Displaying articles for: September 2013

Closing Time

What to Expect During the Government Shutdown: Answers from The U.S. Department of Self-Infliction’s information portal Theydidwhat.gov




In the event of a government shutdown, the public is asked to return all paper money and coins to the U.S. Treasury Department or to your nearest Federal Reserve Bank, *before closing time at 4:30 P.M.*  Please have all currency counted, sorted and in  unsoiled and recycled paper bags or canvas sacks with a big "$" on the outside.  ("$$" in the case of $1,000 or more.) In return,  representatives of the Treasury Department will distribute equivalent value in the form of the following goods and services: livestock, pewter ingots, $25 gift certificates to Chilis, Army surplus herbicide (5-gallon containers), backrubs, and MySpace accounts.  Please make sure to get a receipt. You won't need it, but we don't want them piling up.


Airline and International Travel


 Government passport offices will close for the duration of the shutdown; travelers with emergency needs should staple  photographs of themselves to their "Miley Cyrus" outfits--see below--and be prepared to do convincing imitations of their congressmen filibustering.  Officers of the U.S. Customs and Immigration and Naturalization Services will remain on duty, but will probably be extra surly about that so, you know, watch it, and put on a good show. These officers  will grade the quality of performances on a 1-5 scale, with 1 allowing you to travel to Mexico, 2 to include Central America, 3 for the Azores and the Azores only, 4 to the rest of the world, and 5 to Utah. 


TSA employees will remain on duty in most U.S. airports, but the expensive scanners and metal detectors will be shut off to save on electricity, and a reduced staff of agents will perform a "manual/visual scan" for dangerous items. Please arrive at the airport in a "Miley Cyrus" (flip-flops are OK), with a maximum of 4 oz. worth of innocuous reading material,  in a clear plastic bag.  Grade-school librarians from across the nation have offered to be on hand to judge innocuousness and confiscate all Judy Blume publications. 


National Parks and Monuments


U.S. National Parks and Monuments will be closed until further notice.  If you are in the vicinity of a national monument, please refrain from unauthorized visual enjoyment of its historic beauty for the duration of the shutdown or total anarchy--whichever comes first.  Motorists in the vicinity of South Dakota Highway 244 near Mt. Rushmore are asked to just keep your eyes on the road until we can get Christo to drape the carvings. All DVDs of "North by Northwest" will be confiscated; the Corn Palace, also in South Dakota, will be super-heated with flame-throwers until it pops into unrecognizability; and members of the National Network of Nonagenarian Nudists will be in volunteer attendance at many points near Niagara Falls, to help visitors resist sightseeing.  


Department of Transportation


Travelers should be advised that interstate highway traffic will be adversely affected by thousands of furloughed federal employees with a sudden surfeit of time on their hands and a mistaken belief that “apple-picking” and/or “leaf-peeping” is going to wind up being good way to get out of town for the duration.  After blowing the last of their savings on predatorily priced mugs of cider and hideously expensive Bed-and-Breakfast packages in towns that turn out to be surrounded by nothing but evergreens and shuttered national parks, these frustrated souls in their automotive wanderings will likely take it out on fellow drivers – tailgating, changing lanes without signaling, the whole bit.    


Center for Disease Control


 CDC labs are going to close a couple hours ahead of the official shutdown, because traffic is going to be murder (see "Department of Transportation" above).  We’ve got a LOT of test cultures in the lab that we need somebody to look after while we’re gone --Can we get some volunteers?  Most important is the Ebola – ideal case is somebody who’s got an extra fridge in the garage – but we also have a very cute (that is, lethal) strain of bird flu and some rhinoviruses that need a lot of TLC.  We've also got some of your SARS, your MRSA, your Weaponized Strep, all looking for a home.   Perfect for the patriotic single person with some time on her hands and maybe her own respirator.  Call Jerry at x6782.  THANKS!!!


Medicare and Social Security


Please be assured that Needful and Urgent medical services will remain uninterrupted.  To find out what “Needful and Urgent” means please file a Medicare Services Inquiry form with the Central Inquiry Services Bureau office in Tempe, AZ *before closing time at 4:30 P.M.*  Once government offices re-open, a Medicare Services Inquiry Bureau Representative will respond to your query within 10 business days.


Social Security checks will be issued on schedule.  Federal printing presses will be inoperative for the duration; please bring a blank piece of paper to your local Social Security Office, and somebody will write a note on it for your bank.  Wendy and Carlos P. here both really enjoy calligraphy, so if you want something sort of "old-timey" looking, ask for one of them.


Your Congressional Representatives


The 27th Amendment assures that members of Congress continued to be paid throughout any shutdown of the government.  But with everybody else out of the office, well, there’s really not much to do until this whole crazy thing blows over!  If you need to find any of us, your best bet is to come on down to "The 27th Amendment" on J Street – Tuesday night is karaoke!



Bill Tipper is probably going to be furloughed.


Two Judys

 The party was set for Thursday, and someone invited the wrong Judy. We wanted the funny Judy with the drinking problem. Someone invited the other Judy, who was nice enough, but not the kind of Judy you’d want at a Thursday night party. When she arrived at the door, we tried our best to hide our disappointment. We looked at each other wondering, who invited this Judy? We took her coat and offered her a beer, but Judy was on a cleanse. She was always cleansing, and it made us feel oily, fleshy, questionable. Oh, Judy, someone mumbled.


"So glad you were free tonight!” one of the girls said, pushing some energy through the point of her exclamation.

"To be honest, I’m not usually available on Thursdays,” Judy said. "It was great that you gave so much notice."

This wasn’t true. Judy was available all week, every week, which is partly why we didn’t care for her. But it made us think about our own Judy, sitting at home, keeping her Thursday night free for us. Could we invite her last minute? Was that kosher? Someone excused himself and went to go dial her. But he dialed the wrong Judy, again, and Judy’s phone started buzzing in the living room, in her purse. She answered it, confused, and looked at us.


"Hey now, is this a party game?" she asked.


We paused, then said: "Yes!"


"How do you play?"


The other Judy would not have asked such a doltish question. She would have pretended to know the game, or invented the rules for us, smoothed over our awkwardness with a jump in place and a jog around the room.  

For a second, we could see the current Judy register our discouragement, and maybe she sensed that she wasn’t our first choice, was not what we had hoped for. It must be a terrible feeling, to be the wrong Judy, and to know it. Someone thought of this, and offered her the best red bowl of corn chips. She reminded us about her cleanse, but this time, we weren't quite as annoyed. Maybe we could grow into this Judy, we thought. Like a formal suit or a gym membership. Someone sat next to her on the couch. Maybe she'd even start to prefer us. Maybe we could shape ourselves into the right kind of crowd for the wrong kind of Judy.


It’s true, we were all so much younger then. None of us were the best versions of ourselves, not even first thing in the morning. Not even the Judys were the Judys they hoped they would be.   


Hilary Leichter's fiction has appeared in n+1, Tin House, The Kenyon Review, VICE Magazine, and elsewhere. She is currently on a bacon cleanse, but is pretty sure she's doing it wrong.


The Writing Business

Hello, businessman.  I used to be just like you.  Strategic alliances, paradigm shifts, forward-thinking initiatives.  Who can even understand it?  No, I gave it all up to become a humor writer. A far better fit for my skill set.  A world of creativity, whimsy, and imagination.  I could tell you all about my transition, but it's probably easier if I boot up my computer and show you a PowerPoint. See, the business world is full of number-crunching and data analysis -- and that just isn't what I wanted to spend my days dealing with.  Oh, look, I just got an e-mail.  My latest piece was rejected by The Economist.  Jokes about market manipulation in the Basque region.  How could they turn that down?  I guess they don't run much humor.  I'd better update my spreadsheet.

My spreadsheet?

Yes, of course.  Key to being a successful humor writer is your spreadsheet.  See, I put the titles of each piece in the left column: word count, keywords, laugh index, and then which publications have rejected them.  Look, this is cool -- I can turn everything into a graph. Here, I'll plot word count against number of rejections.It's just this kind of stuff that really gets me excited about humor writing--the furthest thing from business there is.

How do I decide what to write?  Cost-benefit analysis, of course. The cornerstone of any good humor writer's tool kit.  Estimate how much research the piece will take, get one of my interns to do a search and see if anyone else has covered the topic, and then calculate the potential audience.  For instance, if I want to write a satirical take on monetary policy in the Balkans, I figure out how many people live in the region -- about 60 million, according to the latest data -- what percent work in banking or related industries, and how many of those are fluent in English and might be likely to read a humor piece. That gives me a market size, and I work from there.

Of course there have been challenges.  Often times, my inventory of humor pieces runs low and I need to find a cheap supplier abroad.  I use the negotiation skills that all humor writers need to get my cost per word down as low as possible, without running afoul of sweatshop regulations-- get back to work, kid!

I'm even starting to franchise.  I've put together a packet with the information someone needs to be a humor writer -- I outsourced the writing of it to some hack I found on the Internet -- and for a small percentage of revenue, someone can use my name and the existing equity of my brand to shop their pieces, with exclusive rights to markets around the world.  For instance, I was able to land a beachhead in the Eastern Canadian market with a piece I wrote about the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in Nova Scotia.  Now, if I canjust find a franchisee with some local connections, and a desire to expand into the region, I can sit back and collect the royalties.

Of course, the secret to the franchise model is effective marketing strategy.  I've worked with a branding firm on a logo, changed my name after a few rounds of testing, and I'm building an entire sales force to help me blow this thing out and hopefully go public eventually. I've got a business plan that goes into all of the details, and a prospectus that explains what I'm doing with the stock option strategy.  You can get in on the ground floor right nowfor a low, low price.

So, yeah, I'm absolutely thrilled I made the switch.  I can't imagine ever being back in the corporate world, not when I can wear this humor writing suit to work each day in the office suite I'm renting from a consulting firm.  Let me give you my card, and if you're looking to invest in humor, give me a call anytime and I'll send you my deck and we can set up a meeting.  My secretary can validate your parking.

Or did you fly here?  Because I think your arms look tired.  That was a joke.  Just doing my job. It's funnier on paper.

Jeremy Blachman is a humor writer who has never had a piece rejected by The Economist.  Read more at http://jeremyblachman.com.


Breaking Down

"About the ricin in general: Recall that back in season two, Walt cooked up a batch of ricin with the plan to use it to kill Tuco. (Plan thwarted.) Then he made another batch in season four, this time with the plan to take out Gus Fring…. Anyway, Walt never used the ricin on Gus either. In the first half of season five, he thought about using it against Lydia, but also decided against that, too. Walt stashed the ricin vial behind the plate of an electrical outlet, and in this season's 'Blood Money' flash-forward opening sequence, we saw him retrieve it. So: The ricin still has not been used." -- New York Magazine, "What Jesse Knows"


Wrong! All wrong!  Because in Season 4 Episode 4 (44), recall that Marie serves rice pudding to Walt and Skyler when they’re over for a visit.   Skyler thinks it’s awful. Remember? She says, “This tastes more like ricin than rice pudding!” Walt says, kindly, “Ricin has no taste, Skyler. You should know that. You’re married to a chemistry teacher after all. Bwaa-hahaha."  Hank looks at Walt suspiciously, but Walt distracts him and everyone else by smashing a flower pot over his own head—a flower pot filled with deadly nightshade, which Hank, ignorant of its poisonous properties, had given Marie as an anniversary present in 25.   And in 410, as we know, Walt remembered that and planted lily-of-the-valley purely as  a decorative border near his driveway, the same driveway where he ran over Walter White, Jr.s favorite stuffed animal from his earlier childhood WHICH WE KNOW NOTHING ELSE ABOUT!!  (The way I see it, this has to be a direct nod to all the episodes of "House of Cards,"  in which no one notices the strong resemblance between Kevin Spacey and the poet Billy Collins.)  As they try to resuscitate Walt--who isn’t really unconscious; we saw him practicing smashing flower pots over his own head to thicken his skull in 111, because, as he says while looking in the mirror at his lacerated chemo-bald and now thickened head, “Who knows? It may come in handy in 44 or 45 or, I’m thinking, maybe even 52”—Lydia appears holding an AK-47 (no, not a season/episode abbreviation; a caliber, or something like that).  "Don’t worry," she says—"it’s just arm candy."  This is a direct echo of what Gustavo Fring says to one of his waitresses, who is wearing a bandage, at his restaurant-front operation Los Pollos Hermanos in 18: "What did you do to your arm, Candy?" Furthermore, and I can’t get into this too far here, but who can ignore the obvious connection between this whole incident and "Homeland" 17, where Claire Danes vomits because of food poisoning brought on by eating chicken paillard? Not me.


Vince Gilligan gave us a clue to all this in “Talking Bad” after 29 when he said, "Keep your eye on the chicken brothers and the arroz they serve with their Buffalo chicken wings Sunday-night special." Sunday-night special! Enough said.


OK, not quite—maybe not ever—enough said.  Because if you take 411 (411!) and play it  backward, you will see that the marriage between Skyler and Walt is not even valid, because Walt says under his breath, after he says "I do," "n apostrophe t" and the minister is Saul, in Episcopalian disguise, and he winks at Walt, which looks like he’s just opening his eye if you saw the episode the “right way.”   (Oh, and also running this episode backward gives strong evidence that Jesse is actually a woman, and from Alpha Centauri.) And finally—at least for now, until this coming Sunday evening—how come no one but me seems to have noticed the similarity of the relationship between Walt and Skyler to that of Ralph and Alice in “The Honeymooners”? Am I crazy? Or is everyone else?  Anyway, Gilligan has cleverly masked this homage by making Walt have lung cancer and be thin. Ralph Kramden is fat and drives a bus—so you’re just going to to have to force yourself not remember that Walt’s first meth lab is in a bus-like vehicle. Nice try, Vince.  But I’m onto you.


Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin & Tonic. His memoir, My Mistakewill be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in November.


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).