October 31, 2008

A monkey on her back

Okay, it's time to tell the story of the Monegasque Monkey Attack. Several of you have indicated a mild curiosity about the tale of the monkey, and Dan even called to beg me to write it.

Actually, that's not true. I called him. But the story did come up in our conversation, and he can at least vouch for the fact that I do have an ex-wife, and that she was (and presumably still is) a very nice person who

a) did not deserve to be attacked by a monkey.

2. did not deserve the irritation that being married to me might possibly have caused.

In fact I'm not sure how one would even go about deserving to be attacked by a monkey.

So there we were in the Principality of Monaco. I was presenting a paper at a conference there. Monaco is wonderfully nice, but not a great place to be a poor graduate student (and, I'm forced to admit, probably an even worse place to be the spouse of one). Since we weren't really the casino, Grand Prix types, we decided to go to this little zoo they had there. It was an old-school, cages with bars type place. The monkey cage had plexiglas screwed to it to thwart their coproshenanigans.

The smear and glare on the plexiglas was such that in order to view our simian cousins we had to get kind of close to it and cup our hands around our eyes, Viewmaster style. We were, at least, on the clean side.

While we enjoyed the antics of the cavorting little homunculi, one of them crept close to the cage and perched over the plexiglas, reached out, and SNATCHED a huge hank of my wife's hair right out of her head, banging her head into the cage as it did so! And then it scampered back to the back of the cage, laughing--yes, laughing--and grimacing, and then shoving all of the hair (and probably some scalp ... this was a fairly brutal attack) into its mouth.

She was in pain and so surprised she could hardly figure out what happened. I mean, who expects to be attacked by a monkey?

Needless to say, this was a sensitive situation. So there were two reasonable things I could have done at this point:

a. I could have given her first aid and attempted to succor her.

2) I could have demanded assistance from the zoo staff, and satisfaction in the form a big payment from the Prince of Monaco (which I would undoubtedly have gone on to lose at the casino).

The third choice, of course, is the one that tells you why, less than a year later, I was living in my hopping East 18th Avenue bachelor pad across from the convenience store, the storefront church, and the Salvation Army (okay, yeah, I'm skipping some of the other life choices that got me there, but fun as they were at the time, they're predictable and trite, so I prefer to blame my divorce on the monkey attack):

Can you guess what I did?

Yep: I. Laughed. My. Ass. Off.

I know, I know. But what was I to do? I'm only human.

Listen, if that had happened to me, wouldn't I have laughed about it (eventually)? Wouldn't I be telling pretty much the same story as I told you here, with me as the butt of it? Even as I tried to stanch the blood flow and effect a debonair combover, I would have been composing the story I would tell everyone when I got back to Ohio and somebody asked me, "How was the trip?"

"'How was the trip?'! I got attacked by a f---ing monkey!"

It would have been awesome. Instead, I have to tell it this way, and it kind of makes me look like a jerk. Still, it's pretty funny though.

I need you to

Lately I've been sucked into the first seasons of two prime time soaps--uh, serial adventure shows--that everybody else has been watching for a long time and is probably already tired of: Lost and Heroes.

On both of these shows--and on that X-Files ripoff that looked promising but I've already gotten tired of and quit watching--I've noticed that at least once per episode, somebody--maybe Jack (there's always a Jack, isn't there), maybe Skinny Freckly Federal Prisoner, maybe Humorless FBI Agent--will begin sentences with "I need you to ..." As in, "I need you to tell me where the bomb is!" "I need you to quit bleeding!"

Why? Is it just one person with one particularly annoying mannerism writing all of these characters? Or is it part of some greater mandate?

I need you to explain this phenomenon. Because it's irritating me.

October 27, 2008

An open letter in which I get political

Dear Representative Paul Kanjorski,

I'm sorry to inform you that I won't be voting for you in the November election, because voting for you would indirectly reward your decision to plague my household--a household of three voting citizens--with automated phone calls. I'm not kidding.

We received three such calls--one for each of us, I suppose--over the weekend. The first, on Friday, was a hangup, which was convenient since I was in the middle of making a meatloaf and would not have had time to listen anyhow. Also, the phone kept slipping out of my hands, covered as they were with raw hamburger, eggs, bread crumbs, and my secret blend of herbs and spices (which tastes and looks suspiciously like A-1 sauce). If I didn't have caller ID, I'd simply blame one of my daughters' stupid friends ... but as it turns out, even hormone-crazed adolescents have more phone courtesy than you do. Rule 1: don't call me. Rule 2: If you call me, don't hang up on me. These rules are not just for you--they're almost universal.

Saturday's call, the second, was merely a minor annoyance. I was watching a movie on TCM and hoping Mike would review it so I could open up a can of snark on him. I listened long enough to verify that there was no human on the other end, and then hung up, after ordering my daughter to wash the dried dead cow and chicken embryos off the phone. Rule 3: If you call me and don't hang up on me, be a person and not a machine.

Jack Lemmon as Shelley "Machine" Levene

Sunday's call is the reason I respectfully will not vote for you in the coming election. It came during the Steelers-Giants game, specifically during the first-half goal line stand. The Steelers' finest moment in the game. Rule 4: Person or no, if you are not bleeding or on fire, do not call me during the game. Again, it's not personal.

Sir: do you know what state--nay, Commonwealth--you're representing? This is Pennsylvania, in the United States of KMA, and we spend our fall Sundays in prayerful contemplation of the Eagles and the Steelers. Your fake phone calls are not welcome.

Sir: do you have any understanding at all of the people you represent? Most of us answer ourown phones, and you do not. How about if I call you in your home on a weekend when you're making a meatloaf sometime? Would that be okay with you?

And don't just call me when you want something. Even my brother in law has more courtesy.

Sir: do you have any evidence, provided by somebody other than the people you're paying to automate these phone calls, that they work? I'm willing to bet that this strategy angers as many people as it persuades. For the sake of your continued tenure in office, I hope that most people are less irritated than I am.

You see, I want you to be re-elected, and I assure you I will not be voting for your opponent. If you have any questions, please feel free to give me a call sometime. Apparently you have my number.

October 26, 2008

Alternate Halloween-related content

Since the haunted picture turned out to be a bust, here's some alternative Halloween content for you:

Actually, this one is more topical:

The trick-ee, Mr. Schnitzel, is rather Flandersesque. Incidentally, "Umm ... you're a weenie" is one of our favorite family sayings now. In fact if you say "umm" in our house, somebody will almost certainly volunteer, "You're a weenie?"


Hmm. I deleted the haunted picture post because when Mike followed the link, it went nowhere, and when I did, I got a virus warning from Avast. I don't really think there was a virus threat there, but better safe than sorry. Dammit.

October 25, 2008

Tiresome technology linkfest

The other day, while finishing up what should have been a routine "update" (couldn't find the SNL Weekend Update video I wanted to link here--Quinn was the best Weekend Updater, and that's not open to discussion) my home computer refused to boot. Very irritating. Needless to say I had ALL of my photos and personal documents backed up. Yeah, sure. It helpfully offered to reformat itself and restore itself to its pristine, untouched state (which reminds me of a story, but not now).

I figured my stuff was still on there. So I made a USB drive bootable with Linux and backed up all the vitals onto DVD (and a USB-connected hard drive). Then I left it to reclaiming its retroactive virginity. I'm very pleased at its quieter performance, and I spent a pleasant morning trying to tinker everything back to the way it was before, or better.

So I got to thinking about this underpowered laptop I'm writing on now. It's an XP machine, and it usually runs at a snail's pace ... it will spend a week downloading some update and another day or two trying to install it--this even though under normal circumstances (increasingly few and far between) it runs most day to day applications acceptably. I figured the XP installation was pretty much screwed, but the recovery disks are long gone at this point.

Instead, I installed Linux: Ubuntu to be exact.

Anyhow, this puny Gateway laptop seems to be running a little happier than before. I don't know anything about Linux, but the computer is doing what I want it to do--light document editing, Firefox, reading the occasional PDF--a lot more quietly and happily than it was before. Now if I could just have the first half of my weekend back!

October 23, 2008

I need a henchman to help with my minions

We have so many animals in the house that I've seriously considering acquiring a monkey to serve as their overseer. That way I'd only have to deal directly with the monkey, who would presumably walk the dog, clean the litterboxes for the three cats, and vacuum up all the pet hair.

Something tells me, though, that the monkey would cause as many problems as it would solve.

This seems like a great opportunity to tell you about how my ex-wife was attacked by a monkey, but since there seemed to be little interest in the story last time I mentioned it, I won't bore you.

Pictured: Doc, the youngest of the cats.

October 20, 2008

Collect 'em all!

I've been drowning in requests for the last Elmers "studio" album, so at long last, here it is: Shut Your Piehole.

If you're feeling selective, start with "Labor Day," "Handyman," and "Too Far Too Fast." If you're feeling really selective, you might want to look elsewhere!

October 19, 2008

I love this

Isn't that spatial?

This is a little more irritating than I anticipated. 3.56 on my first and only try, but I did resist the temptation to hold a protractor, ruler, or even the corner of a sheet of paper up to the screen.

The compass played hell with my LCD.

October 17, 2008

A revelation

Earlier, for reasons that aren't important, I was looking up the word "darkling." That inquiry, in a real life dictionary book, led me to what is now my new favorite word. If it's not your favorite word, follow that link and then click on the audio pronunciation link you find there until it IS your favorite word.

And have fun, my darklings.

October 16, 2008

Hectic Red

When I miss teaching, which is often, I often miss teaching Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind." Why not go check it out? Go ahead, I'll wait.

I was thinking about this poem Tuesday whilst (see, I'm being poetic) driving from Indiana (PA) through Altoona and up through State College. It's a pretty part of the state. Heading north and east you drive along one long valley, the valley on your left for miles and miles. The leaves were beautiful. It looked like a sunset had drained out of the sky and filled up the valley.

Of course, in Shelley's poem the leaves have already fallen, but Tuesday, it was all just glorious.

This poem is a well-oiled, precision machine. Even "thy skiey speed" is forgiveable. Nice job, PBS.

October 15, 2008

A telling statistic

So far twenty-one percent (21%) of today's hits to this blog have been the result of my mentioning academic retirement giant TI@@-CR&F. Of those hits, seventy-five percent (75%) have originated from [that organization] .org.

Originally I was going to spell out the name of the organization again, just to see if that would raise the number of hits from them, but I thought I'd head off the feedback loop. Besides, I'd rather have them manipulating my money than reading my blog.

How'd you get here?

Most of you readers are regular readers, but every now and then some visitors stop by, misdirected by Google or some other search engine. So far today I've had two visits from TIAA-CREF, probably since I mentioned them in this morning's entry. I wonder how many Googlers they keep on staff to monitor their reputation in the b'og? Welcome, TIAA-CREF to the Wordshed!

Can you get people to notice you by mentioning them in your blog? Not Morgan Freeman, apparently. Maybe certain people, I don't know ... people who google themselves, or pay people to google them. Should we try a few? It's the opposite of stalking ... I want these people to stalk themselves, for me. I'm not even googling these people to see what they're up to these days (a semi-truth ... I had a bad feeling about Doug Henning, whom I was going to list here, so I looked him up and learned that he died a while back).

I would like to hear from Donnie Iris and/or Joe Grushecky. Drop in and say hi!

Who else? Louis Lipps and/or Bam Morris.

Norm Abram. Colum McCann. Linda Ronstadt.

The balls are in your courts, celebrities. Did I catch you googling yourself? Hey, it's okay ... everybody does it.

Generally I get one or two visitors a day looking for "Marion Ravenwood" photographs. This morning I had someone looking
for "make a better door than a window" "origin" ... I'll bet he or she was disappointed, though as it happens I am the creator of that phrase.

I could be misremembering that.

Someone found us yesterday by searching for "examples of irony in Led Zeppelin songs" (without the quotation marks, though now it will work even with the quotation marks).

Ain't life grand?

My Old School

You may or may not have noticed that I've been absent the last several days. I took the elder daughter around to look at some universities in which she has showed some relative interest. One of them was my alma mater, that PA school with the funny name. It was an interesting and mildly disorienting trip, during which I kept seeing students who reminded me impossibly of people I knew from a generation ago. Aside from those flashes of deja vu, though, the differences outweighed the similarities.

For one thing, my dorm is gone. And not just mine, but most of the rest of them too. Traditional dorms are being replaced by super fancy residence halls. Microwaves, once contraband, are now provided . The rooms looked nice, and security is a lot higher priority than it was ... okay ... here it comes ... BACK IN MY DAY.

It shouldn't have surprised me that almost nobody on the faculty back in the early 1980s is still around ... especially since I tended to gravitate toward the dead white men among the faculty when choosing my classes. Well, "be" has become finale of "seem," it seems, and even though a lot of those guys were probably younger then than I am now, they've moved on ... as I surely will have 26 years from now, assuming TIAA-CREF manages to get my retirement back on track sometime between now and then.

The only person I saw whom I knew was one of a small handful of good friends from the college years whom I still hear from (usually when an old prof dies); she teaches there now. It was a little disorienting in that the office she occupies is in a converted dorm in which she stayed one summer, and where I visited her on a couple of occasions. It was like being back there, sort of, except unlike me, she has aged a little (although very gracefully, I must add).

If somebody had told me back in '84 while we were sweltering on her single bed (platonically, always platonically--she was inexplicably resistant to my charms, as hard as that must be to imagine), watching Three's Company reruns on a 12" black and white TV on a summer afternoon, that we'd be sitting down the hall in her office talking about strategic planning, tenure and promotion, and the use of the SAT in the admissions process (platonically, alway platonically), I don't know if I would have believed it. Though I don't know how else it could have all turned out.

I see that the elder daughter is wearing her new T shirt with Alma Mater University's logo to school today. I have mixed feelings, but I guess I could think of worse things.

October 08, 2008

Times Square

I've never seen the film, but for a while, the soundtrack--which I picked up at random from a bargain bin sometime in the middle 1980's--was one of my absolute favorites. I don't think it was ever released on CD, alas, and if my cassette is still around and still functional, I'm going to guess that it's not in great shape. It was one of those "two LPs on one cassette!" deals that really meant that the tape was thin and stretchy and breakable. Wow, thanks for the convenience!

Anyhow, as unlikely as it is that you'll ever have the opportunity to grab a copy of this album, let me tell you, you it's pretty darned listenable ... even the cuts of the movie people singing their movie songs. IMDb provides the track listing here.

Highlights: Gary Numan's "Down in the Park"; The Pretenders' "Talk of the Town"; "Babylon's Burning" by The Ruts; Patti Smith's "Pissing in the River." Stuff you might never hear again if you don't go out of your way to.

October 07, 2008

Today's my day

Don't ask me why, but when I was out for lunch at Panera, that sad excuse for the vastly superior Atlanta Bread Company, I had so many people smiling at me I had to check and make sure I wasn't shedding five dollar bills. Outside of Lowes I looked at myself in the reflection of the store window just to make sure I didn't have a kitten on my head or something. Everybody was sending me the warm and fuzzy vibes.

Every man I saw seemed poised to buy me a beer and offer to change my brake shoes and turn my drums. Every woman I walked past made eye contact, smiled, and said hi to me. I'm talking three generations here.

This might surprise you, but this sort of thing doesn't happen to me every day. I'm going to stop and buy some lottery tickets on the way home.

October 06, 2008

Philadelphia Freedom

Okay, I'll post, but grudgingly. I was going to wait you out. Frankly, I think the gum post might be the best thing I've ever written, and I'm stunned--stunned and shocked--that it didn't elicit more comments, positive or negative. What, after all, is more controversial than gum-chewing policy?

When I was of middle school age, kids would buy some of the newfangled gum that was then all the rage. I think it was a quarter a pack. And then they'd sell it to other kids for a dime or even a quarter a piece. That's when I first realized the evil of gum and of my fellow man. Well, not first. And not evil. And not gum. But you know what I mean.

In 1976 I went to Philadelphia with our church youth group. I was an outsider amongst them, because I was the only pubescent Presbyterian from my school district, because my family drove by several Presbyterian churches to go to the one in the next town. I figured it was because our church was better than all those other churches. But they all knew each other from school, and they didn't know me. Kids can be so cruel. *Sob!*

Anyhow, the kids called me "Freck." Because, well, I'm covered with freckles. Now, of course, I'm covered with freckles and hair, but at that time, mostly just the freckles. Is it weird that I still hate them all? Even the one I had the doomed, unChristian crush on? To this day she defies my Google.

I mean, you know the whole point of youth group, right?

Anyhow, do you remember in that year--if you remember that year--that there were these shirts that became popular ... they were made of a villainously plasticky unbreathing material, and the front panel would have an ACTUAL PHOTOGRAPH printed on it? Amazing. Like scenery ... a sailboat on a lake. Or the Liberty Bell. Or the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Am I really the only one who remembers this brief fad? It was worse than the whole rest of the 1970s, I assure you. Worse even than the curvy combs with the thick teeth that everybody had to carry to comb their creamy Shaun Cassidy parted-in-the-middle feathered-back hair with. Anybody?

Why would I dream of owning a plastic shirt with a picture of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on it? You tell me.

October 01, 2008

God, if you're there, I'd like you to smite somebody.

We live amongst pigs. Pigs!

I work at a facility where smoking is banned both indoors and out. I'm a nonsmoker, and incidentally, the outdoor smoking ban strikes me as overkill, and in fact it makes me want to smoke every time I go outside. That's how I am.

So if you want to ban something, how about banning chewing gum?

It's a disgusting habit and it produces disgusting waste.

Honestly, gumwads (I'm calling all inconsiderate public gum-spitters gumwads) ... is it too much to ask that, when you get done snapping, chomping and drooling over that technicolor, turdlike wad of plastic goo you've jammed your gob with, you find an appropriate receptacle for it and throw it the HELL away?

Or, failing that, how about cramming the slobbery wad into the alternate orifice of your choice? Why not? It's already been in your mouth. And out. And in again. Tell me how every blown bubble ISN'T basically a spiderweb for germs and disease. (Weird ad ... I'm not sure "finance company" and "bubble about to burst" are concepts that I'd want to put together.)

Anyhow, in case you haven't guessed, I stepped in gum a little while ago. In a public dining facility.

I wrote a short play on the subject:

Me: Damn, I stepped in gum.

Other guy: That's disgusting.

Me: Wow, people are pigs. I really hate stepping in people's gum.

Other guy: Me too. Well, have a great day.

Me: A great day? Didn't you hear me? I STEPPED IN GUM.

You see, reader, a "great day" is a very fragile thing, the kind of thing an ignorant ruminant can ruin with impunity.

Go ahead, read that sentence again ... you know you want to.