In Which I Imagine Having A Job I Would Be Very Bad At


I was thinking of something from a couple years ago. The alternatives are thinking of the present, or worse, of the future. But you know how it is. You read something and then you go and remember it. It spoils the fun of re-reading the thing. But it’s no longer possible to re-find a thing you once read anyway. Once you glance away, it’s gone. You can subscribe to our fun newsletter but you’ll never find it again.

So this is as best I remembered the thing. It was in Russia and like a decade ago. They were having this problem with groups holing up in bunkers and things and waiting for the end of the world. And, like, sure you understand that now. But this was like 2010, when all the Internet was furious about was how Apple sent everybody a U2 album. But there were enough groups holing up waiting for the end of the world that they had an office to deal with this. And that’s what I keep coming back to.

Because I try to imagine working for that office. I’d go out, find a group of people who are in a bunker or a cave or an abandoned factory or something, waiting for the end of the world. And then … what can I do to get them out? I assume I’m trying to get them out. If I weren’t, why would I even leave the office? Maybe there’s a good restaurant nearby I’d wanted to try for lunch. That’s not likely. I’m not an adventurous lunch-goer. It took me six years to try the Big John’s Steak and Onions sandwich shop. It’s like a mile and a half from home and I pass it every time I go anywhere. And that I had to approach slowly, feigning like I was going to the jewelers’ next door and peering at the menu while the cashier looked upset with me.

So grant that I’m there to talk them out. I have a reputation among my friends for being diplomatic. This is because they don’t know about the time I could not convince my love that I was not upset about making the asparagus with sweetened condensed, rather than evaporated, milk. It’s been years and neither of us has suggested having asparagus since. So you can see where I’d fall short handling this. What can negotiations be like?

“Come on out,” I’d probably say. “The world’s not ending anytime soon.” You can see why I have this reputation for diplomacy in my social circles.

But I haven’t made my case. “No,” they’re sure to say. “The world is coming to an end very soon and we’re going to hide.”

“What are you hoping to get by hiding, though?” Here I’m figuring that all I want is them out in the world. It’s fine if they figure it’s ending soon. “Did anything you didn’t like ever go away by hiding? Did school go away by hiding?”

An answer. “I never hid from school. I liked it, except for this algebra teacher in eighth grade.”

“You too?” I’d say. “I didn’t understand a word from my teacher that year. The only thing I ever learned was this two-week stretch we had a substitute.”

And here we have recognition. “She taught this little tic-tac-toe board thing? Kind of a weird magic square for factoring quadratic polynomials?”

“Exactly!” And now that seems good. The person has said something kind of friendly to me, so now I’m bonded. Experience indicates I’ll now take fifteen years of their berating me before I acknowledge we’re not friends, but we could be if they showed more consideration. So that’s all great. I have someone new I can get e-mails from that I’ll never answer because I feel too bad that I haven’t answered them already. But it hasn’t done a thing about getting the holed-up group out, or getting me in. I don’t see how this makes any progress.

And then another thing, if this is a group in Russia like I had read about. I have to trust someone in the group understands English. Someone has to be helping me along there. Oh, wouldn’t that be my luck, if whoever spoke English in the cave wanted to mess with all of us?

Highway Robbery


If you accept the oddball news, then, you’d believe that a Russian official’s been arrested for stealing a highway. The BBC reports that Alexander Protopopov, a senior prison official, had thirty miles of road in the “far-northern Komi region” dismantled and driven away over the course of a year. (I’m glad they clarified it was the far-northern Komi region, and not, say, the far-southeastern Komi region I knew from visiting my grandmother in North Carolina when I was young.) I have to assume he was very careful figuring out which parts of road to steal first and which to leave for later. It’d be embarrassing to find you had to drive back over road that was now loaded up in the back of your truck. Sure, you could handle the situation — you’ve got road on you right there — but it spoils your getaway. You have to stop every couple feet to put down some more road and pick back up the old. It’s just undignified.

And I understand his pinching a road, if he did actually do it. I have a bit of a hoarding tendency myself. But I tend to grab stuff like that only if it’s clearly free and for the public to take. I have few far-northern Russian roads, so far as I know. My grabbed-stuff collection is mostly breath mints from Penn Station subway shops. (I say nothing about what my father might have in his storage locker.)

But I’m not a kindred soul to this fellow. The police, say the BBC, accuse Protopopov of selling off the road he got. That goes completely against the way I think. To me, if something might be remotely useful in some context I’m keeping it. “What, what do you need every receipt for buying gas for your car dating back to 2009 for?” a sane person might ask. To which I respond by pointing over the person’s shoulder, screaming as though in fear for my life, and running out of the room. A road is much more obviously useful, what with how you can set it up somewhere and attract a couple of grease trucks. Eventually this will form a little gentrified quick-food center in town, and you’ll get written up favorably in the local alt-weekly when they do their annual Dining In Town guide. So that’s where Protopopov really went wrong.

Also it turns out you can fence a stolen highway. I’m still getting over that a couple years ago someone stole a little garden statue from our front yard. It probably wasn’t this Protopopov fellow, although if Russian police do find he’s got a cute little statue of a rabbit standing up I’d appreciate their contacting me.

And second?


So Reuters had this headline yesterday:

Russia Builds World’s Largest Helicopter Made Of Horsemeat Sausages

It’s not a tactically deployable helicopter. That fact should relieve everyone worried about the impact it might have on NATO’s NH90 materiel-support quinoa helicopter. It’s just a helicopter made of 120 kilograms of sausage created to mark an anniversary for … I’m not positive. The video suggests it’s the town of Kumertau, which is apparently somewhere in Russia, although because this is an amusing little “people do something silly” article it ignores basic journalism standards like having a clear dateline or providing instructions for people who’ve got a couple pounds of Tofurky kielbasa and an interest in making replica flexible-wing aircraft. Also, no reaction from the people who now hold the record for merely the world’s second- or even third-largest helicopters made of horsemeat sausages? They must think we’re so dazzled by the headline that we’re not interested in more detail. Mind, it is a pretty dazzling headline.

While the prospect of Russian sausage helicopters float around your head, though, why not peek over at my mathematics blog, which had another round of comic strips to talk about recently? If you don’t like that you might also like the A-to-Z challenge I’m doing, in which I take mathematics terms and try to explain them without too many other mathematics terms.

You know, it’s not even a sausage helicopter anybody can eat. That seems disrespectful to the sausage-makers as well as the horses.

A Dream Game Show


I figure any regular readers here know I sometimes get clear messages of some sort of mischief afoot from the dream world, like when I got in the way of His Majesty, King of the Nuditarians. If you didn’t know that, well, sometimes that happens. Usually there’s a clear message, like I’ve been unintentionally messing up Tina Fay’s costumes and should stop whatever I do that causes that to happen, even if it just seems to be existing. But sometimes I just don’t know what to make of one.

So you know how the world is full of TV shows in which celebrities get into quarrels with people, who are then delighted because they’ve been yelled at by a celebrity? Apparently the dream world has those too, and in one of them a Russian game show consists of getting into insult-matches with a host who looks strikingly like Conan O’Brien, which is plausible since the last fifteen years have taught us the parts of Europe that aren’t Ireland are full of people who look strikingly like Conan O’Brien. And somehow I was there for a taping.

I suppose it’s one of those shows done on the street, because the host was hanging around what looked like a desolate CVS. You know the sort, where there’s several metal shelves empty of everything and you’re not perfectly sure the place didn’t close two weeks ago and they haven’t got rid of everything yet. It can’t have been an ambush, though, because the contestant could see the cameras and us-the-audience hanging around as Russian Game Show Host Conan challenged him.

Apparently there’s topics in competitive insulting these days, which shows how out of touch I am. I know insulting from being with my siblings, where you just tried to hurt the other’s feelings, and if that didn’t work, you dropped an empty glass cake pan on their heads. (Um, also, sorry about that. But I won.) Maybe it’s just the game show does that to keep the contest challenging. Anyway, the topic got to be insulting one another about the weather, even though most people aren’t responsible for that, what with the historically low turnout for weather-board elections.

The contestant I thought gave a pretty good go at it, especially when Russian Game Show Conan pounced on some kind of issue with the way the contestant had used the word “glacier”, which didn’t seem to be getting anywhere but was causing a small, perfectly formed, pillar of ice about the radius of a manhole cover to rise up from the Desolate CVS floor and push into the display shelves. I must conclude that insult-based game shows are filmed on magic-realist sets these days. But Russian Game Show Conan’s turn ended without his getting to the actual point of all this definition-quibbling and very-localized pillar-of-ice raising. I thought it was going to be a walkover.

The audience was having a good time of it, though, and I guess I was too, laughing pretty dramatically and smiling widely and all that, which I guessed look good on camera because one of the production associates waved me over to the aisle where Desolate CVS stores the stuff left over from no precisely identifiable holiday. I figured she was having me sign a release because I’d been caught on camera saying something too good to pass up, although when I looked at the card I realized she was writing in my name as a team captain.

At this point I woke up, which is probably for the best. I’m not really in form for insult contests these days and who knows if Desolate CVS stores even carry glass cake pans, and I was distracted by the whole pillar-of-ice thing which seemed more important to me than anyone else.

Still, there’s the problem of what message I should draw from this dream. It’s clearly not something simple, like, get out of important nude people’s way or apologize. That I should be wary of Russian insult-based game shows is apparent, but hardly seems like a lesson I needed to learn, given my preference for parlor-game and trivia-based game shows. I guess there’s something about being aware of where glass cake pans are at all times. Any ideas, readers?

Harold Lloyd: A Sammy In Siberia


I realized I’ve got a shocking lack of Harold Lloyd video in my little humor blog here, so let me correct that by referring you loyal readers to the 1919 Hal Roach-directed short A Sammy In Siberia, which is surely one of the few American comedies set against the backdrop of the Allied invasion of Siberia in 1918. Archive.org has the video in reasonably archival form, though YouTube again has the form easier to embed in a WordPress site. Don’t read the comments [*].

I admit it’s the setting that’s making me choose this one. The short doesn’t really show Lloyd (or Roach) at his best, despite a couple nicely done stunts and fast action. But when do you see any kind of pop cultural representation of the Siberian Intervention? And I wonder also where Hal Roach filmed this, since there’s a good bit of what looks like stuff filmed outdoors in the snow. (On the other hand, the establishing shot of the cabin with the mountains in the background looks like a set to me.) Wikipedia and the Internet Movie Database don’t seem to have much about this film. That’s often a danger with silents, though, to get distracted by looking at the stuff that isn’t the actors.

[*] It’s funny because back then you could stereotype Russians as big fat guys in silly hats the way you can’t anymore since political correctness destroyed humor? Seriously, guy, you want to put that thought out on the Internet where people can read it?

Bridged Gapping


This was a while ago but I was thinking of a Reuters article that said police in Russia accused a man of stealing a bridge from a river crossing in the Ryazan region east of Moscow. (I know that’s a lot of setup to a sentence. I’m sorry.) And I realized that I hope he did it. Imagine being accused of something like that if you hadn’t done it. It could take hours to even understand the accusation. You can try yourself to see how hard it is to answer by going to anyone you happen to know has not stolen any bridges from the Ryazan regions near Moscow lately and accusing them. (Be careful. Many people thinking they’re joking will confess on the accusation. Insist they show you the stolen bridge before calling the authorities.)

I bet they accused him first thing in the morning, too, when he was barely awake and hadn’t even got all the drops of toothpaste goo out of the corners of his mouth. I just know that’s how they’d accuse me if they ever wanted to accuse me of stealing a bridge, and I’ve never even been to Russia.

Continue reading “Bridged Gapping”