Tying the Interfaith Knot

 

Friends, family, believers and non-believers in all religions, organized or otherwise, those who are unsure but questioning, those who worship idols and those who are idols to be worshipped, welcome to this glorious union between Sunshine Goldstein-al Ibrahim and Carlos O'Mormon-Baha'i.

 

The bride and groom have chosen to gather you here, in this most sacred space, which, despite having no specific religious significance, or appropriate mechanism for temperature control, has a spiritual thread running through its history that is impossible to ignore. Yes, it does, in a superficially material way, resemble the reception room of Goldstein-al Ibrahim Ford-Lincoln-Mercury, the Quad Cities' largest and -- at least in this moment -- most spiritual used car dealership, but given the important role that used cars have played in Sunshine and Carlos's relationship, it seems only appropriate to bless their union right here, in between the rusted shell of a 1994 Taurus and a dozen cases of tree-shaped air fresheners.

 

I am proud to be leading this most holy ceremony, drawing on my background as a rabbi, a reverend, a mullah, an electrician, and a certified body walker. There will be nineteen steps in our journey today as Sunshine and Carlos progress from woman and man to wife and husband, and then to husband and wife, and then to man and woman, informed by Greco-Roman, Anglo-Saxon, French-Canadian, and Orange-Mango traditions. From the circling of the groom to the wrapping of the bride to the undressing of the matron of honor, our ceremony today will combine the beautiful customs, rituals, and urban legends of the world's oldest, newest, and most physically taxing religions.

 

We will start, as the voice in my head demands, with the rings: three circus tents being erected just behind you, from which Sunshine will emerge on the back of an antelope, a sacred animal symbolic of the sacred animals involved in so many ceremonial practices. Carlos will be shot from a cannon to symbolize our ever-present efforts to get closer to the spiritual heavens and find our own personal Glods. Glod is, as you may know, the legal name of one of Sunshine's sixteen spiritual and biological fathers, and although Glod is unable to be here today (despite assurances to the state that we would return him as soon as the ceremony ended), he has sent a telegram -- which is nothing short of a wedding day miracle, as Western Union stopped its telegram service years ago. Glod moves in mysterious ways.

 

But first I would like to ask you all to join me in this opening incantation, from the Book of Phones, page 332, line 7. Repeat after me: (814) 377-5023. That, my friends, is the phone number of the antelope rental company, just in case you need an antelope for your next spiritual ceremony. This section of this afternoon's ceremony is in fact sponsored by Quad Cities Antelope Rental, the first and only name in antelope rental, perfect for weddings, bar mitzvahs, copyediting and web design, and, for an additional fee, antelope meat.

 

In just a moment, as Sunshine ritually digs herself out of the pile of ritual antelope dung that she has ritually buried herself within, and Carlos emerges from the sacred hole in Gaia which was formed by his body when he hit the ground after his ejection from the spiritual and very much actual cannon, we will begin the vows. Sunshine has chosen to express her love to Carlos the only way her religion allows -- with an interpretive dance based on the flight pattern of the Holy Heron -- and Carlos will recite his vows in the language of love, peace, and silence. Please direct your attention to the sign-language interpreter under the remaining tent.

 

And, finally, by the power vested in me by the head of the sales department at Goldstein-al Ibrahim Ford-Lincoln-Mercury, and by the state of Nirvana, I shall pronounce Sunshine and Carlos husband and wife. Once we break the glass, and turn the water within it into a magic potion that we must all dab on as eternal insect repellent, we shall turn toward Mecca, Jerusalem, Detroit, and to within ourselves, and congratulate this happy couple. Shazam!

 

Find more of Jeremy Blachman's writing -- and, for an additional fee, antelope meat -- at jeremyblachman.com.

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Pandamoanium

 

"[T]he September issue [of Bird Talk magazine] is the last that will appear in print, leaving disappointed subscribers with BirdChannel.com, the magazine's related site, as the only way to read the publication's information on all types of birds.... What has riled up Bird Talk subscribers even more is that the magazine's publisher plans to send them copies of Dog Fancy in its place." -- The New York Times

 

Dear Subscriber,

 

First, I want to thank you sincerely for your loyalty, whether you are in your first year of subscription to PANDA MANIA magazine or your second. Without subscribers like you -- owners and/or admirers of the noble, solitary, black-and-white giant panda -- Endangered Publications would have neither the means nor a reason to publish PANDA MANIA!

 

Unfortunately, due to a precipitous decline in subscriptions, which weren't that great to begin with, Endangered Publications can no longer afford to publish PANDA MANIA, although we will maintain PandaMania.panda for the foreseeable future (certainly for the next four months, until our registration of the domain name expires). As publisher of PANDA MANIA, I share your disappointment, but please know that the decision to end the print magazine's run was not one we reached lightly. To the contrary, the decision was made after days of deliberation, and only because the number of subscribers fell below the number of pandas.

 

Because your pre‐paid subscription entitles you to six more issues of PANDA MANIA, I want to offer you one of the following as a replacement:

 

Six (6) issues of SHRUB MONTHLY. SHRUB MONTHLY provides regular reports on the distribution of panda-favored shrubs 2‐8 meters in height among the four established structural forms (closed‐scrub, open‐scrub, tall shrubland, and tall open shrubland) as well as longstanding popular columns "Humor in Juniper", "Lavender is the Best Medicine", and "Chamaebatiaria Comedy". Plus frequent sweepstakes opportunities.

 

Six (6) issues of PANDA MANIA's rival publication, PANDA PREDATOR. The focus of PANDA PREDATOR cycles monthly through leopards, jackals, and the yellow‐throated marten, each a natural enemy of the noble, solitary, black‐and‐white giant panda. As someone with a demonstrated interest in pandas, you might enjoy such features as "Where Leopards Slaughter the Most Pandas -- a Global Look", "Why Jackals Play With Pandas Before Eating Them", and "Yellow‐Throated Martens: Adorable Panda Cub Killers".

 

Three (3) issues of PANDOWDY MANIA, a journal dedicated to the deep-dish apple dessert with the rich crust. Each issue is a double issue, and all recipes are peer-reviewed. Yum!

 

One (1) item from the editorial offices of PANDA MANIA (up to $36 market value). As of this writing, available items include ink cartridges for an Okidata printer (model unknown); numerous three-ring binders (black and white only, of course!); unopened 10-packs of 3.5-inch floppy diskettes; and pretzel rods.

 

If none of the above is satisfactory, I suppose you can just get the unused portion of your subscription payment back (less a check-processing fee or electronic funds transfer convenience charge).

 

Please let us know which option you choose at your earliest convenience, so that your enjoyment of Endangered Publications products or office supplies will be uninterrupted.

 

Yours Truly,

Bob Tillman

Publisher, PANDA MANIA

 

Matthew David Brozik does his part to aid panda conservation by eating only one each year. Read more at imdb.name, where you can email him your favorite panda recipes.

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Rufus Rumpwhistle, 1914-2012

 

Rufus Rumpwhistle, who believed himself, probably rightly, to be the most forgettable writer in English, died on Monday in his apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where he had lived in semi-seclusion for many years, emerging only to buy lottery tickets in odd-numbered months. He was 98.

 

The cause of death was not immediately apparent. "To tell the truth, he was a terrible hypochondriac, always complaining about something," said a nephew, Ralph Firkin. "I think he died to prove a point. He left a message on his answering machine that said: 'Rufus is no longer at this number. I told you I wasn't feeling well.'"

 

Mr. Rumpwhistle was the author of works, now out of print and never very good to begin with, like "Micturition: An Ode"; "Flagisto: or, A Taste of the Lash"; and "The Goatherd's Roundelay". The critic George Steiner said of his writing: "It was of a singular, monitory badness, a testamentary badness, a badness so profound it raised the essential, necessary doubt, the doubt every writer must ask himself, must wrestle with, in the dark night, the penumbrous shadow hours, of the soul: is all writing, however good, doomed by its very nature to fail? Now, this very writer, this -- what did you say his name was?"

 

Nigel Rufus Fotheringill Rumpwhistle, the eldest of seven children, was born in Hamme-on-Wye, in Wessex, England, on April 1, 1914. His legal father, who later denied that Rufus was his offspring, was a flenser; his mother was the village scold. He was tutored at home and then briefly attended Dotheboys Hall, a boarding school in Yorkshire, where he was frequently flogged for bedwetting. This was doubtless the inspiration for "Flagisto", a long prose work in praise of corporal punishment, and may have influenced the composition of "Micturation" as well. As the scholar Dwight Culler once pointed out, that poem exists in two early manuscript versions, one beginning, "Ahhhh!" and the other, "Ooops!"

 

Mr. Rumpwhistle was unable to get into university, but nevertheless lived in Cambridge for several years, renting a bed-sit and pretending to be an undergraduate. He would sometimes lock himself out on purpose and then climb the drainpipe in cover of darkness. It was around this time that he began publishing -- on lavatory walls and the sides of bus shelters. Among his earliest works were "Rufus Wuz Here" (1935) and "For a Good Time Call Rufus" (1936).

 

During the Second World War, Mr. Rumpwhistle was several times turned down by the British armed services, and moved to the United States, hoping to enlist there. Instead, he was threatened with deportation and began a long period of living underground. After the war, he tried to befriend the Beats, including Jack Kerouac, with whom he claimed to have shared a bar of soap. When asked about this incident, Kerouac said, "What? Who?"

 

Unable to find a publisher for "The Goatherd's Roundelay", a pastoral prose poem depicting the pleasures of pulling the beards of billies, he decided he was insufficiently well-known and, determined to attract publicity, spent many hours at the Cedar Tavern trying to provoke a quarrel. On one occasion he set fire to Larry Rivers' shoelaces, but Rivers was too drunk to notice. That same night, he threw a drink at Ernest Hemingway but was wide of the target. The drink instead doused Rivers' flaming shoelaces, so both stunts were in vain.

 

Mr. Rumpwhistle never officially wed and had no children, but for several years enjoyed what he called a common-law marriage with himself. This ended in acrimony in 1999, when he discovered from his phone bill that he had been making calls to women he didn't know, and thereafter he refused to speak to himself. He communicated only by notes, and these are almost certainly his last writings. Several were found in the apartment, according to Mr. Firkin, the nephew, including one that said:

 

"Ear drops, Double-A batteries, plumber's helper.

 

"Do crossword, improve posture.

 

"Windex.

 

"I know what you're thinking about, and the answer is still no."

 

Charles McGrath, former Deputy Editor of The New Yorker and Editor of the New York Times Book Review, is Writer-at-Large for the Times.

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Tasting New York

 

"Not long after Labor Day, [the restaurant Eleven Madison Park] will start treating diners to flashes of Broadway dazzle: card tricks, a glass dome full of smoke, a blast of sea mist from a tabletop clambake and a cheese course that emerges from a picnic basket placed on the table. It's all part of a $195-a-head menu -- and a risky move to convert the Eleven Madison Park experience into an extravagant, interactive, close-to-four-hour ode to the romance and history of New York." -- The New York Times

Welcome to Twelve Park Madison!

Your meal begins as New York began, with a forest -- of edible salad greens, dressed with a light touch of a pure and clean rain. Our waiters, wrapped in beaver pelts, in tribute to the state's official animal, will serve this first course on a plate hand-carved from the wood of the sugar maple. (This appetizer, like all our offerings, is served on dishes that are guaranteed New Jersey-free.)

 

The original settlers of what was to become New York enjoyed native foods including corn, porridge, honey cake, and wild turkey. We have combined these ingredients to form your second course, and shaped this log of poultry, grain, and local honey to resemble the great symbol of New York City, the Empire State Building. Be aware that the antenna at the top is made from scrupulously recycled dented fenders and is thus not edible. The lights that make this food sculpture glow from within are similarly just decorative.

Your third course is stuck in traffic. It will arrive shortly.

We would like to offer you tonight's complimentary cocktail, the Yellow Cab. It consists of an authentic 1950s egg cream mixed with the runoff from a pizza slice. It will be served to you by an aspiring Broadway actor, because all of our servers are aspiring Broadway actors.

 

The George Washington Bridge serves as the inspiration for your next course. Tiny fingerling potatoes from a farm just outside Syracuse have been carefully carved into miniature automobiles, and are presented on your plate suspended between two corn-cob towers along a grape-seed roadway. The potato-cars should be dipped into the river of sauce that runs along the west side of the dining room. The dish is served with a side portion of pigeon confit, served surrounded by feathers trouvé and presented on a miniature manhole cover-shaped brittle.


We offer a palate cleanser before dessert, inspired by the musical Cats. It is made by cats -- but don't worry, not real cats. It is made by people, dressed as cats. It is a scale model of the Statue of Liberty, constructed from the same kind of ice that would have covered the North American land mass during the last glacial period, and subtly flavored with your choice of scents of three New York locations -- "West Side Highway," "Gowanus Canal," or "Staten Island" (our most popular).

 

Your featured dessert special is a slice of our homemade Occu-Pie Wall Street served alongside a candied Metrocard, and some granola bar crumbs that were found in the pocket of a pair of pants that have been certified as once worn by Woody Allen. Your meal will conclude with a selection of edible beads and trinkets valued at $24.

 

We would normally invite you on a tour of the kitchen before you leave, but the entrance to that area of the restaurant -- which, as you can see, has been meticulously designed to look like a New York City subway entrance -- is currently closed due to weekend construction. We estimate that it will reopen in October of this year, which means approximately June of 2013. Maybe.

As you exit, you are invited to take a free CD containing the horns-and-sirens soundtrack you have enjoyed this evening. Thank you for helping us to celebrate the romance and history of New York. And yes, we'll even give you back your wallet.

 

Jeremy Blachman has more Twitter followers than an account for the Gowanus Canal that announces the daily tides. Follow him @jeremyblachman or the canal @therealgowanus.

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Sub Atomic

Scientists working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced that they have found the elusive Higgs boson articles--Digital Journal

 

Particle physicists expect to find ... exotic new particles.  --Symmetry Breaking

 

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Henry Alpon’s essay, "The Identity of Matter" which appears in its entirety in this month’s issue of Grossss!: The Science Magazine for Children. 

 

 The work at CERN has lead to remarkable findings, not least of which is the discovery of the Higgs boson. This particle will help explain what holds matter together and will lead us down the road to complete understanding of the universe. It is the single most important scientific discovery of humankind, and I am so very proud and humble to have been a part of the cleanup crew that swept up afterward.

 

That said, the Grosss! audience may need help to understand what exactly the Higgs boson is, and what it means. Think of it this way:  Imagine a circle, and in that circle there is a sheep. Now, that sheep, should it eat an apple, will have an apple inside its stomach. And if that apple is pressed against the sheep’s intestines, then what is between the intestines, and the apple? Remember, the sheep is in a circle. That circle is 76% the opposite of what the Higgs boson represents. Easy, no?   (It should also be noted that the particle is delicious, and has a pleasant sweetness not unlike honeydew, with a consistency and texture of very tiny raisins.)

 

Another way to explain the Higgs is by this simple analogy: The Higgs boson is to the universe as a quark is to your bicycle.   As my custodian colleague Dr. Lisa-Ann Thurmall has noted--more poetically but with just as much lucidity-- "The Higgs boson is the cloud in an orchestra of eggs.” 

 

Now that you have a full understanding of the Higgs boson, let us examine other, more exotic particles that science is searching for: 

 

The theoretical Dango particle is thought to exist only between the stages of sleep and wakefulness. These particles are what make us cranky when, in fact, our lives are quite filled with love and medical care so there is no need to be cranky. Scientists at the University of Chicago are currently trying to locate the Dango particle by propelling sleeping test subjects into a warm bath at speeds approaching the speed of light. The particle has not yet been found, though an unusual side-effect of the study has been mild time travel. 

 

The Andrews Super subatom is thought to be the particle which makes living creatures forget if they’ve seen a movie. Though some doubt the particle’s existence, Arthur Andrews is sure of it. Andrews is not a scientist, but his theory, which was first published in a Tweet, attracted the funding of his friend, Dr. George Brandt, D.D.S., and together they are working tirelessly in an undisclosed location. “If you think you saw 'Driving Miss Daisy,' this particle will make you think again," Andrews Tweeted, with a sad emoticon attached .

 

And work is underway in the Arctic Circle as chemists investigate the Bisbee Bixby Bartly Bumble  particle, which if real, would explain why dropped objects always travel greater horizontal distances on the floor than Einsteinian physics can explain.

 

What other particles are out there? Help science by trying to track down these anomalies of nature: 

 

The Sing-Thing Particle – The particle that explains why rhymes sound good to people. 

 

The Lithia Particle – The particle that prevents turtles from bouncing. 

 

The Hats Boson– Similar to the Higgs Boson, this particle may solve the mystery of why it still feels as though you’re wearing a hat minutes and even  hours after you took it off.

 

And, finally, the farticle, which, as this is a magazine for young people, cannot be described here. Interested readers can link to flatulenza.com.

 

This is Dan Bergstein's first article about particles.

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Man vs. Man

 

Two works stand alone together as the greatest books about the violent speech of human beings, and only one of them is The Nedley Papers, by Scott Zibsendale. The other is Gordon Grewer's Sticks, Stones, and the Dawn of Human Speech, which swept up the Caldecott award, the Newbery, and several other prizes for children's literature when it was entered with a fake slip-on cover to test whether the judges were actually reading the books. Both of these works explore the  theme of man versus man, especially The Nedley Papers, which is about boxing. The issue in both is how verbal violence exists within physical violence, and how written words, and the alphabet itself, are hieroglyphics of cruelty. Yet the books differ significantly: Grewer's concludes that humans will forever succumb to violent impulses, while, on the other hand, Zibsendale's biography ends with the classic line "Maybe boxing is outdated. Maybe touching in general. Maybe everything is outdated and we should just stop it. "(544. Mystifyingly repeated, all by itself, on 546). 


Sticks, Stones ... makes a bold statement at the outset: "The first words, unintelligible to all but the speaker, were an insult" (1). At the beginning of The Nedley Papers, Zibsendale talks about his first visit to Herb Nedley, in the 1920s, and says he was "speaking incoherently about immigrants and their fancy upbringings" (1). There is a profoundly meaningful connection between these two openings, because they both involve speech that is not understood by the listener.  And both proceed to mention arguing, during which understanding dawns on those present and leads to hostile, competitive feelings. Then punching happens in The Nedley Papers, while Grewer describes the outcome of Joan of Arc’s hilarious “crusted loins” remark before her accusers. And then finally both authors end with their conclusions, as one might expect.

 

Man vs. man conflict is strongest in Zibsendale’s chapter titled “The First Friend,” in which two teenage orphans are let loose in the streets of Cincinnati. After a week of unsuccessful work (dancing for gin), the boys decide to stage fights and let people pay to watch: “I invented boxing,” Nedley claims (383). During the first fight, the smaller orphan beats the bigger one to death and then turns his parentless wrath on a nearby bag-lady, whose corpse was buried in a pauper’s grave but was exhumed many years later, at Nedley’s request, to be preserved in a stance of baffled victimization. Only at the end of the book do we find out the smaller orphan was Nedley, and that the larger one was his blind brother Gordon (544).


Conflict is established in the foreword of Sticks, Stones... when Grewer describes meeting his publishers to discuss the finished manuscript. “The fat one said my book had too much padding, so I said his face had too much padding. Then, with tears in my eyes I reached over the desk in a gesture of apology, took his hand, and, for reasons I cannot explain, brought it down on his own paper spindle, which went clean through the other side of his pudgy palm”(xi). This anecdote sheds light on Grewer’s confrontational writing style, which was denounced by Sports Illustrated as “the product of a bad attitude.” Grewer also relates the “spindle story” so readers know why the publisher is insulted several times in every chapter. 

   

Unlikely as it may seem, Nedley turns out to be a hero in The Nedley Papers, and the book becomes quite nice, actually. Grewer sustains his antagonistic tone throughout the book, describing Native American tribes in which children strike their own elders and the British custom of hampering one another's esprit. While Zibsendale applauds a young Nedley standing up to the vicious Italian baker who splashes rancid milk in his face (26), Grewer appraises a similar retaliation scene involving two Confederate soldiers and some taffy as “something a fat-faced chairweight of a publisher would be too lazy to stop” (91).


In conclusion, The Nedley Papers and Sticks, Stones, and the Dawn of Human Speech are two of a kind, but not without their subtle differences. For instance, the books were published eighty years apart and make different claims as to which religion is the true path. The subject of verbal violence shared by these two books is best summed up in Herb Nedley’s introductory Glossary: “ 'On the Isle of Man, Fo-then'  means 'I feel like destroying you.' Could be the last word you ever hear, 'Fo-then.' Next words, which you don't hear:  'This guy is dead”(xviii).  Verbal and physical violence remain difficult to halt, despite the longstanding efforts of legal codes and moral systems: The topic will fascinate the young and horrify the elderly for a long time to come. And then, “eventually,” as the philosophers say, another Grewer or a different version of Nedley will persuade the world to put to rest its bludgeonings, its maimings. Its hurtings.

 

Carl Foster is a graduate student who lives in New Orleans with his deaf chihuahua. He writes for literary journals and newspapers, and is at work on another chilling tale.

 

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Onerous Word Problems

 

"In another study...[we] conducted an experiment ostensibly about music perception -- but that actually investigated how feelings of compassion might be increased.... We paired up participants in teams: one real participant and one confederate. First, they had to tap their hands on sensors to tones played over earphones. In some cases the tones led them to tap their hands in synchrony; in other cases, the tones led them to tap their hands in a random mismatching manner. We next had the participants watch their tapping partner get cheated by another confederate, which resulted in the partner's erroneously being assigned to complete a stack of onerous word problems." -- From an essay in the New York Times


Abstract: In our most recent experiment here at the Experimental Experiment Group, the results of which are about to be reported in next month's Journal of Incredibly Complicated Psychological Experiments, we asked two participants and two confederates to leave a room that was equipped with undetectable motion sensors and surveillance cameras. Both confederates had been told about the sensors and the cameras, but none of them knew that the other had been told.

 

The participants and confederates were led into the main room. They eyed each other warily. The two of us experimenters eyed each other warily, also, because we had designed the experiment so that we wouldn't know completely what the other was up to. In fact, it wasn't entirely clear at this point which were the participants and which were the confederates. This hadn't exactly been in the original plan but once realized it had worked out that way, we were like: OK, this is a little freaky but what the hell.

 

There were four doors to the room, each door leading to a corridor (with surveillance cameras) that ended in another room, where the confederates would be isolated until they decided to return to the main room. While in the isolation room, each confederate (at this point it felt safer just to presume everybody was a confederate) was asked to solve some onerous word problems. Each confederate knew that some of the confederates were confederates, but no confederate knew that he himself was a confederate. (We used all males, as we wanted to avoid pronoun complexities at the outset. We will run the same experiment next week with four women and the week after that with two men and two women, so back off!)

 

The two of us who were running the experiment had the choice to tell all of the confederates that a pint of gourmet cookie dough ice cream (confederates were left to imagine what brand it would be, which we thought might be useful for another experiment) and three million dollars -- a gift from the Garment Foundation -- would await the person who came into the room last. But neither of us running the experiment knew if the other had chosen to tell the confederates about this reward or not. Which, perhaps, was the point. That's for you to figure out.

 

Results: All four confederates left their isolation rooms, having ignored the onerous word problems. Why shouldn't they ignore them? Wouldn't you? Instead they hovered near the supposed reward room. But the doors were closed and the room was soundproof, so that this effort to game the experiment couldn't work. You should have seen them, with their ears to the door and all. Biting their nails, muttering, reaching for the doorknob, then pulling it back. We are talking three million dollars, here, plus ice cream. (Of course there was no three million dollars and just a puddle of indifferent vanilla in a dirty dish, but the confederates didn't know that. Or at least, not from me.) Reaching, pulling back, reaching, pulling back. We had to laugh. They stayed there for hours. Then days. Three million, they were thinking. Finally they all passed out from dehydration and had to be taken to the Emergency Room, where their fellow-patients who were not comatose were asked to solve some onerous word problems. They all refused.

 

Methodological Note: All of the onerous word problems were sourced from The Big Book of Brain Bafflers, which was acquired at a Society for Ethical Culture tag sale and which everybody in the psych faculty lounge agrees is about as onerous a collection as they come. There is one about trying to get two chickens and a hungry weasel across a river that we're still not sure can be solved.

 

Conclusions: Higher cognitive functions such as logical problem-solving ability may be adversely affected by a number of factors, including dehydration and a phenomenon we're tentatively calling "Frustrated Reward Expectation." We hope to refine and further test these findings with our next experiment, which involves a diamond necklace, extended sensory deprivation, and this really weird peg-jumping puzzle purchased at the rest stop just past Exit 54.

 

Daniel Menaker is the editor of Grin & Tonic.

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Moon Birds for Eternity

 

Eternity defies man's imagination and comprehension. It is not an object (in the way that this small, tri-fold leaflet printed on cornflower-blue bond paper is an object), nor is it a place (in the way that the northeast corner of 57th and Lexington in front of the Au Bon Pain where you accepted this leaflet from a bearded man in a plaid bow-tie and knit wool watch cap is a place); it is not a period of time -- such as the 36 hours that this leaflet will spend in your jacket pocket before you take it out to read it, somewhere where no one can see you (another place!). Eternity has no beginning and it has no end. This free leaflet about Eternity, to the contrary, has a beginning, which is now coming to a close, and an end, which is still several paragraphs off and on a different panel.

 

Man is a creature of time -- he tells time, takes his time, and keeps time. Some men bide time; others waste time; still others kill time. A lot of people wish they could stop time, especially when they have a dentist appointment, but time marches on, in this particular example accompanied by the whine of the drill. Yet time, as important as it is, has no relation to Eternity. Eternity is unique and incomparable. It has no measurable length, breadth, depth, nor heighth. It offers no opportunity to change our eternal destinies chosen for us by the Ruler, for it is everlastingly the same. It does not care whether you put an -h at the end of "height", for Eternity is not concerned with Spelling.

 

With the end of time, Eternity will reveal many wonders and miracles that cannot be understood in our day. When the Ruler returns all eyes shall see him (Dissemination 1:7). He will sit on a throne and "all nations" shall be gathered before Him in judgment (Michmethah 25:31; Thesmothetians 5:10). The skeptic finds such scenarii impossible. And that's understandable, since "all eyes" means billions of eyes -- those of every land and sea creature, the resurrected dead as well as the living, including zombies, but only the good kind. It boggles the mind to think of all nations gathered as one before the judgment throne -- especially when you realize how difficult it is to get representatives from the 193 member states to convene in the General Assembly of the United Nations without causing severe traffic problems in Midtown Manhattan, not far from where you first came into possession of this leaflet. Those who think it incredible, however, must remember that time will have fled and Eternity has no limitations. In other words, to put it in layman's terms, Eternity has all day.

 

After the judgment every man shall be rewarded according to the theretofore unseen and unknown (except by the author of this leaflet) records in the Book of Life kept almost impeccably by the Ruler (Discombobulation 20:12). The term "reward," as used here, means a recompense for good acts performed reasonably conscientiously. Notwithstanding the foregoing, no provision in this leaflet shall be construed to constitute a guarantee of any reward, either earthly or eternal. Cash value of leaflet 1/100 of one cent. Leaflet is a bearer instrument.

 

If a bird were to pick up one grain of sand and carry it to the moon, and in that fashion eventually carry all of Earth away, Eternity would still have just begun, but would be no nearer the end. (Think about that. Also think about this: Earth's moon was in fact formed in precisely the fashion just described, according to recent scientific findings, published in a separate, peer-review leaflet). For the wicked, this is the most distressing thought possible (the one about Eternity being a long time, not the one about birds making moons). However, for the righteous, who will be in Eternal bliss in Heaven, it will always be welcome. The righteous in Heaven, moreover, will be able to watch alien birds from other, younger planets making new moons in 3D!

 

Now in life -- when else, you might ask -- while there is yet time, our Eternal destinies can be decided. Are you ready for Eternity? This question demands your answer immediately. Today is the time to prepare for Eternity. If you are on your way into the Au Bon Pain, perhaps you will sit down at a table with your raspberry cheese croissant and coffee and ponder your fate; if you are leaving the Au Bon Pain, headed into work, maybe there will be a meeting today during which you can zone out for a bit.

 

Where Will You Spend Eternity?

 

"Eternity, n. (pl. -ties): Infinite or unending time; a state to which time has no application; timelessness ('Jeremy spent an eternity trying to explain why he was late.') -- anon."

 

For Free Distribution -- Not to Be Sold

(Contributions Welcome)

Printed in U.S.A.

 

Matthew David Brozik strives to arrange words and symbols in persuasive and/or humorous combinations. More of his work can be read at www.imdb.name.

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Portion Control

 

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

 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

 

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

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Fun Gus

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Q: Can you give an example?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Q: Tell me about the water slide.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Q: Why eschew the standard concept of desks?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Q: How does the train help employees?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Q: What is the hiring process like at Gadzookology?

 

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

 

Q: So you accept all job candidates?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Q: So a computer does all the work?

 

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

 

Q: And you make a profit?

 

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

 

Q: And what does Gadzookology do…exactly?

 

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

 

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

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Volume Reduction

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Sea of Eager Faces

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Fetch the Remote

 

"Plenty of things will grab a dog's attention: squirrels, tennis balls, funny smells, other dogs. But a TV channel? Absolutely, say the makers of DogTV, the first cable network to deliver 24-hour programming for dogs." -- The New York Times


"Okay, I've had Wolf Blitzer's agent on the phone for an hour, and he's not going to sign. Without Wolf, we don't have a morning show. Not after we lost Ellen Barkin. We can't keep rerunning Fox & Friends."


"Our audience loves Fox & Friends. Especially the fox. I don't think the morning is our problem. Throw a few reruns of Bones in there, and everyone's happy."

 

"I didn't get into this business just to program reruns. I want to develop new programming. I just screened the pilot of Ruff Justice, and I think it's a winner. We can pair that with Mike & Collie and that's Monday night, completely taken care of."

"Yeah, at a thousand times the cost of our flying frisbee show -- and we haven't had a single complaint about twelve hours a day of flying frisbees. I don't know what you're worried about."

 

"I'm worried about stagnation. We can't keep running frisbees, mailmen, Lassie episodes from twenty years ago, and old Alan Ladd movies and expect our audience to stick around. We have to innovate. I have a doggerel competition in development -- surely we can do something with that. I've had interest from Claire Danes to be the moderator -- she'd obviously be great. She even volunteered to read some Archibald MacLeish poems."

"Did you even read the focus group reports? Our audience wants Goofy and Pluto cartoons, Alpo infomercials, and selected episodes of America's Funniest Home Videos -- at least three times a day. You're barking up the wrong tree. They don't want highbrow."

 

"They don't know what they want until we give it to them. I want to do a political hour. I have a call in to Barbara Boxer. She'd be perfect. Plus, Angela Bassett is interested in narrating a documentary about the Bouvier family."


"Don't be so cavalier -- you're not listening. I want wagging tales and fetching beauties. You saw what happened with your attempt last season at a game show."

"Heel of Fortune could have been a huge hit if we gave it more time. There's a learning curve. Our audience needed to get used to the format. We had the perfect host, and now I don't know if Bob Barker will even take our calls. You're not thinking about the future. At some point, we're not going to have any episodes of Benji left in the vault."


"Then we'll run them again. Our viewers won't know the difference."

 

"This is what you always do -- you underestimate our audience. We don't have to pander to the lowest common denominator. We can enlighten while we entertain. I'm not saying we need to cancel the bouncing balls. I'm just saying we don't need to run a marathon of them every single weekend. What about some service journalism, a Jim Shepard story reading, or maybe an evening concert with the Pointer Sisters?"

    

"We don't have the budget for any of that." 


"Which is why no one watches our late-night programming. It's all infomercials for chew toys and three hours of a dancing stick."

"That stick gets our highest ratings."

"We can do better -- especially with our older, more mature, middle of the night viewers. I know I've pitched this before…"

"No -- for the last time -- DogTV After Dark is off the table."

 

"I'm just saying, there's an audience for that kind of thing. And we already have the collars and restraints…"


"There is not an audience for that kind of thing."

 

"At least let me develop some reality shows. Jersey Paw?  Actual Dog the Bounty Hunter?"


"No. We just need more frisbees. You get me more frisbees, and then we'll talk. They are the warp and woof of our business"


"Fine, Buster. I'll get you more frisbees."

 

"Thanks, Buddy. I appreciate it. And I hope the station owner gets back soon. I really need someone to take me out." 

 

Jeremy Blachman wishes his apartment building allowed dogs.

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Dan Bergstein is a writer whose work has appeared on Twitter.

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Enormous, Blonde, Herring-Scented, Nauseatingly Fair-Minded Nymphomaniacs in Clogs

 

Part III: Flat-pack Your Ego, Darling. You're Nothing Special!

 

By the way, what is love? The writer Hjalmar Söderberg called it "nothing but the lust of the flesh, and the incurable loneliness of the soul." This kind of gritty, unromantic realism endears the Swedes to me. They don't expect happiness. In America, we consider happiness our birthright. The Constitution instructs us to pursue it. We're brought up to think if we're not happy there's something wrong. To my way of thinking, this is asking for trouble.

   

Here's a little poem that says it all:

 

Ångest!

Ångest, ångest är min arvedel,

min strupes sår,

mitt hjärtas skri i världen.

 

-- Pär Lagerkvist (1916)

 

Translation:

 

Angst!

Angst, angst is my heritage,

my throat's wound,

my heart's shriek in the night.

 

Isn't that cute?

 

Another verse, from a song, which is actually Danish, sums up what is, to me, a typically Scandinavian world view: "Life is not the worst that we have, and pretty soon, coffee is ready!" This is my kind of philosophy.

 

In Sweden, being ordinary rules. Remember, you're nothing special! Or, as Swedes might express it, you are "Inte mycket att hänga i julgranen!" (Trans: Nothing to hang on the Christmas tree!)

 

On the "yta", or surface, Sweden doesn't really seem that different. But the more often I return, the deeper that "yta" is scratched. For one thing, the following scenario would never have played out on the home front. I made a "våldgästade" (trans: "violent visit", or unexpected visit) to my friend Lene's apartment one Sunday afternoon. Now, this is a vibrant and beautiful thirty-one-year-old woman. She was happily occupied with a task I couldn't fathom. "What are you doing?" I asked.

 

"I am making washcloths" she replied.

 

I just thought about that for a while. There is a scene in Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits where a neurotic and glamorous neighbor visits the calm domestic scene of chez Juliet, played by Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina. "What are you doing?" the neighbor inquires. "Stringing peppers," replies Masina. "Ah!" cries the woman, "if I could string peppers, I would be saved!"

 

Swedes don't need yoga. They find inner peace through home economics. How many men do you know who make their own pants? How many bachelors, of any sexual proclivity, who bake fresh bread twice a week?

 

I lost my virginity in Central Park. I danced every night at The Mudd Club and Studio 54. I've lived in Paris. I was on The Sopranos. David Bowie bought me a cheeseburger. Now, there's little I want more than this, my remote Scandinavian backwater. Wait -- I take that back. I need New York too -- like the turkey needs the axe.

 

As an illustrator I can work, via e-mail, from anyplace there is internet access. New York and Sweden. I want both. Toward that end, I am now in the process of applying for a Swedish green card. I was complaining of the difficulty and expense of this bureaucratic nightmare, when Lene pointed out that I was blessed to have marvelous lives on either side of the pond and had no right to grouse. She said, "We have an expression in Sweden: It's like you want to have your cake and eat it, too." I corrected her. "No. It's like I want to have my cake, eat it too, and then I want more cake!"

 

I had a frank conversation with immigration. It went something like this:

 

LR: I'm an American citizen, but I want to buy a house in Sweden. What are the rules for residency here?

 

IM: So you're married to a Swede?

 

LR: No, I'm not married.

 

IM: Oh, so sorry. So you're living with a Swedish man, then.

 

LR: No. But I once was married to a Swedish man.

 

IM: Okay, then!

 

LR: But we divorced in 1985.

 

IM: That's too bad.

 

LR: You're telling me!

 

IM: So, you have children in Sweden? Swedish children?

 

LR: No. No children.

 

IM: No children? Oh, well. Perhaps a Swedish company employs you.

 

LR: No, not employed.

 

IM: No job?

 

LR: I'm freelance.

 

IM: [Silence]

 

LR: But I have a lot of friends here.

 

IM: Oh, friends don't count.

 

LR: [Silence]

 

IM: But what reason could you possibly have to want to live here?

 

LR: The way you're talking, you make me feel like I have no reason to want to live at all. No man, no job, no children…Wait! I have an ex mother-in-law in Helsingborg.

 

IM: That doesn't mean anything.

 

LR: But she loves me very much!

 

IM: Look, we here in Sweden are very liberal. You don't have to be married. But to live here permanently and get a green card, you have prove you are in a serious personal relationship. Like for a couple of months or something.

 

LR: A couple of months? Is that all you people care about? Sex? I have to be having Swedish sex?

 

IM: Well, yeah!

 

LR: I'll see what I can do.

 

The city of Gothenburg was built on highly absorbent clay. Legend has it that this clay makes one sink in and stay. There might be something to that because while you are reading this, I'm on my way.

 

Rosenwald wrote New York Notebook and And to Name but Just a Few: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue. Her work can be enjoyed on www.rosenworld.com.

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Enormous, Blonde, Herring-Scented, Nauseatingly Fair-Minded Nymphomaniacs in Clogs

 

Part II: Even Lisbeth Salander Shops at Ikea

 

It's no coincidence that Swedish authors have produced two of literature's most heretical characters. Rebels! Misfits! Horse lifters! Girls! Lisbeth Salander, according to her creator Stieg Larsson, was meant to be a modern apparition of Pippi Longstocking, picaresque protagonist of the children's books written by Astrid Lindgren in the 1940s.

 

The thing to remember with these radical gals who answer to nobody and follow no rules is that they are, and must be, entirely fictional. Because whether you're a pierced and tattooed bisexual master hacker with a mohawk in Söder or a freckle-faced, crimson-pigtailed orphan in Villa Villekula, living with a monkey in a green sailor suit and a polka-dotted horse and possessing "the strength of ten policemen," there's one rule that supersedes all others in Sweden: Jantelagen*.

 

What does it mean? Fit in. You don't want to stick out! Even drop-dead rebel Lisbeth Salander shops at IKEA and eats Billy's Pan Pizza.

 

  • Jantelagen is a pattern of group behaviour towards individuals within Scandinavian communities, which negatively portrays and criticises individual achievement as inappropriate. -- Wikipedia

 

Because of equality and fairness, there's something called "the Swedish standard" and it's pretty high. It means one can buy a Château Pétrus even in remotest Lapland. Liquor is sold only in state-run stores, popularly known as "Systemet." The System. The System closes weekdays at 6, closes at 1 P.M. on Saturday, and is closed Sundays. The most Swedish thing one can do is to go to Systemet on Saturday at Noon. You will take a "nummerlapp" (a number from the Turn-o-Matic) and wait calmly and patiently for your turn to insure a desperately rowdy weekend. Enterprising drunks outside the shop might sell you a low number for a few kronor. Otherwise, bring literature. Wait.

 

Even after years of psychotherapy, my most burning issue is a complete lack of patience. Seemingly, Sweden has been designed especially to help me learn this virtue. There are not enough people in Sweden, so even at better restaurants, salad, bread, and water are on the sideboard. Help yourself. I'm thinking, "No. Help me." The waitress, the cashier, the mechanic, the cleaning lady, and you are all equals. Not only is the customer not always right, the customer is just plain lucky to receive service of any kind. Tipping is nominal. There are no false smiles. You'll never hear, "Hey! I'm Pernilla! How're you folks doin'?" Never.

 

Beer is available in strong, medium, and light versions. The most oft-spoken words are "En stor stark." A big strong one.

 

My favorite Swedish words are "Undulaut" and "Förnuftig." "Undulaut" seems like it should be some punctuation but actually means "parakeet." "Förnuftig" means "clever," and it has always seemed like something made-up the Swedish chef would say.

 

In addition to a lot of baking, sewing, and indoor hockey, Sweden has an extremely active yogurt culture. Almost frantic. Choose between "filmjölk", kefir, and forty-five kinds of the stuff, which is available in Japanese style, Russian style, "farmer" style, among others, each in a stupefying array of flavors, including cloudberry. You can buy no-fat, low-fat, medium-low-fat, medium-fat, medium-high, and "call your cardiologist" versions of all these things as well as "long" filmjölk, whatever that is.

  

Swedes squeeze food out of tubes. Liver paté, mushroom/cheese spread, crab paste, and the infamous "Kalle's Kaviar" (lumpfish roe) are very popular. My favorite is black pepper/cognac. There are special gizmos in refrigerators to hold the tubes. They squirt this stuff onto knäckebröd (crispbread), which they store in the special cupboard above the fridge. For fourteen years.

 

Swedes also eat a lot of korv (hot dogs), usually with mos (mashed potatoes). When they speak English they invariably say "smashed potatoes," and I can't correct them; it's too charming. Then there are the ketchup udders. At every korv kiosk (hot dog stand) there is a shocking lineup of assorted mustards and ketchups, each in a long, squeezable rubber udder. There's no other way to describe them. Udders.

 

The most serious television news shows interview political figures with a charming and homey milieu, including flowered curtains, blond wood, colorful pillows, pastries, and coffee. Nightline, take note: Why not macaroons? And ask The Daily Show: wouldn't Michael Moore enjoy a freshly baked cinnamon bun? How about banana bread for Fareed Zakaria?

 

You can buy herring in any gas station. Many of my friends, both men and women, use "snus" -- chewing tobacco, either loose or in small pouches. Tucked into their lower lips, this habit results in a distinctive, puffy demeanor. Loose candy is sold by the kilo, everywhere. Try some Body Parts, Salted Herring, Pirate Money, Squid, Coke Bottles, Fried Eggs, Pacifiers, Tongues, Rats, and Peppered Skeletons.

 

Whatever their sex lives may include, many Swedish people sleep in single beds. Together. Peculiar. But cozy. And they all travel with sheets and towels. You can try saying, "You don't need to bring your sheets and towels; I have everything here," but they will bring them all the same. They cannot be stopped.

   
If you go on a vacation with a Swede, watch out, because when exposed to direct sunlight, they tend to burst into flame.

   

On every street there are five or six hair "salonger." Most have frightening English names, like "Klipper Krazy." There is even a "Sweeney Todd" salon in Stockholm. With what seems like one salon for every twenty-five citizens, it's surprising that Swedes have a hair left on their heads.

 

Toilet paper is packaged in gigantic, 24 roll bales, wrapped in clear plastic with a handle on top. People run around in public with these, constantly and shamelessly.

 

Swedes don't talk, except at the movies.

 

Christmas means one thing. Festive Pigs!

 

Eye drops are illegal. Crazy glue is illegal. Hair dryers never get really hot. Sweden protects you.

 

I realized something. I gravitate toward this safety, cleanliness, and order with the rabid enthusiasm that most people look forward to an all-expenses-paid luxury vacation in the tropics and a big Lotto win.

 

Oscar Wilde said that simplicity is the last refuge of the complex. I could have taught him a thing or two.

 

Rosenwald created the animated App "David's Diary" together with David Sedaris and wrote All the Wrong People have Self -Esteem. Please visit www.rosenworld.com

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Enormous, Blonde, Herring-Scented, Nauseatingly Fair-Minded Nymphomaniacs in Clogs

 

Part I: "Respect the Cheese Form!"

 

If you're from Topeka, you can go to Kansas City. If you're from Kansas City, you can go to Chicago. If you're from Chicago, you can go to New York. But if you're from Manhattan, where can you go? By the time I was 40, I had to go to Sweden just to calm down. I've spent nearly half my time there ever since.

 

There's been some confusion. These are not the people who drill holes in cheese. They are not a fondue people, nor do they yodel. Their trains are sometimes late, their mountains are unimpressive, and their chocolate is adequate at best. No. These are the people who brought you The Nobel Prize, the Volvo, the smörgåsbord, free day care, suicide, and full frontal nudity. These are the blondes. Enormous blonde herring-scented nauseatingly fair-minded nymphomaniacs in clogs.

   

When I lived in Paris, nobody said, "Paris? Why Paris?" But now they ask, "Sweden? But why?" And I don't know how to answer. Sometimes I say, "Because nobody in Sweden has anything better to do than chat with me!"

 

I'm an artist. There, I said it. For the arts, New York is just so...obvious. New York is for exposition, but Gothenburg, Sweden, where I hang out, is an "arbetarstad", a worker's city. It's a good place to produce. Volvos, Hasselblads, and, in my case, oil paintings. Animations. Illustrations. Books. To work. In laughable obscurity.

   

How did I end up here? I'm a lifelong colony bum. Earlier, I'd been to Yaddo and an artists' residency in Vermont. So, in the sweltering summer of 1999, I wrote a brazen e-mail to fifty different artists' residencies, all over the world. Normally, they have mile-long waiting lists, but I dared ask them all for a residency starting "right now," adding that I did not expect to get a grant. "I am happy to pay," I informed them. The residency in Sweden, in my opinion, was so shocked to see the words "happy" and "pay" in the same sentence that they insisted I drop everything and rush right over. They didn't even want to see my slides. The place was called something that, to my ear, sounded like "constipated." I've been returning every Summer since then, but because the guest studio program is now kaput, this year will be my last residency.

 

Looking back, I reminisce about my first. I don't keep a diary, but humor me.

 

It's June of 1999. Dear Diary: This summer there have been approximately three days of sunshine since I arrived on June 6th. This has, officially, been the coldest, rainiest summer on record in seventy-five years. I won't complain, however. I prefer to complain about the stinky, fetid, rat-infested hell, the human gridlock that is my neighborhood back home: Broadway and Canal street. I choose this, my Northern Nowhere Land. In addition to my studio, I share the office where I do my illustration work with seven people, most of whom are called Lena. Most Swedish women are named Lena, and all Swedish men are named Stefan. The other day I was using the osthyvel (special slotted cheese slicer) on a hunk of "grevé" cheese, and Lena, Lina, Helena, and Lene started yelling at me. "We always know when you've been in the cheese! It looks like a ski-slope!" Apparently it is of great importance that every slice be an attempt to even out the cheese level. All Swedes are brought up with this habit. I call this enlightening episode: "Respect the Cheese Form!"

 

Some observations:

 

"Lagom" means "not too little, not too much. Just Right." The Middle Road. Social Democracy. Fairness. Even-ness. The classic metaphor for "lagom" is the stalk of wheat: if it grows taller than the others, it's mowed down. Show-offs are not to be tolerated. But apparently "lagom" can also be expressed in cheese.

 

I have learned some Swedish, although everyone over the age of six speaks English as well as I do. Although Swedish is a word-poor language, they have a few gems that we don't. They have a word for the crime of washing dishes in a sloppy, superficial way. "Fuskdiska!" Just what it sounds like, "hjärnsläpp", or "brain drop", describes the blank moment where we might complain of early Alzheimer's. There's an onomatopoetic word for a person who is "dreamy, rootless, undecided" with a hippie quality: "Flummig." You can call someone a dust bunny, or "torrboll." But only if they're really boring. And back in the day, there was an expression for a cell phone: "juppinalle", or "Yuppie Teddy Bear," which has fallen out of use because not only yuppies but also every eight-year old is hugging and cuddling a cell phone. Sweden is the most wireless nation on earth. I just made that up, but it's true.

   

Swedish invective is adorably tame. You can tell someone off by saying, "Dra dit pepparn växer -- i sydamerika!" This means, "Go grow peppers in South America!"

   

To round out our Swedish lesson, let me correct a misconception. Contrary to a cruel international myth, the word "IKEA" does not mean "wobbly" in Swedish. Wobbly is "ostadig." "IKEA" is an acronym for Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd. Aren't you glad you asked? Ingvar Kamprad, Ikea's billionaire founder, says in his 1999 book, Leading By Design: The IKEA Story, that his youthful affiliation with the Nazi Movement in Sweden was "the greatest mistake of my life," but in my opinion that honor should go to the ineluctably hideous "Byholma Marieberg" armchair.

 

When the catalogue comes, if I am in the right mood, I am proud to say that I now have the language chops to translate your "Bestå Burs" desk, your "Klaviatur" lamp, and your extremely wobbly "Ekby Järpen" shelving. Unfortunately, I am never, ever in the mood, because I've decided it's better for you not to know.

 

Incidentally, back in the '80's, I was briefly married to a Swedish illustrator whom I'd met in New York, where we lived together. We divorced so amicably (in 1986) that we still travel together, and he corrects my Swedish spelling and grammar for certain stories I write. Also, he is handsome, brilliant, and perfect. One day, I came back from Tokyo -- where I'd had an art exhibition -- and remarked how meaningful it was that "clean" and "beautiful' were the same word in Japanese: kirae. "So what?" he said. "In Swedish, we use the same word, "ren", for both "clean" and "reindeer."

 

I love Sweden. It's boring, but in a good way.

 

Rosenwald draws for The New Yorker, wrote All the Wrong People have Self Esteem, and holds workshops called "How to Make Mistakes on Purpose." Visit www.rosenworld.com.

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Prizeless

 

On April 16th, the Pulitzer Prize committee announced there will be no winner in the fiction category for the 2012 award after the committee failed to select the best novel of the year from three books nominated by Pulitzer jurors. What went wrong?

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: Thank you all for coming. I'll keep this short. We need to decide which of these three novels is the best of the year. The winning novel must receive a majority of the votes. Understood? First we have…um, yes?

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: I'm a bit hungry. Is it okay if we order first?

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: Of course.

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: Brilliant!

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: Agreed. Waiter? We'd like one large pizza please.

 

WAITER: What would you like on it?

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: Pepperoni, of course.

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: Oh. Hmm…

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: What? You don't like pepperoni?

 

BOARD MEMEBR 2: A bit obvious, isn't it? I mean, I know the point isn't to be cunning, but still…pepperoni? That topping has been played out since the '70s. I want something new. Something…fresh. Give me a topping that transcends topping. Perhaps a topping that is not only a parody of other toppings, but also a fine example of the very thing it is mocking. Do you understand?

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: A topping that both defines and redefines toppings? Interesting. Like celery…

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: Yes! Or eggs. Waiter, do you have egg pizza?

 

WAITER: Um…no.

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: Celery then.

 

WAITER: We don't really have that either. I mean, I could put some lettuce on it from the salad bar.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: And there's the problem, isn't it? He's now being different simply for the sake of being different. Pepperoni is fine. Pepperoni will do just fine.

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: If only the pizza were not a pizza at all, but more of a pancake. [sigh]

 

WAITER: We don't have pancakes. This is a pizza shop.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: Right. And we came here to eat pizza, not pine for pancakes. So do we want pizza?

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: Well, since they don't have pancakes, I'm just going to have some Diet Sprite.

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: Agreed. I'll eat later.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: So no pizza? Fine. Whatever. On to the business at hand. Of the books brought before us, we shall select…what is it?

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: Stop right there. I'm already voting for David Foster Wallace's The Pale King.

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: But you haven't heard the other nominees?

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: Doesn't matter. The other two won't be as good.

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: How can you know?

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: OMG! Have you read David Foster Wallace? He's, like, soooo good! He's my favorite. DFW all the way. Easy decision.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: That seems a tad presumptuous. The other two books are Denis Johnson's Train Dreams and…

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: I'm picking Denis Johnson's Train Dreams.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: Why?

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: I dunno. To be ornery. You should pick it, too.

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: No! Pick Wallace! That dude is a word ninja! For reals.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: We shouldn't be fighting about this. The last book, and my personal favorite is Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: Lame.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: It's not lame! It's wonderful! And if you read more than just Infinite Jest you would know…

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: Wait. OK. OK. I change my vote. I'll vote for Swamp Land--

 

BOARD MEMEMBER 1: It's Swamplandia!

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: Whatever. I'll vote for Swampmania, but you have to--

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: Uh-oh. I know where this is going…

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: You have to officially say that the Pulitzer Board officially says that there's no way in hell Superman could beat Luke Skywalker. Officially. And none of this, "I said so on Twitter" crap. I want a signed, notarized, Pulitzer document with that foil stamp…and a ceremony.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: But that argument makes no sense. Superman is powerful all the time. Luke has to focus his Jedi mind. By the time Luke stretches and gets in his yoga position, Superman would be using his light saber as a toothpick! And if Superman's powers come from Earth's yellow sun, on Luke's home world of Tatooine, with its two yellow suns, Superman's powers would…

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: Then I'm not voting for Swampman.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: You're being a jerk about this.

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: Guys! Guys! I'm dressing up as my favorite Infinite Jest character for Comic-Con this year. I'm going as Orin Incandenza! Dude! You should go as Hal! OMG! You have to! We could all dress up as the Incandenzas! This is going to be so crazy-awesome!  

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: No. I won't do that because none of you would dress up as the Lamberts from The Corrections for Halloween last year and I was the only one, and because of that, no one understood that I was Gary Lambert. It was so embarrassing having to explain my costume all night. 

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: Ugh. You're such a baby.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: Am not!

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: Are too!

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: You know what the best part of a David Foster Wallace book is? The words and the story. And the characters. Guys! It's so good! It's like reading a hug!

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: Maybe I will vote for Wallace…

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: If you vote for David Foster Wallace, then I'm not letting you stay over tonight.

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: Guys, I don't like you when you're like this.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: You're right. We're acting immature. Maybe we just won't have a winner this year.

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: Fine.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: Good.

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: I'm glad.

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: Let's just pick the book with the most verbs.

 

BOARD MEMEMBER 2: You counted the verbs in The Pale King, didn't you?

 

BOARD MEMEMBER 1: We could choose the book that takes the longest to read…

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: Or we bury the books and see which one last the longest.

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: Let's tie each book to an ostrich, put the ostriches in the ocean, and the first ostrich that flies wins? Some say ostriches can't fly. The water will be the motivating factor; the only thing that's keeping the ostrich on the ground right now is the lack of motivation.

 

BOARD MEMBERS 1: We're not getting anywhere. I say we give up.

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: I say we don't give up.

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: I say we don't give up, but we should also open this award up to not just books, but other forms of fiction. This is a fiction award? We should include lies. And dreams.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: Interesting.

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: And carols! We should include carols. Not just Christmas carols, either. Everyday carols.

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: For far too long carols have gone unrecognized by this prestigious establishment.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: Right. So the fiction award shall go to the best novel, or lie, or dream, or carol. But then that opens the door for other forms of fiction, like incorrect signs and all religions that I don't believe in.

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: Duh.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: And we mustn't forget about Puppet Theater and…my dear God. What time is it?

 

BOARD MEBER 2: April.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: Well, this year is a wash. But at least things will go smoother next spring. Thank you for coming. We did some wonderful work here.

 

BOARD MEMBER 3: Gosh. It looks like rain.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: No it doesn't. It's just overcast.

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: Really? You think it's overcast? Clearly that's not a cloud.

 

BOARD MEMBER 1: What is it then?

 

BOARD MEMBER 2: Dinosaur ghost. Or maybe a whale ghost. Hard to say.

 

Dan Bergstein writes often for Grin & Tonic.

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I Can Explain

 

Dear Marian, Todd, Stacey, Dora, Qing, Boomer, and Hyacinth,

I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to read this month's book club pick. I've been swamped with work lately, and as much as I wanted to be able to come to the meeting and participate in the discussion, I wasn't able to knock enough items off my to-do list to ever get around to reading Time Management for Dummies. Between the book club and my daily naps and avoiding calls from creditors and my faltering life coaching business, it's a challenge to find enough hours in the day. But I'm committed to joining you next time -- and I'll even bring brownies!


Dear Fellow Book Clubbers,

 

I deeply regret I didn't bring brownies to last night's meeting -- or show up at all, aside from driving by and honking a few times while I was on my way to the dentist appointment I inadvertently scheduled at the same time as the meeting. It wouldn't have mattered -- I forgot to read the book. I intended to finish it -- or at least start it -- but that would have meant buying it, and by the time I remembered I was in a book club, the bookstore, if there even is one around here, was probably closed, and I couldn't find my library card, let alone recall where the library might be, and, anyway, don't they have those rolling schedules or something like that? And work -- well, I should say the search for a new job -- is taking up more time than even exists. It's obviously not your fault, but perhaps if we could schedule these get-togethers in a more convenient location for me, it would be easier for me to join. Even though the meeting has passed, I'm still planning to check out The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, although I suppose my energy would best be spent on reading next month's selection. Or the month after's, to be absolutely safe. Has it been decided yet? I'll get back to you with some suggestions, as soon as I take my computer out of the freezer.

 


Dear Comrades-in-Reading,

 

I am filled with remorse for missing this month's meeting, especially after you rescheduled it to take place at my house. I know -- the address I gave you turned out to not actually be my house, but I was embarrassed about the mess in my living room, and so I figured we'd meet at my neighbor's house, but I forgot to tell him, and I forgot that he likes to shoot at intruders -- and I meant to show up and smooth over the whole misunderstanding, but I fell into a hole in the ground that I may have accidentally dug myself. This isn't just an excuse for forgetting and, like, scheduling a massage for the same time as the meeting. I really did fall, and it ruined the tray of brownies I had prepared in the shape of bookmarks -- if bookmarks were square, like brownies-- and also made me forget all about the meeting. It wasn't until I crawled out and stumbled home, in the wee hours of the morning, that I even remembered the name of the book -- To Tell the Truth, of course -- and all the wonderfully incisive comments I would have made if not for the terrible and absolutely verifiable (if only I'd paid the bill to keep my security camera turned on) accident. I hope you'll forgive me and I look forward to putting this awful night behind me, filling in the hole, and joining you next month. 

 


Hey Guys,

 

I know, I know -- another woe-is-me story, but, really, I have an explanation. This is hard for me to admit, but I have a problem with alcohol -- drinking it, brewing it, bottling it, everything -- and that's the real reason I haven't been able to make most of these meetings, read the books, or remember anything about them if I did read them, which I don't remember doing. But it is coming back to me now that I not only don't remember any of these things, but I also don't even remember not remembering them. My addiction may also explain why some of you saw me sneak in through the window last night, steal the rum cake that Carol had brought, and make a citizen's arrest of the golden retriever in her yard, who was only trying to be friendly and did not want more than a small slice of rum cake. I now remember this month's book, at least -- Breaking Addiction -- and I even read a few words before I passed out in the waiting room of the veterinary hospital where I brought Carol's dog after I accidentally bit her instead of the rum cake. I have no idea where the book itself came from. I might have stolen it when I was in the kitchen stealing the cake -- and Carol's car keys, which I should be passing in the next day or two. I'm seeking treatment -- it's a wonderful facility, I will have plenty of time to read, and I absolutely can't wait to come to next month's meeting clean and sober, fully informed, and bearing delicious brownies, which I plan to make in the shape of olive branches, if olive branches were square. I truly appreciate your understanding.

 


Dear "Book Club",

Okay, okay, okay -- why didn't you tell me? If only I'd known the "book club" meetings were just an excuse to eat cake and gossip (and drink!), I would have been there months ago! If one of you had just admitted that no one reads the books -- if you'd even hinted at it -- I would have been your most loyal member. I had such a wonderful time last night with all of you, spreading rumors, trading medications, pillow fighting, and dressing up the dog to look like a Jain priest that I don't see why we should wait a whole month to do it again. I'm reading War and Peace right now -- and we all know that "reading War and Peace" means "watching a marathon of Jersey Shore while laughing at people who read books and pay their bills on time." Come on over -- I'll even make my brownies again, this time in the shape of Snooki, or at least Snooki's square friend -- and this time I might remember to turn on the oven. See you soon!

 

Jeremy Blachman was, until recently, a member of a book club.

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Eau de Yankees

 

"The fragrance market is awash with celebrity fragrances, but nothing has yet come out fronted by a Major League Baseball team. That's changing with the launch of a New York Yankees fragrance." -- Ad Age 

 

When you enter the party, they look away. You hear the muttering, feel the heat of their scorn. They resent your prosperity. They reject your success. They glower at the interlocking "NY" on your cap and your blue and white face-paint. You are the Yankee fan -- the fat cat who loves to buy pennants, the one-percenter of baseball, the scourge of underdogs everywhere. In many ways, they hate you even more than they hate the Yankees, whom they hate more than life itself.

 

This summer, let's bring something new to their party:   

 

The pungent aroma of 27 world championships.

 

This year, let's fill the bases…with Eau de Yankees, the perfume that blends the rustic charm of the farm system with the boldness of the Bronx.

 

It's a little bit Goose, a little bit Catfish. It's the mustard spice of Mister October with a Mister Coffee jolt of Joltin' Joe -- and it's just for you: The gluttonous, never-satisfied Yankee fan, who wants every free agent, every championship -- every year. With Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter, you should consider yourself the luckiest fan on the face of the earth. Instead, you always demand more, and you deserve the kind of fragrance that can stop a rally.

 

Eau de Yankees comes in five Hall of Fame scents:

MIDNIGHT YOGI. Ninety percent oil of sage, the other half mental. So strong that nobody smells it anymore. Go ahead, layer it on: It ain't odor 'til it's odor!

 

YOU GO, BOSS. This blustery blend of race horse, assorted barks, seed of bombast, nitrous oxide, and police-grade pepper spray will clear out any front office underlings. It's the smell of a bad trade. Wear it to a signing, or a firing -- or both!

 

LOVE, A-ROD. Tempt, tantalize and enthrall yourself with this surprisingly delicate, five-tool mix of rosehip, goldenrod, crushed gopher balls, natural diuretics, and Starlet o' Hollywood. Now, with every successive whiff, detect a growing tinge of lemon!

 

JEET 3000. This smooth, long-lasting blend of leather, vanilla, gold, frankincense, and myrrh will capture the heart of any lady -- without coughing up a ring! Become the Captain of all noses!

 

MARIANO, MON AMOUR. Close their rally, close their game, and close their nostrils with this bat-cracking blend of baby oil, smoke, gas, and bullpen. They'll smell your stuff from 60 feet!

 

Choose the scent that defines your style. Or better yet, wear them all at once. Because the Yankees aren't just your team: They're the way you roll -- in your star-studded, Empire State of mind. No one will ever accuse you of smelling like a Marlin fan. You'll wear the fragrance of Donald Trump, Jay-Z, and Jack Nicholson. You'll share an overpowering cloud with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Richard Gere, the lady who played The Nanny, practically the entire cast of The Sopranos, and that guy in Libya who shot Muammar Gaddafi. You'll be part of a Bleacher Creature wave that fills the House that Ruth Built with the cheese that Ruth dealt.

 

Remember, Yankee fans: They hate us anyway, so let's earn their enmity. Rage about our failure to sign Albert Pujols. Whine about the lack of a seventh starting pitcher. Ask Rangers fans when Josh Hamilton becomes a free agent. Complain about luxury taxes. Grow a beard. Wear an eye-patch. Cackle. They can dismiss our taunts. But they can't hold their breaths forever.

 

This summer, let's punch Boston in the nose!

 

Eau de Yankees…when the pennant just isn't enough. (In spray or gel! Now with Anabolic HGH and musk!)

 

Hart Seely's new book, The Juju Rules: Or, How to Win Ballgames from Your Couchwill be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt this month.

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Rabe Against the Machine

 

"Everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food. Therefore, everybody is in the market. Therefore, you can make people buy broccoli." -- Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court during the Court's hearings on the health care reform law.


FBBI AGENT (outside a Manhattan supermarket): Federal Bureau of Broccoli Investigation, Ma'am. I need to inspect your groceries.

 

SHOPPER: Oh, honestly! You people always stop me for these random searches.

 

AGENT: Sorry, Ma'am -- I'm just doing my job. 

 

SHOPPER (pointing at another shopper leaving the store): Why don't you pick on him -- that guy who's practically running down the block? He only has that one little plastic bag, and I'm carrying these three huge reusable totes. And I just missed the bus, thank you very much. 

 

AGENT: Ma'am, if you would just put down those bags for a minute, so that I can…

 

SHOPPER: You know that guy is a lurker.

 

AGENT: A lurker?

 

SHOPPER: What is this -- your first day? They wait inside the store until the FBBI agent stops someone else and then they make a run for it. 

 

AGENT: If you'll just put those bags down, we can…

 

SHOPPER: I have broccoli -- just take my word for it. And I have to pick up my kid from school in fifteen minutes.

 

AGENT: Please put the bags down.   

 

SHOPPER (putting bags down): There go three more lurkers! You can tell by the regular shape of their bags that there couldn't be any broccoli in there. It's all Honey Nut Cheerios and Texmati and V-8 and juice-boxes and Cracker Barrel and…

 

AGENT (leaning over and poking through bags): Did you say V-8?

 

SHOPPER: Yeah. What of it?

 

AGENT: I believe V-8 has broccoli as one of its ingredients.

 

SHOPPER: This must be your first day.

 

AGENT: It is. But that doesn't mean…

 

SHOPPER: Tomatoes, beets, celery, carrots, spinach, lettuce, watercress, parsley, and that's it. You think we don't know from ingredients with this law? You've got a lot to learn out here, buddy. You've got your tokeners, we call them -- they pinch off a floret in the produce aisle, jam it under the plastic wrap of a ground-chuck package, and you can't do anything about it. You've got your bringers -- they take old, spoiled broccoli with them to the store and then put it in their bags when they leave. Then there are the fakers -- they walk around with rubber broccoli toys and ornaments in their purses and stick them in their grocery bags after they leave the checkout line and hope you FBBI guys just look and don't smell. And the Direct dodgers -- they order online and get around the law…

 

AGENT (still searching): Ma'am, I don't see…

 

SHOPPER: Speaking of smells, did all of Congress buy Gas-X stock before they passed this law, I'm wondering. I tried to get some when it went into effect, but the price was already through the roof. And how are you going to settle the Rabe Question? R.A.B.E. is planning demonstrations outside your offices, you know.

 

AGENT: R.A.B.E.? Ma'am, I'm afraid I don't see any…

 

SHOPPER: Rabe Against Broccoli Exclusivity.

 

AGENT: Well, maybe you're right -- I do have a lot to learn -- but that won't put broccoli in these bags. I'm afraid I have to write you up.

 

SHOPPER (takes out a head of cauliflower from one of the bags): What do you think this is?

 

AGENT: Cauliflower. Don't tell me you're going to try to pull…

 

SHOPPER: You bet I am. Brassica oleracea -- the exact same species as what you federal vegetablists call broccoli.

 

AGENT: I don't want to arrest you, but you're making this unnecessarily…

 

SHOPPER: Cauliflower United v. United States Senate. The case is pending. Go ahead and take me in. I say it's broccoli, and I say the hell with it. 

 

Daniel Menaker is the editor of Grin & Tonic.

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Excuses, Excuses

 

"We know that we haven't been playing well and that we need to start turning it around." -- Former New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni


One of the most promising and brightest teams in professional basketball, the Wichita Pilgrims, is in serious need of help after suffering a 166-12 loss last night which worsened their 26-game losing streak. That is, made it a 27-game losing streak. How could such a team, which only weeks ago was wildly successful and a trending topic on Twitter, become the Charlie Brown of the sport?


"I blame the injuries and other unfortunate events," said assistant coach Richard Broderick. "[Starting center] Samson Gulliver is still dealing with a torn Achilles and this reoccurring dream -- which he often involuntarily re-enacts during games -- that he's falling. We can't expect him back on the court this season." Gulliver has been criticized for his injury after reports from a bar in Daytona suggest he tore the tendon on a dare "to see what it was like." Other injured players include forward Wade "Hmm" Thompson, who is recovering from poorly-timed Lasik surgery, and point guard Popeye "Popeye Rollins" Rollins, who had his knee replaced with a falcon's skull in an ill-advised attempt to "fly like the falcon."

 

"I can't lie," said head coach Nick Wall. "It's not good. A lot of our players are out from injuries, and two of our point guards have become Sufis, with all the obligations that kind of conversion brings with it. And Fred? Well, Fred went looking for that noise that, as he put it, was 'intermittently all up in my head -- you know what I'm saying,' and we haven't seen him since. It turns out that the sound was just a faulty smoke-detector battery in the locker room. So we got that taken care of. Tell Fred, if you see him. Thanks." 

   

The team began the season on a four-game winning streak, and many thought the mighty 'Grims would finally take home a championship. But that all changed after two of their star players, Omar Brown and Timothy "Yoda Spit" Billings were traded to a local car dealership. Pilgrims co-owner Jimmy Legree defended this transaction by asking reporters, "Haven't you ever made a mistake?"

 

"You have to understand," said Wall. "Our General Manager [Greg O'Brien] loved this car he saw at this dealer we drove past on the way to the Staples Center. He had to have it. But the GM, well, he doesn't have the best line of credit, and we were only in town that one night. So he traded a few of our players for the BMW. I'm not saying it was a wise decision, but it's a hell of car. Really is. And Brown and Billings? Well, they had a rough patch, but I'm told they're hitting their sales quotas this month. Damn proud of 'em." Wall went on to explain that the BMW gets wonderful gas mileage and handles "like a Glock, or a vanilla milk shake with chocolate syrup." 


With the two star players gone, the team took the opportunity to rebuild. Their first order of business? Signing the stadium janitor's son as the starting center. "Oh man," said Wall. "That would have been one hell of story, right? Poor janitor's kid gets the chance of a lifetime and wins a championship? Wowzers. We even sold the story to Disney before the first game." 14-year old Justin Fallon's first time on the court ended abruptly when after only seven minutes he yelled, "Will you guys please, please wait up!" as his teammates ran back on defense. He then spent several crucial seconds texting about how insulted he was to his friend Trevor. He was abruptly traded to the Chicago Bulls under the NBA's "pig-in-a-poke" rule, for three very nice jackets.


The Pilgrims needed help, and all hope was placed in the hands of Mike Kinnley, the UCLA star power forward. "Listen," said Wall, sweating. "I like Kinnley. He's a hell of a player. Always came to practice. Good guy. Did some amazing things for our organization. Really. But it was just too damn hard to overcome his penchant for killing otters. To me, they were only otters. Seriously, it was a non-story, but the media made those 138 Wichita River otters into some kind of big deal."


The team then put a bunch of orphans from China on the court, none of whom had ever played the sport. "Hahaha," said Wall. "OK. That was my idea. I figured, you put all those first-time players out there, beginner's luck has got to shine down on a few of them. Right? Had to! But it didn't." Wall then tried to build a team out of dogs after "seeing it in that movie." The current roster still has two dogs, Sparky and Thor, but Sparky is out of commission due to a hernia and Thor won't be playing anytime soon due to his habit of urinating at the foul line.

 

Just last week, several members of the team formed a bluegrass band, and so on game nights their priorities are often elsewhere. And center Hamilton "Thermos" Lorp will only play with his friend Raj Grupa, and Raj isn't playing because one of his socks keeps getting bunched up in his shoe. Even the team's trainer, Stelton Smith, has often been absent from the locker room, after deciding to make and sell his own jewelry on artsy.com. "I wish him luck," said Wall. The team's new trainer is now a rather shoddy iPad app called "Hurty Be Gone," which may or may not be responsible for guard Alvin Kim's diagnosis of "too much foot skin," which in turn led to a botched pedicure in the locker room.

 
Yet still the team gives it their all every night. You can tell by the look on their pained faces that nothing is left on the court. Or off it, either. That said, the team decided to forfeit tonight's game due to a general malaise, and excitement about the upcoming new season of Game of Thrones.

 

"Look -- it's one hell of a show, you have to admit," Wall said to reporters yesterday.

 

Dan Bergstein is currently trying to adapt The Help (the film) into a book, and then into another film, and then, finally, into a statue.

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Letters of the Law

 

DEREK JETER, shortstop of the New York Yankees, having been called as a witness on behalf of the defense of LIFE OF E'S, after being duly sworn, was examined and testified as follows:

 

Q         Mr. Jeter, I am going to ask you a few questions. I'll ask that you speak clearly and direct your answers to the jury. Understood?

 

A         Okay.

 

Q         Can you tell the court where you were the evening of December 7th, 2011?

 

A         I was at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Brooklyn.

 

Q         What was the occasion?

 

A         I was with other members of an organization I belong to called Life of E's.

 

Q         Can you explain for the court the exact nature and purpose of this organization?

 

A         Life of E's, to quote our mission statement, is "an exclusive society of thoughtful and committed citizens invested in the preservation and advancement of the mutual condition of its members."

 

Q         In your own words, Mr. Jeter, what is that mutual condition?

 

A         Basically, we're all famous people who have the letter "e" as the only vowel in our names.

 

Q         What year did you join this organization?

 

A         My rookie year -- 1996. The society threw me a welcoming party hosted by Werner Klemperer.

 

Q         The actor who played Colonel Klink on "Hogan's Heroes"?

 

A         That's correct. He was a great mentor to me. I remember he said to me that night "One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar."

 

Q         Whom was he quoting?

 

A         Our society's founder, Helen Keller. Then Mel Ferrer presented me with a baseball player figurine with a plaque that read "Life of E's Most Valuable Player (Except for Pee Wee Reese)." That made me laugh.

 

Q         Mr. Jeter, what was the purpose of your visit to the Brooklyn Marriott on the night in question?

 

A         Life of E's had booked the ballroom at the hotel for our annual Celebrit-E Karaoke Night. It's a fun event. When I'm on the mike, I pretty much stick to hip-hop. Ellen DeGeneres is partial to singer-songwriters. Jewel and Cher often finish the night with a duet. I like Cher a lot. She gave me a T-shirt once that I still have. It says "Click on this E-Male."

 

Q         In your opinion, Mr. Jeter, was the night's karaoke event a success?

 

A         A success? No. No, it was not. It was anything but a success.

 

Q         What happened?

 

 A        Well, when I got to the lobby that night I saw Cher standing by the front desk and we exchanged hugs. She starts telling me about her cab driver, a Hindu with a lisp, which reminds her of a dirty joke she once heard from Bert Wheeler. We then turn and tell the person behind the desk we'll be getting set up in the ballroom, but there's a problem.

 

Q         What was the problem?

 

A         They had double-booked the ballroom. Cher goes completely ape. She's screaming "That's impossible!" and whipping her hair extensions around. I duck to avoid her hair and then I...then I...Sorry. This is still very hard for me to talk about.

 

Q         Take your time, Mr. Jeter.

 

A         Then I turn and I see what -- "who," I should say -- is pressing up against my shoulder, pushing me to the side and wedging herself in between me and Cher.

 

Q         Who was it?

 

A         Julia Roberts.

 

Q         The movie actress?

 

A         Yes.

 

Q         What was Julia Roberts doing at the Marriott in Brooklyn?

 

A         As it turned out, meeting with her own organization, the Sequoias.

 

Q         The Sequoias?

 

A         It's like Life of E's but its members have all the vowels represented once each in their names.

 

Q         Wow.

 

A         No kidding. The hotel had double-booked us with the Sequoias. As Cher and Julia Roberts start having words, I ask if there are any other venues available but all the hotel's facilities are filled up. Meanwhile, most of our people are showing up in the lobby and wondering what's going on. Renee Zellweger comes over and says, "I think I just saw Evita outside having a cigarette with a Supreme Court justice."

 

Q         Patti Lupone and David Souter?

 

A         Yeah. And sure enough, seconds later, they're both walking up to the front desk to where we're all standing. And others keep coming. Here comes Arlo Guthrie. Then Greg Louganis. Pretty soon everyone is aware of the misunderstanding and no one's happy about it and no one's backing down. I really don't like how things are going so I suggest to my people that we find another location for our karaoke night. But Cher and Ellen DeGeneres aren't having it. They're flashing their teeth and Phil Donahue is snarling back at them. It's really getting to be a Yankees-Red Sox kind of situation, but then, in an instant, all of the Sequoias back off. They all back away and bow down. They all just bow.

 

Q         What were they doing?

 

A         They were actually prostrating themselves.

 

Q         Why were they prostrating themselves?

 

A         Their leader had arrived.

 

Q         Who is their leader?

 

A         Emmylou Harris.

 

Q         Emmylou Harris is the leader of the Sequoias?

 

A         Yes.

 

Q         Why?

 

A         Yes.

 

Q         Yes, what?

 

A         Y.

 

Q         That's what I asked, Mr. Jeter. Why?

 

A         Yes.

 

Q         Yes?

 

A         I'm sorry?

 

THE DEFENSE: May I approach, Your Honor?

 

THE COURT: You may.  

 

THE DEFENSE CONTINUING:

 

Q         Mr. Jeter, I'd like to clarify your last answer. To the best of your knowledge, Emmylou Harris is the leader of the Sequoias because her name includes a single appearance of each of the vowels as well as the letter "y" which, in the case of the name "Emmylou," is being used as a vowel?

 

A         That's correct.

 

Q         This fact, judging by the reaction of the other members of the Sequoias upon seeing Emmylou Harris, makes her some kind of god in their eyes?

 

A         Super-deity -- yes.

 

Q         In your opinion, was it the godlike powers of Emmylou Harris and not the actions of the members of Life of E's that were responsible for the nearly $91,000 in property damage which was created that night in the lobby of the Brooklyn Marriott?

 

A         For the most part, yes.

 

Q         For the most part?

 

A         Well, Emmylou Harris shows up and Cher, as always, calls her "beaouitch." Then Emmylou Harris calls Cher "One-E," her put-down for Cher. Cher then gets a hand on Emmylou's throat to, you know, choke her, but Emmylou sends Cher flying into a baggage rack. Then, using her powers of levitation, Emmylou lifts the whole front desk and crashes it into one of the lobby's walls, nearly crushing two Hasidic men who are at the hotel for a night of speed dating.

 

Q         Holy smokes.

 

A         Yeah. And then, suddenly, there was a blinding white light.

 

Q         A white light?

 

A         It was coming from the front door of the hotel. After adjusting my eyes, I see it's an old man. I've never seen him before this moment. He's old...like mad old. Wispy white-beard old. I look around, and the others are all whispering "It's him! It's him!"

 

Q         Did the others tell you who it was?

 

A         Yes. But I cannot say his name.

 

Q         Is he in this courtroom today, Mr. Jeter?

 

A         Yes.

 

Q         Could you please point at him and describe what he's wearing?

 

A         He has on a red-and-white plaid hunting jacket.

 

THE DEFENSE: We ask that the court recognize that the witness has identified Pete Seeger.

 

THE COURT: The court recognizes that the witness has identified Mr. Seeger.

 

THE DEFENSE CONTINUING:

 

Q         You did not know Pete Seeger existed until the night your society and the Sequoias ran into one another in the lobby of the Brooklyn Marriott?

 

A         No, I did not. I had been told stories -- rumors, mostly. They call him the Great Wimoweh. Nobody speaks his real name. He's our leader, our god.

 

Q         So, when Pete Seeger showed up that night, he and Emmylou Harris proceeded to engage each other in supernatural combat. Is that correct, Mr. Jeter?

 

A         Yes.

 

Q         Mr. Jeter, do you see Emmylou Harris in this courtroom today?

 

A         I do not.

 

Q         Do you know where Emmylou Harris is today?

 

A         Bellevue Hospital, I believe. It is rumored she went mad after the Great Wimoweh enlisted a close friend of his to sing to Emmylou, over and over again, the classic refrain from "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." The friend was happy to volunteer because her name contains the same vowels, in consecutive order, famously sung in the song.

 

Q         Mr. Jeter, is the name of that friend Celine Dion?

 

A         Yes.

 

Q         Thank you very much.

 

THE COURT: You may step down, Mr. Jeter. We will recess until two o'clock at which time we will have the closing arguments.

 

THE DEFENSE: To avoid any suspicion of bias, Your Honor, my client asks that instead of "closing arguments" the court use the term "clsng rgmnts."

 

David Levinson Wilk writes for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.  (And yes, the period at the end is correct, as the show does not use a question mark in its title.)

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The Old Biography Shop

 

The world my grandfather grew up in had a very different idea of biographies from the one we have today. Scan the shelves of any bookstore and you will find the life stories of the famous, the notable, the accomplished -- artists, titans of business, legendary entertainers, sports heroes, prolific substance abusers. And while the Everyman is celebrated in our novels and short stories, he has never really gotten a foot in the door of nonfiction. It is exceedingly rare in this day and age to encounter, on those same bookstore shelves, the life story of the man or woman down the street.

 

In my grandfather's village, deep in the old country, there was a tremendous hunger for well-written, deeply-researched works on the lives of ordinary people. The bound editions of these humble lives gave my grandfather his livelihood; he kept a biography shop in town. He also wrote biographies, such as Enid Fredericks: The Postal Worker Years and James Barrington: Psoriasis Sufferer, but his primary function was as a collector and dealer.

 

In that time and place, biographies were less literary and more social. Very often, they were simply vessels for common gossip. One example that captivated my grandfather's village -- and brought him a lot of business – was the rivalry between two elderly ladies who escalated a petty argument by writing unauthorized biographies of one another, including bilious anniversary editions. The first two volumes are generally regarded by the opposing clans as the best: The Dull and Dreary Life of Olga Pasternak, by Hilda von Ness (1936), and Pathetic, Jealous, Gassy Hag: A Life of Hilda von Ness, by Olga Pasternak (1937).

 

Perhaps most fascinating is the way biographies served as a line of communication among far-flung villages -- a way to share the life stories of people whom one would never otherwise meet. In his travels my grandfather would collect biographies from other villages and return with them, stocking the shop's shelves with the lives of others. I imagine him sailing into port like some proud explorer returning home with sacks of exotic spices (though this is only a fantasy -- he traveled by horse, not ship, and he feared spices).

 

Sadly, my grandfather's success in the old country did not translate to his life in America. With an immigrant's boundless optimism, he paced the streets of New York looking for a biography shop that might hire him. Finding none, he passed his hours writing biographies of dockworkers and deli mennotably Seamus Peeves: You Call This a Life? and Hey, Cold Cut Man: A Life of Emanuel Wisp. Their lives fascinated him, and he produced thousands of well-sourced pages, yet he labored in vain. The New York publishers laughed at him and he fell into a deep depression.

 

His sorry state was amplified by yet another struggle. Around this time, my grandfather fell in love with a pretty American girl, who returned his affections. But he had a terrible time convincing his would-be in-laws that they should let their daughter marry an unemployed biographer, to say nothing of a biography shopkeeper without a shop to keep. The pretty girl's father -- a captain-of-industry type who read only financial pages and restaurant menus -- mocked him relentlessly. A man of great wealth and influence, he tried to dissuade his daughter from marrying, using all the resources at his command, including billboards.

 

It was only when my grandfather offered to write a biography of him that the old man relented. Desperate to please, my grandfather glossed over the man's corruption, backstabbing, incurious mind, and genetic mutations. The result was a hack job painting him in a glowing light, titled A Hero in Our Midst: A Life of Abraham Fontana. Though my grandfather sold the book to a New York publisher, on the strength of Abraham Fontana's stature in the world of business and politics, it was the shame of his life: an untrue account, a farce. Years later, on his deathbed, he lamented that this book, his sole success, would have been unworthy of a place on the shelf of his old biography shop.

 

Though I am the only one equipped to write my grandfather's biography, and know that the story of his life is worthy of telling (at least as much as the life of Abraham Fontana, who went on to be Lieutenant Governor of the State of New York, and in his amateur laboratory discovered an effective treatment for thigh chafing), it is out of respect that I hesitate. As for the old biography shop, it's still there, operated by the grandson of Hilda von Ness, unchanged except for the addition of a café.

 

Gregory Beyer is a senior editor at The Huffington Post.

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We Book You Writer

 

Never thoughted you would right book? Not any more. Here at selfyoupubish.not we take the work from bookwork. If you have idea, we make book happen. You want typed? We do that. Printed? In most cases yes. You know how book has words on two sides of page and computer machine sometimes often only on one? We fix. You know about spaces between words? We do, and that is why we are what you need to help you make book. Maybe you want cover on book? We can. You want two cover on book? We talk. From A to V*, we handle all your book-related need.

 

We have ghosts and we have writers, ready to service for you. Extra ghosts, even. That is because we are best in industry. You like page number? We do odd, and, for limited time, we also do even. We make pages up to 999 numbers. More than those be extra but we can do too. Do you know spelling? We often do, and have people to check for us when we don't. Wonder why people buy some book and not some book? We know things or two about stuff like those, and when you pay us money, we tell you some of it.

 

Don't believe what we like to say? Ask a satisfied costumer, like we have done it:

 

"For the last time, I am a person who puts clothing on theater actors. What do you want from me?"

 

"Just telling me if you are satisfied."

 

"Satisfied with what? My life? This lunch you're interrupting?"

 

"Your life, maybe?"

 

"Yes, I have been perfectly satisfied with my life. Before you started harassing me. Now leave me alone!"

 

See, satisfied. We know more like that. We give you their location places so you can find them. Do you like chapters? We hate but can make if you must. We do beginning and middle. End optional but strongly recommending. Fictions, not-fictions, we make books of every things. Some people have world-wide weblog they want make book. We do that. Some people have box of ideas they want make book. We do that too. We put both together and make two book, price of three. Or you have four book, price of five. Five book are price of seven.

 

So now we convince you want book, you must go to website or call on top of phone. Go to selfyoupubish.not on your computer machine or click your phone in the wall. You need new phone? We have yes. Or maybe you need brand name drug medication with no prescription. We do it. We do it all. selfyoupubish.not. For every you need needs. Murder for hire too. We possibly joke that way.

 

*W, X, Y, 3 include for additional money cost.

 

Jeremy Blachman is the author of Anonymous Lawyer and has written for McSweeney's, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications that fall somewhere in between.

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Leap Year: A Love Story

 

Dear February 29th,
 

Boy, I miss you so much! Where have you been? Having a blast, I'm sure! Smiley face!  
   

This month felt really short without you by my side. Why don't you return my calls? I hope you're not confusing me with some other hot "date." Ha-ha. I hope you're not pretending to be September 31st again. Wasn't that so funny? That was so funny. We laughed so hard!
   

Those were the days, and now these are the days.
 
Love,
February 28th 
 
----
 

Dear February 29th,

 

Are you getting this letter? Is my mail caught up on some federal holiday? It must be. 

   

God, being in a long-distance relationship is the pits. Sometimes I look across to January 28th and 29th and think, wow, you guys have got it so easy. I broke all of my resolutions this year just to spite those ungrateful lovebirds. They don't understand our love, how it lasts for really long intervals of time.   

   

March 1st heard a rumor that you went to New Year's Eve's big party this year and danced with the hostess herself. But I told him that was impossible. You were observing the Jewish calendar this year, celebrating New Year's in September.
   

Shalom, baby!       
 
Love,

February 28th
 
----
 
Dear Febby 29th,


Nothing is new here. Everyone says hello. Last night I played cards with Valentine's and Groundhog and March 1st. We were going to invite President's but everyone always forgets that guy. Groundhog says HEY! He says you better be careful, leaving your girlfriend all alone with these choice once-a-year occasions. Ha-ha! 
  

Oh my god, I just called me your girlfriend! I think we're really moving to the next level.   
  

I know that you need your space, but I would share a diagonal calendar square with you if it meant you could stay forever.
 
Winter Love,
Me    
 
----
 
Dear February 29th,
 
Sometimes you fit into my schedule, sometimes you don't. But that doesn't mean our commitment was a one-month stand. I know what you did last winter, and I'm contacting the Ides for advice. And don't ask me if it's "that time of the month." It's always that time of the month -- the time that it happens to be. What is that anyway? Philosophy?
 
Seasons Greetings,
February 28th
 
----
 
Dear February 29th,
 
Today, March 1st and I spent the night together. We were hanging out and it was getting late and then we just suddenly meshed around midnight. I'll spare you the details -- no "in like a lion" jokes. After all, he's been close to me all along, literally a second away 75% of the time.

 

Anyway, I thought you should hear it from me. March 1st and I know you'll need a place to crash in four years. You can come between our shared vertical from time to time, but never between our hearts.  
 
Your Ex-Girlfriend,
February 28th

 

Hilary Leichter teaches in the undergraduate creative writing program at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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Butterscotch Dust

 

What follows this Introduction is not a traditional cookbook. There are no recipes, the measurements are imaginary, and the photographs, as you will soon discover, are gruesome images entirely unrelated to food. But ever since my first combination bakery/exotic zoo opened in an abandoned spaceship in 1996, I've been asked by literally tens of diners to put together a guide they could use at home to re-create some of my most edible culinary creations. This is the first of eight incorrectly-numbered volumes.

 

I never intended to write a cookbook. I'm functionally illiterate, and allergic to the gluten that makes up a deliciously crusty yet still chewy sheet of paper. But ever since I was weaned from my mother's milk at age eleven, food has been a tremendous part of my life. My great-grandmother was eaten by Prussian nobles. My uncle laid his own eggs. Mealtime in my house growing up, there was a series of culinary debates: jelly versus jam, micro greens versus macro greens, whether to remove my sister from the pickling liquid. We foraged for berries in the local parks. We dug for truffles under the railroad tracks. We slaughtered animals in the pet store at the local mall. It was perfection.

 

I first learned to cook as an indentured servant peeling string cheese at a labor camp for convicted money launderers. I discovered the joys of finding an earthworm in your applesauce, or a bloody sock in the cavity of a Cornish hen, trussed with the hastily-removed vocal cords of a retired opera singer and stuffed with a mixture of moisturizer and marbles. I went to culinary school on a barge off the coast of the Czech Republic, harpooning underwater Al Qaeda operatives and turning them into both sweet and savory miniature cupcakes. These experiences led me to my first restaurant, Gristle, where I served nine-course breakfasts at midnight and spent the rest of the day ghostwriting college application essays for the Somali pirates who hand-pounded our pots and pans from sheets of only the finest radioactive scrap metal.

 

You need no special equipment to cook the food in this volume, just a centrifuge, a Bowflex exercise machine, and a food-grade elasticized polyester hairnet. Much has changed since I began in the industry. Now most local supermarkets sell many of the ingredients that used to require mules to smuggle them across national borders.  From whole-grain milk to butterscotch dust, the entire culinary world is at your fingertips for as long as they haven't been sliced by a knife-wielding robot sous chef. I'll show you how to preserve your own artisanal body hair and inject flavor directly into your veins, with barely a scar left behind.

 

From pink peppercorn sausage marmalade to tree stock, and a petrified duck who will scare the filling right out of your peanut butter ravioli, this book will offer a step-by-step guide to creating meals that only the instructions in future volumes will enable your guests to forget. You, too, can caramelize your most valuable possessions, in the comfort of your home kitchen. Enjoy, and happy emulsificationing.

 

P.S. Many thanks to my book agent, whom I would never have met if not for the introduction from my leavening agent.

 

Jeremy Blachman is the author of Anonymous Lawyer and has written for McSweeney's, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications that fall somewhere in between.

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Burn Notice

 

Dear BBA Members,

I write to you with great concern. Like much of the print-book world, our existence is being threatened by the rise of e-books. And while the media covers this issue as it affects publishers, booksellers and authors, they ignore the plight of people like us, the loyal and devoted Book Burners of America. As we approach our Annual Bonfire Gala, proudly celebrating the 80th anniversary of when Brave New World was first set aflame, we offer a guide with answers to your most frequently asked questions about how e-books will affect our mission.

1. What are e-books?

E-books (short for "evil-books") are electronic versions of books that can be viewed on computers, many cellular telephones, and a variety of stand-alone devices, none of which are nearly as flammable as mass-market paperback editions of Lolita.

2. Why are e-books so dangerous?

E-books are dangerous because they cannot be destroyed by conventional means, like a campfire or a warehouse explosion. If print books that we find offensive are like Green Eggs and Ham, easily flushed down a garbage disposal, think of e-books as the mutant, flesh-eating creatures I can only assume populate something that would be called an Animal Farm, complete with adjustable font size and a built-in dictionary.


3. I usually use a thick black marker to cross out the objectionable words in books I read, so that I can safely enjoy great works like Cabin, The Verses, and Moby. Can I do that with an e-book?

No. While ink will indeed black out parts of your screen, skilled amoral e-book users will be able to scroll up and down to see the hidden text. The only way to truly ensure that dangerous material cannot be seen is to black out the entire screen. This, of course, has the side effect of making it impossible to read anything -- a long-term goal of ours, but one which, for now, remains unrealistic.

4. Can't we simply print out copies of our e-books and burn those printouts? There's nothing I would like more than to toss a few copies of Ulysses into the fire -- I expected a presidential biography about a serial adulterer, not smut.

We can, but because e-books exist in computer files, burning one printed copy of an e-book does nothing to change the overall supply of that book--which is, sadly, inexhaustible.

5. I wrote an offensive book about Mark Twain fornicating with a unicorn, and the only copy of that book exists on my flash drive. So can't I destroy my own book by burning my flash drive?

Yes. If no copy of that file exists on any other device, you can indeed destroy your own book by burning your flash drive. However, if you are in the habit of writing about fictional creatures having relations with animals, it may be more effective for us to burn you than your flash drive. Our new Exploratory Committee for Author Incineration may be in touch.

6. I accidentally bought an offensive e-book -- I didn't realize what George would be so Curious about -- and would like to symbolically burn it. May I print the receipt from my purchase and toss that into the fire?
 
We're sorry -- you "accidentally" bought an offensive e-book? This unfortunately triggers an automatic forfeiting of your membership in the BBA. We'll have someone else bring the potato salad to the after-fire barbecue.

7. I can bring potato salad, but I don't have a recipe. Are we allowed to read cookbooks, or are they on the list of objectionable works?

 

It depends. We've been burning the ones with recipes for deviled eggs, chicken breasts, and grapes (of wrath or otherwise), but aside from that, you should be fine.

 

Jeremy Blachman is the author of Anonymous Lawyer and has written for McSweeney's, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications that fall somewhere in between.

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With Child With Child

 

Russian Nesting Doll: So, doctor? Am I...am I, you know?


Doctor: (looks upset) Yes. Yes, you're pregnant.


Doll:  Oh, that's just wonderful! That's just the most wonderful news. What’s wrong?


Doctor: (glances at his chart) Well, there's more. Would you like to have a seat? 

 

Doll: I can't. I can't sit down.

 

Doctor: Oh, right. Well, I want you to brace yourself.

 

Doll: Oh God.

 

Doctor: I don't quite know how to say this.

 

Doll: Oh God.

 

Doctor: So I'll just say it. Your baby is pregnant, too.

 

Doll: Excuse me?

 

Doctor: It's mind-boggling.


Doll: Doctor, what are you saying? I’ve heard of teen pregnancy, but...

 
Doctor: There's more. Dear Lord, there's more.


Doll: Oh goodness.


Doctor: Your baby's baby is...well, pregnant, too.


Doll: If it could, my jaw would drop.

 

Doctor: It's truly mind-boggling!

 

Doll: <Russian expletive>!

 

Doctor: Exactly. Before we can know anything for certain, we must unscrew your waist and empty everyone out until you are completely hollow.


Doll: (small voice) Will there be pain?

 

Doctor: Of course.

 

Doll: Will there be side effects?

 

Doctor: (nodding) Absolutely.

 

Doll: Will there be drugs?

 

Doctor: There is always vodka.

 

Doll: My husband is in the waiting room. He needs to know about his child, and his child’s child, and his child’s child's...

 

Doctor: Yes, I think he should come sit down and talk with us about the situation.

 

Doll: But he can't...

 

Doctor: (opens door to waiting room, takes a good look at husband) Oh no!

 

Doll: Sit down.

 

Doctor: Okay. I'll sit down for the both of us (collapses on exam table). 

 

Doll: And my three sisters are parked outside with their kids, waiting for the good news.  

 

Doctor: Good God -- it must be a clown car!

 

Doll: Actually, it's a hybrid. They're all very compact. My mother fits in the trunk. Should we write that down?

 

Doctor: I think you need to consult a specialist.  

 

Hilary Leichter teaches in the undergraduate creative writing program at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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Blurb Rules

A guide to the art and artifice of writing blurbs for books.

 

1.  Use "I should have known" at the start of any quote you decide to give.  As in "I should have known Meghan Askew would write the best vampire-leprechaun novel of the decade." Or "I should have known that I should have known that 'Maura's Tears' would sweep me away into a maelstrom of [whatever]."

 

2. To keep yourself somewhat closer to being honest, use "of the decade" only for books published in years ending in 1. Or 2, at a stretch.

 

3.  Use "thrilling," even if the book is about nucleopeptides that mimic topoisomerase. "Thrillingly" is OK, too.

 

4. Ditto "prodigious" except for books about child prodigies.

 

5.  Come up with a clever variation of "I couldn't put it down." Some ideas: "I should have known that you wouldn't be able to put it down, and neither would your aunt." "It's so thrilling, you'll be afraid to pick it up. And when you do, you won't be able to put it down." "Go ahead--try it! Go ahead. I dare you. Try to put it down. Oh, you're sure you can? You are? Well, let's see it, then. What's stopping you? Go ahead. There's the table, and there's nothing else on it--plenty of room. No one's looking. You're alone. So go ahead, by all means. See? I thought so!"

 

6.  Make grand comparisons.  Here is a menu of just some of the many books that may be used for grand comparisons: "War and Peace," "The Joy of Cooking," Deuteronomy, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," "Tropic of Cancer,"  "Gilgamesh," "The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," "Peyton Place," any book by Sinclair Lewis or John Irving, "Catch-22," "A Brief History of Time," "Go the F___ To Sleep." 

 

7.  Always describe the process of becoming absorbed by the book. Some examples: "Fred James is one of the few writers who keep trying to set sail upon thrilling narrative waters alone, only to find readers swimming alongside and clambering to get on board."  "If the prodigious James Fredericks were a literary-journalistic shark, anyone who has started 'The Agony and Ecstasy of Isometrics' would instantly become his pilot fish."

 

8. "Not since" is always good. 

 

9.  If you didn't have time to read the book, open it completely at random, read whatever sentence your eye falls on--I just found "The man walked sideways, toward the corner of 7th and A"--transcribe it, and then say "Now, that's what I call writin'!"

 

10. For funny books, always say, "with an undercurrent of plangent melancholy."

 

11. For sad books, always say, "with a prodigious comic undertone that in some measure redeems the melancholy."

 

12. "Redeem" and "redemption" are always good. "Redemptive" is the best. 

 

13.  Assuming you are a writer, be bitter, as in "I might just as well string myself up--'Damien's Curse' is that good." Or "I threw my computer into the furnace after I read 'Some Statistical Variations in the Populations of Small Towns in Central Nebraska.' " 

 

14. "Howlingly funny" is always good.

 

15. "Kafkaesque" is so good that the American Association of Publishers is considering making it mandatory for blurbs for all books--including cookbooks and the Bible. 

 

See also:  Flap Rules.

 

Daniel Menaker is the editor of Grin & Tonic.

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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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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

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.