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Port Authority: A Cultural Oasis

November 18, 2010

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Lest anyone accuse the Port Authority Bus Terminal (“Most of Our Restrooms Are No Longer Infested”) of shirking their responsibility for contributing to the reputation of New York City as a cultural hotspot, I present today’s offering: The World Arm Wrestling Championships.

The photo shows the stand off between the United States and Poland, which, if I am not mistaken, is also how we defeated the Axis powers in World War II.

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An Intelligent and Carefully Thought-Out Appeal. Yo.

November 13, 2010

At some point in the near future, we will hopefully have advanced far enough as a species so that it is no longer considered funny to watch mature, white men in lab coats trying to rap. But today is not that day.

Ladles and gentlemints, meet Dr. Jonathan Garlick, my new hero. Dr. Garlick is a research scientist who hopes to garner support for stem cell research by making it understandable and non-threatening to those who oppose it. His preferred method of communication?  Why, dropping the dopest rhymes, of course.

Break it down for us, Dr. Garlick:

Space: The Freebase Frontier

November 7, 2010

There’s been a lot of talk in the press recently about ‘helicopter’ parents, or those people who need to control their kids’ lives to the extent that they influence every educational decision that the kids should really be learning to make on their own.  I’m not like that. As far as I’m concerned, my children will be free to study whatever they wish when they get to college, so long as they bear in mind that they need to be good, productive people who leave the world a better place than they found it, and by that I mean that they don’t keep coming to me for money.

I will say, however, that I fully intend to have a discussion with them if either one tells me that they are interested in going into the sciences, because a career in science is clearly not what it used to be. When I was growing up, we had respect for scientists; scientists were the brilliant innovators, the deep thinkers who, as children, probably gathered with their friends, looked up into the night sky and pondered aloud, “I wonder what that tastes like.”

As a kid, of course, that kind of statement can make your social life go one of two ways. Either you become a brilliant scientist because your friends avoid you, which leaves you lots of time for studying, or you become very popular and get invited to parties as the kid that people introduce as “Bobby, the guy who will eat anything for cash.” But from what I’ve been reading at least, the sciences are now a haven for people who are a tad obsessed with the size of their rockets and are most likely dabbling in pharmaceuticals.

I say this because of an article I read recently about a group of astronomers in Bonn who have discovered that the Milky Way galaxy tastes like raspberries. I have no problem with this from a gastronomic point of view — I’m a fruit lover from way back — although I am wondering (1) exactly how this helps us as a species, and (2) what the hell they are smoking.

To be absolutely fair, what they actually discovered was the existence of a gas called ethyl formate, which gives raspberries their flavor. But because the Universe has a sense of humor, they also discovered the existence in the same cloud of a deadly chemical called propyl cyanide. I am paraphrasing here, but those two chemicals, along with some other molecules, could very well create what one of the scientists referred to as ‘Deadly Space Raspberries’, which would also have made a terrific nemesis on Star Trek (“Mah engines can’t make enough Dilithium Whipped Cream to hold them back, Cap’n…”) But my point is, this is what a degree in the sciences does to you.

So when my kids come to me and tell me that they want to major in Ultimate Frisbee with a minor in Beer Pong, it will be A-OK with me. Better that than astronomy.

It's Smart To Vote

November 2, 2010

So I voted.

I hope all of you got out and cast your vote as well in whatever way you saw fit. That’s not meant to be a partisan remark (some of you might know that I had a family member running in the local election.) It’s just that we here in Springfield tend to be a fairly dispersed lot, and a community is only a community when its citizens act together to keep moving forward.

Like I said, this is not meant to be a lesson in civics. My job, as I understand it, is to point out the things that don’t always make sense and, if the Humor Gods are working with me, make them even worse. It’s not a job for the faint of heart, but by golly someone has to do it.

Anyway, after voting for my choice of candidates, I noticed that there was a referendum up for vote. I would like to tell you what that referendum was, except that I was clearly not smart enough to understand it. I read this thing five times all the way through, just like they tell you to do on the SATs, and I still didn’t know (a) what the matter up for vote was, (2) whether I was supposed to be for it or against it, and (iii) whether I should just call my parents and apologize for wasting the money they spent on my college education.

I think the problem is that these matters are written by politicians, many of whom have spent far more time in school than I have. It’s not that I’m not educated; I graduated from college (thanks, Mom and Dad!), read multiple newspapers each day and watch CNN. I even watch C-SPAN whenever I’ve had too much coffee and need to be lulled off the ledge.

But it’s easy to get the feeling that these referendum-writers are hoping to both impress and confuse voters by throwing just about every word in existence into the question, and it winds up sounding like this:

“In so far as the Regulatory Frottage agrees that the state-mandated control of the assessment by-laws can be predicated twice monthly by the impartially judicial flyswatters – and it wouldn’t be too much to ask, now would it? – the administrative and financial adverbs hereby release to the public, a priori, or, for those of us who didn’t attend Law School, “manipedi,” several reams of paper that no one in their right mind will ever read.”

Below that are four buttons, which read as follows:

a) Yes

b) No

c) I’m sorry, could you please repeat that?

d) I’m not smart enough to vote.

But it’s OK, because nowhere in the Constitution does it say that you have to understand what it is you’re voting for. All our forefathers asked was that we get out there and do it.

(Reprinted with permission from my column, “Next Exit” in The Springfield Patch, November 2, 2010)

It’s Smart To Vote

November 2, 2010

So I voted.

I hope all of you got out and cast your vote as well in whatever way you saw fit. That’s not meant to be a partisan remark (some of you might know that I had a family member running in the local election.) It’s just that we here in Springfield tend to be a fairly dispersed lot, and a community is only a community when its citizens act together to keep moving forward.

Like I said, this is not meant to be a lesson in civics. My job, as I understand it, is to point out the things that don’t always make sense and, if the Humor Gods are working with me, make them even worse. It’s not a job for the faint of heart, but by golly someone has to do it.

Anyway, after voting for my choice of candidates, I noticed that there was a referendum up for vote. I would like to tell you what that referendum was, except that I was clearly not smart enough to understand it. I read this thing five times all the way through, just like they tell you to do on the SATs, and I still didn’t know (a) what the matter up for vote was, (2) whether I was supposed to be for it or against it, and (iii) whether I should just call my parents and apologize for wasting the money they spent on my college education.

I think the problem is that these matters are written by politicians, many of whom have spent far more time in school than I have. It’s not that I’m not educated; I graduated from college (thanks, Mom and Dad!), read multiple newspapers each day and watch CNN. I even watch C-SPAN whenever I’ve had too much coffee and need to be lulled off the ledge.

But it’s easy to get the feeling that these referendum-writers are hoping to both impress and confuse voters by throwing just about every word in existence into the question, and it winds up sounding like this:

“In so far as the Regulatory Frottage agrees that the state-mandated control of the assessment by-laws can be predicated twice monthly by the impartially judicial flyswatters – and it wouldn’t be too much to ask, now would it? – the administrative and financial adverbs hereby release to the public, a priori, or, for those of us who didn’t attend Law School, “manipedi,” several reams of paper that no one in their right mind will ever read.”

Below that are four buttons, which read as follows:

a) Yes

b) No

c) I’m sorry, could you please repeat that?

d) I’m not smart enough to vote.

But it’s OK, because nowhere in the Constitution does it say that you have to understand what it is you’re voting for. All our forefathers asked was that we get out there and do it.

(Reprinted with permission from my column, “Next Exit” in The Springfield Patch, November 2, 2010)

Always Tip Your Waitstaff

October 29, 2010

OK, quiz time:

Hands up those of you who have ever purchased a shirt or gotten a tattoo with mysterious characters in a foreign language because you were told that it meant something wise and Zen-like that would show the world just how cool you really are.

And how many of you avoided just that sort of purchase because you were secretly afraid that those mysterious foreign characters really said something like “The wearer of this garment/bearer of this tattoo is an incredible douche who not only rejects the precepts of our Dear Leader but also cavorts with donkeys”?

That’s what I thought.

Better safe than sorry, I say, because we Americans don’t have such a great relationship with other cultures that we can afford to piss them off any more than we already have. We’re loud, we’re rude, and we show an incredible amount of disrespect for anyone we perceive to be beneath us, like people who have jobs in the service industries. The phrase “gone postal” didn’t come from nowhere.

My point is, you never know when you’re going to run into a disgruntled serviceperson (are there many gruntled ones?)  Unless you have a fetish for having people spit in your food, there is very little downside to being nice to the person who returns your meal to the chef for the third time — facing imminent death by meat cleaver — because your peas are touching your meatloaf.

I say this because of a BBC piece I read about an “unidentified Western couple” who thought they were enjoying a meaningful renewal of their wedding vows in the colorful and mystical Maldivian tradition, but instead are led through a ceremony that clearly leads me to believe that the staff had major issues not only with Westerners, but with the resort management as well.

The video, which appeared on YouTube, looks innocent enough. The bride is beautifully dressed in white and carries a bouquet. Both she and the groom follow the celebrant, who shows them how to hold up their hands in the traditional Maldivian prayer position. On the table in front of the celebrant are two rings and what appear to be official marriage documents.

What actually happened is the marital equivalent of the t-shirt/tattoo. The celebrant turned out to be a waiter at the resort, instead of a priest. What the couple thought were marriage documents turned out to be the resort staff’s employment contracts, and as the poor couple smile blissfully at him, the celebrant lets loose with a barrage of abuse in his native tongue.  I won’t dignify him by printing his speech here, but let’s just say that he questions the validity of, among other things, the lineage of their children, their dietary habits, and the frequency with which the couple might or might not have been checked for STDs. After leading them to a clearing to plant coconut trees, he waxes eloquently about the bride’s breasts. The celebrant’s fellow staff members try to suppress their smirks, some not too successfully.

Eventually, these men were arrested, and the resort and government officials are said to be instituting strict guidelines for wedding ceremonies in the future. They are highly embarrassed, and hope that people will continue to come to the beautiful Maldives Islands not only for vow renewals, but also, except for a few bad apples, for their tradition of hospitality.

I would go. It looks like a beautiful place. And I would make sure to leave my waiter a very generous tip.

The Frog and I

October 16, 2010

I don’t think I would be guilty of understatement if I said that the Frog and I don’t see eye to eye. She’s been living with us for more than six years now, and as far as I’m concerned, she’s already overstayed her welcome by a good five and a half years. I’ve even tried offloading her onto the owners of the old Fin ‘N Fur pet store on Morris Avenue, but as soon as they saw what I was carrying, they closed up shop.

Granted, indulging my kids’ passion for the animal kingdom is part of my job as a mom. We have a dog, and we even had an adorable hamster who, like all good houseguests, had the good sense to depart to the Big Hamster Wheel In The Sky after a year and a half. But as She Who Is In Charge of Pet Maintenance, Hygiene and Training, my general philosophy is that the grumpier the pet is or the harder it is to take care of, the shorter their stay in my household should be.

Originally, the Frog-That-Won’t-Die came to our home in an attempt to introduce my daughter to—Creationists, please cover your ears—the Miracle of Evolution. At the time, it was a tiny, adorable tadpole: it floated merrily around a fist-sized tank, twirling it’s little tail over it’s head and consuming the tadpole food that cost more than a pound of Colombian coffee and could only be purchased from the company that sent us the tadpole. Sure enough, after consuming a fair amount of the very expensive tadpole food, she absorbed her tail, grew legs and arms, and proceeded to take over my life in what I consider to be a fairly aggressive manner for a frog.

The literature that came with the tadpole says that the resulting Frog is supposed to grow no bigger than a half dollar and is generally thought to be fairly short-lived. Not a bad deal, I thought, considering that you also get a lesson in biology for good measure.

I see now that the company was lying to me. At the point where the Frog grew to the length of a whole dollar bill, bit me on a regular basis when I tried to clean the tank and looked like it might just outlive me, I called their customer service department and politely inquired as to whether they had perhaps gotten their information wrong.

“Did you put the frog in a larger tank?” the bored customer service rep asked.

“Well, yes,” I admitted. “She looked so cramped in the ‘Tadpole Box-O’-Fun’. It’s barely larger than a postage stamp.”

Never put the frog in a larger tank,” the rep droned, sounding strangely like she was reading from a script.  I began to wonder how many times a day she read this warning to the unsuspecting parents who only wanted to share some educational bonding time with their kids. “Your adorable aquatic pet will increase in size in direct proportion to the size of its home.  Also, do not feed it after midnight.”

“Speaking of feeding, how much is she supposed to eat?  She seems very… hearty.”

“Your adorable, educational, aquatic friend can eat up to an ounce of Friendly Frog granules each day,” the rep went on. “You can even teach it tricks to perform for its food.”

“Let me tell you about tricks,” I said, starting to get a little annoyed. “This frog is in the habit of grabbing the little plastic granule spoon out of my hand, swimming to the bottom of the tank and trying to mate with it. My kids may be scarred for life.”

“Do not allow your kids to be scarred for life…” she said, as the sound of a nail file scratched in the background.

I hung up and resigned myself to the fact that I might have to make provisions for the Frog in my will.

Anybody want a Frog?

(Reprinted with permission from The Springfield Patch, 2010)