Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Paean to the Pain of Multitasking

Multitasking.

I loathe the very word with its self-important, mutlisyllabic tut-tutting of schoolmistress- or drill-sergeant-inspired legalism; with its hidden "tit" and its phony "asking" and its stern "ulti"matum and its usurping pretender "king." And I despise the word's very origins, which describe the functions of a computer's central processing unit, as if we and our brains were no more than CPUs dressed up in so much flesh and neural wiring. And most of all I detest the reality of multitasking.

Quite simply, I ain't built for it. Call it ADHD, genetics, impatience, zen, Luddite Syndrome, or Old School, but it drives me to distraction. (Well, by definition, multitasking thrives on distraction, doesn't it? That's the secret fun of its legion of admirers.)

E-mails, phone calls, oral requests, written demands on real paper, taps on the shoulder, cellphone messages, electrodes attached to the cerebral cortex. Sort it all out. Prioritize (another loathsome word; why not rank?) it all. Do it all now. Do it all at once. Do it all perfectly.

At work we are besieged, inundated, swamped by multiple tasks competing for our attention and action. It's almost enough to send me packing, out the door, strolling off with a secret smile. Job ads clamor for candidates who excel at multitasking, as if proficiency in this were a badge of valor, an iconic medal of honor for those bloodied but unbowed in the mercantile wars.

I suppose so-called multitasking (also termed "engaging in polychronistic activities") has its place (you sex fiends out there will suggest soixante-neuf). I suppose real battlegrounds, ICUs, and homes may be suitable venues for multitasking ("honey, can you hold on that orgasm while I text back my boss on those merger numbers?").

But multitasking (hyphenated or not) is not for me.

Besides, does the pitcher pitch and bat simultaneously? Does the quarterback throw and receive at the same time? Does the pilot take off and land concurrently? Can a president (ahem, this president) successfully think and talk simultaneously? Should a soloist perform ensemble?

I say, do one thing and do it right, rather than five things simultaneously and shittily.

But that's little ol' me. Alas, I recognize I am sadly out of step with the modern world. (Or still haven't recovered from vacation.)

That's why I like the Latin phrase I suggest as an antidote for this current rage:

Age quod agis --

which means, "Do what you are doing" (and presumably, not something else at the same time).

Now, back to work, folks!

Laugh. Or....
Else.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Impacted Wisdom

Count me among those who dislike using impact as a verb. I didn't say it couldn't be justified or defended on linguistic and historical grounds, as pointed out by The American Heritage Dictionary and others.

But I don't have to like such usage -- or use it.

And if I do use impact as a verb, I want it reserved for one of its most literal meanings, which I experienced yesterday as a passenger in a car.

"The car I was riding in was impacted by a pickup truck advancing upon us from the rear, which forced our car to collide with the car in front of us."

Yes, collided is a better verb. (But the collision, or, um, adverse impacted event, also known as an accident, hurts just as much or causes as much damage.)

Along with others, I don't like impact as a verb because it smacks of smug jargon. A more specific verb (affected, influenced, harmed, deteriorated, corrupted, failed...) would convey the real intended meaning. But maybe the users of impact as a verb are trying to obfuscate. (I think the current vogue use is owing to the jargon employed in environmental impact statements.)

Anyway.

No one got hurt in the accident. I thought I'd be sore today, but wasn't.

There but for the grace of God go I.

(Hmmm, as noted in the link above, Wikipedia gives an informative history of that phrase, crediting John Bradford.)

It wasn't a semitractor-trailer bearing down on us.

I am reminded of Emily Dickinson's sobering words:

Because I could not stop for Death He kindly stopped for me. . . .

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Postvacation Vacancy Syndrome

Warning (Achtung!):

I hereby declare sole copyright, ownership, and blogospheric citation privileges for the term Postvacation Vacancy Syndrome (PVS). PVS, often confused with jet lag, is characterized by the following symptoms (along with others that will be attached and codified hereunto vis-a-vis quid pro quo de minimis with the incorporation of your comments [and yours, too]):
  • The inability to formulate common words, phrases, or gesticulations native to one's native tongue or culture (such as it is).
  • The overwhelming urge to cease working (no matter the profession, vocation, or status) immediately and forever.
  • An obsessive and compulsive desire to consult tram, train, airplane, bus, or subway schedules.
  • Profusive sweating and rapid heartbeat brought on by: a) work tasks you were asked to complete in prevacation mode (but may not have completed and probably totally forgot), b) tasks newly revealed through multiple e-mails or voicemails greeting you upon arrival back at your "job," c) tasks requested in the minutes upon returning to your job -- and due immediately, d) any of the above, e) all of the above, or f) none of the above.
  • A lassitude and lethargy toward anything not involving sightseeing, journaling, picture-taking, or sitting in a cafe reading the International Herald Tribune, The New Yorker, or a local newspaper. (Speaking of The New Yorker, reading about a dodo bird expedition to Mauritius consumed much of my reading time on the return trip to Amerika. Entertaining and informative, but doesn't one really want sleep inducement in such a situation? [And don't criticize me for having the introductory phrase of the preceding sentence modify the wrong subject. After all, I am suffering from PVS.])
  • The persistent and recurring delusion that you can move to an exotic location (or mundane foreign location) and succeed financially, romantically, intellectually, artistically, and emotionally (perfectly).

Beware of PVS!

It lurks everywhere and masquerades as jet lag, exhaustion, immaturity, ADHD, midlife crisis, and angst.

Or else, embrace it fully and voluptuously.

Laugh. Or....

Else.

p.s. Sheeesh! After first posting this, I discovered that PVS also stands for "persistent vegetative state." Who knew?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Random(ly) House(d) Observations, Berliner Edition

Sometimes even I am amazed by my own recall. I just knew "Travel Is So Broadening" is the title of a work by the too-often-ignored Sinclair Lewis, but I had not read it in decades. I further recall this work (was it an essay or a short story? Sinclair Lewis experts are invited to chime in) was scathingly ironic, lampooning the small-mindedness of American provincials. It is an oft-repeated phrase, and it turns out travel typically broadens in ways we least expect it. So, here are some observations posted by a jet-lagged chronicler of the sundry and the not-quite-sun-dried (it was often cloudy and rainy in Berlin):
  • If you are at a crosswalk in Berlin and the light for pedestrians is red, you wait. You wait until it is green. You might even do this if it is 1:30 a.m. (0130 hours) and there are no cars, trams, or other people passing by.
  • Berlin is awash in, or littered by, or trashed by, or enlivened by graffiti. Take your pick as to how you describe it. The kindly and intelligent man who drove me in a taxi to Tegel airport attributed such wall writings to "the Americans." I doubt it. I'll take the blame for my countrymen for some of it, but there must be lots of copycats galore. Plus, I believe the Berlin Wall had graffiti on it almost from the start.
  • I have a balancing act going on in my brain. Berlin the orderly versus Berlin the anarchic. And maybe both elements need each other.
  • In Berlin there is no east or west. Isn't there an Easter hymn that goes something like that? (The link gives you a sample of the tune.)
  • At rush hour people do not rush nearly as madly as they do in New York; they barely rush at all. In fact, during my taxi from the airport to Friedrichschain I wanted to scream, "Step on it, mach shnell, fraulein!"
  • Smoking cigarettes is in, nearly everywhere. It didn't bother me nearly as much as I felt it might. I wanted to smoke a Cuban cigar. Never got around to it.
  • It was hard for me to measure the weight of history or how it was viewed by those around me. For example, when I related to the taxi driver how I remembered when the Wall when up, and how I was afraid, and thought it was World War III, he glibly said something like, "That's what the Russians said." Hmmm. He might've been my age. He said he had lived in Berlin since 1960, I recall; born maybe 100 meters north of Berlin. I do not know how to read these verbal tea leaves. I liked him and shook his hand with both my hands when I departed. Yes, I tipped him.
  • The unemployment rate there, he said, is 18%; my research supports him. It did not strike me as a depressed city economically but rather as a vibrant and creative hub.
  • The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is compelling: blocky, harsh, somber, engaging, textural. At first, I was alarmed and rather horrified to see young people (ostensibly tourists in their teens or twenties) playing what resembled a casual game of "hide and seek" among its gravestone-like pillars. Were they being disrespectful? My gut feeling was, yes. I was tempted to lecture them, but how, and exactly why? Besides, maybe they would've declared that their response demonstrated a triumph of life. (Most likely, they hadn't thought that far.) To be honest, I don't know what they thought or felt. It was not a place of total silence or solemnity, but it was an eerie refuge amidst an urban din. You were drawn to it. A dark sense of place is evoked.
  • Passing through the Brandenburg Gate was like passing through a time warp, though a Times Square atmosphere prevailed. It was cool.
  • On the plane, in the toilet, a sign said "Toilet Paper Only." Man, I had to keep my legs crossed for nine hours! That was rough. I guess I took that "following the rules" bit a bit too literally for my own good.
"Lost in Translation" was one of the movies for the flight back. Perfect.

Laugh. Or....
Else!

p.s. As the day ends, my search of a fellow blogger's site summons me to find the luminous amidst the gore on this feast day of John the Baptist.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Smootheest Mystery

The Scene: Smoothees, a minimalist, white-walled place with 'fresh and healthy asian fusion food,' in the Prenzlauer Berg section of Berlin, on Kastanienalle (nunber 100 if you must know). Soothing female voices with minimal instrumentation as background music. Blond wood woodblocks to sit on at wooden tables. The menu whiteboard in back of the counter is mostly in English. 'smoothees your vitamin dealer' [all lowercase]. 'Create your menu!' Main + sauce + veggy [their spelling] + side. The short, kinky-haired, brown-eyed young lady at the counter speaks very little English, despite all this English, including menu items in English, such as teas (I order black tea but have to say 'schwarz tee'; my daughter orders the same with some milk and cinnamon (orders in broken Deutsch) but it comes out later looking more like a frappe [but I am getting ahead of the story]) and homemade brownie, those are the words, in English, and which I order. All this is right after a raucously wonderful time at the excellent Babel restaurant, a Middle Eastern place (meal for two with drinks, 12.90 euros), where we riotously conversed with Jim and Renee, Americans with whom I erupted into conversation with based upon correctly identifying a New Yawk accent (they are fresh here from Prague since November and their friend and colleague Dario (originally from Venezuela but fresh from Prague and en route to London tomorrow). (I had my first Turkish [Arabische] there; it wired me up; the man behind the counter nearly scolded me when I asked about milk; so no milk, but a dash of Kierkegaard.)

The Mystery: At the table in back of E. and me, as we first arrive, are a man and a woman. The man, handsome and professorial, is perhaps my age, late-50s-ish, to my eyes, all gray-haired, gangly, a face not unlike john Le Carre's, a courtly voice, a blue cardigan (was it blue? was it dark or light?). He is almost huddled with a woman quite a few years his junior, also attractive, blonde, stylishly dressed, silk scarf, gold earrings, red lipstick. Their conversation appears to be intimate, though dominated, in a solicitous sort of way, by the man. Off to the side a tall young man with a porkpie hat turned backwards is lying down in a bedlike area with candles, reading a magazine. Without warning or provocation, he gets up, tosses the magazine, and joins the man and woman at their wooden table. E. and I are intriqued. Who is who? The mystery begins to consume our conversation. Oh. Somewhere out of the blue (out of the fecking white walls?) another young man has appeared, and he sits facing the woman -- all of them have their backs to me, but E. can see them to observe. They begin to consume us, delightfully, in our conversation.

Where did Young Man Opposite Youngish Woman come from? When did he come in? What is thte relationship between Mr. Professorish and Youngish Woman? I assumed husband and wife at first, but the intimacies became shrouded. Her eyes were intent on Mr. P and on Young Man Opposite.

E. was studying them intently and reporting back to me, in increasingly hushed tones for fear they might be on to us: body language, cues, posture, emotional weather. I sneaked a look behind me when I could or upon going to or returning to the bathroom. E. posited that the two young men and the woman were all siblings. Hmmmm. I still held to husband and wife for Mr. P and her, because she sat angled toward him slightly while facing the two younger men; the two younger men were now directly opposite Mr. P and Youngish Woman. I objected to the sibling concept on the grounds I saw no rivalry betwen the woman and the two young men. At one point, Young Man With Cap got up, waved, left, and then returned. No conspiratorial caresses betrayed amorousness between Mr. P and Her.

I compared this to some sort of Beckett play.

Who was who? Why did we care? Why could we not sift it out? Why did we want to so much?

And were they thinking the same of us?!

The teas were in large glasses, very hot. E. did not care for hers. We switched. Then switched back. The 'homemade brownie' was not what I expected (not fudgelike and chewy as in Amerika), but excellent. Sprinkled with coconut and a slight trail of honey. Very good but somehow not oversweet. E. knew enough German to know that they were out of vanilla ice cream and Cute Kinky Hair kindly apologized to us, or so I was told.

Seven euros.

For an after-dinner dessert.

And a mystery theater.

Tschuss.

P.S. And, Dafathsdays, the ghost of Rudolf Hess was spotted yesterday among the tomblike, blocky mini-city of the Memorial to Europe's Jews, rattling in his rusty chains.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Ich bin tired Berliner

Something like 1.5 hrs sleep in the last 36 hrs, und so:

graffiti, Brandenburg gate, memorial to Europe's Jews, S-bahn, U-bahn, BLT mit chicken @ Einsteins, St Hedwig Kathedral, Unter den Linden, smoking in public places, Potsdamer Platz, sirens that go deeeee-doooo deee-doooooo rhythmically, portions of the Wall, slower pace than New York City, rain, sun, rain, wind, the Reichstag, Staatsoper Ballett, Miro, the bibliotheque, the Berliner Dom, Alexanderplatz, honor system.

G'night.

Sleep. Or....

Die.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Listing Listfully and Listlessly

My life is cluttered, and lists are part of the clutter. Lists reside on tiny pieces of paper that I carry in my pockets, with the left side used more than the right. Lists abound on my desk on sticky Post-its of neon colors. I have even taken lately to drawing up a list at the start of the workday. It's an exhaustive list inventorying all the anticipated tasks of the day: responses to calls, e-mails, queries, comments, asides, requests, deadlines, and stated or implicit demands of disparate pieces of paper on my glass desk, a desk as transparent as my orderly attempts to rein in my rampant disorder. (I am ending this paragraph right here in homage to Lenny Cohen.)

Then I numerically rank each task, perhaps stopping at ten. Then I cross off each completed task.

This list-ordered tasking seems to settle me down and focus my efforts. It works until intrusions of yet other tasks.

Or does it work at all? And will it last?

List last.

Last list.

Lost lust.

Lust lost list last.

List lost lust last.

I just love the lilt of those four words.

Et cetera. Inter alia. Age quod agis.

Where was I?

If am without lists, does that make me listless?

Or do the lists themselves make me listless, tricking me into thinking listing equals doing?

In consulting my Oxford English Dictionary, or OED, I am thrilled to find the deep and criss-crossed layers of listing and its variants and associated forms. (Yes, such a finding thrills me, and I make no apologies for it.) The word list offers a rich playground for any list maker.

(But I will be brief. I need to pack for Berlin -- and alas I have for now successfully avoided lapsing into all kinds of blatant Wall metaphors, analogies, and paradigms.)

My OED tells me that list in some associated form or other (to say nothing of Franz Liszt!) refers to:

hearing,
the ear,
a border,
a hem (as in [ahem!] a silken piece of ooh-la-la! cloth you know where),
an earlobe,
part of a head of hair, such as a beard,
a scar,
a ring around the foot of a column,
a place of combat,
a staked enclosure (plural = the starting point of a race),
joy,
delight,
appetite,
craving,
lust (you knew it would come to that),
the careening of a ship (such as the ship of state embarking on certain courses of action),
a roll or catalog of words (such as This parade of nouns),
to please,
to care for,
to listen (I've barely begun to touch the verb forms)


insert ellipsis points here

This is just for starters. (Does that make it UNjust for finishers? hahahar!)

The list goes on.

Or could,

But I am getting listless.

Laugh. Or....

Else.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Door

I've heard it said "when one door closes, another opens." But what happens when one door closes, then opens, and then remains open? Such was my experience this morning. It was very cold, just a little bit above zero degrees Fahrenheit (a German word, if ever there was one; isn't their word for zero "null"? I'm boning up on meine Deutsch in preparation for my odyssey to Berlin, on Friday). This morning was crisply frigid with the sound of crunchy snow under my feet. Invigorating and lustrous. An incandescent beauty greeted me as I looked down from Tipperary Hill onto gleaming wood-frame houses, many -- like ours -- more than one hundred years old. White smoke rising straight up (as if the whole community were announcing "habemas papam") against a cerulean sky. A scene that could be more poetically and mystically described by The Secretary of Dawns. I brushed a veneer of snow off my car, holding my gloves in my hand (if I can remember back that far). (Why do I do that with my gloves? Is it laziness, impatience, or self-destructiveness?) I placed the key in the car door. It is not a car door that can be unlocked or locked electronically. The 1999 Ford Contour (listed on the registration as green but it strikes me as more olive-tan) is not paid off (technically, yes, but it was paid by borrowing money at a cheaper interest rate than the original loan), and sports very retro manually locking (or unlocking) doors. I turned the key right, left, then right again, then left, encountering frozen resistance, which I expected, since the lock had recently been sticking, largely owing, I felt, to the moist weather followed by sudden temperature plunges. Happily the door opened. (In that preceding use of the adverb happily, does it refer to the door or the act of opening? Well, if it is truly functioning as an adverb, it must refer to the verb opened. Admittedly, it is an adverb that squintingly tries to modify the whole sentence -- as does the word admittedly in this sentence.) But the door did not close. More accurately, it did not stay closed. (This was not a shock; the same thing happened earlier in the week.) I slammed it, figuring that a jarring thrust might do the trick, dislodging ice or frigidity, as if the door were an illuminating and glistening sexual metaphor. No luck. I lustily slammed it several times, and still the door would not latch closed. I sprayed WD-40 onto the keyhole, onto the door's locking mechanism, and onto the latch on the frame of the car. You might say I sprayed both the male and female lock components. I even sprayed the manual lock lever on the inside of the driver's (moi) car door, leaving an oily smell, but not nearly as much as I had expected, perhaps because of the cold. All the while, the car was running, defrosters going. I felt that perhaps the environmentally suspect act of warming up the car might generate a cumulative de-icing effect (I have a small de-icer spray device, but I didn't bother; it didn't work the other day). I even tried closing the door tenderly and gently, as if treating it thusly would coax it to surrender romantically into its rightful niche in the universe. No deal. I tried to lift the door up while closing it, imagining it may have been misaligned (as opposed to maligned, hence the slamming). Time was ticking away. I was already late for work (typical). The morning was still beautiful. Lambent. I pictured neighbors (neighbors are very close by; even a driveway is a treat; the house of our down-the-hill neighbors, renters, is maybe five feet from our house, a proximity that bestows upon one and all the obligation to refrain from loud arguments or boisterous carnality, especially in summer). After a few more futile slams of the door, I decided to drive to work. As is. After all, I had managed to drive my youngster to school like this the other day, and the situation ultimately cleared itself up after I arrived at the school. The drive to work is under three miles. It went well, if comically. Oh. Let me point out that I drive a standard shift. So, picture The Laughorist, true to his appellation, driving the car, shifting gears, and holding fast the door with his left hand (I am left-handed), and perhaps managing a self-effacing smile garnished with my new DKNY Euro-style hip frames and newly acquired (last night) progressive lenses. I refrained from listening to the Bob Dylan Modern Times CD because I did not want any distractions. Right turns were especially problematic. Physics dictated that a right turn hurled the door orbiting outward. I got a little tired out before even entering the hallowed temple of Labor. But I got there. And not too grouchily or miserably. I didn't especially feel as if This Is Happening To Me, Poor Me. (Okay, a little bit.) I call this grace. (For the record, a car repair place near work fixed it for thirty-eight dollars and change; cleaning, greasing, etc. They had to open the door up. We'll see. No guarantee it might not happen again.) The whole episode strikes me as a scene out of Haruki Murakami. What lessons can I draw about my encounter with the door? What have I learned, and what greater metaphor applies? What did my friend the door teach me, just for today?

One door opens, with difficulty, then stubbornly stays open, then (with help) closes. One driver smiles. What is the sound of one hand holding the door?

Laugh. Or....

Else.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Serial (Comma) Celebrity

Who would think a remark or two about the serial comma would elicit so much comma, comma commotion (sounds like the chorus of a Del Shannon or Boy George song)?

It turns out my post last week on this topic ventured headlong into one of the more contentious battlegrounds of the cultured wars. (Notice, I didn't say "grammar wars"; it really has to do with style and whether you adhere to a particular style, or solipsistically and sloppily ignore it. That was one of my key points.)

I installed a web counter for the first time last week, more out of curiosity than vanity (liar!). I discovered that James Wolcott of Vanity Fair and Emily Gordon of The New Yorker Between the Lines, also known Emdashes, made passing references to my serial comma post. Yikes! Well, Ms. Gordon did more than that. She said, "The continued existence of people like this is literally what makes me go on living."

Gulp.

You're welcome, Emily.

[Disclaimer: Neither The Laughorist, nor any of his dependents, codependents, or heirs, or accomplices, have or has [wasn't sure; didn't want to research it, ask David Grambs] ever knowingly met or spoken or before her post corresponded with said Emily Gordon; nor has any remuneration, be it financial, erotic, laudatory, literary, or otherwise, op. cit., loc. cit, oh shit, been offered to or given to said Ms. Gordon or her cohorts in exchange for or in any relation to comments on the serial comma, amen, ipso facto, ad nauseam, inter alia , solidus interruptus period full stop]

Speaking of existence, contined or otherwise, what if I were to declaim about the Kierkegaardian comma? Would I be flooded by posts from Denmark? I hereby proclaim the existential existence of the Kierkegaard, or Kierkegaardian, comma. The Kierkegaard comma has to do with the riddle of whether you use a comma or not, and whether you feel guilty either with the comma or without it. Either/Or. That says it all: An existential dilemma facing each of us every day, on some level or another.

Either I put in the comma, or I don't.

Either I get up, or I don't.

Either I live, or I do not.

Either the tragedy in Iraq gets better, or we impeach Bush.


Laugh. Or....

Else.

p.s. I think we should tell the maker of Alpha-Bits to put some commas in their cereal. Y'all with me?

p.p.s. You commenters who nastily said "use your goddamn head" last time around betrayed your own ignorance and infelicitous inattention to detail by misspelling the name of the famous recently deceased nun. Who could take you seriously? No one.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The $250,000 Question

What kind of second home can you get these days for 250,000?

That's the question bothering The New York Times and its impoverished and restless readers. Appropriately enough, the articles was in yesterday's Escapes section.

Yeah. That's the question keeping me up nights.

Truth be told, we would be lucky to get $90,000 for our recently painted house. Clarification: our first house, not our weekend home or summer demesne. Location, location, location. City, city, city.

Of course, those poor unfortunates struggling to buy a second home for 250,000 beans are not considering locations like the urban location of our manor. (Mind your manors! HAHA!) Oh no. It's got to have a view or be near water -- ideally with a view of water on a hillside. And they certainly do not want messy things like people nearby, especially nonwhite, nonupperclass, nonprofessional people. (Animals are okay, though. "We just love the varied wildlife here.")

I'm willing to wager these are the same folks who have fear and loathing of the "wild life" of our cities, who devise terrific policy solutions for our cities, and who proudly sport their so-called tolerant and liberal-minded moral credentials.

How much do you want to bet?

Bets starting at $250,000 being accepted now.

Right here, right now.

As Tony Soprano might say, while grabbing an important portion of his anatomy,

"Right here."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Free At Last. Maybe. Kind Of. Sort Of.

Well, "they" let me out of the chip rehab. Somebody asked me if I wanted "to get with the program" (or did she, Nurse Ratchit, say "programme", thinking I was an Anglophile?); I thought she said "reprogram"; and that's what they did. They reprogrammed me; put in a new chip. I'm cured.

Of potato chip addiction.

Not that I've ever exhibited any other type of addictive traits.

I just said that for laughs, of course. (It's part of my blog description, part of the nomenclature, nominally.)

I am a little worried, though.

I may fall victim to what novelist Stephen King termed the old-couch syndrome, or words to that effect. What he meant was, tamp down one addiction, and another one is sure to pop right up, just like the springs on an old couch. Hmmmm. What the heck could those other addictions be? Do you have any?

Based on the minimal number of comments I received when I was in chip rehab, I'm thinking that many of you either a) didn't give a rat's ass, b) didn't believe me, c) didn't care or d) were simply dumbstruck. I don't blame you in any event. There's a lot more pressing stuff in the world than alleged potato-chip alleged addiction. Isn't there? (Gosh. I'm glad I didn't tune in to Ersatz Presidente Bush last night; that would've driven me straight to the 20-ounce bag of kettle chips.)

No one called while I was in chip rehab. Not even The Cornflake King.

Maybe I wouldn't've answered anyway.

Are you like that? I do not like to have anyone answer the phone during suppertime. It's sacred (the eating event, not the phone). Not cellphones or land lines or any phones. They (the eating-event participants, sometimes called family; not the phones) all ignore me anyway. Even I ignore myself sometimes.

Anyway, it's late, and I sound hungry, angry, lonely, and tired (at the rehab they told me to be careful of that, and told me to remember it with an acronym: HALT).

Whew. I sure could use a juicy, greasy, salty potato chip. Just one. Please? Pretty please?

Just be patient with me. They say it takes time for the new chip to start working properly. It'll take a while for me to get back to alleged so-called quote normal unquote.

Laugh. Or....

Else.

p.s. I got new glasses today. Very Euro, whatever that means. I've never had so many compliments so rapidly and uninvited for a new pair of specs. Maybe vanity is my new addiction.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Chipping Toward Gomorrah

Dear Blog Readers,
I am writing this from a chip rehab. That's short for The Sierra Mesa Pines Chipaholic Rehabilitation Center. Location: Cannot be revealed. This lovely high-security prison is more or less a degreasing facility for poor slobs like me who can't overcome their addiction to potato chips. (They are called crisps in England and Ireland, right? Sounds leaner to me. I wonder if that gang called The Crips got their name, as well as their ferocity, because of potato chip addiction?) Oh, you know how it goes. I'll have just one. In my case, that would mean "just one 11 oz (311g) bag, thank you." Or just one hour at the potato chip trough. But the bag declares, "No Cholesterol. All Natural." I think I am going to be here longer than the typical 30 days. They keep wanting me to take something called The First Step, and all the while I keep wanting to take The First Chip. Little commandants walk around murmuring, "You need a meeting, not a chip." Maybe you can send me some chips of love over the Internet. Oh, you saw it coming all right. Yesterday, he's blogging about free will (or the lack of it). Today, he's crying the blues. Blues over chips. Blue-chip blues. (Excuse me, the rabid wordplay must be a side-effect of the detoxification process.) They've intentionally left some reading material in my little monastic room. One book had writings of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard with the book's spine splayed open like Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan getting out of an SUV, with this passage highlighted by felt-tip neon marking pen: "Ah, one speaks of so many various things which a man may love most dearly: a woman, his child, his father, his mother, his fatherland, his art, his science: but what every individual loves most, more than his only child, the child of promise, more than his only beloved on earth and in heaven--is his own will." Some wise guy added "potato chip" to the list of loves posted by Kierkegaard. Hahahaha. Very funny. Salty humor. The (potato) eyes have it. No skins off my back. Then the smart-alecks who run this chip-free resort left a Zen Calendar in my cell with its convenient little January 8 "scripture" that blares with a quote from Henry Miller: "I know what the great cure is: it is to give up, to relinquish, to surrender, so that our little hearts may beat in unison with the great heart of the world." And some smart-ass scribbled by hand: "while your little heart still beats, Mr. Chipaholic" -- accompanied by one of those saccharine smiley faces (it's a good thing sweets aren't my addiction). (Henry Miller? Whew. I thought he was addicted to something else; and it wasn't pussywillows.) I was going to write a haiku about potato chips, but it only increased my carbohydrate-laced craving. Some lecturer this morning told us we have a thinking disease, not an eating problem. I think not, Herr Rehabmeister. Anyway, I say, "A chip, a chip, my queendom* for a chip."
Yours,
Pawlie Kokonuts

*Since so many of my readers are women (or pretend to be), I thought I'd throw that in there, for sympathy. I ain't getting any (sympathy, that is) in this chip rehab. No sirree, baby.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Free Will Hunting

Scientists are arguing about whether humans possess free will. A recent popular article by Dennis Overbye in the New York Times about this stated the view of cognitive scientists, science philosophers, and bookies (just wanted to see if you were still reading). It said free will is nothing more than an illusion, a monkey riding on a tiger's back.

Well, that conveniently explains the rationale for the phenomenon of spanking the monkey, doesn't it? We can't help it.

Whew.

What a relief.

Why didn't anyone tell me this? Why didn't anyone tell me this, say, in any year from 1965 onward?

So, all you who foolishly made New Year's resolutions: beware.

Give up.

I kid, but the article quoted scientists, philosophers, priests, paupers, sex addicts, neurologists, compulsive eaters, alcoholics, physicists, strippers, cab drivers, ballerinas, and talk-show hosts. (I made up most of that list. But interviewing such folks would undoubtedly have made for a much more interesting and less-snoozy piece.)

What about good?

What about evil?

What about dieting? Or cheating? Or heroism? Or being late for work? What about deciding to do the "right" thing? Or not doing the "wrong" thing? Most of the "experts" quoted said it's all an illusion. You think you are making a decision, but your brain has already decided even before you are aware of it.

Will power is only the tensile strength of one's own disposition. One cannot increase it by a single ounce. -- Cesare Pavese (1908-1950) Italian poet, critic, novelist, and translator.


We defy augury. There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'Tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.
-- William Shakespeare (1564-1616) British poet and playwright.

We run the full range here, folks, from the silly to the sublime.

Carry on.

Laugh. Or....

Else.

You have no choice.

Or do you?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Let's Stop Serial-Comma Killing Now!



We know society exhibits moral outrage over serial killings, as well it should.




But why the widespread apathy over the death throes of the
serial comma?




Fight the good fight. Become a Serial Comma Commando today!



The serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma or the Harvard comma, is the comma found in this construction:

Hurray for the red, white, and blue.

Believers of the use of this construction (like me) insist on that comma after the word white.

My particular reasons are straightforward: consistency and lack of ambiguity.

At least I thought so until I checked out the entry for topic at Wikipedia. I must say, the entry is exhaustive and entertaining.

It gives cogent arguments both for and against.

I used to be a newspaper copy editor. Nearly all newspapers (at least in American and Canada) do not use the serial comma. The New York Times and The Washington Post, excellent newspapers, do not employ that comma after the word white in the example above. Nearly all book publishers used to use it. The New Yorker magazine still uses it.

I reject the argument (made by some, including Lynne Truss of the popular book Eats, Shoots & Leaves) that this style decision is variable depending on context and circumstances. (Oh, of course, you can find an exception to any rule. So, yes, all such decisions are potentially variable. I'm not talking about that. Oliver Wendell Holmes said something like you have to know the rules before you know how to break them. I'm talking about the rule here, not the exception[s].)

I say adhere to the rule, or not, but do so consistently.

It is troubling in recent years to find myself reading a novel and to encounter style usage all over the place on this.

Sloppy.

Most of you say this is all silly and does not matter.

I'll close with the wonderful example from The Chicago Manual of Style (which, naturally, supports the view of the serial comma embraced by The Laughorist):

According to the erudite and entertaining folks at the University of Chicago Press (check out their FAQ section), not using the serial comma can put you in this pickle with this hypothetical book dedication:

"With gratitude to my parents, Mother Teresa and the pope."

Laugh. Or....

Else.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Freegonomics: Food for Thought -- and Word Blenders

As you know, I like wordplay. The title of my blog declares it. (Of course, laughorist is a blend of laugh + aphorist.) So, when I read an online piece today about some folks in the San Francisco area who succeeded in complying with their vow not to shop for a year (with some exceptions), I was all set to declare myself as the inventor of the blended neologism "freegonomics."

Read on.

The news story made reference to so-called freegans, people who advocate minimal consumption -- with some going so far as to eat out of Dumpsters. (Please note: the former newspaper copy editor in me warns you that Dumpster is a brand name and should be capitalized when you read it in print or online.) The word freegan itself, of course, is a linguistic blend of free + vegan. (Turns out that some freegans are meagans, because they allow themselves to eat meat.)

Well, I cannot claim to have coined the term freegonomics (the link here to the word is actually a thought-provoking essay by columnist Lucy Siegle in The Observer back in February 2006). A simple search of "freegonomics" indicates that several others already beat me to it, by months if not years.

Even if I did not coin the term, I feel the concept raises issues worth considering. When I was in college, during the Vietnam War, I remember a philosophy professor, John McNeill, challenging our class at LeMoyne College with respect to those who protested the war. He said something like this:

"A Franciscan movement could end this war in 90 days. But you can't do it. If everyone from, say, the ages of 15 to 30 disciplined themselves to the point of buying only necessary goods, you would be able to get anything you want from the government in no time. The economic effect would be huge, and you would be able to stop the war. But you don't have that ability to sacrifice."

Something like that. And I suspected then, and now, he was right.

There's little doubt that consumption (is "overconsumption" a redundancy about redundancies?) in capitalist (well, in all societies) involves abuse, destruction, waste, and greed.

But couldn't the same be said ever since Adam and Eve (easy on those apples, kids)?

I don't disagree that we (we in the U.S. and the so-called developed nations, as well as we who pollute the air and foul the rivers of a booming China) are ravaging the planet. But on a macroeconomic level, if "we" all were to cut back even to a sensible minimum of consumption (a sensible minimum, however you define it), does that impoverish thousands, if not millions, of suddenly jobless people?

I am neither a microeconomist nor a macroeconomist. I tend to be quite frugal (some would say cheapskate). I am not an extravagant buyer. When clothes are given to me as gifts, I feel sheepish (well, that's true for anything made of wool - HAHAHAHA).

I don't know what to conclude about any of this.

Just some food for thought.

And, speaking of word blenders, as opposed to food blenders, even Wikipedia (the source of many definitions above) is a blend of wiki (Hawaiian for fast) + encyclopedia.

You can look it up.

Laugh. Or....

Else.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Unperson of the Year, 2007

Well, today it is things back to normal, more or less, back to not being Time magazine's Person of the Year 2006. In fact, it is back to being Potential Person of the Year 2007, or Potential Nonperson of the Year 2007, or even potential person, or potential nonperson (I threw that in for existentialists and FOSK [Friends of Soren Kierkegaard]).

And what is "normal" on New Year's Day, anyway? It is not a normal day. It is a day groggy with the hangover of the memory of ancient hangovers, after a night of no imbibing, except for the intoxicating vision of numbing television, including the watching of the Waterford cystal ball falling, by increments of seconds, backwards-counting seconds, like those manned-spacecraft or unmanned (neutered?)-spacecraft launchings we watched in my youth. This, a scene from the new, Disney-fied Times Square, a far cry from the ancient, tawdry carnal "Midnight Cowboy" fleshpot carnival of yesteryear, though I admit to sometimes missing its vulgar, if menacing and perilous, "atmosphere" and allurements.

New Year's Eve. The memory -- my memory -- of retching mercilessly by the clock at Grand Central Terminal (frequently mistakenly called Grand Central Station, which is a post office), slobbering onto the marble floor, oblivious to the star-spotted cerulean blue, majestic ceiling. New Year's Day. "I'll never do that again. I promise." Those powerless vows. One such first day of the year taking the train from that very terminal (not the day after the oblivion onto the marble), drinking again, cavorting, parading, mock-marrying, annoying, dancing, falling, menacing for four, five, six hours. And then after the train ride making the rounds by car and foot and lechery through blurry strip clubs, Marvin Gaye music, a crack-up somewhere, knocking on strangers' doors at 5 a.m., fearing I was in Brooklyn (where I had never been). And then deigning to go to work the next day! These days, I'd have been fired on the spot -- and arrested too perhaps (cardiac or otherwise).

And so this sometimes unperson surprises no one when he says his New Year's Eves -- and the other 364 eves -- demand at the very least a modicum of sobriety, not so much as a virtue but as a personal, communal, and redeeming necessity. Achieved only by surrendering to and embracing grace, with an uppercase G, never the less. But always enough. An Abiding One-Day-At-A-Time Unearned (except by pain) Grace.

So what was "normal" today? Getting up around 10:30, everything thrown off. Sitting outside Toys R [with that obnoxious backwards, Cyrillic-alphabet-like inverted R] Us and laughing out loud at Steve Martin's genius novella The Pleasure of My Company. Laughing out loud as chubby suburban wives and surly dads and restless children run into the store and see an older man in a car reading a book -- and laughing. Do they think me a potential pervert? A molester? Let us hope not. (And somehow I think such miscreants are not inclined to wholesome laughter. Roaring laughter. Laughter at sheer humor, as well as the utterly distinct pleasure of reading someone whose style you love, whom you'd love to emulate, who just-plain resonates with you. Me, that is.) (The novella reminds me of Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine for its vision of daily minutiae.)

Did some dishes.

That's normal, isn't?

(We do not have one of those dish-washing machines, and I am glad.)

One never knows, you know? Today, in checking my emails, I found a very nice note from one of the authors on my list of 14 books, and authors.

Yikes! Who reads this stuff! question mark

It could be anyone!

Case in point: In November, I got an email from BBC Radio because I once mentioned A Perfect Spy by John Le Carre -- and they invited me to ask him a question for a radio show. And I did! I talked to him by phone! (enough of the exclamation points, dude)

Whew.

Merry New Year.

Laugh. Or....

Else.

p.s. Thanks for stopping by, Mr. Mystery Author Author. Clue to readers: I enjoyed The Nervous Breakdown.