Displaying articles for: June 2012

Portion Control


"Editors' Note: Portions of this post appeared in similar form in an April, 2011, post.... We regret the duplication of material." -- The New Yorker


Editors' Note: Portions of this post appeared in similar form in an April, 2008, piece by this writer, entitled "Post," and a November, 2007, post by this writer, entitled "Piece." We regret the duplication of material.

Editors' Note: Portions of this post also appeared in similar form in a June 21, 2012, e-mail from the writer of this piece to himself, saved in his drafts folder. We regret the duplication of material, although, really, have some perspective.

Editors' Observation: Did you know that portions of this portion of this post appear in the portions both above and below this portion? We just thought that was worth pointing out.

Editors' Commentary: If you gave it some thought, you'd realize that portions of this post happen to have appeared in dissimilar form in every other document ever written. So while we're figuring out where this post originally came from, let's remember that none of us invented the alphabet, except for whoever it is who did.

Editors' Note: It has just been discovered that portions of this post appeared on May 23, 2012, on a cocktail napkin at the Irish Setter, a midtown Manhattan pub whose name also appears in a 2004 book entitled "101 Dog Breeds," and one unpublished essay entitled "How The [Expletive] Did My Wife Talk Me Into Getting This [Expletive] Mutt?!" We regret the duplication of material, to say nothing of adopting that ridiculous creature.

Technical Note: Portions of this post appear in identical form on every computer or other electronic device visiting this website. If they do not, please let us know, using the comment form below. We simultaneously apologize for the duplication of material and for the lack of duplication of material wherever that may apply.

Editors' Response: Please be aware that any portions of this post written by the technical staff, such as the "Technical Note" above still need to be routed through the Editors. By contractual agreement, we have the last word on everything that gets posted here! We are the POST MEN!!!

Publisher's Note: Portions of the Editors' response directly above this note have appeared in similar form in 1,692 e-mails since I took this job eight long months ago. These e-mails occasionally included horrifying expletives and paranoid, grandiose claims of Divine Authority. I sincerely abhor this duplication of material, and hope the editors finally get the help they need.

Editors' Response: We're not the ones who needs help, Mr. Publisher. And, incidentally, we found portions of our lunch, which was stored in the refrigerator, in between your teeth. As we said in similar form in a May 26 memo and a June 2 raised-voice conversation, PLEASE STOP STEALING MY FOOD.

Intern's Note: No, actually, that was me. (The Publisher must have had a similar lunch.) Since there are no portions of my paycheck still available after paying my rent, I have no choice but to scavenge. I sincerely regret believing the promises of an eventual salary when I took this position.

Editors' Note: Portions of our intern will no longer be appearing in our office. We regret that you will now have to duplicate your own material.

Technical Note: Whoever just used the copier -- you broke it.

Publisher's Note: We're not getting a new copy machine. But we are getting new editors. 


Portions of Jeremy Blachman's bio have appeared at the ends of his previous posts. Follow him @jeremyblachman.


Fun Gus


"I reach out to a lot of employees.... I ask: 'Are you having fun?'....  I'll just ask, 'What's your ratio of fun days right now? Are you 6, 8, 9, are you 4 out of 10? If you're 4, why?' If you're not having fun 8 out of 10 days on a consistent basis, you've got to say something. You can't just expect that your manager always knows if you're not having fun." -- Chris Barbin, chief executive of Appirio, an information technology company, in an interview in the New York Times


Gus Brent started the digital strategy company Gadzookology in his parents' garage. Now the company is worth between 16 and 17 trillion dollars (according to a flippant statement made by someone at a party). What's the key to its success? How did this college drop-out and inept grocery bagger manage to create THE company of the new millennium? According to Brent, the answer is "fun." 


Q: What is the secret of Gadookology's alleged success?


BRENT: Easy. They key to a successful company is joy. The employees must have a feeling of fun and joy. They must actually take pleasure in coming to work each day. Happy employees make for happy digital strategies. It's really that simple.


Q: Your company seems to be taking a page from other big names in the tech industry. All those social-network outfits and animation studios encourage creativity and play in the workplace. Is that something you encourage as well?


BRENT: We have a saying around here: If you're sad, you're fired. So to answer your question, yes, we like to play. I studied those companies. I read about their fun cafeterias and naps-at-work policies. But I didn't think they were going far enough. As a CEO, I can take the new corporate ideology and push it a step further.


Q: Can you give an example?


BRENT: For starters, naps are mandatory. A mild sedative in the communal ice cream bucket gives my employees the rest they need and deserve. From 3 to about 5 in the afternoon, everyone is out cold. They wake up a tad groggy and confused, but after a few bites of our caffeinated pancakes and an oral steroid, they bounce right back. 


Q: Don't they figure out the ice cream drugged pretty quickly?


BRENT: Of course! And they love it! At 2:55, they start chanting, "Nice cream, nice cream, nice cream!"


Q: Getting back to your joy doctrine...how much of the workday is spent actually working?


BRENT [unfastens his cape]: We don't have clocks here. Is it 4:30? Is it December? Who cares! You want to talk about hours? How many hours did it take to come up with the cup holder in a car? I'm thinking that baby took about ten minutes. Some guy looked at his car and said, "I wish I could put my coffee cup somewhere that wouldn't leave me with scrotal burns." Bam! He revolutionizes the industry. Ten minutes! That's all it takes. So my employees only need to really work for ten minutes during their entire careers.


Q: Tell me about the water slide.


BRENT: First, it's not a water slide. It's a Hydrated Idea Incline. When an employee is stuck on a certain problem, or if they wish to travel to the first floor, they take a ride on the Hydrated Idea Incline. The positive ions of the warm spraying water, in combination with the pornography on the widescreen display above the splashdown pool, greatly increase creativity.


Q: I notice several oddly dressed men murmuring and shuffling about. Who are they?


BRENT: We have a fantastic employee-to-shaman ration here. It's something like three to one. Anyway, instead of piping in awful pop music, we have these shamans -- or is it shamen? I need a nap! -- walk around and whisper in the ears of the workers. Now, I have no freaking clue what they're saying. It's not English. But it works. Somehow.


Q: Why eschew the standard concept of desks?


BRENT: Desks are shameful. Businesses are very slow to realize that when you sit at a desk, half of your body is completely hidden. Our employees instead conduct all business on computers that hover above the ground using magnetism and ghosts. It costs more, but it's impossible to put a price on whimsy. For instance, our new boomerang court will help...


Q: Pardon me, but speaking of money, several former employees have come forward saying that they were never paid. 


BRENT: Haha. Sounds like some people never got their rides on the Fun-rail. [Blows a flute to summon the Fun-rail, an enormous three-railed steam-powered train that travels throughout the campus.] All aboard! This train is one of the company's greatest perks. It's so much fun! It runs on coal made from the charred bones of some of history's greatest business leaders. Right now, we're burning the bones of a DuPont. Smell that? That's the smell of creative business, or Creabusinitivess, as I call it in my forthcoming opera "Fun and Funner".


Q: How does the train help employees?


BRENT: It travels to the candy butcher, of course. But this is the local train, so it also make stops at the cafeteria, the movie theater, the erotic barber, the regular barber, the Grilled Cheeseingtons outlet, the make-your-own trophy bar, the one-way mirror at Tom Hanks' house -- don't tell him! -- and finally the den. That's where you can just sort of relax and adopt a puppy that never grows older.


Q: And what about the recent investigation into your munitions depot?


BRENT: Oh that? It's for the think tank. What the hell would my employees do with a think tank if they had no ammunition? Then you're basically stuck with a huge metal car with a long snout. Just last week Maggie in accounting used the think tank to eliminate some unwanted rubbish and photos of her ex, and during the cathartic process, she came up with a way the company can save 8% on magicians each year by paying for our own employees to take magic lessons. We're cutting out the middle man and passing the savings on to…everyone.


Q: What is the hiring process like at Gadzookology?


BRENT: Listen, I don't care where you went to school! I don't even want to see your resume. When someone walks in looking for a job, I only ask them three things: Hat size, what's the opposite of trees, and are you allergic to magnetism?


Q: So you accept all job candidates?


BRENT: What if I turned down the next Albert Einstein or Bono? I don't want to lie awake at night thinking of what could have been. So yes, I hire everyone. Is that foolish? Maybe. Is it fun? Yes. Is fun the key to success? "Duh" squared [throws javelin at giant dart board].


Q: And how do you plan on making any money? You seem to be spending millions of dollars every day.


BRENT: It's a bit technical. The money comes in via revenue generated from split-second leveraged municipal-bond-derivative-monetization deals handled by a computer.


Q: So a computer does all the work?


BRENT: Yeah. Everyone else is just support staff and/or boomerang-court custodians. Or shamans. Or lifeguards. Or candy butchers. We also have one guy, Leo, who just walks around telling people how certain movies should have ended. He's got some great ideas about The Deer Hunter. Powerful stuff...


Q: And you make a profit?


BRENT: Like I said. It's technical. But I figure if I'm good enough at these ridiculous interviews, then there's nothing stopping Gadzookology from being the very best at what we do.


Q: And what does Gadzookology do…exactly?


BRENT: Bio-technical consulting with a focus on social-media analytics and digital strategies -- that is, imaginative new ways to use your fingers and toes. We also sell our own T-shirts and maple syrup. Now if you excuse me, I have a meeting about possibly getting Tom Petty to perform in the handicapped stall of our restroom on the ninth floor. Help yourself to one of our forever puppies. 


Dan Bergstein is about to launch his new startup, startdown.com.


Volume Reduction


"New York City plans to enact a far-reaching ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts, in the most ambitious effort yet by the Bloomberg administration to combat rising obesity." -- The New York Times


In a press conference held this morning on the steps of the New York Public Library, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a sweeping new set of legislative initiatives designed to combat what he called "the silent scourge of public health -- jumbo-sized novels and epic-length works of nonfiction whose inflated proportions are," according to the Mayor, "keeping readers on the couch and off of our city's bike paths and squash courts and out of other venues for healthy exercise."


Struggling to hold aloft a copy of George R.R. Martin's 1,040-page fantasy blockbuster A Dance With Dragons, Mr. Bloomberg called out authors and publishers for engaging in a "campaign of addiction" that chains readers to bulked-up works of prose and threatens to produce a generation of "prematurely retiring escapists, whose only muscular development is in the fingers used to turn page…after page…after page."


Although the negative impact of lengthy works of fantasy and science fiction were a key portion of Mr. Bloomberg's presentation (which included testimony from a teenager whose obsessive need to finish the 1,472 pages of Stephen King's "uncut" version of The Stand caused him to miss his high school graduation), the Mayor did not fail to indict the publishers of nonfiction "life-stoppers," as well -- like Robert Caro's recent 736-page bestseller The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 4, which was brought forward for display on a specially reinforced portable bookshelf. 


"Perhaps the most insidious aspect of this sort of publishing," Mr. Bloomberg said, indicating the new entry in Caro's still-uncompleted multivolume study of the 36th President's life and career, "is the message it sends to our young people: one of the nation's most esteemed writers, at the age of 76, still hasn't finished this one damn book." He then produced a large graph which showed the economic impact of sleep deprivation on readers who sat up late to finish The Passage of Power's electrifying account of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights act. The graph indicated higher rates of worker absenteeism, garbled power-point presentations, and assembly-line inattention, with a specific example of a bakery worker in Queens mistakenly adding blue dye to 1,398 red velvet cupcakes. The Mayor cited these findings as "irrefutable evidence" that what he called "midnight prose-binges leave our great city with virtual zombies, feeding off of the productivity of those of us responsible enough to just watch Mad Men and go to bed." 


To illustrate the "invisible cost" of heavy books, Mr. Bloomberg introduced a group of aides wearing lead-lined vests -- each one the same weight as the 2560-page, four-volume "Twilight" series -- who labored through everyday tasks (participating in a Zumba class, applying for a home equity loan, and asking a waiter what else besides quinoa is in the quinoa salad) made more onerous by the weight. "Breaking Dawn?" quipped the Mayor as he narrated their struggles. "More like Breaking Backs!" Meanwhile, a second set of aides -- each wearing a plastic necklace representing the weight of a single issue of Us Weekly -- glided through turnstiles and hailed cabs with no significant effort. The Mayor himself spontaneously broke out a few hip-hop moves and then tried to repeat them wearing a "Twilight" vest and knocked the podium over. (Some observers felt that this incident was staged.)


Mr. Bloomberg was quick to point out that exceptions to the new regulations against weighty books would be plentiful. For example the rules would exempt celebrity biographies of any size as unlikely to take anyone more than a single sitting to dispense with and as "mysteriously light, no matter how long." Audiobooks, "if sufficiently stimulating to accompany a 45-minute cardio workout," would be legal and possibly exempt from city taxes.


Advocates for Doorstoppers United were not available for comment, as they were all still trying to finish David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, as their bedside tables groaned under the weight of The Pale King.


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


Sea of Eager Faces


Thank you. Thank you. Please sit. Thank you. Please.


I was humbled and honored to be asked by the president of this outstanding university to speak to you today. It is my hope that my brief statement will put the final punctuation on your college years. And I promise to keep things short, as I'm sure you all are impatient to go forward to the wonderful lives I hope you will live.


Who am I? I am Gavin Presgrave, and for the past thirty-nine years I have written graduation speeches for hundreds of celebrities and nervous valedictorians. For decades, I have come up with new ways to say "future," and, at the risk of bragging, I was the first graduation-speech writer to compare life to a book.


If I'm known for anything, it's for starting the speeches by saying, "I promise to keep things short, as I'm sure you are all impatient to go forward to the wonderful lives I hope you will live." I'm proud of that.


But perhaps my most renowned work came during a commencement speech at Penn State in the spring of 1977. During that speech, given by someone whose name I forget, I first used the phrase, "As I look out into this sea of eager faces…." And that "sea of faces" thing was a real game changer in the world of graduation-speech writing.


Yes, I'm proud and humbled to say that I've won several awards for my graduation speeches. In 1997 I won a Herman (our version of the Oscar) for Best Use of Children's Author Quote. That same year I was nominated for Best Opening Joke, which went something like, "Oh, no! We're all wearing the same gown! How embarrassing!" It was a crowd-pleaser. And just last year I won for Longest Somber Pause During a Speech That Mentioned the Fictional Passing of My Mother.


But my life path has not always been smooth. I shocked my peers in 1993 when I wrote a speech that did not include any song lyrics by Bob Dylan, the Beatles, or Kermit the Frog. I nearly lost my job and license after that. Though perhaps I made up for that faux pas a year later when a speech I wrote for the President of MSU consisted of nothing but quotes from Einstein, Yoda, and Steve Jobs.


So what I have I learned during my career? What important lesson can I pass along? To be honest, I'm not sure, but I'm nevertheless, as usual, reminded of the day my mother died. Moments before her passing, she told me that life was a book, and even the saddest of chapters shall come to an end. If you can read the sad chapters swiftly and the happy chapters slowly, then yours will be a life worth living. So, Mom, this one is for you. [Raises face to the sky. Pauses somberly.]


Most of you have no idea what lies ahead or what course your lives will take -- two other ways of saying "future" for just the one honorarium. But I do know this. The journey you are about to embark on -- three! -- will be filled with twists and turns. We may not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but it can't hurt to carry an umbrella. As Gavin Presgrave once said, "Tomorrow is a gift wrapped in time. Now is the time to open it!"


There are some out there who will not remember my name or my speech. In that sea of eager faces, I can see that many of you are not even listening. But a good graduation speech is one that is not exactly heard and remembered but is in its way, well, absorbed. What does that mean? You're college graduates now; you tell me.


Let us never forget where we came from, or to use directional signals, or racism, or our nut allergies, or the Alamo, or how terrorism has changed the world.


Let's also remember what Curious George Said: Nothing. He didn't say anything. The Man in the Yellow Hat said everything. Are you going to be Curious George or the Man in the Yellow Hat? Both are good choices, and that's my point.


And also never let us forget that Einstein once failed Math.


You are all about to open new chapters of your own books. A book called life. Shall we turn that page together?


The Beatles put it best when they sang, "All you need is love." I would add "Plus, in this economy, your old room back."


Dan Bergstein flipped his mortar-board tassel the wrong way.


July 29: On this day in 1878 Don Marquis was born.

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).