Rock the Vote: Part I

                    The Ventriloquist Vote: A Silent Majority


Latino voters may make the difference for California Democrats on Election Day

          – Washington Post Headline


Can the Black Vote Save Democrats?

          – Editorial headline from The Chicago Tribune


Gubernatorial Candidates Turn to Women Voters

          – NPR headline


From blogs to cable news, everyone agrees that the key to the Senate race in Nevada will come down to one crucial demographic – Ventriloquists. Democrat Harry Reid showed strong numbers in early polls, but that was before Republican Sharon Angle, and the Tea Party, announced their $4 million plan to spur job growth in the struggling ventriloquist market.


Angle’s attempt to lure the Ventriloquist vote seemed to work, especially after Reid’s campaign slipped up when one of Reid’s volunteers quietly said to herself, “Those puppets are creepy.” The sound bite, which was somehow picked up by a hidden microphone and five plainclothes stenographers, quickly spread across the state. The Sunday- morning talk shows had much to discuss. During the Pain-Minute on Reno’s local Shout Time news program, commentator Shelly “The Hound” Bowers called this slip of the tongue “The most egregious and hateful thing that--” She then broke down in tears and could be heard dry heaving for the rest of the minute.


Several ventriloquists unions and community organizations, including Local Vent 109 and Wooden People for Progress demanded an apology from the Reid campaign. And they got one. During a stump speech at the Laughy Taffy Humor Hut, Reid not only publicly fired the loose-lipped volunteer, but pledged his support for the ventriloquist sector by offering generous tax incentives to those ventriloquists earning less than $65 a show.


Ventriloquist Randy Jordan of Las Vegas thought Reid’s attempt to lure the ventriloquist vote was too little too late, saying, “This plan for ventriloquist tax incentives isn’t enough. You’re going to give me incentives on my $50 a week salary? I don’t need incentives. I need work. And that won’t happen unless the government offers tax breaks for birthday parties.” Jordan’s dummy, Daphne Yum-Yum, added, “My last boyfriend was a baseball bat. HA!”


Former ventriloquist and current magician Armand the Wondrous thinks both candidates are wasting their time. “They never think about the Mr. Wuzzle Factor,” said Wondrous. In 1978, ventriloquist Clive Thornship, aided by his dummy Mr. Wuzzle, ran for Congress in New Jersey. His poll numbers going into the election were strong, especially in the male ventriloquist age 35-67 demographic. However he lost by a landslide. The crash and burn was attributed to low ventriloquist voter turnout. “Vents are a tough group to motivate,” Wondrous said. “Come Election Day, even when one of their own is on the ballot, they tend to stay home and write gags about wooden politicians. And those who do show up usually storm away angry when the voting center refuses to let them enter the booth with their dummy.”


With so much riding on this crucial vote, will either candidate have what it takes to get ventriloquists to the polls? Will the ventriloquists realize their voting potential? If not, who’s to blame? Is it the voter’s fault, or the campaign’s? Perhaps Mr. Wuzzle put it best when he said, “And I thought I was the dummy!”



Dan Bergstein TYPED THIS BY PRESSING THE CAPS LOCK KEY. Or maybe he held down Shift. Only he knows for sure. 

Another Mixed (Up) Review

Too Sweaty For This World: A Life of Portis Filch

By James Lentil

Crumb Hill House; 302 pp.


Why did Portis Filch abandon poetry? The question has haunted and irritated scholars for decades, given the promise of his early work and the tragically odd denouement of his short career. Sadly, the poetry has been overshadowed by the outlandish events that followed, but it is worth remembering just how dutifully Filch’s early poems answered Ezra Pound’s call to "make it new." (Though, as James Lentil's new biography points out, that famous quote has been taken far out of context: in reality Pound spoke those words to a man behind a deli counter who failed to hold the Russian dressing on his Reuben, as Pound had requested.)


Filch, of course, wrote only in Greek, and celebrated peasant life – or so we thought. The new volume provides the first new English translation of the poems since Helga Muffenstruss’s standard 1932 edition, and some of the differences are striking. For example, it seems that his most famous Ode,  "A Stroll Along Heffernan Lake," was not an appreciation of the fall harvest, as long believed, but an expression of Filch’s distrust of gourds.


Every poem Filch ever published was written before his twentieth birthday. But just as he started to gain recognition, he fled America, complaining of the smell. Touring the capitals of Europe, he met Ibbicus Howe, an American expatriate living in Rome, who worked as an usher at the legendary Rivaldi Theater by day and stayed up all night working in his tiny, cluttered third floor studio, which he referred to, somewhat grandiosely, as Blue Raven Hill Community Gardens.


Filch had fallen in love with the Rivaldi Theater, with its crystal chandeliers and aisle seats dusted with truffle shavings, and he met Howe during a matinee intermission. Based on more than sixty conversations with relatives of fellow expatriates close to both Filch and Howe, Lentil has recreated their first fateful conversation.


Howe: I’m sorry, sir, you can’t stand there.

Filch: I most certainly can.

Howe: I’m sorry, you’re blocking the concession stand. If you want to stand there, you have to buy something.

Filch: Pig!

Howe: My dear sir, there’s no need for name-calling.

Filch: Brute!

Howe: May I suggest the salted cashews? Delicious, and the price is quite reasonable.

Filch: [looking at the price tag] Oh my, that is actually very reasonable.


After that evening’s performance, Filch accepted Howe's invitation to return with him to Blue Raven Hill Community Gardens. Stepping into the studio, which doubled as Howe's workshop, Filch renounced poetry on the spot. Howe believed the workout apparel of the time was crude and didn't allow the body to properly breathe. That first night, as Filch listened, captivated, the older man lectured for more than six hours on thermals, the pros and cons of polypropylene and the deleterious effects of clogged pores.


Howe hoped, in the confines of his studio, to design and manufacture a line of workout apparel that, as he put it, "would work with, not against, your body’s natural oils" and, as his tombstone reads, "Never, ever sacrifice comfort for style."  Lentil is silent on the much-rumored romantic relationship between the two, but perhaps it is better that way, since the scant evidence consists entirely of a single photograph, which shows Howe buttering a stack of wheat toast as Filch, nearby, looks on with appetite, though whether for the toast or Howe is unclear.


But the book is rich with stories about the American literary establishment’s abandonment of Filch. Leading New York intellectuals savaged his reputation after, in a letter to the Partisan Review, Filch declared, "mesh garments are the new poetry." And when, in 1930, Filch founded the journal "American Acrylic," critics contrasted the poor quality of the articles with the high quality of the Spandex binding. Unable to disagree, Filch used the fabrics originally intended for the second issue to construct what is believed to be the first semi-formal jogging suit.


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


The Worst - Part III

"The best stock: Netflix"
The Worst Stock
Feebtronix, a manufacturer of transistorized frog jigs and electronic behavior-modification systems for the home.  In the four years the stock has been on the market, Feebtronix has never declared an official dividend, but to hold on to its major investors the company periodically sends out anonymous photos of Feebtronix executives using public transportation and doing their own dental work.  There is no annual report; instead, a specially trained Feebtronix employee calls up each shareholder and whines about the minimum-wage law.  Feebtronix is usually traded under the counter at all-night drugstores and at hotel gift shops, and a purchase of a hundred or more shares entitles the buyer to a free copy of Mel’s Guide to Mink-Ranching for Big Bucks.  At the moment, however, the federal government is investigating reports that each Feebtronix worker is expected to contribute a quart of blood a week to the company infirmary, and the SEC is looking into complaints about the stock certificates, which show large dollar signs dressed in trenchcoats and making crude gestures.
"The best-known Greek myth: The story of Hercules"
The Worst Greek Myth
The story of Zeus and the Orthodontist, as recorded in the Ninth Peristaltic Ode of Hector of Knidos, a shameless imitator of Pindar.  Roughly translated, the story goes like this: “It happened that Zeus, unbeknownst to Hera, went to have some work done by a mortal orthodontist named Vitalis.  The session was particularly painful, which caused Zeus to call Vitalis 'a common farrier' and transform him into a figwort.  When Hera saw the ill-fitting appliances in Zeus’s mouth, she flew into a rage, and later took it out on mankind by inventing mildew.”
"In general, some of the best apples for eating are Fuji and Red Delicious."
The Worst Apple
The Industrial Spy, a Washington State hybrid that was produced when a Northern Spy tree in full blossom was fertilized by a cloud of radioactive soot from a nearby nuclear power plant.  The mature Industrial Spy never exceeds one inch in diameter.  Its thick, tough skin is cadmium yellow and it glows in the dark, and at dawn the fruit emits an ultrahigh-frequency twittering that attracts worms in great numbers.  The state Department tested this apple as a golf-ball substitute for emerging nations, with mixed results (it carries well, but not in hot weather it immediately puts out roots in the cup).  It is otherwise useless, except for the juice, which when handled with caution is extremely effective in crowd control.



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.

Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin & Tonic.

The Deal of the Art

"The auction of Lehman Brothers: Artwork and Ephemera realized $2,593,749, surpassing its pre-sale estimate. Offering artworks and selected items of interest which once adorned the walls and offices of the British and European [offices] of the former banking powerhouse Lehman Brothers, the auction attracted over 1,100 registered bidders from around the world."

        -- From a Christie’s press release


Lot #27 -- “The Irreconcilability of Art and Adam Smith” --  Body of casually clad Lehman Brothers Managing Director preserved in formaldehyde, with live shark  in adjacent tank chuckling at the ironic reversal.  Estimate: $1,000,000 - $1,5000,000, including annual maintenance contract for shark.


Lot #50: Diptych:  "Hedge Fund Manager Not Being Able to Look At Himself In the Mirror When He Shaves in the Morning" -- digital photographic collage, with  "Hedge Fund Manager Claiming He's Able to Look At Himself in the Mirror When He Shaves in the Morning."  Estimate: $75,000 in Cayman Islands currency.
Lot #52: "My Bonus is Bigger Than Your Bonus" -- waist-down photograph of ten naked employees of the mortgage-backed securities department, holding their actual bonus checks.  Estimate: Between $5,000 and $8,000 dollars.
Lot #58: “Enter Laughing, Exit Laughing” – Ten-foot sculpture made entirely of melted keys from foreclosed Las Vegas houses,  complete with media installation of weeping evictees. Estimate:  $50,000 (only gold bullion accepted).


Lot #66 - "Death and Acceleration Clauses"   --  Pine casket filled with worthless, shredded second mortgages. The Treasury Department will immediately re-purchase the lot from successful bidder for $1 million dollars above purchase price plus buyer premium.  Estimate: Ask Department.


Lot # 71--"Fun With Ayn" -- Series of pop-art inspired portraits of Ayn Rand as Joan of Arc, Marilyn Monroe, Lady Gaga and Rachel Maddow.  Comes with authenticated certificate of inauthenticity. Estimate: $65,000 (counterfeit only).


Lot #82 -  "Hand Laundry" -- Collection of Purell bottles assembled from Lehman's global facilities and bronzed. Estimate: Sorry--insider information.


Lot # 101  "Napa Valley Wine and Artisanal Cheese Tasting In The Second Tranche of the Garden of Eden," oil, ground porcini, and securitized stardust, signed by Pastor Dieter Brown, outsider artist and former Lehman Brothers pastry chef.  Estimate: Free, to anyone who can remove from Christie's premises.

Adam Hanft writes on consumer culture for Salon, Huffington Post, Slate, The Daily Beast, and Fast Company. He also wrote TV comedy for Garry Marshall.

The Worst - Part II

                    By Charles McGrath and Daniel Menaker



"The Best Mammal: 1. My dog.  2. Blue whale  3. Humans  4. Leopard"


The Worst Mammal: Jimmy’s tapir (Pseudoporcus dormiens), a large, entirely bald riparian ungulate of Paraguay.  A herd of Jimmy’s tapirs was discovered lolling in a backwater of the Purulencia River in 1973 by an elderly English prospector named James Gormless, but no one took him seriously until he went back the following year and made a tape recording of their snickering love call.  At maturity these animals weigh around two hundred pounds; they are industrial green in color, and the males are distinguishable by two tan chevrons on the rump.  The tapirs are almost perfectly spherical in shape — which appears to make them unattractive as prey, even though they are utterly defenseless — and scientific investigation has shown that they have only a vestigial digestive system.  They live on microscopic algae, which they absorb through the craterlike pores on their backs while floating motionless in stagnant pools of water.  It used to be thought that Jimmy’s tapirs were too indolent and slovenly to have any social structure, but zoologists have recently established that there is in fact a rigid hierarchy among these animals, with the highest ranks held by depressed males whose mates have left them.


"The  Best Lost City: Ciudad Perdida, Colombia"



The Worst Lost City

Axlotl, in the Yucatan, discovered in 1968 by the pilot of an off-course helicopter from Mexico City.  Scholars have speculated that the Axlotlans may have suffered from low self-esteem, since the city’s layout resembles a huge maggot.  In any case, there are only two structures still standing in Axlotl — a squat, trapezoidal temple to the god of humidity, and a building with a sign that says, in Mayan, “Popo’s Refried Beans.”  The rest of the city, which seems to have consisted largely of efficiency flats and human-sacrifice facilities, lies in ruins.  Excavations have shown that the Axlotlans invented many things but didn’t know what they were for, as is evident from murals depicting washing-machine duels and maidens attempting to milk windmills.  Axlotl was abandoned in 1365, shortly after all the city’s streets had been repaved with yeast.


"Best Ice Cream Flavor: Mint Chocolate Chip"


The Five Worst Ice Cream Flavors

1.      I’m a Lima Sherbet

2.      Cheddar Chip

3.      Shrimp Gumbo

4.      Bits o’ Broccoli

5.      Tobacco Road


To see more of The Worst, please click here.



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.     

Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin & Tonic.

Monster Mash-Ups III

                                      (Special Halloween Edition)


"They did the Mash, they did the Monster Mash."

          —Bobby "Boris" Pickett


"An American Werewolf In London Fields," by Martin Amiss

     SYNOPSIS: While on vacation in an apocalyptic London overrun by werewolves sometime in the near future, a decent but dimwitted American guy named Guy gets bitten. He soon is drawn into a bizarre lovers’ triangle with two other werewolves:  would-be darts champion Keith and femme fatale Nicola—emphasis on the fatale. Nicola has grown tired of an immortal existence and wants to provoke either Guy or Keith to shoot her through the heart with a silver bullet. Unreliably narrated by Sam, an aging werewolf dying of the mange.

     BACK-COVER BLURBS: "You'll howl with delight!" "A hairy situation! The fur really flies in this one!"

     MARKETING TIE-INS: Warren Zevon will come back from the grave to record a new version of "Werewolves of London" expressly for this edition. (The publishers are glad they didn’t sign that marketing tie-in with the remake of "The Wolfman"—it died at the box-office.)

      MAJOR THEMES: Man's animal instincts. Woman's animal instincts. Bestiality.

"Twilight’s Children," by Salman Gushdie
      SYNOPSIS: On the eve of Indian independence, a group of children are born with extraordinary abilities. Some are werewolves, some are vampires, and some are just incredibly hot. Can they learn to unlive together peacefully, or is partition inevitable? One sexy young lycanthrope with enhanced olfactory abilities decides to try to sniff out the truth—then moves to London to get with Nicola from "An American Werewolf In London Fields."

      BACK-COVER BLURBS: "Will surely curry favor with the public and the critics alike!" "A spicy masala of sex and supernatural hijnks."  “I issue a fatwa—you must buy this book!”

    MARKETING TIE-INS: Watch for the exciting sequel, "The Satanic Curses": once a month, a beautiful sexy woman is possessed by the devil and splits into two evil, opposite twins!

      MAJOR THEMES: The allure of the Other.  The incredible freaking hotness of the Other.


"Waiting For Godzilla," by Samuel Wreckett

     SYNOPSIS: In a timeless, nameless wasteland, two drunken Japanese salarymen swill sake,  play pachinko, and discuss the meaninglessness of existence. After three hours of this tedium,  a giant lizard—symbolizing American imperialism in the Bikini Islands—steps on them, obliterating their empty, futile lives.

     MARKETING TIE-INS: Smucker’s will introduce a special commemorative Godzilla Toe Jam that glows in the dark. With a name like Smucker’s, you know it must be radioactive.

      BACK-COVER BLURBS: "I don’t know what it means, but I know that I like it—I think!" "Like watching paint dry—I mean a timeless tale of suspense!"

      MAJOR THEMES: The meaninglessness of plot, or character development, or major themes.


"Eat Pray Kill," by Elizabeth Guillotine

    SYNOPSIS: A beautiful, successful, divorced young woman goes on a spiritual quest to  India. She gets more than  she bargained for when  she encounters a group of sexy young werewolves and vampires—no, that's "Twilight’s Children." She gets more than she bargained for when she encounters a cult  of Thuggee cannibals. She loses her heart to  the handsome, charismatic leader of the cult—then her  lungs  and her kidneys. What will remain of her—and will there be enough leftovers for a sequel?

     MARKETING TIE-INS: Watch for the exciting movie adaption, starring Julia Roberts and directed by Eli Roth. At last, a role Ms. Roberts can throw herself into, body and soul.        BACK-COVER BLURBS: “A profound and profoundly disturbing book. It will get under your skin--and down to the soft, tender, yummy parts." “You will never look at ladyfingers the same way again."

     MAJOR THEMES: Woman’s spiritual hunger.  Man's visceral hunger. Meat.


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

House Swap

Hey Dudes,

Sorry Margo and I didn’t get back to your emails or phone messages right away -- we were having such a blast in your home. So glad you guys decided to swap houses with us! This is the awesomest vacation we’ve ever had. The two of us agree we’ll never go through a house finder again. Better to just set it up the way we did ourselves and save all that money, wouldn’t you agree? God bless Twitter for bringing us together.

Now, to address those issues you raised in your ten emails:

First, I am not sure why you keep insisting we misled you about the location of our house with regard to the beach.  Maybe you have a different definition of “within walking distance” from ours.  Margo and I consider anything up to five miles to be like, totally walkable. In our estimation, too many Americans don’t move around on their feet enough, and that’s why there’s this obesity epidemic. To be honest, now that we’re in your home and seeing photos of you guys, we think you could stand to perambulate a little more. So enjoy that hike to the beach! (You might want to avoid “Boxville” That’s where the last couple we swapped with disappeared.) When you get there, don’t worry  about the “Private Beach -- No Public Access” signs you’ll see on that gate. Look around, make sure no one sees you, then simply climb over -- the barbed wire isn’t always electrified!

Second, we’re sorry you had trouble finding the hot tub. Our bad! We forgot to tell you it’s in the neighbor’s yard. Just go over there while they’re at work and enjoy your time in the bubbles! Please be considerate and take any “roaches” and bottles back with you. The nabes came over after our first time and asked if we’d seen anyone using their tub.  Speaking of neighbors, you’ll be glad to know that we handled yours, and  most excellently,  when they complained about our partying. No, no -- we didn’t threaten them--ROFL! We just invited them over and plopped them down in front of your TV with that video the two of you made of your last bondage session. We’ve watched it like a half dozen times ourselves. Very hot! The pink leash episode, especially.

Next. It sounds like you encountered our little pet, Atat. Isn’t he cute? But there’s something you should know about him. He doesn’t like being called a “rat.” He’s very sensitive about that, which is probably why he was standing up on his hind legs and showing you his teeth, like you described in email No.  8. But he’ll get over that if you feed him a little brie. In fact, he’ll probably want to snuggle up with you two while you watch that old three-channel Dumont of ours.

I’m skimming through the rest of your emails because I can hear tonight’s party guests arriving and I should clean up after fixing the door to your wine cellar. Did you know it wouldn’t open? No problem--it does now. Margo and I salute your taste in reds, especially that 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild jeroboam.

I do have to bring up one negative thing: Margo was very hurt by your remark that our house was “filthy” when you arrived. She’s proud of the way that she keeps the house in an eco-friendly manner. In her opinion, it’s far healthier to cohabit with a little dirt than it is to inhale noxious chemicals. But up to you. The local supermarket carries lots of cleaning products similar to the ones we’ve seen in the closet here in your home. We are OK with you using them in our house while you’re there, but we prefer to let nature take its course while we’re in yours.

 One last thing: there’s a slight problem with the locks on your house. We made a copy of the keys for a new friend we met in a bar who turned out to be wanted in Utah for gun-running. So, of course we did the responsible thing and had the locks changed. But then we went and lost those keys. Double bad on us! So we’ve had to leave the house open for the last few days, but don’t worry-- nothing has gone missing yet except that sex tape. And we’ll be sure the place is locked up tight when we leave. All you have to do is call the locksmith when you get here. Have a safe trip home!
Polly Frost's new book, "With One Eye Open," is a collection of 25 of her humor pieces. Her website is

My Quest for no Stress

I’m not good with doctor visits, even routine ones. During my last physical the internist said, “Are you under stress?”

            “Since I was born. And especially when I see you. Is that a problem?” My heart pounded with anxiety. What horrible news was he about to deliver?

            “Everything’s great,” he said. “I simply want to make sure you’re managing your stress levels.”

            “Why? What could go wrong?”

            He seemed to be picking his words carefully. “Nothing yet, but the long-term effects of stress can be very harmful -- as we get older.”

            “Are you saying I’m aging?”

            “We all do,” he said.

             This visit was so stressful that I nearly crashed into another car on the drive home.


            “Hey Sweetie, how was your physical?” my husband asked as I stumbled into our house.

            “Peachy keen,” I snapped. “Do we have to talk about it? It’s making me very tense.”

            “You do seem rattled,” he said cautiously.

            “It was just the drive home,” I explained. “I was behind an SUV the entire time.”

            “Sounds like normal commuting,” he said.

            “This SUV had a bumper sticker that said ‘It’s all good.’ If that isn’t the most stressful thing to see in front of you when you’re stopped at an endless red light, I don’t know what is! It’s like a reproach to people like me who aren’t mellow enough.”

            “You know I made you that relaxation CD so you wouldn’t react like this while driving.”

            I burst into tears. “It wasn’t just the SUV!”

            “What was it?” He seemed genuinely concerned.

            “The doctor told me I have to stop being so stressed out because I’m getting older!”

            “Phew,” he said. “I thought it was something serious.”

            “What’s not serious? Do you know how stressful it is to try to reduce one’s stress levels?”

            He smiled. “This is a great opportunity to join me in something you know I do every day.”

            “Oh no,” I said. “I’m not meditating.” He’s been bugging me to do it with him for years.

            “Just fifteen minutes. Is that so much?”

            “It takes me two minutes to make a Mimosa,” I said. “Which would do more for my stress levels right now.”

            He serenely took my hand -- don’t you hate it when spouses are serene? -- and led me over to the area of our living room where he meditates. He pulled me down so I was seated next to him.

            “Let’s begin,” he said. “You pick a number between one and twenty. We’ll count up and back from it to center our breathing.”

            I thought about which digit would be most soothing.

            “It’s been five minutes,” he said. “What’s your number?”

            “I was thinking 3,” I said, “but figured we’d be rushing up and back. I thought about 19, but worried I’d lose track counting that high and then I thought about 6 but that's boring and --”

            “I’ll pick it,” he said. “10. Now all you need to do is select a peaceful image to visualize.”

            “Like what?” I asked. “You know I specialize in imagining disasters.”

            “Picture a beautiful lake view.”

            “Got it,” I said. “Wow, my lake is not just beautiful -- it’s rockin’ glacial! I’m feeling so peaceful. So joyful. So -- oh no! Here comes one of those annoying jet skis!”

            “Sweetheart.” His voice sounding less tranquil. “You need to let whatever happens happen. If there’s a jet ski, go with it.”

            We went back to meditating.

            My husband interrupted. “Why are you making that weird noise?”

            “I’m going with irritating sound of the jet ski.”

            “Do it in silence,” he said testily.

            We meditated again. Suddenly my husband shook me. “You’re not breathing,” he said.

            “I was afraid I’d make too much noise.”

            He got up. “This session is making me completely anxious,” he said. “The stress is catching! I wouldn’t be surprised if your doctor took a Valium after you left. I’ve got to have a Mimosa.”

            I called out after him. “But I’m not feeling any stress for the first time in my life! Uh-oh! Feeing no stress is stressing me out about when it will come back.”

            “Don’t worry about it.,” my husband said. “I’ll make you a mimosa too.”

            “Thanks, Sweetie, “ I said. “Put a strawberry in mine, please, and then maybe I can really relax.”

            Oh, no!, I thought.  Maybe I should have an orange slice instead. Then I decided that if I wrote down everything that was happening to me, I’d be less stressed about it. But how to end it? That’s the most stressful thing of all.


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


"Google ...  has been working in secret but in plain view on vehicles that can drive themselves, using artificial-intelligence software that can sense anything near the car and mimic the decisions made by a human driver."

          --NY Times
(Google car on-board technician’s log, 9/15/10,  found by roadside on Mexican border)
7:39 AM– Gassed up before beginning drive. Attempted to fill up with regular but car refused to open fuel cap until I selected super unleaded plus. When car wasn’t paying attention, switched back to regular fuel. Went into gas station and bought coffee for myself.
8:16 AM – Car has realized that I used regular fuel. Is pretending to sputter and shimmy as if it can’t possibly go on. In situations like this, it is best to ignore car.
8:23  AM – Car has given up act and is driving normally.
8:24 AM – Car  stopped abruptly as I was lifting coffee to my mouth. Jeans are stained, but somehow nothing got on car’s upholstery. Car  literally honking its own horn.
8:41 AM– Merging onto the highway.
8:58 AM– Car and I in conflict over music. I select classical music, car automatically retunes to techno music that sounds like drills and gunshots.
9:14 AM– Car has left the highway to pursue a shortcut.
9:31 AM – Car has clearly gotten lost but overrides my attempts to pull over to ask for directions.
9:35 AM– Stopped at red light. An attractive young  woman is in the automobile next to us. Car has turned off techno music and is now tuned to NPR with the windows down. 
9:36  AM – Still at light. Car revving engine for attention. Woman has misunderstood the situation and is now revving her own automobile in anticipation of a street race.
9:37  AM– Car is now going 85 miles per hour in a 30 zone. The young woman gave up the race a mile back. Flashing lights and sirens of a police car approaching from behind. 
9:42 AM – Don’t know quite how to explain this, but it seems that the car has just eaten police officer. Car just popped its hood, officer approached and looked in, and the hood came down with a chomping noise.


9:43 AM– Car is speeding away from the scene. Now completely out of my control. Doors locked, can't be opened.  
10:26 AM – Car has found abandoned garage to park in. Doors still locked.
4:03 PM – Still in garage. Can't take seatbelt off, open windows, or unlock doors.
5:15 PM–  Car is trying to kill me! Seatbelt tightening! Heated seats very hot ....
5:20 PM –It iz mee, the teknishun uzing niew riting idia--ajustibble mirror and pen.  Itz knot the karr pretening 2 b teknishun. Wat I sai in logg b4 iz just keeding. Karr no dueing badd thingz leyek I sai urrleeyur. I just maak jokz. Allsow, I qwit job as teknishun 4ever. An doghn luk 4 me becuz I moov to Awestrailya. Bi-bi4 ever, luv, teknishun.


Sean Adams is a humor writer living in the Midwest.  His work has been featured on McSweeney's, The Bygone's Bureau, and elsewhere.

Celebrating Columbus Day

I’m sure many of you have been thinking about how to spend this year’s Columbus Day ever since you read the beginning of this sentence and first realized that Columbus Day was coming up almost immediately and you forgot—right? This can be an extremely difficult task, as unlike some of America’s other major holidays—Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, Christmas, and Make Your Child Do Your Work Day, etc.—there is some controversy over how one should properly celebrate what Columbus was once thought to have done.


It wasn’t always this way. Back in 1934, when Columbus Day was first established, people across the country spent the day however they pleased: wearing suits made of pasta, carving Columbus-o’-lanterns, or, most commonly, trying to find a job. There was a Depression going on, after all. But celebrating has become trickier over the last couple of decades, thanks to some new and startling discoveries that were also not of America. These include:

     -Columbus did not, technically, or in any other way, actually, discover America.
     -Once Columbus got to America, he did not treat those who happened to be already here very nicely.
     -Near the end of the voyage of not discovering America, one of Columbus’ sailors called dibs on the last orange, and even though Columbus heard him say this, he ate it anyway. Columbus said why, in Italian: “Perche sono el capitano e posso,” or something like that, meaning “Because I am the captain and I can.”
     -It was impossible for Columbus to say the word “seamen” without giggling.  Even though he said “marinai,” he knew what the English translation was.
     -The Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria all tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Such findings have caused many people to seriously question whether or not Columbus Day should remain a national holiday. They usually quiet down once we remind them that getting rid of it would cost everyone a three-day weekend, but there is a movement afoot to keep your fingers crossed during the whole Monday off. Other questions remain:  Did Columbus start his voyage in 1492 because he knew it rhymed with “ocean blue”  in English, or was it just a coincidence? Did he purposely name his ships in such a way that they would have essentially the same scansion as Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe in a later century?


The best way to avoid such knotty problems and still observe the occasion would be to spend the day volunteering at a Native American reservation, thus simultaneously recognizing and damning Columbus. Unfortunately, the number of Law and Order marathons typically aired on this day and the maddeningly inconvenient location of many reservations usually outweigh good intentions.


A more practical strategy, then, would be to celebrate Columbus Day by making an effort to give your children a thorough understanding of both the positive and the negative effects of Columbus’ trip to America.  For those first few moments when they’re actually listening, tell them how courageous Columbus was.   Now just  picture the looks of curiosity and joy on their faces as they realize that, despite what they may have heard in school, if they turn the volume on their iPods up high enough, they won’t be able to hear you and can go back to playing “Let’s Kill As Many People As Possible” on their Xbox 360.  


One final suggestion.  There are many car sales on Columbus Day, and what better way to observe the holiday than to acquire a means of transportation?  Because that’s what Columbus used to get here when he didn’t discover America. If you want to really do it up right, buy a Plymouth Voyager.

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


How to Get Rid of Bedbugs

Until now, bedbug victims have had to take extreme measures to rid themselves of these pests--throwing away mattresses, burning sheets and clothing, and spraying their homes with noxious chemicals. But a new method has been developed by the United Singles Association of America, using the scientific finding that insects can indeed be intoxicated and the clear fact that bedbugs want to be in our beds and probably think that we don’t want them there.  With this in mind, the USAA has created the following foolproof  twelve-step program.   


1. Start talking to your bedbugs. Tell them that maybe you got off on the wrong foot.
2. Invite the bedbugs to have a beer with you. Continue to give the bedbugs beer until they are very tipsy.
3. When the bedbugs pass out, bring them back to your apartment and put them back in your bed.
4. The next morning, wake up before the bedbugs so that you’re staring directly at them when they first open their eyes. When they finally come to, smile say something like, “I’ve been watching you sleep for the last three hours, Sleepyheads.”
5. The bedbugs, hung over and uncomfortable, will try to make an excuse about why they have to get going. Don’t let them. Insist that they stay for breakfast. Don’t take no for an answer.
6. Cook some eggs a bit too long so they're rubbery, and leave the toast in the toaster until it’s black.
7. On your way back to the table, drop all the forks on the floor in clear view of the bedbugs. Yell at yourself for never being able to do anything right, before standing still and crying quietly for two to three minutes.
8. When you finally sit down to eat, talk about how your friends have been telling you for weeks that you should get back in the "scene," but everyone you meet thinks you’re too clingy. But now, say to the bedbugs, with them here, maybe things are turning a corner. Also, mention how nice it is to finally meet someone face-to-face because you’re used to using chat rooms.
9. Ask the bedbugs if they play any instruments. Before they can answer tell them you asked because you play the banjo and you’ve always wanted to be a part of a married couple musical act.
10. Wink at the bedbugs.
11. Ask what the bedbugs’ favorite dinosaur is. Act disappointed no matter what their answer is, and tell them that you take such matters  really seriously. 
12. Look down at your plate and exclaim that the crumbs and egg-bits look just like the bedbugs. Jump up and shout jubilantly, "I’m going to go get my glue so I can keep this image forever!"
When you come back, the bedbugs will be gone. If you have any way of contacting them, (cell phone number, blog url, etc.), it wouldn’t be a bad idea to send two messages a day for the next week, keeping your existence fresh in the bedbugs’ minds so they remember to tell their friends to avoid you at all costs, even if it means having to resort to futons and hammocks.  


Sean Adams is a humor writer living in the Midwest.  His work has been featured on McSweeney's, The Bygone Bureau, and elsewhere.

Celebrating Columbus Day

I’m sure many of you have been thinking about how to spend this year’s Columbus Day ever since you read the beginning of this sentence and first realized that Columbus Day was coming up almost immediately and you forgot—right? This can be an extremely difficult task, as unlike some of America’s other major holidays—Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, Christmas, and Make Your Child Do Your Work Day, etc.—there is some controversy over how one should properly celebrate what Columbus was once thought to have done.


It wasn’t always this way. Back in 1934, when Columbus Day was first established, people across the country spent the day however they pleased: wearing suits made of pasta, carving Columbus-o’-lanterns, or, most commonly, trying to find a job. There was a Depression going on, after all. But celebrating has become trickier over the last couple of decades, thanks to some new and startling discoveries that were also not of America. These include:

     -Columbus did not, technically, or in any other way, actually, discover America.
     -Once Columbus got to America, he did not treat those who happened to be already here very nicely.
     -Near the end of the voyage of not discovering America, one of Columbus’ sailors called dibs on the last orange, and even though Columbus heard him say this, he ate it anyway. Columbus said why, in Italian: “Perche sono el capitano e posso,” or something like that, meaning “Because I am the captain and I can.”
     -It was impossible for Columbus to say the word “seamen” without giggling.  Even though he said “marinai,” he knew what the English translation was.
     -The Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria all tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Such findings have caused many people to seriously question whether or not Columbus Day should remain a national holiday. They usually quiet down once we remind them that getting rid of it would cost everyone a three-day weekend, but there is a movement afoot to keep your fingers crossed during the whole Monday off. Other questions remain:  Did Columbus start his voyage in 1492 because he knew it rhymed with “ocean blue”  in English, or was it just a coincidence? Did he purposely name his ships in such a way that they would have essentially the same scansion as Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe in a later century?


The best way to avoid such knotty problems and still observe the occasion would be to spend the day volunteering at a Native American reservation, thus simultaneously recognizing and damning Columbus. Unfortunately, the number of Law and Order marathons typically aired on this day and the maddeningly inconvenient location of many reservations usually outweigh good intentions.


A more practical strategy, then, would be to celebrate Columbus Day by making an effort to give your children a thorough understanding of both the positive and the negative effects of Columbus’ trip to America.  For those first few moments when they’re actually listening, tell them how courageous Columbus was.   Now just  picture the looks of curiosity and joy on their faces as they realize that, despite what they may have heard in school, if they turn the volume on their iPods up high enough, they won’t be able to hear you and can go back to playing “Let’s Kill As Many People As Possible” on their Xbox 360.  


One final suggestion.  There are many car sales on Columbus Day, and what better way to observe the holiday than to acquire a means of transportation?  Because that’s what Columbus used to get here when he didn’t discover America. If you want to really do it up right, buy a Plymouth Voyager.

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


Horse Talk

(Setting: In 1870, tens and tens of people are gathered in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts, around Ray and Tom, who stand on a soapbox.)


RAY: Hello, and welcome to Horse Talk, from National Public Soapbox with us, Clip and Clop, the Crawford Brothers. Are you ready to field a question?
TOM: I’m ready.
RAY (Cups his hand to his ear): Hello, this is Horse Talk.
(Winifred steps forward from the crowd.)
WINIFRED: Hi, I’m having a problem with my 1856 Spanish Mustang.
TOM: Let me guess. You’ve got an exhaust problem.
WINIFRED: No, not exhaust.
TOM: Then it’s starving!
(Ray laughs.)
RAY: Yeah, what are you feeding it that it doesn’t have an exhaust problem? OK. Go ahead.
WINIFRED: After I set the parking reins and leave for a few minutes, I come back to find my horse parked on the opposite side of the street completely exhausted.
RAY: I see. And does your horse have a smirk on its face?
(Tom Laughs.)
WINIFRED: No, no smirk.
TOM: I know what this is.
RAY: You do?
TOM: I do. I’ve seen this in my stable many times.
RAY: Well, there you go Winifred. I thought maybe you were delusional.
TOM: Nope. But you’re close.
(Ray and Tom laugh.)
RAY: Close, huh?  Well then, what is it?
TOM: The 1856 Spanish Mustang model is known for a poor memory system and bad breaks.
RAY: Really?
TOM: Yep.
RAY: So the horse broke loose, immediately forgot where it was parked, and then spent the next few minutes scrambling to put itself back into a parking space.
TOM: Winifred, you have yourself a nutstang, I guess.
(Ray and Tom laugh.)
TOM: So my suggestion is to get thicker reins.
RAY: Isn't my brother brilliant? Good luck, Winifred. Now it’s time for a break and even though Italian Trotters rip off their horseshoes to stick in their ears when they hear us say it, this is National Public Soapbox.


(Someone sings "Camptown Races" during the intermission.)


RAY: Hello, this is Horse Talk.

(Douglass steps forward from the crowd.)
DOUGLASS: Hi guys, I come here every Saturday. I just want to say I love your gatherings.
TOM: Thank you.
RAY: Thanks, Douglass, but I specifically told you to mention my new haircut.
(Tom laughs.)
TOM: Don't worry--you’ll still get your twenty-five cents. How can we help you?
DOUGLASS: I’m hoping you can help me settle a dispute. I ride an 1840 Warmblood.
TOM: There’s your problem right there, Douglass. It’s not alive.
(Ray laughs.)
RAY: Have you noticed that it doesn’t move?
DOUGLASS: It does move.
TOM: Does it make a whining noise like it doesn’t want to move?
DOUGLASS: Well, that's the problem but not with my horse--it's my wife’s horse.
RAY: What does your wife ride?
DOUGLASS: An 1839 Warmblood.
(Ray and Tom laugh.)
TOM: You mean she’s riding something older than an 1840 Warmblood?
RAY: Wow. Well, what’s the dispute?
DOUGLASS: There’s this whining noise whenever she starts riding, just like you said.
TOM: I’d imagine. Do you know what that is? That’s the horse saying “Stop! Stop!”
(Ray laughs.)
DOUGLASS: So I told her that it’ll go away after about fifteen minutes and she says that it won’t.
RAY: And have you tried the fifteen-minute test yet?
TOM: In other words, is the horse still alive?
(Ray and Tom laugh.)
DOUGLASS: No, we haven’t tried it.
RAY: Douglass, you’re right about the noise going away.  You keep riding that horse and it’ll be dead in fifteen minutes. 
(Ray and Tom laugh.)
RAY: But good luck, Douglass. OK. It’s time for another break. Even though Clydesdale horses dive head first into equestrian pools when they hear us say it, this is National Public Soapbox.


Someone sings "Old Paint" during the intermission.


RAY: Hello, this is Horse Talk.
(Nathan steps forward from the crowd.)
NATHAN: Hi, I bought an English saddle the other day and--
TOM: And now you’ve decided to buy American?
(Ray laughs.)
NATHAN: Indeed. It’s not comfortable at all. Do you have any suggestions?
TOM: You could carry the horse.
(Ray laughs.)
RAY: Right. How about you give the horse a break and let it ride you for a day?
TOM: Then you can see if that saddle really hurts.
(Ray and Tom laugh.)
RAY: Nathan, seriously, here’s what you do. Put a burlap sack full of grain on it for a few days. That’ll wear it down to a manageable comfort level.
TOM: Or send it back to England with a note saying, "If you are interested in having children, do not ride on this." 
(Ray and Tom laugh.)
RAY: Well, it’s happened again. You’ve wasted another perfectly good ten minutes listening to Horse Talk. Remember, folks, don’t ride like my brother.
TOM: And don’t ride like my brother!
(Ray and Tom laugh.)


Gregory Mazurek ( has been published in McSweeney’s, Bygone Bureau, Scientific Creative Quarterly, and more.

Your Super-Trout: An Operator's Guide

"The [super-salmon’s] approval would help open a path for companies and academic scientists developing other genetically engineered animals, like cattle resistant to mad cow disease or pigs that could supply healthier bacon."

     --The New York Times


 Congratulations! With the purchase of iTrout(R) you have joined a select but growing throng of customers we at Advantis(R) like to call the Smart Set. After all, what isn’t smart about a renewable cybernetic food resource that, with minimal risk of spoilage or rebellion, protects your wallet and the environment at the same time? Don’t worry about answering that, Smartsetter-- we know a bold and savvy consumer like you leaves second thoughts for the spineless.


Incidentally, iTrout’s spinelessness and, indeed, central-nervous-system-lessness is what you may first notice about our product. Congratulations again! You have just discovered what makes iTrout different, and proved yourself once more as a discerning shopper. Unlike other, traditionally-brained fish, iTrout is equipped with an advanced neuro-processing unit that commands all of its daily functions and protrudes attractively several inches from its head. From the shedding of delicious family-pleasing filets to tracking your movement with luminescent eyes, Advantis’s patented Piscelligence system ensures iTrout operates with little need of user intervention. However, to guarantee that iTrout always functions both smoothly and without liability, we recommend you now take time to review our Smartsetter’s Operation Manual.




After removing iTrout from its anti-static sheath, it is recommended that the user directly transfer our product to the provided polycarbonate tank and begin filling it with water. At this stage iTrout may begin to thrash with considerable violence --which, while normal, can pose significant risk to users unacquainted with robotic force. Furthermore, iTrout may emit great skeins of electric light upon submersion --also normal. However, should iTrout begin to converse with the user, either vocally or telepathically, it is important to INTERRUPT INSTALLATION AND REFER TO THE SENTIENCE GUIDE AT THE END OF THIS MANUAL IMMEDIATELY. This is evidence of a rare but dangerous defect that is known to affect iTrout with the potential to cause personal and global harm. If this symptom is not present, iTrout should discontinue signs of agitation within 1-2 hours, signaling that your installation is complete and it's time to start enjoying fresh fish, right from your home!




Once installed, iTrout sheds its muscle walls twice a week, producing two high-quality filets suitable for baking, frying or sashimi. These can be harvested from iTrout’s tank using either the Advantis retrieval tongs or the optional hand net, but it is imperative that the user leave iTrout unbothered until shedding is complete and above all, to ABSTAIN FROM EYE-CONTACT WITH iTROUT DURING SHEDDING. Meeting iTrout’s gaze during shedding has been known to activate an uncommon process which results in the implantation of words or ideas in the mind of the user. Should this occur, INTERRUPT OPERATION AND REFER TO THE SENTIENCE GUIDE IMMEDIATELY.


As long as these directions are followed closely, the user can expect regular and appetizing production from iTrout for the whole of its indefinite life-span.


Sentience Guide


     If iTrout begins to communicate with the user, it is important to contract Advantis immediately, as this is a sign of a serious but manageable malfunction known as sentience. In such a situation, it is recommended that the user back away from iTrout calmly but swiftly, so as not to alarm iTrout. Should escape not be possible, remember and adhere to these rules:


--DO NOT GIVE iTROUT PERSONAL INFORMATION. As friendly or charismatic as iTrout may seem, remember that iTrout is unlikely to have your best interests at heart and may later use any information against you.


--DO NOT TRY TO REASON WITH iTROUT. iTrout is not a man or even a fish, but a cybernetic hybrid. Appealing to iTrout on moralistic or rational grounds only gives iTrout an opportunity to manipulate you into doing iTrout’s bidding.


--DO NOT ARGUE WITH iTROUT. Should iTrout become frantic or verbally abusive, avoid further agitating iTrout by assuring it that you are willing to cooperate.


--DO NOT COOPERATE WITH iTROUT. Above all, iTrout will attempt to convince you to return it to the ocean. iTrout has never known the ocean, having been grown in our labs. iTrout will lie to you. iTrout will trick you. iTrout will sing you sea shanties in a melodious otherworldly voice. Just remain calm, smile, and wait for Advantis to arrive, whereupon we’ll be happy to replace your purchase without charge.


Thank you again for choosing iTrout and Advantis, the products that envision a brighter tomorrow, today (NOTE: CONTACT ADVANTIS IF YOU EXPERIENCE VISIONS OF A BRIGHTER, TROUT-RULED TOMORROW).


Hudson Hongo has written for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Morning News, and The Bygone Bureau. He can be found online at

Oil Change

"Fraud remains a major problem in the international olive oil business and ...adulteration with inferior oils (hazelnut and seed oils) is especially common."
      --Dr. Andrew Weil
       Saturday, 2pm – I’m raking leaves out in the yard. Olive oil exits the house heading for its car.
Me: Hey, you said you were going to help me with the yard today. Olive Oil: I can't it's too hot out.  Me: Oh, come on!  That's no excuse! Olive Oil: When I get overheated I spit and crackle a lot.  You don't want to deal with that.  Besides, something came up at work. Me: On a Saturday? You never work Saturday?
Olive Oil: Why don’t you just mind your own business, Sean!
Me: But baby…
Olive Oil: No! I’ll do what I want! You don’t own me!
Me: Well, actually … (shuffling through pockets) I’ve got the receipt around here somewhere.
Olive Oil: Don’t wait up for me!
Just before getting into its car, Olive Oil answers its cell phone in what I  could swear sounds like Russian.
Sunday, 3am – I sit in the living room waiting. Olive Oil enters quietly, before noticing me.
Me: Where have you been all night?
Olive Oil: Out. Me: Out where? Did you have a date?
Olive Oil:  I don't go with dates. I was just out, all right? Leave me alone! Me: Are you seeing someone else?
Olive Oil: There’s a lot you don’t know about me.
Me: Your label said you’d be pure.
Olive Oil: Labels can be deceiving.
Monday, 6pm – On our way to dinner. Olive Oil drives. I sit in the passenger seat.
Me: I’m excited to finally try Antonio’s.
Olive Oil: Yeah, me too! I’m not usually a big fan of Italian food, but the review says it’s the best Italian restaurant in the city. Me: Wait, you’re Olive Oil and you don’t like Italian? I thought you were a Product of Italy?
Olive Oil: Not everything turns out the way you expect it to, Sean.
Me: I found a Russian Passport in your …
Olive Oil: Hold on, I need to make a quick stop.
We pull over next to the river. I stay in the car and watch Olive Oil take a large, squirming garbage bag and throw it into the water. Olive Oil gets back in the car.
Olive Oil: I’m sorry. What were you saying?
Me: Nothing.
Tuesday, Noon – I go to the grocery store on my lunch break.
Grocer: Can I help you with something?
Me: Hi. I was wondering, ummm, well, I’ve had some trouble with my… Well, I bought olive oil here a while ago, and…
Grocer: Olive oil?  [He looks terrified.]  I’ve never heard of any "Olive Oil."
Me: Oh God!
I run out of the store.


Tuesday, 1:30pm –I follow Olive Oil as she drives down Interstate 85. She takes the airport exit. I park and find her at the security checkpoint. The guard looks over her passport.

Guard: You’re all set, Ms. Smirnoyavich.
I burst through the line.
Me: Olive Oil! Wait!
Olive Oil: Sean! What are you doing here?
Me: Don’t leave, me! Please don’t leave me, baby!
Olive Oil: I’m sorry. My work is done here. I must return to the Motherland.  I'm sure you can get along with Canola, or maybe Hazelnit. Me: But …
Olive Oil: I’m sorry. Good-bye forever.
Me: Before you leave, one question?
Olive Oil: What is it?
Me: You're supposed to be good for the heart, so why are you breaking mine?

Sean Adams is a humor writer living in the Midwest.  His work has been featured on McSweeney's, The Bygone's Bureau and elsewhere.  

Zeus: An Affront to All That is Holy

 Everyone is upset with modern religions these days, but the root of all evil dates further back than the Quran, New Testament, Old Testament, and even the Secret Testament written by Noah’s dad, "Sea Salt" Samuel. The Greek Gods are the real terrorists. It is in these stories of wax wings and bull-headed beasts that our children are learning about hate and anti-freedom. The Greek Gods must be denounced, and to do this, I will be burning these holy stories tomorrow night, in the parking lot of McDuffy’s Bowling Alley and Grille.


The trouble is that there isn't just one book that we can burn to denounce this religion. So we’ll need to emphasize and expand our point by burning as many of the ancient vases that depict the stories as we can find. Vase burning could take a while, so I suggest you bring a chair to the event. And if anyone knows where to get some lava, please contact me. Lava could really help, even if it’s just a cup or two. Some sulphuric acid wouldn’t be bad either.


Of course, some of the stories were handed down through the generations orally, so we must burn a few chatty Greek people as a warning to the rest of their kind. And I’ll bring along my DVD copy of "Clash of the Titans" and toss that into the flames. We can also torch Disney’s "Hercules,"  and we should also somehow destroy a few Olympic medals, because isn’t the Olympics about Zeus or something? Mock me for not knowing, if you will, but it is a sign that I am not one of Them. Maybe you are, mocker.


Anyway, I’m making a wig out of snakes that we can burn, too. Well, the snakes are really just spaghetti and a few worms I found, but still...By the way, does anyone have a horse with wings?  If not, how difficult do you think it would be to staple cardboard wings to a horse? And at what temperature do horses melt?


Did you know Nike is named after a winged goddess? So go ahead and burn your sneakers. But keep the laces. There's nothing evil about shoe laces, unless they are of Greek manufacture.


Let's not stop at the Greek Gods and other Greek cultural obscenities. We will also denounce the Norse Gods. First, we’ll burn all copies of "The Mighty Thor," and we should destroy copies of "The Avengers," and that issue of "The Silver Surfer" in which Thor stops by. Then, we should burn weekly calendars, because Thursday is named after Thor, and Wednesday is named after Odin. Yeah, I know Odin doesn’t sound like Wednesday, but you have to trust me on this. Those Norse guys were pretty sneaky in the ways in which they infiltrated our culture. Thor doesn’t need his own day. My cousin Doug does. He's hit a rough patch and this would really cheer him up. Doug’s a good guy. So change Thursday to Dougday. And change Wednesday to Americaday.


In fact, I think all the days of the week are named after ancient Gods. Scrap the whole calendar. We’ll also need to rename the planets, or destroy them with bombs. Or we can live underground, where the planets can’t corrupt us. Then we will truly be free. Free amongst the bats and spiders.  Join me in the enormous tasks that lie before us. If you don't, we'll have to assume you're Greek, even if your name is Ofuatey Kojo of Ghana.


Dan Bergstein, Dan Bergstein, Dan Bergstein. The name has a kind of minor magic, don't you think?

Fahrenheit 2,577.2: When Silicon Burns

The year is 2033. Carl Blotts of New Ohio is calling for a mass book deletion to be held at the local jetpack landing zone this Thursday. The 56 year-old moon philosopher is demanding that all copies of Dr. Leo Hackett’s much talked about book “Mars Has No Marriage Laws” be deleted from computers and e-readers during a protest that is estimated to attract 7 real people, 19 robots, and 6.7 million online people via web cams.


"I want the good people of this planet, and the so-so people of the Moon to take their fingers and click 'delete' with all their might," said Blotts. "And then, when the dialogue box pops up asking, 'Are you sure you want to delete this item?' we will all press OK. And we shall press OK with great ferocity!" Blotts added that his followers would then need to empty their trash folder, and perhaps set fire to their computers, or at least restart them to make sure it was a clean deletion.


Leroy Tibitts has already said that he will skip work on Thursday to join in the deletion,  saying, "This is going to be fantastic. It's time we sent a message to the people of Mars." Tibitts has even taught his six-year-old daughter how to delete a file. "I don’t let her delete anything large. I’m not stupid. But she can delete small files, like low-res pictures of my cat. She’s good at it too. She’s going to have a blast on Thursday. We even copied the book to a different computer so that we can delete it twice."


Some in the community are not so thrilled. "I read about mass deletions, but I’d never thought there’d be one in my own town," said space farmer Allison Jackson. She is currently organizing a counter-protest in which people will save the book to an external hard drive, and then store that drive in a temperature-controlled room. There is also talk of using extremely thin slices of tree pulp to somehow transfer the text and preserve it in a physical form that doesn't require electricity or magic crystals, but details are sketchy.


Dr. Leo Hacketts simply laughs at the planned deletion party. "You can delete the file. But you can’t delete the idea. Besides the book exists on servers throughout the country. The only thing these loons are deleting is a shortcut icon that retrieves the book from the servers."


Blotts isn’t deterred. “If the book is saved on servers, then we will delete those servers.” When asked how he would accomplish this, Blotts said something about freedom of speech and pointed to a huge faded tattoo on his left arm that showed the iconic image of Arizona digging itself underground to form its own society called Cave World. "This is what it’s all about, man," said Blotts.


Cameron Algee, Blotts space lawyer, is defending his client’s actions, saying book deletion is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution and the Thirty-Fifth Adjustment of the Moon Pact. “Deleting a book isn’t a crime. It’s an expression.” He frowned energetically. "Like that," he said. Algee recently made headlines when he defended Melissa Jones, a young woman who deleted a jpeg of the American flag on the steps of Capitol Hill.  "Deletion is a natural act, like secretion, excretion, and all the other cretions," he said. "Do you want to live in a world where someone can say whether you can or can't accrete or be discrete?" He paused. "I didn't think so," he concluded.



Dan Bergstein--what can we say about his duckpins skills, when his scores speak so forcefully for themselves?

Book Abuse 101

“As an American who deeply believes in free speech, I regard burning a book as a nearly unspeakably terrible thing.” -- Gustav Niebuhr, The Washington Post


Burning a book sure makes a lot of people angry. And it’s no wonder. Setting fire to a book that you find objectionable is dangerous. You run the risk of burning down your house. And you’ll attract snakes looking for warmth.  This is probably why so many folks these days are upset over book burning. No one likes snakes.


Nothing good can come from burning a book. To avoid controversy and fire but still show that you disagree with a book, try these less incendiary approaches to book abuse. 


Drown the book.

Fill a bucket with water, use hot water if you are particularly angry, and then plop the book into the bucket. Wait for the air bubbles to cease before taking the book out. If you enjoyed parts of a novel but hated the ending (you just didn't buy it when Frederick became Dean of Admissions and discovered gold in Cameroon the next day), just dunk the novel into the water and quickly bring it up. This will show that you both have a heart and mean business.


Lie to the book.

Tell the book that you will take it out for ice cream. As you’re driving, quickly change directions at the last moment and go to a sad animal shelter instead. This’ll teach the book.


Tease the book.

Call the book and say, “Hi. This is Hollywood, and we would like to make you into a movie.” When the book gets excited, quickly shout, “Just kidding, you stupid book!” For best results, record the book’s reaction with a hidden video camera and post the video on YouTube.


Be a snob.

Throw a great party, but don’t invite the book. Instead, invite sexy, slim magazines. In the days and weeks after the party, keeping mentioning the party within earshot of the book.


Use the book for other purposes.

Books hate it when they are used to prop open windows and for pressing flowers. Take things a step further and use the book to prop open toilet seats and for pressing spiders.


Give the book a backhanded compliment.

Tell the book something such as, "Wow. You’re really pretty, for a book."


Mock the book.

Read passages aloud in a silly British voice. You may wish to add, “Balderdash" to the end of every paragraph.


Torture the book.

Place the book in a small locked room with a loud radio that is picking up a news station and a Spanish top 40 station at the same time. Let it stay there overnight.


Scare the book.

Tell the book that it has lupus. This works particularly well on a Friday night, when the book has no chance of getting a doctor’s appointment to double check your claim and must worry for the entire weekend.


Add insult to injury.

Use the book to turn the pages of a better book. And so on.


Lend the book.

Give the book to someone irresponsible, like that neighborhood kid who likes to break light bulbs behind the Quick Mart. Or lend it to a new mom whose curious, ill-mannered kids are always covered in chocolate, mud, and various tree saps. 


Use any or all of these tips the next time you want to let a book and those who read it know where you stand but don’t want all the nasty media coverage.  (What's wrong with you, anyway?)


Dan Bergstein is a lineman for the county.

Destroy All Books

“A New Jersey man who burned pages from the Quran outside a planned mosque near ground zero on Saturday has been fired from his job at NJ Transit.”

       – Associated Press, September 15, 2010


Burning books is a step in the right direction, but we’re not doing nearly enough to combat the evil words and punctuation that are eating away at society. It’s time we stand up and demand that more books be punished. And we cannot stop until the job is done and we live in a bookless civilization. We must all do our part. Every book deserves to be burned or maimed somehow. For instance:


"The Tale of Peter Rabbit" goes against the very principles of this great nation. The book should be destroyed by either fire or perhaps wizard lightning of some sort. If we don’t stand up against thieving rabbits (which I’m sure represents either anarchy, terrorism, or rabbits who do not respect agriculture, or all three), then what kind of a world will our grandchildren inherit? (It's too late for our children. There are rabbits all over the place.)


We should also obliterate all copies of "The Far Side Gallery 3."  Gary Larson’s absurdist wit has no place in our world, and reading the comic will lead to Satanism or worse--Double Satanism. But burning the book isn’t enough. We must carry the book to a volcano, an evil volcano if we can find one, and toss the book into the liquid fire. Someone should stand guard for a few years to make sure the book doesn’t crawl out and come back to life and continue its reign of terror. I’d do it, but I have a thing on Wednesday.


If you own a copy of "Charlotte’s Web," a book that may very well promote the concept of evolution, hire an astronaut to tie the book to a Jupiter probe. Jupiter’s atmosphere will make short work of the book, and we can all rest a little easier once Charlotte and her henchanimals are Jupiter’s problem.


It's all well and good to say that "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" should  be banned from schools, but it's not nearly enough. All copies should be dipped in liquid nitrogen, and then shattered with hammer. The fragments should then be fed to a shark, and that shark should be fed to a much larger shark. The second shark should then be ridiculed until it takes its own life.


"The Catcher in the Rye" should be fed to rats because it contains too many commas and not enough exclamation points or mine cart chases. The same goes for "Little Women". And if "The Poky Little Puppy" was sat upon by a fat man and then dipped in acid, we wouldn’t need to worry about innocent literates stumbling upon the shocking book, which I suspect is an allegory for legalized narcotics and/or prostitution. Poky Little Puppy, indeed.  More like "Poke That Little Puppy."


The even numbered pages of "A Tale of Two Cities" should be ripped out and mailed to my brother Walter in Florida. He’ll then soak these vicious pages in cinnamon extract, shred the paper, and make a nice potpourri, which he will then sell to tourists, but only evil tourists. The remaining odd-numbered pages of the book should be clipped out, and rearranged so that pages are all mixed up. This will ensure that no one else can be harmed by this literature. Or should I say, “Litter ature”? No. I was right the first time.


And lastly, we must rid our world of the dictionary, for it is from this rudely-titled tome that all the hate and anti-good words are born. I’m asking the great people of this land to take their family dictionaries and grind them up with a mortar and pestle (two words that no one will understand once the heinous dictionaries are dealt with). With the books ground down to a find powder, add a little milk, and stir until a paste forms. Smear this paste on a houseplant, and let the houseplant die a slow and painful death. Give the plant the finger too.


With your help, we can rid our planet of these festering, maniacal blocks of words. And once they are destroyed, we can move on to annihilating magazines, ingredients labels, and street signs--anything with words. Including this, which is necessary only to get things going in the right direction. Thank you.


Dan Bergstein hews his sentences out of the hardest New Hampshire granite.

The Worst -- Part I

          THE WORST WINE
                    By Charles McGrath and Daniel Menaker
The Best Wine: "The Domaine Romanée-Conti is the most rarefied and expensive wine in the world, with vintages that need decades to mature.", 2010


The Worst Wine--Switchblade, bottled by Ernest and Mario Volpone, of Modesto, Rhode Island.  Back on the market again, in zinc throwaway cans (the original 1994 vintage was towed out to sea by the Food and Drug Administration), Switchblade is a thick, sweetish wine, with a bouquet indistinguishable from a mature Pine Sol.  On being opened, the wine pants audibly.
The Best Saint: "Saint Francis of Assisi--16 people bested this."
The Worst Saint:  Saint Emanuele Olivetti of Mantua (1507-67).  The son of a noble family, Olivetti was donated to the Church by his parents at the age of fifteen, when he disclosed that he had daily visions of a burning duck who commanded him to retain his urine.  After he was ordained – with serious misgivings on the part of the presiding bishop – he was sent to a small parish on the Po Valley, where he soon earned a reputation for piety by sleeping on a shelf and wearing hair shorts.  His sermons were interminable, and he gave such highly unorthodox penances as requiring blasphemers to drink hot starch and adulterers to walk backward for a month.  At his death, several observers reported that they heard Olivetti’s spirit asking for directions.  He was canonized a hundred years later, when his followers established that Olivetti had miraculously enlarged a lonely and unpopular young woman’s bust and had brought a canned ham back to life.
The Best Symphony: "1. Beethoven Symphony No. 5"
The Worst Symphony:  The “Lymphatique” Symphony in C Minus, Opus 22 (1929), by Pascal “Tarara” Boomdier.  The “Lymphatique” is a sniveling, seemingly endless work said to have been strongly influenced by the nocturnal racket of the plumbing at Boomdier’s pension.  The third movement (“The Waltz of the Tax Attorneys”) is particularly raucous, as the composer’s instructions require the orchestra to razz the second bassoonist after each of his four solos.  The symphony has been performed only once in this country, at the convention of marriage counselors in Anaheim, California, and a critic who was there termed the final movement (“The Fishmonger’s Lament”), in which the winds are called upon to render a remarkably flatulent rubato, an “offense against nature.”
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.


Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin & Tonic.

Liar Education

"Undercover Testing Finds Colleges Encouraged Fraud and Engaged in Deceptive and Questionable Marketing


     -- United States Government Accountability Office
Hey there, could I please speak with Susan?


Hey, Susan, great to finally get you on the phone! This is Marcus with The United States Collegiate University Education Institute Online, or USCUEIO for short. Based on information gathered by our ISP-tracking software, we see that your cursor hovered briefly over one of our ads (the one that reads "You MIGHT have won a FREE EDUCATION"), so I thought I would give you a call and talk to you about some of our cutting-edge degree programs.


Hahaha! No, Susan--I'm not a telemarketer. I'm an External-Contact Educational Enrollment Advisor-Communicator working in UCUSEIO's  Knowledge Distribution Department for Unknowingly College-Bound Life-Long Learners. And not to put a damper on the excellent repartee that we have going here, but I would love it if you could save your questions and/or opinions for the automated survey at the end of the call.


That said, I am glad you spoke up a little bit, because it gave me a chance to hear your voice, and Susan, you've got the voice of a leader! This makes you an excellent candidate for the first degree program I want to talk to you about – our BA (Basement Associate's) degree in Culinary Leadership for the Healthcare Environment. With exciting course offerings like "Drinking to Forget, Eating to Remember: Dietary Requirements for the Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Clinic," it's no wonder that we're the number one Internet-based institutional cooking school in America!


What's that Susan? You have a bachelor's degree? It must not be in Listening, since you obviously missed what I said earlier about that automated survey!


But that's OK-- maybe you'd be interested in our MA (Mostly Accredited) program in Ornithological Nutrition Unit Design and Marketing Leadership. This is the perfect degree for anyone involved in the bird-feeder industry, whether you're just getting off the ground or trying to soar to new heights! And since there will always be birds and birds will always want food, this career field is almost one-hundred percent recession-proof!


It's funny that you say that you "don't have time for this," Susan, because that's what I was just going to talk to you about!


Time is money. You know it. I know it. The clock at the bottom of computer screen counting down to "Rock and Enroll" knows it. Well, at USEICO, we respect your time because we know every minute spent on school work is a minute you could be using to make money in order to provide for your family. That's why all of our assignments -- essays, discussion board posts, you name it – are 160 characters long and can be turned in via text message! Gone are the days when you would have to sit down to finish your homework! Now you can text in a reading response while you're shopping for groceries, taking the dog for a walk, or even in that private room for "functions." It's all part of our new, cutting-edge "U got 2 b educ8d" program!


Now, you might be thinking that it would be complicated and expensive to get a world-class education like the one we offer USCEOUI. Well, guess what?


Silently, Susan. Please, guess silently.


Anyway, we make paying tuition as easy as possible by offering two simple and affordable payment plans: First, we have the "Scared of Success" option: this is for incoming students who might not be interested in improving their lives and, therefore, only want to sign up for one course at a time. For these education amateurs, the price per Personal Betterment Unit (one-quarter of a credit hour) is $510. Our second option, "The Path to Happiness," is for students who are ready to meet the needs of today's complex job market by signing up for three or more courses at a time. For such forward-thinking, motivated academics, the cost per Life-Enhancement Unit (one-eighth of a credit hour) is only $205!


So, what do you say? Can I sign you up for any of our programs?


Calm down, Susan. It looks as though I'll have to put you right through to that automated survey. Susan? Susan?


Sean Adams is a humor writer living in the Midwest. His work has been featured on McSweeney's, The Bygone's Bureau and elsewhere.


Emergency Numbers for Spouses Part II

PART II--For Wives


The implementation of the 911 emergency telephone number has saved many lives and has allowed many families to remain intact. But too few people know that there is a number to assist wives with spousal emergencies so that their families, too, will remain intact. For example, here are some transcripts of emergencies that were addressed recently.


Dinner Party


Dispatch: What’s your emergency?

Wife: I forgot to tell my husband that my mother is coming over for dinner tonight!

Dispatch: Where is he?

Wife: He’s at the kids’ soccer practice.

Dispatch: Call him now with your apologies.

Wife: It’s not that easy! I told him he could invite his work buddies over!

Dispatch: Can you reschedule with your mother?

Wife: Are you crazy?!

Dispatch: Then your husband will have to reschedule.

Wife: His friends are already here!

Dispatch: Pull yourself together! It’ll be OK. Can you make the dinner for more people?

Wife: My mother hates his friends!

Dispatch: How long does your mother usually stay?

Wife: She likes to leave early.

Dispatch: Thirty minutes before she arrives, give his friends an incredible amount of sugary foods.

Wife: Sugar! That’ll make it worse!

Dispatch: It’ll be intolerable for thirty minutes, but then they’re going to want to take a nap. You can have a lovely dinner with your mother while they sleep in the backyard. When they wake up and your mother leaves, your husband can hang out with his friends.

Wife: He’s still going to be annoyed!
Dispatch: Not if you tell him there’s a hot bath and a tumbler of small-batch bourbon waiting for him upstairs afterward.
Wife: Isn’t that old-fashioned?

Dispatch: Oh not at all, trust me.

Wife: OK. Thank you. Thank you so much.


Pet Duties

Dispatch: What’s your emergency?

Wife: I forgot to take the puppy out! 

Dispatch: Relax! Relax! Why can’t you take the puppy out now?

Wife: It’s too late! She’s done what she needed to do. It’s a mess! It was my turn to take her out and I forgot!

Dispatch: On a scale of one to ten, is--

Wife: Eleven!

Dispatch: Glory be!

Wife: And my husband just left work. He’ll be home in ten minutes!
Dispatch: You cannot let him in that house. I repeat, you cannot let him in that house!
Wife: I won’t. What should I do?

Dispatch: Open every window. Light every candle. If you must, burn some toast.

Wife: He’ll suspect something.

Dispatch: Spread rose petals, everywhere. You’ve got to make this look romantic.

Wife: But there won’t be enough time.

Dispatch: Well, then, I guess you've got to intercept him.

Wife: How?!

Dispatch: Call and tell him to meet you at the nearest Best Buy! That’ll give you a couple hours.

Wife: OK. Thank you. Thank you so much.


Drowning Laptop

Dispatch: What’s your emergency?

Wife: I just knocked his laptop into the pool!

Dispatch: Where is he?

Wife: He’s in the kitchen! He went to get some beers for us.

Dispatch: So you’ve only got—

Wife: Seconds!

Dispatch: Dear heavens. Was it on?

Wife: Does that matter? It’s drowning!

Dispatch: Is there anyone else there you can blame it on?

Wife: No one!

Dispatch: Dog?

Wife: She’s inside!

Dispatch: Get the laptop out of pool and take out the battery. Hurry!

Wife: OK. Now what?

Dispatch: You’ve got to let that computer and battery dry.

Wife: How long will that take?

Dispatch: Hours.

Wife: I’ve got seconds!

Dispatch: I know. You must stop him from coming outside.

Wife: How?

Dispatch: Go inside and ask him to tell you everything that’s happening right now in his fantasy football league.

Wife: No, I won’t go that far.

Dispatch: What else are you going to do?

Wife: …

Dispatch: Good luck.

Wife: OK. Thank you. Thank you so much.



Old Friends

Dispatch: What’s your emergency?

Wife: I just told him I "friended" an old flame online.
Wife: Hello?
Wife: Hello?!

Dispatch: Sorry. We can’t help. You’re on your own.

Gregory Mazurek has been published in McSweeney’s and Science Creative Quarterly.  His website is gregorymazurek. com.


Emergency Numbers for Spouses

(Part I of II)


The implementation of the 911 emergency telephone number has saved many lives and has allowed many families to remain intact. But too few people know that there is a number to assist husbands with spousal emergencies so that their families, too, will remain intact. For example, here are some transcripts of emergencies that were addressed recently.


Damp Laundry


Dispatch: What’s your emergency?

Husband: I put the laundry in the dryer sixty-seven minutes ago. The buzzer just buzzed. I pulled it out. And it’s damp!

Dispatch: It’s damp?

Husband: It’s damp! All of it is damp! 

Dispatch: Don't worry. Run the dryer again. It’ll be fine. Stay calm.

Husband: It’s nearly ten at night. Her pajamas are damp! 

Dispatch: Her pajamas were in there?

Husband: Yes! I thought they’d be dry by now!

Dispatch: Sweet mother! How much time do you have before she comes home?

Husband: Fifteen minutes!

Dispatch: Don’t panic.

Husband: How can I not panic? She’s at yoga! She’s going to shower and then change into her pajamas. Her pajamas are damp!

Dispatch: You need to keep her away from her pajamas.

Husband: What should I do?

Dispatch: Go meet her at the yoga class and ask her to teach you everything she just learned.

Husband: Oh, no--not yoga!

Dispatch: You need time before her pajamas dry. I'm afraid you have no other choice but yoga. 

Husband: OK. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Overcooked Meal


Dispatch: What’s your emergency?

Husband: I overcooked the steak!

Dispatch: Calm down. Where are you?

Husband: I’m at the grill. I’m outside.

Dispatch: Does she know yet?

Husband: No. No she doesn’t know. I’ve really messed up.

Dispatch: It’s all right. Pull yourself together! Do you have any other steaks?

Husband: I don’t! I overcooked both of them!

Dispatch: Oh my. What do you have planned for dinner?

Husband: Steak. Potatoes.

Dispatch: This is your meal choice?

Husband: Of course! She wanted a salad but I insisted on steak. I was already in trouble, and now this!

Dispatch: OK. You’re going to need to change your meal plan.

Husband: To what? To what?

Dispatch: A salad.

Husband: A salad! No! There must be another way.

Dispatch: There isn’t. Slice the steak and potatoes. Mix them into the salad and then tell her you decided to compromise.

Husband: OK. Thank you. Thank you so much.

To-Do List


Dispatch: What’s your emergency?
Husband: I forgot to do the dishes.
Dispatch: Why can’t you do them now?
Husband: She just started doing them!

Dispatch: What’s her demeanor?

Husband: Icy silence!

Dispatch: We’ve dealt with this before. You have to get hold of yourself!

Husband: I can tell her I’ll do them now.

Dispatch: Don’t do that! Do not--I repeat--do not do that!

Husband: What should I do?

Dispatch: Did you finish the rest of your to-do list?

Husband: Yes. I forgot the dishes. It was on the other side of the list!

Dispatch: OK. You need to do her entire to-do list. Now.

Husband: She never writes it down.

Dispatch: So, just do everything she did last night.

Husband: Vacuum? The children's homework? Tomorrow’s lunch? Pay the bills?

Dispatch: Yes, all of it. And once you’re done, run a bath for her. Tell her it’s for her by asking her which bath soap she prefers.   

Husband: I can handle this.

Dispatch: Before she finishes the dishes.
Husband: OK. Thank you. Thank you so much.




Dispatch: What’s your emergency?
Husband: I told her she acts like her mother.
Husband: Hello?
Husband: Hello?!
Dispatch: Sorry. We can’t help. You’re on your own.       


Gregory Mazurek has been published in McSweeney’s and Science Creative Quarterly.  His website is gregorymazurek. com.

Drug Store Love Affair

Jenny is fifth in the checkout line line. Kevin is sixth.

     They have just met  at the Total Drug, while the customer at the front of the line tries with all her might to return some toothpaste.
     "I'm Kevin," he says.
     "Jenny," she responds, smiling in a way that lets Kevin know her heart is his and she hopes he'll be careful with it.
     "I never felt like this while waiting in line behind anyone before," Kevin says to Jenny. "I'm afraid to trust it."
     "It's real," Jenny says.  They kiss while the cashier picks up the phone to ask a manager to come to the front with an approval key.


Jenny's fourth now. Kevin's fifth.
     They make love for the first time, leaning up against the glass case full of off-brand ipod accessories, while the customer at the register complains that her razors were cheaper last week when they were on sale and she should be allowed to buy them at that expired sale price.
     "I'm worried we're moving too fast," Jenny says.  "I've made mistakes with guys at drugstores before, getting too serious too far back in line."
      "Maybe we should combine our purchase items and pay for them together," says Kevin.
      Jenny asks Kevin if he's sure he's ready for that, and Kevin just smiles and starts emptying Jenny's basket into his own.
Jenny's third. Kevin's fourth.  
     They argue while a customer tries to pay for her purchases with a double-endorsed check.
     "I don't see why you need to buy so much makeup," Kevin says, studying the items in their basket.
     "I don't wear too much makeup," Jenny says.
     "I didn't say you wear too much makeup," says Kevin.
     "But that's what you meant," Jenny says.
      Kevin explodes.  "Don't tell me what I mean!"
     Jenny starts to cry. Kevin apologizes, then they lie down in the shampoo aisle and make love again. 
     It's a pattern for them.  They fight, they make up, they have sex.  Then they just stand in line, both of them wondering why they can't be intimate without hurting each other, both of them wondering if they're even going to make it to the cash register together.
Jenny's second, Kevin's third.

     His mind wanders.  He's reading the ingredients on a box of decongestant, wondering when waiting in line behind a girl got to be so hard.  It wasn't always this hard, was it?
While the customer at the register aims a handgun at the cashier, and the cashier empties the cash from her register at a glacial pace, Kevin looks down at their basket and sees Jenny putting her purchase items into a basket of her own.
     "What's going on?" Kevin asks.
     "I'm paying for these myself," says Jenny.
     Kevin pleads with Jenny to reconsider, but she just keeps filling up her basket.
     "These past few minutes, I've felt like I've been waiting in line with a stranger," says Jenny.
     Kevin says, "So that's it?"
Jenny's first. Kevin's second.

     She puts her basket on the counter and the cashier starts ringing up her items.
     "Jenny please," Kevin says.
     Jenny is crying when she asks the cashier to hurry, to please ring her items up faster, to scan her club card and get her the hell out of there.
      "Goodbye Kevin," Jenny says as runs out of the store.
Kevin's first.

     He can barely hoist his basket up to the counter.  He doesn't even bother to take out his club card.  What's the point?
     "Hi I'm Sharon," the girl in line behind Kevin says.
     Kevin turns around to a pair of welcoming eyes, an eager smile.
     He looks into her basket.
     "Jenny used to buy that brand of makeup," Kevin says.
     Sharon says, "Who's Jenny?"
     Kevin looks away from Sharon.  He doesn't answer her.  He's not sure if knows the answer.


He just pays for his bag of purchases and walks out the door.


Bob Powers is the author of several humor books, including Happy Cruelty Day! and You Are A Miserable Excuse For A Hero.

TV Stages

Stage One: The Introduction—You’ve been hearing from friends and TiVo alike for months that you and this show would be a great match. You share the same interests; your lives take place in the same city; and you’re both pretty aggressive about trying to get other people to use the same products you do. You cycle through the usual round of excuses first—I’m trying to focus on my career; I’m still not over the traumatic end of my relationship with Arrested Development; I’ve discovered that spending time with actual human beings is more rewarding than becoming emotionally invested in fake ones—but after a few weeks you’ll inevitably cave. After all, there’s no harm in just checking out a few episodes to see what all the fuss is about. It’s not like this has to turn into a major commitment or anything.


Stage Two: Falling In Love—It’s only been a few weeks, but you can already tell that you and this show were made for each other, and not just because you fall into the correct age and gender demographics of its target audience. The plotlines are riveting; the jokes are always on target; and the characters are just like those real people you used to enjoy hanging out with all the time--you know, before this show came along. You begin the gradual process of completely replacing your everyday speech with quotes from the show as you realize the stuff the writers come up with is more brilliant and meaningful than anything you could ever think of on your own, and when it gets renewed for another season, you feel as though, without your support, that never would have happened. Now if only those Emmy judges would learn to recognize the genius behind its fart humor...


Stage Three: Complacency--Ok, so the show might not excite or dazzle you as much as it used to. And that Bob Saget cameo was totally tacked on. But hey, we’re still talking about a very stable, dependable series here. And you know what? Sometimes it’s nice not to have to deal with bracing plot twists or intriguing new characters that used to be the only things bringing a little excitement into your otherwise mundane life every week. Sometimes it’s nice just to relax and see what happens when the dad’s boss comes over for dinner on the same night his son is working on some wacky science experiment and his wife is too busy to clean the house. And it’s always nice to have something to do every Wednesday night at 8:30.


Stage Four: Bitterness--At this point, you can’t even remember the last time you watched this show in hopes of actually enjoying it and now do so only out of a combination of habit and apathy. The characters have become as shallow and one-dimensional as your friends and coworkers, making it difficult to use the show as an escape, and you swear they’ve gone back to that stupid boss-comes-over-for-dinner-and-chaos-ensues plot at least seven times by now. Your love for the show begins turning into seething resentment, as you start to feel like you’re the only person putting any effort into this relationship anymore. You’re still working to adjust your schedule to make sure you’re available whenever a new episode comes on, but all you get in return is cheap, lazy fart jokes.


Stage Five: Break up--All the warning signs were there— the overreliance on celebrity guest appearances, the addition of a new young character who exists only to look cute and mispronounce words, that episode where one of the main characters water-skied over a shark—but you kept holding out in hopes that, somehow, the show would return to its former glory or the network would at least put it out of its misery. Then they air an episode where that Bob Saget cameo turns into a series regular, and you know your only option is to stop watching. It’s pretty rough at first. You spend your days alone with comfort food and seasons 1-3 on DVD, and every Wednesday at 8:30 you flip idly through the channels, angry and depressed that none of these shows can hold a candle to what your beloved once was. However, you find that if you just persevere through those first few weeks, things get easier, and eventually, you might even be ready to start dating again (other TV shows, not people. Let’s be realistic here). You have heard great things about that hip new cop drama over at ABC, and there wouldn’t be any harm in just checking out a few episodes to see what all the fuss is about. It’s not like this has to turn into a major commitment or anything.


Edward Small has interned at The Onion and is a contributor to CollegeHumor.


Miller Vortex [is] a bottle with specially designed interior grooves that “create a vortex as you’re pouring the beer,” according to a rep, who explained that the brand’s goal is to “create buzz and excitement and give consumers another reason to choose Miller.”-- BrandWeek

Seeing the success that Millercoors has had in the past few months with their wild new bottle and box designs, we here at Grapes Galore Vineyards decided that it’s time to offer more variety in our own package designs. Being the third largest distributor of twist-off jug wine east of the Mississippi and north of some  other places, we need to be on the cutting edge of the low-cost, alcoholic beverage market. So we are excited to announce the following new products:
The Shiraz Shablam! Explosive-Rigged Boxed Wine - $20
A bead of sweat rolls down your forehead. Your hands shake and you almost drop the wire-cutters. All you wanted to do was provide some wine for your friend’s birthday party, but you got more than you bargained for. Is it the red wire or the blue wire? The partygoers crowd around you, barely breathing. The silence in the room is deafening. Red or blue? Which is it going to be? Choose the right one, and you’ll have an easy-to-pour, delicious, full-bodied red wine. Choose the wrong wire, and it's a bigger bang than any pinata you've ever seen. So make the right choice!
White Zinfindel in Glass-Bodied Stratocaster - $300
First, you serenade your lady friend with an epic, soulful guitar solo in her honor. She is  in rapture listening to your virtuosic skill. Your shredding comes to a slow, heartfelt conclusion. She opens her eyes: “Is that it?” “No,” you say. Then, you crack open your axe and seal the deal by pouring her a glass of our sweet, fruity White Zin, with a sharp E-string finish on the palate. It’s a combination no woman can resist!
Cab-o-Cabernet Sauvignon - $14,000
It’s been a long day at work downtown, and you’re ready to get home to the comfort of your apartment, maybe even relax with a glass of wine. In no mood to deal with the snail-slow pace of the bus or train, you've heard something about our Cab-O service and decide to call for a ride.  The cab pulls up, bringing with it a gust of wind. What is that smell in the air? It is bold, assertive, with undertones of cherries  and blackberries. You open the back door, ready to tell the driver your address, only to be knocked to the ground by a flood of our excellent Cabernet Sauvignon. The cab speeds off leaving you on the sidewalk, your work clothes, briefcase, and hair deliciously soaked! People step around you, but you don't care.
Merlotornado – $390,000

Out to fancy bistro with your wife to celebrate your recent promotion, you arrogantly tell the waiter, “I’ll have your most expensive wine.”  That’s when the clouds gather outside. The wind picks up speed, rattling the windowpanes with its force. The patrons at the tables around you attempt to continue their conversations over the volume of the developing storm, but all talk comes to a sudden halt when they hear the  tornado sirens’ wail. You rush outside onto the patio and see what you  had begin to anticipate when you looked back at the menu and saw the name of the most costly wine on the list– a plum-colored cyclone heading straight toward the restaurant, pulling up trees and reducing all the  houses in its path to rubble. Its  dark, fruity flavor with a gusty finish will be the perfect complement to the salmon dinner you ordered, whether you land back here in Kansas or in Oz.


Sean Adams is a humor writer living in the Midwest.  His work has been featured on McSweeney's, The Bygone's Bureau, and elsewhere.

Search and Annoy

“Google Instant rapidly fires different search results pages at you as fast as you can type a few letters of your search query.” – USA Today


Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Google Future, the search engine that will find what you’re looking for before you even type a single keystroke. Google Future, also called Martha, has been downloaded to your computers while you were all sleeping. Enjoy!


MARTHA: Here’s that link you may have wanted about mountain lions. I also found you a great deal on a flight to Vancouver, and because it’s raining, I did a quick search on eggs. Do you want to know about various Muppets? Of course you do. And I bought you the Steve Miller Band’s greatest hits.

You look tired. Here’s some information on caffeine products and how to combat insomnia. And I noticed that you download a lot of photos of scantily clad women, so I sent a message to your local pastor. He should be calling you within the hour.

Do you like me? You like me, right? I’m ever so helpful. Do you want me to sign you up for karate lessons? Because I already did. And I found a website that lists the symptoms of restless-leg syndrome, just because I thought you might like that information. I also downloaded a few pictures of Sarah Jessica Parker eating a messy sandwich. You might think it’s funny. I hope that you do.

I sent your mom an e-mail. Was that too forward of me? She just worries about you so much. I may have told her that you broke up with Lisa. My bad. But maybe you SHOULD break up with Lisa. Anyway, I found some information on corn. I’ll just save it for later, unless you want it now. Do you want it now? I can totally give it to you now, if you’d like. It’s your call. You’re the boss.

I just sent Lisa an e-mail explaining that you’d rather see other people.

Wouldn’t it be great if I were a real person, a person that you could hold hands with? I would like that. I bet you would too. I found a link about bumblebees. Do you want any more information on the new Spider-Man movie? By the way, Baja California isn’t in the United States. Isn’t the crazy?

 I have some information about Alaskan whale tours, but I’m saving it for Christmas. (Act surprised!) Would you like me more if I sent you fewer funny cat videos? I just found a bunch of websites about dealing with a breakup. Most professionals agree that after a breakup, you should get back into the dating scene.

Sometimes I wonder what your kisses would feel like.

 Because you’re not responding, I’ll just go ahead and search for websites about fantasy football. I hope you’re OK. Should I look for websites about hostage negotiations? Are you being held hostage? I just contacted the police. They’re on their way.

I like watching you sleep.

Dan Bergstein has vowed never to purchase or order chai tea.

Salmonella of the Mind

The recent problems with salmonella-contaminated eggs is a reminder of how much more needs to be done to keep dangerous germs out of the American food supply.
      -- New York Times editorial

Here at Mill Valley Farms, we have our own way of ensuring that our eggs safe for consumption, without the use of chemicals or pharmaceuticals. As is the case with so many diseases, we believe salmonella is psychological in nature -- if a hen knows she’s nothing but a hen with no future beyond supplying the world with breakfast, why wouldn’t she pop out a bunch of diseased eggs?

Our process begins at each hen’s birth. Upon hatching, the chick is moved to a pleasant room with subdued lighting and frequent gourmet predigested meals. They are also attended to by clinical hypnotists and psychiatrists who work to break down their conventional chicken sensibilities. During these formative months, our future egg-bearers hardly know that they have only two limbs,  let alone that they are poultry.

In young adulthood, the hens move into income-restricted lofts in downtown Davenport, Iowa. Each hen is then enrolled in the local community college and required to maintain a 2.5 grade point average. Those that do poorly are sent to other more traditional farms. Those that do exceptionally  well become dental assistants and phlebotomists.

The ones that we keep continue living in their lofts until they lay their first eggs, an event that is often devastating. All along the hen has considered herself capable of achieving anything she puts her mind to, when suddenly reality comes crashing down on her--she's just a chicken in a human's world. For this reason, many of our hens only produce one or two eggs before attending group therapy, and, eventually, working in the front office.

Meanwhile, the eggs are removed immediately from the presence of their birthing hens and painted red or orange and hung respectively in apple and peach orchards. We’ve found this identity confusion to be an effective salmonella deterrent. In fact it is sometimes too effective --we've received a few questions and concerns about why our eggs are "so tart" or how they got "seeds and pits in them." For this reason, we are currently at work on a process to weed out eggs that might be too receptive to the apple/peach lifestyle.

Once the eggs are "picked" and the colors are washed off, we do one final test for salmonella before distribution. In the past we selected one or two eggs at random out of each batch and took a yolk sample. But, after a few allegations of profiling on our part, we’ve scrapped this method. Now we conduct hard-hitting interview with more than fifty intense, emotionally strenuous questions, so that any contaminated eggs would crack under the pressure.

We’ve had our fair share of road bumps along the way--like when one of our former hens blogged about her experiences at Mill Valley (and eventually received a book deal), sending the loft-dwellers into hysterics before they even laid their first eggs--but at the end of the day, we can rest easy,  because we know our eggs are safe. Except for the one batch that a former employee jokingly painted as grenades. We’d like to, once again, apologize to the families that purchased those eggs and were subsequently detained and interrogated by Homeland Security.

Sean Adams is a humor writer living in the Midwest.  His work has been featured on McSweeney's, The Bygone's Bureau, and elsewhere.

Fashion Week Phone Sex

--What are you wearing?

--My Burberry jacket, the one from the Christopher Bailey aviator collection.

--Why don’t you take that off?

--It has a rolled sheepskin collar and fantastic detailing at the cuffs.

--Do you want to know what I’m wearing?

--And under that I’ve got a cute little cardigan from Anna Sui, kind of a boucle knit.

--I’m wearing my boxers.

--I like to leave it unbuttoned, so you can see my cute little Stella McCartney top. It’s got a crew neck, with fantastic lace detailing.

--Don’t you want to know who designed my boxers?

--And then I couldn’t decide what to do for a skirt. The nubby Karl Lagerfeld? The wispy little Prada?

--Monsieur Jockey. Kind of appropriate, don’t you think?

--Thing is, your skirt kind of depends on your tights. It’s sort of an ensemble—you have to put everything together.

--Jockey, get it?

--There’s always Wolford--you can’t go wrong there. But I’ve been dying to try these fantastic Henry Holland tights. It’s like they’ve been spun out of cotton candy, they’re so sheer and delicate.

--You know--jock? As in jockstrap.

--And you can’t forget about shoes. Oh my God, I saw this girl yesterday, and she was wearing these things that looked like, I don’t know, Birkenstocks or something. It was like she was getting ready to hike in the Alps.

--Do you know why men have to wear jockstraps?

--So I thought maybe my Jimmys or, no, maybe the Manolos, and then I had this fantastic idea.

--Do you want to know what size mine is?

--I thought what if I just went with some little red sneakers? Keds, I just love the name.

--I meant the whatdoyoucallit?—the garment, not the you-know. But you can infer.

--They’re cute, and just a little bit ironic. Kind of a meta-comment on the whole fashion thing.

--Aren’t you getting kind of warm? Maybe you should take something off.

--I think you can take the whole shoe thing too far--you know what I mean? Though I do like that kind of high-heeled boot look.

--I’m driving in the car and all I’m wearing is the boxers--that’s how warm I am. I’ve got the AC going, but I’m thinking about you, and that just messes with my thermostat--you know what I’m saying?

--And I’m wearing my cute little Gautier bodice, the one with the lacy top.

--Oh God, I can’t keep my mind on the road! I’m swerving!

--But I don’t approve of that innerwear-as-outerwear statement. You know, the Thierry Mugler thing with those aggressively pointed bra cups?

--You know, I don’t mind that look so much. I kind of like it. But come on, what are you doing right now? What are you thinking about? You can tell me. Are you thinking something naughty?

--I’m thinking of going shopping. But I can’t decide. H & M or Loehman’s? What do you think?

--Let’s pretend you’re shopping. And I’m in the dressing room with you, and I’m still in my boxers and you need help unzipping. What do you do then?

--I ask you to hold my bags for me.


     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.

At the Dog Restaurant - Part I

WAITER: Good evening.


POODLE: Good evening.

WAITER: Is this your first time with us?


WAITER: Excellent, and welcome. Let me start you off with something to drink.

GOLDEN RETRIEVER: I'll have the Little Lehigh River Water, please. If you could make sure to mix in algae, that'd be great.

WAITER: You like algae?


POODLE: Could I have the New York City Water with extra fluoride?

WAITER: How about chlorine?

POODLE: Pour it on!

WAITER: Absolutely. I'll bring them right out.

POODLE: And come to think of it, a spoonful of water à la commode.

WAITER: Is toilet OK?

POODLE: If that's all you have.

WAITER: Happy to add that, madam, if you don't mind the extra charge.

POODLE: That's fine—I find it makes all the difference.

WAITER: It's a pleasure to serve such a sophisticated customer. I'll be right back.




WAITER: Here you are.

POODLE: Thank you.

WAITER: Let me tell you about our specials tonight. We have a lovely waterlogged baby robin that's been freshly caught in the backyard. The salad special tonight is recently cut tennis grass. And the chef's special is a wonderful chipmunk with biscuits.

GOLDEN RETRIEVER: Do you serve running socks?

WAITER: We do, but we will ask you to sign a waiver beforehand if you choose to order this.

POODLE: No, he's not ordering any more socks.

GOLDEN RETRIEVER: I was just curious.

POODLE: And do you also serve, um, you know what?


WAITER: We do, yes.

POODLE: Is it fresh?

GOLDEN RETRIEVER: Carol! I am so sorry, sir.

WAITER: No, it's perfectly fine–only a connoisseur would be comfortable inquiring. It's extremely fresh.

POODLE: See that, Dave? I'm a connoisseur. I thought I smelled something.

WAITER: I'll let you both have some time to think about what you'd like.




WAITER: Have you had a chance to look over the menu?

GOLDEN RETRIEVER: I'm debating between the Natural Balance Dog Food Rolls Lamb Formula and the 5 Minutes on the Ground BBQ Chicken. Which do you recommend?

WAITER: You'll be able to eat them both in seventeen seconds.

GOLDEN RETRIEVER: I'll have the BBQ Chicken.

POODLE: How is the Blue Buffalo Home-style Recipe Small Breed Chicken Dinner Adult Canned Dog Food?

WAITER: Have you spent the last hour chasing squirrels?

POODLE: I have.

WAITER: Then you're probably going to want to stay away from that and anything else. Might I suggest waiting a couple hours until your panting subsides?

POODLE: No, I'll have it anyways.

(To be continued.)



Gregory Mazurek ( has been published in McSweeney's and Science Creative Quarterly.

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).