Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

I’ll tell you what’s in a name…

September 5, 1997

I got a package the other day addressed to "Chris Wedlrip". It didn’t come as much of a suprise. It was only the latest in a long series of mutations of my name by various agents of public service. The problem, I think, is not that I have a weird name, but that it just borders on normal. If my name were "Yezmulkveschtein" it would prompt the immediate question, "How do you spell that?" No, my name just makes people try to guess. "Waldron? Waldrot? Waldrip?" I don’t follow car racing, but I know there’s a driver named Daryl Waltrip because people have asked me if I’m related to him since I was four years old. It’s gotten so that I dread having to give my name. At restaurants, pizza delivery places–anywhere I have to give my name, I always consider saying "Jones" so I won’t have to go throyugh the ordeal of hearing, "Waldrep? Waldorp? Are you related to that race car driver?" Occasionally someone asks how to spell my name. Even rarer, although it has been known to happen, someone actually gets it right. But usually when that happens they write down "Kris". Enjoy this week’s offering. My apologies to all blondes out there, but I just couldn’t resist. I followed it up with some really obscure facts you can use to dazzle people.

Once there was a blonde who got DARNED sick and tired of those jokes mocking blondes for a low I.Q.

She therefore resolved to prove that blonds could be as smart as anyone else. She spent several weeks studiously peering at a map…

The next time some one attempted to tell a Blonde Joke, she riposted "Well, I’m a blonde and I’m NOT stupid! I’ll have you know I’ve memorized the Capitals of every state in the union!"

"So what’s the capital of Vermont?" inquired a sceptic.

The blonde replied, "’V!"

A blonde woman is driving along a country road, out in rolling hills of the Midwest, when she sees some movement off in the distance. As she gets closer, she realizes that it is another blonde woman in a rowboat in the middle of a field rowing the boat like crazy.

She stops her car at the side of the road and gets out. She yells out to the blonde in the rowboat, "What the &$%# are you doing?" The blonde in the boat, obviously flustered, yells back, "I have got to hurry up and get home in time for dinner or I will be in real trouble!"

The blonde at the side of the road is aggravated. "I can’t believe this! You are out in the middle of a field in a row boat! It’s blondes like you that give blondes like me a bad name! In fact, if I could swim, I would swim out there and kick your butt!"

This blonde goes to the Western Union office and says, "I just have to get an urgent message to my mother in Europe." The clerk says it will be $100, and she replies "But I don’t have any money…. and I *must* get a message to her, it’s urgent!… I’ll do anything to get a message to her." The clerk replies "Anything?" "Yes…. ANYTHING!" replies the blonde. He leads her back to his office and closes the door. He tells her to kneel in front of him. "Unzip me…" She does. "Take it out….. go ahead." She does this as well. She looks up at him, his member in her hands and he says "Well… go ahead.. do it.." She brings her lips close to it and shouts "Hello?…. Mom?"

There was this blonde who bought a coach ticket to go to Chicago. She boards the plane and sits in the first class area. The stewardess comes over and says "ma’am your ticket says coach you must move to the coach area". The blonde says "I’m blonde beautiful and going to Chicago". The stewardess says "you must move to the coach area". The blonde says "I’m blonde beautiful and going to Chicago". The stewardess goes over and gets the head stewardess. The head stewardess comes over and says "ma’am you must move to coach." The blonde says "I’m blonde beautiful and going to Chicago". The stewardesses look at each other and decide to go get the captain. The captain comes over and says" ma’am your ticket says coach you must move to the coach area". The blonde says "I’m blonde beautiful and going to Chicago". The captain shakes his head and bends down and whispers in her ear. All of a sudden she jumps up grabs her luggage and goes over to the coach area. The stewardesses look at each other and ask the captain "What did you say to her?" The captain says " I told her first class wasn’t going to Chicago."

Five blondes go into a bar and one of them says to the bartender, "A round of drinks for me and my friends." They get their drinks and the raise their glasses to a toast of, "To 51 days!" and they drink. The "head blonde" asks the bartender to set them up again. Again, the blondes toast "To 51 days!" and they drink. After they order a third round, the bartender says that he has to ask what the toast means. The head blonde says, "We just finished a jigsaw puzzle. On the box it said, "two to four years" and we finished it in 51 days".

A duck’s quack doesn’t echo, and no one knows why.

In the 1940s, the FCC assigned television’s Channel 1 to mobile services (two-way radios in taxicabs, for instance) but did not re-number the other channel assignments. That is why your TV set has channels 2 and up, but no channel 1.

A group of geese on the ground is a gaggle, a group of geese in the air is a skein.

The underside of a horse’s hoof is called a frog. The frog peels off several times a year with new growth.

The San Francisco Cable cars are the only mobile National Monuments

The "save" icon on Microsoft Word shows a floppy disk, with the shutter on backwards.

The combination "ough" can be pronounced in nine different ways. The following sentence contains them all: "A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed."

The verb "cleave" is the only English word with two synonyms which are antonyms of each other: adhere and separate.

The only 15 letter word that can be spelled without repeating a letter is uncopyrightable.

Facetious and abstemious contain all the vowels in the correct order, as does arsenious, meaning "containing arsenic."

The shape of plant collenchyma cells and the shape of the bubbles in beer foam are the same – they are orthotetrachidecahedrons.

The word ‘pound’ is abbreviated ‘lb.’ after the constellation ‘libra’ because it means ‘pound’ in Latin, and also ‘scales’. The abbreviation for the British Pound Sterling comes from the same source: it is an ‘L’ for Libra/Lb. with a stroke through it to indicate abbreviation. Same goes for the Italian lira which uses the same abbreviation (‘lira’ coming from ‘libra’). So British currency (before it went metric) was always quoted as "pounds/shillings/pence", abbreviated "L/s/d" (libra/solidus/denarius).

Emus and kangaroos cannot walk backwards, and are on the Australian coat of arms for that reason.

Cats have over one hundred vocal sounds, while dogs only have about ten.

The word "Checkmate" in chess comes from the Persian phrase "Shakh Mat," which means "the king is dead".

Pinocchio is Italian for "pine head."

Camel’s milk does not curdle.

In every episode of Seinfeld there is a Superman somewhere.

An animal epidemic is called an epizootic.

Murphy’s Oil Soap is the chemical most commonly used to clean elephants.

The United States has never lost a war in which mules were used.

Blueberry Jelly Bellies were created especially for Ronald Reagan.

All porcupines float in water.

Hang On Sloopy is the official rock song of Ohio.

There are coffee flavored PEZ.

The world’s largest wine cask is in Heidelberg, Germany.

Lorne Greene had one of his nipples bitten off by an alligator while he was host of "Lorne Greene’s Wild Kingdom."

Cat’s urine glows under a blacklight.

If you bring a raccoon’s head to the Henniker, New Hampshire town hall, you are entitled to receive $.10 from the town.

St. Stephen is the patron saint of bricklayers.

The first song played on Armed Forces Radio during operation Desert Shield was "Rock the Casba" by the Clash.

The reason firehouses have circular stairways is from the days of yore when the engines were pulled by horses. The horses were stabled on the ground floor and figured out how to walk up straight staircases.

Non-dairy creamer is flammable.

The airplane Buddy Holly died in was the "American Pie." (Thus the name of the Don McLean song.)

Texas is also the only state that is allowed to fly its state flag at the same height as the U.S. flag.

The only nation who’s name begins with an "A", but doesn’t end in an " A" is Afghanastan.

The names of the three wise monkeys are: Mizaru: See no evil, Mikazaru: Hear no evil, and Mazaru: Speak no evil.

When opossums are playing ‘possum, they are not "playing." They actually pass out from sheer terror.

The Main Library at Indiana University sinks over an inch every year because when it was built, engineers failed to take into account the weight of all the books that would occupy the building.

Each king in a deck of playing cards represents a great king from history. Spades – King David, Clubs – Alexander the Great, Hearts – Charlemagne, and Diamonds – Julius Caesar.


Just because you’re paranoid…

August 28, 1997

I’m not a technophobe. I think machines are like their makers. Some are good, some are bad, and some are really out to get me. Take, for instance, the snack machine down the hall that supposedly takes dollar bills. The other day I had a bill that was perfect. I’ve dabbled in numismatics, so I know what I was talking about when I say that it was in almost uncirculated condition. I put it in correctly, and the machine spit it out. I rubbed it along the wall to eliminate that verrry slight wallet crease, and tried again. Still it spit it back. I don’t understand why these machines will take ratty, old, disintegrating bills, but refuse new ones. I tenderized the bill some more, and tried again. It refused it. The machine also teases me. It starts to take the bill, then suddenly decides it doesn’t want it. This went on for some time. I tried turning the bill around and putting it in. That almost worked until the machine realized who it was dealing with. Finally I tried another bill. It took it–acceptance at last! Suddenly the machine started beeping, and the "Coins only" light came on.

In case you’re wondering why this is early, it’s because I won’t be here tomorrow. Monday is also a holiday for some of us, so remember this simple holiday rule: Everything taken to excess is bad for you, and that includes moderation.


Blamestorming – sitting around in a group discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed and who was responsible

Body Nazis – hard-core exercise and weight-lifting fanatics who look down on anyone who doesn’t work out obsessively

Chainsaw consultant – an outside expert brought in to reduce the employee headcount, leaving the top brass with clean hands

Cube farm – an office filled with cubicles

Ego surfing – scanning the Net, databases, print media, and so on, looking for references to one’s own name

Elvis year – the peak year of something’s popularity — Barney the dinosaur’s Elvis year was 1993.

404 – someone who is clueless, from the World Wide Web error message "404 Not Found", meaning the requested document couldn’t be located – "Don’t bother asking him, he’s 404."

Idea hamsters – people who always seem to have their idea generators running

Mouse potato – the on-line generation’s answer to the couch potato

Ohnosecond – that minuscule fraction of time in which you realize you’ve just made a big mistake

Prairie dogging – something loud happens in a cube farm, and people’s heads pop up over the walls to see what’s going on

SITCOM – stands for Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage

Stress puppy – a person who thrives on being stressed-out and whiny

Tourists – those who take training classes just to take a vacation from their jobs — "We had three serious students in the class; the rest were tourists."

De-installed – euphemism for being fired

Xerox subsidy – euphemism for swiping free photocopies from a workplace

Why not?

August 22, 1997

My mother called me the other day. I’m an adult, I’ve not lived with my parents for many years, and still I get flashbacks from the days when my mother took me shopping for clothes. When I was young and didn’t care so much, she made me clothes. Somewhere in my parents’ attic is a pair of short overalls made from polyester with a pattern of red, white, and blue stars. I only wore it once to a large family gathering, and, in retrospect, it was probably intended to draw attention away from my father’s sideburns. As I got older, my mother stopped making clothes, but her fascination with polyester continued. For her, there were only two kinds of clothing: polyester for the summer, and wool for the winter. It’s a wonder I didn’t grow up with some kind of skin condition. Shopping was the worst, though. It’s a fact of childhood that your friends’ parents will always handle difficult things like shopping in a sane, reasonable, and relatively quiet manner while your parents try to humiliate you as loudly and publicly as possible. All your parents probably did this. What you don’t know is that they took twice-weekly classes from my mother in how to most effectively do it. My mother trained parents of children six through sixteen in how to build character through the use of awful clothing. My mother was a grand-master. She added a whole new dimension to the game. She would pull out a shirt that would embarass Liberace and say, "Why don’t you like this?" There’s a popular belief that men are genetically unable to dress themselves. The fact is, any fashion sense is trained out of them by mothers holding up orange, yellow, and violet plaid and saying, "This would look good on you." My face would turn a slightly more appealing shade of green and I’d ask her to put the shirt back. "Why? You like plaid!" No matter what it was, I liked it. Finally, she would buy the shirt, saying, "Well, you might learn to like it." Three months later she would say, "Why don’t you ever wear that shirt that you liked so much in the store?"

Enjoy this week’s offering.

Cracking an international market is a goal of most growing corporations. It shouldn’t be that hard, yet even the big multi-nationals run into trouble because of language and cultural differences. For example…

Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American ad campaign: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux."

The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax" depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent, "ko-kou-ko-le," which can be loosely translated as "happiness in the mouth."

In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" came out as "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead."

Also in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan "finger-lickin’ good" came out as "eat your fingers off."

The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, "Salem – Feeling Free," got translated in the Japanese market into "When smoking Salem, you feel so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty."

When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that "no va" means "it won’t go." After the company figured out why it wasn’t selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the Caribe.

Ford had a similar problem in Brazil when the Pinto flopped. The company found out that Pinto was Brazilian slang for "tiny male genitals". Ford pried all the nameplates off and substituted Corcel, which means horse.

When Parker Pen marketed a ballpoint pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to say "It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you." However, the company’s mistakenly thought the Spanish word "embarazar" meant embarrass. Instead the ads said that "It wont leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."

An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope’s visit. Instead of the desired "I Saw the Pope" in Spanish, the shirts proclaimed "I Saw the Potato."

Chicken-man Frank Perdue’s slogan, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken," got terribly mangled in another Spanish translation. A photo of Perdue with one of his birds appeared on billboards all over Mexico with a caption that explained "It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused."

Hunt-Wesson introduced its Big John products in French Canada as Gros Jos before finding out that the phrase, in slang, means "big breasts." In this case, however, the name problem did not have a noticeable effect on sales.

Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porno mag.

In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into Schweppes Toilet Water.

Japan’s second-largest tourist agency was mystified when it entered English-speaking markets and began receiving requests for unusual sex tours. Upon finding out why, the owners of Kinki Nippon Tourist company changed its name.


The 2 most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.

If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.

Money can’t buy happiness…But it sure makes misery easier to live with..

Deja Moo: The feeling that you’ve heard this bull before.

Psychiatrists say that 1 of 4 people are mentally ill. Check 3 friends. If they’re OK, you’re it.

Nothing in the known universe travels faster than a bad check.

A truly wise man never plays leapfrog with a unicorn.

It has recently been discovered that research causes cancer in rats.

Always remember to pillage BEFORE you burn.

If you are given an open-book exam, you will forget your book.

The trouble with doing something right the first time is that nobody appreciates how difficult it was.

It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.

Paul’s Law: You can’t fall off the floor.

The average woman would rather have beauty than brains, because the average man can see better than he can think.

Paranoids are people, too; they have their own problems. It’s easy to criticize, but if everybody hated you, you’d be paranoid, too.

A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell and make you feel happy to be on your way.

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.

Vital papers will demonstrate their vitality by moving from where you left them to where you can’t find them.

Law of Probability Dispersal: Whatever it is that hits the fan will not be evenly distributed.

Uh huh…

August 15, 1997

In the beginning there was the telephone. And it was good. People who were separated by long distances could keep in touch in ways other than the postal service. Then came answering machines. They were good too. When you weren’t home, or when you were afraid someone you didn’t want to talk to was going to call, the answering machine took the calls for you. That way, you never missed a message when you were out, and you never had to spend an hour on the phone listening to Aunt Bessie describe the cute thing her eleventh oldest cat just did. Then came Caller ID. Now you knew who was calling in advance, and you could switch your answering machine off before Aunt Bessie took up the entire tape. So what’s next? I think the next step will be a machine that will not only answer the phone for you, but will talk to the person on the other end as well. Sure, answering machines do that, but it’s incredibly impersonal. Sometimes Aunt Bessie likes to believe she’s talking to a person. This is a true story: the mother of a friend of mine would call him up and talk to him for three hour stretches. All he had to do was say, "Uh huh" every few minutes. His brother made an art of it. His brother would pick up the phone, let her get started, and go mow the lawn. Every fifteen minutes he would stop, go to the phone, and say, "Uh huh." A machine could do this a lot more efficiently, and with less trouble. Eventually, I think, machines will be able to screen calls and, using the latest information available on the internet, give advice, console, talk about the big game last night, or just say, "Uh huh." Family disputes will never start, and at holidays people can bring along their machines to talk for them. Ah, can’t you just feel the warmth?

A guide to safe FAX

A. Although married people FAX quite often, there are many single people who FAX complete strangers every day, with no adverse effects.

A. Certainly not, as far as we can see.

A. A reasonably responsible person can safely become an active FAX participant at almost any age, provided the correct peocedures are used.

A. Yes. Many people have no other outlet for their FAX requirements, and are obliged to pay a "Professional" when their need to FAX cannot be satisfied in any other way.

A. Unless you are really sure of the person you are FAXing, a cover should always be used to insure safe FAX.

A. Don’t panic. People often transmit prematurely, especially when they haven’t FAX in a long time. Just start over (Most people don’t mind if you try again.)

A. Being Bi-Faxual can be confusing, and sometimes make your FAX life uncertain, but as long as you use a cover each time you FAX, you won’t transmit anything you’re not supposed to.

From the WEEKLY WORLD NEWS, May 24, 1994


Doctors are blaming a rare electrical imbalance in the brain for the bizarre death of a chess player whose head literally exploded in the middle of a championship game!

No one else was hurt in the fatal explosion but four players and three officials at the Moscow Candidate Masters’ Chess Championships were sprayed with blood and brain matter when Nikolai Titov’s head suddenly blew apart. Experts say he suffered from a condition called Hyper-Cerebral Electrosis or HCE.

"He was deep in concentration with his eyes focused on the board," says Titov’s opponent, Vladimir Dobrynin. "All of a sudden his hands flew to his temples and he screamed in pain. Everyone looked up from their games, startled by the noise. Then, as if someone had put a bomb in his cranium, his head popped like a firecracker."

Incredibly, Titiov’s is not the first case in which a person’s head has spontaneously exploded. Five people are known to have died of HCE in the last 25 years. The most recent death occurred just three years ago in 1991, when European psychic Barbara Nicole’s skull burst. Miss Nicole’s story was reported by newspapers worldwide, including WWN. "HCE is an extremely rare physical imbalance," said Dr. Anatoly Martinenko, famed neurologist and expert on the human brain who did the autopsy on the brilliant chess expert. "It is a condition in which the circuits of the brain become overloaded by the body’s own electricity. The explosions happen during periods of intense mental activity when lots of current is surging through the brain. Victims are highly intelligent people with great powers of concentration. Both Miss Nicole and Mr. Titov were intense people who tended to keep those cerebral circuits overloaded. In a way it could be said they were literally too smart for their own good."

Although Dr. Martinenko says there are probably many undiagnosed cases, he hastens to add that very few people will die from HCE. "Most people who have it will never know. At this point, medical science still doesn’t know much about HCE. And since fatalities are so rare it will probably be years before research money becomes available."

In the meantime, the doctor urges people to take it easy and not think too hard for long periods of time. "Take frequent relaxation breaks when you’re doing things that take lots of mental focus," he recommends.

(As a public service, WWN added a sidebar titled HOW TO TELL IF YOUR HEAD’S ABOUT TO BLOW UP:)

Although HCE is very rare, it can kill. Dr. Martinenko says knowing you have the condition can greatly improve your odds of surviving it. A "yes" answer to any three of the following seven questions could mean that you have HCE:

1. Does your head sometimes ache when you think too hard? (Head pain can indicate overloaded brain circuits.)

2. Do you ever hear a faint ringing or humming sound in your ears? (It could be the sound of electricity in the skull cavity.)

3. Do you sometimes find yourself unable to get a thought out of your head? (This is a possible sign of too much electrical activity in the cerebral cortex.)

4. Do you spend more than five hours a day reading, balancing your checkbook, or other thoughtful activity? (A common symptom of HCE is a tendency to over-use the brain.)

5. When you get angry or frustrated do you feel pressure in your temples? (Friends of people who died of HCE say the victims often complained of head pressure in times of strong emotion.)

6. Do you ever overeat on ice cream, doughnuts and other sweets? (A craving for sugar is typical of people with too much electrical pressure in the cranium.)

7. Do you tend to analyze yourself too much? (HCE sufferers are often introspective, "over-thinking" their lives.)

(Side note: This article is worthless because anyone who takes the Weekly World News seriously is in no danger whatsoever of excessive brain use.–CW)

The real story on Kurt Vonnegut’s MIT Address

"Words of Wisdom from Mary Schmich"


On August 8, Freethinkers published the MIT commencement address given by famous author Kurt Vonnegut. The only problem is that Kurt Vonnegut has never given a commencement address at MIT. Read on:

Vonnegut? Schmich? Who can tell in cyberspace?

by Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune

I am Kurt Vonnegut.

Oh, Kurt Vonnegut may appear to be a brilliant, revered male novelist. I may appear to be a mediocre and virtually unknown female newspaper columnist. We may appear to have nothing in common but unruly hair.

But out in the lawless swamp of cyberspace, Mr. Vonnegut and I are one. Out there, where any snake can masquerade as king, both of us are the author of a graduation speech that began with the immortal words, "Wear sunscreen."

I was alerted to my bond with Mr. Vonnegut Friday morning by several callers and e-mail correspondents who reported that the sunscreen speech was rocketing through the cyberswamp, from L.A. to New York to Scotland, in a vast e-mail chain letter.

Friends had e-mailed it to friends, who e-mailed it to more friends, all of whom were told it was the commencement address given to the graduating class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The speaker was allegedly Kurt Vonnegut.

Imagine Mr. Vonnegut’s surprise. He was not, and never has been, MIT’s commencement speaker. Imagine my surprise. I recall composing that little speech one Friday afternoon while high on coffee and M&M’s. It appeared in this space on June 1. It included such deep thoughts as "Sing," "Floss," and "Don’t mess too much with your hair." It was not art.

But out in the cyberswamp, truth is whatever you say it is, and my simple thoughts on floss and sunscreen were being passed around as Kurt Vonnegut’s eternal wisdom.

Poor man. He didn’t deserve to have his reputation sullied in this way.

So I called a Los Angles book reviewer, with whom I’d never spoken, hoping he could help me find Mr. Vonnegut.

"You mean that thing about sunscreen?" he said when I explained the situation. "I got that. It was brilliant. He didn’t write that?"

He didn’t know how to find Mr. Vonnegut. I tried MIT.

"You wrote that?" said Lisa Damtoft in the news office. She said MIT had received many calls and e-mails on this year’s "sunscreen" commencement speech. But not everyone was sure: Who had been the speaker?

The speaker on June 6 was Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, who did not, as Mr. Vonnegut and I did in our speech, urge his graduates to "dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room." He didn’t mention sunscreen.

As I continued my quest for Mr. Vonnegut — his publisher had taken the afternoon off, his agent didn’t answer — reports of his "sunscreen" speech kept pouring in.

A friend called from Michigan. He’d read my column several weeks ago. Friday morning he received it again — in an e-mail from his boss. This time it was not an ordinary column by an ordinary columnist. Now it was literature by Kurt Vonnegut.

Fortunately, not everyone who read the speech believed it was Mr. Vonnegut’s.

"The voice wasn’t quite his," sniffed one doubting contributor to a Vonnegut chat group on the Internet. "It was slightly off — a little too jokey, a little too cute . . . a little too `Seinfeld.’ "

Hoping to find the source of this prank, I traced one e-mail backward from its last recipient, Hank De Zutter, a professor at Malcolm X College in Chicago. He received it from a relative in New York, who received it from a film producer in New York, who received it from a TV producer in Denver, who received it from his sister, who received it. . . .

I realized the pursuit of culprit zero would be endless. I gave up.

I did, however, finally track down Mr. Vonnegut. He picked up his own phone. He’d heard about the sunscreen speech from his lawyer, from friends, from a women’s magazine that wanted to reprint it until he denied he wrote it.

"It was very witty, but it wasn’t my wittiness," he generously said.

Reams could be written on the lessons in this episode. Space confines me to two.

One: I should put Kurt Vonnegut’s name on my column. It would be like sticking a Calvin Klein label on a pair of K-Mart jeans.

Two: Cyberspace, in Mr. Vonnegut’s word, is "spooky."

E-mail Mary Schmich at

Mary Schmich’s articles can be read online at:

My Response

Of course, I had to track down Ms. Schmich. Our email correspondance follows:

To: Mary Schmich
Subject: Completely unrelated to Kurt Vonnegut.

Ms. Schmich,

I have confession to make. I lied. I will refer to Kurt Vonnegut in
this message, but only in passing.

I was not the originator of the prank, and, frankly, I don’t think
I’d like to meet the person who was. Like most people, however, I was
completely taken in by it. In fact, I even sent it out to a
semi-private distribution list, and it is now installed on a web
page. I’ve asked the web page’s author to add an addendum to that
particular part with a link to the REAL story of what happened.

When you say that putting Vonnegut’s name on your article is
like putting a Calvin Klein label on a pair of K-Mart Jeans, you’re
being much too hard on yourself. When people buy Calvin Klein jeans,
they’re paying for the label. A pair from K-Mart would probably be
just as good. The same is not necessarily true of Vonnegut. People
may buy his books because his name is on the cover, but they get a
quality book that costs about the same as most other paperbacks.

What I’m driving at is this: the woman who said "dance, even if you
have nowhere to do it but in your living room" should not turn around
and say she doesn’t deserve to be compared to Kurt Vonnegut. It
sounds hypocritical. If your name had been left on the piece, it
probably would have made it at least as far around the world as it
did with Vonnegut’s name on it. It was a wise, witty, brilliant piece
of work, and you should be happy that, while the association with
Vonnegut has made the work infamous, its simple, quiet wisdom has
made it famous. For years to come people will probably comfort their
friends by saying, "Wear sunscreen", and when they do, they’ll think
of you.

I thank you very much if you have read this far, and I apologize once
again for lying to you. Please believe me when I say I was sincere in
every other way.

From: Mary Schmich
Subject: Re: Completely unrelated to Kurt Vonnegut.

The lie worked. Thanks for the kind message. MS

That’s why they’re called ‘Convenience Stores’

August 8, 1997

I was in the drugstore the other day buying some soy sauce, and wandered through the toy section. There were some really neat looking dinosaurs from a recent movie, and one of them had a label on it that said, "With real dinosaur sounds!" That is truly amazing. Most toy makers would simply record their cat hacking up a hairball and run it through a synthesizer to simulate dinosaur sounds, but not these people. With all the practical applications of time travel, they decided to use it for something completely useless. It made me very proud to be part of this country. As if things couldn’t get any better, I drove by a gas station with a sign that said, "Prizes for sale inside." Wow! Can you beat that? It’s truly a wonderful time when I can walk into a gas station and say, "Yes, I’d like ten dollars’ worth of gas, this bag of Cheetos, and, um, that Pulitzer over there on the right." All these years I’ve been thinking I would have to WORK to earn one of those. Enjoy this week’s offering–a special treat from a Freethinker who needs no introduction.

Just In: See the special addendum to this week’s article!

Kurt Vonnegut’s commencement address at MIT

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97:

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proven by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

I didn’t shower today…

August 1, 1997

There’s a long-running commercial in which people drag themselves out of bed, stumble in to take a shower, and suddenly, as they sniff the soap, they’re zapped awake. This really frightens me. Why? Because if just sniffing the soap wakes you up, what happens when you spread this stuff all over your skin? There’s gotta be something pretty powerful in there. This does explain morning people, though. Sure, they can claim that they’re just naturally that way, but I’ve known for a long time that people who can be chipper and happy before ten without some kind of artificial stimulant are aberrations of nature. Now I know they’re not really as common as they seem to be. Probably a large number of these so-called morning people are really coming into work stoned on soap. Sure, there are a few people who just naturally leap out of bed in the mornings, but the rest are just as groggy and brainless as the rest of us before their morning lather. And what happens when this high wears off? Are there people out there who keep a couple of bars in their desk at work, one in their car, maybe a few slivers in their wallet or purse–so they can have a quick sniff anytime they need it. Well be careful, and please don’t abuse your soap. There are a lot of things in this world people choose to Just Say No to, but can you imagine what would happen if we gave up soap?

Actual dialog of a former WordPerfect Customer Support employee:

"Ridge Hall computer assistant; may I help you?"
"Yes, well, I’m having trouble with WordPerfect."
"What sort of trouble?"
"Well, I was just typing along, and all of a sudden the words went away."
"Went away?"
"They disappeared."
"Hmm. So what does your screen look like now?"
"It’s blank; it won’t accept anything when I type."
"Are you still in WordPerfect, or did you get out?"
"How do I tell?"
"Can you see the C: prompt on the screen?"
"What’s a sea-prompt?"
"Never mind. Can you move the cursor around on the screen?"
"There isn’t any cursor: I told you, it won’t accept anything I type."
"Does your monitor have a power indicator?"
"What’s a monitor?"
"It’s the thing with the screen on it that looks like a TV. Does it have a little light that tells you when it’s on?"
"I don’t know."
"Well, then look on the back of the monitor and find where the power cord goes into it. Can you see that?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Great! Follow the cord to the plug, and tell me if it’s plugged into the wall."
"Yes, it is."
"When you were behind the monitor, did you notice that there were two cables plugged into the back of it, not just one?"
"Well, there are. I need you to look back there again and find the other cable."
"Okay, here it is." "Follow it for me, and tell me if it’s plugged securely into the back of your computer."
"I can’t reach."
"Uh huh. Well, can you see if it is?"
"Even if you maybe put your knee on something and lean way over?"
"Oh, it’s not because I don’t have the right angle-it’s because it’s dark."
"Yes-the office light is off, and the only light I have is coming in from the window."
"Well, turn on the office light then."
"I can’t."
"No? Why not?"
"Because there’s a power outage."
"A power… A power outage? Aha! Okay, we’ve got it licked now. Do you still have the boxes and manuals and packing stuff your computer came in?"
"Well, yes, I keep them in the closet."
"Good! Go get them, and unplug your system and pack it up just like it was when you got it. Then take it back to the store you bought it from."
"Really? Is it that bad?"
"Yes, I’m afraid it is."
"Well, all right then, I suppose. What do I tell them?"
"Tell them you’re too stupid to own a computer."

Another one bites the…

July 25, 1997

What causes people to snap? I mean, what causes people to completely lose their marbles? I’ve been wondering about this because there’s been a lot in the news lately about a man who was living an extravagant lifestyle entirely funded by someone else, a man with no cares, no worries, and no responsibilities, and then suddenly he went on a killing spree. I’m also concerned because I can see a clock tower from my office, and not only are clock towers magnets for lunatics, but this one seems to be calling my name. This week, I’ve spent at least four hours a day on the phone, and of that time, three hours and fifty minutes has been spent on hold while any joy I get from popular music is slowly hacked away. I love Queen’s "Another one bites the dust", but I will never hear it the same way again now that I’ve heard it performed on the pan flute. The frightening thing is, as deranged and warped as it may seem, the cares, worries, and responsibilities of my working week may have been what kept me from going completely over the edge. This worries me more than anything else. I think a little insanity is healthy–it’s good for you. It keeps things in perspective. So if you see someone up in a clock tower hurling water balloons, or if you hear that a harmless madman is calling people and asking if their refrigerator is still running, don’t worry–it’s just me. And if your clock towers are calling out to you, maybe it would be a good thing if you joined me. Can you imagine how terrible it would be if we all suddenly went sane?

Cultural Differences Explained

Aussies: Dislike being mistaken for Pommies (Brits) when abroad.
Canadians: Are rather indignant about being mistaken for Americans when abroad.
Americans: Encourage being mistaken for Canadians when abroad.
Brits: Can’t possibly be mistaken for anyone else when abroad.

Aussies: Believe you should look out for your mates.
Brits: Believe that you should look out for those people who belong to your club.
Americans: Believe that people should look out for & take care of themselves.
Canadians: Believe that that’s the government’s job.

Aussies: Are extremely patriotic to their beer.
Americans: Are flag-waving, anthem-singing, and obsessively patriotic to the point of blindness.
Canadians: Can’t agree on the words to their anthem, when they can be bothered to sing them.
Brits: Do not sing at all but prefer a large brass band to perform the anthem.

Americans: Spend most of their lives glued to the idiot box.
Canadians: Don’t, but only because they can’t get more American channels.
Brits: Pay a tax just so they can watch four channels.
Aussies: Export all their crappy programs, which no-one there watches, to Britain, where everybody loves them.

Americans: Will jabber on incessantly about football, baseball, and basketball.
Brits: Will jabber on incessantly about cricket, soccer, and rugby.
Canadians: Will jabber on incessantly about hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, and how they beat the Americans twice, playing baseball.
Aussies: Will jabber on incessantly about how they beat the Poms in every sport they play them in.

Americans: Spell words differently, but still call it "English".
Brits: Pronounce their words differently, but still call it "English".
Canadians: Spell like the Brits, pronounce like Americans.
Aussies: Add "G’day", "mate" and a heavy accent to everything they say in an attempt to get laid.

Brits: Shop at home and have goods imported because they live on an island.
Aussies: Shop at home and have goods imported because they live on an island.
Americans: Cross the southern border for cheap shopping, gas, & liquor in a backwards country.
Canadians: Cross the southern border for cheap shopping, gas, & liquor in a backwards country.

Americans: Drink weak, pissy-tasting beer.
Canadians: Drink strong, pissy-tasting beer.
Brits: Drink warm, beery-tasting piss.
Aussies: Drink anything with alcohol in it.

Americans: Seem to think that poverty & failure are morally suspect.
Canadians: Seem to believe that wealth and success are morally suspect.
Brits: Seem to believe that wealth, poverty, success and failure are inherited things.
Aussies: Seem to think that none of this matters after several beers.


  1. Thou shalt feed me today more than thou didst yesterday
  2. Thou shalt teach me with food – not big sticks and loud voices
  3. Thou shalt walk with me every day – despite thy favorite TV program
  4. Thou shall not buy furniture that I cannot sit on
  5. Thou shalt not pay attention to anyone else but me – lest I feel un-wanted
  6. Thou shalt love me to death – even when I bark all night
  7. Thou shalt not have a Cat with ATTITUDE and CLAWS
  8. Thou shalt not start the car until I am in it
  9. Thou shalt not hide the food
  10. Thou shalt obey the above without question lest I POOH on the neighbors lawn and promote community strife.


Read a book!

July 18, 1997

Recently the major television broadcasters got together and decided to add new ratings to the system already in use (which uses, for example, ratings such as TV-Y, meaning Y Are You Watching This?). Since these new ratings are confusing and often rely on double meanings, I’ve taken it upon myself to define many of the more complex ratings which are already in use:

  • "Inspired by real events." There really is a town named Minville in Wisconsin.

  • "Based on a true story." A woman named Mary Carter with two daughters and one son actually lives in Minville, Wisconsin.

  • "Family Programming" Guaranteed to offend the largest possible segment of the population.

  • "A Made for TV movie" A group of actors couldn’t find work.

  • "A Made for TV movie inspired by real events" A group of actors who couldn’t find work were bribed into making a shallow social statement.

Since commercials are also going to be subjected to a ratings system, here are a few definitions of terms already in use:

  • "For a limited time only" We’re not sure people will buy it.

  • "Try an old favorite" We’ve fired our New Product Development team

  • "Better than the bargain brand" Does the same job, but comes in a really nifty container

Before I send you on into this week’s offering, a couple of historical events deserve a brief mention:

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts have officially become part of the Smithsonian Museum’s collection. Forming part of the exhibit is the first ever Krispy Kreme doughnut. More importantly, the Freethinker Family has expanded. Sydney Renee Wagner, my neice, was born at 2:03 AM today. As happy as I am about this, I hope this doesn’t mean she’s a morning person.


In prison you spend the majority of your time in an 8×10 cell.
At work, you spend most of your time in a 6×8 cubicle.

In prison you get three meals a day.
At work, you only get a break for one meal and you have to pay for that one.

In prison you get time off for good behavior.
At work, you get rewarded for good behavior with more work.

In prison a guard locks and unlocks all the doors for you.
At work, you must carry around a security card and unlock and open all the
doors yourself.

In prison you can watch TV and play games.
At work, you get fired for watching TV and playing games.

In prison they ball-and-chain you when you go somewhere.
At work you are just ball-and-chained.

In prison you get your own toilet.
At work you have to share.

In prison they allow your family and friends to visit.
At work, you cannot even speak to your family and friends.

In prison all expenses are paid by taxpayers, with no work required.
At work, you get to pay all the expenses to go to work and then they deduct
taxes from your salary to pay for the prisoners.

In prison you spend most of your life looking through bars from the inside
wanting to get out.
At work, you spend most of your time wanting to get out and inside bars.

In prison you can join many programs which you can leave at any time.
At work, there are some programs you can never get out of.

In prison there are wardens who are often sadistic.
At work, we have managers.

This is an actual essay written by a college applicant to NYU.

The author was accepted and is now attending NYU.


I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently.

Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.

I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.

Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I’m bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.

I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don’t perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat .400.

My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.

I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations with the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.

I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a Mouli and a toaster oven.

I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.

But I have not yet gone to college.


Beach Blanket Bull

July 11, 1997

Summertime is a time when most people think of going to the beach. However, if you can’t make it to the beach, don’t despair. Think of what you’ll be missing: shards of broken glass, crowds, sharks, hot sand on bare feet, sunburn, planes pulling banners that say, "1-800-DERMATOLOGIST", and beach pests. What is a beach pest? Let me share with you my own experience with homo vexatius subsp. litus: His name was Ralph. Ralph had dark gray hair combed straight down all around his head, horn-rimmed sunglasses, and skin with the texture of fine leather and the color of a slightly underripe strawberry. He was wearing bermuda shorts that came down to his knees, and sandals. He had on a red shirt with a tropical flower design that was stretched so tighly over his enormous, sagging torso that the thick white hairs popping out all around the neckline looked like broken guitar strings. I overheard Ralph trying to encourage a couple and their two daughters to visit a beach house that had just opened a short walk away. His voice was like a parrot’s–if a parrot could form semi-coherent sentences. He offered the family a clock, a towel, a bottle of suntan lotion, and, "just because I like you," a free 5-day trip to Orlando. At one point he asked where they were from. "Canada?!?" His voice cracked across the beach and killed a seagull in midflight. "We LOVE Canadians!" No luck. He moved on to me. Unperturbed by my knowledge of the things he would offer me–clock, beachtowel, suntan lotion, he pressed on. I then said, "I’m from Nashville. Do you love Nashvillians? Do I get a free 5-day trip to Orlando?" Ralph suddenly became aware that he was in the presence of Beach Pest Repellent. He murmured, "Come on by" and moved on to fresher meat. I later heard him setting back international relations by half a century. "Germany? We LOVE Germanians!"

Bumper Stickers

* Horn broken. Watch for finger.

* Your kid may be an honors student, but you’re still an idiot.

* All generalizations are false.

* Cover me. I’m changing lanes.

* I brake for no apparent reason.

* Learn from your parents’ mistakes – use birth control.

* I’m not as think as you drunk I am.

* Forget about World Peace…Visualize using your turn signal.

* We have enough youth, how about a fountain of Smart?

* He who laughs last thinks slowest.

* Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.

* It IS as bad as you think, and they ARE out to get you.

* Auntie Em, Hate you, hate Kansas, taking the dog. Dorothy.

* Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

* Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.

* Out of my mind. Back in five minutes.

* Forget the Jones’s, I keep up with the Simpsons.

* Born free…Taxed to death.

* The more people I meet, the more I like my dog.

* Laugh alone and the world thinks you’re an idiot.

* Rehab is for quitters.

* I get enough exercise just pushing my luck.

* Sometimes I wake up grumpy; Other times I let him sleep.

* All men are idiots, and I married their King.

* Jack Kevorkian for White House Physician.

* Work is for people who don’t know how to fish.

* Montana — At least our cows are sane!

* I didn’t fight my way to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian.

* Women who seek to be equal to men lack ambition.

* If you don’t like the news, go out and make some.

* When you do a good deed, get a receipt–in case heaven is like the IRS.

* Sorry, I don’t date outside my species.

* No radio – Already stolen.

* Reality is a crutch for people who can’t handle drugs.

* Real women don’t have hot flashes, they have power surges.

* I took an IQ test and the results were negative.

* Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.

* OK, who stopped payment on my reality check?

* Few women admit their age; Fewer men act it.

* I don’t suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it.

* Hard work has a future payoff. Laziness pays off NOW.

* Tell me to ‘stuff it’ – I’m a taxidermist.

* IRS: We’ve got what it takes to take what you’ve got.

* Time is the best teacher; Unfortunately it kills all its students.

* It’s lonely at the top, but you eat better.

* According to my calculations, the problem doesn’t exist.

* Some people are only alive because it is illegal to kill.

* Pride is what we have. Vanity is what others have.

* A bartender is just a pharmacist with a limited inventory.

* Reality? Is that where the pizza delivery guy comes from?

* How can I miss you if you won’t go away?

* Warning: Dates in Calendar are closer than they appear.

* Give me ambiguity or give me something else.

* We are born naked, wet, and hungry. Then things get worse.

* Make it idiot-proof and someone will make a better idiot.

* Always remember you’re unique, just like everyone else.

* Friends help you move. Real friends help you move bodies.

* Very funny Scotty, now beam down my clothes.

* Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.

* Consciousness: That annoying time between naps.

* i souport publik edekashun.

* Be nice to your kids. They’ll choose your nursing home.

* Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder…

* There are 3 kinds of people: those who can count & those who can’t

* Ever stop to think and forget to start again?

* I used to be worried about apathy. Now I don’t really care.

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