline, flat land, hills and mountains. It has temperate weather and you actually experience all four seasons. The cities and towns have variety too- small towns in rural parts and bigger cities like Richmond, Alexandria and DC- which I consider as part of Virginia. Heck, we used to own it in colonial times before it was annexed. This is the same reason I like Pennsylvania- variety of landscape and variety of city sizes although there aren’t as many memories from that state since I haven’t lived there 35 years like I have with Virginia. Maine and Washington State I like because of the rugged terrain. I love forested mountains, cliffs, big hills and all wooded areas. When I retire, I want to live on a wooded mountain about 20 minutes from a big city. There are some other states that I think would like if I had a chance to spend more time exploring different parts of them and seeing more than what I’ve seen so far. These states are New York, California, North Carolina, Michigan and New Hampshire/Vermont (They should just combine the two states, just like Maryland should absorb Delaware).

The countries I have been to are: the Bahamas (Nassau), Canada- British Columbia, Canada- Ontario, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Iceland, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary. My favorites have been… all of them. I can’t think of one I wouldn’t want to go back to. Rome is probably tops on my list of places to return to soon, before it gets radically commercialized. That’s part of what I liked about the Danube cruise- I saw places that were still unintentionally quaint. They weren’t commercialized or designed to be quaint. After Rome comes Germany. For a place that is part of my personal background, I don’t know enough about it. Places I want to get to are pretty much everywhere I’ve never been. I’ve only been to three of the seven continents, assuming I can fudge things and consider Russia to be part of Asia. Any place in Europe is a definite visit, Australia and New Zealand absolutely, some places in Asia like China, Hong Kong or Japan, Antarctica yes, parts of Africa, parts of South America, more of Canada and maybe Costa Rica or Mexico in Central America. Anyone interested in going someplace, let me know- as long as your snoring isn’t as bad as my roommates on the Danube trip.

5: I’m a multi-billionaire. Granted, it is in Serbian dinars but I still have money totaling more than a billion units of a currency. While on my Danube River cruise, we stopped in Belgrade. Our guide told us that the currency had been so badly devalued during Serbian-Croatian war that Serbia actually had a 500,000,000,000 note. It has since been phased out of existence but street vendors sell the old notes for about $3 or 3 Euros. Naturally I bought one from an old lady selling them on the corner. I only had a US $20 bill but she could make change. As I left with my bill and my change I realized she had only given me back $14. I almost went back to argue with her but then figured what the heck. I was a billionaire. I could afford to be generous with a street hustler.

6: I’ve been lucky or unlucky about injuring myself, depending on how you look at it. I’ve broken my wrist, but since it happened when I jumped off a moving car, it could have been much worse. I’ve had pencil tips broken off in my hand, I’ve been kicked in the head, had a Lincoln log stuck down my throat, been shot at with a BB gun, been whacked upside the head with a Flying Ginny and simultaneously had mono, anemia and jaundice. These ailments resulted in stitches, medication and tears but nothing worse than that which I would consider a lucky outcome. I’ve also had several food injuries, including my latest which is a soup injury. Suffice to say, styrofoam does not hold up well to lengthy microwaving and I have the blistered skin to prove it. I’ve sliced off part of my thumb with a cheese slicer, lost a tooth to a gummi bear, branded myself pulling a cake out of the oven and choked on rice. That doesn’t even include the remote controls I’ve damaged with spatter from oranges or the amount of liquid I’ve sweated out eating curry and other spicy foods. The food injuries at least had the benefit of occurring while enjoying food, unlike regular injuries, but I wonder what it means when my food injuries almost outnumber my normal personal injuries.

7: Icing is made with sugar. I mean that as a personal statement, not a question of fact. Some people think that the whipped, pseudo-sweet cream some places put on a cake is icing, but it’s not. Icing is sugar. I don’t know what the necessary proportions of sugar, butter and egg are but if I lick the icing off the top of a cupcake and it reminds me of whipped cream, it has been made wrong. Also, icing goes great on any pastry- brownies, cookies, cakes, doughnuts, etc…

8: I started a blog: http://richardsrantingandramblings.blogspot.com/ Check it out if you like. I’d love to hear any feedback or suggestions.

9: I’m a moderate sports guy. I don’t get obsessed with sports because there are too many other activities that are worth engaging in to be spending all my time as a sports spectator. When I do watch, I like seeing tennis & soccer in general, and certain teams in the NFL and NBA. I always watch the tennis Major tournaments and pretty much any other tournament that is televised. I watch MLS soccer (i.e. US teams) and World cup games and qualifiers. If I tried to follow any other soccer league I’d have no time for anything else. I watch all the Utah Jazz NBA games plus whoever is in the playoffs and for the NFL, in the background I’ll watch whatever is on while I’m doing something else. If it is a Colts or Redskins game, I’ll specifically watch them. I love underdogs which is why I root for the Texans and Cardinals, which turned out well this year. I don’t watch hockey (sorry, Trevor) or baseball unless it is the playoffs. I’ll watch Nascar if it is the last 5 laps.

10: Mormor, my grandmother in Sweden, died last month. She hadn’t been feeling well and was staying in bed a lot. At one point, she was talking to my mom and told her she felt too weak to get up and go to the bathroom. That’s when my mom insisted that she call an ambulance and go to a hospital. Surprisingly, she did that even though she had always been a bit of a “rugged individualist”, to use an American expression. My mom called to tell me this and then a few days later called to say that Mormor was getting better, that she was feeling a lot stronger. A few days after that, she called and said that Mormor had died. That really took me by surprise. Mormor had always been there for me. She was part of my mental foundation. Even if I didn’t see her on a daily basis, I knew she was there in Sweden thinking of me. It made me feel good knowing that. Some of my most cherished memories are traveling to Sweden and looking at the airport waiting area and seeing Mormor and Morfar up in the observation area waiting for us to get thru customs. In the last dozen years, after Morfar had passed away, Mom and I would go visit and take the train into town rather than have Mormor come get us. Still, as we walked down the street towards her apartment, I would look at her kitchen window and see her standing there, keeping an eye out for us. She was waiting because she was excited to see us. It was so nice knowing that there was always somebody waiting for me, with unconditional love and acceptance. No matter what, Mormor loved me and I could count on her being there for me whenever I looked for her. Now she won’t be there anymore. She won’t see me this spring, when I had planned to visit with Mom. She won’t see me 40 pounds lighter than before. She won’t get to see my sister’s son in person- her first great grandson. She won’t see me get married or have kids either. She won’t even see the next spring season, which always made her happy. She liked the nicer weather and growing some flowers in her garden or her window box. I’m not going to get any more wonderful Christmas cards from her. No more birthday cards with some money inside the envelope. No more trips to Falkoping, no more home cooked Swedish meals, no more black & white checkerboard cookies, no more beautifully decorated rooms, no more Christmas morning phone calls. No more Morfar, no more Mormor. The world just got a lot lonelier.

11: I have a Slurpee addiction but I’ve mostly weaned myself off of it by creating and following a Slurpee 12-step program.

12: I want to lose 16.5 pounds. Within the last two years, I’ve lost 45 pounds altogether and then sort of leveled off around 175 pounds. Since the beginning of February though I’ve gained back eight of those pounds. I don’t think it had any connection to Mormor passing away (although I didn’t do much in Sweden except pack up her belongings and eat stuff that was bad for me). It’s more that in the last couple of months I’ve been succumbing to my main weaknesses- sugar and bread. I can feel the fat accumulating again. My jawline is becoming less defined, I can pinch extra flesh on my hips and thighs and I’m feeling more sluggish. That’s why I want to get start dropping weight again, get back on a healthy eating cycle and start exercising more often. My preliminary goal is to hit 160 pounds and then level off at 165 and stay there for good. Sugar and sweet products will be hard to give up now that I’ve been indulging again (like with my kick in Sweden with the gummi/pectin raspberry racecars) but it’s doable if I can shake off the habit and stay sugarless for a week or two. Bread will be the tough one though. I’m always in the mood for bread. Bread is my favorite food. I’ll keep trying though. I have at least started a new rule about bread- don’t waste calories with bad bread. If I’m going to be bad and eat bread, it has to be good. No Wonderbread type bread, no soggy sandwiches, no mediocre breadbaskets. I’m hoping by summer, I will have achieved my goal. Wish me luck (and hide the M&Ms.)

13: I have an absurd fear of zombies. Unlike a UFO encounter, no one you know has ever claimed to see the undead walking around trying to eat them. Not even the National Enquirer has tried to claim they are out there. So I know they don’t really exist, yet I’m still terrified of them. As a kid, I used to be scared of the normal things- monsters in the closest, vampires, crazy burglars, escaped murderers. I didn’t even really pay attention to zombies until the 1980’s when a wave of remakes and sequels started popping up. By that time, I was watching television and going to movie theatres so I saw all the ads and previews for things like the remake of “Night Of The Living Dead” and especially “Return Of The Living Dead”. Seeing the decomposing creatures shuffling towards me on screen and muttering something about eating my brains totally freaked me out. Yes, they were slow and easily avoided, unlike say a werewolf, but they were relentless. You could wait until daylight and be safe from Dracula but not with these things. They are always there- you didn’t dare rest or relax your guard for a second. And they liked to congregate so what was only one annoying, easily handled creature in the morning becomes a dangerous horde by nightfall. Plus by this time I was aware of how much I hated irrational thought. I dislike being around people who were guided solely by their id or who refuse to listen to reasonable explanations and logical arguments. Doesn’t that sound exactly like someone who’s undead? All they do is look to sate their appetites and they won’t be swayed by anything you say, unless you say it “metaphorically”, like with a shotgun blast to their head.

For about fifteen years, this fear of zombies slowly built up as new movies kept coming out. It went from being a non-existent fear to an all-consuming one, if you’ll pardon the pun. Sometime in the mid 1990’s, I decided to confront my fear head-on. I would watch a couple of zombie movies so I could see how ridiculous they were and how unbelievable the creatures were. Big mistake. It scared the crap out of me even more. Since then if I walk around the house in the dark, I don’t watch out for Freddy Kruguer or Jason, I listen for moaning noises or the tell-tell sound of shuffling feet. Resident Evil is the one that pushed me over the edge. It moved me from passive fear to active engagement in the absurdity. That’s when I started watching every zombie movie I came across, so I could learn how to protect myself. When I look out the window, I make sure there are no corpses staggering around before I go outside. If I pass a doorway, I look to see who, or what, is in the room. I always make sure my door is locked behind me as soon as I go inside. I look in the shower and closets before going to bed. When I drive to work in the morning, I scope out the houses and buildings around me to see which ones look secure in case I have to quickly take shelter in the event of a zombie attack. Do they have high walls? Are there defendable points of entry? Are the windows narrow and high up? Is there food nearby? Are there likely to be lots of (undead) people nearby right away or will I have time to prepare? Is there a gun store or sporting goods shop in the vicinity? That’s why this fear is absurd. It affects how I view my surroundings even though I know it is ridiculous to think this way. On the plus side, I no longer worry about vampires, werewolves or escaped mental patients. I’m not sure that’s a good trade-off but it is too late to do anything about it now. I wish I could go back to the normal fears I had as a kid, like snakes, ghosts and Bigfoot. Oh, and if you get a concussion or bodily injury in my vicinity, I would suggest you don’t moan and shuffle in my direction looking for assistance. I’m likely to cut your head off, just as a preventative measure.

14: I always root for the underdog. I identify with the underdog, the loser, the person with something to prove. I won’t get into any psychological examinations about why this may be, but you would probably be safe in assuming I’ve always considered myself an underdog. Mostly though, it just makes for a more interesting experience. How many of you watch the Superbowl whole-heartedly when the score is 30-7 at halftime? Would Britney Spears’ comeback be as interesting to the world if she hadn’t totally screwed up her life? Would Rocky (or even Rudy) be as heart-warming a movie if the character succeeded right away? My friend John watched the first MLS soccer championship and counts it as one of the best sports experiences he’s ever seen. They staged a late game come-from-behind win that was electrifying. When I watched tennis back in the early 1990’s, I never rooted for Jim Courier because he always won, methodically grinding out win after win. Then Pete Sampras started doing the same thing but was more arrogant about it so there was no way I could root for him. That’s why I like Andre Agassi. He provided some competition for Sampras, brought him down to earth. Plus, Agassi learned about humility when he went from a top ten world-ranking to the 200’s. He was written off for two or three years and then decided to pull himself together. He played Challenger events, which is like Roger Clemens playing AA-League baseball. Andre then worked his way back into the top ten and went on to win more Grand Slam titles after he turned thirty then he did during the sports' “peak” age of the mid 20’s. I eventually started rooting for Courier once he lost a step and had to fight for wins, which he did in a dramatic fashion, especially for Davis Cup matches. You can also understand why I currently prefer Rafael Nadal to Roger Federer and I love seeing the Yankees lose. Being the underdog keeps you honest and makes you work on improving your skills.

15: I was in ROTC. All four years of school, I had to wear a camouflage outfit twice a week. I didn’t mind that part actually, nor did I mind the classroom stuff or most of the field exercises. What I disliked was the forced discipline. If a superior told me to do something, I would do it. I didn’t want to have to say “Sir, yes sir!” before doing it though. I felt ridiculous saluting people. I don’t want to sing Army songs while jogging. Standing at attention is very uncomfortable. Requiring my boots to be super shiny is silly, especially since during actual combat, you don’t want shiny surfaces giving away your position to enemy troops. Also, if you know my fondness for sleep, you can guess what I thought about the early morning P.T. sessions.

16: “Yeah, no”. A few years back, I noticed the prevalence of this phrase. I really wonder how it came into existence, because it is an absolute contradiction and makes no sense. Yet, you hear it all the time. If I asked someone “Did you like that movie?” and they didn’t like the movie, why would they start their response with “Yeah, no.” before explaining that “It kinda sucked. It wasn't very funny and I didn’t like the person who played the main character.” Clearly they didn’t like the movie and the answer to my question is assuredly “No.” Have people gotten so unwilling to say anything negative that they start any possible criticism with a positive sounding “Yeah” to salve the sensibilities of the recipient? I never hear anyone say “No, yeah.” It’s always the reverse. I thought no meant no. Doesn’t putting a yeah in front of it weaken the integrity of the word? What if I only hear the yeah part and I start doing something you didn’t want done? If I utter a phrase like “Would you like me to hit you with a hammer?” you probably should not let the word “Yeah” escape your lips for some time. Listen next time people are talking and see how often you hear this. I even heard it on TV last night, which means someone wrote that into a script deliberately. I’m amused and confused by how much I hear this contradiction in everyday conversation. (And I’ve even said it myself, although I chastise myself immediately after doing so- “Yeah, no- you shouldn’t be saying that. It’s, like, bad grammar, you know?”)

17: Along the same lines (I get annoyed by lots of things these days), have you ever gotten an email and seen this message: “In order to protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet.”? Our spam blocker at work does it to messages all the time and it always irks me because it has nothing to do with privacy. Privacy is about being left to yourself and keeping other people from knowing things about you. What the spam filter did is protect my sensibilities, my delicate nature, from potentially obscene or disgusting pictures. I think Outlook is using the word “privacy” because they can’t think of a better metaphor for “filthy smut”. The only reasonable argument I can think of in Outlook’s favor is if someone is actually getting an email at work with embarrassing pictures. In that case, they wouldn’t want it to be seen by their co-workers but if that’s what they are up to, shouldn’t they get embarrassed by the computer, just on general principle? Besides if Outlook really wanted to protect me, it would have stopped all those George Bush jokes from coming my way in the last 5 years.

18: I’ve been playing a lot of poker. Texas Hold’Em specifically. Generally two or three times a week, at a local bar. It’s free to play and if I win that night I get a gift certificate for the bar/restaurant. Every three or four months, I play at John’s house when he does a barbecue/poker night. I’ve even started playing for money once or twice a month. Nothing big, but I do it since the players are usually better and less stupid when cash is involved.

19: I love competition but I hate to lose, so I resist doing things I don’t think I can do well.

20: My favorite movie stars are: (Women) Sandra Bullock, Marisa Tomei, Reese Witherspoon and Deborah Foreman and (Men) Harrison Ford, Ben Stiller, Bruce Willis and Clive Owen. You might be thinking “Deborah who?” Well, she’s the girl from My Chauffeur, Waxwork and April Fool’s Day. Still nothing? She was also in Valley Girl. Now you can say “Oh, yeah. But she hasn’t done anything in twenty years, has she?” No she hasn’t but that’s how much I like her. Her old movies are better than any new movie from Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce or Nicole Kidman.

My 10 favorite movies from last year were: 10) Forgetting Sarah Marshall; 9) Quantum Of Solace; 8) Slumdog Millionaire; 7) Tell No One; 6) Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist; 5) Wall-E; 4) Dark Knight; 3) Sex & the City; 2) Tropic Thunder; 1) Iron Man. The worst movies, or at least the ones that made me feel like I wasted my money, were The Spirit, Four Christmases, Burn After Reading, Transporter 3, Made Of Honor, Harold & Kumar Escape Guantanamo, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan and Max Payne. I don’t know if this list says anything about my taste in movies or rather the state of the movie business. Draw your own conclusions.

21: I like sharing music with people. I listen to a lot of music and I know other people don’t, even if they want to so I try to recommend things I think they might like. I can’t imagine going through life without music, much like I don’t understand people who don’t like to read. Other people have introduced me to songs and bands I’ve loved, so I feel an obligation to pass along the experience. I know that just because I like something is no guarantee others will like it too (You mean you don’t like disco or industrial music? Really?) but when they do, it’s such a cool experience. You’ve given someone else a happy feeling, something they enjoyed. What could be better than that? Music is the perfect medium for sharing because it can be absorbed quickly. A book recommendation takes a lot longer to get through and if they hate the book you suggested, you’ve used up several/many hours of their time. I’m still amazed that someone didn’t like the Bernie Rhodenbarr series I suggested. I mean, they love Janet Evanovich so how could they not like a series about a literate, pithy burglar? Was there not enough slapstick for their taste? Of course, they also disliked Fargo, which someone else at work recommended to them so who knows what’s wrong with their mental wiring. That brings up another category- movies- that are harder to recommend. Movies cost so much to make that the studios are forced to spend lots of money on advertising to get a large audience to see it so they can recoup their costs. With such a big marketing and promotional push behind it, it is hard for someone not to be aware of a movie so the recommendation is unnecessary- people already know if they are interested in a certain movie. It’s harder to discover a great, hidden gem of a movie. A movie would have to bomb at the box office and disappear quickly yet still be really good. How often does that happen? Office Space naturally springs to mind, which has been an automatic recommendation of mine ever since John and I were two of the twelve people who saw the movies in the theater. So if you want recommendations, I’m happy to oblige. Let me know generally what you like though, so I don’t recommend Fargo to someone who thinks a great movie is something starring Kevin James as a mall cop or a WWE wrestler as an action star.

22: Motorcycles scare me. Conceptually and in reality. So do roller coasters, although for a different reason. If you are riding a motorcycle on the highway, you need to be alert at all times, watching out for other vehicles and perfectly judging the road conditions in inclement weather. If you misjudge anything or get distracted even briefly, you lose control and turn into hamburger, as my Dad likes to say. What is your reward for all this risk? You get to your destination with bugs on your clothes. The absolute downside is death. At least in the NFL or NASCAR, where you also risk bodily injury during your efforts, there is a monetary reward. With motorcycles, nothing. A convertible car has most of the same benefits of riding a motorcycle and lot fewer dangers. Roller coasters bother me because the whole object of the ride is to simulate falling through the sky. You get taken up in the air and then plummeted earthward. For amusement. Normally that’s a bad things- no one gets off a plane that had massive turbulence or altitude drops and says “That was exciting. I hope it happens next time I’m on a plane.” On a coaster, you have no control over the descent and occasionally riders have been beheaded by faulty equipment. Explain the fun part of that to me (and I repeat- occasionally riders have been beheaded.) I know I’m probably a bit more risk adverse than some people but any recreational activity that significantly increases my risk of death is hard to enjoy. It the same reason I don’t do drugs.

23: Not married, no kids. I want both. I’m not sure if it hasn’t happened yet because of my ineptitude at dating or the fact that I’m basically unlovable.

24: I like food combos that seem weird to other people. As a kid (okay and all through college too) I would eat licorice dipped in frosting and people would give me weird looks. When I mention that shrimp goes good on pizza, nobody else seems to agree. Fried cheese should be dipped in ranch dressing, not marinara. Fruit flavored yogurt and Bugles go great together. Pickles actually taste good in grilled cheese sandwiches. Pear ice cream is a flavor that needs to be introduced to the U.S. Surely I’m not the only one who feels foods should be experimented with and mixed together? I’m certain that’s how fondue was invented and how else do you explain the idea of fusion cuisine? Stop giving me that funny look!

25: I’m usually laconic and succinct unless I’m writing, then I’m verbose, effusive and just can’t stop. I’m not sure which is the better state of being. At least for now though, I’m going to shut up.