Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tips for a Warm Household

Tips for a Warm Household. Sounds kind of like the title of one of those books; the kind whose authors are smiling women with perms and way too many teeth.

But it's not. This is a strictly scientific essay. It was written to inform and educate and take up space on your screen, and nothing more. Although it would be an interesting study to see what everyone's initial response or expectation was when you first read the title. You can tell me in the Comments section.

Now that us in the Northern Hemisphere have spilled winter all over ourselves, like a clumsy toddler carrying around a plate of pancake syrup, it's time to start keeping an eye on the gas bill. This is assuming that your furnace burns natural gas, of course. If it burns unnatural gas, you'll want to be keeping an eye on THAT bill.

Let's take a look at my bill. Whoa. Looks like it's been preparing for the winter in the same way the squirrels have; it's gotten fatter. It went so far as to grow an extra decimal place, even. The envelope it came in has bulked up too. It's stuffed full of colorful 3-fold brochures, offers to insure your appliances and coupons good for a dollar off 12-packs of Dr. Pepper.

You've been reading those brochures, haven't you? The ones that give you tips on how to cut down on your gas usage? Right. Like they're going to help you use less of the product you pay them for. Probably explains those extra digits.

Well, you can toss those right out. Or, on second thought, save them. You can burn them. That'll come in handy later. So now that you've cleansed yourself of Gas Company propaganda, how do you go about reducing your gas bill? Is there, in fact, a way to use less and still be comfortable?

No. Not directly. But you can increase your comfort by working with the air you already have lying around your home. So put on your sweatpants and your hard hat with the miner's headlamp and let's get to work!

Supplies Needed:
  • One (1) ballpeen hammer. You will want to make heavy use of the peen part, since nobody ever does, and you're a real go-getter, aren't you? That's right.
  • Two (1) rolls of masking tape. As its name implies, it will come in handy when you have a whole bunch of mistakes and holes to cover up.
  • Six (1) packages of black licorice. This stuff was intended for industrial use anyway.
  • A whole bunch of pillows.

Your first objective is to find out where all the cold air is coming from. Like earwigs, cold air is sneaky and likes to hang out along the edges of windows and walls and in your mailbox. Wave your hand near one of these areas. Feel that? That tickling sensation you feel on your palm is earwigs. Scream like a three-year-old and shake those creepy little bastards off. When you finish your wuss prance, you might be tempted to peen the earwigs right then and there. You might want to rethink this, as it would be needlessly violent, and you'd probably miss. Nobody respects a person with peen dents all over their floors and walls.

Trying not to think of earwigs, identify all the windows in your household. They are the rectangular, glass-covered openings cut into your walls. If you touch the glass, you will find that this leaves unsightly finger prints. Knock that shit off.

You may also find a good deal of cold air loitering around your windows. Following the directions in the gas company brochures, you've put up signs, you've yelled at it, and you've tried ignoring it to see if it would go away on its own. Of course none of it has worked, and the cold air remains floating smugly around your windows. The best way to scare it off, as our own primitive forbears discovered, is with fire. This is where those gas company brochures actually come in handy. A few strategically placed brochure fires will let the cold air know you mean business. You need only do this maybe once a month, as cold air has a pretty good memory.

Once you have the cold air on the run, you can keep it out by hammering the black licorice into all the cracks around the window frame, and along the mullions. Be prepared to replace some of the panes, as you will invariably peen some of them out onto your lawn. You may wish to have a friend handy at this point to wave a torch at the cold air while you cover the gaping holes with masking tape.

With the windows out of the way, you may now focus on the attic. As you have probably read somewhere, warm air rises. This is because it is filled with yeast, which is a totally different discussion, so stop asking about it.

What happens is that all the warm air goes to hide in the attic. Unlike cold air, which is brash and feral, warm air is quiet, reserved and agoraphobic. You might be tempted to try coaxing it out of the attic by offering it black licorice, but that would be foolish. You wouldn't offer black licorice to your worst enemy unless you were a total sadist. And if you ARE a total sadist, you probably deserve to be miserably cold, so you can go ahead and stop reading this now.

So how do you keep the warm air from holing up in your attic? With the pillows, of course. Sprinkle them liberally around your house to make it more inviting to the shy warm air, and eventually it will come down. You may also wish to play some soothing music. Some Hindemith, perhaps, with pianos in it. Warm air likes pianos.

If you find that you do not have enough warm air because, for example, you have a small attic, do not be unduly alarmed. Warm air can be found inside many electronic devices. You'll have doubtlessly noticed by now that your videogame console, laptop computer and toaster all harbor copious amounts of it. Place these devices inside plastic bags when in use, and you can capture some of the warm air as it escapes! Wait for it to calm down before releasing it, however, or it will head straight for your attic.

Congratulations! You are now a master of the molecules; an arbiter of the atmosphere. Just be sure to keep a weather (ha!) eye out for the marauding cold air, and remind your friends to keep their voices down around your warm air.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Guardian Angel is a NavStar® Satellite

Sorry about the big quiet spot! I'd like to thank my readers (I love you both!) for not deleting your bookmark out of frustration or for the sake of browser cleanliness.

I bet now you expect me to say something like "But a lot has been going on in my life!" and proceed to tell you all about it. I won't do that. Because not a lot has.

I'm going to tell you about it anyway, though.

After years of having to rely on those more directionally astute than I, and having to answer questions like "how long have you lived in this town again?" and "but we just went yesterday! How can you not remember how to get there?" I finally broke down and accepted a GPS navigation unit.

The Garmin™ people were nice enough to provide me with one of their lovely units. Because I am an Internet celebrity, all I had to do was get in touch with them through a third party, give this third party some money, and wait for a fourth party (UPS) to ship it to me. Badda boom, badda bing! When the unit arrived, I pounced on the box, sending up a mushroom cloud of packing peanuts.

"Hee hee hee!" I squealed, tearing into the packaging with giddy abandon. "No more stupid questions! Soon I will be free to daydream all I want while driving, and my little touchscreen friend here won't sass me for it!"

There it was. Nestled in a colorful box amongst the peanuts; a device that looked like an iPhone designed by Fisher Price®. I wonder if the batteries have a charge? I wondered out loud to myself, because there was nobody around to make fun of me for that either.

Turns out there was. The speaker made a little electronic honking noise, and the screen lit up. "Making initial contact with The Satellites. This could take forever if you try it inside your house. Run outside RIGHT NOW and wave the device at the sky like some kind of epileptic moron. Be sure to forget your jacket," it said. Of course, being the type of person who follows any instruction displayed on an LCD screen, I did just that.

Five minutes after the shattering crash my ass made when it froze off startled some nearby owls, I was greeted with the message that the satellites had been found. "All of them?" I wondered aloud to the remaining owl, but I didn't stay outside to find out. Most of them. Good enough. I scampered inside and stood in the middle of the living room.

After the obligatory poke through the settings menus, I loaded up the map. There I was! A little graphic of a blue sedan, sitting over the Western edge of Michigan. "This thing is so cool," I mumbled into my chest. I zoomed in. And in. Aaaaannnnd in. Hey, look! A little picture of a house. A green bar at the top of the screen spelled out my location in white text.

"Your living room, four feet from the couch," it said. These things get more and more accurate every day, I thought. I turned 30 degrees clockwise. "You look like you're headed to the bathroom," the green bar said. "There is extra toilet paper under the sink if you need it." And helpful!

Satisfied that the Garmin worked as advertised (and then some), I powered it off and went to bed. I'd drive to work with it tomorrow, to see how it handled out on the road.

When morning came, I yawned, stretched and...smelled coffee. Hmm. Dad must have come over and, um, made coffee in the wee hours of the morning. Not entirely out of the question. I stumbled out into the kitchen.

It was empty, save for the cats, who are always waiting for me in the kitchen in case I drop some bacon. But there it was! A cup of coffee, still steaming, sitting right next to my GPS on the counter.

On the...

I distinctly remember putting the Garmin back in its box and leaving it in front of the door, so I'd be sure to bring it with me. Did Dad move it? He must have. He'd have tripped over it if he didn't. I picked it up. Hmm. Would have been nice if he'd turned it off when he was done inspecting it, though.

"Good morning!" the screen said. "I made you coffee. The mug is located at..." and it gave coordinates. "Work is in an hour and a half, and exactly 13.46 miles from your coffee. Enjoy!"

Not bad for a hundred bucks! I sipped my coffee and brought up the Garmin's navigation screen. "Where would you like to go?" it said above the on-screen keyboard. I keyed in my employer's address. "It's guaranteed to be boring there. Where do you really want to go?"

I typed in "Nashville".

"Ha ha," said the Garmin. "No, seriously."

I exited the navigation screen and went back to the map. "Standing next to the dishwasher, contemplating a shower," the green bar said. Proving it wrong, I went out to the garage and got in the car. "Eeew. A Buick?" the green bar said.

It turns out that the NavStar® satellite system the Garmin uses is pretty accurate. It showed me my speed in miles per hour, what road I was on, what compass direction I was headed in, and where the nearby Chevy Cavaliers were, offering alternate routes to avoid them. Neat.

"Stop checking the screen to make sure the Garmin still knows what road you're on," the green bar said. "The Garmin can take care of itself. Fruitridge Ave, next exit."

After a journey of exactly 13.46 miles, I pulled into my parking spot at work. "There. Work. I hope you're happy," the green bar said. "We could have gone somewhere fun, like one of many local Steak'n'Shake restaurants. But noooo! You had to--"

I powered it off. Perhaps I would search the Garmin website for firmware updates. I didn't play my Internet Celebrity card just to end up in the same position I was in before. If I wanted my navigation prowess sassed, I have friends for that.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Explanation Excavation

As time rolls by, so I have changed. This is the normal course of things, as solidification of the personality is a slow, if not interminable, process. The change slows like everything does with age, but there rarely comes a time when the old dog is incapable of learning a new trick. Or at least capable of learning about a new trick.

Me? I used to be an explainer.

Allow me to explain.

There was once a point in my life where--but wait. Let's stop right there. As discussed before, there really is no such thing as a point or a line at which one thought becomes another; where one mindset becomes its antithesis. My struggle to de-emphasize explanation, to dethrone personality-wide apologetics, from the way I interact with people is ongoing.

I used to believe that if I could explain my feelings and my actions in a sufficiently detailed and rational way, they would seem--indeed become--rational. If I could wrap my opinions in a cloak of rationality, they would carry more weight, and given sufficient effort, I could imbue them with transformative power!

This is not an entirely misguided idea. There are many times in your life where having a firm grasp on your opinions and a ready explanation for your actions will save you a lot of trouble. Especially if you believe yourself to be clear-headed enough to qualify as a "leader". (Be very careful with that!)

But think of those people who do something, especially something hurtful, and have no explanation for it! You ask "why did you do that?" and they just shrug and say "I dunno." People like that can be immensely damaging if you allow them past your perimeter defenses, and the worst part is that they don't even seem to realize it.

So even if you're a shithead, it's good to at least have a working knowledge of your own shitheadery. That way you won't take people by surprise, and they will respect you (to a certain extent) for your honesty.

Explanation can be a useful tool. It IS a useful tool. But only to those who actually want one. Where it falls entirely short, however, is when you try to wield it against emotion.

Emotions are amorphous, ethereal things. Like big, slow moving, blind elephants. You can present them with a clear picture of reality, and they just stand there. Or they wander off in a totally random direction. Or they smash head on into it.

In addition, they can be unnervingly, unexpectedly sly. They can be in the driver's seat, masquerading as fact, and it's only when you see the red and blue strobes in the rearview mirror that you realize you've been duped. Try explaining your way out of that one! Can there really be a rational one that takes into account the fact (hindsight reveals it as fact) that you had no idea what you were doing at the time?

Probably not. But storytelling is innate human nature, so we usually give it a shot anyway.

These days, I'm a happier man for my ability not only draw up arguments, but now to limit their broadcast range. It's emotional beamforming; the molding of an explanatory broadcast in an attempt to provide the strongest coverage for those most interested.

Because otherwise, all you're doing is talking about yourself. Excavate only when needed.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Captain Zoloft Lands His Spaceship
With apologies to Douglas Adams

The empty vastness of space stretched endlessly in all directions, like a big ink spill. A big ink spill that occupied four dimensions. An ink spill that was somehow dented by gravity. An ink spill with stars in it.

Some of these stars had planets orbiting them. And of those planets, a very few were host to living things. One such planet, orbiting a binary star system known locally as Scrotus Epsilon, well within the habitable zone, had bugs on it.

One of these bugs was a fuzzy caterpillar named Jeff.

Jeff looked into the hazy sky of his world, and was not entirely unsurprised to see a spaceship in flames make a screaming entrance. The machine, easily the size of a billion Jeffs (as this was his only reliable reference scale), plowed through the thick atmosphere, trailing shrapnel and a sonic boom that knocked Jeff from his leaf.

That was fine with Jeff. That leaf was getting boring anyway. He twisted himself back onto his stubby little caterpillar legs and started climbing another plant. The ship was gone now, over the horizon, and was already beginning to fade from Jeff's primitive memory. In another few minutes, the memory would be gone for good. Unless stuff landed directly on top of him, Jeff didn't really much care.

For the occupants of the ship, things were a little more dire. Their situation started its decline some hundreds of thousands of miles away.

"Jim!" bellowed Captain Zoloft. "We appear to be on fire! This is less than optimal!"

"Mmm hmm," Jim grunted. He opened a package of space crackers. "You were the one who thought it would be fun to dunk the ship in those plasma storms. Shoulda known they'd melt the hull."

Zoloft swirled his cape in the most captainlike manner he could manage. "They were reckless," he said, his feet tangling in a cape swirl. He hit the deck in a heroic bundle of red velour with a reverberant bonnng.

"I suppose you want me to scramble out a hatch and spray the fire with something?" Jim crammed a cracker into his mouth, dusting a brightly lit display cluster with space crumbs.

Zoloft didn't hear him, for he was engaged in a desperate struggle for survival with his cape. "We meet again, velvety menace!" he screeched, kicking wildly and thrashing helplessly on the ship's polished chromium deck.

"Space Christ," muttered Jim. He jabbed a thumb into one of the thousands of flashing buttons. A small hatch opened in the console and a jar of space peanut butter slid smoothly out on a little tray.

"Space peanut butter deployed,"
announced the ship's onboard computer in a soothing, British-accented female voice.

"Just why in the hell does everything on this stupid ship have to be motorized, light up and announce its arrival? I can see the peanut butter right there. I pressed the button a whole goddamn second ago. My memory's better than that," Jim muttered, spreading some on his cracker. He shoved the jar rudely back into the console.

"Complaints registered. Archival to commence next solar cycle. Space peanut butter retracted, internal re-docking successful. Enjoy!"

"And why does everything have to have 'space' in front of it?"

The sizzle of proton pistol fire echoed through the bridge, startling Jim and causing him to drop his space knife.

Zoloft had freed himself from the devilish constrictions of his beastly cape. He stood over its defeated, shredded remains heaped upon the deck, his pistol in one fist, a space Thermos in the other. He shot the cape again.

"That will teach you to meddle in the affairs of greater men!" he hooted, brandishing the Thermos in quite a fierce manner.

"Captain upright and de-caped," announced the computer. "Bioscan commenced for no particular reason."

"This wouldn't be so bad if you wore more than a cape," Jim said, shielding his eyes with a hand. "Put on some space pants for crying out loud."

"I'm the captain and I will do as I please. Computer! What is the status on this fire we seem to be experiencing?"

"Heat-accelerated oxidization still underway."

"Computer! Translate that last message!"

"Still burning, Captain."

"What are our options?"

"Extinguish fire or crash and die."


Jim threw a bunch of toggle switches all in a row. The chk-chk-chk they made as they snapped into position was followed by some rapid-fire machine twitter as text flickered across the monitors and whole panels of buttons flashed in different patterns.

"Since when does everything that happens onscreen have to have sound effects?" Jim grumbled. "Just moving this freaking window around, even!" He slid a status display from one side of the screen to another. It went "swooooshwoop!"

"Did those many switches stop the fire, Jim?" demanded Zoloft, tugging on a pair of silver space pants, complete with accordion-like rubber boots on the knee joints. The belt was holographic and wholly useless.

"Hell no. I have no idea what that did. There are thousands of little glowing switches over here, and the only ones that do anything as far as I can tell is the one that dispenses peanut butter and this one that makes a little animation of a gyroscope appear on the monitor." He pressed that button.

"Space gnomes! A gyroscope!" bellowed the captain.

"Now entering orbit around Scrotus Epsilon system. Calculating trajectory now,"
announced the computer.

"Jim!" screeched Zoloft. "Fire the ion drive and decay orbit! We'll have to find a good place to set her down and begin repairs. Do you still have your space pliers?"

Jim favored Zoloft with a withering look. Zoloft duly withered. Jim pressed a button on his console, and a little hatch opened up next to it. A jar of space peanut butter slid out on a little tray.

"That's the best you're gonna get from me," he said, nodding at the jar. "Anything else impossible you'd like me to try?"

De-withering himself quickly, as befits a man of strong moral fiber and ineffably courageous leadership, Zoloft scampered to the front of the bridge and wrestled violently with some joysticks.

"Trajectory calculation complete. Impact with Scrotus Epsilon V in six minutes," said the computer.

"Onscreen!" shouted the captain. A little animation of a gyroscope appeared in the center of the huge, curved forward screen.

Jim thumbed through his space atlas. "Looks like that planet's not entirely hostile to life. Says it's kind of humid, though, so if you don't mind, I'm staying inside on this one." He tossed his pair of space pliers to Zoloft, who missed them.

"Leaving me to carry the day again, eh Jim? Naturally! Why, day-carrying is what made me the man I am today. I do not blame you." He picked up the pliers and tucked them into his belt. They wafted through the hologram and clattered back to the deck.

"Impact with Scrotus Epsilon V in four minutes."

"Incredible!" said Zoloft. "Jim, if you need me, I will be in the balloon room awaiting our arrival on this new and uncharted world. If anything else breaks, I trust you can handle it."

"Mm hmm," mumbled Jim, unbelting from the ship's holographic seat belts and shuffling towards an escape pod hatch. "I'll let you know how it turns out."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Few Things More Depressing

There are few things more depressing than a white LCD wasteland, its only denizen a lonely cursor blinking away in the upper left corner. If one were to stare at it long enough, one might imagine it blinking out Morse code; B-L-O-C-K.

"Hey, whatcha writin' on that thar scribblepad o' yourn, Dreyfus? S'more a yer girl poetries? Hurr hurr haw!"

"Why don't you go keep an eye on the cattle, Bart. They look lonely." Dreyfus snapped the lid of his notebook computer shut. He set it down on a barrel cactus and glared up at Bart. Bart was a little weedy guy in denim and chaps and a giant belt buckle that looked like a gold-plated tin of Altoids. He had guns on his hips and tattoos of guns on both biceps. Gun guns.

Only two more days, if the weather held, and Dreyfus could be done with this. Just another two days.

"Yew want me to show you a trick?"

"No, I don't."

Bart rolled up the sleeves of his gingham shirt and flexed his biceps anyway.

"Lookee thar. Kinda looks like the barrels is revolvin', don't it?"


"Aww, you don't know what neat is, pardner," Bart spat, returning his sleeves. "So, you writin' some kinda novel? You gonna be a rich famous scribe, you thinks?"

"Look. Bart. I know you're taking this gig pretty seriously, but this is 2009. Nobody says 'scribe' anymore. Not even cowboys."

"Cowpokes," Bart corrected, spitting again.

"Why don't you leave him alone, Bart?" The booming voice came from a PortaJohn® in the back of a pickup truck. It glowed a majestic shade of beige in the late evening Colorado sun and contained a big man in great discomfort.

"Why don't YOU come outta that thar portapiddle, Chuck? You been in there all day, and you ain't even took yer turn out fronta the herd."

There was a brief silence in the camp. A cattle lowed. A tumbleweed tumbleweeded. Chuck made some horrible gastrointestinal noises.

"Hold on now," he boomed from his fiberglass cubicle, "it was that...that...whatever it was you cooked for breakfast this morning that did this to me. You have no right to complain."

Bart kicked at the dust, sending a plume toward Dreyfus' laptop. "Aww, it'll man ya up. You two could use a little mannin' up. Coupla city boys whut ain't never kicked no horses nor slapped a mongoose. A faller goes soft on that kinda life. Ain't whut the Good Lord intended."

Dreyfus snatched his laptop from the cactus and tucked it into his vest before the cloud of dust blew over him. "Said the fearless suburbanite, with a garbage disposal in every sink in his house."

"Shet yer yap, Dreyfus. At least I drive a truck."

"Yeah. An extended cab with bug guards, reclining bucket seats and a DVD player. Real hard core there, Bart," added Chuck.

"It's an automatic, too," added Dreyfus. "At least my Fusion is a stick."

"Oh, God. I think I'm gonna be in here all night," grunted Chuck. "What the hell did you put in that pot?"

"Aw, don't be such a limp tortoise. It was just beans and some other stuff from a can. Yew two are both setch old ladies, I tellya."

"Is Scooter still back in town, you think?" Chuck said through gritted teeth.

"Naw, Chief. I'm afeard ol' Scooter took buttsick and we had ta set him to dancin' with the laughin' bats. Damn pity, too."

Dreyfus sighed. He tugged his laptop free of his vest and set it down on a flat rock. "What our colleague is trying to say, I think, is that Scooter is indeed still out. Probably at Wal-Mart. Did you want me to give his cell a call?"

"Would you? Ask him to bring me some Pepto or something. Lordy, here it comes again."

"That guy's so fulla theatrics. You know whut? I'mma go rassle the dawgs. You kin go back to writin' yer fruity novella. Good luck with your work too, big guy," he said, slapping the side of the PortaJohn as he passed. Bart faced the setting sun, squinting intrepidly into the firey distance, and unholstered his cap pistols. He spun them around his index fingers by their trigger guards and dropped them both in the dust.

Dreyfus brought the laptop out of sleep mode.

There are few things more depressing than a man out of his element, except possibly one who does not realize it. A man who attempts to answer a primeval yearning in our age does so clumsily, as if he were trying to breathe through vestigial gills. All he does is make a total doofus out of himself.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

FooDaddy; Tinkerer

You know that expression, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"?

That is a stupid expression. If you look hard enough at anything, you can always find something that could do with a little bit of improvement. It all depends on how hard you're looking.

As a nerd who tells himself he's a writer, I spend a good deal of time looking at my computer. That's why I went from a perfectly serviceable Vista installation to a fresh one of Windows 7. Was I having compatibility or speed problems? No. Was there a must-have feature of Windows 7 that I couldn't live without? Hell no.

It was shiny and new and hyped and I had to have it. Plus, Microsoft approached me in the street, wearing a black trenchcoat and nudged me in the ribs with its elbow.

"Hey, buddy," Microsoft said. "Thinkin about upgrading?"
"Maybe. I mean, I guess so," I said uncomfortably.
"What if we was to let you have some 7 at half price? Huh? Eh?"

I took Microsoft up on its creepy offer and ordered 3 copies of 7 for my houseful of computers. They all arrived on the same day and piled out of my mailbox like a troupe of clowns coming out of their little Volkswagen Beetle.

I took them into the house.

Bad idea.

As soon as I let them out of their packaging, the Windows Sevenses wriggled out of my hands and skittered away across the carpet.

"Hey! Come back here! Get away from that! Stop installing yourself on my toaster! You'll invalidate your activation key!"

7 was more than happy to install. Positively eager. Just riddled with ho-code.

The laughing discs rolled around my house, installing Windows on everything. I spent a good couple of hours on the phone with tech support trying to get it uninstalled from my lamps, my vacuum cleaner and both cats. The cats were a particularly tricky case, as they kept minimizing themselves, and fading through the floor and into the basement. Had to reboot them back up the stairs I don't know how many times.

In the end, I managed to get 7 to hold still long enough for me to shove it onto a few hard drives, where it sits happily today, surprising me with its new features and its reluctance to do anything I want it to. It's even more likely to forcefully suggest ways for you to use it than Vista was. It's like that maven friend of yours, who is so full of information that he can't help splashing some of it on you.

"You wanna put your files there? Why not over here?"
"Because that's where I had them last time, Seven."
"I really think they'd be happier over, Yeah. Here."
"But, I--"
"Too late! They're over here now."

Why, you might ask, did I go through all the trouble? Because I'm a tinkerer. This is also why my PCs are home-built conglomerations of reluctantly cooperative parts. Every now and then one of them goes rogue and holes up in the basement with the cats, and I have to set traps for it.

That's all part of the fun. I shall most likely continue to "fix" working things, telling myself that I'll buckle down and get to actually using the computer as a tool as soon as I'm done treating it like a cross between a video game and a science experiment.

Anyone looking to install Windows 7 on their computers? Be sure to have plenty of paper towels and some butterfly nets handy. It's sneaky.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Crossing the Opinionated Line

Lines, and where they're drawn, is something that has fascinated me for quite a while. In this case, I'm not talking about lines on paper that, when joined up at their ends, form a drawing of a yak, although that's fascinating in its own right.

These are philosophical lines I'm talking about. The arbitrary division of continuously variable reality into one category or another. When does a kitten become a cat? At what age does it become socially acceptable (or at least socially tolerable) to become a horrible old man? What age, indeed, does one become "old"?

In most cases, especially the kitten one, the lines are extremely fuzzy.

The FooDaddy's Question of the Day today is "at what point does someone's expression of their opinion go from admirable to annoying?"

Everybody is opinionated, differing in passion from person to person, about something, and again on a continuously sliding spectrum, everybody is willing to share them under certain circumstances.

I'm sure you all know that one "opinionated person" in your circle of friends. They may not be the most educated one in the group. In fact it's quite likely that they are not, which makes this little philosophical journey even more fun.

Opinionated people are great, aren't they? It doesn't matter what you're talking about, they've always got something to say about it. It may be amusing, and it may be insightful, but it probably won't contain any actual information about the subject at hand. That takes talent.

"Yeah, I heard you mention reciprocating piston engines. I think those are stupid. Did you know that my aunt believes that one of them gave her diabetes? Ain't that a crying shame! Someone ought to do something about those things. Pass a law or something. Hey, look! Gum! Gum's the best. Especially blue gum because it tastes like ice crystals should. Where's everybody going? Can I have your gum?"

As fun as they are, there's a limit. Given enough exposure, you will probably go from thinking that this person is a wonderfully open individual, admirable for their willingness to "speak their mind," to really wishing that a movie theater usher would magically appear and escort them from the room.

Let's go a step further, and try to think of two opinionated people you know. Pick the pair most likely to disagree with each other. If you put them at opposite ends of a line, it is unlikely that you will fall exactly in the middle. You will naturally tend to agree with one more than the other.

Now set up your stopwatch again and see how long it takes you to get sick of hearing their opinions. Bet you last longer with one than with the other, don't you? Weird, huh?

All of this assumes that the opinionated people we're dealing with are ones who readily share said opinion. The scale is totally different for more timid (or, depending on your opinion, tactful) opinionateds. Again, the line gets fuzzier.

What about people who don't seem to have any opinion whatsoever? Ask them about anything, and they respond with a shrug and go back to standing there with their mouths open. Those folks worry me. I always assume that they're waaaaay smarter and dastardly than they appear. Trust me--they have world domination plans stashed away somewhere.

How long can you converse with someone like that before you want to check their pulse?

Congratulations! You've managed to get to the end of this post without wishing that a theater usher would magically appear and click your browser to some other page.

This means that I have not yet crossed the line.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Assorted Boozewaters

Listen to some people talk. Go on! Give it a try. You will be amazed at how stupid some of them are.

(Conscience: Was that necessary?)

Beyond that, however, you may notice that among a certain demographic, any talk of the weekend inevitably includes discussion of alcoholic beverages.

"The lads and I got right skonkered last night! It was a blitz."
"Dude, I was so drunk I couldn't find my house! I spent the night draped over the rafters in some stranger's garage."
"Bluuuughhh. I'm still recovering, man. Don't even get me started."
"Who are you?"
"Me? Stan. Wait. Who are you?"
"Mike. You must be new here."
"Isn't this LemurSponge Industries?"
"Um... No."
"Shit." (Vomits and runs unsteadily away)

We human-types put these little files of experience in a folder labeled "Fun" and so it has been for as long as I can remember. Or at least as long as I was allowed to know that booze existed. I was raised rather conservatively, you see. I was twelve before I found out about "ideas".

Mom's on Facebook with me now, and every mention I make of alcohol is met with a comment warning me not to become a drunken hobo. True, at least 90% of the impetus behind these comments is sheer jocularity, but she IS my mom, after all. Nobody wants their kids to turn into drunken hobos. Or even sober ones.

(A side note: If I am ever to become a hobo, I want to be the grizzled kind that carries around an empty Krispy Kreme box and yells at moths and has epic battles with invisible panthers. I think that could be a rewarding life in its own way.)

She needn't worry herself, though. I don't like the taste, and alcohol's effect on my mood is to turn me into a morose slug. Not exactly the party fuel it is to a lot of folks. If I find myself around these people in one of those places where it's dark and loud and smoky and drinky, I always draw a blank when the waitress asks me what I'll have. Partly this is due to my wasting a good ten minutes trying to figure out why everyone seems to be so happy. Also, the drink menu is as thick as a Tolkien novel.

There are tons of them! And everybody else always seems to know exactly which one they want.

"I'll have a striped nun, heavy on the Jack."
"Minty badger, and could you go easy on the Scope®? Last time it was so minty I couldn't taste the orange peels."
"You got any Stumpy Walrus lager on tap? Bottles? That'll be fine."

Mixed drinks get all the funniest names, but even their components, should the menu name them, are a mystery to me.

"I can't deal with this paucity of information!" I hoot, slapping the menu with the back of my hand. "Do you have anything that doesn't taste like it could fuel a snowmobile? I am a weenie man, if you follow, and I live entirely on various flavors of dew and the prettiest salads imaginable. My delicate, sequin-studded digestive tract cannot handle such caustic fluids. Take this menu from my limp little hands and go burn it, please!"

Well, at least that's how it feels when you're the one ordering coffee or Dr. Pepper at a bar. By the way, don't ever order coffee at a bar. If you like coffee, bar coffee tastes so awful it will make you sad enough to fall down.

All is not lost, though. I've found that hard cider and certain types of beer are not only tolerable, but actually pleasant. They still don't make me confident, witty and attractive to women, but I'm hoping that will develop later. The best part of all is that they have funny names. Woodchuck Cider. Honker's Ale.

Honker's Ale! A friend of mine discovered it in the supermarket refrigerator, sitting there like it was a serious beverage, surrounded by other real drinks. Preposterous bottles of ridiculous beer with pictures of a goose on them! And the silly swine didn't buy any. Didn't want to take the chance on it tasting like farty old wooden park benches. Pah! You don't buy stuff like that because of the taste. You buy it because it says "Honker's Ale" on the bottle! You giggle and snort when you pay for it.

"Can I see your ID, sir?"
"What, for this? This is Honker's Ale, for crying out loud. It comes from Chicago."
"It's beer, so I'm going to have to check your ID."
"Seriously? Some outfit that had the balls to call itself Goose Island made it. It's even got a picture of a goose right on the label! See? Goose."

Well, after I showed them my ID and snickered my way out of the store, my friends and I actually drank it. And it was surprisingly palatable.

In closing, I am becoming more sociable when it comes to alcohol. I'm still not a fan of the way most of it tastes, and how it makes people miss doorways and bonk into walls, but I'm learning.

I do have one rule, though. I will only drink it if it has a funny name. Any suggestions?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Moron Fills In

The Moron slammed his shiny red sports car into third gear and planted his foot. The engine screamed, the car's chassis tilted slightly under the influence of the torque, a rush of air blew his hair back, and the Chevrolet Cavalier behind him blew its horn. He glanced up from the tachometer.

The light was green. The Moron quickly shifted into first gear and let out the clutch. He turned the fan down and watched the Cavalier shrink in his rear-view mirror. A sweaty little frog of jealousy reached out from its dank cave and fondled his heart as he wished aloud for perhaps the hundredth time that he had bought a Cavalier instead. They were so cool, and the rusty ones looked even classier. Like a distinguished gentleman graying at the temples.

He wanted one sooo bad. Preferably in a nice shade of mauve with whitewall tires and a big ironing board spoiler and a really loud fart cannon exhaust and those blue halogen headlights, and...

Whoops. That was the street he needed. He was going to be very slightly late now. Normally this would not bother him, but today was special. Today he would not be rocking the socks off his own job, but filling in for his girlfriend at the barber's shop. As he spun the car into a tire-smoking U-turn, his vision blurred and the windshield full of angry motorists turned wavy, then dissolved altogether as the flashback chimes sounded, and he was once again standing in his boxer shorts in his kitchen.

"You're going to need that sock's mate if you're going to work for me today, candypants," his girlfriend was saying.

"Grappling hook!" the Moron said for no reason, and looked down at his feet. They were indeed only 50% socked. "Periwinkle!" he added.

"Be that as it may, you're going to have to be dressed for this job. I don't know what your dress code is like at The Company, but it's quite strict over at the shop." She ducked back into the bathroom to remove the scaffolding and finish the work on her hair.

The Moron allowed the arm holding his mug to relax. Coffee dribbled onto the floor as he prepared a professional office-person statement about The Company's regulations regarding employee wardrobe.

"I wear whatever I want!" he hooted. "I'm a professional, and as such I am permitted to garb myself as I see fit. I even wore a bowtie one day, but it fell into the document shredder." He crossed his arms and dumped the remaining coffee over his left shoulder.

"...regulars who expect me to remember their last cut. It's in this bag here. I really appreciate you doing this for me, hon," his girlfriend continued.

Evidently she had been explaining something important while he was defining his territory.

No matter. He'd figure it out. The Moron tossed the empty coffee mug skillfully at the dishwasher, watched fondly as it bounced off the closed door and rolled across the linoleum, and stalked off to find pants. As he reached into the laundry basket, its contents blurred, became wavy, and suddenly he was back on the road, in his car, drooling on the gauge cluster.

These flashback sequences weren't strictly necessary, since the events encapsulated therein took place less than an hour ago, and they tended to be more trouble than they were worth. The Moron made a mental note to tell his doctor. He then made a physical note to get a doctor.

With the confidence of a born Office Professional, The Moron shoved open the glass doors of Dude's Barbershop, and propelled himself toward the row of chairs with a poot he hoped wouldn't linger.

Two young ladies standing behind a short desk with an LCD screen on it looked up. The brunette nudged the blonde.

"That guy's only got one sock on," she whispered.

"Relax, ladies! Your substitute barber has arrived!" the Moron boomed.

His chest expanded, chin jutting, arms thrown back and his feet planted exactly three feet apart, he stood astride both the Dude's Barbershop floor and the monumental responsibility housed within like a posable action figure left out in the sun.

The brunette was pointing out various barbery bits around the Dude's shop, but she was one of those soft-spoken girls, and the music in the place (played over a system that sounded like a public restroom full of $20 clock radios) was rather on the loud side.

"With the reliant bums in, sneak them in a mile and back-slap their bike with a worm trowel," he heard.

The Moron understood that she felt an obligation to explain everything, but wished she wouldn't bother. He was a professional. Professionals knew how to do things already. That's what made them professionals.

"Thank you very much, Abby. Which one of these recliners is mine?"


"No. Recliners."


"Step on you? Why?"

She moved closer. "Steff-UH-nee. That's my name. Since you're filling in for Megan, you use her chair. Over here." Stephanie guided the Moron to a chair close to the shop's plate glass front window. Some dimwitted, surely unprofessional, putz had painted the text on it all backwards. It was a wonder this place got any business at all, poor souls. This seemed like a good time to buoy their spirits by showing them that he had come prepared for anything.

"I brought my own scissors," the Moron said, his tone deep and soothing, like a bottle of confident cough syrup that wanted the best for everybody. He tugged a pair of scissors from his back pocket. They had what the Moron considered to be very impressive fluorescent green handles, one of which was bigger and more elongated. This was part of their dark mystery, as the Moron had yet to discover what purpose this served, but he would have to do that research on his own time.

He had bigger problems to deal with right now.

"Oh, um. That won't be necessary. Megan left all of her supplies in her toolbox here, and..."

Stephanie's voice sounded like it was coming from deep inside an empty oil drum in the next room. The Moron was busy staring at his scissors. There was a problem with them. They had somehow developed a sort of sickle shape he couldn't remember them having before he left the house.

If one is to transport something in one's back pocket, it should be something that will not bend and take on the contours of one's buttocks, the Moron wrote on his pad of mental Post-It notes with a liquid-ink, rollerball thought-pen.

It was this kind of throughness that made him who he was, so it was not surprising that when inspiration struck, the Moron did not duck but took it right on the chin. These scissors are not broken. They're enhanced!

"They're contoured to follow the curvature of the skull!" he bleated, flourishing them like an infomercial huckster. "Bang. Productivity increased by ten to sixty-four percent right off the bat. Where are your Snickers?" He flexed the scissors mightily and one of the handles fell off.

"All the stuff you'll need is right here in this box," she said, patting a steel Craftsman toolbox.

Snickers, the Moron thought. In a toolbox. How grand. I must search for them. He cracked his knuckles in anticipation. There were few things in the world that the Moron enjoyed more than a good rummage. The big red toolbox, with its multitude of drawers and cake-like layered design was ripe for rummaging. His fingers twitched and he began to vibrate and drool.

"I've gotta run to the bank and get some change for the cash drawer. If you have any questions, just ask Hailey."

"Mm hmm."

The Moron waited for the door to close behind Stephanie before he scanned the toolbox for weaknesses. Perhaps one of those little drawers in front. A bit of spastics, and he'd be right in. He twisted his right hand into a claw, and coiled his arm like an arthritic cobra that could only bend at the elbow. Suddenly, his hand darted out and hooked a drawer open. A confetti cloud of clipper parts burst from the drawer and rained down all around him, disappearing forever under chairs and sinks.

"Hee hee," the Moron chuckled. "Parts."

A chime sounded. The Moron was deeply mistrustful of chimes, so he immediately put his rummaging on the back burner to investigate. The chimes were located above the entrance to the shop, and as he swung to recon that area, he noticed the door closing.

He heard footsteps.

The Moron followed their sound to the man making them. The man was talking to the girl (probably this "Hailey" character he'd heard so much about) behind the low desk with the LCD screen on it. Now he was writing something on a clipboard.

Hailey looked up from her LCD. "Your first client!" she said.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Quandary in Chromaticity

The bar room in Barfley's Pub was a sea of earth tones. Deep reddish mahogany tabletops varnished to a mirror finish reflected the light from the green-shaded lamps above. The low-burning incandescents washed the ceiling in emerald and the rest in a warm amber. As Joey Zetetic allowed his unfocused eyes to sweep the room, he caught flashes of copper and brass from the polished fittings. It was like watching a field on an autumn evening; a blurry one filled with metallic fireflies.

Every few seconds, the scene was gilded in silver by the headlights of a car passing the big plate-glass window.

"Wow. You look like crap."

Joey looked up. He willed his tired eyes to bend their lenses and provide him with an image he could work with. In a few seconds, he recognized the stocky man standing next to the table.

"Walt? Hey, man. What brings you down here?"

"Same thing that brought you, I suppose. This place sells beer. Mind if I join you?"

Joey stretched out a leg and nudged the chair opposite him out from underneath the table. "Go right ahead. What'll you have? It's on me."

"What's good here?" Walt asked, seating himself. "There a menu around here? What's that in your pitcher?"

"Yak Cider. It's just hard cider, but it sure beats the taste of Guinness. Hold on. I'll get you a mug."

Joey crossed the room. As he moved, he cast a whole baseball team's worth of shadows, spread out around him like the blades on the pub's lazily spinning ceiling fans. He watched his own approach in the mirror behind the counter. The bottles, on shelves just in front of the mirror held their own tiny, distorted versions of the room, some deep green, others burnt caramel or raspberry red. He flagged the bartender over and hooked a thumb over his shoulder at the pub's only other customer. The bartender nodded and handed him a clean mug.

Walt poured himself some of the pale cider. A pair of passing headlights projected a miniature rippling lake of amber through the pitcher onto the tabletop as he did. "So what's up? That little bit of exercise you got on the walk to the bar didn't seem to do you any good. You still look like crap."

"She left me," Joey said into his mug.

"Who did? Violet? Violet left you? Geez, man, that's rough. Do you mind if I ask why?"

Joey sighed. This was always the hardest part. Taking the block of facts from a relationship that seemed to make sense at the time, and trying to grind and chisel away at it until it fit into this new and updated reality.

"I dunno. It was so sudden. I guess it was mostly a difference in beliefs."

Walt swallowed a mouthful of Yak Cider. "Whoa. You're right. This is good stuff. So what beliefs didn't you two share? I mean, what would be serious enough to split you up? It seemed like, you know, a pretty solid relationship."

"I don't believe in color," Joey said.

Walt put his mug down. "What?"

"It's not that I don't respect people who do believe in color. It's just that I can't make myself go in for the whole thing."

Walt glanced around the room. Green lampshades. Red curtains. Neon signs. Brown wood, brass rails and chrome taps. The Rockola® jukebox alone was a garish monument to the screamingly obvious existence of color.

"I'm not quite sure I understand, Joey. You're not color-blind, are you? What color is my shirt?" Walt was wearing a dark blue button-down with fine white vertical stripes.

"I'm not color-blind. At least not that I know of. Which is kind of the whole impetus behind my lack of faith. How could anyone tell? As long as I can distinguish between different wavelengths of reflected light, and learned the words for them, then nobody could. Your shirt is mostly blue, by the way. Or at least that's the wavelength I was told to call blue."

Walt clapped his hands and leaned back in his chair. "That's it then! You can see in color, so color exists. End of story."

"Not quite. There is absolutely no way to tell that the way I see blue is the same as the way you see it. We may both be able to tag a specific wavelength with the word 'blue,' but the picture in my mind may be different from yours. Unless someone figures out a way to let me see through your eyes with your brain, it's impossible to tell for sure. Until then, it's all just hearsay. It also might explain why some people find certain paintings or patterns attractive, and some don't, now that I think about it."

"So that's it? Just because you can't prove that my blue is the same as your blue, you're going to give up on color?"

Joey brought his mug of Yak Cider to his lips, and held it there. He smiled over the rim at Walt. "Well, I'm more what you might call 'color agnostic'. It's not that I think its existence is impossible, but I do think that it is at least a little unlikely. Nor is it necessary. I still enjoy what I think of as 'blue' as much as I ever did."

Walt poured himself another mug of cider. "Did you want the rest? There's about half a mug in here."


"That's why Violet left you? Because you had this crazy view on color? That can't be it, man. She put up with your weirdness for this long without breaking a sweat. Why would something like that push her over the edge?"

Joey added the last of the cider to his mug and set the pitcher down. A little bit of foam clung to its sides and bottom. On each of the tiny bubbles' surfaces was an upside-down, hypertensive replica of the pub's bar room, overlaid with a shifting cloak of rainbow.

"Kids, mostly. She didn't want her kids raised without faith in color. She said that she wanted them to know of green and orange and red and blue, like she was taught when she was a kid. I can understand that. It took me years to shed my belief, and it wasn't always painless. I mean, I still have the same favorite color I did when I was little, but now I know that I really can't trust it. It kind of hurts sometimes, as you can imagine."

"And she didn't want her kids to be exposed to that kind of uncertainty, huh? Well, man, I'm sorry. But it sounds like she's standing by her old faith, and you gotta respect that."

"No, I don't. But of course I do."

"What is your favorite color, by the way?"


Walt tipped his mug back, emptying it. He smacked his lips. "Dang. This stuff really is tasty." He paused, a mischievous smile lighting his face. "Of course, how could I know for sure that I taste it the same way as you?"

"Exactly," Joey said.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The FooDaddy Zodiak

Disclaimer: To any readers out there who actually take astrology seriously, I apologize for mocking your belief that the sky dots or placemat monkeys are telling you what to do. It sounds like more of a neurosis than a strategy to me. Go lie down for a while.

Anyone who gets a newspaper or has eaten at a Chinese restaurant has probably seen a table of zodiac signs before. Personally, I like the Chinese Restaurant Zodiac the best. I looked for my birthdate on there, and I'm a boar. Or a pig, depending on where they had their placemat printed. I am chivalrous and noble and have common sense when it comes to mortgage rates. All the characteristics one generally associates with swine. One Web page I looked at also says that Boars do not "shimmer," which is kind of disappointing. I had plans to.

My favorite part about the placemat zodiacs is the compatibility list. Every sign has other signs that it does or does not get along with. I always get a kick out of reading "Beware the monkey" while I'm waiting for my curry chicken. I want that on a bumper sticker.

While the Placemat Zodiac is divided up by your year of birth, the FooDaddy Zodiak will be by month because it's easier that way. There are far fewer months than there are years, you know.

The FooDaddy Zodiak

January - Sincere Weasel

The Weasel is kindhearted and true, and would never steal any of your honey roasted peanuts because they are extremely scrupleful. Weasels enjoy long, totally harmless chats with other Weasels, and are generally well spoken of in society. Especially among other Weasels. Avoid the Swine and make fast friends (read: business relations) with the Finch and hire a Hamster for P.R.

February - Developmentally Disadvantaged Goat

Here's a sign that everyone can love! Goats make wonderful after-school specials, and feature heavily as pivotal and kind-hearted savants in Stephen King stories. Turn that frown upside down and have a handful of Skittles! It's time for a parade! Beware the Weasel and Finch, because they can't see just how special you are. You will make sparkly paper hats with the Pony.

March - Shimmering Swine

All Swines are chrome-plated and awesome. They shimmer and dazzle all they want. All Swines are sarcastic in an endearing, sweaty sort of way, and would make wonderful grandparents if equipped with canes. A Swine will generally not come right out and criticize your stupid values or moron choices, but they will drop infuriating, needling hints. Swines should MapQuest a route the hell away from the Pony and Sloth and visit a Squirrel instead.

April - Crenelated War Badger

Badgers are extremely aggressive and protective of those they love, and would like nothing more than to punch the rest of the Zodiak in the ear. But only if they annoy the Badger enough to make the Badger yell. For while all Badgers would love to pass a law legalizing road rage, they are mostly fair. The Badger would make damn sure nobody picked on the Goat and will roundhouse kick any sign that tries.

May - Giggling Pony

Tee hee! Like, Ponies are so awesome! They are the kindest and prettiest and bestest kissers! Ponies totally love writing poems in their journals about flowers and clouds, and reading Anne Geddes books, but are so totally deep too. Like, when a Pony watches a sad movie, that Pony is not afraid to cry. Ponies should never develop crushes on the Smurf, but they do. Ponies say they want a Swine because they really value a sense of humor, but they don't.

June - Addlepated Platypus

Platypuses never seem to know exactly who they're trying to fool. They have personalities composed of bits of other peoples' that they are merely leasing. They can be extremely agreeable conversationalists, because they're extremely agreeable. Tell a Platypus anything, no matter how preposterous, and they will readily agree. A Platypus should make friends with the Smurf because this Zodiak heard that it was a good idea, but please don't lease from a Sloth.

July - Exploding Firetailed Patriot Finch

Finches love their country, and anyone who doesn't can just go the heck right back to Frenchylvania, or wherever. The Finch can't prounounce the name of yer crazy foreign country, so y'all should make up a new one in God's own English. If anyone questions the Finch's patriotism, that person is probably a terrorist, and is liable to catch an ass-whuppin'. Buy a big ol' flag for your Hummer H2, take advantage of the Badger if you deem it in the national interest, marry a Pony and have fifteen children.

August - The Smurf

Smurfs don't really exist. They are the perfect friend and they are the worst enemy. Smurfs tell lies about lazy co-workers to those co-workers' bosses and elect incompetent politicians. On the other hand, Smurfs
are personally responsible for leaving you a parking spot right in front of Bob Evans. Ninety-eight percent of dating relationships carried on via Instant Messenger are between a Smurf and a real person. Don't tell the Goat about a Smurf, because the Goat will be very disappointed.

September - Caffeinated Ground Squirrel

Squirrels are very outgoing, but cannot stay on topic for an entire sentence. When captured on high-speed film, fine analysis of the Squirrel can reveal actual deliberation, but--hey! Is that a peanut? Squirrels love peanuts! Circus! I went to one once, but it smelled like poop, and--whoa! Did you see that? That car had a thing on it. Should the Squirrel grow a beard, y'think? Squirrels should always attend pizza parties with the Pony or Swine, but might want to stop poking the Sloth.

October - Crepuscular Goth Sloth

All Sloths have more originality in their labret than you have in your whole body, and don't even pretend to like that band you like. The Sloth liked it first, and all you're doing is popularing it up. Don't look at the Sloth like you think you're better than the Sloth, because the Sloth doesn't give a crap what you think. The Sloth was born with only one crap to give, and it used it for choosing a brand of cigarette. You should befriend other Sloths, but only share your power crystals with the ones that are just as different as you.

November - The Carp

Nobody likes The Carp. You're just the kind of person nobody likes. No shame in that, but if you can't be bothered to bathe or to stop leaving your nose pickings right in the middle of the tablecloth, then the rest of the Zodiak is going to have to ask you to go home. You may find that shadowing a Badger keeps you out of trouble, and in your free time you should hang around the Pony because the Pony deserves it. The Sloth will find you interesting because you're differentish.

December - Snow Hamster

Hamsters are very sweet people. They will bake you cookies and they will help you eat them, and any cookies left over are stored in the Hamster's generous cheek pouches in case you want more later. You want to hug a Hamster. Seriously, you do. Look at 'em! Who wouldn't want to hug a Hamster?
A Hamster is always the first person to give a handful of Skittles to a Goat or Carp, and are pretty much the only ones with a calming effect on Finches. Hamsters make good friends with everybody but the Sloth, because being nice isn't part of Sloth programming and it gives them headaches.

There you go, time-wasters! I hope this little guide enables you to get more out of your lives, now that you know exactly what to expect and whose names to keep in your cell phone. Get this Zodiak tattooed on your forearms, and life will be thwarted by default every time it tries throwing you a curveball.

Disclaimer: If you were born under a sign that does not, in any way, describe you, keep in mind that the FooDaddy Zodiak is no more binding than any other. Go lie down for a while.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Return to Gray

As the Buick LeSabre trundled us back to my home in Michigan's Lower Peninsula, bringing my three-day sojourn to the Lake Superior coast to a close, I was assaulted in the eyeball with increasing amounts of gray. I was unsure where to place the blame for this.

Could it have been psychological? The very tail end of a vacation, like a skunk's, is always the least fun. The most emotionally bland. Time to put on the cruise control and barge all the way back home, where live my responsibilities and cats.

"They're going to have pooped on the floor. I just know it," I said to my girlfriend/navigator/travel planner.

"Your responsibilities poop on the floor? How very impossible of them. Or were you being metaphorical?"

I suppose that would have worked either way. Moving on.

The resurgence of the Gray Army could also be put down to simple geography and social engineering: there's just more people and cars and buildings in the L.P. More pollution of every variety leads to an increase in smudgy, slate-coloredness.

Too simple. There has to be more going on behind this North-South gray-dient, and I think I have it.


The ones in the LP are sort of brownish, and the ones up North are black. Coincidence? I think not. The Upper Peninsula squirrels are absorbing the gray! They're like twitchy little smog sponges, and they perform this miracle seemingly without any ill effects on their own physiology. I think we need to scoop up a bunch of them and ship 'em down here. If we just sprinkled a trail of stale graham crackers along the edges of the Mackinac Bridge, they would ship themselves, even.

I did remember to bring my camera and its batteries and memory cards, which is fortunate, as photography was the major impulse behind the trip. I was like a DSLR ninja up there. I swooped in and snatched about nine and a half gigabytes of pictures, and left before the stunned vistas knew what just captured them.

The pictures themselves? Well, I'm glad you asked! They are to be part of a project I'm working on--a picture book. But not the kind you'd give your sticky little toddlers. No, this is going to be a stunningly-rendered, full-color pictureography of my glorious two-landmassed state, complete with a vibrant historical account told through the keyboard of an octogenarian.

In other words, it will be stunning and full color, but the rest will be total and utter falsehood. I can guarantee that it will at least be entertaining falsehood, so everyone should definitely start saving money for their own eight copies when they're available. Personally, as this project combines two of my favoritest things (photography and making crap up), I cannot wait for it to be completed.

Now...back to Photoshop.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Report from No Man's Land

I'm not sure how much I can say, for fear of this transmission being intercepted by the dreaded Wisconsinites. I will keep it brief.

The troop and I have made it safely to Mackinaw City, where we have holed up in a curious bunker called Best Western. The enemy has tried to flush us out by providing us with horrible "bar" soap, but the joke's on them. I brought liquid foamy soap of my own, so a gunky, rubbery rinse-off is not in the cards.

We made a recon tour of the island. It appears to be badly fortified, despite having its own fort. Insertion points include...pretty much anywhere. Beware of snakes, however. They will not hold still long enough for you to get a decent photo.

My troop and I are planning a push into the Northern Landmass today, although I cannot mention specifics. Details to follow.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Michigan; A Primer

Good afternoon, audience! I am going to assume that it is afternoon outside your windows, wherever you are, because it's my favorite time of day. It is also afternoon outside MY windows as I am writing this.

It is also Michigan outside my windows. Inside, too, technically. You know Michigan? If you've been watching any news reports about the economy, I'm sure you've heard mention of my state. They usually represent it by showing a bunch of people in line at an unemployment office. It used to be by showing video of cars pinballing around on an icy stretch of road. Those were the days!

Regardless of the condition Michigan is in ("lousy"), I am still relatively proud to hail from it. In fact, this coming week, I will be embarking on a road trip to the Upper Peninsula (geographer's term for "upstairs") in order to capture its natural beauty with my digital camera. I set the camera to the Adobe RGB colorspace because I read that it has a wider grayscale gamut.

If I encounter any color, I can always change it.

What this means is that if I am unable to get to an Internet connection, Ambient Moronics will go on a brief hiatus while I'm burning petrol getting lost up there. I apologize to my reader.

So what exactly makes Michigan Michigan? Other than incompetent automakers? My trip up North will focus mainly on scenic vistas of natural splendor, so I shall mainly focus this post on that.

First, you have Michigan's wildlife. This consists almost entirely of ducks, sparrows and moose. I have provided a picture of a duck in order to illustrate this. You will note that the only other animals to appear in this documentary-quality photograph are other ducks. This is no accident, as Michigan's duck population is set to overtake its human one in 2011 if trends continue. They are everywhere; movie theaters, lakes, ponds, swamps, bars, clubs, rooftops, basements, convertibles and playgrounds. Their diet is 97% stale bread, 2% cigarette butts with the remaining 1% split between gravel and dead minnows. They have to compete with migrating flocks of seagulls for the cigarette butts, which is hilarious.

It is lucky for The Duck that he has a prodigious reproduction rate, as the vast majority of them die off when Old Man Winter comes stomping around, swinging his ice cane and shouting unpleasant things at the top of his snowy lungs. It is a common myth that ducks fly south for the winter. This is what the ducks would have you believe, but it is impossible for a bird to fly the distance needed to change climates.

Squirrels, on the other hand, are capable of making the trip. They just don't.

Those ducks that haven't fattened up on bread during the tourist season and gone into hibernation in their duck burrows inevitably perish. This cycle is nature's way, and it is strangely beautiful.

Given the peak seasonal size of the duck population, it is may seem odd that Michigan's leaders have selected the sparrow as the state bird. The reasons given on the Michigan state website, however, make a lot of sense.

The Sparrow's indomitable spirit and ability to thrive in any environment is a fitting homage to the Michigander's own resilience. Its stubborn refusal to relocate during the state's harsh winter months puts to shame all the pussies that spend those months in Florida. And like the cars built here, the Sparrow is ubiquitous, rust-colored, short-lived and spends a lot of time under gas station canopies.

Which brings us to the most rare of Michigan's creatures; the moose. Certain adorable skeptics have told me time and again that there are no moose in Michigan. "Honey," the skeptic has said, "that was a deer."

Preposterous. There are no deer in Michigan.

The moose makes its home in the remote, forested areas of the northeast. Subsisting on little more than dew and wisdom, the moose dispenses its knowledge only to those sophisticated enough to see the path of light they tread. Hunted to near-extinction by philosophers and new-age twits in the 1980s, their population has rebounded somewhat, but they remain scarce and well-hidden.

So where might you find this veritable Noah's Ark (or at the very least, Noah's Dinghy) of Michigan's fauna? Why, in Michigan's flora, of course! The state is home to a great many lakes, teeming with fish and aquatic moose. These lakes abut beaches replete with sticks. In fact, in the state's Stick Museum in Ann Arbor, one learns that Michigan has the greatest diversity of sticks in any of the Lower 48.

All of those sticks have to come from somewhere, and that is where Michigan's bountiful forests truly shine. Here, in these sun-dappled expanses of lush evergreenery, sticks grow by the truckload. They dapple the ground and the sides of old-growth timber like the dapples on the majestic dapplepotamus (extinct, sadly, since the 1700s). Dapple trees are particularly productive, resplendent with sticks year-round in addition to their delicious fruit. Friendly farmers with large dapple orchards often allow visitors during the harvest season, welcoming them to sample and purchase dapple cider and home-baked dapple pies. Dapple pasties are also available, but nobody ever gets within ten feet of them.

Well, folk, I hope you have enjoyed your little tour of Michigan and its splendidness! I shall return in mid-October, laden with pictures and chiggers, which I cannot wait to share with you all!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

12 Step Program

“My name is Rodney, and I’m a terrible person.”

“Welcome, Rodney!” the group shouted back in unison. Rodney took his seat.

“Simply admitting that you have a problem is the first step, Rodney. Congratulations. My name is Steve, and I was once a terrible person. With the help of Assholes Anonymous, I’ve been jerk-free for three years now. I know the system works, because it worked for me. I’ll be leading our discussions. Are there any questions?”

Rodney looked around the room. The small Lutheran church had been kind enough to let them use its basement meeting room. There were fluorescent lights on the ceiling, doughnuts and coffee on a table in the corner, and about twenty people in folding chairs sitting in a circle.

“Yes, please, I have one.”

“What is it, Rodney?”

Rodney made another quick count. Yep. About twenty people.

“I just kind of figured that there would be more people in a group like this.”

Steve smiled. “Well, a lot of people don’t know that they’re terrible,” he said.

“Doesn’t that kind of make them even more terrible?”

“Yes. Yes it does.”

Monday, October 5, 2009

Time-outs for Terrorists

Detective James Breckenridge glared angrily at his coffee as his leads disappeared into the ether around him one by one.

"Darg! There goes another one!" He slammed his fist down on his desk, causing his music to skip and his oscillating fan to oscillate right onto the floor.

"Angry, much?" asked an infuriating man.

"Yes," James replied brusquely. "What gave it away?"

The infuriating man formed himself an annoyingly patronizing little smile, which he applied to his clean-shaven face. "It's hard to make an MP3 player skip. And you've been eating paperclips by the handful. Anything I can help with?"

James doubted it. It kind of depended on what he meant by "help". The rookie was always prancing around the place offering advice and suggesting new ways to solve crimes. The worst part about it all was that his ideas had merit. In fact, the rookie could singlehandedly replace every man woman and K9 unit in the room.

If he wasn't such a whinging little twit, that is.


The infuriating man seated himself primly on the edge of James' desk. "Oh, come now Jim. I'm sure we can find you some new leads if we work together. I feel that this would be a good opportunity for the two of us to develop some synergy."

"I feel that this would be a good opportunity for you to see if you could stuff yourself down the break room sink."

"Quick! There goes another one! It went under your mouse pad!"

James steadfastly refused to look down at his mousepad. He gritted his teeth and focused all of his hate on the infuriating man's belt buckle. He clenched his fist. He couldn't take it anymore and he yanked the mousepad up by a corner.

"DAMMIT!" Another lead scurried down the side of his desk and disappeared into the ductwork.

"These are bad men who hate America, Jim. We have to find them and deliver swift and pointy justice before they can spread their hatred like the disease it is." The infuriating man was actually saluting his wall calendar. It was July, and there was a picture of an American flag on the top page.

"There are only two of these wackos, and when we raided their apartment, it was obvious that they had been gone for weeks, maybe months. They're probably not even in the country any more. And I say good riddance."

"They might have friends, Jim," the infuriating man said, looking away from his calendar flag briefly to arch an eyebrow at James.

James watched another lead hop off the stack of papers in his inbox.

"Somehow I doubt that. They were planning to bomb the public library because it contained too much knowledge. Not gonna get a whole lot of support for a crusade like that."

The infuriating man wingtipped around behind James' desk and inspected its surface. He slid a picture of Mrs. Breckenridge behind the computer monitor, setting in its place a Captain America action figure.

"They will stop at nothing because they hate our way of life. They hate our freedom! Freedom you and I have to fight for every day."

"If we're constantly fighting for it, it's not really freedom, is it?"

"There there. I know you're angry, but that's no reason to start talking like a Communist, Jim," the infuriating man said.

Another lead skittered into the adjacent room. James could hear the splash it made as it threw itself into the toilet.

He didn't care.

"You know what? It's time for a chicken pot pie. You can go yell yourself red about the terrorists. I'm going to treat them like the children they are and let them scream and holler and hold their breath while I ignore them. And that goes for anybody else who wants to forgo intelligent discourse for explosives and flag-waving."

"You're playing right into their hands, Jim!"

"Then I'll personally take a dump right on their palms. Get off my desk."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Coffee Visits the Grand Canyon

"Ask that guy over there if he knows where the canyon goats are."

It had been going on like this for perhaps the last hour. Truth be told, it had been going on the entire trip in one way or another, but the last hour was dedicated to the goats.

"Coffee, please shut up for one seven-hundredth of a second," I said wearily, peering through the viewfinder of my camera.

"What for?" he said, giving me a well-timed shove. "So you can take more pictures of rocks? You took pictures of those rocks over there already. This place sucks."

"Those rocks 'over there' weren't rocks. They were petrified trees. And that was yesterday." I deleted the blurred picture and aimed again.

"Oooh, excuse me. So you took some pictures of wussy trees pretending to be rocks. My bad. You know, if you wanted to hang around a bunch of liar trees, we could have just stayed home. This place doesn't even have any skunks. Have you seen any? I haven't seen skunk one."

The sun's disk was perfectly bisected by the horizon. The deep blue sky met the torn edge of the Earth as sunrise chased shadows out of the great canyon and etched its fiery mark on the undersides of the clouds. It was a magnificent sight. The appreciative sighs and snapping shutters of the tourists joined the birdsong and insect noises.

"Hey look! A hobo!" squealed Coffee.

"That's a park ranger," I said.

"He's got a beard."

"Doesn't mean he's a hobo."

"You got anything I can throw into the river down there? I bet that's at least a thousand feet down."

"Right in front of the ranger?"

"Aww, what's the hobo going to do? Splash some bum whiskey on us?"

"Dude. He's armed."

"Seriously. If I don't see any canyon goats or gorge skunks in about two minutes, I'm going to shove some fat kids over the edge."

"As impressive as the Grand Canyon is," the ranger was saying, "The solar system's largest known canyon system is actually on Mars. Its
Valles Marineris is over three times deeper than the Grand Canyon..."

"Ask that man if there are any goats in that one," Coffee slapped me on the back, and only the neck strap saved my camera.

"The canyon he's talking about is on Mars."


"Never mind."

The ranger led our group along the South Rim, toward Lookout Studio, talking as he went.

"Check this out," said Coffee. "An empty liquor bottle. It's called 'Hot Damn'! Isn't that hilarious?"

"It's kind of sad that some moron just dumped it here."

"It's kind of sad that some meh meh meh!" mocked Coffee in a whiny, singsong voice. "Let's throw it into the river then. I hear that some, like, crabs or something like to live in bottles and cans. You'll be doing them a favor. And here, smell it! It smells like gum!"

I waved away the bottle and its strong cinnamon odor. "How about you throw it in the trash can instead, and I'll let you have another Snickers bar."

Coffee eyed me skeptically. "I think you're just trying to screw with me now. You and whatever protein deficiency is keeping you from being cool want me to shut up so you can keep all the goats to yourself. Ain't happening mister."

I promised Coffee a trip to the Waffle House when the tour was over, and he agreed, but only after I took a few photos of the Hot Damn! bottle. I had close to thirty seconds of silence in which to operate my camera.

"Holy shit! A giant sparrow! Where's that bottle?"

"That's an eagle!" I said, aiming the camera.

"Oh. Never mind then."

"That's our national bird," I explained.

"Unless it poops on those children, I really don't care. You should have brought some bottle rockets. You know what you should do? Eat your lens cap and then fall down."

"Why the hell would I want to do that?"

"Hilarity. Something to take everyone's mind off the total lack of goats in this place. Ask that hobo if we can climb down there and look for some."

I had to admit, Coffee's repeated suggestion that we leave the tour group and climb down into the gorge was starting to sound like a good idea. The sun was well above the horizon now, and it was starting to get hot.

"See? Shade. Cool, refreshing, goat-harboring shade," Coffee said soothingly, tossing a handful of pennies over the edge.

"Okayokayokayokay! We'll climb down. We'll probably break our legs, but we'll climb down."

"Oh, don't be such a hamster. You'll heal up. Hey! A sand salamander!"

"That's a stick."

"You know what your problem is? No imagination at all. And no imagination means a whole backpack full of no fun. That's what you are. Six water bottles full to the brim of liquid dull, and a packet of crackers with lame between them."

"Oh man. Glad you mentioned that. We got our water bottles?"

"Sure do!"

He said that a little too quickly. I decided to check for myself.

"Whoa, hold on! What're you up to, Captain Killjoy?"

"I'm checking our water bot--"

"So...that's like a mechanical man made of water is it? See! You're making progress on that imagination thing already."

I turned the backpack over and dumped out our six bottles. All of them except one were full of gravel.

"Why," I asked in a measured tone, "are our water bottles full of rocks?"

"Not rocks!" screeched Coffee. "Ammo! Man. I must be giving you too much credit. You saw all those kids back there, right? And what did YOU bring to throw at them? Nothing."

"We're going back to the group."

"Yeah. And let all the goats get away."

"Yes. And give me that band saw. I don't even want to know what you were planning on doing with that."

"I'll tell you if we can go to the Waffle House right now, and skip the rest of this boring skunkless tour."

"Deal," I said.