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.

Some Unconventional Beliefs


Here are some beliefs it is fine to have, even if you will never encounter a group of hundreds to thousands of people gathering in a hotel in some affordable hotel space on the outer edge of town for a weekend of merriment and panels and cosplay and frustrated attempts to get a group of six people together to go to the build-your-own-burrito place.

  • That if your mind insists on fusing the songs American Pie and My Brown-Eyed Girl into one massive, never-ending whole, that’s fine. Your mind is your own. You can put not just any songs but any experiences together you like. If you wish to merge Hotel California with the experience of hollering at the movie theater’s automated ticket booth because you just don’t care where you sit to watch Barton Fink reboot origin movie, that’s your right. I mean, of course, if you aren’t at your gig-economy job putting in a few hours being part of the collective massmind. But that’s a special case.
  • That it is the year 2019. By this I mean the ninth or maybe tenth year of the second decade of the current century. There is considerable evidence to suggest that we are instead in the nineteenth year, somehow, of the first decade of the current century. But consider: how is it that we still have eighties nostalgia? The 80s are now so long ago there’ve been, like, five movie Batmans since then? How can we possibly feel any warmth to a time so long ago? If we are still in the first decade of the 2000’s, then that’s just two decades in the past. It makes plausible how, say, people might have any specific warm memories of the Whammy. So let’s take that: we’re not in the year 2019 but rather in the nineteenth year of the 2000s.
  • That you just don’t have the emotional reserve to hang out with your fossa pal. That’s all right. Fossas are great, everybody agrees. They also have plenty of issues. It’s all right to let your fossa buddy march off to whatever it is they’re up to. You can recover your mental energies hanging out with a quokka or maybe a binturong. It’s not selfish to take some time not dealing with somebody else’s bizarrely complicated situation that’s somehow a fractal hyperfiasco, where every part of their fiasco is itself some deeper fiasco that’s just as impossible to deal with. Don’t feel guilty just hanging out with somebody who’s sleeping a lot and smells like popcorn.
  • All right, so the planet is a sphere. What’s so great about spheres? Maybe we just have a sphere because nobody involved in making it put any thought into the question. If we put our minds to it we could probably have a toroidal planet or maybe one that’s a great big Möbius-strip band. And it’d be fast, too. It would take, like, four days at the longest. There’s three-room apartments you couldn’t clean out for moving anywhere near that fast. Anyway nobody is saying this would solve all our problems, or any of them. It’s just an option we haven’t given serious consideration. No, we’re not doing Menger sponges. We’ve totally read the ending of The War With The Newts on Wikipedia.
  • That it would be a heck of a thing if it turned out vampires didn’t mind garlic. Like, maybe one didn’t, and everybody assumed all vampires were repelled by garlic? But it was just that guy’s preference? So what if it turns out vampires see garlic the way anybody might see, oh, Brussels sprouts? Where some just won’t eat them, and some kind of like them, and some love how it looks like they’re giants eating whole heads of lettuce in one bite? And it turns out that vampires actually have an issue with horse radish instead, which is why they only have lunch at Arby’s when it’s part of a long, serious meeting with their financial planner? Anyway you can have that belief and if need be donate that to a needy improv troupe.
  • That the messages that would be on the answering machine, if there were any, would be very interesting ones. They might even change everything, if they did happen to exist. It’s your answering machine. You can have any imaginary messages you like on it.

There are more things you can believe even if they are not commonly held. Good luck.

Year In Review: Top Ten Events Of 2017


10. 14 May. That incredibly good shower right after you got up that didn’t start as anything special but somehow felt like washing way adulthood and the only thing that has to be done was to see how long you could hold a pencil upright in your belly button.

9. 22 June. CRUISE SHIPS.

8. 8 April. Every wedding reception turns out to be at hotels that also have a furry convention booked that weekend. So now there’s tens of thousands of families that have video of Great-Aunt Carol, confused but game, dancing to “Sweet Caroline” with a cat Ghostbuster. Also mom will not let dad wear that pig snout he bought EXCEPT ON HALLOWEEN.

7. 2 November. The tension of the first known alien visit to Earth dissipates when it turns out they just wanted to check out the flea market on Route 35. And then it turned out they were just snagging a bunch of reprint Harvey Comics books. And they lost every chance of claiming superiority when they put scotch tape over the staples on the cover and in the center to somehow make the books “last longer”. So any time you feel bad that, like, they’ve got faster-than-light travel remember that we at least know how to keep a Richie Rich comic book in good condition.

6. Mid-June to Early August. That weird call-and-response song that we never got an agreed-upon name for? That was fantastic, with those lines that had easy-to-learn rules about how to change the verse for the next song around. That was a lot of fun and we’d probably be doing it yet if someone hadn’t discovered the verse-changing rules turned out to be Turing-complete and some cretin set up a scheme so the song turned into bitcoin-mining. So yeah, now if anyone starts singing it we have to slug them and that’s a bummer, but try to remember the time it was just good.

5. 3 October. The phone and the new camera both take the same size mini-USB cable to plug in even though they are two distinct and different things.

4. 16 February. Sure, we all remember this as the day everybody put their right feet on their left legs and vice-versa. But photos of the day show that in fact fewer than one person in five participated in this weird and spontaneous event. Doesn’t matter. Those who joined in made the day an event of pleasant, slight awkwardness and a chance to see the world in a different light. Yes, it inspired over twenty thinkpieces about the arbitrariness of left and right but don’t worry. The people who wrote that were, in their way, participating in the fun too.

3. 22 September. All three contestants spin a dollar in the Showcase Showdown that episode of The Price Is Right, and then two of them spin a dollar in the tiebreaker round. And that after all six contestants won their pricing games. We don’t remember if someone went on to win both showcases but we’re going to remember it that way because it was already just that great.

2. 28 June. This was that day your phone kept making all those strange little noises that didn’t match anything you had on it. It seemed like the phone might be calving off a new app, inspiring thoughts about how maybe your phone would be the birthplace of a something that disrupts a something or other and then investors would flock to you and give you billions of dollars for a widget to make, who knows, something a bit more snoop-y than something previously was. The thoughts are still fun to savor, even since the phone stopped making that noise about 8:30 pm and hasn’t made it since.

1. 6 January. It was supposed to be an ordinary little patch that should have left squirrels immune to clothing. But some errant use of a : instead of a ; deep in the code left everybody’s clothing warping around things, jumping to weird places, growing or shrinking uncontrollably, merging and separating in amoebic blobs with other pieces of clothes, and so on. People were furious for the first hour or so but after that we settled in to embrace the absurdity. And now we’re coming up to what is, somehow, only the first anniversary of “facepants” becoming such a beloved meme. Can 2018 do anything to top that?

I Suppose You Could Call Them, But How?


Spot of news that makes me curious: the Lansing police reported that their non-emergency phone line was down. This didn’t affect 9-1-1 emergency service, naturally. But it’s got me wondering: how did they find out the non-emergency phone wasn’t working? I picture someone calling over, say, the house down the street somehow still setting off fireworks two flipping months after Independence Day and realizing nothing was going on, and then making a desperate run down the street and turning the corner and running up the avenue and into the police headquarters, gasping and collapsing on the desk to sign in and get their stuff scanned by the metal detector, and then picking it all up and running up to the elevator, and then waiting for the cab to get down, and then jogging in place for the ride up to the fifth floor, and then dashing in to say, “The non-emergency phone line is down!” What else would there be to do?

Yeah, I know, I know. they probably just tweeted or sent a message to the city police’s Facebook page. Social media ruins all the good stuff. Still no idea where that house is even getting fireworks from this late in the year.

How The 11:00 Conference Call Turns Out


10:45. You set your cell phone on the table. Turn it on. Stare at it anxiously.

10:55. Wonder if there’s enough time to read all of TrekBBS before the call starts.

11:00. Watch entire minute pass without the phone ringing.

11:01. Elation: you have avoided being called into the conference call. Elation gone when you remember they probably haven’t excused you from the call, they’re just saving up to have you be even more in the conference call.

11:04. Realize that you have a need to go to the bathroom more intense and more urgent than any other need you have ever felt in my life. It’s the way you might feel the need to move your foot if it were underneath the rear tire of a truck holding a lump of neutron star, although with less of the mass of three Jupiters pressing down on your foot and more a wondering if you could hear the phone from all the way in the bathroom.

11:10. Wonder if they’ve forgotten you.

11:15. Send e-mail to someone supposed to be in the conference call to see if they’ve forgotten you. Kind of hope that they have, except that might encourage ideas of maybe they don’t need you for non-conference-call things. Wonder if maybe you should’ve been running March Madness pools so they’d want you around for that at least. It’s desperately far from March. It’d look odd if you started talking up next year’s anytime before June 22nd. The conference call will probably be settled by then.

11:25. Phone rings. This call is to warn you the real call is running about a half-hour late but they didn’t want you to worry.

11:32. You’re worried.

11:38. It may be preferable to explode from bathroom-related needs than wait for the call.

11:40. They call. The conference call is starting, except two of the participants have to finish up other calls that have been going since the late Middle Ages. These calls are cherished, handed down from a long line of mid-level management, to be someday handed down to levels of mid-level management not yet imagined. They cannot be discharged or dismissed lightly. You might be on hold. Suddenly you appreciate hold music: listening to something you don’t want to listen to provides reassurance that you are remembered to exist by telephone systems that are not aware you exist.

11:43. Everyone is able to talk with everyone else and would like to explain how glad they are that everyone else is glad to be there, and doing well, and all agree that it’s been far too long since we had a chat like this, and we’re looking forward to the way we’ll smooth out a couple of little issues.

11:46. The conference call enters that condition of being pretty much the same as guiding your parents through updating their digital camera’s device drivers only your boss is listening in.

12:02. The phrase “the button marked SUBMIT in the upper right corner” is proven to be either intolerably vague or to not refer to anything the other people on the call have ever seen.

12:05. logmein is summoned.

12:07. Emergency e-mails to people who thought they were going to lunch already establish that logmein would have worked except we had the password wrong, the capitalization wrong, and some kind of domain thing wrong.

12:18. You apologize for needing to step away for a moment, which they take to mean that you need the bathroom, which you do, but you use the moment to step outside and berate a chipmunk who proves to have a perfectly good understanding of the limits of Ajax-enabled web technology blah blah blah and why yes, it does have to have Internet to work.

12:29. All agree this has been about the greatest and most productive conference call since the idea of communication began and we’ve done enough of it, and hang up before anyone can suggest otherwise.

1:04. You emerge from the curled-up ball of yourself that was underneath the table weeping.

2:45. You finish editing the things you needed to get out of the conference call into a series of four questions, e-mailed to the other main party, with the explanation you need to know which of the two options for each question they want before you can do anything.

Three Days Later, 9:15. The e-mail is returned with the note, “That’s great, exactly that! Thanx for understanding.”

Eight Days After That, 3:23. The suggestion is floated that maybe we just need one more conference call to sort it all out.

Things My Prepaid Cell Phone Tells me


Message I Receive How Often
Low Battery Like 80 percent of the time
Dad’s Texting to Ask if I Saw His E-mail Every six weeks
Somebody’s Sorry That They Got Me Instead Weekly
I Have To Put More Money On It Or For Some Reason Verizon Will Take Away The Money Currently On It Annual
Chefmongoose Thought I Dialed Him By Accident While I Was At A Rifftrax Live Movie Event Once
Boss Called, Is Too Busy To Talk, Will Call Back Every five weeks
It’s Just Making Some Tone I Never Heard Before Every six to nine weeks on average

Robert Benchley: The Most Popular Book Of The Month


[ In Of All Things, Robert Benchley includes a review of the phone book in a mode of deliberate misunderstanding that’s at least still current. Benchley though goes on at greater length with deeper thought than most people writing this sort of piece do, which is one of the things which made Robert Benchley turn out to be Robert Benchley, and includes one of his less-common but still popular pithy quotes. As he predicted elsewhere, though, the quote gets better if you take more than the single sentence from its paragraph. I confess also not being sure just what’s meant by “clb bdg stbls”. ]

New York City (including all Boroughs) Telephone Directory— N. Y. Telephone Co., N. Y. 1920. 8vo. 1208 pp.

IN picking up this new edition of a popular favorite, the reviewer finds himself confronted by a nice problem in literary ethics. The reader must guess what it is.

There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not. Both classes are extremely unpleasant to meet socially, leaving practically no one in the world whom one cares very much to know. This feeling is made poignant, to the point of becoming an obsession, by a careful reading of the present volume.

We are herein presented to some five hundred thousand characters, each one deftly drawn in a line or two of agate type, each one standing out from the rest in bold relief. It is hard to tell which one is the most lovable. In one mood we should say W. S. Custard of Minnieford Ave. In another, more susceptible frame of mind, we should stand by the character who opens the book and who first introduces us into this Kingdom of Make-Believe— Mr. V. Aagaard, the old “Impt. & Expt.” How one seems to see hinm, impting and expting all the hot summer day through, year in and year out, always beading the list, but always modest and unassuming, always with a kindly word and a smile for passers-by on Broadway!

Continue reading “Robert Benchley: The Most Popular Book Of The Month”

I Never Was a Business-Minded Person


“We’ll need you for a conference call,” said the voice on the phone. This was a friendly voice, which made me think things were going well.

“All right … what are we going to be talking about?”

“We’re still figuring out the exact agenda, so just, stay loose, roll with it. We probably won’t need you really, we just want the insurance.”

I said thank you rather than work out whether to be insulted. “When is the call? When should I be there?”

“Oh, we’re working out the time. We’ll just call you when we’re ready.”

“Are you thinking it’ll be late morning? Early afternoon? Late afternoon?”

“Can’t really say. Just wait and we’ll be ready for you.”

“Is it going to be today?”

The voice sighed. “Don’t worry about trivialities. We We need you for the big-picture thinking, that insight you bring into our i-dotting and t-crossing.”

And this is why I spent the whole day sitting at the table, staring at my cell phone, wondering if I could dash off to the bathroom without getting caught.