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11/27: The Misfit takes a holiday.

I was considering climbing Anapurna in Nepal and preparing a Thanksgiving feast for my Sherpa guides after clawing our way through miles of ice encrusted wasteland, battling nose numbing frostbite and snow blindness. I was wondering whether I should pack pie crust sticks for the pumpkin pie or make the crust from scratch. Hamstrung from this impossible decision, I thought that I'll just go to San Diego. The Misfit returns on Dec. 1, the usual fount of misinformation in the age of disinformation on the information highway. If you like this column, e-mail the URL to your friends. Remember: good things on the net are spread by word of mouse.

11/26: Too much of a good thing.

With the inevitable gluttony the accompanies the American Thankgiving holiday, I was reminded of the time, as a new college teacher at the University of Pennsylvania, that I decided to introduce the holiday to fellow graduate students from other countries. The plan was to make a huge potluck among four couples, each bringing some essential part of the Thanksgiving feast. Since English was not even a second language for some of the people, the lines of communication became obscured, and we wound up with three roast turkeys and four pumpkin pies for eight people, and no other food: luckily, it ws early in the day, and a solution could be carried out. In the midst of this abundance of fowl, we all had to save face and dispose of all that turkey, over 60lbs. worth.

I was hosting this lopsided affair and was living at that time in a small but very poor town which had many homeless people. We called the local church and persuaded them to let us make the gargantuan feast for any that would come in. The church members kicked in for cranberry sauce and the other traditional side dishes, and we put up homemade signs on about six street corners. Within three hours they started to come: it was like the cast of Night of the Living Dead, lumbering toward us. We were ecstatic and full of kneejerk liberal pride.

We had about 40 guests, and the table looked like a scene from Bunuel's Viridiana. I would say that I have not seen worse table manners in my whole life, except in one of those B prison movies, where the food resembles volcano lava, and it is ladled out by a gorilla into crude bowls. The irony of the event is that my fellow hosts as I got so involved with the dinner that we never got to eat any of the turkey, but my friends took the memory of that special Thanksgiving back to their home countries. That evening we all went to the local pizzeria and invented international counterculture, which is why even now pepperoni reminds me of Turkey Day.

11/25: Accidental appearance on TV.

We have all seen the distorted gyrations of spectators behind TV news field reporters. A visitor from another planet would think that the TV camera was some sort of palsy inducing ray, when turned on its victims. The simultaneity of appearances in tens of millions of homes implied by even a short flash on the tube bestows the magic of instantaneous fame, thereby explaining the embarrassing behavior of those so afflicted. My Warholian 15 minutes came when I was a student in New York, Christmas shopping in Macys with my then girlfirend, a drop-dead spectacular beauty with the kind of hair that always appears to be moving in slow motion. She had wound up about a dozen rolling and jumping plush pups and cats, when a TV crew from NBC arrived to film a tag for the opening of the season. Targeting my Venus and her stuffed friends, they began shooting the tag. At the same time, not 10 feet away I was eyeing a pogo stick, in my mind a random travel device that I had never tried, owing to my complete lack of balance. I mounted the thing but instantly lost control, careening across the entire toy department, taking with me a rack of teddy bears and one of those baby mobiles with rubbery looking figures of Popeye, OliveOyl, and Wimpy on it. Slumped in the soft and cuddley pile, I could see that I had provided an absurd background for a scene that could pass for an outtake from Miracle on 34th St.: that pretty girl and all those animated toys.

On the way home we debated the visual merits of the TV tag, and I was sure that it could not be used, owing to my pogo stick debacle. Dead wrong: this eccentric footage was the lead in to the Thanksgiving Day Parade. As the cameras zoomed in on my girlfriend, you could see what looked like an attempted murder way in the distance, a body appeared to be flung into the corner after crossing the entire field of vision. My public dignity lost, the best I could hope for on TV in the future would be a shot at playing corpses tossed out of moving cars or windows on the Mike Hammer detective program.

Was that you in that Macys TV promo? was the gist of about three phone calls from friends of mine over the next few days (the tag had been repeated twice on the evening news): I lied consistently, protesting that I was not even in New York at the time and had urgent business in New Jersey. New Yorkers would not even question this, since no one who lives in Manhattan would even think about going to NJ or suggest it even in jest, unless it was an unavoidable emergency.

Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan: I wasn't dead; I was just in New Jersey.

11/24: Chance and circumstance.

You can probably divide all the people of the world into two types: those are likely to step in dog pooey, and those that are not. Being a charter member in the former group, I have come to take a pessimistic view of chance and luck in everyday life. Everyone knows that there is a 50-50 chance that a slice of bread slathered with peanut butter will fall on the gooey side, yet I have seen it glue itself to the floor nine times out of ten (sometimes I even step on the offending hors d'oeuvre by accident). Maybe these tilted odds for us Schlamozels are no coincidence but the fulfillment of a massive self destructive streak. In the days of the caveman I would certainly miss the swinging vine; in the days of the pirates I would stumble on buried garbage, looking for treasure.

Another possibility is that the others (those lucky ones) are placing the dog pooey in our path: I see every dog owner as a master of enemy excretory artillery. The dogs themselves are indentured and have no choice; unless they too could be divided into two types like humans. The lucky dogs will get away with fouling my yard, while the schlamozel canine defecators will suffer my abuse. I will lie in wait for them with the garden hose, and as they relax I will let them have it, blasting them and their offensive issue into the street.

Those readers of the Peanuts comics may doubt the existence of Pigpen types, but I can attest to knowing at least three and being one myself. In the worst incident I was ambling toward the movies, when I heard a squeeky rumbling sound: at once a flood of toxic waste issued from the galley of a Pioneer Chicken grease bowl. I was inundated by the black rancid and acrid goo. It seemed to creep up my clothes and cover my legs and hands: it was like THE BLOB. Trying to sneak home, I was mistaken for Darkman by a screaming old lady who threatened to call the cops. I tried to convince her that I was a professor and she said What? a professor of poop!

11/23: Pure Camp.

We all have mixed memories of summer camp, scout camp, army training camp, or images of refugee or prison camps from the news or movies: a camp is some kind of outdoor area of confinement without flush toilets, which is usually visited by uninvited wild beasts at night, and which may or may not involve recreation over the course of one's stay. However, in recent years new kinds of camps have sprouted. A case in point is computer camp, summoning up images of propeller heads sitting in trees and squatting around the fire with their laptops singing TV jingles, or fantasy baseball camp which implies that people walk around in uniforms spitting tobacco juice and arguing with fantasy umpires, even at breakfast (with mandatory Wheaties).

Perhaps there should be traffic school camp, where offenders get to work out aggression with jeeps in swamps and jungles or MahJong camp, where old ladies vie for endurance records.

If we use the basic template of fantasy role playing, then a whole new array present themselves: fantasy embezzlers' camp where you get to get to steal millions sneak off to camp-on-the-lam or fugitive from justice camp. I am particularly enamored of fantasy talk show host camp, where you get to make inane conversation with Hollywood wannabes and hawk uselss products to people who have gone to the captive audience camp. The ultimate fantasy might be in the fantasy corrupt politicians' camp, where you get to abuse campaign finance laws, accept graft, wine and dine lobbyists, and secure jobs for all your incompetent relatives, and make all those coveted Mafia contacts that you've always dreamt of. You could dig for oil on wilderness land, depose dictators from the neighboring fantasy despots' camp, and be investigated by members of the fantasy FBI camp. The only glitch with all this fantasy camping is: what to do in real life? We could continue to watch fantasy cop and adventure shows on TV, decay in front of talk shows featuring women who have concocted bizarre marital arrangements, and watch reruns of Sylvester Stallone adventure potboilers. (Nothing is real: The Beatles).

11/22: Wisdom from Song Titles.

Americans serenade each other with a lot of lyrics that reveal them to be unglued or mentally unbalanced in a major way. For example, Singin' in the Rain: the conveyor of this mordent announcement is probably one step from the boobyhatch (perhaps screaming in the rain, and finally convulsing in the rain are the last stages of this type of insanity). That Old Black Magic has definite overtones of satanic worship, ritual sacrifice, and deviant sexual practices and Zippity Doodah: the second word says it all. I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter (panaroid delusions) reveals a genuine lunatic fringe, while Anything You can Do I Can Do Better elevates demented braggadocio to a high art. Sunny Side of the Street (sounds like homeless people to me), and These are a Few of my Favorite Things (homeless packrats) paint a bleak picture of psychotic destitute masses in rags. Some Enchanted Evening sounds like the last gasp of the singles' scene gone bad, followed by Be my Love, For No One Else Can End this Yearning could imply future stalking behavior.

Holiday songs might prove to be even more wrongheaded: Here comes Santa Claus, Here comes Santa Claus, Right down Santa Claus Lane or Here comes Peter Cottontail, Comin' down the bunny trail. Such errant geography is definitely designed to confuse young and old (the bunny trail sounds like a runway for Playboy Centerfolds). No one discusses Rudolph's notorious red nose, am implication of the last stages of alcoholism or the blatant promiscuity of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (what else did this kid see that in not in the song?) or All I want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth (domestic violence). And I've always been suspicious of the animating life force behind Frosty, the Snowman: there has to be some sort of Dr. Frankenstein or other mad scientist without the good sense to build out of more durable material than snow. What about Frosty's getaway? What has he got to hide?

Somewhere in my memory is a punk-rock song in which Santa is a mugger who rolls his victims. Perhaps Babes in Toyland could be remade and updated to reflect such changing mores. Did I hear cries of Cynic...Cynic? Well then,tell me what to do with all the fowl and junk jewelry from that bulemic betrothed in the Twelve Days of Christmas?

11/21: Candy and your Favorite Food.

Forrest Gump was dead wrong, of course: the chocolates in a box are coded by the design and color; so, you can tell green jelly that nobody eats is coming next. Far more mysterious are the low level substances that inhabit wax bottles, little paper tubes, gaudy tinfoil and cellophane, and pseudo heathfood wrappings, which mention grandma or some farm. Obviously candy's appeal is couched in a belief that it is bad for you. It is the temptation to do wrong that propels us into the sucrotic orgy. The snake in the Garden of Eden could have used a Snickers bar on Adam and Eve with equal success; and who knows, Saint Anthony might have caved in for Godiva dark.

When asked to reveal their favorite food, children will invariably name candy, demonstrating the lack of adult social consciousness. No adult will mention candy, because candy is bad for you! Answers like bread, milk, and rice are politically correct and make us feel good about ourselves, even though they are probably a lie. I have found that each person has some kind of horrible junk food that he/she feels is essential to survival, but hates to make a public admission.

Extrapolating from these observations, we see an inextricable connection between guilt and pleasure. The forbidden object is much more fun to imbibe, and the wholesome object quickly bores us. I remember visiting a part of China where I was offered bear paw as a food delicacy: why would anyone want to eat that? And what about all those bears with missing limbs? Chances are the dish was bogus, but the idea of such culinary poaching probably fires the prurient imagination of jaded tourists.

What makes human nature supremely fascinating is the panoply of conflicting influences behind all our choices. We brush off armed conflicts in distant countries but weep for an injured dog or cat.

11/20: The Halloween Party

My normal wardrobe contains mostly bizarre objects worn by magician's assistants or members of minor secret societies, which is why I was considering raiding it for a new costume. However, after a recent Halloween party invitation from a painter friend, I decided to go all out and make my own costume: a giant octopus. A neighbor gave me five or six blinking plastic eyes which I sewed on a central hood of what looked like material made of green tennis balls. The legs were tubes, stuffed with newspaper. What resulted was a kind of sarape which looked like four stuffed pairs of green pantyhose strangling Bozo the Clown when you put it over your head. It was inauthentic from the biological standpoint but an effective disguise. Accompanying me, my wife went as a deposed Russian Premier, although she was mistaken continually for Judge Bork. At the party we were accosted by a squat blonde dressed as Tinkerbell (pink tutu, wand, Dolly Parton wig, and sneakers) who proceeded to tell us about another couple that she had met the week before who were the most pompous know-it-alls on the face of the earth, horrible effete snobs (ala Spiro Agnew) who had the effrontery to have Studied Music and could not appreciate the subtleties of Dr. Dre, Coolio, Hootie et al. The stiff and haughty sourpusses had opinions about everything.

At that moment I had a divine inspiration- I was witnessing a little ray of the light of Absolute Truth: the squat Tink was telling us about ourselves, whom she had met the week before at a gallery opening for the painter-host. He, dressed as a Hasidic firehat dancer was within earshot of the fairy's vituperations and made a desperate effort to come over and apologize, not knowing that the Pink Tink did not connect us with the imperious musical monsters: I thwarted the confrontation with more questions about the obnoxious couple. This was clearly one of those rare sitcom situations. Only once before, when as a new teacher I pretended to be a student in my own class, sitting in the cheap seats, was I privileged to hear unvarnished truth from entering students, but that is another story.

11/19: Personality Tests

Since the new year is fast approaching, it is a time to make resolutions for self improvement. In an attempt to aid that end, I have devised a series of simple tests which will appear here from time to time. The first is called: How to tell if you are a clown.

1. You have a collection of honking rubber noses (5 pts. for each nose).

2. You have a pair of red pants in your closet and a pair of unmatched socks on your feet(10 pts. for each pair).

3. You cannot identify some of the keys on your keyring (5 pts. for each mystery key).

4. You have expired credit cards, library cards and/or driver's licenses in your wallet (5 pts. for each card, 10 for the license for each year since expiration).

5. You believed: Richard Nixon, Heidi Fleiss, O.J. Simpson, Tammy Faye Bakker (5 pts. for each gullibility).

6. You tape either, a daytime TV soap opera or, a Jerry Lewis movie for later viewing (5 pts. for each idiot timeshift).

7. You did not vote in the last election (citizens of Cuba or the People's Republic of China, ignore this question; others, 10 pts).

8. You have just found a dry cleaner's ticket from 1987 in your wallet (10 pts).

9. There are at least three items in your refrigerator that you cannot identify (10 pts).

10. You buy lottery tickets regularly (5 pts. for each ticket bought in the last year).
Score: If you scored 50 or more, it is time for a new year's resolution, 100 to 150 and you are in serious trouble, over 200 and Ringling Bros. beckons. This is not a commercial site, but I will personally sell you my collection of rubber noses for $7.50 each. Emmet Kelly: move over.

11/18: Repairing a toilet

Toilets are a sure sign of civilization: we are impressed that the Romans had them, but the mediaeval French did not. Just as we are aghast that the Arabs had street lighting 900 years before Edison but gave all that up to try to conquer the Turks and Israelis and ride camels in the desert.

A toilet is a sign of high technology in utiity and would appear to a fairly simple device. Of course, I am leaving out such weaponry as the Destroylet, which incinerates like a blast furnace after the cover is closed instead of flushing. Perhaps this design could be enhanced by the use of nuclear fusion or laser beams. Bathrooms would become virtual radiation chambers or plasma physics environments.

The basic flush toilet uses the potential energy of stored water to empty itself. However; in this design is the fatal flaw: the increased water pressure puts life threatening strain on valves and seals. If you even think about it, the device will develop a sticking valve, or worse, leak on the floor. Fixing the device involves tampering with the gods of plumbing; and, they have decreed that if you repair pipe A, pipe B, which is old but has nothing to do with A, will begin to leak. If you repair B, then A will begin to leak again. Another rule: the part that you need to replace was last manufactured in 1902. Your local Home Plate combo plumbing supply and lawn furniture store will be no help with a replacement. Caught in this vicious cycle like the protagonists of Greek tragedy, you decide to call a plumber. What you don't realize is that all plumbers offer tribute (lotta money) to the gods of plumbing on a regular basis, and they filter it by way of you. That's why the 39 cent part costs $352.50 to replace. Without this tribute, the toilet will disgorge its contents and leave the hapless homeowner with conditions resembling plague ridden London of the 17th century. One last observation: the amount of toilet troubles you will encounter is exponentially linked to the number of toilets in your house. If you have two, then trouble is four times more likely to happen, three, then nine times. etc. By this rule, apartment houses are potential states of national emergency waiting to happen. I remember watching a distended bubble grow on the bathroom ceiling of a NY Westside apartment I was renting as a student: should I pop it? I took the irresistible challenge and was inundated as the Greek tragedy characters of old: I was just glad the the tenants upstairs did not have one of those blue dye pucks in the toilet tank.

11/17: Son of the Evil Vending Machine- the automated phone system, press * or stay on the line.

Greetings! You have reached the automated customer assistance line of the XYZ Mindblow Corporation (Our Motto: A mind is a terrible thing not to waste). To hear an official greeting from CEO Quayle, press 3862. If you have an existing case and wish to speak to an assigned technician (total bozo) , press 1 now : Enter the thirty-four digit code times your Social Security number, and your assigned engineer will be paged (roused from slumber). If you wish to talk to a sales representative (criminal), press 2 while picking your nose and singing Laura. To call your mother press $$. If you are calling from a fruit juice can, stay on the line and an operator will cheerfully disconnect you from our efficient network (you confused wiener). And thanks for calling the XYZ Mindblow Corporation where we say: A mind is a terrible thing not to lose (loose,..lues,..louse?!).

And now a word from Mel Brooks (Twelve Chairs, Copyright © 1970):

11/16: Evil vending machines

Many cultures believe that spirits reside in other objects such as trees, tools, art objects: I am sure that spirits (probably evil) inhabit all vending machines. Everyone has had the last quarter swallowed up be these perverse minions (and I include pay phones) or the candy bar or cookie stuck on the way down to the exit slot. Bad design, you retort, but the same machine will work like a charm for some. It is always party time when a vending machine surrenders its complete contents, like an ice cream sandwich machine at a university dorm that dispensed all the ice cream at once; however, soft drink or coffee machines that do this are like sorcerer's apprentices in their generosity. However, obstreperous vendors have probably launched many careers in the martial arts, born of frustration. We get ticked off because there is no person to complain to, no feedback. I have written to those addresses which promise a refund but never received a cent.

Who decides what is sold in a vending machine? My favorite was the pizza and hot dog machine at Columbia College that wrapped both up so that their identities merged. To me this was an ultimate democratic symbol, albeit terrible food.

I have a suggestion to placate the evil spirits in vending machines: align them with the gambling concept. In other words, if you put your money into a pay washing machine you may or may not get your clothes washed, or you may get a free wash and the money returned. Incorporating the element of chance diffuses the frustration of failure and caters to the wagering weakness in us all. Religious institutions might use this instead of bingo or the collection plate. An offering could actually pay off in this life as well as the next. Mechanized dehumanization is a blatant reality in all vending machines, even more so than in the computer, which is far more interactive. Can the automated gas pump really offer friendly service? Can the pay phone really return your quarter?

11/15: Michael Jordan vs. the Alien Cartoon Basketball Players

Soon, once again the live action world will have a coexistant cartoon universe: this time on the basketball court. Unlike Bob Hoskins' phony film noir gumshoe, a real basketball star will do battle with the 'toons. I started thinking about ramifications of this trend: how about an animated member of Meet the Press from DC comics, or an R. Crumb character with its own TV talk show. Max Headroom may have been an Old Testament prophet of the airwaves, ushering in a whole new kind of communication. You're thnking: What's he talking about; the things aren't REAL. On the contrary, they represent a time shifted reality, like the characters in Shakespeare's plays.

Would I suggest that the President appoint Bugs Bunny to the Supreme Court? Considering recent appointments, the absurdity factor might be negligible. If fictional characters have real, human attibutes, they could be as important to human self definition as real people. Of course who are those? Everyone in public life is manufactured, like a child's doll: Barbie, GI Joe or a Power Ranger. They could be Madonna, Ex-Congressman Dornan, or Colin Powell. I have a vague memory of a science fiction story in which public figures on television were captioned as liars, exaggerators, saints, by some sort of lie detector camera (an idea whose time has come). The time shifted reality of the animated mouse or duck falling from the cliff at the moment of recognition may ring more true that the President's State of the Union Address.

11/14: Linguistic Environmentalism

Retro, rad, groovy, cool: attributes we acquire as we reinvent ourselves in an orgy of linguistic abuse and overuse. Americans have become notorious for gobbling up natural resources, but their real forte for excess is the excessive use of popular descriptive expressions which become tapped out through stultifying overexposure. Like Quentin Tarantino, who pops up like an obnoxious classmate at the wrong time, these verbal pieces d'occasions litter our lives like so many conversational sticky candy wrappers.

It could be a line from a film (GO on: make my day. or a political belch (contract with America), or a particularly stupid lyric to a popular song (feelings), and the effect is still the same. All those aphasiacs that need filler between their ya knows will beat the words into verbal guacamole, ya know. The cure: simply put, to quote John Gielgud's Hobson from the movie, Arthur when confronting Linda's proto-Neanderthal father: Try not to speak. In the silence of the monastery there may be salvation from the din of verbal cliches. Remember those Benedictine monks (yeah, the ones that invented champagne): now they're designing web pages for industrialists. Silence is golden.

11/13: Tight and Loose Pants and Hat

I hate a tight hat! The Woody Harrelson character groans in Doc Hollywood. The example is an exquisite paradigm for how we are to conform to the norm. The tight hat could also be a symbol of those things that we reach for and that do not belong to us. Why is it a compelling weakness of human nature to dress in attire that does not fit us? The fit may be a clue to sartorial signals: a teenage girl in a provocatively tight and brief miniskirt may be precocious or truly a pro, or both. Anyone in loose clothes may be a gang member or homeless person, but not both. Anyone in public with no clothes on is: crazy, a caveman, a victim of a surgically complete robbery, or crazy (again) AND a caveman. Dr. (I came in a rocketship of my own design ) Zarkov's short pants became progressively shorter and shorter in the old 30's Flash Gordon Serials to the point that in three more episodes the series would have rocketted into the land of NC-17. My question is: did Zarkov WILL this increasing tightness of fit, was the whole thing an illusion, or was Zarkov merely a pawn in the vagaries of changing times? (No wonder he was always in such a hurry to get to the laboratory).

There is a specific kind of mental illness that compels people to take off their pants or all their clothes and run up some aisle. My cousin terrorized some of the last passengers on Ozark Airlines by streaking the main aisle. He made several round trips before being apprehended by the attendants. Except for a few alcohol anesthetized trolls in Business Class who just thought that Inflight Service had taken on a whole new meaning, the passengers were terrified: of what? Some pathetic lunatic temporarily removes the shackles of modern superego and lets it all hang out.

In all honesty, I think that we should all wear clothes that fit, and then when we give them away, the next owners can be tortured by our carefully broken in weeds. Let's all have a little more empathy for those that molt.

11/12: Angels

Despite in onslaughts of visual interactive and captive media, radio thrives. Ever since I built my first set and tuned in to Long John Nebel, who would go on the air at midnight and have guests who claimed to have ridden in spaceships, had affairs with Saturnians, and collected fur from Venusian dogs, I have been hooked on fringe radio. My favorite Nebel guest was the Mystic Barber, who could read your mind while cutting your hair, a state of affairs totally logical to my ten-year-old mind. Unfortunately, I retained this childlike approach to the radioforum well into adulthood. On a recent radio interview I was asked how a particular piano concerto of mine was written. Those of you who follow contemporary music know that such a question is usually construed as a license to kill, and you get the usual academic palaver. I innocently replied: An angel whispered in my ear. Dead air space ensued, much like when unseen hands removed the pants from a sportscaster as a practical joke, forcing him to mistakenly say that the cock had run out on the Rangers' hockey game.

The idea that angels communicate all kinds of messages seemed, at the time to be as good an explanation as ever, but I was not really aware of how strong the vestiges of 18th century rationalism were in present day life. If my radio interview were at the time of the Ancient Greeks, I would have been asked for more details: who, exactly was it, did I offer sacrifice at some shrine, did I credit the deity on my score as collaborator, and did I plan to use its help in the future.

I keep thinking of Henry Fierman, an old classmate of mine from Columbia whom I ran into on the NY subway: I asked him how he was, and his answer was that he was fine, except that he was receiving secret messages from Richard Nixon by way of a filling in his tooth. He was definitely a Long John Nebel candidate. My nagging question is: am I?

11/11: Saturday Garage Sale

Taking to the streets again, I stumble on that venerable American outdoor sport known as the garage sale. Immediately I see a woman slumped in a pricetagged folding lawnchair with a sign in her lap: Everything is For Sale 50 percent off. After making the obvious improper associations, I begin to wonder what she is charging and for what services. and if the tag represents the new or old price. Half a block down a squat man (who looks like a cartoon version of Warren Christopher) has a genuine Howdy Doody puppet, a childhood artifact that engenders fearful memories of the past. On the TV show, Howdy had a live actress friend who played Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring, a kind of Wonderbread faux-Indian; however, when the actress committed suicide, she was replaced by a puppet of the same name. I can thank Howdy that I could never consider terminating myself, since success in this would result in my being turned into a puppet. After dismissing this mordent take on reincarnation, I renewed my search for animated Hula lamps.

Perusing the piles of outgrown children's clothes, electric hot dog impalers, and grotesque souvenirs from the 1984 Olympics, I gradually came to view these exhibits as a kind of informal family history: that vacation in Hawaii, too many trips to Disneyland, a foolish investment in a Pet Rock: all mute witness to past monetary excesses. What about Richard Nixon's garage sale with stacks of cheap cassettes, or Michael Dukakis's with his old tank helmet? Gorbachev would have remaindered copies of Perestroika and Clarence Thomas with those dubious videotapes and porno mags would make a killing. I imagined all those closet skeletons dancing in the streets of garage-sale commerce, and then it hit me:That's why the FBI and CIA go through people's garbage: garbage is the absolute TRUTH. What we purchase in deceit, we discard in honesty. I knew an old guy back in Plainfield, N.J. who had a ball of tin foil the size of a VW bug: he told me it was worth $10,000.

I have to get back to working on that big ball of rubberbands at home that I have been collecting since 1968....big sale tomorrow.

11/10: Killer Autos

Risking death in one of the world's largest cities on a bicycle for the last couple of decades has given me a certain adversary relationship with the four-wheeled dinosaurs. Jaguar, Cougar, Mustang, Colt, Bronco, Impala are not the contents of a zoo but some names of these monsters (how about Starion, which suggests a dead horse). I think the some other animals should be given a chance: the Kangaroo, which could hop over traffic and is a dream to park, or the Chicken for those too scared to drive in the fast lane. Somehow, the name of the car often matches the temperament of the driver: Elantra, and Camry sound like prescription drugs, and they always seem to be driven by neurotic dysfunctionals who would be prescribed same. Then there are the fake-real words, like Acura, Achieva, and Supra, summoning up images of accuracy and achievement. The concept could be extended to explain the Inacura, a car the turns left when the wheel is turned right, or the Underachieva and the inevitable Overachieva for those not ready for a BMW. The Supra could have a larger sibling, the Dupra.

By far the most fightening iron flaunt names like: Intruder, Invader, Stealth, and Viper. These names recall Air Force recruiting films of yore or suggest the potential for violent crimes committed by the unscrupulous and sneaky. As I take to my bed I could imagine one of these parked in my driveway, generating in my mind a fear of an automotive invasion robbery or worse (I start to wonder why I voted for the ban on assault weapons). This concept could be expanded to include the Terminator, which destroys everything in its path, and the Exterminator, which just destroys bugs. Then there are the Indian tribes: Cherokee, Apache, Comanche: these are the precursers to the off-road Troopers, Explorers, Blazers, and Mountaineers: vehicles that should be driven by burly and hairy survival types that catch and eat lizards, but are usually piloted by soccer moms.

But my favorite category is the Z-3, 300ZX, X7 variety: these suggest mysterious untried and experimental prototypes owned by Batman or perhaps rocketships dispatched by Ming the Merciless against Flash Gordon and the Forces of Good. I speculate that somehow these never become reliable enough to have normal names and go from drawingboard to junkyard in one easy step.

In darker moments I see tens of thousands of autos abandoned on the road, their drivers the victims of gasoline fumes reacting with junk food, globally a permanent monument to gridlock and the real symbol of American Might....I think I'll go for a walk..via con dios, brother.

11/9: Yellow Tag Sale at Wards

I can never resist a fluttering banner, even if the goods under it will fill my kitchen drawers with mysteriously useless devices that could be construed as instruments of torture in the next century or indifferent Christmas gifts to obnoxious relatives acquired by marriage. I chained up my bike and took the plunge, anticipating the assault of the plastic robots, over age crock pots, and hideous R2D2 bread machines that would inevitably line the corridors. I really needed a simple clock radio, a device as defunct as the buggy whip. Everything had CD and/or multiple cassette capability: one device would even connect to the internet. However, in all these machines there seemed to be no way to switch between FM and AM and no real on/off switch. I suspect that none of these were really radios but rather communication devices to be used for future alien abductions.

Secure in this conclusion, I went to Radio Shack and twisted my ankle on a demo plastic robot toy which was cavorting in the entryway. Threatening a lawsuit, I was given a free robot which I took home to place in the driveway to frighten the neighbor's dog into retaining its bladder's contents for another block. That windup clock I got in China really comes in handy.. keep the faith.

11/8: The Ayatollah in Los Angeles

I have a neighbor who looks just like an Ayatollah: he lives across from some genuine Africans and around the corner from people who play guitars around a campfire (really a barbecue).It is as though my entire neighborhood is a set populated by central casting for one of those feel-good Coke commercials. I saw the Ayatollah looking suspiciously at my garbage and realized that the remains of Pizza could be construed as heresy in certain religions. I fantasized this holy man admonishing me from his imaginary balcony to renew my subscription to the New Yorker so as not to miss the latest double issue, featuring interviews with deposed TV evangelists, interspersed with photos by Richard Avedon of their wives, dressed in costumes from The Scarlet Letter. I have not recently connected my wonder at the power of the universe with these gesticulating puppets of the pulpit: I truly hope that they do more good than harm.

I just wish that they were having more fun: an essential part of human nature is the ability to laugh. I always felt that the compelling message for laughter was the real genius of Preston Sturges in Sullivan's Travels. Remember, dear reader, that there is even humor in the Sistine Ceiling, while Garfield often shows us a brutal and unyielding universal truth. Bye for I the only one who likes Good 'n Plenty candy?

11/7: The Faculty Meeting

Have you ever noticed that people's heads often resemble bowls of mixed fruit? Fig and banana noses, green pepper ears, and a complete head of variously shaped melons and squash seemed to engulf me: I felt like I was at the Farmer's Market; except that most of the fruit here was either too green or ready to rot. For some unexplained and perverse reason, I let loose with a flatulent explosion of what the nuns at grade school call bad words. Actually, they are very good words, because everybody understands what they mean. Those colleagues that were still awake reached for their pistols.......Suddenly, I was sure that one of them was Kermit the Frog. In a flash I had cast an entire Muppet western with myself as the Most Wanted Cookie Monster.

A recent headline in a throwaway paper proclaimed that at least 15 percent of the US Senate is composed of vampires; in the light of recent election results, I wondered if that figure would change. I have found that it is often valuable to accept the absurd as truth, and vice versa. QED an academic faculty can be a barrel of laughs, and Jay Leno can be a deadly bore. David Brinkley is definitely now my hero....More later.

Updated daily. Copyright © Paul Reale, 1996. All Rights reserved.