February, 1997.

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2/28/97: Form and Function

In this tempestuous century we have seen the pendulum of taste swing from the Louis Sullivan catechism of form following function, to a total reversal in the shape of kitsch cat clocks, liquor bottles in the shape of Elvis, and mailboxes that have voluptous shapes and greet us with coos. Do we really need a telephone in the form of Mickey Mouse or a computer in the form of a toaster (the opposite, a toaster that looks like a computer may be even more frightening)? By accident we may create paper weights that look like food (see Cookie Folly); but, barring such an unlucky transformation, everyone would feel more secure with the natural order of things (no more honey jars that looked like embalmed bears).

Sometimes the masquerade conceals a greater truth: remember the cigarette lighters that looked like snub-nosed pistols? They certainly sent the correct message on the dangers of smoking. Even that innocent looking letter opener/rapier warns of the incipient poison-pen letter.

My favorite kitsch is the clown-balloon inflator. The thing is merely a tank of helium with a clown's head on it: a crudely positioned tube "blows up" the balloon. Of course, if more holes were utilized, the clown could simultaneously inflate as many as seven balloons. Such a public display would probably be in violation of a dozen lewdness laws. At least a lava lamp is a lamp (it could probably be characterized as neo-techno-Kitsch, perfect in the living room of a hip postmodern proto-neo-bourgeois junk collector).

2/27/97: Pen Heaven

I have a theory about the pens, pencils, rubber band, and erasers that disappear from my desk: they all go to pen heaven. When a pencil becomes too short for reasonable use, an antigravity force takes over; and, the device flies off into space. Of course, I have never actually seen this phenomenon in action, but too many desk utensils have entered the Office Bermuda Triangle (hereafter referred to as OBT), never to return.

I imagine a place in outer space where groups of pens and their friends float about in a cosmic cloud. Someday astronauts will encounter the strange nebulae, thus proving my theory. There is probably a key heaven as well: some specific location at which keys will leave the earth of their own volition if they are deposited.

It is also possible that these locations are merely a subset of a larger place which I could call Tool Heaven. When the OBT kicks in, screwdrivers, knives, letter openers, nail clippers, all leave the earth to assume new identities in space. Unfortunately those old potato chips, empty Tic Tac© packs, etc. are impervious to the OBT force and remain stubbornly on the desktop.

The last and perhaps most annoying example of the OBT would be in the disappearance of phone messages. There is a certain type and size of little yellow paper that is whisked almost immediately into space, that critical phone number irretrievably lost. I have been thinking about marketing a new product: Office Glue. Its purpose is to attach those post-its permanently, since that gooey stuff on the back always fails, and the OBT force kicks in. This glue would have no known solvent, but it would react only with the little yellow squares of note paper. While I am working on a gravity restorer to counter the effects of the OBT, temporary product development might suffice. I will call the glue Permpost, after the famous mailman whose pants became stuck to a recently painted park bench after a short nap.

2/26/97: Worthless Collections

In Saturday Garage Sale, I mention some eccentric collectors: you know, those misfits who collect string, newspapers, etc. For years I had a crank old neighbor who could have played the Wicked Witch of the West. Her house was filled to the ceiling (every room) with newspapers. The mother of a former student had an entire Hollywood mansion filled with spare parts to vacuum cleaners (even the various stairways had stacks of boxes with the innards from old Hoovers, etc.). The place was so filled up that she had to rent a nearby apartment.

What is hard to understand is that these eccentric collectors really organize their stuff. I helped one of my colleagues move a few years ago, and found the most fantastic collection of paper bags in all the closets. I tried to throw them out over the violent protestations of their owner. The amazing part is that he had organized the bags by size, material, color, handles, and logos. What was the purpose of this efficiency, I asked? "You have to have just the right bag for the job," he retorted angrily. Obviously I was not knowledgeable concerning A&P vs. Vons bags. This colleague had the opinion that truly creative people carried EVERYTHING in paper bags, eschewing the more traditional briefcase.

I know at least three people who have pencil stub collections: those little Popeye, Mickey Mouse, or other advertising pencils that have become too short to hold, except by a two-year-old graffiti artist. My favorite from one collection was an eight-sided thing that was about a inch fat and wrote in ten simultaneous colors.

The ranks of sports ball collectors are legion. Tennis, ping pong, grotty pet balls with bells inside, balls with mysterious substances attached that control an eccentric bounce, all are irresistable items to the obsessed globe hoarder. Some collections have the patina of reasonableness (but are still nonsense): I had a friend who had 50,000 matchbooks, organized by logo. The colorful array of shapes and sizes had a beguiling attraction (I later had the horrifying observation that this assemblage was like a series of phosphorus bombs, just waiting to go off).

So, why do people collect this stuff? I am sure that many PhD's in psychology have been earned by those brave enough to venture into this area of research. Some time in the future I will put forth my humble and uninformed theory of the packrat procurer.

2/25/97: Cookie Folly

It has long been my fondest wish to create a low calorie chocolate chip cookie. I have spent decades trying to capture that forbidden texture and tempting rustic shape that the real thing possesses. My first attempt, which was to use carob and remove sugar from the mix, replacing it with that stuff that comes in the pink box and resembles boraxo, resulted in blobs that looked like patties excreted by miniature cows and had the texture and color of concrete. They were really only good for putting under uneven chair and table legs.

My second attempt substituted whole wheat flour and I can't believe it's butter© for the real stuff. These assembled themselves in the baking pan into one dark brown pimply mass that acted like epoxy and could not be removed, even when I used a blowtorch, and later battery acid.

THe third attempt involved using raisins with a few real chocolate chips (sugarless), Crisco©, and bisquick. These cookies blew up and looked more like small knishes, perfect for throwing at stray cats and dogs trying to relieve themselves in my backyard garden. I decided to keep a supply just for that purpose, when I accidentally discovered that they killed slugs and snails, I found dozens of the slimy creatures dead in a heap around one of the "cookies."

True scientists are relentless in their quest for the ultimate truth and success in their experiments; meanwhile, while still on the quest, I think I'll go over to Famous Amos's and pick up a bag of the forbidden treats.

2/24/97: Haircuts

Returning from a bike ride, having noticed the panoply of hamburgerheads, shrunken-head types, mopheads, and other fashionable citizens, I am not sure that I can cover the topic of haircuts in one column. In this area the gauge of human folly is in the red zone. I recall the lunatic who kept changing barbers, always dissatisfied with his haircut. Afterwards he would always bomb the barbershop and leave a bagel on the sidewalk. From the blue-haired old ladies to children with trendy rug-hair, we all try like mad to project our individuality with a good hairstyle.

That is why my brother went ballistic the first time he had his hair cut by a barber. I was old enough to take him and instructed the unsuspecting barber-dupe (who was named Rocky because he had a minor boxing career) to "give him a baldy!", insisting that my mother gave strict instructions to this effect. As the curls fell, my brother shrieked and carried on like Donald Duck. Of course, his self esteem was reduced to mere cuttings, at my vicious prank.

Curiously enough, my mother actually liked the kid's new look (he reminded me of a hedgehog). Those of you out there who are older siblings probably have even more nasty stories to relate. I invite you to top me on this one. Later this month I will tell you about "Big Neil", the Hamburgerhead.

2/23/97: Is Your Car a Parade Float?

There is a guy in the San Fernando who has glued every kind of brass sculpture, candlestick, doorstop, bottle opener, etc. you name it) onto his car. The result gives the impression of a floating junkpile that could easily pass for a parade float. Another exhibitionist has covered his auto with ceramic tile in various colors so that the vehicle looks like a bathroom turned inside out. When you start to decorate your car, you might aspire to this level of complexity; and, by definition, create an autonomous parade float. Of course, if you are driving a fire engine, hearse, antique, or hot dog bus, you are ready for the big parade without additional trappings. If there are any holdouts from the 60's- garishly painted VW buses with peace symbols or cartoons of the Dalai Lama-, these would constitute hippie entries for my impromptu parade.

So many of us try to define ourselves by what we drive, which explains the compulsion to spend 50+ thousands on road iron. DO I really want to be known as: "that guy who drives a Bentley?" For more on this topic, referring to the names of cars and their probably owners, try Killer Autos. Somehow, it seems like it would be more fun to drive an antique ambulance, festooned with a picture of Jimi Hendrix, painted lime green, and sporting bumper stickers for the marijuana initiative. I seem to remember a movie in which Peter Sellers had to drive a hipmobile while waiting for his stodgy wagon to be repaired; soon he was transformed into a Make love not war dropout.

Of course, you can always ride a horse in the big parade or walk along in a clown suit (take the Clown Test).

2/22/97: "Alien" Doctors

In the title I'm not referring to that Pakistani pediatrician you send your kids to, but to space aliens. A sleazoid newspaper (one of those rags that receive regular correspondence from Jesus, Elvis, or JFK) recently reported that these alien doctors are positioned around the world to "examine" us and steal our inner organs to be sent back to other planets.

I imagined that these grisly souvenirs might be sold on the street corners or in alien markets as gourmet delicacies. The image of sci-fi cannibal-collectors raiding the universe certainly has a fetchingly perverse ring to it. People from the planet Arous (whence commeth the famous brain) could, in their restaurants order a special kind of liver and bacon or steak and kidney pie.

Another possibility is that these aliens are Dr. Frankenstein types who creatively reassemble the parts of many different species as "experiments" who wind up in alien carnivals. Getting back to the "alien" doctors themselves, do they belong to an alien AMA and get together to meet once a year, comparing notes on the recent crop? Receving their orders from home, they hear such commands as more toes! or too many kidneys!. Having yucked myself and everyone else out on this topic, I start to think about my last visit to the HMO and why I can't ever seem the same doctor twice: Ah! The aliens are changing shifts.

2/21/97: Jelly Sandwiches

There was a story on the radio yesterday that reported a kid who, for the first eight years of his life ate nothing but jelly sandwiches on white bread. One ponders how he settled on this particular gourmet treat, but his mother reported that he would take no other food, and somehow he was in perfect health. I started to wonder how many people were food freaks or did strange things to their meals.

In the mildest cases I see people who, when eating fruit cut it all up into tiny pieces, as opposed to those who attack and stuff themselves. My question is: would the monster fruit eaters have a natural antipathy toward the fruit choppers and would the monster fruit eaters transfer their aggression and become whopper hamburger chompers, piling on pickles, cheese, bacon, avocado, letturce, tomato, and anything else to get the biggest chomping challenge? Some foods demand intense creativity just to eat normally. Long spaghetti seems to defeat us all, except children who see it as finger food (as a kid, my brother ate his with strawberry ice cream).

I noticed all the kinky condiments that I had collected when I went wild over that hot sauce club and imagined diners inundating their french fries with the likes of Nuclear Hell©, Dave's Insanity Sauce©, or a brown gluey sauce, better suited to repair book bindings, called Religious Experience©. I fantasized that if you ate this stuff every day you would wind up in a monastery singing Plainchant ot reciting Buddhist hymns, venturing out of the retreat occasionally to distribute hot sauce to the poor.

The latest news on the little jelly-sandwich kid was that he had expanded his repertoire and was adding peanut butter: it was probably a critical life-decision.

2/20/97: Presidential Commission

Around the time of the beginning of the first Clinton Administration I started to develop some new ideas to enrich elementary and high school education. Assembling my notes I submitted them to various federal agencies; and, much to my surprise, received encouragement to submit budgets, target estimates for the program, etc. About three months later I was in my office and received a phone call from Washington: I was to go to the airport, take a specific flight to D.C., and a limousine would be waiting to whisk me to the appropriate meeting.

I was overjoyed at the prospect of formally presenting the plan, until the voice on the phone said something about the Bureau of Waste Management. I made a crack to the effect that the only thing I knew about garbage was that I put it on the curb once a week and someone took it away. The voice on the phone became irritated, as though I had made a grievous error: by mistake, I had been assigned to the section of the government dealing with toxic waste. Although I had fallen in some once (see Chance and circumstance), I usually stayed away from the topic. In my mind the grand educational plan had turned to garbage.

If this was the way they ran things, what other horrible misappropriation of talent occurred elsewhere? Were garbage men sitting on education and arts councils? At least I finally had an explanation for Clarence Thomas.

2/19/97: Magazine Racks

Even with a cursory browsing of the local magazine racks, anyone would be flummoxed by the bewildering collage of publications catering to our follies and weaknesses. With the failure of such politically incendiary rags as Ms. and Male Chauvanist, I would propose an even more outrageous NPC (not politically correct) assemblage. How about the Graffiti Art News for taggers to keep track of the state of the art in aerosol paint, with a monthly wall-art contest; or perhaps other crime-specific journals like the Shortchanger's Weekly or Pimp's Pocketbooks.

Fashion slicks could certainly benefit from the addition of Drag Queen's Quarterly or Comsmopolitan Nun, worthy additions to the industry dominated fru fru. I think that my favorite type of "new" mag would be something like Loafer Gazette which is dedicated to helping you waste time in the workplace. It could have lists of entertaining phone numbers and websites that would make it look like you were occupied. Junk fax services could keep your phone line busy for hours. Finally there could be a column with real testimony of complete slackers who did no work for X months and still kept their phony baloney jobs.

Journalism is certainly a wide open profession, full of undiscovered opportunities. Now, did I really see an issue of Animal Genital Modeller at the Seven-Eleven?

2/18/97: Funerals

Funerals, by definition are formal, serious affairs (Finnegan's Wake notwithstanding) with somberly dressed family members, stiffly attired funeral directors (I remember the one at my father's funeral weighed 400 lbs. and wore white spats), and a general atmosphere of reserve and quiet. In the movies, it is usually raining, so the black umbrellas add a touch of bumbergloom.

However, I have always had a tendency to impropriety and distinctly remember the funeral of a distant relative (whom I had never met) some forty years ago. The weather was a sweltering New Jersey August, and my brother and I had new, tight black suits. As we uncomfortably twitched in our pews a balding red man got up to eulogize: "She looks so peaceful [open coffin], and to think, she was only 106." With that verbal missile, both of us began to laugh hysterically. Louder and louder and more convulsed became our hoots; we were out of control and unstoppable. ONLY 106!! Jesus, what did she expect? We had never met anyone alive who was that old, and this corpse had roamed the earth for over a century. Two ushers dragged us, still cackling, to the outside where we continued until we were out of breath. We bought ourselves popsicles from a passing vendor and recounted the incident, doubling over when either of us spoke the forbidden line (she was only 106).

What do you do in all that time? When I reached the age of 50, I looked back on my past to tally up achievements and blunders, triumphs and failures, good judgment and bad. Children think that they will live forever, which is why my brother and I as youngsters had our minds blown by the funeral.

2/17/97: Fairy Queen of Stove Parts

A couple of days ago I had to go to East Los Angeles, the kind of Nightmare of the Industrial Revolution that could have been the set of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. I was looking for one of those XYZ Corporations that specialize in stove parts (there were a few gizmos that I needed to replace on my 14-year-old behemoth restaurant stove). In these sections of town there always seems to be a cement mixer or dump truck around every corner. Freight trains seemingly wait until I approach to back up with 800 cars at 3 miles a hour. All the streets are one way (the wrong way), and NOBODY knows where anything is (too busy practicing ebonics).

After unbelievable screwing around with the Thomas map, compass, and 8 pages of handwritten directions, I finally arrive at an ancient brick building that could be the set of Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mitsensk, prison camp scene. I move the squeeky security door aside and step inside. The air hangs heavy with a dank yellow glow. Then I saw her: at a lone desk was the most astounding image of perfection: an African queen impeccably attired in kelly green, her large eyes luminous, her voice like rich port wine. "May I help you?" she cooed.

I must not be awake: all my possible answers seemed like pornography.

Queen: I am the Queen of Stove Parts. All that you desire in stoves is here.
Me: You must reveal all about yourself in this wondrous place.
Queen: I will magically restore to life that which is dear to you.
Me: (to myself) whoa! I will ask her to join me in Paris.
Queen: I know your wishes and will join you in the City of Light
Me: Your majesty, you have read my innermost desires... but

Then, I snapped into reality as the back door opened and a seven-foot slave brought in the stove parts. Like the head of John the Baptist in Strauss's Salome a shiny new door, bolts screws, knobs, and other assorted tubes were placed on the counter.

"That'll be $347.50"; the Queen quacked. The fantasy balloon burst, I paid and meekly left for the 101 freeway and the long drive back to suburbia. Sometimes the space-time continuum can be torn by the most unlikely errands.

2/16/97: Meetings

The very first Misfit column dealt with a Faculty Meeting. Mustering all the cumulative wisdom of the past months, we are prepared to give some basic advice to anyone who is trapped going to a meeting of any sort.

Disclaimer: If you are going to a meeting to pay off kidnappers, ex-wives, or the IRS, these hints will not help you.

1. If you can make up a believable excuse, don't go; if you are self employed or a hobo with a portable workstation, you don't need this information (this may seem impossible, but I once knew a hobo who had his own car. The back seat was filled to the roof with newspapers, and a long hose emerged from that stack- a great mystery).
2. Any meeting with over three people in it will be interminable, because everyone must get in 2 cents worth, and that is a lot of change.
3. Anyone who is eating at the meeting will cause trouble later.
4. If there is an unspoken dress code, the meeting will be a bore: bring a clown's honk horn to the next meeting.
5. If the chairman suggests at the outset another subsequent meeting, you know that you are in a vicious circle and will have to fight off the forbidden sleep. However, do not play with paper clips, rubber bands, or coffee stirrers to divert yourself (I did this once and fired a coffee stirrer into the hair of some gasbag delivering a quarterly report).
6. Anyone who suggests a) written ballots or b) to read any heavy document out loud will bring on the forbidden sleep.
7. Meetings in one of those panelled rooms with no window are only important if they are occurring after some manmade or natural disaster. The presence of overhead projectors, tape machines, or video monitors indicates a dreadful show-and-tell is in the offing. If the room is darkened, the forbidden sleep will beckon.
8. Anyone at the meeting who furiously writes everything down (and is not a secretary) is probably a complete clown and should be avoided. If this person is sitting next to the chairman (sucking up), pray for invisibility and move to a seat as far as possible away.
9. People who are late to meetings are usually trying to puff up their own importance: if you don't owe them any money, ignore them.
10. The best meetings are short: long meetings are capable of creating a time warp of cosmic relativistic proportions. In every long meeting I start to look at the participants as getting exponentially older and fatter, until they get transformed into members of the Red Queen's court. In Alice's trial the most ludicrous stuff is applauded as valuable: so it is with ANY meeting.

2/15/97: Spraycans

Reflecting on things that did not exist in my childhood but which inundate the scene today, I immediately thought of spraycans. Everything, from hair color to snack cheese comes out of the little holes. Toothpaste and anchovies wriggle out like earthworms and WD40 perfumes the air.

You could almost make a chain of interlockling spraycans: shampoo to keep dirt from the carpet, insecticide to keep the carpet from the fleas, pooch spray to keep the fleas from the dog, pet spray to keep the dog from the plants, plant sprays to keep plants from each other and from bugs, and bug spray to keep the bugs from us. Then, we have personal sprays to keep us from each other and nonstick sprays to keep us from our food. A whole hierarchy of spraycans dominates our lives: I invite replies from readers as to the most outrageous spraycan: for me either the new car smell or instant hair (to cover a bald spot) are the craziest. Try your hand at a candidate.

2/14/97: Diva

The callow and unsupecting never know when a complete meltdown disaster is imminent, even in the most genteel and sophisticated environments. I was accompanying an over-the-hill soprano in a song cycle when one of these incendiary events occurred on stage. This diva, who was wearing one of those gowns that looked like the projection of the local planetarium, covered in little gold stars, had the shape of a bag of watermelons and moved like Robbie the Robot.

She was premiering a work by a local no-talent, and there was a song that began with an unaccompanied soprano note. Beforehand she asked me to give her the pitch quietly before the piece began, and I softly played the Bb she required. The only lamentable thing was that when she began the song, she sang a C, a pitch somewhat higher. Naturally, since the whole song would be higher, I played the accompaniment up a step. Trouble is, I could see a high Bb near the end set to the words I give you rocket's thunderthrust and fantasy (the idea of this dumpling belting out THAT was bad enough), but a quick calculation on my part revealed that the diva would have to attempt a high C. Since there was no way she could make this note, I trembled in anticipation of the dreaded outcome. I give you.... (the big one was coming).. rocket's.......(oh, no!)THUHH and out came the yowling cry of a mortally wounded rhinoceros. The rest was a jiggling and staggering affair as I pounded out the last chords.

Afterwards, the composer would not speak to me and blamed the whole thing on my poor judgment. Obviously, I should have played the accompaniment in the wrong key and generated a continuous series of animal noises from this diva. This was wisdom acquired at a stiff price of one's sanity and hearing. Maybe next, I'll relate the one about the tuba player who fell off the stage playing a difficult cadenza.

2/13/97: Famous Producer?

I once fell victim to instant fame while riding my bicycle in the old section of Topanga Canyon. On a particularly deserted stretch of road I suddenly encountered motorcycle police, trailers, scrambling workmen, and absurdly dressed young women. Rather than stop, I proceeded forward. As I passed the police, I was greeted with enthusiastic waves and encouragement: it was as though I had finished the Tour de France. The young women blew kisses to me and the grotty workmen scurried out of my way. As I advanced, an old lady stumbled in to the road, risking injury to say "Why, you're....." and asked for my autograph (which I magnanimously refused). What was happening here? It seems that I was mistaken for a famous television producer, and everyone though that I [he] was making a surprise visit to the set of a new show. I milked this one for all it was worth, waving to all and looking as well heeled as possible.

Thinking about the incident later I realized that those people WANTED to see me [the vaunted boss], and they invented me to fulfill their expectations. Large scale benign deceptions, whether through serendipity (like this) or on purpose (like the Orson Welles saucer scare on the radio) are good tonic for the dullness of the human condition. Like that limousine that pulled up in front of my house last summer. "Your car is ready, sir," the chauffeur intoned stiffly. Dressed in a cut off Chicago Symphony tee shirt and faded shorts from Land's End, I seemed an inappropriate livery charge (I was also sucking on a grape popsicle). Do I dare get in?

2/12/97: Camptown Ladies

Camptown ladies sing this song:
doodah! doodah! Oh! Doodah day.

What in the name of poetry or lyrics does this mean? Those camptown ladies sound suspiciously like professionals; which means that doodah may have a meaning that eclipses morality, public good taste, and history. The ladies could be camp followers, which would make them 19th century groupies. Images of simpering teenagers or clucking old housefraus come to mind. They could be Camptown campers, parking their RV's along the five-mile course, barbecuing hot dogs and hamburgers for hyperactive tribes of children. Why do they sing doodah?

Doodah does not an entry in any known dictionary: therefore it is a kind of all purpose word (like Humbug (from a previous Misfit). In Los Angeles there is a yearly Doodah parade which trades on inherent absurdity (like a precision team of executives with briefcases). If doodah means nonsense, then the ladies could be a local women's club which is condemning the races as doodah; or they could be a local Christian group that sees betting as immoral or destructive. One last thught: the camptown ladies could be mentally challenged (morons) and on an outing from a local institution. I remember going to the San Diego Zoo and seeing an entire Boy Scout troop of mongoloids marching with limited precision past the elephants. They were all eating those hot dogs dipped in batter, fried, and put on sticks: I think that they were the happiest group of people I have ever seen.

2/11/97: Mardi Gras II

This "Colorful Chef" is seasoning a very special drink (why does he have on the welder's gloves?).

2/10/97: Mardi Gras I

Claire is at it again with the first of two intimate views of the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade. These "Nurses" are ready to cure whatever is wrong with you (I wonder what's in the syringe, and is that container a urine sample?).

2/9/97: Evil Vending Machines III

You may remember the original Evil Vending Machines and Son of the Evil Vending Machines. I would like to address those particularly fitted to change one and five-dollar bills. If you can figure out which way the picture of Washington will be recognized, you still have about a 50 percent chance of either having the bill disgorged back at you or mutiliated, allowing to you mail the pieces to some post office box in Baraboo Wisconsin (I am convinced that these bill changers were an early prototype of document shredder, that also allowed you to buy a snack while destroying government secrets).

The other multilator is in the form of those machines that usually contain fruit, sandwiches, or forbidden pastry, arrayed in a circle on a tower carousel. You push a button to bring the selection around to the little glass door. Half the time the thing is jammed and the sandwich or doughnut (not DONUT, which must be purchased in one of those greaseball kiosks with names like Woodys or Winchells) gets deformed by the sweeping action or falls down to another layer. Possibly, you get the three-day old bagel instead because the thing rotates the wrong way.

Maybe the vending machine company should encourage creativity by offering a surprise behind each door (which would not be transparent). With lowered expectations, each treat would looker far better if not previewed (I always thought that those wax models of food, like spaghetti and sushi were the best appetite surpressants). Let the buyer's imagination conjure up the buffet at the Plaza: if you're hungry enough, that corrupt pear or burrito will pass muster.

2/8/97: A Sultan at 13

With the sudden improvement in weather in Southern California, I harked back to a spring concert tour that I took when I was 13 with my piano teacher (a woman) and four female students, each at least 2 or 3 years older than I. We were travelling in a small van through North Carolina when the conversation turned to the destruction of the earth and the possibility that we six would be the only people alive. The women (my teacher included) quickly concluded that I was essential to the continuation of the race. I immediately jumped six steps ahead and imagined myself as a grand sultan in silken robes with this instant harem at my complete disposal. Although my sexual experience was non existent, my theoretical knowledge was encyclopedic.

I started to see these women in belly dancer constumes (even though one of them resembled two bunches of garlic on top of each other). Because of some incredible natural (or bellicose) disaster, I was suddenly an all-powerful stud, preserving the best of the race (and having an extremely good time in the process). I even began to compile a calendar of trysts, carefully weighing my capacities against the numbers (Dr. Strangelove's remarks immediately come to mind).

Then, in the midst of this ecstasy, the van had a blowout. A flat tire is definitely the paradigm of deflated desires. I volunteered to change the tire, got grease all over my new pants, and resumed my original "kid brother" role to these older ladies. Did I ever romance any of them? Well, yes, but that is another story.

2/7/97: How to Clean Anything

There is a famous Laurel and Hardy skit which features Stan desperately trying to clean a spot from Ollie's suit with an experimental substance; ultimately, the bogus cleaning fluid dissolves Ollie's clothes. I started to think about all the cleaning powders, pumices, liquids, and sprays that I have bought over the years and how most of them did more damage than good. That cleaning fluid to be used on a white shirt which leaves a big yellow stain in place of the small blue one, or that asphyxiating spray that removes paint when it is supposed to remove grease: these substances probably have no place near anything alive, and I always imagine that a precise mixture of them could produce an explosion or perhaps a huge blob of creeping lava that absorbs all in its path. (Loyal readers may remember Product Labels which addresses the possibility that adulterants in food could create dangerous and foul mixtures.) Certainly, cleaning products are more likely to generate a sulphurous atmosphere that is more likely to attract witches than repel dirt. I can still remember Mrs. Lynx, a cleaning woman from my childhood who looked like the wicked witch from The Wizard of Oz. The way she dispensed Dranotm while simultaneously chain smoking, I always imagined her familiars, in the form of monkeys, appearing to torture us by playing old Lawrence Welk records.

Perhaps that is the real purpose of drain openers, scouring powders, and mildew sprays: they prepare the way for spirits of the underworld to emerge in comfortable surroundings. They hide by day in the innocent garb of domestic servants, duping their spic and span obsessed masters and lulling them into a cosmetically spotless complacency.

2/6/97: Family Circus

Do you have an uncle who dresses like Bozo? (see the Clown Test) Your family may be populated by natural circus performers. Maybe your mother dresses like one of the fortune tellers in Carmen, or your brothers and sisters are acrobats and trick cyclists. You may have school chums who lumber like trained bears who unhappily perform their daily act. I can remember my Uncle Ludzu, who always bellowed like a carnival barker and whose hobby was performing magic tricks (badly).

Look around: the three-ring Big Top may be around you. Of course, there are always a few elephants and tigers (dispositions). All teenagers assume the role of tightrope walkers and aerialists as they discover how great it is to become middle aged. I know plenty of people who cook and eat as though they were at a circus sideshow, with hot dogs, french fries, pop, cotton candy, and peanuts. The big question is: do the families that have many inveterate clowns, acrobats, and jugglers also EAT all that junk food? If I can establish a causal relation between junk food and dysfunctional behavior.......the Nobel Prize beckons.

2/5/97: Vulgar Tongue

So often today TV commentators and newspaper writers use a homogenized speech that has the tedious consistency and opacity of Jiffy© peanut butter. I though it would be fun to return to a more colorful era by rendering a few examples from The Scoundrel's Dictionary, a broadside collection of the vulgar tongue published in London in 1811:

  • Buildings.
    sheriff's hotel (a prison).
    gospel shop (a church).
  • People.
    looby or shallow pate or chub (an awkward, ignorant fellow).
    butt or toad eater (a dependent or poor relation).
    fart catcher (valet or footman; someone who walks behind).
    buck fitch (lecherous old fellow).
    fussock or fubsey (lazy, fat woman).
    Admiral of the narrow seas (a drunk who vomits in the lap of the person across from him).
    cruisers (beggars or highway spies).
  • Food and drink.
    wibble (bad drink).
    cackling farts (eggs).
    diddle (gin).
  • Anatomy.
    kettle drums (a woman's breasts).
    whore pipe, sugar stick, Arbor Vitae, or plug tail (a man's penis).
    nutmegs (testicles).
  • With these colorful expressions on your tongues, go forth and offend. Flumox the puff guts and jarkmen: don't be a common, country put.

    2/4/97: A Perfect Fit

    Loyal readers remember Tight and Loose Pants and Hat. I have been contemplating the perfect fit. That special shirt or pants that feel like a second skin. You wear them to death, because they are so familiar. Beethoven and Brahms never changed their clothes, probably because they fit perfectly and were so comfortable. Whenever someone tries to get me to buy new duds, invariably I wind up choking on something so tight that it makes me feel shrink wrapped (like Farmer John's Breakfast Sausage). I have one tuxedo that fits like a glove: usually these monkey suits are pure torture, but I was lucky enough to have one made that has the relaxation of a sweat suit.

    It probably takes months to break in any clothes, especially pants and shoes. I have one pair of shoes that I have had since 1970 that I wear on stage, because I forget that I am wearing them. Primal fantasies from the jungle take over when I am playing the piano, and the perfect synthesis of culture and nature is created.

    The real problem is that these comfortable suits, et al. always have a tired, faded, moldy fig look; and, some mate is always trying to throw them out (every week I have to check the garbage, religiously to make sure that some favorite accoutrement has not wound up on top of yesterday's pasta). Clothes are such a sign of social status: it is too bad that recriminations (in terms of ill fitting foppery) emerge and spoil the dream.

    2/3/97: New Ailments

    We have all heard of swimmer's ear, housemaid's knee, and tennis elbow. In the modern age of politics these ailments may be produced by new, more insidious agents:

    1. senator's ear: symptoms include selective deafness but perfect hearing for lobbyists, grafters, and pacs. The victim eventually is unable to tell good from evil and regularly makes deals with the Devil.
    2. lobbyist's knees: chronic condition brought on by grovelling, kow towing, and general obsequious bowing and scraping. The sufferer in the final stages of this terminal illness has been known to lick shoes.
    3. councilman's elbow: a temporary condition brought on by shaking hands with thousands. The patient must be kept away from crowds and in a solitary environment. The elbow will heal if no new political office is sought.

    If you know anyone with these problems refer them to some of the doctors listed in Fu Manchu (where did he get his doctorate?)

    2/2/97: Torture Chairs

    We all know that modern paintings and contemporary classical music generally produce distressing medical symptoms ranging from nervousness to complete panic. Why is it that we must be tortured in modern furniture? From the amorphous beanbag chair which holds its victim hostage on a bed of cumulatively deposited snack food, to the straight backed sculptures that look like they were made for Giacometti rejects, furniture designers seem bent on returning human beings to an upright position.

    At least many of these creations are attractive with no one in them: ponder the overstuffed lounger with controls on the side for foot rests, rockers, massage, and ultimately a rear end booter that catapults you out. These things look like padded electric chairs and are always covered in a cheesy plastic or fuzzy cloth sewed together from old, worn out Cookie Monster puppets.

    The classic rocker had a quaint charm and could provide relative comfort; its modern equivalent, which usually involves some sort of steel frame suspended on a complex of wires and springs, comes right out of Kafka's Penal Colony. These things always wind up at garage sales. All stools are treacherous, and the ones that rotate remind me of trained dog acts in the circus, with a half dozen or so of the hapless beasts spinning on them while balancing party favors on their noses.

    The great rule of modern chair design: Modern chairs are designed to maintain social order by compromising the dignity of people, while diffusing their complacency. Maybe we should go back to squatting on the ground.

    2/1/97: Is your Boss a Cartoon Quack?

    You may remember the teachers who were stuffed talking toys article from last month: this observation enriches that concept. I had a supervisor in the civil service who seemed to quack like Daffy Duck whenever he wanted me to do something. If the task were critical, his quack would be more strident and high pitched; so I knew that if he sounded like Daffy, I could take my time. However, if he sounded like Donald Duck, I was in deep dodo dung.

    I am sure that many of you have encountered trumpeting rhinos and elephants who could fly like Dumbo, running offices, stores, and restaurants. I worked in a coffee shop once that was run by a woman who looked and moved like Olive Oyl, Popeye's girlfriend, and she had a dishwasher who could have passed for Wimpy, except that he ate omelettes all the time instead of burgers. I've seen all kinds of bureaucrats who take their cue from either Dagwood or Dick Tracy, and the local hardware store is full of Crankshaft clones. Among the underlings, there are plenty of Betty Boops and Miss Buxleys. By the way, I have plenty of students who are just like Garfield; a decade ago they were more like Charlie Brown.

    With so many characters from comics and cartoons hanging about, it hardly seems worth the effort to read the funnies. On the other hand, if you have a boss like Mandrake the Magician or Spiderman, then your day is full of strange redefinitions. What does this really mean? Now, what ever happened to that ex-Dean who looked like Snoopy as a WW I ace?

    Updated daily. Copyright © Paul Reale, 1997. All Rights reserved.