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.

Do I Know Too Much About The XFL?


My love argues that I know a startling amount about the XFL, the short-lived attempt by pro wrestling to create something that was like football but would be cheaper for NBC to air back in 2001. Do I? Let me share with you what I do know about the XFL:

  1. They tried some weird kind of scramble for the ball instead of doing a kickoff to start the halves.
  2. They made the sports reporters sit in the open weather instead of in a press booth so that … I don’t know, the fans wouldn’t think the reporters were more comfortable than they were? Some kind of Stupid Populist thing anyway.
  3. The game tried taking away a bunch of rules about player safety that they had to reinstate after it turned out players got hurt a lot.
  4. Not really sure about this, but I’m guessing some pro wrestling participant said something really racist while doing cheerleader-type commentary during a broadcast.
  5. There was something Movie Mafia about the New York/New Jersey team name?
  6. There was that guy with “He Hate Me” as his uniform’s “name”.

My question to you: do I, in fact, know too many things about the XFL?

(Yes. Yes, I do. I know at least four things too many about the XFL.)

Thanking You For Listening


As a white guy who’s liked Popeye’s Fried Chicken I’m often asked why I don’t host a pop-culture hangout podcast. “Hey, you!” people will gather around my house to cry out. “There’s stuff you watch and read and listen to that you think is bad! Why aren’t you snorting into a microphone about that with some of your friends?” It’s becoming a nuisance. “I’m just putting these old fenceposts out for someone on Freecycle who says they’re going to pick it up tomorrow but is lying,” I answer. “I don’t have time to podcast!” They’re unmoved. But I have reasons.

First is that I have this problem with my voice. I mean, I have one that I use almost every day. But I’m hard to understand. I’ve avoided having my New Jersey accent be incomprehensible by not saying much of anything out loud. I’m not trying to hide my voice. I just don’t know how to talk loud enough to be heard over other people, or ambient music, or background noise like our pet rabbit breathing. Or my own breathing. When I say something the words come out of my mouth, then plummet, bouncing off my feet and rolling underneath the bookshelf, there to be harvested by mice.

Also I have to cough, a little but insistently, every 26 seconds. I’ve had this condition since like 1997. I’ve tried to ask my doctor about this, but she can’t hear me. We could edit around that, but editing seems like a lot of work for a pop-culture hangout podcast.

I could set the microphone on my feet so when words tumble onto them some get caught. But then there’s my sentence problem. At some point I figure I’ve said as much of any sentence as could benefit anyone to hear, and then I stop. I trust people to work out the rest. For example, suppose my love wants to know what that racket out back was. I might say, “I knocked over two of the empty flowerpots, but they didn’t break.” But that takes more words to say than interest in the subject warrants. I’m sorry to spend so much time on it now. So I would answer, “I knocked over two”, and figure that’s as much of that as anybody could stand. Oh, I’ll drift off, letting my voice get somehow even softer. My love can probably work out the rest of the sentence from context anyway. That and the flowerpots. But I know that’s not good asynchronous radio.

Plus there’s getting together with friends to record something. I’ve got friends, people I know well enough to help them move furniture. But most of them are online. We could only record a podcast by organizing whatever the Internet equivalent of a conference call is. I hear there are people who can do this. But I also hear there are people who can climb Mount Everest in their shorts or who can magic Magic-Eye Puzzles work. I’ll never manage the trick. People I know in real life — people near enough that I could lick their bodies — are mostly folks I see at pinball events. They’re fun to hang out with, but who could record over all that pinball and bar noise? I don’t know how pinball podcasts do it. I imagine a lot of shouting.

Oh gads and then there’s voices. I’d probably have to do some characters by way of funny voices. I can’t. I haven’t got any way of making my voice do anything on purpose. I could do a character that’s “me, only talking a little faster”. Or I can do “me, only talking a little slower”. But could I do, like, Columbo? Popeye? Any of the supporting cast of The Simpsons? Not even remotely. I’d have to call in experts to support me. That runs into money and social obligations.

Plus there’s having feelings about stuff. You can do a pop-culture hangout podcast about stuff you like, or about stuff you hate. But that means you have to like or hate stuff. I don’t trust strong feelings about stuff, even if they’re my own. It’s asking a lot out of me to have them, never mind to keep them viable for, what, a half-hour of recording before I can get to letters from listeners?

So that’s why, despite my record of being a guy who sometimes likes dumb stuff, I don’t figure on starting a podcast anytime soon. Thanks for listening, and remember, Patreon subscribers at the $5 or above level get my monthly special episode about which Funky Winkerbean comics most make you want to slug the guy who writes Funky Winkerbean. Next episode’s dropping Sunday. See you then. If you need some fenceposts, please, come take them now. They’re just taking up space.