Thursday, October 8, 2015

Job Evaluation from My Dog

For CY 2015 (Canine Year, approximately 2 months) your job evaluation in the following areas:

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT.  Walks were taken on a daily basis, with short "pee trips" outside during the day.  However, there was significantly little opportunity for chasing squirrels up trees, nor was there sufficient time allotted for sniffing at bases of trees and similar locations where other dogs had peed impeding the ability to gather this vital information.

ADEQUATE.  There has been a noticeable drop-off in tummy-rubbing hours, partly offset by an increase in head-scratching and patting.  While all contact is desirable, head-scratching and patting is no substitute for tummy-rubbing; moreover, there has been a shocking decline in the number of hours spent scratching my back near the base of my tail in a way that makes my back leg go up and down uncontrollably.  You know I love that.  I expect to see more in the coming quarter.

POOR.  You continue giving me that bland crap out of a bag or else bland mushy crap out of a can.  This is particularly inexcusable when I see you let perfectly good food go to waste by eating it yourself. I cannot perform my own responsibilities of napping, barking at noises, chasing squirrels, and sniffing trees and elsewhere where other dogs have peed with an inadequate diet.  Were it not for your habit of spilling food on the floor where I can get to it, I might never get a decent meal in this house.  Once in a while, it might be a good idea, rather than dropping a morsel at a time, to let an entire pot roast or chicken fall on the floor.  I have been anticipating you might do this for some time, and have been disappointed at how many opportunities you let slip by to do this.  I expect more bacon, chicken, and pot roast to land on the floor in the upcoming quarter.

EXCELLENT.  You continue to excel in the area of prompt response when I bark at real or imagined noises.  Particularly commendable is your reaction when I bark during the middle of one of your naps.  I am frankly impressed by your ability to clear the couch cushions by a good two inches after being awakened unexpectedly from a pleasant dream.  Even when you are not asleep, your response to sudden barking is more than satisfactory.  Whenever the house is too silent, I can start barking in full confidence you will start making noise, too, shouting at whatever I heard or think I hear, "Shut up!  Shut up!  Stop it!"  Your support in this area is very helpful.  Not only are you expressing righteous anger at whatever that noise might be up to, you significantly contribute to the overall volume of noise in the house.

FAIR.  I believe by bringing the other areas mentions, particularly FEEDING and TUMMY-RUBBING, you can anticipate a much more favorable Performance Review in CY 2016.

(Originally posted 2012.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Old Testament for the 21st Century

"You don't even know what chastising means," 
saith the Lord.
And in those days under the reign of OBAMA the people were stiff-necked, and the Lord chastised them.  "I chastised your fathers with mosquitoes," the Lord said, "and their fathers I chastised with scorpions, but you I shall chastise like I've never chastised before.  You're going to wish I'd chastised you with scorpions before I get through with you.  You're going to beg for scorpions.  You don't even know what chastising means until you see the chastisement I'm about to lay on you."

And so the Lord chastised them.

First came the falling of the STOCK MARKET.  And the 401Ks shrank until they were 201Ks, and in some cases 101Ks.

And when the STOCK MARKET fell, lo, HOME PRICES fell, too, and many in the land were upside down in their homes, which was very uncomfortable, and they said, "Lord, Lord, have mercy upon us, for we are upside-down in our homes," and the Lord said unto them, "Serves you right."

And the DAYS GREW HOTTER, and people stripped down, even unto their skivvies, and yet still could not get cool, and they said to one another, "This is only December."

And the PRICE OF GASOLINE.  Don't even get me started on the PRICE OF GASOLINE.

And the people were forced to DISROBE IN AIRPORT TERMINALS, even unto the removal of their shoes and belts, and one in ten was frisked by security even unto the nether parts.
And the COUNTRY WAS DIVIDED, and the people were beset by false prophets on the right, and on the left.  Some cried, "END FREE TRADE," some said, "END ENTITLEMENTS."  And others bore false witness, saying, "Look unto this one, for he has no birth certificate," or "Look unto that one, for he hath not paid his taxes."

Meanwhile were there A PLETHORA OF CHANNELS, yet nothing to watch.

And PIPELINES were constructed to bring TAR SAND OIL down from Canada, and lo, the leaders reassured the people saying, "We have already learned our lesson with the Exxon Valdez, the Odyssey Tanker, the Cyprus Haven, The Amoco Cadiz, the Castillo de Bellver, the ABT Summer, the Norwuz Oil Field, the Fergana Valley, the Atlantic Empress, the Ixtoc I Oil Well, and the Gulf Oil Spill.  This time nothing can go wrong."

And it came to pass that the people did indeed long for some good, old-fashioned scorpions.

(Originally posted 2012)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Freud's Lost Diaries

April 3rd, 1902.  Had the same dream again.  Four men with long hair like women but with beards and mustaches are crossing a street.  The front one is dressed in a white suit.  The second to the last has no shoes.  I have been unable to analyze this.  Unresolved Oedipal Complex?  Too many radishes at supper?   Ernst [Ernst van Laader, heir and great-grandson of Bertholt van Laader, inventor of the step-ladder.] came in for therapy today.  A sad case.  A wealthy young man, attractive, well-educated, and cultured, but he keeps hitting everyone he meets with a tablespoon.  I have attempted hypnosis to gain access to the libidinal urges that drive this behavior, but this is difficult whilst being hit on the forehead with a tablespoon.  In my case notes, I refer to Ernst as the Monkey Man.  His obsession has nothing to do with monkeys, but I just find the name so comical.  Behind his back, I say quietly, "Monkey Man, Monkey Man, Monkey Man."  It helps compensate me for the tablespoon thing.
April 5th, 1902. How can I hope to achieve anything while I am haunted by these terrible dreams?  Last night I dreamt of tangerine trees and marmalade skies.  What is wrong with me?  Suddenly, someone was there at the turnstile: a man with kaleidoscope eyes.  I shall go mad.  Last night Martha fed me nothing but radishes.  I suspect she is plotting against me.  Meanwhile, I am pursuing a new therapy with Ernst the Monkey Man: writing a very large check to my psychiatric institute.  I have had good success with patients using this therapy in the past: surrendering large sums of money seems to diminish their symptoms.  A tablespoon-shaped bruise has begun to appear on my forehead.

April 13th, 1902.  I have not touched a radish in a week, and my nightmares have abated, confirming my hypothesis.  The other night, Martha attempted to tempt me with a radish souffle, but I merely snapped my fingers at it.  So much for you, Martha!  She ate the whole thing herself, making yummy noises to torment me.  I stuffed cigars in my ears, and so was immune.  The other night I had a fairly ordinary dream, four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, and though the holes were rather small, I had to count them all.  Now at least I know how many holes it will take to fill Albert Hall.  This information may come in handy.  I have had a breakthrough with the Monkey Man.  He still hits me on the head with a tablespoon, but now instead of Monkey Man, I call him Monkey Boy.  Monkey Boy, Monkey Boy, ya-ha-ha-ha!

April 16th, 1902.  A terrible relapse.  After abstaining from radishes in any form, I suddenly went on a radish  binge.  It was terrible.  I ate plateful after plateful - radishes in heavy cream, radishes with orange sauce, radishes stuffed with radish comfit.  Martha merely laughed.  How I hate her!  That night I woke up screaming, "I am the Walrus!  I am the Walrus!"  Martha said she would tell Karl [Jung] who is a terrible gossip, and I could only keep her quiet by promising to buy pretty clothes for her, and threatening with a tablespoon.  At the clinic today I found Monkey Boy has made huge progress.  He has progressed from a tablespoon to a shovel.  God, my head hurts.  I have given up smoking cigars, and now smoke only radishes.  I do not know how much of this I can endure.

(Originally posted 2012)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Telling Time: Jamie Iredell's Last Mass

It's a cliche to say that the principal character in a book is Time itself; nevertheless, this is precisely true of Iredell's lyric nonfiction, Last Mass.  Written in a series of vignettes thematically if not linearly related, Last Mass hops back and forth in time like a highly caffeinated Mexican jumping-bean.  Ultimately a sense of depth and texture emerges from the whole that cannot be fully articulated in any single passage or from any single perspective.  

This sort of thing, of course, has been done before, but I think what makes this book unique is that it not only takes place across different times, but different types of time: there is the authorial present, in which Iredell battles loneliness, frustration, and self-doubt struggling to compose Last Mass itself in an isolated cabin at the Hambidge Artist's Retreat; there is the autobiographical past with young Jamie's coming of age as a Catholic in California; there is the historical past, the story of Father Junipero Serra whose missionary work was foundational in the European colonization of California; and there is mythic past as Jesus works his way agonizingly through the Stations of the Cross.  Interlacing these is what I might call cultural-mythic past: the representation of Jesus and Father Serra in film, fiction, and art

Each of these time frames informs the others, and young Jamie's world is shaped - though he is unconscious of it - by the violent and complex relationship of Serra to the natives he wished to convert - and beyond that by the bleeding Christ whose passion and death leaves even secularists with discordant and conflicting conceptions of the relationship between guilt, innocence, torment, and redemption.

Within each vignette, Iredell can be equally fluid with time, as in this description of a quotidian middle-school social-studies project:

From my backyard I unearthed earth and mixed it with the California brome that my father had weed-whacked, comingling with water, and I made my adobe mix.  Into the shoeboxes this mix went, to dry in the sun.  Sunlight was rare, with our foggy central coast weather, and a hairdryer came in handy, a device of which Spaniards and Indians alike were devoid.  Once dried, I stacked my tiny bricks and formed up walls then tiled a roof.  I whitewashed said walls with a watercolor paintbrush and plaster of paris.  My mission.  I had no Indians because by the time I was born almost all of the Indians were dead.

Oh, my word.  I could spend days explicating this lovely little passage, but I'll just pick out a few of the highlights.  I'll start with that phrase "unearthed earth," a typical Iredell device, which I once thought should be called an Iredellism, but that name is un-euphonious, so I've settled on nonaphor instead, a figure of speech in which something is compared to itself.  Iredell is past-master at using these for laconic and ironic effect.

Then we come to the hairdryers, of which Spaniards and Indians are "devoid."  That word - wrong to the perfect degree - connotes that somehow we'd expect hairdryers should have been in 18th-Century California, and their absence is as notable as if there'd been no plant-life.  This, of course, is exactly how it would seem to sixth-grade Jamie who completes his "mission" (with double meaning intact) only to discover he has no Indians to put in it.

All of this, the layers of absurdity and irony, presented straight-faced, are then contrasted with adult Iredell's perspective - who is wrestling with absences and voids of his own as he completes his current "mission" - and Father Serra, who represents the most dangerous form of religious fanatic.

The sincere one.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Those Pesky Tupperware Lids

On top of everything else - Global Warming, the West Nile Virus, the stagnant economy - now I'm expected to deal with Tupperware lids.  We seem to be missing lids to several containers (and by several, I mean all) and Nancy expects me to account for them.  This seems unfair.  In any other case the missing item is the responsibility of whoever noticed it was missing.  If I tell Nancy I can't find my car keys or my wallet or my clean shorts, she doesn't automatically assume it's her fault and scout around looking for them, oh, no!  Instead she says unhelpfully, "Where did you put them?"

That's what I should have said to Nancy when she broached the topic of Tupperware lids, "Well, where did you put them?"  Only the knowledge that she would have replied, "In the cabinet where they damn well belong," prevented me from posing this apt query.

To be fair, a certain degree of missing-Tupperware-lid culpability may rightfully fall on my shoulders.  I take my lunch to work in Tupperware containers and sometimes have neglected to replace the lid once I have eaten.  At work, I may have a number of orphaned lids - I'm not saying I do have, only that I may.  It's very hard to ascertain exactly what is on my desk at any given moment.

Also, some of the lids - as Nancy conjectures - may be in the chicken coop.  Leftovers no longer fit for human consumption are still tantalizing treats to Sorche and Loretta.  I often employ the lids as little "plates" when I set out last week's broccoli and rice or whatever for their delectation.  Subsequently, the chickens scratch wheat straw over the lids, concealing them from view.  Now in fairness, Nancy should hold the chickens at least partly to blame, but does she?  She does not.  It's all my fault that the chickens are sloppy eaters.  You see how I am treated around here, and yet I endure without complaint.  A saint, me.

Nancy - and I cannot fault her in this, for she is a fine woman in many respects - is completely irrational where Tupperware is concerned.  I do not know why this is.  Perhaps as a child she was berated unfairly for the loss of Tupperware.  I believe Freud has written on this.  Tupperware Retentive is the term he uses.  To show you how bizarre her thought processes are vis-a-vis Tupperware, she says when I go out to the coop to look for missing lids, I should also look for missing bottoms.  Now this makes no sense.  If we already have a shortage of lids, locating more bottoms will only exacerbate the problem.  My solution, simplicity itself, is if we don't have enough lids, to start losing bottoms until we come out equal again.

Alas, I do not even dare put forth this eminently practical solution but go out and look for missing lids, covered as they may be with wheat straw and bird poop.

I love her and I must put up with her foibles, however odd.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Future Lies Ahead

I've been asked by many people to share my thoughts on our economic future.  (Well, several people anyway.  OK, a few people.  Alright, nobody really asked me.)  So I've set aside my busy schedule of computer solitaire and vacantly staring into space to write this overview, so the very least you can do is sit up and pay attention and wipe that silly smirk off your face.

The first thing you have to understand when it comes to the national situation, is the international one.  The continuing crises in far away Flirtonia and the Persnickety Islands (not to mention Whereamanation, where the currency is throat-lozenges) mean that the value of the US dollar will continue to rise.  Unfortunately the values of the US quarter, dime, and nickel will continue to shrink. 

This will result in confusion.

Milton Friedman says let U stand for the tastes and preferences of the consumer.  I say, yeah, go ahead and let it.

Meanwhile, the all-important housing situation will remain, as we economists say, higgledy piggledy.  Anything can happen.  One moment your house will have three bedrooms and two baths, the next it will have two bedrooms and one bath, and then suddenly it will have forty-four baths and no bedrooms at all.  This will make it more difficult than ever to remember where your clean pants are.  I suggest leaving all your clothes in the middle of the floor until the situation has a chance to clarify.  So much for the higgledy end of the housing situation.  When it comes to the piggledy end, the less you know, the better, trust me.

To stem this, it's vital that banks be encouraged to lend as much money as possible to as many people as possible.  Simultaneously, however, the banks must be regulated to lend as little money as possible to as few people as possible.  This will also lead to confusion.  See my comment in paragraph 3.

Everyone agrees Congress needs to act.  As far as I'm concerned, they can act, sing, dance, walk tight-ropes, or whatever, so long as they don't attempt to legislate.  Whatever the outcome of the current deadlock, it's a pretty sure bet the ultimate decision will be indecisive.  (Comment at end of paragraph 3)

Then there's the stock market, and I'm tempted to go ahead and refer you to the end of paragraph 3 and be done with it.  J P Morgan once famously said, "The stock market will fluctuate."  This may no longer hold true.

The unemployment picture remains pretty grim no matter how you look at it.  Look at it with one eye half-closed and your head tilted to the right.  Now stick out your tongue and pull the corners of your eyes squinty with your index fingers.  Touch your nose with your thumb and look at it cross-eyed.  See what I mean?  (Paragraph 3).

So in sum, I recommend the individual investor buy land.  Not property, just land.  I have several large containers of fill-dirt strategically stored around my house waiting for them to appreciate.  Also, buy as much stock in the British East India Company as you can lay hands on.  Currently the stock is worthless so it seems unlikely to depreciate in value much further.

And there you have it.

(Originally posted 2012)

Friday, October 2, 2015

Write That Novel!

I can't tell you how many novels
I've seen ruined this way.

Welp, folks, I was at the library yesterday, and it looks like they're running out of books again.  The librarian gave me a woebegone face over the tops of her trifocals and I realized if the earth wasn't going to run out of reading matter altogether, I'm just going to have to sit down and write myself a novel.  I'm a pretty busy man myself - what with FarmVille, computer solitaire, and nap time - and I have half an impulse to turn the whole chore over to one of my flunkies.  "Flunky," I'd say, "the world needs another novel, and it's up to you to write one!  I figure it shouldn't take you more than a couple of years, now go out there and make a name for yourself!"  And I'd sit back and see if I couldn't grow some imaginary vegetables on Facebook, given that crows keep eating my real ones.

So now that I know I'm going to write a novel, what will I need?   Well, first and foremost: words.  Incredible as it may seem, these few scant keys on my computer can supply me with any word that I know, all the words I don't know, plus a lot of words that don't even exist, such as ioug, for example, and ourga.

So we're set as far as words are concerned, and the next thing we need - and opinions differ here, but I'm a stickler for this sort of thing - is people.  In the novel writing business, we call these "characters."  I hate throwing all this technical jargon at you, but writing is a complex business and you can't expect it to be easy.  Fortunately, it's not hard to get these people or "characters," because I'm surrounded by people all the time.  (Except when I need to borrow money, ha-ha.)  A lot of these people will jump at the chance to be in a novel.  Just tell them you're writing a novel, and they'll say, "Can I be in it?"  I think they have the impression that if they were in a book, they'd be able to walk around inside it and peep out and see who's reading it, but I don't bother explaining it doesn't work that way.  Let them dream.  Of course later, when they see how the novel turns out, they might not be so keen to be in it anymore, but that's their lookout.

So we have plenty of people for characters, which is a good thing, because I say when it comes to people in novels, the more the merrier, unless you want to write about a talking dog, which now that I think of it, is not such a bad idea, so we'll have a talking dog in there, too.  Of course, some of these people, I won't include.  Mable, for example.  I don't know if you know her, but there's something shifty about her.  She's never done anything wrong, so far as I know, but there's just something shifty.  

But it's not enough to have people; things have to happen.  You can't just have your characters sitting around looking at each other, waiting for something to happen.  Oh, that sort of thing might've worked out alright for Chekhov, but we've advanced beyond that by now, and all the brightest readers pretty much agree they want novels where things happen.

I don't want to overtax your brain here, but in the writing biz we call these things a "plot."  So let's take some events: getting flowers, being hit by a safe, and leaving the hospital.  Sounds good doesn't it?  Just the sort of book you'd like to read?  Not so fast, chucko, because now you've got to think about what order those things happen in.  If a guy gets hit by a falling safe, later gets some flowers, and then leaves the hospital - that's a happy story, but if he leaves the hospital, gets some flowers, and then gets hit by a falling safe - that's a sad story.  If he leaves a safe, gets hit by some flowers, and receives a hospital, the story won't even make sense.  So you can start to see how complicated this is.  I can't tell you how many perfectly good books I've read with wonderful happy endings ruined because at the end everyone gets hit by a falling safe.

So now, I've got a slew of people to be in my book, a bunch of interesting events, and possibly a talking dog, so I just need to tap out 70 thousand words or so, run "spell check" on the computer, and ship that sucker to my agent.  The local library will be back in business in no time.

Where's that flunky?

(Originally posted 2012)