The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

The view from my office…

July 19, 1996

Well, folks, the view from my office this week was going to be Screen Savers, or Don’t Leave Your Computer Unattended When Chris Is Around, but yesterday there was an emergency in the building. A construction worker spit in one of the smoke alarms, and suddenly sirens were sounding, the fire lights were flashing, and a pre-recorded message was crackling over intercoms I never knew my office had. "Attention! An emergency has been reported in the building! Please walk to the nearest stairway exit!" Naturally everybody ran to their offices to grab their valuables and anything else they could carry. "Do not take the elevators," droned the voice as everybody came out carrying post-it notes, coffee mugs, keychains, and Walkman stereos and headed straight for the elevators. Thinking that this was one of the few times when following instructions would actually be a good idea, I actually took the stairs. Naturally I got caught, one flight down, behind two suited gentlemen who blocked the stairway like cholesterol blocks an artery. Today was the first day they were wearing their new wingtips, and they were having trouble with the laces. Although ninety nine times out of a hundred these alarms turn out to be false, I was in no mood to tempt fate, and was about to fix their shoelace problem with my penknife when the pressure from behind–the five or six other people who decided to take the stairs–got the human clot moving again. Finally I made it out of the building and pushed my way through a crowd gathered two feet outside the door. "I wonder if it’s a bomb," someone muttered. I decided to get farther away from the building–if someone really were going to blow up the hair salon or the Japanese restaurant I didn’t want to be among the spectators scattered across the county. I’ve never understood why people stay right by the building when there’s possibly a fire or a bomb threat–no one should be that dedicated to their job. The last time there was an alarm in the building, I was somewhere else eating lunch. When I came back, a group of about thirty people was standing on the sidewalk staring straight up. No one said anything, and for all I knew, someone was dangling something out of their office window and drawing a crowd. I went back to my office and worked for about half an hour, when my fellow employees came back. They gathered around my office. "Where were you, Chris?" I said, "The safest place I could possibly be."

Enjoy this week’s humor from the internet..


  • You find yourself typing "com" after every period when using a word

  • You turn off your modem and get this awful empty feeling, like you just pulled the plug on a loved one.

  • You start introducing yourself as "Jon at I-I-Net dot com"

  • All of your friends have an @ in their name.

  • You can’t call your mother….. she doesn’t have a modem.

  • Your phone bill comes to your doorstep in a box.

  • You laugh at people with 2400 baud modems.

  • You move into a new house and decide to Netscape before you landscape.

  • You tell the cab driver you live at: http://123.elm.street/house/bluetrim.html

  • You actually clicked on the above link to see where it led to.

  • You start tilting your head sideways to smile. 🙂

  • Your spouse says communication is important in a marriage….. so you buy another computer and install a second phone line so the two of you can chat.

  • You begin to wonder how on earth your service provider is allowed to call 200 hours per month "unlimited."


At the crack of dawn…

July 12, 1996

Yesterday I noticed that the building across the street from my office is having its roof retarred. It’s amazing how fascinating something like that is when you really have to work. Even more interesting was the observation of the behavioral patterns of that strange and unusual creature known as the construction worker (aedificatus ignoratus). It’s generally assumed that this creature is of low intelligence, but I’ve argued within the zoological community that there are actually construction workers of very high intelligence. They’re hard to spot because they camouflage themselves so well, although some of the distinguishing features would be a lack of blackened gums, ears which are not clogged with wax and dead flies, and glasses. Why would there be such creatures? Simple: anybody can write a thesis on the hierarchical social structure of an extinct tribe on a large island just off the southwest coast of India, but not everybody has the upper body strength to lift a hundred pound bag of concrete in 90 degree heat. Why do I believe such a creature exists? Because I have proof. Years ago (sometime between the days when the streets of my home town were mostly dirt and travelled by barefoot men in overalls and Nixon’s resignation, at which time the streets in my home town were mostly paved but still travelled by barefoot men in overalls) I worked for Planetoxic Trucking Inc. I had the prestigious title of Customer Service Representative, and came into contact with many of the company’s more colorful employees. On two separate occasions, I actually talked to truck drivers who had Ph.D.s. Two! As if one wasn’t weird enough! Needless to say, it was an eye-opening experience. I can’t look at a gathering of construction workers spitting and rubbing their armpits without wondering if there isn’t a chemist or a literary critic among them. That one there, with the thoughtful look on his face–he could at this moment be contemplating the semiotics of Hopi linguistics and its ramifications for…no, wait–he’s just scratching his……never mind.

That’s the view from my office, folks. Enjoy this week’s offering, and let’s hope that Dave Barry is enough of a Freethinker that he doesn’t mind that someone sent me an excerpt from one of his books. This piece is so funny I didn’t feel right keeping it to myself.


College is basically a bunch of rooms where you sit for roughly two thousand hours and try to memorize things. The two thousand hours are spread out over four years; you spend the rest of the time sleeping and trying to get dates.

Basically, you learn two kinds of things in college:

1. Things you will need to know in later life (two hours).
2. Things you will not need to know in later life (1,998 hours).

These are the things you learn in classes whose names end in -ology, -osophy, -istry, -ics, and so on. The idea is, you memorize these things, then write them down in little exam books, then forget them. If you fail to forget them, you become a professor and have to stay in college for the rest of your life.

It’s very difficult to forget everything. For example, when I was in college, I had to memorize — don’t ask me why — the names of three metaphysical poets other than John Donne. I have managed to forget one of them, but I still remember that the other two were named Vaughan and Crashaw. Sometimes, when I’m trying to remember something important like whether my wife told me to get tuna packed in oil or tuna packed in water, Vaughan and Crashaw just pop up in my mind, right there in the supermarket. It’s a terrible waste of brain cells.

After you’ve been in college for a year or so, you’re supposed to choose a major, which is the subject you intend to memorize and forget the most things about. Here is a very important piece of advice: be sure to choose a major that does not involve Known Facts and Right Answers. This means you must not major in mathematics, physics, biology, or chemistry, because these subjects involve actual facts. If, for example, you major in mathematics, you’re going to wander into class one day and the professor will say: "Define the cosine integer of the quadrant of a rhomboid binary axis, and extrapolate your result to five significant vertices." If you don’t come up with exactly the answer the professor has in mind, you fail. The same is true of chemistry: if you write in your exam book that carbon and hydrogen combine to form oak, your professor will flunk you. He wants you to come up with the same answer he and all the other chemists have agreed on.

Scientists are extremely snotty about this.

So you should major in subjects like English, philosophy, psychology, and sociology — subjects in which nobody really understands what anybody else is talking about, and which involve virtually no actual facts. I attended classes in all these subjects, so I’ll give you a quick overview of each:

ENGLISH: This involves writing papers about long books you have read little snippets of just before class. Here is a tip on how to get good grades on your English papers: Never say anything about a book that anybody with any common sense would say. For example, suppose you are studying Moby-Dick. Anybody with any common sense would say that Moby-Dick is a big white whale, since the characters in the book refer to it as a big white whale roughly eleven thousand times. So in your paper, you say Moby-Dick is actually the Republic of Ireland.

Your professor, who is sick to death of reading papers and never liked Moby-Dick anyway, will think you are enormously creative. If you can regularly come up with lunatic interpretations of simple stories, you should major in English.

PHILOSOPHY: Basically, this involves sitting in a room and deciding there is no such thing as reality and then going to lunch. You should major in philosophy if you plan to take a lot of drugs.

PSYCHOLOGY: This involves talking about rats and dreams. Psychologists are obsessed with rats and dreams. I once spent an entire semester training a rat to punch little buttons in a certain sequence, then training my roommate to do the same thing. The rat learned much faster. My roommate is now a doctor. If you like rats or dreams, and above all if you dream about rats, you should major in psychology.

SOCIOLOGY: For sheer lack of intelligibility, sociology is far and away the number one subject. I sat through hundreds of hours of sociology courses, and read gobs of sociology writing, and I never once heard or read a coherent statement. This is because sociologists want to be considered scientists, so they spend most of their time translating simple, obvious observations into scientific-sounding code. If you plan to major in sociology, you’ll have to learn to do the same thing. For example, suppose you have observed that children cry when they fall down. You should write: "Methodological observation of the sociometrical behavior tendencies of prematurated isolates indicates that a casual relationship exists between groundward tropism and lachrimatory, or ‘crying,’ behavior forms." If you can keep this up for fifty or sixty pages, you will get a large government grant.

Where did THAT come from?

June 27, 1996

Folks, you’re getting this week’s edition a little early because I’m going to be out tomorrow. It seems that the last time I re-entered the U.S. and went through Customs, I took the form they gave me and under "Are you carrying any illegal or dangerous substances?" I wrote, "What did you have in mind?" You know how bureaucrats are–they just got around to actually processing the form the other day, and now they’ve called me in for a few questions. Of course, I may not make it to the interview, because when I leave work, I completely forget how to read clocks. It’s because of this hate-hate relationship I’ve always had with alarm clocks. It’s bad enough that someone had to invent them in the first place, but to make matters worse, some genius in the last ten years or so added the most useless device ever conceived: the snooze button. For those of you who don’t know, a snooze button shuts off the alarm and then makes it come on again sometime between one and ten minutes later (determining any regularity in the snooze delay has baffled modern science.) Now, if your alarm goes off and you decide you want a couple of extra minutes of sleep, the snooze button is wonderful. If you’re like me, though, once you’ve hit that button you can’t get back to sleep because you know that at some indeterminate moment the alarm is going to be screaming you again. You have to hit the snooze button four or five times before you get those couple of extra minutes of sleep, and by that time you’ve built up a resistance to the alarm so those extra couple of minutes turn into an extra couple of hours. When you awaken to your boss screaming at you from the other end of a telephone line, the day is pretty well shot and you might as well go back to bed.

My advice: keep something between yourself and the alarm clock, something guaranteed to get you up and moving. As for me, I keep my wife there, and I’d like to take this opportunity to say Happy Anniversary. Thanks for giving me a reason to get moving every morning for the past three years.

Yeah, yeah, I know, you’re all saying, "Chris must be getting soft in his old age." Well give a guy a break once in a while–it’s a big job being the illegitimate son of Lenny Bruce and Sylvia Plath. Enjoy this week’s offering.

A story from the mid-1930s, U. of Edinburgh medical school, second-term human physiology course, Prof. Kenneth Ivors, Instructor:

"Good morning, class. Before we begin today’s lecture, I should like to discover how well ye have been tracking the previous material.

Miss MacMaster, will ye stand?" {She stands.}

"Can ye tell me, which organ of the body achieves 10 times its normal size when it is excited?"

{She stammers, reddens, says nothing.}

"Ye may sit down. Mr. Campbell, can ye answer that question?"

"It is the pupil of the eye, sir."

"Vurra good. Now, Miss MacMaster, I have three things to say to you: One, you have not done your homework, Two, you have a dirty mind, and Three, you’re in for a big disappointment."

Let’s all celebrate!

June 21, 1996

Today officially marks the 87th Freethinker Edition. I’m celebrating this special event because by the time I get to 100 I’ll have run out of ideas. Actually, I don’t know how many this is, it could be somewhere in the millions for all I know, but, what the heck, let’s celebrate anyway. And as part of the celebration, I’d just like to say–Sri Lanka! Now that that’s out of the way…To celebrate the official 72nd Freethinker Edition, I offer a tribute to the place where I get most of my ideas. The men’s restroom in my office building is not exactly the sort of place you need a guided tour of, but very few people know how much drama takes place as men engage in difficult and complicated rituals. Gone are the days when men would retire to their own private tree painted to look like tile with a piece of bark under their arm. No, men are actually now forced to interact with each other, to sometimes perform duels that end in the winner taking the last available space while the loser stands back and does his best to look completely indifferent while contemplating what sort of engineering feat would be required to dam up Niagara Falls. In less crowded conditions, there is always the difficult question of whether to stand and face the tile or take advantage of a few minutes of restful contemplation. Of course, sometimes circumstances determine one over the other, but many men like to at least pretend that they have a choice in the matter. Many apparently prefer to stand, though, and weak-bladdered advertising executives have taken advantage of this to place advertisements exactly at eye-level. For places without advertisements, there is always the question of whether or not to talk to the others gathered here, to shift the focus of attention away from the task in hand, so to speak. I’ve learned more about global climate patterns and political science while trying to disguise my amazement at the amount of coffee I drank than I could ever learn in years of study. The final question is, of course, whether or not to wash our hands. Actually, there is a third school of thought–there’s the guy who brings in his portable shaving kit and spends twenty minutes placing as precisely as he can those eleven–no, ten, damn bristle brush!–hairs over his scalp. Most men, I promise, are more concerned with hygiene here than anywhere else. The slob who is still wearing yesterday’s breakfast on his shirt has probably washed his hands. In fact, the only reason we might consider not taking the time is because, well, we never know who we’ll be shaking hands with.

Me again–after all that do you really need anything else? Besides, we’re celebrating the 112th Freethinker Edition. I just wanted to say that a lot of you asked about the name and phone number that I forgot to edit out of last week’s edition. The name was my boss, and the phone number was her office. Be sure to give her a call and tell her what a good job I’m doing. And while you’re at it, tell her you’re with the FBI.

Feeling Friday!

You do a lot of stupid things when you work in an office. It’s not just because of boredom, either–something about the environment just naturally drains the intelligence out of people. It’s not that we necessarily make stupid mistakes, although all of us do, but sometimes we’re compelled to do stupid things. (At least, I am, and maybe I’m the only one. Maybe I’m now confirming suspicions I’ve planted in all of your minds already, but I’m in an office now, so I can’t help it.) The closest thing to compare it with is when you’re really drunk, and you wake up the next morning to find your bed surrounded by those toys they give kids in fast food places. The difference is that in an office we’re completely aware of what we’re doing, but feel compelled to do it anyway. I have a two and a half pound ball of rubber bands. I’ve written the first six chapters of a novel on Post-It-Notes. Once, though, I wasted part of an afternoon doing something that tops everything: a co-worker brought in a pink stuffed hippopotamus to decorate her office (no rude comments, now–I work with people who think aluminum cans are an essential part of tasteful decor). So I, having too much to do to get anything done, took a large ball of string I’d made and decided to see if it would reach the ground floor from my office window (I work on the seventh floor). Naturally I decided to use the pink stuffed hippo as a weight. Unfortunately I forgot that I hadn’t tied the first foot or so of string on to the rest of the ball, so the hippo’s lifeline suddenly slipped out of my hand and he made a quick trip to the bushes by the front door. Undaunted, I decided to try again, this time with something disposable–a pencil. I had just reached the sixth floor when a hand reached out and grabbed the pencil. I reacted like any fisherman would–pulling with all my might, and hissing at my now hippo-less co-worker to get me some scissors before this unseen person shouting “Hello! Hello! Who’s up there?” turned out to be the Human Fly doing a little side work for building secuity. The string was cut, I hid the ball of string (in case they did an office-by-office search), and….well, I’m ashamed to admit it, but I spent the rest of the day working. The hippo? Oh, he ended up on the menu at Taste of Colombo.

Hey, let’s have a meeting.

There are two major kinds of work in modern organizations:

1. Taking phone messages for people who are in meetings, and,
2. Going to meetings.

Your ultimate career strategy will be to get a job involving primarily No. 2, going to meetings, as soon as possible, because that’s where the real prestige is. It is all very well and good to be able to take phone messages, but you are never going to get a position of power, a position where you can cost thousands of people their jobs with a single bonehead decision, unless you learn how to attend meetings.

The first meeting ever was held back in the Mezzanine Era. In those days, Man’s job was to slay his prey and bring it home for Woman, who had to figure out how to cook it. The problem was, Man was slow and basically naked, whereas the prey had warm fur and could run like an antelope. (In fact it was an antelope, only nobody knew this).

At last someone said, “Maybe if we just sat down and did some brainstorming, we could come up with a better way to hunt our prey!” It went extremely well, plus it was much warmer sitting in a circle, so they agreed to meet again the next day, and the next.

But the women pointed out that, prey-wise, the men had not produced anything, and the human race was pretty much starving. The men agreed that was serious and said they would put it right near the top of their “agenda”. At this point, the women, who were primitive but not stupid, started eating plants, and thus modern agriculture was born. It never would have happened without meetings.

The modern business meeting, however, might better be compared with a funeral, in the sense that you have a gathering of people who are wearing uncomfortable clothing and would rather be somewhere else. The major difference is that most funerals have a definite purpose. Also, nothing is really ever buried in a meeting. An idea may look dead, but it will always reappear at another meeting later on. If you have ever seen the movie, “Night of the Living Dead,” you have a rough idea of how modern meetings operate, with projects and proposals that everyone thought were killed rising up constantly from their graves to stagger back into meetings and eat the brains of the living.

There are three major kinds of meetings:

1. Meetings that are held for basically the same reason that Arbor Day is observed – namely, tradition. For example, a lot of managerial people like to meet on Monday, because it’s Monday. You’ll get used to it. You’d better, because this kind account for 83% of all meetings (based on a study in which I wrote down numbers until one of them looked about right). This type of meeting operates the way”Show and Tell” does in nursery school, with everyone getting to say something, the difference being that in nursery school, the kids actually have something to say.

When it’s your turn, you should say that you’re still working on whatever it is you’re supposed to be working on. This may seem pretty dumb, since obviously you’d be working on whatever you’re supposed to be working on, and even if you weren’t, you’d claim you were, but that’s the traditional thing for everyone to say. It would be a lot faster if the person running the meeting would just say, “Everyone who is still working on what he or she is supposed to be working on, raise your hand.” You’d be out of there in five minutes, even allowing for jokes.

But this is not how we do it in America. My guess is, it’s how they do it in Japan.

2. Meetings where there is some alleged purpose. These are trickier, because what you do depends on what the purpose is. Sometimes the purpose is harmless, like someone wants to show slides of pie charts and give everyone a big, fat report. All you have to do in this kind of meeting is sit there and have elaborate fantasies, then take the report back to your office and throw it away, unless, of course, you’re a vice president, in which case you write the name of a subordinate in the upper right hand corner, followed by a question mark, like this: “Norm?” Then you send it to Norm and forget all about it (although it will plague Norm for the rest of his career).

3. But sometimes you go to meetings where the purpose is to get your “input” on something. This is very serious because what it means is, they want to make sure that in case whatever it is turns out to be stupid or fatal, you’ll get some of the blame, so you have to escape from the meeting before they get around to asking you anything. One way is to set fire to your tie.

Another is to have an accomplice interrupt the meeting and announce that you have a phone call from someone very important, such as the president of the company or the Pope. It should be one or the other. It would sound fishy if the accomplice said, “You have a call from the president of the company, or the Pope.”

You should know how to take notes at a meeting. Use a yellow legal pad. At the top, write the date and underline it twice. Now wait until an important person, such as your boss, starts talking; when he does, look at him with an expression of enraptured interest, as though he is revealing the secrets of life itself. Then write interlocking rectangles like this: (picture of doodled rectangles).

If it is an especially lengthy meeting, you can try something like this (Picture of more elaborate doodles and a caricature of the boss). If somebody falls asleep in a meeting, have everyone else leave the room. Then collect a group of total strangers, right off the street, and have them sit around the sleeping person until he wakes up. Then have one of them say to him, “Bobo, your plan is very, very risky. However, you’ve given us no choice but to try it. I only hope, for your sake, that you know what you’re getting yourself into.” Then they should file quietly out of the room.

Friday, happy Friday!

June 7, 1996

My boss occasionally makes a huge urn of coffee, sometimes for special occasions, and sometimes just for the hell of it, and, although I don’t normally drink coffee, some strange urge possesses me and I end up being the one who makes sure that none of it goes to waste. Recently I took notes during the experience, so I proudly present to you Extracts from the Diary of a Caffeine Junkie:

8:31am-The first two cups were rather pale and watery, without a lot of coffee flavor. I asked somebody about this, and they explained that it’s usually a good idea to wait for the coffee to finish brewing before drinking it.

8:53am-My mouth is starting to taste like wet cardboard.

9:15am-The fifth cup really is as good as the first!

9:45am-In a panic I rush some outgoing materials to the mailbox where they’ll be picked up in only six hours. Whew! Nothing is as exhilarating as waiting until the last minute.

9:51am-The office seems to have suddenly become filled with mannequins who look like my co-workers.

9:53am-The mannequins all now have startled expressions as they slowly turn their heads to watch me go get another cup.

10:00am-I have changed the color scheme on my computer monitor seventeen times. It’s now an attractive combination of pink, yellow, orange, and fluorescent green. Come back to Jamaica!

10:15am-I’ve done more work this morning than I’ve done all week.

10:16am-My co-workers are out to get me. I’m sure of it.

10:22am-Seventh cup. I think that’s a record.

10:31am-My entire body is shaking uncontrollably. I’ve made a list of fifty-seven possible diseases this could be a symptom of. Topping the list are encephalitis, Alzheimers, Parkinsons, typhoid, and syphilis.

10:33am-I decide to get another cup to help me understand the company insurance policy.

10:34am-While reading my company insurance policy, I notice I’m bleeding from my pores.

10:35am-False alarm! It was just the glare from my monitor which is now bright red. It’s a good thing too because my company insurance policy doesn’t mention Congo fever anywhere.

10:47am-I get one last cup. I have to tilt the urn because the coffee is not coming out as rapidly as before. Some grounds have settled to the bottom of the cup. I swallow these down.

10:48am-Who let all these damn fireflies in here?

11:16am-A co-worker comes over and starts waving a can of Fresca in my face. I drive her away by shouting "Revive with Vivarin!"

11:22am-All my strength seems to have left me. I’d check my company insurance policy to see if apathy is covered, but I really don’t care.

11:30am-Lunch. Must…drag…self…to…drink…machine…get soda…

11:32am-One Coke later, I feel much better. Suddenly I’m surrounded by co-workers. I am put on the spot, and forced to promise that I’ll switch to decaf. Yeah, I will. Just let me take a couple of No-Doz tablets first…

I hope you enjoyed that, and now for something even more interesting–analogies that are extraordinarily creative, even if they’re not exactly literary. Pay attention, folks–these are the advertising executives of the future!

Worst Analogies (taken from High School papers)

He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it. (Joseph Romm, Washington)

She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook latches that used to dangle from screen doors and would fly up whenever you banged the door open again. (Rich Murphy, Fairfax Station)

The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t. (Russell Beland, Springfield)

McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty Bag filled with vegetable soup. (Paul Sabourin, Silver Spring)

From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and "Jeopardy" comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30. (Roy Ashley, Washington)

Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze. (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center. (Russell Beland, Springfield)

Bob was as perplexed as a hacker who means to access T:flw.quid55328.comaaakk/ch@ung but gets T:flw.quidaaakk/ch@ung by mistake (Ken Krattenmaker, Landover Hills)

Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever. (Unknown)

He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree. (Jack Bross, Chevy Chase)

The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease. (Gary F. Hevel, Silver Spring)

Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie this guy would be buried in the credits as something like "Second Tall Man." (Russell Beland, Springfield)

Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph. (Jennifer Hart, Arlington)

The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can. (Wayne Goode, Madison, Ala.)

They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth (Paul Kocak, Syracuse, N.Y.)

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met. (Russell Beland, Springfield)

The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play. (Barbara Fetherolf, Alexandria)

His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

Telephones Revisted

May 31, 1996

We all know how I feel about telephones, but what about answering machines? Okay, I have to admit, I have a soft spot in my heart for certain technological devices, including answering machines. After all, they’re the ultimate form of personal expression, and not just for the people who have those clever personalised messages that say things like, "This is Richard Nixon. Leave your message and everybody will hear it." I once spent two hours making a series of calls to a friend’s answering machine and describing in painful, frequently graphic, terms how unbelievably bored I was. Amazingly, though, the machine acted as a sort of non-speaking therapist, letting me get all the angst out of my system until I left one final message: "This has given me a new outlook on life. I think I’m going to go fly a kite." At other times, answering machines have allowed me to take out my frustrations, like the time I took advantage of the call transfer capability of my college campus phones and filled someone’s answering machine tape with a busy signal, or even better, the time I transferred a call to someone at 2 am just as the answering machine was picking up, so it would sound like the machine itself was calling them. (Considering the delirium I’m usually in when jolted out of sleep by the phone, I can only imagine what surreal insults were sent to the owner of the answering machine.) The best part about answering machines, though, is that they’re the ultimate way of screening calls. Even though the machine starts howling like a hemorroidal banshee if you pick it up mid-message, it’s better than going into a phone call without knowing if it’s friend or foe. The trick is explaining why, every time you’re at home, you seem to be in the shower.

Enjoy the following warning to anyone who enjoys the uses of technology too much. Even though my operatives in Sri Lanka (who kindly refer to me as their road map to the Information Dirt Road) may not fully appreciate this, I have a feeling that technology will eventually penetrate even the darkest jungles. Would someone else mind going out to meet it? I’ll be in the shower.

Well, it’s been a very busy month, and looks to continue to be, unless I get cut off, since I’ve only got a couple of hours to go before I’m over my "deluxe" account’s 240 hours!

When you exceed 240 hours of Internet usage during one calendar month, Teleport will dispatch their crack squad of "Get a life" advocates in their customized RealWorldMobile directly to your home or business.

They break down the door, pull you outside, and quickly (before pork-rinds-and-cola-drink withdrawal symptoms kick in) begin giving you nutrition containing at least three major food groups, since you haven’t been getting that lately.

By this time, your eyes will be reacting the strange things you’re seeing. That bright yellow thing is the sun, although you’re not the only one who has trouble recognizing it around here. The blueness behind it is not a background image, it’s the "sky." Those people staring at you are your "loved ones"; don’t worry if they don’t seem familiar at first. They were much younger the last time you saw them.

Within minutes, you’ll be whisked to a special detox center, where you’ll remain for the several days or weeks that it takes for you to lose the constant impulses to read net news and search the web. Instead, you’ll be able to spend time reading books and magazines. (Hint: If you find that you’re having trouble reading beyond a certain point because you want to press a key to continue, ask one of the nurses for help.)

At first, you’ll feel cut off from everything that matters in life: e-mail, the web, Usenet. You’ll want to dial the phone just to hear the modem tones. You’ll be tempted to ask your friends to smuggle in contraband items such as memory chips, diskettes, even transcripts of IRC sessions. Some people have sunk so low as to beg just for a chance to ping or finger.

But you’ll be surrounded by trained counselors who can help you during those long nights. Rest assured that the cure rate is nearly 100 percent, although most people continue to attend periodic support meetings.

I’ve been there. I know.

It’s a three day weekend!

May 24, 1996

I’ve been a little lax about doing this, but some new Freethinkers have joined us in our little corner of the Indian Ocean, so everybody wave!

Now, what can I say about dentists that hasn’t already been said? How about: why do all dentists have turtle necks? I don’t mean the shirt–I mean necks like the ones you see on those giant Galapagos turtles. But of course you have to stare at their necks because if you turn your eyes any other way you risk burning them out by staring into that reflective light that can be moved to any angle but is always kept at the one you find most uncomfortable. The other alternative is staring into your dentist’s eyes, but this is even worse. (Actually it would be a mean trick you could play on your dentist, sort of like a laboratory rabbit giving a sad, pitifully human look to a sadistic Mary Kay cosmetics tester, but in either case the chances of evoking sympathy are low.) So, the other day my dentist was vivisecting my mouth and I was, as usual, drooling like Pavlov’s dog at a bell ringers’ choir. I’ve never understood why I do this–metal in my mouth is about as appetizing as a giant turtle, but my dentists have always had to keep their sharp iron hook in one hand and that vacuum tube in the other. Anyway, we were still at the scraping stage, and hadn’t moved on to the point when she would actually clean my teeth with mint-flavored acid paste glopped on the end of a rotating eraser, and she stuck her hook into one of my molars and couldn’t get it out. She jiggled it back and forth, twisted it around, and finally put her knee on my chest and yanked it loose. She then vacuumed all the moisture out of my mouth, flashed her little mirror on a stick around in there, and said, "Is that tooth sensitive?" Now, if I could have spoken, there are a variety of answers I could have given:

1. Yes, and I’m reporting you to Amnesty International.
2. I’m sorry, what did you say? I was trying to avoid being jabbed in the eye by that enormous black hair sticking out of your neck.
3. If I hear the tune "Singin’ In the Rain" on that scratchy LP repeat itself one more time, I’m going to kill myself!

As it was I had to content myself with a sad rabbit look, trying to evoke some sympathy, until I remembered that turtles don’t have teeth.

Donkey Racing in Texas

A priest wanted to raise money for his church and being told that there was a fortune in horse racing, decided to purchase one and enter him in the races. However, at the local auction the going prices for horses was so steep, the priest ended up buying a donkey instead.

He figured that since he had it, he might as well go ahead and enter it in the races and to his surprise the donkey came in third.

The next day, the racing form carried this headline, "PRIEST’S ASS SHOWS."

The priest was so pleased with the donkey that he entered him in the races again. This time he won. The form read, "PRIEST’S ASS OUT FRONT" The bishop was so upset with this kind of publicity he ordered the priest not to enter the donkey in another race.

The headline that day was, "BISHOP SCRATCHES PRIEST’S ASS."

This was too much for the Bishop and he ordered the priest to get rid of the animal. The priest decided to give the donkey to a nun in a nearby convent. The headline the next day read, "NUN HAS BEST ASS IN TOWN." The bishop fainted. He informed the nun that she would have to dispose of the donkey. She finally found a farmer who was willing to buy the animal for $10.00. Next the paper stated, "NUN PEDDLES ASS FOR TEN BUCKS."

They buried the Bishop the next day.

What a long and weird week it’s been…

May 16, 1996

I have to make a special trip to Colombo tomorrow to check the final plans for the Freethinkers’ Institute (construction to begin sometime in 2020) so I’m coming to you a little early this week.

Is it just me or is there a world wide plot to kill pedestrians? I read in history class once about a man who hated pedestrians so much he invented a machine designed to eliminate them entirely, but very few people like to think of Henry Ford as a psychotic on a mission.

More and more, though, I’ve begun to think that cars do something to their owners that makes anyone crossing the street look like they have a giant bullseye painted right on them. And it’s getting worse.

Now they’ve started conspiring with each other. The other day, while waiting to cross a three-lane one-way street–at the crosswalk, by the way, although I’m proud to say I’ve exercised my pedestrian right to cross the street anywhere in eleven different countries–a car stopped in front of the crosswalk in the lane nearest me and the driver motioned to me to cross the street. He didn’t seem to notice that a mighty automobile river was flowing through the other two lanes at forty miles an hour. So, he and I looked at each other for about ten minutes, me keeping one eye on the still massive flood of traffic and he continuing to motion for me to cross. He was obviously getting frustrated that I was not taking advantage of his courteous offer to turn me into a streetburger, and I was getting worried that eventually he was going to get tired and drive up onto the sidewalk and come after me. Finally he drove off in a huff, and, with all three lanes now open, the flood turned into a trickle and I successfully slipped by an accelerating pickup truck.

The moral of this story is simple and obvious. It also eludes me at the moment. Enjoy this week’s offering.

Stupid Criminal Hall of Shame

Kentucky: Two men tried to pull the front off a cash machine by running a chain from the machine to the bumper of their pickup truck. Instead of pulling the front panel off the machine, though, they pulled the bumper off their truck. Scared, they left the scene and drove home. With the chain still attached to the machine. With their bumper still attached to the chain. With their vehicle’s license plate still attached to the bumper.

South Carolina: A man walked into a local police station, dropped a bag of cocaine on the counter, informed the desk sergeant that it was substandard cut, and asked that the person who sold it to him be arrested immediately.

Indiana: A man walked up to a cashier at a grocery store and demanded all the money in the register. When the cashier handed him the loot, he fled–leaving his wallet on the counter.

England: A German "tourist," supposedly on a golf holiday, shows up at customs with his golf bag. While making idle chatter about golf, the customs official realizes that the tourist does not know what a "handicap" is. The customs official asks the tourist to demonstrate his swing, which he does–backward! A substantial amount of narcotics was found in the golf bag.

Arizona: A company called "Guns For Hire" stages gunfights for Western movies, etc. One day, they received a call from a 47-year- old woman, who wanted to have her husband killed. She got 4-1/2 years in jail.

Texas: A man convicted of robbery worked out a deal to pay $9600 in damages rather than serve a prison sentence. For payment, he provided the court a check–a *forged* check. He got 10 years.

(Location Unknown): A man went into a drug store, pulled a gun, announced a robbery, and pulled a Hefty-bag face mask over his head–and realized that he’d forgotten to cut eyeholes in the mask.

(Location Unknown): A man successfully broke into a bank after hours and stole–are you ready for this?–the bank’s video camera. While it was recording. Remotely. (That is, the videotape recorder was located elsewhere in the bank, so he didn’t get the videotape of himself stealing the camera.)

(Location Unknown): A man successfully broke into a bank’s basement through a street-level window, cutting himself up pretty badly in the process. He then realized that (1) he could not get to the money from where he was,(2) he could not climb back out the window through which he had entered, and (3) he was bleeding pretty badly. So he located a phone and dialed "911" for help…

Virginia: Two men in a pickup truck went to a new-home site to steal a refrigerator. Banging up walls, floors, etc., they snatched a refrigerator from one of the houses, and loaded it onto the pickup. The truck promptly got stuck in the mud, so these brain surgeons decided that the refrigerator was too heavy. Banging up *more* walls, floors, etc., they put the refrigerator BACK into the house, and returned to the pickup truck, only to realize that they locked the keys in the truck–so they abandoned it.

(Location Unknown): A man walked into a Circle-K, put a $20 bill on the counter and asked for change. When the clerk opened the cash drawer, the man pulled a gun and asked for all the cash in the register, which the clerk promptly provided. The man took the cash from the clerk and fled– leaving the $20 bill on the counter. The total amount of cash he got from the drawer? Fifteen dollars.

Phone-in Phriday

May 10, 1996

I hate telephones. Let me rephrase that. I despise telephones.

The other day I had to call a company, and I got one of those recordings that give you options. "If this is regarding an order, please press 1 now. If this is regarding a problem, please press 2 now." I pressed 2. "If this problem is regarding a single book, please press 1 now. If this is regarding a long-term order, please press 2 now." I pressed 1. "If you have the book in hand, please press 1 now. If you were expecting the book and it has not arrived, please press 2 now." I pressed 1. Silence. Then, another recording: "The person you need to speak with is not available at this time. You are being routed to voice mail." I guess it goes without saying that I’m not going to hear from this person now, but a recording will probably call me in a few days to tell me what to do. This was a work matter, though, and our home telephones are rapidly becoming a means of greater self-expression. There are phones that allow you to choose what kind of ring you want. There are phones that have a speaker connected that will play a pre-recorded message telling you who is calling. And this is only the tip of the iceberg, folks. What about videophones? If I were you, I’d get in on the ground floor of miniature interior design because people are going to want backgrounds for the little image of themselves that appears on the screen. Everything from beer can pyramids to swimming pools and sprawling conservatories that couldn’t possibly fit in a one bedroom apartment. The problem with videophones is that, although they’ll be a great boon to the cosmetic industry, they’re going to be hell for anybody in an emergency at 3AM trying to call someone for help, because the person they’re calling is not going to want to have their goblin-eyed fishbowl face broadcast to a monitor no matter what the emergency is. And what about video answering machines? There’s an interesting thought: a lovely scene of a person strolling through a sunny field saying, "I’m not home right now, but please leave a message after I pick the daisy." Or maybe even a television spin-off–"America’s Funniest Answering Machine Videos". I know a few people who would include a clip of their brother hitting their cousin in the crotch with a baseball bat on their answering a machine if they could. It all comes down to one thing: technology is not inherently evil. And anyone who believes that has never been put on hold and forced to listen to a repeating pizza commercial.

For an obscure reference to Sri Lanka, please press 1 now.

36 politically correct ways to say someone is stupid

A few clowns short of a circus.
A few fries short of a Happy Meal.
An experiment in Artificial Stupidity.
A few beers short of a six-pack.
Dumber than a box of hair.
A few peas short of a casserole.
Doesn’t have all his cornflakes in one box.
The wheel’s spinning, but the hamster’s dead.
One Fruit Loop shy of a full bowl.
One taco short of a combination plate.
A few feathers short of a whole duck.
All foam, no beer.
The cheese slid off his cracker.
Body by Fisher, brains by Mattel.
Has an IQ of 2, but it takes 3 to grunt.
Warning: Objects in mirror are dumber than they appear.
Couldn’t pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel.
He fell out of the Stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down.
An intellect rivaled only by garden tools.
As smart as bait.
Chimney’s clogged.
Doesn’t have all his dogs on one leash.
Doesn’t know much but leads the league in nostril hair.
Elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor.
Forgot to pay his brain bill.
Her sewing machine’s out of thread.
His antenna doesn’t pick up all the channels.
His belt doesn’t go through all the loops.
If he had another brain, it would be lonely.
Missing a few buttons on his remote control.
No grain in the silo.
Proof that evolution CAN go in reverse.
Receiver is off the hook.
Several nuts short of a full pouch.
Skylight leaks a little.
Slinky’s kinked.
Surfing in Nebraska.
Too much yardage between the goal posts.
In the pinball game of life, his flippers were a little further apart than most.

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