Health Watch


So, I might have a cold. Maybe not. It’s in that point where I can deny it to myself. What I have got is a cough. I’ve had a small nagging cough since 1996. Today’s cough isn’t that. It’s louder and more urgent and, at the end, has taken on this little squeaky overtone. I’m not sure what this implies, but I think there’s a 25% chance that by the end of the week I’ll be a broken chew-toy for dogs. I’ll let you know if I can’t update any more because my fingers are just paint on an injection-molded plastic.

Watching The Dinosaurs At Michael’s


Safari Ltd 'Toob' tubes of small toy animals. Hanging from one hook is a tube of Carnivorous Dinos. Next to it the hook for tubes of Regular Dinos is empty.
Not pictured: the tube of Cryptozoological Creatures. Because they were out of frame, not because I couldn’t find them. But wouldn’t it be a kick if they listed their tube of, like, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster and all that in their catalogue and advertised them like crazy but only ever sent out one tube at a time to some random store two cities over from wherever you were? This is why you shouldn’t put me in charge of real businesses.

“Well, that’s funny; whatever happened to the tube of Dinosaurs? … And why is the tube of Carnivorous Dinos so heavy?”

It amused me, is who. And my love knew I was going to take a picture of that so I’m comfortable sharing it with you. If you’d like more writing try my mathematics blog, which did its weekly-or-so comics review yesterday. Thank you, won’t you?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

With the index dropping two points again and returning to its initial value of 100 once more a group of analysts are proposing they just start their own index and see how much better they do with it. I think they’re bluffing but goodness knows what happens when you get a bunch of analysts all upset that a number isn’t the number they want it to be.

100

Not Explaining The Convention We Didn’t Go To


My love and I were wondering last weekend when MediaWest*Con might be. This is a small but ancient science fiction/TV/movies/et cetera convention that’s been held in Lansing for the past Like 37 years [1]. We had no idea. We only found out about it last year because a friend was going to it and asked if we wanted to meet up for dinner during a slow stretch. It turned out the convention was being held just that weekend, right as we were wondering when it might be.

We couldn’t go. They only sell 700 attending memberships and were sold out. But we found this magnificent question and answer on their web site:

3. Why do you have Apocryphal memberships and allow pets?

We found some people were buying full memberships for their stuffed critters, so we started offering Apocryphal memberships for stuffed or live critters and for alternate identities so as not to take up already limited regular memberships.

As for pets, we had started bringing our dogs to the con so we didn’t have to board them, which cleared the way for others to bring their pets, as long as they get along with the other animals and members (which goes for the humans as well!). Some people miss their pets too much, and some pets don’t do well without their people.

This is my favorite sort of explanation. It’s clear, concise, and doesn’t explain a thing. That thing: wait, there were so many people buying memberships for their stuffed dolls that it was creating resentment in the standby list? How many people was that? Surely not one, because who’d notice that? Ten? Again, nobody would notice ten people not there because toys were instead. 680? That’s more plausible. It suggests there a time in Like 1994[2], when the convention was twenty people and hundreds upon hundreds of plush dolls dressed in Star Trek, Blake’s 7, and Bruce Campbell costumes. All staring at the people who couldn’t get in. And someone declared, “there must be something we can do! And I know what it is!” And that lone person was a stuffed Vulcan-eared teddy bear dressed up like George Francisco from Alien Nation, and was the voice of reason.

Also I like how pets are allowed because hey, pets.


[1] 35 or 38 years depending on how you count some stuff.

[2] For example 1993, 1995, or possibly 1994.

S J Perelman: Insert Flap ‘A’ And Throw Away



Has everything amusing there is to be said about do-it-yourself kit projects been said? Perhaps. That doesn’t mean some great people haven’t said find things about it. From 1947’s The Best Of S J Perelman here’s some talk about a ready-to-assemble toy.

INSERT FLAP “A” AND THROW AWAY

One stifling summer afternoon last August, in the attic of a tiny stone house in Pennsylvania, I made a most interesting discovery: the shortest, cheapest method of inducing a nervous breakdown ever perfected. In this technique (eventually adopted by the psychology department of Duke University, which will adopt anything) , the subject is placed in a sharply sloping attic heated to 340 °F. and given a mothproof closet known as the Jiffy-Cloz to assemble. The Jiffy-Cloz, procurable at any department store or neighborhood insane asylum, consists of half a dozen gigantic sheets of red cardboard, two plywood doors, a clothes rack, and a packet of staples. With these is included a set of instructions mimeographed in pale-violet ink, fruity with phrases like “Pass Section F through Slot AA, taking care not to fold tabs behind washers (see Fig. 9).“ The cardboard is so processed that as the subject struggles convulsively to force the staple through, it suddenly buckles, plunging the staple deep into his thumb. He thereupon springs up with a dolorous cry and smites his knob (Section K) on the rafters (RR). As a final demonic touch, the Jiffy-Cloz people cunningly omit four of the staples necessary to finish the job, so that after indescribable purgatory, the best the subject can possibly achieve is a sleazy, capricious structure which would reduce any self-respecting moth to helpless laughter. The cumulative frustration, the tropical heat, and the soft, ghostly chuckling of the moths are calculated to unseat the strongest mentality.

In a period of rapid technological change, however, it was inevitable that a method as cumbersome as the Jiffy-Cloz would be superseded. It was superseded at exactly nine-thirty Christmas morning by a device called the Self-Running 10-Inch Scale-Model Delivery-Truck Kit Powered by Magic Motor, costing twenty-nine cents. About nine on that particular morning, I was spread-eagled on my bed, indulging in my favorite sport of mouth-breathing, when a cork fired from a child’s air gun mysteriously lodged in my throat. The pellet proved awkward for a while, but I finally ejected it by flailing the little marksman (and his sister, for good measure) until their welkins rang, and sauntered in to breakfast. Before I could choke down a healing fruit juice, my consort, a tall, regal creature indistinguishable from Cornelia, the Mother of the Gracchi, except that her foot was entangled in a roller skate, swept in. She extended a large, unmistakable box covered with diagrams.

“Now don’t start making excuses,“ she whined. “It’s just a simple cardboard toy. The directions are on the back —”

“Look, dear,” I interrupted, rising hurriedly and pulling on my overcoat, “it clean slipped my mind. I’m supposed to take a lesson in crosshatching at Zim’s School of Cartooning today.”

“On Christmas?” she asked suspiciously.

“Yes, it’s the only time they could fit me in,” I countered glibly. “This is the big week for crosshatching, you know, between Christmas and New Year’s.”

“Do you think you ought to go in your pajamas?” she asked.

“Oh, that’s O.K.” I smiled. “We often work in our pajamas up at Zim’s. Well, goodbye now. If I’m not home by Thursday, you’ll find a cold snack in the safe-deposit box.” My subterfuge, unluckily, went for naught, and in a trice I was sprawled on the nursery floor, surrounded by two lambkins and ninety-eight segments of the Self-Running 10-Inch Scale-Model Delivery-Truck Construction Kit.

The theory of the kit was simplicity itself, easily intelligible to Kettering of General Motors, Professor Millikan, or any first-rate physicist. Taking as my starting point the only sentence I could comprehend, “Fold down on all lines marked ‘fold down;’ fold up on all lines marked ‘fold up’,” I set the children to work and myself folded up with an album of views of Chili Williams. In a few moments, my skin was suffused with a delightful tingling sensation and I was ready for the second phase, lightly referred to in the directions as “Preparing the Spring Motor Unit.” As nearly as I could determine after twenty minutes of mumbling, the Magic Motor (“No Electricity — No Batteries — Nothing to Wind — Motor Never Wears Out”) was an accordion-pleated affair operating by torsion, attached to the axles. “It is necessary,” said the text, “to cut a slight notch in each of the axles with a knife (see Fig. C). To find the exact place to cut this notch, lay one of the axles over diagram at bottom of page.”

“Well, now we’re getting some place!” I boomed, with a false gusto that deceived nobody. “Here, Buster, run in and get Daddy a knife.”

“I dowanna,” quavered the boy, backing away. “You always cut yourself at this stage.” I gave the wee fellow an indulgent pat on the head that flattened it slightly, to teach him civility, and commandeered a long, serrated bread knife from the kitchen. “Now watch me closely, children,” I ordered. “We place the axle on the diagram as in Fig. C, applying a strong downward pressure on the knife handle at all times.” The axle must have been a factory second, because an instant later I was in the bathroom grinding my teeth in agony and attempting to stanch the flow of blood. Ultimately, I succeeded in contriving a rough bandage and slipped back into the nursery without awaking the children’s suspicions. An agreeable surprise awaited me. Displaying a mechanical aptitude clearly inherited from their sire, the rascals had put together the chassis of the delivery truck.

“Very good indeed,” I complimented (naturally, one has to exaggerate praise to develop a child’s self-confidence). “Let’s see — what’s the next step? Ah, yes. ‘Lock into box shape by inserting tabs C, D, E, F, G, H, J, K, and L into slots C, D, E, F, G, H, J, K, and L. Ends of front axle should be pushed through holes A and B.’ ” While marshalling the indicated parts in their proper order, I emphasized to my rapt listeners the necessity of patience and perseverance. “Haste makes waste, you know,” I reminded them. “Rome wasn’t built in a day. Remember, your daddy isn’t always going to be here to show you.”

“Where are you going to be?” they demanded.

“In the movies, if I can arrange it,” I snarled. Poising tabs C, D, E, F, G, H, J, K, and L in one hand and the corresponding slots in the other, I essayed a union of the two, but in vain. The moment I made one set fast and tackled another, tab and slot would part company, thumbing their noses at me. Although the children were too immature to understand, I saw in a flash where the trouble lay. Some idiotic employee at the factory had punched out the wrong design, probably out of sheer spite. So that was his game, eh? I set my lips in a grim line and, throwing one hundred and fifty-seven pounds of fighting fat into the effort, pounded the component parts into a homogeneous mass.

“There” I said with a gasp, “that’s close enough. Now then, who wants candy? One, two, three — everybody off to the candy store!”

“We wanna finish the delivery truck!” they wailed. “Mummy, he won’t let us finish the delivery truck!” Threats, cajolery, bribes were of no avail. In their jungle code, a twenty-nine-cent gewgaw bulked larger than a parent’s love. Realizing that I was dealing with a pair of monomaniacs, I determined to show them who was master and wildly began locking the cardboard units helter-skelter, without any regard for the directions. When sections refused to fit, I gouged them with my nails and forced them together, cackling shrilly. The side panels collapsed; with a bestial oath, I drove a safety pin through them and lashed them to the roof. I used paper clips, bobby pins, anything I could lay my hands on. My fingers fairly flew and my breath whistled in my throat. “You want a delivery truck, do you?” I panted. “All right, I’ll show you!” As merciful blackness closed in, I was on my hands and knees, bunting the infernal thing along with my nose and whinnying, “Roll, confound you, roll!”

“Absolute quiet,” a carefully modulated voice was saying, “and fifteen of the white tablets every four hours.” I opened my eyes carefully in the darkened room. Dimly I picked out a knifelike character actor in a Vandyke beard and pencil-striped pants folding a stethoscope into his bag. “Yes,” he added thoughtfully, “if we play our cards right, this ought to be a long, expensive recovery.” From far away, I could hear my wife’s voice bravely trying to control her anxiety.

“What if he becomes restless, Doctor?”

“Get him a detective story,” returned the leech. “Or better still, a nice, soothing picture puzzle — something he can do with his hands.”

In Which I Guess I’ll Do Until The Souchong Guy Arrives


“Are you the souchong guy?” It’s not a question I expected to be asked. I doubt I’m alone. If any of you reading this now (or later, I’ll allow it) were expecting to be asked that please write in. I’d like to see how many are. But I wasn’t expecting it, so I was even worse than my average in responding to the guy at the farmers’ market. Not so bad as the whole “do you want to buy this pair of pants” fiasco, but worse than my average.

It’s really a grocery store, maybe a supermarket. It’s also got a garden center. But it styles itself a farmers market and I think there’s farmers involved with it somewhere. They carry the alt-weekly, and plastic bins of candy. And they’ve got a wine bar, so you maybe have the place scoped out now. I was there to get vegetables for our pet rabbit, and candy for our pet us, but I was wandering toward the tea section with the intent of getting tea. It’s the store where I got that scary box of Builders tea that I thought might punch me if I didn’t get it. They haven’t had it since, maybe after customer complaints about being punched by tea.

“Are you the souchong guy?” And the guy, who either worked for the store or was making off with one of their dollies, explained there was a guy with a beard who’d been looking for lapsang souchong tea. I was not that guy. I have a beard, and I drink tea, but that’s as far as things go.

I have a beard for considered reasons. If I didn’t grow a beard, I would have to shave, or have someone else shave me. And I can do that, when directed to by my love, or before that, my mother. Shaving once every two or three months may not be perfect. But it is between 98.3 and 98.9 percent of my ideal state of my face vanishing into a cloud of hair and spilled tea. That’s as much as one can hope for in this fallen world.

I don’t mean to imply beardedness dictates tea-drinking. I could drink coffee. I often get some at the farmers market’s complimentary coffee bar. But most of the time when I get coffee it’s because I didn’t hear the question right. I never drank enough coffee to get over the fact that it tastes like that. Tea, though, I’ve long since drank enough tea to accept that it tastes like that. The souchong guy might usually get coffee, but when he gets tea, he wants a tea that still takes time to get used to, and thus the souchong guy’s question.

The store guy explained that they hadn’t had any souchong, but he made some calls and found the last couple cases of Twinings souchong tea in the area. And they put it up on the shelves, ready for purchase. That’s sweet. The action, I mean. And I figured that since I was open to tea or tea-like products, why not go with this? After all, if it’s good enough for one Lansing-area guy with a beard, why not another?

As I drove home I got to thinking. I’m supposed to just believe a person asked for a specific kind of tea from the tea-selling staff at the store? I have a hard enough time working up the courage to impose on fast-food workers my preferred choice for lunch. To ask for something that isn’t even on sale there would be impossible. Oh, I hear of people going off and asking for things they’d like from stores that might sell these things, but I always took them to be the stuff of fantasy.

At this point my parents would like to point out the time when I was maybe five years old and my aunt asked what I wanted for Christmas. And I described this awesome toy spaceship. This sent my aunt on a crazed search through every toy store in northern New Jersey. The search ended when she realized that she had assumed I was talking about a toy that actually existed in any form anywhere, and I had not. I just answered what I would like, and never mind what exists. My aunt eventually talked to me again.

But! The situation is completely different. My aunt has, so far as I know, never even been in this farmers market and has no responsibility for the tea selection. Why would she have anything to do with souchong guy? I bet they had more souchong than they knew what to do with, and figured I was an easy mark for a little beard-based flattery.

Well, the souchong’s not bad with a bit of cream or milk. I can get used to it and call that liking it.

Toying With Me


You know, ever since I heard of the Baader-Mainhof Phenomenon I’ve been seeing examples of it everywhere. Let me share one. You maybe remember not watching Barry Levinson’s 1992 magnum something Toys, in which Robin Williams struggles to remain Robin Williams while struggling against an oppressive reign of set designers. Certainly I remember thinking I wouldn’t go see it, preferring instead to wait for it to come to me and insist to be let into my life and maybe use the bathroom and make a phone call to get its car towed. Police warn about falling for this scam; in 2012 alone, the last year for which there are these kinds of statistics, Peter Chelsom’s Town and Country broke its way into over fourteen Long Island residences and made off with collectible foyer knick-knacks valued at over $3.50 each. This may not sound like much but remember there’s a lot of things, including guitars and the Large Hadron Collider, valued at over $3.50 each.

But when my love discovered the soundtrack to Toys was produced by Trevor Horn, whom you’ll remember as discovering that electronic smashing-piano sound that pops into mind right after the phrase “owner of a lonely heart” deep in a southeast Asian jungle and bringing to public awareness, and Hans Zimmer, who worked with the Buggles before they got famous. And the soundtrack has got “The Happy Workers”, a gorgeously bleak bit of dystopian New Wave tune that’s about the perfect song for lugging yourself to a pointless job of no imaginable purpose or reward. We were overcome by curiosity about where it fit into the movie and besides the DVD was in the $4.99 bin at Best Buy and I had a $5 gift certificate and was on the verge of weeping openly that there wasn’t anything I really wanted to buy, including candy bars, in the store. I had to buy the DVD and a candy bar lest I make the computers explode by buying a $4.99 item with a $5 gift certificate. Don’t ask; that just makes the floor manager crawl under the contract-free cell phone display and refuse to come out.

Anyway, as you might expect, this engagingly despairing song is for the cheery happy part of the early film where genuinely content workers go to their toy-making job of waiting for a giant plastic doll head to belch much smaller, fully-bodied dolls, which they then pick up and set back down. These are the 104th, 118th, and 98th most baffling minutes of the 121-minute film, respectively, though they are the 3rd, 9th, and 8th most baffling minutes that explicitly remind the viewer of Zardoz. I tweeted some of my impressions while it was going on and I’m still not sure what happened.

Anyway, since all that, I’ve been seeing the Toys soundtrack everywhere. One friend pointed out he did a thing years ago where you record scenes from a game like Myst and splice it together to make a music video to the songs from it, which apparently is a perfectly normal thing that people do that I never heard of before. He was happy to share it with me, although since it was a video I downloaded it to find out nothing would play it, so he re-coded it, and I could watch that, although the aspect ratio was all messed up, so instead of displaying at a 4:3 ratio, the video appeared in a psychedelic spiral projected across the belly of a Chinese dragon. I think it’s a Quicktime Pro setting, right beside ‘scatter little green dots like candy sprinkles in the uniformly-colored section’.

I just wrote that off as an odd coincidence fired by his hearing I saw the movie and was still decompressing, but then another friend who I don’t think noticed any of this posted his own video, using “At The Closing Of The Year”. That is a violently twee song used at the start of the movie for one of those elaborately-staged Christmas pageants toy companies put on because Paul McCartney dared Trevor Horn to create a song too precious to even listen to without kit gloves draped across your head, and Barry Levinson figured this was the perfect way to foreshadow how in the climax things would explode.

Nothing exploded in our friend’s video except our unjustified confidence that we lived in a world in which the Toys soundtrack would not suddenly leap out at us. But we’re recovering well enough while staying wary, waiting for the next bit of music to drop from a giant baby doll head, be picked up, and set back down.

Playing Without Fire


We got a bundle of those battery-operated LED tea lights, the kind that look like candles without those problems of open fire and wax and smoke and stuff. We were going to get just a couple, but we couldn’t find just a couple of battery-powered tea lights because the Meijer we were in is renovating so that nobody can find anything anymore. I walked along the aisles, sinking further into the helpless despair that comes from finding magazines on display next to men’s shirts or houseplants scrunched up a little too close to the mouthwash aisle. Maybe I was overreacting, but I sure felt at parts like I was going to have to survive by eating my own shoes and drinking rainwater out of a fountain drinks cup scavenged from the parking lot. Maybe I need to go to a different Meijer’s until the renovations are done.

It turns out over by the regular candles they had the imitation candles, which we probably should have guessed. I didn’t see them right away, so guessed maybe they’re in housewares, or maybe by the lamps, or maybe a little farther out, and I think I was going to give automobile parts a try on the grounds I had nothing to lose, when my love found them. And we kept finding packs of more tea lights in each bunch. Tea lights turn out to be very economical when you buy in quantities of over four thousand at a time, and we’re now very set, lighting-wise, for both our decorative and for our teeny tiny localized power failure needs.

They’re bilingual tea lights, so as to let us pretend they’re Sans Flamme brand lights, unless they actually are called that and the bilingual directions and warning label is a coincidence. Among the warnings, printed in English and in French, is: “This is not a toy”. The warning comes out a good deal more merry in French: “Cet article n’est pas un jouet”. This makes it sound like the thing battery tea lights aren’t is some kind of jest, or an obscure sport from the Old Country, or maybe one of those long early medieval poems about French kings killing Angevins. It depends what a “jouet” is. Between middle and high school I took four years of French classes. I’m helpless to do more than agree that household articles are owned by relatives.

But now the warning’s given me a challenge. Is there a way to use tea lights as a toy? The obvious way is to use them next time we play Monopoly, letting them take the place of traditional tokens like the thimble, the dog, the pawn that immigrated from the Sorry board before that was lost, and the tiny Rubik’s Cube earring that broke off its mount long ago but, hey, tiny Rubik’s Cube you can use as a Monopoly token. Tea lights would fit right in, because then when we got tired of the game we could turn them on and declare that the game was ended by arsonists.

Except! I can’t call a board game token a “toy” and neither can you. I may not have a perfect conceptual theory of what a toy is, but I’m fairly sure that if you imagine getting it for your eighth birthday, and realize your response would have been an age-weary groan, then it isn’t a toy. It’s some kind of socks or perhaps a decent set of trousers. And there’s no using tea lights for socks, battery-operated or not; any decent pair of socks is powered by the feeling of discomfort you get after they’re soaked through by an unexpected puddle. An indecent pair of socks is made whole again by darning, a process people were able to do until the early days of television when you had to be careful about your language.

I grant this all sounds like the tea light subject is getting away from me. But the point is I’ve got plenty of battery-powered tea lights, and I’m interested in ways in which they could be used as toys. I think it’s because I’d like assurance that the prohibition on their use as toys isn’t just because the manufacturers are opposed to fun but because they’re worried of the consequences of a toy-tea-light-based explosion or the like. So, this is why I haven’t had the time to do any of my real work lately.

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