Thursday, March 30, 2006

Walking the Aisles

What would you do with 41 extra hours?

Many people would devote the extra time to their family or friends. Others might catch up on e-mail, movies, or sleep.

Some would spend the entire time writing blog essays. Stay far away from those folks, they just aren’t right in the head.

But even those people seem smarter than Skyler Bartels of Des Moines, Iowa. Cow tipping must have gotten dull, because this sophomore at Drake University spent nearly two days of his spring break wandering the aisles of a nearby Wal-Mart.

Welcome to my vision of hell.

Here’s what he was going for: a week-long test of endurance that would inspire an article or book about the experience. But in between the video game playing, magazine reading, DVD watching, and snack eating, Bartels found himself so exhausted he started hallucinating.

And that’s despite the naps he took on deck chairs in the seasonal department and on toilets in the restroom.

Until the last hours, employees and other customers failed to notice he was the same guy who had been walking around for almost two days. When some of the helpful staff started looking at him oddly and asking him questions, Bartels decided that the hallucinations weren’t good enough to risk getting in trouble, so he finally exited the store.

He gave up after only 41 hours, which is still about 40 hours and 59 minutes longer than you’d find me in there.

But let's focus on the real issue behind this story.

Bartels was able to loiter for a day and a half without anyone noticing. With our public places manned by such crack security experts—or, more accurately, security experts on crack—I suspect some other things are escaping their attention:

Ambrose Bierce: America's most famous missing literary figure may have kept the mystery of his disappearance going by retiring to discount superstores across the land, where he keeps up on great literature, like Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code, and challenges himself with SuDoku.

Guys named Ambrose just love SuDoku.

Matthew Perry: Nobody has seen or heard from the most forlorn of Friends in years. I suspect he's either cashiering at a retail store ... or loitering near one, looking to score some good stuff in the parking lot. He probably bides his time waiting for a producer to call and beg him to star in The Whole Eleven Yards.

Keep waiting, Matt.

Bin Ladin: Methinks Public Enemy Number One has been hiding in a Wal-Mart in Kentucky for about four years. He'd certainly appreciate their moral code; the chain refuses to sell the morning-after pill, magazines like Maxim and FHM, and CDs carrying a Parental Advisory label.

He'd also love their less righteous dark side: easy access to violent video games, rifles, and shotguns.

Oh yes, and guys named Usama just love SuDoku, too.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Like a Good Neighbor, Big Brother Is There

It is the defining question of every community across the land, maybe the core issue facing American society.

How do we get people to stop parking cars in their front lawns?

One approach is simple: Ask the owners to move the vehicles. If you’re feeling a bit more aggressive, fines can be levied against violators to “encourage” action. Local governments could just tow the cars away without warning.

Authorities in Manassas Park, Virginia, are employing a less direct approach. Sneaky, actually.

It is a covert operation that would make James Bond proud: Officials are giving children coloring books. Special ones.

That’s because these coloring books—titled “Being a Good Neighbor”—contain messages against overcrowded houses, outdoor furniture, and uncut grass. And yes, they let kids know that leaving cars on your lawn just isn’t nice.

The book’s critics claim it targets new immigrants and manipulates children. Its creators, on the other hand, say it helps inform families about the need to clean up their property and display good citizenship. Consider the book’s seek-and-find, a case study in neighborly terms like “zoning,” “overcrowding,” and “inspections.”

You might not be surprised that this gives me some ideas on other ways to promote citizenship.

Public Punishment. Let’s bring back the scarlet letter, the whipping post, and the guillotine. For every couch on your porch, it’s two lashings. A car on the lawn gets you tarred and feathered. Tie up gimps in your basement for fun? You’ll be burned at the stake.

Town Hall Hypnotism. Gather everyone together in a big auditorium and give them subliminal orders to behave. What better way to train a community to treat each other nicely than to have them do it unconsciously?

Tag, You’re It. The best citizens can obtain the ultimate reward—political office. Think of the benefits: expense accounts … job-for-life incumbency … supple and willing young interns. You even get to come up with loony ideas to test on the general public.

Like good neighbor coloring books.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

An Open Letter to My Readers

Dear Visitors,

Some of you have frequented this blog for months, while some of you have discovered me only recently. Whatever path brought you here, thanks for coming by.

This site is a side project from my other work; it helps me explore what humorous angles resonate best with a self-selecting, refined audience—you.

And your response has been more affirming than I could have imagined. This week your comments hit the 1000 mark and the average page-views-per-week passed 100. I’m less interested in pure numbers, however, than in specific feedback; thankfully, I’ve been getting loads of that lately, too.

Your e-mails and comments have inspired me to keep this gig going. A big shout-out to my steadiest long-term supporters, such as David (whose skill and intelligence inspired me to start this blog), The Phoenix, Jane, Laurie, Ben, Stacy, Metal Mark, and Perplexio. More recent visitors—including (but certainly not limited to) Armaedes/Dirk the Feeble, ChickyBabe, BarBarA, FredCQ, Zen Wizard, and Curare Z—continue to flatter me with frequent comments.

There have been other encouragements. Siren and now Fuzz have offered me two opportunities so far to guest blog on Beauty vs. the Beast. Folks like Jamie and Jay have implored me to post here more often despite my time constraints. Everyone else reading this, lurkers and commenters alike: the fact that you take time to read what I write is humbling. Truly.

And when Miss Kitty summarized my site recently, she used words that capture precisely what I’m aiming for: “David Amulet … combines his sharp wit and twist-of-phrase to ‘make-you-think’ while still making you laugh.”

That’s a lot to live up to. I hope I do.

But I pay just as much attention to criticism. That includes ApostleRadio’s remark at my most frequent wisecrack artform: “Puns are the lowest form of humor,” a thought echoed by the self-appointed Comment Police.

More scathing was the review by the no-holds-barred I Talk Too Much critics, who lambaste many sites. So I wasn’t fully surprised to see this reaction to my site:

“Yay more musings. Musings from a writer. *another dejected sigh* Standard Blogger template, one of the unoffensive ones. Standard Blogger sidebar, also unoffensive (but do you really visit all those blogs?). Reading his posts, I feel like I’m reading a newspaper. It’s not the content, it’s the writing style. Very stiff. Stiffer than- well, I’ll let you finish that sentence. Interesting topics somehow get mired into textbook-like writing and I find myself losing interest fast. Zzzzzzzzz… He usually picks good topics to write about, but damn I just can’t finish reading it because, well, I read enough fucking textbooks in my schooling years to last me a lifetime.”

Even though I’ve heard much worse things said about my work, pride tempts me to retaliate.

Instead, I’ll reflect. Perhaps my essays really are too long, too stilted, and too stuffy.

But I wonder … if they feel this way about my writing style, would they also assault the lengthy, stimulating posts of two of the bloggers I respect the most, Rocky and The Phoenix? These gentlemen are among the most solid, intelligent writers in Bloggerland; if their sites would be condemned simply because they dare to show some respect for their readers, then I wear that review’s attack as a badge of honor.

Still, I’m trying to pull something useful from these critiques. For that, I ask for your help.

I’ll be taking a short break this weekend to finish moving. Newer readers: I urge you to explore the archives. Everyone: I’m willing to tweak a few things here, so let me know what you think of the following possibilities:

(1) Stay the course—keep posting similar essays averaging around 500 words about twice a week;

(2) Develop each essay further—even if that means they come only once a week;

(3) Post more often—write shorter entries that can be read/responded to more quickly, and get up them up every two or three days;

(4) Do nothing but write blog posts—quit all other work;

(5) Quit blogging—focus on markets that pay.

I thank you in advance for your input. Maybe with your help, I will be able to fully earn the title DebbieCakes recently bestowed upon me: “The Jon Stewart anchorman of Blogger.”

(Hey, it’s better than being the David Spade of Blogger, isn’t it?)

All the best,

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Welcome to the Hotel Caloriefornia

Germany has been known for many things. Sauerkraut. Lederhosen. Nazi aggression enslaving most of Europe and threatening world peace.

Many things, indeed; this doesn’t even scratch the surface. But even a much longer list of German traits would not include “individual initiative.”

Nevertheless, Juergen Heckrodt is on to something.

The hotelier from Norden—near Germany’s border with the Netherlands—has broken new ground. One might say he’s about to become a heavy in the hospitality world. Mr. Heckrodt, you see, is making guests pay based on their weight.

It’s all from good intentions; he observed many too many grossly obese guests at his hotel and decided to give them an incentive to slim down. UK visitors, for example, could save pounds by losing pounds. Dieting Czechs could pay their hotel bills with smaller checks.

Don’t even get me started on people from Hungary.

But for German guests, this might be a struggle. Giving up weiner schnitzel and beer won’t be easy. Especially for country recently led by the immense Helmut Kohl, who reunited Germany … apparently by eating the entire East.

Chubby men and women feeling their anger rise should know: Mr. Heckrodt does not turn away those people who choose not to weigh themselves. He does not force them to take advantage of his offer, which allows slimmer guests to pay only half a euro per kilogram. He also caps overweight patrons’ room charge at 39 euros, the standard single-occupancy rate.

This is a great deal for the lean among us. In fact, there are many celebrities taking an unusual interest in the German-Danish border region. Like Kate Moss, Marc Anthony, and Keira Knightley. Rumor has it Teri Hatcher virtually lives at that hotel.

But you won’t find Hurley from “Lost” within a thousand miles of Norden.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Car-diac Arrest

You may not be the most perceptive person in the world.

Sometimes, you don’t see a car next to you while changing lanes. Your friends’ birthdays might not stick in your mind. Maybe you have even neglected, from time to time, to notice your boyfriend’s growing biceps. Or your girlfriend’s new haircut.

That last one’s not good. Trust me.

But as unobservant as we can be, I think most of you would notice a dead body just a few feet away. Especially if you’re a police officer looking through a Mercedes window as you deposit an illegal parking ticket under the wiper blade.

Yet somehow, cops in Peoria, Illinois last month issued three tickets and a tow-away sticker on an SUV … and didn’t notice the dead body inside.

At least it hadn’t yet been a full week when a bystander noticed a motionless boot against the glass and alerted hospital authorities. The police finally “discovered” the body in the back seat of the very vehicle they had been ticketing for days.

At first I was upset by this story. I mean, aren’t all Americans—especially law enforcement personnel—supposed to be on heightened alert? Shouldn’t they be hyperaware of things out of the ordinary and extra vigilant against potential threats?

Then I realized this is PEORIA. Sure, the city is abuzz with excitement for Bradley University’s upset of Kansas last night … but it sure isn’t on the front lines of any recent conflict. In New York or Washington, that car would have been towed off—or vaporized in a controlled demolition—quicker than Russell Crowe can hurl a phone across the room.

So maybe our priorities are in the correct place after all. I’m guessing that the badguys won’t try to spank us anywhere near Iowa, Wisconsin, or Indiana: the “flyover states,” as folks on the coasts call them. If most people in America haven’t heard of Peoria—much less Dubuque, Stevens Point, or Greencastle—do you really think that audiences overseas would be energized by a car blowing up there?

Don’t get me wrong. I will always have a warm spot in my heart for the practicality and no-bullshit attitude of Midwestern culture. I’m not hoping for an attack in the heartland, merely pointing out that if police in Washington or New York left an unattended vehicle just steps away from a public venue for days on end, heads would roll.

It happens in Central Illinois, and most of the country doesn’t even know about it.

Except for that dead body thing.

So the real issue here is why the police in Illinois didn’t see that lifeless leg propped up against the car window. Were they focusing on the alleged thousands of Midwestern methamphetamine labs? Did officers just get lazy as they continued dwelling on Da Bears’ playoff loss?

The police captain would surely deny any such explanations—she blames tinted windows for the error, telling a local newspaper it was really, really hard to see inside the car. She said she understood why her officers made this mistake.

I think that’s just a cop out.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Wednesday Rant

Two stories caught my attention today. Both made me stop and say, "hmmmm."

Yes, literally.

First, there's a story I feel compelled to highlight on principle. I'll even forgo my usual pun-ditry.

In Bizarro-world karmic revenge for the demagogic reaction to the proposed Dubai Ports World administration of a few U.S. ports, British hard rock band Saxon has lost its license to participate in the upcoming Desert Rock Festival.

What did Saxon do to spur this rejection? Did the group denigrate the ruling family? Were band members bringing drugs into the emirate?

Nope. It's because Saxon once recorded a song about the Crusades.

It seems the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing simply doesn't enjoy Saxon's tale of medieval war. I guess the lads should have instead laid down a track about Caligula, the War of the Roses, or the Louisiana Purchase.

The band has issued a statement on its Web site pointing out that the lyrics are merely "a snapshot of an event in history ... intended to give a flavour of what it must have been like in the army at the time." The organizers don't seem to care; there will be no Saxon at the festival.

You know the clash of civilizations is heating up when the fine citizens of the United Arab Emirates are prevented from seeing the group that may have inspired the This Is Spinal Tap. Enough said.

Now, crossing streams, my second peeve of the day. This one proves that we Americans are blind, focusing on the wrong threats while truly important thing trickle right through our defenses.

News has leaked out that the number one threat in our country is, well ... number one.

A California appeals court has ruled that public urination is a "vile and offensive" crime, against which police may act even if there no specific law on the books banning it. Prosecutors had argued that peeing in public violates both public nuisance and littering laws, and the judges agreed.

Great--another freedom taken away. Now police, judges, overzealous neighborhood watches ... all will gang up to make it even more difficult for us guys to make yellow snow.

We'll have to do it covertly, in the dead of night, with furtive glances all around to ensure we aren't being watched by private investigators. (Otherwise known as "Pee eyes.")

Whether it's due to this hypersensitivity to war lyrics or these restrictive rules about where I can empty my bladder, I'm now officially cranky. Don't cross my path today.

Yet I'm rational enough to recognize that I might have it all wrong. Maybe I'm too worked up over such minor things. Is that your belief?

If that IS yur-analysis, you piss me off.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Don't Come Around Hear No More

We all perceive sounds that aren’t there. Like bumps in the night, for example. Who hasn’t woken up to a creak or a squeak that seemed like an intruder down the hall?

It turns out that we are much more creative with our false hearing than that. And this trait comes out most in, of all things, the music we listen to every day.

I have often suspected that I wasn’t the only one to corrupt my favorite songs with incorrect lyrics, and now I have proof. Thanks to a hearing aid company’s research into “consonant loss,” an early step on the road to deafness, we now have a list of the most misheard lyrics in rock history.

Not surprisingly, the song at number one is Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” And I have to agree. I dare you to listen to the line that defined a generation, “Scuse me while I kiss the sky,” and NOT hear “Scuse me while I kiss this guy.”

Number two is a bit less obvious, but equally understandable. I had never heard this one until I saw this survey, and now I can’t get the incorrect words out of my head. Paul McCartney sang that he wanted to be a “paperback writer” in the Beatles’ song of the same name … but apparently many people think he wants to “paint the black whiter.”

I’ve seen some other good ones in those misheard lyric desk calendars. One of my favorite artists of all time, Peter Gabriel, has had a few pop up there. In his 1980 track “Games Without Frontiers,” some folks seem to hear Kate Bush’s background vocals as “She’s so frumpy, yeah” instead of “Jeux sans frontiers.”

Seems strange, given that it’s just a translation of the title. But I’ll concede that one—the only French I knew upon my first exposure to the song involved fries, toast, or kissing. (Not all at once, I should make clear.)

Even funnier to me is one that I never considered, from the Gabriel hit “Shock the Monkey.” What do many listeners think he sings?

“Jacques the Monkey.” Why Pete would croon about a simian from Paris, I’ll never know.

Then again, I can't figure out why it makes MORE sense for him to sing about administering electrical charges to a chimpanzee. I have chosen to set that one aside and move on with my life.

Back to the hearing aid company survey, which uncovered another gem. There’s the line in Madonna's “Erotica” that fans somehow transform from "Erotic, erotic, put your hands all over my body" to "Bill Oddie, Bill Oddie, put your hands all over my body."

Note to William Oddie: Well done, my man … well done. End note.

But both this recent survey and the misheard lyrics calendar I have seen miss a couple of confusing lines that have troubled me since the 1980s. I blame “consonant loss” for my propensity to replace actual lyrics with these monstrosities:

Rod Stewart, “Crazy About Her.” Actual lyric: “I’d treat her with respect, not just a sex object, I ain’t that kind of guy.”

My lyric: “I’d treat her with respect, not with just sex—I checked, I ain’t that kind of guy.” I always thought it peculiar that Rod would need to verify that he wasn’t that type, but it didn’t trouble me enough to reconsider what I was hearing.

Don Henley, “The Boys of Summer.” Actual lyric: “I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun.”

My lyric: “I can see you, your bras get shattered in the sun.” The mechanism by which solar rays obliterated brassieres, oddly, never concerned me.

Perhaps the survey is right. Maybe we mishear these lines because consonants are more difficult to pick up than vowels. At least this would explain an undeniable fact about the music industry.

There ain’t many pop stars from Bosnia.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Put on a Happy Deface

I like art.

Painting, sculpture, decorated vases, tapestries … wandering through a museum taking in thousands of years of imaginative expression relaxes and rewards the soul. It connects us to our past. It inspires us to our own creative heights.

We all enjoy some works of art more than others. Among painters, for example, surrealists have a special place in my eye and in my heart, perhaps because their images echo my typical dreams.

Many pieces, however—including many more “abstract” ones—don’t excite me. Those works I often decide not to look at.

Others choose to stick gum on them.

At Detroit’s Institute of Arts, a 12-year-old boy—to whom I tip my hat for his direct approach—passed judgment on Helen Frankenthaler’s “The Bay” with a wad he was chewing. Now the museum’s prized $1.5 million acquisition has new character and charm: a quarter-sized splotch of gum residue.

While chemical experts debate which solvent to employ to save the painting, the boy has been suspended from his charter school, disciplined by his parents, and left to chew over alternative means to express his views of art.

But instead of punishing the lad, perhaps we should praise him.

Here’s a take-charge kid who recognizes inferiority—and rectifies it without remorse. With one stroke, he added depth and meaning to a work of abstract art. We could use more people like him to act boldly when duty calls.

I urge you all to join his cause and help make the world’s museums more entertaining for us all. Here are some fine places for you to start:

Michelangelo’s sculpture of David. It’s high time to make this famous naked man’s member more worthy of association with the name used pseudonymously by humorist bloggers. Rip off that little thing off, and attach a gargantuan schlong to more accurately represent Davids everywhere.

Van Gogh’s Starry Night. A beautiful painting, no doubt. But where are the aliens, descending upon our planet to enslave, anally probe, and eventually devour us? Artists have ignored the extraterrestrial threat for far too long. Somebody please, for the love of humanity, step up and add some spaceships and laser beams to this inaccurate, all-too-peaceful scene.

Picasso’s Guernica. You probably recall this rendering of the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. Twisted bodies, gruesome faces, misplaced limbs … in other words, just like most of Pablo’s work. Why not take the violence up a notch, and smear some fresh blood across the canvas to really bring the point home?

Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Rub that smirk off her face, ending once and for all the enduring speculation about the thought lurking behind her sly grin. Let’s give her a reason to smile—fill the foreground with the appropriate appendage of an Italian Renaissance hunk.

I suggest the new, anatomically correct David.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Trial by Liar

Some people will go to great lengths to delay the sword of justice from falling.

Often, criminals flee the country rather than face arrest. Others go to jail, but take their lives before going to court. And those who actually make it before juries frequently hire hotshot defense attorneys and walk free.

A select few—the cream of the criminal crop—end up in shackles with no clear way out. And within this upper tier are the Top Guns, the best of the best at perpetrating the worst of the worst. Take, for example, the elite club of incarcerated former dictators.

If you are a deposed tyrant, it’s hard to run away—after all, the whole world is watching. So you do everything you can inside the courtroom itself to scuttle the legal process.

Witness two recent examples.

First, the genocidal maniac we all love to hate, Saddam Hussein. Most of his antics have seemed like efforts to win a 2006 Best Actor nomination; the former Iraqi president has employed hunger strikes, tirades against the judges, and boycotts of the proceedings to foil justice. All, so far, to no avail.

Fewer folks, however, are aware of the latest tomfoolery from kooky Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic. Documents released last week revealed that our friend Slobby petitioned the U.N. war crimes judges to call Bill Clinton to testify at his trial in The Hague.

Unsolicited legal tip of the day: Your case must really be on thin ice when you try to subpoena a man who has admitted lying under oath.

It turns out Serbie the Love Thug has gone down this road before. He also asked the court to compel retired general Wesley Clark, who oversaw NATO operations in the Balkans in 1999, to participate in the trial. Not only that, but last year the tribunal rejected Milosevic’s pleas to have Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder appear as witnesses.

Strike three, Slobs. You’re out.

This kind of defense strategy has me thinking back to the classic defenses of the past, from Reagan assailant John Hinckley’s “I wanted to impress Jodie Foster” insanity plea to O.J. Simpson’s “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” tactic. But it also has me wondering about what some other international badguys will conjure up for their defenses when their judgment day comes:

North Korea’s Kim Jong “Licensed To” Il: “It’s all a case of mistaken identity … I’m just a cute little Monchichi!”

Al Qaeda’s Usama Bin Ladin: “I’m dirty, alone, and living in cave. How could you think I would misbehave?”

Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “You in the West can’t even pronounce my name—how can I possibly be to blame?”

Friday, March 03, 2006

Sub-Par Behavior

Most of us have had a bad teacher.

It might have been a college professor, who caused four long years. Maybe five. Perhaps you suffered in high school under a real tyrant—and I’m not talking about your junior year girlfriend.

Possibly, like me, your worst memories are of substitute teachers. I remember some real stinkers. One woman used to hand out detentions more often than the principal in The Breakfast Club. Another creepy sub I remember would stare habitually at the girls’ legs … in seventh-grade.

But I don’t recall any of MY stand-ins saying the things this 81-year-old sub recently did.

School officials in Maryland’s Prince George’s County revealed that he will never teach in their district again after his alleged recent response to a high school Spanish student’s statement that she didn’t understand something:

“Why? Is it because you were born out of wedlock?”

Not exactly a nurturing teacher. Probably not a finalist for substitute of the year.

Now this isn’t the first time the octogenarian’s mouth has gotten him into trouble. Previously, after being corrected upon mispronouncing a student's name, he reportedly replied, “Oh well, it's all pronounced the same in the ghetto.”

And I thought that the KIDS lacked manners these days.

This incident brings to mind many issues. The following questions are among those people are discussing at water coolers everywhere:

What are the appropriate limits on teachers’ speech? Should schools be hiring teachers older than eight out of nine Supreme Court justices?

And can Prince George’s County finally get around to hiring some teachers who were born out of wedlock in the ghetto?