Friday, October 29, 2004

45,853 words and bowling for cats

  • BOOK UPDATE: Thanks to schedule weirdness and recent fascination with my Welsh-language blog, I have not written nearly as much as I would have liked to this week. On Thursday I woke up at 3:30 a.m. in a fit of panic, part of which centered around fears that I would somehow let myself burn out on this novel when it's so close to being finished -- not because I really feel that I am losing momentum, but because that would fit with my track record.
    But as I say, I don't actually feel that's happening. And I have scheduled to take another week off in December to focus on the book. Hopefully by that point I'll be fully into the editing process.

  • I'm kind of crap at this game. My highest score so far has been 80.

  • How would the rest of the world vote in the upcoming election? Voting is currently under way.

  • Before and after.

  • This little incident isn't going to help diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the MAN.

  • I'd say our relations with hermits aren't doing too great, either.

  • It's like Dr. Phil but not really.

  • Gee, with such a sane girlfriend, it's really a surprise to me that Hendrickson shot himself.

  • "The student was rushed to the hospital after he began dry heaving and urinating on himself" -- Yeah, I remember those days. Good times.
  • Thursday, October 28, 2004

    The funniest of the Marx brothers

  • I'll bet my friend Heidi is bemoaning the fact that she does not live in Cleveland.

  • Some people accuse Bush of being unnecessarily secretive and impertinent toward the rest of the world. That's just silly.

  • I think it goes without saying that Bill Clinton is to blame for this.

  • Here's some comforting airline news.

  • Aluminum siding is an aesthetic abomination. Thankfully, poetic justice is being served.

  • I spent about five minutes trying to think up some sort of comment (witty or otherwise) about this story. I got nothin'.

  • Time for dad to get a new job.
  • Ready to rumble

    You startin' sonny boy? Eh? I will mess you up; hear me? You wanna piece of this? Huh? Well, do ya? I will take you down.

    Wednesday, October 27, 2004

    I propose we call it Cope's Island

  • Why have we not named the Moon? All of Jupiter's moons have names and no one even lives out there.

  • Here's a good trivia question: Without Googling for the answer, who was Bob Dole's running mate in 1996?

  • You know what I really love? A judge with a real sense of sarcasm.

  • Don't accept marital advice from this guy.

  • Cave dwarf.

  • "We have a problem now -- one-third of the population is unable to squat."

  • I think the nation and the world are breathing a sigh of relief today.

  • Thank goodness Mary-Kate is finally going to do something with her life so that she can get out and get a decent job.

  • The most important game of Brett Favre's life.

  • I want this shirt.
  • Tears in my red wine

    If music means anything, John Peel carried the importance of presidents and kings; his reign lasted 37 years and he never killed anyone.

    I'm upset that I didn't recognize the immensity of his influence in my life and in the world of music until I was 19 years old.

    Before studying in Portsmouth, I had only heard of The Peel Sessions. I assumed that Peel was a British record label that could somehow get the best out of bands -- the sessions were always touted as some of a band's best work.

    Confounded by the non-grid nature of English streets, I risked getting permanently lost on my first day in Pompey to venture out and purchase a stereo. I bought a really good one at Argos for £80, carried it back to Harry Law Hall and listened to the Sex Pistols' "Never Mind The Bollocks" CD I had bought from a bargain bin at HMV earlier in the day. When I got sick of it, I started clicking through the radio stations.

    I think the first Radio 1 DJ I heard was Simon Mayo, whom I thought was awful due to that British radio trait of talking all over a song. But the DJs that I actually took notice of that night were Mark and Lard, and then John Peel.

    "How funny that they give this old guy a radio show," I thought of John Peel.

    I started listening regularly to Peel because I was amused by the eclectic and sometimes confounding nature of the music he played.

    A few months later, I was reading a magazine article that, as a sidebar, mentioned the extreme influence of John Peel and I had a sort of epiphanous moment of connecting the fabled Peel Sessions and all Peel's greatness to the old guy on the radio.

    Peel and Mark Radcliffe became my vision of the proper way to do radio: honestly; in your own voice; in your own personality; not shouting or creating false enthusiasm (if you want an example of how to do it wrong, listen to Scott Mills or every radio presenter in the United States). I blatantly copied the style when I worked at Pure FM and KMSC. Copying Peel's traditional glass of red wine, I made sure to have a bottle of Budweiser at the start of every show.

    It's interesting that Peel was so wistful about his days broadcasting in Dallas; he would have been bumped off the air there years ago. Peel introduced punk, reggae and hip-hop (among other styles) to the British people and the world. I defy you to find reggae or genuine punk or hip-hop on Dallas radio today. There are thousands of Americans, disillusioned by the abysmal corporate state of radio in the United States, who flocked to Peel via the Internet.

    He had millions of devoted listeners in every corner of the world, yet it always sounded as if it was just some show put on by some friendly guy in his basement, and only you and a handful of other people were listening. That's the aspect I will miss the most.

    What's really making me tear up like a fool today, though, is the thought of this Christmas without Christmas at Peel Acres -- the tradition of getting people together to sing Christmas songs on the radio. This wasn't some sort of polished studio thing, it was genuinely friends and family gathered around a piano singing -- some out of tune, some off rhythm, some forgetting the words, some giggling -- to the whole world.

    In December 2000, I was the only person (really) in the office working the week of Christmas. I remember feeling miserable and lonely and far away because my wife and I were living out in San Diego, Calif., and we had no friends staying in town and couldn't make it out to see our families. I was bored to tears with work and suddenly John Peel and his family and Belle & Sebastian were all singing Christmas songs. Their voices were 6,000 miles away, but I sang along and felt warm and happy and, oh, man, I cried like a big goof.

    I feel pretty alone right now. I work for a major U.S. news outlet and not one person in the headquarters of my benevolent employer even knows who John Peel was.

    I think it was incredibly telling of his influence that Radio 1 filled six hours of airtime Tuesday playing artists that Peel had championed over the years, but any of his regular listeners would be quick to tell you that perhaps only 30 percent of his musical tastes were touched upon. Who now will play me an impossible-to-pronounce screaming-blooping Japanese chick band followed by a sermon from the Rev. C. L. Franklin, some Welsh-language hip-hop and a story about driving through the Netherlands in the middle of the night?

    "Micro-techno. What is Micro-techno? Who knows what Micro-techno is? I like the fact it mystifies me and I don’t know what any of it is. And none of us do"
    -- John Peel

    Tuesday, October 26, 2004

    Monday, October 25, 2004


  • Figure skater Michael Weiss this weekend did a routine that incorporated Metallica's "Unforgiven" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven." My soul hurts.

  • So, there was indeed something wrong with my truck. The radiator thermostat needed to be replaced. That fact became painfully clear Saturday night when I noticed a stream of radiator fluid shooting up 2.5 feet from the spillover reservoir.
    I was sitting there in a supermarket parking lot with the hood up (a.k.a., "bonnet"), and it was spurting onto the car next to mine and I thought: "Yeah, this is definitely something I can't continue to ignore."
    On Sunday, my brother and I put in the new thermostat and flushed the radiator while we were at it. That would be about $140 of work at a shop; because we did it ourselves it cost $31 -- $5 for the thermostat, $4 for the gasket, $8 for the radiator fluid, and $24 for beers afterward.
    While we were at the bar, an incredibly attractive waitress recognized my brother from somewhere and sat down to talk to him -- interrupting some story he was telling me about writing an estimate (Jon is the guy you talk to when you need auto body work).
    This sort of thing happens to my brother a lot. He's rather athletic and got all the attractive genes my parents could muster, plus he's genuinely cool. One trait of cool people is that they don't fall over themselves to talk to you. If you were to meet me in a pub or bar, my face would light up and I would get really bouncy and I would want to talk to you until you were so exhausted you could no longer hold your head upright. I am a stupid little monkey who desperately craves your attention the way Courtney Love craves smack. Actually, more than that. If Courtney Love and Scott Weiland had a child, the way that kid would love the heroin is the way I love attention.
    But not my brother.
    This girl was touching his arm -- sort of feeling his bicep -- as she talked to him. He shook her off with a very pleasant but cool, "Well, it was nice to see you again."
    "Where do you know her from?" I said once she left.
    "She says we went to high school together. Beats me who she is. Anyway, I wrote this estimate for $700..."

  • Unfortunate, yet terribly appropriate.

  • It would appear the military has grown tired of dealing with environmentalists.
  • As if fleeing from Old Gooseberry

    Great Uncle Winslow Sturgis Bartholomew rides again! Faster, old boy! Faster!

    Saturday, October 23, 2004

    44,207 words and Chinese socks

  • BOOK UPDATE: I think I may have said this three times before (I can't be bothered to look), but one of the drawbacks of writing this book in four parts is that at the end of each part I feel emotionally that I am done. It is difficult to sort of start over again with a new section.
    I also find myself lagging a bit because I really want this final section to be one of the best. A lot of novels (especially ones that are supposed to be humorous) really burn out at the end because you are used to the style and you can see where everything is going. I hope I can avoid that and at the end of it you'll wish I had written more.
    Eh, who am I kidding? I doubt anyone will sit there and think: "Wow, I wish this book were longer!"
    If I'm lucky, they won't finish the book and think: "Great googly-moogly, what a waste of (sale price) that was!"
    This is all assuming the book is ever published. I have no idea what sort of uphill process it will be, but I will tell you that the agent I contacted a few weeks ago has not written back.

  • And because I want you, dearest reader, to be around when (if) my book is finally published, I am begging you to stay safe and wear protection.

  • Anybody want to go to a wedding?
    (Link sent to me by Nick)

  • All is well in Boston.

  • While they're sitting back and enjoying their Sam Adams this Saturday, Bostonians can reflect upon one of the finer aspects of the game of baseball -- medical quackery.

  • A Hooters in Shanghai? Yeah, I've had that dream.

  • However, if you go to China, don't bring home any of those dreaded Chinese socks.

  • I wish someone would do this to my place. Although, it would be my luck that they'd redecorate with a "country" motif; littering my home with Precious Moments figurines and "Bless This House" knick-knacks.

  • Traffic alert.

  • Winning the award for unwittingly having one of the coolest band names ever: these guys.
  • Friday, October 22, 2004

    Good advice

    Lately my coworkers and I have been exchanging tidbits of good advice. Here's what we have so far:

  • If a fire starts in the pile of old napkins you have in the floor of your car, don't put it out with coffee; the smell won't go away.

  • If you're standing across the street from a friend and he asks to use your mobile phone, don't throw it to him. It will end up in unrecognizable pieces.

  • If you are using an Asian squat toilet, make sure your pockets are emptied of items that you want to keep.

  • If you are running full speed through an English university residence hall, watch your head; the doorjambs are lower than you might think.

  • If the police officer who's just stopped you for DUI suggests it's a nice night for a walk home, agree with him; go for a walk.

  • If you purchase soup from a local supermarket deli, don't assume the cup they put it in is water-tight; do not rest the cup on expensive trousers.

    Please add your own advice in the comments field.
  • Melville = evil

  • Esther's synopsis of Herman Melville's "Moby Dick."
    This is a far better synopsis than the one I gave in a10th-grade book report. Of course, in that case I hadn't actually read the book yet.
    Despite that fact, I earned an "A." That was the day I learned that style outweighs substance. I used my top-notch comedy skillz to denounce the book in evangelistic stylee, and no one seemed to notice that I never actually said anything about the book. My orating was so thunderous that it attracted the class from next door; I can still see poor Carrie O'Brien pressing her hands to her ears as if she were in one of those Duck and Cover films.

  • Jenny deleted her blog a few days ago, but misses blogging. Blogless Jenny says: "Today I saw a pigeon eating fried chicken. The weirdest part is that it really seemed to be enjoying it.*"

  • I've been clicking to Meaghan's blog all day, waiting to see her response to the Yankees' historic loss Wednesday. Nothing yet.

  • "On display"?!! Like those fake deserts at restaurants?

  • W'hey Harry! Clearly Harry is the most in touch with the average British male. That said, since he's all the way down there as third in line for the throne, I hereby propose that he be adopted as King of Minnesota; we'd love to have him.

  • And no matter how wild Harry got, I doubt he could match the incredibly disturbing nature of South Carolina's Libertarian candidate for Senate (see quote 3rd graf from the bottom).

  • Tough on stains, easy on terrorists.

  • What the world needs now are more violent religious idealists! Hooray kick-butt missionaries!

  • Whoa, whoa, whoa! Let's not rush things.

  • Gee, by looking at him, you'd certainly never guess that Bernie would be sexually disturbed, would you?

  • Considering that the sprawling headquarters of my benevolent employer are located beneath a flight path, this story makes me nervous.
    Key quote: "The engine is described as being the size of a Honda Civic."

  • Note to lovelorn teens: Don't pick a fight with a guy who's good at throwing knives. Or, at the very least, don't give him your knife.

  • Note self: Move to Europe. Buy phone.

  • Darn you! Darn you, dirty pumpkin thieves! Darn you all to heck!

  • Congratulations Alabama!!

  • You know who's to blame for this, don't you? All those rat lovers. And Bill Clinton.

    *Insofar as pigeons can seem like anything but stupid, glassy-eyed flying rats. Bastards.
  • Thursday, October 21, 2004

    My time is now

  • Two people have e-mailed me this story today, suggesting that now is the time for me to step up and fill the void.
    I suspect that literally hundreds of people are scrambling to send letters to the Miami Herald in hopes of taking Barry's coveted slot as One Of The Greatest American Humorists Of All Time; as if such a moniker could simply bestowed and not earned through years of hard work. What a bunch of dopes.
    Of course I'm gonna be one of them. Any suggestions as to what I should say to the powers that be at the Herald?
    Perhaps I should list the reasons why I'm better than Dave Barry:
    - I work cheap.
    - No cumbersome following of several million rabidly loyal readers.
    - I can rope in the untapped Welsh niche.

  • As Barry's replacement, it would definitely fall on me to alert readers to stories like this one.

  • In this story about a Bushy visit to the Quaker State, look at the list of things you can and cannot bring to the rally; "weapons" seems to be an afterthought, showing up eighth on the list.

  • Sometimes you can pick up subtle hints from people that they have been living in a rough neighborhood a little too long: "I look down and he's got a big .22 chroma black shotgun."

  • It is definitely wabbit season in Louisiana.

  • Actual town name: Cooter (7th graf).

  • Nothing says "responsible journalism" like a story encouraging people to run to Mexican flu shot clinics.

  • Bakersfield, Calif. Has been listed as the Cough and Cold Capitol of the United States. But how was this fact determined? By sales of cough medicine. Hmm...

  • Listen to this now.

  • This is kind of cool. You can listen to old American radio programs online for free. Sadly, there is no link for "Fibber McGee and Molly."
  • Wednesday, October 20, 2004

    Car talk

    Vehicles that I have owned:
  • 1969 Ford F250 pickup truck
  • 1989 Ford Mustang
  • 1991 GMC Sonoma pickup
  • 1993 Saturn SL2
  • 1994 Ford Escort
  • 2000 Ford Ranger pickup

    The F250 was actually a pretty good truck. I bought it for $400, and the only real work I had to put into it came when I replaced the plug wires after they were ripped out by a guy named Scott because I stole his girlfriend. Considering that he was a hockey player, the $30 plug wires were a small price to pay.
    The passenger door would occasionally pop open, the seatbelts were inadequate, and there were holes in the floorboard, but it was a good, reliable automobile until I ran it into a tree. It still ran after hitting the tree (this thing was a tank), but the transmission stuck. In September 1994, I sold it for $60 scrap.

    The Mustang was a convertible. My dad helped me buy it after I finally graduated high school, just six months after the rest of my classmates. One day I opened it up to 150 mph and was overcome by a rare fit of intelligent thinking: "Oh man, I am gonna kill myself with this thing." I traded it in for the Sonoma.

    The Sonoma was a great truck. My ex-girlfriend used to accuse me of loving that truck more than her. It took me from New York to San Francisco and all points in between -- through three countries and 26 states. I credit that truck with helping to woo my wife, who was initially not very interested in me but enjoyed going for rides around Lake Tahoe. Some of my favorite memories come from when my friend, Jim, and I would sit around working on it. It was stolen in March 2001 and I actually cried.

    The SL2 I picked up through marriage -- I married a hot chick and took on her $230-a-month car payment. On my wedding day, my brother looked at the car, sitting in front of Rachel's parents' house, and said: "You are now leaving Coolsville."
    The car started acting up in early 2002 but, thanks to $2,000 in repairs, we were able to get it to limp all the way to March 2003, when we gleefully offloaded it to Rachel's used car salesman uncle.

    The Escort I bought from Rachel's parents. It had previously been used by each of Rachel's three younger sisters in getting to and from high school. I bought it because I didn't have any money but didn't feel like we could trust the SL2 to hold up. In a classic example of why my buddy Jim is infinitely cooler than you will ever be, he drove Rachel and I from San Diego to St. George (450 miles) to pick it up.
    Just because I bought the car doesn't mean that I liked it, and apparently the feeling was mutual because it started acting up almost immediately. In July 2002 it broke down, leaving us stranded in the middle of nowhere.
    It broke down again, for good, in August of this year. We donated it to the Minnesota Vietnam Veterans -- something I feel tremendously bad about because I like veterans.

    The Ranger was bought in March 2003, and, after having gone two years without driving a manual transmission or a pickup truck, I was delighted. I finally had a pickup again and it was mine, you hear me! Mine! All mine! Bwhahahaha! I proudly put a Welsh flag sticker on the back and took pictures to e-mail to my friends.
    When my wife's Escort tanked, I had to teach her how to drive the pickup -- it became our pickup.
    Lately, the "Check Gages" light has been going off at random intervals.

    I would like to point out that with the exception of the 25-year-old vehicle I ran into a tree, the only vehicles I've owned that have had problems are the vehicles that my wife has driven. I'm not trying to say anything, of course. I'm just making an observation.
  • Tuesday, October 19, 2004

    Vote For The Right Guy

    Huzzah! My latest column is out and it references current events. Go me.

    Be sure to forward it to all your friends, family and elected representatives.

    Monday, October 18, 2004

    Bravura miscellany

  • They're not the best anymore.

  • It's about time lawmakers did something about the scurge of healthy cigarettes.

  • The Welsh are my kind of people.

  • It says something about the quality of Ohio drivers that police have to tell them how to use a stop sign.

  • Good name for a band: Chicken Rig.

  • Huzzah. Arm thyself good knight.

  • Police an Akron, Ohio, have shot and killed an unarmed man

  • Look at the name of the girl in the fifth row down, fifth picture from the left.
  • Saturday, October 16, 2004

    Shout-out to my people in time zone X

    One of my favorite features of the stats program I use is the bar graph map of the planet that tells me from what time zone a person is viewing this blog. According to said bar graph, most of the people reading are from the Central Standard Time zone (where I live; six hours behind London). There may be some glitches in this feature, because in the four months I have been using the stats program, I have apparently never had a reader from Australia.

    But I can't be bothered to worry about them right now. No, this post is a shout-out to all the people living in time zone X.

    The stats program breaks down time zones by letters of the alphabet. I live in time zone E, Britain is located in time zone K, and way over there on the right side of my map is time zone X -- it appears to cover New Zealand, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, and Kamchatka.

    Kamchatka, as we all know, is one of the most difficult positions to hold in the board game Risk, but its possessor is almost always ensured a win.

    The Marshall Islands are where my grandfather was stationed during World War II. The U.S. stationed a large fleet there anticipating Japanese attack, but the attack never came. As a result, it was boring as hell. My grandfather was a morale officer -- he spent the war encouraging people to play baseball or read magazines.

    The Marshall Islands is also where my $5 Space Shuttle Discovery Commemorative Coin was minted. It honors Sept. 29, 1988, when "Space Shuttle Discovery gracefully lifted into a warm Florida sky, bearing with it a nation's hopes and dreams." I excitedly bought this coin for both sets of grandparents and myself that Christmas. Here's a picture of my beloved coin*.

    There aren't a lot of people from time zone X reading this blog; there have been only 28 hits from them this month. But I think that's enough to assume that they aren't all accidental readers. Perhaps most people in that time zone are busy minting commemorative coins, amassing forces in preparation for an invasion of Alaska, blasted on kava, or trying to pick a fight with Russell Crowe. For those of you that are reading, however. Thanks.

    *Strangely, in the same box that I found my commemorative coin, I also found my Portsmouth Student Union membership card, my first driver's license, a coin from the former Soviet Union and a wallet-sized picture of Sarah McDaniels and me at homecoming.

    Friday, October 15, 2004

    43,500 words, dude

    BOOK UPDATE: Dude, I am writing a book. No, seriously, dude. I'm writing a freaking book. Me. The dumb little monkey boy. I'm writing a book. You don't know how crazy that is, dude.

    That's kind of how I feel right now. I have finished the third part of my four-part book and the reality that, you know, I'm writing a book, is setting in. I am so damn cool. Take that, chicks that dumped me in high school!
    This fourth part should be the easiest because it is basically a variation of a story that I've been telling for years. I've even written it out before, although it was awful that time -- ask Esther, she read it.

    I suspect that I will have a complete draft of the book by mid-December. From there, I will read through the whole thing again and make any edits I can find. Then I plan on having my wife read it. She is an avid reader and hopefully can offer some constructive criticism. I'll make any necessary changes that come out of her reading and then start pestering agents and publishers in earnest. I am still waiting to hear back from the agent I contacted last week.

    My old neighborhood

    For no reason in particular, I was looking at the crime stats for the neighborhood my family lived in when we lived in Houston, Texas. So far, it appears there have been at least five murders in that neighborhood this year.
    The neighborhood is called Sharpstown and is perhaps most famous for the Sharpstown Scandal -- a massive corporate banking boondoggle that shook Texas in the early 1970s.
    Good times.

    Thursday, October 14, 2004

    I'm really, really sorry

    Sometimes I will think about the people who find their way to my site accidentally. It is very rarely that a Google search will lead someone here and they'll actually find what they are looking for. So, I apologize wholeheartedly to those people.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2004

    Your people killed Mama Cass

  • Have you ever sat through an episode of "Father of the Pride?" It's considerably better than I had thought. Inevitably, this means it will be cancelled. In an episode last night, a pig walks by the main character, Larry the Lion.
    "Your people killed Mama Cass!" Larry screams at the pig.
    Then he turns and explains to his son:
    "Mama Cass was a singer who choked to death on a ham sandwich."

  • Is your child a big loser? No? Then he needs a soccer helmet!

  • Maybe this seemed like a good idea at the time.

  • Finally, a reason to visit Cincinnati.

  • Minnesota; land of excitement.

  • Proof once again that Bush is fighting the wrong war. Hopefully he'll at least mention the War on Arachnids during tonight's debate.
  • Tuesday, October 12, 2004

    Wi' their claymores an' philabegs

    I used to have a friend who would regularly tell me: "They'll be singing folk songs about you in the hills."

    It appears they already were. Well, about my family name, at least. Anyone know the tune to this song? I plan on singing it every morning.

    Anyone want to buy a pub with me?

    A Scottish country dancin' fool

    Jenny, I'm sure it will ease your troubled mind to know that we do a bit of the whooping and hollering you mentioned, although not nearly enough for my liking. But I am realizing that I will face a few problems as time goes on.

    Problem No. 1: I have trouble learning new things. When I was a schoolboy, they tried and tried to determine some sort of learning disorder for me but to no avail. According to all modern tests (or tests that were modern at the time), there is nothing wrong with my brain, I'm just lazy.
    In fact, I do have a learning disability. It is this: When people try to tell me to do things, I want to punch them. Perhaps we can call it Extreme Anti-Authority Disorder.

    Problem No. 2: As a result of my EAD, I am dumb as a post. I am still wrestling with the whole "it's not square dancing" thing. Steps are only explained once and I'm left to stand there asking aloud: "Wait. Are we doing this with that same step as before? How do we know that? Did she say that? If she doesn't say things, how are we supposed to know to do them?"

    Problem No. 3: The "she" in the previous problem area is the class instructor. She is crap at explaining what she's doing. If you are teaching precise physical steps, you cannot use words like, "kinda," "sorta," and "over here," as in: "After you do the reel you kinda move over here and sorta turn back." Argh! It's the morning after my SCD class and I still have a headache from clenching my jaw in frustration.

    But, hey, I get to wear a kilt. So, I'll be going back next week. Perhaps in the meantime, I'll try to teach myself how to sorta move over here with a kinda prance.

    Delays possible

    Due to the fact that I am taking this week off and focusing intently on writing my book, I may be a bit sporadic in blogging. In the meantime, here is some art:

    Sunday, October 10, 2004

    Ziggy-zaggy, ziggy-zaggy, hoi hoi hoi!

  • Shhhh. I have a headache. After three days of suffering sport defeat, I was heartily up for the final day of Oktoberfest at Gasthof zur Gem├╝tlichkeit. It's basically everything my wife dislikes packed into a tent: hundreds of really loud, really drunken people (most of them smoking) shouting at each other over a 700-decibel polka band. However, because I am male, and right-thinking, I recognize Oktoberfest for what it is: One Of The Best Ideas Ever.
    Americans love drinking-based festivals and holidays. I have long said that if a culture wants to win the hearts and minds of Americans, it needs to think up a holiday that involves little more than eating fatty food and drinking to excess. Presently, the big ones are: New Year's Eve, St. Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Oktoberfest and Thanksgiving. There are still plenty of spots on the calendar. Although, you should make sure that your new holiday doesn't butt against one of the established ones -- Wales should shift St. David's Day from early March to mid-September.
    My wife chose to miss out on the festivities, but I had a great time nonetheless, drinking 2.5 liters of beer, singing along to the "Dos" song*, eating bratwurst, playing hammerschlagen, and losing my voice.
    I just Google-searched "hammerschlagen" and see that the top returns are either from German sites or sites based in the Minnesota area, so it's possible you have no idea what I'm talking about. Here's a picture of some guys I don't know playing hammerschlagen. The goal of the game is to be the first to drive a nail into a piece of wood. The participants take turns taking a single strike at their nail until a person's nail is finally driven all the way in. You can also use your turn to straighten your nail if your previous turn put it at a bad angle. That sounds simple enough, but there are two key elements that make it difficult:
    1) You have to use the tapered end of a blacksmith hammer to drive the nail.
    2) You have to be drinking.
    Oktoberfest is one of those great unifying events that brings out all ages, races and types, then squishes them all together at the same table. We got to meet Ray because he and his girlfriend, Carolyn, were able to squish in at our table. Carolyn is only a year older than Ray's eldest daughter -- way to go, Ray! Ray was the hammerschlagen champion of the evening. On his first attempt, he drove the nail in a single strike. Ray is the new icon of virility.
    One of the more amusing aspects of the evening came when the polka band played a version of "New York, New York" The booing was so loud that you couldn't hear the band at all. Should a certain headphones-wearing person ever visit our fair metro area, she might want to leave her Yankees paraphernalia at home.

  • I have packed away my beach chair and neatly folded my map of downtown Minneapolis -- there will be no Twins World Series parade. I would like to point out, however, that with the exception of game three, the Twins proved to be a hard team to beat. And keep in mind that the total payroll of the Yankees ($184,193,950) is three times that of the Twins ($53,585,000).
    I will now return to my protest of Major League Baseball.

  • How does this even happen?

    *(To the tune of Do Re Mi)
    Dos, a beer -- a Mexican beer.
    Ray, the guy behind the bar.
    Me, a guy, I buy beer for.
    Far, a long way to the bar.
    So, I'll have another beer.
    La, la-la-la-la-la-la.
    Tea, no thanks, I'll have a beer.
    And that brings us back to Dos.
  • Lucy Van Pelt pines for me

    You are Schroeder!

    Which Peanuts Character are You?
    brought to you by Quizilla

    Saturday, October 9, 2004

    I said 'uncle'

  • Ouch.

  • Ouch.

  • Ouch.

    Actually, England's win doesn't hurt too bad. What hurts is how poorly Wales played, or rather, didn't play. At all. It's as if they were England's practice squad. They weren't playing to win, or even playing not to lose. They were playing to give England something to do on a Saturday afternoon. Bah.
  • Uncle


    Friday, October 8, 2004

    37,526 words and hurting legs

  • BOOK UPDATE: I have contacted a literary agent about my book. I did that on Wednesday and, not surprisingly, I have yet to hear back from her. I would say that the odds of all things falling into place on my first attempt are bewilderingly low, but I'll keep you posted.
    Next week, I am taking leave of my benevolent employer for a full week to be able to focus on writing the book. I will probably do the same thing again in December.

  • And if the book I'm working on doesn't pan out, there's always this gig.

  • I cycled to work again today. I am so much better than you. Just admit it.
    Although, I moved a little slower than in previous trips. With the Scottish country dancing on Monday, and running Tuesday and Thursday, my legs are a tad weary. How's that for an exciting blog note? I'm sure there are literally thousands of people all across the globe who are twisted up in knots wondering about the state of my leg muscles.
    They're tired, my peoples (said in Terry Wogan stylee), but I shall carry on.

  • I plan on being properly stocked in beer for tonight's debates.

  • I will also stock plenty of beer for the match between England and Wales on Saturday.
    While I am wearing my Wales jersey as I write this, I will confess to supporting England when they face other opponents. And considering Wales' failure to convincingly defeat Northern Ireland, I'm inclined to believe our chances of success against Engerlund aren't so good. Nonetheless, I imagine the mood will be electric. Hopefully the match will be as good as the atmosphere.
    I'm sure my refusal to despise England will strike me from Cheeky Squirrel's list of potential blog-sitters.

  • And I'll be jinxing this game by keeping track of it. Even though the Twins play at home and the guy who works the fans* at the Metrodome will be on his toes, the pitching staff is tired and Minnesota has a proud sports tradition of falling apart in the playoffs; the NorthStars used to do it, the Vikings do it, the Timberwolves do it, the Gophers do it (oh, Lord, do they do it).
    But, then, the Twins have been the most successful at overcoming playoff jitters. I still have my homer hanky from 1991. If anyone needs me, I'll be rocking back and forth in the corner, singing the Minnesota Twins theme song**:
    "We're gonna win, Twins, we're gonna score. We're gonna win, Twins, watch that baseball soar."
    I may have those lyrics a bit wrong, I wrote them from memory and there is no reference to them on the official Twins site. Although, I did discover -- to my surprise -- that our mascot*** appears to be the Hamm's bear.

  • I normally wouldn't link to an "Aah, isn't that cute?"-type story, but I will to this one because it's cute in a strange way.

  • "When a child laughs, usually they smile, they close their eyes. His wasn't a warm laugh -- his almost had a chill to it" -- It was the uncontrolled, maniacal laughter of pure evil!!!
    OK, kinda sorta evil.

  • It would appear that officials in Ohio's state government don't care about science.

  • There's a lesson about vanity here.

  • I wish I had thought to do this.

  • A friend of mine went to Scotland recently and brought me back a Kinder Surprise egg. They don't sell these in the United States, of course, because candy with a toy inside would inevitably choke to death half a generation of young Americans.

  • Woohoo! Mormon pop music.

  • You know what they say: 53rd time's a charm.

    *The Metrodome is a covered stadium that looks like a pan of JiffyPop. Its roof is held up by air pressure, and opposing teams have occasionally sworn that the massive fans used to keep the roof up have been turned on or adjusted to affect play.

    **There is also such a thing as the "Minnesota Twins Polka." My marching band stood outside Hubert Humphrey Terminal in 1991 and waited five hours to play it for the Twins as they got off their plane.

    ***James Landeros, if you are reading this, please tell your story of Crabby, the San Francisco Giants mascot, in the comments field.
  • My own private rodent infestation

  • I will never again write an article that makes even passing reference to pet rats. Rat photos have been coming in fast and furious today. It would appear that someone posted my name to some rat-loving message board. While I am unnerved that such a board exists, I find it even more troubling that there are people out there who seem to think I really enjoy looking at pictures of rats. I am receiving e-mails with no subject, no message, just pictures of rats. I now have enough rat pictures to set up a rat porn Web site. Having viewed all these rat pictures, here's what I can tell you about rats: THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME!
    And some of the photos are just plain disturbing. I don't care how much you love your pet, it needs to be kept clear of your foodstuffs. I mean, I love my wife, but I don't let her crawl all over my food (unless it's chocolate pudding, but that's a different circumstance).

  • Hi, I'm dumb as a post, but I refuse to admit it. In fact, I'm outraged that you would point out how dumb I am (*).

  • No childhood is complete without accidentally imbedding pencil lead deep into one's skin. I had always thought I was the pencil-dope champ, having managed to stab myself in the face in sixth grade. But this kid has me beat.

  • Singapore -- the booger-sized country!

  • I'm thinking of buying one of these for my wife.

    (*) I'm sorry, I can't resist pointing out that with the same set up, I could have linked to a story about Bush's reaction to the Duelfer report.
  • Thursday, October 7, 2004

    Sadly, none of them are playing poker

    In this week's column I mentioned the woman who sent me a picture of her rats dressed in tiny halos for Christmas. In so doing, I opened the floodgates.

    Today I received several e-mails from rat-loving types like this woman:

    They all wanted to tell me about their beloved pet rats.

    Rats like Sambo:

    And Beigey:

    Many of the pictures showed the rats taking part in some activity.

    Here's Mike getting ready to party in Mexico.

    Here's Hank heading off to school:

    And here's an unnamed rodent rocking out, Ben Folds style:

    Several of the rat pictures I received followed the original Christmas theme.

    This guy is wishing you a Merry Moose-Mas (which is strange, because he's clearly not a moose -- he's a mouse):

    Here are Euan, Joy and Sophie waiting for the rodent Santa to arrive:

    And here's the rodent Santa in the fur! Look kids, rodent Santa!!

    But I'm afraid none of the pictures topped the rat birthday party. Check out the icing on their faces -- that sort of attention to detail easily establishes this as the best of the rat photos:

    Wednesday, October 6, 2004

    Not a whole lot like Dickens

  • Writers I have been compared to: Dave Barry, Nick Hornby, Bill Bryson, and today, Lewis Grizzard. Go me.
    There's really only one thing that separates me from those guys -- they have books.

  • I'm in a crappy mood today. Here's why.

  • I have chocolate ice cream in one hand and a piece of chocolate cake in the other. You can't have both. Which one do you want? For the love of Pete, it's not that hard to make a decision between two discernibly different things!

  • "Clare said Rabbit Hash is still the only community he knows of in the country to euthanize a public official."

  • I have cancelled my vacation to Vancouver.

  • I'll be going to Florida instead.

  • Somewhere in San Diego right now, there is a massive mariachi band looking for some new shirts.

  • Oh, and Meaghan: Ha ha ha ha ha ha (I'm sure I will regret this taunting shortly).
  • Crazy People Read This Column

    My latest column is out. Please make me famous by forwarding it to all your friends, family and local Registrar of Voters offices.

    Here's the rat picture I mentioned in the above column. Aren't they cute?

    Gettin' my SCD on

  • I am a Scottish country dancing fool.
    Well, remove the Scottish country dancing bit.
    Rachel and I took part in our first class Monday night, and I once again proved myself to be inept at anything that requires physical coordination.
    From the pictures (I had never actually seen it performed), I had assumed it would be a bit like square dancing. Since my family comes from Texas, I reckon I am genetically predisposed to being able to fake my way through. Sadly, I was mistaken -- SCD involves footwork.
    It has been my experience in life that people who do physical things well are shockingly bad at explaining what they are doing. Such was the case for one of the dance teachers who would tell us to perform a certain move and neglect to mention the three or four other requisite elements. If I'm supposed to take someone's hand and do a bit of prancing, you can't simply tell me to take their hand -- I have to be told to prance. And you need to explain exactly what sort of prancing you want out of me, and allow me to do a few practice prances before adding the taking someone's hand bit.
    Generally, when it comes to this sort of thing, I have a pretty high stamina. This compensates for the fact that I learn slower than most dogs. Inevitably, moves were explained only once, so while everyone else took a break I tried to get the basics of a move that involved hopping from first position to fourth position, to third position, to fourth, hop and start again in fourth leading with the other foot (the pictures I linked to are ballet, so the foot placement is a little different, but it gives you an idea). All sped up and done properly it's basically a stylized prance. But my extracurricular prancing exposed me to an element of SCD that I had suspected might exist to some extent -- dorks.
    Dorks come in all sizes and shapes, but one unifying trait about dorks is that they are obnoxiously condescending when it comes to their chosen subject of obsession. If you talk to my dad about Methodists or the Democratic Party, you should prepare yourself for a tone that lets you know you are really dumb for not knowing the "basic" stuff that he knows and understands.
    So it was that my attempt to perfect my stylized prancing was seized upon by not one but three dorks. If I had gotten this sort of extreme tutoring in high school I would have gone to Harvard.
    The alpha dork was relentless. Every time I would step back from him to, you know, practice my stylized prancing, he would close in and position himself right in front of me so that he could continue espousing his stylized prancing philosophy. But I'm disinclined to pay attention to style points from a man who clearly can't dress himself or comb his hair.
    I decided to stop paying attention entirely when he suggested there was no real counting system for the stock move we were performing. Bollocks. A dance that's been around for at least 400 years and comes from a country whose history is littered with engineers, scientists and mathematicians, and you're going to tell me there's no counting system for a basic element used in almost every dance? Double bollocks.
    "Well, the music is just sort of different. It's a different feel," said Alpha Dork as he tried to squirm away from my suggestion that he was full of it. "My wife has musical training but when she tries to play the music it doesn't sound right. Because it's a jig, see, and she's trying to play it straight."
    If your wife can't comprehend phrasing, that just makes her a bad musician, it doesn't mean that the time signature changes. To that end, I'm sure there's a counting system to SCD, I just haven't yet met the dork who knows what it is.
    That all said, I had a dorkishly good time. To my surprise, there were about 45 people there (more than I expected) and -- even more surprisingly -- my wife and I were not the youngest. It looks like we'll be going back next week.

  • I am considering crossing the picket lines of my self-imposed protest of Major League Baseball to pay attention to the Twins-Yankees series that starts tonight. This way, should the Twins win, I will be knowledgeable in my taunting of Meaghan.

  • My co-worker, Maggie, and I today were discussing the possibility that Americans would be more politically involved if there were more reality TV elements in the process. I suggested that Chris, host of "The Bachelor" should be in charge of Election Night coverage: "Coming up: Only one will stay. Find out who will become president and who will go home broken-hearted..."
    Maggie suggested that the Bush daughters and Kerry daughters be forced to live in a house together.

  • You know who's to blame for the flu vaccine shortage, don't you? Bill Clinton.

  • Hell is full and evil is running unchecked upon the earth.

  • Employees working for Chicago's DDB advertising agency have an on-site pub. I hate them to my core.

  • If you're going to work for America's No. 1 fish and chips chain, you must be listless and compliant.

  • My best friend just moved into a house over the weekend and will now need a lawnmower. I think I've found the perfect one for him.
  • Monday, October 4, 2004

    The Dreaded North Dakota Volcano Of 1980

    Shock blog exclusive!! This is the column I had planned to run Tuesday, but it was rejected at the last minute. So, dearest blog readers, here it is just for you:

    The last time Mount St. Helens blew up, a production assistant at a Fargo, N.D., television station almost got killed. He was nowhere near the volcano.

    With Washington state's volcano again making news, it gives me the perfect opportunity to share one of my all-time favorite stories. The following is a true story. Or, as true of a story as it could be when it was told to me -- 18 years after the fact, in a bar, after the story's teller and main character had had a few beers:

    Television news didn't have as much flash two decades ago, at least not in "small market" towns like Fargo, so when their weatherman pointed to a map of the country, he pointed at an actual map.

    I'm sure you're aware that when your favorite weathercaster points at a map these days, he or she is, in fact, pointing at a blue screen and a computer puts the map in behind them. Before that, weathercasters used a real map and a combination of magnets, dry-erase markers, and cheesy props.

    The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens was an unprecedented event; particularly exciting to the people of Fargo, where mountains, let alone ones that would blow up, are foreign concepts. It was decided that something extra-special needed to be done for eruption coverage.

    The weatherman drilled a hole in his national weather map, right at the spot of Mount St. Helens. Through that hole, he ran a length of surgical tubing, allowing an inch of it to stick out the front of the map. Using Silly Putty, he then built an archetypal volcano around the bit of tubing and secured it to the map.

    From there, the plan had been to use dry ice to make it appear as if smoke was coming from the mouth of the miniature Mount St. Helens. Almost immediately, though, it was realized that the dry ice wasn't going to work -- there was no way to force the steam through the tubing.

    The weatherman called in the show's director and the two sat and stared at the map, trying to think of what, if anything, they could do. That's when they noticed a newly hired, chain-smoking production assistant nicknamed Shorty.

    Unfortunately for young Shorty, smoking at the workplace was perfectly acceptable in those days. So, as the newscast went on the air that night, he found himself sitting behind the weather map with a piece of surgical tubing in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

    The first news block passed and during the commercials Shorty heard the director's tinny voice buzz through his headphones.

    "OK, Shorty, light up," the director said. "I'll let you know when to start puffing."

    Shorty listened to the floor manager quiet the set and then count the seconds until they were back on air. There was a bit friendly crosstalk between the anchor and the weatherman. Shorty heard the words, "Mount St. Helens," and brought the cigarette closer to his lips.

    "OK. Go, Shorty. Give me smoke," the director buzzed.

    Shorty took a long draw from his cigarette and exhaled into the tube.

    "More smoke, Shorty! I need more smoke!" the director shouted.

    Shorty took a deep, quick pull and spit it into the tube. Then another. Then another. The floor manager came around to the back of the map and hissed: "More smoke!"

    Puff. Puff. Shorty was hyperventilating. The stage manager lit a second cigarette and put it into Shorty's hand.

    "More smoke!" shouted the director.

    Puff. Puff. Puff. Shorty's stomach started to dance. He felt light-headed and his vision pixilated. Puff. Puff. Puff. He felt for the "talk" button on his headset.

    "I think I'm..." he wheezed.

    "DON'T TALK! SMOKE!" the director screamed.

    Puff. Puff. Puff. Puff. The second cigarette fell from Shorty's lips like a spent rifle casing. A third was thrust upon him by the stage manager. Puff. Puff. Puff. Puff.

    "Keep that smoke coming," the director shouted.

    Puff. Puff. Puff. Puff. Puff. Shorty's stomach was spinning at approximately 3,000 rpm. The space around him started spinning just as fast in the opposite direction. He suddenly remembered that the weatherman's nickname was "Gus" as in "Gusty," as in "long winded." This guy could talk for hours. On one particularly slow news day he had famously delivered a 19-minute forecast. Nineteen minutes of weather! Puff. Puff. Puff. Puff. Puff.

    Then, seemingly coming from several miles away, Shorty heard the weatherman say, "back to you." Through the headset he heard: "Good job, Shorty." And if you had been watching, you might have heard something, too -- a loud thud; the sound of Shorty falling from his stool behind the weather map.

    The next night, when the station went to its weather segment, Mount St. Helens was conspicuously smoke-free.

    Roll back the carpet

  • My wife and I are heading to our first Scottish country dancing course tonight. That's right, beeyotches -- I'm going to be the SCD master!

  • I am cancelling my vacation plans to Belgorod, Russia.

  • I am shocked -- shocked, I say -- to learn that there was drinking taking place amongst a rugby team.

  • Man, only three pounds? The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors is clearly run by a load of fascists.

  • According to researchers who apparently have little else to do with their time, your car determines your candidate.

  • Bad news: they want it back.

  • Often I'll be writing a letter or grocery list and suddenly think: "I wonder if I have a fever."
    Hey! This is the perfect thing for me!

  • A few years ago, a TV station I worked for tested the durability of Peeps by dropping them from a building, running over them with a 30-ton crane, having the police shoot at them, and having firefighters apply the Jaws of Life. It would appear, however, that our work was not complete. There are more ways to test the survival skills of Peeps.

  • Elton John is my hero.

  • Because, you know, there are so many people in prison right now who are looking to settle a score with Martha.
  • Sunday, October 3, 2004

    Whistling at cheerleaders

  • Autumn has finally arrived in the great state of Minnesota. Today, for the first time this season, the radiators started whistling at me. I don't know why I put up with their harassment -- I guess it makes me feel special. Besides, they make my apartment warm.

  • Bless this guy for running his blog, but it seems like an obsession that borders on the unhealthy.
  • Friday, October 1, 2004

    36,664 words and some talking out my arse

  • BOOK UPDATE: I feel like I'm spinning my wheels a bit. I'm not 100-percent sure what's wrong, but I've been finding myself falling into the trap of "and then this happened, and then this happened." You know how a Bill Bryson book tends to go on for 30 to 80 pages too long? My storytelling keeps taking that form, so I have to delete it all and start over again.
    I guess I have sort of ("I guess I have sort of" -- how's that for definitive thinking?) lost my confidence in my ability to write a book that anyone would ever want to read. I know when this feeling started, and I've been trying to shake it off ever since. It's just that some people's opinions mean more to me than others, I suppose.
    I will sit down and write at nights, but there's this feeling in my head: "What are you doing this for?" I mean, if I'm writing something and not sure it will be worth your time, what's the point of my writing it? (Oops, with that statement I have just made my blog obsolete) If I'm writing a novel that I want people to love, that I want them to fork out money for, I have to love it, too. And I do love this story, but ever since I had a conversation with a friend of mine about the possibility (or lack thereof) of the book getting published, I've felt unstable.
    I'm going on a bit much here. You may want to skip to the next item.
    Growing up, while everyone else wanted to be something practical, I wanted to be a stand-up comic. Really. I kept notebooks of material (Why do vacuum cleaners have headlights?), and studied comic styles with that sort of extreme geekiness that music magazines dedicate to the "brilliance" of Morrissey.
    When I was 18, I went an open mic night at a now defunct club in Minneapolis. My set could only be described as painful. Not painful ha-ha, painful ouch. A bit like the Tony Danza Show. I stared at a spotlight through my set, so, thankfully, I don't have the image of disappointed faces burned into my memory. But while I didn't see anything, I didn't hear anything, either. There was only the oppressive roar of uncomfortable silence. I would rank it up there among my life's most traumatic experiences.
    I didn't think much of it at first, but it slowly wore away at me and took away all the desire I ever had to be a stand-up. Now, I try not to think about it too much. But suffice to say, I lost any confidence in myself that I have the ability to reliably entertain people that way.
    Sometimes I worry that my novel would earn an equivalent response. I have a good friend, Heidi, who gives me a sort of grimacing look of pity when I say something dumb. It's a look that seems to say, "Bless your heart, you're trying so hard, but you are just so stupid." (In her defense, she insists that the has never actually made this face, and assures me that if she has, my interpretation of its meaning was incorrect) I worry that is how my friends would feel; embarrassed for me.
    As I tap away at my novel I will start to think, what if this just isn't good enough? What if turns to maybe. Maybe turns to probably.
    It's just something I have to work through, I suppose. I really hope that I will.

  • Of course, it's stupid to get myself wrapped up in knots about this. The fact is I am not a good writer. I am the purveyor of lightly entertaining formulaic crap. Step right up and read some crap!
    Today my editor accurately summed up just about every column I write:
    Headline: I Think Rachel Is Hot, And Love Her
    BODY: Something funny happened.
    It was even funnier because I have a hot wife who I love a lot and who puts up with me.
    Funny ending.

  • This is the only thing I will say about Thursday's debates: I, too, would like to put a leash on Bush's daughters. But perhaps that's just my own naughty fantasy...

  • According to USAKilts, the tartan of my kilt is Stewart Mourning. But according to House of Tartan (which I'm inclined to believe more because they have more patterns), the tartan of my kilt is Stewart Black Clan. I'm sure your life is richer for that knowledge.

  • Man, I want to set fire to a 6-foot straw bear.

  • There's this song by Joss Stone, called "You Had Me." It's an acceptable little ditty, but I am utterly confused by the lyrics. At one point in the chorus she appears to sing: "I realized in time the Mayans are not right."

  • If you don't read Jenny's blog, you're a damn fool, and you missed out on this.

  • Modern life is rubbish.
  • I should have better prepared

    Dang. I'm out of beer, with 35 minutes left in the debate.
    I should have prepared with more than a six-pack.