Friday, December 3, 2010

How to Flip a Coin

Before we all of us begin, make sure you are in a well-ventilated area with no sharp corners or small children; both are likely to poke you in the groin and make you angry. Turn on all the lights and put on some soft jazz. No, we take that back. Turn that crap off.

Supplies Needed:
  • One (1) coin minted from the US treasury. It should ideally be legal tender for all debts public and private. If it comes from an amusement park, results cannot be guaranteed as those coins have not been fully tested in a wind-tunnel environment. If the coin you are planning on using has a picture of a Disney character on it, go fill your bathtub up with ice cubes and pointy engine parts and sit in it until you're less of a weenie.
  • One (1) fully functional human hand. This hand should be one you personally own and are familiar with. This procedure really only utilizes the thumb and index finger, so a hand with only these two digits will work in a pinch. (Ha! See what we did there?)
  • A motor cortex in good working order. Yours isn't. If you can't type out your disagreement with that statement, I'm right.
We're ready to begin! Take the coin out of your pocket, and--what do you mean it's not in your pocket? Where'd you put it? We're not responsible for misplaced coins. It's not our job to keep track of... Okay, we'll wait here until you go get another coin.

What a moron.

Hmm? Nothing. We were just humming a little.

Okay! We see you have inexplicably fetched a pair of Allen wrenches. Very intriguing, but those won't work. Hold on! You stay right there. Here. Use one of our coins. It's a penny.

You the Allen wrenches out of your mouth. Just give them here.

Take the penny out of your mouth too. That's okay. You can keep it. It's our gift to you.

Hold out your hand like this, with your thumb vertical and your index finger horizontal, like a pretend gun. The two of them will form an L shape--where are you going? Pretend gun. It's not a real gun. It's just our hand! Come back.

Okay, now curl your index finger, so that it's pointing back at your palm. It will form a sort of horseshoe shape. Tuck your thumb into that--

No, this entire procedure will take place within the confines of a single hand. Stop...stop pointing at your palm. Just put your left hand in your pocket. Good.

Tuck your thumb into and slightly underneath your curled index finger. When you are finished, it will look like your index finger has your thumb in a headlock. But do not panic! Your thumb will be fine. Your thumb can take care of itself.

Place the coin on top of your index finger just below your second knuckle so that it covers the edge of your thumbnail.

Yes, we can wait. You what? Lost it? But you just had it a second ago! Furthermore, it's impossible to lose your thumb like that. No! Not without a lot of screaming and bleeding!

You know what? Never mind.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Hardass Goes Skiing (Part 1)

"Well, where do you think they go? You don't seriously buy into that 'flying south' nonsense, do you?" The Hardass growled.

He growled this to his girlfriend, delivering the requisite eye contact in sharp, grudging little daggers hurled from the corners of his flint-gray eyes. His forward attention was focused on keeping the M1 Abrams tank off the road. In pandering to the dismayingly large and vocal pansy community, the city had plowed its roadways free of the day's impressive snowfall. This allowed them to become clogged with morons, so The Hardass avoided them altogether.

The Hardass never much cared for paved surfaces anyway. Or ducks.

"Of course they fly south! They don't all die when winter comes! That's terrible!" Chastity said, her face distorted by womanly anguish.

The Abrams flattened some road signs. "Nature is terrible," The Hardass said. "And I didn't say they ALL died, dammit. Next spring, when the smart ones are coming out of hibernation, look real close at one and then tell me that a duck would be able to walk all the way to Florida. There's no way they'd make it. They're too soft."

"They don't walk, silly. They fly," Chastity said, her face distorted by womanly respect for ducks.

"Have you ever seen one flying?" The Hardass grunted, bracing himself as the Abrams ramped up over a snowbank, taking a brief flight of its own. Trailing a festive ribbon of uprooted chain-link fence, it landed in a parking lot with a pavement-shattering boom.

Chastity picked herself up off the floor and crawled back into her seat. "Yes, I have," she said, her face distorted by womanly smugness.

"No, you haven't," The Hardass said, forestalling any further backsass and flawed optimistic nonsense. "We're here. Let's go conquer this bastard." He punched open the hatch.

Imagine, if you will, that our narrative camera zooms out, widening our field of vision by perhaps a factor of ten. Moving, say, to the point of view of a startled family who had been happily piling out of their minivan twenty yards away. Startled out of their mittens by a ground-shaking crash, they snapped 'round to find a tank--an honest-to-God military tank!--in the middle of the parking lot. It was tilted at a jaunty angle, half in and half out of its impact crater, a steady plume of black smoke issuing from one end.

Suddenly, on the tank's turret where there had an instant before been a circular steel hatch, there was only a fist. Glancing quickly up, one might just be able to see the hatch lid spinning skyward, like a flipped coin. The fist lowered itself back into the tank's interior, and in its place rose a woman. She stepped gingerly from the hand that was raising her, and then down to the ground.

Then, silence, while the woman waited, tapping her foot impatiently, hands on hips.

There was a bout of muffled profanity, a sound like a very big cork popping out of a very big bottle, and a giant man with craggy features and a disregard for all things soft and sweet (unless those things had breasts) launched himself from the mangled hole in the turret. He somersaulted in midair and came to rest face-first on the asphalt beside the woman.

Taking the permanent marker the woman offered him, the giant man signed his name next to the imprint his face had made in the asphalt, ate the marker, and the two of them walked into the ski lodge.

"Hello!" Chastity greeted the teenager behind the ski rental counter. He looked up in time to see The Hardass eat the little sliver bell on the counter. He frowned, reached into a bag full of bells and put a new one on the counter. The Hardass ate that one too.

"Tanner," said the teenager.

"Dave," said The Hardass.

Chastity looked surprised. "Have you been here before?" she asked The Hardass. He and Dave both said "yes" at the same time. "When?"

"Few months ago, we got a call about some possible illegal drug use goin' on at this joint. A pack of hippies was holed up in here, free-lovin' and smokin' the wuss weed, and I had to break 'em up."

"You put three of my friends in the hospital," snapped Dave.

The Hardass ate another bell.

"That's what I said. So now I come down here every once in a while to make sure the place ain't infested with hippies again, and I get the stink-eye from this little shit."

"Well!" said Chastity hurriedly. "Um, Dave, we'd like to rent two sets of skis and get a lift ticket, if you'd be so kind!"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


The room was big. The ceiling was way up there. It was pocked with reflector floods that filled the room with amorphous light. The walls were barren white with one incongruous strip of dark-stained walnut that circled it at waist height.

Waist height to most of the people the room was filled with.

At its front, on the beach of the sea of seated reporters, was a stage. On that stage was a podium, and behind that was a man. He spoke.

"What would a world with no energy shortages be like?" he asked, leaning forward, his intense eyes flashing, his brows raised.

"Impossible!" shouted someone in the crowd.

"Stupid!" shouted another.

Clearly taken aback, the man behind the podium straightened up and the fire in his eyes guttered. "Wait. What?"

A woman with her dark-stained walnut hair in a bun stood, a pen to her lips. "Well, it would be impossible," she said, wagging the pen in a little admonitory arc. "If that were possible, why hasn't anybody figured it out until now? It seems something that useful would have been discovered a long time ago."

The lights in the room got brighter.

"Plus, to have something like that is just dumb!" said a man in a black turtleneck. He stood and spread his arms. "If energy was all free and plentiful and clean, millions of people would lose their jobs! Clearly it is in everyone's best interest to keep things the way they are."

The hum of the air-handling system increased in pitch.

The man behind the podium smiled wryly. "But what happens when we can no longer keep things the way they are? Eventually we are going to run out of stuff to burn. What then?"

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," said the woman.

The overhead lights brightened to a white-hot glare. The leaves of the potted plants on the corners of the stage rustled in the breeze from vents in the ceiling.

The man behind the podium lifted his chin, allowing the breeze to ripple his hair. The intense light glinted on his glasses. "I'll just come right out with it then. My team and I have built a system that converts human stupidity into pure energy. It's this system that is powering everything in this room right now. As you can tell, it works. All that remains is large-scale production and deployment."

"It's cost-prohibitive!" said the man in the turtleneck.

All at once, the flood lights popped like flashbulbs and the room went dark. From overhead came a metallic shriek followed by a muffled sound like a handful of marbles in a blender, and the air fell still.

"See, I told you it wouldn't work," said the woman.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Suburban Wasteland

I like that title. I'm not sure why. And I'll bet it's been used before by trenchcoated teenagers with their nails painted black with permanent marker and all sorts of piercings they regret to describe the exquisite hatefulness that is being a doughy white kid living in comfort so comfortable it's painful.

Did any of that last sentence make sense to you? Yeah. Those kids are stupid, aren't they?

I'm outside, on the porch, with a Pepsi and a netbook. I am sitting in a pre-Enlightenment-era cast-iron bench that looks like it was designed to either impress old ladies or grill meat. Or both. It's the stupidest thing ever, and I wish I had some poots to defile it with.

The sun is out, and there are happy children scooting around on skateboards and bicycles and basically just being carefree and oblivious to their impending doom.

Well, I assume that their doom is impending. They may end up avoiding it altogether, and what a shame that would be.

But it's very pleasant, this porch-sitting. I just mowed the lawn and attacked some weeds, and that's where this little utopia kind of falls down for me.

See, I hate yard work. I don't mind pushing a mower--rather like it, in fact--but I can't stand the rest. There are old men on my block who devote entire DAYS to going out with a soft baby's hairbrush to individually polish blades of grass and who apparently make their own bark mulch from scratch out of cellulose they grew in culture in their basement laboratories.

I hate them. It makes me look lazy, and I've been trying to hide that.

Speaking of lazy, I have underground sprinkling, but I haven't turned it on all year. Just as well, since I don't know how to winterize the pipe, and it burst sometime last winter. There are seven valves I have to turn in the proper sequence to squeeze all the water out of the thing. I did it wrong, and now water shoots out of it in two different spots in a festive display of terrible design.

I picture the sprinkler man standing in the yard, staring at the side of the house, with one finger up his nose and the other darting off on its own to point at squirrels.

"Hurp!" he'd be saying. "I say we gits a pipe made outta copper foil and make it run out of the side of the house, durr, and up about three feet. Next, and for no reason whatsoever, we glue on a little horizontal bit just a-bristlin' with doodads! Hurr, after that, make it go back down four feet and disappear into the ground!"

"Why," his boss probably asked, "wouldn't you make it come out of the house and then go directly into the ground? Having all that exposed pipe with the thin walls is just begging for it to trap water and burst when the water freezes."

The sprinkler man got his way, of course. He probably made a very persuasive argument by pulling a catfish out of the front pocket of his bib overalls and waaaaaving it around. You just don't argue with a man like that.

The lawn was seeded years ago with rare and expensive Texan Wuss Grass, which turns brown, shrivels up and blows away under the following conditions: all of them. Sprinkling it doesn't help. My grandfather, (an old man whose lawn is museum-quality) says it's the pine trees sourin' up the dirt. I knew it. I knew those smug bastards were up to something.

The weeds, of course, have absolutely no trouble at all. If it were up to me, I would take out all the grass and put down some rocks. Maybe paint the rocks green to fool the near-sighted.

The house is situated on the corner where one street T-intersects mine. The driveway is split at the end, and empties out onto each street. Between the ends, in the angle formed there, there is a little miniature forest complete with oak trees that poop seedlings all year and, of course, big wads of weeds.

I went outside to glare at them. "Stupid weeds. I hate you. I hate you. You know what I'm going to do? No, not go back inside and not think about you. I'm done with that. I'm going to get some poison, and I'm going to put it in a spray bottle!"

At this point, the bigger weeds started laughing.

Speaking louder, I continued, "and then I'm going to come out and douse you with doom! And I don't care what Wikipedia says; I choose to believe that weeds can feel pain. Oh, just you wait!"

I stalked back inside and mixed up a bottle of weed murder. I put it in a bright orange bottle that once contained dollar-store spray cleaner. Then I went on the attack.

I wish I could call it a rampage. But it wasn't. It was the saddest thing you've ever seen.

A man in jeans and a T-shirt with what appeared to be a bottle of spray cleaner, stood in his driveway, stoically squirting weeds. The bottle made a soft "ffft" sound and some clear liquid pattered onto the laughing weeds. Then, nothing happened. A gentle breeze stirred the weeds, causing them to wave obscenely at the man.

An old lady happened by. "Cleanin' yer weeds?" she asked.

"Murdering...them!" the man said through gritted teeth.

"Aw, ain't that something!" she said. "Looks like ya got quite a crop growin' there."

"I need a flame thrower," muttered the man.

"Ffft," said the spray bottle.

I'll be keeping an eye on the weeds over the next few days to see if they die. If it works, I'll refill the bottle and attack the other side of my forest. What will probably happen, though, is the wind will blow some of the poison off the weeds and onto the lawn, killing it instantly. The weeds will become immune to the poison, mutate, and start feeding on birds.

And then, when all the songbirds disappear and the night is filled with the belching of my weeds, the neighbors really will start to complain.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hell's Fender

Have you ever read Dante's Inferno? You have? It doesn't matter; I'm going to explain it anyway. It's called "padding" and all the good writers do it.

Basically, this fellow named Dante is walking around in the woods, when some big carnivores start chasing him. Dante is not prepared for this sort of assault because evidently he is a big dopey white guy wearing flip-flops and a beer hat. So he starts barging sweatily through the underbrush in random directions and eventually trips and falls into a hole that leads to Hell.

Fortunately for Dante, the Roman poet Virgil is just sort of hanging out down there, smoking a cigarette and fooling around with a yo-yo, and Virgil knows his way around Hell.

Unfortunately for Dante, Virgil decides that as long as Dante's dropped by, he might as well show him around the place. So it's off on a guided tour of the Nine Circles of Hell!

We get to come along with Dante as he sees what Satan has in store for all the assholes on Earth. We learn that Hell is a surprisingly organized place, with multiple levels, each one dedicated to a particular class of asshole. Imagine it sort of like an inverted Devo hat, where all the really horrible people are way down at the bottom, and the foul-mouthed used car salesmen are nearer the top.

Only the worst of assholes live in the bottom of this hat.

The hierarchy observed by Dante seems a little arbitrary to me. For example, Betrayal is the Ninth Circle, the very bottom of our Devo hat. But Violence only makes it down to Circle Seven. So if you've ever promised a cold beer to a friend, and then said "ha! I drank it before you got here, sucker!" you're worse than a serial killer.

On second thought, maybe Hell's got it right after all. Carry on, Hell.

The First Circle, Limbo, is full of nice atheists who get a relatively pleasant place to live (it has a castle!) but occasionally get depressed because Limbo is basically just a shitty knock-off of the real heaven. They're not actively punished, but are forever reminded that they could have had a much nicer castle if only they hadn't been so stubborn. Presumably, there is bacon in Limbo, but it's not very good.

Beyond that, each Circle has its own eternal punishment regimen, tailored to its residents. The Second Circle, Lust, gives its tenants what-for by blowing their souls around in some wind. Take that, you indiscriminate fuckers! That'll teach you to leer at people's dirty, sinful bodies! To make matters worse, they're probably tormented by the fact that the eternal wind never blows anyone's skirt up.

What about the Betrayers? Oh, they get the worst of it. They're frozen, half-submerged in a lake of ice. And imprisoned in the middle of that lake is Satan himself, biting forever on the heads of the worst bastards the human race had yet produced. Shouldn't have lied about that beer, Mr. Iscariot. You brought this on yourself.

So it seems like Hell's got things pretty well taken care of, but I say there's always room for improvement. First of all; nine circles? It's such a...not-ten number! I suggest adding a new First Circle of Hell and promoting all the others. For that, we will need a new analogy. Toss out that Devo hat; we're using a lousy picture of my car's front wheel instead.

The Wheel of Hell

The layout is pretty similar to Dante's Nine, where the real assholes are wrapped around the lugnuts, getting shit on by two-ton hellpigeons, and the heretic scientists are hanging out in Limbo up on the tire. The O in "Dunlop" is like a hot tub, but the water's just a little too chlorine-y, and there's always one bubble jet that's broken.

I propose the new First Circle be located somewhere on the fender. Limbo will remain the nicest place on the Wheel of Hell, even though it is no longer the First Circle, because its occupants at least made an effort to be pleasant human beings. Their punishment is sort of self administered, because of their knowledge of their "mistake" and of a possible better outcome. Plus, they get to spin around with the rest of the Wheel, which is sort of like a sub-par carnival ride. Enjoyable, but kind of blah.

Off the Wheel entirely, we have folks who don't know anything, and never bothered to find out. These are the people who are annoying, but have no idea why. They are the ones who put the Confederate flag on their Silverados because they think it labels them individualists or free spirits or something. Here, next to the sparrow poo and the splattered moths you will find the people who ask "why're you so quiet?" when you don't talk to them at work. They stand in the middle of the aisle at the store and talk on their phone, waving their arms in dramatic gestures that their listener cannot see and which occasionally slap passers by and knock the bottles of shampoo out of their hands.

The Permanently Oblivious, the Overly Perfumed.

We join Virgil and Dante at the dark entrance to the Underworld, in this lost (and badly translated) chapter of Dante's Inferno. We are about to take a tour of Hell's Fender.

The (new) First Circle of Hell
Virgil led me into a big gray stone building with tall wooden doors. There were potted plants in the lobby, and those rubber floor mats with the little cone-shaped pointy bits that make your feet feel all squirrelly when you walk on them.

Here, I noticed that the people were poorly dressed, but that not all of them were wearing Dale Earnhardt T-shirts. Some had suits and ties, but the ties were knotted with a variety of haphazard tangles, and many walked with a hunched gait, as their ties were zipped into their pants. They looked perturbed about this, but had evidently resigned themselves to the inconvenience, the resolution to the problem presenting an even greater struggle in their eyes.

Most of them seemed incapable of closing their mouths. Their slack jaws, furrowed brows and firm handshakes marked these people as good-hearted but oblivious.

We walked past a brightly-lit room full of people sitting around a elliptical conference table and stopped in its doorway. Two women were talking loudly to each other in a corner, and I saw at least five men picking their noses. One man repeatedly leaned forward in his chair, knocked over his glass of water and stammered an apology while righting the glass and wiping ineffectually at the spill with his tie. Somehow, the glass was always full when he leaned forward to knock it over again.

"These people are trapped in an eternal meeting where none of them knows what is supposed to be under discussion," explained Virgil. I was about to ask that we move on, when a man stood up to speak. His stature was hunched forward uncomfortably because his tie was zipped into his fly.

"Now, uh, ladies and gentlemen, I, um, suppose we should, uh, probably--MMPH!"

As soon as the man had gotten to his feet, an enormous fat man had leaped out from behind the water cooler. This struck me as rather odd, as he was easily eight feet tall and six feet wide. He had dark red skin, like that of a bell pepper, horns, and was wearing a dirty tank top. He had crossed the room while the standing man was beginning his speech, and nobody noticed him. He'd sneaked up on the man from behind and stuffed the man's head into his armpit.

"Gwuh huh huh!" the fat red man said, making a rude noise with his armpit. He released the man and minced happily past me out the door, streaming an arrow-tipped tail in his wake.

"Goddammit! Who keeps doing that?" spluttered the standing man. The people around the conference table shrugged. The nose pickers picked on, and the water glass guy knocked it over again. As Virgil led me on, I saw another man stand and clear his throat. When we passed into the hallway, I heard him begin to speak.

"I just think we ought to--MMMPH!"

"Hee hee harpgh!"


As the fat man tiptoed at high speed down the hall behind us, I asked Virgil who he was.

"That is the form Satan takes at this level," he explained. "He's not so much an agent of one's eternal, insufferable damnation down here, but more like a really annoying Little League coach. He is always sweaty and his name is Hank. Come, I have more to show you."

The next room we came to was dimly lit with people sitting around numerous small, round tables. At the front of the room was a stage, picked out by a bright spotlight. On the stage stood a man in a Dale Earnhardt T-shirt. He was holding a microphone in one hand, and some 3x5 cards in the other.

"You know what they say about men with, um, big feet, am I right?" he said with forced enthusiasm.

"They need special socks?" called out a voice from the crowd.

"Big shoes!" said another.

"They like pasta! That's it, right? Pasta? It's pasta!" hooted a third.

"No!" the struggling comedian said, throwing his cards down in exasperation. "They say they have big dicks! Big dicks!"

"Did someone say Big Dick?" shouted someone from the back of the room. Suddenly, and with stunning speed, a big fat red guy thundered up to the stage and stuffed the comedian's head into his armpit.

"Bweh heh heh!" he chuckled sweatily, and sprinted from the room.


"In this room," whispered Virgil, leading me back out into the hallway, "everyone must take turns being a terrible comedian working a very stupid crowd. Naturally, Hank puts in his appearance as well."

"I thought he said his name was Dick."

"Satan says a lot of things," sighed Virgil.

"He sure gets around well for such an, um, rotund fellow," I said.

"Well, down here he is able to move at superhuman speeds, and none of the residents of this Circle are able to hear him coming. His clammy embrace is always a surprise because they are not allowed to identify their tormentor. In a permanent state of bewilderment, being visited by Hank in such a manner can be quite jarring."

"I bet. So what did they do to deserve such treatment?"

"In life, these people were told time and time again that their habits were annoying, but they never bothered to take heed. Many of them responded by scratching themselves and saying things like "come on! Lighten up!" They were all the stupid people who ever went through a 12-items-or-less checkout lane pushing two carts full of items with all the barcodes scratched off."

"I see. So they're doomed to a life of being eternally fed their own medicine?"

"Exactly. An eye for an eye, my friend. May the punishment fit the crime. Now, look upon this next room."

In the room we'd stopped in front of, I saw a single man at his kitchen table. He was shirtless and wearing a pair of boxer shorts. Spread out in front of him on the table was a newspaper crossword. The man frowned at the paper, picked up his glasses, and dropped them on the floor.

"Durg," he muttered. He picked up his glass of orange juice and drained the last half in a gulp. He got up, glass in hand, and walked to the refrigerator. As soon as he opened it, a big fat red guy jumped out and stuffed the newspaper man's head into his armpit.

"Doo hoo hoo!" Satan chuckled, prancing out of the room and down the hall.

"Goddammit!" said the newspaper man, darting a confused look around the room. "What the--?"

I had seen enough. Knowing that there were still another nine Circles to visit, I asked Virgil if we could move on. He obliged.

"Indeed. I think you'll probably like Limbo," he said, showing me out through another pair of tall wooden doors. "The people there are pretty interesting, but not for more than a few minutes."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Red Dead Redemp---HEY! Get back here!

Howdy, fellow video gamers!

What's that? You...oh. I see. Okay. I'm still gonna talk about it, though.

It all started with the purchase of a recently released video game that perhaps even you have heard of: Red Dead Redemption. The game, made by famous and infamous developer Rockstar Games, puts you into the digital boots of a digital man named John Marston.

I could go into the story, but I'm not. I'm also not going to talk about the gloriously free, open-ended gameplay and "sandbox" style level design that allows you to see a mountain in the distance, start running, and eventually (holy crap, it wasn't just a picture of a mountain!) climb it, but I'm not. I could even talk about all hookers and shooting and violence in the game. But I'm not. Because I'm sure all the paranoid parents with stupid kids have told you all about it.

I guess you can see which side of the fence I'm on when it comes to "mature" content in video games. I figure if you didn't bother teaching your kid the difference between real life and sweaty button-punching, then you deserve to have him turn out weird. If you forbid him to play a game and he gets a hold of it anyway and manages to play through it without you finding out, then he's outsmarted you. And you should be proud of him for that.

The videogame nerd sites had multiple orgasms about the game's depth and how "fully realized" the world is. Just chock fulla minor characters, this world, all dynamically generated on-the-fly, along with an entire ecosystem of animals! And all of this goes through a day-night cycle with dynamic weather!

Poppycock. I'll admit that the weather effects and lighting are pretty darn impressive. But except for the cutscenes, all the human characters in the game are animated like retarded marionettes. Occasionally you'll catch one moving in a somewhat realistic manner, but I guarantee that if you watch them long enough, you'll see all the corners Rockstar cut to keep the game under budget. When the physics system twitches, it's like the puppeteer sneezed, sending the marionette flailing around like a startled hamster.

Oh, and all the fantastic realism you see along the side of the road during your travels on horseback? Why, you'll actually believe you're in the Old West, on accounta all the Old Westy things you see happening out there! A fully-realized world with endless opportunity for interaction!

Spoiler alert! Here, "endless" means "four".

You'll see four things happening out on the plains: a lone man standing in the middle of nowhere shooting at birds, a lone man being shot at by two or three others, a lone man being chased by coyotes, or a lone sheriff who needs help recapturing escaped prisoners.


Why is that man just standing in the middle of the moonlit desert shooting at owls? Why the hell would he or anyone else be willing to pay you ten dollars if you can shoot four owls in 30 seconds? What did they ever do to him? That man just really hates birds, I guess. Maybe one of them touched his wife.

And the guy being attacked by coyotes? If you shoot them, he will be so grateful, he'll pay you five bucks for saving his ass. A little bit poorer but a whole lot wiser, the man will then happily wander off into the desert, where he will almost immediately be set upon by more coyotes. An attentive gunslinger could probably make a good living shadowing this particularly stupid and tasty individual.

I dunno. Maybe that is realistic? I wasn't around back then.

The gunfights also end with the survivor(s) wandering off into the desert to be attacked by coyotes. Probably because they didn't have any bullets left to shoot at the owls.

So it's not realistic.

But here's the thing: that's the best part. This is why I love this game! The main narrative be damned. The best part of this game is the unintentionally funny things that happen all the time when you see it bonking its head against the wall of finite technology resources.

Picture a dusty little town in the sun-drenched plains of New Mexico. Picture all the wooden buildings with their hanging gas lamps and horses hitched to the rails out front. There's the saloon with its bat-wing doors, the general store, the town doctor, the train station. It's late afternoon, and the shadows are stretched long over the hoof-pounded dust of the main street. Men lean against the walls of the saloon, under canopies, their faces shaded by their hats. The horses swat flies with their tails, their pointed ears swiveling. It's a peaceful evening in one of the hundreds of little towns in the Old West.

But wait! Here comes a crazy man! He leaps from the roof of the saloon and lands with a grunt in the middle of the road. He jumps to his feet and breaks into a run, moving from standstill to full-out sprint faster than humanly possible. He runs at breakneck pace into the side of a horse! Undeterred, the stranger continues to run, his arms flailing wildly, his legs pistoning up and down in a blur. But he is not making progress; just running as if the ground beneath him were made of ice with his face planted in the horse's flank.

"Good evening for it, mister," says the horse's rider. This inappropriate response seems to snap the furiously running man out of his reverie, for he immediately stops trying to force his body through the horse and stands there briefly. Then, as if remembering an important appointment, he punches the horse and runs off at full tilt, the rider's parting words hanging in the dust behind him: "Billy James once sawr a wolf th' size of a barn door, no foolin'!"

Blam! The strange man parts the bat-wing doors of the saloon with his face and makes a flying leap onto the bar top, scattering shot glasses and beer steins. The bar's patrons greet him with polite howdies. He responds by going into a crouch and punching air for a bit. Tiring of this, he jumps down and sprints around the room in mad circles, plowing into everyone. The unlucky townsfolk in his path seem to offer no resistance; as soon as the stranger's body comes into contact with them, their muscles all relax at once and they crumple to the wooden floor with indignant cries of "hey!" and "you'd better watch it, mister!" and "my outhouse gots sticks in it!".

Evidently not satisfied keeping his barging spree confined to one floor, the strange man heads upstairs. He is greeted there by the establishment's sultry escorts. "You lookin' for a good time, mister?" they inquire sweetly. The man responds by shoving them over the rail and onto the floor below! What a bastard. Obviously, this sociopath is dangerous. The ladies take defensive action by...calmly walking over to a post and leaning seductively against it. "You look like you could use a good rubdown, mister," one can be heard saying to a nearby man.

Infuriated by the womenfolk's total fearlessness, the stranger runs face-first into a locked door for ten seconds.

Cut to a shot of the saloon's outdoor balcony. Two women (probably twins) dressed in identical outfits rest languidly against the railing. One of them is smoking a cigarette. Suddenly, the doors in front of them burst open, and the strange man comes charging out at full speed. He hits the railing opposite the doors with his pelvis, taking the full brunt of the hit without flinching or toppling over.

"Howdy, mister, you look like--" one of the women starts to say before the crazy man shoves her down the stairs. The other woman continues smoking her cigarette until the man pushes her over the railing. She lands on her face, gets to her feet and stands there a full two seconds while her PowerPC-based brain decides what to do next. She settles on screaming and running off into the desert to be eaten by coyotes.

An entire streetful of people watch this little exchange without breaking stride. The stranger then jumps from the balcony, landing with an "ooomph!" that turns the screen red momentarily, and whistles for his horse. The horse, standing ten feet away from the West's laziest sociopath, trots over. The man mounts, and without saying a word, gallops off into the open desert. On his way, he purposely knocks down three people.

If we were to follow our strange new acquaintance, we would find him dismounting occasionally to kick armadillos, chase skunks and pick flowers. Happening upon farms also affords him the opportunity to kick goats and lasso pigs.

This is where we must leave him, because it gets pretty monotonous from here on out. The man is driven, evidently, by a powerful and insane urge to punt chickens and shove donkeys, and will not rest until he has kicked one of each species of animal in the game. He tackles this mission with steadfast resolve.

Oh, and I've been told that there are bears somewhere in the game. I can't wait to kick a bear.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The FooDaddy's Adventures in Pipe Land - Conclusion

I'm going come right out and spoil the surprise right now: I did manage to get my drain unclogged without calling a professional.

I figure I had better get that out of the way so my hordes of adoring fans can finally rest easy. No more lying awake at night wondering whether or not I had defeated the Mashed Menace. "Did he prevail?" you were no doubt asking your haggard reflection in the toaster at 3AM. "Did the pipe burst and coat his basement with goo? Wouldn't it be easier to butter the bread, then toast it?"

Since I'm pretty certain that answers from your toaster were not forthcoming, I will answer them for you. No. If you butter the bread first, it makes a huge mess. If you did get answers from your toaster, reading this blog is probably the last thing you should be doing if you value your mental health.

If you don't, why, read on then! When you're done, you and I should get some cardboard, make some signs and go yell stuff in public. I'll wear my tuxedo.

And what of the pipes? I'm pleased to report that after a trip to Wal-Mart and $11 later, water and assorted solids and semi-solids are once again trekking happily through them. I had to make the trip to the store, because I did not have the clogbusting equipment I needed here at the house. This isn't to say that I did not have any equipment at all. I did.

It's just that it sucked.

You may recall that I had decided to resort to chemical warfare after the miserable defeat of my twin plungers and Sink-Perched-Drain-TurboHumping (patent pending). Sadly, the half-bottle of dollar-store drain slime I half-heartedly tipped into the sink had no effect whatsoever on the diabolical potato flakes. All it did was add a bleachy smell and an "in case of skin contact, flush thoroughly with water for 5 minutes" to the festering bog of spudwater.

Instead of fixing the problem, I'd gone and made it stinky and poisonous. I also couldn't try plunging it again, because I had to open the window to let the bleach fumes out, and the neighbors might see me. I settled for swearing and stomping around the kitchen in an angry little circle.

Ah, but hope was not lost! There was always the basement. The basement of this house is full of ancient tools left behind by three generations of people I'm named after. Also, spiders.

Oh, I spoke too soon. Hope was indeed lost. The only thing I found was this misbegotten piece of equipment designed in the dark by vengeful elves with access to only 19th century metallurgy and bottomless buckets of mischief.

Have you ever opened the back of an old spring-driven pocketwatch? Have you ever then proceeded to drop it? The part that goes "twaaannng!" and sends a cloud of microscopic bits of brass raining down all around you is the mainspring. It is a ribbon of steel twisted into a reluctant coil that spends the rest of its miserable existence fighting to untwist itself. Harnessing this struggle is what powered your watch during its non-dropped phase of life. Freed, its years and years of pent-up hatred for you comes out in a catastrophic explosion of tiny gears and bits of glass.

Now imagine a coil fifty times the size of the one in your watch. Imagine that it has been rusting away in a basement for untold decades, getting shit on by spiders. Also imagine that it is inexplicably tipped with a little spring-loaded brass dildo.

Now imagine that I want to heap insult upon insult and stuff this thing into a pipe full of bleach-flavored potato gunk.

Needless to say, it did not end well. Thirty minutes of wrangling the wretched thing around the cramped space under my sink, fending off its attempts to lacerate my face and arms served only to splatter everything with unspeakableness and to fill me with a deep hatred of pocketwatches.

"Screw this noise," I said, casting the springsteel demon into a corner. I pointed at it. "Fuck that thing and everything that looks like it," I announced to the cats. "I'm going to have to break down and do what I'd been trying to avoid all day: put on pants."

I cleaned myself up and, fully pantsed, drove to Wal-Mart. I believe I have mentioned before my reasons for hating shopping. This had to be done, though, so I sucked it up and strode purposefully into the store.

Let's see now...I need plumby stuff. Bathroom stuff? That's gotta be close enough. Bathrooms are, like, 90 percent plumbing. Right?

I found myself staring at a veritable cliff-face of toilet seats. Thousands of them, stretching to the ceiling and yards to the left and right, in every color you can imagine. More colors than the screen on my laptop is capable of reproducing. Some of them were cushioned. Some of them had the logos of professional sports teams on them.

"Why would anyone want to crap on the Detroit Lions?" I asked the wall of seats. "Oh, yeah," I answered myself, rolling my eyes.

I moved on to a section labeled "Do It Yourself," which yielded results. I found a device called a "pipe auger" that looked like some sort of surgical tool designed by perverts for use on other perverts. It was a big funnel with a bunch of (electrical conduit?) coiled up inside and a corkscrewy bit of wire coming out the end. It had a handle mounted perpendicular to the funnel's pointy end, and a wingnut, and a sort of crank knob thing, and...

Yeah. Like that.

I picked the thing up by its knob and carried it at arms length to the checkout aisle. I threw it down on the belt and watched it glide up to the cashier.

"Did you find everything okay?" she asked, eyeing the device.

"God, I hope so," I said, wishing that she would hurry up and put that thing in a bag. It sort of scared me.

"What's so funny?" she asked, this time eyeing me.

"Those potatoes don't know what they're in for," I said. I pointed to the auger. "I'm going after them with that." I winked. "Fuck them," I added.

As I left, I saw the cashier carefully place the bills I'd paid her with into a plastic bag and then place the bag into a small cardboard box and then set that box on fire.

Once home, I placed my auger on the floor in front of the sink. I gathered a few towels and a pitcher of water and a crucifix and made sure my cellphone was charged up. Confident that I was fully prepared, I grabbed a bottle of beer out of the fridge. if I was going to do this right, I was going to need fortification.

Basically what I'm saying here is that my bottle of Michelob had a better idea of how to go about this project than I did, and that I would have to drink it if I wanted to absorb its precious, precious knowledge.

Holding the auger by its handle, I gave the crank on top an experimental twist. The bit of wire on the end turned lazily. Ah HA! So this was the part of my ultimate weapon that was going to claw its way though the clog! This fearsome, chrome-steel...tiny...bit...of...corkscrewy wire on the end of a cable that rotated in a slow-motion ballet of flaccid unremarkability no matter how fast I hauled away at the crank.


I dunked the corkscrew into the pipeful of goo. Then I loosened the setscrew on the end of the auger and fed in some more of the auger's cable. I tightened it back up again, and tried the crank.

A noise like a chipmunk trying to claw its way out of a bowl of pancake batter drifted out of the pipe. This was followed by the situation displaying a stunning reluctance to improve.

The next twenty-five minutes or so was pretty much a repetition of this. I shoved more of the cable down the pipe until I encountered resistance and cranked away until my arms hurt. Shove. Crank. Repeat. Shove, swear, crank. Swear. Pull some cable out. Marvel at how much gunk was stuck to it. Swear at gunk. Take off pants. Swear at pipe.

Toward the end, the situation had degenerated into this scene: a pantsless man, covered in splattery bits of mashed potatoes furiously stabbing a pipe with a cable and yelling insane threats into the end of it. "Don't make me come down there! God help me, I'll use the gasoline if I have to!"

Finally, miraculously, the potatoes gave way under the sheer brute force of my assault, and with a parting "blorrrrk," they shoved off downstream to trouble me no more.

I cheered. I poured pitcher after pitcher of water into the pipe, cheering each time the contents went down without impediment. I pulled out the nearly fifteen feet of the auger's cable I'd stuffed down the pipe and watched helplessly as wad after wad of gunk pattered onto the floor before I could catch it with a towel.

There was a lot of cleanup and the plumbing still had to be reassembled. Before I tackled that, though, I had to get something to eat.

A dish involving mashed potatoes.

I would eat them with the pointiest fork I could find.

I would eat them angrily and out of spite.

And I don't care what the restaurant people said, I wasn't going to wear pants while I did so.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The FooDaddy's Adventures in Pipe Land

No, not that kind of pipe. Or that one. Or...eeew. What's wrong with you people?

It's a plumbing mishap, you sickos. Or, rather, it turned into a plumbing mishap. It started out really really fun. But in order to pad this thing out and make a story about plumbing even remotely interesting, we're going to have to go back in time about eight years.

Wheeee! Wasn't that fun? Now, let's fast forward six years. We didn't need to go back eight. We just did that because we could. Wave a big middle finger at time-space and its stupid continuum.

When I moved into the house I'm in now, it was full of stuff left behind by its previous occupant, my grandmother. This meant that in addition to entire drawers full of unopened toothbrushes, lipsticks or hair curlers, there was enough food stashed around the place to feed a man with an undiscerning palate for years.

As a side note, I would just like to mention that my grandma was awesome. Sure, when I was little she scared me, but when I got older I learned to appreciate people who scare little kids. She also blamed my dad for any and all of his children's deficiencies, which was handy, since I am quite deficient and the last thing I need is to feel guilty about it.

But she was a homeowner and parent during World War II and the Vietnam war. Living through this taught her two things: never throw any food away because you never know when it might be rationed, and that her government was comprised of thousands of dopes galumphing around inside big marble buildings and making moron decisions.

Combine the two, and you get a government that may, without warning, start rationing nonsense food. Like Jell-O or cupcake sprinkles. Her strategy to out-maneuver the dopes was to stockpile these items so that when the inevitable rationing reared its crosseyed head, she'd be ready.

This is what I found when I moved into the house after my grandmother decided that she'd had enough of her deficient grandkids and stupid leaders and went to hang out with Jesus instead; a house full of Jell-O and lipstick and sprinkles. If you want to find out what I did about it, you're going to have to get back into your time machine and fast forward to yesterday. Because it took me two years to finally get around to tossing this stuff out.

To be fair to myself, it wasn't just laziness. Part of it was an ingrained reluctance to throw out anything that might conceivably be useful to someone someday, maybe, possibly, on the offchance. "You kiddin'? This Jell-O still works! I ain't gonna just throw it away!"

Evidently, two years is my limit. If you didn't come to me with your five-pounds-of-ancient-Jell-O needs during that time--whoop! You had your chance. It's gone now.

It was kind of fun, this little cleaning spree I went on. It was equal parts archaeology, accidental cat punting and garbage disposal use. I would open a cabinet whose contents I'd been frowning at for two years, marvel at the 1980s-era packaging, accidentally kick a cat that had wandered over for a marvel of its own, and then dump the contents down the garbage disposal. If I haven't mentioned it before (I have) I love garbage disposals. They're the funnest holes in your house.

All was going smoothly down the drain (even the entire drum of Quaker Oats) until I got to the box of instant mashed potatoes. It was unique in being the only thing in the house (besides me) that was an affront to both God and nature. Potatoes don't come in a box. They come in a bag. A bag that you leave in a dark cupboard until the potatoes get all rooty and sprouty and creepy and then you stuff them, one by one, down the garbage disposal being very careful to not touch them with your skin.

Never in a box.

So after I wrestled the box of abominations out of Satan's grasp, I dumped the contents into the sink where they formed a deceptively innocent-looking heap. Like a child's sandbox filled with asbestos, they were trouble in jaunty clothing. I turned on the water and the disposal and began shoveling the demon flakes into the grindhole.

They waited until the last of their number disappeared down the drain before springing their trap. I heard them laugh, then the drain went "blorp," and stopped being a drain. Water started to pool in the sink, and the disposal's merry whir became a desperate growl. When the whole counter started to shudder, I powered the disposal down.

"Fuck," I said. Don't worry, I was by myself. I was also in my my boxer shorts. Which was awesome.

Repeated utterances of the fuckword did little to remove the diabolical potato flakes from the plumbing, so I fetched a plunger. I hate plungers. They linger in your bathroom, next to the toilet, signaling to guests that you are prone to problems in that area. Nothing says "um, why don't we have the party at YOUR house, Cloggy Flushmaster?" like a prominently visible plunger.

And you can't put them in your closet, because they might touch your towels. Ugh.

I brought the plunger to bear. All this did was amuse the potatoes and splash water all over the counter and floor. "It's like a water park up in this piece!" I could hear them yelling from way down in the pipes. "Like a wave pool!"

I needed more leverage and another plunger. You see, this is one of those double sinks with two drains that meet up downstream. You can plunge one drain all you want, and it's just going to make fart noises come out of the other one. That kind of thing is only amusing for about twenty minutes.

I took off my soggy, potato-scented shirt, and climbed, with a plunger in each hand, atop the counter. The light from an overhead reflector flood glistened on my chest, and I might have appeared for a moment like the god Zeus, astride mount Olympus. If Zeus was a pale, angry man waving two of the most retarded lightning bolts ever.

I prepared to cast down the lightning. Perched on the edge of the sink, bent at the knees and using my entire body as leverage, I basically plunge-humped my plumbing until absolutely nothing changed. The sludgy mess in the sink made the plungers slide all over the place and I could hear the potatoes laughing derisively the whole time.

Then I noticed that the window above the sink was open, and that anyone who happened by would see a sweaty man in his underwear standing on his counter and performing the world's plungiest and angriest rain dance.

I immediately abandoned this approach, and decided to escalate the fight with chemical warfare. be continued!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I've Been Away

Wow, it sure has been a while, hasn't it? If you can't hear me, that's okay. I kind of expect that my fans have all wandered off by now. I mean, I can't blame you. If there was a site whose material I loved, I'd only spend a month, maybe a month and a half tops, refreshing the page every hour before the lack of new content drove me to become depressed and jump out a window.

Fortunately for us both, your window is on the ground floor and all you've done is ruin a hapless bush. I apologize about the bush, and will see about helping you find a new one.

I have an excuse, though, the telling of which is littered with the brand of intrigue and lack of respect for my readers that you've come to expect from me.

It was late February, and I was in my office preparing to write another brilliant post. I figured I'd go with something involving pirates or maybe computers. Maybe tie it together with computer pirates. "Y'arr! Keygen ho, matey! T'will unlock me digital booty!"

Nothing was getting written if I didn't have a cup of coffee at hand, so I had to take care of that first. I spun my chair around, and came face to face with a stranger.

The honed machinery of instinct that millions of years of selection had painstakingly assembled in my body powered up and was online in milliseconds. Just as quickly, my brain bumbled in and leaned casually on the Emergency Shutdown switch, like the comic-relief fat guy who's always accidentally shutting things down in the movies. It sort of realized what it had done and stood there looking sheepish before dropping its sandwich and scampering sweatily off to resume tampering with my memories.

I was so stunned that I just kept spinning. I came face to face with him three more times before I stopped.

"Eep!" I said.

"You'll be wondering why I'm here," the stranger said. He peeled back the lapel of the white lab coat he was wearing to reveal a red nametag stuck to the sweater vest underneath. "Hello, my name is The Government" it read. "As you can see, I am with The Government."

I cleared my throat and regained my storied cool. "If this is about quartering troops, we've been through this before," I said.

"No, no, Mr. Daddy," the stranger said. He brushed some PCI cards off a chair and seated himself. "We've had our eye on you for some time now," he paused to stroke his beardless chin, "and we at NASA think you'd make an excellent candidate for our first manned trip to Mars. Arrangements have already been made, if you are interested in participating."

I was taken aback. No, more than that. My aback wasn't just taken, but wrenched forcefully from my grasp and driven at high speed through rush-hour traffic to be hastily disassembled in an abandoned warehouse and sold for parts on the black market.

"Really and for true?" I said lamely, wasting the buildup.

"For true," the man said, offering his hand. I shook it. "Excellent!" he said, nudging his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose before standing. "Follow me. We have a vehicle waiting."

Now, I don't know about you, but television and the movies have conditioned me to picture government officials driving around in shiny black Cadillac Escalades or other chunky vehicular monstrosities. The bigger, shinier, blacker and uglier the SUV, the more governmenty it looks.

This man had arrived in a red Focus hatchback. "Just throw those boxes in the back seat," he said, starting the engine.

"Snickers bars?"

"Not ordinary Snickers bars," the totally beardless man said, peering officiously over the top of his glasses. "Those are Space Snickers. In fact, the 'Snickers' is an acronym meaning 'Space Nutrients In Chocolate Knickers Enhanced for Rare Sorts'. They're only for our most valuable space cadets."

"Can I have one?"

"Oh, my, no," the agent laughed. "We're here."

We had parked behind a low brick building with a big plate-glass window out front. A pink sign above the window declared it to be a bakery.

"A bakery?"

The man leaned in close enough for me to see that he had absolutely no trace of a beard on his face. "It's just a front," he whispered. "It's actually a seeeeecret entrance."

I was definitely interested now. I loved secret entrances. "Is it? To what? To where? Can I go in?"

"Whoa! Easy there, buckaroo! One at a time." His brow wrinkled as if he were deep in thought, and he again stroked his luxuriant lack-of-beard. "To answer your first question; shut up. Follow me."

With one last, longing glance at the box of cutting-edge, government-issue Snickers bars, I shut the door of the Focus and followed the monstrously un-bearded man into the secret facility.

"Here. You'll need these," he said, handing me a pair of cardboard glasses. The "lenses" were rectangles of thin plastic. One was tinted red, the other blue. "Do not put them on until I tell you to. Go on in."

When I pushed the door open the tinkling of a small bell greeted my ears, and the smile of a matronly woman greeted my eyes. She was standing behind a glass counter full of doughnuts. "What can I get for you two?" she asked.

The man nudged me. "Okay, put the glasses on," he said, "but keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them. The only way to reach a target as distant as Mars is to launch at extremely high velocity. We accomplish this with a terawatt magnetic rail driver, and if some of that magnetism gets in your eyes, it itches like a sonofabitch. Those glasses can only block so much."

I complied. My world went dark, although I could hear the barren-chinned man order a dozen glazed doughnuts. I heard some rustling and then the clang and clatter of a cash register.

"Okay. We're on Mars," the man announced. "You can open your eyes."

I almost didn't. I'd never been on Mars before, and I wanted to savor it. I think I might have even been a little frightened. I was planning on using part of the travel time to sort of psych myself up for what was certainly a journey fraught with peril and the beardless unknown, but it was over so fast.

"Hey," said the man with the defoliated beard area. "I said you could open your eyes. Here. Hold these doughnuts."

I opened my eyes. The world before me shimmered with an unearthly purplish light. Objects appeared to have two edges, one gilded in red, the other in blue. They shifted in space when I forced my eyes to shift focus.

"Have a nice day!" said a voice. Startled, I whirled 'round to locate its source. A purplish matronly woman behind a purplish glass counter full of purplish doughnuts waved goodbye purplishly. I'm pretty sure my mouth dropped open, and I took a few steps backward.

A little bell dingled, and before I knew it, I was outside on the surface of an alien world, looking at a bizarrely alien Ford Focus. It was so different, but so oddly familiar.

"I thought Mars was supposed to be red," I said, surprised at how well my voice carried in the thin Martian atmosphere.

"Close one of your eyes," said the man without any discernible facial hair, unlocking the Focus.

I did. The landscape before me lost its strange double-edged appearance and turned blue.

"It's blue now," I said. "That's worse than before."

The man started his car. "Then close the other eye. Your door's unlocked."

I did. My field of vision went black.

"Shit! Now it's totally dark! What'd I do? Oh, fuck, I've doomed the mission!" I wailed.

"Jesus Christ. I meant close the other eye and re-open the first one. Get in the car, willya?"

I did as my beardless guide instructed. The scene reappeared, washed in a deep red. That was more like it! The Mars I'd read about in books and seen on TV since I was but a lad! Evidently, human society had put in a lot of very hard and very impressive work since the last time I'd taken in any Mars news. I could have sworn I was in an Earth neighborhood.

I seated myself in the Martian Focus, balancing the doughnuts on my lap. They seemed to weigh less, now that we were on a planet with only a third the gravity of Earth's.

"Where are we going now?" I asked the man, who hadn't the faintest beard about him. "Can we see that big canyon?"

"Tomorrow," he said, remaining beardless. "Let's get to the base. I'm sure you'll find the accommodations very accommodating."

He was right. We pulled into the driveway of a house shockingly similar to the one I had lived in back on Earth, except that it was all reddish. Very cool.

"Now," said the man, after we had seated ourselves at a space table and eaten a couple of our Earth doughnuts; doughnuts that had made a 60 million mile voyage that very few other doughnuts had, "I must make a confession."

He stood, and removed his beardlessness with a flourish, revealing a beard. "Ha! It's been me all along, boy!" said my dad, tossing his false un-beard onto the table in front of him. "Got that from Hong Kong. They must have accidentally packed it in with one of my flashlights. Hee."

I gasped. Unbelievable! How could I have missed it? It was right there in front of me the whole time! My father works for NASA!

"Wow!" I squealed, like one of those insufferable kids from 50s sitcoms. "How long have you been involved in the space program?"

Stunned silence.

"And how come you never brought home any space candy when I was little?"

"No, um, boy, I'm not involved in the space program. And you can take off those glasses now. This was all just a little prank," he said, slowly lowering himself back into his chair, as if he were an inflatable man with a slow leak.

"Ha, it's okay, you can tell me! I'm your son!" I said, winking with my open eye.

"Jesus Christ. Just eat your doughnuts."

Well, as you can imagine, that is why it has taken me so long to write a new Blog post. Adjusting to life on a new planet really takes it out of you. It's a good thing the Internet has made it to Mars too, or else I wouldn't have even been able to write this much.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

x86 Core Euthanasia

My computer is sort of like my pet. I buy nice things for it. I'm wary about how it will get along with the other computers, and I'm always excited to see what it can do after I install new parts. (The cats, by the way, love their new spider monkey tails. If you haven't made the plunge yet, it's totally worth it. If you've ever seen a cat running around with a can of soda clutched in its tail, you'll know what I mean.)

Unlike pets, however, if a computer part dies, there's usually a warranty. My current flock of USB ports weren't real wild about being hit with the arm-shaking jolt of static electricity I gathered from the cats, carpet and fuzzy office chair. They showed their displeasure by going on strike.

"Oh, we just can't have nice things," read the statement issued by the Motherboard, which represents the Amalgamated Union of Universal Serial Bus Ports.

So I did what any nerd would do when one of his under-warranty parts goes on the fritz: I bought some new, faster parts. In this case, I played the role of the evil industrialist, shaking his cane at the hordes of underpaid wage slaves waving signs outside one of his factories.

"To hell with all of you!" I shouted from the half-rolled-down window of my Bentley. "I'll replace you all with robots!"

Now, I'm afraid I've gone too far. You see, my new processor has the ability to "put individual cores to sleep." If they were defective or in pain, I could see a good argument for this, but according to Intel's spec sheet, these cores are perfectly operational! Never did harm to nobody, and Windows 7 is allowed to put them to sleep on a whim.

It may not be as bad as it sounds, because presumably these cores can be resuscitated. It does seem needlessly cruel to keep killing and reviving them over and over again, and I'm sure that my tacit approval will haunt me later.

It's just so fast, though! I'll just stop thinking about the poor little cores and their families, and maybe all the bad thoughts will go away.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Assault on Something or Other - Part 2

06:00 arrived right on time: at six o'clock in the morning. Cheddar Company awoke to an enthusiastic bugle call, which was followed almost immediately by some enthusiastic swearing, enthusiastic punching, and the enthusiastic eating of a bugle.

"I don't think Major General likes bugles much," said Randy Sourhill, rubbing the sleep and some frost from his eyes.

"Either that, or he likes them a lot. That's the fourth one he's eaten. Ol' Chester just keeps making more, though. Think maybe there's something wrong with that guy?" said Jake Toboggan.

"Definitely. Normal people don't eat that much brass."

"No, I mean Chester."

Randy buckled on his fanny pack of .30 caliber shells. "Oh? Well, yeah. That guy's a moron. He's the one who keeps trying to talk to the Germans while they're shooting at us. Stupid hippie."

"You know, we could probably shorten this war if we just understood each other better," said a voice from outside the tent. Chester's silhouette, distorted by the angle of the early morning sun, painted a streak of disapproval up the wall of green canvas.

"You don't even know German," said Jake.

The silhouette put its hands on its hips. "I don't need to. Love is a universal language."

"Judging by all the bullet holes in your natural fibers, I'd say Jerry's been speakin' to you in the language of lead."

Chester did not have a chance to respond to this witty rejoinder, however. A larger, angrier silhouette appeared on the tent wall and booted him offscreen.

"You two ass sandwiches better quit watchin' tent movies and get your balls in gear, dammit!" Major General Whack Buffalo thundered. "Fuck!" he added.


Cheddar Company stood in the snow in a semicircle around the Major General. He had a map in one hand and a bazooka in the other, and was furiously slamming them together.

"This is what we'll do to that place until we find every fucking ammo drop and Nazi sympathizer in the town of Somethinggrad! We'll stomp the damn out of it! We'll chew it up and," he stuffed the map into his mouth, chewed and swallowed, "we'll wait two to four hours and crap it into a fucking bush!"

"Hell yeah!" cheered Cheddar Company, with the exception of Chester. He was too busy drawing a picture of a swastika and a peace sign shaking hands.

"Sir? How are we going to find the town? That was our only map," said an unnamed private who was just begging to be punched. The Major General punched him. Then he angrily tore off his hat and twisted it into a baguette of felt and brass and held it up to the side of his head.

"Major General Whack Buffalo here. What the fuck, over?" He stood in silence, turning red. A little circle of bare ground appeared around him, steaming, as the snow melted. "Roger! Wilco! Goddammit! Over!" he shouted into his hat, before unrolling it and mashing it back onto his head.

"Control says the town of Somethinggrad is that way!" he bellowed, pointing to a town on the horizon. "Form up, you bunch of worthless hippo-lickers!"

The company packed up their gear and formed up. Single file, they stood with their packs on and their rifles hoisted smartly over their shoulders. Major General Buffalo strolled along the line, punching the soldiers he didn't like, which was all of them. When he came to Pvt. Jake Toboggan, he stopped and glared. The intensity of the General's hatred set fire to a small package of cashews in the private's breast pocket.

"Where the crunchy fuck is your rifle, soldier?" the General spat.

"I broke it, sir!" Jake shouted back, eyes front, back straight, cashew fire crackling merrily.

"And just how in the name of Hitler's damned elbows did you manage to do that?" the General said, in a dangerously quiet tone.

"I was melee attacking a tree, sir!"

"It'd be a waste of time for me to kill you now, since Jerry will do it for me soon enough," the Major General said. "March, fuckers!"

Cheddar Company marched. Overhead, the featureless gray sky was bruised here and there with clouds that portended snow. The tundra under their boots gave way to slushy roads as the boys entered the bombed-out rubble on the outskirts of Somethinggrad.

"Man, this looks bad," said Randy Sourhill. "Jerry could be anywhere in this mess." He looked over his shoulder at his best friend Jake. "So, you don't have a gun? None at all?"

"Nope!" Jake grinned. A blackened patch on his chest was still smoldering. "It's no big deal. I'll just kill a Nazi and take his."

"And how do you plan on doing that without a gun?"

Jake's grin melted. "Oh. Damn." He patted his pants pockets and searched through the pouches on his pack. He opened his mess kit. "I've got a spork," he said weakly. "Hey, did you hear that?"

"I dunno," said Randy. "What'd it sound like?"

"Sort of a 'thoomp' noise. Kinda like someone shaking a wet potato out the end of a pipe. And now something's whistling. You don't hear that?"

A two-story house on the other side of the road suddenly exploded in a maelstrom of fire and splintered wood. The gut-wrenching boom it made was followed by two more thoomp noises.

"Mortars! Cover your dicks boys, we're under fire!" shouted the Major General. He threw himself over a short stone wall and into what was once the basement of a house. Most of Cheddar Company followed him before the two mortar shells exploded behind them. One of them cratered the lawn in front of a barn, sending up a tsunami of soil and pebbles. The other hit the barn dead center, punching through the roof before exploding. The whole building looked briefly like a Fourth of July firecracker as flames burst from the top in a concentrated blast before the walls levered outward, still mostly intact, like a roofless house of cards.

For the men huddled in the basement, day quickly turned to a dusty twilight as one of the barn walls toppled over on top of them. It landed with a crash, sealing off the top of the square space, trapping them inside. Debris pattered down all around, pinging off the hulks of burned cars and the flak helmets of the only two soldiers who hadn't made it to basement safety.

Jake and Randy squinted through the haze. "This went downhill fast. Think we can make it to that church without getting bombed?" Jake shouted. be continued!

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Survival Horror Genre

The plot of The Book of Eli in one long sentence:

After some sort of nuclear Holocaust and human society collapses, our hero Eli (who was told to take the last remaining King James Bible "west" by a voice he heard in his head) treks across the wasteland mostly on foot, defending himself with guns and a sword against cannibals and petty warlords to end up reciting the whole Bible (which he had memorized from his Braille copy that eventually falls into the warlord's hands) to a small group of intellectual people holed up in Alcatraz prison.

The plot of The Book of Eli in one short sentence:

If nuclear war wipes out most of humankind, the remaining people will be dirty and angry and won't bother fixing anything.

It pains me to say this, but the movie wasn't all that great. The critics concur. But you know what? I have a soft spot in my (head?) for this genre, and I'm willing to overlook quite a bit of nonsense in exchange for some shots of ruined cities and streets choked with derelict automobiles and cobwebby old houses with peeling paint.

(Because apparently nuclear fallout doesn't kill cobs.)

And there are a lot of things to overlook! For example, when society does collapse in these stories, people just accept it. "Collapse, you say? The zombies are nigh? Well, shit! Now I can go insane and push around a rusty shopping cart full of mannequin limbs like I've always wanted!"

Seriously? Nobody? I mean, you gotta figure on at least some looting after Armageddon, since there will probably be some assholes left. But I find it hard to believe that nobody would bother at least rebuilding the indoor plumbing.

Got it. Machinists, carpenters and literacy are particularly susceptible to nuclear bombs. Fine. I'll buy it. Let's just go look at some more burnt stuff, okay?

I think I like this genre so much because I think it's fun to imagine how I would survive in such a situation. Say I was the only survivor of some horrible plague, and everyone else turned into stabby, rapey zombies. Where would I sleep? What would I eat? Where would I brush my teeth and store my extra deodorant?

Because apocalypse or no, I don't want to be all stinky.

I figure the first thing I'd do is find myself a go-kart. I'd get one of the two-seaters, so I'd have room to carry all my shotguns around. Now, I'm sure you're wondering why I wouldn't go for something like a Hummer. I might have one of those on standby just in case, but the go-kart offers flexibility that a big vehicle does not. I could drive it indoors and I could maneuver it around or lift it over obstacles that would block a Hummer. Plus, I've always wanted to swipe one and take it off the track.

My base of operations would probably be a supermarket. Here in Michigan, we've got Meijer, but a CostCo would do just as well. Both of these places sell generators and extension cords, and have built-in gas stations. Bingo! Self-sufficiency right off the bat. The collapse of society and the constant zombie threat is no reason to put up with warm pop and no video games.

But a supermarket would be hard to keep warm in the winter, and it would be next to impossible to guard every wall against zombie incursion. So then what? What if I can't get my hands on a tank or a Brinks armored truck? A city bus, of course! Some cobbled-together armor, a couch and some extra fuel tanks, and you got yourself a mobile apartment. You could even run over zombies in it if you get bored.

Whoops. Better finish this up so I can leave the office.

Umm...ending ending ending....

And in conclusion, I would like to see more bombed-out landscapes and survival techniques in survival horror movies instead of being presented with a two-hour PSA about how being greedy will lead to my being eaten by zombies when the apocalypse comes.

The Moron Trains a New Employee

The Moron was sitting at his computer with a cup of horrible breakroom coffee in one hand and a chocolate wafer cookie in the other.

Needless to say, he was extremely pleased.

Because he was a Good Employee® who followed Proper Workplace Decorum, he had opted to manage his time wisely. To this end, he had created an Excel spreadsheet to help him research the different ways of consuming the cookie and coffee in tandem. Little bits of wafer and chocolate floated on the surface of the weak, oily Folgers, and the lonely cursor blinked in cell A1 of the barren grid onscreen.

Suddenly, inspiration struck! Knocking The Moron a full three feet eastward and causing him to accidentally eat his cookie, he found his head suddenly filled with ideas!

"It buuuuurns!" he cried, trying to claw the unwelcome invaders out of his head with his mouse.

"Are you okay?" his Supervisor asked, poking her head into his cubicle.

The Moron struggled to focus on his horrible coffee. He buried his face in the mug.

"Blughbubblrrrubbbble," he said, tiny spatters of coffee escaping the corners of his mouth.

The Supervisor stared.

The Moron put down his mug. "I think so. I had what I believe to be a species of headache, but it's gone now."

"It could have been an idea. They've been going around. Try thinking about musical ringtones or politics and they'll stay away. But I didn't come over here to dispense advice. I'm here because I need you to train a new employee."

The Moron climbed back into his chair and took a distinguished looking seat. "Anything to keep The Company operating like a machine with no squirrels in its parts. What's the new cog going to be doing?"

The Supervisor shifted nervously, but regained her composure quickly. "A job very nearly identical to your own. Ahem. His name is Clancy." She pushed a tall thin man wearing a bowler hat into the Moron's cubicle and left.

"Hi," said Clancy.

The Moron noted Clancy's hat, and allowed his brain unfiltered access to his mouth for two seconds. "I'm going to call you Duke Burpsworth, Lord of Snakes, if that's cool with you."

"That would be strange," said Clancy, pulling an extra chair into the cubicle and seating himself, "but I'm okay with it for the time being. So what do you do here at The Company?"

The Moron applied some Chest Puffing spray from an aerosol can and cleared his throat imperiously.

"I'm in charge of Excel," he said through the pompous fog. "I keep all the little squares filled with all the most interesting facts and figures. Would you like to hear one?"

Clancy nodded.

"Sixteen-point-three," the Moron said smugly

Clancy nodded again.

"Stunning, isn't it? I wrote that one just about ten minutes ago. It just came to me, right out of the blue. Wafer cookie?"


"I keep a big box of them in this drawer. There were a bunch of folders and stuff in there, but none of them looked important, so I gave them to a hobo. Hey! It's break time! I plan to leave the building and wander to locations unknown during the next ten minutes. Wanna come with?"

Clancy shook his head slowly. "Oh, no, I'll hang back here and get to know the rest of the staff. I can keep an eye on your key card and ID badge for you, though. That way you don't have to lug them around."

The Moron skipped happily out into the parking lot, freed of more burdens than he knew, and aimed himself at the nearest bakery.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Assault on Something or Other

The chatter of small arms fire was the sonic backdrop on which Major General Mack "Whack" Buffalo painted loud and offensive pictures with his gravelly voice.

"You ducktwats were supposed to secure the arms drop and what the fuck happened with that? Private Monkeyhole over here fuckin' shot at the parachute and the whole bitch'n'kaboodle came crashing the damn down! Crotchetty-bang! Bananas and grenades everywhere!"

Private Jake Toboggan timidly raised his hand. "We were able to recover most of the bananas before they fell into enemy hands, sir," he said.

Major Buffalo threw a file cabinet at him.

Fighting had been intense over the last week, as Cheddar Company worked its way slowly across the border and into Minnesota. The boys had partied hard the night they finally took the capital. The party turned sour when Command informed them that they were actually supposed to be meeting up with ground forces in Moscow. Evidently there had been a huge misunderstanding, and everybody was understandably angry about it. Especially the Minnesota state government.

After some hasty apologies and travel arrangements, Cheddar Company was huddled around a stove in a treehouse surrounded by a sea of snow and the howling winds of the northern Siberian wasteland.

Jake pushed the file cabinet off his chest and took his seat. "Like it's somehow MY fault the Nazis managed to hide Moscow," he muttered. "Probably using some of their creepy honky magic to foul our chambers and wrinkle our maps and stuff."

He addressed this complaint to Randy Sourhill, his best friend and the worst sniper the Allies had. Randy looked up from a pile of gun parts in his lap. "Come on, man. My father was a honky. You know it hurts me when you say things like that."

"I didn't mean nothin' by it. It just sorta slipped out, you know? Your dad was a good man. One of the good honkies."

The boys bumped fists.

"Is that your Springfield?" Jake nodded at Randy's pile of parts.

"Sure is," Randy said, gazing lovingly at the steel and wood and springs and levers of his faithful companion. "Jennifer's a good gun. Just needs a little adjusting before she stops chewing up casings and catching fire. Hand me that beeswax, willya? Thanks."

"Son, you need to get yourself a new one of those. That thing's half masking tape now," Jake said, watching as Randy rubbed wax into the dents in the Springfield's charred stock.

"Jennifer may be a little old, but she's my girl, and I ain't gonna trade her in for a younger model. That's not the way I roll. Could you get out of my light, man? I can't see what I'm doing."

The incandescent fury radiating from the red face of Major Buffalo began to melt Randy's beeswax. "What the hell is up with this stuff?" he said, shaking it next to his ear. "I think it's broken."

"Fresh-squeezed fuck patties, son! I'mma break your FACE in about seventeen and a half seconds if you don't shut your ass-neck and pay some barfing attention, DO YOU HEAR ME?" The Major General stomped back around to the other side of the stove. "Where the fuck was I? Oh, right. All of you! I hate aaaaaallll of you!" he pounded his fists on the stove's cast-iron top, punctuating each word with a clank and the sizzle of superheated loathing. "And furthermore, we're down to our last banana and grenade, and I'm going to personally eat them both. Goddammit, we roll out at oh-six-hundred, ladies!" be continued.