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Random posts from the LJ I've had for years:

Life in Weird Chicago - life in the big city and and as a ghost tour guide.

Appetite for Deconstruction - postsanalyzing pop culture

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ENTRIES 2002-2005

Want to feel a weird feeling?

Try eating matzo ball soup while reading a book about the guy who kept Einstein's brain in a jar of formaldahyde for several years. G'head.

Just got a call from the local radio station. They're giving away their "Best of 2002" awards, and it seems I've won "Funniest Song" (for "Pushing Cheerleaders Down the Stairs") and "Most Unique Style."

However, I refused to accept the awards as a protest for the fact that I was not nominated for "best looking." What gives?

Perhaps you all heard about Laura Bush cancelling a poetry symposium when she head that some of the poets would be reading anti-war works. Yesterday, I ream a poem called " 'Kids nowadays,' muttered Hoover" at a symposium that was held in response and, when the mic wouldn't work, I cracked that "Laura Bush is probably hiding behind the tree, holding some vital piece of the mic and laughing." I didn't know that the media was present. This, of course, was the quote they ran with.

I have decided that, henceforth, the term "yo" will be considered incorrect. The correct word is "yohm."

I don't remember whether I already posted this, but I have a great idea for a new TV show. It would be on right after Meet the Press, and would be called "Meet the Weirdos." We'd take whoever was on "Meet the Press," and sit 'em down with a bunch of weirdos to talk for an hour or so about whatever the weirdos have on their minds. I'd watch it.

I have a plan for a new business!

We will design and sell things that seem amusing to drunks. Toasters with built-in flashlights. Can openers with a radio attatched. Shiney things. Corkscrews with a compass in the end. Screwdrivers with flashing lights on the end.

We'll have catalogs (laminated) in every bar in the world.

We'll call "Things You'd Better Not Forget To Buy Before You Go Home Or Your Wife Will Kill You."

Credit card orders are accepted 24 hours a day.

Got the idea from Skymall, of course.

Know what's weird?

Watching the "call to arms" speeches from Henry V on one channel, then changing channels and watching the big battle scene at the end of Ernest Goes to Camp.

One should have a "theme" when redecorating one's bathroom. Like "Mediterranean" or "New York City." Since it's important to keep one's budget in mind, one shouldn't go for anything too fancy if one's budget is less than $15. That's why I picked "New Jersey" as the theme for my bathroom.

Seriously, though, it's decorated with pictures from Weird NJ magazine in dollar store frames. One whole wall is covered with old artwork featuring depictions of The Jersey Devil. It's really quite a cool bathroom now.

My first exposure to punk was in 1986. My family was in Minneapolis visiting relatives, and one night we took a trip downtown. At least part of the reason we were going was "to see the punks." I'd never even heard of a "punk" before.

I was the first to spot one. Upon seeing a guy with a large green spiked mohawk, I pointed and shouted "There's one!" I remember the guy grinning at me as my parents quickly rushed me away, telling me that they didn't like to be stared at. Nowadays, I know that I probably made that guy's day.

Over the rest of the evening, we saw an awful lot of groups of punks walking around downtown. Every time some of them would approach, my parents would whisper that I was not to stare at them, point at them, or say anything to or about them. It was very similar to what I was told at the zoo next day when we approached anything dangerous.

It wasn't until much later that I actually heard any punk; for years, my only impression of the whole genre was seeing people with brightly colored hair wandering around downtown Minneapolis. All I knew of the punk scene was that it was like Halloween every day. It's a wonder that I didn't grow up to be a hardcore punk myself.

I found myself with a strange craving for gummi worms tonight.

So, sometime after dark, I found myself down at FoodMax, buying gummi worms and the Weekly World News (in rare form this week, the cover story is that an alien is in jail following a fist fight with Bill Clinton over Hilary. I couldn't pass that up. The speakers overhead very softly blasted Springsteen's "Backstreets" followed by Olivia Newton John doing "Midnight At The Oasis." I'm not making this up.

The cashier was a young fellow named Webster. Looked as though he may have been young enough to have been born AFTER the Webster TV show, which would indicate that his parents were very cruel people.

Lesson Number 1: Never wear a "West Wing" t-shirt to a class in the business building. This is a dead giveaway that you're from "the other building." They don't care much for that building.

"You aren't a business major, are you?" they asked, upon seeing my shirt.

"Nope. Creative writing," I said.

"Has anyone who ever majored in creative writing ever actually made any money?" someone asked.

"You'll be dead by the time you're forty. Most writers are," said another.

"All I know," said still another, "is that most writers turn out to be gay."

Sure, business majors are more likely than I to go on to become rich. But at what cost?

Appetite for Deconstruction
Okay, that article I linked earlier interested me so much that I went looking for similar stuff, and I came upon a thing about the story "The Golden Arm." This story always bugged me.

You've probably heard this basic ghost story: a woman with a golden arm dies and asks to be buried with it. Her husband steals it before she can be buried, and is haunted by her voice saying "who's got my golden arm" over and over, closer and closer, until it's right at his bed and she shouts "you got it!" Mark Twain used to tell it a lot. I heard him. (And if you say that I'm too young to have heard him, well, you remind me a lot of my oldest daughter).

How this woman came to need a golden arm, and how she came to die, never seem to come up. But I'll bet she lost her arm doing something stupid and she probably deserved to die. What kind of person gets a golden arm? It would be expensive as all get out, and likely useless as a prosthetic device. Also, it would probably be really heavy. Maybe she died from having her spine twisted all out of wack.

Then, in light of the expense, asking to be buried with it, when her husband could surely use the money, is just plain greedy. Here we have a woman who was probably all for abolishing the estate tax! Why does a dead person need an expensive prosthetic device? Would it make her the envy of all the other ghosts?

Still, this story scared me when I was a kid, and I'm not ashamed. If you ask Bloody Mary to come out of the mirror, you just get what you ask for. But the sort of woman who would buy a golden arm and then demand to be buried with it is certainly the kind of person of whom one should be afraid. Very afraid.

Ever Meet a Burger That Could Take a Bite Outta You?
My car broke down today near a field in the middle of nowhere. Again. I stepped out, made the necessary cell phone calls, and sat back to wait.

Then the cows arrived.

At first there were just a couple, far off in the field. Then, in a moment, there was a whole herd of them.

"Moo!" I called, since I was bored. I soon came to realize that this was not the best idea I ever had, as they all took notice of me and began to proceed towards the barbed wire fence that separated the road from the field.

I grew up in Iowa, where statues of cows (some of which are made of butter) are not uncommon. But seeing a whole herd of cows (I stopped counting at 40) lumbering towards you can be quite unnerving.

Soon they were right at the fence, five feet away from me, like a group of fans at a ropeline clamoring for an autograph. I tried to remember my Iowa days.

"Hmm..." I thought. "Cows aren't....vicious...are they?"

I looked at them, forty or more along the fence, some poking their heads through and staring right at me. They were drooling obscenely, snarling, stinking, and, in some cases, peeing noisily. They had thick ropes of snot coming out of their noses. They certainly LOOKED vicious.

Thinking of all of the hamburgers I've eaten over the years, I decided I'd better make friends with them.

"Hello, ladies," I called. "My car is broken down. Some sort of electrical problem."

"Moo," said one of them.

"Moo," the rest chimed in. I hoped that 'moo' was cow talk for "sounds like the alternator," and not "you look tasty."

"Um..." I continued..."anybody here from out of town?"

This went on for about fifteen minutes before the farmer came and drove them away.

"These things aren't vicious, are they?" I asked.

"Sure are," he said with a nod.

"Well, I don't think they know anything about cars," I said. "They haven't been very helpful at all."

He nodded and, with his four wheeler, drove them away from the fence and out of sight. I was in a much better mood for the rest of the time I spent waiting for help on the car to arrive. Surviving an encounter with 40 enormous animals is a real pick me up.

NOTE: while I was standing there, a passing motorist was so amused by the sight of me trying to persuade 40+ cows that were lined up at the fence not to break through and trample me that she stopped to take pictures. If she makes good on her promise to send me one, I'll surely post it here. (ed - she never did)

Here in Georgia, it's illegal to sell alcohol on Sundays.

This morning, I had trouble buying a jar of "Emeril's Vodka Sauce," which I found in the spaghetti sauce section.

"Is there vodka in this?" asked the cashier.

"It's not a drink," I told her.

"Still," she said, checking the ingredients and, I'm sure, imagining me sitting on a bench in the parking lot chugging tomato sauce straight out of the jar. Absolut Spaghetti?

'm talking with an old friend about the old days, back before there was internet porn. I wish to point out that middle school kids nowadays have it made.

They have never....

- talked an adult into letting them rent "Revenge of the Nerds" for the fifth time, all the while staying ready to explain "you know, the plot is so complicated..." if need be.

- forced themselves to stay up until 4, convinced that, at some unholy hour, USA is allowed to show nudity.

- bribed a schoolmate to get them a subscription card to Playboy and plotted to subscribe using a post office box and praying the mailmen wouldn't know what was up. And going on long, long late night walks to work out all of the details of the scheme.

- dug through the artistic photography section or drawing section at Waldenbooks, having heard rumors of all sorts of nude goings-on.

- had to hide what few naked pictures they could acquire in hidden spots in the attic, behind shelves, etc.

- paid good money to see "Milk Money," possibly the worst movie ever, just because it MIGHT have a butt shot (it doesn't).

- been very, very excited by the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Nope. Kids today have no reason to have done any of them, since they can see all of this just by opening their e-mail. Think of the time they must save! If I had that kind of time opened up for me when I was a kid, and put it to good use, I could've invented something, learned another language... I could've been a contender!

I've never done any of them either, of course. I'm just saying, hypothetically, is all. I just want to make sure we're clear on this.

From the idea department: caffeinated donuts.

From the even better ideas that no one else seems to like department: Viking-style maps Manhatten that say "here there be monsters" where New Jersey is.

Nothing brightens a slow day like telling Mastercard that your roommate can't come to the phone right now because she's in Yemen working for Halliburton. How said roommate and I kept a straight face while I went through a good long conversation detailing her job overseas I'll never know.

Here's something most of you don't know about me: I'm an award-winning opera singer.

It's true. In my sixth grade music class, we did a unit on opera, and, in small groups, we had to act out (if not sing) scenes from "Amahl and the Night Visitors." I sang my part, and, though there were no awards scheduled, the teacher actually gave me an award for my portrayal of "mother."

She told one of the other classes that I was the best mother she ever had.

It has been pointed out many times, and I agree with said pointing, that "retard" is really, really not a nice thing to call some one.

Hence, last night a new term was coined - "Repug." (pronounced REE-pug, emphasis on the first syllable). A repug is "one who is repugnant."

As in:

"You have mustard all over your face. You look like a total repug."

"My boss has been acting like a complete repug lately."

"Boy, how about that Dick Cheney? What a repug!"

So, for my "interview" today, I was to spend a day shadowing a senior employee to see what my job would be. It took me about five minutes to figure out that it was a pyramid scheme, but, by that time, I was on the road to Elk Grove Village, and had no choice but to spend 8 hours watching a slick jerk from whom I would NOT take a chocolate covered pretzel go door to door to give me an incredible offer.

Tomorrow, I will go back to the office. I spent a whole day, and, the way I see it, they owe me money. Also, I'd like to blackmail them. And I have the stuff with which to do it.

The message to slick jerks with Flock of Seagulls Comb-Overs is clear: don't waste my time.

So I called up the office of the company that insisted it was not a pyramid scheme.

The manager and I had a little conversation. I said I should be paid for the training I went through yesterday, he brought up that I had signed a contract stating I was only an unpaid observer. I brought up reasons that the contract was invalid, and how they had made it invalid, and then brought up the Better Business Bureau and the Fair Labor Act of 1957 (it really pays to know about that one).

So we had a little battle. I mentioned that I was a writer who named names. And haircuts. He said I was threatening him, I said I was just asking for profit-sharing (which is what they call how they pay their salesmen). I also said that if you want to get into "what this is like," I can say that what they did yesterday wasn't that far removed from locking me in a trunk and trying to get me to join a cult.

Anyway, I'm getting paid for yesterday.

One thought on being fired from retail work:

I may have drawn her name, but if my boss thinks for one minute that I'm still going to be her "Secret Santa," she's got another thing coming.

At my current job (as a merchandiser for Mattel), I spend a lot of time prowling the back of K-Mart (an disorganized mess - you could have an Indiana Jones movie in there), Wal-Mart (same mess, more crap; one could die back there of any number of causes and they'd have your clothes on the clearance rack the next day), and Target (well organized, spacious, and altogether a very nice setup, as these things go).

Words of wisdom from my boss:

"Every now then, you hear a really good fight in the back of a K-mart."

I wish this job lasted til after Xmas.

I remember one day in pre-school when some kid's mom had milk and cookies with us. The cookies that day were large care bears, decorated as such with about five pounds of frosting. We went around the table and told which Care Bear we were eating.

"I have Cheer Bear," someone said.

"I have Tender Heart," I said, happy to get the bear that I actually owned in plush form.

Then came the bombshell:

"I have Halloween Bear," said the kid's mother.

"There's no Halloween Bear!" we all retorted.

"Oh," she said, "They probably have Halloween Bear, and Christmas Bear, and Easter Bear..."

I was shocked and apalled - there were no seasonal Care Bears! Where would they go the rest of the year - cold storage? This was a grown-up, and she didn't know that there were only so many Care Bears? It was like saying that the Berenstain Bears had a third cub during the summer. How could an ADULT not know this basic biological fact?

Now, Care Bears are back in stores, after a fifteen-year-or-so disappearance. Most of the originals are back, but, in my time in the toy departments, I've seen several bears that were not known to science in my day. Harmony Bear, Do-Your-Best Bear...where did these bears come from? The year after my pre-school encounter, another tribe of Care Bears, the Care Bear Cousins (which were not really bears, but other assorted animals), was discovered, but how other Bears came to join the usual tribe is probably shrouded in secrecy.

Another concern is that Grumpy Bear, who acted as a cynical counterweight to the saccharine other bears, seems to have vanished. Perhaps the poor old grouch died, perhaps he was seduced by whatever the dark side was in the Care Bear universe. There was probably a time when I knew this - but now I'm a grown-up myself. And I've forgotten my biology, too. (ed - he was still around, just hard to find)

If I were a pirate, my pirate name would be Land Ho.


Land Ho Calrissian.

(sorry, I needed some tomatoes. Start throwing).

Here is a survey. Fill in the blank.

"Be careful what you wish for; you just might get ___________"

Possible answers include: "A ticket to Cleveland," "a hernia," "it," "a mint-condition copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #365," "eaten first," "herpes," "a cactus," "to eat a bag of hell," "shingles," "arrested," "a great deal on these tires," "drunk," "a surprise visit from Christopher Marlowe: Gay Atheist Spy."

I applied online for a job as an online "appointment setter." This would be a telecommuting job. In response, they asked me to answer the following stupid questions. Here is what I'd LIKE to say:

1. Do you consider yourself a team leader or a team player? Why?

In most situations, I feel forced to take the lead, because if I don't, we're likely to be lead by some jerk who talks about "leadership skills" a lot. I'm sick and tired of hearing jerks talking about "leadership skills." Also, the leader might start calling me a "team member" or a "partner," and insist that I always, always refer to customers as "guests." I simply cannot abide by that. I don't have any problems with being politically correct; hell, I think people who complain about it are usually just jerks looking for victim status. But I draw the line at management-speak. Someone has to step in and make sure that doesn't happen, and it's likely to be up to me.

2. What would you consider your most significant accomplishment?

Making money off a pyramid scheme by threatening to write an article about the company naming names and making fun of the manager's haircut (a "flock of seagulls combover") if he didn't send me a check. A copy of the check is framed above my computer.

3. What are your career goals? Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years?

I hope to become an appointment setter. In five years, I want to be right here, sitting on my ass, still setting appointments for eight bucks an hour. On the side, I hope to make Zig Ziglar cry. I don't know how I'm going to do it, but I know it can be done.

4. Would you rather be a business owner or an employee? Why?

I'd rather be an employee. If I were in the ruling class, I'd be trembling about the upcoming communist revolution. Down with the bourgeousie!

5. As a leader, how would you motivate others?

Oh, hell, you can't motivate people who are working for eight bucks an hour. Why should they be motivated? They can work their butts off for you, and they'll still just be making eight bucks an hour - better to do it without getting sore. Of course, if you insist that I motivate them, I can always whip the hell out of them. That always gets results. If you're the fainty-dainty type of company, though, I can always resort to motivational "successories" posters: if they fail to work, I'll make them look at them.

6. Why should we work with you?

Because if you don't, I will write an article about your company and make fun of your haircuts. No one will be spared, biatch. UPDATE, AN HOUR LATER:
Oops. Accidentally mailed that in. Clumsy me!

Did Mattel work today - acted as "bodyguard" at a "meet Barbie" event. The model was dressed as "Fairytopia" Barbie - the kind with fairy wings, blue eyeliner, etc. She looked, frankly, a bit terrifying. If I were a kid, I would have been afraid that she was going to sacrifice me to a strange god. Then again, I thought that about lots of people. The playground monitor probably actually was. My playground monitor was not a pleasant person - Miss Finster from "Recess" has nothing on her.

Lots of people ask me for advice on songwriting. Well, the main rule for writing songs is that you should write what you feel like. I do have some other suggestions, though. Here're some:

1. Rhyme scheme, meter, and structure can be jumped up and down on if you know what you're doing, but if you ignore them, you'll just end up with a messy song that will not be nearly as artsy as you think it is.

2. Be very careful with the terms "my pain" and "my tears." And watch what you say about your soul. Questioning the nature or purpose of "this life" (in those terms) will get old fast.

3. When in doubt, say something about the moon. You can't go wrong with a good moon line.

4. When writing a protest song, don't use the term "land of the free" ironically. It seems like a good idea, but it isn't.

5. If you're writing a parody, heed these words: Start, heart, part, be, me, free, see, and other words that are so, so easily turned into "fart" and "pee" are the enemies of the smart writer.

6. You can use cuss words just for the sake of using cuss words, but there's a good way and a bad way to do this. If you think the way you're cussing in a song will amuse people (Ben Folds is good at this), you're probably doing it the good way. If you think you're going to shock anyone, you're doing it the bad way.

7. If you write about your life or people you know, you're asking for trouble.

8. Don't just say "the street" or "the town" if you can help it - be specific about which street or town you mean.

9. You can be writing a song about a town a thousand miles from any body of water, and it still probably won't hurt much to put a sailor in the song in most cases.

10. On the other hand, clowns almost never work. Especially sad ones.

11. If you aren't prepared to show up for gigs dressed like an elf, it's usually not advisable to use terms like "hath," "thou," "runneth," "thee," etc. Some people can get away with talking like they're in a movie about knights. Most people can't.

12. The quality of a song is not measured by how hard it is to play. Don't worry if your song is only two chords. Also, all the minor augmented ninth chords in the world won't make a bad song good.

13. Changing the perspective of a song from third to first person, or the other way around, can improve it greatly. Experiment with your pronouns.

14. Cake left out in the rain is not a great metaphor for a failed relationship, especially if you refer to said cake as a park. Seriously.

All of these, of course, can be broken in the right situation. Maybe even #14 (though I doubt it).

Comment card from three girls, slightly younger than I, after a few margaritas.

Songs are like buried treasure. Sometimes your metal detector goes off and it's right beneath the sand; you have the whole thing in a couple of minutes. Other times you have to dig awhile, and before you get to the song you find a tin can, a car part, a candy bar wrapper and a dirty diaper. Sometimes that's all you find. I may be in for some digging.

I had a great chorus of a new song written earlier today and I was determined to finish up a draft of it and get to the Gallery after work. Unfortunately, I had to close, which kept me there til 12:45 in the morning (and my whole section was redneck city, and if there's one thing life in Georgia taught me, it's that rednecks don't tip worth a damn, but that's another story), and I kept singing that chorus in my head the whole time. It's a good one; the soaring, majestic kind that I don't manage to do very often. I even hobbled together two verses and a bridge.

When I finally got off I changed into a decent t-shirt, got a cab to Clark and Lake (the cabbie was doing 60 in the Loop - quite a ride) then hopped the blue line train and, in the end, made it from Navy Pier to Bucktown in just over fifteen minutes. This is no mean feat. It gave me just enough time to grab a beer and get onstage to try the new song, which went over VERY well, though I'm not really satisfied with the verses or the bridge yet. It was just a good chorus and whatever lines would stick.

Now it's time to keep digging through all the versions that are going to come up before I get the right one - this one seems to be buried deeper than most.. I imagine that there'll be a version based on Great Expectations, one the sounds like an answer to "rainy days and mondays" by the carpenters, and maybe one that sounds like the beach boys. Right now it the best line actually rhymes "building" with "morning," but I'm not sure I'm gutsy enough to try that. But one of these versions is going to work out - I'll get this song done sooner than later, and when it's right, I'll know. I wish I had a piano around here.
(ed - the song became "I Don't Believe In Summer")

My agent got an e-mail from a company called BookByte - they make little promo films for author's books. In the ad, they said they were going to do for authors what music videos did for musicians. One of my agent's other clients pointed out that that wasn't likely.

My response:

You're right, Luc. BookTV will start out showing nothing but Book-Bytes, but pretty soon it'll just be showing clips of them in the morning, intercut with endless shots of teenage girls shouting "Rushdie 4-evah! I wanna give a shout-out Ahsley and Jen-Jen back in Dayton. Whooo!"

Then, of course, it'll soon be all original programming:

"Pimp My Typewriter"

"Falstaff and Guildenstern" (a crudely animated piece of crude humor)

"BookTV Sports" (Speed typing competitions and clips of people snowboarding)

"Newlyweds" (the antics of Jonathan Safron Foer and Nicole Krauss)

"The Easton Ellises"

"Unprompted" (popular authors read unedited versions of their works)

"Yo! BookTV Poetry"

"Horrorwriter's Ball"

"Jackass!" (members of The Rock Bottom Remainders (Stephen King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, etc) hit themselves with shovels, staple things to their bodies, and ride bikes off cliffs)

"The Dave Eggers Don't-You-Wish-You'd-Put-Me-On-The-Real-World-NOW Show"

In the post Halloween aftermath, I got to thinking of the age-old question: what is Count Chocula's first name?

Here are some suggestions:


note: this ended up on McSweeneys.

During tonight's trivial pursuit game, it became useful to me, at last, to know that China was under martial law in 1989. I knew this because the imposition of martial law in Beijing was immediately followed by the rock n roll and cola wars, after which Billy Joel declared that he could no longer take it.

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Adam's New Book: Sept 2013