NSA Calling

Hello Connie?  This is the National Security Agency.  Relax-- you’re not in trouble.  You’ve done nothing legally wrong.  This is simply a courtesy call to let you know that your so-called best friend, Dana, has been dating your ex-boyfriend.  That’s right -- Alan.  No, they haven’t slept together yet.  She wants to wait.  But he HAS technically stayed overnight at her house on at least one occasion.  At this time we are unable to confirm why Dana's roommates haven’t told you about this.  They've switched to a new carrier we haven’t cracked yet; it could be a few weeks.

 

Yes, Dana is aware that you’re so not over Alan; that’s why we felt it was urgent to contact you directly.  Never mind how we came by this information; it’s not important—what’s important is that you need to do some serious thinking about the people you choose to spend your time with.  We know you’ve had some reservations about Dana -- after all, you’ve been telling Karen for months now that you were going to stop hanging out with her, but every time she calls, you’re all, “Sure Dana, whatever you want to do,” and then you just drop everything for her.  Karen keeps telling you to wake up, Connie.  Why won’t you listen to her?  The girl has a good head on her shoulders.  She calls her mother every week!

 

In short, we at the National Security Agency feel that you’re seriously disrespecting yourself, Connie.  We suggest you take some time to figure out your own needs and get your life back on track.  You've been treading water the last few years, and you know it.  What happened to your dreams of pursuing an acting career?  You haven't been on an audition in months.  Did you really think you'd still be waiting tables at this point in your life -- and at that shabby diner?  We’re not even sure how you’re able to afford the Verizon data plan you’re using on your meager wages -- and you’re on, what, your third replacement smartphone?  It couldn’t hurt you to be a little more careful with your possessions, while you're at it.

 

Speaking of which, if you’re still not over Alan, why are you stringing Don along?  Our reports have not yet conclusively established what he looks like, but he sounds like such a great guy.  There are not many fellows out there like him, that’s for sure.  If we may be blunt, Connie, the NSA is concerned that you may have some serious emotional hang-ups when it comes to men.  If you’re not interested in pursuing a relationship with Don, it’s time to stop returning his phone calls only when it suits your needs, and then inviting him over just to watch Project Runway marathons with you -- which, by the way, several of our confidential sources have confirmed he doesn’t much enjoy.  If you’re really just not into Don, you need to be up-front with him about it; you owe him that much.  Full disclosure: the NSA has taken a shine to Don, and would be happy to take him off your hands.  You may be too self-centered right now to realize this, but we have needs, too.  We can’t even remember the last time we had a relaxing evening and shared a laugh with a good friend that was aware of our presence and talking directly to us.  A lot of people don’t have a very high opinion of our Agency lately, and we could really use the kind of comfort, intimacy and understanding that Don has been patiently offering you for months—and which you’ve been turning down cold!  It’s time to set him free, Connie.  If you don’t appreciate Don, the NSA does.  We know what he likes, too.  We promise we’ll take good care of him.  No need to give us his number, thanks -- we’ve already got it.

 

All right, Connie -- we'll let you go; we've said our piece.  It's up to you now whether you want to listen or not.  We just thought it was time for a little heart-to-heart conversation about the direction your life seems to be heading in and the choices you're making.  If you don’t appreciate our hard-earned insights, that’s one of the few things we can't control.  We may know a lot about you -- A LOT --  like what’s in your bank account, your refrigerator, and your medical files.  But what’s in your heart, Connie, only you can know that.  Well, maybe you and the FBI.

 

Molly Schoemann is a writer and editor from New York. You can find more of her humor at http://mollyschoemann.com or follow her on Twitter @iheardtell. 

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Welcome to the Thrifty Inn

Welcome to the Thrifty Inn. You might think you'd like a freshly baked  chocolate chip cookie, but obesity costs this country over $300 billion a  year. Maybe you'd like some water instead. There's a stream about a mile  down the road. We sell bio-friendly portable filtration systems.

 

 I'm Sam, our front-desk manager, head of housekeeping, lead bellman, and  the chef at our award-winning restaurant, "Breakfast Not Included." We save  you money by utilizing each member of our staff in a multitude of ways. Do  you hear music in the background? That's our lifeguard, valet parking  attendant, and head of security-- and she sure can sing.

 

 The latest research shows that your immune system functions best in an  environment where your body is exposed to a wide range of bacteria. In that  spirit, you're in luck, because your room hasn't been cleaned in eleven  days. Let me know if you need pillows and we can direct you to the nearest  retailer. A towel left on the rack means you'll use it again. A towel on  the floor means we should put it back on the rack. Do you know how to make  towels? For every three you have the chance to knit, we'll cut ten dollars  off your room rate. There's thread in the vending machine.

 

 I have you listed as having reserved one of our deluxe rooms, which means  you get to use Outhouse #4. Cholera was initially spread through indoor  plumbing systems in the heart of London. We care about our guests, and want  to do everything we can to avoid the spread of cholera. On a related note,  you will definitely want to avoid the mints we have here at the check-in  counter. They are for display purposes only.  You don't know where we found  them, and neither do we.

 

 While there is a television in your room-- and it may even work-- studies  show that exposure to electronic screens before the age of two can cause  lifelong learning troubles. We believe exposure after the age of two isn't  much better. That's why, for your protection, we've hidden your TV remote  somewhere on the grounds of the hotel across the street-- where you may  also use the fitness room, free of charge, until you are caught.

 

 We're often asked about smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, in part due  to the frequency of fire-related incidents as a result of the off-brand  laundry dryers we purchased from the back of a truck parked at a local gas  station. Rest assured, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are available  for purchase in our gift shop. Unfortunately, our gift shop is currently  closed due to fire damage.

 

 You have unlimited access to our business center. There is plenty of work  for everyone. You can start with our accounts receivable, and I'll find you  a new assignment once you're finished. There is an air conditioner in the  business center. If you'd like to install it-- and set up an account with  the local power company-- we'd be happy to charge you for your usage, and  we'll even waive our standard 28% convenience fee. As for the rest of us,  we prefer the most efficient temperature control system ever invented-- the  Earth's climate. It works for the animals living under most of our beds--  it can work for you.

 

 A number of guests are staying with us due to a state-mandated quarantine.  Please keep a safe distance away from them. This is unfortunately what  happens when you eat the complimentary mints. As I said before, they are  just for show. If you parked your car in the lot out front, be aware that  we have leased that lot to a local automobile demolition company. If you do  need parking, our lot is accessible via shuttle bus. Shuttle buses are  available for rent, with a small deposit and proof of insurance coverage.  We also apologize for the early-morning noise created by the daily  demolition work. Studies do show that waking up early increases  productivity-- so not only do we apologize, but you're very welcome.

 

 Finally, let me give you a key card-- although we like to think of the  Thrifty Inn as a family, and families, of course, don't lock their doors.  Families like ours don't even think to put locks on doors, because we trust  each other, and because locks, to be honest, are not cheap. Your key card--  which is made from dessicated bovine innards-- in a pinch can also serve as  your breakfast. It must be returned at the end of your stay or you will be  subject to a penalty. Checkout is is determined by the circadian rhythms of  the particular bovine recycled to make your key card. There is an ATM,  which also functions as an ice machine, if you wish to trade credit for  ice. We hope you enjoy your stay with us-- and thank you for choosing to be  Thrifty!

 

 Jeremy Blachman recently stayed at a hotel he does not recommend.  Read  more from him at http://jeremyblachman.com or follow him on Twitter  @jeremyblachman.

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LaffAble

Let’s say you’re trying to write a funny piece and you get stuck after the first sentence -- "Let’s say you’re trying to write a funny piece and you get stuck after the first sentence."  Well, like me, you may be suffering from humor deficit disorder, or HDD, also known as joke block (JB), guy goes into a bar syndrome (GGIABS), and it’s due in an hour! disease (IDIAH!D).  Many comic writers have suffered from this disorder and frantically come up with bad premises (BPs), also known as worthless concepts (WCs). Like, “What if Bill Gates fell in love with Peter Dinklage?” And “Additional fees for paying additional fees! There’s something there.”   And “It’s the year 2028 and commas are extinct.” And “I know! The Rose Garden actually begins to rise.” God help them, they may even try to make something out of (WCs). 

 

Well, the researchers at Lafactory Pharmaceuticals have finally come up with a treatment for this disorder. It’s a pill you take half an hour before you begin to write, and it’s called LaffAble.  I took it half an hour ago, and you can see the results for yourself—my HDD is gone completely and clearly I am on fire (OF).  Good concepts (GPs) like this one have flooded my brain, and it was hard to settle on one. Now that I have settled, the piece seems to be writing itself. In fact I just got up from my computer and returned to find that this very sentence had appeared out of nowhere. I’m going to get up again. Now I’m back, and it worked again. 

 

There are some advisories about and possible side effects of LaffAble that you should be aware of. Do not drive for twelve hours after taking LaffAble. Drive for fifteen!  If you are living in a democracy, call a doctor for any election lasting more than four days (AELMTFD).  You may find it difficult to keep a straight face, so keep a gay one. Bwaaaahaaahahaa (B).  If someone says that the plankton count is depressed near the coast, try hard not reply "It’s probably going to krill itself." Just try.  Uncontrollable Tweeting has been reported—by me, just now. Do not discontinue LaffAble unless you decide to call your Twitter Feed "Fitter Tweed."  If you are a man and are trying to become pregnant, you need help of a different kind.

 

LaffAble is not addictive but can cause dependency. If the difference escapes you as it escapes me, let’s form a posse and track that sucker down! Finally, do not expect LaffAble to help with the ending of your humor piece.  

 

Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin & Tonic. His memoir, My Mistake, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt next fall.

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The Considerably Older Guy

You’ve been a Lonely Guy, A Slightly Older Guy and now—assuming the fates have been kind—you’ve become a Considerably Older Guy. Reach round and pat yourself on the back—if you can manage—and congratulate yourself for having come this far along the highway, and not been dumped by the wayside like an old bag of laundry.

 

How do I know that I’ve become a Considerably Older Guy?

 

You see an old-timer with a cane, stooped over in the Baby Food section of the supermarket.  He selects a can of strained green beans. You say to yourself: “At least I’m not him.”

 

(panicked)  “I am him?

 

I’m afraid so. You simply haven’t come to grips with your new situation.

 

Is it possible that this new phase is just a dream? That I’m going to bounce out of bed one morning and return to being a robust, hell-for-leather, go-anywhere kind of fellow?

 

 No, it’s not possible.

 

I see. (reflects) Chances are I never was that type of fellow anyway. But all those lovely years. Those glittering years…

 

They speed by, don’t they?  

 

I don’t feel all that different. There’s the knee replacement, of course. But the cataracts don’t count.

 

They do.

 

One thing’s for sure, I can think clearly. During my hospital stay, a fellow in the next bed kept muttering: "As long as I’ve got my marbles."

 

You feel that you’ve got your marbles?

 

Absolutely.  There are two or three names I can’t remember…an Italian actor is one…I’ve written his name down. (takes out wallet, looks at slip of paper)…Alberto Sordi.

 

Do you need to remember his name?

 

Not really. He does come up in discussions of Italian Cinema in the Sixties. But there aren’t too many of those.

 

I should imagine. But apart from the knee, the Italian actor, you feel that you’re pretty much the same fellow.

 

Yes...I’m told that I’ve had several “silent” heart attacks. As long as they remain silent, I’d just as soon not know about them. (thinks) The doctor did mumble something about a pacemaker. I know what he’s thinking.  He has one and he wants me to have one, too.

 

To show solidarity.

 

Something along those lines…

 

You might want to reconsider that pacemaker suggestion—at some point.

 

What point is that? I MAY BE GONE BY NEXT THURSDAY? IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE SAYING? I’M ABOUT TO BITE THE DUST?

 

Now, calm down. Just take it day by day….

 

Sure. (losing it again) AND IN A COUPLE OF DAYS I COULD BE   TOAST …..

 

Now look. This won’t work if you’re going to fall apart like that.

 

All right, let me get a grip on myself. (takes deep breath) All right, I’m fine now….

 

You were saying you’re in reasonably good condition.

 

For a Considerably Older Guy? Yes. (thinks)  I do use a cane. But for the most part, I use the cane to give off a certain louche persona…

 

One doesn’t hear that phrase too often…

 

I thought I’d just throw it in.

 

What kind of business did you say you were in?

 

Indie films. Retired. But I still consult. 

 

And that louche persona of yours…..Is it useful in indie films?

 

It’s essential. It goes to the very heart of the indie world.

 

Do you have a project now?

 

A short film. A sort of mini-indie. Deals with mortality. Amusingly titled “Death—and Why It Still Matters.” Our fear--the fear of the money people-- is that audiences won’t know whether to laugh or cry.

 

Wouldn’t it be better if they did know?

 

Then it wouldn’t be an indie film.

 

Strange business.

 

Strange? Try getting financing for it. In any case, maybe I’ve gotten so caught up in being a Considerably Older Guy that I’ve neglected my latest venture. I suppose I’d better get back to it.

 

It won’t hurt to step on the gas. Now about that cane.

 

Of course. My ambition is to get around without it, but it is helpful in hailing cabs.  I have to stoop over so drivers don’t think I’m faking a disability…Actually, I do have a bit of a stoop.

 

So you don’t have to fake anything…

 

No. (bitter) They know a crip when they see one…

 

 A crip?

 

It’s my amusing way of making light of this whole business….

 

The business of being a Considerably Older Guy?

 

And you’re suggesting that it’s not that amusing…The cane…Apart from hailing cabs it does have other uses …Just the other day, I spotted an attractive woman.  To get her attention, I twirled it around and broke into a little something from Chorus Line.

 

How did it work out?

 

Not well. She didn’t care for the show. Saw it with a replacement cast. Nothing beats the original…I don’t know if this is significant, but I’ve begun to think of my cane as a friend.

 

You could do worse.

 

I’ll tap it in the morning and say "How are you, old friend."

 

You don’t want to go too far in that direction. As a Considerably Older Guy you’re going to need actual friends. 

 

 

I see what you’re saying.  A cane is just a cane. It’s not someone you’ve known since grade school. 

 

Exactly.

 

Now look here, what you’re indicating in all of this is that I’ve lost a step.

 

Would that it were only one step. And let’s not forget the two inches in height.

 

Well, I was always referred to as The Big Guy.

 

Say goodbye to that, old chum.

 

Now I’m The Little Guy?

 

The Little Old Guy.

 

(despairing ) At the rate I’m going, I could end up a midget.

 

It’s been heard of.

 

But I am young in spirit, right?

 

One hopes….

 

There must be some mistake. I’m only eighty.

 

Only eighty?

 

But eighty is the new sixty, isn’t that right?

 

If you’d care to think of it that way.

 

(resigned) I don’t. (bravely)  Eighty is eighty and might as well get on with it.

 

That’s the spirit.

 

Any other “treats” in store for me? As a fresh new Considerably Older guy?

 

You may notice that strangers will insist on helping you, when you’ve made it clear you’re getting along very nicely.

 

That’s already happened. Just the other day, a fellow grabbed me by the shoulder and hauled me across a boulevard.  By the time he released me, I found myself in a strange neighborhood, fighting off a mugger.

 

With the cane?

 

Yes. I broke it, but it startled the fellow and he ran off.  

 

Nicely handled.

 

Thank you.

 

Do you have any pointers on getting through this rough patch?

 

Rough’ doesn’t begin to describe it. But I’ll try to help.

 

  • Take yourself out for an airing each day.
  • In restaurants, check your trousers to make sure that a slice of liver and onions, for example, hasn’t fallen into your lap…
  • Before going out for the evening, check your nose and ear hairs.
  • Tip generously. You may need a doorman, for example, to gather you up and load you into a cab, after you’ve had a drink. One drink, incidentally, will now do the work of three.
  • Practice falling. Simply drop to your knees and attempt to get up.

I’ll get started immediately. But I haven’t heard a word about fun.

 

Fun? Best not to think in those terms. Muddling through is a reasonable goal.

 

I’d planned to go canoeing through Slovakia’s waterways.

 

You can forget that. This is different, but it’s an adventure nonetheless. By its nature, it’s a once-in-a lifetime experience and there is no reason to be gloomy about it. At a performance of Lear, for example, be grateful that you’ve seen Lear, that Lear is behind you and there is no need to endure Lear again.

 

(recalls) Those interminable passages. And that Canadian actor who plays Lear. (shudders).

 

There’s no need to say his name. We all know who he is. Much good luck to you, Considerably Older Guy. You’ll need it for this go-round. You may be a shadow of your old self, a wisp, a shell of a man, but it’s still you. There’s no reason you can’t deal with The Big One, although how you manage it is anyone’s guess.

 

Who are you, incidentally?

 

Are you familiar with The Socratic Dialogues?

 

No, but they’re on my to-read list. I hear they’re chockablock full of clever passages.

 

You didn’t say that. You didn’t say it and I didn’t hear it.

 

You will be along to help me through all of this.

 

Of course.

 

(Despairing) And then you’ll leave. But that’s life, I guess. One long series of goodbyes in preparation for the biggie.

 

Please don’t say biggie.

 

All right.

 

Think of it this way. Once you’re ready to wrap it up

 

Can we not say "wrap it up?"

 

Fair enough. When you get to that juncture, however you want to describe it…the final inning? ... the last round-up?

 

Good God. I was better off with "wrap it up."

 

When you get there—think of it this way: At least you won’t have to sit through Lear again.

 

If I can interject…

 

Tick, tick, tick.

 

As a Considerably Older Guy, will I at least be relieved of the daily drudgery, that affects us all? Taxes, in-laws, hangnails?

 

No.

          

That's what I thought.

 

Good. You are on the road to success as a Considerably Older Guy.

 

 

 

Bruce Jay Friedman is a novelist, playwright and screenwriter. His memoir, Lucky Bruce, was published last year. Along with Michael Cera, he recently adapted his short story, "Brazzaville Teenager," into film.

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This Just In

 

Wolf Blitzen:      This just in: CNNN has it on good authority that this Sunday, May 12th, will be celebrated all over the United States as Mother’s Day.  It’s not clear at this time how many mothers and children will be involved in this dramatic event, but rest assured that our reporters at CNNN will get to the bottom of all the breaking news about the event and we will bring their findings to you as they develop and as our analysts examine the causes, meaning, and probable consequences of this major, major, major, and completely unique and commercially crucial … event. 

 

We go first to Paul Begalala, our Democratic commentator who has graciously joined us here in the studio--essentially, we’ve been informed by highly reliable sources, because he has nothing else to do-- to get his reaction to this upcoming occasion which honors the mothers of our great nation, a country that may have been founded by men, fathers, but that has lots of women in it too, reliable sources tell us-- many of them mothers, many of them with more than one child, some of whom will call their moms, which--we’ve learned, is what many Americans call their mothers--on this day and many of whom, we have it on good authority, won’t. 

 

Paul, we’ve been told by highly placed sources that Mother’s day once again promises to bring our nation paroxysms of guilt on the part of grown adults who-- we’ve been informed by those same sources, who couldn’t conceivably be more highly placed--intend to call their mothers on next Sunday but just somehow “forget” or, as our informants have told us, and we have no reason to doubt this information, claim that their cell-phone service went out.  We are trying to establish the veracity of all of these assertion—that there is widespread guilt on this day, that some people “forget,” and that one of the excuses they use is that their cell-phone service has failed, and we are also approaching technological experts about the probabilities involved in such claims of cell-phone outages, but in the meantime, as we await their expertise and that of others involved in the cell-phone industry, if you will, or even if you won’t, we’d like to get your response to this situation, Paul. 

 

Oh, wait—this just in: We’ve just now been informed that my introduction to Paul Begalala’s reaction to this phenomenon may well not be lengthy enough, and so with the aid of our staff here at CNNN, I’ll try, with the assistance of proven experts in the field,  to prolong it, after this break. Don’t go away. I said don’t go away! Hey! Come back!  We and our reliable sources aren’t done. We’re never done.

 

Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin & Tonic. His memoir, My Mistake, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt next fall.

 

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Belly Rub

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

MINUTES OF BARKLEY TOWERS CONDOMINIUM BOARD MEETING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEETING ADJOURNED.

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

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Happy Earth Day!

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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License to Bill

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

 

Dear Loyal Client:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Nine is Fine

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Going Local

AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT FROM THE EDITORS:

 

It’s been a wild ride, but sadly Grin and Tonic will cease web publication starting tomorrow. The website and all of its content have been purchased by the TriFoil Investment Group and the new leadership has decided to cease publication of Grin and Tonic, at least on a digital platform.

 

TriFoil Investment Group had expressed interest in the site since day one, and after a year of negotiations the deal was reached. The group sees profit potential in not only bringing Grin and Tonic to the printed page in the form of paper newsletters, but plans to franchise the name to local editors who will oversee the content on a more regional scale.

 

Those interested in starting their own Grin and Tonic franchise should contact the TriFoil Investment Group or its parent company, Canadian Missile Logistics. The franchise fee is reported to be roughly $200,000 for rural areas, and $550,000 for urban locations, and they will supply you with one computer, a printer, and three reams of mid-quality printing paper as well as a list of possible shipping and distribution methods. All of this will be explained during the eight-week orientation program at the new Grin and Tonic headquarters in Sarasota, FL.

 

The new direction of Grin and Tonic will take is an exciting one. Instead of covering national trends, Grin and Tonic will focus its satirical eye on local trends. A proof of concept issue features the prominent headline “Traffic Cones”  and the article jibes at Arthur Radley’s ice cream shop located smack in the middle of the Mill Creek Rd. construction project. It’s both hilarious and moving, but you won’t understand the joke unless you’re from there and know Radley’s unique accent and folksy mannerisms.

 

In a statement, a spokesperson for TriFoil Investment Group said: “We’re eager to explore local revenue and speak directly to our audience.” TriFoil Investment Group also owns Springhouse Inline Skates, which now publishes the country’s fifth most popular telephone directory.

 

The localized editions of Grin and Tonic will be available either through mail order subscription, fine retailers, or wherever newsletters are sold. The price for each two-color issue will be $4.90, and each region will publish between 10 and 26 issues annually.

 

The current editors and writers at Grin and Tonic would like to thank you all for the years of support. Many of the contributors will relocate and act as consultants for the new print versions of the newsletter, so if you live in Duluth, MN you’ll still see my name from time to time in the pages of G&T. (Does anyone know a good place to get seafood in Duluth?)

 

All previous Grin and Tonic articles will be taken off the website, of course, but the content can still be found in the hardback version (release date Holiday Season 2015).


It’s with a great "grin" and toast of "tonic" that we all say thank you. Cheers!

 

Dan Bergstein is currently en route to Duluth via ship.

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The Whale's Tale

There are whales alive today who were born before "Moby-Dick" was written. --Smithsonian.com

 

Well, gee, where to begin.

 

You’re only as old as you feel.  I swim every day. And each day has its little surprises, its little delights. Sperm jokes, for example, never get old for me. And I’m still amazed that I can sleep without drowning.

 

Everybody wants to know about Moby-Dick. A book written by some guy I never met about some whale I never met. But the truth is, the book changed a lot for me. There’s that chapter about all the different kinds of whales, and I know a lot of people find that chapter hard to get through. So did I, but for different reasons. I knew almost all those guys. The right whale, whom Melville does not identify by name but was known as Al Henken, was best man at my first wedding.

 

On career day, my grandson asked me to come into his class and talk about what I do. I didn’t sugarcoat it. I said, “I swim, and dive, and eat enormous amounts of fish, and only half of my brain is operating at any one time.” And because it was a class of all-whale students, they really got that--you know?

 

I’ve lived in the ocean my whole life, and I’ve never visited the Great Barrier Reef. I should go.

 

When I was a kid, it was tough being a whale. There was discrimination and none of today’s emphasis on diversity. For example it was unheard of for a whale to marry a barnacle. And social suicide to even talk about having an oil deposit lodged in your head.  But after Moby-Dick, everything changed. All of a sudden whales were in. Whales today have it easy. But I don’t like to make a big deal of it. During that period of newfound fame I made some poor choices and that’s a time I’d rather not talk about.

 

I consider myself agnostic. Why would God make a creature that lives in the sea but has to go to the surface just to get a breath? But I was raised religious, Southern Baptist. As a child I was friends mostly with Jews, who account for a small percentage of whales, because how do you wear a yarmulke when you’ve got a blowhole?

 

When I turned 200, Esquire sent a reporter down to profile me. We spent a really pleasant afternoon together. Then I read the story. The first sentence was: “When I meet the 200-year-old whale, he’s floating naked in a dark, plankton-filled expanse of the North Atlantic.” I was like, what the eff? And around that same time my wife Liz left me. I was in a dark place and just feeling very needy. I know it’s a cliché, but I married one of my own barnacles. I was looking for someone to love me for who I was, and as they say in the song, “She was clinging to my back.”

 

I always said I would never go to Nantucket because of the whole whaling thing. And as I aged, I had trouble with changes in time zones. But after the Esquire piece ran, I said to hell with it, I’m visiting, and I did all the reefs, cavorted with the locals, let off some steam. You know--had a real blast. Does that make me a bad whale?

 
Gregory Beyer is a senior editor at the Huffington Post.

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Why Bother?

Hey--I just noticed those flowers on your desk. A miniature rosebush, huh? Pretty. Did you get that for Valentine's Day? And it's still blooming more than a month later! And look, a drugstore teddy bear. He gave it you last week, for your second and a half anniversary. Nice touch, I guess.

 

No, my husband and I didn't do anything for Valentine's Day this year. We're not into that kind of thing. Blatantly commercialized holidays that are just an excuse to guilt couples into buying overpriced trinkets to express some sort of superficial Hallmark-type affection? Not really our bag. We deliberately don't celebrate Valentine's Day at all, actually. When you've been married for as long as I have, and you're as in tune with each other as we are, it's kind of unnecessary, don't you think? In fact, sometimes we'll make it a point to do deliberately unromantic things to each other on anniversaries and Valentine's Day. Like, in the morning I'll clean the baseboards in the bathroom with his toothbrush and then put it back. You know, silly stuff. We're kind of unconventional that way.

 

How did you guys celebrate? Dinner and a movie, huh? That sounds like a pretty typical romantic date. Yeah, we don't really go in for romantic "Date Nights". Like I said, we don't need to express our feelings for each other in a hollow, consumerist fashion. We like to just kind of celebrate our relationship by simply being married. It's enough for us. We don't need to constantly demonstrate our affection. That's the sort of thing I think couples do when they're insecure about things, you know? Well, no--I don't mean you and your husband, necessarily.

 

My husband and I just know that we will always, always be together until one or both of us is dead. So, it's like, what's the big deal? I know--pretty deep.

 

Yeah, that's right--although I'm married, and have been for over nine years, I don't wear a wedding ring. Not even a plain band. Didn't think it was necessary. When my husband proposed, I was just so, well, stunned that he was asking me to spend the rest of my life with him that I didn't even think about a ring until later-- and by then, I figured why bother? It's just a symbol anyway. I mean, sure, a big flashy diamond is really important for some girls; I get that-- at least, I guess I do. But it never mattered to me. It's the marriage that's important, right? The eternal commitment? I don't need a huge rock to demonstrate to everyone else that I'm legally tied to another person for life. Me? I'm constantly aware of it. I don't need a reminder. When people get old and have arthritis, they can't even get those rings off. A lot of people get cremated with them.

 

I guess you could say that we're the type of couple whose bond is so rock-solid dependable that there is very little we need to do to prove anything to anyone else, or to each other. Like the time last week that my husband scratched his cornea? Most wives probably would have driven him to the ER like he'd asked--begged, really-- but I didn't even feel the need to. I just knew he'd be insulted later if I gave in to his whining. In fact, I didn’t even turn the TV down. Barely even looked at him. We don't have the type of relationship where one of us is compelled to jump right up and take the other to the hospital just because he’s blubbering like a little girl. We're a bit more low-key than that. If he ends up going blind in his left eye, it'll just be one more memory we've created together. You can't build that kind of bond overnight. It has to just happen naturally.

 

How did he scratch his cornea? I guess technically I did it. It’s funny the way things are when you’ve been married as long as we have—you sometimes forget where your fingernails end and his leering, bloated face begins. You’re so close that it’s almost like you’re the same person, or two halves of a greater whole—where one half likes to go out drinking with its buddies five nights a week and the other half is somehow the only half that knows how to take the trash out. You’d think both halves would have figured that out by now. You’d think both halves would also know how to shower more than twice a week—but I digress. That’s love, right? Unconditional, teeth-grinding love. The forever kind of love.

 

It’s actually our tenth wedding anniversary next month, and you know what we’re planning to go? You guessed it—absolutely nothing. It just feels right that way. Sometimes doing nothing is the most romantic thing of all. Sometimes you're so completely welded to each other that you don’t even want to think about the other person really ever. I know that’s the place everyone’s trying to get to; and we’re there, and it’s so great. Maybe someday you’ll be there too. But I wouldn’t count on it. It's pretty rare and special-- which is why I don't like to brag about it a lot. You won't see any teddy bears on my desk anytime soon, that's for sure-- and that's the way we both like it. But of course you should enjoy those roses. Just watch out for the thorns when the flowers wither and die and you go to throw them into the trash.

 

 

Molly Schoemann writes humor and satire and wears a wedding ring. Her work can be found at mollyschoemann.com.

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Artisanal Preservington, New York

"As formerly boho environs of Brooklyn become unattainable due to creeping Manhattanization and seven-figure real estate prices, creative professionals of child-rearing age — the type of alt-culture-allegiant urbanites who once considered themselves too cool to ever leave the city — are starting to ponder the unthinkable: a move to the suburbs. But only if they can bring a piece of the borough with them."--The New York Times

 

 

 "... And, best of all, this home you're looking at today is just down the street from the local public school, Djuna Barnes Elementary, ranked in the top 1% of the nation's schools in ukulele-playing, pickle-making, and mustache-growing. The fourth-graders just finished an amazing three-month strike that finally persuaded the rest of the students — who run the school on their own as an entirely democratic enterprise — to switch to organic toilet paper in the co-ed outdoor bathrooms. They really learned a lesson in civic engagement, although we're hoping the missed time in class doesn't cause them to fall too far behind — they each need to form at least two indie folk bands before the end of the year in order to graduate."

 

"... Yes, absolutely, being close to the city is a must for the folks up here. And with the completely renovated train system, the commute is better than ever. Every train is now a hybrid, and made mostly from corn. You just hop on board, start pedaling, and you're back in Brooklyn in no time. Kettle-cooked taro chips and natural licorice soda are available in the dining car, and there's even a yoga class that takes up the last four rows of seats, every morning on the 8:07.

 

"... Stores? Certainly. We have everything you'd expect in a new-traditional suburb: six daily organic markets, each focusing on one specific family of vegetables — the brassica market is my favorite — nine independent movie houses, including three that constructed their own screens out of hemp, and twenty-six different optometry practices, so that it's easy to fulfill the town mandate that everyone wear glasses, whether they need them or not. Is there a bank? No, but we do have a money lending cooperative being built in the back of the custom-furniture studio, and I think the craft plumber down the block might have an old ATM in his basement, as part of an art exhibit. What's a craft plumber? He builds water pipes out of recycled bike parts.

 

"...Totally fair question, because how can you be sure that your neighborhood is safe when the police force is entirely made up of volunteers? But we rely very heavily on the neighborhood watch, which is a band of emancipated teenagers who live in the street and make their own clothing out of the scraps they find in people's compost bins. And their restaurant is amazing — you must try it, especially on Tuesdays, when they serve food. (And when I say 'must,' I mean it — they take away your messenger bag if you don't.) The restaurant is on Main Street, overlooking what used to be the highway but is now hosting a temporary installation called Car Park: A Story With Sideburns.

 

"... No, their reading scores are actually among the best in the state. We think it has a lot to do with the tattoo requirement. Every child is exposed to so many words each day, just on the bodies of their friends. And, you know, it's all vegetable ink. Completely organic. And no antibiotics if they get an infection. We don't believe in that. Yes, of course there's a hospital. It's staffed by only our best origami crafters and graffiti artists. It's also where we set off the all-natural fireworks on July 4th. They're made out of soap, so when you wake up sometime in the afternoon on July 5th, the streets are suddenly clean again. It's a wonderful day.

 

"... Gas stations? No, we haven't had the need. But there's an acupuncture stand on every corner. Look, it has been great showing you this property, especially the part that's made entirely of foam and deer antlers, but I really have to cut this short -- I'm already late for my shift at the school. I'm teaching the kindergartners a class in memoir writing, and helping to fit them for nose rings. If you want to buy the place, just send me some organic beads as a deposit and I'll start the paperwork."

 

Read more of Jeremy Blachman's work at http://jeremyblachman.com or tiny bits of it on Twitter @jeremyblachman

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The New Pooh

 

Dear A.A.,

 
 

Thank you for your recent submission Winnie the Pooh . We at Button Books are always on the lookout for new material by promising authors. I found your manuscript to be well written, the characters engaging and the stories filled with enough charm and whimsy to entertain young readers.

 

Unfortunately I will have to pass on the book, at least for now. The characters and plot don’t have enough relevance in today’s world. The good news is, I have some recommendations that would help punch up the characters, add an edginess to the story and make it more appropriate and appealing for the 21st century. Please feel free to resubmit this work keeping in mind the following suggestions:

 

1. Rethink the bees and Pooh’s obsession with honey. With the rise in childhood obesity and the diabetes epidemic in this country, you might want Pooh to count carbs, practice self-restraint and try using Stevia. Unless, of course, you have a sequel in mind called Winnie the Amputated Pooh.

 
 

2. Change some of the names. Perhaps Geraldo, Miguel or Diego the Pooh or Omar, Mohammed, or Jibar - to be more inclusive? And could Christopher Robin be gay bisexual, or transgender? Maybe rename him, too? Try Lance, Brooklyn or Apple.

 

3. It’s great that Christopher Robin, Winnie and Owl have some attention deficit issues and learning problems as evidenced by their confusion, inattentiveness, and appalling spelling, but maybe another character (Piglet comes to mind) could be shy, obsessed with origami, and socially inept? A little Asperger’s would go over big.

 

4. Good problem-solving skills exhibited when Christopher Robin reads to Pooh for a week waiting for him to lose weight so that he can get unstuck from the tree hole. Reading is big (and we do sell books), but with weight loss at an acceptable 1-2 pounds a week, it would take much longer for Pooh to escape. He might even plateau. To kill time, have Christopher read Pooh a book by Proust or Tolstoy and then share ideas.

 

5. The multigenerational characters are wonderful. Maybe a conversation about where to put poor, confused Eeyore as he ages out of living independently? The other characters might visit some assisted-living facilities or interview home caregivers. Show Eeyore learning to use a walker.

 

6. To beef up the plot line and add some excitement, replace the many days of boring, never-ending rain depicted near the end with a tsunami.

 

7. As the story is set in England, a Downton Abbey touch would be useful. Have the characters get dressed fashionably for dinner or enjoy high tea. The honey would work too if used in moderation, assuming the Stevia recommendation doesn’t pan out. Pooh could wear a monocle and address Christopher Robin as “My Lord.” Monogrammed velvet slippers might add to the mood.

 

All and all, this is a wonderful idea needing minor work. I look forward to seeing your revisions. Promotional dolls and stuffed toys might be developed. Think American Girl but more British Pooh. Imagine an HBO series adaptation “Game of Bees” or “Pooh Corner Empire” and perhaps a violent X-Box game called “POOHF!”

 

Best,

Paige Turner

Associate Editor, Children’s Division

Button Books

 

Ricki Miller, an elementary school teacher for decades, is now pursuing an MFA in Writing from Stony Brook. She carries a piglet keychain.

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Winter Weather Advisory Mathilda

Meteorologists have reported that a perhaps potentially dangerous weather pattern is developing over the mountains in the western part of the state. A Winter Storm Warning, which local weather officials have named "Doreen," has gone into effect for several counties. ( While typically only storms themselves have been named, we at alarmistweather.com agree that Warnings and Watches, a crucial part of weather panic, deserve some recognition as well.)

Snow is expected to begin falling sometime after 10am in affected areas, and may continue for up to several minutes. As ground temperatures are in the  40s, the snow is not expected to stick to roadways and overpasses, but it will definitely still fall on them.

Snow will also fall on cars, and may stick to them. Snow will likely stick to most cars, but it will only really stand out on darker cars. Owners of white cars are advised to keep in mind that the snow on their cars might be difficult to see—but that it may still be present. Windshields with snow accumulated on them may be difficult for drivers to see out of—in such cases, using windshield wipers is advised. This may be done while driving.

Snow may also stick to and accumulate on raised, grassy areas and outdoor patio furniture—one of the consequences of your not having heeded Patio Furniture Advisory Jim-Bob last fall. Snow may also accumulate on pets that are sent outdoors; it will be particularly visible and cute on dark-colored pets. Please send your photos of pets with snow on their noses to  PetSnowNoses@alarmistweather.com. We’ll post our favorites on our website! But above all, according to Pet Nag Fido, defrost and dry your pet before allowing it to track through the kitchen and climb on the sofa

Overall snow accumulation during this putative storm is expected to be as much as .025 inch in some areas. Tiny, misshapen, dirt-filled snowmen may be formed using this snow by children under the age of six who were too young to remember the Great Letdown of ’10, which we herewith retroactively name Fizzle),and  during which much of the state was perhaps not blanketed but certainly coverleted with over ½” of snow. Effusive praise of these snowmen is not recommended, as it will only encourage these children to hope vainly for more snow, which is unlikely to occur during the remainder of their childhoods. Send photos of your children’s snowmen, such as they are, to NiceTry@alarmistweather.com.

Please be advised that snow may also accumulate on trees, park benches, and hydrants, and that birds and other wildlife may be seen foraging through the snow for food, even as it continues to snow. Our official position about this matter is that they are funny that way.

Residents are encouraged to race to the nearest grocery store to purchase mass quantities of milk and bread prior to the onset of remotely-possibly-hazardous weather. The more milk and bread your household has stockpiled, the safer your family will be during Winter Storm Warning Doreen. In the event that you encounter other residents at the grocery store who are also attempting to stock up on milk and bread, do not succumb to the tempation to share, especially if you are bigger than they are.
Standing outside in the snow while it is actively snowing is not encouraged, although you should be warned that if you do this, and look straight up into the sky, it will look like the snowflakes are huge and are coming right at you really fast!  Generally, snow will not accumulate on stuck-out tongues.

In the event that no snow occurs, residents are still urged to seek shelter, just in case. Finally, please be advised that temperatures are expected to reach the 50s tomorrow. No Watch or Warning is in effect at this time, but if there is one -- a Tornado Watch, say -- it is tentatively named Tornado Watch "‘Bradley," unless it turns out to look more like a girl tornado, in which case it will be Tornado Watch Meghan.

 

Molly Schoemann writes humor and satire and always stocks up on milk and bread, just in case. Her work can be found at mollyschoemann.com.

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The Bridesmaid's Tale

 

No, I'm not the bride. She should be here any—

 

I'm not sure. I think it's the “Pollyanna.” And I believe the color is “Bahama Breeze.” Is that available in—ah, I see. Well, I don't know. I suppose “Tahitian Sky” might be—I mean, it looks pretty similar, but—yes, I guess we'd better wait for the bride.

 

Well, I usually wear a 6, but I know these dresses—yes, of course. Oh, you do measurements here? Perfect. Sure, I can just—two inches “over” in the hips? What does that mean?

 

I wasn't planning to do a juice cleanse, no. I guess I could stand to hit the gym a little more often. I go to Pilates twice a week, and—no, Pilates isn't the gym. Yes, I understand it's not an aerobic workout. Do you think I can get away with an 8? Oh. Okay.

 

No, I understand. I'll take the 10.

 

Shoes? I don't know. I think she said something about open-toed pumps. In pale gold or neutral?

 

An up-do. With plenty of spray, to hold the shape—it's in July. Yes, very humid.

 

I guess I will need a good concealer. I'm not really much of a makeup—well, no, I wouldn't want my “face” to melt. I do want to look nice in the pictures. Look, I really just need your help with finding the dress, so maybe—

 

Hair, nails, and makeup are at 7:30 that morning. The ceremony's at 2.

 

Yes, I bite them. Filthy habit, I know. Since the sixth grade, but I read in Cosmo that short nails are in now so—

 

Oh, I don't know. Something metallic? Silvery pink? Or pink-y silver? Sparkly but not vulgar, she said. I wasn't worried about calling attention to my hands, but now—Azature? No, I'm not familiar with their “Butterfly Wing”collection. I don't even know what— Do you think Duane Reade—? Of course not. Where's the nearest—Madison and—? That's an hour from here! I'm sure it is the best.

 

You're right, it's a once-in-a-lifetime event. At least I hope it is, ha ha. Please don't tell her I said that.

 

So how much will the dress actually—? $539—that's with the alterations? Before the alterations. Okay. And with tax it's—?

 

Well, that's more than I was expecting, but—no, I don't have any cash. I can give you a— Oh. Am Ex only? I may need to call—

 

I'd really prefer not to come back here again tomorrow. Well, no, I'm not working, but—

 

Am I seeing—? As a matter of fact, I am—about six months. I'm thirty.  3-0. Yes, I guess six months is longer at thirty than it is when you're—but we're not quite ready to—oh? You did? After four months? Thirteen years and counting. Well. You can't argue with that. Yes, of course, when you know, you know, but don't you think—

 

The bride? She's five years younger than me, so twenty-five.

 

They met on OkCupid. O-K C-U-P-I-D. It's an online—no, I don't think it's just for freaks. A lot of people these days—when I wasn't with someone, I— There's nothing wrong with asking someone out at the grocery store, but that kind of thing just never seemed to happen to—

 

Do I think who's “The One”? Oh! Well, he's wonderful, but—

 

Do I hope I'm the one to catch—? I don't think she's doing that. The bouquet, that's right, I don't think she—yes, I know it's a tradition.

 

Well, yes, sure, I guess if she throws it, I'll try to catch it. It certainly can't hurt.

 

****

 

Raina Lipsitz edits short stories about herself and others at imaginarymoney.com. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Brooklyn Rail, McSweeney's, and Nerve.com.

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The Twentysomething’s Guide To Cooking

Okay, everyone, we’re going to start out with something nice and simple: pasta with marinara sauce. Here we go:

 

1.      Open a box of pasta.

2.      What do you mean you don’t have pasta?

3.      Yeah, I know “mom used to buy the pasta,” but we don’t live with mom anymore, remember? That’s why we’re all here.

4.      And it used to be shaped like dinosaurs, yes, I remember.

5.      You know that dinosaur-shaped pasta still exists, right? And that you can go out to a grocery store and buy it because you’re an adult, and you get to decide what you eat now?

6.      Well, sure, technically “deciding” that you’re just going to keep letting your mom cook for you counts as a decision, but doesn’t she live, like, two hours away now? Don’t you think that would be kind of a burden on her?

7.      “Knowing that her son still needs her is the greatest gift a boy can give to his mother?” Did you actually just say that? You know this is a cooking class, right? Not a Psycho remake?

8.      The Psycho remake was terrible, I agree. Still can’t believe someone thought Vince Vaughn could pull off Norman Bates.

9.      The type of relationship that I have with my mother is not the issue here, ok? The issue is that, when I sent out the email welcoming everyone to the group, I specifically wrote, “Please bring a box of pasta and a jar of marinara sauce to our first class.”

10.  Well, if it was so hard to find, how come everyone else brought one?

11.  Jerry didn’t bring one because he’s… Well, he’s going through some stuff right now, and pasta isn’t as cheap as it used to be.

12.  I “favor” Jerry? I bring in one extra box of pasta for a guy who told me before class that he got laid off two weeks ago, and you think that means I “favor” him? Geez, sorry for showing some compassion for the less fortunate, Speaker Boehner.

13.  It is too pronounced “Boner.” Stop kidding yourself.

14.  Oh, crap. Jerry, I’m sorry. Come on, man, don’t leave! No one cares that you lost your job! You’re at an adult cooking class at a community college, for Pete’s sake! You think the rest of us have our lives together any more than you do?

15.  Well, great, there goes Jerry. He was two credits away from graduating. Nice work, moron.

16.  Yes, you earn credits here. It’s a college. What did you expect?

17.  Wow. You are awfully condescending for a guy in a Chumbawumba t-shirt.

18.  You know what? No. You can’t have Jerry’s pasta.

19.  Because it was for Jerry, that’s why. And you, sir, are no Jerry.

20.  Oh, yeah, make a joke about his unemployment. That’s classy.

21.  Why did you even sign up for this class? It doesn’t seem like you’re that interested in cooking.

22.  You want to impress “Katy?” Who’s “Katy?”

23.  Whoa…and that’s…that’s a real picture?

24.  Hey, does she have a sister? Or a cousin, or a friend, or anything like that?

25.  All right, cool. Yeah, you know what? Why don’t you take Jerry’s pasta? It seemed like he might have been going to kill himself, so there’s no sense in letting it go to waste.

26.  And here, I’ll give you my phone number, too, just in case you have any questions between now and our next class.

27.  You should feel free to give that number out to anyone else who you think might be interested in learning how to cook, too. Or if you know anyone who’s interested in welding, I also teach a class in that.

28.  Like Katy. Katy looks like she might benefit from a little welding knowledge. Or maybe some of her friends.

29.  Mix in the marinara sauce with your pasta, and get ready to enjoy a delicious meal!

 

 

Edward Small is a contributor to The Onion and CollegeHumor. He has a green belt in cooking dinosaur-shaped pasta.

 

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Friends, Classmates, Donors

"The College of New Jersey, Princeton University and Rider University reported a banner year for donations in 2012, with each breaking its previous fundraising record.... [At Princeton] more than 8,000 volunteers worked phone banks, sent flyers and met with potential givers over the course of five years, bringing in donations from 65,120 alumni."
--Times of Trenton


Hey Buddy,

How's it going? Long time, no speak, classmate! I'm sorry to be so slow in responding to your last e-mail -- the week-five reading assignment for Economics 102 is pages 236-248.

Best,
Your Pal

****

I'm sorry -- I think you may have sent this e-mail to the wrong person. I haven't taken an economics class since 1999.

****

Haha, friend-- you were always such a jokester! Of course you took an economics class in 1999 -- I was in your class! I'm just saying that I'm sorry it has taken me so long to write back to your e-mail about the reading assignment! But just in case you were still looking for that information, I thought I would let you know! Glad that e-mail address still works! I was just thinking about you the other day and wanted to reach out and say hello. Can you believe it's our 10th reunion year? It's been so long -- are you still interested in macroeconomics?

Go Tigers!
Your Amigo

****

Uh, no, I'm not still interested in macroeconomics. What are you e-mailing me for? I barely even recognize your name.

****

You crack me up, old pal! I just happened to be thinking about you the other day and wanted to catch up! What have you been doing these past ten years? Where are you living? Do you have a family? Have you given yet to the class fundraising drive? So many questions, friend -- can I give you a call sometime? What's your number?

With fondness,
Friend O' Mine

****

No, you can't give me a call. Last thing I remember about you is when you knocked on my door, drunk, begging me to vote for you in some sort of student government election. We weren't friends -- what do you want?

****

Oh, what memories! That really brings me back, hombre. I was telling my wife all about you the other day. (You know I got married, right? Small wedding, otherwise we would have loved to have you there!) She couldn't believe all my stories about us -- that time we both did the reading for our Economics class, that time we both took that Economics exam, that time we got our transcripts and both had grades in Economics. Oh, man, it cracks me up. She imagined you'd be exactly the kind of friend who would be amazingly generous to the alumni giving campaign. Have you given yet? Just curious -- not at all in my role as head of the fundraising committee for our class, but as your friend. You sure I can't give you a call? Maybe swing by for brunch?

See you soon,
Bestie

****

No, we are not having brunch. I haven't given any money, no -- I'm still paying off my student loans. I don't know why you're pretending we're friends, but please take me off whatever list I'm on and stop contacting me.

****

Wow, you were always a little paranoid, friend -- you're not on any list, and, according to our records, you're actually delinquent on those loans. A fact I wouldn't want to see come out as we put together our awesome 10th anniversary yearbook, paid for by funds from generous classmates like you. I hear that the head of the fundraising committee is planning to include some crazy photos of everyone who doesn't donate. Just letting you know, buddy. Hey, I've got an extra spot in the car for a camping trip with some old pals this weekend -- you want to come? Let me know.

You rock,
Your Best Bud

****

I'm not going camping with you -- I barely even know you. And I have no idea what kind of photos you're talking about, but I'm really not concerned. I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to donate to the class this year, good luck with the fundraising, and please stop e-mailing me.

****

Of course -- why would I keep e-mailing you when I'm right outside? I know you can afford to give something to the class -- that's a beautiful ottoman you've got. I just want to reconnect, remember old times, and -- Oh, the photos -- you know, sophomore year, fraternity initiations? It's amazing what people can do with Photoshop these days, that's all I'm saying. Look, pal, I just think it's a shame when people have a grand old time at college and then don't give back -- especially when they pretend on their resume that they graduated with honors and it's part of what gets them their job over at 1462 North Salem Boulevard, Suite 627. As your friend, I just want to save you from yourself, and I think I'm going to have to clue your boss in, unless of course you can prove that you have the kind of school spirit I've always known you do.

Did you know you can donate online??!

I can see you,
Your BFF

****

Okay, whatever, you win. I'll give $20 on the website -- just leave before I call the police. Happy now?

****

Thrilled, mate! And, you know, it's never too early to start thinking about our 15th reunion -- perhaps you can start planning for a more substantial gift. I've put a reminder in my calendar to check back with you, and to send that e-mail exchange about your pretend honors to the entire class, depending on your participation in our future campaigns. That's not a threat, friend -- you know why? Because I can tell you've truly rediscovered the old "Rah, Rah! Sis, Boom, Bah!" and can't wait to put your name on a plaque in the brand new student center.

Take care -- my wife sends her best, my kids can't wait to meet you, and I've still got my eye on that ottoman of yours!

Turn around slowly...
Boo!

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2013 Ebook Preview

"Less than two months after the 2012 election, political mavens are already afflicted with eye-glaze from absorbing the initial spate of ebooks and now-it-can-be-told campaign retrospectives." --Columbia Journalism Review, 1/4/13

 

THE YEAR'S MOST ANTICIPATED EBOOKS:  A PREVIEW

 

January 22 -- "Inside The Inauguration," an exhaustive, insider'sl ook at Barack Obama's second Presidential inauguration, set to be published just twenty-four hours after the President takes the oath of office.  Featuring almost twenty-four hours of interviews with some of the key players, as well as more than seven minutes of writing and editing, this eBook promises to be the most complete account of the inauguration published that Tuesday. The book will feature rare perspective from historians who were alive at the time of the event, as well as complete video footage of President Obama preparing to give his inaugural address (the actual address will only be available in the book's revised edition, to be published six hours after the initial release).

 

February 3 -- "Inside the 'Inside The Inauguration' eBook: The Behind-The-Scenes Story," taking you minute-by-minute into the     writing of the "Inside The Inauguration" eBook, and the aftermath of its publication. Learn how the book was conceived, written and published, all before the ink was dry on the only piece of real paper still being used by anyone.  By literally embedding themselves inside the podium where Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the oath of office, the writers of the book will be able to gain first access to the sound of the words, and thus, by mere fractions of a moment, release the most immediate account of what happens.

 

March 19 -- "Inventing an eReader Fast Enough to Handle the Speed of the Publishing of the 'Inside the 'Inside The Inauguration' eBook' -- The Inside Scoop," an action-packed ride through the development of eReader technology advanced enough to allow the "Inside the 'Inside The Inauguration'" eBook to be purchased and downloaded before it is even written. With exclusive access to the scientists behind the latest in eBook development, you will learn how ideas are now being beamed directly into the minds of readers without requiring the time-intensive processes of writing, editing, or even reading. (This eBook is also available in cheese-flavored and hybrid electric editions.)

 

June 27 -- "The Next Presidential Inauguration: What Will Have Happened," a page-scroller that takes you into a future that will have not yet taken place... but that won't stop the writers of this eBook from being first to get the story. In order to get this book to market as quickly as possible, it has already been released, and the contents of it wiped from the memories of all who had the chance to read it, so as not to destroy the space-time continuum and unalterably change the future. The eBook is an invaluable guide to understanding what is to come, with reflections and insight from a number of commentators who will not even be born by the time the next inauguration takes place.

 

July 14 -- "2013 eBook Preview: Six-Month Anniversary Edition," a commemorative eBook edition of this very humor piece, revised and expanded from its original form, with additional content, new listings, and never-before-seen photos of eBooks in a number of exciting locations.  Now in its thirteenth edition, you may also purchase this book yesterday, or twenty years ago, before the first eBook was ever published. Now in its fourteenth edition. Fifteenth.

 

Jeremy Blachman is working to develop robots that can write humor pieces. Read some of their work at jeremyblachman.com.

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Zystchjistan: Golden Opportunities for Investor

Hello, Americans! That's what we say here on Zyscthjistan Avenue, the main boulevard of our newly refurbished capital city, Plink. We usually must have to say it to each other, because there are still, without explanation, not enough Americans trodding our streets and investing in our recently discovered and very rich mining operations for jejunium, the now discovered last year new element that has rapidly stepped into having such a vital role in the manufacturing process of making those certain high-ended digital devices.

The time of now is upon us and American dollar bills cash can become millions swiftly!

A mine in the rural village of Umnmnmw has produced upwards of 75-degrees of money daily! And that mine is a scant 1,099 horses deep! Using money we can buy state-of-the-government technology and can mine deeper and get even better, purer, more flavorful jejunium!

What a great time to have money and give it to us!!!

As you are aware, history has been unkind to our land. The economy suffered sincerely after the great air flood took our water in 1957*.

*Metric years

 


Bad politics and intelligent brides also wreaked havoc on our land, leaving us with little opportunity for growth and cinema. But in the last decade, scientist and man Tuljkk Vletij Miller discovered that jejunium can be used to make the pocket TVs that are popular today and tomorrow amongst the youths of people.

Now you can become part of the cash ka-boom!

An investment of only 34-degrees money will yield a return of 90! That math doesn’t lie because it cannot.

Your money will directly flow into our mining, refining, shipping, and legal hotels. Within a matter of time, you will see profits rise and rise like an air boat!

We invite you to come to Zystchjistan and see our operations first-hand! You will marvel at our facilities and world class ceilings! Enjoy spectating our national sport of Tournament Yoga. Visit one of our famous painting and sculpture zoos! Eat! And if you are old or pained, visit our electronic doctor’s office!

Here in our country you will see all that we offer. If our mining brings fright to you, there are other investments for your money! Many!

Due to tax proclamations, those wishing to open dental offices are tax exempt for life, as dental work is believed to be mild sorcery and our government wants no part of that evil money. Those savings are passed on to you and your fellow teeth wizards! Starting a clinic is easy and we already have plenty of desks and artificial metal!

Agricultural is very good here, as both rat wool and sour corn are chief exports! Investing in a farm is fast and we will personally handle all currency exchanges...late at night when dimwitted farmers are not paying close attention.

Our new shoe factory in the town of 83 will be up and running in a few months as soon as the curse is lifted, and beverage designer Spruce-Juice is opening a new plant that will make lavender soda and condensed celery water that is 79-percent potable! The newly registered town of James Bond is also offering huge discounts on barber shop licenses and to anyone good with folding.

New factories are popping up all over! And because our maps are only oral, zoning regulations are difficult to uphold in court! As are crimes!

For those with adventure in their hearts, why not invest in our mountains, where legend, and our constitution, says a witch will grant you nine wishes if you bring her fingers. By investing in our mountains, you can ensure the witch’s safety and double your money thanks to wishes and tourisms.

We also have a leading bio-optics facility and a trillion-dollar defense contract with nine different nations.

So act now, friend! Write us a money check or just send gift cards! And do not forget to like us on Facebook*!
*legally binding

We look forward to working at you!

Sincerely,

Vlad Dalv Jr., Chief of Economics and Knots


Dan Bergstein is a Sub-Avatar of Jerome Lester Horwitz (Curly, of The Three Stooges).

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Truly Maybe the Best from a Year in Grin & Tonic

We at Grin & Tonic decided to celebrate the holidays and the end of 2012 with an Editor's Pick of some of our favorite pieces of the year. But then we didn't do it. Why? Or -- maybe better: Why not? Better yet: Why are we even telling you what we were going to do and then didn't do? Betterest: Why are we giving you all these alternative rhetorical questions?

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Your Workplace Holiday Party

Welcome to your workplace holiday party-- we're so glad to have forced you to come. And this must be your plain-looking wife. Here's where we make a comment that could be construed to mean we're unhappy with your work and your job is in jeopardy. Now we laugh, because we're kidding. Or maybe we just like to laugh. Please, take off that vagrant's coat you're wearing. No, don't put it near our coats.


Come join an awkward conversation circle with the woman who stole your promotion and the guy who thinks you don't know he dented your car in the parking lot and didn't leave a note. Yes, that local sports team is doing terribly. Sure, the stock market is a thing that exists. No, there is no one across the room you can pretend is giving you an excuse to leave this conversation.

 

Please enjoy this delicious spread of food paid for with the money that used to fund our health insurance plan. It might make you sick, but that's entirely your responsibility since July 1st of this past year. How's that working out for you? Time to gossip about people who aren't here. Now aren't you glad you showed up? That makes one of us.

Hey-- the CEO is starting his speech about how wonderful his compensation package is. Watch him stumble over his words and not realize his index cards are out of order. See, he's no smarter than you. He just got lucky. Doesn't that make you feel better about your life? It doesn't? Should it? These are some of the questions you should ponder, instead of listening to the CEO explain that you probably aren't getting a bonus.

The gift exchange is about to start. Did you obey the $10 limit? How silly of you-- now your gift will seem embarrassingly cheap. You might wonder why we force a gift exchange among colleagues who have no interest in actually exchanging gifts. It's actually all for our own amusement. Just like the way we sometimes shut off the air-conditioning system. You think it's broken? Nope, we're multi-tasking--saving money and torturing you at the same time.

Look at that raffle prize! It's worth almost three months of your salary. And who's going to win it? The CEO's wife! Yep--some people have all the luck. What? Of course your ticket gave you a real chance to win-- if by "win" you mean "lose." You probably also thought the liquor tonight was free. Nope-- you'll see its cost deducted from your next paycheck, along with a service fee, plus a hefty tip for the bartender, who just happens to be the CEO's son. He's going to invest it in a start-up that's working to develop robots that can do your job-- much better than you can, and for a fraction of the cost. Now you're feeling that cocktail, right? And not a moment too soon.

Oh, look-- your boss is leaving. That means it's okay for you to leave, right? Or so you think. What you don't know is that he's actually coming right back, and you're going to miss the part of the night when the few people who are still here get their health insurance back and receive a hefty raise. You'll hear about it tomorrow. And everyone will ask why you left so early. Are those tears of joy? Yes, it's a lovely party, especially the private room in the back, where you're not allowed.

 

We'll see you tomorrow, on our surveillance cameras.


Jeremy Blachman is working to develop robots that can write humor pieces. Read some of their work at jeremyblachman.com.

 

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The Maya Calendar Holiday Gift Guide

And it shall come to pass that when the 13th baktun comes to an end, so will the world. Everything, even the entombed red-cinnabar-coated kings, shall be destroyed in an apocalypse. So it has been foretold — and so many believe — by the ancient Maya calendar; even Maya deities like the jade-haired maize god and the goggle-eyed storm god must submit.” —The New York Times

 

As we approach the completion of the Great Cycle, you may be wondering:  What's the perfect present for these trying (and final) times?  We have cooked up the gift guide to end all gift guides, and, incidentally, to end everything else.

 

For the foodie!

There's always Cuisinart, but why not get groovy with DIY this winter solstice?  Try your hand at some homemade flavored salts (we like Meyer lemon and Kimchi!), and you'll impress your friend with your hearty nature and something-from-nothing skills.  She'll put down her immersion blender and say, We need people like you in the coming weeks, such as they are.  Now you're gifting like a guru!  Your delicious preservatives will have earned you a place in a secured basement three miles below the surface of the earth.  Ignore the futility of these foolhardy safety measures.  Bake loads of oatmeal bars instead! Place them in pressurized decorative tins—great for sharing. 

 

Hot tip: using your crafting scissors to fashion personalized hang-tags will give the desserts a “finished look.”  Hang-tags can double as toe-tags during the Great Clean-Up, after The After.     

 

Fun stocking stuffers under $30!

This year, everyone is on a tight holiday budget.  But we're not talking money—we're talking time.  Shop smart and stock up on easy-to-complete activities for the whole family.  We're especially excited about 5-piece jigsaw puzzles ($10), pre-molded artisan Play-Doh ($7), and Picked-Up Stix ($5).  You may have just enough minutes left before the precession of the equinoxes to watch the first season of Homeland ($27.99) on DVD, but no one wants to end the Great Cycle on a cliffhanger.  So it is written, the thirteenth baktun closes before the twelve days of Christmas even begin.  A pet bird ($30) may just be a great way to keep track of the diminishing hours: when the partridge in the pear tree falls, It will be upon us.  

 

For the little ones!

As the North Pole shifts from Polaris to Vega, so will the exact location of Santa's house.  Even mythology must reckon with these disruptive times.  Take out a map and help your children find his new address, temporary as it might be.  Use crayons!  Make it fun!  You can send their letters by USPS, but there's really no accounting for holiday delivery delays, especially with the recalibration of physics as we know it. Either way, your kids won’t be the wiser.  As the days dwindle, take them by the hand and tell them, If Santa exists, then so do catastrophic astronomical events.  Spin a dreidel to demonstrate the rises and dips in Earth's cycle of precession.  We also recommend the new Furby from Hasbro ($54).  It just might outlast us all. 

 

For the friend who has everything!

We all know this person: he's got the whole world in his hands.  But when the winter solstice sunrise moves towards the galactic center and the moon is in the seventh house, will he still?  For the friend who “had it all” before The Before, give an experiential gift.  Has he ever sky-dipped or thunder-surfed?  Now’s the time to buy him lessons!  Has he ever eaten solid air?  Give him the dining experience to end a lifetime! 

 

If he pouts at your presents, then take him to see the sideways solar eclipse on the Final Sunday.  Bring snacks!  Everyone will be there!  We have no choice.

 

Hilary Leichter has taught creative writing at Columbia University and Freebird Books. She is an associate editor at NOON Annual. She will be spending the Mayan apocalypse eating Chinese food and seeing a movie, of course. 

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Cabin Pressure

 

Good evening, and welcome aboard Parsimonious Air Flight 75 with three-stop service to a field reasonably close to Boston. This flight is a codeshare with our partners at NegliJet and is being operated by PilotsByPhone, a subsidiary of Amalgamated Telegraph. While we are being towed to the runway by a less fragile aircraft, we ask you to pay attention to the screen at the front of the plane so that we can show you a brief vintage filmstrip containing safety instructions for today's flight.


Our Academy Award-winning crew, trained to act as if this flight meets all FAA safety regulations, is currently coming through the aisle, looking to ensure that your seat backs are in an upright position, your window panes are mostly intact, and your tray tables are covered with a minimum viral load from the sneezes of previous passengers, as is required by law.


In a moment, we will be making one final trip through the cabin so that you may purchase a seatbelt for today's flight, if you did not bring your own on board this evening. Once purchased, lift the buckle and place the metal end of the strap inside. Close the buckle slowly, removing your fingers in time to avoid having them injured by our factory-seconds equipment.

 

Under your seat, those of you in First-ish Class will find a Depression-era life vest. Those in our Economy cabin will find a new sponge. In our industry-trend-setting Steerage Passenger Container, it will be a used sponge. In the event of a water landing, scheduled or unscheduled, those with the life vests should place them over their heads, attempt to inflate them, and pray to our mascot, Kenny the Kiwi. Those with sponges should soak up as much of the ocean as possible, so as to decrease the odds of drowning.

If there is a change in cabin pressure, the overhead bins will automatically open. Passengers who passed out on previous flights and are being stored in the bins may have shifted during takeoff, so be sure to take extra care should they fall. Oxygen masks will be available in a box placed in the center of the cabin. Please line up in an orderly fashion to collect your mask, and be especially sure to attach your own mask before it is snatched away by one of the unaccompanied delinquents we often have onboard.

 

There are currently 15 exits on this 100% recycled 767-- one over the three-quarter wing on the left, two in the back, and twelve holes that are currently hidden by assorted scraps of remnant carpeting. Please locate your nearest exit, and be aware that due to flak damage incurred during the Battle of Britain, it may be directly under your seat. If you are seated in an exit row, which, we have found through extensive laboratory testing, can be any row, depending on where the plane splits in two, in order to save yourself you must be able and willing to ignore those who need assistance.

 

Please now turn all electronic devices to the off position for the remainder of the flight. Our K-9 dog, Nosedive, has been trained to find and destroy any electronic device that remains on. (Unfortunately, he is occasionally unable to distinguish between consumer electronics and consumer genitalia.)


Finally, on behalf of our Atlantis-based crew, we'd like to thank you for choosing Parsimonious Air. We know you all must have made your airline choice solely on price prior to taxes and fees, and so we thank you for failing to do any further investigation. If there's anything we might be able to do to make your flight more enjoyable, please let us know now, since the more prudent members of our crew will be departing the aircraft and remaining safely on the ground for the duration of the trip.


The majority of Jeremy Blachman's writing meets all FAA safety regulations. More can be found at jeremyblachman.com.

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Note to Antonín Dvořák

 

Maestro, I am writing to tell you

that your serenade in D minor

with its stretches of martial confidence

then some sweet wanderings of the woodwinds

 

has not really brought me to the edge of anything,

yet compared to the inane movie

being shown on this long flight to Seattle,

listening to your music has made me a better

 

person than that other self,

so slack of jaw and fishy of stare,

who would have watched the movie to its end

oblivious to the startling 33,000 feet of air below.

 

I never visited your tomb in Prague

or even the site of your former apartment

on East 17th Street before it was demolished

to make room for a hospital for sufferers from AIDS.

 

So I am thanking you here for the lift

of a tune to ride with over the clouds

high above towns bisected by roads,

and fields with their plowed circles.

 

You remind me of a canary

I once stared at for an unusually long time

and the communion that developed between us

as we gazed into and out of the unhooded cage.

 

Time well spent, I thought,

as the bird broke it off and began to peck

at the image of his twin in a little oval mirror,

leaving me to return to the many ways

 

we have concocted to waste our lives --

ten thousand at least, wouldn’t you say,

Maestro, with your baton, your furious pencil,

and the closet where all your dark clothes used to hang.

 

Billy Collins is the former poet laureate of the United States. His most recent collection of verse is Horoscopes for the Dead.

 

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In Other Results

A Report on Elections and Ballot Initiatives inexplicably neglected by the networks, the newspapers, and the Internet)
                                                                                  
 
     THE PINEAPPLE INITIATIVE: Voters in Hawaii easily defeated a proposal to to require the state government to fund research that would  develop a pineapple that  "looks a little less like an obese hand grenade."  Oahu Jones, a spokesman for the anti-Initiative Group "Pull the Pin." commented, "Thank God--the next step would have been to make avocados pink or bananas with non-slip peels.   
 
     ASSEMBLYMAN, 15 1/2 WARD, CHICAGO:  Ron Perkowski, a champion of split-personality rights,  defeated Ron Perkowski in a close election under careful observation by thje Civil Rights Group OMTV (One Man Two Votes). Eavch candidate accused the other of talking out of both sides of his mouth.
 
     GOVERNOR., MIDDLE DAKOTA: This self-proclaimed fifty-first state, formed by the Lakota, Ricotta, and Anekdota Indian tribes, held a gubernatorial election between He Laughs like a Crazy Ferret and She Runs With The Bison From Time To Time, but a write-in candidate, He Does Astonishingly Little, won a surprising majority. The defeated candidates agreed to bury the hatchet, but they didn't say where.
 
      CALIFORNIA MOVIE AGENT REFERENDUM.   Voters narrowly defeated a measure that would require Hollywood Agents to wear portable polygraphs at all lunches and require those who fail the tests to strap on "Pinnochio" noses for two weeks whenever they were in public. "Oh, yeah--I really wish that one had passed," said Harry Macher--who represents soap star Gillian McAroon--with a sly grin.
 
     ARKANSAS STATE SONG REFERENDUM:  Arkansans defeated a measure that would have replaced their state song, "Arkansas (You Run Deep in Me," by Wayland Holyfield with "The Arkansas Traveller."  Exit polls indicated that voters rejected the measure largely because they heeded the ubiquitous "The Arkansas Traveler: He's From Out Of State!" posters.
 
      DOGCATCHER, PODUNK, INDIANA:  This hotly contested race remains too close to call. James Barker, who campaigned with the slogan "I'm Rabid About This Job," holds a slight lead over Fred Barclay, who promised "No Dog Left Behind." The Wrong Tree Association  is overseeing the recount. In case of a tie, Podunk Mayor Ralph Taylor will cast the deciding vote.
 
      RPG LAW, Hiyo, Wyoming:  Voters upheld the ban on carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers in public. "I just can't understand this one," said Sherman Tanque, a longtime crusader for the group called  RPG[P] (Rockets Protect Good [People]).  "Nine times out of ten, it's the weapons you can't see that will hurt you."
       
      ELECTION BAN, Presque Isle, Maine:  The advocacy group SOS (Save Our Sanity) got enough signatures to petition  all governmental bodies to suspend all elections and replace them with games of Spin the Bottle, Red Rover, and One Potato Two Potato in order to choose government officials. "It makes just as much sense and is much more fun," said the group's chairman, Mark Chekoff.
 
Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin and Tonic.
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Sandy, AKA

  It's  not surprising that weather forecasters have dubbed the intense Hurricane Sandy a "Frankenstorm."  --Space.com
 
1. Sandyblaster
2. Maccane
3. Gilgamess
4. Beowhoosh
5. Predastorm
6. Windzilla
7. Diablow
8. Mephistorm
9. Nerometer
10. Typhoonasaurus Wrecks
11. Windsocula
12. Sturmnundraingenstein
13. Drnoaa (or Drnoah)
14. Prettyboyflood
15. Isobarbarian
 
Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin & Tonic.
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The Macbethicist

 

The Ethicist is on vacation. This week's column features advice from the Macbethicist.

 

CORPORATE LADDER OR THE HANGMAN RATHER?

 

I am a vice-president -- one of a dozen -- of a multinational corporation. Recently, the president's secretary left a document in the photocopier that was unquestionably intended to be confidential, as it contains information that if known by others would spell the end of his career. While I am not immediately next in line for the presidency -- a position I would like to have eventually, to be sure -- the removal of the president would move me that much closer to the job. Putting my own ambitions aside for the moment, however, do I have a responsibility to the company, its shareholders, and/or the public to reveal what I know, notwithstanding that I learned it by accident, even if would ruin another person's career? NAME WITHHELD, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS.

 

Before we get to the crux of your question, I have to note my surprise that you managed to become a vice president of a multinational corporation in the first place -- unless you are the favorite nephew of someone on the board of directors -- because you obviously are unqualified to lead. You suggest that we put aside your own ambitions for a moment. A moment is too long to put aside your own ambitions. Ambition is everything.

 

Some wise women I know once told me, "Fair is foul, and foul is fair." Someone else might or might not have once said, "Business is war." Your first duty is to yourself, if you are to climb the corporate ladder. Should you reveal the damning contents of the confidential document left on the copier? No. What you should do instead is kill the president -- murder him while he naps at his desk, if possible, framing his secretary (fitting punishment for her carelessness), then dispatch the vice presidents more senior than you in turn over the following months, clearing the way for you to ascend to the throne of your company.

 

CRY UNCLE!

 

After my beloved father died under mysterious circumstances, his brother married my mother, prompting me to suspect that my uncle in fact murdered my dad. Imagine my feelings when the ghost of my father appeared to me and told me as much. I was, in a word, enraged. So I had an idea: I would pretend I was having a mental breakdown, treat my girlfriend rudely, and hire a local improv troupe to reenact my father's death by his brother's hand, which I thought might prompt my uncle to admit to the crime. (It didn't work, and shortly afterward I accidentally killed my girlfriend's father.) I'm sure that my uncle now suspects that I know that he killed my father (and he tried to have me killed too! Way too much to get into here but I escaped; two guys I went to school with and some pirates were involved), and now my girlfriend's brother also wants me dead, after what I did to his father. Also, his sister drowned herself because I was mean to her. What should I do now? (Bear in mind that everyone still thinks I'm clinically insane.) NAME WITHHELD, ELSINORE, DENMARK.

 

The people who think you're mad are onto something. I think you're mad. The answer to your dilemma is right before your eyes, not unlike a dagger, its handle toward your hand. Clutch that dagger, son, and use it to kill everyone. Kill them all. Kill your uncle. Then kill your girlfriend's brother. For good measure, you might want to kill your mother, too. You mentioned a couple of school chums. Are they dead yet?

 

Even if you hadn't told me that you had (had) a girlfriend, I'd have known that you don't have a wife. A wife would have told you what to do. I have my doubts that you'd have listened to her, though. You didn't listen to your father's ghost, after all. If experience has taught me anything, it's to listen to wives and apparitions. Wives and apparitions tell it like it is and know best.

 

EXIT, SUBDUED BY THREE BEARS…

 

I'm a young girl with striking blond hair, which isn't at all relevant to my question. Last year, while strolling through the woods by myself -- I'm just a preteen but already really into hiking solo -- I came upon a cottage. I found the door unlocked, so I let myself in. No one was home, so I ate some hot cereal, broke a chair, and fell asleep in one of the beds upstairs. Eventually, the homeowners returned -- a couple of bears and their cub. I ran out before they could eat me, but also before I could apologize or offer to pay for the food or the damage to the chair. Should I let sleeping bears lie, so to speak, or should I go back and try to make things just right? G.L., THE WOODS, ENGLAND.

 

Finally, someone who gets it! And a babe in the wood, no less. Kudos to you for seizing an opportunity to take what belonged to others when their backs were turned. If a family of bears cannot be bothered to lock their cottage when they are out, then they deserve to have their home invaded by a stranger. Perhaps the only thing you did wrong was to leave when they returned. You had rightfully lain claim to the premises and its appointments. You should have stood your ground…but I can understand why you would have chosen to beat a hasty retreat under the circumstances. You were outnumbered, and they were bears.

 

Now, however, you can yourself return to the cottage -- with an armed mob from your village -- and you will have the element of surprise, being that it has been a year since your last encounter with the careless bears. Moreover, if you time your attack properly, you can lay siege to the cottage whilst the occupants are hibernating. Kill them while they sleep the sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care. Then unseam them from the nave to the chops, and make their hides into rugs for your new castle. Screw your courage to the sticking-place, and your name to the mailbox.

 

A SORRY SIGHT!

 

Although my husband, the Thane of Glanis, was recently also made Thane of Cawdor, he seems to be resting on his laurels of late. For instance, he is supposed to be making arrangements for everyone in the household of the Thane of Fife to be put to death, including the women and small children, but now I find that he's playing at giving advice. Don't you think he should get back to murdering everybody? LADY M------, INVERNESS, SCOTLAND.

 

Yes, dear.

 

Matthew David Brozik has ambitions that put the ambitions of mortal men to shame. Read about them at imdb.name.

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Assume the Position

 

"I often find myself changing positions when reading a book or asking myself what position I should be reading a book in. What are your suggestions? What works for you? Please tell both for reading for school and fun." -- From Yahoo Answers

 

You did the right thing by asking. Too often a reader will spend a lifetime consuming all manner of text -- from books to parking signs to their own arrest warrants -- in the wrong position, often resulting in headaches, back pain, and no time off for good behavior.

Let us examine a few surprisingly effective positions that will not only combat pain and lessen fatigue, but also increase reading comprehension and make you the center of attention.

THE WHOLLY MOSES: Based loosely on an inaccurate Bible translation, this position involves the reader sitting at a 73-degree angle, as if his or her back is leaning against the base of Mt. Sinai. It's been reported and debunked -- and then reported again, by covert sources -- that Moses proofread the Ten Commandments in this position. Moses is said to have found two unnecessary commas and the wrong form of "they're" in the first draft. He also did some light editing by omitting an entire graph from "Thou Shalt Not Kill" which explained that this item didn't refer to spiders and if you accidentally kill a deer ("Woodland Camel," in Hebrew) it's a minor offense.

 

THE INVERTED WELSHMAN puts the reader's head upside down and dangling off a sofa, bed, or church pew. Reading upside down forces the eye to move against gravity as you progress through a page of text. Think of it as lifting weights for eyeballs. After reading a novel in this manner, your eye muscles will be strong enough to lift an average-sized piece of penne pasta without sauce.


(Please Note: THE VERTED WELSHMAN position, despite its name, is not the opposite of THE INVERTED WELSHMAN. It is difficult to discuss in mixed company, but this position involves nudity and emollients and should only be attempted by those who know the "i before e" rule down cold and have a good grasp of the exception sentence: "Neither scientific foreigner seized the weird height.")

 

THE VACATIONING BUTLER POSITION: If eye strain is an issue, try reading in a well-lit area such as oh, let's see -- I've got it -- outdoors on a sunny day! Or in a dental exam chair with one of those bright, Cyclopean lights. In France, for some reason, this is called THE BELLIGERENT FOX position.

 

If eye strain is not a problem, and you like to read and move without really moving try reading in a mirror on a boat (THE WAYWARD REVERSE CORK position).

THE DUKE POSITION: Suffer from restless leg syndrome? The Duke reading position may be perfect! Leaning with your back against a pane of cold glass, slowly breathe through your nose to the beat of "Duke of Earl." (Inhale on, "Duke, Duke, Duke." Exhale on "Duke of Earl, Duke, Duke…" and so on.) You are bound to notice a difference in a matter of days, even if it is nothing more than social ostracism!

THE DECLASSIFIED PANTHER: Stand on one foot while holding your book at eye level. This will not only bolster your appreciation for a "page-turner" but also ensure proper digestion and, according to many aunts, guarantee that your first child will be a boy.

 

THE LOVE HAWKS: Sit on a bed or sofa, with your back against your partner's back. The warmth and mutual support will make you feel loved without distracting eye contact. Resist the urge to engage in "spine wars."

Though some of these positions and reading tactics may seem odd, remember: Nathaniel Hawthorne was known to read while marching in place and Dorothy Parker read books only while fully clothed, including an anorak. And reading postures vary around the globe! The popular reading style in Japan is THE UPWARD FACING PERSON and in Canada most people read in THE HOCKEY STICK AT REST posture.


Finding your ideal reading position can take weeks if not years, but always remember: It's important to ask the entire internet for help. For Internet Reading Positions, conduct a separate search.

 

Dan Bergstein is available for children's parties.

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Entering the Academy

 

NOTE TO APPLICANTS: As the final step in your application to our age-2, half-day, highly selective nursery school program, please write a personal statement with your reasons for choosing our institution and what you will add to our incoming class. Be sure to write legibly. Thank you.

To the Admissions Committee:

I want to first thank you for considering my application. I feel the need to apologize for how close my submission is to the deadline. I only recently mastered the fine motor skills required to grasp a pencil. But, I assure you, this essay has been near the top of my to-do list for weeks.

Truth is, I'm not one of those toddlers who has spent his entire life dreaming of matriculating at Bluffsworth Academy. Instead, I've dreamed mostly of abstract shapes and colors, and didn't even realize until a few months ago that words and objects were in fact connected. Indeed, for my first year, even with the marketing materials you sent, I barely knew you existed. Between naps and feedings, something had to give -- and I regret how woefully behind I fell on examining the mail in a timely fashion.

And then one day Dada happened to mention your impressive caregiver-to-child ratio and Mama was talking about the remarkable capital campaign you just completed to fund the building of a brand new chemistry lab -- and of course I had to know more. It was only then that I even noticed my beloved Spunky the Dog wearing a Bluffsworth t-shirt. And if it was good enough for one of my most valued colleagues -- well, then of course it was worth my careful consideration. Mama said Spunky had not only gone to Bluffsworth as a young pup, but had even served a term on the Board of Trustees. So had Henry the Bear, Hal the Moose, and apparently all of my closest friends. (I understand why you didn't accept Sophie the Giraffe. Even I can tell that she is not Bluffsworth caliber. It's a shame -- but, you know, we try to love her anyway.)

I have to tell you -- the more I heard, the more magical it sounded, and I've become thoroughly convinced that Bluffsworth is the perfect place for me to begin my lower-education. Dada said you have Cheerios there! I love Cheerios! And avocado! Oh, if you knew how much I loved avocado, you would sign off on my application in an instant.

But I know it's not just about what I want to get out of Bluffsworth, but what I am able to give back. Right away, let me assure you, in no uncertain terms, that Mama, Dada -- and, of course, Gamma and Gamps -- know no bounds as far as the lengths they will go to provide for my needs. I'm talking money, not to be coy. I have three sippy cups and what has to be at least six different bibs. Or eight! Who can even count that high? So do not worry about the $40,000/year tuition. I am sure they are good for it.

On the personal side, I don't think you will find another applicant who is as skilled at mouth-aided object identification as I am. I don't mean to brag, but there is over an 80% chance that if I swallow something, it is food. I mean, if there is ever a place to boast about your skills, it's in an admissions essay, right? Please don't think I go around telling people how good I am at determining whether something is edible. I know how to blend in -- you know, downplay my special gifts so that my peers don't get jealous and start trying to take my toys. No one takes my toys. My toys are mine.

I also want to let you know that I hope to bring a uniquely cultured perspective to my Bluffsworth class, due to my sincere love of domestic and interneighborhood travel. I have been as far west as the long, gray bridge, and as far north as the big, blue bathtub that doesn't have any walls. How many applicants can say that? I've even seen trees. And, let me tell you, if you haven't seen a tree yet, you are missing something special. They're, like, even taller than Unka Baba -- and Unka Baba is pretty darn tall.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention my love of books. They are delicious.

I thank you for your careful consideration and look forward to joining the next class of leaders at Bluffsworth Academy For The Well-Connected Toddler. And I hope your next nap is as good as mine.

Your New Friend,

Billy Cooper

 

Find more of Jeremy Blachman's writing at jeremyblachman.com.

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April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.