Monday, July 31, 2006

Bau(wow) Haus

One person's museumlike neatness is another person's pigsty. I'll get to the point: I'm a slob in a community of slobs. Sorry, Dr. Andrew, I'll rephrase this to be less judgmental of myself and the rest of the tribe here:

We fail to corroborate adequately the dynamic spatial relationships between humans and the inanimate objects surrounding them.

In other words, nothing readily finds itself returned to its original place. Well, of course, we parents set the poor example. But I've made some recent strides. For example, about a month ago I swept the dining room table clear of its assorted mountainous collection of bills, flyers, receipts, catalogs, drawings from kindergarten, belly button lint, and $21,000 in savings bonds. (I couldn't resist that one. Did you hear about that? Some homeless guy finds $21K in bonds and the owner flips him $100. How Judeo-Christianly kind, eh?) Trouble is, I became The Enforcer, sweeping off ANYTHING that rested on that dining room table. It worked. For a month or more. Yes, it made me a bit self-righteous, but it worked.

Is that it, Dr. Andrew, does everyone need An Enforcer? Or is it imaginable that our tribal unit could approach this as a community?


Here's what got me thinking on these ponderous issues: lately, I have found myself in someone's immaculate, pristine, virginal Martha Stewart-ish beautiful house, and the owner says, "Excuse the mess."


I have a few questions to throw out to Cyberuberhinterland:

1. Is it a class thing? Is the "excuse the mess" comment from a tidy home meant to show me up, because it's written all over my face what a slob me and mine are/is?

2. Do they honestly think their crib is a mess? In other words, is it more or less a domicile anorexia, whereby the person looking into the domestic mirror literally cannot see the objective evidence before their eyes?

3. Am I projecting my domicilic inferiority unto those more superior?

4. If I participated in "conjugal chores" * more often, would this bother me in the least?

* "Conjugal Chores" will be the title of my forthcoming million-seller marriage memoir. It's a phrase I read some thirty years from a Vatican document. It was the Vatican's delicious term for marital sex. Beautiful. Here's the first line of that memoir, my only original line:

"I was in the seminary in high school, studying to be a priest. I left the seminary, figuring I couldn't lead a celibate life. [pause] Then, I got married, [pause] and found out that I could."


(Is this mike on?)

Friday, July 28, 2006

w h i t e o u t

The first flakes you brush off. The white line down the center of old Seneca Turnpike. A stray fleck caught in your headlights. You try the high beams. Worse. You flip on the wipers but it is too dry and you get a fartlike scape in reply. A swirl of white eddies by and dervishes off to the side by the snow-brushed tattered cornstalks of Amidon's farm that now seem so old and ancient. Silent witnesses to this quick passing of a 1966 Olds Toronado at 3:30 a.m. The bars are closed. At least The Library is. You overdid it. Again. You promised. You at least promised yourself. Once again. What a phony drama it was. You knew she'd be there. It was a cliche'd scene from a dull movie on a Sunday afternoon, one you started to watch but lost track of, drifting in and out of a nap. The sterile crescent you saw lighting the fields just a few moments ago is already half-covered by a dark cloud swiftly moving. You can feel the temperature drop and turn on the defrost blower. A shadow against the tree line. The burst of lake-effect is startling, almost as dramatic as the time it was accompanied by thunder and lightning. You turn the wipers to the max. FWACK / KUMP. FWACK / KULMP. FRARCK / UMP. High beams. The fury of flakes is merely magnetized like a billion albino fireflies of August. You told yourself you should have left hours ago. You can feel the ever slight slip of traction. You lower the beams again and the onslaught is more pointillist, more granular. A snowswept gust pushes the car forward ahead of its own speed. You roll down a window. Snow rushes in and quickly sticks to your beard. You close the window. It never occurs to you to slow down or ease to the right, edging for the gravelly berm. Your only faith is in this very blindness. And you just can't help comparing this blaring night to a July noon that makes you squint so hard you see an electric blue. And the papery thirst that comes with it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Blacking Out

Blackout. It's a curious word, one with rich layers of meaning. The Merriam-Webster people at do an excellent job, thank you.

As noted by Merriam-Webster (and surely all dictionaries are not the same, as you know; for example, at work I have the estimable American Heritage Dictionary, but I need an update: new words; new meanings), the noun speaks of several senses, or meanings:

Turning off stage lights. A skit that ends with lights out. A lights-out precaution against air raids. Loss of consciousness or memory, such as experienced by a drunk. Loss of electrical power. Loss of radio transmission. Prohibition of TV viewing of a sold-out sporting event. Restrictions on special rates of plane tickets. Stuff like that.

It's time for me to have a blackout. I need (or is it merely want?) to black out.

Let me explain.

Since 1994, whenever we went on vacation to the Adirondacks, I've imposed a news blackout on myself (well, it did sort of tyranically spread to those around me). No newspapers. No television. No radio. No Internet. (Actually, this reminds me of Good Friday in our household growing up, with the addition of no music. And, no, we weren't Southern Baptists. Roman Catholics. But as usual I digress.) This self-imposed blackout was particularly targeted toward current news. The first year I took "old" newspapers up to camp, as we call it, and did a lot of catching up. It was also right at the beginning of the baseball strike that year. So I sort of left myself hanging as to whether there was even a baseball season.

When I'm in blackout mode, I avert my eyes from newspapers when we go into town or clap my hands on my ears if I hear a newscast. Or try to.

Yes, some people, if not most, do this, pretty much, all the time. And I guess such unknowing really is a bliss of a kind.

Why do I do such a thing? you might sanely wonder. A couple reasons. Since I'm an inveterate news junkie who once served as a copyeditor at a newspaper (should that be copy editor?), this blackout serves as more or less a drying out of my news-sodden mind. I mean, I don't live in an area with 24-hour newsradio -- not anymore -- but back home WCBS-880 or WINS 1010 or, now Bloomberg on 1130 were all regular staples. (Critique: the whole lot of 'em, and more so now on TV, have no depth, just the same crap repeated in a mindless loop with the same footage or drama endlessly repeated. A herd mentality, neither liberal or conservative, just lazy, xenophobic, and superficial. Why no depth? I mean, they have the time! Must be something about the American psyche's attention span, but is it cause or effect?)

Another reason for doing such a thing is what I'll call the Wordsworth Effect: "The World Is Too Much With Us." To paraphrase, I am out of tune. It's too much. I need to get away from it all. Back to nature. Stare at the lake and its sunset. That sort of thing.

It's so refreshing.

I have made allowances or exceptions over the years to my news blackouts. One year, on the beach, a young lady said to me, "I don't suppose you want to break your blackout to hear that Jerry Garcia died, do you?"


Well, we haven't vacationed yet this year, and we won't go up North because we're going to Ireland in October.

I crave the blackout. I'm hungry for it.

As trivial as it seems, baseball plays a large part in this. My freakin Giants blew a game to the lowly Nationals tonight. Now that's something you simply do not want to know. And when the Missus saw me grumbling at this computer screen, she suggested the Blackout. It's overdue. (Two years ago, I listened for distant radio stations while en route to camp in an effort to catch news on what happened at the trading deadline. After all, we weren't at camp YET.) I just dream of coming back from camp one time after a week to discover my Giants got hot while the Enemies did lousy. (Lousily?)

And then there's Iraq.


And all the rest.

Why can't I put my head in the sand?

Why can't I be a sleepwalker?

Rolling blackouts.

What a metaphor.

Rolling shoutouts?

There's a lot to help us shout, out there.


Or maybe it's mindful meditation that's needed most.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

One Slice, With Legs

Anton Chekhov's stories are considered little slices of life. At least by me. I'd have to consult with Ralph Keyes, The Quote Verifier Guy, to learn whether Mr. Chekhov really used that phrase anywhere. No matter. What follows isn't meant to be particularly funny or serious or remarkable. Just a slice of a day in the life. Sort of like Nicholson Baker's wonderfully Proustian "The Mezzanine," about a man breaking his shoelace and his ensuing lunch hour. Here goes.

The granules of coffee measured out for 40 cups regular and 35 or so for decaf, two cups and less than two cups respectively. A. remarking how strong the smell of coffee is and how could E. possibly stand it. B. running to the megagrocery store to get paper plates, then calling me on the cellphone asking me the date of the half and half in the fridge. The cold water in the coffee urns. Plugging them in. A. taking care of the urn for tea, my having to tell her (cooly and evenly) three times so that she understood it was for tea not coffee. In the pew threatening to move to another during her fidgeting. The crab apple blossoms. The words sometimes far off. The redbud in the memorial garden. A woman, someone I'd never seen, sitting on the stone bench. Flushed. Perhaps having cried. The passing cumulus clouds. The sparrows. Water trickling at the memorial garden fountain. The faded paint on the fence. My wondering about the woman and what I take to be her grief outside a pane of glass. Closing my eyes and thinking, praying, I am her she is me there really is no self the Buddhists are right I know her pain I just felt it I have felt it when R. died in November and D. the preceding May and wept like a betrayed lover like an orphan like a father leaving his children like Lebanese or Israelis after the rubble. I do know her grief, if that is what it is. She knows that I know. The bread, a sizable portion, placed by Fr. M. in my empty (for I offer nothing but my nothingness) upheld palm, M. looking into my eyes, saying my name, just after saying the name of my daughter, just after saying the name of my wife. The Body of Christ the Bread of Heaven. My assent. Sit in the pew. Close my eyes. Summon faces of loved ones. Back to the kitchen. Creamers. Apple juice. Spoons and forks. Plastic and metal. The woman in the memorial garden. Gone.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The 'Cost' of Democracy

Just how much is one's vote worth? Just how much does one need to be cajoled, bribed, or prodded to become a participating member of a democracy?

We're not talking Iraq or Haiti or Mongolia here. We're raising Arizona as a model of democracy.

According to a front-page article (at least the front page of the papyrus edition) in The New York Times of July 17, 2006, someone named Mark Osterloh is pushing a drive to award a million bucks in every general election to one lucky Arizona voter. If the measure were to be enacted, the winner would be selected by a lottery run by Antonin Scalia Enterprises, LLC -- correction -- by a lottery run by the state.

The Times goes on to say that the voters (based on 2004 statistics) would have about a one-in-two-million chance of winning, compared to Powerball, which offers roughly the same odds as I have for a night of playing "Who Stole the Kishka?" with Salma Hayek.

This raises a number of intriguing questions and observations (if indeed an observation can be raised, with or without pharmaceutical assistance):

1. What would the prize be for a hanging chad?

2. Does the U.S. Supreme Court receive an equal or greater quantity of political or fiduciary capital compared to its 2000 election compensation?

3. Does New Jersey know about this?

4. Will a similar program implemented in Iraq show us the "light at the end of the tunnel"? (The Quote Verifier has some interesting scholarship on this popular Vietnam War-era phrase.)

5. Can a similar application of this lottery provide a solution to immigration issues?

6. How many Viagra prescriptions will Rush Limbaugh trade for his chance of voting, or winning, in Arizona?

7. Does this have anything to do with next year's final episode of The Sopranos?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tales From The Crept

This is a tale on why I do not live in Suburbia or Exurbia. I'm a strictly Urbia guy (though my wife is a Rural Gal, naturally). Suburbia, with its manicured lawns, pesticides, tended gardens, and weed-whacking devices (which truly emit one of the most ghastly irritating sounds in all of Christendom, followed a close second by those hideous leaf blowers), would not have me. And those places with strict neighborhood association covenants (how Biblical) about house colors, lawn care, and good neighborly grooming (those places are called "Florida") would also evict or sue or deport me.

Let's speak plainly: my fecking problem is the fecking grass.

In our backyard of one-quarter acre or less within a smallish city in the Northeast (Northeast U.S., that is; now naff off), my laziness and dereliction have resulted in (what's the word I'm searching for?) a jungle. Like you see on National Geographic. Or The Discovery Channel (who paid no fee for these plugs). This Urban Neglect Jungle Effect (UNJE) happened in May or so, before I first mowed the lawn in Anno Domini 2006. I guess I waited because it has been known to snow here as late as Mother's Day (yes, in 1995 or so). So, it's not pure laziness. It might be a textbook case of Lawn Neglect Feck Off Neighbors Passive Aggression, Thank You, Syndrome (LNFONPATYS), though it has not come up yet in therapy (because I've got other "issues" [don't you just love that word? Murder Suspect: Your Honor, I've got some hostility issues I'm working on]). After spending 3 or 4 hours on a Saturday afternoon back in May I promised myself I'd keep at it. This wouldn't happen again.

It did.

In spades. (In fact, I could use a spade, or a scythe, or a sickle, the one Joe lent me last May AFTER the First Cutting.)

It rained a lot. You can't mow when it rains. The meadow is almost up to my knees in places.


I forgot to tell you.

I have one of those old-fashioned hand-push lawn mowers. No electricity. No fuel. No pollution. No sweat. (Delete those last two words.) I do sort of like the exercise. To a point. But when you (in this case, me; back to that tireless self-absorption we bloggers delight in) have a meadow in the city, it's a little like, er, um, working on a prison detail. I guess.

The part of me that pretends to be into Zen enjoys this. One blade contains the universe, and so forth. And I find it a tad recreational after slogging out proposals all day.

But the situation now is so dire, I can't do it all in one evening (when it has cooled slightly).

So, if I get in one or two rows of the Back 40, as I did tonight, it's a pretty good evening.

The little (ha!) part of me that is manic could be out there now with the back porch light on and a miner's helmut mowing that lawn.

Did I tell you it is not a lawn in the suburban or, say, Frederick Law Olmsted sense? I didn't tell you? It's sort of a botanical experiment featuring something technically called weeds, clover, mint, ivy, crabgrass, violets, weeds, and occasional grass. Under the maple tree it's mostly what they technically call dirt (which does make the Lutheran hand-plowing easier).

My late father, a hard-working Slovak-American, would be appalled.

(Dr. Andrew, are you getting this? Oh, and Dr. Andrew? I've skipped doing the dishes in favor of this manly duty, albeit a delayed duty.)

I recall my Dad during my childhood cutting hedges at my cousin's house with a fury, as if the pruning were a punishment. We didn't have hedges of our own since we were apartment dwellers. Years later, I felt he attacked my Beatlesque haircut with the same vengeance, the starting point of dreadful generational battles (cf. therapist sessions cited above).

The lawn crassly keeps creeping in, inevitable as death itself.

So why bother?

Though I really wasn't a fan of tie-dye, the Tie-Dye Persona in me would let the whole alleged lawn grow at will, all the time, bloody feckin hell. Nature, baby.

Of course, once you get into it, you just get into it.

But it's taking me all week. I'm about half-done.

And the part I started on Sunday (which should be a day of rest) is already fecking growing again. Yet.

And the front "lawn," which does not get as much sun, and which slopes to our city street, and is not nearly as skyscaperish in its proportions yet, has not even been touched.

Blame it all on blogging.

(For penance, I could go out there now, round midnight, my mower's not that loud, but the mosquitos bite. As do lawns.)

(And, no, dear Republicans, I am not about to hire some illegal to do it.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Semper Finlandia, At Least for Now

So when Simon (a.k.a. Simonian) got back from Wolverhampton (whose denizens, I'll have you know are Wilfrunians, but don't hold me to the spelling, mate) less than a fortnight ago (do they still say "fortnight"? they just did), he was generous enough to bring back with him, just for me, the July 4 issue of The Guardian, which I've enjoyed browsing through, in what we now call "hard copy," but which we used to call, simply, "a newspaper." A grand paper. Great for style, snappy writing, and intelligent takes on the issues of the day, including, ahem, a story on page 13 informing us that Finland, which will be holding the EU presidency for the next six months, is publishing weekly news bulletins in Finn--, excuse me, Latin. Yup. See for yourself:,,1812166,00.html

Plus Nuntii Latini (the News in Latin) is on every Sunday night on YLE, the Finns' radio station:

This, of course, gives new meaning to Classic Rock.

Can the Holy (or Unholy) Finnish Empire be far behind? Or ahead?

Just so we all know, the Finnish language is not related to Latin.

What do Latinas such as J Lo or Salma think of this Latin-Finnish-EU thing?

With major league baseball becoming more international, will umpires (Wholly Roamin' Umpires -- couln't resist) call balls and strikes in Latino to be fair to all?

Mia Lahti is the editor of the Finnish EU presidency's website. Isn't that something you say in Starbucks?

And will the folks in Finland care for an Age Quod Agis mug, shirt, thong, hat, boxer shorts, postcard, or sticker from the wantonly and shamelessly promoted Laughorist Store?

Good night, and "arma virumque cano qui Trojae ab oris" something something something.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Tension Envelope, Please...

Before opening the envelope to reveal the E Pluribus Unum Humor Contest results, and before the cliched drum roll that precedes such dramatic announcements, let us pause to consider Tension Envelopes. Yes, friends, Tension Envelopes. As Brian, Steve, Lisa, and I whisked down Interstate 80 en route to Shea Stadium on Saturday (a great time, not just at the game but also a great search for pizza on the same-day return trip, culminating in a 90-minute stop in Parsippany at Harry's on Route 46, thanks to Henny Youngman and Nadia's benevolence, but that is another, longer Kerouacesque story), I could not resist launching into a monologue (c'mon bloggers, you can identify with that; we're all about monologues) on the most exquisitely engaging highway sign anywhere (though it is very much somewhere, near Hackensack-ack-ack-ack, New Jersey). It's on your left as you are heading in toward the George Washington Bridge. I'll assume the totemic and iconic Tension Envelopes sign atop the building is for a working manufacturing facility, because surely there is no lack of tension envelopes in this world, as well as a concomitant and endless need to replace, rejuvenate, and celebrate the same. Somewhere (I bent the upper corner of a page; I just don't know which of the myriad dog-eared pages it is) Marcel Proust calls the human body a "nervous envelope." Surely, we can take some translation liberties and declare that the Tension Envelopes sign along Route 80 is a mindfulness reminder that we live in this envelope that begs for relief, some inner peace, some release (through mindfulness or climax or focus or coda or...). Some Age Quod Agis, as I have rambled on about in an earlier post. (Yeah, we all have discernible themes in our posts; we cannot hide 'em.) Of course, not only is the human body a tension envelope (if the company is still a working facility, you can see that I have differentiated myself from your product(s) by embracing lowercase letters), but so also are other entities. The workplace can sometimes be its own tension envelope, n'est-ce pas? A week or two ago, when I felt some of that tension in the envelope of our small business, I sent an email to S., to share that observation. S. sits several feet to my left. Only trouble is that S. innocently blurted out the contents of my email so that all of us experiencing the enveloped tension got to hear what I thought was a private bon mot exchanged between S. and me. My private aside had turned into a public (perhaps tension-increasing) declaration. No harm done, though. Could've been worse.

I invite you to share other manifestations of this tension-envelope metaphor (marriage? adolescence? the nanoseconds before the apex of pleasure? a car on a long trip? this feckin post?).


The envelope, please. The contest results.

Second Prize (anything $15 or less in The Laughorist Store) goes to:

JBWritergirl, for:

"God Bless the Thong."

First Prize (any one item from The Laughorist Store) goes to:

The Meloncutter, for:

"You-um takeabus, pleasE" (with the advent of greenhouse gases from auto emissions and the high price of fuel...)

Okay, okay. Shush. Stop your feckin whining already before it begins, willya? Are these the funniest slogans you ever heard? No. Are they the paradigm of witticism and cleverness? They are not. But, hey, you shoulda seen the stuff the judges (well, one judge) did NOT find funny, clever, or even faintly amusing.

We'll have to aim lower with our topic next time.

Which reminds me of a quote by H.L. Mencken, but buy your own Quote Verifier, hear me?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

It ain't not over 'til it ain't not over.

Of course, you're familiar with the more quotable "It ain't over 'til it's over," typically attributed to Yogi Berra. Only Yogi didn't say it. Not exactly.

That's what I've just learned from Ralph Keyes's delicious book The Quote Verifier (St. Martin's Griffin; $15.95). Also available at

It's a gem of a book -- for an aphorist, a laughorist, or anybody who loves words, quips, and getting the facts right.

Keyes takes hundreds of well-known quotes and painstakingly demonstrates each quote's origin (insofar as it can be determined) and its evolution.

You'll be surprised. And delighted.

This book is terrific entertainment (though I confess it can make the reader an insufferable snob if he or she cannot help correcting common assumptions about famous quotes, but I suppose that's between me and my therapist, or at least my Supervising Laughorist).

But it's great stuff.

If you want to learn more about The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When or its author, check out:

Since you've asked, Marie Antoinette did not originate the phrase "Let them eat cake." And Leo Durocher, who managed my beloved Giants during their great 1951 miracle against the dreaded Dodgers (who unfortunately won today), did not quite say "Nice guys finish last."

"You could look it up."

Oh, that's another quote Mr. Keyes deconstructs.

Speaking of "it ain't over 'til it's over" (yep, the quote's here to stay; that's part of the evolutionary thing), the E Pluribus Unum Humor Contest is over. Results will be published soon.

(I'm easy. If you twist my bloggered virtual arm, I suppose I'd still take a few witty suggestions for a shiny-new U.S. motto at

"Now, go eat some cake."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Last Call

In Blog We Trust
It's All About Me
Ask Not What You Can Do For Your Country, Just Ask About Me
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Booty

Look, kids, you can do way better than that. You've got one more day to come up with a new motto for these here Younited States of mind. Something a little edgy, a little arch, that makes a statement, a bon mot, a witticism, a half-smile at least. You are just the crowd to do it. At least one of you is.

July 7. The deadline. If you've already entered, enter again (no sermo interruptus here). If you haven't injected some humor, there's still time.

E Pluribus Unum? Age Quod Agis? Make War Not Love?

You can do better.

Send to

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Day After The Day Before

Hung over from memory
Weary of dreams without names
Starting a week on Wednesday
Digesting the etymology
Of me
Dangling participles
Galloping gerunds
And parts of speech unspoken
Punctuated by emoticons
Unconventional icons
Posturing for poses
To be read
On a screen
By you
And you
(Not you)
(Yes you)
Tiptapped by the flesh of fingers
Leaving the oil of self
On keys bearing
The imprimatur
Of yearning.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Inn-dependence Day

Today we recognize and honor the hospitality industry (its housekeeping, food-service, and maintenance staff; people at the front desk, etc.) and the people utterly dependent on hotels, inns, motels, B&Bs, etc. for business, travel, les liaisons dangereuses, secret pleasure, or not-so-secret pleasure (i.e., moaners and screamers).

Hy-phens mat-ter.

Keep the E Pluribus Unum Humor Contest entries rolling in to Four days left, counting today.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Speaking of Humor Contests. . .

On June 19, I shared my entries for "the millionth word" humor contest of The Washington Post's Style Invitational. Tragically, the Empress spurned all of my works of comic genius.

But I must admit, at least some of those who saw ink had some great coinages:

But weren't at least one or two of mine worthy of publication? Hunh?

Whaddaya think?

And don't forget the "E Pluribus Unum" Humor Contest! (See post of June 30, 2006.) (I just love those parentheses, don't I? [brackets inside of parens: see post on ADHD]).