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Tema: Dave Barry ~ Dejv Beri  (Pročitano 27170 puta)
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Apple iPhone 4
The $8.95 Tax Plan

   I’d like to take just a moment here to discuss my tax plan, which I call the You Pay Only $8.95 Tax Plan, because the way this particular plan works, you would pay only $8.95 in taxes. There would be no deductions, but you would still be permitted to cheat.
   I imagine many of you have questions about the details of this plan, so I’ll try to answer them here in the informative question-and-answer format:
   Q. How much money will your tax plan raise?
   A. To answer your question, I punched some figures into my personal home computer, using the following “Basic” computer language program:
   ME: HOW MUCH WOULD WE RAISE IF EVERYBODY PAID $8.95 IN TAXES? ROUGHLY. COMPUTER: SYNTAX ERROR. ME: NO, A SYNTAX ERROR WOULD BE “ME HIT COMPUTER IN SCREEN WITH BIG ROCK.” COMPUTER: ROUGHLY $2 BILLION. ME: THANK YOU.
   Q. But the federal government wishes to spend $830 billion this year. Where will the other $828 billion come from?
   A. It would come from people who elect to purchase the new American Express Platinum Card, which costs $250, making it even more prestigious than the Gold Card, which is of course much more prestigious than the Green Card, which is advertised to lowlife scum like yourself on television. According to the American Express brochure, the new Platinum Card is
   “beyond the aspirations and reach of all but a few of our Cardmembers,” and “sets its possessor on a new plateau of recognition.” Under my plan, people who buy the Platinum Card would be taxed $500 million each, and if they complained the slightest little bit they would be thrown into federal prisons so lonely that inmates pay spiders for sex.
   Q. What about nuns?
   A. Nuns would be taxed at a reduced rate of $5.95, because they do so little damage to our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. For example, you have probably noticed that they drive really slow. This makes quite a difference, as the following statistical analysis shows:
   ME: WHAT PERCENTAGE OF THE DAMAGE TO THE INTERSTATE HIGHWAY SYSTEM IS CAUSED
   BY NUNS? COMPUTER: WHAT? ME: PERHAPS THIS HOT SOLDERING IRON WILL REFRESH YOUR MEMORY. COMPUTER: A VERY SMALL PERCENTAGE.
   Q. What about Mark Goodson and Bill Todman?
   A. Who?
   Q. The highly successful game-show producers. How would they be affected by your new tax plan?
   A. They would have their bowels ripped out by wolves. q. Good. In the cartoon series “Tom and Jerry,” which one is Tom?
   A. Well, I say it’s the cat. My four-year-old son says it’s the mouse, but he also says dinosaurs could talk.
   COMPUTER: IT’S DEFINITELY THE CAT, AS N “TOM CAT.”
   A. Yes, that’s what I say, but my son claims he knows of mice named Tom.
   COMPUTER: HA HA! WHAT A CRETIN.
   Q. What are the steps involved in getting this tax plan passed by Congress?
   A. Well, first it has to be formally introduced as a bill on “Meet the Press”; then various congressional committees and subcommittees have to go to Aruba with their spouses for several weeks to see if there are any similar tax plans operating in the Caribbean; then interested groups such as the American Eggplant Council have to modify it so that members of the eggplant industry are exempt from paying any taxes ever and get flown free wherever they want on Air Force jets; then Senator Jesse Helms has to attach an amendment making it legal, during the months of May and June, to shoot homosexuals for sport, except of course for homosexual tobacco farmers; then the bill has to be signed by President Reagan; then the Supreme Court has to check it to make sure he didn’t forget and sign
   “Best Wishes, Ron” again.
   Q. Dave, the You Pay Only $8.95 Tax Plan makes a lot of sense to me. How can
   I let my Congressperson know how I feel on this issue?
   A. The easiest way is to simply steal into his bedroom in the dead of night and stand over his sleeping form until he senses your presence and wakes up, then express your views clearly.
   Q. Fine.
   A. Be sure to use sweeping arm gestures.

Mutant Fleas Terrorize Midwest

   I was going to write about how the president’s revolutionary new tax plan will affect you, but it occurred to me that I really don’t care how the president’s revolutionary new tax plan will affect you. So instead I’m going to write about the giant vampire fleas that are on this pet-killing rampage in the Midwest.
   You probably read about these fleas recently in the Sun, a weekly supermarket newspaper with a circulation of 18 trillion. According to the Sun article, what happened was that the American farmer, all the while we were feeling sorry for him, was deluging the soil with herbicides, despite the known scientific fact that chemicals cause insects to mutate and become enormous, as has been documented in countless Japanese movies. So the result is that the Midwest is now infested with giant mutant fleas that, according to the Sun, “are themselves as large as the small dogs they kill, draining them dry of life fluids in as little as two minutes.” The Sun even printed an actual artist’s depiction of a dog being attacked by a flea the size of Sylvester Stallone.
   Of course you don’t believe a word of it. You think publications like the Sun make everything up. I used to think that, too, before I checked into a story the Sun published a few months ago headlined “GIANT FLYING CAT TERRIFIES STATES.” Remember? The article that featured the actual artist’s depiction of an enormous cat? Flying? With wings? Well, I did some checking, and you will be interested to learn that every single word in the headline is true except for “GIANT,” “FLYING,” “TERRIFIES,” AND “STATES.” It turns out that some people in Harrington, Delaware, have indeed seen a largish cat. The local editor says he thinks it’s an escaped exotic pet, because it has a collar and has been declawed. He said it does not have any actual wings per se, but it jumps pretty well, especially considering that, to judge from its tracks, it has only three legs. They think it eats birds.
   But the point is that the central thrust of the Sun headline (“CAT”) was right on target, which gives us every reason to accept the giant-mutant-flea article at face value. Nevertheless, I thought I should check it out, so I called the Midwest, which is in Iowa, and talked with Donald Lewis, extension entomologist for Iowa State University. He said: “I haven’t heard anything even remotely similar to that. We do have periodic flea outbreaks, but each flea is still small.” Naturally, this made me suspicious, so I called Lysie Waters of the University of Iowa, who said: “I haven’t heard anything about that. And I definitely would have heard about giant fleas.”
   And that was all the proof I needed. Because when two men from separate universities that are miles apart and have completely different nicknames (“Cyclones” vs. “Hawkeyes”) used almost exactly the same words—”I haven’t heard anything”—to deny having heard anything, then you don’t have to be a seasoned journalist such as myself to know they are covering up a giant mutant flea rampage. My guess is they don’t want to scare off the seven or eight tourists who flock to the Midwest each summer looking for directions.
   How serious is this problem? To help answer that question, the Sun has published a direct quotation from a “Cornbelt sheriff” who, as you can well imagine, asked not to be identified. He states that these giant fleas “are almost impossible to catch” because “they can jump 50 times their own height without warning.”
   The Cornbelt sheriff does not specify why he would wish to catch the giant mutant flea or what kind of warning he feels the flea should give. (“Stand back! I am about to jump 50 times my own height!”) But he does point out that once the fleas have eaten all the smaller animals in the Midwest, they “will have to go somewhere else to eat the larger livestock, chicken ranches, city streets, and homes.”
   “Little children will be completely at their mercy,” he notes.
   I have mixed feelings about all this. On the one hand, I have never liked small dogs. There are these two in particular that live near me, both about the size of the wads of cotton they put in aspirin bottles to keep you from getting at the aspirin. They’re always yapping at me when I go by, and quite frankly the only thing I would enjoy more than watching them have all their life fluids sucked out by a giant mutant flea would be watching this happen in slow motion. But I draw the line at larger livestock, chicken ranches, and most little children.
   Step One, of course, is to send Vice President Bush out there to the Midwest to frown at the affected area from a federal helicopter. Step Two is to develop a plan. I think we should try an approach that has been used on other insect pests in the past, namely: You get a hold of a whole bunch of the males, sterilize them, and drop them from airplanes onto the affected area, where they mate with the females, who don’t get pregnant, and there you are.
   Of course, we have to solve some technical problems first. We need to figure out a way to sterilize giant mutant fleas. My guess is this job will call for highly paid personnel with soothing voices and tremendous manual dexterity. Also, we will need some kind of special parachute system, because otherwise we’re going to have giant, federally neutered fleas crashing through the roofs of cornbelt dwellings, thus further depressing the American farmer. Of course, all of this will cost money, which fortunately is the very thing the government will continue to relieve you of in large amounts under the president’s revolutionary new tax plan.
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Booked To Death

   I’m on a book tour. I’m going on radio and TV shows, being a Guest, selling a book. I’ve been on this tour two, maybe three weeks now. Maybe 10
   weeks. Hard to tell. Been in a lot of time zones. Been on a lot of planes. Had a lot of complimentary honey-roasted peanuts whapped onto my tray table by hostile flight attendants. “Would you care for some peanuts, sir?” WHAP. Like that. The flight attendants hate us passengers, because we’re surly to them because our flight is delayed. Our flight is always delayed. The Russians will never be able to get their missiles through the dense protective layer of delayed flights circling over the United States in complex, puke-inducing holding patterns.
   Our flight is also always very crowded. This is because air fares are now assigned by a machine called the Random Air Fare Generator, which is programmed to ensure that on any given flight (1) no two people will pay the same fare, and (2) everybody else will pay less than you. People are flying across the country for less than you paid for your six-week-old corn muffin at the airport snack bar. Anybody can afford to fly these days. You see Frequent Flyers with bare feet and live carry-on chickens.
   And so the planes are crowded and noisy and late, and everybody hates everybody. If armed terrorists had tried to hijack any of the flights I’ve been on lately, we passengers would have swiftly beaten them to death with those hard rolls you get with your in-flight meal. Funny, isn’t it? The airlines go to all that trouble to keep you from taking a gun on board, then they just hand you a dinner roll you could kill a musk ox with.
   Me, I eat the roll. Got to eat. Got to keep my strength up, on the book tour, so I can be perky when I get interviewed by the cheerful talk-show host. You want to sound as perky and enthusiastic as possible, on a book tour, so your listening audience won’t suspect that you really, deep down inside, don’t want to talk about your book ever ever ever again. You have come to hate your book. Back at the beginning, you kind of liked it, but now you think of it as a large repulsive insect that cheerful hosts keep hauling out and sticking in your face and asking you to pet.
   But you do it, because the alternative is gainful employment. You put on your perky face, and you chat with the host about why you wrote the book. Why you wrote it, of course, is money. I’m very up front about this. “Buy my book,” I always advise the listening audience. “Or just send me some money in a box.”
   I’ve had some fun times, on my various book tours. The most fun was when I was promoting a book about do-it-yourself home repair. This book was, of course, totally worthless, not a single fact in it, but I ended up on a whole bunch Of radio shows where the hosts, who had not had time to look at the book personally, thought I had written a real book about home repair. So the interviews went like this:
   HOST: Dave, what’s the best place to add insulation?
   ME: Bob, I recommend the driveway.
   HOST: Ha ha! Seriously, Dave.
   ME: I am serious, Bob.
   HOST: My guest has been Dave Barry.
   I have also been on some very interesting TV shows. I was on a show in Cleveland where the other guests were a sex therapist and a Swedish gynecologist, who were supposed to have a sensitive discussion about the Male Perspective on sexuality with an all-male audience that had been bused in especially for the show. it turned out, however, that there was also beer on the bus, so the Male Perspective on sexuality consisted almost entirely of hooting and snickering. Somebody would ask the sex-therapist where the “G-spot” was, and she’d start to answer, and somebody in the back would yell: “It’s in Germany!” Then there would be a violent eruption of hoots and snickers and we’d break for a commercial.
   Recently, in Boston, I was on a show where the other two guests were—this is true—a police officer who explained how to avoid getting your purse snatched, and a woman named “Chesty Morgan” who once served in the Israeli army and currently dances topless and has the largest natural bosom in the world. She said she wears a size double-P bra. She has it made specially in Waco, Texas. She has a very interesting and tragic life story, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the near future, she comes out with a book.

Hot Books And Hot Coals

   Time now for the annual literary survey and firewalking report:
   First, I am pleased to report that millions of units of new literature will soon be arriving at bookstores near you. I know this because I recently went to San Francisco to attend the American Booksellers Association’s annual convention, at which all the big publishing companies reveal their fall literary lines. And on hand were a number of top authors such as Mister T, who was there to stress to the young people of America that they should read a lot of books or he will break all the bones in their faces; and Mary Lou Retton, who discussed a new book she has written about (get ready!) physical fitness. This is certainly a topic we need a lot more books on, because at present we have only enough fitness books to cover the Midwest to a depth of 60,000 feet.
   Some other exciting book concepts you can look forward to seeing this fall include:
   –A great many books telling you how to become so extremely successful in business, so totally excellent, that one day, during a budget meeting, you just vanish in a blinding flash of total managerial perfection, and the next thing you know you are on a distant misty mountain top wearing a white robe and talking about motivation with Lee Iacocca; —Biographies of two of the three Stooges; —A book called How to Find a Husband in 30 Days (Get Ready ... Get Set ... Get Married!), which is a terrific literary concept, the only problem being that it is written by the same person who wrote the best-selling Thin Thighs in 30 Days, which also seemed like a terrific concept except that it did not work, in the sense that if you glance around with your eyes angled slightly downward you will note that the general population continues to have thighs the size of re search submarines.
   And here is a major piece of literary excitement for you; Parker Brothers has unveiled a new group of cute licensed characters for children. This is the one thing we need even more than we need another fitness book. These licensed characters are called “The Hugga Bunch,” and I am pleased to report that they are just about the most lovable little wads of cuteness to mince down the pike since Rainbow Brite. You parents of preschool children are definitely going to hear a lot of high-pitched whining about these exciting characters.
   Which brings us to the firewalking portion of our report. One of the authors at the convention was a person named Tolly Burkan, who is one of the top, if not the top firewalker in the United States. For the benefit of those of you who do not watch “Donahue,” I should explain that firewalking is a very important new emerging growth trend where people walk on hot coals in bare feet. You will never in a million jillion years guess what state this concept has gained great popularity in: California(!). Out in California, you can pay people money, and they let you walk on their hot coals.
   Besides doing firewalking seminars, Tolly Burkan has produced various cassette tapes and books, including his hardcover book Dying to Live, in which he explains how he used to be really messed up and try to kill himself all the time, but now he is all straightened out and goes around encouraging people to walk barefoot on hot coals. Also he supervises fasting. According to a brochure I got at his firewalking demonstration, you pay him $35 a day, in return for which you get not to eat under his personal supervision. Also for $500 he will whack you in both kneecaps with a ball-peen hammer.
   Ha ha! just kidding! I think!
   The firewalking demonstration took place at a parking lot near the convention hall, and there were maybe a hundred of us on hand to watch. Tolly, who had a wireless microphone and who has that extremely mellow California-spiritual-leader style of speech similar to what You would get if you gave Mister Rogers a horse tranquilizer, explained the basic theory of firewalking, which as I understand it is that if you really believe you can do something, then by golly you can just do it, even if it seems impossible. I happen to agree with this theory. I think it explains, for example, how large heavy commercial airplanes get off the ground despite the fact that they are clearly too heavy to fly, especially when their beverage carts are fully loaded.
   So anyway, at the firewalking demonstration, Tolly raked out a six-foot-long bed of very hot coals from a bed of cedar and oak logs (he has also walked on mesquite) and taught the onlookers a little chant they were supposed to chant when the walkers walked across the coals. This being San Francisco, they chanted it. In New York, they would have stolen his wireless microphone. Then Tolly brought on some of his veteran walkers, who each took a couple of quick steps across the coals the way you would step if you were walking on some very hot coals. Then Tolly walked on the coals a couple of times for a newspaper photographer, including once when he pretended that while he was walking he was reading his book, which by the way is for sale.
   These people actually do walk across hot coals. It is quite impressive. To find something comparable in my experience I have to go back to when I was eight years old, and Charles Ringwald ate a worm, only he did it without any assistance in the form of chanting. So if you’re looking for a way to find total happiness in your life, I urge you to walk on hot coals as soon as possible, provided of course that you have taken a seminar run by a responsible professional.
   Also, Charles Ringwald, if you’re out there, please get in touch with me as soon as possible, because I have a terrific idea for a book.
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Apple iPhone 4
The Hair Apparent

   I have a letter here from mrs. Belle Ehrlich, of San Jose, California, who feels I should get a new hairdo. To quote her directly: “I enjoy reading most of your columns ... but your hairdo in your photo sure looks DATED and NOT at all flattering or becoming, to say the least. If you are still sporting that awful hairdo, I suggest you go to a good hair stylist to give you a new and better hairdo. I hope you don’t mind my criticism, it’s nothing personal just a suggestion.”
   Mind? Ha ha! MIND? Of course not, Mrs. Belle Ehrlich of San Jose! As a journalist who seeks to inform his readers about topics of vital concern to the nation and the world, I welcome insulting remarks about my hair!
   OK, perhaps I am a bit sensitive about my hair. I have been sensitive about my hair since second grade, when the Kissing Girls first swung into action. You probably had Kissing Girls at your elementary school too: they roamed the playground, chasing after selected boys and trying to kiss them. We boys carried on as though we would have preferred to undergo the Red-Ants-Eat-Your-Eyelids-Off Torture than get kissed, but of course we wanted desperately to be selected. And I almost never was. The boys who were selected had wavy hair. Wavy hair was big back then, and I did not have it. I had straight hair, and it did not help that my father cut it.
   You should know that my father was a fine, decent, and sensitive man, but unfortunately he had no more fashion awareness than a baked potato. His idea of really el snazzo dressing was to wear a suit jacket and suit pants that both originated as part of the same suit. He would have worn the same tie to work for 42 consecutive years if my mother had let him. So, the way he would cut my hair is, he’d put me on a stool, and he’d start cutting hair off one side of my head with the electric clippers, then he’d walk around me and attempt, relying on memory, to make the other side of my head look similar. Which, of course, he could never quite do, so he would head back around to take a stab at Side One again, and he’d keep this up for some time, and all I can say is, thank heavens they had a little plastic guard on the electric clippers so that you couldn’t make the hair any shorter than a quarter-inch, because otherwise my father, with the best of intentions, trying to even me up, would have started shaving off slices of actual tissue until eventually I would have been able to turn my head sideways and stick it through a mail slot. As it was, in photographs taken back then, I look like an extremely young Marine, or some kind of radiation victim.
   It also did not help that in third grade I became the first kid in the class to get glasses, and we are talking serious 1950s horn rims of the style that when you put them on a third-grade child, especially one with a comical haircut, you get a Mister Peepers effect such that everybody assumes the child must be a Goody-Two-Shoes Teacher’s Pet science-oriented little dweeb. And it also did not help that I was a late developer, pubertywise. I was ready for puberty. All of us boys were. We wanted to catch up to the girls, who about two years earlier had very suddenly, in fact I think it was all on the same day, shown up at school a foot taller than us and with bosoms and God knows what else. So I was definitely looking forward to puberty as the Dawn of a New Era in the looks department, and you can just imagine how betrayed I felt when it started happening to the other boys, even boys whom I had considered my friends, well before it happened to me. They got ahead of me then, and sometimes I think I never really caught up. I am 38 years old now, and I have yet to develop hair on my arms. Isn’t that supposed to happen, in puberty? I see men much younger than myself, with hairy arms, and I think: Does this mean I’m not done with puberty yet?
   I realize I sound insecure here, but if you really wanted to see insecure, you should have seen me in eighth grade. I was a mess. That was why I developed a sense of humor. I needed something to do at parties. The other boys, the boys who had wavy hair and reasonable hormone-activity levels, would be necking with girls, and I would be over by the record player, a short radiation victim in horn-rimmed spectacles, playing 45s and making jokes to entertain the 10-year-old brother of whoever was holding the party. Now that I’m grown up, I keep reading magazine articles about these surveys where they ask you women what you really want most in a man, and you always say: A Sense of Humor. And I think to myself: Right. Sure. Great. Now you want a sense of humor. But back in the eighth grade, back when it really mattered, what you wanted was puberty.
   And I am not even going to mention here that for several years my hands were covered with warts.
   So anyway, Mrs. Belle Ehrlich of San Jose, what I’m trying to say here is: Thanks, thanks a million for taking the time to drop me a note informing me that my hair looks awful. Because now I’m grown up (except in terms of arm hair) and have contact lenses, and I have finally come to think of myself as very nearly average in appearance, I can handle this kind of helpful criticism, and I will definitely see if I can’t find a good hair stylist. This is assuming that I ever leave my bedroom again.

TV Or Not TV

   The turning point, in terms of my giving in to the concept of being a Television Personality, was when I let them put the styling mousse on my hair. Hair has always been my dividing line between television personalities and us newspaper guys. We newspaper guys generally have hair that looks like we trim it by burning the ends with Bic lighters. We like to stand around and snicker at the TV guys, whose hair all goes in the same direction and looks as though it’s full-bodied and soft, but which in fact has been permeated with hardened petrochemical substances to the point where it could deflect small-caliber bullets. We newspaper guys think these substances have actually penetrated the skulls and attacked the brain cells of the TV guys, which we believe explains why their concept of a really major journalistic achievement is to interview Mr. T.
   So I need to explain how I became a Television Personality. A while back, a public-television station asked me to be the host of a new TV series they want to start for parents of young children, and I said, sure, what the heck. I remember saying, “Sounds like fun.” And thus I became a talent. That’s what TV people call you if you go in front of the camera: a “talent.” They call you that right to your face. Only after a while you realize they don’t mean that you have any actual talent. In fact, it’s sort of an insult. In the TV business, “talent” means “not the camera, lighting, or sound people, all of whom will do exactly what they’re supposed to do every single time, but the bonehead with the pancake makeup who will make us all stay in the studio for two extra hours because he cannot remember that he is supposed to say ‘See you next time’ instead of ‘See you next week.’” It reminds me of the way people in the computer industry use the word “user,” which to them means “idiot.”
   When you are a TV talent, you are meat. People are always straightening your collar, smearing things on your face, and talking about you in the third person, saying things like: “What if we had him sitting down?” and “Can we make his face look less round?” and “Can we do anything about his nose?” This is how my hair came to contain several vats of styling mousse, which is this gunk that looks like shaving cream and which you can just tell was invented by a French hair professional whom, if you met him, you would want to punch directly in the mouth. The TV people felt it made me look older. I felt it made me look like a water bed salesman, but hey, I’m just a talent.
   Still, I thought I’d be all right, once we got into the studio. What I pictured was, I would saunter in front of the camera, and say something like, “Hi! Welcome to our show! Here’s an expert psychological authority to tell you what it means when your child puts the cat in the Cuisinart! And sets it on ‘mince’!” Then I would just sit back and listen to the expert, nodding my head and frowning with concern from time to time. And every now and then I might say something spontaneous and riotously funny.
   As it turns out, nothing happens spontaneously in a television studio. Before anything can happen, they have to spend several hours shining extremely bright lights on it from different angles, then they have to stand around frowning at it, then they have to smear it and dust it with various substances to get it to stop the glare from those bright lights that they are shining on it, and then they have to decide that it has to be moved to a completely different place so they can start all over.
   Once they get all set up, once they’re satisfied that the lights are as bright and as hot as they can possibly get them, it’s time for the talent to come in and make a fool out of itself. On a typical day, I would have to do something like walk up to a table, lean on it casually, say some witty remarks to one camera, turn to the right and say some more witty remarks to another camera, and walk off. This sounds very easy, right? Well, here’s what would happen. I would do my little performance, and there would be a lengthy pause while the director and the producer and the executive producer and all the assistant producers back in the control room discussed, out of my hearing, what I had done wrong.
   Now I can take criticism. I’m a writer and my editor is always very direct with me. “Dave, this column bites the big one,” is the kind of thing he’ll say by way of criticism. And I can handle it. But in the TV world, they never talk to you like that. They talk to you as though you’re a small child, and they’re not sure whether you’re just emotionally unbalanced or actually retarded. They take tremendous pains not to hurt your feelings. First of all, they always tell you it was great.
   “That was great, Dave. We’re going to try it again, with just a little more energy, OK? Also, when you walk in, try not to shuffle your feet, OK? Also, When you turn right, dip your eyes a bit, then come up to the next camera, because otherwise it looks odd, OK? Also, don’t bob your head so much, OK And try not to smack your lips, OK? Also, remember you’re supposed to say next time, not next week, OK? So just try to be natural, and have some fun with it, OK? I think we’re almost there.”
   So I had to do everything a great many times, and of course all my jokes, which I thought were absolute killers when I wrote them in the privacy of my home, soon seemed, in this studio where I was telling them over and over to camera persons who hadn’t even laughed the first time, remarkably stupid, or even the opposite of jokes, anti-humor, somber remarks that you might make to somebody who had just lost his whole family in a boat explosion. But I kept at it, and finally after God knows how many attempts, would come the voice from the control room: “That was perfect, Dave. Let’s try it again with a little more energy. Also you forgot to say your name.”
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The Embarrassing Truth

   Have you ever really embarrassed yourself? Don’t answer that, stupid. It’s a rhetorical question. Of course you’ve embarrassed yourself. Everybody has. I bet the pope has. If you were to say to the pope: “Your Holy Worshipfulness, I bet you’ve pulled some blockheaded boners in your day, huh?” he’d smile that warm, knowing, fatherly smile he has, and then he’d wave. He can’t hear a word you’re saying, up on that balcony. But my point is that if you’ve ever done anything humiliating, you’ve probably noticed that your brain never lets you forget it. This is the same brain that never remembers things you should remember. If you were bleeding to death and the emergency-room doctor asked you what blood type you were, you’d say: “I think it’s B. Or maybe C. I’m pretty sure it’s a letter.” But if your doctor asked you to describe the skirt you were wearing when you were doing the Mashed Potatoes in the ninth-grade dance competition in front of 350 people, and your underwear, which had holes in it, fell to your ankles, you’d say, without hesitating for a millisecond, “It was gray felt with a pink flocked poodle.”
   Your brain cherishes embarrassing memories. It likes to take them out and fondle them. This probably explains a lot of unexplained suicides. A successful man with a nice family and a good career will be out on his patio, cooking hamburgers, seemingly without a care in the world, when his brain, rummaging through its humiliating-incident collection, selects an old favorite, which it replays for a zillionth time, and the man is suddenly so overcome by feelings of shame that he stabs himself in the skull with his barbecue fork. At the funeral, people say how shocking it was, a seemingly happy and well-adjusted person choosing to end it all. They assume he must have had a terrible dark secret involving drugs or organized crime or dressing members of the conch family in flimsy undergarments. Little do they know he was thinking about the time in Social Studies class in 1963 when he discovered a hard-to-reach pimple roughly halfway down his back, and he got to working on it, subtly at first, but with gradually increasing intensity, eventually losing track of where he was, until suddenly he realized the room had become silent, and he looked up, with his arm stuck halfway down the back of his shirt, and he saw that everybody in the class, including the teacher, was watching what he was doing, and he knew they’d give him a cruel nickname that would stick like epoxy cement for the rest of his life, such as when he went to his 45th reunion, even if he had been appointed Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, the instant his classmates saw him, they’d shriek: “Hey look! It’s ZIT!”
   Everybody has incidents like this. My mother is always reliving the time she lost her car in a shopping-center parking lot, and she was wandering around with several large shopping bags and two small children, looking helpless, and after a while other shoppers took pity on her and offered to help. “It’s a black Chevrolet,” she told them, over and Over. And they searched and searched and searched for it. They were extremely nice. They all agreed that it can be darned easy to lose your car in these big parking lots. They had been there for an hour, some of them, searching for this black Chevrolet, and it was getting dark, when my mother remembered that several days earlier we had bought a new car. “I’m sorry!” she told the people, smiling brightly so they would see what a humorous situation this was. “It’s not a black Chevrolet! It’s a yellow Ford!” She kept on smiling as they edged away, keeping their eyes on her.
   My own personal brain is forever dredging up the time in 11th grade when I took a girl, a very attractive girl on whom I had a life-threatening crush, to a dance. I was standing in the gym next to her, holding her hand, thinking what a sharp couple we made—Steve Suave and His Gorgeous Date—when one of my friends sidled up to me and observed that, over on the other side, my date was using her spare hand to hold hands with another guy. This was of course a much better-looking guy. This was Paul Newman, only taller.
   Several of my friends gathered to watch. I thought: What am I supposed to do here? Hit the guy? That would have been asking for a lifetime of dental problems. He was a varsity football player; I was on the Dance Committee. I also had to rule out hitting my date. The ideal move would have been to spontaneously burst into flames and die. I have read that this sometimes happens to people. But you never get a break like that when you need it.
   Finally I turned to my date, dropped her hand, looked her square in the eye, and said: “Um.” just like that: “Um. My brain absolutely loves to remember this. “Way to go, Dave!” it shrieks to me, when I’m stopped at red lights, 23-1/2 years later. Talk about eloquent! My brain can’t get over what a jerk I was. It’s always coming up with much better ideas for things I could have said. I should start writing them down, in case we ever develop time travel. I’d go back to the gym with a whole Rolodex file filled with remarks, and I’d read them to my date over the course of a couple of hours. Wouldn’t she feel awful! Ha ha!
   It just occurred to me that she may be out there right now, in our reading audience, in which case I wish to state for the record that I am leading an absolutely wonderful life, and I have been on the Johnny Carson show, and I hope things are equally fine with you.
   Twice. I was on Carson twice.

A Million Words

   It was time to go have my last words with my father. He was dying, in the bedroom he built, He built our whole house, even dug the foundation himself, with a diaper tied around his head to keep the sweat out of his eyes. He was always working on the house, more than 35 years, and he never did finish it. He was first to admit that he really didn’t know how to build a house.
   When I went in to see him, he was lying in the bedroom, listening to the “People’s Court.” I remember when he always would be on those Sunday-morning television talk shows, back in the fifties and sixties. Dr. Barry, they called him. He was a Presbyterian minister, and he worked in inner-city New York. They were always asking him to be on those shows to talk about Harlem and the South Bronx, because back then he was the only white man they could find who seemed to know anything about it. I remember when he was the Quotation of the Day in the New York Times. The Rev. Dr. David W. Barry.
   His friends called him Dave. “Is Dave there?” they’d ask, when they called to talk about their husbands or wives or sons or daughters who were acting crazy or drinking too much or running away. Or had died. “Dave,” they’d ask, “what can I do?” They never thought to call anybody but him. He’d sit there and listen, for hours, sometimes. He was always smoking.
   The doctor told us he was dying, but we knew anyway. Almost all he said anymore was thank you, when somebody brought him shaved ice, which was mainly what he wanted, at the end. He had stopped putting his dentures in. He had stopped wearing his glasses. I remember when he yanked his glasses off and jumped in the Heyman’s pool to save me.
   So I go in for my last words, because I have to go back home, and my mother and I agree I probably won’t see him again. I sit next to him on the bed, hoping he can’t see that I’m crying. “I love you, Dad,” I say. He says: “I love you, too. I’d like some oatmeal.”
   So I go back out to the living room, where my mother and my wife and my son are sitting on the sofa, in a line, waiting for the outcome and I say, “He wants some oatmeal.” I am laughing and crying about this. My mother thinks maybe I should go back in and try to have a more meaningful last talk, but I don’t.
   Driving home, I’m glad I didn’t. I think: He and I have been talking ever since I learned how. A million words. All of them final, now. I don’t need to make him give me any more, like souvenirs. I think: Let me not define his death on my terms. Let him have his oatmeal. I can hardly see the road.
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Subhumanize Your Living Room

   Today we’re going to talk about redecorating your home. My guess is you’re unhappy with your current decor, especially if you have small children around, the result being that all of your furniture and carpeting, no matter what the original color scheme, is now the color of mixed fruit juice.
   Fortunately for you, home decor is an area I happen to know a great deal about, as I have done my own decorating, without professional assistance, ever since my college days, when I shared a dormitory suite with several other design-conscious young men. Our watchword, decorwise, was “functionality.” For the floor covering in our bedrooms, we chose the comfortable, carefree casualness of unlaundered jockey shorts. By the end of a semester, there would be six, maybe seven hundred pairs of shorts per bedroom, forming a pulsating, bed-high mound.
   For our living-room-wall treatment we opted for a very basic, very practical, and very functional decorating concept called “old college dormitory paint, the color of the substance you might expect to see oozing from an improperly treated wound.” We highlighted this with an interesting textural effect that you can obtain by having a Halloween party and throwing wads of orange and black crepe paper soaked in beer up against the wall and then leaving it there for a couple of months to harden and trying to scrape it off with the edge of an economics text book.
   But our pice de resistance (French, meaning “piece of resistance”) was our living-room furniture, which was a two-piece grouping consisting of:
   –An orange emergency light that flashed when you plugged it in.
   –A “Two-Man Submarine which we purchased for only $9.95 via an advertisement in a Spider-Man comic book. It was made of sturdy cardboard and measured five feet long when fully assembled. It was not only very attractive but also quite functional inasmuch as you could sit inside it and pretend you were actually deep beneath the ocean surface, driving a real submarine made of sturdy cardboard.
   As you might imagine, the overall effect created by these design elements was quite impressive, especially when we had dates and we really spruced up the place. We’d stack the deceased pizza boxes in the corner, and we’d create A romantic atmosphere by spraying a couple of cans of Right-Guard brand deodorant on the jockey-short mounds, and believe me it was a real treat to see the look on the face of a date as she entered our suite for the first time and, seeing the striking visual effect created by the orange emergency light flashing on the “Two-Man Submarine,” she realized what a suave kind of college man she was having a date with.
   But enough about my qualifications. Let’s talk about your own home. Clearly you need new furniture. To select exactly what you want, you need to have some Creative Decorating Ideas, which you get by purchasing about $65
   worth of glossy magazines with names like Unaffordable Home Design. Inside these magazines will be exquisite color photographs of the most wondrously perfect, profoundly clean rooms anybody has ever seen, rooms where even the air molecules are arranged in attractive patterns. How, you ask yourself, can rooms look like this? Where are the hand smudges? Where is the dark spot on the carpet where the dog threw up the unidentified reptile? And how come there are never any people in these photographs?
   The answer is: These rooms are only four inches high. The magazines have them built by skilled craftsmen solely for the purpose of making your home look, by comparison, like a Roach Motel. In fact, occasionally a magazine will slip up, and you’ll see through the window of what is allegedly a rich person’s living room, what appears to be a 675-pound thumb.
   OK! Now that you have your Creative Decorating Ideas, You get a sheet of graph paper, and you make an elaborate scale drawing of your existing floor plan, showing exactly to the inch where you would put all your nice new furniture, if you were a major cocaine dealer and could afford nice new furniture. Unfortunately the furniture you can afford comes from Places with names like Big Stu’s World of Taste and is made of compressed bran flakes. So, frankly, if I were you, I’d spread my glossy interior-design magazines around so they covered as much of my current decor as possible.

The Lure Of The Wild

   The first time I taught my son, Robert, how to fish was when he was two. I did it the old-fashioned way: I took him to the K-Mart with Uncle Joe, our old friend and lawyer, to pick out a Complete Fishing Outfit for $12.97. Then we went to a pond, where Robert sat in the weeds and put pond muck in his hair while Uncle joe and I tried to bait the hook with a living breathing thinking feeling caring earthworm. This is a very difficult thing emotionally, and not just for the earthworm. It would be different if worms gave you some reason to feel hostile toward them, such as they had little faces that looked like Geraldo Rivera. That would be no problem, “Let’s go bait some worms purely for amusement,” you would frequently hear me call out.
   But the way worms are now, they make it very hard, writhing around and conveying, by means of body language and worm guts squirting out, the concept of “Please please oh PLEASE Mr. Human Being don’t stick this hook into me.” For my money, worms are far better at this kind of nonverbal communication than those people called “mimes,” who paint their faces all white and repeatedly attempt to entertain you at street festivals, although to be absolutely certain, we would have to run an experiment wherein we baited a hook with a live mime. (All those in favor of doing this, raise your hands. I thought so!)
   I think it would be more humane if we just forgot about bait altogether and shot the fish directly with guns, the way we do with rabbits and deer. I saw Roy Scheider take this approach to angling in the movie jaws I, and he got himself a real prize trophy shark using a rifle for a weapon and Richard Dreyfuss for bait. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a violation of our outmoded game laws, so Roy had to throw the shark back, which turned out to be highly fatal to several dozen teenagers and a helicopter in Jaws II. This is a totally unnecessary outrage, if you ask me, especially when you consider that it is not illegal to catch deer with rod and reel in most states. (Editor’s Note: He’s raving. Pay no attention.)
   Nevertheless, Robert and Uncle Joe and I did manage to land a fish, the kind veteran anglers call a “bluegill.” It was three to four ounces of well-contained fury, and it fought like a frozen bagel. Many times at airport newsstands I have examined sportsperson-oriented magazines with names like Tackle ‘n’ Bait, and I have noted that the covers often feature pictures of bold sportspersons struggling to land extremely muscular, violent-looking fish the size of guest bathrooms, whose expressions say: “Yes, you had better kill me, Mr. Sportsperson, because otherwise I will evolve legs and lungs and talons and fangs and come to your suburban home and wreck your riding mower and have my way with your women hahahahahaha.”
   But the fish we caught was a cute fish, a fish that would star in a Walt Disney animated cartoon feature called Billy Bluegill Learns the True Meaning of Christmas. Robert looked at it, then he looked at Uncle Joe and me with a look of great upsettedness in his two-year-old eyes and we realized, being responsible grown-ups, that it was time to lie.
   “The fish doesn’t feel it!” we announced brightly, almost in unison. “You see this sharp barbed metal hook going right through his lip?! It doesn’t hurt a bit! Ha ha!!” Meanwhile Billy the Bluegill was of course edging out the worm for the Academy Award for Best Performance by a Cold-Blooded Animal Gasping and Writhing Around to Indicate Extreme pain. And so Uncle Joe, being an attorney, got Billy off the hook (get it?) and we put him (Billy) back into the pond.
   After that Robert and I didn’t go fishing for several years, until last Christmas, when we went up to New York and Uncle Phil—who is not our attorney but Robert affectionately calls him “uncle” anyway because he is my brother—bought Robert another fishing rod, meaning I had to teach him again. Fortunately, there were no worms available, as they had all formed up into characteristic V-shaped patterns and attempted to migrate South, getting as far as the toll booths on the New jersey Turnpike.
   So Robert and I used “lures,” which are these comical devices that veteran anglers instinctively buy from catalogs. You would think that, to be effective, lures would have to look like creatures that a fish might actually eat, but, in fact, they look like what you would expect to see crawling around on the Planet Zork during periods of intense radioactivity. For example, many lures have propellers, which you rarely see in the Animal Kingdom. In my opinion, the way lures actually work is that the fish see one go by, and they get to laughing so hard and thrashing around that occasionally one of them snags itself on the hook. Back in the Prepuberty Era I used to spend hundreds of hours lure-fishing with my friend Tom Parker and his faithful dog Rip, and the only distinct memory I have of us catching anything besides giant submerged logs was the time Tom was using a lure called a Lazy Ike and it was attacked with stunning ferocity by his faithful dog Rip, resulting in a very depressing situation, vetterinarianwise.
   So, fortunately Robert and I didn’t catch anything the second time I taught him to fish, and I think he’s now old enough to remember it clearly and thus never ask me to teach him again. That’s the good news. The bad news is, I am sure that one of these days he’s going to want to have a “Catch.”
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Earning A Collie Degree

   We have a new dog, which means we’re going through this phase where we spend a lot of time crouching and stroking and going “Yessss! That’s a GOOD girl!” and otherwise practically awarding a Nobel Prize to her for achievements such as not pooping on the rug.
   Her name is Earnest, which I realize is not a traditional girl’s name, but it describes her very well. Most dogs are earnest, which is why most people like them. You can say any fool thing to a dog, and the dog will give you this look that says, “My God, you’re RIGHT! I NEVER would have thought of that!” So we come to think of dogs as being understanding and loving and compassionate, and after a while we hardly even notice that they spend the bulk of their free time circling around with other dogs to see which one can sniff the other the most times in the crotch.
   We are not sure yet whether Earnest has a working brain. You can’t tell, early on, with dogs. When we got our previous dog, Shawna, we thought she was smart as a whip, because she was a pure-bred German shepherd who had this extremely alert look. At first we took this to mean that she was absorbing every tiny detail of her environment with her keen senses and analyzing it with computerlike speed, but it turned out to be her way of expressing the concept: “What?”
   Shawna would be sitting in our yard, looking very sharp, and a squirrel would scurry right past her, a squirrel whose presence was instantly detected by normal, neighborhood dogs hundreds of yards away, causing them to bark rigorously, and also by us humans, causing us to yell helpfully: “Look! Shawna! A squirrel!!” And after a few seconds of delay, during which her nervous system would send the message via parcel post from her ears to her brain that something was going on, Shawna would turn in the exact opposite direction from whichever way the squirrel was, adopt a pose of great canine readiness, and go: “What?”
   The only dog I ever met that was dumber than Shawna belongs to my editor. This dog, a collie named Augie, also looks smart, if you grew up watching “Lassie.” Lassie looked brilliant, in part because the farm family she lived with was made up of idiots. Remember? One of them was always getting pinned under the tractor, and Lassie was always rushing back to the farmhouse to alert the other ones. She’d whimper and tug at their sleeves, and they’d always waste precious minutes saying things like: “Do you think something’s wrong? Do you think she wants us to follow her? What is it, girl?” as if this had never happened before, instead of every week. What with all the time these people spent pinned under the tractor, I don’t see how they managed to grow any crops whatsoever. They probably got by on federal crop supports, which Lassie filed the applications for.
   So anyway I thought Augie, being a collie, would have at least some intelligence, despite the fact that when my editor and I would walk into his house, Augie would not notice us, sometimes for upwards of a half hour. When she finally did notice us, talking and drinking beer, she would bark as though the Manson gang had just burst in, so my editor would have to go over and sort of say, “Look! It’s me! The person you have lived with for 10 years!” This would cause Augie’s lone functioning brain cell to gradually quiet down and go back to sleep.
   But I still thought she was roughly on par with Shawna, IQ-wise, until the night—you may remember the night; it was the longest one we ever had—that I slept on my editor’s couch in his living room, which is also where Augie sleeps. Only she doesn’t sleep. What she does is, first, she lies down. Then she scratches herself. Then she engages in loud personal hygiene. Then she thinks, “Maybe I can go out!” and she walks across the floor, which is made of a special kind of very hard wood so that when a dog walks on it, it goes TICK TICK TICK TICK at exactly the volume you would use to get maximum benefit from the Chinese Ticking Torture. When Augie gets to the front door, which is of course closed—it is always closed at night; even the domestic insects have learned this by now—she bumps into it with her head—Then she backs up and bumps into it with her head a couple more times, in case there has been some mistake. Then she senses, somehow, that there is a person sleeping on the couch, and she has the most innovative idea she has ever thought of, which is: “Maybe he will let me out!” So she walks over to me and noses me in the face, using the same nose she uses for hygiene, and I say, “Dammit, Augie! Go to sleep!” So she lies down for one minute, which is how long it takes for her brain cell to forget everything that has ever happened to her since she was born. And then she starts again: SCRATCH SCRATCH SCRATCH SLURP SLURP SLURP (think) TICK TICK TICK TICK BUMP (think) Bump (think) Bump (think) TICK TICK TICK NOSE “DAMMIT, AUGIE! GO TO SLEEP!” TICK TICK TICK TICK (pause) SCRATCH ...
   I don’t know yet about Earnest. One day soon I will give her the dog intelligence test, where you show her the ball, then you put the ball under a blanket, and then you see if she can find the ball. Shawna never could find the ball. I doubt Augie could find the blanket. I’m hoping Earnest does better, but I’m not counting my chickens. I am also not looking forward to receiving a lot of violent letters from you dog lovers out there, the ones with the “I (heart) my (breed of dog)” bumper stickers, asking how dare I say dogs are stupid when your dog can add, subtract, land the space shuttle, etc.
   So please note, dog lovers: I never said your dog is stupid. I said my dog might be stupid. I know for a fact that she can’t be too intelligent, because here I’ve written a fairly insulting column about her species, and despite the fact that she’s lying right at my feet, it hasn’t occurred to her to pull the plug on my word proces

Some Thoughts On The Toilet

   Both of our household toilets broke recently, on the same day. They work together, toilets. You know those strange sounds your plumbing makes at night?
   The ones that worry you much more than, for example, the threat of nuclear war? Those are your toilets, talking to each other. They communicate via plumbing sounds, similar to whales. “It’s New Year’s Eve,” they’ll say. “We break tonight.”
   I happen to know a great deal about toilets, although that was not the original plan. The original plan was for me to become profoundly wealthy by investing in real estate. I had read a book about it, which made the whole process sound as easy as getting insurance offers from Ed McMahon by mail. The trick, according to this book, was that when you purchase your real estate, you never used your own money.
   You used other people’s money. The way the book described it, you strode into the bank, and you said: “Hi! I’d like to become filthy rich via real estate, but I don’t wish to use my own money!” And the bank would say: “Well then! Here! Take some of ours!!”
   So I got some partners who also had a sincere interest in becoming rich, and we hatched a plan wherein we would, using other people’s money, buy a couple of small apartment buildings, after which we would sit around drinking gin and tonic and amassing great wealth due to Depreciation and Leverage, two characters who appeared often in the real 154-155 real estate book, performing amazing financial feats. They reminded me of Batman and Robin.
   So my partners and I went around presenting our proposal to various bankers, and they thought it was the greatest thing they had ever heard. They would set up extra chairs and invite all their banker friends over, and they’d make us go through our proposal again and again, and when we’d get to the part about not using any of our own money, they’d fall over backwards and hurl their loan application forms into the air and laugh until there was spittle all over their vests. They had evidently not read the book.
   So eventually we worked out a compromise arrangement whereby my partners and I would each provide our life’s savings, and the bank would provide a Closing Ceremony, which is when you go into a little room with unfamiliar lawyers and you sign every piece of paper they have managed to acquire in their lives, including book reports. This is how we came to acquire, as an investment, eight toilets. The Head Toilet, of course, immediately fired off an urgent message to the others. “We have been purchased,” the message said, “by people who have read a real estate investment book.” As you can imagine, the sound of hysterical gurgling went on well into the night.
   I became intimately familiar with every single one of these investment toilets. See, my partners all had useful skills, such as carpentry, whereas my only area of proven competence was listening to the radio, so we agreed that I would learn how to be the plumber. Gradually, I learned that there are two major toilet facts:
   TOILET FACT NUMBER ONE: The only way to prevent a toilet part from leaking is to tighten it until it breaks.
   TOILET FACT NUMBER TWO: Circling the Earth, at this very moment, is an alien spacecraft that is sending down powerful radio beams that affect the brains of tenants in such a way that they must put inappropriate objects in the toilet. They cannot help themselves. “Find an inappropriate object!” the beam commands them. “Put it in the toilet RIGHT NOW!”
   You landlords out there, you know I’m telling the truth, right? And the tenants, they don’t even remember what they have done. “How in the world did THAT get in there?” they say, when you show them, for example, a harmonica. “Ha ha!” they add. “Ha ha,” you agree, all the while calculating the various angles and forces involved in killing them with your wrench.
   Because of these two facts, I soon got to know all eight toilets personally, as individuals. I would call them by name. “So, Bob,” I would say. “Leaking again, eh? How would you like to be replaced, Bob? How would you like to be taken outside and have your smooth white porcelain body smashed repeatedly with a hammer? Because there are plenty more toilets, down at the Home Center, who would love to have your job.” But Bob would just chuckle, knowing that even if I could somehow manage to install an entire new toilet, it would quickly become part of the cadre.
   This went on for several years, during which I amassed the world’s largest privately held collection of broken toilet parts, but not, surprisingly enough, great wealth, so finally I ceased playing an active role in the investment property. But I have used the knowledge I acquired, in my home. When our toilets break, I call the plumber, and I am able to describe the problem in technical plumbing terms. “It’s our toilets,” I say. “They are broken.” And he comes out and fixes them, and I don’t care how much he charges. “That will be $68,000,” he could tell me, and I would come up with it, somehow, because anything is better than having to deal with the toilets directly. Particularly the one in the hall bathroom. Norman
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Apple iPhone 4
The Elements Of Elegance

   Today we’re going to talk about how you can hold an elegant dinner party in your home. Well, not really your home, of course. You’ll need a much more elegant home, one where there is fine nonvelveteen art on the walls and a harp in the corner of the living room and some effort has been made over the years to clean behind the toilets.
   You’ll also need elegant guests, by which I mean not your friends. You want to invite socially prominent people, which means people who do not object to being called Thad and Bootsie right to their faces and who are directly affected by oil-company mergers. The best way to lure such people to your dinner party is to tell them it has something to do with disease. Socially prominent people are very fond of disease, because it gives them a chance to have these really elaborate charity functions, and the newspaper headlines say “EVENING IN PARIS BALL RAISES MONEY TO FIGHT GOUT” instead of “RICH PEOPLE AMUSE THEMSELVES.”
   Now let’s plan your menu. The most elegant and sophisticated dishes are those that involve greasy little unsanitary birds with no meat and about 60
   billion bones, such as grouse. If your local supermarket doesn’t carry grouse, your best bet is to go into the woods and tramp around the underbrush until you hear something rustling, then cut loose with 30-second bursts from an automatic weapon until all rustling ceases. Then you merely squat down and scoop up anything that looks like a grouse or some other protein-based life form. It would also be a good idea to take along a pig, which will automatically without any prior training root around for truffles, a kind of delicacy that is very popular among pigs and French people. When you see the pig chewing something, fire a few warning shots over its head and collect whatever it spits out in a Mason jar.
   To prepare your grouse, remove the feathers or fur, open up the bodies, remove the organs and parasites and mulch them in the blender until they turn to pate. Now place the grouse corpses on a stout pan and insert them into a heated oven, dousing them from time to time with A-1 sauce.
   When your guests arrive, your first responsibility is to make them feel at ease. I strongly suggest you get a copy of the Complete Book of Games and Stunts published by Bonanza Books and authored by Darwin A. Hindman, Ph.D., professor of physical education at the University of Missouri, available at garage sales everywhere. I especially recommend the “Funnel Trick” described in Chapter Four (“Snares”), wherein you tell the victim that the object is to place a penny on his forehead and tilt his head forward so the penny drops into a funnel stuck into his pants. However—get this—while he’s got his head tilted back, you pour a pitcher of water into the funnel and get his pants soaking wet! Be sure to follow this with a lighthearted remark (“You look like a cretin, Thad!”) and offer everybody a swig from the liqueur bottle.
   Once your guests are loosened up, have them sit around the dinner table, and start by serving them each a small wad of truffles with a side wad of pate. Then bring on the grouse, after whanging each corpse briskly against the kitchen table so as to knock off the char. As your guests enjoy their meal, show great facial interest in whatever conversational topics they choose (“Grouse don’t have any teeth, do they?” “These aren’t truffles! These are cigarette filters drenched In pig saliva!”) Dessert should be something that has been set on fire.
   After dinner, the men will gather around the radial-arm saw for cigars and brandy while the women head for the bathroom en masse to make pasta or whatever it is they do in there. Then you should herd everybody back into the living room for a cultural activity, such as humming and paging through one of those enormous $26.95 coffee-table books with names like The Tractors of Spain that people give you for Christmas when they get desperate.
   Your guests will signal when they’re ready to leave by darting out of the room the instant you turn your back; be sure to intercept them at the door to say goodbye and obtain written statements to the effect that they had a wonderful time and will invite you over on a specific date. You really shouldn’t have to do this, but unfortunately many people today have forgotten even the basics of etiquette.

Restrooms And Other Resorts

   What we had in mind was a fun and spontaneous get-away weekend in Key West with our son, Robert, our friends Gene and Arlene, and their two children, Molly and Danny. So we tossed several thousand child-related objects into our two cars and off we went in a little spontaneous convoy, and, after a couple of hours, Gene stopped at a nice restaurant for lunch, Except, of course, the children didn’t want to eat lunch. Children never want to eat in restaurants. What they want to do is to play under the table until the entrees arrive, then go to the bathroom.
   And so we grown-ups sat there, trying to be relaxed, while our table, possessed from below by unseen forces, shrieked and vibrated like the furniture in the little girl’s bedroom in The Exorcist. In accordance with federal restaurant regulations, the people seated around us had no children of any kind whatsoever, probably never had, probably were there to discuss important corporate mergers, and so occasionally we’d dart our heads under the table and hiss “STOP THAT!” like some deranged type of duck. We kept this up until the entrees arrived, and it was time to accompany the children to the restroom.
   The men’s room was very small and had not been cleaned since the Westward Expansion. Robert, seeing this, immediately announced that he had to do Number Two, and of course he insisted that I stand right outside the stall. I hate this situation, because when strangers come in to pee, there I am, apparently just hanging around for fun in this tiny repulsive bathroom. So to indicate that I’m actually there on official business, guarding a stall, I feel obligated to keep a conversation going with Robert, but the only topic I can ever think of to talk about, under the circumstance, is how the old Number Two is coming along. You’d feel like a fool in that situation, talking about, say, Iran. So I say: “How’re you doing in there, Robert?” in a ludicrously interested voice. And Robert says: “You just ASKED me that!” which is true. And I say “Ha ha!” to reassure the peeing stranger that I am merely engaging in parenthood and there is no cause for alarm.
   And so, finally, we all got out of the restrooms, and we parents grabbed quick violent bites from our nice cold entrees in between checking young Danny’s head for signs of breakage after he walked into adjacent tables. Eventually, the waitress took the children’s plates, untouched, back to the kitchen to be frozen and reused hundreds of times as entrees for other children. Many modern efficient restaurants are now making their children’s entrees entirely out of plastic.
   Eventually, we got ourselves back on the road, which was the signal for the children to announce that they were hungry, and, of course, they ate potato chips all the rest of the way to Key West. Once at the hotel we were totally unpacked in a matter of hours, and we decided to go to a restaurant, thus proving that long car trips do indeed damage your brain. We found a charming Italian place with fairly clean restrooms and a lovely illuminated fountain with a dangerous electrical cord to attract the children, especially young Danny, who is only two, but has already figured out hundreds of ways to kill himself.
   At the sight of the entrees arriving, the children of course fled like startled deer, so we had one of those restaurant meals where you are constantly whirling your head around as you eat, trying to locate the children, with the ever-present danger that you’ll get your timing off and stab yourself in the side of the head with your fork. And then it was time to go back to the hotel for an intimate evening of sitting on the floor drinking beer and watching the older children bounce on the bed and eat potato chips while young Danny located bureaus to bang his head into.
   For breakfast we found a charming buffet-style restaurant with medium restrooms and a cigarette machine that three small children, if they worked together, could pull over onto their heads.
   After breakfast, we went back to our hotel so the children could get something to eat, and then we decided that the women would go shopping and the men, being Caring and Sharing eighties-style males, would take the children. Gene and I thought it would be fun to go to the beach, so off we went, unfortunately forgetting to take any of the items usually associated with the beach, such as toys, suntan lotion, rafts, or bathing suits. We did, however, remember to bring the children. Call it instinct.
   Of course, as soon as we got to the beach, little Molly announced that she had to go to the bathroom, and so I watched Danny and Robert fill their shorts with beach muck while Gene and Molly hiked off in search of a restroom, which they eventually found a half-mile away. It took them a long time to get back, because Molly refuses to go into the men’s room and Gene can’t go into the women’s room, so he had to hang around right outside like a sex offender while Molly went in alone, only she came back five minutes later and reported that she couldn’t find the toilets. You wonder how we got this far as a species.
   Finally, they got back, and we decided we’d better head back to the hotel, because one of the many things we had forgotten was young Danny’s diaper bag, and he was wearing his Big Boy underpants, making him, in Gene’s words, a “time bomb.”
   That night, spontaneously, we hired a babysitter.
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Apple iPhone 4
Revenge Of The Pork Person

   OK, ladies, I want you all to line up according to height and prepare to receive your fashion orders for the fall season. You ladies want to be up-to-date, right? You don’t want to show up at work dressed in some dowdy old thing from last year, looking like Beaver Cleaver’s mother, do you? Of course not! You want to look the very best you possibly can, given your various physical deformities.
   Ha ha! I’m just teasing you ladies, because I know how sensitive you tend to be about the way you look. I have never met a woman, no matter how attractive, who wasn’t convinced, deep down inside, that she was a real woofer. Men tend to be just the opposite. A man can have a belly you could house commercial aircraft in and a grand total of eight greasy strands of hair, which he grows real long and combs across the top of his head so that he looks, when viewed from above, like an egg in the grasp of a giant spider, plus this man can have B.O. to the point where he interferes with radio transmissions, and he will still be convinced that, in terms of attractiveness, he is borderline Don Johnson.
   But not women. Women who look perfectly fine to other people are always seeing horrific physical flaws in themselves. I have this friend, Janice, who looks very nice and is a highly competent professional with a good job and a fine family, yet every now and then she will get very depressed, and do you want to know why? Because she thinks she has puffy ankles.
   This worries her much more than, for example, the arms race. Her image of herself is that when she walks down the street, people whisper: “There she goes! The woman with the puffy ankles!”
   Likewise my wife, who it goes without saying has a great figure and excellent legs, is convinced, and nothing will change her mind, that she has inadequate calves. This has resulted in a situation where—I can produce documentation to prove this—the number of lifetime fitness-club memberships she has purchased actually exceeds the total number of her legs.
   What women think they should look like, of course, is the models in fashion advertisements. This is pretty comical, because when we talk about fashion models, we are talking about mutated women, the results of cruel genetic experiments performed by fashion designers so lacking in any sense of human decency that they think nothing of putting their initials on your eyeglass lenses. These experiments have resulted in a breed of fashion models who are 8 and sometimes 10 feet tall, yet who weigh no more than an abridged dictionary due to the fact that they have virtually none of the bodily features we normally associate with females such as hips and (let’s come right out and say it) bosoms. The leading cause of death among fashion models is falling through street grates. If a normal human woman puts on clothing designed for these unfortunate people, she is quite naturally going to look like Revenge of the Pork Person.
   This was particularly true last year, when the Fashion Concept that we here in the fashion industry decided to thrust upon you ladies was the Big Shoulder Look. Remember that? What fun! I cannot tell you how many hours of enjoyment we got from watching you trying to have serious business careers while looking like Green Bay Packers in drag. At one point, we considered having you wear actual helmets, but we couldn’t figure out how to fit all our initials on them.
   But that was last year. This year we, of course, have an entirely new concept. We have been working on it for just months and months now, and we are extremely proud of it, because it is so highly innovative. Are you ready? Here it is:
   Gray.
   Everybody got that? Better write it down! If we find any ladies out on the street without their gray on, we are going to be very upset. Also we are asking you to purchase certain mandatory accessories in the form of several thousand dollars worth of handbags, shoes, belts, and watch straps made from dead crocodiles. NO, YOU MAY NOT ASK WHY! JUST DO IT!
   Sorry for that emotional outburst, ladies. It’s just that we work so hard to come up with these concepts, and it really frosts our shorts when we find ourselves being questioned by some bimbo consumer, pardon our French.
   Looking ahead to the future, we see some very exciting developments looming on the fashion horizon for you ladies. Here, for example, is a real quotation from a recent issue of Vogue magazine, which uses capital letters for important fashion bulletins:
   “THE LOOK OF THE MODERN WOMAN? IN MODERNIST ANDREE PUTMAN’S EYES, SHE’S STRONG-SHOULDERED, HIGH-BREASTED, ALMOST AMAZONIAN AND COMES WITH BUILT-IN HIGH HEELS. AT LEAST, THAT’S THE LOOK OF THE NEW PUTMAN-DESIGNED MANNEQUINS MAKING THEIR FIRST PUBLIC APPEARANCE NOW AT BARNEY’S NEW YORK. COME FALL, THE CREATURES WILL PROLIFERATE TO OTHER STORES, OTHER CITIES.”
   Isn’t this exciting, ladies? There could come a time, perhaps in your very lifetimes, when we are no longer designing clothes even for mutated fashion models, but for mannequins based on entirely new concepts of what the female body really should look like, from deep thinkers such as Andree Putman. You could see the day when you can’t even buy shoes without getting large heel implants! Let’s all toss our hats into the air with joy! Our hats, by the way, should be gray porkpies.

Slope Flake

   As those of you who own digital watches are already aware, the winter months are approaching, which means now is the time to start planning that ski vacation.
   I understand that some of you may be reluctant to plan ski vacations because you’ve seen the snippet of film at the beginning of “Wide World of Sports” wherein the Agony of Defeat is depicted by an unfortunate person who loses control of himself going off the end of a ski-jump launcher and various organs come flying out of his body. If you’re concerned that something like this could happen to you, here’s a statistic from the National Ski Resort Association that should be very reassuring: the so-called castorbean tick, which sucks blood from sheep, will respond to a temperature change of as little as 0.5 degrees centigrade! Wait a Minute, there seems to be a mistake here: that reassuring statistic actually comes from the Encyclopedia Britannica. Perhaps someone in our reading audience can come up with something more closely related to skiing safety.
   Meanwhile, the rest of you should decide what kind of skiing you want to engage in. One option is cross-country skiing, which has become very popular in recent years because it is highly “aerobic,” a term health experts use to describe how dull an activity is. What you do is find a patch of country and slog across on skis for no apparent reason in a manner very much reminiscent of a herd of cattle, except of course that cattle have the excuse that if they stop, armed men will ride up and kick them with pointed boots. A more fun option is downhill skiing, which is when a machine takes you up a hill and you have to get down.
   Whatever kind of skiing you decide to do, your next important task—in fact, your most important task—is to make sure you have proper ski equipment. When your great grandfather was a boy, of course, he’d simply take two barrel staves and tie them to his feet. This could well be an indication that there is some kind of congenital mental illness in your family, and I urge you to look into it immediately.
   Next you’ll want to select a ski resort. The important thing here is to decide whether or not you are rich. If you are, you’ll want to ski at an exclusive resort, the kind your congressperson goes to, where you have to examine your pillow before you go to bed at night lest you wind up with a complimentary miniature Swiss chocolate lodged in your ear. But even if you belong to the middle or lower class, there are plenty of newer resorts with names like “Large Rugged Wolf Mountain Ski Resort and Driving Range” that entrepreneurs have constructed in places such as South Carolina by piling industrial sludge on top of discarded appliances. just before you leave home, you should call the resort and ask for a frank and honest appraisal of the slope conditions, because it would make little sense to go and spend money if the resort operator did not frankly and honestly feel it would be worth your while. Most resorts use the Standardized Ski Resort Four-Stage Slope Condition Description System:
   “REALLY INCREDIBLY SUPERB”: This means the entire slope is encased in a frozen substance of some kind.
   “REALLY SUPERB”: This means there are large patches of bare industrial sludge, but persons with good motor skills can still slide all the way to the bottom.
   “SUPERB”: This means persons wishing to get to the bottom will have to remove their skis at several points and clamber over rusted dishwashers with sharp exposed edges.
   “EXCELLENT”: This means it is July.
   OK! You’ve reached the resort, and now it’s finally time to “hit the slopes.” Not so fast! First attach skis of approximately equal length to each of your feet, discarding any leftovers, and check the bindings to make sure they release automatically just before your ankles break. Now grasp your poles and try to stand up. We’ll wait right here.
   (Three-hour pause.)
   Ha ha! It’s not as easy as it looks, is it? I mean, here are all these people around you, and they can do it, and their kids can do it, really little kids, babies practically, skiing past you without a care in the world, and there you are, thrashing around on your back in the snow right smack in front of the ski lodge, making an even bigger fool of yourself than Richard Nixon did the time he resigned and made that speech about his mother! Ha ha! Years from now you’ll look back on this and laugh, but for now you can lash out with your poles and try to inflict puncture wounds on the other skiers’ legs.
   Now that you’re comfortable with the equipment, summon several burly ski patrol persons and have them carry you over to the chairlift. While you’re riding up to the summit, you’ll have an opportunity to admire the spectacular sweeping panoramic view of the little tiny wire that you and the chairs and the other skiers are all hanging from. it looks far too frail to hold all that weight, doesn’t it? But you can rest assured that it was designed and built on the basis of countless careful measurements and calculations done by scientists and engineers who are not currently up there hanging from the wire with you.
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Poruke Odustao od brojanja
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Apple iPhone 4
Shark Treatment

   I have come up with a sure-fire concept for a hit television show, which would be called “A Live Celebrity Gets Eaten by a Shark.” To help you understand why I think this show would be a success, let me give you a little back ground.
   The human race has been fascinated by sharks for as long as I can remember. just like the bluebird feeding its young, or the spider struggling to weave its perfect web, or the buttercup blooming in spring, the shark reveals to us yet another of the infinite and wonderful facets of nature, namely the facet that can bite your head off. This causes us humans to feel a certain degree of awe.
   I know what I’m talking about here, because I once had—this is the truth—an encounter with a shark. It was in 1973, in the Bahamas, where I was sailing with a group of friends. One day, we were anchored near a little island that had a vast shallow sandy-bottomed lagoon next to it, maybe a foot deep, and a friend of mine named Richard and I were wading around in there, and lo and behold we saw this shark. it was a small shark, less than two feet long. The only conceivable way it could have been a threat to a human being would be if it somehow got hold of, and learned to use, a gun.
   So Richard and I decided to try to catch it. With a great deal of strategy and effort and shouting, we managed to maneuver the shark, over the course of about a half-hour, to a sort of corner of the lagoon, so that it had no way to escape other than to flop up onto the land and evolve. Richard and I were inching toward it, sort of crouched over, when all of a sudden it turned around and—I can still remember the sensation I felt at that moment, primarily in the armpit area—headed right straight toward us.
   Many people would have panicked at this point. But Richard and I were not “many people.” We were experienced waders, and we kept our heads. We did exactly what the textbook says you should do when you’re unarmed and a shark that is nearly two feet long turns on you in water up to your lower calves: We sprinted I would say 600 yards in the opposite direction, using a sprinting style such that the bottoms of our feet never once went below the surface of the water. We ran all the way to the far shore, and if we had been in a Warner Brothers cartoon you would have seen these two mounds of sand racing across the island until they bonked into trees and coconuts fell onto their heads.
   So I know the fascination of the shark, and thus I have been particularly interested in all these shark documentaries on television. You’ve probably noticed them. Any given night, you tune into a channel at random and odds are you’ll see divers hurling themselves into shark-infested waters. The narrator always claims this is for Scientific Research, which is blatant horse waste. I mean, if that were true, you’d figure that after two or three thousand documentaries, they’d know all they needed to know about sharks, and they’d move on to another variety of sea life. But they don’t, because they know darned good and well that the viewers aren’t going to remain glued to their seats to watch divers paddling around in waters infested by, for example, clams.
   So the documentary-makers stick with sharks. Generally, their procedure is to scatter bleeding fish pieces around their boat, so as to infest the waters. I would estimate that the primary food source of sharks today is bleeding fish pieces scattered by people making documentaries. Once the sharks arrive, they are generally fairly listless. The general shark attitude seems to be: “Oh, God, another documentary.” So the divers have to somehow goad them into attacking, under the guise of Scientific Research. “We know very little about the effect of electricity on sharks,” the narrator will say, in a deeply scientific voice. “That is why Todd is going to jab this Great White in the testicles with a cattle prod.” The divers keep this kind of thing up until the shark finally gets irritated and snaps at them, and then they act as though this was a totally unexpected and very dangerous development, although clearly it is what they wanted all along.
   Shark documentaries took an important stride forward recently with a series called “Ocean Quest,” in which, instead of using trained divers, the documentary maker rented a former beauty queen, Shawn Weatherly, and spent a year dropping her into various shark-infested waters. The idea was that she, being a regular person just like me and you except she has a great body, would be able to convey to us viewers the various human emotions she was feeling. This was pretty funny, inasmuch as Shawn’s acting ability is such that she could not convey the concept of failing if you pushed her off a cliff. But the point is, here was a shark documentary that barely even pretended to be scientific, and instead focused on the excitement involved in watching somebody act as bait.
   So I say it’s time to take this one step farther. I say the public is ready to drop the Scientific Research aspect altogether, and to get past all the usual shark-documentary foreplay. I don’t think it would be a problem, getting the celebrities. You look for somebody whose career really needs a boost—a Telly Savalas, for example, or a Zsa Zsa Gabor—and you point out what exposure like this could do for a person. I don’t think you could keep Zsa Zsa out of the water. Ed McMahon could be the host. Your only real problem would be getting a shark. Most of your top sharks probably have commitments to do documentaries.

Electromaggots

   Today’s science question comes from eight-year-old Bobby Johnson, an imaginary child who lives in Maryland. Bobby asks: “What good are insects, anyway? You know?”
   ANSWER: It’s a shame, Bobby, but for far too many people, the usual reaction upon encountering an insect Is to want to smash it with a rock. That’s certainly my immediate reaction, although there are certain insects I would prefer to use a flame-thrower on, such as those large tropical-style spiders that appear to be wearing the pelts of small mammals.
   Oh, I can hear you junior-high-school science teachers out there now, spitting out your cafeteria entree (“Tuna Warmed Up”) and shouting: “Wait a minute! Spiders aren’t insects! Spiders are arachnids!” That’s exactly what’s wrong with our junior high schools today: all those snotty science teachers going around telling our young people that spiders are not insects, when they (the science teachers) could be leading voluntary organized prayers. Of course spiders are insects. The very word “insect” is a combination of two ancient Greek words: “in,” meaning “a,” and “sect,” meaning “repulsive little creature.” Thus not only are spiders insects but so are crabs, jellyfish, the late Truman Capote, bats, clams, olives and those unfortunate little dogs, “Pugs,” I believe they are called, that appear to have been struck repeatedly in the face with a heavy, flat object such as the Oxford English Dictionary.
   So, Bobby, we can see that ... Bobby? Bobby! Take that finger out of your nose and pay attention when I answer your Science Question! Whose finger is that, anyway?! Put it back where you found it this instant!!
   All right. So, Bobby, we can see that the insect family is very large and varied indeed. just sitting here thinking about it, I would estimate that there are over 600 billion species of insect in my basement alone, which is a real puzzle because we pay $16 a month to have a man come and spray an allegedly lethal chemical all over the place. What I think has happened is that the insects got to this man somehow. Maybe a group of wasps met him at the end of our driveway one afternoon and made it clear to him by gesturing with their feelers that they wouldn’t want to see him or his wife or God forbid his small children get stung in the eyeballs, and so what he has actually been spraying around our basement all this time is Liquid Insect Treat.
   This is probably good. We cannot simply destroy insects in a cavalier manner, because, as many noted ecology nuts have reminded us time and time again, they (the insects) are an essential link in the Great Food Chain, wherein all life forms are dependent on each other via complex and subtle interrelationships, as follows: Man gets his food by eating cows, which in turn eat corn, which in turn comes from Iowa, which in turn was part of the Louisiana Purchase, which in turn was obtained from France, which in turn eats garlic, which in turn repels vampires, which in turn suck the blood out of Man. So we can see that without insects there would be no ... Hey, wait a minute! I just noticed that there are no insects in the Great Food Chain. Ha ha! Won’t that be a kick in the pants for many noted ecology nuts! I bet they all race right out and buy 4,000-volt patio insect-electrocution devices!
   Nevertheless, we do need insects for they perform many useful functions. Without insects, for example, we would have no reliable way to spread certain diseases. Also, in some part of Africa that I saw in a documentary film once, they have this very, very large insect, called the Goliath beetle, which grows to almost a foot in length, and the children actually use these beetles to pull their little toy carts. Wouldn’t that be fun, Bobby, to have a foot-long beetle of your own, pulling a cart around and clambering into bed with you? Perhaps I’ll get you one!
   Of course most of us find it difficult to talk about insects without bringing up the subject of sex. According to scientists who study insects (known as “entomologists,” or “Al”), the male insect initiates reproduction by rubbing his legs together to produce a distinctive sound, which attracts a bird, which eats the male, then throws up. The female insect then lays 1.5
   billion eggs, eating them as she goes along so she will have the strength she will need to suckle them when they hatch. The young insects, called “maggots,” enjoy a carefree childhood, writhing playfully under their mother’s 76,806,059 watchful eyes and engaging in maggot games that teach them skills they will need to survive as adults, such as scurrying under the refrigerator when the kitchen light comes on. Eventually, they reach a point where their mother can teach them no more, so they eat her, and the males start rubbing their legs together. This life cycle takes about 18 minutes, slightly less in my basement.
   So there you have it, Bobby, a fascinating look at the jillions of tiny life forms that inhabit Spaceship Earth with us, and that will still be around long after we’re all dead from nuclear war! Of course the insects know this, too, and they do everything they can to promote international tension. They send their top-rated chiggers to all the nuclear-arms-reduction talks, so after a few minutes the negotiators for both sides are so welt-covered and irritated that they lunge across the table and try to punch each other in the mouth. It’s just one more way these amazing little creatures adapt to the world around them. So the next time you’re about to stomp on an insect, Bobby, remember this: A sudden, jerky motion can lead to serious muscle strain!
   Well, kids, that’s it for this month’s science question. Tune in next month, when a child from Ohio named “Suzy,” or perhaps “Mark,” will write in to ask about the Six Basic Rules of cattle-prod safety.
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The Lesson Of History

   The difficult thing about studying history is that, except for Harold Stassen, everybody who knows anything about it firsthand is dead. This means that our only source of historical information is historians, who are useless because they keep changing everything around.
   For example, I distinctly remember learning in fifth grade that the Civil War was caused by slavery. So did you, I bet. As far as I was concerned, this was an excellent explanation for the Civil War, the kind you could remember and pass along as an important historical lesson to your grandchildren. (“Gather ‘round boys and girls, while Grandpa tells you what caused the Civil War. Slavery. Now go fetch Grandpa some more bourbon.”)
   Then one day in high school, out of the blue, a history teacher named Anthony Sabella told me that the Civil War was caused by economic factors. I still think this was a lie, and not just because Anthony Sabella once picked me up by my neck. I mean, today we have more economic factors than ever before, such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, but you don’t see the North and the South fighting each other, do you? Which is good, because the South has 96 percent of the nation’s armed pickup trucks, whereas the North mainly has Fitness Centers, so it would be over in minutes.
   DISCUSSION QUESTION: What kind of a name is “Dow” Jones? Explain.
   Nevertheless, I had to pretend I thought the Civil War was caused by economic factors, or I never would have escaped from Mr. Sabella’s class and got into college, where the history professors sneered openly at the primitive high-school-teacher notion that the Civil War had been caused by anything so obvious as economic factors. No, they said, the Civil War was caused by acculturalized regionalism. Or maybe it was romantic transcendentalism, or behavioristic naturalism, or structuralized functionalism. I learned hundreds of terms like these in college, and I no longer even vaguely remember what they mean. As far as I know, any one of them could have caused the Civil War. Maybe we should lock them all in a small room and deny them food and water until one of them confesses.
   DISCUSSION QUESTION: Was the author “just kidding” when he made that last “off-the-wall” suggestion? Cite specific examples.
   What is the cause of all this disagreement among the experts over basic historical issues? Economic factors. If you’re a historian and you want to write a best-selling book you have to come up with a new wrinkle. If you go to a publisher and say you want to write that Harry Truman was a blunt-spoken Missourian who made some unpopular decisions but was vindicated by history, the publisher will pick you up by your neck and toss you into the street, because there are already bales of such books on the market. But if you claim to have uncovered evidence that Harry Truman was a Soviet ballerina, before long you’ll be on national morning television, answering earnest questions from David Hartman in a simulated living room.
   DISCUSSION QUESTION: Don’t you think David Hartman is just a little too avuncular? Why?
   So I propose that we laypersons forget about historians and agree among ourselves to believe in a permanent set of historical facts once and for all. Specifically, I propose we use the facts contained in a book I found in my basement recently, called Civilization Past and Present, which was apparently one of my wife’s high-school textbooks.
   DISCUSSION QUESTION: Did she steal it? Or what?
   Civilization Past and Presentcombines the advantage of having a snappy title with the advantage of ending in 1962, just before history starts to get really depressing. It’s easy to understand, because my wife has underlined all the important words and phrases (Germany, for example). And it doesn’t beat around the bush. For example, on page 599 it makes the following statement in plain black and white: “The causes of the American Civil War are complex.”
   Since some of you laypersons out there may not have Civilization Past and Presentin your basements, here’s a brief summary to tide you over until you can get your own copies:
   HISTORY
   5,000,000,000 B.C.-1962
   After the Earth cooled, it formed an extremely fertile crescent containing primitive people such as the Hittites who believed in just the stupidest things you ever heard of. Then came Greece and Rome, followed by Asia. All of this came to a halt during the Middle Ages, which were caused by the Jutes and featured the following terms underlined by my wife: the steward, the bailiff, and the reeve. Next the Turks got way the hell over into France, after which there were towns. And the Magna Carta. Then France and England fought many wars that involved dates such as 1739 and were settled by the Treaty of Utrecht, which also was used to harness water power. By then the seeds had been sown for several World Wars and the Louisiana Purchase, but fortunately we now have a fairly peaceful atom. Now go fetch Grandpa some more bourbon.
   DEFINE THE FOLLOWING: “Avuncular.”

Sock It To Me

   I woke up this morning experiencing several important concerns, which I would like to share with you here in the hope that they will add up to a large enough total word count so that I can go back to bed.
   CONCERN NUMBER ONE: Mr. Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr.
   As you probably know, Mr. LaRouche is this person who has started his own political party and wishes to take over the country, which troubles many people because his views are somewhat unorthodox. (What I mean of course, is that he is as crazy as a bedbug. Where you have a brain, Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., has a Whack-a-Mole game. But I am not about to state this in print, as I do not wish to have his ardent followers place poison snakes in my sock drawer.)
   Those of you who are frequent airline travelers are no doubt already familiar with Mr. LaRouche’s views, because they are displayed on posters attached to card tables at most major airports. Somehow, a year or so ago, the LaRouche people managed to get the lucrative Airport Lunatic concession away from the Moonies. What I suspect happened is that one day, on a prearranged signal, the LaRouche people sneaked up behind the Moonies and strangled them with their own little book bags, probably in full view of thousands of air travelers, who of course would not have objected. Many of them probably helped out by whapping the Moonies with their carry-on luggage. I know I would have.
   But then, two of Mr. LaRouche’s ardent followers won the Illinois Democratic primary nominations for secretary of state and lieutenant governor. This caused massive nationwide anxiety because of the unorthodoxy of their views, which, as far as we have been able to tell, involve shooting Jane Fonda with a laser beam from space. Not that I personally see anything wrong with these views! No sir! I don’t even have a sock drawer!
   But we do have to ask ourselves if we truly can afford, as a nation, to elect crazy people to a vital state office like lieutenant governor, which involves weighty responsibilities such as wearing a suit and phoning the governor every day to see if he’s dead. Because mark my words, if these people win in Illinois, they’ll go after higher and higher offices, until someday—I do not wish to alarm you, but we must be aware of the danger—we could have a situation where our top national leaders are going around babbling about laser beams from space. So I have called on you Illinois voters to come to your senses before the general election and take responsible citizen action in the form of moving to a more intelligent state. This is the perfect time to do so, thanks to declining oil prices.
   CONCERN NUMBER TWO: Declining oil prices
   Like many of you, I did not realize at first that the decline in oil prices was something to be concerned about. In fact, I viewed it as the first really positive development in this nation since jimmy Carter was attacked by the giant swimming rabbit. But then I started reading articles by leading nervous economists stating that the oil-price decline is a very bad thing, because it is causing severe hardships for the following groups:
   1. The OPEC nations.
   2. The U.S. oil industry.
   3. The big banks.
   4. Texans in general.
   When I read this, naturally my reaction as a concerned American, was hahahahahahahahaha.
   No, seriously, we need to be worried about declining oil prices, and I am going to explain why. The international economy is based on the U.S. dollar, which is trusted and respected throughout the world because it is the only major currency that does not look like it was designed by preschool children. The value of the dollar, in turn, depends on the investment savvy of big U.S. banks, which lend their dollars to the oil-rich Third World, which loses them gambling on rooster fights.
   This system worked well until the late 1970s, when the price of oil started to fall. This was caused by a decline in demand, which was caused by the fact that people couldn’t get their cars repaired, which was caused by the fact that the oil companies had bought all the independent garages and turned them into “self-service” stations selling a mutant assortment of retail goods and staffed by surly teenagers, so that God forbid you should have actual car trouble at one of these service stations because they would tow you away for blocking the access of customers wishing to purchase nasal spray and Slim Jims.
   So now the banks are stuck with a lot of oil, which they are trying to get rid of by converting it into VISA cards, which they offer to my wife. She gets six or seven VISA offers from desperate banks per business day. She got one recently from—I am not making this up—a bank in South Dakota. I didn’t even know they had banks in South Dakota, did you? What would people keep in them? Pelts?
   Well I don’t know about you, but I am uncomfortable with the idea of having a world economy dependent upon the VISA needs of my wife. She is only one person. That is the law. So I think we need to revamp the whole world economic structure, and the obvious first step is to require banks to repair cars. The supermarkets, which already cash checks, could take over the remaining functions currently performed by banks, such as lending money to the Third World and being closed. You would get your food at service stations, which would be required to get some new sandwiches. You would continue to buy gas at “convenience” stores. Illinois would be sold to wealthy Japanese investors. All these regulations would be enforced by laser beams from space.
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