Displaying articles for: July 2010

Another Mixed (Up) Review

The Devil and the Rising Sun: A Year Inside the West Carolina University Admissions Department
By Cortoroy Chen
Hildegard House; 350 pp.
 
In the spring of 2007 the risk-taking journalist Cortoroy Chen embarked on the adventure that led to this brilliant and occasionally terrifying book: he got a job as a departmental assistant in the admissions office at West Carolina University. Dressed in linen suits with almond-scented lapels, he endeared himself to the staff in a matter of days. But this is far from some tweedy, elbow-padded comedy of manners: on his first day at work, Chen's translator is killed—Chen, having just discovered that everyone at the university speaks English, lures him deep into the stacks of Darden Library and bludgeons him with a non-circulating copy of Middlemarch.


The most fascinating and conflicted character we meet here is Leopold Roth, the dean of admissions. "Outwardly, Roth embodied the department's core values of professionalism and competence," Chen writes. "Privately, though, he wrestled with the enormousness of his power." Roth, "a man of unbridled ambition," rose to prominence as dean of admissions at the unusually tender age of 32, though Chen perhaps exaggerates with the Alexander the Great comparisons. (Furthermore, Chen is fond of assigning Homeric epithets to his characters, but it is hard to see what he is driving at with his constant mentions of Roth's "dawn-hued gums.")

 

The book is anecdotally rich. Chen illuminates the speech given by Roth at the Fall 2007 Accepted Students Weekend by showing us Roth's pre-speech ritual. It is a portrait of the most raw and naked madness: as a voice on stage introduces him, Roth is backstage in his Art Deco dressing room, spreading "expensive cheese on expensive crackers he would never eat, for he despised both," and, just before taking the stage, asking his undergraduate assistant where to find great deals on women's sweaters.

 

Still, it is the feuding, courting, and schadenfreude among the admissions personnel that most fascinates. "Dean Roth was the face of Admissions," Chen writes. "But Assistant Dean Paul Lambreth was the neck and the pancreas—the true creative force, and it was his prowess with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets that ultimately helped him win the affections of Associate Dean Lynne Hoyt, who, as the department's sole female, harbored a secret love of being objectified."

 

If Chen dwells too much on the dirty details, this can be attributed not only to reportorial thoroughness but also to the inevitable effect of prolonged proximity to greatness. As he writes, in a particularly damning passage: "Like movie stars, they reeled you in, captivating you with a glamour that temporarily blinded you to their flaws. Blessed with that unique ability to simultaneously elicit envy and disgust, they dared you to question their lavish lifestyles, their elaborate carelessness." He goes on, "At times, in Roth's presence, I truly felt as though he were chewing on my arm."

 

By the end of The Devil and the Rising Sun, the mystique that has for so long shrouded the department has been punctured. We also learn of Chen's tragic fate: in an act of tremendous intellectual courage, he published the book knowing it would be used against him in the translator's murder trial. (He is now serving a life sentence as social media director at Sing Sing.)

 

His book, then, stands as a heroic example of public service. But beyond the outlandish tales lies the unassailable fact of the department's work. In the summer of 2008 the staff rented a mansion in rural France to compile what would become that fall's admissions booklet, which today is generally considered their masterpiece. (Among other things, that summer produced the famous photograph of Paul Lambreth wearing a t-shirt that read "Who the F*** is Leopold Roth?" that led to Lambreth's assassination.) That summer was, as Chen recalls: "a fog of marijuana smoke, sexual deception, and late night, booze-fueled philosophical discussions about diversity initiatives and financial aid." The fog has lifted, but the work remains.

 

Gregory Beyer is a writer living in New York. His journalism, essays and reviews of actual books have appeared in The New York Times.

Compatibility

     "Wow!"
     "Wow is right."
     "That thing you did with the ropes. How'd you know exactly how tight I wanted it? I've never met anyone who made such perfect knots."
     "I've been perfecting my rope technique for years but right now was the first time I felt completely fulfilled by tying someone up."
     "It's hard to find someone who shares my particular tastes."
     "When I saw your profile on Nerve I thought we'd be pretty compatible."
     "But this went way beyond that."
     "So, what next?"
     "I'm starved."
     "Me, too. What do you say we get dressed, hit the Brooklyn streets and find a restaurant?"
 
 
* * *
 
     "I've heard this new steak house is amazing. It's completely locavore."
     "Huh?"
     "That means the chef only cooks grass fed beef from growers in New York State."
     "I don't eat meat. That place across the street seems better to me."
     "Raw vegan?"
     "Yum."
     "They don't even seem to have a bar. I could really use a Manhattan."
     "I don't drink alcohol."
     "Oh."
     "I have an idea. Follow me."
 
*  * *
 
     "Uh, I don't know about this cafe."
     "What, you don't like German Swiss cuisine? It's the hottest trend among cutting-edge chefs!"
     "Yeah, but this is all vegan knockwurst and raw sauerkraut and non-alcoholic beer."
 
*  * *
 
     "I don't know how much longer I can walk around before we settle on a restaurant."
     "Maybe we should call it a night."
     "Well, it was great."
     "Unbelievable."
     "And I guess we're still on for tomorrow night."
     "Sure."
     "All right, then."
 
 
*  * *
 
     "Mind if I sit at this bar next to you?"
     "Only if you don't mind me eating a big bloody steak right in front of you."
     "Actually that's why I picked this seat. I was drawn to your plate of beef. I am in such a carnivorous mood."
     "At 11 PM?"
     "Yeah, well, my date and I couldn't decide on a restaurant."
     "Too bad. But now you're at the best bistro in Williamsburg."
     "Everything on the menu looks incredible. I don't know what to pick."
     "Want to try a bite of mine?"
     "Really?"
     "Here."
     "Oh my God, that's the best thing in the world. And are you drinking a Manhattan?"
     "Have a sip."
 
*  * *
 
     "Can it really be 4 AM? These last five hours just sped by."
     "Talking about restaurants we've been to."
     "When you were describing that meal you have in Lugano in 1994. I felt like I was there having foam seaweed with you."
     "And the way you relished every bit of your chocolate pudding. It's great to meet a woman who isn't afraid of a few calories."
    "You know … I don't meet many people I have this much in common with."
     "Yeah. Hey, I know it's short notice but I'd really like to take you to that restaurant I was talking about. It will convince you of the beauty of Nova Scotian cuisine. It's a two hour drive to get to it but completely worth it."
     "Well, I did have something tonight ... but I can get out of it."
     "Then we're on!"
     "I can't wait!"
     "Just one thing you should know. I'm a gay guy."
     "That's totally OK."
     "And you?"
     "I'm just a girl who's into being tied up with elaborate rope knots."
     "And I have linonophobia. I can't be near anything even remotely resembling string."
     "Not a problem. We're compatible in the most important way."

 

Polly Frost's new book, With One Eye Open, is a collection of 25 of her humor pieces. Her website is http://pollyfrost.com.

 

Loan Predators

(An international cross-section of heavily armed professional killers find themselves trapped on a hostile alien game reserve planet.)

 

     KILLER #1: Royce. Soldier of fortune. Ex-CIA. Howdy.
     KILLER #2: My name be Nicolai. Spetsnaz, Alpha Group. I am liquidating Chechen rebels. Pleased to be meeting you, comrade.
     KILLER #3. This one is called Hanzo. Yakuza, Inagawa-kai clan. Killing is an art form—like flower arranging. Bonsai!
     KILLER #4: The handle's Cuchillo. Enforcer, Los Zeta drug cartel.  What's happenin', holmes?

 

     ROYCE: We've got to find high ground, set up a defense perimeter, establish a kill zone. Most of all, we've got to be on guard against predators...
     MORTGAGE PREDATOR: Excuse me, may I interest any of you fine, credit-worthy gentlemen in an adjustable rate mortgage?
     ROYCE: There's one now! Kill it!
     MORTGAGE PREDATOR: No, no, no, I'm just a banker, and right now we have some very attractive subprime mortgages available.
     NICOLAI: Did you be saying subprime? Nicolai always dream of owning dacha and retiring there when he is finishing killing people.
     ROYCE: Don't do it, Nicolai! It's a trap!
     NICOLAI: Nicolai  may be from former Communist state, but Nicolai is knowing good deal when Nicolai is hearing one. Where Nicolai is signing?
     MORTGAGE PREDATOR: Right there...and there...and the next page... Now let me just adjust the rate up.

 

     NICOLAI:  Wait! Nicolai cannot be making  payments! Nicolai drowning in Black Sea of debt! Aargh!

     MORTGAGE PREDATOR: What part of "adjustable" didn't you understand in "adjustable rate mortgage?" We put the "mort" in mortgage.
     (Mortgage Predator eviscerates Nicolai and leaves with his trophy.)

     CUCHILLO: Aye, caramba!
     HANZO: By this one's dishonorable ancestors!
     ROYCE: See, that's what I'm talking about. You've got to be careful.

 

     CREDIT CARD PREDATOR: Can I interest you in a credit card? We're offering a special introductory zero-percent interest rate.
     HANZO: This one always wished to acquire ancient katana from Edo period, but this one always thought it was beyond this one's reach—especially given current dishonorable state of Japanese economy. 
     ROYCE: What am I—a broken record? Don't do it, Hanzo! It's a trap! 
     HANZO: Gaijin does not understand inscrutable Japanese sense of honor and obligation...
     CREDIT CARD PREDATOR: If I could just get your signature.... Now let me jack up the ol’ APR.
     HANZO: Wait! This one thought you said it was zero percent interest!
     CREDIT CARD PREDATOR: I didn’t say for how long, did I?
     HANZO: Help! This one is being crushed under Fuji Mountain of debt! This one can't pay down this one's balance over time! Aargh! This one is disgraced! This one goes to join this one's dishonorable ancestors in hell!
     (Hanzo eviscerates himself. Credit Card Predator collects his trophy and leaves.)
     CUCHILLO: Holy frijoles!

 

     ROYCE: I told him so! Look, Cuchillo, it's just you and me now. We can still survive and get back to Earth if we stay on our toes!

     CUCHILLO: Don' t sweat it, holmes! I'm on it like black on beans.
     CAR LOAN PREDATOR: Can I interest you in a fine set of wheels on the installment plan? No money down, and you have years to pay.
     ROYCE: Not a chance.
     CUCHILLO: Why don't you go peddle your fish tacos somewhere else, man? We're onto your tricks.
     CAR LOAN PREDATOR: No tricks!  It's all perfectly legit. Car loans were specifically exempted from the financial-regulation bill because us car dealers are so notoriously honorable.
     CUCHILLO: Well, in that case...There's this cherry low-rider I've had my eyes on. I can just see myself cruisin' round Tijuana, blastin' Ricky Martin on the stereo, and wavin' at all the fine mamacitas. 
     ROYCE: Do you ever get the feeling no one is listening to you? Don't do it, Cuchillo! It's  a trap!

 

     CAR LOAN PREDATOR: Just sign here ... and here ... and once more here. Now I'll repossess the car—and your vertebrae.
     CUCHILLO: This is mucho loco! I haven't even taken possession of the car yet, man!
     CAR LOAN PREDATOR: You should have read the fine print. The first payment is due before you take possession.
     (Car Loan Predator eviscerates Cuchillo and drives off with his prize in a cherry low-rider, Cuchillo’s head mounted on the hood as an ornament.)
     ROYCE (sighing): They never learn. I'm never gonna get off this damn planet.

     LUNCH PREDATOR: Don't feel too bad. Maybe the next batch will be smarter. In the meantime, wanna do lunch? My treat.

 

Robert Brenner’s work has appeared in New York Magazine, Open Salon, and Happy. He lives in New York City with his wife.

 

egoPhone Solutions

Everyone knows that in the past we here at AmericaHasAnswers.com have harvested the genius of everyday Americans to solve any and all of your gadget problems. Whether you asked "How do I stop my web-enabled automatic garage door from discriminating against Methodists?" or "Why is my Water-Pik exhausting the storage capacity of my windowsill-based wind farm?," AmericaHasAnswers.com has been there.  But no problem has ever prompted as many questions as those relating to the controversy over dropped calls on the new egoPhone.  (Actually, there has been one more widely asked question: "Can I use my laser tooth-whitener to strip my kitchen cabinets?"  But we think it's just one person using a lot of different email addresses.)

While the manufacturer of the egoPhone has suggested a solution, our always-inventive site visitors, who, thank goodness,  seem to  have nothing better to do, have been deluging us with their own solutions.  It wasn't easy, but we've chosen the 7 Best egoPhone Dropped Call Tips:

1. Corey Blundgette suggests that you create an egoPhone ear scaffold using materials found in the average garage.  The scaffold provides a convenient, aural-friendly environment in which to situate your egoPhone, thus eliminating touching the device in any place that makes it feel uncomfortable.   WARNING: You may be mistaken for an early Frank Gehry building.

2. George Landers retro-fitted his LardAssBoy recliner with a special assembly that allows him to simultaneously talk on his egoPhone in a hands-free state while consuming Buffalo wings cooked on the recliner's integral microwave.

3. Pilates instructor and Zen vocal coach Zulieka Spongetti invited a new projective technique that enables one to transform normal speech into a frequency that human beings cannot discern, but the egoPhone can. This frequency can penetrate wood and metal but, unfortunately,  not the new Victoria Secret's miracle fiber "Liftcron."

4.  Dolores Dundore fashioned a renewable "dropped call collection basket" out of bamboo and  recycled copies of "Soldier of Fortune" magazine.  Dolores suggests you place the basket under your egoPhone, where it captures dropped calls and enables them to be re-used in a sustainable fashion as a Channel 3,219 on Sirius Radio.

5. Retired CFO Ned Willingworth hired an egoPhone caddy - an  unemployed, recent Ivy League grad to walk bestride him, holding his device in the appropriate position.

6.  108 year old Wilfred Watkins built a Grasp-o-matic to hold his egoPhone, re-purposing a 19th Century general-store high-shelf "grabber" that his grandfather owned.  (His grandfather never worked in a general store, but used the grabber to harass local St. Louis matrons on the cross-town trolley.)

7.  Ira Flingus  diverted a portion of his own home-generated power grid to a circuit that flows around the perimeter of his egoPhone, delivering 5,000 volt shock should his finger stray to that place on the device that triggers dropped calls.  Ira is taking orders for the system on his website, but delivery will have to wait until Peoria Power and Light is no longer keeping him busy as a back-up power suplier.

 

Adam Hanft  writes on social trends and the consumer culture for places like The Huffington Post, Slate, Politics Daily, The Daily Beast, and Fast Company.

Honest Driver's License Test for 16- Year-Olds

1. What does a yellow light mean?
        a.  Speed up slightly
        b.  Floor it
        c.  Get ready to explain to the police officer that, while the light may have appeared red to him, he can rest assured that it was most definitely yellow and may have even been green, green and yellow being very close together on the visible spectrum


2. At an intersection with a four-way stop, which driver can go first?
       a. You
       b. Yourself
       c. The driver who  reached the intersection first, which will always be you because of how much faster you drive than the rest of these tools


3. When is it appropriate to use your horn?
      a. Someone is driving the speed limit
      b. You are listening to Led Zeppelin and can tell they need some help emphasizing how awesome their guitar solos are
      c. You are inside your car


4. How long will it take you to start thinking of yourself as an above-average driver after you get your license?
      a. 1-3 minutes
      b. 4-5 minutes
      c. What is this "after" stuff

 

5. How long will it take you to get in your first accident?
      a. Less than 6 months

     
6. Whose fault will it be?
      a. The other driver’s for not realizing that you weren’t going to stop at that stop sign
      b. County officials for authorizing the placement of a stop sign that is visually blocked by a tree
      c. The Obama administration’s for not doing enough to put Americans back to work


  7. What do you plan to do the night you get your license?
      a. Go on a crazy road trip across the country with my best friends
      b. Lose my virginity in the backseat. Or the front seat. Or in the trunk. Wherever, really. On the hood.
      c. Whatever I want. Anything’s possible when you have a car!

 
8. What will you actually do the night you get your license?
      a. Pick up my little brother from soccer practice
      b. Pick up my little sister from soccer practice
      c. First a), then b), then tell my parents that it turns out I am allergic to grass.


9. How many drinks of alcohol does it take to affect your driving?
      a. For the better? Four.

      b. Like, I’m not saying I would ever go out and do it or anything, I just definitely would if the situation called for it, which it almost always would
      c. Huh? What? Sorry--I sort of blanked out there for a minute. So, do you want to go hit up Wendy’s? Because I’ve only had four beers and a couple of shots, so I’m not even really drunk.

 
10. What did you actually learn in driver’s ed?
      a. My instructor seemed pretty funny at first, but he was actually just kind of a racist
      b. The girl sitting in front of me was a 32C
      c. Telling her I knew her bra size was a horrible way to introduce myself


  11. I just heard Jim say he didn’t think your car could do 100 on that windy road by the orphanage. Don’t you think you should prove him wrong?
      a. Absolutely
      b. Hell yes
      c. You know, I’ll bet a lot of those kids aren’t even really orphans

 
12. Overall, what is the most important thing to remember when driving?
      a. Always be aware of the other drivers around you
      b. Driving is a privilege, not a right
      c. Coming up with a tough but fair system for calling shotgun. Rule number 1: If Jim calls it first, then it's whoever calls it second.

 

Edward Small is a recent graduate of Dickinson College.  He has interned at The Onion  and is a contributor to CollegeHumor.

Gary and the Pay Czar

(The Treasury Department 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.

Just In Case

The ancient Maya looked into the stars and predicted catastrophic changes to the earth, all pegged to the end date of an historical cycle on one of their calendars, Dec. 21, 2012.
     –The New York Times
 
Setting: Store Manager's meeting, On-The-Mark Retail Outlet, Ottumwa, Iowa 
 
First off, I wanted to surprise everyone with new On-The-Mark red polo shirts, but there was a misunderstanding with Headquarters so  all we have are extra-smalls.  However, we did get three or four more shirts than we need, and I brought some scissors and sewing gear, so, if we cut up the extras, hopefully we’ll all be able to piece together a shirt that fits. Unfortunately, we can't do anything about the typographical error On-the-Murk.

All right, with that out of the way, let’s dive right in.  As you know, I like to use these all-staff meetings as a time to reveal our new theme for the quarter, such as “Quality” or “Relating to the Customer.” This quarter’s theme is a little different – “Just in Case.”

You might be wondering, why a theme of “Just in Case”? Well, last week, when I got back from my medical leave, I watched the "2012" DVD promo playing on our flat screens in Electronics. And, as some of you know, I’ve been suffering from insomnia after my “meltdown” (as local newspapers unfairly called it) over the one-for the-price-of-two fiasco last Holiday season. So I’ve had plenty of time to conduct late-night Internet research on the End Times, and now I'm back and have recently decided to stop taking all those pills. Anyway, just in case the prophecies come to fruition, we’ll need to make some adjustments.

To get the ball rolling, I have stamped all non-perishable food items, dinnerware, craft supplies, books and pretty much everything else with an expiration date of December 21, 2012.  Why?  Just in case. Just in case what?   Well, I certainly don’t want to deal with a post-apocalyptic nomad warrior who has a valid complaint about a vaporized Tupperware set. Do you, if you survive?

I’ve also done some re-prioritizing of our inventory. In a world without electricity, nomad warriors are going to need light. What could we carry that would give off light, rhymes with “porch” but isn’t as pleasant to sit on? Any guesses? No? A torch! Aisle F1, as of next Thursday, will no longer be vacuum cleaners – it will be Torches and Torch Accessories. I’m not sure what the accessories will be. Maybe torch koozies.

Now, It would be wonderful to imagine a customer base of only nomad warriors, but just in case there are mutants, we have to be sensitive. That’s why we will be frosting the mirrors in the fitting rooms. Looking at your reflection, which would you rather see: a nasty mutant or a blurry, possibly sexy silhouette? I have also asked headquarters for some three-sleeved shirts and eight-fingered gloves. Why? That's right--just in case!

Also effective December 21st, 2012, we will no longer be the On-The-Mark Sales Team – we will be the On-The-Mark Sales Tribe. Rival businesses will be rival tribes, and if you work nights, you may be recruited for raiding/pillaging duties. Lawn Care will be Bushwhacking and Nature Control, Sporting Equipment and Cutlery will be combined for our new Survival Department, and Bedding and Furniture will become a Museum Of Comforts We Are No Longer Afforded. We’ll call our Stockroom the Conjuring Circle, to inspire the belief in our customers that we practice the dark arts. This should cut down on shoplifting.

To inspire awe and respect in any Visiting Chiefs, I will be taking the most attractive female employee as my bride, but not in “until death do us part” way. This will be a new Bride of the Month Program because of the need for as much genetic variegation as possible. Perks will include employee discounts for friends and family (if you have any left)  and an invitation to join me  me in the break room –which will be renamed the Chief’s Royal Chambers.   But ladies, no stampedes to Cosmetics to doll yourselves up--the shelves are empty, anyway, in readiness for the sharp tribal-scarring instruments and quart-size eye black on order.

Right now, it’s time to get started on our team-building activity. Spoiler alert:  It may involve hot lava.

 

 

Sean Adams lives in the Midwest.  His humor has been featured on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and Dislocate.org, where he writes a column as Landrew Kentmore.

Gone with the Windshield

TO THE OWNER OF THIS CAR:

Accidentally dinged yr pssngr door while coming around corner. Couldn’t wait to xchg insurance info now (late for screening of “How To Train Your Dragon”) but my e-mail & phone below. Pls call – sorry!!

      ---


TO THE OWNER OF THIS CAR: 
Got yr message. Sorry could not call back but I threw my phone off bridge in anger after finding out “HTTYD” was not a documentary. Pls e-mail, we can xchg info.

P.S. Sorry – accidentally hit yr rear bumper while parking behind you. No damage but I think yr airbag inflated?

P.P.S. HTTYD = How To Train Your Dragon

      ---

 

DEAR CAR OWNER:

Me again. Did you e-mail? Sorry, I share acct with my gf and she has not been giving me messages. Been fighting lately about dumb stuff. Anyway pls contact me at new address below – really want to make this right.

sorryihityourcar@mymailbox.com --also follow me on Twitter! @carhitta9

      ---

 

HEY BUDDY:

Sorry, accidentally sheared off yr sideview mirror pulling away from curb after leaving that last note. Add it to my tab!!!!

      ---

 

WAZZZZUPPP! 
Remember that commercial? Good stuff. Don’t know if you tried to contact me – I decided to move last nite after my gf left all my stuff on front porch. No e-mail/phone/running water in new place yet. But leave me a note here on yr window, I will come back and check later and we can put this behind us. How have you been?

(Oh also re: smashed glass. My gf’s new bf was chasing me with his fraternity pledge paddle. Guess he thought yr car was mine and he bashed in windshield. Sorry I didn’t stop him but I could have been srsly hurt. Hope you understand.)

      ---

 

Hey, you got a new car! I like it. About time too, that old one was in bad shape. Didn’t know if this even was your car at first but I jimmied lock with coat hanger and looked thru your stuff to make sure. If you left me a note, it was not on car when I arrived. I will come back tmrw ok?

(I borrowed yr Erykah Badu CD from glove compartment – THX!!!)

      ---


LOL nice try man but I don’t think putting a sign on yr car that says “LEAVE ME ALONE” is going to stop ppl from hitting it. Case in point: check out the dents I made while driving up to see if you left me a note. Scratches look good on yr new wheels, I think – makes it look “lived in.” Anyway, you gonna get in touch w/ me or what? I am going out of my way to be a good guy here.

      ---


WAZZZZUPPP!

Ha ha never gets old. Thought I might catch you if I slept in your car overnight (also new apt. not working out – did you know it is illegal to breed tree shrews in your apt?!?!?) Thx for letting me crash. Left my boxers in front seat – do u mind washing for me? I think it would be a show of good faith on your part. Be back tonight – what time is check out? LOL

      ---


Hey pal hope you are ok – cops all over your car when I showed up. Had to phone in bomb threat at local elementary school to get them to leave. What happened? Anyway look, don’t want to be rude but I am running out of patience. Doesn’t help that you keep moving your car farther away from your house – taking me forever to find it. LET’S FINISH THIS.

      ---


Hey just realized - where are my boxers?!?! Really thought you were above stealing another man’s underwear. Not cool, bro. I hope nothing else “happens” to your car. (Did you notice the quotes???)

      ---


HEY WHERE R U? YR CAR NOT HERE. HOPE RAIN DOES NOT WASH THIS CHALK MESSAGE OFF SIDEWALK BEFORE U GET BACK. WHY IS THERE FOR SALE SIGN ON YR LAWN?

      ---


WAZZZZUPPP?

      ---


TO THE OWNER OF THIS CAR:

Just kidding! It’s me, buddy! Took me a while to find you but I used yr license plate info to call in a hit-and-run and told them the car was stolen, then followed police to yr new house. Nice place! Anyway, once you post bail and get yr car from this impound lot, give me a call so we can settle up. New e-mail and phone below.

 

Jason Reich is a television writer whose credits include The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and VH1's Best Week Ever.

My Favorite Things 2.0

My favorite things in life are the most basic: a child's laughter; the aroma of fresh basil; an undetectable tax shelter in Barbados.  But often I roam my estate's grounds on my Segway as my manservants chase after me and fan me with palm leaves and  I think, If this all went away tomorrow, I'd be quite upset.  I mean, really upset.  Although I know I'd get over it in a few years, so long as I amassed enough wealth to buy another comparable or superior estate and hire more manservants.

That brings up another of my favorite things--my Segway.  Not so much for its convenience, as it has little of that, but because I have one and you do not.  Most things I have and you do not are my favorites.  I do not even know you, and thus cannot say with absolute certainty that you do not have a Segway, but my guesstimate is you don't.  Therefore: favorite.

Yet, you ask, what of whiskers on kittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings, or girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes?  Overrated.  Except for the last, provided they are attractive girls and the sashes are easily loosened.  As for those suspicious-looking brown paper packages, these days, if you see something, say something--to someone else, as I have all my mail carefully screened and X-rayed and don't have to worry about such matters, and chances are I don't really want to talk to you, anyway.  And I'm not a cat-person.

A few things I enjoy to a degree but which do not earn a place among my favorites are: eight-course meals that leave me feeling too full; earning only a few percentage points higher than market returns with my portfolio; and when Brazilian supermodels get a bit clingy.

Also, I sometimes fear a few of my favorite things have diminishing marginal returns--like the twenty-four-year-old Chivas under my private bar  that tastes only negligibly smoother than the eighteen-year-old Glenlivet in my diamond-encrusted liquor cabinet, or that the eighteen-year-old Brazilian supermodel in my master bedroom is just slightly sexier than the twenty-four-year-old Swedish masseuse in my guesthouse solarium.  But all I have to do to take care of all that is have a mixed Chivas-and-Glenlivet-blend threesome in my guesthouse Jacuzzi.

My favorite things have evolved over the years as I have matured from a callow youth into a heedless, rich adult, whom those around me are required to call "dashing," "brilliant," and "too modest for his own good." In these situations I am an excellent listener, deeply attuned to the ideas of others in a way that might even make them feel better about themselves, for all I know--or care. But they always have to say the nice things about me first and pretty much stick with them or I'm not really into it.

And my least favorite thing?  How about the fact that "favorite" has no natural antonym, so I'm forced to use the extra word "least"?  If Strunk and White taught us anything, it is to be miserly with language, and and, far more important, that it's possible to  guarantee yourself permanent financial security by writing a dressed-up grammar primer. 

My manservant Gibbons (the tall, flaxen-haired Gibbons, not the stouter brunet) informs me the water is running and Alizayanna and Ingrid are waiting, the latter with her Skögol-brand petrissage-enhancer.  When she uses that thing in certain ways, I tend to forget about my other favorite things, including my Segway.


Teddy Wayne is the author of the novel "Kapitoil," available from Harper Perennial.

Self Promotion

OK, time for the daily check-in. What have you done today to make the world know who you are?
 
-I’m taking a little break from self-promotion.
 
What?
 
-I’m an artist! Sometimes I need to be creative.
 
So you don’t consider it creative to make eye-catching postcards that you mail out to thousands of people?
 
-Ten of which might actually look at them before tossing them in the trash?
 
You don’t think it’s creative to send mass emails to people you don’t know and tell them about how they should link to your website?
 
-And get reported for spam again on Facebook?
 
Certainly you find it creative to think up ways to get all your friends to come out one more time to your latest show?
 
-Actually, I’m beginning to wonder what the point of all my endless self-promotion has been.
 
We talked about this many times before. Life as an artist today is all about branding yourself. It’s about enhancing your name recognition. It’s about making a buzz around what you do.
 
-For years I thought the most important thing was to hone my craft and do good work. I believed recognition would inevitably ensue. But it didn't.
 
Which is why you created me, your self-publicizing alter-ego!
 
-A thick-skinned bragging spotlight hogger.
 
Just as you wanted me to be.
 
-You don’t care if you come off as a complete self-absorbed immodest asshole. All you care about is getting attention for my work.
 
Look at me! Write about me! Buy me!
 
-You’re good. You really are. But you also make me cringe. I think you’re taking over more than is healthy for me as an artist. When I die I’d like to leave a body of work, not a mass of self-publicity.
 
All right, I can take a hint. I’ll back off ... for today.
 
-Thank you. I’m really looking forward to getting in touch with my muse again. I haven’t seen her in ages. I’m even going to stay off the Internet today. Well, after I check my email. Wait! -- what’s this?
 
You just got an email invitation to speak at a major gallery!
 
-But they don’t want me to talk about my work. They want me to be talk about “The Craft of Self Promotion.” They say I’m one of the current masters of the form.
 
All the publicity I’ve done on your behalf is finally paying off! Wait a minute, what are you doing? You’re not really telling them “no,” are you?
 
-I’m insulted they’d even suggest such a thing! I’m an artist, not a PR person.
 
Don't you understand? People will turn out for this. And not just your friends. Complete strangers will show up wanting to see your self-promotion in action! They may even want to write articles, reviews and treatises about it!
 
-What about my real work?      

 

Honey, listen to me.
  
-You always scare me when you use that tone of voice.


This is your real work.


Polly Frost's new book, "With One Eye Open," is a collection of 25 of her humor pieces. Her website is http://pollyfrost.com.

Friends Forever

Dear FriendZone Friends:

We're proud to announce our latest FriendZone feature to help you Share Louder(TM) with your FriendZone Friends: It's called ClickYrCrew!  Just click on a link sent by a  FriendZone pal-- say, a hilarious video of a ferret that happens to like Drambuie, or a galvanizing political rant about the postal service --  and FriendZone will auto-slam your click to your BuddyPosse, your BizNet and your StalkFile.  Now you're really "Clicking with your Crew."

 

If you want to revert to what we call "Old Clicking," simply enter the "Reversions" menu under the Detailed Controls toolbox (found on your Account Management page).  After adjusting the various ClickTab settings, simply press the mauve button to confirm your changes, or the fuschia button to permanently and irrevocably discard them.

 

Friends Forever (TM),

Dave Sprinks, Founder and First Friend

__________


Dear FriendZone Friends:

We were thrilled to get all the great feedback from the FriendZone community. Thanks for Sharing (TM)!   It's great to know how passionate so many of you are about your personal data; so passionate that 453,901 of you have joined "One Million Voices in Protest of FriendZone Privacy Violations."  Whoops, make that 642,113!

 

In retrospect, when we released the Privacy Enhancement that enabled our dynamite new ClickYrCrew! service, we didn't do enough to help our less-alert members make full use of our convenient new toolkit for totally managing your FriendZone privacy.   And that's a shame, because the FriendZone team Makes Your Privacy Job One (TM, I think).

 

So, we've made some alterations.  Now, if you want to turn off "Post a Cartoon of What I Might Look Like Naked," you'll find the control for this feature (and the seven other "What I Might Look Like Naked" features) on the Bonus Privacy Settings page.  To access, hold your mouse over the dot on the i in "Friend" on your ChumFacts Tab.

 

While you're adjusting your Bonus Privacy Settings, you can alter the number of dating service websites we ConvenioZap with your photo, birthday, and credit rating.  The default is set to nine.

 

We're Totally On It (TM).

 

Friends Forever,
Dave Sprinks, Founder and First Friend

_______________

 

Hey Everybody --

Well, what can I say?  This is one creative community, especially when FriendZone Friends get behind a common cause!  "Ten Million Strong to Kidney-Punch Dave Sprinks" is now the most popular page on the Internet for the second week running.

 

Quick favor -- can one of you take down the unnervingly realistic pictures of me being mauled by sharks and crocodiles?  I'd do it myself, but, weirdly, I can't seem to get access to those pages. How’d you guys do that?  On that note, "Sprinkskillaa431", if you're interested in putting your formidable hacking skills to work for the most cutting-edge company in social media, send me a FriendMail.  We've had a surprisingly sudden exodus of programming talent, and I Can't Innovate All By Myself (TM, or it will be once my lawyer starts returning my emails again).

 

Still Friends Forever,
Dave Sprinks, Founder but Really Just One of the Gang

________________

 

Dear Former Friends --

I'm sending this by postcard to those of you whose physical addresses I've been able to ascertain by matching an early printout of FriendZone usernames to listings in some of the old White Pages in the library.  (If this gets to the wrong Cindy Borowitz in Oak Ridge, by the way, my apologies, and would you pass along if you run into the other Cindy B.?  Thanks!)

 

It's a strange feeling, this life without FriendZone.  Not that I have a choice: since the "DaveBan" virus was released, I've been unable to log in to any FriendZone page, or even use a computer for more than a few minutes before my presence is sensed and it melts into a puddle of  molten silicon.  And now that my Social Security number, my cholesterol level, the contents of my Bahamian accounts, and my hard-to-explain gluteal musculature have all been disseminated worldwide by Sprinkskillaa431 and colleagues, I really don't have anything to hide, from anyone.  I'm free in a way I could never have imagined before.

 

But I still believe in the power of friendship and community.  That's why I'm writing to announce the Grand Opening of Sprinksville Coffee -- a place for friends to meet, enjoy a cup of joe, listen to some live music, and turn off the distractions for a little while.  No laptops allowed.

 

 

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

U.S. History According to Mapquest

CROSS THE DELAWARE RIVER
 
MARCH SOUTH TO ATLANTA
 
CROSS ATLANTIC OCEAN TO WESTERN FRONT
 
RE-CROSS ATLANTIC OCEAN TO WESTERN FRONT
 
EXIT DEPRESSION VIA WW-II FOR 6 YEARS
 
SUDDEN EXIT WW-II VIA HIROSHIMA AND YALTA
 
BEAR RIGHT TOWARD PROSPERITY FOR 15 YEARS
 
SLIGHT LEFT ON JFK EXPRESSWAY FOR 3 YEARS

JFK ENDS, MERGE  ONTO LBJ, CONTINUE FOR 5 YEARS
 
FOLLOW BIG MUDDY TO SOUTHEAST ASIA

DWI 1966-1972, SIDE TRIP TO MOON  
 
REACH DEAD END OF TRIP SEGMENT AT CORNER OF MANSON AND ALTAMONT
 
SLOW DOWN, CONSERVE FUEL THROUGH PLAINS

ACCELERATE AND  MAKE HARD RIGHT ONTO GIPPER BOULEVARD  FOR 8 YEARS  
 
GIPPER MERGES ONTO BUSH-41 FOR 4 YEARS
 
DRIFT INTO CENTER LANE FOR 8 YEARS
 
VEER WILDLY OFF-COURSE ONTO  BUSH-43 FOR 8 YEARS

CRASH SIMULTANEOUSLY ON WALL STREET AND MAIN STREET--OUT ON BAIL
 
U-TURN ONTO HOPE AVE.
 
PROCEED WITH CAUTION

 

 

Teddy Wayne is the author of the novel "Kapitoil," available from Harper Perennial.

Private and Public

Private Polly to Public Polly: I can’t believe you just did that right out in the middle of this mall


-What? You have a problem with me taking off my bra when it’s bothering me? Don’t you want me to be comfortable?


You could have stepped into the restroom and done it behind a locked stall door.


-Why should I? Look at the bald guy over there -- he’s changing his nose piercing as he waits in line for his chai latte. And that woman in the green sundress across the way just reached into her purse, took out a stick of deodorant, and applied it, as she walked out of J. Crew and into The Gap.


We used to work so well together. I did certain things where no one could see or hear them and you only did things that the two of us agreed were acceptable for the rest of the world to witness. But more and more you’re doing my job -- right out where anyone and everyone can see you! I should have put my foot down when it all began. Ten years ago when you started flossing your teeth on your morning commute. But you said “Millions of other people are already doing it. Why shouldn’t I?”


-Every time the trained stopped between stations, sure, I took out my peppermint floss. It was a good way to keep my rage under control, giving me something to do.


And then cellphones came in and you started talking about your last hookup while standing in line at the ATM. Your sexcapades were something I looked forward to writing down in our journal and then hiding it in your bedside table. There are some things that should only be done privately!


-Fewer and fewer with every passing day. And anyway, I don’t pick my nose. I’ve left that for you to do.


Gee, thanks.


-Actually I’m glad you brought this all up. Because the fact is, I really don’t need your services any longer.


What?


-Now, don’t take this personally! Years ago I needed a private me. Or I thought I did. And you performed magnificently, you really did. You kept pantie-less photos of me off the Internet, you restrained my PDAs, you shushed me when I loudly discussed my income level in restaurants. But times have changed.

 

You really think you can function without me?

 

-In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve already been functioning without you for the last two and a half years. You always told me that I needed you.  You said I needed you in order to be alluring to lovers, as though there should always a little more of me worth finding out about. You even went so far as to insist that civilization depended on your policing of me!  But now I see that you were just trying to make me dependent on you--you were being selfish! 

-Hello? Are you still there? Hello?!  So you’ve gone. It’s just as well. I didn’t want to have to fire you. And don’t think I miss you. Because right now, I can take out my compact and apply eyeliner right here in this R subway train without you criticizing me.  I’ve got my mirror out and I’m going to do it in front of everyone.

-Wait a minute, what’d you do to this mirror?  It’s completely blank, there’s nothing there!

 

Polly Frost's new book, "With One Eye Open," is a collection of 25 of her humor pieces. Her website is http://pollyfrost.com. 

Confidentiality Notice

The information contained in this transmission may contain privileged and confidential information.  It is intended only for the use of the person(s) named above.  If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender by reply email and permanently delete the original message.

Also, if you are Monica Stephenson and this transmission was supposed to be addressed to Morgan Branskey, and my inattention and the automatic address-completion function were responsible for the error, please not only delete the original message, but forget it entirely.  Among the key items to forget, which repeating contradictorily risks further branding in your memory, are: 1) my growing doubts about our three-year-old relationship; 2) my opinions of your friends, who (I believe) warp your potential by confining your identity to the party-girl you were in your early twenties known as “Drunkica”; and 3) my attraction to my new co-worker Molly Wendel, who, to quote the original possible message, “represents everything Monica does not: sparkling intellectuality, unerring warmth, and the most toned pair of upper arms I’ve ever seen.”

Conversely, if you are Morgan Branskey and the opening of this transmission was addressed to “My love,” please know that all elaborate descriptions of sexual fantasy were intended for Monica Stephenson and are a now-routine and desperate way for us to try to  add color to our pallid sex lives, and should not be reciprocated by reply email, as they were that one time two years ago, which has continued to make things really awkward between us, even after you claimed it was “just a joke” and that you didn’t really think there had been a “simmering, wordless passion between us ever since our eyes met on that first day of Wednesday-Night Victorian-Lit Book Club.”  Let’s just remain the platonic, Brontë-sister-loving buddies we are.

If you are Molly Wendel and this transmission was intended for either Monica Stephenson or Morgan Branskey, please forget everything in it, save for two items: that I am currently doubting my relationship, and that those doubts are in no way related to a repressed attraction to my friend Morgan, because I am completely heterosexual.  So heterosexual that I sometimes even think about what it would be like to be in a relationship with another woman, perhaps someone I have successfully partnered with on a company-wide budget-reduction project over the last month and have a totally natural rapport with like we’ve known each other for years, to the extent that we already semi-flirtatiously call each other by our first initials.

By the way,  Molly, if you are Molly, Monica, whom you met very briefly at the last office party before I suddenly announced we had to go feed our cat, wants to know if you do Pilates, or maybe Bikram yoga.  When I asked why, she said, “Because her arms are so defined—haven’t you noticed?” and I was like, “No, not at all, I never gaze, all mesmerized, at her arms,  but, really, I have.  In addition, I saw you reading “Sons and Lovers” the other day during lunch, and although that is technically categorized as early Modernist, many critics argue that Lawrence exhibits the anxiety of Victorian influence, and I bet you’d be a great addition to this book club I’m in which you may have read about in an email to Morgan and which you should ask me about immediately before you wipe it from memory.

If you are my mother, nicknamed in my email program “Mom,” and this transmission was intended for either Monica Stephenson or Morgan Branskey, delete it.  To delete it, click on the check box next to the message, then click the button marked “Delete.”  No, you can’t just click on the “X” in the corner, because that only closes the window.  Not Microsoft Windows, the browser wind—never mind.  I know, I know--the kids today with their electronics.

Teddy Wayne is the author of the novel "Kapitoil," available from Harper Perennial.

Applicant Feedback

All right now, for the love of God, put the gun down, or at least refrain from shooting any more holes in the water cooler.  It's empty!

Generally, here at Mason Communications, Inc., we don’t provide feedback on hiring decisions for applicants who were not selected, but all of the yelling and gunfire of the last few minutes have  convinced me that perhaps I should make an exception in this case and respond in detail to your rather .... unique job application

The position that we had advertised on our company website was for an "Administrative Assistant"--not, as you seem to have thought, an "Admittedly-Straight Assistant."  I loved reading your cover letter, discussing the ease with which you identify yourself as heterosexual, but we would have liked to hear a bit more about your office experience.

On the job application, under "Any Other Skills," you wrote "SKILLZ GRAB BAG – REACH IN!!!!! WHO KNOWS WHAT U WILL GET?!" While this is intriguing, specificity is preferred.

OK, yes--the gun is very specific, though not quite what I meant. Next time you apply for a job, a skill to mention might be your exceptional ability to conceal and handle firearms.  This may not always get you hired, but it will certainly help your prospective employer get to know you better and adjust their visitor screening process accordingly.

When asked for three adjectives to describe yourself, you listed "reallygoodatjobs," "smarthardworkingmotivated," and "crazysexycool."  As a general rule of thumb, it might be a good idea to use spaces between words. Yes, I know there are spaces between bullets, even if they are short spaces. And by no means do I mean  to say that I didn’t enjoy your words.  They were very creative.  Listen,  if you must fire into the ceiling, try to avoid the sprinkler.

It appears that you interpreted several of the supplemental questions, such as, "What is your greatest weakness?" as personal questions, because you answered "GR8EST WEAKNESS = OMELET BARS :D"  We were looking for your greatest work-related weakness, but of course were absolutely intrigued to learn of your dietary habits.

I was originally confused by your response to "Have you ever committed a felony?" but now your answer, "NOT YET ;)", makes  a lot more sense.

As for your resume, try to focus on professional roles that you have filled.  You could leave off entries such as "Pants- Wearer: 1985 – present (except summers)."  No, no--we greatly admired your loyalty to pants, but wearing pants is more of a general, unspoken job requirement.  Your inclusion of "Mason Communications, Inc., Awesome Co-worker/Cool Guy in Office: whenever I’m hired – forever" was enthusiastic, but one might see it as jumping the gun, which I really do wish you would put down.

So, just to recap: if you hold something, anything--a position, a gun, anything--you should put it down.  Then, after that, if it happens to be a gun that you have put down, you can slide it across the floor to me, which is a resume qualification you might not have heard before.  Is there anything you’d like to put down and slide across the floor right now?  No?  Well. it was worth a try.

I was very impressed by your references--Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, and LeBron James--but was surprised to see that they all had the same telephone number as yours--832-GUNZ.  Try to choose references that can speak to your work ethic and dedication to your job and not just your marksmanship, although that is very important, I agree.

You know, now that we've met, I have to say that you sound a lot like  like the mysterious caller who left me voicemails every night last week saying, "It’s me, the president of the company.  Let’s hire that guy Bill Gates is so high on.   Also we should pay him way more money than we originally listed."  These are just coincidences of course.

Oh, look--another gun. Yes, of course, I understand--the first one is "out of popcorn," as you put it.   Hey, you know,  all of that talk about the president of the company got me thinking, maybe he should join this conversation.  Why don’t I just pick up that phone over there and dial his extension--um,  X11. I'm sure he's eager to meet you. How does that sound?


Sean Adams lives in the Midwest.  His humor has been featured on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and Dislocate.org, where he writes a column as Landrew Kentmore.

Spies Like Us

A spring morning.  A bench overlooking an artificial lake.  A paved path traversed by the occasional jogger. Two middle-aged men arrive from opposite directions and sit, not too close together, on the park bench.  One sips from a paper cup of coffee and makes a face, then takes out an iPhone.  The other looks around furtively before addressing him.

COLONEL IVANYEV: Agent Beluga, Moscow Center is very eager for your report.

 

AGENT BELUGA:  One sec…this coffee is terrible.  I just want to leave a negative review for this place on Yelp.…  There we go.  Done!

 

IVANYEV (urgently):  Agent Beluga, we must be swift.  I suspect that man walking his labradoodle may have listening devices secreted under the beast's curly hair. What is the status of your mission?  Have you succeeded in your objective?

 

BELUGA(proudly):  Yes Colonel.  Steph – sorry, Agent Pashmina – and I have finally broken through.  Our family has penetrated the inner circle.

 

IVANYEV: Excellent.  We are sorely behind in an analysis of the current major policy influencers.  Who is the rising power now?

 

BELUGA: Of course, it’s hard to say.  As in the Motherland, fortunes climb -- and then are dashed to pieces in the blink of an eye.  But at the moment it is Sophia Paulson that everyone looks to.

 

IVANYEV:  This is a new name for us!  She is a rising star?

 

BELUGA:  Absolutely.  When Amy told us she’d made it onto Sophia’s sleepover invite list, we knew we were in.  This is the most popular clique in her middle school, bar none.

 

IVANYEV: “Sleepover?”  Is this like a sleeper agent?

 

BELUGA:  Much more involved.  These girls play a very deep game, Colonel, very involved.  You can go from Best Friends Forever to Frenemy with the speed of a text message.  It’s a hall of mirrors and you have to watch your back at every moment.   You must understand, Colonel, we’ve trained Amy for just this opportunity – we made her watch "Heathers" for the first time when she was four years old.  A tough choice, but it was necessary -- the families of these girls are the key.

 

IVANYEV:  So these are the persons of influence at high levels?

 

BELUGA:  Absolutely. Sophia’s dad Kevin is in PR, and he gets luxury box tickets to damn near everything.  Last year, he and four other Dads from Sophia’s class took a “Guys Weekend” to Vegas.  Rumor is he did it just to cheese off Sophia’s mom right after the divorce.  Anyway, supposedly this year Kevin’s putting together a group to go to Burning Man.  And if Amy and Sophia are tight, I just might have a shot at an invite.

 

IVANYEV:  This "Burning Man" -- it's like taking a steam, I'm told.

 

Beluga:  More or less -- but that’s all just an angle -- part of the complex agent’s  “legend” we’re maintaining, as we were taught back on that ice-bound training compound north of Omsk, all those years ago.  The real objective is Sophia’s mother – Carola.  By getting Amy and Sophia into a carpool together for band practice,  Agent Pashmina is now this close to Carola – and she’s the real objective.  She is the “broker.”  Do you understand?

 

IVANYEV:  Ah – I begin to see.  She trades in information.

 

BELUGA:  Yes.  And interest rates.  Very low interest rates.

 

IVANYEV:  Economic data!  Yes, this is what Moscow Center is keenest to get.  Quickly, Agent Beluga – as I fear that woman power-walking over there has passed us a disturbing number of times, even considering the robust velocity of her arm-swings – what have you learned?

 

Beluga (whispering):  She’s a mortgage wizard!   Steph says she can get us a 90-day lock on 4% fixed…. We’ll refinance and roll the home equity loan up into it.… And if Amy can get us all seated together at the band concert, I’m betting she’ll offer to waive closing costs.

 

IVANYEV (also whispering):  This is perfect.  Putin needs to finance down payment on a summer place on the Bering Sea.  He says it will be good for keeping watch on Sarah Palin...look out!  The labradoodle!

 

The Colonel flees, and is brought down by the pursuing hypoallergenic dog, as a team of FBI agents in pink "Run for the Cure" baseball caps secure Agent Beluga.

 

FIN

 

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

Monster Mash-Ups II

"No classic title is safe from the onslaught of literary mash-ups."

      -wn.com

 
J. D. Salinger’s The Nightmare In The Rye


Synopsis: Teenagers dream of playing in a field of rye near the edge of a cliff. As they approach the brink, they  are suddenly disemboweled by a hideously scarred maniac with razor-sharp fingernails: Freddy Caulfield. Caulfield is a once promising prep-school student who was expelled for cheating. Despondent over his failure to live up to his own high ethical standards, he set fire to himself. Now he reaches out and kills “phonies” in their sleep.

 

Back Cover Blurbs: “A real page-turner—will keep you up all night! You won’t be able to close your eyes!” “To sleep, perchance to dream of being on the New York Times bestsellers list!”

 

Marketing Tie Ins: Starbucks coffee, Red Bull energy drink, Breaking Bad crystal meth.

 

Major Themes: The subjectivity of reality. The meaninglessness of materialism. Goddamn phonies. 

 

 

Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Invisible Man

 

Synopsis:  A young, gifted but frustrated black scientist attempts to gain the recognition  of his white peers—and the Nobel Prize committee—by inventing an invisibility serum. But something goes horribly wrong: not only can’t he turn visible again, but the “white establishment” continues to ignore his accomplishments. Driven mad, he embarks on a murderous reign of terror before disappearing altogether.

 

Back Cover Blurbs: “A vision of racial inequality in an America blinded to injustice!”   “Black, white, and soon to be read all over!”

 

Marketing Tie-Ins: Ray-Ban sunglasses, Hermes leather gloves, Ace bandages.

 

Major Themes: White man’s inhumanity to black man. Black man’s inhumanity to black man. How difficult it is to get dressed when  you can’t see yourself.

 

 

Harper Lee’s To Kill The Mocking Birds

 

Synopsis: A small, bigoted, Southern town is invaded by a murderous flock of birds. After several leading citizens are pecked to death, suspicion falls on a poor, black, illiterate sharecropper with a withered arm and a pet parakeet. Only one courageous white girl suspects the real madman behind the mayhem: a mysterious, reclusive ornithologist who lives in an old, dark house up the street and operates the Bates motel on the side. Things come to a frightening conclusion on All Hallow's Eve.

 

Back Cover Blurbs:  “The feathers really fly in this one!” “A bird's eye view into the dark underbelly of the American nightmare!”   “Boo Radley will scare the living guano out of you!”

 

Marketing Tie-Ins: KFC—original recipe or extra gory.

 

Major Themes: The loss of innocence. The loss of community. The loss of $9.95

 


Robert Brenner’s work has appeared in New York magazine, Open Salon, and Happy. He lives in New York City with his wife.

Really Listening

“So, how do you know Tim and Annette?”

 

“Tim and I go back to college together.”

 

“I hear he was quite the legend on campus.”

 

“Who’d you hear that from?”

 

“Tim.”

 

“Of course. Tim’s a great guy, but --”

 

“He’s a bit of a --”

 

“Narcissist?”

 

“Glad you said it.”

 

“What about Annette --”

 

“I love Annette even more than Tim. Yet I think that’s the major bond between them.

 

“They’re both narcissists.”

 

“I’ve known it about them for years. I’ve studied narcissism.”

 

“Me, too. It’s important to understand, especially in today’s world.”

 

“They’re everywhere. In your family. On the job. Especially when you’re in a glamorous profession like mine .”

 

“There was one the other day on the tennis court next to me. I belong to a very exclusive club, too. The president’s a friend of mine and he’s going to hear about this .”

 

“Let’s not even get into narcissism on Facebook. It’s a hazard when you have as many fan-page followers as I do. I just wish I didn’t have to think about narcissists as much as I do.”

 

“Narcissists make the rest of us obsessed with them. It’s their way of getting ever more attention. Plus you don’t want to be their victim.”

 

“Or be a narcissist yourself.”

 

“What would you say the tell tale signs are?”

 

“People who don’t really listen to me. Like the last blind date Annette and Tim set me up with. I hope you don’t mind me talking about it --”

 

“Actually --”

 

“Because I lavished all this attention on the guy. It’s not like I tell everyone about my  swan dive that won the tri-county silver medal for my high school swimming ballet. But when I glanced over at him, he was just staring off into space. And the blind date before that only pretended to be listening. I could tell he was really studying the menu.”

 

“I ended up in bed with the last woman Annette and Tim put me together with. Talk about a complete narcissist! And extremely cunning. She knew just how to get me in bed, have me sexually worship her for hours, then ignore me afterwards. And when I called her on it, she insisted that’s what I’d done to her.”

 

“I couldn’t take being involved with one more narcissist.”

 

“Me, neither.”

 

“However narcissistic Tim and Annette are, I’m glad they set us up on this blind date.”

 

“Of course they’ll take credit for it.”

 

“It’ll all be about all about them. Still, it’s nice to meet someone who’s not --”

 

 “A narcissist? I feel the same way.”

 

 

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.

Another Mixed (Up) Review

Checkout
By Rasmussen Finkel
Susquehanna; 441 pp.
 
At times it seems the last literary hill to be taken is the customer-service novel, and it goes without saying that watching some of the biggest literary egos compete for the prize makes for great sport. Rasmussen Finkel has been chasing after it across nearly twenty years and through half as many novels, and his 2005 novel “Nougat Johnson” was widely considered the genre’s pinnacle, even though some critics were disappointed that the narrative veered away at the end from Nougat’s love affair with the lovely, large-toothed complaints-desk manager Amelia Bannister and focused instead on his purchase of a bug zapper for his deck and his principled refusal to send in the mail-in rebate.

 “Checkout” is a fuller, more mature engagement with the world of customer service. The novel follows a budding young pharmacist, Aloysius Gaygan, on a single day in his hometown of Scrump, Iowa. Finkel’s descriptive prowess is on full display – Gaygan’s ottoman has “the grace of Audrey Hepburn, the dignity of a thesaurus, and the calculated nonchalance of pine nuts” – and in truth the book feels almost constricted by the single-day approach. (This becomes awkwardly clear when, at around 8 pm, Gagan “suddenly remembers” that Daylight Savings Time has begun, thus allowing Finkel to squeeze in another chapter.) But Finkel’s storytelling gifts far outweigh this structural flaw, and it is now possible to say unequivocally that, if nothing else, no other American novelist has harnessed the dramatic possibilities of swiping debit cards with such élan.

Readers of Finkel’s work are familiar with his way of imbuing even the most menial events with cosmic significance. The key scene in “Checkout” takes place as Gaygan waits in line at a CVS. A lone employee is working the cash register, and as the line grows, she does not call for assistance. Eventually a second employee appears behind the counter but does not open a new register and avoids eye contact with the customers in line, who glare at him with impatient rage.

The ensuing fracas is among the most cathartic moments in American fiction and speaks for generations of thwarted customers, as Gaygan leaps over the counter, unleashes a barrage of insults upon the trembling employee, and finally beats her senseless with a twelve-pack of two-ply Scott brand toilet tissue. What’s incredible is that Gaygan remains entirely likeable even while committing the violent act, perhaps because Finkel has chosen to punctuate the scene with Gaygan’s italicized thoughts on the importance of raising the minimum wage.

 In addition to novels, Finkel has written several books of creative nonfiction, including “The Streets Had Bronchitis,” a memoir of growing up in 1950s Ann Arbor and not being a child soldier. And he won the National Book Award for “Intruder: An American in Laos." Most critics now believe that the sequel, “Intruder 2: A Food Lion Frequent Shopper’s Club Member in a Piggly Wiggly,” was the crucial point at which Finkel realized his gift for customer-service fiction, though at the time the book caused a critical uproar for being a little too short.  

 


 Gregory Beyer is a writer living in New York. His journalism, essays, and (real)  book reviews have appeared in The New York Times.

Another Mixed (Up) Review

The Battle for Home Row:

Kipply Moses and the Computer Keyboard As We  Know It
By Lilah Dejuju
Lorkshmeer and Son; 388 pp.
 
 Thanks to Fritz Engelton’s four-hour film on the subject, the evolution of the modern computer keyboard is now widely known, and a short – though undeniably flawed – poem explaining its origins is routinely recited by kindergartners at school open houses: “’Twas in 1978 / Began the great extravaganza / Though to fully explicate / We’re going to need another stanza.”

Despite the public’s familiarity with this modern fairy tale, a new book fascinatingly illuminates the life of Kipply Moses, the man who dedicated his life to devising what he called “the ideal layout.” While Moses’s name has always been identified with the history of the computer keyboard, “The Battle for Home Row” establishes just how obsessed he was with it dating back to the days of the typewriter. (In a hugely embarrassing incident for all parties, Moses was kicked out of Harvard in 1960, after it was discovered that the subject of his senior thesis, Parentheses, was not in fact an ancient Greek playwright.)

In “The Battle for Home Row,” the historian Lilah Dejuju delivers a riveting tale of corruption and backroom deals concerning the layout of the modern computer keyboard. For decades Moses (the son of the legendary and controversial New York City commissioner Robert Moses) was responsible for every single keyboard-related policy matter in spite of never holding a government job, and in 1978 he succeeded in convincing Senator Leopold Pith, the chairman of the Technological Innovation Committee, to move the semicolon into home row by plunging a fork into the senator’s thigh and then laying out a reasoned argument. (Moses’s diary shows that for days before the incident he could not decide whether to stab and then argue, or vice versa, but history has shown the wisdom of his decision).

The book paints a generally damning portrait of Moses, and devotes much space to the consequences of his actions. For example, by moving the semicolon into home row, Moses displaced the Q, which, Dejuju claims, “has never recovered.” Indeed, the very phrase “home row” was Moses’s creation, a distinction of which Dejuju is ferociously critical, citing a study that found home row keys consistently get more state funding and noting that “there is not a single reasonably priced market with fresh produce near the W.”

In spite of his reputation as a bureaucratic gangster, Moses cultivated a jovial public persona. And because no one dared cross him, prominent figures often went out of their way to make a gushing show of loyalty, even if they fiercely disagreed with his policies. The book confirms the apocryphal account of President Jimmy Carter obediently buttering Moses’s beloved wheat toast, and there is a photo of a smiling Moses holding a solid gold keyboard from members of the Typesetter’s Local 2121 who had rearranged the keyboard’s keys to spell out a worshipful limerick about Moses’s niece, Rumula.

 Dejuju’s access to Moses’s diaries yields a treasure trove of insight and philosophical musings. These reveal, surprisingly, that in spite of his supreme power and influence, Moses was never entirely satisfied with the keyboard’s layout. For example, he strongly believed the exclamation point should have a key all to itself and hated the fact that it had to share with the number one, to the point that he eventually renounced the number altogether. “If an exclamation point is meant to express enthusiasm or impulsiveness,” he wrote, “doesn’t it seem counterintuitive that you have to hold down ‘shift'?”

While there is much in this book to confirm the widely-held reputation of Moses as a monster, the diary entries are deeply humanizing. We learn, for example, that the “control” key is named for Moses’s second son, and that, during a long stretch of marital tension with his second wife, Marpa, Moses would lock himself in his room and press “escape” for hours on end.

 

Gregory Beyer is a writer living in New York. His journalism, essays and (real) book reviews have appeared in The New York Times.

Monster Mash-Ups

"No classic title is safe from the onslaught of literary mash-ups."
      -wn.com

Upton Sinclair’s Texas Chainsaw Jungle

Synopsis: A muckraking reporter goes undercover in the brutal Dallas stockyards, hoping to expose unsafe working conditions. He gets more than he bargains for when he stumbles across an inbred Lithuanian family of slaughterhouse workers/cannibals. They're secretly supplementing their diet with abattoir foremen, government inspectors, and the occasional hobo.  Will he survive—and what will be left of him?

Back Cover Blurbs: “A meaty book! I devoured every page!”   "Stomach churning, yet strangely satisfying."

Marketing Tie-Ins: McDonalds happy meals, including  the cutest little toy meat hooks, chainsaws, and leather face masks.

Major Themes: Man’s inhumanity to man. Man’s tastiness to man. Lunch.

 

 

Franz Kafka’s The Fly’s Metamorphosis

Synopsis: Neurotic scientist Gregor Brundle lives at home with his dysfunctional family in their old, dark house. His only source of entertainment is playing with his matter transmitter in his bedroom. One day something goes horribly wrong and he winds up with the giant head of a fly. His parents are offended by his new appearance and order him to stay in his room. Even his beloved sister Grete, with whom he has an unhealthy attachment, declares him “icky.”  Realizing he is unloved, he crushes his own dipteran dome with a rock, thereby relieving his family of the terrible burden of his existence. 
      Back Cover Blurbs:   "You'll lose your head over this book." “A fly on the wall to the antechamber of hell.”

Marketing Tie-Ins: Look for the exciting movie adaptation, directed by David Cronenberg, and starring the incomparable Tobey  Maguire!  Tobey’s already got the wall-crawling down pat.

Major Themes: Man’s inhumanity to man. Family's inhumanity to family. The difficulties of buying shirts that fit when you have the giant head of a fly.

 

 

Tennessee William's Night Of The Living Dead Iguana

Synopsis: While on vacation in Mexico, a priest encounters unspeakable evil: three beautiful undead women with lively libidos—jailbait Charlotte,  cougar-on-the-prowl Maxine, and kinky “artistic type” Hannah. They’ve  sold their souls to Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec iguana god, in exchange for immortality. All Quetzalcoatl demands in return is an all-too-human sacrifice. Will the priest survive with his vows, his soul, and his person intact, or will he be devoured by these ravenous women? He barricades himself in his hotel room and douses himself with (cold) holy water, but how long until he succumbs to these sexy succubi?

Back Cover Blurbs: "Food for the soul and the body!" "The spirit is willing...and so is the flesh!"

Marketing Tie-ins:  Club Hedonism Cancun, Hornitos tequila, Taco Bell iguana tacos.

Major Themes: Man’s spiritual malaise. Woman’s sexual voracity. Leapin' lizards.

 

 

Robert Brenner’s work has appeared in New York magazine, Open Salon, and Happy. He lives in New York City with his wife.

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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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.