Saturday, February 27, 2010

I've got an idea: A TV show about murderous cooks... with actual recipes! (Sweetie's Hunk of the Week, 51)

How long can this go on? Seemingly forever. Sweetie is constantly expanding her search for new hunks, as shown by her selection of Hunk 51:

Jamie Oliver!

You don't know him without you have watched the Cooking Network, or the Food! network, or whatever network it is that makes all those cooking shows that clutter up our DVR even though Sweetie long ago switched from watching cooking shows to watching true crime shows about people killing their spouses. (As a spouse, I very much endorse watching the former over the latter.)

Above: A Good Role Model

Not as Good a Role Model

Sweetie used to watch cooking shows all the time, favoring that The Barefoot Contessa and Giada especially, with a little Rachael Ray mixed in. I'm not sure why she ever liked The Barefoot Contessa, since that show could be used as an anesthetic: watching that lady make her homemade pasta and then spread roe over it, all at glacial speed while she whispered made my eyes glaze over even as I wondered who eats this stuff? And who makes their own pasta, anyway? It's like 69 cents a box!

But Sweetie hasn't watched them in a while; they're just there, lurking on our DVR and keeping Demetri Martin from being taped. I don't mind her taping them so long as I don't have to watch them (except for Rachael Ray, who actually makes things I'd eat, like chili dogs.)(And even then, I'd prefer not to watch. I'd just like a chili dog.)

Above: The best role model yet.

So I was a little concerned when this week Sweetie announced that her hunk was Jamie Oliver. I had no idea who he was, until she told me he's The Naked Chef, at which point I said: "What, you're watching cooking shows again?" Sweetie assured me she wasn't, and after a second I said "So... you're watching naked shows, now?"

Sweetie said he wasn't naked and she'd just seen him... somewhere... (probably a Law & Order) and picked him out.

Somewhere. Like in her daydreams...

So that's it: you know Jamie Oliver if you watch that channel with all the cooking and people eating weird, fish-based foods (why do chefs love fish so much? Why isn't there a show where chefs like pizza?)(Pizza without fish?).

And my wife watches shows about murdering spouses and naked cooking.

Thing That Makes You Go Hmmm About Him: I've actually heard of The Naked Chef before -- not by name, but by that title -- and although I've never watched the show (because it has a sad lack of aliens, cartoons, people rapping, or awkward, language-based humor) I have always wondered why he's The "Naked" Chef.

That, and, is that a heart he's cutting up?
Maybe Sweetie's tastes in shows
have come together?

For a while there I assumed that it was just another twist on reality shows, that they had a guy cooking naked to generate interest by creating fake peril -- the way those nature shows have a guy go taunt an ibex, or the way there are 32 different shows on TV in which the host, at one point or another, each week, eats poop -- cooking naked as the peril, especially if he was working with hot oils.

I went to the Naked Chef's website to find out why he's The Naked Chef. I read his biog -- which is a stupid way to refer to a biography, especially when it's on the same page as his blog -- but it didn't say anything about why he's The Naked Chef. (It did mention that he's got four girls, Jools, Poppy, Daisy and Petal. Poor Petal: her sisters get whole flowers, while she's just named for a part. Why? It's not like there's a shortage of flowers. What's wrong with Rose? Lily? That's just off the top of my head. Or Chrysanthemum, and call her Chrys?)

Or Pepper? That's a cute name.

I then bravely went and googled the phrase Why is he called the naked chef despite the very real possibility that googling something with the word "naked" in it would cause my computer to explode; since googling anything results in at least 3 of the top 10 suggestions being naked people, I could only imagine what googling naked would produce.

Good news, ladies! Googling that phrase
gets you

But also this:

But the space-time continuum kept on... continuuming, or whatever it is a continuum does... and I found a site called "" That worried me: Did we already fill up Everything? Why do we need Everything2? Is that even possible, to have a second everything? Maybe I had, after all, messed up the space-time continuum... maybe things were inside out!

Maybe I'd warped reality such that green was now seven, and up was macaroni!

Or, not.

Anyway, that site -- the second compendium of everything -- said he's called The Naked Chef because of his "simple, unadorned cooking style." That answer has to be legit, because it was posted, without explanation, by a person who was named after the family cat.

(I also found out, at another site, that the girls' names are actually Poppy Honey Rosie, Daisy Boo Pamela, and Petal Blossom Rainbow, so Petal is not just a part, she's a part and a whole -- Petal is a metonymy!) (Good for her!)

I am not sure who the boy is. I think he just
horned into the picture.

And, I found out, Jamie Oliver runs some charities, including a restaurant named Fifteen which trains disadvantaged kids to work in restaurants. Which is really a very nice thing for him to do.

And, I found out, The Naked Chef isn't even being produced anymore. So where did Sweetie find this guy? That's what I'd like to know, now.

Reason I Assumed Sweetie Liked Him: I just went with naked. He's the naked chef, so I assumed Sweetie liked him because he's naked.

Or because he can hold a whole
box of beets up almost over his head.

Although I can't really see the draw of him being naked, I have to admit. I had no idea what he looked like before I began writing this. Now, I think he's kind of shlumpy looking.

(I can say that because I'm kind of shlumpy looking -- you know, the way that people of a given ethnicity can make ethnic jokes? Shlumpy guys can make fun of other shlumpy guys, and I doubt that Jamie Oliver is going to lose sleep over it, what with counting all his millions of dollars. Or pounds. Or whatever money they use in the UK now. Do they still use tuppence?)

Actual Reason Sweetie Likes Him:
I never actually got an actual reason. Sweetie was standing at the kitchen counter when she told me who the hunk was. When I said "And why do you like him?" she just sighed in a dreamy sort of way, put her hands on the counter, tilted her head back, and went Mmmmm.

Point I'd Like To Make About Sweetie's Actual Reason For Liking Him: That's actually more worrisome than watching all those spouse-murder shows.

This scene brought to you
from Sweetie's dreams.

One Percent, Day Three: Part Two Of Paul Ryan Is Stupid...

... or thinks you are.

Yesterday I pointed out that Paul Ryan was disingenuous (at best!) when he made the grandstanding/pandering claim that Republicans (the party of letting kids die) want "people" in control of health care, not the government.

Paul Ryan meant insurance companies, of course. He didn't mean people should control health care; he meant insurance companies -- which have bought his soul via campaign contributions -- should control health care.

Well, it turns out that Paul Ryan isn't just disingenous (at best!). He's also a liar who wants the government to control your money and tell you what insurance policies you can buy.

Here's two excerpts from Paul Ryan's article in this week's Newsweek. Writing about what he calls a "Roadmap" (and what the rest of us would call "what the insurance companies paid Paul Ryan to say") Paul "Give The Government Your Money" Ryan said this:
On Medicare's future: The plan should change for those under 55 now, so that they will eventually be issued vouchers and "will be able to choose from a list of Medicare-certified insurance plans."

That is, Paul Ryan -- who is bought and paid for by the insurance company-- wants the government to tell the people which insurance plans they can buy. He will have the government take your money, then give it back to you, but only to buy the insurance the government approves of.

Is that the people in charge, Paul Ryan?

It gets worse:

On Social Security's future: Paul would replace what he thinks is the failing plan with this idea: "Future seniors will be able to invest more than a third of their payroll taxes in savings accounts they will own. These accounts will be ... managed by the federal government, not a private investment firm."

So... um... the government is qualified to take my money and invest it, and qualified to tell me which insurance plans I can buy with my money... but not to administer a health insurance program?

Paul Ryan isn't just disingenuous. He isn't just a hacky corporate shill for Big Insurance. He's a liar and an idiot and if you vote for him you're a moron.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Nothing's immoral if you gloss over the details. (3 Good Things From 2/25/10)

I've got a million different things going on right now... but I'm still managing to focus on my 3 Good Things from yesterday. Plus, Sweetie got her hair done yesterday and it looks great.

1. Things sometimes get muddled up: I took Mr F and Mr Bunches grocery shopping with me yesterday. As we got out of the car at the store, the moon was visible in the sky. I've been teaching Mr Bunches about the sky and stars (he likes to look at the stars) and so he looked up and looked at me and pointed and said: "Star."

I looked and said "Good, but that's the moon."

He said: "Star."

I said: "Moon. Mooooooooooon."

After I emphasized that, Mr Bunches thought for a second and said: "Cow."

2. This made me laugh, and also doubt the promotion:
Also on that grocery trip, as we made our way into the pet food aisle, my eye was caught by this product. Note the lower-left-hand corner advertisement:

Really? The toys will bring Big League Sports Action Fun... to you and your cat? And, is it really necessary to have an extra push to sell a cat toy?

3. Double-pizza samples! We got to the grocery store in time for pizza samples -- one of the rarest, but greatest, treats in life: free pizza samples at the grocery store. When we got to the samples, Mr F was riding in the cart, Mr Bunches was walking. I took my sample, and then, thinking quickly, looked at Mr Bunches and said "Do you want one, too?" When he didn't say no, I took one for him. Then, when he didn't want it, I got double pizza samples.

And no, that's not immoral. The samples are there for everyone who goes by. Mr Bunches was entitled to a sample, and once it's his sample, he can do what he wants with it. I just glossed over the details to get to that point. (Also, I could have taken one for Mr F, but triple samples may be pushing it.)

91 down, 10,542 to go. Today's song combines the rockabilly feel of The Everly Brothers with the in-retrospect-amazingly-futile-and-overblown protests of the sixties, with a heavy dose of Paul Simon's poetry in there. It's

"A simple desultory philippic (or how I was Lyndon Johnsoned into submission") by Paul Simon

I'm writing you down... (Friday's Sunday's Poems & Hot Actresses, 45)

Today's Poem:

Fourth Floor, Dawn, Up All Night Writing Letters

by Allen Ginsberg

Pigeons shake their wings on the copper church roof
out my window across the street, a bird perched on the cross
surveys the city's blue-grey clouds. Larry Rivers
'll come at 10 AM and take my picture. I'm taking
your picture, pigeons. I'm writing you down, Dawn.
I'm immortalizing your exhaust, Avenue A bus.
O Thought! Now you'll have to think the same thing forever!

Today's Actress:

Ben Barnes, as suggested by Petri Dish:

Today's Commentary: I've always wanted to read a poem by Allen Ginsberg, since I've heard about him for years and years -- mostly Howl, which I didn't go read. I picked this one out because I liked the title. As poems go, it's not bad -- I liked the ending line, about how writing down a specific kind of thought freezes that thought in time forever.

Today's actress is Ben Barnes, suggested by Petri Dish after I started, last week, posting Hot Actresses with these poems. To those of you who suggest that Barnes is an actor, I will note that I've long held that saying "waiter" or "waitress," or "actor" or "actress" is stupid: just as we have plumbers (not plumbers and plumbesses) and the like, we should just make waiter and actor unisex titles, so that both, say, Courtney Cox and Tom Hanks are actors.

But, if Actor is unisexily applied to women, then actress can be unisexily applied to men, and so Ben Barnes is the hot actress.

The only thing missing is a link to free pizza.

When you've got kids, you've got expenses. Expenses GALORE! Everything from having to send them to get hash browns in the morning because Mr F has his heart set on it, to diapers to clothes to DVDs to Legos... and more.

That makes it tough sometimes to make ends meet and/or to have some money to spend on you -- unless you can get free stuff. And I am all about the free stuff. Like the free samples available from Triplets Mommy.

Triplets Mommy is a site run by people who had triplets and because of that, NEEDED free stuff. Now, they're sharing all the free stuff they find with you -- all around their site, there's free offer after free offer, from power bars to cleaning supplies to Underjams, which is what I've ordered today, using their links for the free stuff. We needed Underjams because we're in a full-scale toilet-training push with Mr Bunches and Mr F, which means less diapers, but more messes and more underwear and more night-time accidents which leads to more night-time sheet changing, and who wants to be changing a wet sheet in the middle of the night when you've got to work the next day?

With the links and codes from Triplets Mommy, I can order free stuff like the Underjams sample, and I can even get free cleaning supplies for when the underjams aren't enough.

If you've got kids, you need free stuff. Triplets Mommy has what you're looking for.

One Percent, Day Two: Paul Ryan Is Stupid...

What's this about? Click here for an explanation.

... or thinks that you are. Congressman Paul Ryan (who represents not people in Wisconsin but insurance companies, judging by the fact that over the course of his career, he's taken more money from insurance companies than any other industry) was invited to the health summit on 2/25/10, and he had this to say:

"We don't think the government should be in control of all of this. We want people to be in control. And that, at the end of the day, is the big difference."

"Congressman" Ryan... who do you think makes up the government? Whenever you see Paul Ryan's face on TV -- his bought-and-paid-for-by-insurance-companies-face-- ask yourself (and him, if you get a chance) how much control you have over your health insurer. When did you last get to vote on who runs your health insurance? When did you last get asked by them what you'd like? When was there a poll about whether you wanted your rates raised 39% per year in service of megabonuses for dead-eyed soul-less CEOs?

"Congressman" Ryan -- the government is we the people. Health care corporations that jump premiums as much as 90% in two years are not controlled by the people. They're controlled by insurance corporations -- just like you are.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Part Twenty-Two: Wherein I Fly To Pittsburgh To Get To Morocco.

Everyone has one year in their life that has a greater impact on them than any other year. Mine was 1994. From time to time, I'll recap that year. This is part 22; click here for a table of contents.

I had never flown before getting on the plane to go to Morocco, although I didn't actually get on a plane to go to Morocco first.

First, I got on a plane to go to Pittsburgh. I didn't know then -- but I know now -- that it's almost impossible to fly directly from one place to the next, especially if you're not willing to pay tons of money to do so. I suppose that if you are willing to pay lots of money, you could always fly from this point to that point without stopping in, say, Pittsburgh first, but most people don't have that luxury, and the kind of trip that a poor student from UW-Milwaukee takes to go to Morocco, the kind of trip that is taken by people who stumble across a flier hanging on a forgotten bulletin board, is not the kind of trip that goes directly from here to there.

A stop in Pittsburgh, at least metaphorically speaking, is always necessary when people like me travel.

I had to go to the airport in Milwaukee to catch the flight to Pittsburgh, the flight I didn't know would be a flight to Pittsburgh. I didn't know very much as I headed to get dropped off at the airport, carrying with me a suitcase and a backpack, the suitcase full of summer-y clothes (I'd been told it would be hot) and a few books -- three, to be exact, a horribly low number as it turned out -- and my alarm clock, and all the money I had in the world, which was about $800, and which would be more than enough to last me a really long time in Morocco, although I didn't know that. I had $800 and eight weeks in a foreign country and I was worried about money, already, worried because I didn't know that I needn't be worried about money, worried because I didn't know that $800 would make me among the richest people in Morocco.

Richest, that is, outside of the group of people I was going to travel with, a group of people I'd never met before:

That's not everybody who went on the trip; that's about half people who went on the trip, and half Moroccan host students who traveled around with us and showed us their country. I'm in the lower right hand corner, hand on my knee, other leg crossed under me. I don't know who the guy is next to me, and the fact that his arm is on my shoulder doesn't mean that we were particularly friends. The Moroccans had zero sense of personal space and were very touchy and close-talky, causing me no end of difficulty in navigating their country, since I'd really rather that you didn't come within four feet of me and I'd prefer, too, if you didn't look directly at me while I talked to you. (But don't look away, either, since then I'll be insulted. Just look a little to my right. That'll work fine.)

So I'm not going to try to name the group, now. Their names will come to me, or not, as I go on, and it doesn't matter what they were named, in the long run, not for more than 1 or 2 or 3 of them, as I'd never met them before and I'd never see them again after this trip, except for 1 or 2 or 3 of them, later on, and even they would fade back into the distance and stop being a "person in my life" and start being a "memory of a person in my life."

Mitch Hedberg has a joke. It goes like this: "A guy showed me a photograph and said 'This is a picture of me when I was younger.'...Every photograph is a picture of you when you were younger."

In that vein, every person is someone you used to know. Some people stay in your life, and so they are someone you used to know and simultaneously they are someone you are getting to know, but there is no somebody you just know. People are changing all the time, and we don't really know the people we think we know in the first place. So each person in your mind right now is someone you used to know, and you may know them in the future, or now, but you certainly used to know them.

I have more people I used to know than many, I expect, because I make no real effort to hang on to people as our lives change and we drift apart. If I know you now -- whenever now was -- I may enjoy knowing you (or not) but that is now, and not then. Then, I may not want to know you at all (or you may not want to know me) or we may have very little in common other than a briefly shared experience -- 8 weeks on the northwest corner of the African continent, say, 8 weeks that we didn't spend entirely together at all -- which no longer binds us together and which is interesting to reminisce about for a few minutes, but what are you going to do then for the rest of the day?

That's not what I was thinking as I got ready to get on the plane to Pittsburgh-n0t-yet-Morocco, that day in June, 1994, and before I got ready to get on the plane I had another of those moments of self-doubt and existentialism that has plagued me since at least the fourth grade, and probably before that but the earliest I can remember is in the fourth grade.

The moment is this: I will look around at the people around me, whatever I am doing, and I will wonder How does everyone here know exactly what they are doing, and how are they all so comfortable in this world, and yet I have no clue and am ill-at-ease and lost?

For most of my life, in almost any group of people (and sometimes when the group is inchoate, and not really a group at all, like a bunch of people sitting at a stop light in separate cars), I have been plagued by a combination of feelings, flip sides of the same coin: Everyone around me knows what's going on/I haven't a clue. I always feel as though I've missed the announcement, didn't get the handout, hadn't heard the news. I'm a step behind in the dance routine, and I'm not even doing the same routine, probably.

I first noticed this in fourth grade, when we were led out of class, suddenly, for an assembly, something to do with a singer or maybe a magician, or possibly a speaker. We were told to put away our work and stand up and go to the lunchroom, where assemblies took place. Everyone else started doing it; some, I realized, already had put away their work and were standing up as the announcement was made. I hadn't had any idea this was going on and didn't know what was happening. As I looked around, though, none of the other kids seemed in the least surprised or confused. They all looked as though this were perfectly normal, as though this was expected, as though this was typical: Putting away our work in the middle of math class and quiet working time to go to the lunchroom was exactly what we should be doing, was the message on the face of every other kid in Ms. Talaska's fourth-grade classroom.

I could have, maybe, had a very different experience in life if I'd just said to someone "What's going on?" That person might have, then, said to me "I don't know," and I'd have been relieved: Neither of us knew, so it'd be okay. I hadn't missed anything. I suspected -- then, as I do now - -that not everyone knew exactly what was happening. But I couldn't prove it, and I didn't want to set myself out as the one person who wasn't up to speed. So I shut up and went along and tried to look confident, and normal, and like everything was exactly how I expected it to be, even though inside I was anxious and worried that I wouldn't finish my math and wondering what was in the lunch room.

What was in the lunch room was, as I said, a magician or something. It was an assembly of one sort or another, inconsequential in its effect except that it marked the first time, of many, that I would have the feeling that I alone was the one person in the room who didn't know exactly what was going on and what was going to happen.

Throughout the rest of my life, that feeling has recurred over and over and over again, sometimes often, sometimes sparingly, and I have gotten better and better at hiding it, at faking my way through. I have gotten so good at it, in fact, that my life could at any moment become a Twilight Zone episode and you would never guess it. If I woke up tomorrow and the entire world was filled with zombies, or was empty, or gravity was turned off, or chickens were money, I'd go with the flow and get up and get dressed and fight the zombies and pay for my coffee with chickens and head to the office wearing a tie, and you'd never guess that I thought anything was in the slightest off. I would do wonderfully on a hidden-camera show.

That's why marriage has been such a relief to me. As a married man, I'm free to admit to my wife -- The Inestimably Patient Sweetie-- that I have no clue, at least about some things. On the big things, the health of the Babies! or our ability to pay the mortgage or things like that, I can't confess any doubts or cluelessness. But I can, and often do, note that I have no idea what's going on at other times. Sweetie will tell me we've got to get ready to go to her parents, or a movie, or dinner, or something, and I'm able to say "What? I didn't know anything about this?" She usually just claims to have both told me and written me a note and email, and she's probably right, but at least I can tell her what I really think.

There has been, as it happens, only one time that I was able to confirm that at least one other person had no idea what was going on, either, and that was among the first times I confessed to not knowing, either. It was on 9/11, in the evening. All that day, after the planes had crashed and then the other planes had been grounded, I had gone through the motions and so had Sweetie, and we had monitored the news and done the best we could to stay calm and figure out what was happening in the world. We'd gone to visit her relatives that night, and were on our way back from that trip, having been out of touch with the radio and television that afternoon. We saw a line of cars, probably forty cars, total, at the gas station across from the house we rented.

"What's going on?" Sweetie asked.

"I don't know," I said, worried that we were at war... but pleased that someone, in my life, had confessed to also not knowing what was going on.

That day that I left for Pittsburgh, and then Morocco, I began meeting people at the airport for our trip, and that was what stood out to me most, as I waited: How easy this all seemed to them, how they seemed to take for granted the mysterious-but-exciting world of the airport, how they knew what to do with tickets and bags and where to go, and how they seemed to know each other and be at ease with each other even as they were being introduced to each other, how they laughed and joked and talked and said good-bye to people and did the rest all without seeming in the least to be nervous or tense and without seeming to be (as I was) wondering what the heck was going to happen, on the plane and when we landed and for 8 weeks in Morocco.

I, meanwhile, stood a little apart from the group and watched them, and spoke when spoken to, and introduced myself when I had to, and smiled at the jokes that I understood to be jokes, and then followed them when they went the places that they somehow knew to go to.

We got on the plane, and I got a window seat -- I wasn't about to miss looking out the window on the first flight I'd ever been on. I had some gum ready (the one tip that everyone in the world had given me: have gum, and chew it.) I had my book and a magazine ready to read, and my carry-on bag (a bag I'd packed with no real idea what should be in a carry-on, other than that I had a spare set of clothes because somewhere I'd read that it's important to put some clothes in your carry-on in case the airline loses your luggage, so that you can at least change clothes.)

All around me, on the plane that seemed nothing like the planes I'd seen in movies and TV shows -- it was too small, for one thing, only four seats, two on each side -- were the other people on the trip, most students a little younger than me, a few students a little older than me, including one who I think was married and who wasn't bringing her husband on the trip -- and they were talking and joking or listening to Walkmen or reading. I stared out the window and wondered what flying would be like, and then found out in a few minutes when the plane taxied and then rolled and then took off, pressing me back into the seat and making my ears pop (I'd forgotten to chew my gum but they popped anyway) and rising at a steady pace that I could feel, feel but not see or otherwise know about. My eyes didn't think I was moving but my body knew I was, and I liked the feeling that gave me: the pleasant disconnect between what I could see and what I could sense, my mind getting to tell my eyes that they were wrong.

I spent most of the flight to Pittsburgh watching out the window, never getting bored of looking down at the ground and the clouds. I was amazed, as I still am when I fly, at the level of detail I could see on the ground. The features, so small I had to think about them for a moment to place them, still allowed me to see things that I hadn't guessed could be seen from a plane. I could watch a car, a solitary yellow car, driving down a long road in the midst of a field, a field that from that height appeared to be simply flat ground but which I knew, it being June, was full of plants that would be several feet tall, maybe. Again, there was a disconnect between sight and knowing, and I liked that.

Some things that I could see from the sky didn't make sense: So many buildings, when seen from above, don't look like anything. They're not homes, they're not office buildings, they're not anything. They appear to be warehouses, but oddly shaped warehouses. Or power plants, maybe. In the sky, I always look down and see buildings that I never notice on the ground, building like those odd-shaped giant structures that I saw then, and only see on planes. When I drive from place to place, I look sometimes to see if I can spot a building that would look that way from above, that would be roundish and large and have something strange on top. I never do. The buildings change appearance based on where I am looking at them.

My favorite thing to see, from a plane, is a swimming pool in a backyard. There's something pleasant about it, about seeing a swimming pool from a mile up, picturing the people in the pool floating on air mattresses or playing water basketball or swimming laps. In the winter and fall, when I fly, I sometimes see them, and they're still pleasant, but wistful, a little, a reminder from a mile up of the summer past or yet-to-come.

My second-favorite is baseball fields.

I didn't read on the flight to Pittsburgh. I was too enthralled by the flight itself. We got to Pittsburgh, and had to change planes, walking through the airport that looked like the Milwaukee airport and not like it, at the same time, but I didn't get to feel like I saw anything because we had to hurry. I learned, in Pittsburgh, that we were going to fly to New York and then catch a flight to Morocco. Everyone else seemed to know that, already. Of course.

Walking through Pittsburgh, it struck me that not that long before, I'd been on a train with Carlos, coming back from Washington D.C., heading to Milwaukee so that I could head away from Milwaukee again, in short order. I hadn't known, then, that I'd be back in Pennsylvania so soon, which was fine with me because it made the brief stop in Pittsburgh's airport seem more than merely a coincidence. It felt special.

The flight to New York was shorter, but just as exciting for me -- until I didn't get to see much of New York City on the flight in. I don't now recall why I didn't get to see much; maybe the plane came in from a strange angle, or maybe the airport isn't close enough to what I think of as New York (Manhattan Island and the Statue of Liberty). But for one reason or another, I didn't get to see skyscrapers and Lady Liberty and the World Trade Center from above, as we flew in. I would have to wait six years, until Sweetie and I drove there, to see the city, from down below.

I didn't get to see much of JFK airport, where we changed planes again, either. We were again on a short schedule, walking through the airport, now, hours after we'd first started and weaving among crowds. I followed the others, most of whom I'd not spoken more than one or two words to in the entire trip, so far. They seemed to know what was going on, where to go, how to get there, what to do when we got there.

I don't, as I think back on it, remember any advisor or person in charge of the trip. There was a woman -- the maybe-married one, named Helen, (I think) who was kind of Asian or maybe Hawaiian-looking, and she seemed like she might be in charge, only she wasn't, quite, she was just a self-assured person. There was, as I recall, an older couple, including the lady in the green-and-white shirt standing above me in the picture. I think maybe they were in charge, or were advisors, or something, except that I don't recall them ever being in charge and I'm pretty sure, in fact, that they weren't around the rest of the group for most of the trip.

Maybe we were on our own? That doesn't seem likely. Even back in the loosey-goosier days of the 1990s, it doesn't seem likely that a college would send a group of students away for 8 weeks without someone being in charge of them.

And, how did everyone else know what to do, then? I'd read everything that I was sent, I'd talked with my counselor, but I didn't know what to do. So someone must have been there, telling what to do, but, as usual, I missed it. I had no idea, then, or now, who was in charge of the group.

(In Morocco, too, there would seem to be nobody in charge of the group, except that we went to classes and took trips and somebody had hired the bus driver, named Aziz, to drive us around, careening through the Atlas mountains while he smoked and pretended to understand English. So somebody must have arranged all those things. I just went where everybody else did, and tried not to be too anxious about it. I also spent a lot of time on my own, wondering if that was okay to do.)

We made it onto the plane at JFK, a plane that finally looked like a plane should look, wide and lots of seats and fancier, and I found my seat. There would be an in-flight movie, and a meal, and, back then, one could smoke on planes, too, if you can imagine that. There was a whole smoking section, a section that wasn't in any way cordoned off from the nonsmoking section. I hadn't quit smoking by that time, despite my time in Washington being a near-constant, but halfhearted, attempt to do so. I also hadn't known there were, or weren't, places to smoke on a plane, so I was seated in the nonsmoking section. I changed places with one of the students that didn't smoke, and settled in for what I hoped would be the best flight yet.

It wasn't, not by a long shot.

First, it was at night, mostly, and I was exhausted by then. Going through airports and being constantly nervous and questioning and staring out the window takes a lot out of me, and I was ready to drop.

Also, I couldn't see out the window the whole time, and when I could, there wasn't anything to see. The ocean at night isn't anything to look at: It's dark, all around. Dark below and dark above and it's featureless.

Also, the plane was smoky, and loud, and uncomfortable, and crowded. I had trouble relaxing, it was darkened and tough to read. I couldn't see the movie, the air was thick with smoke, people were talking (some in foreign languages that I didn't recognize) and I was already feeling a little homesick and regretful, a mixture of excitement over my trip and "Why did I do this?" setting in as I got more tired.

I finally fell asleep, sitting almost upright in my seat, sleeping for not long when the plane shook and rattled and rumbled around. I bolted awake and looked around.

Nobody else seemed at all bothered by the pitching and "Seat Belt" sign being on and that. I wanted to ask someone what the problem was, but I couldn't. By that time, I'd gotten so used to not asking anyone anything that I wondered if I'd ever be able to ask someone something again.

Instead, in a few minutes, the pilot came on and said they were in a thunderstorm, and they'd be through it soon, and not to worry. I tried to relax back again, wondering how serious a thunderstorm could be, whether the plane was in trouble, and how far along the Atlantic we were. I checked my watch a lot and tried to figure out how long it would be until we landed.

I never did figure it out; like all other aspects of the trip I'd not bothered to remember, or look up, how long the flight was. Instead, I woke up when the sunlight through the windows got bright and the pilot announced that we were nearing final approach for the airport in Rabat,

I was farther from home than I'd ever been in my life. I looked out the window and saw another continent:

A half-day of work! That's why I'm posting this so late! (3 Good Things From 2/24/10)

I'm home from the office, babysitting while Sweetie heads off on errands. That's why I waited until the afternoon to post the 3 Good Things from yesterday. That, and I was working on putting together the Do-It-Yourself-Almond Joy Sweetie packed in my lunch: A Mounds bar and a small bag of almonds.

1. Mr Bunches making me buzz. Mr. Bunches continues working on reading Snog The Frog and naming animals, and he named the bee last night. So I said "Bees go bzzzzzz," and he couldn't figure out how to buzz (It comes out beeeeeee)(technically, correct). As I tried to show him how to buzz -- have you ever tried to figure out how to teach someone to buzz like a bee?-- he would lean against my face to feel my teeth vibrate, and then put his finger in my mouth to feel that, too.

(That's Mr Bunches to the right -- helping me set the coffee up for the next morning. Then he helpfully re-set the timer so that my coffee brewed at 3 a.m., and was cold when I got up at 6.)

2. Mini-pizzas for dinner. Sweetie made the little 5-for-$5.00 "party pizzas" for dinner last night. I think those might be my new favorite food. I could eat them three times a day. (The downside? She made one apiece, and then didn't eat all of hers, so the only leftover pizza was hers, and I can't take that from her. Not yet.)

(But by this evening, it's fair game.)

3. I realized I didn't have as many phone calls to return as I thought I had. For about two weeks, I've had three yellow-legal-pad sized pages of phone calls from the past two weeks to return. I ordinarily go through and return them and then scratch them off. I hadn't been doing that as I've been busier than usual, with a weirder schedule than usual, at the office. So last night, I sat down to look at them and begin scratching them off and returning the calls, and as I looked over the list I realized that about 2/3 of them had in one way or another resolved themselves, either by the people calling again and me being in for the call or by me sending a letter or something. So I'd inadvertently done 2/3 of my job -- which is how I accomplish most goals.

90 down 10,543 to go

"Plan to Stay Awake," The Deathray Davies:

Who doesn't like a good pun in a rock band name? Especially when the band makes a killer song like that one. My tip: If you're a runner, put this song on your running playlist, and get it cued up to play when you're near the end. It provides the perfect boost for that final push.

One Percent: Day One.

What's this about? Click here for more explanation.

Wellpoint, which runs Anthem Blue Cross, wants to raise rates on health insurance premiums by as much as 39% in order to make more money. Don't believe me? Read their inter-company email, given to Congress the other day:

Did you get that? To return to 7% profit. Return to. Because a 5% profit of greater than $2,000,000,000 wasn't enough.

(Wellpoint's CEO Angela Braly earned $9,844,212 in 2008 -- on top of the $9,094,271 she earned in 2007. There's no breakdown of how much of that was compensation for selling her soul.)

One Percent: The explanation.

I've been off and on enraged and depressed about the state of health care in this country for a long time.

The health care problem first became an issue for me when I heard about Mateo and McHale Shaw, who longtime readers of my blog will remember are twins who were born conjoined. About a billion surgeries later, they've outlived their doctors' expectations and are doing wonderfully. But they require more medical attention for a variety of issues, and already they've used up their entire lifetime supply of medical insurance.

That's right: They're not yet five years old and they can never get medical insurance again. They've used up their coverage on their first plan, and what insurer would take on the pre-existing conditions they've got?

So the Shaw Twins survive on donations and the kindness of the medical workers who care for them and hope to get paid some day.

Then I read about people like Nikki White, who died of a horrible -- but treatable-- condition, because she couldn't get someone to sell her health insurance.

And on, and on, and on... while the politicans take money from insurance companies and vote to let people die, until I can't stand it anymore.

So from here on out, until we have 100% universal health care coverage in this country, I'm not going to let the issue rest. Anyone who doesn't want 100% universal health care coverage is a selfish monster... and ignorant, and I'm going to do what I can by continuing to press this issue and bring it up in a number of different ways... daily.

As for the title of these posts and this series, it goes back to what I've always said: All it would take is One Percent of our income -- one percent from each of us -- to pay for health care reform and provide medical care to everyone. Here's my simple four step plan-- I've added a step:

1. Impose a 1% income tax surcharge on the income of every taxpayer. If you earn $50,000 per year, that's $500 -- or $1.36 per day.

2. Require all insurers to provide coverage for pre-existing conditions. But let them charge whatever they'd like -- as high or as low as they want.

3. Provide a public option insurance plan that anyone can buy, basing the premiums on their income. So if Bill Gates buys into it, he pays a lot. If a homeless man wants it, he pays nothing.

4. Require everyone to buy insurance; if they don't, enroll them in the public option and bill them accordingly. We require people to have car insurance -- but not health insurance? Why?

That plan -- and nothing more -- would provide 100% coverage with little actual cost to the government, and would spread the cost of covering expensive pre-existing conditions among the public, while encouraging insurance companies to lower their prices to avoid losing all their customers.

It's terrible that in a country as rich as the United States, people are too selfish and companies are too profit-driving to actually take care of the people who live here, and it has to stop. I'll do what I can; you should, too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Do you think they'll have room for me in the Justice League? (3 Good Things From 2/23/10)

The pictures with this post were sent to me by Sweetie this morning. You may think the Mr F one is blurry -- but that's just him. It's hard to get a clear shot of Mr F unless he's asleep, and even then it may not work.

1. National geographic videos on Youtube. After posting about the stuff I didn't learn in Preschool yesterday, I realized that there are something like a zillion nature videos on Youtube, and spent most of the rest of the day playing them in the background while I worked. So if you were sued by me yesterday, and paragraph 13 says something about crocodiles, just roll with it.

2. I got my second book delivered and it's ready to go. As you know from reading the posts on here and other blogs, my second book, Just Exactly How Life Looks is ready to go. I got my copy the other day, and upon realizing that it turned out more awesomely than I'd even expected, I'm ready to begin selling it.

3. I was able to help Mr F get back to sleep. Last night, about 9:15, after Mr F had already fallen asleep, Mr Bunches woke him up by trying to move all the mattresses... including the one Mr F was sleeping on. I got into their room to find a pile of mattresses in the middle of the floor, a nervous-looking Mr Bunches (naked, of course), and a distraught Mr F. In short order, I was able to rebuild beds, reclothe Babies! and then I laid down and rubbed Mr F's tummy until he fell asleep.

I'm kind of a superhero, that way.

89 down, 10,543 to go:
Today's song, "Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts," by Bob Dylan. A fair amount of my life has been spent repeatedly listening to Bob Dylan songs to work out what, exactly, the lyrics say (he talks fast and raspy.) This song, especially, deserves to be listened to closely: It's a short story wrapped up in a song:

Just Exactly How Life Looks

Josh and Presley wander in the desert, alone with just their horses and those specks on the horizon. Josh is slowly going crazy, and Presley's not talking. That's Buzzards Loop, one of the brilliant stories you'll find in Just Exactly How Life Looks, the new collection of short stories I've published:

You can read Buzzards Loop for free on Scribd (click here). Purchase Just Exactly How Life Looks on (click here) or on your Kindle, starting at 99 cents.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I was always bad at naptime, too. (Cool Things I Never Learned In PRE-School)

Each night, more or less, the Babies! and I have "Learning Time," in which we sit down and learn... something. Sometimes it's "sitting quietly," sometimes it's "songs," and sometimes it's "we don't try to punch daddy even if we're mad that it's learning time."

(That latter lesson is very important.)

Way, way back when Learning Time began, I found a website that had little alphabet and counting games on it, alphabet games in particular. The alphabet that the Babies! liked best was the one where there'd be a letter and then an animal beginning with that letter.

If you watch that all the way through -- and why wouldn't you? -- you'll come to four curious things.

First is the flamingo, which you could get to if you hit the letter F. When flamingo plays, the bird makes a screechy sound. The first time I saw that, I questioned Do flamingos really sound like that? And I've wondered it since then. Today, I finally set out to find out if flamingos really sound all screechy like that, and I found this video:

The first thing I have to say about that video is that from certain angles, flying flamingoes look exactly like flying pterodactyls. The second is holy cow, are you serious? The minerals in the water could turn their feathers to stone? And the third is... yep, they sound kind of screechy.

The questions raised by the Fisher Price site continued, though, in that next up was the ostrich -- which makes, on the Fisher Price site, a kind of hooty-ish sound. Which raised the question is that what ostriches really sound like? (And also: what's the plural of ostrich, because ostriches doesn't sound quite right. Should it be ostri?)

There are a surprising number of videos about ostrich sounds on Youtube, something I would never have guessed. But none of them have a hooty-sounding ostrich. Most sound like this:

Third up is the x-ray fish. Coming up with things that start with x is the bane of alphabet games. After x-ray and xylophone, how many words that start with "x" are there in the English language, after all?

I don't know the answer to that. Let's go with six. There are six words that start with x in the English language. (One of which is Xuthus, the ancestor of the Ionian Greeks, but don't bother looking him up because he wasn't a god or anything) and another of which is xylographer, which is a person engraves wood or who prints on paper from those engravings.

If you're trying to teach kids about the letter x, then, what are you going to do, show a little guy xylographing? (Answer: yes.) Or are you going to do what Fisher Price did and show an x-ray fish, complete with visible skeleton and glowing aura around him, which then makes me say I don't think that's a real thing at all!

But it is: The X-ray fish is an actual fish, the pristella maxillaris, a fish that lives in swamps and other brackish water (so it does well in fish tanks owned by lazy people), called the x-ray fish because its body is almost transparent.

But it doesn't glow.

And then, we finish up with z, which is represented, always, by zebra (it's apparently some sort of law that z is for zebra). On Fisher Price's site, zebra's sound is... hooves, thudding.

So we're back to what sound does a zebra make? And if you guessed (like I did) no sound, you're wrong. Zebras bark:

Really. They do:

So, as a result of Fisher Price's Alphabet Zoo, I've learned how flamingos, ostriches, and zebras sound, and that there really is an X-Ray fish.

Actual School: 0
Fisher Price Website: 4

Inspirational yogurt would be the second-closest perfect food. (3 Good Things From 2/22/10)

I just looked at my calendar to make sure I got today's date right -- I have to be careful after Sweetie pointed out that I mix up Mr F and Mr Bunches in my posts -- and for some reason initially thought today was Wednesday the 17th... so whatever Sweetie had last week, it's catching.

1. Cheeseburger Doritos are the closest we've come yet to the perfect food. I picked these up at the grocery store last week out of curiousity, and tried them for the first time last night while I read a short story in The New Yorker. And, weirdly, they taste exactly like a cheeseburger. Or, to put it how Sweetie did: "You can even taste the pickle."

2. Pigs are henceforth to be renamed. Learning time last night with Mr Bunches was to go through Snog The Frog and name the animals and say what they sound like, so: Frog goes ribbit ribbit, and so on. When we got to the pig, I had this exchange:

Me: What's that? (Pointing to the pig.)

Mr Bunches: Steve.

3. Turtlenecks are funny. I listened to this as I cleaned up after dinner last night. I'd forgotten how funny and strange Mitch Hedberg was:

"Fruit on the bottom, hope on top."

88 Down, 10,544 to go: Today's song: "I Can See For Miles," by Petra Haden.

Petra Haden originally recorded that song all by herself, in a Swingle-Singer kind of way, using an old multitrack recorder, into which she'd sing the guitar parts, the drum parts, and more, then mixed them altogether. It's a remarkable trick that reinterprets an otherwise-tired song, and one that never grows old.

Monday, February 22, 2010

1001 Ways To Tune Up The World, Number Fifty-Eight

58. Let everyone use "forever pricing" on everything.

"Forever" stamps are, as you may or may not know, those stamps that let you hedge against inflation by buying a zillion stamps now, at the current price -- and then using them forever in the future, regardless of how high stamp prices go. So, assuming that the Post Office and mail somehow remain relevant as email and attachments become easier to send, you'll stand to make a killing on your Forever stamp investment.

Okay, sarcasm aside, why not let everyone use Forever pricing, on everything? That is, let consumers enter into long-term deals to buy things at a given price, just the way governments already do. (Governments purchase things like gas and electricity at set rates, for budgeting purposes.) That way, consumers could control their costs better and budget better, while suppliers might reap the rewards of an economic downturn, or consumers reap the rewards of an upswing.

We buy 3-4 gallons of milk per week-- those Babies! can really drink the milk-- and the price ranges from $2.49 to $2.79. At $0.30 per carton times three times 52 weeks, that's... carry the seven... $46 per year we might be overpaying. Or $46 per year a farmer is losing.

Suppose, instead, that I was able to lock in a price, for, say, two years: I'll pay $2.50 per gallon for two years, I offer to a grocery store, and they give me a card saying that's what I get to do. Then, if milk prices rise, I'm set for two years. I don't have to worry. If milk prices drop, well, then I'm still okay with my price -- I thought $2.50 was good, and I still would think it's good -- but farmers will make a little more off of me.

This concept could be applied to anything: music downloads, Hallmark cards (those have shot up in price), cable TV (does anyone still have cable TV?) , you name it. Computers: You could lock in a laptop price: I'll pay $900 for a laptop with X specifications, good for two years.

Prior entries:

13. Ban driving any kind of automobile, motorcycle or other personal vehicle within 1-2 miles of downtown in any city with a population of more than 100,000.

12. Abolish gym class; instead, teach kids to play musical instruments.

11. Change copyright laws to allow anyone to use anyone else's creative work provided that the copier pay 60% of the profit to the originator and that the copier not cast the original work in a negative light.

10. Have more sidewalk cafes and outdoor seating.

9. When you have to give someone a gift, ask them what they want, and then get that thing for them.

8. Never interrupt or finish someone's jokes.

7. Periodically, give up something you like for at least a month.

6. Switch to "E-money."

5. Have each person assigned one phone number, and then add an extension for the various phones and faxes that person might be reached at.

4. Abolish Mondays and Tuesdays.

3. Don't listen to interviews with athletes or comedians.

2. Have "personal cashiers" at the grocery store.

1. Don't earn more than $200,000 per year.

Claudius wanted to be the first man to reach the stars... but it was murder to get there. Read
Eclipse, the haunting sci-fi book from Briane Pagel. Available at and on your Kindle.