Robert Benchley: Blank Form To Be Handed To Returning Tourists


The Robert Benchley Society is a group devoted to the fandom of, well, it’s right there on the label. A little while ago, and I am late in catching up to them — I was interested in this year’s Benchley Society humor contest, but they don’t seem to have any announcements about it yet — they found a short piece that Benchley had written for Franklin P Adams’s “The Conning Tower” column in The New York Tribune. It ran on the 9th of September, 1914, and gives a quick glimpse into the early days of the Great War and what people who had friends coming back from Europe kept hearing about, and pretty efficiently captures a moment and a scene that rarely gets mentioned in histories. The Society’s article on this includes a scan of the original text, although it just looks like the sort of reproduced ancient newspaper microfilm you always see in this sort of thing.


Blank Form To Be Handed to Returning Tourists

Please fill in blanks and return with photograph showing yourself with mouth open.

The first inkling I had of the war was in _____. I was with my _____ (and my _____) at the time, and we had just come from a delightful trip through _____. One evening, the _____th of _____, we heard _____ and I said to our _____friend–, “_____?” He replied: “_____!” Immediately the streets were thronged with enthusiastic _____, all singing “_____.” We had time only to get our _____ and stand _____ hours in the station for the train to _____. We were grossly insulted on the border by a _____ who insisted on _____. On reaching _____ we had to stand like cattle before the _____ left for _____. I tell you, the old Statue of Liberty looked pretty good to me. I don’t know, of course, but take it from me, the war won’t be over until one side is victorious and that won’t be for _____.

R. C. B.

Can’t Stop The Beat


So we got the band back together for our first rehearsal, and that went pretty smoothly. I’m really sure I’ve never met any of these guys. They looked at me with the sort of natural, easygoing acceptance you give to a deer that’s in your laundry room. I don’t think they know each other either.

Besides me on the training violin (it still has wheels) we have one guy with a pair of sticks (not drumsticks, just the kind of sticks you might find in the woods ready to poke people with), one guy with a sheaf of ISO 9000 documentation paperwork (according to the label), another with a long-running quarrel with lyrics web sites about how they’re the most awful web sites in the universe (they are), a bazooka (the other kind), and a bass guitar. The guitar isn’t any of ours. It just appeared there, staring, accusingly, possibly warning us that Terpsichore is not happy with us. This is unsettling since it’s so rare that an ancient Greek god would be offended by something humans were up to. Maybe we shouldn’t have mixed her up with Euterpe.

We tried optimistically to play The Beatles’ “Getting Better”, and soon found that we never actually noticed the lyrics before. We’ve had to consign that to the pile of Peppy Beatles Tunes With Lyrics That Actually Horrify You, alongside “Run For Your Life”, “A Day In The Life”, and every other song the Beatles ever recorded except “Twist and Shout” and the theme to “What’s Happening”. (It was a private session.) Actually most of the day was spent on paperwork. Should be a concert for the ages. Still no idea who I’m playing with.

Cheesey Developments


Some good news out of the cooking world: the two-piece rotary cheese grater has been rated the most kitchen-y implement of them all, for the seventh year running. According to an article I read on the subject, you can’t even pick it up without feeling like you’re a master of the cooking arts, even if you aren’t doing so well remembering how to get the little box-like end folded over the cylindrical part and the plate that pushes down into the box and aaargh.

Winner of the title “least kitchen-y implement” this year is the lawn roller, which dethroned longtime favorite, the offended scowl.

Giants of the Colonial Era


I’ve been reading Reporting the Revolutionary War, by Tod Andrlik, reprinting newspapers, Colonial and British, when stuff was just happening. One paragraph from the Portsmouth New-Hampshire Gazette of July 20, 1764, read so:

A giant, 14 feet high (who was the same at nine years old) arrived the 14th ult at Dre[ can’t tell; it’s lost in the binding of the book ] from Trent, to make a shew of himself.

The next paragraph reports that an Ambassador discussed fishery stocks. Isn’t that a glorious treasure-trove of information about the world of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in the days before the Flood of ’42 swept its hyphen away and probably didn’t do the fishery stock any harm besides putting it up higher? Consider the article’s implications.

For one, the writer doesn’t mention the name of this giant. Why? Maybe they guessed a person who was fourteen feet high didn’t need any further identification, and that’s true in my circles. I know dozens of folks who’re over sixty feet high, but fourteen is a distinctive number and if there were any I knew, you’d just have to say “that person who’s fourteen feet high” and I’d know who you were talking about without any further bother. It’d probably go very well for me that way, really, since I’m not very strong on remembering names. I can’t remember a guy’s name I’ll just guess he’s probably a “David”. You’d be surprised how often it works. All the guys I met from 1996 through 1999 were named David, or are now anyway, and the pattern’s holding up well to today.

Here’s the next thing: our giant, David, wasn’t making a shew of himself in Portsmouth. Whatever might be going on in Portsmouth in the summer of 1764, watching giants was not drawing a paying crowd. David didn’t just have to go outside Portsmouth to earn a living, too: he had to leave Trent. Now we have a scene, somewhere near the village green of Trent, New Hampshire, in early July, as a farmer or smithy or tar-featherer or coopers-blunderbusser or something talks with his wife about David’s disappointing performance.

“Did you see, Martha, that poor David was trying to make a shew of himself by being fourteen feet tall in the public square.”

“What, again?”

“Aye,” he says, pausing to throw a rock at something he heard was a Stamp Tax collector (who in fact preferred collecting other Coercive Acts, finding that everyone was into Stamp Taxes in those days). “Fourteen feet tall and he thinks that’ll be an entertainment for us.”

“Land o’ goshen, Vermont, Henry, but isn’t that exactly the same thing he was trying to do when he was but nine years old?”

“To the inch and third-barleycorn, Martha,” cracks Henry as he indentures a servitude. “Not even a half a pottled king’s earlobe higher.”

“My, my. Someone should tell the lad, just being very tall isn’t going to get you an audience in these parts. Maybe he could attract a paying crowd in Dre[ mumbled into the folds ], but this is Trent. This is the big time.”

“We’ve got experience looking at people who are large. David has to get some kind of special advantage if he’s going to find work here.”

“Maybe he should learn to juggle or somesuch, then he can put on a proper shew.”

And around the corner of the farm tavern print-shop coffee house, a lone tear runs down David’s cheek and sees how far it is to drop to the ground. David considers finding some apples, but as Johnny Appleseed won’t be born until 1774, he makes off with a couple rocks and steals away to Dre[ something or other ], hoping he can refine his act and work his way back up to Trent, and maybe someday Portsmouth or even Worcester. He does, finally reaching the last town in 1839, as he’s ready to retire, which is just as well as he’s upstaged by the first giraffe brought to North America.

And this is why the marginalia of old newspapers is so grand: we get to see a past we’d never otherwise suspect. (PS, the United States won the Revolutionary War, sixteen feet to thirteen and a hog’s plunder in height.)

I Like The Bloom On A Hypochondria More


We’ve got a really tall flowering plant here. I have to say it’s an amaryllis, because deep down, I can only think of four names that sound like flowering plants, and those are the rose, the daisy, the amaryllis, and the hypochondria, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t a rose or daisy. Anyway, this plant has been growing so much that if I told you, you’d think I was comically exaggerating. It’s grown about five feet in the last three days and the petals open just enough that it can try grabbing the UPS guy. We’re leaving it beside the window and hoping it doesn’t make demands. Also it’s staring at me.

Comic Strips I Like: Unstrange Phenomena


I like comic strips, a lot, and thought I’d talk about one of them. That’s Ed Allison’s Unstrange Phenomena, presently running at Gocomics.com. The strip is updated weekdays. I’ve always been partial to both simple absurdity, such as today’s Grand Whiffle Dam project, and to the mock explanation which gets the rhythms of imparting knowledge while being nonsense down. So this strip sates several of my tastes regularly.

Problems of Squirrel Comedy


And now that stand-up comic I hired to keep squirrels off the bird feeder is causing problems. I agree, there’s only so many jokes a white guy can tell about southern bog lemmings before you start feeling like the guy has a weird agenda. I want to give comics a fair chance at exploring edgy material, but you can’t argue with letters of protest from over 36 Ogilvie Mountains collared lemmings. It’s controversial material that isn’t working, and now I have to spend time dealing with it. Everything would be so much easier if the squirrels would just eat out of the squirrel feeder instead.

Wheeler and Woolsey: Say It With Flowers


Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey were a vaudeville and early movies comedy team with at least one vocal hook that’s still sort-of remembered-ish, in that if you see a guy wearing big, Harold Lloyd style glasses and going “WhooOOO-oh!” that’s Woolsey getting referenced. Their movies feature a lot of moderately aggressive, Groucho Marx-ish dialogue in which conversation gets reduced to nonsense. They’re not as sentimental as the Marx Brothers(!), which results their rampaging chaos being more surprisingly mean-spirited when it gets taken out on an undeserving victim, so they’re harder to enjoy, but I do.

This is an exchange from 1934’s Kentucky Kernels, with Woolsey courting Margaret Dumont, who’s playing against type as the Margaret Dumont character.


Woolsey: Good morning, Mrs Baxter, you look perfectly charming this morning.

Dumont: Oh, do you really think so?

Woolsey: No, but I had to say something. And I always say it with flowers. [ He takes a rose out of his jacket and gives it to her. ]

Dumont: Only one rose?

Woolsey: Well, you know me; I don’t talk much.

The Band Always Gets Back Together This Time Of Year


“We’re getting the band back together,” said the person phoning me.

“I’ve never been in a band,” I protested.

“You can’t be the holdout! What are we going to do without bass guitar?”

“I’ve never touched a bass guitar in my life. I only ever played a three-quarters scale violin.”

“See?” said the voice. “That’s what gives us that unique Suburban Jersey sound!”

“The only songs I was ever okay at were the theme to Masterpiece Theater and `Memories’ from Cats. And I was never that solid at the part where I have to finger the strings. Or pluck them.”

“It’s `Memory’. That’s what makes us such an accessible sound!”

“Are you sure you have the right number?”

Anyway, we’re opening the 27th in the Loft in downtown Lansing for Aphasic Marsupials and also Made Yer Bows’ Amateur Hour.

Before the Hamster Wheel


So before the hamster wheel were people just trying out, say, putting a lever in their cage and seeing what a hamster made of it? “Look, I can shuffle cedar chips around some.” The inclined plane? Perhaps an Archimedean screw? Or were they thinking of more obviously useful tools, possibly as the first step in training hamsters to do all sorts of light carpentry and home repair, and tried putting in little shovels and rakes? And would a ladder fit in as just a general mechanical device or as a potential hamster tool? If even one hamster living in 1948 had shown some proficiency at using a screwdriver we might be living in a very different world today.

It Was “Allegiance”, Season 4, Episode 18


Do you like a thing? Do you want to regret liking it? Why not try fandom?

If there’s anything that can smother the joy you find in something like a full-on encounter with its committed fans I haven’t found it yet, and neither will you, because you’ll be too busy screaming and fleeing, sometimes into a wall. This doesn’t depend on what the thing is: books, theater, furniture, drapery covered in white chocolate, paint, web browsers, rare spices from the Maluku Islands, arcsecants, the Oxford comma, and birdbaths can all trigger it.

Don’t believe me? Think back to the last time you talked about Star Trek with that friend who was way too into it. Remember?

You: Hey, I was feeling like watching something Star Trek tonight. What’s the best Next Generation movie?

Fan: There isn’t one. But First Contact comes closest. That’s the one with the Borg.

You: Oh yeah! You will be assimilated. I should watch that again sometime.

Fan: That’s a not wholly execrable choice. You’ll have to watch “Best of Both Worlds” first.

You: Why?

Fan: Why? It introduced Locutus and assimilation and had that awesome cliffhanger where Riker orders Worf to fire.

You: Oh. Oh, yeah. I guess I can have a double feature night.

Fan: And you’re going to have to watch “I, Borg” in-between so you understand Picard’s lingering low-level telepathic link to the Borg Collective.

You: Can’t you maybe explain it instead?

Fan: I don’t dare spoil you! Oh, you’ve got to see Generations before you get to First Contact.

You: Can I just watch the movie I wanted to watch?

Fan: You’re adorably naive. You have to see how the starship from the TV show was destroyed so you can understand the implications of their being on a wholly new Enterprise.

You: I could maybe just listen to the director’s commentary after if I have any questions.

Fan: Frakes’s commentaries are not without their charms but — oh, that reminds me, you’re going to have to watch “Journey’s End” because that explains why Wesley Crusher isn’t part of the movie franchise.

You: I thought they sold Wesley to a dealer on Delta Pavonis III who stripped him for parts.

Fan: But that’s a time-saving episode to catch because that also explains the political situations between the Maquis and the Cardassians and the Federation so you’re going to have a leg up in the Deep Space Nine episodes that you need to see.

You: I thought the only Deep Space Nine episode I had to see was the one where they went back to the original Trek.

Fan: A pandering trifle.

You: A trifle with tribbles.

Fan: [ After making a disappointed face suggesting an awareness that a situation like this was predicted, but had not been believed could be anything but the worst imaginable case. ] Fortunately I think you only require three Deep Space Nine episodes to get all the necessary background regarding Worf’s presence on the Defiant but they are two-parters. And of course you’ll want to see the other episodes focusing on Wesley and the Traveller so you understand both how he was the helm officer at one point and then was absent from the movie, but that’s only two more episodes to the total.

You: I don’t have to have a little Star Trek night. I could just stare at birdbaths until they burn into my retinas.

Fan: Oh, and you’ll want to watch the series finale of Voyager.

You: Have I not suffered enough?

Fan: I fear there might be some aspect of the multiverse in which you don’t despise Janeway with every fermion of your being.

You: I don’t know. I used to watch Columbo.

Fan: Also you’re going to want to watch this episode where aliens trying to understand leadership abduct Picard and replace him with a duplicate who leads the whole crew in a drunken sing-along in Ten Forward, because nobody remembers anything about this episode and I have to prove I didn’t make it up.

You: [ After sighing ] Which episode is that?

Fan: I don’t know, I can never remember it.

And this is why you watched Empire Strikes Back, without mentioning it to anyone, instead.

Genius Hamsters


What do you suppose the hamster community thinks of the person who invented the hamster wheel? It’s not an obvious invention, the way the cat motorcycle, the gerbil paddle steamer, or the wallaroo Quadricycle are. You need to have a vision of wheels alongside rodents, if hamsters are still rodents. They keep finding out different animals aren’t actually rodents. Just last month a report in Nature showed that the horse was definitely not a rodent, following an investigation by biologists who didn’t want to work too hard that day.

The first hamster to make the wheel work was some kind of genius among hamsters, too, though. I imagine hamsters to this day squeak her name when they want to talk sarcastically about the smart one in their group.

S J Perelman: Captain Future, Block That Kick!


S J Perelman’s another of the great voices of 20th century humor. It’s easiest to find his writing as the scripts for the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, and for the 1956 Around the world In Eighty Days. My selection today is his review of the debut issue of Captain Future, Wizard of Science,. That magazine was created in 1940 by Mort Weisinger, who would go on to edit those Silver Age comic books that all seem to involve purple-caped gorillas claiming they’re Lois Lane and asking Superman why he has to kill them, and largely written by Edmond Hamilton, one of the greatest early science fiction writers. Perelman’s essay also reminds us that carefully reviewing, half in awe, the goings-on of pop culture’s lowest rungs would inspire hilarious writing long before the Internet made it so easy.


I guess I’m just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation’s laws. You’ll have to leave my meals on a tray outside the door because I’ll be working pretty late on the secret of making myself invisible, which may take me almost until eleven o’clock. Oh, yes, and don’t let’s forget one more thing. I’ll need a life subscription to a new quarterly journal called Captain Future, Wizard of Science, a bright diadem on the forehead of Better Publications, 22 West Forty-eighth Street, New York City.

As one who triggered a disintegrator with Buck Rogers and could dash off a topographical map of Mongo or Dale Arden with equal facility, I thought in my pride and arrogance I knew all there was to know about astronomical adventure. It was something of a shock, therefore, to find out several days back that I was little more than a slippered pantaloon. Beside Captain Future, Wizard of Science, Flash Gordon and the Emperor Ming pale to a couple of nursery tots chewing on Holland rusk.

The novelette in which this spectacular caballero makes his bow to “scientification” fans opens with no fumbling preamble or prosy exposition. Into the office of James Carthew, President of the Earth Government, staggers a giant ape, barely recognizable by the President as John Sperling, his most trusted secret agent. The luckless investigator had been ordered to Jupiter to look into a complaint that some merry-andrew was causing atavism among the Jovians, but apparently had got badly jobbed. Before Carthew can intervene, a frightened guard drills the ape man with a flare-pistol, and in his dying breath the latter lays the blame for his predicament squarely at the door of a mysterious being he calls the Space Emperor. As you may well imagine, Carthew is all of a tizzy. He immediately instructs his secretary to send for Captain Future in the ringing phrase, “Televise the meteorological rocket-patrol base at Spitzbergen. Order them to flash the magnesium flare signal from the North Pole.” Personally, I think Carthew might have softened this whiplike command with “And just for the hell of it, why don’t you try the Princeton Club?” but perhaps I delve too deeply. In any event, the perpetual uranium clock has hardly ticked off two hours before Captain Future (or Curt Newton, to call him by his given name) appears on the escarpment with one of the most endearing speeches in my experience:

“You know my assistants,” Curt Newton said shortly, “Crag the robot, Otho the android, and Simon Wright, the Living Brain. We came from the moon full speed when I saw your signal. What’s wrong?”

Fiction teems with sinister escorts and everybody has his favorite, but Captain Future’s three-man mob leaves the worst of them kissed off and frozen against ths cushion:

A weird shape had just leaped onto the balcony. It was a manlike figure, but one whose body was rubbery, boneless-looking, blank-white in color. He wore a metal harness, and his long, slitted green unhuman eyes peered brightly out of an alien white face. Following this rubbery android, or synthetic man, came another figure, equally as strange— a giant metal robot who strode across the balcony on padded feet. He towered seven feet high. In his bulbous metal head gleamed a pair of photoelectric eyes. The robot’s left hand carried the handle of a square transparent box. Inside it a living brain was housed. In the front of the case were the Brain’s two glittering glass lens-eyes. Even now they were moving oh their flexible metal stalks to look at the President.

At this juncture I took time out to moisten my lips with the tip of my tongue, retrieved my own eyeballs, and plunged on. Captain Future himself was somewhat more tailored than his comrades, in fact quite swagger. “His unruly shock of red hair towered six feet four above the floor, and his wide lithe shoulders threatened to burst the jacket of his gray synthesilk zipper-suit.” In pulp fiction it is a rigid convention that the hero’s shoulders and the heroine’s balcon constantly threatens to burst their bonds, a possibility which keeps the audience in a state of tense expectancy. Unfortunately for the fans, however, recent tests reveal that the wisp of chiffon which stands between the publisher and the postal laws has the tensile strength of drop-forged steel.

To acquaint the reader more fully with “that tall, cheerful, red-haired young adventurer of the ready laugh and flying fists, the implacable Nemesis of all oppressors and exploiters of the System’s human and planetary races,” the author interrupts his smoking narrative with a brief dossier. In the year 1990, the brilliant young Earth biologist Roger Newton, aided by the living brain of Simon Wright (“the greatest brain in scientific history”), had unravelled the secret of artificial life. Now, certain dark forces headed by one Victor Corvo were determined to appropriate Newton’s secret. To confound him, Roger Newton proposed to Elaine, his wife, and the Living Brain that they conceal themselves on the moon.

“But the moon!” Elaine exclaimed, deep repulsion shadowing her eyes. “That barren, airless globe that no one ever visits!” Elaine’s dainty disgust is pardonable; Far Rockaway out of season could not have been more painfully vieux jeu. A few weeks, nevertheless, see the little company snugly housed under the surface of Tycho crater upon the moon, where its number is swelled by the addition of the infant Curt and Grag the robot, whom Roger and the Living Brain construct in their spare time of neurons and nails and puppy dogs’ tails. Eventually, still another fruit of this intellectual union — Otho, the synthetic android –— is capering about the laboratory. Just as Newton is on the verge of returning to earth, up turns Public Bad Penny No. 1, Victor Corvo, and slays him and his wife. When the Brain assures him vengeance will be swift, Corvo hurls the taunt supreme at the preserved scientist: “Don’t try to threaten me, you miserable bodiless brain! I’ll soon silence you–—” He stops throwing his weight around soon enough when Grag and Otho burst in, and, directed by the Brain, rub him out effectively if none too tidily.

Dying, Elaine Newton entrusts Curt to the care of the trio in a scene which must affect the sensibilities of the most callous:

“Tell him to war always against those who would pervert science to sinister ambition,” whispered Elaine. “I will tell him,” promised the Brain, and in its toneless metallic voice was a queer catch.

The guardians justify Elaine’s faith in them to a degree; by the time Curt has attained his majority, he is one lovely hunk of boy, a hybrid of Leonardo da Vinci and Dink Stover. From then on, as Captain Future, Curt ranges the solar system with his pals in an asteroidal supership, the Comet 7 avenging his folks and relentlessly waging war on what the author is pleased to call “interplanetary crime.”

But to return to our muttons, if so prosaic a term can be applied to the streamlined quartet. Speeding outward into space toward Jovopolis, chief Earthman colony on Jupiter, Captain Future plucks haunting music from his twenty-string Venusian guitar while Grag and Otho tend the controls and the Living Brain burrows into textbooks for a clue to the atavism. Their snug Kaffeeklatsch is blasted when a piratical black space-cruiser suddenly looms across the Comet’s bows and attempts to ambush the party, but Curt’s proton beams force the attacker down on Callisto, outermost of Jupiter’s four biggest moons. The boys warp in alongside and Grag prepares to rip open the jammed door of the pirate craft so his master may question the miscreants:

Grag’s big metal fingers were removable. The robot rapidly unscrewed two of them and replaced them with small drills which he took from a kit of scalpels, chisels, and similar tools carried in a little locker in his metal side. Then Grag touched a switch on his wrist. The two drills which had replaced two of his fingers whirled hummingly. He quickly used them to drill six holes in the edge of the ship’s door. Then he replaced the drills with his fingers, hooked six fingers inside the holes he had made.

The rest is brute strength, a department in which Grag is preeminent. Inside are Jon Orris and Martin Skeel, whose names instantly tip them off as wrong guys. Yet it is impossible not to be moved by Orris’s pathetic confession: “Skeel and I have criminal records. We fled out here after we got into a murder scrape on Mars.” They admit under pressure that they are creatures of the Space Emperor, though actually they have never seen him. “He’s always concealed in a big, queer black suit, and he speaks out of it in a voice that don’t sound human to me,” Skeel says.

Time, even on Callisto, is a-wastin’, and nimbly dodging a plague of creeping crystals which bids fair to annihilate them, the space-farers resume their course. On their arrival at Jovopolis, Otho the android disguises himself as Orris and repairs to that worthy’s hut to await the Space Emperor and overpower him so that Captain Future can steal up and clap the darbies on him. Arriving at the rendezvous, the Emperor promptly makes himself invisible and Curt leaps through him, only to sprawl on his finely chiseled beezer.

Recovering from this contretemps with his usual sunny equanimity, Curt hastens to the mansion of the governor, Sylvanus Quale, to reconnoitre. Here he encounters the heart interest, a plump little cabbage named Joan Randall, who is head nurse to the chief planetary physician. Lucas Brewer, a shifty radium magnate, Mark Cannig, his mine superintendent, and Eldred Kells, the vice-governor, are also at the mansion. It is apparent at once to the cognoscenti that any one of these worthies is the Space Emperor, and with no personal bias other than that his name had a particularly sneaky sound, I put my money on Eldred Kells. Fifty pages later I was proved right, but not before I had been locked in an atavism ward with Curt and Joan, flung into a pit by the green flipper-men, and nibbled by giant six-foot rats called “diggers” (a surprisingly mild name for a giant six-foot rat, by the way). But even such hazards, for all their jewelled prose, cannot compare with the description of the main street of Jungletown:

Here were husky prospectors in stained zipper-suits, furtive, unshaven space-bums begging, cool-eyed interplanetary gamblers, gaunt engineers in high boots with flare-pistols at their belts, bronzed space-sailors up from Jovopolis for a carousal in the wildest new frontier-town in the System.

And so, all too soon for both Joan Randall and myself, comes the hour of parting with “the big red-head,” as the author shakily describes Curt in a final burst of emotion. In the next issue, Captain Future and his creepy constabulary will doubtless be summoned forth again to combat some horror as yet to be devised. Meanwhile I like to think of his lighthearted rebuke to Otho the android, already chafing against inactivity:

“Sooner or later, there’ll be another call from Earth, and
then I hope there’s action enough for you, you crazy coot!”

There may be another call, Curt, but it won’t come from Baby. Right now all he wants is a cup of hot milk and fourteen hours of shut-eye. And if it’s all the same to you, he’ll do his sleeping with the lights on.

Nine minutes, 28 seconds, in my case


So it turns out customer support phone operators are evaluated on how long it takes for the customer to give up and agree to absolutely anything as long as he’s allowed to get off the phone.

In other news the resolution to our satellite receiver’s defects involve me being sent by UPS, in a box they’ll provide, to their main warehouse facility, where I’m going to and replace their aluminum siding and install new faucets in the bathroom. I have to bring the faucets.

Why I Missed So Many 80’s Movies


It isn’t that I was deliberately avoiding them, or that I was particularly avoiding social gatherings where they might be shown. It’s just that it was very, very important that I watch a videotape of The Wrath Of Khan 316 times while I was still in high school, just in case it changed on us all or something. Sometimes I’d have to watch it two or three times in a night, but I think you’ll agree the effort was worthwhile.

This Day In History


1722: The village of Lesser Pompous Lakes finds the solution to its problem of chronic flooding when a visiting officer from the Royal Navy identifies the problem as tides. Over the coming year the village moves two feet farther away from Lousy Creek and the community is that much dryer. A statue commemorating the officer was ordered in 1725, but by then he had backed warily far out of town.

Foamy Days


I was aware getting my hair cut would have consequences. It always does. The most important is that I don’t have two-thirds of my disposable income going to shampoo purchases anymore. But there’s always this period after the haircut where I’m still slathering on shampoo as if I had the former medicine ball full of hair, and that’s maybe 2,038 times the shampoo I actually need, so the rest goes into foam manufacture.

What I’m saying is, yes, I’m aware that there’s a mass of shampoo-bubble-foam the volume of an Olympic swimming pool that’s escaped from the bathroom and is making its way up West Shiawassee Street, grabbing cars and mopping them clean before setting the baffled drivers back on their way. I’ll deal with it.

Nothings Worth Mentioning


News comes across this desk — it’s actually a very portable desk, designed to be tucked into the carry-on luggage and unleashed in-flight when nobody is expecting you to whip out that little drawer with all the old Snapple Facts bottle caps — from a correspondent in Indiana. It seems that nothing was stolen today from both a bank in Angola, and police investigating the initial report found that nothing was also stolen from a pharmacy and a bowling alley nearby.

This combines with earlier reports of nothing being stolen to form one of the biggest streaks of thefts of nothing that the country’s seen in years, ever since the gathering of modern nothing statistics started. That was in 1977, when rhetorical concerns about the pollution of everything lead to the tracking of nothing in previously unimaginable detail. But now there’ve been reports of nothing being stolen in cities across the United States, and for weeks.

Let’s put this in some perspective: if the current streak of days of nothing getting stolen extends another two days, reaching fourteen in all, this will nearly double the previous record streak of seven days and two hours. If it goes longer it could even treble the previous record, which would be good for uses of the word “treble” in the non-clef dialects of American English.

However, this could be hard throughout vast sectors of the economy. Think of all the people who’re involved in the making of nothing, or who ship nothing from place to place, who market it or sell it, or those who collect it in the hopes of getting in on the big bubbles of nothing that make the modern economy so fun and vacuum-friendly. If we can count on nothing being where we expect it to be we can enjoy a general confidence in the orderly working-out of the world. We don’t have to keep going back to check on it; we can resort to compulsively checking on nothing for the fun of it.

Now, though, this streak of nothing thefts throws the world into a very minor chaos, as if it didn’t have enough. It’s getting to where you can’t even keep a bit of nothing just to appreciate, or to sprinkle with sugar and slip into someone’s ear, without getting nervous about whether it’s still going to be there in the morning. The fears of this are going to get all the worse early in the afternoon, since morning is then as far away as it gets and there’s so little peeking ahead to make sure it all works out.

Few people take seriously the threat of nothing being stolen. Many police dispatchers will claim they’re sending nobody out to investigate a missing nothing, although they’re joking. A lack of nothing can easily overfill your day. Suppose you had a chunk of nothing in your guest room, over by the chair, where served among other things as a block against a ten-foot cube of goldfish crackers popping into being. Next imagine someone sneaks in and makes off with your nothing, quickly fencing it on the big nothing black market over on No Bay Drive. That’s fine for them, but now you’ve got a thousand cubic feet of goldfish crackers in the guest room, and there’s no finishing all that before your company arrives. Worse if they’ve already arrived, since you just know you left the goldfish cracker shovel in the back of the guest room, after last time.

Yet even having the problem so vividly explained leaves questions. For example, suppose you did want to steal a lot of nothing. How would you transport it? How would you load it? What’s the most nothing you could swipe at once, and where would you keep it so as not to attract unwanted attention? In short, is there nothing to be done about nothing, and if there is, what nothing is it?

A Voice From Nowhere


I answered the phone with apprehension, since I’m really not a natural phone-answerer. I mostly know what to do about picking it up and saying hello, but after that I feel uncomfortably lost. But I gave it a try.

“What do you think you’re doing?” demanded the voice on the other end.

I’m usually better at questions about what I’m thinking when I don’t stop to think about what I’m thinking. “I think I’m talking to you on the phone.”

“That’s what I’m doing!” was the angry yet logically complete reply.

I said I couldn’t argue it.

“Stop imitating me or I’ll sic a copyright lawyer on you!” and he hung up.

Now you see why I have to be apprehended onto the phone.

Finley Peter Dunne: Casual Observations


I had enough fun flipping through Finley Peter Dunne’s Mr Dooley’s Philosophy, including a section of “Casual Observations” at the end, that I’ll bring a couple of them up as today’s entry.


Th’ nearest anny man comes to a con-ciption iv his own death is lyin’ back in a comfortable coffin with his ears cocked f’r th’ flatthrin’ remarks iv th’ mourners.


A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks th’ Lord wud do if He knew th’ facts iv th’ case.


It takes a sthrong man to be mean. A mean man is wan that has th’ courage not to be gin’rous. Whin I give a tip ’tis not because I want to but because I’m afraid iv what th’ waiter’ll think. Russell Sage is wan iv Nature’s noblemen.


The last particularly delights me since I attended graduate school in Troy, New York, just up the hill from Russell Sage College. According to campus lore passed around Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the things Russell Sage hated most in a life spent hating people and things were education, women, and educating women; and his widow, Margaret Olivia Sage, donated much of his fortune to schools, particularly schools for women. This is a good enough story I’ve never looked closely enough into Russell Sage’s biography to tell whether it’s true.