Displaying articles for: April 2013

Belly Rub

"[P]et owners, especially those with large and less-than-beloved breeds of dog, say it has become ever harder to find a welcoming apartment....  Buildings have rules about pets for many reasons. The very young and the  very old may be frightened of animals, especially those that look  menacing. Owners worry about property damage. Barking and howling can  make life miserable for everybody." -- The New York Times


ISSUE: Should we approve the application of SPOT JONES to purchase an  apartment?

BACKGROUND: SPOT JONES is a 6-year-old Dalmatian with a solid job at the  local fire station, good credit history, and no criminal record. He  seeks to rent a one-bedroom for himself and his pet human, Arnold, age  28, no history of biting. The question up for discussion is whether we  want to allow humans in the building.

FIFI voiced concerns about humans’ limited need for sleep. She is  worried about being woken up from her morning, afternoon, or evening  naps by noise. The building rules, of course, require quiet between the  hours of 6AM-noon, 2PM-6PM, 8PM-midnight, and 1AM-5AM, the optimal  sleeping schedule for all species. As long as Arnold can abide by these  generous restrictions, Fifi has no problem approving.

MAX wanted to call our attention to the potential for increased trash in  the building, since humans are known to generate unusual amounts of  garbage, especially with regard to food scraps and packaging. The room  cheered at the mention of food scraps, and Max urged us to consider this  as a point in favor of allowing Arnold to live in the building. Max also  moved that we provide additional snausages at future board meetings.  Motion was seconded and approved unanimously.

BUSTER expressed worry about increased water bills in the building,  having heard a rumor that humans require daily bathing, even the ones  who seem to have an aversion to rolling around in mud. Discussion  followed, concluding that this daily bathing requirement is clearly  symptomatic of a serious medical issue and it would be unfair to assume  that Spot’s human would also have this strange, disturbing need.

DAISY raised a question about whether allowing a human in the building  meant that we must also allow the evil man from the postal service to  visit, and, if so, whether it would be permissible to maul him. We  quickly voted to separate these issues from the underlying question, and  that if Spot’s human needs to engage in any business with the postal  service, he would be required to do so at a separate location.

RUFUS insisted that we need to address the issue of toileting, and  whether there would be any way to restrict Arnold from the disgusting  human inclination for toileting indoors. Discussion followed, concerning  the grotesqueness of toileting in the same place as one eats and sleeps,  and what would possibly prevent a human from wanting to toilet outdoors,  like a civilized creature. Rufus urged that we address the issue with  Spot, and see if he would be able to hydrant-train Arnold before they  move in and he soils our pristine home with his poop.

BO asked if we can address the issue of fleas. He also wanted to know if Arnold would be allowed off-leash in common areas. We said we would  pursue these questions with Spot. Finally, FRANCESCA wanted to know if  Arnold was properly neutered-- the last thing we need, of course, is to allow one human into the building and end up with a whole litter.  Assuming Arnold has all of his vaccinations, we proposed to bring the measure to a final vote.

Just then, ROVER spied Arnold in the lobby, giving Spot what looked to  be a stupendously extraordinary belly rub. Fifi immediately withdrew her  concern about sleep, Rufus insisted we reconsider our worry about  toileting, and we all joined Arnold and Spot in the lobby, unanimously  voting to allow Spot to purchase the apartment under the condition that  belly rubs are provided for all.


Jeremy Blachman lives in a pet-free building, except for the cat his  neighbor is secretly harboring. Read more from him at  http://jeremyblachman.com or follow him on Twitter @jeremyblachman.


Happy Earth Day!

Well, I've got some big news I want to share.  But first, I should say thank you:  The new recycling facility is just wonderful.  And honestly, you just can’t have enough of those.  Even in Berkeley.   Oh, and the international treaty curbing arsenic poisoning of my lakes and rivers is a nice gesture.  Let me know when you get everyone to sign.  Or anyone!  It's the thought that counts.


I really appreciate the cards and posters from the schoolchildren.  It’s always so great to know that a certain small percentage of all the millions of tons of things slowly decomposing in my landfills – the old tires, the outdated power adapters, the energy-drink bottles– will be hand-lettered banners that say "Let's Take Care of the Earth We Share."  With pictures of smiling polar bears -- Adorbs!


It's so sweet that you all set aside one day for me.  All 6.9 billion of  you -- at least, those of you who don't have other things to take care of.  Believe me, I understand -- you're all so busy with your lives. You don't have to tell me, I know. I can feel you driving here, there, everywhere -- to fencing class, to that outlet mall, back in time for some strip-mining, or a critically acclaimed series on HBO.  You know what it feels like?  Hordes of  tiny insects crawling around on my skin.  Oh, no--it's not so bad.  Makes me feel connected to you all.


So while I know it would be easy to call “Earth Day” just a sort of Hallmark holiday -– well, excuse me if I’m a sentimental old planet!  I know you mean well, and that's important. Oh, watch your feet, by the way –- I just calved a few more glaciers, and the sea levels might be going up a weensy bit.     


Now, about my news -- I'll just come out with it.  I’m moving.


Where?  That’s a little complicated, but here's the short answer.  You remember that superconducting supercollider that those scientists created in Europe?  And how everyone was afraid that it would create a black hole?  Well, let’s just say that physics is interesting.  Anyway, I have been using the it to communicate with the most fascinating celestial bodies.  Have you ever heard of the Horsehead Nebula?  I've always meant to go but I've never had the opportunity.  And I've been signalling back and forth with some of the gas giants out there and they say it's a really exciting neighborhood.  And -- all right, I guess it all comes out now --  there's a binary pulsar there who's been just bombarding me with this very exotic radiation!


Why now?   Listen, I don't want to shock you kids, but things just aren't the same between the sun and me anymore.   As long as my ozone layer was in good shape I could overlook a lot.  Oh, there's been lots of warmth, that’s for sure.  But it's not a healthy dynamic, when one of you stays in orbit around the other for such a long time.  And if I'm not even able to keep my family from getting burned, I really don't see the point in pretending.


Oh, I’ll have lots of company.  You have no idea how many of us there are, all over the galaxies, us “planets of a certain age.”  We spend millennia fostering life in all of its complexity and glory, evolving species, and -- I'm sorry to be the one to say it -- wind up getting those telltale deforestation scars all over.  And the methane!  I'll admit it: I've just never liked cows.


I beg your pardon? Oh, well, I don’t exactly know where you’ll stay.  Unfortunately, you can’t come along with me through the wormhole – this is going to be a planets-only community.  I might even say goodbye to this humid old atmosphere – just have it all shaved off.  Pretty radical for ol' Mother Earth, huh?   Anyway, I was imagining that you’d be taking those rockets you were so proud of a little while ago and trying to find a new place of your own.  In fact, I'll guess you have to. But you shouldn't mind that much. I'll always love you all, but you’ve made it pretty clear for some time now that you've got better things to do than look after your old Mom.



Bill Tipper is the Managing Editor of the Barnes & Noble Review.


License to Bill

“That bill shall know no limits,” wrote one DLA Piper lawyer to another in 2010 in what the firm is now calling ‘unfortunate banter’ between associates about work for a client. But what is truly unfortunate is the underlying billable-hour regime and the law-firm culture it has spawned.” – “The Tyranny of the Billable Hour,” The New York Times, March 28, 2013


Dear Loyal Client:


As a consumer of professional plumbing services, you’re probably familiar with the old joke that goes like this: A woman calls a plumber to deal with a leak that’s rapidly filling her basement with water. The plumber arrives, heads downstairs, then comes up again just moments later to report that the leak has been stopped. “That’ll be two hundred dollars,” he says. “That’s ridiculous!” the woman protests. “You haven’t even been here for five minutes! And I saw you: All you did was turn a knob! I demand an itemized bill!” The plumber obliges, handing the woman a piece of paper on which he’s written, “Turning knob, $5. Knowing which knob to turn, $195. Total: $200.” Good clean fun!


And then there’s that other joke, about the man who calls a plumber. After working for half an hour, the plumber presents the man with a bill for $200. The homeowner says, “Good Heavens! I’ve been practicing law for over 30 years and I can’t charge that kind of money!” The plumber smiles and says, “Yeah, I couldn't either when I was a lawyer.” How true!


But we’re not writing to tell you jokes. To the contrary, we’re writing about a serious development and an important change in the way Plumb Bob’s Pipe Services will be doing business moving forward. Taking a cue from our colleagues in the legal services field—but also learning from their missteps—we have decided to move away from a traditional hourly-rate revenue model to an “a la carte” system... but this does mean that we will have to charge for discrete items of work—and more than usual—including communications with you, our cherished clients. Including this letter. But, in keeping with our dedication to complete transparency in billing, we will break down for you just what you’re getting for the money we’ll be asking you for on the invoice that constitutes page two, attached.


The first joke, above, is free of charge. The second joke, however, is priced at $35. The third paragraph, in which we announce our new billing policy—and which represents the essence of this letter, really—costs $50. Accordingly, the price of this communication, as of the start of this paragraph, is $85—but this paragraph itself costs an additional $25, bringing the total to $110, as long as you do not read any further. (The following paragraph will explain why we’re adopting a new system. This parenthetical is gratis.)


For thousands of years, mankind has used systems of pipes, drains, valves, and other contrivances to distribute water for drinking, heating, washing, and removing wastes—and for just as long plumbers have been employed to construct these systems, and then to repair them. (+ $15.) Professional plumbing is not an inherently secretive trade, but the intricacies of water-conducting apparatuses can be bewildering to the uninitiated. (+ $10.) For that reason, to the untrained eye of the layperson, what the professional plumber does is often indistinguishable from magic. (+ $10.) More than one real-life customer has demanded justification for a plumber’s rates—people want to know just what the plumber was doing in the boiler room for three minutes or the laundry room for seven (+ $10.) So now we are going to tell you just what; there will be no more mystery in your plumbing bills! (+ $5.) (Total paragraph cost: $50.)


Indeed (+ $1.), we’re so sure that you’ll like our new billing system (+ $10.), we’re going to back it with a guarantee (+ $8.): If you’re not completely satisfied with itemized billing ($ +8.), we will return your account to flat-rate hourly billing with minimal detail (+ $13.), at no extra cost (+ $4). Just let us know. (Incoming calls to the office will be charged at $2.95/minute; letters at $1.50/ounce; emails at $0.05/byte [100 bytes minimum].)


As always, we thank you for your business! (+ $7.)


Matthew David Brozik, erstwhile litigator, used to charge clients by the tenth of the hour. Read more of his work, absolutely free, at imdb.name.



Nine is Fine

Following guest? Register Four—right down here. I can ring you up...


Hello! Did you find everything you were looking for today? Did any of our team members assist you? Do you have a store loyalty card? That’s all right; I’ll swipe mine. Just the pack of Juicy Fruit? Okay, your total is forty-nine cents. You saved three cents this visit. Here’s your receipt... and if I could just direct your attention to the back of the receipt, you’ll see that we’re inviting customers to complete an online survey. You could win a dollar or even two dollars to spend at any of our locations, of which so far there is just one. This one. But there will be more, as soon as the the construction here is completed. We apologize for the noise, and the survey will automatically adjust your responses to factor in, and then factor out again, a jackhammer annoyance multiplier.


You’ll see, right here, that the web address for the survey is www.storesurvey.biz/survey/store/your-survey-is-our-survey/dont-worry-this-will-end-soon.html. Your individual survey code is 1440-3017-762, your password is 1130-3190-324, and your Social Security Number is 085-63-2026. What’s that, sir? I don’t know. It must be in our system. I... I really have no idea.


The survey—which will definitely take less than a full hour, but which must be completed in a single session to be counted and for you to avoid an automatic surcharge on this purchase—will ask you some questions about your experience in our store today, including whether you found everything you were looking for, whether you were assisted by any team members, whether you have a store loyalty card, and whether you were asked all of these question at checkout by a cashiering associate. You will also be asked whether the cashiering associate offered to use his or her own store loyalty card if you did not have one, whether you were given the correct change, whether you were given a receipt, whether you were invited to take an online survey, and whether the cashiering associate smiled  during the entire checkout process, regardless of any personal sadness in his or her own life, which store team members are expected to leave outside the employees’ entrance. There will also be some questions about your ethnicity, annual household income, education, sexuality, criminal history, and allergies, all for demographic research purposes only. You might be asked to confirm your Social Security Number.


One section of the survey asks you to rate, on a scale from 1 to 10—with 1 being “least totally satisfied” and 10 being “most totally satisfied”—certain aspects of your shopping experience today. We ask that you please keep in mind as you answer the questions that anything 8 or lower might as well be a “1”—only a 9 or 10 will be considered “positive feedback.” That said, if you are tempted to give us an 8, specifically, for any one question, do not give us a “1” simply because of what I just told you, in what we call official confidence, because a “1” will really be considered a 1, where as an 8 will only be considered a “1,” and it would still be better for us to get an 8 than a real 1. But please give us at least a 9 on each question, as I have just said but am required to repeat at this time. “Nine is fine,” as we have been instructed to say, “eight'll be fatal." (Some bend the rules and say, "Eight isn't great," or even, "We hate eight," but neither has been approved by Corporate Headquarters.) Please do not give us all 10s, however, because that looks fake. Even if you are completely most totally satisfied with your experience today.


There will also be a section asking for essay-type responses to various questions. The questions are chosen at random, so I can’t tell you what would constitute a “good” or “correct” answer, but what I can and in fact am supposed to tell you is that each response must include a minimum of 250 words, or else it won’t be counted, and I am also supposed to tell you that the words in your essays will not be read, only counted. In other words, you can’t just write “Kimia was really helpful” or “Kimia deserves a raise for being so good at her job.” Yes, my name is Kimia. Is my nametag not visible? Well, here—it's visible now, so you can answer in the affirmative the question, "Was the nametag of the cashiering associate visible?"


When you have completed the survey, you should then immediately scroll down to the survey about the survey and respond to it. When you submit both surveys to us, we will send you a survey about your experience of your experience of filling out the survey about the survey. Thank you for your patronage. Enjoy your gum!


Matthew David Brozik is co-author of GOOROO'S *PRO*-MAGNON KITCHEN, a culinary manual for the enlightened caveperson (yes, it's a parody), available now for NOOK.



July 25: On this day in 1834 Samuel Taylor Coleridge died of heart disease at the age of sixty-one.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).