Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Finally, As Promised Earlier, A Word

Having promised, in the early days of this blog, to occasionally post interesting words across which I stumble, I have at last come across one that moves me to post: presto.

"Presto?" you say. Seems simple and unexciting at first blush, but do you know the origin of this simple little word, so often used by magicians? I did not.

The origin of the word "presto", as used by men in black cape and top hat, is the word "prestidigitation", which means, skill in or performance of tricks; sleight of hand.

See also, presto...Italian for "quickly".


Coffee and Its "Side Effects" - Feature or Bug?

In my line of work, coffee holds a position similar to food and water...that is, it's non-optional. I remember when I first discovered the virtues of coffee. It wasn't during college. I never really studied or attended classes in college, so there was little utility in being alert in the morning. I was introduced to the wonders of caffeine when I got my first job after college. I worked for a crappy little telecommunications reseller called Allnet. Allnet, despite being a tiny and generally insignificant little company, dubbed itself one of "The Big Four" telecommunications companies -- AT&T, MCI, Sprint...and Allnet -- affectionately known, in the Atlanta office where I was located, as Y'allnet.

It was at Y'allnet where, while still living the post-college, party-like-a-rockstar, come home at 4 in the morning lifestyle, I was required to report to a 7 a.m. sales meeting in the office, before I hit the streets of suburban Atlanta to begin peddling my wares. In the first few days of this, I suffered silently through the sales meeting, hanging like a bat, and praying I wouldn't be called upon to participate in any of the ludicrous "role-playing" training we were forced to drill over and over, and that was supposed to prepare me for my workaday encounters such as:

ME: Good morning [look at desktop name plate] Darla, my name is Rob and I'm with Allnet of the Big Four...and I'm here to speak to the person who handles your telecommunications needs. Would that be your CEO?

DARLA: Blah blah blah.

ME: I can appreciate your desire to protect Mr. Turnipseed from solicitors, but I'm sure he'll want to speak to me...I can save you big money on your long distance bills.

DARLA: Blah blah blah.

ME: Well, even IF your last bill was $14.50, I guarantee I can shave at least $2.5o off of does that sound?

DARLA: Blah blah blah.

ME: No need for security Darla...did I mention that Allnet is one of the Big Four? Maybe I could just get a business card to show my boss I'm out here working? No? Hey, have a great day Darla...I'll swing by next week to see if Mr. Turnipseed might [dodge flying stapler]...bye.

At this point in a normal encounter, I would proceed to the elevator, hit the buttons for all odd numbered floors, take the stairs to an even numbered floor, go into the bathroom, lock myself in a stall, stand on top of the toilet, wait to hear a huffing and puffing security guard come in looking for me. I distinctly remember wishing I was the UPS guy...everyone seemed to love that doo-doo brown sonofabitch. I hereby resolve never again to be jealous of someone outfitted cap-a-pie in brown poly blend.

Anyway, in those early days, I noticed all of my sales compadres gulping corporate coffee as fast as possible, complete with half a cup of sugar and three single serving containers of non-dairy creamer (remind me later to do a post on "non-dairy creamer"...revolting.) It seemed to work for them, so I gave it a try. What a discovery! Instant energy and alertness! I noticed, however, a significant side effect, which is the actual topic of this post. Within 15 minutes of ingesting my first cup of coffee, I was bolting tantivy for the nearest bathroom. Coffee, it appeared, had a laxative effect. Back in those days, that was clearly a feature, not a bug. It gave me some time to read the paper, relax, reconnect, delay venturing to my vile job, and stay as regular as a Swiss train. Joy!

Today, some 15 years later, a few factors have arisen that may have conveted this erstwhile feature to a significant bug. They are, in no particular order:

- back then, bowel movements were, while not a rarity, far from the hobby they have become. I have (sadly) reached the point where, like many fathers, my children marvel and comment loudly and embarrassingly about not only the frequency of my bathroom visits (often several in one morning), but also the average duration of those visits (which has ballooned from an efficient 5 minute range to the better part of a half an hour. What can I say. I read.)

- Longing for my attention (or more likely, giggling about how much I am in the bathroom), my children have taken to hovering outside the bathroom door while I am in there trying to focus intently on whatever reading material I was able to grab on the way to the bathroom (I prefer Outside magazine or the Economist, but will settle for anything over staring at my feet, even if it's Martha Stewart Living, or the side of a Cocoa Puffs box.) Now, I am not a terribly modest person, but I must admit to a modicum of embarrassment at the explosion of giggles outside the bathroom that follows each audible "event" inside the bathroom. Oh the indignity.

- Finally, I am not sure whether toilet paper has gotten more abrasive over the years, or whether my hind quarters are somehow deteriorating and becoming more sensitive to repeated swabbing, but I have to temper the enthusiasm with which I approach the wiping task, or risk a bleeder. Once, in a pinch, I was forced to utilize a sock for this task (my own, I should note) and to my surprise I found it quite pleasing, and greatly preferable to TP. I briefly considered stocking a shelf in the bathroom with clean new tube socks, but quickly concluded that disposal was a problem - not being able to dig a hole in my bathroom the way I had in the aforementioned pinch.

My solution? Hell if I know. No way can I give up coffee, but the deleterious effects are stacking up. Maybe I should lay off my morning routine of two bran muffins and a cigarette before coffee?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Amazon Patent...and a Few Ideas

From Slashdot:

"Review your local dry cleaner, pay $10 million? Among the three new patents awarded to this week is one that covers collecting reviews by letting visitors to a Web site fill out a form. spokesman Craig Berman said he couldn't speculate on whether the company would attempt to license its new intellectual property." From the article: "In one embodiment of the patent, the system sends consumers a message inviting them to write a review in a predetermined amount of time after the purchase. It's a method widely used by online retailers, including Yahoo Shopping. The patent also covers the method of tracking who returns to rate products by asking them to click on a unique link in an e-mail. But the patent even covers collecting reviews by letting visitors to a Web site fill out a form. "

In first reading this, I was disgusted with the PTO, the body of US patent law and the world generally. Patents in the US legitimize extortion, plain and simple. They don't protect the little start up companies, they put them in the cross hairs of gargantuan companies that stifle competition.

But then I had a glimmer of hope...based on what Amazon has been able to patent, maybe I can get a patent, license it and make hundreds! Here are my initial ideas...I'll be raising a seed round soon:

Patent 1: A Process for Removal of the Penis from the Trousers Prior to Urination. This one is a killer. Half of the trouser-wearing public is gonna owe me big time. And if they don't? I hit 'em with the NEXT patent...

Patent 2: Removal of Urine From Clothing Using Warm Water and Soap. HA! Get around me now!

On another line of thinking alltogether, I'm also going to be going after the restaurant market:

Patent 3: Spoon-Facilitated Removal of Hair-Like Portion of Artichoke Prior to Consumption. I believe I pioneered this process. Ever try to do this with a way. I guarantee every artichoke-serving restaurant in the country is doing least the ones that are above buying canned artichoke hearts.

Patent 4: Use of a Multi-Bladed Utensil to Reduce Cheese to Acceptable Size for Sprinkling. First stop...Olive Garden.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Don't Trip Over the Hose


On a bright and warm day, a day typical to Connecticut in early summer, I was walking up the path in front of our little stone house in the woods, breathing the air, enjoying the sun, and although I don’t remember specifically, more than likely headed to the beach. I was around 19. Suddenly, the peace and tranquility was shattered by a shriek from my mother, who was screaming my name in a voice that put every bird within 500 meters off its perch and sent every furry thing running for cover. I whirled around, sure that she had put a kitchen knife through her hand (or through my dad), and when I could hear over the clatter of the birds and forest creatures struggling to regain their composure, said


My mother, her eyes wide as dinner plates, standing in the front door, looking fully terror-stricken, and pointing at some peril past me on the walk, and obviously unnoticed by me (thus the alarm) – I dared not turn around to face what must surely have been evil incarnate – replied

“Don’t trip over the hose!”

I turned and saw, sure enough, that there was a bright green garden hose lying across the flagstone walk. Still. Benign. As apparent and unthreatening as Barney on quaaludes.

I looked back at my mother with a face that I can only imagine said to her, without the need for words,

"Are you TOTALLY out of your gourd?"

Honest. True story. Now to the point of this post.

Next week, some 15 years after the occurence of my brush with the grisly garden hose accident described above, my mother is turning sixty.

This is serious.

I don’t mean “serious”, like “your chocolate is in my peanut butter” serious. I mean serious as in “your car keys are in my larynx” serious. Not “get me the police” serious; “get me the President” serious. Not “my nose hair needs trimming”, but “my nose hair has mutated, become aggressive and engulfed my head.” [n.b.: here I must profess, to anyone familiar with my writings, a bit of a fascination with nose hair. I acknowledge it. Call it a hobby.] My point is that this only goes down once. It needs to be handled with the utmost care and, if ineptly handled, it will almost certainly result in some yet undetermined annual and painful reminder of just how ineptly I once handled an occasion as important as a 60th birthday. To be clear, this reminder would almost certainly come from my beloved wife (as part of her ongoing, well-intended quest to needle me into raving, drooling insanity) and not from my beloved mother, who almost certainly does not give one rodent’s hirsute hindquarters about her birthday and is likely to wish a pox upon me for even mentioning it. Still, as a dutiful son, I feel compelled to give the matter due consideration.

Unfortunately I, being located the breadth of a continent away from my dear mother, need to do something susceptible of being done from afar. Popping over for breakfast and a “Day of Mom” with flowers and excessive coddling is, to my undying disappointment, not an option. So what to do? A gift? What possible gift within my pitiful budget fits such an occasion? “Happy Birthday Mom…enjoy your bacon. It’s applewood smoked!” No. I feel pressure to perform. Were it that I could buy the Taj Mahal, have it deconstructed and reassembled in Central Virginia, as a shrine to my little mother…okay, good enough (the Taj Mom-hall?) Anyway, short of that, no deal.

After a great deal of thought, internal debate and alcohol-fueled but ultimately pointless brainstorming, I concluded that the best thing I can do for my cherished mommy on her 60th is to try to impress upon her the impact she has had, and continues to have on my life and how I live, love and generally conduct myself each and every day. And the best way I know to do that is to write it down. To that end, the remains of this little rambling is entitled:

“Don’t Trip Over the Hose (or, Things I Learned From My Mom)”

In thinking this matter through, I have realized that I not only literally owe my mom my very existence, but that from her I learned just about everything I ever really needed to know to make that existence full, happy and productive.

From my mom, I learned that actions speak louder than words; that no person is perfect, but strong effort and good intent are meaningful and people who demonstrate those qualities are best.

I know that the only perfection in this world is found in the unconditional love a parent has for a child, because I feel my mother’s presence every time I look into the eyes of my own children -- my absolute love for them is born of her absolute love for me. The joy I feel looking at them is paralleled only by the joy I imagine she feels looking at me, looking at them.

I learned from my mom that a strong person greets failure and adversity with the same relish as success – that it is in those challenging moments that each of us has an opportunity to prove to ourselves who we are, and what we are made of and to grow as a result. Ironically, I also learned from my Mom that it’s OK to cry, and that even the strongest person needs love and support. Some people admit that, and accept support when they need it…the rest are not being truthful.

Under the tutelage of Mom, I have learned that a sense of humor will carry you far, protect you from a great deal of self-pity, and is to be guarded and if possible maintained front and center at all costs and in most situations. It also makes you more fun at parties.

IMPORTANT: Mom taught me that garden hoses can be deadly, and that tripping over one is always a very real risk, even for an agile-footed teenager with perfect vision, walking down a path in broad daylight and complete sobriety. Extreme caution is advised. No kidding. Mark my words. I have it on good authority that Willie Nelson has written a soon-to-be-released cautionary ballad entitled: “Mommas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up And Trip Over Hoses.” When Willie talks, I think we all know to listen.

My mom has demonstrated for me perseverance and tenacity, but also grace and calm composure. She has shown me the value in serious and critical thought, but also whimsy and lightheartedness. She instilled in me a love of things beautiful and poetic, but also shown me how to search for beauty in the tragic. She showed me it’s a gift to be smart, but it’s funny when you’re stupid. She’s my hero, my buddy, my counselor and often my partner in crime. She tickles me with most every word, and in return, I try to tickle her back. She’s my mom, and so, so much more.

I decided to go ahead and, despite its destined failure to measure up to the occasion, buy my mother a “gift” for her birthday. It’s a necklace…a very simple heart at the end of a very modest chain. I put “gift” in quotes, because I don’t really intend it as a gift in the usual sense. Instead, I hope it is a simple, constant reminder of my boundless, undying, absolute love, affection and respect – a little fob she can put around her neck as she sees fit -- as simple, unassuming, and beautiful as the relationship with her that I treasure so.

Happy birthday Mom.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Los Angeles Kings Sued For Hate Crime

LOS ANGELES - August 16: A former Japanese national hockey team member is suing the Los Angeles Kings, claiming he has been the victim of a hate crime.

Yutaka Fuji played with the Japan's national ice hockey team three times. He is pictured here displaying the his Los Angeles Kings jersey left in his locker, with a "modification" of his last name, during a news conference in Tokyo Thursday, Aug. 18, 2005.

The 22-year old Tokyo-born goalie reported to the Japanese media that he and the Kings of the National Hockey League agreed to a two-year entry level contract earlier this month.

"I mean, really, it's not even that funny - fuk-u-fuji? Seriously..." commented Fuji at the press conference. "What kind of message does this send to the millions of Japanese youth hockey players who dream of being 3rd tier NHL players? It's saddest for them."

Six-foot-1 and 170 pounds Fuji was selected by the Kings 238th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

To compensate him for this humiliation, Fuji is claiming unspecified damages for and a mandatory contract extension in the case.

"It's damn embarassing," said Don Pinker, a Kings representative. "We thought is was his name...who can tell with these guys!?"

The case is expected to go to trial in October.

Donkey Files Charges - Claims Zebra Heritage

CAIRO - August 19 -- Egyptian newspapers reported today that a Cairo donkey has formally filed charges against his owner, one Bubu Kahotep, for what the donkey claims are unfit living conditions.

"Frankly, the smell of him alone is enough to offend all my delicate sensibilities," said the donkey, known to friends as "Zonk", in a document filed with the court on Wednesday.

"For the love of Osiris, he's a donkey! Give me a freaking break," commented Kahotep, pictured above with Zonk outside the Cairo courthouse.

In fact, the core of the barnyard plaintiff's case is his claim of Zebraic ancestry which, he maintains, entitles him to certain privilges and preferences not normally enjoyed by Donkeys.

"The zebra and donkey are indeed separate equine species, but they are capable of interbreeding" commented Zonk in an interview last week. "The crossing of a zebra stallion and donkey mare is recorded as far back as the 1700s and has become popular in America in recent years, I'm told. The hybrid is referred to as a "Zonk", "Zeedonk" or "Zonkey."

"Annubis H. Imhowet! Look at him? Does he look like a zebra?" remarked Kahotep.

Zonk's filing claims that Kahotep has engaged in several forms of sub-Zebraic treatment, including leading him around on a rope, insisting that he relieve himself outside the desert lean-to, and denying him his instinctive grazing privileges.

"Grazing?! We live in the godforsaken desert!" noted a visibly agitated Kahotep.

"Whatever. He also smells terrible" claimed the donkey. "This is not an ethnic stereotype you understand, he is just unpleasantly scented," commented Zonk in a recent interview. "What does he you know what a diet of mead and dates does to your lower GI?"

"All I ask is to be treated in a manner befitting a noble animal like a Zebra" said Zonk, who traces his ancestry to a small farm in Capetown, where his great grandmother is reported to have been engaged in a clandestine affair with a South African Zebra.

"Of course, in those days, in South Africa, the very notion of donkey-zebra social interaction, much less copulation, was an abomination and completely beyond the grasp of the famously conservative plains game. That said, my great grandmother is said to have possessed remarkable hindquarters -- love knows not stripes, nor barnyard fences."

Authorities expect the case to move to trial phase within several months. If the court finds for Zonk, Kahotep could be liable for monetary damages and back hay.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Southern Fastfood Joint Throws Down Gauntlet on Burger King Fat Content Claims

Alpaharetta, GA – In a deft move to outpace Burger King’s latest breakfast offering, the “Enormous Omlette Sandwich”, Buford’s Grease House, a popular dining establishment in this Atlanta suburb has debuted its own offering, the Big an’ Greasy. “Them BK folks are all out talkin’ trash about their damn Omlette thingy – while Buford’s has always offered more fat for less money,” said Buford Turnipseed, proprietor.

The new Enormous Omlette Sandwich boasts three eggs, one sausage, three strips of bacon and three slice of American cheese on a bun, and weighs in at a whopping 700 calories and 47 grams of fat. “The EOS is frankly on the cutting edge of what we like to call “bulk consumption” commented BK spokesman Ted Blowfer. “In our test runs, entire Guatemalan villages were able to live on as few as two units of product per week.”

In response, Buford’s Big an’ Greasy, or "BanG" boasts 4 eggs, three ¼ pound beef patties, one scoop of lard, a coating of Cheez Wiz, is topped with Bac-Os and served with a side of cracklins and a defibrillator. “Guatemalan villages? What else you got? The BanG flat out weighs four and a half pounds! In our tests, my dog Suckit ate one and died fifteen minutes later, may the good Lord rest his soul,” remarked Turnipseed. “Any of them BK folks wanna belly up to a BanG, they best bring it on down to Georgia and I’ll set em up. On the house!”

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Of Red-Eyes and Airport Naming

“You’ve got a lousy seat.”

So said the airline employee as she slid across the counter a boarding pass entitling me to an 8-hour flight from San Jose to Washington, D.C. – a redeye.

Excuse me? Clearly this person teaches the part of airline employee orientation that’s entitled “Pissing Off Customers – Why Wait ‘Til They’re On The Plane?!”. (It comes right after “Intro to Indifference” and just before “Deploying the Inflatable Slide – Never Mind, You’re Dead”.)

Sadly, once on the plane, I immediately understood the basis for the comment as I had regrettably been issued seat 22D -- the LAST row of the plane. A row, as most travelers know, the seats not only do not recline, but actually lean FORWARD at the top. This forced my head upper torso forward and would have turned me into a giant “greater than” symbol.


IF, that is, I had been able to extend my legs into their usual position under the seat in front of me. Unfortunately, the family of five occupying the three seats in front of me, having consumed all of the space in the seven nearest overhead compartments, had resorted to stuffing all manner of infant gear, duffels, pillows and small farm animals under their own seats -- in front of me. The result of this was that my legs were instead forced akimbo underneath my own seat. I was more of an ampersand.


To add to my then overwhelming sense of general discomfort, the non-english-speaking and faintly curry-scented gentleman seated next to me, after shooting me a furtive glance that despite our lack of a common language I immediately recognized as meaning “wow, these seats suck”, deftly and without apology expanded like a bowl of ripening Jell-O to fill all of the previously empty space around him, nestled his topcoat into my lap to provide his arm a perch, laid his head on his tray table and began to snore.

It was in this position – folded like a Bavarian pretzel and careful to avoid the head and arm of the peacefully napping Rip Van Traytable to my right – that I attempted vainly for four hours and one minute, to sleep.

Having hobbled off the plane, sleepless and half crippled, there I sat in Wayne County Regional Airport – an unfortunate waypoint between California and our nation’s capital.
I shrewdly judged from its name that “Wayne County Regional Airport” is in Wayne County. Never heard of it. It actually took research (a detailed read of my boarding pass) to determine in my fatigued state, that I was in (or at the very least near) Detroit.

Wayne County Regional Airport…is in Detroit?

This, to me, warrants a bit of discussion.

I have to question the wisdom of naming the airport that serves Detroit, a city that, for all its shortcomings, is familiar to most people at least in name, after the county of Wayne – a place whose biggest and nearest attraction, one must assume, is in fact Detroit. Now, perhaps Wayne was a very important figure in nascent Detroit and I, in my clumsy ignorance of all things de troit, am unaware of this. Would you suppose that this “Wayne” – a man of such obvious historical importance in this area -- was actually called simply “Wayne?” Or was “Wayne” his last name – Buford Wayne, I think it was, yes? Or perhaps Augustus T. Wayne? “Good morning Mr. Wayne. Croissant?” No, my money is on “Wayne” Something. Wayne is, after all, the most Midwest of names, save maybe “Wade”.

All of this illustrates the problem here: it is fine to name an airport after a person – perfectly acceptable – dead or alive. JFK. George Bush. Ronald Reagan. Charles de Gaulle. Even LaGuardia. But I think a couple of guidelines should be strictly adhered to and airport namers are loath to stray from them too drastically.

Rule No. 1: the person after whom the airport is named should be generally recognizable to most people.

Presidents and prime ministers are clearly fair game. Dead mayors are a bit edgy. “Wayne” is clearly out.

Rule No. 2: the person after whom the airport is named should leave a weary traveler with the ability to make at least an educated guess at the location of the airport with respect to a larger metropolitan center. “San Francisco International Airport” – sure it lacks creativity, but its utility is indisputable.

With Presidents, your top two guesses always have to be Washington and the state from which the former Commander-in-Chief hails. If you have the good fortune of having traveled to Washington before and know the airports there, your odds of being correct increase sharply. JFK throws a bit of a curve, as I have no idea what the man had to do with New York City, but you see my point. “Wayne” gives me absolutely nothing to go on. All I can tell you is I’m probably not in Nigeria. What’s worse, it’s “Wayne County”…not an airport named after a person, but an airport named after a county named after a person – and only ONE of his names. I’m totally in the dark!

Far be it from me to stifle creativity and insist on utilitarian and literal descriptiveness, but we have a problem here. At the very least, if you are going to be creative in the naming of airports, spice it up a bit...make it interesting:

New York -- Rude Motherfucker International Airport

New Orelans -- Where Are My Panties Field

Detroit -- Angry White Rapper National

Much better.


Friday, February 11, 2005

You Really Can't Make This Stuff Up!


HOUSTON (Reuters) - A Texas woman indicted last month for allegedly giving her husband a lethal sherry enema said he was an enema addict who did it to himself, a newspaper reported Thursday.

Tammy Jean Warner said late husband Michael Warner had an alcohol problem and enjoyed giving himself wine or sherry enemas [and who doesn't?!] because his body would absorb the spirits more quickly that way.

"That's the way he went out and I'm sure that's the way he wanted to go out because he loved his enemas," she told the Houston Chronicle. [A common discussion topic at EA meetings -- if you could go with anything packed in your colon and lower intestine, what would it be? Sherry? Coq au Vin? Brittney Spears?]

Michael Warner, 58, died on May 21 and was found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.47 percent, or nearly six times the level considered too drunk to drive in Texas. [Three times the level where it's considered safe to poop.]

Mrs. Warner, 42, is accused of giving her husband a sherry enema even though she knew alcohol was bad for this health and faces a charge of criminally negligent homicide. "There's no way I could have gave my husband that enema, no way," she said. ["Why? I hate Sherry...that's why. I'm an armagnac girl!"]

Police in Lake Jackson, Texas, 40 miles south of Houston, said there was evidence that Mr. Warner had received [I mean, "received"] two large bottles of sherry. [The lethal result of the procedure strongly suggests that the Sherry should have been removed from the bottles prior to being "administered."]

"It all started back when he was a child," Mrs. Warner explained. "His mother used to give him enemas all the time, and he started to depend on them." "He did coffee enemas [good to the last drop], he did Castile soap, Ivory soap" she said. [nothing like a good sudsy BM, I always say.] "He had enema recipes." [I am thinking about a new cable reality show based on this.]

["I gave him all these, but not sherry -- no way man," Mrs. Warner explained. "He loved cats though...squirmy little buggers. Gave him cat enemas all the time. Tough to get em through the tube, but once they're loaded? Look out!"]

[Above: A photo of the decedent, moments after receiving his most recent cat enema, and just before he lost consciousness. Sadly, there were no feline survivors.]

Mrs. Warner, a former bartender who got married to Warner in October 2002, is also charged with destroying his will, but she denied the charge, the Chronicle said. Currently free on $30,000 bail, she is scheduled to go to trial in July.

If convicted, she faces up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine on each charge. [Texas enema statutes dictate that, had she used vodka, she would be facing up to 5 years. A wine cooler enema gets you probation and some community service in the Lone Star State.]


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

In Memoriam - The Amazon Gold Box

On the occasion of the apparent passing of the Amazon "Gold Box" (which longer seems to appear in "The Page that You Made" when I go to, today I'm posting a little piece written awhile back, commenting on the wonders of the now-defunct feature.


Amazon has instituted a new feature called the Gold Box. The purported justification of the Gold Box is to bring you, and only you, deals too good to be believed on top quality products that are useful to many – hot wax foot baths, hose storage systems, doormats emblazoned with warm and thoughtful messages (“Welcome to Our Home, Friend”), and the like.

I periodically visit my Gold Box to view these and other titillating items and have, over the last six months, managed to procure, at a price too low to mention in writing, a piece of “name brand” cookware that, as far as I can tell, is specially designed for cooking things that are (a) no larger than a standard hockey puck and (b) not likely to leave any kind of residue on the pan that you might want to remove later -- 60% of that egg you just tried to fry is remaining on the pan indefinitely.

In addition to my piece of Sticks-a-Lot cookware, I have been lucky enough to find bargains on MANY other compelling products, such as:

- a digital camera for my daughter. The unique quality of this gem is that it makes whoever you are photographing strikingly resemble an old English portrait of an unknown and long-dead relative, with freakishly large features and the dark and sooty quality gained by hanging over a pub fireplace for two centuries; and

- a set of grill tools which included a fork that, under the immense pressure required to roll over a hot dog, snapped in half, resulting in the lattice of burn scars on my right hand;

- a nose hair trimmer -- click the link to hear more on this one...all I can say is ouch.

Given these retail misfortunes, I had come to suspect that the Gold Box was a repository for things too horrible and ridiculous to be purchased by any thinking creature. This suspicion was today confrmed when I saw, there in my own Gold Box, a product ridiculously labeled “Taylor Easy-Read Pocket Thermometer”. At first blush, a useful and attractive product. I myself have often sat and wondered the PRECISE temperature in my pockets. So many mysteries to be unlocked! At what temperature does a gummy bear become viscous? How hot does it need to get in there before my own perspiration causes the money in my wallet to get soggy and stink? Am I a fire hazard? Could the lint in my pockets spontaneously combust?! Then my discerning eye caught the following marketing-speak:

1/3-inch LCD face instantly displays temperatures from minus 58 degrees to 302 degrees F

What do they think I am, STUPID? If the temperature in my pocket EVER gets as low as minus 58, my genitals will freeze and I don’t care what the precise temperature is, for gods sake get me in front of the fireplace! On the other hand, if it’s ever 302 degrees Fahrenheit in my pocket, well, a thermometer’s pretty useless because (a) I’m certainly going to be too agitated to check the temp myself and (b) no one else is going to tolerate the smell of burning hair long enough to check the temp for me!

Preposterous. I’m writing a strongly worded letter.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Your recent Smith and Hawken Order

From: Publius
Sent: Saturday, October 9, 2004 2:03 PM
RE: Inquiry about merchant order

This order never arrived. Neither did my other order of the same item - 058-3241405-8125902. Please cancel order number 058-3241404-8125902.
Please deliver order 058-9002304-6330700, but please do not charge me
for the expedited shipping. I would frankly hope that where an order is this grievously late, there would be no charge at all for shipping.
Both of these orders were placed through



-----Original Message-----
From: []
Sent: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 12:11 PM
To: Publius
Subject: RE:Inquiry about merchant order #058-9002304-6330700 [#383590]

Dear Mr. Publius,

We apologize for the inconvenience of you not receiving your order. We currently show that the Watering Can is on a shipping delay, and expected into the warehouse November 3, 2004. Per your request we have cancelled your Order Number 058-3241405-8125902.

Smith and Hawken
Customer Service

--- End of Message --

For the love of god...into the WAREHOUSE on November 3rd!!!

Now doesn't it seem to you that when you order a product like this, you pay 26 bucks for EXPEDITED SHIPPING, and are promised delivery in three business days, that a quality vendor would consider it germane to mention, oh by the way, that the ACTUAL delivery date will be roughly a MONTH later? I put this in the category of material omissions punishable by fingernail pulling. Put it in small print if you must, mark it with an asterisk and footnote it to be sneaky, but for the love of Christ, TELL ME.

Omissions I view in a similar light [with required footnote] include:

- "New car for only $29,999" - [Asterisk: seats and wheels are an extra $10,000]

- New Drug: "Fast relief from mild constipation" - [Asterisk: 7 out of 10 patients develop incurable oozing genital sores within 3 minutes of ingesting this drug]

- Dating: "She's good looking, and lots of fun...what have you got to lose?!" - [Asterisk: She reads actuarial tables in her spare time]

- Home buying: "I think you and your wife will be very happy here" -- [Asterisk: That assumes, of course, that you can get over the terminal heebie jeebies likely to be triggered by the knowledge that it's built over a mass grave filled with dead midget lepers who once traveled en masse in a caravan of hearses doing carnival tricks by day and prostituting themselves by night in bartered exchange for domestic pets which they then skinned alive, roasted and ate, until they were ritualistically slaughtered by a satanic band of Croatian nomads who despised little people because they thought they smelled like cabbage."


Yahoo! News - 2 Many Txt Msgs Bad 4 Yr Health, Italian Docs Say

Yahoo! News - 2 Many Txt Msgs Bad 4 Yr Health, Italian Docs Say

"According to a recent study conducted for children's rights group Telefono Azzurro, some 37 percent of Italian children are "cell phone addicts." Irritability and mood swings were other symptoms linked to very frequent cell phone use among the young."

Surely this is a sign that we are nearing the end of the world. Children "addicted" to cell phones!?

Alas, it is happening under my own roof. A couple of weeks ago, my 8 year old daughter asked me if I wanted to play cards. "Sure", I said and sat down on the floor in her bedroom.

"Not here." She protested. "In my conference room!"

"Excuse me?"

Whereupon she opened the door to her closet, revealing a tiny table and two chairs!

If I have caused this, I hate myself with the intensity of a thousand white hot suns!

Friday, January 21, 2005


Depending on the source, estimates of the number of words in the English language – excluding scientific terms – range from 450,000 to 750,000. That's admittedly a sizeable delta, so let's split the difference and call it 600,000. Approximately 600,000 words in the English language.

I find that figure a bit tough to put into persepctive, so I went out looking for some comparisons. The Global Language Monitor ( provides a few that I found interesting. There are approximately:

- 7,300 human languages and dialects;

- 50,000 ideograms in the various Chinese dialects ;

- 100,000 words in the French language; and finally

- 24,000 differing words to be found in the complete works of Shakespeare.

There you have it. With this bit of perspective, let's return to the 600,000 words in the English langauge.

Of those 600,000 words, approximately 200,000 are in common use. The rest, presumably words like "methinks" and "verily", have for one reason or another, fallen out of favor. A relatively educated person has a vocabulary of about 20,000 words. On average, that same relatively educated person uses about 2,000 different words in any given week.

Here's what bothers me. Assuming that I am “relatively educated”, my vocabulary consists of roughly 3% of all English words. Three, count 'em, three little percent. More perspective.

- 3% of women who are on the pill get pregnant anyway

- Permanent rectal injuries occur in about 3% of prostate surgeries

- 3% of the people in the US are vegetarians

- 3% of the Senators in the US Senate are not white

- 3% of all people in the US are naturally red headed

My point? 3% is not a figure you associate with things that are common, usual, positive. You're pretty much statistically at zero. So I'm statisitcally braindead when it comes to language. Not a pleasing thought.

There is an argument that I shouldn’t feel too bad – of the 33% of all words that are in common use, I have in my verbal quiver roughly 10%. Even acknowledging that, I still only use 1% of the common use words in an average week. On any sort of scale, even the scale that gave me a “C” on a college chemistry test for getting 30% of the answers correct, that sucks.

Notwithstanding my apparent failure to harness their full power effectively, I like words. Chances are, if you are still reading this page, you do to. But ask yourself why you like words. To me, words are interesting for various reasons. Some words are nice just because of the way they sound when you say them. Grimalkin. Farrago. Halcyon. Vivisect. Nice sounding words – they feel good coming out your mouth and into your ear. Other words are interesting to us because their meanings are especially pertinent to our lives, our vocations or our avocations. I am a lawyer by trade, so I like the word punctilio. This word literally means "the careful observance of forms" and you never hear it. I like it simply because of a famous quote by a famous judge in a famous case I read in law school. (Note for those interested: Benjamin Cardozo, Meinhard v. Salmon - "joint adventurers, like copartners, owe to one another, while the enterprise continues, the duty of the finest loyalty. . . . Not honesty alone, but the punctilio of an honor the most sensitive, is then the standard of behavior. ")

Still other words may be nearly functionally useless, but have interesting origins. Ab ovo means "from the beginning", and refers to the latin phrase "ab ovo usque ad mala", which literally means "from the eggs to the apples", and in turn refers to the Roman tradition of beginning a meal with eggs and ending it with apples. Will I use this word in everyday conversation? Doubtful. Yet I find it interesting. Another of my favorites, canicular, means "of or relating to the dog days of summer", as in "it's hopeless for me to try to ignore canicular cravings for cold beer". Not a particularly interesting word until you understand that the Latin word "canicula," meaning "small dog," is the diminutive form of "canis," the word that ultimately gives us the English word "canine." "Canicula" was also the name for Sirius, the star that represents the hound of the hunter Orion in the constellation named for that Roman mythological figure. Because the first visible rising of Sirius occurs during the summer, the hot sultry days that occur from early July to early September came to be called "dies caniculares," or as we know them in English, "the dog days."

The point of all of this is simple. Because I like words and feel that the average vocabulary is woefully inadequate, I will be posting here from time to time words that I feel are worthy of being more frequently injected into everyday conversations. Sentences like this should result:

"As I battled my usual post-supper borborygmus, my good friend Chester, a hale embonpoint, arrived, inexplicably dressed cap-a-pie in hiking gear, for some crepuscular causerie, and bolted tantivy for the door when he was no longer besot with my bellicose blovations and magniloquent cockalorum."

More to come.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


Just when you thought you were getting used to nose studs, tongue rings and eyebrow piercings (congratulations to you if you have – they all trigger in me a face that I generally reserve for the occasions when dog crap squirts up through my toes), Dutch eye surgeons have implanted tiny pieces of jewelry called "JewelEye" – METAL -- in the mucous membrane of the eyes of six women and one man in cosmetic surgery “pioneered” by an ophthalmic surgery research and development institute in Rotterdam.

Gosh…call me prudish, but remember the old times -- those lazy days when you’d sit on the front porch, sip lemonade and if need be, go to the hospital to have a metal shard REMOVED from your eyeball…yes, those were the days. Alas, today, the fashion rage is to do things to your body that only a few short years ago would earn you a bunch of sympathy cards and a call from Grandma. “Poor little Bobby, one slip at the machine shop, and the poor dear has a bolt through his nose”. Today, not only does Bobby PAY to have a bolt through his nose, he buys a chain to secure the bolt to his wallet, pants or left nipple.

But, that said, these Dutch surgeons must be onto something because they’re getting $1200 bucks a pop to perform the metal-in-the-eye trick. So I’m jumping on the bandwagon and have come up with a few cosmetic items that I think I can perform with no significant training whatsoever, and for far less money:

- The FashionScab – In this sure to please procedure, I will use duct tape to creatively mask parts of your body, tie you up and drag you behind my car, resulting in a giant oozing scab in the shape of Elvis or another decorative figure of your choice. For an extra charge, I will apply tincture of iodine to the raw and oozing area, which is sure to give you that mysterious and foreboding look that screams “ouch”.

- The GlamourHammer: in this crowd pleaser, which guarantees that your fingernails will be a beautiful shade of purple for 3 to 6 months with no messy paint or annoying fumes, I slam each of your fingertips with a hammer! What could be easier?! Fun at parties! This is practically a spectator sport! Think of the time wasted on clipping and filing nails…with this new fad, by the time the color fades, your nails will fall off completely…GUARANTEED!!

- The HairRazor: I will shave your head with a rusty spoon, raising at least 100 nicks and/or larger lacerations (or your money back), and then delicately place bits of toilet paper, lint, glitter, dog hair…anything that will stick to a pustulant wound…to gain that bleeding edge fashion effect that let’s people know you have less cranial horsepower than the average walnut. Infection is guaranteed!

You want in? I’m raising seed money.

A Dark Day

A dark day...

January 18, 2005 - Robert Pringle, a father of three grown children, successful, married to a lovely and charming wife, wakes up in his suburban home in California. I imagine him walking to a bathroom, having a pee. He gets a cup of coffee, kisses the wife and takes a shower. Now dressed he goes out to his car -- nice day. He runs an errand or two. An average start to an average day in the life of an average person. Then Robert Pringle, "Bob" to his friends, does something I cannot get my mind around. He drives to a nearby trainstation and park his car. He walks a short distance up the tracks and, finding an appropriate spot to launch a plan he has been thinking about all morning, he hides in the bushes. He hears the CalTrain whistle blow. Checks his resolve one last time. And throws himself out of the bushes, into to path of the speeding train. Whistles blow and brakes screech on hardened steel but it's too late. He is struck by the train and killed instantly. Suicide presumed, say authorities.

Why? What imaginable force drags a person to such depths of emotional squalor, that this is the end of an otherwise model life lived with health and happiness? Second question: OK, suicide. Fine. Happens all the time. Why has this particular event worked itself into all of the crevasses of my consciousness, and smothered me like a wet blanket since I heard the news? Worse, does the fact that this resonates with me mean that I feel myself pulled toward a similar, inexorable fate? Why did it happen and why does it strike me so? I am once again overwhelmed with a sense that I have no ability to comprehend so much of what I see happening around me, and that I have no choice but to accept that incomprehensibility, and to find some comfort in telling myself that some things are too dark and horrible for the human mind to grasp.

Your wife and children being swept away in a mudslide while you buy popsicles.

A wave that kills 200,000 people.

In a world where we control so much, I am awestruck by the frailty and smallness of our collective existence.

I know this: I am going to church this week.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Grey Hair - A Cautionary Tale

My nose hair is turning grey.

Chest hair too. As a 35 year-old man, I find this a bit less disturbing than nuclear war, but somewhat more disturbing than peanut butter and jelly in one jar. Suffice it to say, I am in a state of disturbment over the matter. So disturbed was I, that I resolved to procure an electric nose-hair trimmer. I had long resisted machine driven nose hair trimming, instead rolling the dice with a small pair of scissors, and risking the painful and bloody inner-nasal laceration. Still desperate times call for desperate measures, so I proceeded directly to my “Gold Box”, the source of many wondrous and steeply discounted household items. Joy of joys, the trusty Gold Box provided just the ticket – a steeply discounted motor driven “Wet n’ Dry Personal Trimmer”.

Upon receiving my Gold Box-supplied nose hair trimmer, I inserted a couple of AA batteries, stuck ‘er into a nostril and threw the switch. What happened next is almost too painful for me to recount. Instead of performing its advertised “trimming”, this fiendish device located, grasped tightly and wrenched in a spiral motion all hairs rooted between the tip of my nose and the surface of my brain, dropping me at once to my knees, and bringing forth from me a manly tear that has undoubtedly scarred my eldest son for life.

Having firmly and forever ruled out machine-based trimming (I have a Pavlovian tearful response to most buzzing sounds now) I have resorted to the admittedly barbaric but strangely pleasing practice of simply yanking nose hairs out one at a time with my fingers. The trick is to grasp them as hard as you can, gather your resolve, and thrust your hand forward and slightly skyward, ending in a pose that might suggest to some that you are about to say “Alas poor Yorick”...except that, with any luck, you have a nose hair in your hand and NOT a skull (note: if you have a skull in your hand after this procedure, it is safe to assume it is your own, and something has gone dreadfully wrong – see your doctor.) Assuming you have emerged victorious, you have a nose hair in your clutches. Two things about this are fascinating. First, it is often my experience that the sheer length of the hair is delightful. Some are so long, I would swear that if I could capture the plucking maneuver on high resolution, high speed film, as I pulled skyward, you would simultaneously see a single hair sucking into the top of my head, disappearing into its follicle like a strand of spaghetti into the mouth of a voracious Italian, and reemerging (backwards) from my nose. Second fascinating note, I find that the tiny nugget of nose that is generally still attached to the end of the nose hair, in terms of its adhesive qualities, rates right up there with the most tenacious post-it notes. I have performed highly controlled, double blind experiments (neither the post-it nor the hair know they are the subject of a study) and found the nose hair to remain stuck to my computer monitor LONG after the post it note has fatigued, fluttered down, stuck ever so briefly to my shoe, and been deposited somewhere between my desk and the coffee machine. Sadly, my wife does not share my love of sticky nose globules. This has caused an inverse correlation between nose hairs harvested in her presence and her presence. Alas, I am relegated to office plucking. Nonetheless, I heartily commend my system to you. You might even be able to make game of it! Stick them to the window! On the fridge! Alone or in pairs! Then show them to your friends and claim that you think your house is growing cilia!

Happy plucking!