Posts from October 2004.

Cars And Kismet

If you had to pick a single word to describe me, and “callipygian” was for some reason disallowed, you couldn’t go wrong with “lucky.” I consider myself to be an inordinately fortunate guy. And I don’t just mean in the passive sense of having a wonderful wife and a great kid and two awesome cats and living in the best nation on Earth, although all of that is certainly true so long as you replace “awesome” with “worthless.” No, my luck is more active than that — or, rather, reactive. It seems that, just when I need it the most, fate will step in and save me from one disaster or another, usually of my own making.

This story is just one such example. Truth be told, the Cosmic Cavalry pulls my fat from the fire fairly often. And lest you think this phenomenon is all in my head, let me assure you that other people have noticed it as well. Once, back in college, I spent my last $5 on a ticket to a movie ticket, even though my next paycheck was two days away and I had nothing to eat in my house. When I told The Queen this — whom I had just begun to date, and had accompanied to the film — she marvelled at my idiocy, but I assured her that it would all work out. And sure enough: before the movie began an usher came out and announced that they were going to hold an impromptu raffle. He pulled a ticket stub from a bucket, and when I stood up to announce that the number matched my own he said I’d won a free meal at a local pizzeria. To this very day she begrudges me that.

Anyway, last Saturday my car ran out of gas. Do you like the way I used the passive tense there, like no one was to blame, despite the fact that I’m the only one who drives this vehicle? Anyway. Halfway across Washington’s famous floating bridge, the car gave one last, hearty “vrrrrRRRRRRMMMMMmmmmm” and coasted to a stop.

Now, his was all sorts of bad. For one thing, I don’t own a cell-phone, as part of my plan to eventually become a cranky old geezer out-of-touch with modern technology . For another, the shoulder of the bridge is just a smidge wider than a single car-width, so by abandoning my Toyota there I was running the very real risk of it getting hit by some passing vehicle. And, worst of all, I was at least a mile from the nearest gas station. I knew that, in the time it would take me to jog to Mercer Island, purchase a gas can, fill it up with fuel and return, my car would almost certainly get towed.

The shoulder was so narrow that I couldn’t exit on the driver’s side without stepping into traffic, so I clambered over to the passenger’s side and squeezed out the door. Only after I locked and closed the door behind me did I realize that I’d left the keys in the ignition.

Now thoroughly dispirited, I trotted to the nearest town (about two miles away), called The Queen, told her the situation, and asked that she come pick me up. Twenty minutes later she arrived. We stopped at a station, filled up our gas can, and hopped back on the freeway.

Nearly an hour had passed since I had ditched the vehicle, and I had no hope that my car hadn’t been hit or towed in my absence. Sure enough, when we reached the bridge we could see flashing police lights ahead, right where the car had died.

“They must be towing it right now,” I groaned.

“Maybe we can get there before they take it away,” The Queen replied, but I shook my head. “Once the tow truck arrives, they won’t let you get your vehicle until they’ve towed it to the depot,” I told her. “We’re going to have to pay for the towing no matter what.”

Then, as we got closer, things looked worse. Not only was there a cop car stationed there, but was a huge tanker truck parked on the shoulder as well, a few feet behind my vehicle. The obvious reason for it being there, of course, was that it had hit my car. “Aw, crap!” I told The Queen. “It looks like the Baldwin luck ain’t gonna save me this time.”

We pulled over to the shoulder. I grabbed the gas can, exited, and trotted up to the police car, where a cop stood waiting for me. Because the tanker filled the shoulder I was unable to see my car, and therefore didn’t know what damage the collision had done to it.

The officer saw me approaching. “Do you own the Toyota?” he asked.

“Yeah, that’s mine,” I confessed, bracing myself for the worse.

“Okay,” the cop replied replied.

I waited for a moment, before saying. “Uh, ‘okay’ what?”

“Okay, go ahead and fill up it up and leave,” the cop said.

“Leave?” I was confused. “Didn’t this tanker hit my car?”

“Nope.”

I then occurred to me that the tanker might carry gasoline. “Are you guys refueling my car or something?”

“Nope.”

I couldn’t think of any other explanations for the situation. Finally I asked, “So, does this tanker have anything to do with my car?”

“Nope,” said the police officer. “He overheated. It’s just a coincidence he pulled over right behind you.”

I nodded and headed towards my car. As I passed the cop he added, “Lucky for you, too: if we hadn’t been so busy dealing with this guy, we would have towed your car half an hour ago.”

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Romance In Checkstand Three

While standing in the checkout line at the grocery store today, I noticed that the guy in front of me was purchasing three items: a bouquet of flowers, a bottle of wine, and a 12-pack of condoms.

It took all my willpower not to lightly punch him in the shoulder and say “Good luck, there, champ!”

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Books: Stiff

“Hey, whatcha reading?”

“Oh, you know: a book about corpses.”

I’m tempted to immediately reread this, just so I can keep saying that.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is 300 pages about dead people. Or, rather, it’s not about the people at all, but what they leave behind. In fact, one of the first things author Mary Roach does is emphasize the distinction between the quick and the dead.

But once she has made her point — that that “dead people” are best regarded as 100% dead and 0% people — she launches into a gleeful account of what ghastly things are done to their remains. She begins by covering what most people think of when they consider life postmortem: medical research and organ donation. But from there she catalogs some of the more exotic adventures a cadaver could undertake during it’s detour from the morgue to the graveyard. Car manufacturers, for example, have yet to build a crash test dummy that simulates a human body as accurately as a, well, a human body. And when trying to determine what kind of footwear mine sweepers should use, nothing works quite as well as an actual, severed foot.

The most interesting chapter, to my mind, covers about the role in corpses in determining the cause of plane crashes. By noting the composition (and decomposition) of the bodies, investigators can infer a remarkable amount about what transpired in the final moments of a doomed flight. If some (but not all) of the cadavers have burns, for instance and they can identify the remains, the can use the blueprint of the plane and the seat assignments on the tickets to determine where the charred passengers were located, and perhaps pinpoint where an explosion or fire began. And did you know that people who fall from a certain height or higher will have all their clothes knocked off when they hit the ocean, while people who fell from below that height will be recovered clothed?

Despite the macabre nature of the subject matter, Stiff is remarkably funny. Yes, you heard me: funny — even, at time, snort-out-loud-while-riding-the-bus funny. Throughout the book, Roach employs a tone that’s breezy and matter-of-fact, and throws a joke or two into every paragraph. But this doesn’t mean the book is light: in fact, it struck me as so meticulously researched that I found myself questioning the sanity of any author would delve into a subject to such a depth. But by injecting liberal amounts of humor into her narrative, Roach makes what could have been a grim and depressing tome into a eminently readable page-turner, the kind of book you could read and enjoy on vacation. (In fact, I took Stiff along during my recent trip to D.C., and even wound up reading the chapter on plane crashes while on the plane.) More impressive still is the fact that the use of humor in no way detracts from the profound sense of respect for the people who donate their bodies that the author manages to engender in the reader.

By the end of Stiffed I kind of felt like Roach was padding the book a little (a chapter on cannibalism goes into an extended digression of how the author was sent on a wild goose chase by an urban legend, for instance), and the humor occasionally gets a little wearying, like reading a forensic textbook written by Dave Barry. But by and large Stiff manages to blend informative and entertaining prose into an engrossing read (emphasis on the “gross”), and it’s the best non-fiction book I’ve read this year.

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Ghost Stories At A Guide To Visitors

Hey Seattlites, I’ll be one of the storytellers at Monday’s A Guide To Visitors “Ghost Stories” show. Information at aguidetovisitors.org.

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The Bad Review Revue

Taxi: “As entertaining as watching a potato bake.” — Marc Savlov, AUSTIN CHRONICLE

Ladder 49: “Bearable only to people in deep mourning and vulnerable to emotional coercion.” — John Anderson, NEWSDAY

What the *$%# Do We Know?: “Like being stuck at a science fair, with a 5-year-old on one side asking questions and his hippie parents on the other fumbling to answer them.” — Jon Niccum, LAWRENCE JOURNAL-WORLD

First Daughter: “Just one hackneyed, inauthentic, predictable scene after another.” — Michael O’Sullivan, WASHINGTON POST

Shall We Dance?: ” [The original] Shall We Dance? was a wry and touching comedy perfectly at home in its Japanese setting. Now, forcibly deported to Chicago and peopled with American stars, the same story is huffed and puffed and squeezed into an entirely different cultural context. Guess what? Sayonara sushi, hello turkey.” — Rick Groen, GLOBE AND MAIL

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Some Notes About The Debate IV: The Final Chapter

  • I’d call this one a very minor win for Bush, if only because (1) this was the only debate where I didn’t spend the whole 90 minute incredulous that this guy was elected in the first place, and (2) I felt like Kerry just took his statements from previous debates and played them back on “randomize” (“I have a plan,” “outsourced to warlords,” “the president sided with the drug companies,” “my lips are made of nouget and boy do I enjoy licking them,” etc.) But while we could go back and forth over who won, the losers are clear: OB/GYNs, who didn’t get a single mention. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
  • Bush, dude, your “it’s kind of one of those exaggerations” line in response to the “not that concerned about Osama bin Laden” quotation was a huge gaffe. Huge! First of all, Gore was the exaggerator, Kerry is the flip-flopper, and Clinton was the waffler — get your facts, straight, man! Second, did Kerry’s stilted delivery of the line not make it painfully obvious that he was reciting a (close to) verbatim quotation from memory? Third and most importantly, how could you not know you said that? Everyone who follows politics knows you said that, Dems and Repubs alike. Ergo, I can only conclude that the most powerful politician in the world does not, himself, follow politics. One of the most common accusations leveled against you is that you are kept in a bubble by your advisors and, boy-howdie, you gave that charge a shitload of credence tonight by being unaware of your own words. Update: Kevin Drum says much the same thing over at Washington Monthly: “The answer lies in the cocoon Bush lives in. Not only has he convinced himself that he never really said that he wasn’t concerned about Osama, but he has no idea that the outside world believes otherwise …”
  • This just in: numbers are boring! Seriously, anyone who has been so inattentive to the presidential campaign that they are still “undecided” is unlikely to be moved when Kerry accuses the President of underfunding something by 733 dollars and 48 cents or Bush claims Kerry voted to raise taxes 491 times. We all know these figures are made up (even when there’s some bogus “report” to back them up) so Iwhy don’t they just say “his healthcare plan will cost an infinity-minus-one dollars in taxpayer money” and be done with it? And what the hell good is a president who won’t even round his numbers for the American public?
  • Again with Dick Cheney’s daughter. Am I the only person that finds these mentions of Mary Cheney terribly disrespectful, not only to her but to the entire gay and lesbian community? Kerry and Edwards are pretending to point out hypocrisy I guess, but these seem like fairly obvious appeals to homophobia to me.
  • Bush: “I’m not so sure it’s credible to quote leading news organizations about — oh, never mind.” What the -? Was that a shot at moderator Bob Schieffer, from CBS News? Man, Bush is getting feisty. “Come on, I’ll take on alla’yuhs! Get up here McCain, I’ll kick your ass too!”
  • The debate is a lot more fun to watch if (1) everytime Kerry says “I have a plan,” you mentally substitute the phrase “I have a girlfriend in Canada,” and (b) you shout “hi-YAH!” everytime Bush karate chops his podium. Hi-YAH!
  • Well, I guess Bush isn’t wearing a wire after all. Because, if he was, I’m sure Karl would have told him to wipe the spit from the corner of his mouth instead of just letting him look like Mad Dog Dubya for half an hour.
  • I wish Bush would say it like they did in the old news reels: “Freedom … on the march!
  • No stem cell research question in a domestic policy debate? Well, that’s probably for the best, because Kerry probably wouldn’t have been able to resist name-dropping Christopher Reeves and then I’d be so disgusted that I’d have no choice but to vote for LaRouche.
  • Bush with his Paygo crack, Kerry on The Sopranos. What is this, “The Last Comic Standing?” A chunk of basalt has more comedic timing than these two jokers combined. Even if Kerry knew a funny joke, I suspect it would get thoroughly boringfied by the time it came out his mouth. And when Bush tries to crack wise, it’s like listening to an inebriated guy at a bar trying to recount his favorite Dilbert strip. “So in the first panel there’s, like, the intern, right? With a stapler. And he says .. no wait, I think it was the boss. Anyway, the intern, or the boss or whatever, says .. you know, maybe it wasn’t a stapler …”
  • “What is the most important thing you’ve learned from these strong women?” Worst question ever. Although the candidates did their best to live down up to the terribleness of the query, with Bush telling an charming little anecdote about how he welched on a promise he made to his wife, and Kerry going out of his way to reinforce the worst of the “married an heiress / gold-digger” stereotypes about him. Nice job, guys! As endings go, this one ranks right up there with Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes.
  • Transcript here; the comments are open

    * * *

    PSA

    Me and The Squirrelly went to the library yesterday. At the check-out counter, the woman behind the desk said “Oh my god, he’s so cute! He looks like an 80 year-old man!”

    So if you are an octogenarian reader with a librarian fetish, drop me a line and I’ll give you the 411 on the last person who considers you cute.

    * * *

    How To Identify The Other Nerd In The Car

    When you are driving around with a group of friends and see a young woman precariously tottering down the sidewalk in four-inch heel platform shoes, exclaim “Jesus, she looks like an AT-AT walker” and listen for the person in the vehicle who snorts appreciatively at your analogy.

    Update: Dear Internet, stop sending me email about the AT-ST walker. Nerds.

    * * *

    Saved By The Bus

    Woman One is standing at a bus stop; Woman Two, carrying a stack of Watchtower magazines is walking by. Woman Two recognizes Woman One and stops in her tracks.

    Woman Two: Well, heeeeey!

    Woman One: Oh. Oh, hi.

    W2: What’s going on?

    W1: Oh, just, you know. Waiting for my bus.

    W2: I hear you.

    [Pause]

    W2: You been at work?

    W1: Yeah.

    W2: Me, I’ve been spreading the Word of the Lord.

    W1: Oh?

    W2: Oh, yeah. Because folks around here, you know, they say they have faith. But there’s “faith,” and then there’s faith, you know?

    W1: Uh-huh.

    W2: So I give ‘em one of these, and we get to talking. Have you heard of this magazine Watchtower?

    W1: Uh, I …

    W2: Here, let me –

    W1: I think that’s my bus.

    W2: Which one?

    W1: This one right here. Yeah, this is it.

    W2: Awwwww. Well it was great to see you! We should talk some time. You got my number. I don’t know why you never call me.

    * * *

    The Works: Humor Sites

    I’m on KUOW’s The Works tonight at 8:00, talking about the history of humor on the Internet. Here are the sites we mention by name:

    • The Onion — the great grandpappy of Internet humor sites.
    • Brunching Shuttlecocks — sadly defunct, but the archives are still there for the browsing
    • Homestar Runner — “Strong Bad’s Email” is especially popular
    • Metafilter — a great way to find the latest and greatest Internet funny, before it arrives in your Inbox
    • Fark — another place you can catch memes before they spread
    • Worth 1000 — Photoshop contests, often with hilarious results

    Here’s a few we didn’t mention but that are definately worth a look.

    If you have a favorite humor site, feel free to mention it in the comments.

    Update: Good lord, how did I forget b3ta and The Sneeze (home of Please Steve, Don’t Eat It!)?

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