Please Send Floss


1st February. The toothpaste is getting pretty low.

2nd February. Yes, there’s somehow even less toothpaste than there was yesterday. This would be worth doing something about except who wants to sully Groundhog Day with talk of something as sordid as toothpaste or something?

3rd February. Despite all the toothpaste being used there’s still less of it than there was the day before.

4th February. Dwindling of the toothpaste supply continues. It is beginning to look like it will not correct itself.

5th February. Now the toothpaste is basically out. Rolling it up from the end will get another day or two out of this, but that’s the end of things.

6th February. Never mind the blizzard and the bitter cold and just how tiring it is to do anything anymore. The only choices are to go to the store and buy more toothpaste or to wake up with teeth that feel like I didn’t brush my teeth the night before.

7th February. Forgot to get toothpaste at the store, which, there you go. Chance to go out tomorrow probably. It’s not quite out and there’s probably one or two more days’ worth, right?

8th February. All right, there’s another day’s worth of toothpaste left in the tube.

9th February. All right, there’s just one more day’s worth in the old tube. It’s not like the new toothpaste is going to be spoiled if it sits around another day or two.

10th February. Sure I already rolled the tube up, but it turns out if I roll it up again there’s just enough for one more day.

11th February. Well, now it seems like there’s moer toothpaste in the tube than there was yesterday. This has to be a clerical error of some kind, hasn’t it? I bet if I go back and check the logs this will all make sense.

12th February. Well, now the toothpaste tube holding out is starting to get ridiculous.

13th February. Definitely throwing the tube out tomorrow even if it hasn’t somehow given up the last drop of toothpaste.

14th February. But that would be wasteful.

15th February. You know if I “accidentally” knock the toothpaste over into the wastebin nobody could fairly blame me for not bothering to pick it up.

16th February. Now it’s reaching a dangerous spot. Like, some part of me is thinking of how one day’s toothpaste has lasted now all of February, which is a short month, yes, but it’s not all that short. All your name-brand months have at least sixteen days. It’s some kind of very oddly focused miracle. But then another part of me thinks, boy, this sounds like I’m making a joke about Hanukkah. And yeah, I’m just thinking about something a bit silly and whimsical in a weird little silly situation. But it also feels like there’s something here that’s insensitive at best and maybe offensive. And that’s the worst kind of joke to make. You can make a joke that you don’t mean to offend anyone. If you screw it up and do anyway, you can own up and apologize and if you went in with honest intentions most people will forgive you. You can make a joke that you do mean to offend someone, if you know who it is you want to offend and why you want to offend them about this point. And if you make a good joke that offends some definite person for a definite reason people will be okay with that, too. But a joke that you toss out there not really knowing if anyone should be offended, or why? That gets everybody in trouble. Nobody can form a coherent argument to have about who should be upset or whether they should or shouldn’t be, and so we all end up angry and annoyed and tired. This is just me repeating the wise advice of Machiavelli, from his classic The Prince Of Comedy. You know his analysis of offensive humor got Machiavelli a three-week residency in front of a brick wall outside the Piazza della Signoria, after which they hurled rocks (the ancestor of popcorn) at him.

17th February. All right, so I have to move the wastebin a lot closer to the sink before there’s any chance of my “accidentally” dropping the toothpaste into it. Also maybe I have to hold the toothpaste with the wrong hand.

18th February. Beginning to regret not keeping the receipt from that new tube of toothpaste so I could return it and put the $2.29 into more pressing needs. Pretty dumb to have sunk all my liquidity even into tartar-controlling goo.

19th February. You’d think having a tube containing an infinite volume of toothpaste would be able to make you some money, even if it is Aim. There is no way I can see to it, though.

20th February. Foot hurts too much from stepping in the wastebin by accident to think about why the toothpaste hasn’t run out yet.

How To Not Be Overly Organized


Is it possible to be too organized? Physics offers us an answer: it explains that the polhode rolls without slipping over the herpolhode. This sounds dirty. It really has something to do with the rotation of rigid bodies as they begin their nutation. This makes it sound unbelievably filthy. Physics reports now that it misheard the question and apologizes fiercely.

Now that we ask physics again, where it knows its mother is listening, we have a better answer. It would be too organized if all the mass and energy of the universe were piled into a single spot of extraordinarily high, by which we mean low, entropy, causing the expansion of space to restart with a new Big Bang and the formation of a different universe with physics that might be substantially different from those we know. Even the person who’s so orderly as to have a ten-point checklist for connecting the garden hose would agree this is too organized, given how long it would take for a new universe to expand and cool enough to support stars, life, limited-edition holiday-flavor candy corn, and the part of town where they’re always having ukulele festivals.

Most of us stop before that point anyway, because we are stymied by questions such as: does it count as a pair of socks if they are noticeably not alike, but they are each the only one of their kind, and you have two of them? This is the problem I posed to my advanced physics lab partner in college, when he said he was starting to organize his dorm room by dividing it into “pair of socks” and “not a pair of socks”. His answer was to look at me with sad despair. His dorm-room organization project ended in failure, and we were unable to show that the Inverse Zeeman Effect ever happened.

The Inverse Zeeman Effect is a physics thing you look for in advanced physics labs and it has nothing to do with polhodes as far as I know. It’s named for the Dutch physicist Pieter Zeeman, who was such the life of the party he was known in every physics lab as Pieter “The Man” Zeeman, only in Dutch. Eventually he got a sinecure working for the water-reclamation agency. This allowed him to be Pieter “Zie Man” Zeeman of the Zeiderzeewerken. For putting up with this all his life they gave him a Nobel Prize and asked him to say “sinecure” with a Dutch accent.

Even we who are not Nobel Prize-winning Dutch physicists find natural limits to organization. Most things enjoy a natural resting spot which doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to be consistent. Which is why, in a boring anecdote I am not making up, I kept my toothpaste in the refrigerator for about four years when I was living in Singapore. It was probably an accident at first. But then it kept happening, and before you knew it, if somehow there were toothpaste in a more traditionally sensible place in my apartment, such as the bathroom, I’d never know it. Clearly the natural habitat of Singaporean toothpaste was in the refrigerator. I should have left a note for whoever got my apartment after I moved out. But if I had left one, would they have believed me? What might they have said about it? “This person writes too small to be legible”, most likely. I’ve left notes for people before.

The trouble is that organizing tries to put things where it makes sense for them to be, which is rarely were they want to be. The displaced things respond by going missing altogether. Who among us hasn’t tidied the office supplies on their desk and discovered the stapler can’t be found? Or organized the stuff in their medicine cabinet to find that not only is their toothpaste gone but there’s no evidence that they’ve ever had toothpaste? To tidy up the house so well that the guest room goes completely missing and there’s just a vacant spot on the wall is an unusual event. But it’s not unprecedented.

If there is one important thing to consider, it’s this: the Dutch have a municipality named “Urk”. It’s a former island, as the Zuiderzee’s been reclaimed all around it. Now it’s geographically part of the Noordoostpolder, which sounds like they’re doing physics over there. Somebody look into that. After knocking.

Cold Comforts


I’ve got a cold. It’s a small one, as these things go. I hesitate to even mention it. Not because I don’t want to sound like I’m whining. If I thought people would listen to me I would. But I’ve learned people don’t want to hear where I have actual serious feelings about things, so I’ll keep them to myself. I don’t want to have them either.

The main reason I wouldn’t mention the cold is I have several friends very concerned I haven’t heard the Good News about Zinc. I know they mean well and I appreciate that they mean well. I try to brush them aside by explaining there’s a bad family history with zinc. Great-uncle Chuck got in trouble with the War Production Board in 1944 over allegations he was hoarding toothpaste. This joke always fails. It’s way too specific and incredibly over-researched for how short it is. Only the part about having a great-uncle named Chuck feels even remotely natural. They put zinc in toothpaste tubes back then because oh I don’t know. I have a cold. I’m pretty sure it was zinc. I don’t know why. I couldn’t tell you when they switched to toothpaste.

It’s just that zinc doesn’t do anything for me, and neither does anything else. All that really helps is to sit up very still hoping that this next time I blink it won’t hurt so much. I exaggerate. If my nose is stopped up, then some nasal spray will clear it out in seconds, which is worse. I don’t know why I do it except for the joy of doing something that definitely has an effect. I will try other cold medicines. But that’s just because I respect the rituals of doing things for a cold rather than because of any effect. The cold medicine industry goes to a great deal of effort putting out foul-tasting white pellets in white bottles inside white boxes. It would be ungrateful of me to ignore all that work.

The only cold medicine that did something besides transfer the ache from my eyelids to my fingernails was something I had while back in Singapore. I’m not sure what it was, but I’m kind of sure the name started with a soft consonant. It got me nice and drowsy right in the middle of Turner Classic Movies Asia showing Tod Browning’s Freaks. I went to bed and woke up eight hours later and turned the TV on and it was nearly back to the same scene I’d left off on. So I credit the M—- or maybe N—– something with making Freaks somehow even more primally unsettling.

Which serves to point out that colds aren’t all bad things. I appreciate some of good of this. For example, my voice is doing that thing where I sound, in my head, much more like Leonard Nimoy in the third season of Star Trek than usual. Combined with the acoustics in the shower and I can really perfectly hit some Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs songs, though I should not. The change in my voice’s timbre also warns me away from ever trying to sing anything that Sting might, including nursery rhymes. But I kind of knew to avoid that anyway. So I can’t credit the cold for that.

Another thing the cold offers: I have a socially acceptable reason to eat anything that I see. I used to have that reason, in that I used to be extremely fat. Society might like telling people they should eat less, but it also accepts that if a fat person feels like eating something they’ve got leave to. How else are they going to stay fat except by one of the 18,640 critical insights about nutrition that humanity doesn’t understand? Anyway, I got thin a couple years ago, and if I actually went and ate everything I felt like stuffing into my face I’d be the subject of scorn. But having a cold, well, everyone remembers you either starve a cold or you feed it. They won’t pick a fight over an aphorism that doesn’t mean anything useful that they aren’t sure they have right.

Still, the cold doesn’t have everything. In particular my throat isn’t doing that thing where breathing in and out makes a little rolling noise like a motor is lurching into action. So I can’t say I really approve of all this.