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  #88: A Painful Separation
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World Star Gazette

Charlie/Male/31-35. Lives in United States/Massachusetts/Watertown, speaks English. Eye color is hazel.
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Saturday, July 26, 2003
I Want You to Get Me... But Please Don't Get Me Wrong

Because if I tried to keep all this in my head, it'd leak out my ears

Our next door neighbor is having some work done on his house. Which is unfortunate, because what our neighbor really needs is a lot of work done on his house. Or preferably, a new house.

Now, don't get me wrong. It's not like I want the guy to move away or anything. He's a nice old guy, Armenian and named Marti. He ambles around the neighborhood with his dusty shoes and his remaining teeth, saying hello to everyone and handing out 'Happy Birthday' pens with his name and cute slogans on them. It's, um, 'just his way', as the old folks would say. He must've seen the questioning look on my face when he gave me the third or fourth pen -- roughly eight months from my birthday -- and said, as though it explained everything:

It's okay, Chahlie. Take it. I order fifty of them at a time and get fifty free. It's my gift to you. Enjoy it!

Which doesn't explain much of anything, of course, like why he's ordering pens by the multi-dozen in the first place, or why they have sayings like 'Enjoy Your Life to the Fullest' or 'May All Your Days Be Filled With Peace and Love', or why he's giving them out to people four months from their birthday. (Yeah, I know I said 'eight months' in the last paragraph. You can never be eight months from a birthday -- pay attention, dude.)

So the old guy is cool, and friendly, if a little out there sometimes. It's his house that I take umbrage with, and a fair amount of umbrage at that. (Oodles of umbrage? Maybe that's a bit strong, but close. Certainly armloads of umbrage.) Anyway, Marti moved into the house next door with his two brothers. In 1948. After they returned from WWII. That's 1948, folks. The year my father was born. Marti's now the last of the three young lads, as his older brother passed away seven years or so ago. Unfortunately, with his brother went all of the skills required to maintain a house. Each brother had a floor when they were sharing the house, and now Marti's is the only floor approaching habitability. There's a deck on the back that looks like something from a Jackson Pollack painting, the plot behind the house is more 'rock quarry meets jungle meadow' than yard, and it's pretty clear that the house hasn't been painted since the Kennedy administration.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not much of a painter myself, and I've got nothing against the Kennedys. Look, I live in Massachusetts; I have to deal with Kennedys every day of the week. I think one of the nephews delivers our mail, in fact. So certainly, I wouldn't go around bad-mouthing the Kennedys here, lest we start mysteriously missing our mail, and our packages, and our, ahem 'nature' magazines. Like 'National Geographic', or 'Hustler'. Okay, I'm kidding. We don't get National Geographic.

Don't get me wrong, though. There's nothing bad about National Geographic. It informs, it educates, and millions upon millions of small boys see their first bare not-belonging-to-a-relative breasticles in that fair journal every year. Floppy, sunburned breasticles, granted, but boobies is boobies, right? It ain't Penthouse, but it's a start. Of course, with the smut huts and money shots waiting at the end of every damned Google search, I wonder how many kiddies are getting their first sweaty peeps via print any more. Fer chissakes, people -- does every search have to include 'Hot Ass!' or 'Asian Schoolgirls' in the top ten results? Sure, I understand if you enter terms like 'horny' or 'fetish' or 'zucchini'. Or 'Catholic church', of course. But it's taken over the whole 'net. Try searching for 'cucumber facials' sometime. Or 'tasty melons'. Or baseball coach 'Dick Pole'. Okay, I understand that last one. (*snicker* He said, 'Pole'!)

But don't get me wrong, folks. I've got nothing against Web filth. It's just that in those rare cases when I'm not looking for it, I'd like it to stay out of the way, and heave its melons and wield its cucumbers on its own for a while. You know, come to think of it, what's up with all the fruit and veggy innuendo going on with sex, anyway? Sure, a lot of people have the same sorts of, um, enthusiasms about sex and food -- exactly the same in some cases, a la 'American Pie' -- but are vegetables really the height of sexual fantasy? Nobody wants to touch the things in the dining room or the kitchen; what makes them so mouth- (and other parts-) watering in the bedroom, anyway? How does a carrot go from 'tasteless boring snack' to 'spine-shivering sex toy'? And why and how did melons get singled out as the de facto foodstuff representative for the female bosom? Why not lettuce, or cabbage? Or for the wee little ones, Brussels sprouts? Or for that matter, coconuts. Oh, wait... okay, coconuts made the list of boobie words. Never mind. I didn't mean to pick on coconuts.

Really. Don't get me wrong -- I like coconuts, and I'm really talking about coconuts now. You know, the kind that grow on trees and have hard shells and don't have any nipples. (Obviously, or they'd never make it off the islands.) But coconuts are odd beasts, at least for me. I really don't dig coconut flavoring, or even shaved coconut. (Which is odd in itself, as most things become much more exciting when they're shaved.) But I'm a big fan of fresh coconut, still in its hairy shell, that you have to hack open to get at (with a screwdriver at my house, though I would hope to hell that most of you have more sense -- and tools -- than I do). That stuff is spectacular, and not just because I can use it when I role-play Tarzan. Okay, I'm bluffing. I don't role-play Tarzan. I don't own anything tiger-striped, or leopard-spotted, or even zebra-printed. I don't own a single piece of clothing that looks anything like an animal, in fact. Well, unless you count my Spiderman Underoos. But Spidey's more man than spider, so I don't think they qualify as resembling an animal. On the other hand, Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man was more something than man, so maybe I'm wrong. I don't think it was 'spider', though. 'Weenie', maybe. Or 'wet blanket'. But not spider. Spiders have more balls than that.

Hey, don't get me wrong, though. I don't really mind Tobey. He serves a purpose, after all. He's the latest in a long line of clean-cut, nice-boy, shit-eating-grin-wearing teeny-bopper heartthrobs. He took over from Brendan Fraser, who grabbed the torch from Kevin Bacon, who emerged from the ashes of Mark Harmon, and so on and so forth. It's a rite of passage. Sure, some of these folks go on to more serious, meaty roles. And some don't. It's all good. The point is that until they hit thirty, they'll be cast as good guys or heroes or impish college kids; anything where they can flash their charms -- and the occasional ass-cheek -- for their adoring, shrieking, swooning groupies. After that, they're on their own, and they have to live off their talents, or lack thereof, like most other actors.

And anyway, Tobey's not all that bad, I suppose. He did a pretty good job in Pleasantville, which is about the only movie I've been able to stomach with Reece Witherspoon in it. Don't get me started on her, though. She's the new Alicia Silverstone, with a grating Southern accent, and -- amazingly -- six months younger than our pouty, forgotten Alicia. Now who could've possibly thunk that a career started as a teenage nympho in an Aerosmith video would have crapped out so soon? Shocking. Really.

Don't get me wrong, of course. I'm a big fan of music video floozies. Hell, it worked out for Stevie Tyler's daughter, who's likely to parlay frolicking around with Frodo and the gang into quite a nice little career for herself. And look at the wonders that the music video industry did for Tawny Kitaen. Sure, her career never really took off -- the best she ever did was a spot on the New WKRP and a Seinfeld episode, but she did marry a rock star, and then a baseball player. Not bad, eh, girls? Sure, she went psycho and hacked at her hubby with a high-heeled pump, but hey, who wouldn't want to end up like Tawny, hmmm? Bravo, TK. Brav-o.

But hey, don't get me wrong. Being a Seinfeld guest isn't so bad. They paraded a truckload of talent through that show over the years, and it's fun to watch the reruns and remember when we first met Christa Miller, or when Teri Hatcher was still hot. Actually, I probably watch more reruns than anything these days. I'm not sure whether it's from a sense of nostalgia, or whether that's all that's frickin' on television now. We get, what, six weeks of 'sweeps' in the fall, and then we're back to last years' shit? I think there's more recycled hash on simply because more of it exists, and the stack o' already-aired crap is growing every day. It's like laundry, piling higher and higher until the 'new' (meaning 'clean') stuff is gone, and you have to either give in and wash the damned clothes or start re-wearing and walking around in your own filth for a few days. Neither option is appetizing, but I suppose only one attracts flies, so you know what you have to do.

Don't get me wrong. I don't really mind doing laundry. I don't like it, but it's a necessary evil. Or so my wife tells me. Personally, I don't think it's actually 'necessary' until I've used everything up, inside-outed each pair of undies and used the other side, and then get down to my last emergency pair of silk cow-print boxers I got as a gag gift in college. (Hey, I do have animal clothing after all! Go, me!) But that's not how my wife sees it. She's always had a lower tolerance for filth than I do, which is certainly as it should be. I've known houseflies with a lower tolerance for filth than me, so it's no surprise that my wife is the 'clean one' in the family. Still, I try to do my share around the house, tidying and washing and sweeping up. There's a limit, of course. I'm not much of a mopper -- but who is these days? -- and I don't do windows.

But don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against windows. They certainly come in handy for looking through, and gazing through, and occasionally peeping through. (Word of warning, though -- the 'woman' a couple of doors down actually has a few surprises up 'her' sleeve. Or rather, one big surprise under 'her' robe. So I wouldn't peep there, unless you're into that sort of thing. There's no easy way to sandblast your eyeballs. Trust me, I tried.) But in general, windows rarely do anything bad to me, and we generally have a pretty friendly relationship. For example, through the window in my office, where I'm sitting now, I can see Marti's house. His helpers are gone for the day now, having patched up his leaky shingles. (And no, for you sickos out there, Marti doesn't have 'leaky shingles'. It's his roof, okay? The roof. I get little enough sleep at night as it is without thinking of these two guys in their painters' overalls trying to patch up Marti's 'leaky shingles', all right? Just let it go.)

Anyway, don't get me wrong about the repair guys. They've been here for hours the past couple of days -- they're making shit happen over at Casa de Marti. I just wish they'd done a bit more, like paint his damned house, or fix up the lawn a little. It's quite the eyesore as it is, which is a shame. Marti's a nice fellow, and he deserves better than that, as far as I can tell. Apparently he threatens to look for a smaller place every year, but then he dips his toes into the foul, putrid waters of New England real estate prices, and scurries back to his dilapidated crapshack to hibernate for another year. He's paying nothing on the monstrosity he's in, of course. Christ, he bought the thing in '48 -- he could've almost paid off two thirty year mortgages in the time he's lived there. You'd think by now he'd be ready for a change. Or at least indoor plumbing.

Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not saying Marti should move out. Oh, wait. I said that already. Well, you know what? Two don'ts make a do, how about that? I'll miss the old guy, but I've changed my mind. I think he should get outta there -- maybe out in the 'burbs, where he can have a much larger lawn to ignore into disrepair. Or to Florida, where he can find a nice condo and grope the old ladies. Go on, Marti -- get some of that wrinkly nook, dude! Live a little. Maybe then we'll get someone next door who can fix the place up, and decide that peeling purple and faded yellow are not the chic color combination for house facades in the new century. (In Marti's defense, that scheme may have been all the rage when it was originally painted. You know, before I was frickin' born.)

Now, don't get me wrong. Marti's a pip and all, but he's not going to die in his sleep in that house. He'll fall through the floor, or the deck will collapse, or he'll wander into the weed patch and starve in his own back yard. That's no way to die. Having a heart attack while you're scoring with some hot octagenarian in Palm Beach; now that's the way to go! I don't know what kind of afterlife there is, but those last moments will certainly get you in good with whoever's got the keys to the playground up there. Hey, I've even got an icebreaker Marti can use -- he just has to order a new batch of pens, with 'The Lord Sayeth, Go Forth and Multiply' on one side, and 'Happy Birthday Suit' on the other. What toothless mama could resist that? He'll be in their Depends and 'storming the beaches of Normandy' in no time!

So don't get me wrong, Marti. I love ya, dude, but there's a whole world out there for you to conquer. We'll miss you, but I believe it's time for you to fly. Don't worry; we'll keep an eye on your place, and tell you all about what's happening with your house. (We sure as hell have enough pens lying around now to write to you with.) So get out there, dude, and live it up! Now every day is your birthday!

Friday, July 25, 2003
What Do You Mean, Toothpaste Wasn't Invented Yet?!

I blog, therefore I am

Before we get to our blogging for the day, we have a Programming Note From the Shameless Self-Promotion Department:

I'm entered this week in the New Weblog Showcase at The Truth Laid Bear. The submission is an entry 'ripped from the archives' called A Wall to Save Us All. If you're interested, have a look. If you're impressed -- or you wanna help a poor brutha out -- you can link to it from your own blog to 'vote' for it in this week's Showcase. (See the Showcase for full details.) I really appreciate the support, and if I win... well, that's just one more day to put off contemplating suicide, now, isn't it? Or something like that. Anyway, have a look. If you don't like my entry, maybe you'll like someone else's! It's all good, baby.

Also, it's not official yet, but I'm trying to worm the same entry into the next Carnival of the Vanities. 'Cause, you know, I'm shameless. The current Carnival is careening into gear at DaGoddess, and the next -- hopefully featuring moi, among dozens of others, will be hosted at Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics. Check it out, read the blogs, have some fun, burn your bras, whatever. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I can't tell you people what to do.

And now back to our regularly scheduled blog, already in progress. Blog appetit!

Do you ever have one of those shows that you really like, or think is interesting, but not quite compelling enough to actually figure out when the thing is on so you can actually watch it? (Those of you with TiVo need not apply, you smug, self-satisfied bastards. I will become one of you, dammit!)

Anyway, maybe it's because I'm at home more lately, but I have one of those shows. Or more precisely, I have four. So under the guise of pointing out good shows for you to watch, I'll give you just a taste of what piques my interest these days. It'll be fun. I promise.

1.) The Family Guy
Five Second Synopsis: Cartoon about dysfunctional family; sort of like the Simpsons with cameo celebrity appearances and more fart jokes.

Okay, I mention this one first because it pisses me off the most that I can't figure out when the hell it's on. It's always been like a frickin' fly buzzing around my head. I never knew when the damned thing was on when it ran on FOX, and now that it's syndicated, I still don't know when to tune in. I've caught maybe half a dozen episodes ever, and I want more. More, do you hear me? More!

Plus, the damn show is a watch-tease. Or something. That didn't sound right, but something, all right? Cut me some friggin' slack; it's nine o'clock in the morning, for the love of Twinkies. Anyway, what I meant by 'watch-tease' is this: it's one thing when I can't get my shit together to watch a show on a regular basis. I accept that. Most days, I can't even get my pants on facing the right direction, so unless I'm very careful, I'm likely to miss out on anything that requires thinking ahead. Like catching a particular show, or eating. That sort of thing.

But it's a Different Thing Entirely™ when I catch a show once a year or so, and then see the same damned episode that I've already watched. I've probably seen a half-dozen Family Guy's, and half of them were reruns. (And yes, I realize that they're all reruns these days, ya dildo. I mean reruns in the 'If you haven't seen it, it's new to you!' sense. I have seen it, it's not new to me, and it frickin' cheeses me off!)

Look, it's fine if they only made four lousy episodes of this show, and it's just the luck of the draw that I'm catching repeats, but I've got a sneaking suspicion that is not the case. Somebody out there knows when I'm watching TV, and knows which episodes I've seen, and just frickin' substitutes in a rerun anytime that I happen to cruise past the channel it's on. That's the only explanation. Can you say, 'V chip', people?

2.) Faking It
Five Second Synopsis: Regular people are trained in a foreign occupation for four weeks, then thrown to the wolves to be judged.

This one, I almost got a handle on, but I lost it, and now I don't know when to watch. This is also one of the many 'cross-over' shows that started on the BBC, and has now been dusted off, bastardized, sprinked with glitter and hair spray, and Hollywood-ed into an American show. Now normally in these cases, I prefer the original. (Gee, could you tell?) And I suspect that will be the case here, but the jury's still out, and here's why:

Episodes seen from the original BBC show (my titles and descriptions; no spoilers about judging results):

The Aspiring Chef: A street-wise, foul-mouthed chap (hot dog vendor, maybe? I missed the beginning of this one) is recruited to become a head chef for a month. First episode I saw, and I was hooked.
Best Moment: They threw the guy in with a stereotypical (but apparently real) abusive, perfectionist prima donna chef-with-a-heart-of-gold for advanced training. The poor trainee left after an hour or so and recorded a profanity-laced, thick-accented tirade on his video diary -- 'This is just feckin' shite. It's shite. I dun' knoo whet I'm doin' here. It's a feckin' madhoose. I can't teek much more of this... this shite!' Or words to that effect. You get the feckin' idea, mate.

Vicar Sells a Car: A man of the cloth from some rural pasture-town is plopped into a downtown, big-city used car lot and told to sell, sell, sell! He's too nice and genteel to make it on the lot, so the salesmen spend much of their time toughening his skin, and his accent.
Best Moment: During the show, the owner of the lot sends our man to buy a car, which he's then going to sell. He ends up spending a tiny fraction of the money he's given on a run-down, beat-up clunker of a lemon, and is soundly chastised by the owner about it. At the end of the show, the owner gives it to the vicar, because it's impossible to sell such a flaming hunk of shit. Er, shite.

You Call That a Painting?: A grungy house painter is cleaned up, slicked back, and taught how to paint real art, starting (and pretty much ending) with 'Self-Portrait of the Artist as a Young Crippled Boy'. He starts slowly, but picks technique up quickly and produces quite a lot of work for a four-month period. Well, to me, it looked like a lot, anyway. You could wallpaper a hallway with all the crap he painted.
Best Moment: I hate to pick an easy one right from the show's trailer, but when the professional art critic that visits to check our hero's progress says that one piece 'looks like it was painted by a macaque monkey trying to do a pastiche of Matisse' (I may be paraphrasing slightly), the look on the budding artist's face alone was worth the price of admission.

So, that's quite a body of work on the Beeb side. Solid episodes, creative choices, interesting personalities. And I've only seen one American Faking It. So how could I still believe that our version might make it after all? Well, here's what I watched:

Yay, Ivy League!: A mousy-feisty Hahvahd girl (New Englanders, you know the kind...) travels to Hotlanta to become a Falcons cheerleader for a month. She struggles with her 'booby bimbo' opinions about cheerleaders, but soldiers on and shakes her poms, anyway.
Best Moment: Um... it's a show about cheerleaders. And a misfit, pent-up-bookworm-becomes-glamorous-hottie plot. Hell-oo-ooo. It's porn without the goofy music. It's all good.

So, that's Faking It. Hey, just think, maybe they'll call me, and teach me how to write blogs for a month. Wouldn't that be cool?

3.) Queer Eye for the Straight Guy
Five Second Synopsis: Gaggle of gay men whirl into a straight man's life, clean him up, make over his digs, and watch him on hidden cameras.

Okay, this one's actually hard to miss, the way they're market-blitzing the bejeesus out of it. I think it's airing on six or seven channels, and I've already caught parts of three shows without really meaning to. But it is fun, if a little scary. Well, not scary, really -- it just makes me think about whet they'd say to me. (Especially right this minute. No, you don't want to know. Trust me.)

But it's hard to watch without putting yourself in the victim's subject's place. These five guys prance in, and teach the guy how to dress, and shave, and clean, and paint, and cook. It's what I imagine growing up Italian must be like, only with lighter loafers and a breezy sense of style. It looks like it might be fun, frankly -- hell, if I could get five guys over here just to paint the damned house, it'd be worth it, even if I did have to start wearing ruffly shirts and waxing my eyebrows.

4.) The 1900 House
Five Second Synopsis: A British family moves into a turn-of-the-century Victorian outfitted with only 1900-era goodies. For three months.

Okay, I don't know whether you've seen this show. It's on PBS, so you probably haven't, unless you're trolling for Sesame Street reruns. I caught the first two episodes by chance, but now I want to see the rest (there are only four in all). Anyway, after seeing two episodes, I'm ready to make the following judgements:

  • The historians and suppliers on the show are very good; the house really looks like something from a century -- and a whole world -- ago.
  • From the 'audition videos' in show one: your average British family is not the most attractive group of humans on the planet.
  • The family that signed up for this -- parents and four kids -- are completely, totally, undeniably out of their freakin' minds.

Let's take a look at the facts, shall we? One, there's no electricity. None. They've got gas lighting, a coal stove doohickey for cooking and heating water, and the sun for just about anything else. Two, they're stuck with only the medicines and cures available from the era, which consists primarily of cod liver oil and bleeding leeches. Oh, and morphine. Yikes! And three, they have an outhouse. There's a tub in the bathroom, but when it's 'loo time', they've got to trudge outside to hit the john. Which means that for emergencies, they've got chamberpots.

So now, I want all of you to ask yourselves a question. Yes, that's right, all three of you out there. Pay attention. Let's say you wake up in the middle of the night with a bubbly, bursting bladder. You've got two options -- either you trudge downstairs and outside in the dark and cold and wind to make a tinkle, or you squat over a bowl and let loose, and then sleep with your pee until morning. What do you do? What do you do?

I have to admit, I'm not sure myself. The chamberpot sounds gross, but remember, you've got to make it down a flight of stairs, through a door, a yard and another door, all in unfamiliar territory, and all without bumping into something along the way that'll jostle the juice out of you prematurely. The options are not good. Plus, let's say you take the lazy way out and piss in your pot. Fine. What kind of dreams are you going to have for the rest of the night, eh? Look, when you smell bacon cooking, you dream of breakfast. When you smell smoke, you dream of fire. What's a 'piss dream' going to be like, as it wafts up to you from under the bed? Not good, I can tell you that. And hopefully not breakfast, unless you're on some diet I don't wanna know about. (What would Atkins say? How many carbs in a quart of pee, do you think?)

Anyway, the parents in the group were already sniping at each other by day three. The mother had a near-nervous breakdown on day four, which coincidentally -- or maybe not -- was her birthday. 'Happy birthday, Mum. Hope you like your present -- it's a shred of dignity, to replace the one you lost when you tried squeezing back into your filthy corset after going without a bath for three days. Many happy returns!'

I feel bad for the neighbors of this house. Between the outhouse, and the chickens that they've brought in, and all the yelling and screaming, it's got to be a friggin' nightmare. But the ones coming out of this thing the worst are the kids, of course. Oh, sure, the mother's got it bad. She's spending three hours to cook each meal over what amounts to a pissant campfire, and hand-washes all the family's clothes (they've got three outfits apiece, whether they need 'em or not!), and has to stay in her Victorian-era bindings at all times, while the kids get to change for school. So she's definitely going to bite someone's head off at some point. No question.

But think of the kids -- what sort of ruthless, merciless taunting are they enduring in class? They have to bring their turn-of-last-century-food lunches to school, interact with as little 20th -- not to mention 21st -- century technology as possible, and clamber back into their grimy clothes as soon as school's over. So they're barely-washed, un-deodoranted, smelly, haggard, gruel-eating, loner freaks. For three months. I can just see the schoolmaster instructing the bullies at their school:

No, William, you may not pull his underwear over his head. Elastic bands weren't sewn into underwear until 1915. Yes, Jill, toilets existed in 1900; you may safely give the twins a swirly.

Poor little buggers. I don't know how the hell any of them are doing it. Shit, I wouldn't make it for a week in The 1990 House, much less one from one hundred years ago. Think about all the things we didn't have back in '90 -- the Web, the Sims, Lara Croft, The Drew Carey Show, Dream Team Olympic farces... well, okay, some things were better back then, I suppose. Still, it was a scary time. We barely had the Simpsons, or Seinfeld. And blogs? Fuggedaboutit! I feel faint just thinking about it. I'm gonna go have a lie-down and watch TV. I just hope I don't stumble onto ESPN Classic or an old Dynasty rerun, or I may lose it completely.

Thursday, July 24, 2003
The Quest for Endless Simpsons and Always-On South Park

Baby, once you've had blog, you never go back.

My life is incomplete. Hollow, wasted. There's a gaping void in my world, and I can't fill the hole. Behold my anguish.

I need TiVo.

Wantsss the preciousss TiVo. Wantsss it. Mussst have preciousss TiVo. Givesss it to me!

(Okay, enough of that. You get the picture. I feel all dirty when I talk like that. Like Ivana Trump or something.)

So, anyway, I'm angling for TiVo. Now, don't get me wrong. With most things, if I want it, I just go out and buy it. I'm a big boy, after all. If I want a chicken sandwich, I go buy a chicken sandwich. (Mmmm... chicken. With lettuce and mayo and onions and jalapeno peppers... Nnggghhh...) Okay, remind me not to blog right before lunch in future, would ya, folks? Now I've gone and drooled all over my keyboard. Hmmm. And my leg, it seems. Eep.

But back to my story. If I want food, I buy food. If I want a video game, I buy a video game. If I want the new Jewel CD, well -- okay, I probably kill myself at that point. But theoretically -- this is very important -- theoretically, I could go out and buy it. And then kill myself. But still, I could. But I won't. But I could.

Such is not the way with TiVo, I'm afraid. For one thing, it's a 'big ticket' item. I'm not likely to be able to slip it in without causing a blip on the budget radar screen.

(The 'radar screen' being my wife's Mac's monitor when she's going over expenses for the month. And believe me, she catches everything. Which is good, because I generally catch nothing. So it's a nice balance, and the repo man almost never comes around any more, since my wife's taken over the operation. In the meantime, I make up for my fiscal deficiencies in other ways. We have exactly the opposite responsibilities when it comes to watching baseball, for instance. It's my job to watch every single pitch and explain the minutiae of the game in as much detail as I possibly can, while she pretends to not listen and read a magazine. So I think it's pretty even, if you look at it that way.)

Now, I could risk just taking money out of the bank and buying the thing, thereby keeping the charge off of our credit cards, but even that would arouse suspicion, I'm afraid. Why, you ask? Oh, I'd be delighted to tell you! Thanks so much for asking! First of all, the really nice Sony DirecTV TiVo console runs about four bills. (Look, if I'm going to scheme and plan and wait around to get the damned thing, I'm aiming high, all right?) Maybe a tad less on eBay, but still -- more money than I could justify taking out for 'play money'. I mean, that's a frickin' boatload of chicken sammiches, you know what I'm sayin'? So I'd need a good story, which I sadly don't have.

And even if I did, there's still the fact that I haven't actually gotten money out of an ATM in roughly four years. So the mere withdrawal would set off alarm bells, whether I took out four dollars or four hundred.

(Okay, so maybe I should explain why I don't take money out. It's just because I don't have to. And no, all you smart-asses out there, it's not because my wife gives me an allowance, either! Don't be a dickhead! No, the truth is far different, and I resent your implication. Good day, sir!

I'm sorry the rest of you had to see that. Now, for those of you who are truly interested in how I get my spending cash, I'll tell you. It's quite simple, really. Every night, I leave my wallet, and my keys, and my trusty slingshot, on my dresser. Most mornings when I wake up, all my stuff is there, untouched. But every so often -- once a week or so -- something magical happens. On those mornings, when I get to the dresser, there are twenty-dollar bills scattered on top of my wallet. Not piles of them, mind you. A couple, or three. If I've been really good that week, maybe even four or five! But it's not an allowance, of course, as those cretins tried to suggest earlier. It's nothing so preposterous or demeaning as all of that. No, there's only one plausible explanation for the phenomenon, and it's this:

Sometime deep in the night, while all good folks are sleeping, the Andrew Jackson Fairy visits each house in turn, searching for good little boys and girls. When she finds a worthy soul -- one full of light and love, but woefully low on dough -- the good Fairy waves her wand and sprinkles her magic pixie bills over a wallet or pocketbook, and voila, the lucky person will wake up to a beautiful surprise of legal tender, lovingly submitted for their spending amusement. It's like Christmas once a week, without all of the trees and wrapping paper and religious crap to get in the way of what's really important -- getting cold, hard cash whether you deserve it or not.

So that's how I get my money, because I'm a good little boy, and I mow the yard occasionally and generally stay out of trouble. But how do you get your cash? 'Cause if it's not from a Fairy, then you're missing the boat. Sounds like somebody needs to do a little rethinking about how they're living their life, no?)

All right, what the hell was I saying, anyway? Oh, right, TiVo. Of course.

So, putting TiVo on a credit card is out, and withdrawing money from our account would get me busted, too. And to top it off, when I first brought up TiVo, my wife replied with:

'We don't need TiVo.'

Folks, I have to tell you -- the first time she said that, I fell to my knees, breathless. Like I'd been shot, or gotten a really bad wedgie. An elastic-over-the-top-of-the-head wedgie, you know the kind. I didn't know how to respond. I mean, first of all, she's wrong. So wrong. Of course we need TiVo. We've always needed TiVo, even before it existed. How could anyone not need Tivo? What kind of statement is that, anyway? 'We don't NEED TiVo' Pish tosh. I've never heard anything so ridiculous.

But of course, I couldn't say that to her. As soon as I try to convince her that we need TiVo, she'll start cheating and using logic, and tell me how we need to buy food, and we need to pay the mortgage, and we need to make the car payments, and I need to paint the porch... hey, wait a minute. What was that last one? (She sometimes tries to slip one of those in on me.) Anyway, once she gets going, she'll find some way to make TiVo seem less important than food, and water, and shelter, and not going into debt and hocking our wedding rings. I don't know how the hell she does it, but somehow she makes it sound plausible. At the time, anyway.

So, I have to admit, I was stumped for quite a while. I couldn't charge TiVo, I couldn't buy TiVo, and my wife doesn't want Tivo, so she's not going to help, either. (I even paraded my friends and coworkers who have TiVo around, to regale her with glowing testimonials and tales of the life-changing power that is TiVo. She scoffed. And harrumphed. And -- more recently -- pointed out that I have no job. Man, she's good! I had to find another way...)

I ran through scenarios. I could earn extra cash by donating blood, or plasma, or sperm... hmmm, giving sperm, eh? Hell, most people do that for free! But I dismissed those ideas. I checked out the first two, and they both involved needles, which I wasn't interested in. At that point, I could only assume that donating sperm also works the same way, so I didn't even look into it. Or sleep well for a couple of nights, either, still thinking about it. *shudder*

I considered other alternatives. I could borrow money from my parents, or her parents, or that guy at work who I have incriminating pictures of. But I thought it through, and that wouldn't fly, either. Even if I could come up with the money somehow, I still had to bring the thing into the house and hook it up. I mean, I couldn't just hide it under the couch, and pull it out after she went to bed... or could I? No. She'd eventually find it, and then I'd have to tell her the whole story, and then I'd be sleeping in the dog house. I could show her those incriminating pictures of the guy at work, I suppose, and we'd have a good chuckle over that, but I'd still be in the dog house. Which we don't have. So I'd have to build one, paint it, and then sleep in it. With the dog. And the dog farts, so I'm not doing that. There had to be another way.

Finally, it hit me! There was one loophole, just big enough to squeeze through. I could have my TiVo, and even tell my wife beforehand that I was getting it, to avoid any nasty discoveries down the road. (Well, any more nasty discoveries, anyway. I think I could have avoided the last fiasco if we had a better mailman. Seriously, just because it's called a 'mail order bride' does not mean that you have to lodge her in the mail slot for my non-mail order wife to find. Dude, get a frickin' clue, would ya? Next time, I'm usin' FedEx.)

Anyway, here's the plan. All I have to do is buy my TiVo without spending real money. No, no -- I'm not talking about counterfeiting cash, people. I'm talking about using money that's not real, not useful. Stuff that we'd never end up spending, but that can be converted into real, live money. Take dollar bills, for instance. What do you use singles for, apart from the occasional vending machine and the strip club outside of town? Nothing. They're useless. Maybe you keep a couple to give to the homeless guy doing softshoe at the bus stop, or the Salvation Army Santa. But do you ever really use one dollar bills? No. They're for charity, strippers, and for bribing little kids to go get you a beer. All good causes, certainly, though I maybe wouldn't prioritize them in the order they're listed. But there are alternatives to each, now, aren't there? You can buy the homeless guy a sandwich instead, or pay your charities with checks. You can get your own damned beer, you lazy prick, and dude -- if you can't find naked horny chicks on the internet for free, well, then you've got no business looking in the first place.

So now I'm on a quest. (For TiVo, dude, not naked horny chicks. Focus.) Now when I get one of those useless one dollar bills, I don't just drop it, or light it on fire, or crease it down the middle and stuff it into the first pair of low-rider jeans or halter top that bounces past. No. Now when I get a dollar bill, it goes straight into the Fund. The Gettin' Me a Goddamn TiVo Fund. And I told my wife. I told her not to change how much money she gives me um, the Andrew Jackson Fairy is scheduled to leave me, or how much we sock away for retirement, or anything. I'm saving on the side, and if that means going without the occasional soda or bag of chips, or G-stringed bimbo, then that's just the sacrifice I'll have to make.

(To be honest, I really can't remember the last time I went to a strip club. I've never been to one in Boston, and we've been here for four years, if that tells you anything. Of course, since I've started my Fund, all my friends tease me about the 'booby bar', and want to know where I go, and if they can come next time. It just doesn't make any damned sense, though. Look, if I were going to strip clubs, you can be pretty damned sure that the last thing I'd have lying around is dozens and dozens of dollar bills. If I were going to bother to go, I'd at least put the things to good use, now, wouldn't I? Sure, I idly crease a few of the ones in the fund -- you know, just in case -- but at the moment, I'm more interested in TiVo than titty. Have I mentioned just how old I am, by the way?!?)

Anyway, I think I've got all my bases covered. It's slow going, but I'm making good progress. I've been saving for a while now, and I'm nearly half-way to my goal. (Sony, you frickin' bastards, do not raise the price on your TiVo box before I hit four hundred. So help me God, I will take a cheese grater to all of your asses if you jack me up on this one. You got that?) And being out of work hasn't really slowed things down too much. Oh, the Fairy's been a little stingier, since I'm eating at home most days now, but then again, I don't need a lot of cash, so it's okay. I still order the occasional pizza, or need a tank of gas (no, not the kind you get from pizza, thank you very little), or go out for a weekend beer. So the singles are trickling in, slowly but surely. There are four more downstairs right now that I got as change for Chinese takeout last night. Cha-ching!

So wish me luck, folks. I have a dream. And I'm going to make it, sooner or later. By the time I reach my goal, TiVo will probably jack right into your brain stem and massage your feet while you watch. I'll be a hundred and thirty years old, and won't be able to figure out how to program the friggin' thing, or even set the damned fool clock. By that point, there'll be seven thousand channels, and not one that I want to watch anymore. I'll be my grandfather, sleeping through movies and complaining about 'all the crap they show on this confounded thing'. But no matter. I'll have my TiVo, whether I need it or not. And that's what it's all about.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003
Y'Know, I've Seen Some Ants Around Here, Too. Can I Claim Them?

More inane drivel than you can shake a stick at!

So, one of the many perks of not having a job is that you get to file for unemployment benefits.

(And, since you asked, some of the others include sleeping until you damned well feel like getting up, declaring Thursdays shave-free (and shower-optional!), watching SportsCenter reruns over and over until you can 'Boo-yah!' along with Stuart Scott as he rattles through the highlights, wearing pajamas until the dog absolutely has to be escorted outside, and finding out how many olives you can stuff into your mouth at one time. Which is twenty-eight, by the way. Did I mention that I might have just a teensy bit too much time on my hands?)

Anyway -- leaving my borderline-psychotic behavior aside -- filing for unemployment actually isn't nearly as teeth-gnashingly frustrating as you'd expect something run entirely by the government to be. Oh, sure, some of the questions asked by the nice young man on the other end of the phone call were a little odd -- for example:

'Are you currently employed?' Um... no. D'ya think they weed a lot of people out with this question?
'Are you looking for work?' Well, yeah. Do people usually wait until the bon-bons run out to start job hunting?
'Are you doing any part-time work?' Ah... no. If I'm not employed, I'm not working at all, right? Is this a trick question?
'Have you received unemployment benefits from our office in the past twelve months?' Dude, if your system doesn't even go back a year... come on.

But he was just doing his job, so I tried not to be too much of a smart-ass. On the other hand, when he asked:

'Do you have any dependents to claim under your benefits?'

I seized the opportunity and listed my dog, my house, and my car. Was that wrong?

The way I figure it, 'dependent' roughly translates to 'going to fall into disarray and be taken away from me if I don't have money to throw at it'. That's the way it works with kids, and I'm guessing the same thing would happen to my dog, car, and house, so what's the difference? What's good for the child is good for the pit bull, as the old saying goes. Or ought to go, anyway.

So, of course, I had to ad-lib a little to pull this off. My dog has a name, of course (Susie), and -- luckily enough -- so does my car. My car's name is Betty. I named her Betty because she's silver -- well, 'sterling mist', to be precise, but that's a bit too formal for her tastes. Anyway, I gave it a lot of thought, and I realized that there's a Betty White, and there's Brown Betty, and there's even a Black Betty (or two, or three), but the world has never had a Silver Betty before. So now we have -- you can thank me later. Really, it's the least I could do.

Anyway, I was in the clear for the dog and the car. Plus, when the guy wanted social security numbers for each, I could give him Susie's license number, and the VIN off of Betty's dashboard. Two for two -- yay! But I wasn't done yet. When he asked whether I had any more 'dependents', I had to go for the big one.

'Yeah. Just one more,' I said.
'Okay,' he replied. 'What's the name?'

What, indeed? Now I was on the spot. I had to come up with a name -- the name -- for our house, and with no time to think about it. And I couldn't back out now -- how would you get out of it at that point? 'Oh, I'm sorry. I thought I had another kid, but it's actually a garden gnome.' Or, 'Never mind. I do have another dependent right now, but he's really not working out, anyway. I'll probably just end up setting him out by the curb to be recycled.'

So clearly, I had to come up with something, and it had to be good. Not for the flunkie taking down the name, of course. Any 'Elbert' or 'Dingus' or 'Maggie Lou' would do for him. No, it had to be good, and damned good, because the house was going to hear me say it. And the last thing you want to do is to piss your house off by giving it a bad name. Call the house 'Fannie Ray', and the next thing you know, the walls'll start bleeding and the bed'll be levitating off the floor. I watch horror movies, goddamn it, and you do not piss off the house. Ever.

But I hadn't really thought about it before, either, and I hadn't the time to do it now. How would the house feel about 'Scott'? Or 'Mary'? Hey, it's a 'Queen Anne Victorian'; what about 'Anne' or 'Victoria'? Nah -- 'Anne House' would sound too much like 'Anne Heche', and I don't think our house is lesbian. For one thing, none of the doors swing both ways. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you -- I just don't think it fits our particular abode. And Victoria wouldn't work, either -- our house is ninety-nine years old, and I'd always be worried that 'Victoria's Secret' was a skeleton of some kind in the closet. Well, not just some kind -- I mean a real skeleton in an actual closet. Who knows what's gone on here since the turn of the century? That's practically caveman times, for Crissakes. People probably ate each other just to survive back then.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, I was running out of time. 'Herbert House'? No. 'Harriet House'? Doubt it. 'Hildegard House'? Decidedly not. The guy cleared his throat at me. I didn't know what to do. Finally, I blurted out the next thing that popped into my head.

Me: Klaus.
Him: I'm sorry. What was that?
Me: Um, Klaus? His name is Klaus?
Him: Klaus?
Me: Mmm-hmm. Klaus.
Him: Klaus.
Me: Yeah.
Him: That's what you're going with, is it?
Me: Um, yeah.
Him: Okay. Klaus it is, then. Good luck with that one.

So I gave him our mortgage account number as the SSN, and I was done. I was off the hook for the moment, but in the meantime, I created a monster. Klaus. Klaus House. Oh, shit. I fully expect a booming German voice to order me to 'Get aht of the haus!' tonight. Or for sauerkraut to sprout out of the floorboards and start crawling up our legs. Or a ghostly oompah band to parade through our bedroom playing spooky polkas. Or maybe not. Hey, maybe the house digs the Oktoberfest feel, and it'll be beer that oozes down the walls. Now that would kick ass. Nothing like a pint of paranormal brau with the frau, eh?

The way I figure it, now the race is on. If the house is pissed about the new moniker, then it'll start screwing with our minds soon, and drive us out or insane, whichever comes first. In the meantime, as soon as the folks in the unemployment office look up the fake numbers I've given them, they'll be sending someone over to lock me away. Whether in jail or a padded room remains to be seen, but to lock me away, nonetheless. Which will give me the last laugh, of course. Once I'm incarcerated, there's no way I'll get a job, and then Susie and Betty and Klaus will be moved to a foster home (and a foster garage, and a foster neighborhood, respectively). Then we'll see how 'dependent' they were on me, won't we? That'll teach those government hard-asses! Yeah!

Oh, I am so screwed...

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Thou Shalt Not Worketh, Nor Searcheth for a Job

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your blog.

Well, it's a damned good thing I don't believe in omens.

So, I'm 'between jobs', as my favorite euphemism for sitting around unshaven and in my undies on the couch eating pork rinds and watching Oprah goes.

(Speaking of pork rinds, does anybody really ever eat these things any more? You know, outside of cliches, trailer park jokes, and fabulously witty tongue-in-cheek blogs? Seriously. Look, I'll admit this, and it's quite embarrassing, but I actually used to eat pork rinds. Not that often, but often enough, believe me.

But that was back before we knew better, not to mention before I put two and two together. The first two being that the things are made from pigs, and the other two being that 'rind' means 'filthy outside part'. And I don't even want to think about the process that sowhide has to go through to get all airy and crunchy. Ick. There are a lot of things that I like to do with skin -- and I mean a lot -- but none of them involve stripping it off of something and making it resemble some sort of carnivorous cotton candy. It's just not natural. It's not the skin eating that bothers me, mind you -- there are really only three criteria that an animal has to meet for me to at least consider taking a quick taste. It's just got to:

  • have less than six legs (that's before sadistic plucking, all you insect torturers out there)
  • appear to be tasty, even before the marinade and hot sauce start flying
  • be unable to talk back to me (unable usually meaning 'biologically unable', though it's okay in my book to gag something temporarily to meet this criterion... but only if it looks exceptionally tasty

(I also reserve the right to lick the skin of certain, um, animals not meeting criterion number three, though I'm rarely allowed to exercise that particular right. Not to mention strictly forbidden to ever do so again in Pennsylvania. There was some... unpleasantness.)

Anyway, I've got nothing against eating skin. (Or licking it, don't forget. Licking is just peachy, too.) But skin's got to look like skin to be edible-eligible, and it doesn't hurt if it's still attached to the thing that it came from. Pork rinds meet neither of those criteria, and aren't even remotely good for you. (As though that would weigh in my decision at all.) They're like 113% cholesterol, I think, with chunky fat filling and salt and calories out the pig wazoo. You'd be healthier injecting lukewarm lard into your veins than eating this crap. So I'm interested to know whether there are still people out there that do. Particularly people over the age of thirty. Or under the weight of three-thirty. I'm honestly not sure that either milestone is attainable for the serious pork rind connoisseur. Somehow I don't think Lance Armstrong is sucking these down as he pedals through the Pyrenees. But that's just me.)

Okay, way off topic there. Where the hell was I? Oh, right, the omen I don't believe in. All righty, here we go.

So, me. Unemployed. We covered that part. So, I'm driving to a 'career counseling' interview today, when the heavens open and spew buckets of rain all over the highway. And probably other places, too, but I can really only vouch for the area within about three feet of my car, since that's about as far as I could see for the ten minutes or so that it lasted. It was inconvenient, certainly, and a little spooky, I suppose, if you're into those 'bad sign' sorts of things. Here I am, in my car, hurtling along at several knots over the speed limit to talk to an expert about how to land a job, and suddenly Mother Nature decides to squat over my head and piss on my parade. More or less literally. Makes you wonder, just a little, about how my job hunt's going to go, doesn't it? But that's not the omen; that's just the tap on the shoulder to get my attention. Foreshadowing, if you will. (And even if you won't, come to think of it; who's writing this damn blog, anyway?)

So, as the ancient Sumerians used to say, 'I made it through the rain'. And the skies had brightened a bit by the time I reached the building housing my expert. (Well, okay, not my expert; I'm just renting her for a while. Hmmm. Doesn't sound so good when I put it that way, does it? I'm just one of her bitches until I find a job? Better? No? Eh.) So, anyway, I get there, and have largely put the torrential attention-getter behind me, and I'm looking forward to a nice, productive meeting. That's when Mom Nature decides to drop by for another visit.

You see, it seems that just as I'm approaching the building, Zeus or God or Ra or whoever you like to believe is in charge of such things, sees fit to lightning-bolt the shit out of a nearby transformer. Not quite so nearby to turn me all crispy, mind you, but nearby enough to knock out all power to said building. Including the office where my appointment was to be held. On the ninth floor. Bleh.

So, I get in the building, assess the situation, and start climbing stairs. Now I don't particularly mind stairs. I've had some experience with stairs, and we usually get along okay. I've even got a few around the house, and some more hanging out beside our porch. I'm good to stairs, and stairs are generally good to me. Well, folks, these stairs obviously hadn't gotten wind of my stair advocacy, or maybe just didn't give a damn. These were cutthroat business stairs, and if there's anything more ruthless than the corporate ladder, boys and girls, then it's eight frickin' flights of concrete corporate stairs. But I beat those stairs, and climbed all the way up. Oh, sure, I begged for mercy a couple of times, and swatted at a couple of them out of frustration, but I hung with it, and I climbed all the way up to the ninth floor. And then, on the way through the fire door, I wiped my feet at those stairs -- the way a dog or a cat might -- just so they'd know they ain't shit to me. Hell, yeah. Suck on that, stair bitches!

Of course, I spent the next twenty minutes or so in the bathroom, toweling off sweat and catching my breath. I have to wonder what the guy thought who walked into the mens' room just as I was coming out, wiping my sweat-soaked shirt and still panting from my trip. And probably drooling a little, too, I imagine. He gave me a funny look, and I thought that some explanation was in order, so I just said:

Take my advice, dude. Do not get the meatloaf in the cafeteria today.

That seemed to satisfy him, so I moved on.

So, now comes the fun part. I meet up with my 'career counselor', and she invites me into her office. Her dark, lightless, powerless office. Hoo boy. Well, it's not as if we need light, right? I mean, I'm only there for her to read my stinkin' resume! So, we make the best of it. We play 'Marco Polo' in her office for a few minutes, until one of the admin assistants can find a free conference room with a window that we can use for light.
(We tried playing some other games to pass the time, but they didn't work out so well, as you might imagine. I spy, with my little eye.. something... black! Pitch black!' Not so fun.)

So, after that, I suppose things went relatively well. By that point, I fully expected to see dark clouds out the window spelling out 'YOU'LL NEVER WORK AGAIN' or 'CHARLIE IS A WEENIE', but the actual meeting actually went pretty smoothly. And boringly, from a blog point of view, so I won't burden you with all the details. Suffice to say that we spent an hour or so discussing what it is that I really want to do, what I'm passionate about, and then another fifteen minutes or so going over why it's never, ever going to happen.
(Okay, we didn't really. The lady was quite nice, and patted me on the head when I did well, and corrected me politely when I didn't. It was actually very civil and encouraging. Sure, she could've given me a lollipop when we were done, like I asked, buit apart from that, I was more or less satisfied.)

So, I got past all of the earlier ominous business after all. Like I said, I don't believe in omens. Of course, even if I did believe in omens, I would've had to question whether this particular wet, dark warning was really meant for me, or for someone else. After all, it probably poured in a lot of places around here, and the power was off in the entire building. I might've thought that someone else was thinking of quitting his job, or moving her family to California, or committing suicide... or not committing suicide, for that matter, and that all of the ruckus was really meant for them, and not me. At least, I'd have thought that until the power and lights came on just as I was stepping onto the very last stair at the bottom of the staircase, after I'd climbed eight flights back down those bastards. At that point -- this is if I believed in omens, mind you -- at that point, I probably would have had to conclude that I'll never find a job again, and should just go ahead and start collecting empty bottles and cans right now.

But I don't believe in omens.

I mentioned that, right? I must have, 'cause I've been repeating it to myself all day since I've been back. 'There's no such thing as omens. There's no such thing as omens. There's no such thing as omens...'

I'm even starting to believe it, just a little. On the other hand, the skies are clouding up again, and I'm beginning to wonder where the next lightning bolt is aimed. Maybe it's best to put this fool-hardy 'gainful employment' idea out of my head for a while, and see how things look tomorrow. Or the next day. Or maybe next week sometime. I'd hate to think that me getting another job is somehow contrary to the laws of Nature. I mean, why would I be singled out?
(Pauly Shore did a whole bunch of movies back in the day -- he's at least as heinous a crime against nature as I am.)

So, anyway, that was my day today. It started out with hope and optimism, then some fear, and then some sweating and heaving, and then some more fear, and then a meeting. Then more sweating, and then a bit of abject terror, and finally quite a lot of hiding under the covers and wibbling. Oh, and talking to myself. And now some blogging. Sounds like fun, eh?

So it seems that I may not be getting a job soon, after all. We'll have to see. In the meantime, I could use a beer. Hey, and not only is it likely to calm me down, but once I empty it, I can get the five cent deposit on the bottle, too. Woo hoo! My new career is looking up, after all!

CRAP (see this post for the CRAP 411):
Hey, speaking of 'Marco Polo', doesn't the idea of that game seem just a teensy odd to you? Think about it. Here's one of the greatest explorers and adventurers in the history of our species, and we commemorate his monumental feats by what? Splashing around blindly in a pool trying to poke people. Oh yes, I'm certain he'd approve of that. That's how he and his crew got to China, after all -- packed into boats and wearing blindfolds, yelling, 'Mainland?' 'China!' at each other. No, really.

Seriously, wouldn't it make more sense to use someone else for this sort of smack-your-friends-in-the-dark game? Shouldn't we be dog-paddling around screaming, 'Stevie?' 'Wonder!', or something? I ask merely for more information. Honest.

Monday, July 21, 2003
With Six You Get Iggrull

I'm bloggin'... yes indeedy, I'm bloggin'...

Well, well, well -- what to talk about tonight? I don't really have a topic in mind (which is exceptionally dangerous, as I'm well aware), but I feel compelled to write, for three reasons. And here they are:

A. I haven't written a post of any substance today (the Taco Bell snippet doesn't really count, though it makes me snicker).
2. I've been working on finding-a-job-related emails all day, so I'm sick of writing 'proper' and 'polite' shit right now. Fuck that noise, bo-yee.
III. My last two entry titles have prominently featured the word 'fart', and I don't want people getting the idea that this is a 'bathroom humor' blog. Well, not entirely, anyway. Just a little, when things need a bit of a pick-me-up.

And so, I blog. I'm here to bring you the truth, folks. It's a full-time job, and I can never rest, or there will be truths that go unwritten, unread, and forgotten forever. We mustn't have that; we simply mustn't. So I'm here to -- wait, here comes a Universal Truth now. What's this one? Wait... okay, I got it:

Despite the name, nobody particularly even likes Raymond, much less loves him, or that drivelly damned show of his.

See? See what you'd miss if I weren't on duty here? How'd you like to go through life believing that everyone really does love Raymond? What kind of world would that be, eh? Not pretty, I can tell you. And not the least bit funny, either. Damn skippy.

All right, that's enough of that. What other sorts of trouble can I get into tonight?

Okay, here you go. Can someone please tell me what the Chinese have against us, 'us' being the English-speaking part of the world? I mean, I'm sure we've pissed them off in the past -- we piss everybody off at one point or another -- but they seem to be holding a major grudge over something. Could be that we took over all the cool fireworks displays, or that we bastardized their checkers game, or maybe just that we finally figured out how to get out of those confounded finger traps. I don't know, but I do know this: there's apparently an organized movement by the Chinese to frustrate and confuse us English-speaking folks, and I'd like to get to the bottom of it. It's getting nasty, and I'm starting to personally suffer because of it.

I first noticed this dastardly conspiracy a few months ago. I didn't recognize it at first, I have to admit. I was comparing take-out menus and looking for something a bit on the spicy side. I checked one menu, and saw that they featured 'General Tso's chicken'. Looked good. The next place -- 'General Gau's chicken'. Okay, then. The next one sported 'General Tsao's chicken', and the next, 'General Gao's'. Now, I'm no expert on Asian military history, but I found it exceedingly unlikely that the Chinese could have developed so many men who were both brilliant combat strategists and a whiz with the old wokery. I began to get suspicious.

I decided to do some more research. And if that meant ordering and eating scads of delicious Asian food, then so be it. It's in the name of science, dammit! So I made a few phone calls, and surveyed my bounty when it arrived an hour or so later. And the results were startling. What one restaurant called 'Moo Goo Gai Pan', another called 'Mu Go Guy Pan'. There were 'Szechuan' menus and 'Sichuan' menus and even 'Szechwan' menus, all with the same dishes. Hmmm. I also found the 'Moo Shu Pork' to taste suspiciously like the 'Moo Shi Pork'. (Well, that and the 'Moo Shi Chicken', and the 'Moo Shu Beef', and the 'Moo Shi Prawns', as well. These weren't four-star establishments I was ordering from, after all.)

And that's when it hit me. Look, there's nothing wrong with a little bit of spelling variation here and there, or even the occasional typo on a menu. There's also no rule that says that I personally have to understand what's written there. I'm usually completely clueless with a French menu in my hand, and only slightly better when the dishes are described in Spanish. (At least with Espanol, I can point, like a four-year-old, to the words I recognize and giggle accordingly. 'Hah! Pesce is fish! Fish, everybody, fish! Whee! Look at me!' Needless to say, I'm not invited out for Mexican food very often.) But that's okay -- the names are the same at every restaurant, and I can point at what I want, or make 'cluck cluck' or 'moooo' noises until I can practice enough to get the pronunciation just right. But that's not how Chinese menus work. They're never the same, and I'm now convinced that they're doing it on purpose.

Think about it. These other languages play by the same rules we do. Oh, we have to learn a thing or two to converse with the Spanish, or the Germans, of course. We have to learn that two L's together in Spanish is sort of a Y sound rather than a hard L. We've got to sneer, and speak from the back of our noses like the French do, if we want to say 'deux' or 'eau' just the right way. And we've got to put up with all of the letter accessories -- cedillas and umlauts and so forth -- that these non-English speakers seem to have found a use for over the centuries. And all of that's just fine with me.

But Chinese is different. They have their own set of characters -- and three thousand or so of 'em, too -- that they use to write their words with. So -- and this is the really important part -- when they actually want to translate some word into English for us to write down, they're in complete control. They can spell the word however the hell they want, and we're just stuck with it. Now, if they liked us, they'd send out an email or something to all of the Chinese speakers and say, 'Look, we've jerked these guys around long enough. Let's get it over with and just spell it Gao'. Or Tso, or whatever. I don't care. Just decide, dammit. And don't try to convince me that the words in play now are actually anywhere close to each other, or that they're somehow phonetically related to the way you actually pronounce the word. Clearly, folks, they're just fucking with our minds.

Now, don't get me wrong. I can actually understand how a lot of the really important words have changed over the years. First of all, Americans were probably involved when some of these words were being explained. And if there's one thing we don't do well as a nation, it's frigging listen. And if there's anything we do worse than listen, it's listen to someone who's from a different country. Most Americans just can't be bothered. So I can see what happened with a word like 'Beijing', for instance. The first conversation was probably with some yahoo from the States, and went something like this:

Yahoo: Well, gosh durn, that's a big city. I wanna tell the folks back home about it. What's that there city called, anyway?
Host: That is Beijing.
Yahoo: Bee? Bee--
Host: No, honored guest. Bei. Beijing.
Yahoo: Bee. Sting?
Host: Pardon, no. Beijing.
Yahoo: Bee--
Host: Bei.
Yahoo: Pay--
Host: Bei. Jing. Beijing.
Yahoo: Boo. Jang. Boo. Jangles. Bojangles?
Host: Ah... no. Bei. Jing.
Yahoo: Boo. Zing. Boozing?
Host: No. Stop it. Beijing.
Yahoo: Bitch-ing? Beach Hang? Pootie Tang?
Host: No. Damn you severely. Bei.
Yahoo: Bee--
Host: Bei. Bei, you Yankee cow! Bei! Beijing!
Yahoo: Pee? King. Pee King?
Host: Oh, close enough. Go bug Japan or something now, would you? Prick.

And that's how we ended up with 'Peking' for a few decades, until they just couldn't stand it any longer and made us change our maps and globes and stop mangling the name of their capital quite so badly. Maybe that's what they're pissed about, come to think of it. We held onto that one for a long time, and most of those menus I mentioned still serve 'Peking Duck', even though we were corrected quite a while back now.

Anyway, all I'm asking for is one spelling for each word, so we can get on with actually talking to people. Or, as is often the case, ordering dinner. Oh, and not to be a pissy pony, but would it kill anyone if these words were phonetically based? I say 'Szechuan' a lot like 'Sesh Wan', which is probably way off base. I've got no problem if someone would point me to the right pronunciation, but get that goddamned 'Z' out of there, would you? It's not helping anybody, or if it is, then get rid of the 'S' instead. You don't really have to follow any fancy European rules for making these words deliberately hard to decipher; the originals are written in those pretty Chinese pictograms, so you're quite free to be original and make the translations pronouncable. We'd really appreciate it, and I'll even do my best to get people to stop calling your capital 'Pee King'. I can see how that would get annoying.

So I hope that's helped to smooth some things over with our Asian compatriots. I'm new at this whole international detente thing, but I think we're off to a good start. You give a little, you ask for a little. It's all about building relationships, folks. Well, okay, at the moment it's all about ordering lunch off the takeout menu without getting laughed at over the phone, or resorting to using the item numbers. Really, I don't ask for much. All I really want is a good 'Sesh Wan Beef', and maybe the occasional 'Low Main'. Or something off of the 'Poo Poo Platter'.

Hmmm. Yeah, on second thought, I take it all back. Call it whatever you want, and just tell me how to say it. Except for the 'Pu-Pu Platter'. I'll order that one by number, or whatever makes you happy. I'm afraid that if I ruffle too many feathers, I'll get a 'Poo Poo Platter', after all. Only it'll be called 'Peking Duck', and it'll be served with an evil grin and a muttered 'Pee King this, roundeye'. And I think we've done enough already to piss those nice folks off, don't you?

Does That Come With a Side of ReFarted Beans?

Blog™ -- a little dab'll do ya.

Here's one from the What Could I Possibly Say to Make This Any Funnier Dept.:

Taco Bell is now giving its customers free gas.

As if its customers hadn't always been freely gassy in the first place. Ay, chihuahua!.

Sunday, July 20, 2003
Training for the 'Old Fart Olympics'

You can blog me a little now, or you can blog me a lot later.

Today was a very sporty day in my neighborhood. I got up, watched golf while I ate my cereal, took a shower, played softball, and then had lunch (with my teamies, of course) while watching baseball and talking about basketball, amongst other topics. Hockey didn't come up, and I missed horseshoes and tiddlywinks, but pretty much every other sport was covered, I think. At the risk of boring all of you to the point of suicide, I think I'll expound a bit on each sport that touched my little world today. Sounds like fun, eh? (The sport bit, not the suicide. Smartass.) Here goes.

1. Getting out of bed:

Quite possibly the most strenuous thing I did all day, and certainly the very most hardest. For one thing, I'm old. (Over thirty, even -- the horror!) Which means -- for those of you still in the springtimes of your lives -- that various bits of my body are now wont to develop mysterious aches and pains overnight, as though sleeping is just a bit too tough a task for them to tackle. I go to bed relatively unscathed, and wake up with a sore back, or an achy neck, or wonky elbow... the list goes on and on. It's all very demoralizing, let me assure you. I'm not sure what my body expects me to do -- I mean, what's easier than sleeping?

(Hey, on a somewhat related note, I have this annoying habit. Well, okay, I have lots of annoying habits -- dozens of them; everybody says so -- but most of them are annoying to other people, which is just peachy with me, quite frankly. Most people deserve it, and those bastards who tell me that I have annoying habits deserve it most of all, so there's some poetic justice involved. (One of my more annoying habits, by the way, is apparently pointing out 'poetic justice' when I've just annoyed someone. And how's that for... well, poetic justice! Hee! I could do this all day.) Anyway, of the few annoying habits that actually annoy me, only a few involve sleeping, or more precisely waking up from sleep and getting out of bed. (Many of the other habits do occur in bed, of course, but don't involve sleeping. So I don't wanna talk about them right now. Or probably ever.)

In any event, the thing that annoys me is related to another habit that must annoy my wife, namely that I seem to toss and turn in a rather higgledy-piggledy fashion while I'm sleeping. Now, normally this isn't such a problem (for me, anyway), but a couple of times a month I'll end up on my stomach, with my arms under my body. Not the most comfortable of positions, but maybe it happens when I'm dreaming of being a fish, or a worm, or a kidnap victim or something. Who knows? Anyway, the problem is that sometimes I land in this position and apparently stay that way for quite a while before I wake up. Which means that both of my arms are totally and completely 'asleep', even when the rest of me isn't. Which further means that said arms are more or less useless as limbs, or even long gangly sticks.

This is the point where the problem of getting up, or turning over, or indeed even unstuffing my face from the pillow, becomes rather a taxing challenge. I usually end up rocking back and forth (away from the closer edge of the bed, away from it. Learned that one the hard way.) until I can use my legs to shimmy myself over onto my back and flop my arms to my sides (or, often, and more annoyingly, onto my face). I'm not a pretty sight sprawled out like that, wondering when and whether circulation will return to my arms. On the other hand, I'm probably a less pretty sight lying on my stomach with my hands tucked underneath me somewhere near my nethers, rocking back and forth and trying to do things like 'shimmy' and 'flop'. Luckily, there's rarely anyone around to see me in this predicament, but that makes it no less annoying. Far less embarrassing and socially repulsive, of course, but still exquisitely annoying.)

So, anyway, getting up is not the easiest thing in the world for me any more. Sounds easy, yes. Is easy, no. To make it worse, these days I also have to play head games with my body, which works just about as well as it sounds like it would. See, I'm between jobs at the moment, but I don't want to get into the habit of sleeping for ten or eleven hours a day, lest it become a horrendous chore to get up when I actually do get another job. So I'm giving myself only an extra half hour or so every morning, and getting up at a reasonably early hour. Eight o'clock, say, or maybe eight thirty. The problem is, no matter what sort of pep talk I come up with at night, or what work clothes I lay out for the next day, my body knows -- just knows -- that there's no damned good reason to get up at eight when we don't need to be clean and showered and wearing pants until -- oh, I don't know -- three in the afternoon or so. So my body fights me every step of the way.

(And yes, for you young chickens, once you hit about thirty, getting out of bed becomes a multi-step process. First, you take the covers off, and see how that feels. If it's too hot, or too cold, or too windy, or too... Wednesday, then you can turn over and sleep for another half hour or so. You know, just to steel your nerves for the coming challenge. But let's say you get past that step. Next, you've got to try dangling one leg over the edge of the bed. If you can pull that off without a hitch, then you can scootch your butt toward the middle of the matress, and drop the other leg off. (Preferably off the same side as the first leg, but hey, if you're a gymnast, you're a gymnast. Knock yourself out.) So now you're about halfway home. Then you have to use your calves (and later in life, your hands as well) to pull your ass right to the edge where your feet are. Finally, you have to push yourself up off the mattress and onto your feet, and you're home free! It's a lot of work, and it doesn't get any easier, let me tell you.

For you twentysomethings, the best way to describe it is this: Think of the last fairly debilitating hangover that you had, and how gingerly and deliberately you had to move around that morning to avoid hurting yourself further. That's pretty much it. When you hit thirty, you'll move like you have a six- to twelve-pack of beer hangover. Now I'm creeping up on thirty-five, so it's becoming more like a two-bottle-of-red-wine hangover. I can only suspect that it continues to get worse and worse, and you pass through the margarita hangover stage to the Jack and Coke hangover, and then to the tequila shot hangover. Finally, around sixty-five or so, you wake up feeling like you'd pounded a gallon of Long Island iced teas the night before, and it's just easier to stay in bed. I can't wait.)

So, anyway, that was my getting-up experience today. I rolled out of bed around eight thirty, and dragged my body kicking and screaming along with me. And just to get a smidge of revenge, it decided to pull a muscle on my side, just a bit. I think I was tying my shoes or something equally strenuous when it happened. Fear old age, folks. Fear it.

2. Watching golf:

Okay, let's just get this out of the way up front: golf is evil. I've talked about this before, so I won't rehash it again. But I'll admit that I've been sucked into playing golf, or trying to, on occasion. Fine. That doesn't make me a blithering idiot. (Lots of other things make me a blithering idiot, but playing golf is the least of my worries in that department.) No, I'm not overly concerned about my golf activities because I don't watch golf on television. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Hell, I even close my eyes when I play golf, which explains why I threaten to shoot in quadruple digits when I'm on the links. But the point is that I, as most sane people do, think that watching golf is akin to watching ice melt, or watching grandma's hair fall out. (Except for the 'gross-out factor', of course. Well, unless somebody gives Fuzzy Zoeller another wedgie, that is. That's as gross as gross ever needs to be, and then some.)

Anyway, all of that goes out the window when the British Open is on. I try to catch at least an hour or two of the coverage of this tournament every year, because British golf is not like American golf, not in the slightest. Oh, they still use clubs, and a little white ball, but that's about the only similarity. First of all, all British golf is apparently played in an industrial wind tunnel. This week, at least two golf balls were blown out of position on the green before their owners could scurry up and putt them. Now these aren't bowling balls being blustered around, I'll admit, but I know from experience how much force it takes to kick a golf ball into a better putting position, and it isn't trivial. It's gotta take some gale force wind to get that sucker moving, friends. These aren't gentle, rolling breezes out there; these are hurricanes with a case of the dry heaves.

So that's one thing to watch. The next is the 'rough'. Here in the states, the rough on a golf course is often referred to as the 'second cut'. That is, the groundskeepers mow the grass on the fairway really short, and then go back and cut the rest of the grass a bit higher, to present more of a challenge. Sure, they leave some really thick, bushy stuff near the trees and such, but for the most part, the grass is just a couple of inches long at worst. Sounds okay, right? Well. That's not how the Brits like their rough. No. In the UK, they cut out these piddly narrow little brown fairways, and then just leave the surrounding wilderness alone, to do whatever the hell it likes. And apparently, in many areas, it likes to grow up to be about seven feet tall, so it can lord it over the other grass and grains and small animals and humans that might be around. Tiger Woods -- yes, that Tiger Woods -- missed a fairway earlier this week, by maybe fifteen feet or so. (Even the Gods have chinks in their armor, folks.) Anyway, nobody could find the ball. It just dipped into this heathery abyss and disappeared. They searched for fifteen minutes or longer -- Tiger was out there, the tourney officials were out there, they had Buckingham Palace guards and Scotland Yard detectives out there looking for the damned ball. Nothing. Tiger had to go back and tee off again. One day, the same thing's gonna happen to a golfer rather than a ball. 'I say, chaps, Nick Faldo was here just a moment ago. But he wandered off the fairway to take a whiz, and now he's just gone. We're listing him as 'Missing, and Presumed Strangled By an Enormous Bloody Plant'. Bad luck, that.'

If that's not bad enough, the Brits don't have course 'hazards' like we do, either. Not by half. We build sand traps here in the US; in the UK, they build sand Punji pits, thirty feet deep and lined with railroad ties. Forget a Buick; you could lose an entire car factory in one of these behemoths. They're gargantuan. Every time they build a new golf course, there's one less of the White Cliffs of Dover, 'cause they have to grind one up to get the sand for the traps.

The British Open is an entirely different sport than American golf, and it's ugly, ugly, ugly -- even for the pros. (Some people say that the difficulty level evens out, because there aren't any trees on most British courses to get in the way. Feh. As if that were intentional. All of those courses used to have trees, too, you know. But the mongo bizarro grass in the rough strangled most of 'em off, and the wind blew the rest of 'em over into the gaping quicksand pits, and they're all buried there now. You couldn't grow a tree on one of these courses any more than Duffy Waldorf could fit into a ballerina tutu and sing, 'I'm a Little Teapot'. Not happening.

3. Playing softball:

This actually went very well today, which is not usually the case. But we had enough people to field a team (without even asking the crazy guys living in shopping carts by the field to join us this time!), and we hit and fielded pretty well, and came away with a win. In fact, we were awarded a win, because the other team couldn't keep up with us. Or as I like to say, 'The Mercy Rule was invoked.' (Of course, I don't like to say that so much when we're the ones getting mercied, but we were on the good side of things today, so piss off. Let me have my fun.)

I've always thought the idea of the Mercy Rule was a little odd. I've been playing softball and baseball since I was nine or so, and not once have I seen a player fall to his knees and rend his shirt and wail, 'No mas! Please, I'm begging you! Spare me, and my pathetic teammates! Take our money, or our shoes, but for the love of God, please stop hitting those balls at us!' So I'm not sure exactly how the name came about. I suppose that 'Mercy Rule', even with its somewhat whiny connotation, still sounds better than the 'Taking Too Damned Long to Get Pulverized Rule'. And it's shorter, too. The 'Suck Too Bad Rule'? Short, certainly. But no more appealing. Yeah, 'Mercy Rule' is probably better. Not quite right, but I suppose it's the easiest name to remember. I still think we should get the other teams' shoes and cash if we win that way, though. That's just more drinkin' money for afterwards.

4. Watching baseball and talking about basketball:

I'll lump these together in an effort to wrap things up. I'm proud of you for sticking around so long; I really am. You can take a break if you're getting tired. Go have a nice energy bar, maybe some Gatorade, and then come back for the big finish. Okay, all set? Good. Here we go, last topic.

So, I won't bore you with the details of the baseball game we were watching (Red Sox over Toronto, yay!), or the discussions that we were having about basketball. I won't even tell you what we had for lunch. (Okay, okay, just a little. We started with an artichoke dip appetizer with crispy pita chips. And it was deemed scrumptious by all. Happy, pappy?) I mainly just wanted to mention our lunch, and requisite beers, to prove to you that we really were playing softball. Softball, after all, is the premiere alcohol-required sport. Our league sadly doesn't allow drinking during the games, or even before, so we have to content ourselves with lapping up liquory libations a little later than we'd normally like.

(My favorite softball drinking setup is the keg at second base, with a cooler of goodies in each dugout. This is by no means the pinnacle of beer-drinking softballery, however. The truly hardy souls among us prefer to post a keg at each base, including home plate, and to further require that each batter have a cup of brew before advancing to the next base. As you can imagine, doubles or better in such games are rare, though drunken stumbling and fistfights are rather more common. Oh, and in this setup, there's usually little need for the extra coolers on the bench. Rather, the dugouts in these games are usually equipped with barf bags and ice packs. Plenty of ice packs.)

So, we have our favorite hangouts around the Boston area, depending on where we're scheduled to play that week. There's the dive with Irish food, good Guinness, and crappy televisions over the bar. Then there's the place up north, with Mexican food and tasty margaritas. Finally, there's our watering hole for today -- a more upscale bar and grill with big-screen TVs, table service, and -- again -- well-poured Guinness. (We are 'Team Guinness', after all. We've got to live up to the name, don't we?) And of course, the barkeeps and waitstaff run like hell away when they see us coming in, all sweaty and dirty and foul-mouthed. (And those are just the women on the team. The women, ladies and gents, the women. Boy, are my arms tired! The women. Fine. Moving on.)

But we have a good time, and it's a cool way to kill a few hours on a hot Sunday afternoon. Like blogging, only sweatier, and with more chance of bruising something. Well, that's not strictly true, I suppose, given my habit of banging my forehead against my desk when I run out of ideas (fairly often) or feel like I'm writing drivel (extraordinarily often). Come to think of it, there's at least a little bit of sweating and bruising in just about everything I do. (Which makes my job interviews particularly interesting, let me tell you.)

Anyway, that's my story, the whole story, and nothing but the story (plus several dozen things I made up to make it marginally interesting). And after blogging for so long now, I'm starting to miss my sports fix. I think I'll go downstairs and see if I can find something fun on television to watch. Let's see -- what haven't I covered today? Hockey, maybe? Horse racing? Well, I'll see what's on. I think ESPN is showing their 'Outdoor Games' this weekend, which seems to involve a lot of wood and power tools and dogs jumping around. Which doesn't sound like sports to me. That sounds more like me trying to fix my porch, or build a birdhouse, or something equally impossible. Still, I'll give the show a chance, and see how it goes. Anything on ESPN can't be all bad, right?

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