Wednesday, April 16, 2014

There Are No Vegan Children

Let's just get this one straight. There are no vegan children. There are no vegetarian children. No sugar-free diet children. No farm-to-table, locally-sourced-food-only children. There are only children from whom meat, dairy and sugar have been withheld. Get it? Understand?

I guess I'm just a stickler for accurate labeling. I get that the kid eats no beef. There's no misunderstanding there. It's the label I don't like. He isn't a vegetarian. That implies some kind of choice, some agency, some free will. A kid has no choice but to eat what mom and dad set down in front of him at dinnertime. If an inmate at Sing Sing, eating $5/day of food tried to boast that he was really on the SNAP Challenge, hoping to awaken America to the inadequacy of public food assistance, we'd all laugh. We'd laugh because it would be a fucking joke. Do you get me? You see my point?

A person with no say in the matter can't be called a Vegan. They are, to repeat myself, a person from whom non-Vegan foods have been compulsorily withheld. You can't call that unfortunate person a Vegan any more than you could call a starving African villager with no access to meat a Vegetarian. A person who is desperate for a little chicken but can't afford any is not a Vegetarian, and neither are your children.

Now here come the Vegan parents, ready to set me straight. "You couldn't be more wrong." they're saying in my imagination. "Little Sophia/Isabella/Emma came to ME and ASKED to be vegan. She was HORRIFIED by the idea of animal slaughter. She would WEEP bitter tears at the mere sight of a hamburger. I twisted nobody's arm. I am proud of my little Jayden/Mason/Connor/Langdon/Tate and his own initiative to be a strict vegan."

Great. Bravo for him. While he munches on a rice cake, let me introduce you to some more kids. Here's some kids who believe whites are the master race.
Here are a few that think God hates fags.
Here's one that thinks Jews are apes and pigs.

I guess what I'm saying here is, kids are... impressionable. If a kid grows up in a Vegan home, and is taught from the tenderest age that meat-eating is murder, then surprise! You end up with an eager Vegan cadet. You get a kid who can't wait to be Vegan. Am I supposed to be impressed? There's a reason we don't let kids vote, drive cars, get married, run for office. They've got tiny, immature brains.
We pity the kids in the videos I linked to above. We don't hold them accountable for their wackjob opinions. Why? Because they aren't really opinions. They're the result of a kid's ingrained need to absorb the truth from mom and dad. And so your child's desire to forgo cheeseburgers doesn't speak to their superior morality or maturity, it speaks merely to your successful indoctrination. You successfully got your kid to swear off cheeseburgers, even though any kid loves a cheeseburger. At least those KKK kids get a plate of ribs once in a while.   

There was this sad little girl I grew up with. She was a family friend. Her dad put her on a no-sugar or reduced-sugar diet. I'm not sure exactly what is was, but the part of it I saw was that she had to be carefully segregated and monitored at all the birthday parties. Her father's condition for her attendance at the party was that she get no sugar. And kids parties - in case you're unaware - are like sugary bacchanals. They are the one time when all dietary rules are relaxed and kids gorge themselves on sticky fistfuls of candy, cakes, sodas. And here was this girl, glum and miserable, being carefully shielded from the whole spread. Some of the parents would actually get angry. This was torture for the girl and everyone could see it. Maybe she had been persuaded at home that sugar was evil, but when you go to a party and see everyone else indulging with no ill effects, you're bound to question the faith. I picture her now, pushing 40, bone-skinny and having shrieking nightmares about cupcakes. What was the point of that regimen? Was it so the dad could boast he was raising a sugar-free family?

Adults can make choices. Kids parrot what they've been taught to say and eat what they're allowed to eat. They are no more Vegan than this kid is not cold and dead.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Six Year Old Virtuosos Don't Impress Me

A six year old boy or girl comes out on stage in formal attire, bows to applause, sits down at the piano, and proceeds to play some lightning-paced, dizzyingly complex, technically demanding sonata. She plays it flawlessly, finishes with the theatrical elevated hands on the final note, and rises to a rapturous ovation. The youtube video gets millions of hits, and the little tyke shows up on Ellen later that week saying that she plays piano because "I don't know, I like it."

This is a massive fraud. There is no such thing as a six year old virtuoso. I have a computer program that can play back sheet music when the sheet music is scanned in. Is my computer a virutoso? No. Neither is the kid. My computer's playback has perfect precision. It also can be tweaked with instructions for tempo and crescendo and such, so the playback won't sound entirely robotic. So why doesn't my computer get to play Carnegie Hall?

For the same reason that the kid also shouldn't get to. A computer executes instructions, without passion and without artistry. It has no life experience, it has no emotional maturity. It has no way to connect with the music on any level beyond the superficial. It can plumb no emotional depths. It can offer no fresh take, no intimacy, no playfullness or humor, and no pathos. It's a machine.

The six year old kid is flesh and blood, but he shares most of, if not all of these same deficiencies. The child can follow instructions and be a fine mimic, but is utterly incapable of real musicianship. Consider a piece like Wagner's prelude to Tristan. It's a work that uses the nonverbal language of music to communicate emotions of maddening, perpetually unfulfilled desire - a totally consuming desire for something just out of reach. It builds and builds until it the desire itself becomes a strange kind of ecstacy. The climax of the piece is practically sexual. The piece is written for orchestra, but Wagner wrote a perfectly servicable piano reduction. So let's sit the six year old virtuoso down in front of this piece, and try to coax a great performance out of him. It's impossible. The kid lacks the emotional knowledge and maturity to even begin to wrangle with Tristan's prelude. The kid, technical keyboard whiz that he might be, could certainly master all the notes. He might even, with careful coaching, learn how to mimic a great performance of the Prelude. But hey, so could my computer. As I said, it's a fraud.

Kids, surprise surprise, are good at learning things. Evolution equipped them well. A kid can learn 3 languages through mere exposure in the same time an adult would struggle to learn one. If you sit a kid of 3 or 4 down in front of a piano and embark upon a frustrating campaign to get him proficient, and you force him to submit involuntarily to a thousand hours of practice, and you persevere through his tantrums, you will end up with a six year old who can muscle his way through Prokofiev's Piano Sonata no.7. Hooray. But it doesn't mean he's a genius. It means you successfully shackled your toddler to a Yamaha. And when I say you made him submit involuntarily, I say it because, let me go out on a limb, six year olds generally have no interest in playing Prokofiev's piano sonata no.7. But the joke's on you, tiger mom, because the performer you've struggled so hard to create is simply a mimic. You've confused mimicry with artistry. I might go to a circus to see if the clown can juggle 10 plates without dropping any - that's the idea of plate juggling. But I don't go to the concert hall to see if the performer can get through the Prokofiev without making an error. I go to make some kind of intimate connection with the music. And I need a performer who is an appropriate conduit for the music. Someone who understands it and can tease out all its nuances while making the performance indelible and personal. And little Gunnar or Mason doesn't have those chops. But you don't get that do you? To you it's plate juggling. Good thing you forced him to sit on the piano bench for years while his friends were being creative and playing outdoors.

And that frankly is what I see when I see the six year old in the concert hall, sitting at the piano, legs dangling. I don't see a precocious prodigy, or a budding genius. I don't even see an artist. I see a kid who had the bad luck to be leg-ironed to a piano bench during years when his emotional and intellectual development would have been better served on a playground. I see a trained monkey.

Here's my advice to the tiger moms. Piano study (in moderation) is time well spent. We can agree there. But keep the music and the skill level age appropriate. This means playing children's ditties at age 6, not Rachmaninoff. By age 8 it can be a Mozart Minuet, by 10 the Sonata in C. This is not only easier music that doesn't demand hundreds of practice hours, but it's music that's emotionally accessible to the child. Training and study should of course include technique, sight reading, and all the other proteins of good musicianship, but it's also important to teach the theory of performance. Why do we perform? What does the artist bring to the music? What are we giving to the audience? This is the part that's entirely lacking in the normal tiger mom curriculum.

By the time the little squirt is 18, he/she would have the ability to handle the technically demanding stuff, but also would be mentally prepared for the real rigors of performance. The groundwork will have been properly laid.

Until then, spare me the youtube sensation, the talk show appearance, and the IQ score boast. You're not the proud parent of a gifted child, you're the confused parent of an unlucky child.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Always Get the Original Flavor

This is simple, people. The original recipe is the one that built the brand. It's the one that people bought by the millions. It's Colgate toothpaste. It's Dial soap. It's Coca Cola. The reason Colgate is a household name is not because of Colgate Advanced Plaque and Whitening Formula, it's because of the original tube that had Colgate written on it. That was the advanced formula. This is what people don't understand. The original was the genuis product that made the name. The advanced plaque fighting version didn't exist until 80 years later, when a business school type was hired to figure out how Colgate could guard it's market share. Which product do you want: the toothpaste that built the empire or the one imagined up by the executive who preached the merits of diversification? How is this even a hard choice?

And you see this all over the marketplace. As soon as a product gets popular it spawns 12 variants, all inferior. And because the new variants are always presented as special, advanced, or improved, no one buys the plain old unadorned original anymore. But the original is where the quality is. You can bank on it every time. Shampoo? Look for the bottle that says "for normal hair". That's the original. Orange juice? Find the carton with no vitamins or calcium added. Sam Adams? Boston Lager. Pizza? Original crust. Don't take the experimental newfangled crust that was supposed to usher in a whole new pizza paradigm. That's a marketing exec getting paid and laughing at you. This is the person who got paid to say that a slice of pizza could be improved. Why should you pay the price for his assininity?

Consider the Oreo cookie. A masterpiece of design. A sculptured, aesthetic tour de force. Two irresistable flavors in perfect balance. This is the cookie that built Nabisco. Remember Barbarians at the Gate? Doesn't happen without the Oreo cookie. According to Wikipedia it's been the best selling cookie in the United States since its introduction in 1912.

And you know what you are if you buy your child the original Oreo instead of the double stuf? A heartless sonofabitch apparently. How dare you get the single stuf version for your family and deprive them of all that precious extra cream? Not to mention you didn't get any of the holiday colors versions, you cheap, thoughtless tightpurse.

That's what Oreo has done to it's own flagship cookie. By creating all these new versions and touting them as improvements, they've deliberately sabotaged the original and made it seem plain so that the fudge-dipped variety and others can look better by comparison. And it's worked. If you buy the original, which again to remind you was the dominant, most popular US cookie of the 20th century, then you presumably have no imagination, ambition or taste, and your child will look at you like you are deliberately trying to disappoint him.

Always remember: the original built the empire. The new version was the 1980's brainchild of the hired suit. Which do you want in your pantry?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Case Against Travel

Let’s say I walked into your house, took a dining room chair, and placed it facing a wall, with about 12 inches of clearance. Then I sat you in the chair, and made you a proposition. “Here’s the deal.” I say to you. “You have to sit in this chair for ten hours. You’re allowed to get up to stretch every few hours – and you can have bathroom breaks too. But otherwise you sit there. Don’t worry about food and water, I’ll bring it to you. You’re welcome to have a magazine or a book or an iPod to help pass the time. That’s it. For ten hours.”
“Why would I do that?” you ask me.
“In exchange I will give you something truly valuable.”
“Look,” you say, “It’s not like I have ten hours of free time to give you. I’m pretty busy.”
“Oh I know. I need you to use your vacation hours from work for this. We’ll schedule it months in advance.”
“I don't get too many vacation hours.” you say to me. “This would have to be worth it.”
“Oh it is.” I insist.
“So I sit here in this cramped chair for 10 hours. Anything else?”
“Well,” I say, “Every once in a while during the 10 hours I will shake the chair violently and you will experience a brief moment of mortal panic. Oh, and you need to pay me $1,500. That’s it.”
You: “This sounds terrible.”
Me: "Ah, but I haven't told you what you get in return. Are you ready for this?"
“Yes I’m ready.”
“In exchange for that irritating test of your patience, you my friend will get to tour some truly beautiful cathedrals.”
“What? Cathedrals? Why would I want to tour a cathedral?”
“Because you’re not some uncultured boob. But wait, that isn’t all. There’ll be a charming sunset in it for you too. Maybe a scenic vista.  A couple of meals at some delightful trattoria. And at night! You won’t believe what happens then!”
“What happens at night?”
“Well, it will be just like sleeping here at home in your own bed, except it will be a) hotter, b) on a shitty mattress, c) noisy, d) humid, e) creaky, f) vaguely unsanitary, and g) the room will feature an elusive biting insect who comes out and strikes at the exact moment of slumber, then expertly disappears back into the peeling, stained wallpaper from whence it came.
“How is that preferable to my own bed at home?”
“Because it will be different! And different is better!”
“All right. So, I get the cathedral tours,”
“For a small fee.”
“And the trattoria. And the sunset. And the shitty bed.”
“And all I have to do is sit in the chair for 10 hours and pay you the $1,500.”
“Twice. It’s actually twice in the chair. Once before, once after. Forgot to mention it.”
“Okay…” you say. “My answer is no. That’s an awful deal. It seems to consist of nothing except being uncomfortable and paying money, and the fleeting moments of enjoyment that might arguably be possible are entirely outweighed by the ordeal of everything else. Frankly, I can think of no worse use of my time.”
End….. scene! To me, this is travel. It’s the opportunity to pay money and be bored and uncomfortable in exchange for getting to a place where you can pay money to be bored and uncomfortable. Any travel proposal, for me, has to pass the chair test. As in: would I be willing to sit in a chair facing the wall for ten hours in order to do it.
Very, very few things in life pass the chair test. I would submit to the chair ordeal for, say, a large lottery win. I would do it for a weekend at the Four Seasons with a sex starved Mila Kunis. I would do it to prevent an earthquake that would kill thousands of people. I would do it for a time machine. And that’s really about it. Getting to tour a magnificent ancient cathedral does not pass the chair test.
To be honest, if there was a beautiful cathedral a mile from my house, I wouldn’t go tour it, because who gives a fuck? And why should I sit in a chair for 10 hours to leave the comforts and protections of the United States to visit some vermin infested shithole? And pay for the privilege! Even if I’m just going to some tropical paradise somewhere, why visit a country where you’re really not supposed to leave the resort unless it’s with an escort and a town car? Or a country with a gulag? Or a country where you can’t walk 5 feet without someone trying to sell you wooden toys? Or a country where the toilet paper has to go in a separate garbage can? Or where you can’t drink the water? Or where you need a series of inoculations?
Where’s the upside? What’s the reward? Where’s the payoff? I’ve done these trips, and the biggest moment of personal discovery was the feeling of giddy happiness when I realized I was only an hour or so away from home, my own bed, and food that I knew met a threshold of freshness and safety.

Don't get me wrong. If I could snap my fingers and just teleport to anyplace in the world, I would do a bit of travelling. Lunch at a Paris bistro here, an afternoon on a Caribbean beach there. But the key is the short duration. After I pay the bill at the bistro, I'm ready to step back into my own home where climate control and a PS3 await. What I'm not ready for is the jet lag, the hassles of the airport and customs. The suspicioun of getting ripped off everywhere you go. The language barrier. The power adapters that fry your electric shaver. And most of all, I'm not ready to hand over multiple paycheck's worth of cash and submit to the chair. Twice. All for what? Cafe au lait and a stroll through the Louvre? You've got to be out of your mind.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Bland-Phrase Movie Titles that Carry No Meaning

It's complicated. How do you know? Because I said so. Is this as good as it gets? Something's gotta give.

Do these bland phrases add up to a coherent thought? Or are they all movies starring an elderly Jack Nicholson?

How big a cop out is it when a movie just picks a random, dull, shopworn common saying as its title, without any attempt to relate it to the film itself? You've got an expression like "Something's gotta give." - which as far as I can tell means you've got an overpacked schedule and you'll need to cancel something. What does that concept have to do with the film of the same name, which (I did see it) is sort of a weekend-in-the-country light comedy about an unlikely romance?

Really - I've spent a long time thinking about this: who in the movie is the person from which something has gotta be given? Diane Keaton? Keanu Reeves? Who can turn to the camera and say "I've got A, B, C and D going on. I'm going crazy, I'm overburdened, I've got too much on my mind - something's gotta give!"

The answer is no one. They picked a cliche for the name of the film, and they couldn't be bothered to find a cliche that passed some minimum threshold of relevance. The movie could just as easily have been named "A Stitch in Time", "Sauce for the Goose", "Loose Lips Sink Ships" or even "Whoever Smelt It Dealt It". It wouldn't matter. The point, I guess, is that you, the audience member will think to yourself - "Hey, yeah, I know that phrase! This must be my kind of movie!" and head immediately to the box office.

Woody Allen is a particular offender in this department. When he comes up with the least inspired titles you've ever heard (Whatever Works, Anything Else, Don't Drink the Water) you wonder if he's deliberately trying to find something commercial by way of blandness, or if he just doesn't care. I suppose it must be a handicap when you can't call a movie Transformers 2. If you can't reference a known movie product that offers the audience some kind of reassurance, then I guess it's helpful to find a backdoor entrance to familiarity through cliche.

I prefer a good old fashioned informative title. A title that lets you know where you stand. Like Tower Heist. Or The Human Centipede.

But Rumor Has It that Everybody's Fine. It's Kind of a Funny Story. In Good Company. You Again? Imagine That. I Don't Know How She Does It. I mean What Goes Up, right? But hey, When in Rome, What Happens in Vegas takes a New York Minute.

Are We Done Yet?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Why is Framing So Friggin Expensive?

$500 to $750. That's how much I was told it would cost to frame a shirt I had brought in to Aaron Brothers. And the price, you understand, would be for only the simplest frame and the cheapest materials. If I insisted on paying this rock bottom price, again, for framing a shirt, well there wasn't much they could do for me. They could probably fashion a frame out of some particle board they found in the parking lot, and maybe use glass they'd salvaged from the windshield of an abandoned Dodge Dart. But hey, if I wanted to put a shirt in a frame and only pay $750, these were the compromises I would have to make.

What kind of alternate universe bullshit is this? In what reality does it cost $500 to $750 to put some glass and wood around a shirt?

Okay, I knew framing was expensive. I had had posters framed before, paying $200 a pop for what they claimed was the absolute bedrock, bottom of the barrel price. So when I walked in that day with the shirt, I had already mentally prepared myself to agree to pay $200, though I'd have to do it through clenched teeth and with the knowledge that at half that price it would still be a ripoff. So when Mr. Friendly at the counter quoted his paycheck sized number at me, I wasn't even angry. My reaction was laughter. We were on two different planets. He was in a world where ordinary people walk in and agree to pay $750 to put a shirt in a frame. I was in a world where you pay parts and labor for a service. We were on two different sides of a pane of museum quality, no smudge glass.

Anyone in the framing business: please listen closely to what I am about to say. Because I know you are ready to explain to me in a frustrated, didactic tone about the true costs of framing, and how $750 to put some wood around a shirt really is a bargain. But before that, listen to me. The problem is that people have expectations about what something should cost. Even without framing expertise, people look at any service and they ballpark what they judge to be a fair price. When they look at a framed poster, they see the parts: wood, glass, matting, screws, string - all of which cost close to nothing at Home Depot, and they can estimate about an hour of labor. So they calculate the costs of these basic materials, plus the cost of an hour of labor of one of these strip mall employees, throw in a small premium to keep the lights on in the store... and you end up at about $40. That's how much it should cost to frame a poster: about $40. So when this person gets quoted $300, after the discount, and it will be ready in 8 days, there is total incomprehension. Parts, labor, overhead: it doesn't add up to $300. It adds up to $40. And it should be ready in an hour. And there should be a little comfortable seating area and a free soda while you wait. That should be framing. This is why all of your customers seem to be angry all the time. This is why their jaws drop, or they laugh and walk out.

So now let's entertain the objections from the framers. I've read them and I'll paraphrase them:
"It's called custom framing, genius. Each work order requires a unique frame, personally nibbled to size by our colony of trained termites. And that glass? There's only one company in the world that makes glass of the quality we require at Aaron Brothers, and it's in deepest, remotest Tibet. Do you have any idea how expensive it is? And the framing process? You think this is a fast food worker getting minimum wage to flip a burger? This is a trained artisan who needs the finest precision to correctly align and mat your poster. You want to skimp on that? How foolish are you going to feel in 200 years if you see an air bubble or oxygen damage in the frame? Who's the chump then? All that plus the rising costs of commercial rent, and the continuing effects of the 2009 global paintbrush shortage, and you're lucky we're even still in business. $750 is a steal to frame your shirt, and you're a fool if you don't take it."

Here's an actual quote I pulled from a framer's online forum, where the professional framer is venting his frustration about customers who don't understand the price:

"The reality is that most people are not used to buying a product that’s custom made. If you go into Nordstroms to buy a good tie, it could very easily be in the $125 range. Made of nice fabric. Mass produced. Probably 10 minutes worth of time put into it. The typical frame job takes an hour and a quarter. Many people have become accustomed to paying $125 for a tie because it is what it is – along with everything else we buy, including clothes, plumbing and car repair."

So now here I think we get to the point. Yes, some ties cost $125. But.... other ties cost $10. I understand that for $125 maybe I'm getting something hand stiched, or from a big deal designer. But, if I don't care about any of that, I can get a $10 tie. I might even be able to get 2-for-1. And, more good news, the $10 tie gets the job done just fine.

I suppose I could be persuaded that custom framing for a shirt might get into the $750 range if every aspect of it was custom built by the most highly trained craftspeople using the finest materials. But where's the $10 alternative if I don't give a shit about any of that? What if I don't need my shirt to hang in the Guggenheim? If I needed my ceiling painted eggshell white, and Michelangelo showed up and said he'd do it for a million dollars - I'm sure he could justify his price. But what if I don't need Michelangelo? What if I just need a guy with some drop cloths and a paint roller? Where do I find that service?

So keep your $750 quote and point me to the $40 shop. And if the framer's response now is "Pfft. Fine. Buy a frame and do it yourself." then I say no. I don't want to. What a waste of my time. I want to pay someone to do it. What part of that is difficult to understand? In the meantime I will sooner burn $750 in front of an Aaron Brothers store before I hand it over to let them frame a shirt.

The shirt was signed by the 1988 Saturday Night Live cast by the way. It's pretty sweet.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Food Needs to be Hotter

Why isn't Thanksgiving dinner ever hot enough? Is it because everything sits out too long prior to the meal? Why must we always sit down to lukewarm turkey, tepid yams, room temperature stuffing, and unpleasantly temperate mashed potatoes smothered in a rapidly cooling gravy?

I hate having to eat this dinner like there's a clock ticking, and I can't risk insulting the hostess by bringing the whole shebang over to the microwave. In the spirit of the holiday I basically just have to be thankful the food has any warmth at all, while I dig in and think of England.

Is it too much to ask for a hot Thanksgiving dinner? To maybe see steam rising from just one dish? To need to blow on a bite of turkey before tentatively tasting it? To see others at the table clatter their fork to the plate as they fan their hand in front of their O-pursed lips? This would be unprecedented in the history of the holiday. "Piping", really, is the adjective I'd like to use, just one time, when describing the holiday meal.

This cold turkey phenomenon can't be specific only to my experience. I've had too many Thanksgiving dinners at too many homes to believe that it's a rare event. Admit it - this is a national problem. Your Thanksgiving food is just not hot enough. The bird, the fixins, the toppings, the sides, they're all served at that milky warm temperature - you know it from the shower - where it's just warm enough to remind you how much warmer it needs to be.

Yes, yes, there's the microwave. But it may as well be on another planet. There's just no way to push back from the table with your full plate and announce to the group that you're going to give it a quick zap in the ol' nuker. If there's a way to do this without offending the host, I'd love to know it. I'm sure this reluctance dates back to the original Thanksgiving feast, where pilgrims faced with cooling game bird and chilly cornmeal could find no polite way to ask the chieftan to give it a little more fire.

Or is it that this most traditional of American meals is coincidentally composed entirely of heat resistant foods? I mean, let's face it, mashed potatoes get cold quickly - and exposed turkey breast won't be far behind. You don't have any rich, heavy sauces on the menu that retain heat like a thermos. Brown gravy doesn't count - it strangely conducts no heat. Maybe what Thanksgiving needs is a liberal coating of marinara over everything? A fra diavolo sauce? Some kind of tikka masala, or panang curry out of which we can spoon little turkey pieces onto plates of steaming basmati rice?

I don't know, I'm just blue-skying it here. Just getting the gears turning. Just starting a conversation. Because the problem here is real, and the solution is elusive. From the green beans to the cherry pie, we need hotter food. I recommend we all take the time to visit a diner and order an open faced turkey sandwich, just to remind ourselves how enjoyable turkey and mash can actually be when we give it a few calories of heat.

When it's the day after Thanksgiving, and I'm not only full but dealing with a sore roof-of-mouth from all the piping hot stuffing the day before, I'll know our work is done.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

No One Wants the Peanut Donut

So why does the peanut donut always get included in the dozen? Why is it mandatory? Why do the donut stores even make the peanut donut?

My point here today isn't strictly limited to the loathsome peanut donut, it's more about the importance we place on "variety". A misplaced importance. This need we feel to bring some mysterious aesthetic quality to the content of the donut box. The motivation we feel, as donut selectors, to impress others with a dazzling variety of donuts. I'm here today to shake you by the shoulders and remind you that variety doesn't count for that much, that donut diversity is overrated, that functionality matters far more than form, and that the peanut donut can suck my dick.

If you've ever found yourself sneaking back to the donut box in the late morning, after your officemates have picked through it thoroughly, maybe because you're second guessing your original choice of the glazed old fashioned and now you're craving chocolate, you're likely to open the box and see two donuts left in there. They will invariably be the coconut donut and the peanut donut.

I've had a dozen office jobs, I've seen my share of donuts, and I am telling you that no matter where you are, or what the circumstances may be, the last two donuts in that box will always be the coconut and the peanut. No one wants shredded coconut at 9 in the morning, and they particularly don't want our nutty friend. And when I see these two rejects, I always had the same thought: "Why didn't they just get 12 chocolate frosteds? Would that have been so terrible?"

And then I started to notice this phenomenon elsewhere in life. A dozen bagels? The last one left is the raisin. A bucket of chicken? Good luck finding a late drumstick. A plate of cookies? Say hello to the oatmeal cranberry. Those chocolate chip cookies are looooong gone.

A raisin bagel

I suspect that sometimes the problem occurs because we let the guy behind the counter make our bagel / cookie / donut selections for us. We don't take charge. We instruct him to fill up a box of 12 while we take a look at the blended iced coffee options, and the guy adjusts his paper hat and heads right for the peanut donuts. I think the donut store is long on peanut and coconut donut inventory, which they can never move, so of course they jump at the opportunity to slip a few into the box if we let them act as our proxy. So my first piece of advice would be not to let the donut guy make the choices. He doesn't have your best interests in mind.

What you really need to do though is set the example. Arrive at work holding the long, flat box. Let everyone see you carrying it to the breakroom. The vultures will circle. Let them get close. Then open the box. What will they see? How about 8 chocolate frosteds and 4 jellies? They'll blink at it for a minute, uncomprehending. Then, gradually, the genius of it will dawn on them. They'll look at you with amazement and fresh respect, like you just invented wheels on luggage.

"I get it." They'll whisper. "A box of donuts..."

"Go on." you'll say.

"A box of donuts... with no shitty donuts."

"That's it," you say as you put a comforting hand on the shoulder. "I think you understand."

And then the next day you come with bagels. 4 plain, 4 sesame, 4 everything. Again, your cubiclemates can't believe that there are no bad choices in the bag. The next afternoon, you come with a box of cookies - and every single one is chocolate chip. They'll bumrush the plate of course - no one wants to get stuck with the cranberry - but.... there are no cranberries!
An oatmeal cranberry cookie

Every cookie is a winner! Every cookie is the one you want! Xanadu!

I say it's time we close the door on the peanut donut. Time to admit that we don't need to pepper the box with unappealing variety, just for the sake of appearances. Time to admit that all donuts are not created equal: some are good and some suck. I have a noble goal here. And that goal is to walk my bloated frame from the cubcicle to the mini-kitchen at 4:15 PM, open that donut box, and see one donut staring back at me. A chocolate donut. Now that would be a sight to see.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Please Spare Me Your Cat Fancy

Is there anything more unpleasant than watching an adult human being coo and fuss and babble in front of a house cat? You know, that syrupy, pouty-lipped infantilism that seems to wash over some people as soon as you put a cat in the room? I can't stand this display. It's sickening. Look, however you want to play-act with your cat behind a closed door, go to it. No one will disturb your privacy. I personally vow to stay far away. But when I happen to be present, can you hold off on the moronic, simpering baby-talk? Is it so important that I see how you are in thrall, somehow, to your cat, that you think it's okay in mixed company to gurgle gibberish and fawn over it like it's your own child?

It's not a kid, it's not your baby, and you're acting like an idiot. Have some more respect for yourself, and for me, and even for the cat who by the way understands nothing.

I get it. I get that some people have this cat fancy. That they are mesmerized and entranced by the common cat. Some people just feel this way, and I accept that, and overall I consider it harmless. My point here is not to tell you that your devotion to this animal is wrong. I could care less. My point is to tell you not to behave like a saccharine, drooling moron in front of other people, or at the very least me. Okay? Do we have a deal?

The cat fanciers have this other habit too, beyond the infantilism. They like to push pictures of their cats in your face. And they expect a response. You're not going to get the camera phone removed from your full field of vision until you compromise and give them, at minimum, an Awwwww. If only there was some polite way to communicate your utter indifference to this cat's life or death. If only there was an opt out. A blind person could say "Sorry miss, but I'm blind". Why can't the non cat-fanciers have a "Sorry miss, but I don't give a shit."

And don't tell me I don't have compassion. I like cats. They're nice, more or less. They catch vermin - that's a plus. Oh and here's a pop quiz: guess which one of us would remove a cat's claws, and have it's testicles lopped off - and which one of us wouldn't? I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't mutilate a cat. But you would, and you did. And why? So he wouldn't scratch up your settee? So he wouldn't be aggressive? Do you think these are valid reasons to carve out parts of a cat? If the settee is so important, maybe pet ownership isn't for you.

Any animal is entitled to his full body. Cats, from my limited understanding, need their claws and their scratching to exercise and work out their natural aggression. I have no respect for those who would use surgery to deny this basic natural pleasure to an innocent animal, in order to make it more cuddly, those who feel no compunction about putting on a babyish display of slobbering affection to that same cat without regard to the nausea it induces in the stomachs of spectators, and those who seek constant validation for their cat-love by making little puss the constant center of attention and conversation. Grow up. Have real children. Calm down. Be demure. Learn restraint. And don't mutilate anything. These are not hard rules to follow. Most of all spare us your cat fancy. You'd be surprised how many people will be silently thankful.

Monday, July 18, 2011

There's Nothing Wrong with Talking on a Cell Phone While Driving

How is talking on a cell phone any different, or any more distracting than talking to someone in the backseat? Really, how is it different? In one case I'm talking to a flesh and blood person in the backseat; in the other case I'm talking to a machine that is relaying their voice from a distant location. What is the difference? How is (A) the most normal thing to do in a car since cars were invented, and (B) is illegal in a dozen states? Why person good machine bad? What if I put the phone in the backseat, put a wig and a sweater on it, and buckled it in, and then talked to it. Would that be okay? Or how about talking to someone who's in the car - but who communicates through one of those larynx voice machine amplifiers? Would that be bad? It's talking via machine, right?

Yes, I'm pissy. And it's because my state, Nevada has jumped on this moronic bandwagon and passed a no cell phone law. Now, instead of laughing at my friends in other states who have to deal with this, I'm going to be the one dealing with it. Now, starting January, instead of calmly and freely using the phone in my car, I'm going to have to be furtive and constantly on my guard using the phone in my car.

To me, it's always been simple. Talking while driving is normal. People seemed to realize this in the seventies when car phones were a fancy luxury and no one was making the point that they posed some kind of hazard. If they had, they would have been laughed out of the room. How could talking on a phone be dangerous if talking to the person next to you was fine?

And don't say it's because I need both hands on the wheel. Cause here's the secret: the no-cell-phone people don't care about this - the hands issue. For them it's entirely about distracted drivers. They're not satisfied with hands-free headsets as a compromise. They want all calls banned. Here's (former) New York Times' house ethicist Randy Cohen on the subject:

"Do not make that call. Or blindfold a driver or bang a pair of cymbals near his head or do anything else that significantly ups his odds of getting into an accident. To talk on a cell phone while driving does just that. One study calibrates the increased risk as akin to driving drunk. While there are other driver-distracting activities -- listening to the radio, whittling -- this one is particularly hazardous. For a driver to deliberately increase his own peril is unwise; to endanger other people is unethical. You should not abet either.

Incidentally, the increased risk has little to do with your hands and much to do with your head: It is a cognitive problem, a shifting of your concentration from the road to the call. That many states, including New York, bar drivers only from using hand-held phones is an act of breathtaking cynicism or dazzling ignorance. They might as well ban only gray cell phones but allow black ones."

Ah, Randy Cohen. Despite his urge to nanny and his wrongheadedness on this subject, he accidentally does me a favor. He concedes the hands point entirely, where he probably has the stronger case, and instead stakes everything on distraction. I'm guessing he had some personal reasons for this. Maybe Randy enjoys a little Starbucks coffee while he drives, and therefore the Einhander argument could potentially have implications in the Cohen-mobile.

(Now, incidentally, I don't need both hands to drive. I've always driven with one on the wheel. To me one hand at 12 o'clock is the most natural driving posture in the world. When the day comes when I have to execute some kind of Jason Bourne style super turn, jamming the handbrake while simultaneously doing a 180 and then speeding down some narrow European side street while tiny police cars zip by blaring that weird Euro-siren, then yes - on that day I'll need two hands. Until then, give me a fucking break.)

So really, it's all about distraction. While I wait on an answer for my "how is it different than talking to someone in the backseat" question - and I know I'll be waiting a while - let's talk a little more about distraction. Of course there are distractions in a car. Fiddling with the radio knob is a small distraction. Answering a question that someone in the passenger seat just asked you is a distraction. Adjusting the AC to get it just right is a distraction. Sipping coffee is a distraction. But do all of these things add up to danger? Well.... no. Driving simply doesn't demand total concentration and rapt attention. It demands a significant percentage of those things, but not some kind of absolute focus.

There are levels and there are degrees. Handling a curvy portion of the autobahn on a crowded day in a driving rain demands one level of concentration from the driver, and your predictable commute on a straight line road in light traffic at 30mph demands a second kind. A seasoned driver knows how much of his mental focus is required to drive safely, and how much can be diverted to secondary activities, like adjusting a volume knob or chatting with the person sitting next to you.

That I should have to point out something so obvious and that this reasonable position flies in the face of the New York Times' ethicist's own, and now Nevada law is unsettling. It's been apparent since Henry Ford that conversations in a car are not dangerous, and that other similarly ordinary and everyday distractions are not big issues for drivers. I can only conclude that there's some kind of technophobia at work on the part of the banners, or, in Randy's case, just the basic totalitarian pleasure of instructing others on what they may and may not do. Just that warm feeling in the sternum that you get from imposing your own preferences on other people, hectoring them, chiding, and then finally forcing obedience.

January's not that far off. When it arrives - come and get me po po. Didn't Randy Cohen once say that we're not obligated to obey unjust laws? It was probably in the context of excusing someone for forging social security numbers for illegal Guatemalans, but I'll take him up on it just the same.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Do Not Boast About Not Owning a Television

Here's another one of those Mensa-type errors in judgment that to me seems perfectly avoidable. The Mensa problem is that people who are drawn to Mensa membership think this will improve the regard others have for their intelligence. Tragically though, a boast of Mensa membership will generally produce the exact opposite effect. No smart person would join a club for smart people. Insufferable shits, on the other hand, would most certainly join an insufferable shits club, and most people grasp this intuitively.

The statement: "Well, actually, I don't own a TV." is similar. When spoken, the clear intention is for the listener to think "Wow. No TV. This guy must be pretty bright. Not to mention he's apparently got no appetite for all that crass, lowbrow entertainment. This is pretty forward thinking and liberated! I think I could learn a thing or two from him!"

But of course this is what the guy from the Princess Bride would call one of the "classic blunders". In reality, the statement "Well, actually, I don't own a TV" invariably results in the listener thinking: "Oh God. One of these assholes." And it's very simple to break down the logic of this conclusion. The listener isn't annoyed because the speaker reads too many books, goes on too many nature hikes, spends too much time in the museum of miniatures or just generally doesn't place any importance on watching television - that's not it. Many people who own televisions place no importance on watching television. What the listener actually thinks is this:

"Televisions are cheap. Most people own several. The programming on TV is so diverse that virtually any person on earth could probably find many things to enjoy. Even leaving enjoyment aside, there's tons of useful information on TV. There's breaking news, speeches from the president, there's tomorrow's weather, there's shows that will distract your kid for a few precious hours. There's the olympics and shark week, and Spanish language soaps. There's classic cinema and PBS and Saturday Night Live and war footage and iconic stuff like the Berlin Wall falling. This is stuff that isn't quite the same when you read it in the newspaper or dial it up on the internet."

"Owning a television doesn't mean I watch it all the time. TV falls somewhere between an occasional entertaining diversion and a when-I-need-it-it's-there resource. Having one in the den doesn't speak poorly of your character, and it's unclear why it would be virtuous to not have one. If you're poor, sure. If you're 90, okay. If you're so internet savvy that your computer screen is sort of like a default television, then I get it. Short of these excuses, why not make the buy? TV promotes sociability. You can gather the family in for your favorite show. You can snuggle on the couch with your spouse. You can have friends over to watch the game. These aren't bad activities, and it's weird that anyone would think they were."

"The deliberate choice to forgo ownership of a television must not really be about television. It must be some sort of gambit to assert a kind of personality or lifestyle, at the expense of one's own comfort. But that's sort of the point, isn't it? I forgo this easy pleasure, because I search for deeper, richer, more meaningful pleasures. But isn't that a crock of fairly pungent bs? People who have achieved greatness - the ones who have cured diseases, written great novels, built cities, etc. Do you think they owned televisions? I'm guessing they did. Why wouldn't they have? If they had been sufficiently asinine to think not owning a TV was a plus, they wouldn't have been geniuses."

"The only real reason not to own a TV is to be able to make the smug comment I just heard, made by a person who clearly thinks he's just earned a gold star, staked his claim to a little superiority on the cheap, and is obviously unaware how insufferable they sound and to what degree they've just advertised that their acquaintance will pay no dividend."

Fortunately your brain, being pretty quick, summarizes all that up as "Oh God. One of these assholes."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Only Idiots Own Pit Bulls

There's never been a truer statement. Own a pit bull terrier? If so you're a moron. You can't not be. Show me the counter example. Show me the guy with the 175 IQ who keeps pit bulls. Show me the retired English professor. Show me the Boeing engineer. Show me the pediatrician. I'll wait. Being an idiot, you probably don't even know how to look.

You see, pit bulls, almost alone among dog breeds, are capable of unpredictable and unprovoked savage violence against humans, no matter how well they've been domesticated or trained. There is no such thing as a safe pit bull. They are responsible for over 50% of reported dog attacks in America annually. Think about that. That's one out of over 100 breeds responsible for more than half of all attacks.

But it gets better. Most dog bites result in non-serious injuries. Pit Bull attacks disproportionately result in maiming or death. Most dogs, when provoked, will only attack people they perceive as weaker - children and the elderly. Pit Bulls and only Pit Bulls make no distinction between adults and children. They will attack anyone.

My evidence for all of that? Only the most comprehensive multi-decade study of American dog attacks ever conducted:

So let's ask a question. Why would a person choose a pit bull? Let's draw up a list of pros and cons. We already know the cons: pit bulls, no matter how well trained, are capable of unprovoked lethal violence against anyone. There's the check mark in our con category. So what are the pros?

How about maybe, they make good guard dogs? No, sadly they don't. They don't have the guard dog instinct. They conspicuously don't make a top-18 list of best guard dog breeds. Although the author notes that many people use them as guard dogs anyway, counting on their mere scary appearance to be a deterrent to a trespasser.

Which bring us to the next "pro" consideration. Is this a cute, charming or handsome dog? Well, you be the judge.
So no. It's not a dog that works, it's not particularly intelligent or beautiful, it possesses no special skill or ability. It really has only one outstanding trait, and that's that it's unpredictably savage and that it attacks people at far higher rates than any other dog. Why is that so hard for Pit Bull fanciers to admit? Why do sites like these blame the pit bull's reputation as a scary savage dog on "media hype"? Are the mauling statistics not convincing? Do they think that Basset Hounds are sending children to the hospital with these kinds of facial wounds with equal frequency as pit bulls but the media conspiracy just suppresses it?

So I mean, why not get a golden fucking retriever? Why would you get a pit bull? Even if you strongly disagree with me on the aesthetic question and you think this breed is handsome and beautiful, why get the one dog most statistically likely to maim your children? I don't get it. Is it that handsome and beautiful? Is it such a compelling dog in all other respects that you're willing to roll the dice on the maiming, and willing to pay higher insurance premiums? Of course it isn't.

In fact, there is only one "pro" to owning a pit bull terrier, and now we get back to my main point. The only reason to choose a pit bull is because you believe it is some kind of fashion accessory. You believe it's stylish. Specifically, you think that because the pit bull is a bad-ass dog, that it somehow makes you a bad-ass to own one. You're hoping that by owning an unpredictably violent dog, you will be thought of as a tough guy.

And to conclude, there's only one kind of person who would a) want to acquire a bad-ass reputation via dog breed selection, b) think that pit bull ownership actually accomplishes this, and c) think that pit bulls aren't really that dangerous. And that's a massively stupid person. And since the only reason to select the most savage dog in the breed book is to make this fashion statement, it follows that every pit bull owner is massively stupid.

Have a great day.

Monday, October 25, 2010

PhDs who Insist on the "Doctor"

Imagine a guy who boasts to everyone that he's in Mensa. What would you think of a guy who boasts about being in Mensa? Would you have a higher, or lower opinion of this person? You would listen to him blather on about some recent meeting, or the upcoming national Mensa symposium, and what are you thinking? I wouldn't presume to speak for you, but I'm guessing you'd be thinking: "Who is this doughy load, and why am I talking to him?" And it's ironic and sad, because I'm guessing the only point of being in Mensa is to improve the regard other people have for your intelligence. Imagine the Mensa guy's disappointment when he discovers that the only thing membership in Mensa demonstrates is that you are a) insecure, b) a douche, and c) not all that intelligent because you couldn't figure out A and B.

This seems obvious to me. Yet this point eludes some of our nation's PhDs, specifically the ones who insist on being called Doctor, and the ones who sign their name in the style of this email I recently received. It was an email from a marketing firm, apologizing for sending me an incorrect survey. It was signed:

Dr. Jan G. West, Ph.D.
Chairman and CEO
National Business Research Institute, Inc. ('NBRI')
15305 Dallas Parkway; 3rd floor
Addison, TX. 75001

What kind of a tool do you have to be to sign your name this way? Who on God's green earth is impressed by a PhD? You know what this is? This is stolen valor. You know, the crime of impersonating a veteran? That's what putting "Dr." in your signature is. Or asking to be called doctor outside the confines of the campus. You deliberately stoke the confusion of others who are temporarily and erroneously impressed that you're a medical doctor - you know, an actual doctor.

There's nothing wrong with getting a PhD. But to tack it on the end of your name - wow. Does a PhD really demonstrate superior intelligence? Does it even demonstrate mastery of a specialized area of knowledge? I'm assuming Dr. Jan G. West, Ph.D. got her doctorate in marketing. If you need a refresher on the rigors of a masters level marketing education, I report about my first hand experience of it here. As usual, I give a pass to anyone whose PhD was earned in engineering, comp sci, the hard sciences. Areas where specialized knowledge is very real and urgently important. You know, like the specialized knowledge an actual doctor has. But when you talk about the specialized knowledge a marketing PhD has, you are talking about the richest, most pungent and concentrated bullshit known to man. You're talking about pure bullshit extract, a clear liquid dispensed with an eye dropper while wearing rubber gloves. There is nothing useful, nothing, in marketing at the PhD level, except to practice your ability to weave impenetrable tapestries of gobbledegook on the page, for the benefit of professors who will grade you only on how inscrutable it is.

This is the substance of Dr. Jan G. West, Ph.D.'s implied boast. She's boasting that only a smart cookie such as herself could have qualified to forgo joining the workforce in order to spiral deeper and deeper into marketing academia. Furthermore, it's a statement that she thinks there's actual value in a marketing PhD. And finally, it's predicated on the assumption that others would be impressed by the decision. Dr. Jan G. West, Ph.D. is wrong on all three counts. In fact the only thing in her signature that impressed me at all was the inclusion of her middle initial. Oh no, wait - it didn't.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to a very important meeting.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

People Who Offer You the Sugar Free Versions of Things as if There's No Difference

I am fed up with this. I just spent a week as the houseguest of a very nice woman, who despite all her positive qualities had a terrible and offensive habit. She would serve her guests the low-fat, no-sugar, gluten-free, low-carb, or diet version of whatever food staple was being innocently offered. And she would offer it as if she was providing the genuine article. As if there was no actual difference between an ice tea and a diet ice tea. As if skim milk can get the job done in a cup of coffee. Because I was in the tricky position of being a guest and she was offering me hospitality, I couldn't really speak my mind and give her the verbal abuse that such behavior warrants. Instead I had to play polite and continually find new excuses of why I wasn't going to finish my bowl of no sugar added ice cream, or my bagel with fat free cream cheese.

With soda, I think you'll all agree, society has successfully managed to mentally distinguish the regular and diet versions. If someone offered you a coke, and then when you said yes, handed you a diet coke, you would look at it in confusion and say, "I thought you said you had a coke?" We view these two items (properly) as unique and non substitutable. Unfortunately this sense of clearly distinguishing diet products from their regular counterparts hasn't percolated up to the ice cream or tea markets, as evidenced in my recent experience in this minefield of a pantry.

There was a Seinfeld episode, an old one, where Kramer is down in Florida at Jerry's parents house. He mentions that he's hungry and Jerry's mom says something like "Would you like me to make you an omelet?" Kramer perks up immediately at this unexpected good fortune and says yes, please! Jerry's mom goes to work but starts advising Kramer on the particulars of what he's going to get:

Mom: "You don't mind cottage cheese, do you?"
Kramer: "Oh sure, sure. That's fine."
Mom: "And I don't actually have any eggs. I use egg beaters."
Kramer: "Uh.... sure. Ok."

And then there may have been one or two additional qualifications, and at each step Kramer signs off on it, with increasing unease, until by the end it becomes plain that this will be the most disgusting, inedible, unappetizing omelet in the history of western civilization. But Kramer by this point has committed himself. It's funny.

But at least in this frightening scenario Mrs. Seinfeld had the decency to warn Kramer at every step of the way about what was in store. And so when Kramer presumably ate the foul concoction he knew what he was getting. At least he wasn't caught unawares. This was the triple offense of my host's bowl of no-sugar-added ice cream. First you have the fact that no-sugar-added ice cream tastes like a frozen bucket of bus depot mop water. Second you have the shock factor. You were expecting ice cream when you spooned yourself that bite. You had no opportunity to steel yourself for the flavor of a barium milkshake. And third is our old friend the presumption of ignorance. My host assumed that I wouldn't know the difference. She assumed that ice-cream and no-sugar-added ice cream are substitutes, that they can be swapped without anyone being the wiser. "Is there a problem with the ice cream?" she questioned. "A problem? This is no-sugar-added ice cream, asshole!" I didn't reply.

There are some people, you'll agree, who are highly health conscious and their kitchens reflect their dietary priorities. You'll find lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, yogurts, rice cakes, protein bars, that kind of stuff. My host, on the other hand, didn't follow this model. She had, from all appearances, a kitchen full of the kind of junk food staples that I love. There were chips and pretzels, and microwavable stuff, there were sodas and Snapples, and the freezer was full of desserts. I think, in her mind, the fact that all of it was the diet-version made it okay.

But it really isn't okay. If you're eating no-sugar-added ice cream, you're eating a bowl of shit. Why not just have real ice cream, but have it less often? Or, instead of salt-free potato chips, how about you just have no potato chips whatsoever? These freakish, terrible tasting, golem like simulacrums of guilty-pleasure food are a lose lose situation for everyone. They provide no pleasure, and they still give you the guilt. Even so, I don't mind if you take this approach to your life - eating this foul chow - as long as you don't try to make me participate. You know how people who don't drink tea or coffee still might keep some in the house for guests? Keep some real food in your house just in case a person comes along who naturally recoils in disgust from things like Crystal Light.

At the end of the week, and at the end of a long day, my host asked the table if we'd all like some hot cocoa. At this point in our stay, you'd better believe, we had wised up to the reality of this kitchen. Our eyes darted around. Did cocoa sound good right about then? Of course it did. But what were we actually going to get? What kind of frightening liquid would actually appear in that steaming mug? Finally we said yes, but I watched the preparation like a hawk. First, out came the tea kettle, which our host filled with tap water. She got it going on the stove. Then out of the pantry came this box:

At this point I began the process of mentally preparing to drink sugar free hot chocolate. As the tea pot whistled our host asked if anyone wanted whipped cream. "No!" I cried out in fear before she had barely finished the question. Eventually, we all ingested a mug of this hot, watery solution, and as we did so, I privately made a vow to myself.

I vowed that when the day came that I myself would offer hot chocolate to my own guests, that it would go a little differently. On that day I will take some fresh whole milk and bring it to a simmer in a pan on low heat. Then - I bring out the block of baker's chocolate. Shaving off a chunk, I melt it separately with sugar, water, and a dash of salt. When the milk is mixed in, mmmmm - and I won't forget the marshmellow, my guests can choose full size or minis.

When my guests drink the cocoa.... some of them enter a state of pure relaxation and pleasure. Some weep. Some just whisper a silent "thank you". And some are involuntarily taken back to their earliest memories of home and family, like that guy at the end of Ratatouille.

That's my vow, and I also can state with certainly you will never be given the low calorie bullshit in any other disguise. If it took a week of watery dairy, artificial sweeteners, and fat free spreads to teach me this, well then maybe it was a lesson I needed to learn.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

260 Annoyances

241. A post office clerk who won't let you borrow the packing tape.

242. An usher making an announcement before the movie.

243. The fact that I can no longer hear any song from the Nutcracker without a voice in my head saying "Coming this Christmas".

244. When someone starts telling you a long-winded joke that you've already heard, and you miss the window of opportunity to interrupt them.

245. These breath-freshening-seed-things in the bowl when you walk out of an Indian restaurant. What are they and why do they taste so terrible?

246. Why does every word processor or email service assume that @ is part of an email address? I type @ and whatever I write next immediately turns blue and underlines itself and auto-links to an email pop-up. Have we all forgotten that the @ existed for quite some time prior to email and had other uses?

247. People who get on my elevator on an intermediate floor and then get off on another intermediate floor. Thanks for wasting my time.

248. People whose Halloween costume is clearly just their club outfit.

249. Getting a whiff of homeless.

250. Can we please stop calling movies and books "An American..." whatever? Maybe, way way back, this was some kind of genuine attempt to say something meaningful about the culture. Now though it's just utter laziness.

251. Who are these people who want to be my friend on Facebook who I haven't seen or talked to in years and only had the barest acquaintance with back then anyway? Do they not have any other friends? Or are they trying to break some record? Either way, I'm turning you down sucker.

252. Discovering that a TV show you like has commercials aimed exclusively at the elderly.

253. When you find out a famous person has died, and everyone you tell already knows.

254. Movies that are hoping you won't notice that everyone in the late 80's or early 90's has a cell phone.

255. A commute with the sun in your eyes each way.

256. Thinking you've found a shortcut but ending up in residential neighborhood labyrinth hell.

257. A kid in a fight who screams "I'm going to sue you!" at the other kid. Why do kids think this is such an effective threat?

258. Attn: people who are planning to visit Australia / New Zealand. When you get there, particularly if it is your first time, you are suddenly going to find yourself under the impression that you are a great travelogue writer and observer of culture. You are going to feel compelled to write long emails, essays, and social media posts about your every experience. When this urge occurs, you need to stop, calm yourself, and repeat to yourself in a whisper: "Nobody cares that I'm in New Zealand. Nobody cares that I'm in New Zealand." etc. "I don't write well." and "I have nothing interesting to say." also work fine.

259. A Robin Williams tearjerker, or a Billy Crystal romance.

260. Let me explain exactly what's wrong with putting everyone you talk to on speakerphone. You know, from being on the receiving end of a speakerphone conversation, that you have to strain to hear every word. When someone has you on speaker, they sound fuzzy, far away, and static-y. Now, on the flip side, it's great to be the one putting everyone on speaker, because it's hands free and oh-so convenient. So here's how it all tallies up: when you put someone on speaker, you get to enjoy added ease and convenience, at the equal-and-opposite expense of the other person's ease and convenience. Therefore, if you put someone on speaker when you're alone, you are a selfish asshole. You are saying "I am going to give you an echo-y, low-volume phone call, full of background noise and static - all so that I don't have to hold a phone cradle." The act is an announcement that you are a prick. In fact, speakerphones should come with an automated asshole message. Whenever you press the speakerphone button, there should be a bell tone, and three robotic female voices that say "Dooooouche!" in a major chord.