Emotional Drafting


A little bit before we got our stay-at-home orders I bought some pencil leads. You know, for mechanical pencils. I don’t say this to make you all envious. I know there are people out there who don’t use mechanical pencils. I prefer mechanical pencils and I won’t be apologizing for that. Yes, I have tried your fully pneumatic pencils. I don’t like the flow. Electronic pencils would be great, but they’re monitoring everything you do. And they’re sending mean notes to Facebook about your bad handwriting and how it’s ruining your wrists.

So mechanical pencils it is for me, and that means sometimes buying new leads. This is because putting in a new lead is two percent less bad than buying a whole new pen and throwing the old away. It should be a bigger gap. There’s mechanical pencils where you put the new lead in by pressing down the little cap thingy on the end and dropping a new lead in. I don’t have that. The pencils I have these days require me to take the end cap off, then remember that’s not how to reload these pencils. Then I have to unscrew the … I’m going to call it nib … from the center of the pencil. Then press down on the cap until I remember that’s not how to open it up to take a new lead either. Then I have to look up on YouTube how to put lead into my pencil, and follow that video. I might be better off throwing the old pencils away and getting a new one, but again, there’s that two percent margin. It’s a tiny bit less bad to buy a new lead.

Except. I bought this at an Office Depot. Or Office Max. I forget what it was before they merged (it was Kinko’s) and moved from one end of the strip mall to the other. The problem is, this got them e-mailing me to give my opinions about the transaction.

This is a heck of a thing to ask for in any case. What is there to rate? I go in to a store that sells pencil leads, pick up a pack of pencil leads, and pay for it, and leave. How can I rate that? Plato himself would volunteer that there is no such thing as an Ideal Form of the pencil-lead-buying experience. There is no way to perceive the difference between a mediocre pencil-lead-buying experience and the greatest pencil-lead-buying experience of your life. I guess this does mean we can treat every chance to buy pencil lead as a new chance to have a best-possible experience, so far as we know.

I concede there can be a terrible pencil-lead-buying experience. But that’s because something interferes with the pencil-lead-buying. Like, while you’re there a ceiling tile drops on you. Or you can’t remember which phone number you gave for their loyalty program and then someone insists you are too John “Ten Eyck” Lansing Jr, the indirect namesake for the capital of Michigan (Ten Eyck), who went missing in 1829. That would ruin the pencil-lead-buying. That’s the result of the other experience getting in the way, though.

Anyway I figured to ignore Max Depot’s e-mails until they gave up asking. The way Best Buy has finally accepted that I have no opinions to share about a four-USB-plug power brick. Except that they would not give up. They e-mailed me daily, asking me to please tell them about the pencil-lead-buying experience.

They sent me more e-mails than Joe Biden’s campaign has, if you can imagine, now that Biden bought whatever cursed mailing list Amy Klobuchar had. And this as the pandemic kept on panning. So I gave in and answered them. No, I would not recommend buying pencil lead at Depot to the Max, because they keep asking me to have an opinion about it, and I keep remembering how if everything starts going well, the pandemic might only kill as many Americans as combat did in the Civil War, and I have to go to the basement and yell at cinder blocks.

They e-mailed back.

And apologized that my experience was so bad and they will work to make it better in the future.

So now management dinks are going to punish people who actually work, because I said the buying was fine but the follow-up sucked. And I have to deal with knowing I’m to blame for that.

So now I can’t ever buy pencil lead at Max Office, Max Depot ever again. It’s going to hurt too much. I have, finally, found what a bad pencil-lead-buying experience is.

How Music May Help Us Through This Crisis


Music. That’s something that helps in times of crisis. It’s a way to manage the feeling you’re having every feeling at once, and will never not again. Look deep into your music collection and find something pleasant and soothing, and enjoy.

Here’s where this goes wrong. My music collection is mostly weird, experimental, early-analog synth experiments. Oh, yes, and 100 Hits of Frank Crumit, who recorded in the 1920s and 30s. That’s pleasant, in that everything he recorded sounds like background music for a Betty Boop cartoon. As long as you don’t hit one of the lyrics that are crazy racist. There’s one song about being an outhouse-builder that’s not bad, although it’s not as good as you’d think.

But that’s the one album. The rest? It’s daffy stuff like fourteen takes of Raymond Scott trying to perfectly represent the sound of a robot mouse passing gas. And this in the service of recording a commercial for Bendix or Ohio Bell or something like that. Or the albums of Ferrante and Teicher. These guys recorded a bunch of wonderful, goofy, way-over-the-top renditions of, like, the theme to Star Wars or whatever. It’s music that makes you go, “seriously?” And yes, yes, they did a lot of cornball stuff. But they did it because it paid the bills. It’s what let them afford their serious music, where they’d try playing a piano strung up with sheets of paper or metal chains or stuff so it sounds all weird.

But. The comforting assurance of a person who knows a particular feeling and can make that a melody? Nope. My music collection brings out the warm communion of the soundtrack to Logan’s Run.

And that’s a great reference to make because I just learned one of my under-thirty friends likes Logan’s Run. For the aesthetics of it, mind you, not for the story. This is perceptive of my friend. I like Logan’s Run, but not because of the story, because have you seen the story? It’s a lot of meandering around through settings. Eventually two masses in the shape of protagonists escape the storyline. In the vast wilderness outside then they discover Peter Ustinov. The sudden presence of an actor then blows up the whole project.

So I like the movie, but that’s because of the look and the feel of it. You watch it and admire the things set designers can do with Plexiglass. And marvel at how ingenious this all was, even if it’s nothing like the props and effects and design of Star Wars. But, like, the films were separated by so much time. Then you look it up and find out that Logan’s Run came out twelve minutes before Star Wars and you feel all confused. Why is Logan’s Run not more less-bad than it is?

Still, I like that an under-thirty friend can appreciate the movie for what it’s good at. Also I like that I have an under-thirty friend, somehow. Or any friend, period. I know what it’s like to put up with me. Be friends with me and you have to put up with this nonsense. I track how much I’m spending on shampoo so I know whether to trim my beard. I think of stuff about Calvin Coolidge or the Wilmot Proviso or whatever. I get anxious if we have a flat surface without an unstable pile of papers and magazines and small purchases on top. I stop my reading so I can tell my love something from my book.

If my love wants any peace while I’m doing this, there’s nothing to do but put headphones on. The big headphones, ones look ready for broadcasting on the WKRP In Cincinnati prequel that’s on I’m guessing CBS All Access. And listen to music. Lots of it. My love has gone through the whole Kinks catalogue. Their good albums, their bad albums, their unpopular albums, Ray Davies leaving messages on Dave Davies’s phone that he can’t be in the band. Everything. When I get to reading the second book I’ve acquired in the past twelve months about the history of the United States Post Office, my love will have to start listening to wholly imaginary Kinks albums. That’s all right. I have my own earphones and can listen to Joe Meek trying to do a surf-rock theramin version of the theme to Popeye. This is the power of music in a trying time.

Let Me Help You Out With Hand-Washing


So here’s some more on hand-washing. People ask how I, a germ-phobic slightly obsessive person, feel about learning how everyone else hates hand-washing. Like, am I grossed out to learn that other people will wash their hands only for special circumstances, like the discovery of a new Pope? That there’s a sizable contingent of people who figure washing after you pee is just some Puritan nonsense of shaming sexual organs?

Of course not. I know the average person sees washing their hands as a special event. Something that if you did too much would devalue washing or the idea of hands. I wouldn’t have a hand-washing compulsion if I didn’t believe that most of you figure you’ll get a prize for going the whole day without washing. Roughly, since I recovered from being a teenage boy, I have assumed every person and 45 percent of the animals I encounter is a cloud of … things … I must wash off as soon as it’s not rude.

So no, I’m not at all grossed out to see people remarking on how weird it is that now, they’re damp. I see it as reassurance that I have been right all along. The only weird thing is sometimes having someone apologize to me. They say now they understand why I always have that tube of hand sanitizer on me, and also that backup tube so I can sanitize the first tube of sanitizer.

Do I take joy in the world finally waking up to cleaning their hands off in the way I have? Well, no, because of all the death and disruption and stuff. I’m not a monster. I’m not like most people. I want the world to acknowledge me as right all along, yes. But I want the world to do that after waking from an unsettled night of dreams. These dreams should involve visits from the ghosts of liquid soap past, present, and yet to come. Not after any great turmoil.

I don’t have the self-esteem to want the world to go to any great fuss for me. It’s hard enough on my comfortable sense of my own triviality to learn the people at the sandwich shop know I want the cheese hoagie. This has been a week of ever more headlines and news alerts and interruptions to The Price is Right. That’s way too much focus on me for me to like. I would complain about this more, except, to who? And if whoever I did complain to listened to my complaints and stopped all this great fuss about proving me right? I would feel worse about getting that attention on top of everything else.

One thing I know people are discovering is that if they have long sleeves, then their sleeves get wet. Believe me, I’ve been there. The obvious answer is short sleeves. This doesn’t work for me as an answer because I am cold. Since I moved out of Singapore I’ve been cold. The only exceptions have come in special circumstances, usually when part or all of me was on fire. And even then I only got up to lukewarm. Part of the joy of handwashing is if I can put my hands into boiling water then my fingers are a little less frozen. I have to wear a long sleeved something, and that’s that.

So let me offer what I’ve learned about the wet-sleeves problem. If you wash your hands up to your wrists, you get water all over your sleeves. Ah, but, if you roll your sleeves up a few inches? Then they still get all wet. If you roll your sleeves up past your elbows, wash your hands, and then dry them? Now we get some great results: it turns out you haven’t dried your wrists enough and your sleeve gets wet. So now you need to think outside the box. If you take off your shirt or hoodie or whatever garment has long sleeves, and wash and then dry your wrists thoroughly?

By “thoroughly” I mean first towel them off. Then dry your hands up above where you washed on the wrists in the hot air dryer, if there is one. Or hold your hands up, palms facing you, and walk briskly back and forth for thirty seconds if there is no dryer. Then towel off again, and then put your shirt back on?

Then, your sleeves still get wet. And the whole length, too, since it turns wrists are made of hypersponges. I’m sorry. But you would know this if you had been washing your hands all along like I did, when I was right.

In Which I Am Very Petty About This Covid-19 Business


I am beyond happy at getting e-mails from every company I’ve ever heard of with explanations for how they clean everything now. Thanks, Best Buy, I’m glad to know that your response to the Covid-19 virus is that now you’re going to clean the store on a regular basis. United Airlines? You’re going to have the air on airplanes actually purified now? That’s fantastic. It’s really interacting well with my hand-washing germ-phobia thing.

Understand: I know that my hand-washing thing is my dumb thing. That it’s wholly irrational. And even that I don’t have a for-real germ phobia either. I know this because I will just forget about it if I’m having a good enough time. I’ll let my hands go, oh, hour without hand-washing. And not even feel anxious about it. My track record on, like, food is even worse, even ignoring the Steve “Pre” Prefontaine waffle incident. Do I hesitate to grab popcorn that’s been spilled on the shelves from the free-sample bins at the farmer’s market? Yes. I hesitate until I’m sure nobody’s watching. A germ phobia is one thing, but me passing up four pieces of cinnamon-sugar-coated popcorn? Never.

I rationalize my hand-washing thing. It’s good practice to wash your hands before handling food. Or after handling food. Or handling pets. Or handing pets food. Or after handling doorknobs. Or after feeding doorknobs to pets. That one indicates I’m extremely confused, probably from lack of sleep. Best to wash my hands and get to bed. Wash after handling garbage. Or walking too slowly past the garbage. Oh, and of course wash my hands after going to the bathroom. For a good long while. Oftentimes my love will realize that I haven’t been seen in over four hours. This is when I’m trapped where I can’t open the door to get out of the bathroom without touching the doorknob, which requires me to go back into the bathroom to wash my hands.

Still, as silly as my hand-washing thing may be you can’t argue with the results: I get sixteen colds a year. And they hurry on out of here in five or six weeks each. I get so many colds that I have to have two or more colds at once just so there’s time. Last Christmas, at my love’s parents, I had four colds stacked one atop the other, all huddled under a trenchcoat and trying to get into Rise of the Skywalkers. My love’s parents, who are in their 70s, were very happy to see me sniffling and coughing. But then I’ve had a cough since that episode of NewsRadio about the crazy rich boss’s autobiography.

Incidentally yes I know faucet handles have their issues. But those faucets that work by some kind of sensor? No. In principle I should like having more things I don’t have to touch. What doesn’t work for me is that they don’t work for me. You know the thing where you put your hands in front of the sensor and water comes on? When I put my hands in front of the sensor water does not come on. I can hold my hands still and no water comes. I can wave my hands and no water comes. I can move my hands around there and no water comes. The only hope I have is if I punch the faucet, and then water comes, until I put my hands under the faucet.

Here’s a real thing that really happened for me for real, in reality, at the farmer’s market yesterday. In the bathroom there was a faucet that was constantly running. So, great! I did the sorts of thing you expect someone to do in a bathroom, and went to wash under the eternal never-stopping fountain of unending water. When I put my hands in the water stream, it stopped. Don’t believe me? Ask the guy at the other sink who looked at this absurd scene and shrugged. He used the hand dryer, because he has the kinds of hands that bathroom hand dryers can dry, unlike mine.

Anyway if you need me I’ll be in the kitchen, boiling the four-USB-outlet power brick that Best Buy still wants me to review.

How to Fix Walking


Walking is a pretty good way to get around. I mean, if you’re able and up for it. It compares favorably to tossing yourself on the ground and rolling to your destination, for example, by being faster and getting less sidewalk debris in your clothing. It provides exercise. And it puts you in touch with your neighborhood in a way you don’t otherwise have. Like, if you didn’t walk, would you pay attention to that empty shopping cart on your street? The one that’s got no identifiable store markings? The one that’s over a mile from any store that could support a shopping cart that capacious? The one that keeps migrating north and south, as if driven by some inscrutable mating drive? Can you stop noticing it, once you’ve started? And yet without walking all you’d do is acknowledge that a street exists. Where’s the fun in that?

Given its advantages, why isn’t walking a more popular way of people getting to places they’d rather have stayed home from? Some problems are obvious. There’s the vulnerability to rain. The poor reliability of air conditioning. That one block of sidewalk square that got dug up, and is marked off with tape, that’s been standing there non-existent for months. It, too, is compelling. If you were still eight years old you’d know that jumping into that square is an hours-long plummet into a strange world of dinosaurs and robots and robot dinosaurs and a great adventure to save the interworld. The only thing stopping you back then was how you had a spelling quiz to get to and you were feeling pretty darned confident about ‘ukulele’. It’s still a pretty compelling problem to get to, especially when you consider the shape the interworld’s in now. But, you know, I understand if you have to hurry on. That $50 rebate check the power company gave you for turning in that broken dehumidifier isn’t going to deposit itself. And who even knows if they have convenience stores in the interworld? They have, but you have to recognize that they’re marked by the giant pillbugs and like nobody ever thinks to explain that. Plus, you find a missing square of sidewalk there and you end up plummeting into the metainterworld and that’s all sorts of new issues.

I say one problem keeping walking from catching on better is the risk of collision. I mean with other pedestrians. It’s no less bad to accidentally collide with, say, a mailbox. That might even be worse, given the level of embarrassment. Colliding with the mailbox isn’t too bad but then you reflexively say “sorry” to it and feel like a right fool for days. It won’t be until like the next Wednesday you think of the witty comeback you should have said to the mailbox, and by then nobody cares if they hear it.

But it’s collisions with people that I’m worrying about, since I have so few mailbox readers. I have few people readers too, but I’m all right with that, since I feel pretty bad when I draw attention anyway. To collide with someone you need another person to collide with. You’d figure it would usually be pretty easy not to collide. You’d see the person walking towards you, and the person sees you walking towards them, and you both move a little to the side so as not to collide. Somehow this doesn’t work, though. If you move to your right, they move to your right. If you move to their right, they move to their right too. If you stop dead still, they stop dead still and grin, embarrassed. Then you and they try moving again and it’s the same problem. You leap off the sidewalk, hoping the First Speaker of the Interworld Partnership of Communards is checking the magic picture-book at that moment and will portal you out of this world. No luck; the First Speaker needs both you and your walking opponent, and you end up bonking together inside the Chamber of the Trustworthy.

So that’s why I think we need to swipe a gimmick from the car industry (don’t tell them) and set up people with directional signals. Either that or have people go out wearing conical rubber walking-gowns, so that if people do collide it’s slower and the shock is absorbed. Plus, we’d look much more like game pieces from Sorry!. So maybe the directional signals idea is a bad one and we should go with the cones instead. Anyway, once we do that I’m sure people will like walking dozens of times better than they did before. You’re all welcome.

What To Do With Leap Day


I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with my Leap Day. I know, confessing that makes me sound like I can’t make decisions before the last minute. It’s not like we haven’t known it was coming. The leap day’s been scheduled for thousands of years now, and here we are maybe hours away, and I still don’t have an idea in mind.

Anyway there’s not much point my making plans too far ahead. I’ll end up forgetting them anyway. I’m so good at forgetting plans that I can forget my plans while I’m making them. It’s only months after the plan would have mattered that I’ll have any inkling of the idea. I’ll sit bolt upright in bed — dropping a conversation mid-sentence, if I have to, to rush back home, change into my sweatpants, and hide in bed, to sit up in it — and slap my head. It’s enough to make people think I’m not that good at interacting with them.

I also don’t know what other people are going to do with their leap day. I figure most are just going to take it as the 29th of February. It’s kind of cliche, but it’s got a lot of public support. And there’s almost nothing else to do with it. In 1996 I tried putting my leap day into my checking account. By the time I took it out again, in June when it would do me some good, the monthly fees had reduced it to 23 hours and 46 minutes. I don’t mind losing fourteen minutes from my day if I’m doing something useful with it, like ping-ponging between Nathan Rabin’s web site and Son of Stuck Funky, trying to figure if there is a new article, while waiting for whatever Javascript monstrosity they’re running to finally crash my web browser. But that’s my choice. I don’t want it lost because the bank is nickel-and-daying me. Also, “nickel-and-daying” is a phrase that I like, and yet I know not a single other person in the world is ever going to like it. Not even a little bit. It’s not even not funny. It exists outside the realm of possible amusement. It’s the writing equivalent of a blot of ink on the wall too small to care about repainting. It just is, and barely so, and will never be more than that. And yet I have already wasted fourteen minutes today grinning at it.

Anyway, after that experience I’ll probably take Leap Day as the 29th too. It can be fun having this sort of exceptional day. We all know how it exists outside the normal bounds of time and space. None of the ordinary laws of time exist. You can sleep in until 3:30 pm and still be in time to catch the sunrise, four times over. You can spend an hour on the phone talking with your parents and finally hang up two minutes before you call them. You can watch one of those two-minute Popeye flash cartoons and have it fill eighteen hours of the day. You can spend 57,500 years trapped in amber and be broken out and it’s still not 10:30 am. You can return library books that were due the 28th and not get charged late fees. You can turn on broadcast TV and catch an all-new episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It’s everything that’s fun about Daylight Saving Time, only twenty-four times as much of it, and no whining. If you want to declare it’s outside the whole seven-day week experience, that it’s actually happening on “Thworbsday”, nobody can protest. That’s just how the day works.

And yet for all that, my imagination fails me. I used to know what to do with a free day. I would play Civilization II, trying to repeat cool experiences like conquering the entire world without ever building a boat. Today? I don’t know. There’s stuff that I could usefully do, like spend a couple hours deleting e-mails from the Amy Klobuchar campaign. But, jeez, I could do that anytime. I could delete them as fast as the campaign sends them to me. Well, OK, no I couldn’t. But still: the day doesn’t come up much at all. It really seems like I could have something more special going on.

Yet Another Piece About Me Having A Cold


I know people reading this may think I’m always writing about me getting a cold. I have reasons for this. I don’t know anything about your getting a cold. I’m sorry; I should ask about your health more. How are you? Do you have one health, reasonably sized? If you don’t have a health of your own, it’s fine to get something store-bought. We all want one that’s bespoke, but really, off-the-shelf is fine. Anyway please fill in any small gaps in our conversation with how your cold is going.

Anyway I talk about my getting colds because health-wise, there’s not much else I have going on. Other than the occasional cold my health is pretty good. The only thing I have going on that doesn’t really work for me is my knees. I’m already at the point in life I have to plan out how often I’m going to kneel down, and what for, in the coming week.

It’s hard to say just why my knees are so bad. A leading candidate is that I used to be really quite obese. Until I was 39 I moved mostly by plate tectonics. My two brothers once went three years without seeing each other just because I happened to be standing in the way. And I know what you old-time-radio fans are thinking: that I just stole one of Jack Benny’s jokes about Don Wilson there. I did not. That joke came loose and fell into my gravitational well all on its own.

Anyway, I lost all that weight. Well, I “lost” all that weight; I know just where I put it. (It’s in the walls of my parents’ old house; don’t tell the new buyers!) But the damage to my knees was done. Oh, also, I have very tight hamstring muscles. Like, they’re tight enough that I can not straighten my legs unless I also bend my knees. My yoga instructor watched me trying to do anything and said, “But … how?”.

The cold has been a mild one. The biggest hazard is not mentioning it in front of specific friends. One of these is the zinc friend. You know, the one who isn’t just fond of zinc but so very sure it’s the fix for every problem that, really, I’m the difficult one if I don’t carry around a cinder block of zinc to lick every time I wipe my nose.

The other hazard is the soup friend. I like soups more than I did as a child. Especially when I have a cold. I can’t have enough to satisfy my soup friend. There’s not enough soup in the world to take all my soup friend’s advice. There’s barely enough me. Nevertheless I do appreciate letting a long boiling-hot ribbon of water flow down my throat.

Because the main thing I have is a cough. It’s not one of those coughs that accomplish anything. You know, the working coughs that you can respect even if you don’t like them. My cough is nothing like that. There’s this sore section in my throat, exactly where it can’t be reached by that viscous cherry spray ever. What I really want is something that can scratch that spot and give me maybe ten seconds of sweet relief. The threat of choking is holding me back, though, which is why I’m only thinking of how nice it would be to dangle, say, a miniature porcupine on a thread and let it press into my throat.

No good, though. The only cough lozenges anyone makes are all smooth things, as if I needed more smoothness in my throat. I’m taking them, certainly. They’re great for making every part of my throat except the one that I want to cough up feel smooth. It’s getting a bit much. Normally I’m pretty selective about what I put in my mouth. At least ever since the Steve “Pre” Prefontaine waffle incident in Singapore a few years back. With cough drops, though? That caution is out the window. I’ll put any translucent gob in my mouth. I’m pretty sure I’ve swallowed some eight-sided dice. I’m on about 46 lozenges just this hour. When the medical examiners find me, they will wonder how it is that I made it to this age with such tight hamstrings and a throat that’s a menthol fossil.

Anyway, otherwise everything’s pretty good.

It Is Supposed To Be Cold Tomorrow


I have to write this piece today. Tomorrow we in Lansing, Michigan are supposed to be getting some cold in. By ‘some cold’ I mean ‘all the cold’. The sort where the temperature (Fahrenheit) isn’t just dropping below zero but all the way into the imaginary numbers. It’s the kind of cold where they warn you it’s too cold to leave buildings outside. Where you don’t see sparrows coming to the bird feeder anymore because they get halfway to the freezer, ice up, and these feathery snowballs tumble into unsuspecting squirrels.

So I have to talk about all this before I call my parents. After lives spent happily in New Jersey, with roughly similar weather, they moved to South Carolina. “What the heck,” my mother said, “We don’t know anybody there and my whole experience there has been one weekend with my friends in Charleston. That’s where we’ll spend retirement,” and my father said “What?” because his hearing aid had iced over. It’s worked out really well for them, except that between September and April the first twenty minutes of our phone calls are about how much warmer it is down there.

And it’s not like we always have terrible and cold weather. This winter’s been warm enough we’re all a little bothered by that. I know this makes us just sound disagreeable. But we’ve had it warm enough that it was, like, in the 60s and sunny, with nice strong breezes and seagulls coming in from the Great Lakes. Let me remind you, this is Lansing, Michigan. We’ve been having the kind of weather that gets incompetent seagulls. But most of the time it’s been a more normal winter, just a little warmer than average.

And it’s not like South Carolina’s weather is always better. Between May and August the first twenty minutes of our phone calls are about how their evacuation for the hurricane has gone. It’s not always a hurricane, mind. Sometimes it’s a tropical storm. Sometimes it’s a very lost nor’easter. Part of what’s nice about South Carolina, as a retirement state, is the low cost of living, which is to say they don’t have taxes, because they don’t do things like build a second bridge off the island where my parents live. Or have roads that don’t flood when it rains, or it’s very muggy, or someone leaves the sink running while brushing their teeth.

But we’re not in hurricane season now. So I have to get this written before calling them and they talk about how frigid tomorrow should be. This won’t keep them from hearing about it. But if I can get to talking out the weather here, before I call them for the week, I … don’t actually know what I’ll accomplish. At least I’ll have done something.

And weather this cold you do have to do something for. It’s the kind of cold that even being warm doesn’t help with. We have a good-quality water heater, the kind that gets the water hot enough to melt the water heater, but that won’t make a shower hot enough to completely revive my toes. Dressing is also a problem. The only thing to do wear layers. This means whenever you encounter any piece of clothing, put it on. Since I work at home this is tricky. I’ll pop into the bedroom for something or other, and have to put on another shirt or pair of underwear. By about 5:30 I’m a rolling ball of fabric.

And that’s staying inside. I don’t figure to go out. In this cold it’s a bad idea to let your tongue touch the air, as it’ll get stuck. Your tongue ices over. Then the ice that that’s caught on will get stuck on the air. That ices over, and again and again, and then you’re dangling a five-foot-long ice tongue out your mouth. And then you can’t go anywhere except on foot. Driving is out since you fit the encased tongue through the car door. You can’t lift your head enough to see when the bus is coming. All you can do is try to walk somewhere and find the doors there are frozen shut.

So that’s why it’s important I finish this, then call my parents, and then deal with tomorrow’s nonsense.

Everything There Is To Say About Moving Keyboards


I remembered this thing where, like, a decade ago some company wanted to make computer keyboards that moved. Isn’t that a heck of a thing to remember? Why remember that? I have a decent memory. Yet it keeps remembering weird things. I have an advanced degree in mathematics and yet if you ask me the difference between a “covariant index” and a “contravariant index”? I have to set the wallpaper on fire and use the distraction to look it up. A covariant index is written as a subscript and the contravariant is a superscript. Or it’s the other way around. I keep writing it down wrong because I remember last time I had it wrong, but I forget whether I got it right in the end last time. But this keyboard nonsense? Now I remember this.

What I don’t remember is why they wanted a keyboard that moved. I’m going to guess it’s for ergonomics. Any time you have a system that makes something easy pointlessly hard it’s usually because of ergonomics. This makes ergonomics sound like it’s about being mean. But the point of ergonomics is to avoid doing stuff that’s useless and causes pain. And it turns out almost everything we do is useless stuff that causes pain. There’s maybe five things that we actually need to do. And one of them is winding the mantle clock for the week. This would be bad if you did it too much, but most people have to wind only one or two mantel clocks per week, if that, so it stops before it could hurt.

Keyboards would be a good thing to be made more ergonomic, though. Typing is a terrible thing to do to one’s hands. People who study hands — Handocrinologists — report a fifteen-minute typing session is about as stressful on your wrists as beating them with a metal-working hammer against an anvil and then sticking them in a pot of boiling grease, then typing for fourteen minutes. The only thing worse would be a seventeen-minute typing session. Doing less typing, this by having a keyboard slither away, would probably help. If this moving keyboard thing had caught on? Today we might not suffer from typist’s wrists, cerebral IRC, Livejournal-snapped hamstrings, Usenet lung, or CU-See-Me face deprivation syndrome.

I don’t know why this wandering keyboard didn’t turn into a thing. I can’t see any downside to a keyboard that, in the middle of your sentence, scoots over, knocking over your soda can and crumpling up a post-it note that’s incomprehensible but so obviously important you will never throw it out. Maybe it made people’s prose seasick or something.

Anyway I know this memory is like a decade ago because of how it was they thought keyboards were a problem. We would use keyboards for everything. Writing stuff. Reading. Playing video games. Sealing up the crack under the door. Cricket bats, for when you didn’t know there was a game today. Setting dads up for jokes about how does it fit in the lockboard. Swatting off cows that aren’t supposed to be in the dining room. Everything. Now that’s all changed.

Way back then we would joke about how Apple was going to make a computer that just had one button. And then they went and did it, and it turned out to be a phone, and it was the most popular thing ever. Later they took away the button. Oh, wait, now I get it. The keyboard’s just a picture on the screen. But the phone has this rumble motor. The phone can roll out of your hand. All right, so I guess the moving-keyboard company didn’t flop, Apple just took the idea.

So then what’s the future hold? Just a keyboard that shakes even more out of the way isn’t enough. “You can’t top pigs with pigs,” as Walt Disney said, making people wonder what question he was answering. No, it’s got to be a phone that takes more dramatic action. Maybe something that jabs spikes out. Maybe shooting a web to the corner of the ceiling and swinging out of the way. Maybe just being very ticklish, so the phone won’t stop giggling when you use it.

Well, what’s important is that the Handocrinologists are happy. Someone should be.

Everything There Is To Say About Going Outside


Going outside is one of the popular things to do when you mean to go somewhere. It ranks almost up there with “going inside”. It’s no “meaning to go outside but then rolling over and groaning”. But, you know, what else are you going to do? Stay inside with your intrusive thoughts? Including that one about the time in 1997 your friend was excited to have noticed Team Rocket’s names were Jessie and James and you acted all cool about that, as if you’d noticed long ago, when you really had never put that together? No, the only way to avoid imagining that they’ve been hurting for 23 years over that thought is to go outside, anywhere, and keep going.

I have to preface this by admitting I’m not one for going outside much. Oh, I do it, but only because somehow the topic keeps coming up. I’m not even much for going to the other room. For that matter I need motivation to get to the other side of the table. Even reaching my arms out to their full length needs some motivation. In my defense, there’s plants I might hit if I just tossed my arms around wildly and they don’t need to be involved in whatever my issues are.

Still, the outside offers over four things that the inside just can’t. Unlike the inside, for example, outside there’s no way of controlling the temperature, humidity, precipitation, or light levels. You can find that you’re uncomfortably cold. Or warm. For part of the year you can be uncomfortably medium, with your outfit just making you bigger than you’d otherwise be. With the rain, you can get wet in ways you don’t want. Or you can put on water-resistant clothing, so that only your face, hands, and feet, the things that you most immediately use to interact with the world, get wet. I feel like I’m not making a good case for outside here. Let me slide a foot or two down the table and think this out.

It was only half a foot. Ah, but here: outside, you’re able to get to places. Like, you can go to a Jersey Mike’s sandwich shop. Or, if you’d rather, you can go to a Jersey Giant sandwich shop. I mean if you’re around my area of mid-Michigan. Which, you can see, has a bunch of places to get Jersey sandwiches. There’s maybe more places to get a New Jersey-branded sandwich here than there were when I lived in New Jersey. I confess I’m not sure precisely what it is that makes something a New Jersey-branded sandwich. From observation, I think it’s “having a picture of the Shore at Sea Girt in the bathroom”. And oh, there’s something. There’s much more of the Jersey Shore that’s outside, compared to inside. That’s not likely to change unless someone goes and turns a door inside-out.

Outside also offers the greater number of bank drive-through stations. This is valuable because the outer lanes used to have those great little tubes you’d put bank stuff in, and it would go into the bank using what you always supposed were pneumatic tubes but probably were not. That’s all right. It’s so much fun to think of having, like, a savings passbook that’s shuttling around in a pneumatic tube. Now, I don’t know, I think it’s all just drive-up ATMs. So you can go up there and think how much more fun this all used to be. I’m doing a lousy job promoting the outside as something.

Oh, the outside is great for animals. You can see squirrels and more squirrels and different-colored squirrels and pigeons and none of that makes you nervous. If you see them inside you have an issue that you have to deal with, and you haven’t had time to deal with a new issue since October 2014. But outside? They have every right to be there, as do you, and all’s at peace. Oh, you could see some of these from inside, if you look through a window. Or if you’re not interested, looking through a wall. But then they’ll go off somewhere a little obstructed when they’re being the most interesting. Outside, if you see them hiding, you can walk around and then they’ll notice you and leave. From inside, you can’t have that experience of squirrels deciding they don’t want to be involved in whatever your issues are.

Everything there is to say about IP addresses


Each day over 36 people use the Internet. And yet how many of them know what it is? How it works? Where it comes from? What it’s doing? How it’s redressed in-between scenes so that in the first act it’s a starving artist’s kitchen while in the second it’s the luxury suite at a hotel? Still, let’s see which of these questions we can answer.

The Internet is, as designed, a high-capacity method of transmitting outrage. Essential to getting anything anywhere is the IP address. IP is an acronym; it stands for IP, but — you may want to make a note of this — a different IP than what we mean when we write IP. It is still typed the same, though, except in the dative case.

The purpose of an IP address was to be a unique way to identify the recipient of any particular Internet outrage. In the earliest days of computers this was done by identifying the person using the computer. But this was impractical, since back then, everyone used the names of the same minor Star Trek characters. Today, only three people know there even was a “Commander DeSalle” who was in more episodes than, like, Pavel Chekov somehow. The next step was trying to identify the computer using the person. But too many computers looked the same, especially back in the 90s when the computer makers got a really good deal on plastic the color of sweetened condensed milk you accidentally left open on the counter all month. We’ve since moved on to trying to identify the person and the computer together. This is done by timing how long it takes you to refuse web sites permission to send you notifications.

The IP address is how the Internet knows what to send to you. Consider this typical behavior. You put an OtterBox for your phone on your Amazon wish list, because the wrist strap broke off your old one. You’d just buy it yourself, but not having a wrist strap is a smaller hassle than your parents asking you to put at least one single thing on your wish list so they know what they won’t buy you for your birthday. Three weeks later, Amazon sends you an e-mail declaring they’ve found it would be a great idea if you bought an OtterBox. Sure, you think of the geniusnessocity of the mind that could create such a perfect needs-anticipation system. “Clearly,” you say, out loud, “the person behind this system deserves 130 billion dollars. Indeed, the person who could create that digital intelligence deserves all the billions of dollars.”

But this only works because it knows which of all the people on computers to send the e-mail to. Imagine if you got the suggestion to buy an OtterBox intended for somebody else who also wanted an OtterBox. Or what if the shopping suggestions were completely wrong? “We have a great deal for you: what if you bought a radial tire and the issue of Starlog about DeForest Kelly being on the War of the Worlds tv series from the 80s? Plus 1250 boxes of macaroni and cheese?” There would be no possible answer to give to that question. You would be stuck at home, all day, trying to find out, wait, there was a War of the Worlds series in the 80s? And it got kinda bonkers? But if there’s no way to get the information about this to you, then, where are you? Right back at home.

So how do you and your computer get this IP address? Eh, a lot of back-and-forth. Your computer goes asking others around it, “Do I look like a 12.440.593.56.210.315 to you?” And then the other computers go, “Oh, you’re underrating yourself. You’re easily a 56.337.404044.12.390 or maybe even more!” And then your computer answers, “Aw, golly. You’ll make me digitally blush, there’s no way I’m not a 8.266.712.8.775!” “Honey, stop with the false modesty. 18.9.2012.24.2007.48304 and if you don’t agree I’ll fight you.” Eventually they compromise on something. Of course, this is done at computer speeds, which is why it’s either instant or your computer just freezes up for three hours and eighteen minutes. And I’m translating what they say into colloquial terms. They would actually say “digi-blush”.

This all seems like a lot, and it is, which is why even brief exposure to the Internet leaves you so exhausted.

Some Reasons Everybody Treated Me Like That In Middle School


I’ve had some time this week to sit in a room with no particular expectations or Wi-Fi and so that’s got me all introspective. So this is going to be hard. I’ve gotten around to thinking of my middle school experience. Here are some things that, on reflection, I think contributed to that whole scenario.

So you know there was a Pac-Man cartoon in the early 80s, where Pac-Man and Pac-Family hang around Pac-Land, occasionally eating ghosts and sometime getting chopmed by them. So, there was this episode where the Ghosts got their hands on the Pac-Space-Shuttle. Unless that was the Space-Pac-Shuttle. Honestly not sure at this remove. Anyway, they harvest all the Pac Pellets in the world from off the Pac-Trees. They flew this whole load to, I believe, the Pac-Moon. I know what you’re thinking and no, I was not bothered that the Pac-Space-Pac-Shuttle might land on the Pac-Moon. It would be a gross presumption of us to suppose that the design limits of our space shuttle necessarily apply to the Pac-Space-Pac-Shuttle-Pac in this fictional universe, however much they seem superficially similar. (Oh, this is helping me see why other bloggers treat me like that.) No, what bothered me is that in the face of this Pac-Pellet shortage caused by the world harvest being stolen, Pac-Man, in space, eats the entire contents of the Space-Shuttle-Pac, every power pellet in the world, all at once, when we’d seen in other episodes that one was enough for him to chomp ghosts. Two, if he needed to be really confident in his ghost-eating powers. And that is what bothered me: this unnecessary gluttony would make the power pellet shortage continue for at least a full growing season. And these Pac-Pellets are the fruits of Pac-Trees. This is going to screw up geenrations of trees to come. I was very cross with Pac-Man over this.

On the evening news they would always talk about what the New York Stock Exchange had done that day. And yet they never mentioned the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, which I supposed had to exist, or Los Angeles or San Francisco or anywhere else. Yes, I grew up in the New York metro area so of course the local stock market might be of interest but this injustice extended to the national news, and surely there must be some days that, like, the Saint Louis Stock Exchange had the most exciting stock-related exchanging going on.

[ I would like to emphasize that I am not reading my current weirdness back into the young me. These are as best as I am able reconstructions of thoughts I had in the mid-80s. ]

According to the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons manual if exactly the right things lined up you could just be a vapor, forever, and everyone would just have to let you play like that.

So in South River, New Jersey, there was this liquor store, and its sign was this representation of beloved drunk neighbor Thirsty from the beloved comic strip Hi and Lois. And I thought it was wild and belovable that in all the world we happened to be not too far off from the world’s only Hi and Lois-themed liquor store. And wondered at how much money must have changed hands for Thirsty’s Liquor to be set up in this really very average beloved Middlesex County town.

Also every power pellet in the Pac-World fit into one Space-Pac-Shuttle Cargo-Pac-Bay? Space shuttles aren’t that big.

Sure, we all have urged the rain rain to go away and come again some other day. But why was there no chant to urge the rain to come today, when nothing particularly needing dry conditions is going on, and thereby forestall rain coming some inconvenient later date? We need a certain amount of rain per year and there’s no good reason not to rush to get that done when the day’s already all wet.

While I do not think this very incomplete list justifies the whole of my middle school experience I am forced to admit that, yeah, everybody kind of had a point there.

My Question To You, And My Windshield Wiper


I haven’t shared any automotive fiascos with you in a while. So here’s one. It started with my replacing the windshield wipers on my love’s car. It was meant as the smallest surprise nice little possible. My love was kind of aware this was coming, since I’d bought the blades a week or two before and never got around to installing them. These were the Rain-X Quantum windshield wipers, so named because they come in discrete and indivisible units, as opposed to those continuous wipers you get from other makers.

So our first rainy day out my love had a good question: what was that little floppy thing coming loose on the driver-side windshield wiper? By the time I figured out what my love was pointing at, and come to guess that it was something we didn’t really need, it had flown off onto the highway. In my defense we went on through two hours of driving in mild rain before things got any worse.

We were off in the middle of nowhere after 11 pm on a Sunday night when things got worse. This worse was the wiper blade coming loose. So we figured to stop at the next thing we could stop at, which took about twenty minutes to reach. This would be the driveway of a volunteer fire department, where there was a sign not to park there, but they had an overhang and everything and I mean, who’s going to have a fire that close to midnight on a Sunday? Bear in mind, this was a small town. Folks there know their volunteer fire department and wouldn’t go having a fire at that hour. Anyway there I could swap the loose wiper on the driver’s side for the solid wiper on the passenger’s side, and I know what you’re thinking: what, doesn’t the passenger want to see through the rain too? Well, I was the passenger and I’ll tell you, this rain looked like a rerun to me.

Still, we needed a new wiper and the obvious place to get one after midnight on a Sunday was Meijer’s, which you can find in Michigan (where we were) by going 750 feet in any direction. Except in this stretch of western Michigan where, again, nothing was but us and the volunteer fire department. The satellite navigator said if we drove close enough to Grand Rapids, where Meijer’s is headquartered by the way, we’d find one on Alpine Avenue. But we were heading to Grand Rapids, on Alpine Avenue. And twenty minutes later we got to the spot where no Meijer’s existed or showed any sign of ever existing.

So I asked the satellite navigator for the next-nearest Meijer’s. This took us off Alpine Avenue, down I-96 away from home, and then into a bunch of small roads. There we found: Meijer’s Corporate Headquarters Complex. With, like, huge glass windows and a mural of old Meijer’s corporate logos and things like that. So that was great to see except that I was about 40% sure there was nowhere there we could exchange money for a product. There was another one a half-mile away, which turned out to be the regional distribution center. If I could have found the front door I’d have banged on it to ask what they have in windshield wipers. There would be no point to this.

Next search: since “places to shop named Meijer’s” wasn’t working I searched for “Meijer Pharmacy”, and this time it lead us to a Meijer’s with a pharmacy and open doors and windshield wipers for sale and everything. It’s back on Alpine Avenue again. So I marched in and got the 21-inch blade we needed. Then marched out, after paying (don’t think that won’t come back to fiasco on me), and the little plastic thing that came off on the original blade came off again, but right away this time.

So I marched back in to the Customer Service desk, which had been closed for two and a half hours. I went to the guy supervising the self-checkout lanes and he said exchanging the blade was no problem. I went back to grab a 19-inch blade, because the car took different sizes for the driver’s and passenger’s side. I can’t think of any reason why the 19-inch blade should work and the 21-inch doesn’t, but after two failures in a row? I also couldn’t think of any reason to care.

The supervisor guy noticed the blades were different sizes, though, and so he figured he needed to ring this up properly and we went to the Customer Service desk. There it turned out the new blade was cheaper than the old. This is because I didn’t get the Quantum blade, but instead a Rain-X Latitude, so named for its great scope to do things, most of them wipe-based. This was cheaper, though, so he had to refund me $3.80. Maybe it wasn’t $3.80, but whatever it was was at least as good. There wasn’t any money in the Customer Service desk, though, so he wanted to give me a gift card for the difference.

To do this he had to get the register to read the receipt, which the system said didn’t exist. He tried entering the transaction number manually, and the system agreed it didn’t exist. He figured he could ring this up as a receiptless exchange and refund and that I didn’t need to be part of figuring out the system’s problems. A good point. To do this he needed my driver’s license, to record whatever the heck it is they do. And then he swiped the gift card and the system didn’t want to do that. So he needed to take my driver’s license back and try it over again. I know what you’re thinking: no, he remembered to give me my license back before we got too far from the Customer Service Desk. Anyway this time the wiper went on, and it stayed on, lest I get out on I-96 and punch it.

A mile down the road I ask what I did with the old, defective blade when I took it off the car. We conclude I must have left it on the car hood and it’s now lost in the parking lot of a Meijer’s in Grand Rapids. It turns out the next day it’s just sitting in that space between the car hood and the windshield, protected by the wiper arms.

Grant the fiasco nature of this, or as they say in the trades is fiascosity. My question: what the heck was all this about?

Statistics 2010s: Ten Things Of The Decade Just Passed


  • August 22. everyone who had a part in this day, give yourselves a fresh round of applause without being unseemly about it.
  • Cheddar II: Cheddiest. From out of Nowhere, Connecticut, 06269, this new flavor, appearing in ouch-y sharp, dangerous in its pointedness, somewhat polyhedral, and mint, has taken over the world of cheese and opened up new avenues in being so much more than the inspirational cheddar that it’s not hard to see why old-fashioned cheddar is expected within the next two years to go the way of the original, almost forgotten ched.
  • once-in-shakespeare.com Where else but this scrappy new start-up can one get a convenient listing of all the words that appear in the canonical plays of William Shakespeare one time? Anyone can produce a list of all the words, just by shaking a collected edition on its side until the pieces fall out, but who’s going to take out the duplicates and grow new authors with them?
  • Raised Flooring. After years of drop-down ceilings being the cliche and overused answer to ways to make a room seem more claustrophobic we have this alternative. Unexpected bonuses include having more things to count while bored, and the improved sense of balance as people try to walk on those bar things from which the floor panels are hung. This will inspire grace in our walking like Groucho Marx if nothing else will.
  • How the English language has no solitary word for the feeling of uncertainty that accompanies thinking that one’s socks are damp when there’s no chance for taking one’s shoes off to check or to change them no matter how much we need a word for exactly this sensation. This single loss has saved millions of dollars and dozens of lines of newspaper type in just the past month. And think of all the people it’s inspired to try to buy less painful shoes. Yes, yes, you can put together a bunch of words to get the same sense across. It’s not the same.
  • Flatware. There is nothing which soothes the desperate need to buy flatware quite like flatware, and we should all be glad the flatware industry exists to satisfy this need. Be warned: much so-called flatware these days is not in fact flat, but extends into a third or even a fourth spatial dimension. If you have no choice but to purchase this imitation flatware do speak to the steamroller operator with whom you’re on good terms — you are on good terms with at least one steamroller operator, aren’t you? — to arrange for the appropriate enflattening.
  • March 10. Nobody’s saying it’s a patch on August 22, but it’s still really good all around and everybody deserves to take a bow for that too.
  • Adverbs. These sentence-stuffers had a great run and it’s a shame that we’re scheduled to lose them if the conversion to Modifiers.6 ever happens. Still, anyone who’s ever had to write to a specified word count has relied on their ability to be added to or removed from sentences and they will be missed, like when someone notices the `a’ or `an’ doesn’t match with the next word anymore.
  • Sriracha Automobiles. For the past fifteen years sriracha has been slipping almost unnoticed into everything, starting with sandwiches, then cooking shows, then books, then consumer electronics, and now into the important industries of Navy ships and personal automobiles. No one may know where sriracha comes from or what it intends, but we can be sure that it’s here and it’s unavoidable, and that with the proper setup it can be used for good or at least to not be so frightening, and that earns it a place on this list.
  • Simple Thermometers. Despite fears no important features of the weather developed into the imaginary and then the complex number plane. So despite the shortages in Complex Thermometers none were needed, except for that stretch in fall where the temperature became one of the principal roots of a heptic polynomial. But for the most part we got along just fine with the old-fashioned thermometers and isn’t that one of the ten things about the decade just finished?

Go Juice


Maybe you heard about this discovery about a way to make fuel out of coffee. If you didn’t hear about this discovery about a way to make fuel out of coffee, let me bring you up to speed. So, apparently there’s this way they discovered to make fuel out of coffee. When I put it that way it sounds like that’s all anyone is talking about.

It started out with an accident, when Dr Mano Misra at the University of Nevada, Reno, made coffee one night and didn’t drink it. Now I don’t normally feel envy at the achievements of real academics. I don’t really play that field anymore, and anyway, how many mathematicians do you know have opinions about the plots in Gil Thorp? But here, I realize, I could totally have made this discovery myself. I have a lot of experience in my life not drinking coffee. I used to be limited in discovering things in coffee I didn’t drink by how I didn’t make coffee before I didn’t drink it.

But this past decade? I’ve made a surprising lot of coffee. This is because there’s a complimentary coffee bar at this overgrowing farmer’s market on the west side of town. We go there to get our pet rabbit vegetables and to see what they’ve expanded to doing this week. It’s great. Gourmet popcorn? Sure! Fresh-pressed olive oil? Why not! Gelato? Yeah, they can do that, why not? There’s also a great wall of succulents that gets moved to a new place every time you step in, even if you only stepped out for three minutes and came back in because you’re looking for a lost hat. If you’re ever in town (Lansing) you should stop in. You can find it by looking for the massive parking lots that nobody can escape. Use the one on the west side of town.

Anyway, they have a complementary coffee bar, so for a long while there I started making coffee. What was I going to do, not get coffee just because I don’t much like coffee? Besides, they have all sorts of things to make coffee taste less like coffee. Flavored beans, for a start. Sugars, in real (sugar) and imaginary (Splenda) and complex (cinnamon maple sprinkles) versions. Creams ranging from light to dark to postmodern inquiries of the nature of whitening coffee. Whipped cream. You can put so much stuff in the coffee you don’t even need the coffee. And after seven years of going there nearly weekly I’ve realized: you know, they have some tea I could get instead. It’s boring tea, but then I have a deep, fundamental boringness to myself and so that’s right for me.

So there was this period I was making coffee, although instead of not drinking it I would drink it instead, because what was I going to do, waste coffee? And cinnamon maple sprinkles? I was raised in too big a family to do something like that. But if I had just used the coffee I was making and didn’t drink it, then this is a discovery I totally could have made, if I had noticed anything.

The story then is Dr Misra noticed a layer of oil floating on the coffee. That’s something I didn’t know coffee could do. I thought layers of oil formation were only done by fossils and peanut butter. I mean the peanut butter that’s so good you can’t use it for sandwiches because you’re always stirring the oil back into it. Misra found the oil, though, and didn’t think to stir it in. Using it for motor fuel is a breakthrough, though, and one I wouldn’t have made. I was pretty sure you only put mysterious fluids in cars if you’re in a low-effort Disney movie made between 1958 and 1982. So it’s not enough to observe a thing, you also have to have an idea what to do with it. So that’s something I wouldn’t have though to try.

What gets me is that if you can get oil out of coffee, then there must have been oil in the coffee to start with. Right? I feel like this has to be right. But then that means someone put the oil in. But who goes around injecting oil into coffee beans? I understand it happening once or twice, as a prank. But that wouldn’t stay funny forever. On the other hand, everything I know about this is a couple years old, so maybe someone was playing a nasty prank on the University of Nevada, Reno. Or maybe the oil really comes from the coffee cups, and the coffee is just a red herring. I bet they checked that possibility, though. I don’t know anybody who drinks herring.

Some Books You Can Get Me For Christmas


Or my birthday. All you have to do is buy them first. But before first, you have to get someone to sell them. And before before first to publish them. So before before before first you need someone to write them. And before that has to be research. So, like, around fifth you have to buy them, and sixth give them to me.

Perfect Pitch: A History of Asphalt, the Construction Material that Changed the World. Sure, we all rate asphalt as one of the things roads are made of, but how much do we really know about them? Where does asphalt come from? Where does it go in spring when all the potholes appear? Finally a book that can help you keep up with that friend who’s a little too deeply into Nixie tubes and keeps correcting you when you say things about pavement. 318 pages.

Umbrellas: The Head Coverings that Made the Rain Avoidable, Created the Sun King, Saved America’s Space Station, and Changed the World. Who hasn’t remembered they left a travel-size umbrella in the car, for cases where they’re out somewhere and there’s a sudden rainstorm and they need to hold a small piece of fabric up with a bent metal skeleton until they get annoyed by it all? Partly a narrow-focus history, yes, but also partly an exporation of what the idea of being able to moderate the weather at will means to people. The umbrella takes us on a journey that connects to how society’s ideas of what outdoor recreation is for has changed, and how buildings have changed to control the climate rather than to harmonize with the climate for comfort. 422 pages including 26 pages of illustrations and pictures of impractical 19th-century umbrella-related patent follies.

What Color Is A Peace Conference: The Work of the Diplomats, Historians, Demographers, and Sociologists that Changed the World. If you’re like me you have a vague and very child-like idea what goes on at peace conferences. Like, these things usually take some time, but time doing what? The deepest thinking of my brain, which was able to earn an advanced degree in mathematics, is to imagine that one side’s rep says, “Stop shooting as us”. And then the other side’s rep says either “OK” or “No you”. If the first, great, they’re done. If the second, then the first side’s rep says either “OK” or “No you”. Either way, they’re done. So that takes maybe ten minutes, including the time it takes for everybody to forget each other’s names. What’s happening the rest of the conference? Don’t you want to know too? 240 pages.

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Christmas Carol that Changed the World. How did this silly little anapestic tetrameter escape its department-store promotional origins? How did it turn into a beloved song, then beloved cartoon, then beloved song again, then beloved stop-motion animation project, and then core of the surprisingly intricate Rankin/Bass Main Continuity, and then the center of 38 known spoofs and comedic rants? It’s easy to forget that as recently as 2006 it was still pretty fresh and novel to point out that nobody can think of a single thing wrong with Clarice that would send her to the Island of Misfit Toys. This exploration gets really good for about ten pages in the late middle part where it talks about folklore being created by corporate entities, and then it turns into a lot of lists of comedy sketches that are really easy to skim through without feeling like you’re missing anything. 260 pages plus a web site with some pictures of department-store mascot costumes from before the 1989 discovery that mascot costumes did not have to be hideous.

Sand: The Hidden Story of the Grains that Built our Roads, Formed our Glasses, Timed our Days, Challenged our Ideas of What Waves Are, Taught us to Navigate, Made our Computers Think, Gave us Beach Holidays, and Changed the World. I know what you’re thinking and no, I am not thinking of Vince Beiser’s book. That’s The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilization and I am ignoring that for the third reason you would think up. 362 pages, plus a 40-page preview of the author’s next book, Bauxite: the Unpresupposing Ore that Overthrew Empires, Built Cities, Created the Modern Kitchen, Made the 20th Century, and Changed the World.

What’s funny here is you could also give any of these to my dad and he’d be happy with it too. What’s also funny here is I started out mocking my reading habits and I think I ended up writing at least two viable book pitches. Whoever publishes everything Mark Kurlasky writes, call me.

Returning To The Alarms


I’ve still been thinking about alarms we might use. Please note that these are not based on dreams, except the dream we all have of a world made perfect. By perfect I mean one where we find out there are problems and can do things that fix them.

An alarm that it is time to make something in the slow cooker. Many of us have slow cookers not being used for their primary purpose. This can be okay, since we can use them for their secondary purpose, which is to be a big heavy thing covered in slightly greasy dust that’s on top of the refrigerator or kitchen cabinets, and that somehow falls away from us whenever we try to take it down. It’s a demanding job but what else could possibly do it? The blender? The rice cooker? The jumbo-size plastic bucket from Wall Drug, a place neither we nor anyone we know has ever been?

Yes, clearly. Any of these, plus the fondue pot and the bread maker that still has some kind of crust in it from 2014, can fill the slow cooker’s secondary purpose. So we need a reminder of that, and that’s what this alarm will do. It’s not an urgent alarm, just a reminder that, hey, you could take two hands full of edible things, put them in a pot, fill the rest with water, and set it going for between three and twelve hundred hours, so why aren’t you?

An alarm that someone might put a full travel mug in their backpack or suitcase or something. This is not based on anything I’ve seen someone do. It’s just that we have a really good travel mug. It’s dishwasher-safe, for one thing. And it’s scary good at keeping things warm. It’s kept an ordinary load of coffee warm for stretches of up to eight months. We don’t know if it could do longer. We wanted to put it in the dishwasher. Anyway this doesn’t call on unusual magic. It’s just really good at forming a closed seal to hold its liquids. Now here’s where it gets alarm-worthy.

My love uses a small backpack to lug stuff around. And sometimes at the end of the day tosses the empty travel mug in there, freeing up hand slots. And this has made me realize that someone could just toss a full travel mug, coffee and all, into their backpack or suitcase or anything else holding other stuff. And move around like that! This makes my feet crawl, and not in the good ways. I mean in the ways like when I hear how in the 60s NASA sketched some plans to make a Lunar Flyer, that would just be this platform with little rockets they could set off in pulses, using the mechanic we would come to know from Flappy Bird but at the Sea of Tranquility. The idea was this way astronauts could cover a lot more ground, then crash into it. And that’s the feeling this “chuck a full travel mug into your suitcase” idea gives me. There is absolutely nothing in place to stop this from happening. We need something in place to stop this from happening.

An alarm that we’re about to over-water a plant. Obviously this isn’t needed for every plant. Christmas trees, for example, have these nice huge buckets of water and we can see whether we’re putting too much in: it spills out onto the skirt. But for other plants it’s harder. We can see that, say, the soil is pretty dry, since the cactus is smothering itself in skin lotion that isn’t helping. Watering is the obvious answer. But we start out and the water just disappears into soil that isn’t made the slightest bit less dry. As we pour in the first three gallons of water the soil somehow becomes more dry. And then suddenly one more drop and it’s too wet. The flower pot is this stew ready to be put in the slow cooker, and there’s a waterfall of mud and cactus remnants pouring out over the bookcase, across the floor, and down into the basement, sweeping away whatever’s on the floor. This is piles of magazines and back issues of the local free alt-weekly newspaper that we can’t agree whether we’ve read. This is not just obviously inefficient. It’s also inefficient in the un-obvious ways. Anyway we need an alarm to let us know we’re entering the one-24th of a second window between “needs more water” and “is overwatered” so we can stop pouring.

There are probably more things we could be alarmed about give a fair start.

A Great Alarm, From My Dreams


I had been figuring to continue my talk about alarming things. I mean alarming to me. And particularly about things alarming to a wakeful mind that’s as rational as you get around here. Then I went and slept. If we accept that dreams can be warnings of what we must face, then I’m up for something big soon.

For this dream alarm to make any sense at all I should tell you we haven’t met our new neighbors. All we know about them is that they maybe exist. We’re not sure. The house next door is a rental. Sometimes we’ve had great neighbors. Like the ones who were pointing out the adorably silly look of this kitten’s tail, and said someday they’d bring us a pie from work. Those were great neighbors, everything you could hope for. They never even did bring us pie and that’s fine. We were happy to be thought worthy of pie delivery.

But that was a long time ago, and different renters have come in, and left, a couple times over. We’re sure that the last set of renters left. We noticed them less and less, then we noticed we didn’t notice them at all, and that’s how someone leaves, right? We’re not completely sure there’s new ones there, though. The evidence for is that someone goes in and leaves lights on, and there’s sometimes a car in the driveway at some implausible hour like 4 am. The evidence against is there’s not a curtain in the entire building and we dont see furniture either. But someone’s gone raking leaves there. It has to be at least someone who knows what they want out of the place. The point is that I don’t know our neighbors, if we have them. Any interactions we’d have with them would be our first, as far as I know.

So the dream scenario starts with me in the dining room, puttering away on the computer, probably writing this essay only even later. And then looking out the back to see that something’s knocked over part of the fence. This would be very annoying to have to deal with, so I did not. At least not until I looked again later and saw the whole fence was gone. That would be a problem I couldn’t ignore, which is why I did. And before you get all smug about how you’d be more active about this let me point out that you’re a lying liar who’s lying to yourself, by whom I mean me. If someone came in and stole your backyard fence you’d do anything to not deal with that too.

Which is fine except that a couple minutes later, I saw that the neighbor’s house was gone. More, all the houses down the block were gone, replaced with what looked like the clubhouse for one of those golf courses they make retirement communities out of these days. This annoyed me since we have some pleasantly old houses in the neighborhood, getting on a hundred years now, and they might be utterly ordinary Dutch Colonial things but there’s value in having an ordinary neighborhood in kind-of respectable shape. Plus it’s ridiculous to put in a golf clubhouse without a golf course. But on most of what had been the neighbors’ driveway was now a pool.

Offisa Pupp, berating a magician: 'You and your magic! You've got all Coconino County upset making things vanish. That mouse vanishes. That brick vanishes. My jail vanishes. Even that dear Kat vanishes. Everybody vanishes. Everybody ev --- ' Pupp vanishes. The magician, rolling over to sleep: 'I'm still here.'
George Herriman’s Krazy Kat for the 16th of January, 1942, and reprinted on Comics Kingdom today, the 5th of December, 2019. I feel peculiarly called out by all this.

Recounting this makes me realize that if the neighbors’ driveway had been replaced with a pool, then there’d be no good place to put the ladder for when I change the storm windows out for screens in spring. Our houses are close together and we use the neighbor’s driveway under the well-established legal principle of “I dunno, we’ll do this in the middle of the afternoon when they’re probably at work, if they exist”. That I was not worrying about how to take the storm windows down should have warned me that I was not in my rational mind. Whatever conclusions you draw about me, as a person, from knowing that self-assessment, are correct.

Anyway I was willing to put up with the neighborhood going missing and the fence being stolen, especially with the nice fountains spraying out of the ponds. This until I felt the water spraying on my back. Now the walls of our dining room were gone and I had to say something. I knew that our neighbor was responsible, somehow, and also knew who our neighbor was, and got a bit shout-y. The neighbor tried to point out that he’d left many of the walls in our house intact. Plus now we had the benefits of a covered patio for our dining room, which didn’t satisfy me because I was thinking of the heating bill. “Where do you get the nerve to STEAL our BUILDING WALLS”, I shouted. As I remember I put in the word “building” in order to make clear I was not this upset about the fence going missing, in case someone would mistake a wooden fence for a wall. And I wanted “building’s” but couldn’t make that work.

Also, and this is a real thing that really happened for real, in reality, I was yelling loudly enough in my dream that I was also saying this in real life, waking up my love. After listening a while to find out where this was going, my love woke me up. This was disorienting, and then I realized: oh, yes. Realizing that all this was a dream answered most of my questions about the situation I was in.

Anyway, if all this is a harbinger of the relationship we’re to have with our neighbors, if and when they exist, I think we must say they are very alarming neighbors indeed. I shall have to insist on actual pie delivery before they swipe any walls.

Some Things Which Are Not Alarming


But these are things that we do need alarms for as long as I am thinking about alarms.

First, we need a warning about putting things on tables. I have to preface this with a warning. I’m going to sound like a great big hypocrite. This is because I am a great one for putting things on tables. I come from a long line of people who put things on tables. Also footstools, bookshelves, chairs, slow-moving relatives, sofas, all kinds of things. We put things on any kind of reasonably horizontal-ish surface, and then putting some more things on top of that.

Look anywhere you like on my family tree and you’ll find stacked on it three magazines we figure to read someday and maybe an orange or a disused volleyball. Something in the greater orb family. On top of that is the cardboard box something was mailed to us in years ago and kept around just in case it could be used to mail something else. It will never be so used, because by that time it’s acquired too much sentimental value to just mail out like a piece of common boxery. Also by then it’s got four possibly expired credit cards, a sandwich baggie full of loose bolts and magic markers, plus an Underdog comic book, the broken-off wrist strap from a digital camera, and a block of lucite representing no clear purpose in it.

So please understand that it is not simply putting things on the table that I think needs an alarm. It is the placing of something that could get knocked off the edge of the table, that I’d like a warning system for. And here we have a problem. My love is the normal one in our relationship. I’m the one who, within the past week, has shared the cartoon where Mister Jinks acknowledges to Pixie and Dixie that he didn’t want to be transformed into a cow but he isn’t going to raise a fuss about it. (Mister Jinks is fibbing. He’s very cross, blaming them for his turning into a cow.)

My love therefore just puts, like, a can of soda down on the table. You know, anywhere that isn’t already covered by my stack of library books and unopened letters from the ham radio people and the DVD of Automan I bought two years ago and haven’t watched yet. Me, I feel uncomfortable with a soda can anywhere too near the edge. I define too near as “within three feet of a zone that could reach the edge of the table, if someone were to take a running start from at least twenty feet away, leap up, and attempt to tackle a Mello Yello Zero”. I would like the pop cans to be kept at least 28 feet away from all edges of the table, and surrounded by that little foam padding thing they use to wipe up chemical spills. And be watched over by a protective agency. I’m thinking mouse guards, dressed as Romans but carrying pikes because that would look great. They would be fully equipped with an antigravity mechanism to move the pop out of the way in case of flying tackles.

Obviously this scheme is impractical. Being 28 feet away from the dining room table would put the soda somewhere in the attic, possibly the roof of the house, depending on which side of the table we sit at. While this would prevent spills on the floor, it could cause spills on the beach gear, insulation, or squirrels casing the joint.

So I’m already the one in the wrong about whether “setting a can of pop on the table” is an alarming scenario. But furthermore, spilling a pop on the floor is maybe the best indoor place to spill it. The only thing that’s ever on the floor is our feet, which clean well, or the socks our feet are in, which also clean well, or the pile of computer cables topped with a bag of plush dolls that I got at an amusement park that I mean to give my nieces as presents and keep forgetting to do. Spilling something too near that pile on the floor might actually make me clean that nonsense up, which would be worth it. Spilling something on the floor is a boon to housecleaning altogether.

Spilling on the table? Now that’s a mess. That we have to deal with by getting the laptop computers out of the way, and maybe tablecloths, placemats, United MileagePlus reward catalogues going back to 2016, this packet of Splenda we snagged at a Tim Horton’s in Hamilton, Ontario, last summer, and four different hard drive cases, some three of which contain working hard drives that we use for backup backups. Getting all that cleared out ahead of the wave of spilled Mello Yello Zero is stressful. We should be placing our pop nearer the table edge just to make sure it spills in productive places instead.

I meant to have more things to be alarmed by but somehow ran out of space. I apologize for the inconvenience.

And Some More Alarming Thoughts


With another week since the strange disappearance of our leaves I feel less unsettled by it. Naturally enough. The more you live with something the more you think it’s normal to live somewhere people rip off your bagged leaves. I’m worried that it’s getting me complacent, though. What’s needed are some new alarms. Obviously for leaf thieves, or as my love puts them, “leaves”. But for more things, too.

And I know you’re figuring I’m going to put up a bunch of nonsense here. No. These are all alarms to reflect real problems that real people really have in reality. I mean if I count as a real person. I’m open to arguments on the matter, but if you win, how can you possibly feel proud?

So the first is about the phone. This morning my phone told me I had voice mail. A lot of voice mail. It had a bunch of messages going back two months to when we had the phone company out to do phone things to the phone line. Also the dentist reminding me about an appointment I went to anyway. Also about three hundred messages in which a robot from account services warned my Windows was expiring but we could get the extended warranty if I pressed five now. Also something where my boss called. So, yes, it’s a good thing that I check my phone for voice mails once a year, whether I’m using it or not. But also there needs to be some way that phones send you some kind of notice about there being voice mails.

Here’s another one. The other day I needed some cellophane tape. I was using it to … you know what? I’m not sure that’s really your business. I don’t mean to insult you. I just don’t know how much of my business I want the world to know. Anyway, I needed some cellophane tape and there was none in the house. I know tape was brought into the house. I would bring it myself. It’s not here, though, not when there’s things to be taped. What’s needed is an alarm that we are almost out of tape and therefore should do something about that. We could either get more tape or commit to getting fewer things that need tape. That’s hard given how Christmas is coming up. I suppose we’d have to switch how we wrap things up. Maybe staple the wrapping paper on. That’ll work out fine for me giving calendars to everybody I know. It’ll be less good in case someone is trying to give me, oh, a soap bubble. So maybe this is not practical. Anyway I handled this by going to the store and buying — here I am not exaggerating — ten rolls of cellophane tape. I have put one in every room where we might need to tape a thing to another thing or itself. I cannot find any of them.

While we’re at getting alarms where we need them, we should do some alarm-balancing. We have two kitchens in the oven, one a microwave and the other a real one. When we set the timer on the real oven we get this kind of alarm:

“[ whispering ] (bing.) Oh, well, that’s done. I suppose if no one comes check on me I’ll just sit here pouring 450 degrees into the curly fries until something burns down then.”

Whereas the microwave oven alarm has this level:

“BEEP! BEEEEEEEP! BEEEEEEEP! HEY! HEY HEY HEY! DO YOU PEOPLE NOT REALIZE! THERE IS A MUG OF TEA SITTING IN HERE! AND IT’S BEEN TURNING LUKEWARM FOR A WHOLE [ checks notes ] EIGHTEEN SECONDS! BEEEP, DARN YOU! BEEEEEEP! IS! NOBODY! GOING! TO! DO! ANY! THING! ABOUT! THIS!? BEEEEEEEEEEEEP!

I’d like to balance these two out a little bit if we could.

Also I have to admit telling a fib there. I almost never let a mug of tea get lukewarm enough to put in the microwave. Coffee, yes, but not tea. I hope you don’t think worse of me for that.

In Which I Am Alarmed By My Neighborhood


I do not have pictures of this year’s leaf harvest for reasons that will soon be obvious. It’s not the most obvious thing: we did have a bunch of leaves. Start anywhere in our yard and walk eight feet in any direction. This will neatly faceplant you into a maple tree. Not the kind of maple tree that makes syrup you can use. I mean use as syrup.

But what normally happens come autum is all these leaves fall. They gather on the lawn and attract more leaves. I had plans to do something about this. I figured to run the leaves over with the lawn mower. I mean while the lawn mower is still mowing. This way I turn an unmanageable heap of leaves into an unmanageable heap of leaf chunks. But I never got around to it. This wasn’t my fault. Like, there was a lot of rain and you can’t go mowing down wet leaves. That leaves you with wet leaf chunks. How are you supposed to get anything done like that?

Then this guy knocked. I mean on the door. Our door. He was holding a bunch of paper leaf bags, and he had two rakes bundled against his back, held to him by his jacket. He asked if I wanted the leaves raked. And, here, I thought hard about this question. I mean, on the one hand, I could avoid spending hours puttering around the yard, cursing my inability to wear gloves in that way where my hands feel less cold, raking stuff up into two fewer leaf bags than we need for the job, and freeing up my weekend to do fun things instead. On the other hand, to say yes I’d have to talk to a person.

Well, I took the risk and let him go at the leaves. He really knew what he was doing, too, working swiftly and efficiently. I guess if you do a lot of yard-to-yard leaf raking you really pick things up. At least once you have a good rake. He probably had good tools. He seemed to know what he was doing. In maybe an hour the yard was cleared of leaves and we had five neat bags of lawn stuff, sitting on the extension, waiting to be picked up. Yes, he’d taken the rakes out of his jacket and used them like normal.

So, Sunday, we were out doing fun things and not worrying about the leaves. I admit even if we stayed home we wouldn’t have been worrying about the leaves. But while we were out, all our bagged leaves disappeared. They hadn’t gone getting scattered back on the lawn or anything. They were just off to wherever bagged leaves go.

Which is great but then how? The first explanation is that the city came and picked them up. But the city picks up leaves on Tuesday. Maybe Wednesday if they were quite busy on Tuesday. Maybe Thursday if they were quite busy on Tuesday and found Wednesday was a day they just could not. I could see also some eager types collecting leaves on Monday, before everyone’s set their leaves out, and so getting it done more quickly. But a Sunday? Who’s doing leaf work on a Sunday?

But the other explanation makes even less sense. Who would just go up to our lawn and take leaves? I know our neighborhood. You can’t get people to take a coffee table that’s in fair shape off your lawn. Who would take bags of leaves? If they’re hoping to take them to the store and get the deposit back on the leaves good luck. The machines at the front of Meijer’s take forever to handle even clean, dry leaves. Wet bagged leaves? It’s just not worth it.

So if they didn’t take the leaves for the deposit, then we have to suppose they just took the leaves to take them. It’s a somber thought to imagine we live in a place plagued with leaf thieves. But then my love pointed out you could call them “leaf thieves, or for short, leaves”. That’s made me smile about every 35 minutes nonstop since we discovered the leaves back on Sunday, and it isn’t showing any sign of losing its power. So it’s not all bad. It’s just peculiar is all.

Some Alarming News


I don’t mean to alarm everyone. But there have been an alarming number of alarms here lately. In fact, as I write this, I hear one that’s completely new. It sounds — oh, there, it’s just stopped. Well, it sounded like someone was running a vacuum cleaner that has just inhaled a throw rug. Whatever that means can’t be good. My guess it is it means the dogs nearby aren’t nervous enough.

Anyway that’s just the latest strange and alarming-like noise here. Another one only stands out when I go outside. This is … well, it sounds like a smoke detector complaining about a low battery. This is a more successful alarm than that vacuum cleaner that’s swallowed the throw rug, which is back, by the way. It’s not just more unsettling because the smoke alarm’s been going on a week now. The smoke alarm is unsettling because it implies there’s some house on the block where it’s always 4:30 am. This seems improbable. If it’s always 4:30 am in there how do its residents know when to oversleep for work? But more, how am I hearing the smoke alarm from some other house? It can’t be the neighbors. I know them, kind of, and they’d absolutely have replaced the batteries or smashed the smoke alarm with a sledge hammer by now. But what other house could possibly be near enough to hear? Unless all their windows were open, and they had set up a megaphone right by the smoke alarm and aimed it right at our driveway?

But what other explanation makes sense? Could someone have set a smoke alarm in the park at the end of the block? This would be great, since the local squirrels and raccoons need some warning of brush fires. The skunks do too, but they need something less alarming, for the obvious reason. The local skunks have been very alarmed by many things all summer and fall, I infer. We don’t need to add to that.

Anyway — there’s that vacuum cleaner again — there’s a bunch of alarms in the area. Like, this past Saturday they did the usual monthly tornado siren test. My area of Michigan, despite being in the Midwest, doesn’t actually get that many tornadoes. It gets tornadoes about as often as my old area, New Jersey, does. And New Jersey doesn’t get tornadoes. When I grew up we only ever heard about tornadoes touching down in warehouse districts of Brooklyn. These days, tornadoes have been entirely priced out of Brooklyn. Where are they even going to go, Staten Island? So the point is we don’t really need a tornado siren in Lansing, Michigan. One Halloween they tried using the torando siren to announce the official start and end of trick-or-treating hours. The catch is that year it was so rainy, and windy, and turbulent that everyone figured we were getting a tornado, so everybody stayed home, confused. This foiled our plan to get a good reputation by giving out full-size peanut butter cups.

And then this Tuesday they tested a different alarm. This is one they’ve set up to warn people that the dam has broken. Also that there’s a dam which, if broken, could be a problem. We’re near a river, but not the one that’s got a dam so far as anyone has told us about. But we are near enough that other river that I could hear the siren. It was this kind of quick, rising tone, with silent intervals, sounding like someone was trying to hurry through the tornado siren and made a mistake and had to start over again.

After like thirty seconds of that, the siren gives way to a prerecorded announcement. Here, this booming voice gives people the useful emergency information: I don’t know. We’re far enough from the river that by the time the sound reaches us, it all sounds like Charlie Brown’s French teacher. So, if the dam does break, I’ll have to follow the instruction of “le hrronk, la bwooonk-wa-wa-honk et les nous hawrooronkarronk sur ta plume”.

I think that vacuum cleaner has digested the throw rug, so whatever problem that is has cleared up. I know I feel more secure now.

Some Kinds Of Jack-O-Lantern, With Such Warnings As Apply


Jack O’Lantern. The original and still classic. Carved by anyone who’s suspiciously vague about how they acquired a pumpkin.

Jack O’Lateen. Tall, triangular net of pumpkins mounted to the patio or house by a long yard, running fore-and-aft. Popular with coastal trick-or-treaters and people confident that their houses have little need to tack.

Jackal O’Lantern. Pumpkins carved by, or for use at events organized for, the local jackal community. Also welcome are hyenas, wolverines, and (per the famous 1712 Act of Parliament) “such badgers as are haveing a rotten daye ande do not wish to tallke aboutt-itt”. Honey badgers are customarily accepted, but this is a house rule, and should not be assumed.

Jonathan-O-Lantern. Jack’s grandfather, who’s swell and all but just a little bit formal in the way nobody has been since wearing hats stopped being a default.

Jake O’Lantern. Pumpkins which mean well but which are repeating jokes about Jake From State Farm or any other insurance-company commercial. Which is all fine except that you got it right away, and were a little amused, but they’re going to keep asking if you get it until you insist you’re riotously amused. Be ready for the trick: if you concede that you’re riotously amused for the sake of getting on with things, they will get smug about how they’re just that clever.

Jock-O-Lantern. Sports-themed pumpkin ready for a good workout session and good-spirited about it. Warning: is somehow sincerely disappointed that they never made that Hans and Franz movie.

Cyberlantern. The hardcore 1990s Internet-capable carving of a pumpkin. Features a device that, when you run it over a bar code printed in a Radio Shack catalogue, will take you to Radio Shack’s web site for that thing! Also if you want to watch a video, you can spend three hours downloading an update to something called a “codec” and then another two hours of downloading the video, which will let you see a postage stamp-sized frame of a movie, with ten short green horizontal lines on the picture, and then crash.

Jack-O-Lectern. Extremely worrying configuration of pumpkins in which they grow into something that a person urgently warning you about the Pagan Origins of Halloween stands behind.

Jeckle-Lantern. One of a pair of cartoon magpie pumpkins, possibly the one with the British accent. Maybe the Brooklyn one. Really fun to remember although if you go and actually pay attention you realize it’s mostly all right, really.

Jack-O-Lectern II. Further worrying configuration of pumpkins in which they grow into something that a person enthusiastically explains to you the Pagan Origins of Halloween stands behind.

Jack-y-Lantern. Carved in the style of that feminist newspaper that you could never figure out the publishing schedule of back in college. And that, you know, you took as being kind of flakes back in the day, but you’ve come to realize were right on all their major points about sexism and racism and ecological problems and the structures of companies and government and all that. And you’re starting to wonder if they had something about how it’s weird on Star Trek: The Next Generation people talked consistently about, like, Commander Riker and Mister Data and Counsellor Troi, but called the chief engineer just “Geordi”.

Jack-o-Lasers. Multiple thinly carved layers of internal shell allow this kind of carved pumpkin to amplify a single candle flame to the point it’s visible from the Moon. Or so they tell us, confident that we aren’t going up to the Moon to check these days.

Jack-O-Lectern III. An Internet-generated hoax. There is nothing you need do about this except shake your head at the folly of people who are not you, the lone person who never falls for dumb stuff.

Pterodactyl-Lantern. Great prehistoric flying pumpkins and they’re maybe even moving in packs! Flee to shelter!

Jack-O-Lectern IV. The most alarming possible configuration of pumpkins, in which they grow into something that a humorless STEM-type man debunking the Pagan Origins of Halloween stands behind.

Jack-O-Lanyard. A necklace-sized miniature lighted pumpkin perfect for going about to your work doing some tech stuff that nobody actually wants, but all the guys wear khakis and sometimes the group eats at Chili’s.

The Phony Menace


We have a land-line telephone because shut up is why, all right? I’m sorry, that sounds a little defensive. It’s just that we do have a land-line telephone. And that gets us a lot of guff. You know how much guff you should be getting, like, on a daily basis? We get something like 15 percent more guff than we should because of this phone. This doesn’t sound like much, and maybe it isn’t. But we get it consistently, and it’s just too much. And ours is a small family, even with the rabbit. We don’t use the stuff up fast enough. We’ve run out of cabinet space and the breakfast nook is a fright with all this guff. We have run out of places to put the guff excess to requirements. Anyway, I’m sorry to lash out like this but at least it gets a little bit of guff out of our way.

Well. If you will let us have our land-line phone I can get on with this story. The problem is that our land-line phone stopped working and shut up we can too tell, all right? Look, we use it all the time to get messages from coworkers who don’t understand why they can’t text that number. Or scammers promising they’re from Windows and here to help. Oh, the fun I had that one time I pretended I thought the guy was talking about the things that let us look outside and disapprove of the neighbors. I kept thanking him for his thoughtfulness but telling him they seemed to be just fine, if a little dirty. He needed about twenty minutes before catching on, at which point he cursed me out and hung up before I could say, hey, you called me. A couple months later he called back, recognized my voice, and hung up.

Anyway, the phone broke, not calling out or in or doing anything but giving us a low, annoying buzz when we picked up the receiver. I figured the phone died, since it’s this cheap plastic thing about the weight of a child’s toy and seems really easy to break. Replacing that was annoying, because buying a new phone makes me think of this commercial NYNEX had in the mid-80s, people throwing garbage phones out the window to a tune that went “Second-class phones, they’re making/ Second-class phones, they’re breaking”, and it was only decades later I learned they were just using Grant Clarke and James Hanley’s 1921 Fanny Brice hit “Second Hand Rose”. If you have the faintest idea why this bothers me, please give it to me. I have too much guff and not any explanations for this one.

The new phone had the same problem, so it turned out it was our phone line. So Friday we called The Phone Company on a cell phone to report the problem. There, I couldn’t think of what our land-line number was so I hung up because that was easier than fixing that problem. On the second try I got our number right and they promised to have the problem fixed the next time they had a technician in the vicinity of 1996.

Sunday, our phone line was working again, which we discovered when someone wanted to fix Windows for us. Cool. Then on Tuesday The Phone Company sent someone out to fuss around the phone lines leading to our house, and finished up by saying the phone should be working fine now. I thanked him and didn’t say anything about how it had been working for two days already, since I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. You never know when we’ll need The Phone Company guy to like us again.

So all this would just be ordinary little mysteries of life. Except last night about midnight someone with a slightly rusty pickup truck knocked on our door and waited a while. We didn’t answer, of course, because there’s nothing legitimate going on that has someone driving a slightly rusty pickup truck to our house at midnight on a Wednesday-to-Thursday. I’m maybe 80% sure it isn’t The Phone Company guy come out to fix our line again.

Oh, but that pickup bed. You don’t suppose they sent someone to haul away some of our unneeded guff, do you? I’m going to feel like a fool if we missed our chance to get rid of some of this. Well, there’s maybe a 40% chance that The Phone Company guy is just going to keep reappearing in our lives to fix a phone line that’s already working again. I’ll have my chances.

How To Clean The Window, Or Why


Eventually many people figure they ought to clean the windows. Many of us are people. Therefore we conclude that many of us are people putting off cleaning the windows. We can justify this. Time we spend not cleaning the windows is time we spend on higher-priority tasks like not dusting the shelves or not sweeping the stairs. But let’s save the procrastination for later, when it will be more fresh.

When is a bad time to clean the window? Well, the middle of the night, obviously. You’ll just alarm the neighbors if you do it then. The middle of the night is for lying awake cursing out every decision you’ve made, unless that should be laying. At one point I was sure which one to use. Now I’m too tired to remember or check. I blame giving in to temptation and washing off the mirror at 4:35 this morning. I should have been thinking about that e-mail I ignored a year ago August.

It’s also bad to clean a window that’s already clean. You insult the legacy of window-cleaners if you try. You can tell a window is clean if a silent comedy-movie star like Harold Lloyd wipes a handkerchief on the window, gives you a puckish smile, and then steps through the window which was not actually there. This may seem a difficult test to apply. “What if my house is old enough the windows are divided by those charming little wooden slats, the grunions or something they’re called?” is a reasonable question. Those little slats dividing your window into many littler windows is called a munyun or something. But if your window is divided like that, you need to test with a smaller comedy-movie star, like maybe Ben Turpin.

So let’s suppose you have a dirty window and it is a good time to clean. Now is not the time to wonder how it got dirty. Like, who’s going around doing things to dirty it? Is it the cat going up to the window and licking it? What cat? Who entered a cat into the discussion here? Maybe it was a roommate licking the window? Maybe it’s the solar wind. There’s no way of knowing. The answer is probably just horrible.

Water is a great tool for cleaning windows. Water’s like that. It gets a bit smug about how it’s great for cleaning all kinds of things. Just deal with it. Anyway this explains why the cleanest of all possible windows are in aquariums. They’re surrounded by water, on one side at least, and so constantly wash off the mess made by licking fish. But there are problems in converting your house to be an aquarium. It’s very inconvenient to have newspapers or sandwiches. Newspapers we can replace with online sources, if we only read two articles each month. Sandwiches are harder to do without, unless you get that extremely dry, crust-heavy bread. Maybe try making your house into an aquarium only after lunch.

If your water seems to smug to deal with then use some glass cleaner. This is made with ammonia, which is a different language from water so you can pretend you don’t know that it’s smug too. Just smear the cleaner on and then smear the cleaner off and somehow you’ve left something cleaner behind. This seems like a logic puzzle. The answer is “man”.

The question is what to smear the cleaner with. At one time we used newspapers, because we were told newspapers were very good at this, by the newspapers. Unfortunately the shrinking size and frequency of newspapers means we can’t use them to clean windows. There’s not enough paper and what there is costs like $27.25. So we might use paper towels instead, which have more boring crossword puzzles. If you’d rather use a non-paper towel, go ahead. I recommend something made of a cloth, as towels made of wood bark or stones make a terrible racket.

Once you’ve finished cleaning the windows, stop, and try not to go back around to starting again. It would be very embarrassing to clean a window so diligently that it was all gone, as this leaves you with a large expanse of blank wall that needs some kind of decoration. Maybe a picture of what’s on the other side of the wall. Something that’s easy to clean, anyway.

Selections from the October Catalogue


Emotion-Sensitive Switches. It’s fine having the lights come on or go out depending on whether the room is moving. But what if you want the lights to stay on even when you’re just puttering around in place? Or you want the lights to go out because it’s really important to be sneaking up on the cat? Emotion-Sensitive Switches allow for electric control tuned to various moods, including: cheer, frustration, the nagging sensation you left the car trunk open, overwhelmedness, feeling just how much butter is “too much” butter, and the joy of finding a twenty-dollar bill you forgot existed.

Contact Information. If we know anything about the recent system update, it’s that it has made something worse. Not a major thing. Some tiny, little thing you didn’t even realize used to happen until now it doesn’t. Somebody decided to change that. Someone broke that. For a reasonable fee, you can find out who! And how to get in touch with them! And when to show up at their home to get an explanation. (Author’s note: I’ve already ordered this, selecting for me the person who decided that when I paste a URL in Safari’s address bar and hit return, the web browser reloads the previous page and deletes the URL I just posted in. That’s such an innovative way to just screw things up!)

Dog Flume Ride. This exciting amusement park ride comes home to you, in form convenient to assemble requiring no more than ordinary personal welding equipment. It’s worth it as you settle into the car, float your way forward to the lift hill, and at the top are set upon by a pack of enthusiastic Labrador retrievers and licked all over. Also available in golden retriever, water spaniel, mastiff, were-poodle, and non-vampire beagle.

New Roman Numerals. The Roman system of using popular letters for numbers and having rules about adding and maybe sometimes subtracting them was fun, but it doesn’t begin to handle all the complexities of mathematics since the discovery of multiple-entry bookkeeping. With highly original numerals we can handle digits the Romans never dreamed of, like 75,000, as well as negative numbers, decimals, and transfinite quantities. Finally the Praetor can work on his MA!

Inaccurate Lyrics. What’s more annoying than finding a tune stuck in your head? Not being able to get it out, certainly, but another annoying thing is not knowing what the lyrics to your song are. This leaves an unresolved, semi-complete tune wending its way hopelessly through your mind drowning out all thought. Thus the solution: given the tune, get lyrics that have nothing to do with the original song but will surely match well enough that you can’t get the tune or the new lyrics out again. This will help you more rapidly go mad. It’s also a particularly efficient way to lose the friendship of people who really know and love the song.

Special, Improved Hours. Nobody gets enough sleep anymore, not since the exciting example set by Napoleon Bonaparte, for whom it got him exiled to a desolate island in the South Atlantic Ocean. If you want to avoid that fate you’ll need to cut back your policy of invading every European nation real and imaginary, yes, but you’ll also need more time to sleep. Yet it’s almost impossible to find more hours for sleeping. The solution? Hours with more minutes in them. You may only be able to sleep from 1 am to 6 am, but if each of those hours has upwards of a hundred minutes in it, isn’t that just as good as sleeping over eight hours a day? Sure it is. Don’t worry about what happens to the seconds. Warning: do not get up in the middle of the night to pee.

Self-Propelled Halloween Countdown Calendar. It’s great tracking how long we have until Halloween sets in. But isn’t it better to have the holiday track itself down? Thus this calendar, which will zip around the house letting you know how many days it is until the end of October. Go ahead and try to catch it! Also available in Thanksgiving, Easter, and New Jersey Big Sea Day editions.

The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage Five


Stage one. Before the trip.
Stage two. Getting started.
Stage three. Seeing malls and sheep.
Stage four. Trying to remember things.


OK, but is this the sheep district of the country or what because this is getting to be far too many sheep.

Dan tried to get away without calling it “Diet Pupsi” and couldn’t. But he did realize that over this trip everyone had tried, one time or other, just saying the name of it right. The implication is that everybody’s ready to let this in-joke go, but nobody wants to be the one to say it. Dan resolves to bring this up at a good moment, but hopes so very much that someone else brings it up first.

Sophie starts the practice of deliberately misreading the highway signs now. Taking “Williamsport” as the game of Williams promises some great fun, but all it really leads to is stories of times their satellite navigator had no idea how to pronounce a street name. “Malcolm the Tenth Street” is judged the best of those. There’s just not enough good towns in the area, though.

It seemed like this should be a good way to pass a few miles. But sharing the most important thing in their lives that they’ve given up correcting their parents about? Like, where it’s just too much effort to explain what’s really going on, and it’s easier to let them go about being wrong and correct people whom their parents in turn mislead? Yeah, so it turns out that for everybody it’s just “exactly what it is we do for work”. That’s weird itself. Like, you’d think for someone it would be a relationship or some important aspect of their personality or something. No, though. It’s just what everyone does in exchange for money. This seems like it says something important about modern society, but who knows?

All right, but that is definitely a two-story strip mall, putting to rest an earlier squabble.

Josh is irrationally offended by the name of the Creekside Inn Hotel, citing “redundancy”. His status is not helped when it turns out to be near the Riverfront Cemetery Memorial Park.

The historical marker turned out to be a surprisingly good stop. It’s just a note that this town was somehow too small for Lincoln’s Funeral Train to stop at, but they have this amazing picture of the train just going through town. It’s not a very good picture but for an action scene in 1865? That’s pretty amazing anyway. But the real question is how everything in town is covered in black crepe. Where did that all come from? The town isn’t anything today, and back then? It was so nothing it couldn’t even get the funeral train to stop. Why would they even have enough crepe to shroud all downtown? Or if they didn’t, where did they get it? Did they have enormous quantities of regular crepe and just dye it black all of a sudden? Amanda’s joke that maybe it was crepe of all colors and it just looks black is judged to be “too soon”. But that doesn’t answer the real question.

It’s become so tiring to read all the highway signs that the town or towns of Portage Munster are passed without comment.

Now it’s time for the search for a place to have dinner. This is a complex triangulation of where they are, how fast they’re going somewhere, and what towns of any size are going to be anywhere near dinnertime. The objective: find someplace genuinely local to go. And after fifteen minutes of searching, success! It’s a well-reviewed barcade and they even have a menu online with four vegetarian-friendly options, plus great heaping piles of fried things. And it’s been open since like 1938. It is closed today, and tomorrow, for the only two days it’s set to be closed between Easter and Thanksgiving this year.

By now the group has gotten past making up redundantly-named landmarks and is annoying Josh with oxymoronic names.

At least everyone can agree: after all this time driving, we’re all walking like badly-rigged video game models. This is what’s so good about taking a road trip. You get to enjoy everything in new and different ways.

The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage Four


Stage one. Before the trip.
Stage two. Getting started.
Stage three. Seeing malls and sheep.


No, Dan, we are not stopping the car already just because you’re not sure you packed your toothbrush. It can wait. Yes, well, you know where it’s possible to get a toothbrush any time, day or night? Only in every store ever, including freaking Best Buy if you really need.

Sophia explains how you can just ask the front desk at the hotel for a toothbrush. Amanda and Dan insist they just will never have one. Josh says he’s read about how they will, it’s just nobody ever thinks to ask. Sophia insists that they may or may not, it depends on the hotel. All are willing to grant that it doesn’t hurt to ask. Then Josh explains about the time he did ask, and the “toothbrush” they had was just weird. Like, it was this credit-card-size flat thing that unfolded a tiny bit, and it had like eight bristles, and he probably would have been better brushing his teeth with his finger.

The discussion leads naturally to kind of bragging about the biggest glob of toothpaste everyone’s eaten. Also the discovery that Amanda is afraid of swallowing toothpaste because it turns out this is on the boxes? This is fun enough that everyone registers they just passed a funny city-destinations sign but can’t remember what was funny about it.

The party’s definitely travelled a good distance now. It’s not just the third-tier but the second-tier fast-food restaurants that they don’t have back home.

Amanda finds it very significant that this town’s Cheese House specialty cheese shop mascot is very much a ripoff of forgotten Famous Studios cartoon mouse Herman or Katnip, whichever one of them was the mouse. Probably Herman. That would be the less obscure joke to make in naming them. Anyway this is very important to Amanda and she’s not going to let it go until everyone agrees this is an important revelation.

All right, so Dan tosses this out: what if a place like the Outback Steakhouse, only instead of theoretically being Australian, it’s Scottish themed? Nobody actually knows offhand what Scottish food is. “Fried … bladders or something?” offers Josh, who admits he’s maybe thinking of what bagpipes were made of. Not the fried part. But that doesn’t matter. You could serve anything. Just put some fun stuff on the walls.

This feeds into the discovery that Amanda had been to the town where Andy Capp was from. Like, the comic strip Andy Capp. Also that it’s based on a real actual town. There’s a statue of him there and everything, a claim that threatens to be laughed at for miles except that they find pictures of it. With her newfound expertise the party is willing to accept Amanda’s claim that “Andy Capp” is supposed to be a pun on the word “handicap”. She blows it completely when she tries to claim that English newspapers don’t run Fred Basset on Sundays and those strips are made just for the American readers.

OK, but you can agree where it would be correct structuring of a joke if the mouse were named Katnip, right?

Everyone over-plans the next gas station stop. They’re trying to figure how to look casual while timing Dan to see how long he needs to remember to check his toothbrush. Everyone’s disappointed he remembers almost right away, before even going in to the bathroom. He does have his toothbrush, although it’s in the wrong plastic bag. The gas station chains are all weird around here too, although they take the same customer-loyalty card. This is disappointing.

Everyone agrees there is no satisfactory reason why these nachos should be soggy.

Josh finally explains that phone number on the no-longer-sticky note in his glove compartment: he doesn’t know what it is. But it looks a lot like his writing. It must be too important to throw away or else why would he have put it there? Could he call the number and find out who it is? No, absolutely not under any circumstances.

You expect to discover new places when you road trip. You don’t expect to find out how all your friends are freaks.

The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage Three


Stage one. Before the trip.
Stage two. Getting started.


It’s still a lot of fun reading the names of the streets off the overpasses. “Fangboner Road” alone threatens to keep the gang giggling for hours. “Preventorium Road” inspires everyone to toss out out their ideas of what this could even mean. This goes on for so long and for such a merry time that by the time anyone can think to look it up they can’t remember what exactly the road name was. They know it wasn’t Vomitorium Road, but that’s as far as the consensus will reach. Amanda’s claim of knowing a “Squankum” are shaken off. It feels like a bad laugh although they’re not sure exactly why.

The fourth great field of sheep is not so much fun as the first. Dan insists the problem is the sheep aren’t trying to be interesting. Sophia asserts that few things would be worse than sheep that compel your interest. The menace of the hypnosheep masters keeps the group’s spirits up for the next two fields of sheep before they sink beneath all possible commentary.

Is that a strip mall with two yoga centers? Josh says it’s three, but he’s definitely mis-reading tea room as a yoga center. Right? We mean it’s one of those tea rooms too fancy to be comfortable. Well, there’s definitely at least two. Maybe this is just the yoga center district of town?

Well, this is a restaurant. All right, it’s not a vegetarian-friendly restaurant. It seems determined to put meat into things that don’t even need it. There’s a high-pressure gun in the kitchen. It injects chicken and processed lobster food product into everything. “We just want some garlic toast,” beg Josh and Amanda. “We don’t need animals to have died for the cause!” The restaurant tries to cope with the concept of someone who wants the tomato soup that hasn’t had a fist-sized chunk of pig flesh ripped off and unked into it. But the effort fails. There’s a mishap in the kitchen, and it sprays chicken cutlets, which are dug out even of the glove box up to three months later. At least that’s how the story goes. Really it’s more that the waitstaff has to come back to apologize that they don’t have a second black-bean burger patty, would a portobello mushroom be all right? And it really wouldn’t, but Josh would take it to not cause trouble for people who have to deal with much worse customers. It’s all right, since it turns out they don’t have portobello either. He gets a plate of melted butter with a scoop of mashed potatoes. Later he tries to insist that mashed potatoes would be a good substitute for the burger patty, earning him so much grief.

That’s a weird bunch of sheep but nobody wants to reopen the subject.

All right but serious talk. Or anyway, comparing the bathroom stuff that different hotels give you. Everyone takes turns asserting they’ve seen the most preposterous blend of things. Sophia claims to have been at a long-term hotel once that had a single tube which claimed to be soap, skin lotion, shampoo, hair conditioner, toothpaste, mouthwash, energy drink, makeup remover, transparent nail polish, shoe polish, stain remover, windshield fluid, transmission fluid, and fish ick treatment. Two miles later she says she thinks she went on too long for the laugh she could possibly get. Dan says that a combination mouthwash and energy drink is a great idea and she should patent that. Amanda questions whether you could patent … what, coffee with way too much mint? This allows everyone to learn a little bit more about each other, as they say what kinds of things they can or can’t eat right after brushing their teeth. This causes everyone to realize their friends are daft. This is worse than when they learned what podcasts everyone else listened to.

All right but is that a two-story strip mall? Is it possible to be a strip mall if it has got a second story? Yeah, we know about that strip mall with the two-story Borders that used to be there, but that was just the one place. If the mall has a second floor with different shops upstairs isn’t that … well, we clearly don’t have the words for this concept. What is it and how many yoga centers can it have?

The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage Two


Stage One. Before the trip.


The gang is ready to set off. It’s going to be a long trip. Maybe the longest they’ve ever made. Maybe the longest there ever will be. Anyway it’s at least two hours longer than the last one the group’s managed. Dan is not saying that if he were in charge he would set up a definite rotation for driving. He’s just saying that a definite rotation for driving would be good. After the third iteration of this Sophia answers that if they rotate too much they’ll end up right back where they started. Amanda has the bad luck to mention 180 degrees in this. This brings lively but unproductive talk about the differences between 180 degree, 360 degree, and 720 degree turns. Dan attempts to propose a 270 degree turn just to lighten the subject.

Still, better if we set out sooner rather than later. No, sooner than that. Maybe a bit earlier than that. After three different chat rooms have settled on five different start times Dan proposes that everyone set out the night before and meet up at the park-and-ride twenty minutes out of everywhere. He’s being facetious, everyone tells themselves.

The compromise is to move the start time 90 minutes earlier. The morning of the start everyone is running about an hour late, so they agree to just start 30 minutes ahead of the original start time. Then somehow just getting everything in the trunk and one last trip to the bathroom takes 75 minutes. Josh insists that by starting 45 minutes late they’re running ahead of schedule. Dan is not convinced by this. It will be until the state welcome center before the topic has been debated enough that everyone lets it drop.

The seat belts are locking up. Just the ones in back. They do that. There’s a trick to it. You have to sit so you’re facing forward. No, not that forward. Dan, just … no, you need to … there, see? Now it’s pulling out. All right, now it’s locked up. Maybe you should get out and get back in the car the correct way this time. No, the other correct way. Look, both feet on the floor, that’s the first thing you need. Now face forward. Not that much forward. All right, why don’t you try the other side? That’s right. Now sit facing forward. Not that much forward. Don’t pull the seat belt out that fast. All right, let it out and back again. Not that slow. You want to go medium speed. More medium than that. Not that … look, this is before your turn but why don’t you try the front seat? Oh good grief. All right, let’s try where you started again. Right. You know most of us can use a seat belt. Yes, try facing forward. Not that forward.

Fine, we just won’t crash the car this time.

There is a great sense of thrill and delight at finally being off. And then stopping again because Sophia needs to stop at the convenience store ATM for some overpriced money. Dan does too. Also Josh. Amanda doesn’t need any but, you know, it wouldn’t hurt to get some Combos. This turns into getting sour cream doughnuts instead. And then there is great thrill at being off again.

There is also great thrill at seeing the trip’s first group of sheep. Who knew there were sheep and they were just standing there, tending sheep tasks, off on the side of the road, just like that was a normal thing? So, sheep. Yeah.

This is the time when everyone learns their friends have the worst taste in podcasts. Josh is partial to three guys laughing at each other, with occasional guest hosts. Dan prefers one guy trying to remember all the things he wrote down in the notes he doesn’t have. Sophia likes one person interviewing three people about something she never heard of before and will never hear about again. Amanda likes hyperbolic descriptions of movies and TV shows she never really watched, they were just on. Sometimes two or three can find a podcast that satisfies them, but there is no hope of all four enjoying what they’re listening to. The shows keep getting interrupted for explanations of the in-jokes that don’t need explanation.

It’s pointed out that if the trip doesn’t ultimately have a 360 degree turn then they can’t ever get home again.