If We'd Had a Few Men Like That in Guadalcanal...

Ha ha, looks like ol’ Donna is back again. I went out this morning and there she was, sitting on the front lawn as if she had a perfect right to be there. I don’t know why I call her Donna---giving a name to a small bag of trash probably doesn’t make a lick of sense, but anything that keeps coming back again and again seems like a friend after a while. That’s certainly no ordinary white plastic sack of apple cores, cereal boxes, soup cans, and old Clorox wipes anymore.

Nope, I don’t why Donna keeps coming back no matter how many times I set her in the trash can and take her down to the curb. The first time it happened, not even a day went by before I stepped out the door to look down and see her there sitting on my WORLD’S BEST GRANDPA welcome mat. Nowadays, it can be up to two weeks before she mysteriously plops herself down on the lawn or beside the mailbox. Some things in this life just don’t want to pass on to their last end without a fight, I guess. I thought I have might put something in the bag that the trash men didn’t like, but they’ve never even opened it. I asked one of them about it, and he told me he’d had a similar experience many moons ago. It took him thirteen tries to get rid of a bucket of recyclables. At his wit’s end he called the police, who took the stuff away even as he stood there with a small tear in his eye---he’d become real attached to Ol’ Harold, and couldn’t say why of course.

Well, I think what I’m going to do is take Donna in tonight, put her right back in the can in the kitchen where she began, let her get one more good night in there, and then I really have to make it goodbye this time. I’m not a sentimental man by nature, but if this keeps up, soon I won’t have the heart to do what I need to do. I’m sure the neighbors won’t be too pleased to hear the sounds of a chainsaw, flamethrower, and an explosion of fifteen pounds of Grade 2 Dynacore erupting in the middle of the night, but they should maybe pay more attention to their own business, or I might start asking a few questions about some of the little moonlight shortcuts they seem to be taking sometimes with the cremations people are paying good money for.


It Beats Working at Payless

Look, if I’m still nervous after six months when I go to work in the morning, it’s my own fault. Really, the job is not bad at all, all I do is check people’s coats, give them a little tag, and return the coats when the people are finished eating. Ten to six, and I get a half price meal! And truth be told, I did read that last line of the job ad, the one that said the applicant should have some familiarity with the use of a Nynaxitron High Speed Plasm Vaporizer and Matter Combiner. I just figured I could fake it at the interview, and you know what? They didn’t even mention it. But lately I’ve had some troubling dreams, and I’ve begun to wonder why this four ton machine that almost reaches the ceiling of the coat check room is even there, practically pressing me against the wall, giving me almost no room to stand. I look at the feeder belt and all the gauges and dials and big red warning stickers, and I think to myself: Why does Anthony’s Family Restaurant even need a Nynaxitron High Speed Plasm Vaporizer and Matter Combiner? Because it’s never been used, not once. No one talks about it, either. But when I asked Anthony if maybe we would have room for thirty coats instead of just fifteen if we didn’t have the thing in there, he just shifted his eyes in a strange way and said, “Better not mess around with that space too much.” Then this one time, Jose who washes the dishes went past and stared at the machine for a minute, then held up his handless right arm and started cursing loudly in Spanish. Weird, right? Kind of like the strange, spiky pencil scrawl underneath the intake flange, the one that just says HELP ME.

It’s like I keep getting sucked into jobs where this happens. I remember when I went for the janitorial gig at the hospital, and all they asked me at first was if I was comfortable mopping large floors and if I had any scheduling limitations and if I had a ride to work, and then on my first day the woman said to me, “Just clean up Ward 4, and please sub for Dr. Brown at ten; he has a shoulder surgery scheduled in OR nine but can’t make it.” And let me tell you, I was so nervous, never even having graduated from high school, that I nearly made a total mess of that operation---it took me twice as long to finish as it was supposed to. I really need to ask more questions up front at these interviews, or maybe at least seem like I’m more professional and won’t be taken advantage of. I read an article that wearing swim trunks to an interview can be a negative, so for me that’s totally out from this day forward.


The Game is Aface!

Watson, I’ve got it! This has been a most exhausting case, but I believe the time has come to put away your obscure (but most entertaining) theories about the fate of the Imandhi diamond. Piecing together the clues, there can be only one possibility for a solution to this fascinating crime. Don’t you see, Watson—the motive, means, and suspect all become quite clear when one realizes that Colonel Smithson’s pancakes were mere holograms all along.

What’s that you say? Impossible? Uh….yeah, you might be right. I’m actually not real sure on this one. To tell you the truth, I’ve even been going back through some of our old cases, like The Adventure of the Speckled Band, or The Red-Headed League, and I’m coming to realize that I probably only got about fifty percent of the solutions right. I was just way off base some of the time, now that I think of it. I feel kind of bad for those people in jail.

Oh heck, I’m just going to come out and say it: I think we should get out of this sleuthing racket entirely. I’ve totally lost any semblance of professionalism, and you’ve never been any help at all, so let me bounce a couple of notions off you. First, what do you think of my idea to sell personalized grocery belt dividers? You know what I’m talking about, the sticks that keep your muffins and lemon Pledge and such from the stuff of the person in front of you in line? We could charge fifteen, twenty bucks a piece for ones that people keep permanently and have their names engraved on, don’t you think? In a variety of colors, so the iMac set gets all excited? Second, I’m still thinking that a lot of advertising space could be sold on the sides of zoo animals. They just stand there all day, people gawk at them---why not put a message about Diet Sprite on the side of a giraffe? Doesn’t have to be a banner weighing them down and messing up their spines; you could spray-paint it right on with some kind of non-toxic gunk.

Neither one of those ideas floats your boat? Okay, I was ready for that, so let me give you the golden ticket: I know a guy in the East End who can sell us ten thousand bottles of diet pills for next to nothing. We could slap a logo on them, market our name---“Holmes and Watson’s Baker Street Weight Loss Miracle”---fat people would lap it up. Am I wrong?

Do you want to talk about the time machine idea again? And before you ask, the answer is no, I still don’t have any scientific ideas about building one that would function; the whole point is that it’s just a big hollow box, but by the time people realize it we’ve already pocketed eight hundred pounds and we’re just vapor, we’re gone, we’re an exhaust cloud. I’m willing to come around on the percentage if that’s your hesitation.

Okay, I can see your mind is wandering yet again and your head’s not in this conversation. So we’ll talk about something else. What did you think about the obnoxious comment Professor Moriarty made on that blood-stained cryptogram he sent over, the one about my meerschaum pipe? What was the snide little implication there? You’d tell me if I look like an idiot with that thing in my mouth, right? Right?


All I Need is a Chance

Dear Mr. Mothclark,

I am interested in applying for the position of ditch pre-digger as advertised on Craigslist. It had long been my ambition to be an actual ditch-digger, and I value this opportunity to enter the field via a job stamping on the topmost layer of dirt for a few hours to loosen it up before the professionals arrive to excavate it and create the hole itself. I do have some stamping experience, having loosened topmost soil layers one summer on my uncle’s farm (though admittedly this was more of a boyish hobby than a vocation), and I believe I have acquired the confidence and determination to get even the most stubborn surfaces somewhat ready for a dig. I do possess my own boots and have recently joined a gym to strengthen my leg muscles and thus stamp more efficiently. I look forward to joining a focused, driven team of pre-diggers, or working alone if that’s what the job most likely entails.

I am available for any shifts, weekdays or weekends, and because I take in so little food and water compared to the vast majority of people, the pay rate of “nothing”, as it is phrased in your ad, should suffice as long as there is room to grow. Please note that I am also open to post-digging duties and am certain that with time and guidance, I can master the art of running the edge of the shovel under a hose to clean it off before the next ditch is dug.

In my spare time, I enjoy writing books about American history which espouse my theories about the genetic inferiority of northerners. My resume is attached; I look forward to hearing from you!

Hillcote Upworthy, D.D.S.


The Cinema Comes Alive!

An analysis of five movies depicting someone in need of a sudden escape from a villain shooting a steam pipe to release steam into the villain’s face to facilitate that escape, and whether it was appropriate

1) Dangerface (1957)

Scene: Rex Jumper is pinned by three of Mr. Evilicus’s henchmen and about to be fed to the glowing anacondas
Action: Rex kung-fus the henchmen, kicks a .45 out of his pants leg at the last second, and shoots the steam pipe next to Mr. Evilicus’s head, serving up a hot spray of nature’s finest, at which point he dives over the railing into the Thames for a clean escape
Steam pipe usage appropriate? Oh yeah

2) A Thousand Acres (1997)

Scene: The characters played by Michele Pfeiffer and Jessica Lange confront their father about a lifetime of verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse on the family farm
Action: Jason Robards delivers a boot to each of their stomachs, spins, and shoots the steam pipe next to Jennifer Jason-Leigh’s head, bathing her in the good stuff so he can jump on his favorite horse and gallop toward Des Moines
Steam pipe usage appropriate? Debatable. The film’s poor box office showing may hint that the audience was expecting more of a “let’s talk our way through this” vibe

3) Ken Rankin: Action Eater (2004)

Scene: Hung upside down from a roof beam and dangled over a vat of piping hot five-alarm chili, Ken realizes this is curtains for him.
Action: Ken tells the Livid Robot that he’s forgotten one factor in the equation: the element of surprise! He gnaws his way through the ropes around his feet, makes a shotgun out of an old golf club and a cigarette lighter, and shoots the steam pipe next to the Livid Robot’s head, dousing him with premium vintage steam-a-roony and making him go “AAAHHHHHHH, WHY WAS I EVER MADE?” while Ken hops into his glider and hightails it for Six Flags
Steam pipe usage appropriate? No, considering that A) this was the eleventh time in the film that someone in need of a sudden escape from a villain shoots a steam pipe to release steam into the villain’s face to facilitate that escape and B) according to an expository title crawl, the film takes place “in a post-apocalyptic world when there are no more amenities, not even television or steam pipes”

4) Frost/Nixon (2008)

Scene: Richard Nixon, played by Frank Langella, is cornered by David Frost’s relentless questioning
Action: Nixon makes the fatal mistake of asking Frost if he wouldn’t mind moving a little closer to the steam pipe beside his head so that he can shoot it and make a break for safety; an indignant Frost counters by using words with even more syllables
Steam pipe use appropriate? Judgment call; while the steam pipe wasn’t actually shot in the film, it appears to have been exquisitely made by the prop crew and lit with great care by director of photography Salvatore Totino

5) Watch Out for That Steam Pipe, Moron, You’re Standing Right Next to It! (2007)

Scene: All of them; this is a two hour montage of clips from Hollywood films in which various action heroes use the steam pipe for its intended purpose
Steam pipe usage appropriate? Yes, except for a clip from 1984’s CrimeCop in which Lance Smackit means to shoot a steam pipe but misses and instead gets the villain right in the heart, killing him instantly and bringing the movie to a close just forty-six minutes in. Also, a lengthy lecture about the history of steam itself adds little to the experience, and the inclusion of a scene from an unidentified Mexican crime thriller depicting the villain frantically blowing the jet of steam away from his face after the pipe is shot just isn’t terribly realistic. Come on, people.


Seek, Sports Fan, and Ye Shall Find

Don’t look at me like that, Jarold---like I’m crazy. You at least owe me the favor of listening to all the evidence I’ve collected over the past six years since I first formulated my theory. It boils down, my friend, to these undeniable facts:

1) I have not been able to locate a single fan who was at the game on 6/2/1998 who can testify with one hundred percent certainty that the pop fly that Jorge Otanez struck with two out and no one on base in the bottom of the fifth was in fact caught by any of the Allentown infielders. Those same infielders, all of whom I’ve interviewed personally, mysteriously cannot produce the mitts they used only a decade ago so that I might test them for ball residue.

2) The box score for this game, unearthed only after many hours of digging through the minor league baseball database, reveals that the game was “suspended” in that same inning. But the records of the National Meteorological Bureau in Houston prove that the weather in Allentown was only mildly drizzly that day. Why might the game have suddenly come to a halt? Why?

3) In Sorry, It Looked Like a Strike to Me, his mesmerizing autobiography covering his seven years umpiring in the East Spotsylvania Rookie League, Don Blinkringer reveals that “sometimes things happen in baseball that just make no sense to me. You know, weird things---I can’t think of any specific examples offhand.” Blinkringer is listed as having been the third base ump for the game in question. Enough said?

4) My brother-in-law was there that day, Jarold. He was quite sleepy, a little inebriated, and in line to buy a hot dog when the nine hundred fans in attendance started to file out, but he remembers returning to his seat to pick up his sunglasses and seeing a dazed expression on the Steelton Sammies’ manager’s face as the man looked up at the sky as if to say, “My God, that pop fly never came down, never WILL come down, and life as we know it has changed in a small way forever.”

I’m leaving my files on your desk, Jarold. You publish the biggest newspaper in town and if you won’t give up three columns in the Lifestyle section to the story of a conspiracy to quash the fact that a pop fly supposedly bound by the laws of gravity simply vanished off the face of the Earth in 1998, then shame on you. And shame on me for even thinking of living in your garage for a while until I get back on my feet. If I didn’t have about sixty percent of my stuff already moved in there, I’d haul it all out right now, the broken wheel on my wheelbarrow be damned.


Creative Freedom at Reasonable Prices

Some may call me a provocateur---I don’t mind the label. If the way I make my films gets you to think deeply and understand that reality is not always pretty, that to me is a good thing. The critics, of course, are less kind. Fortunately the words “idiot”, “moron”, and “self-destructive dumbass” can wound, but they cannot kill. And so, yes, Mr. Morganthaler, with all due respect to Sony Pictures, I shall continue till the day I die to insist on showing all my characters waiting for their change in restaurants and cabs no matter how many minutes it adds to my films and no matter how it “ruins” them. For how absurd is it to believe that supposedly authentic human beings would merely toss a twenty on a café table and offhandedly leave the establishment, or hand a taxi driver whatever they have on them and simply dash off the way they do in your silly Hollywood opuses? In real life, where both you and I hang our hats, people don’t throw their money around so easily, and it’s absurd to depict them doing so in cinema. Did showing the lovers waiting for their change after their heartrending breakup scene in my 2004 film Adore Me As You Would An Uncle add eleven minutes of inert, incredibly awkward silence to what would have been a taut ninety-one minute feature without it? Yes. And did the fourteen-minute montage of the Russian spy having the cab driver go around the block twice to find a Bank of America ATM so he could get a ten dollar bill out of it to pay for his breathless ride through the streets of New York without having to give too large a tip “utterly disembowel” the otherwise thrilling climactic chase at the end of Stop That Roustabout, Stop Him I Say ? If you listen to the dunderpates who write for Variety, absolutely. But I could no more stop showing my characters waiting for their change and otherwise being financially sensible than I could refrain from demanding, yes, DEMANDING, that the James Bond film you propose I direct include a lengthy set piece in which 007 sits down and fills out the proper tax forms which enable Her Majesty’s Secret Service to pay him properly and legally for his various contractual services. It’s a scene which has been shockingly omitted from every film in the series---until now. Because when audiences want realism, Mr. Morganthaler. THAT is the kind of thing they’re talking about. Trust me. I KNOW these things.

Now then, I hate to make this meeting even more of a pressure cooker, but what I really need from you today is to buy a magazine subscription from me, choosing one from this expansive list I have right here. I get double points if you purchase Vogue, Discover, or Cooking Light, so keep that in mind. It all goes to a very worthy cause, and you’ll be doing yourself a favor as well by staying “in the know”. After you’ve written a check made out to Central Atlantic Publications, I’ll put this little door tag outside your office to tell our other representatives in the area that I’ve already visited you and that they should move on. Sound good? It sounds good, right? Not a Vogue man? How about Modern Pimpernel?


Alas, I Have Never Been Comfortable With Objects

It's not often that I open this forum to suggestions, but the time has come. I suppose you can guess what I need your help with---yes, it's the invisibility ray. I wouldn't usually dream of imposing upon my readers to lend a hand with this, as there's really no way you could possibly know about temporal diffusatory dappling, porro prism quantization, or concavity extract masers, but tomorrow it'll be fifteen years since I perfected my invisibility ray except for a maddening inability to cloak either elbows or gums, and Project Capricorn really can't go on without me nailing this sucker down. So I'm throwing the question open to anyone who might have an idea as to why it took me all of six weeks to invent a virtually flawless invisibility ray which hides 98 percent of the human body but can't seem to do a damn thing about elbows and gums. At this point I will literally listen to ANYTHING that rolls off your tongues. Even SINGLE WORDS might be enough to jostle something, so for instance, if someone were to simply throw out the phrase "irradiant emulsion metrix quotient" maybe it would get me thinking. Seriously, don't be afraid to contribute your suggestions, because there are no stupid ones.

Actually, that's not quite completely true, because telling me there might be a bug in the laser sequencer is NOT helpful, as I've been through the code TEN MILLION TIMES now, and there is NO EARTHLY REASON why my friend Bibby should disappear with a totally cool popping sound when I hit the switch while his stupid elbows and gums keep hanging out there for all the world to gawk at. So DON'T TELL ME about a possible bug, okay? Nor do I need to be reminded that America could have achieved total military dominance over its enemies more than a decade ago if only I had figured this contraption out by now. World peace, world peace, blah blah blah---this is NOT constructive criticism. And no, there is no money in the budget to construct a supplemental invisibility ray to cover just elbows and gums, and I can assure you that Colonel Strickler is NOT AMUSED by this notion. Other than that, let the ideas rip! So on the count of three, everyone start sending in those emails. I know it's been fifteen long years of trial, error, and abject failure, but I have confidence that if fresh eyes come to the table, I might be able to put the wraps on ol' Project C by close of business on Tuesday.

You know what I should think about, actually? Running the thousands of daily pages of complex trigonometric data through something other than my brother's pirated copy of Bert and Ernie Can Add Too! for Windows 98. And I'm again pondering the expansion of the pool of test subjects to include someone other than Bibby. After fifteen years of getting blasted by the invisibility ray, he's starting to get a little wobbly, he smells like doughnuts for some reason, and he keeps forgetting simple facts, like Nolan Ryan's career strikeout total, or his own last name. Which I think is also Bibby, FYI, so you'd think he'd be able to soak that up a little more easily.


Decisions Start Early

Mr. Gore, you and I both know that your inauguration is meant to celebrate you and you alone, and that you have every right to do whatever you wish during it, when the eyes of the nation will be upon you. In fact, I fully applaud your choice of Louise Gluck to compose and read an inaugural poem, and your speech seems like it’s going to be a winner---I just love that bit about a new dawn. But I think your desire to sing a seven minute, nineteenth century a cappella bayou spiritual about death’s e’er encroaching hand might send out a message that’s not so easily grasped or accepted by either the party’s central base or the fringe voter who came through for you in November. I especially want to examine the lyrics ‘Oh Reaper, you been with me since I was born / I seen your face in every storm / now don’t you be takin’ me befo’ my time done come / Let me sit right he’ah and beat on my lonely drum’, which, when delivered in the soulful, unaccompanied way you intend, crouched down on one knee with hands clasped and sweating as if you’ve just spent your entire life toiling on a primitive shrimp boat, may just come off as…I don’t know, odd somehow.

So here’s what I suggest: we revert back to your original plan of you standing at the microphone in front of one hundred thousand onlookers and going through your childhood baseball card collection piece by piece. I know it came off somewhat awkward at the Democratic National Convention, but remember, this is going to be a daytime audience more open to something conceptual. One twist we could add, though it’s kind of short notice, is that we could have you guess at each card’s actual dollar worth, and then have an expert standing beside you telling you if you had guessed too high or too low. Another option, and I’m just throwing this out there, is that we get some of the boys from the House Committee on Anti-Terrorism and do some of those “If Copernicus Were Alive Today” skits that had us busting up over lunch with the ambassador from Ghana.

So, okay, there you have some options and we can go over everything tonight after Dexter. Unless you were planning on going to bed at 7 again, Mr. Gore. I know it seems better than being “totally bored,” but can you at least stay up till 8 once in a while, just for show?