September, 1997.

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9/30/97: Bored Games.

With the coming of Myst©, Doom©, Mortal Kombat©, and a host of megaviolent progeny of PacMan© and DonkeyKong©a whole generation of kids seems to have been turned into terminators and hired assassins. I wonder if anyone plays Parchesi any more. For those parvenu gamesmen (gamespersons?) too young to remember, Parchesi is a game that you set up on a board with little pieces that get rounded up by the throw of dice (real ones that roll on the table). The word, Parchesi appears to have no real meaning: the Italian verb, parcheggiare (meaning, to park) and parche, the Spanish word for plaster, seem the closest in sound, but neither of those associations would animate the imagination. It is possible that since the object of the game is to "park" all the little men of one color in one place, the Italian verb may have been the inspiration.

In the days before the synthesis of action/slasher movies and childrens' games, people sat at tables and played Monopoly© (or Bibleopoly, if you prefer). The games could last for weeks and multicolored wealth slipped from the hands of one capitalist to another. Hotels and and houses dotted the inner perimeter of the board, and there were at least two players "in jail." As far as I know, nobody ever got killed from a direct confrontation with Monopoly©. I did see a completely chocolate set once that was meant to be consumed in the course of the game. The purchasers of this confectionary self indulgence could well die of chocolate overdose, merely an indirect consequence of injudicious play.

Keep killing those monsters, pillaging those fortresses, torturing and terminating your cyber foes. My only question is: what will you do in an electrical brownout?

9/29/97: Bubblegum Skinheads.

As a teacher, I have had a basic dislike of anyone who chews gum while trying to enter one of my classes. No important questions can ever be resolved if one party is snapping gum, or worse, blowing a big pink bubble. I started to think about Sister Anne Eucharia (see Pizza Nut), one of the original bubblegum skinheads. Her violent and draconian method for dealing with gum chewers in class was to put the sticky stuff on the offender's nose (like Mrs. Mc Kinney in second grade), commanding that it remain until sundown. Like the legendary Gila monster, hanging on its hapless victim the gum remained on Eucharia's prisoner's nose (I wonder how many of those gum-nose alumni became hard drinkers in adult life as a protest).

Chewing gum, in general has had an image of the preoccupation of moronic secretaries, receptionists, hookers, groupies, and people trying to give up smoking. For a while there was a lollipop contingent of pre-ex-smokers (TV's Kojak started the mini-craze). In today's world of earnest political correctness (remember, you can't name any team after any Native Americans), the abusive behaviour exhibited by Sister Anne Eucharia and other worthy teachers would bring about a class action suit from the gum addicts. My question: who decided that ALL bubblegum is pink?

9/28/97: What on Earth?

It's not even Halloween, and the Christmas junk catalogs keep rolling in (see Oriental Trading Company). What on Earth claims to be a "collection of fun wear and delightful diversions," but what it turns out to be (after getting past the soft cat toys made of socks-"nostalgic sock kitty") is a balance of clothing articles with Merry Christmas in just about any language and ludicrous accessories, like the Mr. Potato Head necktie and disembodied cat or bird heads to be used as spectacle perches. You can always dress the mantle with the "tribe of angels:" limited edition Christmas ornaments which depict Abegunde, Keita, Dara, or Olufemi black Africans dressed in traditional prints.

My favorites all seem to be on page 64: the duck feet candle holder, napkin rings that look like miniature sunglasses, and the "official clown college" university sweatshirt. If nature is not weird enough for you, select the winged pig gargoyle (on page 59) or the beer stein in a form of a jaguar dressed in safari clothes (" Each handpainted stein is numbered and registered," so when some child or drunk in your family breaks it, you have lots of guilt ammunition).

I have saved the best for last: the Fish Angel Tree Topper, a fish dressed in lace, holding a banner which reads: "heaven knows no limit nor season." Putting this fish on top of the Christmas tree could reduce markedly the consumption of alcoholic beverages, since many visitors to your home will think that they are in the early stages of delirium tremens. Wesolych Swiat! and Vesele Vanoce!, all. I can't wait to play my new Bibleopoly game, recently purchased from What on Earth.

9/27/97: A Hot Sauce Alphabet Part II.

What I really like about these labels is that they resemble those cheesy ads in the back of Popular Mechanics magazine of the distant past (you know, those "Teach yourself Rocket Science" type of ad). Though poorly designed, they have a kind of pervasive honesty. Here's the rest of the alphabet:

M. Mad Dog Inferno
P. Pain and Suffering (label contains a scantily clad dominatrix: XXX rated)
R. Road to Hell (same chefs who make Pure Hell
S. Scorned Woman Hot Sauce
T. Texas Tears
U. Ultimate Burn Hot Sauce (another pinup on the label)
V. Vidalia Onion Hot Sauce
W. Walkerswood Jerk Seasoning

I am still looking for the empty letters. Please let me know if you have solutions. To read about practically all hot sauces known to man go to The Hot Sauce Page.

9/26/97: A Hot Sauce Alphabet Part I.

A quiet revolution in the last five years has been the proliferation of cottage industry hot sauces. All kinds of small time lunatic chefs have concocted every conceivable flavor of the spicy condiment. As a public service to these tireless researchers, I give a Hot Sauce Alphabet (with a few omissions) for your edification.

A. Arizona Gunslinger
B. Bad Girls in Heat
C. Cajun Power Garlic Sauce
D. Dave's Insanity Sauce
E. Epitaph-Spicy-Bar-B-Cue Sauce
F. Fifi's Nasty Little Secret
G. (No name yet: here is your chance to invent one).
H. Hot Bitch at the Beach
I. Inner Beauty Real Hot Sauce
J. (another blank: go for it you culinary tyros)
K. Kryptonite Super Hot Sauce
L. L'il-Nas-Tee's Ankle Biting Good Habanero Hot Sauce.

The label of the last one has a definite vampire quality:

9/25/97: Oriental Trading Company.

"Don't be a Scrooge! Open our catalog and find thousands of gifts, decorations, stocking stuffers, and holiday fun." This was my invitation from the Oriental Trading Company (click on to go there, if you dare) catalog, the first of the onslaught of holiday junk mail, and perhaps the most politically correct and absurd collection of worthless trinkets. Among my favorites are Kwanzaa (or Feliz Navidad) yo-yos in assorted designs and mini reindeer antlers or halo with angel wings your dog or cat can wear. They also feature stuffed dog and cat heads to cover the doorknob on the same page.

I could not make this stuff up in a million years: you know you need weather resistant turkey path markers and a santa wind sock. How about an assortment of erasers as reindeer, polar bears, or snowmen? I have already put in a stock of holiday penguin pens (all dressed in scarves and hats), along with a collection of matrioshka nested snowmen and penguins. Visit the pages with the gingerbread village and get to order a real gingerbread coffin.

When I gaze at page after page of photoframe snowflake ornaments, mice and cherubs dancing in the air, I realize that these people have pushed Postmodernism to the next level: Retrograde Postmodern Kitsch-paradigm. Be the first on your block to own a set of metal and acrylic Birthstone Angel Wind Chimes!

9/24/97: What Did He Say?

I am always intrigued in the comics when Popeye, Garfield, or some other profane protagonist says: "#*%^!@(#%$". This always implies some horrendous statement that is unacceptable to any respectable person. Maybe it's too bad that the epidemic of expletives that peppers the conversations of lowlife types in cop movies or action thrillers doesn't rely on the mechanism of imagined profanity.

Picture the scene at Big Tilly's Saloon and Bordello (see Whois? II where the bootlegers have to dump their sourmash because of the institution of Prohibition in 1916. Instead of the usual foul (f**king feds!) explosions of ire, loops with abstract symbols would magically appear above their heads.

The specific incident of the Feds' raid on the saloon took an even more perverse turn, when the agents dumped the sourmash in the local cow fields. Unaware of the illegality of alcohol consumption, the cows feasted on the discarded brew and became so drunk that all the milk produced by them had to be destroyed.

@*%%&$#*~! would be an appropriate remark from the mothers and children who had to settle for the powdered stuff, while the cows sobered up. Imagine a whole dairy in bovine detox: ultimately truth is not only stranger but more surprising than fiction.

9/23/97: Pens.

Although I regularly use fountain and drawing pens, I have had a succession of bad experiences relating to the propagation of ink (see The Horrors of Third Grade). Even earlier I had received one of the first ball point pens which had only one purpose: it would leak into the shirt pocket, making it look like you had been shot. The ink tubes would also leak under the slightest application of heat and provided a nasty practical joke vehicle. There seemed to be an endless parade of novelty pens, once the retractable mechanism got perfected. I had one that would release any of six colors, plus a pencil. Unfortunately, reloading the refills required an advanced degree in mechanical engineering. Another one had a reel of chain which resided in a button you pinned to your shirt, so the pen was on a tether and couldn't be borrowed, except by really good friends (I imagined that this wire could be a strangling device like something in war movies).

It seems that writing tools have hit plateaus over history, from stone tablets to ink on paper (parchment, papyrus, etc.); and, only in this century did the lowly pen gain all sorts of technological baggage, probably in competition with the typewriter and other types of portable printing devices. Pens now have radio transmitters, laser pointing devices, recorders, and even small calculators in them. We have all seen pen-weapons in James Bond and other spy movies. These may shoot or explode.

My favorite novelty pen was the Disney ballpoint that had interchangeable tops for the heads of Mickey, Donald, or Goofy. This pen could also be used as a drinking straw in an emergency. I became reacquainted with these novelties in a recent promotion to radio stations. Although I wound up sending orange balloons that commanded the DJ's to play my music, I was entranced with a pen that featured a tiny woman whose clothes disappeared when the pen was turned over. Simultaneously, my message would appear: the perfect marriage of art and striptease.

9/22/97: Horrors of Suburbia.

After spending a little time in the mining camps of the mountains of the Southwest, I started to think of what might be comparable dangers and inconveniences in modern suburbia:

1. Kids' action figures deployed as land mines in the driveway and on steps.
2. Malevolent joggers who throw the newpaper away (or steal it).
3. Anyone practicing a musical instrument.
4. All dogs (winner in two catagories: for general nuisance and as polluting objects [poopers]).
5. Amateur auto mechanics (especially if more than two disembowelled vehicles are on the lawn).
6. Bizarre and lunatic local drivers (see: Runaway Processes).
7. Runaway shopping carts, usually stolen by old ladies or immmigrants.
8. Any and all weeds.
9. Local gasbag wafflers who accost you on the way from the store to discuss luggage, or the colors of trash cans.
10. Gross and cacophanous garbage men who arrive at 5 AM to make sure we all get up on time for work.

This list is extremely limited and could not begin to account for individual neighbors who have developed their own psychological or chemical warfare.

9/21/97: Chewing gum as Road Hazard.

We all have had the unpleasant surprise of finding wads of gum on theater seats and school desks. Maybe we have stepped on the stuff in the street- chewing gum, like chocolate sauce or ketchup has the ability to jump on people and objects, fouling our respectability. What you may not know is the havoc rated when a bicycle wheel goes over the discarded gum in the street: it gets spun into long gossamer glue threads that trap everything within reach like the web of a spider.

Those arachnid litterers who insist on trapping and torturng bicyclists never get to eat their prey and never see the evil result of their thoughtless discards. Human nature seems to put us in the automatic mode so often that we perform often disasterous actions, totally unaware of their consequences. There is an old French song that tells of a housekeeper informing the vacationing owner that "tout va bien" except that the cat knocked something over on the stove. In the course of the song you find out that this action wound up setting the whole place on fire, creating total destruction.

I had a second grade teacher (Mrs. McKinney) that stuck wads of chewing gum on the noses of offending students (those that brazenly chewed the stuff in class) and made them wear it for the whole day. I would certainly condone this punishment for the street offenders: like Hester Prynne's "A" the gum blob would proclaim guilt. Maybe those Draconian punishments are unacceptable in our politically correct over sensitivity, but I feel much better just entertaining the revenge.

9/20/97: Evil Computers

I was thinking of a scene in Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run in which the protagonist (Allen as criminal) tries to get a legit job. He is asked: "Can you operate a high speed digital computer?" He answers: "Yes, my aunt has one." Twenty-five years ago his boast was an outrageous exaggeration; now 300mhz dual Pentiumtm boxes with 2 gig drives sitting on grandma's kitchen counter.

I grew up with the roomful-of-stuff, white-coat-scientist image of computers. I had been taken to see Univac, a Jaba the Hut kind of monster that occupied an entire building, dozens of technicians scrambling over it to change vacuum tubes. Rows of flashing lights told children like me that the thing was alive and calculating my future. HAL, the famous 2001 cybervillain/lunatic gave all of us a more personal insight into the perverse possibilities of computers. That is why, when the most important information you need is missing from the manual, or your machine crashes two seconds before finishing that unsaved Wordperfecttm document, it's just the legacy of these old monsters like HAL and the Univac, creations just as much of our folly and imperfection as our vision and creativity. I will have much more to say when I tackle the orthodox religious aspect of computer operating systems (you know: how Mac people hate PC nerds, and unixoids hate them all). I actually know people who still use a Kaypro.

9/19/97: Whois? II

"Big Tilly" Fattor is the second in the Whois? series, a dubious collection of significant obscure. Matilda Fattor had one of the most notorious brothels in Silverton, Colorado around the turn of the century. She was a tremendously large balloon of a madam who knew all the most important people in town. In 1918, when she died in her bed (of pneumonia), it took six people to carry her downstairs. Her special coffin was made by joining two regular coffins together.

Fattor's Saloon (and bordello), like the White House or Congress was the real physical seat of political power, since most of the elected officials spent most of their time there. The fourteen professional girls who occupied the beds upstairs were like a shadow congress, fully participating in the democratic process with great dedication. I am sure that most concordant agreements were indirectly bipartisan.

We definitely must salute "Big TIlly" Fattor as an early paradigm of liberty and good government (disclaimer: none of this true historical information has appeared in any high school textbook).

9/18/97: "Press Down Hard"

That was the phrase that gave my supervisor an award for his suggesting that it be emblazoned on all duplicating civil service forms. This was his philosophy, and it had earned him minor fame in the realms of business-form literacy. I have alluded to this event in Guitar Duo. The very same master musician was my replacement supervisor, a replacement for one that had dropped dead at his desk.

It was rumored that THAT supervisor, who had been in the office since 1939, would leave unattended papers from Franklin Roosevelt at the bottom of the paper pile (which was about three feet). The splendid role models convinced me to leave government service and head for the university. These civil service giants had raised triviality to a new level. One of them had an assistant (who looked like Kookla with Fran and Ollie, or perhaps Pinhead, the sidekick of Foodini [see Role Models]. This assistant used to take out a bottle of grain alcohol and sterilize all the telephones before the office opened. (she probably also sterilized all the toilet seats in the ladies' room, but this observation is unconfirmed).

What was I doing here with all those jerks and lunatics? I felt like launching into a couple of verses of Foodini's Oh, there's nothing he can't do. If I just press down hard enough these people will go away. In the naivete of youth I thought that this lot would be the greatest assemblage of fools in one place...but I had not yet joined an academic faculty (see The Faculty Meeting or Faculty Meeting II.)

9/17/97: Bagels and Bialys

I had a Chinese music teacher who was hooked on bialys. Every day he had to have one for lunch, sliced in two and always covered with exotic contents, like mu shu pork or sweet-sour chicken. We all have our favorite foods, but the honored place accorded to bagels and bialys elevates these objects to a position of reverence. The mathematically sophisticated torus shape and dense texture project a high level of societal refinement.

As an ethnic food, the bagel has bridged many cultural gaps, from the pizza bagel with its gooey confusion of culinary signals, to the iridescent green bagel which is specially prepared for St. Patrick's day. Daily, many of us risk mutilation when slicing it to partake of this unique bread.

My ultimate test of cities consisted of whether one could buy good bagels and bialys there. Unfortunately, only the outrageously crime and grime ridden New York City passes this test. Concentrating on bagels alone, many other cities pass muster: of course one does not count the hideously mediocre frozen bagels and bialys found in supermarkets: real bagels reside in specialty bagel stores and hark back to a time of small businesses, trolleys, real neighborhoods, and ghettos. The pseudo-highbrow cocktail (small size) bagel is strictly for laughs; real bagels and bialys retain that ultimate integrity of form, size, and function. Unlike every other kind of bread, they are never used as an ingredient of another food (like turkey stuffing). They resist assimilation into modernity and are an inspiration for human individuality.

9/16/97: Runaway Processes

How often do we read of sorcerer's apprentice devices that go out of control until they are destroyed: vending machines that disgorge their contents (see Evil Vending Machines, household appliances that seem to have a mind of their own (see Never Put Tide® in a Jacuzzi®). We fragile human beings are easily trapped by our own inventiveness, essentially seduced by our own power to create and control mechanical monsters.

I can remember an incident early one summer morning while I was in a temporary residence located on a busy residential street corner. As I looked up from my bed, out the window I saw a fat old lady chasing one of those big finned Chrysler Imperials from the 60's that had stuck in reverse gear and was heading straight for my house. It narrowly missed the car parked in my driveway and made a lazy arc, wiping out all the plants in front of the house. As it practically grazed my bedroom window, the "driver" succeeded in jumping into the front seat and applying the brake. The beast took out a couple of small palm trees before reaching a complete stop halfway over a curb, the car's ample and pretentious rear facing me in a kind of technomockery.

Somehow, the thought that I may have narrowly escaped being run over in my bed (how often does that happen?) was replaced by a sense of unreality, like I was at the performance of some comedy: the fat old lady was Everyman in this morality play, and she had passed the ultimate test with partial success: she had conquered her own personal Fafner. It certainly felt good to get out a walk to the grocery store and leave the highway iron at home.

9/15/97: Burn the Zozobra!

Having just returned from the American Southwest, I had the dubious privilege of participating in the Santa Fe Annual Fiesta, the greatest collection of kitsch and junk food the world has ever known. The fiesta begins with a burning in effigy of a giant demon (Zozobra), which is said to contain all the evil and harmful spirits. Supposedly, this public incineration put everybody in a good mood; and, the bigger and uglier the puppet, the better the cleasing magic is likely to work. This Zozobra looked like a Mexican Groucho Marx with a terrible hangover). Unfortunately, not enough evil was sucked out, and there was an old fashioned shootout (reflections of the OK Corral), with three celebraters critically wounded. That Zozobra just didn't have the right stuff; however, I would not dismiss the basic concept (with modifications).

Effigies of real people could be burned for the same reason; and, in reality this kind of activity occurs on college campuses, in third world dictatorships, and sporting events, and as a general symbol of protest and ridicule. Another possibility would be to combine this Zozobra with advertising. Rival auto manufacturers could roast each other, like that TV campaign of a decade ago when Jack in the Boxtm decided to dump the clown.The U.S. Congress could parade and make these things instead of debating, which would amount to the same thing. Even political campaigns could take on this incendiary bent, with the Al Gore team burning a hulking and menacing puppet of Newt Gingrich. The British could roast the Queen or rivals of Tony Blair.

Suddenly, the Zozobra image melded with a memory of those giant balloons at the Macys' Thanksgiving Day Parade. Each floating giant muppet, mouse, and dog would be transmogrified into a menacing, evil ghoul. Then each would self-destruct in great balls of fire. That would be one parade that nobody would ever forget. If one Zozobra is good, then twenty would be dynamite.