Displaying articles for: January 2010

Out of Print

(NEW YORK) – Newspapers continue to be hit hard by the recession and readers' migration to online sources.
      “Our industry is in trouble,” said Joseph Walters, editor-in-chief of the New York Daily Times.  “Subscriptions are down, the web isn’t providing enough ad revenue, and we’ve been forced to implement widespread layoffs, from the lowliest interns up to the highest—”
Mr. Walters was cut off by a security detail escorting him from the premises with his possessions in a cardboard box.
       Newspapers are employing various cost-cutting measures, such as curtailing expensed meals, limiting travel, and, on occasion, nt prntng vwls t sv xpnsv nk.
Paragraph indents and proper line spacing are also being phased out (as are closed parentheses and sometimes periods
      Legions of copy editors and fact checkers, who make up something like 6o per sent of newspaper staffs, is expected to laid off. [Can we end a sentence on a prepositional phrase? Is Tina no longer with us? –Ed.]
      One source, who must  remain anonymous for fear of losing his job and also because a certain reporter’s employer could not afford to provide him with a voice recorder, so he couldn’t get his name anyway, but he was around forty and had sort of wavy brown hair, said something longish that was probably despairingly insightful about the situation.
      Other positions that unemployed journalists are turning to include hospital orderlies and tour guides, though competition for these jobs is growing more intense, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to break in—actually, um, these professions do not pay well and people in them report low job satisfaction and weird rashes.  Do not apply for them. And if you’re already in one of these professions, career advisors suggest looking elsewhere.
      Career advising might be a good career, too. I wonder what it pays.
       News articles are trending shorter, to account for reduced attention spans and because, when you calculate it, we’re not paid enough for this thankless job, and fewer words at least means we're  getting a better per-word rate if you receive a flat fee per article. So there's that. In fact, right now I’m essentially devaluing myself by writing these words. And so on, ad infinitum, as my labor asymptotically approaches worthlessness, which is kind of what I feel most mornings. I cannot believe I wrote "asymptotically" for three cents.

      Nevertheless, some optimists remain. "Despite Americans' taste for escapist gossip and videos of babies behaving in adorably incongruous ways, journalism remains an invaluable check and balance against the corruption of government and corporations," said Joseph Walters,  an unpaid New York Daily Times intern.

 

Teddy Wayne's debut novel, "Kapitoil," will be published by Harper Perennial this April.

Live-Tweeting My Brain Surgery

>@smileyanesthesiologist, is the mask you just put on me the general stuff? cuz no one’s asking me to count backwards, and i’m…

 

>Oooooh, Child, Things Are Gonna Get Easieeeuhhh. bit.ly/tokeup #songstogethighto

 

>@surgeon thx for just telling me how on today’s mri my tumor could just be “shmutz.”

 

>what the hell is all that noise? oh, it’s the drill in my skull.

 

>@anesthesiaresident it’s ok that i smoked medical marijuana last night, right? don’t look at me that way. i know you hate me.

 

>pretty much wishing I had an avatar right now.

 

>chief surgeon to nurse: “now you tell me i can access the pons through his nose.”

 

>@surgicalresident “yo,” sorry but i don’t personally care if you had knicks tix 2nite. 

 

> i felt that. and that. and DEFINITELY that. MEDS?

 

>dear wife, love yr drama, but this is what “getting punched in the brain” actually feels like.

 

>@bookiesrus: put 50 on the saints--i don’t care about the spread.

 

>you guys muck this up, and my health journalist pal’s gonna blog about it. helloooo, dershowitz.

 

>OWW, that was my optic nerve. maybe move a bit to the right?

 

>RT huffingtonpost:  public option now please!

 

>@chiefsurgeon no pressure but yesterday i found yr apartment on google maps, & btw, my wife’s dad’s in the mafia

 

>seeing my brain through a tiny vidcam on an lcd: will this go viral? youtube.com/humansweetbreads

 

>@chiefsurgeon your yacht sounds great, maybe we can go for a ride sometime--you know, if i live.

 

>@lcdtech can you see my dreams on that thing? if so, i’d love to know the name of the chick making out with the dolphin in the tux.

 

>should nurses really be making plans for drinks on their iphones while my skull’s open?

 

>@entiresurgicalteam someone had some mccallan not more than an hour ago. u think i can’t smell yr breath?

 

>psycho killer, qu'est-ce que c'est? Run run run run run run away

 

 >@surgeon: no, i don’t think pfizer will “screw" u with “plain ol’ biz class” on that “free flight to the bora bora ‘conference’ ”

 

>@o.r. d.j.: lady gaga. really?

 

>fat from my leg to plug up the hole in my head: guess i knew all that bacon had to serve a purpose. #swinefansunite

 

>@surgeon stop calling my tumor a bitch. what's it ever done to you except buy you foie gras?

 

>@lcdtech if u tell my wife about the dolphin i will kill you.

 

>fodder for analysis if I ever wake up and can speak: now the dolphin has my mom’s face. 

 

 >in recovery room: omg. txt just in from insurance co: surgeon's cartier endoscope not pre-approved. all coverage denied.


Adam Baer is a writer in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and GQ, among other publications.

Some Other Monologues

CONAN, $uper $aver $upermarket head bagger, Omaha: “As many of you know, I was promised the prime-time 6-11pm shift years ago from $uper $aver $upermarket. Now, I’m the first to admit that not everyone ‘gets’ my style of bagging; I don’t always stack cans, I’m not a fan of double-bagging except when six-packs are involved, and once in a while I act out by 'forgeting' to ask the paper-or-plastic question. Sue me—I’m a little edgy, maybe too edgy for flyover country, particularly this Omaha branch. But I defy you to find anyone who can handle zucchini with more ironic sensibility. But now, seven months into my promotion to head bagger, the market brass is saying I’m not pulling in the right numbers from the coveted 35-to-49 female demo and wants to demote me. Hey, what’s the difference between a $uper $aver $upermarket executive and the butcher’s display case? The display case has more brains.”

 

JAY, bus driver, New York City: “I’ve been driving the graveyard shift M15 up First Avenue for years. Then they want me to drive it down Second Avenue at 10pm. Then they change their minds again, because the senior citizens find me a comforting presence.  What does the MTA stand for? ‘Massively Terrible Administrators'! Get it? Because the normal acronym is replaced with different words that allow me to take a  satirical jab at their behavior. These guys are so behind the times, they should be paying their fares with tokens! Tokens, see?-- not MetroCards, which have been in use for about a decade. They make more pointless personnel transfers than the Atlantic Avenue-Pacific Street station, which has the most possible  transfers of any single subway station. Hey--who keeps ringing the bell to get off.  Oh, wait, it’s me!"

 

DAVE, pharmacist, Dallas: “There’s some infighting over at the RX1 pharmacy across the parking lot. You may recall that I was once employed by that fine institution. (to apprentice pharmacist) Remember that, Paul? Anyway, sounds like someone forgot to slip the Xanax in the water cooler there and replaced it with testosterone supplements. What does RX stand for? ‘Rotten Xylem'! Hey--Who wrote that awful joke, Paul?" (throws prescription bottle to sound of breaking glass)
 
JIMMY, 8-12 employee, Fort Lauderdale: “Man, the way they’re jerking around our hours lately, the Slurpees have much  more consistency. Anyone know what 8-12 stands for?  ‘Eight Employees, Twelve Different Scheduling Configurations of Inventory, Stocking, and Cashier Duties.’ ”
 
CARSON:   unemployed, itinerant: “Hello? Anyone there? Is there a joke I can make about the acronym for the Unemployment Insurance Program?"  (long pause) "Guys?”

 

Teddy Wayne's debut novel, "Kapitoil," will be published by Harper Perennial this April.

New Security Regulations

Welcome to Tharsis Intra-Martian Transport Hub.  Owing to recent terrorist threats by the Mole People of the Southern Polar Cap and The Willfully Unpleasant Types, in the Borealis Region, Central Authority has put into place new and more stringent security regulations for all passengers. 

1.        Before boarding,   not only adult passengers but their pupae and mature spawn will now be sprayed with anti-infective mist, to eliminate any chance of biological attack, including antenna wort, “angry” thorax, and redworm.

2.          Your carry-on luggage must be fully sedated before boarding.  Any sign of pseudopod activity  will result in confiscation and confinement for thirty revolutions or until asexual reproduction, whichever comes first.

3.          Your cocoon must remain fully supine during descent and resurfacing.

4.          The limbs of all spawn must be securely torso-attached during descent and resurfacing.  As pupae have only rudimentary limbs, they are excluded from this regulation.

5.          All passengers must remain visible for the duration of the burrow.  Fading of up to 50% is permitted.

6.         Recreational anatomy exchanges are permitted at cruising depth but may involve extremities only.  Sand-gland trades  are no longer allowed unless  pre-boarding clearance has been obtained.

7.         At cruising depth, passengers may move about the cylinder freely unless the burrow encounters magma-shift turbulence, in which case the Principal Officer will illuminate the fasten-cocoon lights and passengers must return to their cocoons and remain supine.

8.          Prohibited garments now include thorax sashes,  mammary push-ups, helmets for either head,  and tentacle sleeves that extend more than two inches beyond the tentacle.

9.          Upon resurfacing and de-boarding, all adult  passengers, with no exceptions except the Prinicpal Officer and the First Yrterezgdf, will be required to perform the Martian allegiance ritual, in order to demonstrate that they have not been possessed in mid-burrow by infiltrated invisible agents of the Willfully Unpleasant Types.  If the passenger fails to perform all fifteen vaults and the full eructation, he or she or it will be detained until thorough reprogramming is completed.

We appreciate your cooperation with these new regulations.  Our first priority for our passengers is a safe burrow.
 
Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin & Tonic and the author of a new book, "A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation."

Welcome to George and Cindy's Divorce Proceedings Website!

                                              Welcome Page
 
     Hello, family, friends, and character witnesses!  On this webpage you'll find information pertaining to the upcoming contested divorce of George Pollan (huskofhisformerself.com) and Cindy Pollan (youhavedestroyedmypassionforlife.com )  --nee Mazursky, which she will be returning to very soon, scheduled for Manhattan Family Court (divorcesRus.nyc. gov) on November 4th at 2pm.  We think New York City will be ironically beautiful then as the leaves change, symbolizing death and decay (entropy.com) and we finalize our lack of commitment to each other.
 
                                    How We Unraveled

                               (click for podcast version!)
 
Thumbnail of George's side of the story: Since she gave birth to their second child, Cindy has stubbornly refused all forms of affection, physical and emotional, and become a self-centered horror.  For more, go to castrating.termagant.net.


Thumbnail of Cindy's side of the story: Jealous that he had no talent for anything besides making money, which he's not even that great at (click on Pollanportfolio.pathetic.us), George never supported my art.  He doesn't want a wife but a mother-servant hybrid he can occasionally grope. For years I deliberately ignored his frequent affairs with bimbo co-workers, deluding myself that it was just a cliché (www.bn.com/John-Updike-Couples), but the last straw came when I found him in a compromising position with two of our 21-year-old babysitters.
 
                                    How We Proposed Divorce

                                     (click for Flickr photos!!)
 
On a sunny Saturday, while Cindy was staying with her mother in New Jersey to avoid contact with her husband, her friend Lorraine served papers to George on the grounds of adultery and cruel and inhuman treatment. They had never discussed the possibility of divorce before, and as Lorraine explains it, he was quickly reduced to tears (Google "George Pollan YouTube Boo-Hoo").
 
                                    Registry (What We Are Seeking)
 
Cindy wants: Full custody; the apartment; the Hamptons house; alimony of $7,500 per month; George wants: Weekend visitation; the Lexus; alimony of $3,000 per month; the home entertainment center; his manhood back (Google "Robert Bly" and "Iron Man").


Friends are encouraged to furnish divorce gifts following the proceedings; suggestions include (for George) The Beatles: Rock Band, which Cindy never let him get, and (for Cindy) spa gift certificates.  Five percent of the monetary value of all gifts will be donated to thepollankidscollegefunds.org.


                                    The Proceedings
 
The divorce will be presided over by the Honorable Gerald Matthews, who is himself on his third divorce. A Wikipedia stub indicates that the courthouse was built in 1975 and designed by Haines Lundberg Waehler; we think its black granite design is suited to the somber tone of the event.


                                    Divorce Parties


TBD. Starting next Monday, visit the catering company loveamongtheruins.com, which will be handling both events for the exes, for details.

 

Teddy Wayne's debut novel, "Kapitoil," will be published by Harper Perennial this April.

Beat Your Child -- at Chess!

Her kindergarten teacher spotted her potential, you paid for the chess lessons, and now you’re suffering the consequences.  At first, you were throwing games -- "losing"  a couple of pawns and even a bishop to help her build confidence.  Then, for about a week, you trembled as she figured out your weaknesses. (Yes, her knight really was only two moves away from your rook -- and the whole thing was just a ploy to target your unprotected queen. When did she learn that?)   Now, she offers to play you without her queen, and you’re pretending to have a conference call every  Saturday afternoon.  How can you get "back in the game"?

 

"Beat Your Child  -- at Chess!" is the world’s first guide to adding to those precious few months when you’re even on the same chess planet with your son or daughter -- before all your credibility and authority are lost to her brilliant variation on a simple knight's gambit and you become a mere servant with a driver's license and the means to pay tournament fees.  "Beat Your Child  -- at Chess!"  offers -- oh, all right! -- perhaps ethically questionable but nevertheless prodigy-tested and game-proven methods that can extend  your rapidly diminishing intellectual stature in your child's eyes by weeks, months, possibly even a year.  It features:

 

CRAZY OPENINGS:  The Brechtian Defense;  the Magpie’s Overture; the Desperate Cuticle; and more. These fiendish first courses were  invented by the "surrealist grandmaster" Gustavus Mango-Sfyzy as he spent the waning days of World War I in a Bulgarian sanatorium playing against "Endgame" Miklovic, the eight-year-old son of the custodian and future inventor of the emoticon. His bizarre chess openings are just the thing to throw your budding Kasparova off her game long enough for you to snatch up an early bishop and stand some chance of survival. 

 

ELEMENTARY VENTRILOQUISM:  Throwing your voice is easier than you might suppose.  Once you’ve mastered our five-step method, you'll find it's a snap to “ghost whisper” your otherwise iron-willed young opponent into paranoia and confusion. Some examples from our catalog of  disembodied ploys:  "Caitlin’s in your room, scribbling on your unicorn poster” "; "Mr. Whiskers is a very sad and lonely kitty because you're playing chess all the time"; "If you capture that rook, Mom and Dad will have another baby."

 

PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE:  There are things even the most precocious little urban sophisticate isn’t quite prepared to hear about, and Santa's nonexistence is just the beginning:  the workings of the adult endocrine system, the college application process, and what global warming means for penguins -- each topic, played right, clears your path to your opponent’s king.  For truly desperate parents struggling to keep up with 'tween players, we've provided a whole chapter on how to hint at what the mean girls are saying at school about chess nerds.

 

SPECIAL PREMIUM -- INSTANT E-CONSULTATIONS:  Use your cell phone to surreptitiously take a picture of the board (pretend to be capturing your beloved offspring mid-move) and text to KID-CHK-MATE; for a low one-time credit-card charge a series of up to 5 moves will be texted back to you in the time it takes for you to fake a trip to the bathroom.  Impoverished chess whiz-kids from across the former Soviet Union are standing by to help you salvage your dignity.

 

Order today.  You're  not getting any smarter -- but she is.

 

Bill Tipper can be seen as “Sargasso: the Conduit of the Pre-Born” at February’s Blowhole Theatre Winterfest, in Brooklyn.

From "A Treatise on Parents and Children"

... There is, on the whole, nothing on earth intended for innocent people so horrible as a school. To begin with, it is a prison. But it is in some respects more cruel than a prison. In a prison, for instance, you are not forced to read books written by the warders and the governor (who of course would not be warders and governors if they could write readable books), and beaten or otherwise tormented if you cannot remember their utterly unmemorable contents. In the prison you are not forced to sit listening to turnkeys discoursing without charm or interest on subjects that they dont understand and dont care about, and are therefore incapable of making you understand or care about. In a prison they may torture your body; but they do not torture your brains; and they protect you against violence and outrage from your fellow prisoners. In a school you have none of these advantages. With the world's bookshelves loaded with fascinating and inspired books, the very manna sent down from Heaven to feed your souls, you are forced to read a hideous imposture called a school book, written by a man who cannot write: a book from which no human being can learn anything: a book which, though you may decipher it, you cannot in any fruitful sense read, though the enforced attempt will make you loathe the sight of a book all the rest of your life. With millions of acres of woods and valleys and hills and wind and air and birds and streams and fishes and all sorts of instructive and healthy things easily accessible, or with streets and shop windows and crowds and vehicles and all sorts of city delights at the door, you are forced to sit, not in a room with some human grace and comfort or furniture and decoration, but in a stalled pound with a lot of other children, beaten if you talk, beaten if you move, beaten if you cannot prove by answering idiotic questions that even when you escaped from the pound and from the eye of your gaoler, you were still agonizing over his detestable sham books instead of daring to live. And your childish hatred of your gaoler and flogger is nothing to his adult hatred of you; for he is a slave forced to endure your society for his daily bread. You have not even the satisfaction of knowing how you are torturing him and how he loathes you; and you give yourself unnecessary pains to annoy him with furtive tricks and spiteful doing of forbidden things. No wonder he is sometimes provoked to fiendish outbursts of wrath. No wonder men of downright sense, like Dr Johnson, admit that under such circumstances children will not learn anything unless they are so cruelly beaten that they make desperate efforts to memorize words and phrases to escape flagellation. It is a ghastly business, quite beyond words, this schooling.

From "Impressions of America"

From Salt Lake City one travels over great plains of Colorado and up the Rocky Mountains, on the top of which is Leadville, the richest city in the world. It has also got the reputation of being the roughest, and every man carries a revolver. I was told that if I went there they would be sure to shoot me or my travelling manager. I wrote and told them that nothing that they could do to my travelling manager would intimidate me. They are miners -- men working in metals, so I lectured them on the Ethics of Art. I read them passages from the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini and they seemed much delighted. I was reproved by my hearers for not having brought him with me. I explained that he had been dead for some little time which elicited the enquiry ‘Who shot him?’ They afterwards took me to a dancing saloon where I saw the only rational method of art criticism I have ever come across. Over the piano was printed a notice:


                                              Please do not shoot the pianist.
                                                       He is doing his best.


The mortality among pianists in that place is marvellous. Then they asked me to supper, and having accepted, I had to descend a mine in a rickety bucket in which it was impossible to be graceful. Having got into the heart of the mountain I had supper, the first course being whisky, the second whisky and the third whisky. . . .

 

Among the more elderly inhabitants of the South I found a melancholy tendency to date every event of importance by the late war. ‘How beautiful the moon is tonight,’ I once remarked to a gentleman who was standing next to me. ‘Yes,’ was his reply, ‘but you should have seen it before the war.’

 

So infinitesimal did I find the knowledge of Art, west of the Rocky Mountains, that an art patron—one who in his day had been a miner—actually sued the railroad company for damages because the plaster cast of Venus of Milo, which he had imported from Paris, had been delivered minus the arms. And, what is more surprising still, he gained his case and the damages.

 

Oscar Wilde, the celebrated author of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and "The Importance of Being Earnest," toured the United States and Canada, giving lectures, in 1882.

From "A Treatise on Parents and Children"

... There is, on the whole, nothing on earth intended for innocent people so horrible as a school. To begin with, it is a prison. But it is in some respects more cruel than a prison. In a prison, for instance, you are not forced to read books written by the warders and the governor (who of course would not be warders and governors if they could write readable books), and beaten or otherwise tormented if you cannot remember their utterly unmemorable contents. In the prison you are not forced to sit listening to turnkeys discoursing without charm or interest on subjects that they dont understand and dont care about, and are therefore incapable of making you understand or care about. In a prison they may torture your body; but they do not torture your brains; and they protect you against violence and outrage from your fellow prisoners. In a school you have none of these advantages. With the world's bookshelves loaded with fascinating and inspired books, the very manna sent down from Heaven to feed your souls, you are forced to read a hideous imposture called a school book, written by a man who cannot write: a book from which no human being can learn anything: a book which, though you may decipher it, you cannot in any fruitful sense read, though the enforced attempt will make you loathe the sight of a book all the rest of your life. With millions of acres of woods and valleys and hills and wind and air and birds and streams and fishes and all sorts of instructive and healthy things easily accessible, or with streets and shop windows and crowds and vehicles and all sorts of city delights at the door, you are forced to sit, not in a room with some human grace and comfort or furniture and decoration, but in a stalled pound with a lot of other children, beaten if you talk, beaten if you move, beaten if you cannot prove by answering idiotic questions that even when you escaped from the pound and from the eye of your gaoler, you were still agonizing over his detestable sham books instead of daring to live. And your childish hatred of your gaoler and flogger is nothing to his adult hatred of you; for he is a slave forced to endure your society for his daily bread. You have not even the satisfaction of knowing how you are torturing him and how he loathes you; and you give yourself unnecessary pains to annoy him with furtive tricks and spiteful doing of forbidden things. No wonder he is sometimes provoked to fiendish outbursts of wrath. No wonder men of downright sense, like Dr Johnson, admit that under such circumstances children will not learn anything unless they are so cruelly beaten that they make desperate efforts to memorize words and phrases to escape flagellation. It is a ghastly business, quite beyond words, this schooling.

From "American Notes"

(Chapter 12, near Louisville)
 
Here, as elsewhere in these parts, the road was perfectly alive with pigs of all ages; lying about in every direction, fast asleep.; or grunting along in quest of hidden dainties. I had always a sneaking kindness for these odd animals, and found a constant source of amusement, when all others failed, in watching their proceedings. As we were riding along this morning, I observed a little incident between two youthful pigs, which was so very human as to be inexpressibly comical and grotesque at the time, though I dare say, in telling, it is tame enough.

One young gentleman (a very delicate porker with several straws sticking about his nose, betokening recent investigations in a dung-hill) was walking deliberately on, profoundly thinking, when suddenly his brother, who was lying in a miry hole unseen by him, rose up immediately before his startled eyes, ghostly with damp mud. Never was pig’s whole mass of blood so turned. He started back at least three feet, gazed for a moment, and then shot off as hard as he could go: his excessively little tail vibrating with speed and terror like a distracted pendulum. But before he had gone very far, he began to reason with himself as to the nature of this frightful appearance; and as he reasoned, he relaxed his speed by gradual degrees; until at last he stopped, and faced about. There was his brother, with the mud upon him glazing in the sun, yet staring out of the very same hole, perfectly amazed at his proceedings! He was no sooner assured of this; and he assured himself so carefully that one may almost say he shaded his eyes with his hand to see the better; than he came back at a round trot, pounced upon him, and summarily took off a piece of his tail; as a caution to him to be careful what he was about for the future, and never to play tricks with his family any more.

 

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) achieved lasting international fame as a novelist, essayist, and commentator, through books such as "The Pickwick Papers", "Oliver Twist", "David Copperfield" and many others.  His record of travels in the United States, entitled "American Notes", was first published in 1842.

A Fashion Item

 At General G - -’s reception the other night, the most fashionably dressed lady was Mrs. G. C. She wore a pink satin dress, plain in front but with a good deal of rake to it -- to the train, I mean; it was said to be two or three yards long. One could see it creeping along the floor some little time after the woman was gone. Mrs. C. wore also a white bodice, cut bias, with Pompadour sleeves, flounced with ruches; low neck, with the inside handkerchief not visible, with white kid gloves. She had on a pearl necklace, which glinted lonely, high up the midst of that barren waste of neck and shoulders. Her hair was frizzled into a tangled chaparral, forward of her ears, aft it was drawn together, and compactly bound and plaited into a stump like a pony’s tail, and furthermore was canted upward at a sharp angle, and ingeniously supported by a red velvet crupper, whose forward extremity was made fast with a half-hitch around a hairpin on the top of her head. Her whole top hamper was neat and becoming. She had a beautiful complexion when she first came, but it faded out by degrees in an unaccountable way. However, it is not lost for good. I found the most of it on my shoulder afterward. (I stood near the door when she squeezed out with the throng.) There were other ladies present, but I only took notes of one as a specimen. I would gladly enlarge upon the subject were I able to do it justice.

 

Mark Twain is the pen name of Samuel Clemens (1835-1910), the prolific author and journalist whose best-known books include "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "Life on the Mississippi," "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," and many other works of fiction and nonfiction.

A Meditation on a Broomstick

This single stick, which you now behold ingloriously lying in that neglected corner, I once knew in a flourishing state in a forest. It was full of sap, full of leaves, and full of boughs, but now in vain does the busy art of man pretend to vie with nature by tying that withered bundle of twigs to its sapless trunk. It is now at best but the reverse of what it was: a tree turned upside down, the branches on the earth, and the root in the air. It is now handled by every dirty wench, condemned to do her drudgery, and by a capricious kind of fate destined to make other things clean and be nasty itself. At length, worn to the stumps in the service of the maids, it is either thrown out of doors or condemned to its last use of kindling a fire. When I beheld this, I sighed and said within myself, surely mortal man is a broomstick: nature sent him into the world strong and lusty, in a thriving condition, wearing his own hair on his head, the proper branches of this reasoning vegetable, until the axe of intemperance has lopped off his green boughs and left him a withered trunk; he then flies to art, and puts on a periwig, valuing himself upon an unnatural bundle of hairs, all covered with powder, that never grew on his head. But now should this our broomstick pretend to enter the scene, proud of those birchen spoils it never bore, and all covered with dust, though the sweepings of the finest lady's chamber, we should be apt to ridicule and despise its vanity, partial judges that we are of our own excellencies and other men's defaults.

But a broomstick, perhaps, you will say, is an emblem of a tree standing on its head. And pray, what is man, but a topsy-turvy creature, his animal faculties perpetually mounted on his rational, his head where his heels should be, groveling on the earth? And yet with all his faults, he sets up to be a universal reformer and corrector of abuses, a remover of grievances; rakes into every slut's corner of nature, bringing hidden corruption to the light; and raises a mighty dust where there was none before, sharing deeply all the while in the very same pollutions he pretends to sweep away. His last days are spent in slavery to women, and generally the least deserving, till, worn out to the stumps, like his brother bezom, he is either kicked out of doors, or made use of to kindle flames for others to warm themselves by.

 

 

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) is the author of "Gulliver's Travels" and numerous other works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

Immodest Proposals

To: Paige Turner, Publisher
From: Frank Reed, Assistant Editor
 
Chief:  On the heels of Mark Halperin's #1 bestseller, "Game Change,"  the Presidency in general has become such a hot book subject that we’ve gotten five proposal submissions about former Administrations, outlined here, in the last couple of weeks. Let me know which ones you might want us to acquire.
       1. "White House, Schmite House" Highlights: A certain First Lady was a kleptomaniac -- clipped the official silverware at state dinners, etc. -- and POTUS himself had restless-leg syndrome. Small change as revelations go, maybe, but the author has real credibility: wrote the Martin Van Buren blockbuster and has great backup -- i.e., i-phone photos, partly obscured but without permissions problems. The Secretary of Education in this Administration did in fact attend Oxford, but it was Oxford Taxidermy Institute in Oxford, Indiana.
          2. "Who Put the 'Dent' in 'President?" Highlights: Mostly exposé of foreign-policy missteps. It turns out we almost went to war with Canada over Cuba –- or with Cuba over Canada: the author is not the clearest expository writer. He claims that the real reason President X (author won't even say which one until he gets our offer) fired his first Secretary of State because he couldn’t find Atlantis on the map.
      3. "A Bridge to Where?"  Highlights: This one is so unofficial it may not even be about a President -- or perhaps it's about the one who snuck in for a few weeks between 32 and 33. Remember?  Anyway, I'm asking for clarification about murky points: was he in fact born in a manger? How could he have had three fathers, all with the same name? Author states he himself started in politics as a gofer for the gofers at NBC –  I'm checking this out. And If Woodrow Wilson was his high school history teacher, as he claims, it seems hard to account for the year of birth (1949) that I found on Whoozit.com. Our Legal Department would probably balk at publishing this, but agent will accept a fifty-dollar advance or maybe even a few thousand Reward Points from our CreditPlusCard corporate account, so maybe we should take this one seriously.
      4. “WhiteWashHouse” is definitely the catchy title of the year! No manuscript as such or even not as such but author figures three days on Google plus one week for polish. I wouldn't be mentioning this one at all, if the writers's cousin weren't Oprah’s West Coast dog groomer.
      5. "President Peace"  Highlights: An uplifting reconsideration of this particular Chief Executive that tries to counter the New York News' famous editorial about him titled "Spineless, Clueless, and Aimless."  It seems he did in fact make clandestine overtures to Pyongyang about bringing a North Korean kitchen whiz -- an expert in soil souffles -- over for “Top Chef”;  scratched his long planned good-will tour of Iceland only because of an acute recurrence of "hat head" ; and took the initiative in asking President Mbambi of Swizli to quit giving U.S. ambassador hotfoots.  It's true that international-diplomacy books are not big sellers at the moment,  but the prestige upside of this title could offset our “Jersey Shore” coffee-table-series furor.

 

Bruce McCall is a New York artist and writer whose work frequently appears in the New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

Unloading Zing-Ting

ANNOUNCER: It's Zing-Ting pets! The fun activity kit that turns any household rodent into this year's must-have toy, just in time for Groundhog Day! Other popular motorized pets are hard to find in stores, and potentially dangerous. Not to mention pricey. Zing-Ting Pets Activity Kits are not only safe but rather painfully plentiful! In fact, if you act now, we will triple your order for free! No doubt later, too.
 
Each Zing-Ting Pets Activity Kit comes with the following:
1 – Battery - Powered Fun Car
2 - AA Batteries
1 - Felt Hamster Mask (Colors may vary from image shown on box.)
1 - 0.1 Fl. Oz. Container of Mammal Glue
2 - Packets of Animal Treats
1 - Packet of Animal Tranquilizer (DO NOT CONSUME!)
1 - Accessory Kit (Includes tiny plastic sunglasses, purse, Fancy Hat, normal hat, and skater pants.)
2 - Fun Tubes
1 - Piece of Fun Tube Connecting Tape
1 - Zing-Ting Pet Home (a.k.a. The Giggle Box)
1 – Teeny-Tiny Fun Diaper
                   
And it's so easy to use! Simply lure a live rodent or other small mammal out into the open by using Zing-Ting Pets Brand Rodent Treats. Then, once the animal eats the treat, and trust has been established, feed the rodent another treat that is laced with the animal tranquilizer.
 
With the rodent sleeping soundly, it's time to transform this mouse, rat, squirrel, kitten, or baby dog into a genuine Zing-Ting Pet! Simply force on the felt hamster mask. Then, use mammal glue to fasten the creature to the included Battery Powered Fun Car.  Give your Zing-Ting pet a gentle nudge to wake it up, turn on the car, and watch your Zing-Ting pet race across any smooth surface!
 
For added fun, use the two included Zing-Ting Fun Tubes to create elaborate mazes for your Zing-Ting Pet to drive through. When finished, simply steer the Zing-Ting pet to its Giggle Box, where it will sleep soundly.
 
Act fast. Buy your Zing-Ting Pets Activity Kit today. If you call right now, we will also include a fourth Zing-Ting Pets Activity Kit at no charge. But wait! Due to a shipping error, and our over-zealous analyst who assured us that these things would sell quickly, our warehouses are overflowing, and so we're giving away a fifth Zing-Ting Pet Activity Kit to everyone who calls and says the magic word, "Hello."
 
If you're a first-time caller, we will also give you three Zing-Ting Pets Funeral Play Sets. Each of these fun and practical play sets include a hilarious "I'm Just Nappin' " Death Box Coffin, a Rubber Glove, a Fun Shovel, three Sadness Tissues, and one Funeral Guest Book that can be decorated with stickers and religious imagery.
 
And if you act now, we'll also throw in five or six (or maybe seven!) of our Cuddle Blankets! Just like the expensive and trendy kind, this comfortably blanket/robe is perfect for lounging around the house, giving as a gift, or, more likely,  storing in a closest. It's available in all sizes from Infant to You're Joking! So call now! Please? What if we give you a Tickle-Me Keith doll, too? All the kids will love Tickle-Me Keith, the star of Ukrainian Kid's Show, "Sesame Road."
 
Make this Groundhog Day memorable with Zing-Ting Pets Activity Kits and that other stuff we're giving away.
 
Dan Bergstein is a writer whose work has appeared above.

Too Big to Flunk

FROM: The Secretary of Education
TO: Congress
 
After a decade of plummeting graduation rates, declining test scores, and a spike in plagiarized essays on “The Scarlet Letter,” confidence in the public-school system cratered on Friday morning.  By late afternoon, educators were requesting aid from legislators through smoothly transitioned five-paragraph letters with an introduction, compelling thesis statement, and conclusion.


We must act immediately, with a comprehensive $787 billion bailout package and free supplies of LePage's glue.  The public school system is simply too big to flunk. Principals and other scholastic leaders convened with the Department of Education over the weekend in an emergency “time-out” session in the corner of their main office, facing the wall.  Three school superintendents carpooled together to the capital and, in a major PR gaffe, were marked tardy.  We have sent a note to their parents.

 

The plan we are suggesting would start off next week with several long-term projects involving construction paper, in an attempt to put idle kindergarteners back to work.  To stabilize the reward scheme, all elementary schools will switch to the gold-star standard.  After the first $29 billion, the government would also assume 90% of red-ink losses.  To assuage the fears of parents who are considering relocation to Mumbai, the Federal Didactic Insurance Corporation will now guarantee math instruction up through trigonometry.  Calculus is another matter. What is it, for one thing?

 

The proposed infusion of large new supplies of staple guns and cafeteria butter comes as one of the first steps in an eventual restructuring of an organization with profound problems.  To wit: For a lower cost, Japanese schools routinely produce students with 6% higher IQ scores and more polite trash talk.

 

I acknowledge criticisms of the plan within the department, with opponents denouncing it as a move toward “socialized” education.  “We are losing sight of the ideals of Horace Mann,” a senior advisor said, referring not to the 19th-century education reformer and proponent of public funding for schools, but to the elite Horace Mann School in Riverdale, New York, which charges tuition of $34,050.


The advisor also voiced concerns about any money finding its way to ACORN (Association of Cast-Off and Rejected Nerds), the organization that has been under investigation for an alleged homework-for-jocks scandal.      

 

If you need to reach me, I will be out of the office tomorrow for Parents’ Day at the Sidwell Friends School.

 

Teddy Wayne's debut novel, "Kapitoil," will be published by Harper Perennial this April.

No One Warned Me

In a fit of rage against technology, a rage which is common to many, but often has reason to be described anew, I recently threw the TV remote across the room.  This incident reminded me of a  conversation I’d had on the phone with a very young man acquaintance. He’s so young that he thinks everyone should be having fun all the time. “I just want to come and shake you until you laugh and feel better,” he said.

 

This sentence reminded me of what happened with a computer-guy. Although I hate computers I had to buy a MacBook in order to have my manuscripts typed and emailed to me because I can’t type.  I‘d handwrite  and fax them to the typist and she’d them fax them back.   I‘d correct them and fax them back to her.  This would go on and on.   Fax machines are a kind of hell.  I ‘d get messages saying, “I didn’t get page three, seven, nine, twelve.”  So that’s why I got The Thing - a computer-book or whatever they’re called.   At least it’s not attached to the wall and I don’t have to sit at a desk. And it was beautiful to look at - -all the BBC newsreaders had them.   I figured if they have them, it must be okay. Because I’m an Anglophile and Anglophobe at the same time. I love the eccentric-beyond-belief-absurdly-funny British journalist Richard Quest, who used to read the BBC financial news. He did it with great gusto and misplaced enthusiasm for the dullest financial facts.  If I met him he’d probably be mean to me in that polite way the English have. I mean the ones brought up in the upper class and upper-middle class. Not Paul McCartney or Ricky Gervais.

 

I never took any lessons or learned how to use the computer. All I knew was  how to get the weather and order vitamins, because one thing worse than using a computer is going from store to store looking for a certain vitamin.

 

There was only one computer-guy who could fix Apple-Macs.  And he had to travel an hour to do it.  The others did PC, whatever that is.  When my computer didn’t work as expected, no one warned me that this computer-guy was a fifty-five-year-old, overweight, effeminate, married makeup artist.  He came to the appointment all swathed in black-- a big black over- shirt and several long black scarves.  In conversation he described people by their hair: “Her hair was all one length.”  His own hair was in a teeny platinum blond crew-cut, and he had gigantic bulging shiny green eyeballs.  

 

The next time I called him to tell him what the computer was doing, he said, “You sound so sad, I just want to throw my arms around you and give you a big hug!” A hug from this guy was unfathomable-- even the thought of it made me feel so much worse.

 

At our second appointment, he became enraged that I didn’t know what the Command Key was.  Command-A. Or Command-P or Command whatever. “That’s not how you do it!” he said.  And, “You don’t click there - click on the blue!” To mean: “I can’t believe how ignorant you are!” He had come to fix something minor.  Probably the cure was to unplug and re-plug, but I ‘d forgotten  because I hate anything to do with  those hideous wires and plugs.

 

So, this guy-– we were in an outer horror-tech- room, not inside the house proper—suddenly dared to put his hands on my shoulders, and say, “You’re so tense!” Whereupon he speedily moved his hands to my neck and cracked it with a swift, powerful twist.

 

I said, “Please, don’t ever do that.”

 

He took affront and said, “I know chiropractics!”

 

I said, “I don’t want to be a paraplegic.  I just want you to fix the computer.”

 

“I know what I’m doing!” he said. He was even more offended.

 

At one point he said, then screamed, “I can’t fix that!”


Finally he left in a huff of some kind.

 

Later that day he left a message to excuse his behavior by saying that he was hypoglycemic.  Then I remembered that on his first visit he‘d mentioned he’d had extraterrestrial experiences.  That should have tipped me off.

 


Julie Hecht is the author of four books.  Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker and Harper’s, and she is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship

 

                                                                                                                              Julie Hecht

 

                                                            NO ONE WARNED ME

 

       In a fit of rage against technology, a rage which is common to many, but often has reason to be described anew, I recently threw the TV remote across the room.  This incident reminded me of a  conversation I’d had on the phone with a very young man acquaintance. He’s so young that he thinks everyone should be having fun all the time. “I just want to come and shake you until you laugh and feel better,” he said.

   This sentence reminded me of what happened with a computer-guy. Although I hate computers I had to buy a MacBook in order to have my manuscripts typed and emailed to me because I can’t type.  I‘d handwrite  and fax them to the typist and she’d them fax them back.   I‘d correct them and fax them back to her.  This would go on and on.   Fax machines are a kind of hell.  I ‘d get messages saying, “I didn’t get page three, seven, nine, twelve.”  So that’s why I got The Thing - a computer-book or whatever they’re called.   At least it’s not attached to the wall and I don’t have to sit at a desk. And it was beautiful to look at - -all the BBC newsreaders had them.   I figured if they have them, it must be okay. Because I’m an Anglophile and Anglophobe at the same time. I love the eccentric-beyond-belief-absurdly-funny British journalist Richard Quest, who used to read the BBC financial news. He did it with great gusto and misplaced enthusiasm for the dullest financial facts.  If I met him he’d probably be mean to me in that polite way the English have. I mean the ones brought up in the upper class and upper-middle class. Not Paul McCartney or Ricky Gervais.

I never took any lessons or learned how to use the computer. All I knew was  how to get the weather and order vitamins, because one thing worse than using a computer is going from store to store looking for a certain vitamin.

  There was only one computer-guy who could fix Apple-Macs.  And he had to travel an hour to do it.  The others did PC, whatever that is.  When my computer didn’t work as expected, no one warned me that this computer-guy was a fifty-five-year-old, overweight, effeminate, married makeup artist.  He came to the appointment all swathed in black-- a big black over- shirt and several long black scarves.  In conversation he described people by their hair: “Her hair was all one length.”  His own hair was in a teeny platinum blond crew-cut, and he had gigantic bulging shiny green eyeballs.  

The next time I called him to tell him what the computer was doing, he said, “You sound so sad, I just want to throw my arms around you and give you a big hug!” A hug from this guy was unfathomable-- even the thought of it made me feel so much worse.

At our second appointment, he became enraged that I didn’t know what the Command Key was.  Command-A. Or Command-P or Command whatever. “That’s not how you do it!” he said.  And, “You don’t click there - click on the blue!” To mean: “I can’t believe how ignorant you are!” He had come to fix something minor.  Probably the cure was to unplug and re-plug, but I ‘d forgotten  because I hate anything to do with  those hideous wires and plugs.

              So, this guy-– we were in an outer horror-tech- room, not inside the house proper—suddenly dared to put his hands on my shoulders, and say, “You’re so tense!” Whereupon he speedily moved his hands to my neck and cracked it with a swift, powerful twist.

              I said, “Please, don’t ever do that.”

              He took affront and said,I know chiropractics!”

              I said, “I don’t want to be a paraplegic.  I just want you to fix the computer.”

          “I know what I’m doing!” he said. He was even more offended.

At one point he said, then screamed, “I can’t fix that!”

Finally he left in a huff of some kind.

Later that day he left a message to excuse his behavior by saying that he was hypoglycemic.  Then I remembered that on his first visit he‘d mentioned he’d had extraterrestrial experiences.  That should have tipped me off.

Scared Straight


 
     For years, "Scared Straight" programs have exposed juvenile delinquents to prison inmates in order to deter them from a life of crime. After meeting hardened convicts and hearing about the harsh realities of jail, many young offenders get off the road to ruin and put their lives back on track. The program was recently expanded to help other types of at-risk youths:
 
     Philosophy Majors
 
-- I understand you're a philosophy major.
-- Yeah, I'm really enjoying it.
-- Well, my name is Mr. Greenbaum and I'm here to scare you straight.
-- Oh. Okay.
-- I was a philosophy major too. I wrote a 160-page thesis in support of Rawlsian ethics.
-- That's pretty cool.
-- Yeah. Now I work for a company that makes bricks.
-- Oh.
-- I tried to get a job as a philosopher, but it turns out that job doesn't exist.
-- So... now you work in a factory?
-- I wish I worked in the factory. If I did some physical labor, I'd probably be less obese. I work in the front office. I spend nine hours a day in this tiny chair.
-- What do you do all day?
-- Not philosophy.
-- What are all these papers on your desk?
-- They're called R-72 forms.  I don't know what they do. I just fill them out to look busy, so they won't fire me. When I finish a hundred, I put them in a box. Then I carry the box to the basement and just leave it there. Even if I had free will, I'd have no choice.
-- Do you ... still support Rawlsian ethics?
-- I have a new philosophy now. It's called "My whole life is a nightmare."
-- I guess ... maybe I should try pre-med?
-- Good for you, son. That's a start.
 
     High School Sweethearts
 
-- So you really love your girlfriend, huh?
-- Yeah, Kayla's amazing. We met in 10th grade and we've been together ever since.
-- I got married when I was your age. Here's a picture of my wife at the wedding.
-- Whoa--nice work!
-- Yeah. Here's a picture of her now....That's right -- look at it. Take a long, hard look.... Okay. Now I'm going to play you a message she left on my answering machine this morning. (starts speakerphone)
-- Why is she screaming?
-- It's hard to tell. She's probably out of cigarettes. When I met her, she only smoked three a day.
-- (shaking) That's how many Kayla smokes!
-- Now my wife tears through a carton in three days.
-- Jesus.
-- Our therapist said I need to plan a special evening for her. I was thinking I could dump a garbage bag full of cigarettes on the floor so she can waddle in them like an animal. That's probably the only thing that would bring her pleasure. (phone rings) Oh God. It's her. It's the monster. Is this how you want to spend your life? Learn from me!
 
     Reality Television Stars
 
-- I hear you're going to be on TV.
-- Yeah, the Real World Cancun! It's going to be a non-stop party. Hey...wait a minute. You look familiar.
-- I was on Road Rules nine years ago.
-- Oh yeah! You're that guy who said that racist thing.
-- That's right. That's who I am now, forever. "That Guy Who Said That Racist Thing."
-- Well ... that won't happen to me. I'll just make sure not to say any racist things on camera.
-- You'll slip up.
-- But I'm not a racist!
-- It doesn't matter. It's bound to happen. It's how those shows are set up!
-- (runs away in fear) 


Humorists
 
-- So you want to be a humorist, huh?
-- That's my goal! Maybe someday I can even write for your magazine.
-- My magazine is folding next week. The entire industry is in ashes.
-- Oh. What about newspapers?
-- I assume you're joking.
-- Well,  then... what's left? There's got to be some place where written humor is still valued.
--There are a few digital outlets, if you're really desperate.

-- I'll take it!
 
 
Simon Rich is the author of two humor collections, "Ant Farm" and "Free-Range Chickens." He currently writes for "Saturday Night Live."

My Diagnosis

SCENE: Me, standing at a podium in front of a group of people sitting on folding chairs.
 
ME: Hi, I'm Polly Frost. And I'm addicted to diagnosing the personality disorders of my family and friends.
 
CROWD: Hi, Polly!
 
ME: It began innocently enough. I'd always analyzed the people around me. It was just something I did, quite naturally. My husband saw it differently. The people around you always do, right?
 
The crowd murmurs assent.
 
ME: He called it "picking people apart."
 
CROWD (laughing): We've been there!
 
ME: It got worse, of course. This one night? Our friends, Evelyn and Martin, came over for dinner. Afterwards, I said, "Did you notice how often Evelyn put her fork down on her plate and stopped eating?"
 
My husband shook his head, saying, "Does it ever occur to you how weird it is that you notice these things?"
 
But I wasn't listening. "She did it twenty-six times. I think she has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder."
 
While he dried the dishes, I walked over to our computer. I typed Evelyn's symptoms into Google to see if I was right. Up came the websites: mayoclinic.com, Web MD, DSM, Weston A. Price Foundation. 
 
CROWD: Uh-oh.
 
ME: Yes, that's how it started. I happily informed my husband his mother was indeed the Narcissist I'd insisted she was since our wedding day. My own family had the entire gamut of Cluster B Personality Disorders. I couldn't wait to email them about it.
 
Every time I met someone, I'd make my diagnosis, then check it against those websites. Then I started coming up with my own new personality disorders-- ones the psych sites hadn't discovered yet!   The woman who roughly did my nails at the salon had Aggressive Client Resentment Behavior. On our trip to Hawaii, I pointed at the businessman next to us. "He has Plane Seat Hogging Disorder."
 
My husband replied with, "I'm reading about the new Apple laptop in Wired."
 
"You have Annoying Conversation Changing Disorder," I informed him.
 
CROWD: Ouch!
 
ME: I know, I know. Dissing a man's love of his Mac--nothing more dangerous. One fateful Friday,  I was supposed to present my marketing proposal for a mini-mall our company was building. Instead I'd spent the last week preparing an elaborate diagnosis of my boss, Sarah. She was not amused to see my diagnosis of her Passive Disorganized Leadership Complex on the PowerPoint screen.  
 
Even then, I didn't heed the warning signs. I felt nobody understood how much I was trying to help them and took it to the streets. Soon I was living in a box, offering to tell people what was wrong with them.
CROWD: Oh, no!
 
ME: One day, I saw them, approaching me in a group--Carl, Evelyn, my mother-in-law, and my manicurist.
 
"We're here to help you," they said.
 
I said, "You're about to do an intervention with me, aren't you?"
 
They looked astonished. "You know?" Eva asked.
 
"Yes!" I said excitedly. "I have Intrusive Amateur Therapist Disorder! An intervention is the only way to help me. I know just how to do it."
 
The three of them looked at each other. Next thing I knew --
 
CROWD: You were here.
 
ME: That's right. In the Rehab Clinic for Out-of-Control Amateur Psychologists. Thanks to you, I've been able to face my demons. And I've been thinking about your demons, too!
 
CROWD: No, Polly, don't go there!
 
ME: Take Dr. Nelding, our beloved therapist. You have Insistent Shrink Authority Disorder. And Alexa, my rehab mate, you have Shut Polly Up Syndrome, and --
 
White-suited orderlies approach the podium.
 
ME: Really, I was just joking! I have it under control, I really do. Now, where's the cigarettes and coffee?
 
Polly Frost is a playwright whose humor has appeared in The Atlantic and The New Yorker.She can be found on the web at  http://pollyfrost.com.

 

 

Second Opinion


To: Dr. Hao Yubin
Re: Mrs. U. States
 
         I am referring to you one of my patients, who is adamant about wanting to change her medical care and seeks to borrow it from China.
         The patient, a 233-year-old female, presented with a variety of ailments and complained of general "malaise," which she last suffered from in the late 1970's, and depression the likes of which she hasn't felt in seven decades.
         She was sedated and anesthetized using a combination of suburban reality and infotainment television programming.  During physical examination, she was somewhat unresponsive to stimulus. A benign, sluggish growth was found.  Angiography reveals severe, diffuse clogging of several vital arteries, with heaviest congestion in the losangelus freevia.  This is likely due to a diet of fast food, high-fructose corn syrup, and vitamin-enriched water from BPA-laced plastic bottles.  Internal scar tissue remains sensitive from a long-term stay in Southeast Asia more than three decades ago.  Against my and many other professionals' advice, the patient made a recent trip to the Middle East that may have aggravated her condition.  Nevertheless, she repeatedly, and loudly, assures me that she has been vigilant in safeguarding herself from harmful foreign bodies.
         Longstanding issues include lesions in the vestibulocerebellar system affecting balance: beginning in 1960 the patient tended to list leftward, but in 1980 she suddenly began tilting to the right, displaying pronounced symptoms in 1994.  Lately her gait has stabilized, though this may simply be a temporary reprieve resulting from extreme movements with equal force in precisely opposed directions.
         She often shows serious allergic reaction to the outdoors and sometimes seems to want to eliminate it.       
        The patient was brought to my office by her uncle, Samuel, who also wants you to schedule an appointment for him for a chronically extended right index finger.  When asked for payment, the patient claimed she was in major debt, as you no doubt realize, and her uncle stated his budget was similarly overstretched.  After my receptionist Agnes demanded restitution, the uncle threatened to strike her from afar with a surgical instrument.  Once the police arrived, he insisted he was "only preemptively defending" himself.  Agnes herself is 83 years old and wheelchair-bound but cannot afford to retire.
         The patient is uninsured and, despite her ardent desire for coverage, is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
 
Sincerely,
 
The Surgeon General

 

Teddy Wayne's debut novel, "Kapitoil," will be published by Harper Perennial this April.

 

#67355

 SCENE: An office at Qualitative Segmentation Research, a sub-surface information bunker on Formosa.
 
SUPERVISOR: #67355, I’ve been told that you’re still working on the Polly Frost Information Manipulation File.
 
DATA ANALYZER: I’m just about to make sense of her data, I swear.
 
SUPERVISOR: You’ve been on this case for months and you’ve given us nothing about Polly Frost that we can use. Just random data, like the way she's always calling Apple to ask where the tiny feet are on her nanopod.
 
DATA ANALYZER: I’m sorry -- it won’t happen again.
 
SUPERVISOR: You’re not the first to get fascinated by the Polly Frost file. Martinelli apple juice on Monday, absinthe on Tuesday. You need to move on.
 
DATA ANALYZER: But I just planted the new Drillerama spyware on her home iMac!
 
SUPERVISOR: You have more than six thousand other Information Manipulation Files waiting in your Fortisqueue.
 
DATA ANALYZER: But I just figured out that she tends to like the monomials -- Iman, Bono, Mankind, Prince, Madonna.
 
SUPERVISOR: She and the rest of the species, #67355. Listen, we’ve sicced the best on her. Repeatedly. We’ve devoted teraflops of our most expensive computing time to her case. There’s just no sense to be made of her. She was vegan for sixteen hours in September of last year and then ate nothing but raw mutton for a month.  
 
DATA ANALYZER: With all due respect, boss, the others didn’t know what they were doing. I’m finding new ways to analyze her activities and thoughts.
 
SUPERVISOR (sits back): Oh, all right -- tell me what you have.
 
DATA ANALYZER (excitedly): Well, when Polly Frost shops online she puts hundreds of items in her cart. And then? She deletes them! Oh -- and she signs up for online services and then abandons them. (Holds out a stack of printouts.) See this? It’s like a record of every Internet social networking site that ever failed! She joined them all. It’s like she’s toxic.
 
SUPERVISOR: Toxic to us, too. Ditch the Polly Frost file, #67355. It’s not worth spending money and time on her.
 
DATA ANALYZER: But I think I'm really starting to understand her, boss!
 
SUPERVISOR: Look: Microsoft, Google, and the State Department pay our bills. And Microsoft, Google, and the State Department want tendencies, they want coherence.
 
DATA ANALYZER: You have to listen to me. I’ve saved the most telling  for last.
 
SUPERVISOR: OK, surprise me.
 
DATA ANALYZER: She finally quit Twitter. And then took it up again seventeen minutes later under another name -- Yllop Tsorf!
This is the key to everything, and I am going to figure it out!
 
(The Supervisor gets up from his chair.)
 
SUPERVISOR: # 67355, you were one of our best. But you’ve changed. You’ve become obsessed with the Polly Frost Information Manipulation File. You’ve even stopped spending your evenings organizing your iTunes collection.
 
DATA ANALYZER: What? You’ve been ... spying on me?
 
SUPERVISOR: You’ve quit illegally downloading movies. You haven’t even tried to hack into Facebook in five weeks.
 
DATA ANALYZER: There’s no way you could get my information. I installed the firewall to end all firewalls.
 
SUPERVISOR: We’ve got people in India who can out-program you with one samosa tied behind their backs.
 
(The Data Analyzer clutches the Polly Frost file to his chest and storms out the door)
 
DATA ANALYZER: I’m not giving up! You can’t scare me! I can make sense out of Polly Frost! You just try to get in my way!
 
(Slams door behind him on way out. The Supervisor sighs and picks up his phone.)
 
SUPERVISOR (into phone):  You heard all that, Ramesh?  I told you #67355 was a hopeless case, didn't I? You know what to do -- get your Thuggees to, um, delete him.  And Ramesh?
 
RAMESH: Yes, boss?
 
SUPERVISOR: Don’t look at the Frost file contents yourself. We can’t let her  take any more of us down.

 

 

 Polly Frost is a playwright whose humor has appeared in The Atlantic and The New Yorker.She can be found on the web at  http://pollyfrost.com.

Gary and the Pay Czar

(The Treasury Department recently told certain bailed-out companies that their executives should not be paid more than $500,000 a year. The companies argued that they need to pay high-level employees more than that to keep them from leaving, arguing that their departure would be disastrous.  Special Master for TARP Executive Compensation -- "Pay Czar" -- Kenneth Feinberg agreed to exempt twelve executives from the salary cap. To help you understand the reason for the exemptions, here is an excerpt from a secretly recorded closed-door meeting between the Pay Czar and an unnamed CEO.)
 
PAY CZAR: ... And so, no employee of your company will be able to earn more than $500,000 annually, as that salary has been deemed to be ...


 CEO: Whoa! Gary's not going to like that.


 PAY CZAR: And who is Gary?


 CEO: Gary's the best! And if we can't pay him at least three million dollars a year, he will leave our company and find work someplace else.


 PAY CZAR: So what if he leaves? That would create another job, wouldn't it?


 CEO: You don't seem to understand. Gary is what makes this company work. If we lose him, we lose everything.


 PAY CZAR: What is Gary's job, exactly?


 CEO:  He is Executive Vice President of Other Vice Presidents--crucial!


PAY CZAR:  I see. And what would happen if Gary leaves?


 CEO: The company would grind to halt for a week or more, as we scramble to find a replacement.  And if we can pay the replacement no more than $500,000, then we're going to be scraping the bottom of the barrel. We would probably have to put an ad on Craig's List or Monster.com or even Pennysavers. Whoever we do get will probably be looking only for seasonal work to help pay for textbooks and Spring Break.


PAY CZAR: Perhaps the new hire will be a fast learner.


 CEO:  If the replacement cannot handle Gary's former responsibilities within minutes, it will spell disaster. And since the replacement will no doubt waste the first day by asking us questions such as "Where's the lunch room?" and "What are finances?", our company won't stand a chance. Which means that you and your salary cap may well turn out be responsible for the destruction of mankind. I'm just saying.


 PAY CZAR: How so?


 CEO: If we go bankrupt, it will start a domino effect. Other financial institutions will  surely fail. And no amount of bailout money will help.


 PAY CZAR: (Audible gasp)


 CEO: I know, right? But you asked. So anyway, with no financial institutions left, the world economy will topple in a matter of days.


 PAY CZAR: But ... then it will get better. It always does.


 CEO: You wish.  Not this time--not when it comes to Gary. Soon there will be no money left and the rioting will begin. Gangs of middle-aged, drug-crazed bikers will overthrow the government. Food will be more precious than platinum. Humans will barter for sustenance with fur pelts, firewood, and sexual favors.


 PAY CZAR: No!


 CEO: Then, quite possibly ordered by a wrathful Gary himself, the rains will come--rains that will last for nine years. Rains that will  cease only when the volcanoes erupt and burn away the clouds. The fortunate will die.


 PAY CZAR: (whimpers)


 CEO: The Earth will quake into pieces. The survivors will try unsuccessfully to band together and keep humanity alive. But then the Hawks will come.


 PAY CZAR: The Hawks?

 

 CEO: Yes -- the Fire Hawks. They are made of fire and shadow, verily. They will descend onto this world from realms unknown, and eat away at the very fabric of time and space. Gary has a drawing of them in his office if you'd like to see it.

 

 PAY CZAR: And then what -- there would be no Earth?


 CEO: No Earth. No galaxy. No universe. It would be gone, consumed even to the last molecule by the Fire Hawks.


 PAY CZAR: Where would the Hawks go then?


 CEO: They would turn upon and consume each other, of course. Everything will be erased, except for one last Fire Hawk. That hawk will then go and create a new world from its plumage. It would be no dejeuner sur l'herbe, I can tell you, but  a world of even greater suffering. It's a downward cycle of sorts.


 PAY CZAR: But if Gary stays ...


 CEO: Then life will go on as normal. No riots. No gangs, no volcanoes. And no Fire Hawks.


 PAY CZAR: Hmm... I'll need to consult with my team members. And do you have Gary's employee evaluation? We'll need to see that before we go ahead and exempt him from the salary cap.


 CEO: No problem. I'll have Tina fax it over. Thank you for saving the world and quieting our stockholders, Mr. Pay Czar.
 
Dan Bergstein is a freelance writer and wears a size 11 shoe but a a 10 1/2 sneaker.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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