Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Smellin' (Not) Like A Well-Spent Buck


I will be taking a shower very soon. Go ahead, hurl all the jokes that statement might elicit (TMI; Hallelujah, Praise the Lord!; the visual's killing me; in lieu of the arrival of Godot [or even Guffman], world peace, a cure for cancer, or a championship in Cleveland, I guess we'll take it; no, you don't take a shower, a shower takes you; is there enough water in the world?; I'd alert the media if you hadn't already alerted the whole world)--I can handle it. You see, I haven't looked forward to a shower this much since the one I took in Pennsylvania twenty-five years ago after taking hundred-year-old tin plating off a ceiling and getting covered in a century's worth of coal dust. Because this shower promises to make me a new man.

Let me explain, as best as my soon-to-be-old self can. Yesterday I shopped for sundries at my new favorite shopping place, the Dollar Tree store. Now I could fill a month's worth of blogs about the pleasures of this store, but then the lines might get longer, so I'll just say that when I turned into the soap aisle I was a little discombobulated. Instead of facing a rack filled with generic one dollar bars of soap like I half-expected, I was met with myriad choices of all sorts of name brands. Though I do indeed cleanse regularly, I have never developed a personal favorite among all the various bar soaps to be had. Soap's soap, right? Momentarily thrown off by the fact that all the soaps came in packs of two, rather than the three you normally see at the "higher end" establishments (I worried about what buying just two bars rather than three might do to my rigid hygienic rhythm), I quickly zeroed in on a two-pack of Irish Spring (manly, yes, but she likes it too!), figuring any suggestion of spring in late December couldn't help but lift my spirits, and the word Irish, in my lexicon, equals Guinness, which equals good. But somehow (fate? a Guardian Angel? the psychology of advertising?) my arm strayed and I found myself picking up a two-pack of Dial. Oh God, you're thinking, this is all about Dial soap? How mundane. Alas, this was no regular two-pack of Dial soap, but something different (thank God for product extension)--Dial For Men 3-D! Did any wandering Israelite glimpse the Promised Land with more euphoria than I beheld that two-pack of one dollar soap? God only knows. For right there on the outer plastic packaging I was promised "All Day Odor Defense with Odor Control Agents." Good God, I was ready to lather up right there in Aisle 4. Hold your suds right there, mister, I cautioned myself, having endured nearly fifty years of ad-speak, misleading and downright false claims by hucksters, shysters, pitchmen and -women, endorsers and furry talking animals. Certainly the proposition that my body would be protected "all day" (I must admit I was too giddy with the possibilities to consider the fact that odor might occur at night, too) by "agents" was quite persuasive (I envisioned a tag team of Daniel Craig as Bond manning the extremities and sultry Barbara Feldon as Agent 99 protecting the more intimates as my personal Odor Control Agents), but I had to investigate further. Thankfully, and handily, the back of the two-pack package assuaged all my fears of being taken in by mere marketing malarkey. There, in an easy-to-read pseudo-PowerPoint chart, the 3 D's of the All Day Odor Defense 3-D were clearly spelled out, under the actually trademarked (you know they mean business and are totally on the up and up when they take the time and expense to trademark such things) heading, Odor Protection Covered From All Angles (I thank the Dial Corp. for assuming my body can be classified as angular):
  1. Destroys Unique Odor Targeting System
  2. Deep Cleans Powerful cleansers rinse clean without drying
  3. Defends Deodorant Booster for all day confidence
Dial for Men, indeed. You had me at Destroys and sealed the deal with Defends. Codespeak for testosterone-laden, no doubt. The thought of a high-tech team of Agents and Targeting Systems working on my body absolutely thrills me; I'm sure that when showering I'll picture a Tom Clancy scenario of computers and highly competent men, led by the estimable Brian Dennehy, waging a clandestine all-out war on my natural body odors. And to Irish Spring, I say "Ha!" I now have a "unique" system, full of blipping radar/sonar screens, I'm sure, targeting my odors. "Deep Cleans," "Powerful cleansers"--I see power hoses and loud machines manned by guys named Gus de-gunking me thoroughly (though I'm a little puzzled with the whole "rinse clean without drying" thing: showering without drying? shouldn't "rinse clean" be considered redundant?). And no doubt my Mennen Speed Stick will appreciate the "boost" as it works up its daily sweat trying to keep me deodored all day.

Sold! 3-D me Dial, I'm getting naked now just for you!


Betcha don't smell me now, do ya? Go ahead, press your nose up against the screen and breathe deep. Nada, right?

(Nomenclature announcement: The blogger formerly known as Mr. Spitoutyourgum will henceforth go by the handle of Lord SupremelyManlyandUnodored.)

What can I say? Dial Corp. (a Henkel Company), of Scottsdale, AZ 85255, I'm ready for my endorsement contract. Send all inquiries and remunerative offers c/o spitoutyourgum, Cleveland Heights, OH 44112.

As a preamble, a kind of A-List opening act, I treated myself to an infrequent shave before my shower, albeit with a brand new Mach 3 blade (baby butt smooth, my face now). But I did hesitate before stepping into the, well, what will forever now be known as The Shower That Changed My Life. I thought for a second about waiting a few days, holding off on the Dial For Men 3-D until the New Year, as a symbolic gesture, but once I got a look at that bar of soap, well, it was full speed ahead, men, damn the odors! The sight of the actual bar did shock me at first, I'll admit. Rather than the usual neutral tone of soap, Dial For Me 3-D sports a bold blue (okay, I'm colorblind, maybe it's purple; the two colors are pretty much the same in my eyes) look that made me think of all those wads of bubblegum my mother warned me against in my full-toothed youth. Restraining the urge to take a big bite out of the bar, I looked at it solemnly and said, "Agents, to the ready. All systems go," and stepped into the tub. It would take a much better thrice-weekly blogger than I to describe the instant ecstasy and sensation I felt upon soaping up. All I know is that an instantaneous feeling of manliness suffused my body and (what a targeting system!) my soul. The tiled walls yelped "Hell, yeah Man!" when I involuntarily started singing Ted Nugent's "Catch Scratch Fever"; a complete 180 from my usual shower-warbling of Dan Hill's um touching, though I admit kinda unmanly "Sometimes When We Touch" ballad. Oh the joy of seeing all those Daniel Craig and Barbara Feldon suds racing over my body to do there protective power cleansing (rueful sidenote, though: I regret the mention of Brian Dennehy above; no naked person, no matter how gloriously he or she revels in his or her nakedness, should be subject to thoughts/visions of Brian Dennehy). That "Unique Odor Targeting System" is truly amazing, and, Dial Corp., screams to be trademarked ASAP. I actually have had intermittent periods of not smelling in my life, but never so, well, uniquely unsmelling. By the time I got to the end of "Cat Scratch Fever" I distinctly heard a sud's voice cry out,"Code Red! Code Red! Left knee, dorsal," to which another replied, "Copy. Got it covered, Jack. Job well done, men. Let's head for the drain and call it a day." Somewhere Tom Clancy shivered with pride.

Silly me, I was halfway through absently toweling myself dry when I realized, but why? I already was noticeably "rinsed clean without drying." I guess towels in my life will soon become, like my nipples, just a vestigial presence. As a coup de grace, an unexpected cherry on the top to what had been a colossal ice cream sundae of a daily (more or less) ablution, when I applied my Mennen Speed Stick, instantly my armpits sang with glee: "Great God! What a boost!" Folks, I'm ready for the day unlike any day I've ever been ready or not for.

But the inquisitive part of me--power cleansed & rinsed clean without drying like the rest of me--was still a bit unsatiated. What is it, what is the secret of this miracle, this Dial For Men 3-D? Once again I consulted that already-pored-over plastic wrapping. Here, in toto and verbatim, are the ingredients (in case you're too cheap to spend a buck yourself and want to attempt to duplicate this wonder of modern chemistry at home):
INGREDIENTS: Soap (Sodium Cocoate*, Sodium Palm Kernelate*, Sodium Palmate*, Sodium Tallowate*), Water, Talc, Coconut Acid*, Palm Acid*, Tallow Acid*, Palm Kernel Acid*, PEG-6 Methyl Ether, Fragrance, Farnesol, Glycerin, Sorbitol, Sodium Chloride, Triclocarban, Pentasodium Pentetate and/or Tetrasodium Etidronate, Ultramarines
*contains one or more of these ingredients
The armchair chemist in me weeps in amazement. First of all, I'm very happy that the first ingredient in this particlular brand of soap is soap. Consumer confidence? Check. Quite frankly I am also amazed that such a perfect product seems to leave a lot to whimsy in its construction: those maybe/maybe not asterisks, that and/or (I'm hoping my two bars contain the Tetrasodium Etidronate--sounds so cool), although, clever clever clever Dial Corp., maybe all those maybe's are just there as red herrings--you might think you can replicate the wonder of Dial For Men 3-D at home or in a competitor's lab, but good luck hitting on just the right combination of all those sodia and acids (I think I new a guy in college, from Hawaii no less, who swore by [and ultimately drifted by and by] coconut acid). And see, just see, how the Dial Corp. goes the extra mile? Just any old PEG Methyl Ether might me good enough for other soaps, but only Dial Corp. procures the really good stuff, the PEG-6. And who knew there was an actual entity called 'Fragrance"? Say Bill, go out and get me another couple vials of fragrance. The true secret, of course, comes at the end of that mind-numbing, ADHD-tempting train of chemicals: Ultramarines. No wonder the soap's so manly, so systematic, so agented--ultramarines (not just any rank and file Marine, but an ultra- one [wonder what those haircuts look like]). Semper Fi, man. Dial For Men 3-D, as long as I have a buck in my pocket, I'll always be faithful, from this clean, unsmelling day forward.

And so, now it's time to go to work, to unleash my new unsmellingness to the outside world. I've never been so excited to go to work on a non-payday before. Will I be able to contain myself, though? Can I be humble and wait for the inevitable torrent of "Gee, Dan, you don't smell at all, today. What's up?" and "I don't mean to pry, but did you receive some special Odor Control Agents for Christmas" comments, or do I (proudly) immediately and constantly pepper people with, "Smell me yet? Didn't think so" boasts? Who knows what awaits in my brave, unodored new world?

I once read something about some professor who allegedly went a whole year conversing in nothing but Bob Dylan quotes, an impossible, extravagant, though admirable to me endeavor. As for right now, newly and uniquely cleansed, I'd be happy just to be on the receiving end of the line from the Replacements' song below(alas, either dropped or indecipherable in this rendition): "You're the coolest guy that I ever have smelled." Or not smelled, to be precise.

and, well ...

Monday, December 26, 2011

I Can Tell By Your Body Language That You're A Tea Drinker

Is an insight into human behavior that has been gleaned because of envy still valid? The other evening, co-worker and I had just returned from our breaks when I saw her drinking from a paper cup with one of those cardboard cozy/the-cup's-too-hot-to-handle things. Immediately I was simultaneously mad at myself for not thinking and jealous of her for thinking to grab a to-go coffee to aid in enduring a holiday shopping madness evening. "Damn," I said, probably slugging my forehead at the same time, "I should have gotten myself some coffee too!" She replied, "It's tea." But "replied" hardly does justice to the totality (at yesterday's Christmas mass, the priest used the word "totality" at least three times, I swear) of her response. No, she cuddled and huddled compacted and retracted her whole body around the center of gravity that was that paper cup as if she were hugging a five-minute-old puppy, and let out a quietly proud but weirdly defensive (not defensive in an "I'm ashamed to be seen drinking this" way, but defensive in an "I'm hoarding the family jewels in my hands here, please don't bother me" way) eek of declaration, "It's tea." At that moment, as my senses were flooded with the image of her folding herself inward to surround that cup of tea and hearing that wanly whispered "It's tea," I realized that co-worker (lovely person that she is) was no individual but just another tea drinker, any old tea drinker, at once both the apotheosis of tea drinkers and also maybe just the ten billionth tea drinker in the history of the world. Because in that moment of her quiet (in volume) but cacophonous (in terms of total body/soul language) I saw what I have always seen but have been too blind to notice, what everybody always sees but never really acknowledges--if somebody is drinking tea and you ask them what they're drinking, there is only one possible response, one genetically/chemically/culturally (whatever the origin)-determined verbal and physical response for that person to give: a hunching, cuddling, slightly defensive but also very proud, somewhat whispered eek of, "It's tea."

Just try it. The next fifty people you see drinking something obviously warm from a paper or ceramic cup, go up to them and ask (accuse them of) them if they're drinking coffee. You'll either get a simple "yeah," "hell yeah," or, depending on the person's level of caffeine addiction, "hell effing yeah, it's coffee," or you'll get the same old cuddled whispered eek, "It's tea." Well, sure, there are degrees of that cuddled whispered eek (CWE) but it's there nonetheless. I mean, far be it from me to ever entertain, let alone utter, let even more alone publish a sexist thought, but I do believe as a whole, women might CWE a bit more pronounced than men, but even in the roughest toughest beer guttest truck drivin' tea drinker, you'll get a CWE. Who knows, maybe it's just a phonetic thing, that quiet squeal that has to be made pronouncing "tea" that makes one have to enfold oneself a bit and meekly announce what one is drinking (think Georgette from the Mary Tyler Moore Show admitting she's just won a hundred million in Lotto--that's the overall effect of one's--anyone's, everyone's--announcement that he or she is drinking tea). Trust me, you can search the world over, seek out the gnarliest urban back alleys and the most remote rural thickets, and you will never ever find anyone who will answer your query with a robust, Moses-parting-the-Red-Sea expansive gesture, "It's fucking tea I'm drinking, shithead, now sod off!" Physically impossible, that. CWE, exclusively, universally.

Now I have nothing against tea, and I am categorically NOT impugning tea drinkers. Once in a while I like a cup of tea myself (hot tea, we're talking, though I guess the proper terminology is brewed tea; I've never "gotten" the appeal of iced tea. I appreciate that many people swear by it and that's fine. I love lemonade, which seems to me to be the dog to iced tea's cat. But iced tea never has appealed to me, and while I certainly like libational concoctions, don't even mention Long Island Iced Tea to me--you lose me at Long Island), and I am sure that on those rare occasions when I am drinking (and loving, I'll admit) some hot brewed tea, if anyone would ask me what I was drinking, I would respond with a modest CWE. How could I not? (And no, I'm not going to get into the differences involved in drinking other warm drinks--the worlds of espressos and cappucinos et al. are not worlds I care to tread into or rub elbows with.)

It seems to me there's a whole culture, a benign secret society, that goes along with drinking tea, as opposed to the Joe the Plumber, rather mundane world of drinking coffee. You drink coffee from a mug, but tea from a "cup." You buy somebody a generic coffee maker (face it, the most famous coffee maker is just good old Mr. Coffee), but you buy somebody a "tea set." You make coffee in a pot, tea in a kettle. Is there a more quaint word than "kettle"? Even the fanciest, most aerodynamically designed coffee cups are merely crafted. Tea cups and kettles are works of art. The fastidious Brits are notorious tea drinkers. Swarthy Latin Americans are coffee drinkers. Again, not casting any aspersions, facts are facts, but tea drinking--compared to coffee drinking now, not miniature doll-making or curling (the "sport," not curling the hair on a miniature doll)--is just a little twee, ain't it? (I lead a busy life, I don't have time to research the etymology of "twee" but here's fifty bucks saying it came about because of a speech impedimented tea drinker.)

Which all leads me to the bigger picture, the bigger question. Do all classic liquid refreshments possess unique body/verbal language signifiers, like tea has its CWE? Is there a certain getting-ready-to-fight tensing up and side-of-the-mouth snarled "whiskey" that emanates from whiskey drinkers when you ask them what they're drinking? A hyperkinetic human trampolining "Jolt, man, want some? You can't have any of mine" when you ask Jolt drinkers what they're drinking? A louche, uncontrollably disdainful smirk of "Martini"? A torso expanding proudly kick ass man exclamation "Beer, dude"? A jejune just the facts ma'am muttered "Grain alcohol"? A calorie burning strut of a sermonizing "Carrot juice"? A flatlining shadow of a shoulder shrug that merely hints "Absinthe"? Who knows? I am not an anthropologist. Just a blogger, done for the day and looking to re-fill his coffee mug.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Greetings From The Spitoyurgum Family

Well Ho Ho Holy Gee Willickers Friends, it seems like just yesterday Randall and Dewey were beating the heat with their homemade Slip'n'Slide, and now it's Holiday Time! My how time flies here in the Cleveburg Metropolis. Not to worry, though, Drake and Polly have knitted each other their Yule sweaters (23 years and counting for that tradition!), and the boys (sorry, Randall, man and boy) have rigged up another Wow-O lighting display (you can see it driving by the old homestead, or maybe, on a cloudless night, from Outer Space!) using the new Survival Generator Dewey designed in his la-bor-a-tory (formerly Polly's laundry room). As long as Santa can navigate all the motion detectors, alarms (silent and not so), and trip wires Dewey has rigged the house with, I'm sure we'll all have a splendid Christmas once again. 

The big news for the Spitoyurgums in '11 is the new member of our family. Now hold on there a minute, Drake and Polly haven't gone back to cross-stitching or anything; the new Spitoyurgum is none other than Wiccandood, a beautiful, though nosy I might just add (and, alas, camera-shy), ferret that Randall won at his annual excursion to the Unsound & Furry Con in Decatur, IL. After the not-really-necessary 911 call following Polly's fainting spell upon first meeting Wiccandood, the family has embraced its newest member. In a related note, if you're in the neighborhood, stop on by to "check out" the new carpeting and drapes we've installed (as well as the elaborate "apartment" Dewey built for Wiccandood--after he quite amusingly "threatened" that "either that rodent gets put in a cage or they're going to put me in one for 20 to life for the havoc I'm fixin' to wreak"--Boys! How does Polly survive living with 1, 2, 3 and now 4 of them??!!!).

Dewey continues pursuing his myriad interests as he makes his way through 11th grade. He has started a club at school, the Students United to Draft Col. Oliver North To Run For Czar of the United States, serves as the trusted "roadie" for his two "buddies" William and Theodore, who are among the state's most promising aspiring air guitarists (finished fourth at the Hocking County Fair, despite what Dewey claimed was "a totally senile sucky third judge"), and of course spends the bulk of his free time "tinkering" in his lab (Dear Santa, bring more portable fire extinguishers, please!). In his first gesture toward "style" and "being his own person," fashion-wise, Dewey cut a unique and distinctive wedge from the side of his bangs (look at him so proudly pointing it out in the photo! Polly's baby's growing up!).

Dewey's older sibling, Randall, has been busy these few months exploring all the opportunities presented by his "gap" year. To date he has attended 26 Renaissance Fayres, where his continued mastery of the panpipes has won him quite a "cult" following. He is also quite the budding jousting expert. Claiming that he is "bored to the gills" with technology, especially the "social" aspects of social media (these kids and their lingo!), Randall has taken up the ancient art of smoke signals, creating quite a haze in the backyard most nights, sending out signals in search of "a true soul mate" (Santa, how about some more kindling wood and blankets?). From the proceeds he garnered by selling his beloved and vast trove of Magic Cards on eBay (tears were shed, Polly will admit, if not Randall himself), Randall purchased a bus ticket to Tulsa, OK and had himself a ball at the inaugural Male-AdjustedCon; he reports that "drum trapezoids" will soon be all the rage. And just look at that well-kempt goatee he returned with!

Papa Drake has spent a fair amount of time this year trying to interest the Guinness people (book, not beer) in his "gotta be some kind of a record" streak of wearing a different sweater vest for 734 (and counting!) straight days. Polyester Perseverance indeed! In his very best Gandhi-like, civil disobedient, if-you-can't-lick-'em-join-'em mode, Drake has taken to volunteering at the Unemployment Agency as a greeter and all-around ad hoc ombudsman, putting his vast experience to, well, work, aiding people in directing them to the appropriate line to stand in, advising them on which forms need to be filled out and which can be, as he puts it, "sh--canned," and apprising them of the current going rate for plasma. A true public servant. And of course, he has his "side" business of appearing as Waldo for kids' Where's Waldo-themed parties.

And Mama Bear Polly keeps rolling along too! In March she reached a milestone, clipping her one millionth coupon, and in August she received "special mention" at the Tuscarwaras County Fair Bake-Off for her tasty parsley muffins. Her audio book club thrives (time off this month for the holidays but the group will re-gather in her living room come January 17th to listen to Nicholas Sparks' True Believer, once again read by the author; all are welcome). And, as you can see from the picture (you better see!), Polly has shed a few pounds this year; she is investigating the possibilities of writing a book tentatively titled Walking Your Ferret To A Skinnier You! Drake has kindly offered to read the audio version. Other than all that, she continues her domestic endeavors: putting the seat down, finding (and counting) more uses for Krazy Glue (that's her other proposed literary effort--1,001 Sane Uses For Krazy Glue), and trying to interest her boys in the benefits of a good old-fashioned iron.

Here's wishing you all a happy and blessed Christmas and New Year, from all of us Spitoyurgums: Wiccandood, Dewey, Randall, Drake, and Polly!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Ten Commandments Of Holiday Shopping: How Not To Be A Cranky Customer

The other day a co-worker (perhaps at the end of her shift, at the end of working six straight days of holiday madness) suggested told me to blog about cranky customers. Now being the autonomously creative guy I am, I usually pay no heed to requests demands, and as I was in the first hour of working after a couple days off and the John Denver and The Muppets Christmas CD was NOT playing at the time, I was in a rather good mood, when all holiday-shopping customers looked like they had just walked out of Johnny Mathis's rendition of "Winter Wonderland" and the only thing cranky in my world was my old war-wound left pinkie (a victim of a thumb-wrestling bout gone awry with a Salvation Army bell-ringer back in the 80s). Thus, I kind of dismissed the idea that customers could be cranky at all. Well, a few hours later, I had an inkling. But far be it for me to Scrooge all over anybody's Yule time cheer. So instead of whining all about nasty customers (maybe 1%, how ironic?) and recognizing that they are truly the lifeblood of, well, of my paycheck, to be blunt, I will simply offer some tips on how you can avoid being called a "cranky" customer by some hard-working, well-meaning, friendly (and trust me, they don't get much friendlier than said co-worker) retail employee. Now I know I have covered some of this before, but this is official; I am codifying these behaviors in the ALL POWERFUL form of TEN COMMANDMENTS (all I've ever wanted for Christmas is Charlton Heston's mien). Follow these dicta and you won't necessarily achieve eternal salvation, but I promise you you will not contribute to others' madness, which in this silly world is a pretty good merit badge to earn.

The Ten Commandments of Holiday Shopping

  1. Thou shalt leave thine cellphone in the car.
  2. Thou shalt wait thine turn and never assume that simply yelling, "Excuse me!" will grant thou instant service.
  3. If thou art paying with a check, have thine driver's license handy and use the time in line to make out the check as completely as possible; nothing unnecessarily slows down a long line (the line thou've been silently [or not so silently] cussing for ten minutes) than an unprepared check-writer.
  4. Thou shalt realize that holiday shopping is not some kind of quasi Price Is Right game; don't gather a bunch of merchandise, have the register person ring it all up, then start asking the register person to "take that one off" until thou reaches thine spending limit; either do the math in thine head while gathering, or bring a non-cellphone-feature calculator.
  5. Especially as we get closer to Christmas, thou shalt not hold the store, or especially the specific employee trying to help thou, responsible for not having the item thou seeks. Lots of people celebrate the holidays by purchasing merchandise for others--it's definitely possible that the item thou seeks hast been sought by others who have gotten here first (see the early bird thing for further clarification). Thine loved ones love thou. If thou can't purchase the only thing they want for Christmas, in all likelihood (if they're really worth loving) they will still love thou even if thou doesn't buy them that particular thing. So chill out, thou.
  6. Thou shalt certainly make sure thou hast an acceptable form of payment (most stores don't operate on the barter system anymore, 'tis a pity) and that thou hast sufficient funds available in that form of payment, before thou reaches the point of having to fork over the payment.
  7. If thou art paying in cash, please arrange the bills so they're all facing the same way and hand them to the register person when he or she is ready to accept them; thou shalt not toss a bunch of crumpled bills on the counter in disdain that thine purchases cost as much as they do. Furthermore, an endless search for the correct change is almost as bad as waiting until the last minute to search for thine checkbook and start making it out, asking what the date is, what is the name of this store, how much was that again--making change is easy for a register person; really it's no problem.
  8. Thou shalt never say, in the event of a piece of merchandise not having a price sticker or not immediately ringing up, "I guess it's free, then, hunh? (chuckle chortle snort chuckle)." Nothing is free in life, and thou art only the billionth person to utter that bon mot.
  9. Thou shalt not make the assumption, especially the week of Christmas, that all the "good" merchandise is still stacked in some nebulous "back" just waiting for thou to show up and shop. What's on the shelves is what's available for purchase; what's not, is not.
  10. Thou shalt realize that obscure items that were "on that table right there" back in August have probably been moved and quite possibly been sold, gotten rid of, or even stolen since then. Shit happens. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Twosome: Year's Best Golf & Music In One Fell Swoop

Just the idea makes all my top ten lists for the year; the ad-lib lyrics push it way on top.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Nothing Like The First Listen

The other day a co-worker asked me to make him a mix of tunes. There are few greater small pleasures in life for me. Now he didn't specify what kind of a mix, which would have been easier. No, he didn't request a mix of songs exclusively by British fops or songs only recorded south of the Mason-Dixon Line or songs only about animals--requests that would have been easy to accomplish. So, I had my usual response to the general "make me a mix" request--I went overboard, zealously. He'll be receiving a nice box set of mixes from me, filled with universally great songs as well as some geared more specifically to his personality and perceived likes (though he is a vociferous Rod Stewart hater, how could I refrain from including "Every Picture Tells a Story"?). Of the hundred or so songs I've collected for him, I'd be willing to wager 90% of them will be new to his ears. Just the thought of how thrilled he might be to hear such gems as Dan Reeder's "Work Song" or R.L. Burnside's "Stole My Check" or The Coasters' "Shoppin' For Clothes," or some other unpredictable song for the first time, has me giddy.

I started thinking about this phenomenon--the first time you hear a song destined to be one of your all-time favorites--and was struck by how few of the thousands of "all-time favorite" songs on my list I actually remember in detail hearing for the first time. Why? Shouldn't everybody remember vividly the first time they heard "Satisfaction" or "Like a Rolling Stone" or "Mamma Mia" (sic)? Maybe it's the saturation of listening to such songs so many times over years and years that dims the memory of the first time. Maybe some songs have just always been in one's consciousness. Who knows?

One song that stands out is a rather obscure one, "Boston," by a guy named Dave Derby. I was in a record store, the only customer at the time, and all of a sudden the song came over the speakers. Looking back on it all, I can't say I wasn't the victim of that great record store ploy employed in High Fidelity when John Cusack announces he's about to sell five copies of the Beta Band's 3 Ep's record, puts the record on and everyone in the store starts grooving and asking what the record is. Maybe the guy in the store I was in, who certainly knew a little of my tastes in music, knew that I'd respond to the beautifully gloomy, dreamy "Boston." Halfway through the song I had to ask what was playing, by the end of the song I had bought the record.

Having been a big Meat Puppets fan for several years, I of course was excited when their 1987 record Huevos came out. I remember playing the record for the first time late one night in an apartment I shared with two other guys, after they had gone to bed. Not being able to crank the volume became torture when I heard the first riffage of the great "Look At The Rain." But when the band kicked in again the glorious wailing of the title phrase after a false fade-out, well, in some ways I've been swooning ever since ("I gotta shirt that costs a dollar twenty-five/I know I'm the best-dressed man alive!").

I was at a friend's when he played me Bill Fox's epic Shelter From The Smoke album for the first time. Those jangly first notes and the not-expected high lonesome voice of Bill singing, "Over and away she goes ..." spelled instant addiction. I am blessed to see Bill play often, and often he begins his set with "Over And Away She Goes" and I am able to re-live that first-time thrill of being granted admission to a singular world once again.

Strangely, the most vivid "first-time" listening experience I remember is a bit confusing; I don't remember the exact song I heard. I had just returned to college and had to get up at dawn on a snowy, dark morning to return a rented car. As I drove down empty streets, the radio played the Roches' "Hammond Song," or was it "Losing True"? Seeing that "Losing True" is kind of a re-make of "Hammond Song" (I bet many Roche sister fans wished they'd make more and more re-makes--gorgeously strummed acoustic guitar, three angelic voices all-entwined, and a touch of Frippery thrown in for seasoning), nearly thirty years of memory have confused me as to which one I actually heard on that drive. All I know was that I had to have that song, that sound. Funny, though, I can't remember the first time I actually heard the song I didn't hear that morning.

Here's hoping thirty years from now, when my co-worker is reflecting on his lifetime of good listens, he'll remember a moment listening to one of the mixes I've made for him.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Be Thankful For What You Wish For

Today was a day of celebration. I was celebrating an off day after six straight Christmas-shopping retail days of work, and celebrating last night's successful poetry reading (successful not so much in terms of mass adulation from a five-figure crowd, but successful in terms of not being heckled, not having my poetic license revoked, and not provoking any audience member to run from my words out of the room screaming, "My God, I'm going to be sick"). How did I celebrate? By putting my nose back to the grindstone by doing loads of laundry and some much-needed grocery shopping, all wrapped around a nice afternoon nap. A pretty normal off day, to be honest. But the celebrating came before during and after all the domestic chores: I've been happily munching Fig Newtons all day.

What, you say? I knew poets were crazy, but you've gone 'round the bend, boy. Fig Newtons = Celebration? As Sarah says, youbetcha! Now I've had nothing but a pleasant history with Fig Newtons. But the emphasis is on history. I liked them as a kid, but I can't say that in all my grocery shopping since childhood I've ever bought a package of Fig Newtons. But chalk up my newly-revived admiration for the delicious cookie to the holiday season. See, we recently had a Secret Santa thing ($15 limit) at work. Weeks ago we pulled names and this past Sunday at our party we revealed and gifted. Early on in the process, as I was talking Secret Santa strategies with a co-worker, I jokingly told her, "If whoever is my Secret Santa asks you what to get me, just tell 'em to get me $15 worth of Fig Newtons." It was good for a laugh. Little did I know that said co-worker would turn out to be my Secret Santa. So there I was Sunday night, as said co-worker handed me a big shoe-box wrapped with a gold ribbon. Having completely forgotten about my Fig Newton joke, I opened the box not knowing what to expect. Inside, among other goodies (look out for a future post extolling the deliciousness of pure maple sugar genuinely Canadian Maple Leafs) was a package of the genuine Nabisco Fig Newtons. Ah, how my jokes come back to me in cookies of superiority!

Damn these Newtons are good. So small yet so dense--in a good way. And to think I'm eating a cookie with "natural fruit"! It must even be good for me. And I'm no design expert, but the shape and look of the cookie, the more I consider it, it's pure art. Now Oreos, duh, are the Platonic ideal of cookies; I think we are all in agreement on that. But really, with Chips Ahoy kind of losing a certain magic since childhood for me, I gotta say the Fig Newton stands as Silver Medalist in the mass-produced, corporate cookie world. I mean, suddenly I feel like going out and buying some figs, and when was the last time you ever said that? I'm serious--indulge yourself today and go out and buy some Fig Newtons. You won't be sorry. I'm certainly not sorry I joked about Fig Newtons a few weeks ago, since the payoff is munching on them now. And to think I gave my giftee nothing but the new Tom Waits CD (nothing against Mr. Waits, I love him and all, but come on, a gravelly-voiced rabblerouser vs. near-perfection in a cookie? It's not even close.).

My only disappointment in this whole Fig lovefest is finding out that Fig Newtons are so called because the company that first mass-produced them, the Kennedy Biscuit Company, was located near Newton, Mass. (Fig Clevelands, anyone?) Kind of boring, especially when I was all set to wax paeans to some Col. Figacious T. Newton, a Civil War Hero from somewhere like Biloxi who loved his figs almost as much as his bourbon. Oh well, there's nothing fictitious about the culinary pleasure of Fig Newtons. So, yes Laura, there is a Santa Claus. My gratitude.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Eyebrows Make The Man?

I've been told on a couple of occasions that I "dress up well," which probably is just a euphemism for, man you're a slob but a shave, a comb, a shower, and some nice duds make you look halfway presentable. Personal grooming, beyond the necessary, is not a great passion of mine. But maybe, just maybe, that's all going to change after my experience this morning. I had my eyebrows done.

To be honest, my eyebrows are about the last location of my body's temple that I have ever thought about. I can do the double brow lift, a tacit "hey, how you doin'," and I can do a decent left eyebrow arch, the hmmm, intriguing thing, though for the life of me I can't get the right brow to budge on its own. And that folks, is all there is to know about my eyebrows, or was to know, until this morning.

I've been spoiled my whole life. Up until recently I had probably had my hair cut 99% of the time in my life by one of about five barbers. But lately I've been on the lookout for a new one. Over the summer I found a great one, a guy named Lu (perhaps most of why I loved the guy was that he's Lu, not Lou). He cut my hair twice. Alas, he's 87 and I just learned he retired. I learned that today from the woman who cut my hair, just three doors down from Lu's old place. Now both times I sat in Lu's chair he asked me if I wanted my eyebrows trimmed. Nobody had ever asked me before, and the first time I politely declined, thinking Lu was just doing what he had been doing for nearly 70 years. The second time he asked I declined again, thinking, I'm not one to care about brow grooming. But afterward, I started to get a little defensive. Is there something wrong with my eyebrows? Are they hideously bushy? Do people talk about me behind my back: "Lookout, here comes Bushy Brow"? I'm sure for the first time in my life I took a long hard look in the mirror at my brows. They looked inoffensive enough, but who knows, maybe Bushy Brow Guys are the last to know. But, since I've never really worked any kind of a definable 'do--just get it cut whenever it starts to bug me-- time passed and my thinking about my eyebrows returned to normal, which is, never.

But today, this rather sassy, though perfectly pleasant woman who was cutting my hair just announced, after seemingly finishing with my haircut, "Now we'll take care of your eyebrows and we'll be all finished." It was morning, I was on my way to a Saturday in December retail job, I wasn't thinking clearly yet, so instead of throwing my arms up over my eyes and declaring, "Nobody, ma'am, but nobody touches my brows!" or at least finally breaking the taboo and shyly asking, "What is it with my eyebrows all of a sudden? I'm just getting used to trimming old man hair tufts from my ears and nose; must diligent attention to my brows be paid too?"--I just sat there and acquiesced to the woman's trimming implements. It took about thirty seconds, with absolutely no excitement, pain, or sensation whatsoever.

And so, for the first day in my life, I am sporting trimmed eyebrows. Big deal, right? I sort of nonchalantly considered the whole ordeal as nothing much at all while walking out of the place, but my God, the difference! I was amazed at how swift I felt doing my usual pre-work 40 yard dash warm-ups in the back parking lot. Prepared with the usual retort of "Yep, all fifty-three of them," for when people at work would invariably ask me if I had gotten a haircut/hair cut (yuk yuk), I was flabbergasted when, within the first hour of work, three different people came up to me and said, "My God, Dan, your eyebrows. What have you done to them? They look fantastic!" Then, as I shopped at the Everything's A Dollar Store (sometimes I shop, other times I just go in there and pick up random things and ask new employees, "How much is this? This? This too?"), buying some Christmas wrapping paper, the cashier lingered while giving me my change and finally hissed as she dropped four pennies into my hand, "Your brows ... so ... alluring." At the Dollar Store no less.

Anyway, a big day. Now I'm just wondering where a guy can get a manicure on a Sunday.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I Can't Stand The Cold; Where's The Kitchen?

I understand there is much I don't understand, but the main mystery I'm shaking my head at today is why, on a thirty-five degree, barely breezy (not even windy) day such as today, I am so cold when in two months an identical day like today will make me ready to dig out some shorts and start screaming "Play ball!" I was freezing today and it's not even at the freezing mark. I can't be any colder than this, I kept telling myself, trying not to think of the fact that in a couple weeks it will probably be at least twenty degrees colder, possibly for weeks on end. I know, I know, that everything is relative and we all adapt, and it's not as if I haven't survived a couple scores of winters, but my God am I cold today, and to think that it will be so much colder so soon doesn't make any sense. It can't be colder.

Now I'm on record as hating the heat, and I believe I'm on record as saying I'd rather be cold than hot, because the sensation of being warmed up is better than that of being cooled off, but still, heat seems to be a little more lenient than cold. 95 is horrendous (and about as bad as it gets around here--plus some killer humidity), but 75 is Heaven. Why then, when minus 5 is about as bad as we get here (plus some killer wind chill) is 15 so awful, let alone how horrible 35 was today? As awful as heat is, at least its window is pretty small (for my rather timid tastes, it's too hot at 86). But 40 or so degrees of cold cold cold? Seems patently unfair, in a kind of 1% wealth vs. 99% of the rest of us kind of way. Plus, there's hot and heat, an adjective and a noun, whereas there's only cold, both adjective and noun. Cold, the ultimate four-letter word, sums it all up, no spin-offs necessary. Those wise ancestral wordsmiths knew when they had hit perfection on the first swing--cold, nothing more needs to be said.

Now I don't want to launch into a litany of cold laments (there are four more months of blog posts to do that), though that awful getting into and starting a cold car is about the worst, but I will say how psychological it all gets: Yesterday, when I was complaining about all the rain we've been having, but then added, as a predictable end to a predictable conversation about the weather, "but at least it isn't snowing," my co-worker said, in all innocence, and maybe just trying to defend Mother Nature a bit, "Well, it's been a pretty moderate winter so far." Depressed we both were, a minute or two later, when it dawned on me and I reminded her that technically winter doesn't start for another couple weeks. You see what the cold does to our already fragile minds? Fittingly, a man named Blaze said it best:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ragged But Right Rigamarole, Or, More Garbled Nonsense

As happens, somebody used a colorful word the other day in my presence, and I've been obsessed with it ever since. Rigamarole, or maybe more properly, rigmarole, though I love that extra syllable. How can you not just quake in wonder at that word, a poem in and of itself? Rigamarole--any long, complicated procedure; a set of incoherent or pointless statements; garbled nonsense. Yes, "garbled nonsense" was a close also ran when it came time for me to bestow a name on this humble blog. Unfortunately, rigamarole seems to be a 100% pejorative term these days. "I don't want any of your rigamarole, Lou." "What's all this rigamarole then?" You don't ever really hear something like, "Oh, thrill me with your rigamarole, kind sir," do you? Too bad, because garbled nonsense has quite a literary tradition; I mean, where would the Western Canon be without Tristram Shandy, Finnegans Wake, and all of Jane Austen? And if half the tunes of Bob Dylan and The Band's Basement Tapes aren't the rockingest garbled nonsense of all time, then curse me with having to listen to Journey the rest of my days: nonsense without the essential garble is just nonsense.

But whence the word? Appropriately, its source is found in literature, 1700s literature. It comes from ragman roll: a list, probably a roll used in a medieval game, wherein various characters were described in verse, beginning with Ragemon le bon, Ragman the Good (and no relation to Simon, as far as I can tell). Ragman Roll to rigmarole to rigamarole--makes perfect nonsense sense to me. And, lo and behold!, eighteen months or so before those sainted Basement Tapes, Bob Dylan was beginning his own nonsensical description of characters, "Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again," with these lines: "Awww the Ragman draws circles, up and down the block/I'd ask him what the matter was, but I know that he don't talk." Coincidence? Or did Bob know all about the intricacies of rigamarole? I know my verdict.

Rigamarole. Sounds like what a proud trucker may declare as he sets off for the road in his newly loaded new truck: "Rig-a-ma-roll!" I'm sure some hip bakery somewhere has ripped off the deliciousness of the Everything Bagel and concocted something called a Rigama-Roll, right? And, of course, back to Bob Dylan. In 1972 Rudy Wurlitzer (is there a cooler, non-made-up name?) sent Bob his screenplay for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, hoping Bob would write some music for the movie. Bob not only complied ("Knockin' On Heaven's Door" and the ineffable "Final Theme" among others), but he also was interested in being in the movie. Rudy and director Sam Peckinpah obliged and the character Alias ("Alias anything you please") was born. They rigged him a role.

Well, enough sense. Time to try my hand at a Ragman Roll.

Ragman the Good
Did what he should
Eschewed wood
Built a cabin of food

Bagman the Nasty
His lot cast he
With the mob, see
Now swims with the fishies

Lagman the Slow
Didn't wanna go
Exchanged his turbo
For a stick of pogo

Cragman the Klutz
Navigates the ruts
Up the rock he struts
Splatter go his guts

Hagman the Rich
Hankers for a witch
Nothing but which
Can ever scratch his itch

Dragman the Queen
Does nothing but preen
Never is he seen
In a dress sans sheen

Wagman the Dog
Got lost in the fog
Now that old bog
Has got quite a clog

Sagman the Fool
His pants did kinda drool
Skipped out of school
Tripped and fell uncool

Nagman the Twit
Didn't know how to quit
Started many a snit
Ended in a shallow pit

And finally, there's Riley Puckett, pictured above. With a face like that, but with a voice like his, he certainly knew what was ragged but right. Holy rigamarole, this song:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Press 1 For Weeping Willow

I was on the phone yesterday with a large corporation, going through that modern ritual that somehow must have its roots in all the kindling gathering, blanket shaking, and rubbing two sticks together preparations our ancestors must have endured in order to send out a concise, cogent smoke signal: the "menu selection." As usual it was one of those inevitable "our menu options have recently changed, so please listen carefully" joints. Before I get to my point, let me first register my resentment at the choice of the word "menu." Menu, being such a weird (not a whole lot of words end in "u" do they?) and seductive word, should be used only when presenting a list of things that can be eaten. When I'm on the phone trying like crazy just to speak to a human about a usually pretty basic question I have, I don't need to be reminded that instead I could be spending my time sitting in a chic restaurant mulling food choices, or, with that "our menu options have changed" spiel, at least in my corner Applebee's pondering why they need a new menu every two weeks to tell you about the same old food.

Anyway, there I was, punching all sorts of numbers (by the time a live human being finally answers your call, your phone screen is covered with digits that look like one of those "are you Mensa material" tests with a series of scores of numbers and you have to figure out the sequence and guess the next logical number). But I flatter these corporations' phone systems--there is no logic. Case in point: On my call yesterday, after entering an account number, a zip code, and hitting several numbers to inch closer to the info I needed (and yes, I was guilty of at least one instance of zoning out which led to that two second panic of dead air when you're thinking, "oh no, there is no number for my particular issue, I'm screwed," until finally that voice, which had been irritating but now seems so comforting, offers, "If you would like to hear the menu options again, please press 24," which then yields a "repeat" of the menu options, but I swear they must be playing tricks on me because this time 2 was the obvious option for me, how did I miss it?), and I swear this wasn't an audio hallucination, I heard this option offered to me: "If you would like a tree planted in your name, please press 5."

What? I was not calling the Sierra Society or the Audobon Society or TreeHuggers Anonymous. This was a corporation, one that is probably taking steps to secure its facilities in the event of a flash mob occupy scenario. Is this some kind of joke, I wanted to scream at that automaton's voice. Is this the corporation's idea of community involvement, a "we're going Green" initiative, buried deep inside their automated phone system where only the most clueless, desperate people are ever going to hear it? Some kind of "obviously you don't know what you're doing if you're still on the line without punching an appropriate number, so you might just be the kind of person who wants to sign up to have some alleged tree allegedly planted in your name miles and miles away from where you actually live, what the hell it's the least we could do for making you suffer through all this mindless number punching without getting a satisfactory answer to your trivial question" thing? I felt like a mouse who had taken a dozen wrong turns in a maze only to find himself dead-ended with an ort of dry cheese waiting for him: good try, kid. Now I really like trees, and I have participated in tree-plantings in somebody's name, which are always moving ceremonies, and I would be humbled to have a tree named after me some day (press 3 for elm), but really, I don't need some corporation who can't manage to get me an answer to a simple question without inducing carpal tunnel syndrome and madness doing my tree planting. I think we'd all be better served if, after reaching the dead end of a corporate automated phone system, the automaton bluntly said, "Fine, you're a dimwit. Press 6 and we'll send you a $5.00 gas card. Go smoke a cigarette and try this thing again."