Saturday, October 30, 2004

I am Ignorant

I've taken a strong stand against bullshit on these pages, so it only seems fair that I own up to my own periodic bullshit. Because I do bullshit sometimes. Sometimes often. Often quite frequently.

Here are twenty things I feel very comfortable faking knowledge of, yet in truth have no idea about.

The definition of meretricious. Also febrile.

The expression Sine Qua Non

The 2nd Vatican Council

What the French and Indian war was all about.

Ditto the Treaty of Utrect, The Edict of Nantes and the Diet of Worms.

The rules of backgammon

The basic mechanical principles behind plumbing

I don’t think I could place Martin Luther in the correct century.

The geographic distinctions between Incas, Aztecs and Mayans

Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, All in the Family, What’s Happening, Saved by the Bell, the show with Urkel, the one with Jim J. Bullock, and the one with the magical talking cat.

The plot of King Lear, Citizen Kane, North by Northwest, Brazil, Taxi Driver, Don Quixote, Bonnie and Clyde, and many more I'm sure.


The Hapsburg Empire

The various tie-knotting styles like the double-windsor

An alarming amount of the buttons, knobs, settings and displays inside my car.

The difference between a bicameral and unicameral legislature

I can’t name a single thing that happened in the 400 years between the fall of Rome and the beginning of the middle ages.

The whole deal with the Sandinistas. Also Patty Hearst. (possibly related?)

The name of any New York mayor pre-Koch (with the exception of La Guardia) Also any British Prime Minister between Churchill and Thatcher

Menu terms, including but not limited to “garlic aioli”, “coulis”, a “ragout”, anything involving shoots, a “brioche” and fennel.

The ease with which I was able to come up with those should give you an indication of the hundreds or maybe thousands of additional items that could also be on the list. Recently though, I learned the meaning of "Habeus Corpus" and also what write-offs are. ("Produce the body" and a company abandoning old debt that it concludes it can never recover) But I would have felt quite at ease feigning a working knowledge of either one. You never know with me. I just may be bullshitting.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Fiendish Spam

This letter showed up in my email inbox today. I'm baffled. It's either an honestly mismailed personal letter, or the most fiendish piece of spam I've ever seen. If it really is Spam, then I guess it's trying to subliminally get me to vote for John Kerry. I'll print it here. Wow. Well done spammers. Well done.

Hey Brett,

How's school? Did you hear Dustin got his head shaved? Probably looks like a Gi La (Gi La douche) that is. Kerry relayed the word that you have been quite the partier at College this year. I on the other hand have been laying low as usual. Our season is going shitty, 1-6. I've been playing well though for what I have to work with. Did you see the new Aneuretical website? They got a new CD out, it sounds the same as the last one though. Kerry has been talking to some girls lately there is one that likes Josiah, but i see the sparks when Mr. Colorful (personality) talks to her. She is pretty cute so I encourage Kerry to "tap that,"as we say in hogh school. not really that is something that D$ probably says. I say hi to Jeff in front of his sophomore friends to make him look cool. He stopped calling me "Schwietz!" so that is good. I like the song "Indication" by The Zombies. they palyed 1st Ave a little bit ago. Maybe they saw all of the things we wrote in the 7th Street basement. "Wasteless Tillard" and "the Exchange...Will never play here." Man me and Kerry the John Kerry duo wrote a lot of disgaceful stuff in there. I can't even remember half of the rediculous things we put. that was sweet. i got a new keyboard that you'd like because my old one still isn't fixed, I got a loaner fro GC that I will just end up keeping because it is more like the Yamaha and less like the EMU, with a hint of awesomeness. Roland XP-10

Anyways I gotta go computers are taking over the world.

Mr. Street Hockey himself

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Bum a Smoke

"Bum a smoke?" asked the guy on the street yesterday.

I don't smoke, never have. But I wish I did. I would have said "Nope." then pulled out a full pack and casually lit up.

The "bum a smoke" system works, in theory. Smokers helping out other smokers in need. Sounds good. But don't you think if you could cosmically total up all the ledgers of smoke bummers and bummees, you'd find that there's a whole class of smokers just ruthlessly exploiting the "bum a smoke" courtesy?

And this is just my observation as a non smoker. Do you really think that broke ass kid from the street yesterday with his shaved head and too-low jeans is giving away cigarettes with the same enthusiasm that he's bumming them? I've known plenty of cheap bastards, possibly including myself, and I know a scam when I see one.

Here's my position. If I was a smoker, I'd constantly stock myself with an abundance of packs. This way I'd never need to bum a smoke. And I'd have a strict no charity policy. Well maybe if it was a poor orphan boy who just wanted one cigarette to stay warm, I'd make an exception, but that's it. Maybe I'd sell individual cigarettes to other smokers at a profit-maximizing markup, but no bumming from my stash. The way I see it (and I address this to the bummers) you know you are addicted to cigarettes. You know, approximately, how many you'll need per day. You can plan ahead. You can save money buying cartons, or even cases of cartons, rather than packs. You can, if you want, order name-brand cigarettes for huge discounts from overseas, via the internet. You could stock up for 6 months at a time, even a year. Think, just for a moment, how many dollars you'd save per year doing this.

Smokers have told me they shy from this for two reasons. One, on some weird psychological level, every smoker would like to pretend that this new pack is going to be the last pack. Therefore, to buy in bulk in advance destroys that fantasy. Two, smokers deliberately don't carry a lot of cigarettes around at any one time, using the constant shortage of cigarettes as a simple way to limit their smoking.

Both of those reasons I don't accept. I embrace my addictions. Coffee. Gambling. Junk food. I don't apologize. I don't pretend. I don't walk into a card room saying okay, this will be the last time.

But the guys who bum smokes all the time aren't necessarily caught in a vise of psychological turmoil and denial, they're just cheap bastards who've realized they can endlessly abuse this courtesy and get away scot free. I think it's pathetic. Just look at this verb: bum. To bum. It's an acknowledgement that the person in question is literally begging for a cigarette. That they are a bum. Can I have a cigarette? I am a worthless bum.

I say respect yourself, and own up to your addiction. When was the last time you ever ran out of, say, toilet paper? You don't run out of toilet paper, because you NEED toilet paper. When the supply gets low, you buy more. How often do you run out of gas? Never. The same should apply with cigarettes.

Now I'm tempted to start smoking just so I can carry around extra packs and not give them to people. Thank God I never started. What a truly stupid decision it is, to put that first cigarette in your mouth. But that's another rant.

Thursday, October 14, 2004


Well, this is it. This is the big one. This is the one I've been saving. The ultimate petty annoyance that towers over the rest. I wanted to wait until the middle of October to bring it up, since we are now officially on the cusp of The Holiday Season.

We are literally a week, maybe two away from our first santa commercial of the year, followed closely by the unveiling of this year's new batch of crappy soft jazz Christmas music which will be piped over mall PA systems nationwide. Starbucks imitators all over the country will soon be bringing out their deep, aromatic holiday blends - and last years leftover Christmas stock is being dusted off in backrooms as we speak, prepped for October clearance.

Hell, I just got my "December" issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly today. Today, just to remind you, is OCTOBER 14th.

But this is all kindling, a preparty, mere foreplay compared to Q4's biggest petty annoyance of them all: the refusal of media, businesses and advertising to say the word Christmas.

No one will say the word Christmas. Even as they exploit Christmas, even as they depend of Christmas for their very livelihood, they simply cannot utter the word. First, the euphemism of choice was "Season's Greetings", then "Happy Holidays". Now, the word Holiday (frequently capitalized) is used as a direct substitute for the word Christmas.

Saying "Happy Holidays" I suppose is marginally acceptable if you're addressing a large audience and you want to cover all bases. But saying it out of fear of offending someone with the word Christmas - that makes me mad. Saying it while simultaneously cashing in on Christmas-specific marketing and Christmas-specific custom - that makes me mad.

Friends, Christmas is the real deal. It's a kickass holiday. And I say that as a proud atheist / former Jew. Christmas rocks. And no offense to my many Jewish relatives and friends, but Hanukah is a blatant ripoff. It's history's original Digimon. Do you know why Hanukah falls on different days in December every year? It's because the original Jews, way back when, weren't using the superior Christian calendar. They were still on a lunar calendar. Do you know what kind of mathematical handstands and cartwheels they had to do to ensure that Hanukah always fell in close proximity to Christmas? It's obvious, just by looking at how Hanukah is scheduled, that its entire purpose is to counter the successful conversion tool that was Christmas. Hanukah is one big fakeapalooza. The miracle of the lights. Please. Quick, people, we need a good miracle! Is there anything good in Leviticus? How about Numbers?

And let's not get started on Kwanzaa. Really, let's not.

So Christmas is the real thing. (barring some evidence that some Christmas rituals are based on even older forms of Pagan tree worship) And everyone in our media and in the world of commerce is too chicken shit to even say the word. It puts food on their plate, it creates their end of year bonus, and they're too scared to say it.

Back when I was a believing Jew, I had NO PROBLEM with Christmas. You could shout it from the rooftops, you could put nativity scenes in post offices, I would not have cared at all. I understood perfectly well in those days that I lived in a predominantly Christian culture, and I had no desire to interfere in anyone else's faith. Watching Christians celebrate Christmas was, if nothing else, one way to learn about another religion, another culture. Do you think I would ever set up shop in India and start complaining about public displays of the Hindu faith? That would be absurd.

The worst, I think, was that Petsmart commercial from last year. It featured a dog dancing gaily around a Christmas tree on Christmas morning, with presents strewn everywhere, and a beaming mom and dad looking down at the dog's happiness.

"Look how excited he is honey!" says mom. "It's his first holiday!"

You CHICKEN SHITS! I will never, ever buy anything from petsmart for as long as I live. How about the coke commercial with Santa drinking from a tall bottle of coke (where can you get those by the way? The glass bottles of coke? I've only ever seen Santa drinking from them. Can ordinary people get them too?) Anyway, Santa takes a cool, refreshing sip (you know how hot it gets at the North Pole) and says "Happy Holidays."

Happy Holidays? From Santa? Isn't he supposed to be Christian? Endowed by God with supernatural powers? And if that's true, doesn't he have firsthand knowledge that Hannukah and Kwanzaa are a bunch of bullshit? Why would he make concessions to them? God forbid Santa should offend anyone who doesn't believe in Santa's existence.

Again, let me state my credentials here. I am not a Christian, never was one. I most surely do not believe in God. I think all religions are terribly, terribly wrong. And yet when people are too scared to even say the word Christmas, when the very word becomes a taboo, it makes me want to kick some ass. Of course, if some people really would be offended by hearing the word Christmas in a commercial, I would want to kick their asses too. In fact, they'd go first. But in my opinion the bigger crime is to pander to that deluded hypersensitivity.

Say Christmas!!!

Now, I'm going to be keeping a careful watch this Holiday Season. I'm going to keep my ears open. Those businesses with enough balls to actually say Christmas will get my business, no matter how awkward it may be for me personally. If it's a local commercial for a timber company, then I guess I'll buy some cordwood. If it's a commercial for a festive bottle of Cold Duck, then I'll drink some Cold Duck.

And any business that uses "Holiday Season" when they mean Christmas gets a year boycott from me. And any commercial that uses "Holiday" in the singular, as a direct substitute for the word Christmas (a la Petsmart) gets a lifetime boycott. Anybody want to join me?

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Theft and Extortion

Have you ever seen someone steal newspapers out of a newspaper machine? Meaning - they pay for one paper and take several? Or all of them?

This is just so depressing. So tragic. So annoying. The newspaper machine may just be society's last honor-system-based business transaction. You put in some change, you take a paper. Do you really want to see the day when newspaper merchants are forced to come up with some thief-proof machine that dispenses indivdual newspapers?

All over our society, we adopt a paranoid, defensive stance - evidence of the lowest common denominator. Inside the locker room of my members-only gym (home of the man ass) I'm expected to put a lock on my locker. (And for good reason - my dad recently had the credit cards stolen out of his wallet in his gym) This implies, doesn't it, that we're dealing with thieves who have gym memberships. That the guy next to you could be a thief. That you, conceivably, could be a thief. When I take a towel at the gym, I have to leave my membership card with the towel guy. So I can't steal the towel. Every day we go through this transaction - I hand him the card, he hands me the towel. The unspoken message: "Aha, towel thief! I have your card. Let's see you try to steal this one!"

I don't blame the gym for doing this. They've probably had towels stolen in the past. But the thief did more than just steal a towel, he eroded the trust level to the point where me and the towel guy have to go through this daily ritual. That's the legacy of the theft.

The other day I was playing poker at Binions, center of the poker universe. A fine card room. I had noticed my chair was a little wobbly, but it didn't bother me so I ignored it. About an hour into my session, I stood up to stretch. When I sat back down, the chair collapsed under me like it was oragami. I tumbled over backwards, sending two drinks flying as I flailed my arms, and ended up laying comically splayed on the floor. Not my finest moment.

Within seconds, three poker room personnel were at my side, helping me up and asking me if I was okay. I was fine. A little embarassed, maybe. But unhurt. Someone snapped his fingers and a new chair was brought over. A guard came jogging to the scene, followed by the security manager. Did I want to go to the emergency room? No. Was I sure? Yes. Would I mind signing a statement declaring what happened? Sure, I guess. An engineer arrived, and he and the manager started examining the busted chair to see why it had broke. The manager called surveillance to flag the tape. The guard presented me with a form to sign. My driver's license was taken away to be photocopied.

As I started writing the statement, other players came up to me to offer some quick advice. I heard things like "Son, if I were you I wouldn't sign shit." "If you want to talk a lawyer, you might be looking at anything from 5 to 50 grand." "You heard about that one woman at the Orleans? She slipped in the bathroom, now she's got a room for life."

I brushed these guys off, finished writing the form (which had questions along the line of who did I blame for the accident, how much personal property was damaged, etc) and eventually life went back to normal.

The whole incident was kinda funny, but also kind of sad. The casino was clearly terrified of little accidents like this. They had a whole procedure ready for someone falling out of his chair. The other players were like jackals - licking their chops, wishing it them that had the good luck to be in the busted chair. Some bystanders were wondering aloud if I should at least be offered a dinner. I had to explain patiently to many of them that I wasn't interested in seeking legal redress. Because, simply, I wasn't hurt. To sue them would be nothing but extortion. To ask for favors would just be greedy.

I don't know. Wouldn't it be nice if people weren't presumed to be thieves? Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't just presume I'd be eager to extort money from a business simply because I fell out of a chair? Let's leave those newspaper machines alone people. Those little boxy machines are the only things left in society that don't assume you're a greedy, thieving worm. Have some respect.