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January 2009

January 14, 2009

My Tape Measure - An Appreciation

Today I had occasion to measure a wall. This was unusual for me because measuring is usually a prelude to actually fixing/building/installing something. Because I do none of these things, it’s a rare day indeed that I have any need of linear measurement. But today I did, for reasons that are unimportant to the story. What is important, however, is the fact that it gave me a long overdue opportunity to consider my tape measure.

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I have a Stanley 16’ PowerLock tape measure. It’s a chunky silver thing that I have owned for as long as I can remember having a tape measure. Where I got it is unclear. It seems unlikely to me that I actually purchased this tape measure because I avoid the kinds of places that sell them. This is because I always feel emasculated in those places; I feel the way I imagine very heavy girls do when they go shopping at Victoria’s Secret. Yes, you have every right to be there, and they have products for you, but you can’t help but feel as if the salespeople are whispering terrible things about you behind your back. That’s how I feel at Home Depot. (And, I might add, at Victoria’s Secret)

So I probably inherited the Stanley somewhere along the way. Despite my discomfort with tools, Stanley has never, not once, ever made me feel inadequate, or “less than.” If anything, its heft has reassured me that, when it comes to tape measures, we are all children of God.

Continue reading "My Tape Measure - An Appreciation" »

January 13, 2009

Heart-Warming or Creepy?

When you invest in a chicken suit, you've got to put it to use. Otherwise it just ends up like the treadmill. Unused, unloved, and potentially lethal. After you hit the hyperlink, scroll down a little for the video.

Heart-Warming or Creepy?

Oh Well

I look enough like this guy that it kind of bums me out because I don't want to look like this guy.

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January 12, 2009

Sledding

Around four o’clock yesterday I was polishing the silver, as I do. The kids were somewhere. My wife was outside gathering sticks for a decorative mantle idea she had, which is the same idea she has every year: put a bunch of sticks in a glass vase. The sticks definitely have a sculptural quality, but as an object d’art, it just puts me in the mind of the kind of shitty arts and crafts project disadvantaged children do at summer camp because it’s free. Does my wife go to school for interior design? She does. She’s in their special ed program.

Anyway, she was out there a long time, to the point where I was starting to worry that maybe something had happened to her. After all, we have a lot of wildlife where we live, and while deer don’t normally eat people, you never know how desperate they are for food in winter. Also I had recently set a bunch of bear traps out there and forgot to tell anybody. (We don’t have any bears in our area, but I got a great deal on them on Ebay, and it seemed stupid to buy all those traps and then not use them.)

My biggest fear was that she was out there caught in a bear trap trying to chew off her own foot, which I just knew she would never let me hear the end of. Just as I was about to put down the flatware and rustle up a search party, my wife comes in, all cute and apple-cheeked from the cold and says, “Did you hear me?”

Uh-oh, I thought, was she screaming for me to help her? I surreptitiously looked down to make sure she had both of her feet. She did. “No,” I said. “I didn’t hear anything.”

“I was sledding. It was great.”

We have a pretty good sledding hill beside our house. Nothing huge, but big enough that the kids can pick up some good speed and get in a decent run. Earlier in the weekend, my son invited a friend over and they spent a few hours out there on the sledding hill. My wife, having gathered her sticks, must have seen their abandoned sleds and had a go. I found the notion of my aged wife out there sledding by herself charming. But I didn’t want to tell her that because I thought she might call me a faggot.

Continue reading "Sledding" »

January 06, 2009

Best Present 2008

My brother-in-law gave me a coffee mug for Christmas this year. Now I don’t drink coffee and do not consider mugs to be particularly thoughtful or interesting gifts. However, this mug is so terrific it wins my prize for Best Present 2008. Why? See for yourself:

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(Yes, that reads "State Bank of Darfur. Darfur, Minn.")

Now I am all for civic pride, but I think once your town’s name has become synonymous with genocide, it might be time to think about changing that name or, at the very least, stop advertising it on souvenir coffee mugs. Why? I just don’t think “genocide” is the first image you want to give to people who might be considering moving to your little town. It seems to me that living in Darfur, Minnesota would be a little like living in “Auschwitz, Colorado” or “Slave Ship, New Hampshire.” Of course there are no towns with those names because they are terrible, terrible names and nobody would allow their community to be called that.

Maybe the good people of Darfur, MN think they can use their considerable charms to offset any bad publicity their town’s name might be getting from the civil war in the Darfur region of Sudan, which has claimed more than a hundred thousand lives and displaced a million people. I love your pluck, Minnesotans, but I just don’t think that plan is going to work. For one thing, the war is on CNN a lot, and it’s hard for a small Minnesota town to compete with that kind of international attention by selling souvenir coffee mugs and “I ♥ Darfur” mouse pads. Maybe if you had some sort of crafts fair or something it would help, but I still think it’d be a pretty steep uphill climb.

For another thing, when I Googled “Darfur,” of the 9,000,000 hits I got, very few of them had anything to do with Minnesota. (To be perfectly honest, I stopped even looking after about three or four million.)

Sadly, the same is also true for Wikipedia. These were the entries for Darfur on that admittedly flawed website:

Darfur
Darfur (disambiguation)
Darfur Accountability Act
Darfur Civil
Darfur Conflict
Darfur conflict (lower case “c”)
Darfur crisis
Darfur Genocide
Darfur genocide (lower case “g”)
Darfur Is Dying
Darfur is dying (lower case “i” and “d”)

I checked both Darfur Genocide pages to see if there was maybe some sort of genocide in Minnesota they were talking about. No such luck. As I suspected, all of the genocide in Darfur is pretty much confined to the Sudan.

Some good news, though: if you type in the full name, “Darfur, Minnesota,” there is a page on Wikipedia about the town includes information on median income ($31,563), and this unfortunate fact which is not going to score Darfur, MN any points in the “racial sensitivity” department: “The racial makeup of the city was 134 white people and 3 Asian people. There are no blacks or Hispanics.” Oops.

Here’s a suggestion for the town fathers: even though Darfur used to be a perfectly good name for a small agricultural community, now might be the time to consider renaming your hometown. What should be the new name? Honestly anything would be an improvement over what you have now. Even “Shit Hole, Minnesota” would be better. I know it’s a little edgy, but it’s certainly memorable, and if you’re looking to raise revenue, I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to sell a lot of coffee mugs that say “State Bank of Shit Hole.” I’ll personally buy two.

January 03, 2009

"Chicken Cheeks" Comes Out In Three Days!

My long-awaited anthology of animal butts finally hits the bookstores in three days! Praised by one and all as "the funniest book in the world" (not a real quote), "Chicken Cheeks" is the "triumphant" (my word) debut of a "glittering new children's book author" (again, my words). "Readers young and old will delight in this whimsical compendium of tushies and patooties" (nobody wrote this except me) from "America's favorite Vh1 commentator and soda pop pitchman" (if I am America's favorite anything, it's news to me because I wrote that last quote). "This zany zoological crack-up" (clever wordplay by me) "amuses while it instructs" (truth be told, you'd be an idiot to write that about this book because it might be the least instructive children's book ever written). "A fabulous romp through an imagination by turns ecstatic, cunning, despairing and resilient." (This is an ACTUAL QUOTE by Publisher's Weekly, although it's about "The Life of Pi," not my book.)

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And while every single one of the above quotations is totally fake (except for the one about "The Life of Pi"), two new reviews just came out that are actual honest to goodness reviews. What's sad is that the text for each of the reviews is longer than the text of the book. Even sadder, I probably spent less time writing the book than it took for them to write the reviews. (Again, not true. Well, maybe true.)

This is from today's New York Post:

"CHICKEN CHEEKS" by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Simon & Schuster, $15.99, ages 3 to 7)

Butts are the joke in this first picture book from Black, a VH1 contributor and screenwriter ("Run, Fat Boy, Run"). A bear, eager to grab what's high atop a tree, drafts an army of birds and beasts to pile on. One by one, they bring up their rears - a duck tail, a flamingo fanny - until the nutty totem pole of tushes reach the bear's end: a beehive filled with honey.

The rhymes are brief and breezy ("duck-billed platypus gluteus maximus") and Hawkes' art is apt, right down to the swarm of bees that causes the whole pileup to topple.

And this is from the School Library Journal (SPOILER ALERT: THIS REVIEW TOTALLY GIVES AWAY THE WHOLE STORY!!!)

BLACK, Michael Ian. Chicken Cheeks. illus. by Kevin Hawkes. unpaged. CIP. S & S Jan. 2009. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-4864-3. LC 2007016872.

PreS-Gr 1—As every parent and teacher knows, little kids giggle over rear ends-and Chicken Cheeks is sure to keep them laughing. It features the hind quarters of animals, complete with silly names for them, from beginning to—well—end: "rhinoceros rump," "penguin patootie," "polar bear derriere," "turkey tushy." The close-up, color-saturated illustrations—which are at the same time obviously hilarious and sneakily deadpan—tell a story. A brown bear stands poised atop a ladder, gazing thoughtfully up the skinny trunk of a tall, branch-free tree. He grabs a duck and sets it on his head. As he does, readers get an eyeful of the duck's rear; the accompanying text merely says "duck tail." Somehow a huge moose finds itself perched on top of the duck's head: "moose caboose." When a chicken precariously clasps the moose's antlers and proceeds to lay an egg on its nose, only the bear is smiling. Credibility is suspended by the time the moose sits on the duck without squashing it. Sixteen animals later, children can only laugh helplessly at the absurd ladder of animals balanced parallel to the tree trunk. By then they're able to see what the bear was trying to do-and how it backfires. Filled with visual jokes and amusing details, Chicken Cheeks is a lot more than a list of words for kids to snicker at.—Susan Weitz, formerly at Spencer-Van Etten School District, Spencer, NY

January 02, 2009

Holy Shit: We’re Just Like Zimbabwe!

Even though Zimbabwe has one of the awesomest names for a country,* it’s not a place I would want to live. Setting aside the hyper-inflation, brewing civil war, and rapacious land policies, a prime reason I would not want to live there is because I suspect the judicial system is probably, as they say in Zimbabwean, “f-ed up.”

Well after reading an article on cnn.com today, I realize I've been too judgmental about our Mugabe-loving friends. It turns out their judicial system is just like ours!

HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) -- The lawyer for a top Zimbabwean human rights activist said Friday that law has "absolutely broken down" in the country after a court in Harare ruled against her client.

The judge ruled Friday that the government should not be forced to disclose which state agents kidnapped and allegedly tortured activist Jestina Mukoko last month…

"In effect, the High Court of Zimbabwe has said that if you are unlawfully kidnapped by state security agents, the court cannot look into the legality of that if some government minister invokes state security as a reason for not disclosing the abductions, where they took place and who did them," Mtetwa said.

If this sounds at all familiar, consider the following:

From the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights website:

Dec. 9 - A federal appeals court in New York will hear arguments today in the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was detained on a layover at JFK International Airport in 2002. The U.S. government accused him of being an al-Qaida member and sent him to Syria for interrogation.

No charges were ever filed against Arar. The lawsuit he is now pursuing charges that the U.S. government violated his right to due process, as well as his right to choose a country of removal other than one in which he might be tortured. A version of his lawsuit has already been thrown out by a U.S. court.

Huh. So this kind of begs the “chicken or egg” question: are we basing our judicial system on Zimbabwe’s or is Zimbabwe basing their system on ours?

[There was also a Jake Gyllenhaal movie with spooky similarities to the Maher Arar case. Was the US acting in the interests of national security when it kidnapped Arar or, and this is a much more ominous possibility, acting in the interests of Jake Gyllenhaal?]

Personally, I hate it when our country’s courts and Zimbabwean courts overlap in any appreciable way, except in the case of witchcraft, the banning of which the Zimbabwean courts finally repealed in 2006. Americans have been free to practice witchcraft for years now, although just trying sacrificing a virgin on your lawn, as I did, and see where that gets you! (Of course, when I say “sacrifice” here I’m being euphemistic, and I’m pretty sure she was being euphemistic too when using the word “virgin.”)

Anyway, now that I am reassured that I will receive the same kind of judicial treatment in Zimbabwe that I can expect here in the US, I am hereby booking my long-dreamed-of Zimbabwean vacation. Yes, I am going to spend two pleasure-filled weeks in Harare with nothing but my loved ones and several wheelbarrows filled with worthless Zimbabwean currency.

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      (This is what I will tip my taxi driver.)


*Other cool country names include:

Burkina Faso
Djibouti
Guinea-Bissau
Kiribati
Kyrgyzstan
Oman (just because you can say it like, “Oh, man!”)
Swaziland
Vanuatu