Category Archives: Communication

Don’t Let Housework Ruin Your Marriage. Leave That to Booze and Gambling.

My wife never came right out and said she was distressed by our house and the fact that I live in it. I only became aware of her distress after years of examining various signs and back-trails. It was like tracking a bear that occasionally walks into your kitchen muttering and flashing grumpy looks.

I couldn’t decide which of my manifold foolish actions she was upset about, so I asked her. She answered. I didn’t understand. Perhaps I didn’t speak bear.

You should know that my wife lives and suffers and prevails according to her list. She has the words “Most Organized Person On The Planet” embroidered on her underwear. One day I noticed that she relaxed a bit every time she crossed something off her list, as if she’d just murdered a family enemy. Maybe that was the key.

I volunteered to help her clear her list, which made her grin. She began to send me on missions. “Strangle the dirty dishes.” “Stab the litter box in the eye.” “Shoot the grocery store in the back of the head and dump it in the lake.” I did these things, and she thanked me. Yet she remained disgruntled. I even began rubbing out some targets on my own, but that didn’t solve the problem.

I gave up. I decided I’d have to spend the rest of my life buying lots of flowers and watching Notting Hill with her an improbable number of times.

Some time ago I began working from home, and then later I began not working, still from home. Every day I was confronted by the items from my wife’s list, or as I now thought of them, “The Enemies of My People.” Whenever I became frustrated or bored I began attacking our enemies. After a while I made it my mission to eradicate them.

That was when my wife smiled. By accident I’d made myself just as accountable for slaying our enemies as she was.

My wife still performs her share of assassinations. We could never deny her the pleasure of the kill. But now she has an ally instead of a flunky. I had never understood why it wasn’t enough for me to just help out. As long as we shared the work and it got done, who cared? Well, somebody has to take responsibility for seeing that things get properly killed around here, and my wife doesn’t want to be stuck with the job by herself.

I know this is confusing, because it confused the heck out of me. Let me translate it into a form more understandable than bear language:

Say you and I go in 50/50 on an Chevy 429 V8 engine so we can rebuild it. We plan to put it on blocks and start it up once a day to hear how badass it sounds. As we work, every time I’m done with a tool I just leave it laying on the garage floor. Soon you’re tripping over wrenches and pullers. You justifiably chew my ass out, but after that I only pick up a tool when you specifically tell me to. You yell at me some more, and I finally begin picking up a tool on my own once in a while. But mainly you still have to tell me.

What am I?

I’m a lazy pain in the ass, that’s what I am. And I will be until I take some responsibility for the damn tools getting picked up. It’s not about how many tools I pick up. My job isn’t to pick up tools. My job is to make sure tools aren’t laying around on the floor, and that’s your job too. Then nobody has to get their ass chewed.

So, I stumbled onto that whole realization entirely by accident. It makes me happy, because I now have a happier wife, and because I expect to be watching Kelly’s Heroes on many future occasions instead of watching Notting Hill.

Nothing’s wrong. What could be wrong? What do you think's wrong, huh?
Nothing’s wrong. What could be wrong? What do you think’s wrong, huh?

“Bear Square” by I Seek To Help & Repair!
It is a derivative of the file file:Male kodiak bear face.JPG.
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bear_Square.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Bear_Square.JPG

Stupidity Never Dies – It Just Gets a Lower Google Ranking

Somewhere on the internet there’s a photo of me at a gargantuan beer festival. In this photo I’m young, and I’m sitting with my friends who are also young. They’re laughing and waving their beers and cigarettes in time with the polka music. My face is on the table, hands clasped above my head, and I’m praying for death.

The cruel universe did not kill me that night. Some of my friends hustled me out when the cops arrived. We journeyed hence with bail money, and then on to the living room floor of some guy’s apartment, where I slept the writhing sleep of the stupid. The next morning my mouth tasted like the inside of a wino’s shoe. My hideous backache was explained when I rolled off of the giant telephone upon which I’d been sleeping. Really, kids, they were as big as an ink-jet printer.

I’ve never seen this photo on the internet. But I know it exists, so it’s almost certainly out there. Our entire existence is online now, or will be once either Google or Facebook has stabbed the other in the heart and taken over.

A few job recruiters have recently advised me to sanitize my online presence. It seems the first thing a prospective employer will do is Google me, and if anything even a little weird shows up then they’ll toss my resume like it was on fire. So, I am attempting to scrub all the internet cracks and crannies I can find in an effort to wipe away the oddest bits of my life. It’s not that there’s anything out there that I’d be ashamed to show my granny, but I can’t be sure how persnickety employers are.

I feel like a bit of a light-weight for scurrying around behind myself like a cartoon mouse with a mop. However, I don’t think employers are doing anything wrong by searching for me online, or even by judging me. When I put something on the internet, it’s like I went to the mall, stood on a trash can, and screamed it as loud as I can. In front of a video camera that plays it back forever.

So I shall hie myself hence unto the very bowels to the internet, there to expunge all attestation of my prurient conduct. And feel kind of like a weenie.

Pericles
And then Pericles says, “Sparta ain’t a city-state. It’s a disease. LMFAO”

Discurso fúnebre de Pericles by Phillipp Foltz

Murdering the Facebook Monkey

A couple of weeks ago I was shamed into cutting my Facebook time down to 10 minutes a day. I experienced mixed success with that, which bothered me a little. So last week I decided on a whim to stop checking Facebook at all for a while–maybe a week. No announcement to my Facebook friends or anything. I looked at the clock and noted that I was quitting at 8:32 a.m. last Tuesday.

I swear, for the first day it was like laying off the hooch or something. Every time I checked my email I felt a visceral pull towards the Facebook icon. When I finished a task, my entire being wanted to check Facebook before I started the next task, like I needed a smoke break. It was that bad.

The next day I only had to fight off the Facebook compulsion a couple of times.

For the remaining five days my mouse/finger drifted towards the Facebook icon unbidden a couple of times, out of residual reflex, but I didn’t really care about it when I caught myself and did something else.

Across the whole week I guess I reclaimed at least four or five hours from my former Facebook habit. I devoted this time to other things like studying, looking for a job, writing, cleaning out my inbox, washing dishes, and reorganizing my wallet. I kept a log.

So, after the first couple of days, I didn’t miss Facebook at all. I quit Facebook and lived.

I’m going to cross-post this to Facebook. I know that sounds stupid, but the only people I know who can appreciate it are my friends still riding the Facebook merry-go-round of death. Or of wasted time, anyway.

I don’t plan to continue my 100% Facebook-free lifestyle choice, but do I think this experiment will go a long way towards helping me keep my Facebook time down to 10 minutes a day. I’m still looking for a job, and my glove compartment needs to be cleaned out in the worst way.

Artist's conception of me after 1 hour of Facebook deprivation.
Artist’s conception of me after 1 hour of Facebook deprivation.

Image: “Despair” by Cyn McCurry

Thou Art as Gentle as a Touch-less Car Wash

Sometimes I need to say nice things to my wife. I won’t elaborate on the circumstances, other than to say that some involve electrical explosions, and some involve stains that will remain on the kitchen counter until the end of time. That’s not really the point.

The point is that I’ve learned a lot about saying nice things to my wife. Some of my attempts have failed, creating the need to say more nice things in a cascade effect much like a collapsing suspension bridge. But I know how to embrace failure. It’s one of my best qualities, so I have learned and can draw upon my failures in order to share with others.

I don’t get fancy. I limit myself to the classic compliment, which is comparing my wife favorably to something. Shakespeare did it a lot, so I’d say that makes it pretty good. To help you understand what I’ve learned, I have scraped up various things I’ve compared my wife to, categorized them, and indicated which choices are better than others.

Category: NATURE

Pretty Good Choice: Waterfall – It’s pretty, musical and whimsical, unless it’s one of the imponderable man-killing types like Niagra.
Deceptively Bad Choice: Glacier – At first it seems classy and mysterious, but it’s really just a giant, frigid mass that sits there.
Horrific Choice: Mud Flats – Nasty, featureless and barren. Almost any invasive medical procedure compares favorably.

Category: TIME

Pretty Good Choice: Any Season – Especially Spring, because who doesn’t like to be told she’s better than budding flowers and baby squirrels?
Deceptively Bad Choice: Thanksgiving – I start off grateful for all the good things about her, but soon it’s all relatives who owe me money, plus sitting around watching football and farting.
Horrific Choice: Eternity – What am I going to say? She’s better than eternity because she won’t last forever?

Category: ART

Pretty Good Choice: Symphony – Complex, emotional and sensuous. Stay away from the Germans.
Deceptively Bad Choice: Mona Lisa – It’s a famous, beautiful woman, right? However, sixty seconds into this I’m struggling to say why my wife’s smile is better. Then I realize that to our modern tastes, Mona is kind of a troglodyte.
Horrific Choice: Die Hard (the original film) – This was a good idea, I promise. This movie is exciting, funny, touching, and you can’t stop looking at it. Yet I now know unequivocally that I shouldn’t compare my wife to something in which people get blown to pieces.

Category: PERSON

Pretty Good Choice: Her on the Day You Met Her – She is better today than she was the day I met her in every possible respect, without exception or hesitation of any kind.
Deceptively Bad Choice: Helen of Troy – This is a trap. If I’m comparing my wife to a mythical woman who’s the very definition of the most beautiful woman in history, she knows I’m just spewing easy bullshit. She begins wondering what I’ve broken, or what I bought without mentioning it to her.
Horrific Choice: My Mother – Even if I say my wife’s better than my mother in all ways, the only thing my wife can think about is how weird I am for even bringing my mother into the conversation.

Category: ANIMAL

Pretty Good Choice: Tigress – A beautiful, powerful and mysterious feline, which is good because I think my wife likes cats more than she likes me.
Deceptively Bad Choice: Unicorn – All mystical, graceful and elusive until I find myself trapped into talking about horns, virgins, and how many women I slept with before I met her.
Horrific Choice: Hobbit – I swear, it seemed so clever and playful in my head. Out loud I found myself comparing her to a chubby, pipe-smoking, hairy alcoholic who tells lies at the bar every night.

I hope that by sharing this I’ve helped someone avoid an embarrassingly inept attempt to be nice. I have no doubt I’ll continue to push the boundaries of my knowledge, because sometimes I’m a dumbass. In fact, I will now attempt to fix the coffee maker I busted last night, while at the same time considering new stuff to compare my wife to. I wonder how she’d like being told she’s better than Catwoman?

Not just better than Catwoman--better than the best Catwoman!
Not just better than Catwoman–better than the best Catwoman!

Publicity photo of Julie Newmar

I Love That You Don’t Care

Speaking as one of the slothful, unemployed wretches draining our nation of its vitality and self-respect, I enjoyed the movie Frozen. My wife and I saw the early showing, because the early tickets cost less, and what else do I have to do in the daytime, really? I’ve applied for enough jobs to form a new NBA comprised of tubby, nearsighted white guys. But thus far no one has needed my particular set of skills, which do not include stabbing terrorists in the eye with a screwdriver.

Lately I’ve been networking like Truman Capote at one of Andy Warhol’s parties, without the LSD, and it’s brought promising results in the way of people calling me about jobs. My wife listens with great patience when I describe the virtues of networking. I know she really cares because she loves me and she hates choking down store-brand peanut butter.

My sweetie has embraced the idea of networking and has begun networking on my behalf, something I appreciate quite a lot. The other day she mentioned my employment deprivation to a friend, and he asked what kind of jobs I’d had.

Rather than use my actual titles in the rest of this post, I shall henceforth use alternate titles evocative of my level of responsibility. In answer to our friend’s question, my wife said I was some kind of Sea Otter Wrangler.

As my wife and I walked across the theater parking lot, digging dollar bills and quarters out of our pockets, I felt perplexed. I told her that I had once been a Sea Otter Wrangler, but that was years ago. After that I became the Manager of Sea Otter Logistics, and I was subsequently promoted to Director of Whale and Dolphin Operations. Most recently I was Chief of Aquatic Creatures That Suckle Their Young. I paused to let that sink in.

My wife responded, “I know it seems like I don’t care about your titles and what your jobs are, but that’s just because I don’t.”

Now some fellows might have been surprised by that, and some might have gotten their feelings hurt. I laughed and clapped my hands so hard that I almost scattered quarters across the sidewalk.

She added, “It doesn’t affect my life.”

I told her that’s what I should have expected, and that’s one of the things I like about her. Her opinion of me has nothing at all to do with my job. In today’s world, that is a gift beyond price. It’s made this job search easier by an order of magnitude.

A lot of things aren’t too important to my wife. When we got engaged, she didn’t want a diamond ring. You can see that I won the fiancé lottery. She doesn’t care whether I remember her birthday, or if I watch TV shows about vampires with her. I bet she’s not even antsy about being unable to buy a shirt at Target.

She cares how we treat each other as people. How we talk to each other, do things for each other, touch each other. That’s what counts. It took me a while to grasp that, and maybe it doesn’t make sense to other people. It makes sense to us, so there it is.

All right, I’m lying just a little. She does care about whether I scoop the cat litter before she gets home. That’s true love, right there.

This sea otter needs to be wrangled in a professional and authoritative manner. As soon as I get off my break.
This sea otter needs to be wrangled in a professional and authoritative manner. As soon as I get off my break.

 

Happy Birthday, and Go Beg Someplace Else, You Mewling Rat-Pill

This blog turned two years old yesterday. No party, no cake, no balloon animals. I had in fact forgotten the event until WordPress sent me a cheery note of congratulations.

Once I was reminded, the milestone did make me think. I thought hard about this blog, enabling me to ignore several more pressing topics that would have required greater effort and focus. The automated reminders at WordPress saved me when I needed them, and I’d extend my thanks if they cared.

After two years this blog has published a couple of hundred posts, has collected a couple of hundred followers, and draws a modest readership on the days I post something. That generates a few comments and a few “likes.” All of which is fine.

However, my last post has led me to wonder whether perhaps I don’t understand my audience. I cross-posted that item to the Humor section of a public blog forum. I figured that my audience consists of people wanting to laugh. I was unprepared for the volume of hits on my post. It exceeded my normal volume by a factor of 50. It shocked me.

My post’s ratings on the forum were a bit more positive than negative, but one fact really astounded me. Out of the thousands of people who came to my blog from that forum, not one signed up to follow the blog. Maybe the post was poor, and I’m not denying that possibility. But maybe I’m kidding myself when I think the “Humor” folks are my audience.

I’ve decided to ask you, the people who spend time reading these posts, to please help me out here. I am in the most emphatic manner possible not asking for an ego boost. But I would appreciate suggestions and ideas about who my audience really should be and where I might go to find them. Who would like this stuff, and where are they?

Thanks to everyone who has read and supported this blog. I’ll try to remember the party next year. No clowns and balloon animals, though. Hookers and vodka—maybe.

I may have clowns at the party if this guy can make it.
I may have clowns at the party if this guy can make it.

Photo by Vnon via Wikimedia Commons.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

 

Let’s Just Let Everyone Assume We’re Dead

Tired eyes? Looked at too many ugly things today? Listen to this post instead of reading it!

 

This morning I walked out of my bedroom and into a linguistic booby trap every bit as dodgy as pungi sticks smeared with excrement. My wife sprang the trap, which isn’t all that surprising. I don’t find many other people besides her outside my bedroom before breakfast.

My wife stood at the vanity, holding lipstick in her right hand and a plain red business card in her left. The card was blank except for a few words in her handwriting, which is as legible as hieroglyphics scratched out by a turkey smoking hashish. She waved the card and gave me a significant look before gazing back at the mirror. She said, “I wrote it down just in case you wanted to know about the other ones. There are two other ways to set it up, but I don’t know which one will make you happy.”

I wondered about her definitions of the words “it,” “one,” and “ways.” I went ahead and wondered about her definition of “happy” while I was at it. Since I didn’t have enough information to say something stupid, never mind something useful, I waited.

She went on, “I know we have some time, but my part is figured out, so you just need to decide on your part. We don’t have that much time, so I figured I’d better tell you about it now.”

I didn’t even try to understand that. I just catalogued words so that when any one pronoun got defined then the whole message would crystallize like a catalyst creating a snowflake. I nodded a little and waited for the narrative to continue.

My wife looked at the card and said, “It really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, especially the one I picked. You may decide you want more, but I don’t think we’ll need it since there’s probably a bar on every street corner.”

I narrowed my eyes at my wife, the woman who turns the consistency of motor oil when she drinks one fuzzy navel. I decided that I might have to ask what the heck she was talking about, but then she saved me by laying the business card on the vanity red-side down. The card’s other side read “Verizon,” our cell phone provider.

That semantic payload illuminated her entire message:

  1. We plan to leave the country soon. 
  2. My wife has determined how to make her phone and iPad work overseas. 
  3. There are other options though, so she wants me to call about my own telephone and iPad, since she knows I’m a contrary son of a bitch. 
  4. But really, who needs cellular data when every bar and café has free wifi?
  5. (Subtext: I can smoke weed in Amsterdam if I want, but she’d just get a headache and be unable to talk for a week, so she’ll be shopping for scarves and teacups.)

I smiled at my wife, as proud of my comprehension as any well-trained labradoodle. She did not say, “Good boy,” or anything that sounded like that. She gazed down from the innate moral high ground possessed by those who have jobs and said, “They have to send me a phone so it had better be done today, but I’m leaving in a few minutes and don’t know if I’ll be late, so you’ll take care of it, won’t you?” Of course I said okay.

I planned to execute my cell phone task with the brutal precision of Sherman marching through Georgia. Yet the next 90 minutes of my life resembled a fourth-grade kickball game rather than a precise military campaign that would leave the South psychically scarred for 150 years.

The people I spoke to at Verizon were friendly, knowledgeable, cooperative, and yearning to help me to the extent that my own lack of preparedness allowed. Which was almost not at all. Juanita told me everything I needed to know, including that I wasn’t an authorized user on our account. (My wife went with Verizon first and then sucked me in.)

Since I was logged in to our account right there on the dang website, Juanita asked if I knew our special, secret billing code, which would let her make me an authorized user. I had no idea. She encouraged me to give it a go and said she had confidence that I could guess it if I tried hard. I tried hard and failed every time.

I couldn’t call my wife. She’s a court reporter and can’t just take calls. “Just hold that thought, Your Honor, my husband is calling to tell me what a dope he is.” I sent her a text and an email pleading for help, but she didn’t respond. She was clearly busy documenting how some lawyer was calling another lawyer an asshole. At that point Juanita could do nothing else for me, and she tried to cheer me up as we ended the call.

I scrutinized the website for non-obvious avenues that Verizon may have left available for loyal but simple-minded customers. There were none. I went to the “Make Your Foolish Husband An Authorized User” screen, and I spent 30 minutes trying to crack it using guile, guesswork, and rage.

I really, really didn’t want my wife to come home and find that I’d failed to get this done. I might as well be sitting up in bed eating bon-bons when she arrived.

At last, some shadowed recess of my subconscious vomited forth the secret password. I was in! I set myself up as an Authorized User, and Verizon sent me a text with a new password. I logged on, and the website presented me with an enormous page of empty boxes I was required to fill. It included picking another new password, a security question, a personal security phrase, and a security image from a gallery of several hundred lovely photos. I am not kidding. Despite the time it took to fill all this out, I felt a bit giddy from all the security goodness that we were setting up around my account.

Then I clicked submit, after which the site asked me to log on. And it rejected me for a bad password. I tried again. No luck. And again, only to fail. The site locked me out. That’s when I got really mad.

After requesting a new password, I went through the whole process again, filling in all the required boxes and the fortress of security questions. It rejected me again.

Like a fool I went through the whole thing one more time. Yet more rejection. It felt like high school.

Then I realized that although the website hated me, Juanita had been nice to me. And now I had our special, secret billing password. I called Verizon, forgot my wife’s login password (necessary now for some reason), and stalled the whole process when I transposed digits in her social security number. Patricia pitied me and let me try again as if she were running some remedial spelling bee.

At last I had provided all the required passwords, codes, identifications, and challenges. If we’d been on video chat I’m sure there would have been hand signals. Patricia took care of everything I needed in a happy, efficient way. We declared victory and told each other how great we were.

Ten minutes later my wife texted me our special, secret billing password, which of course she’d told me about weeks before. I was able to reply, “No problem! It’s all done now!”

A little self-respect is nice. Besides, it’s not as if I’m just sitting around the house doing nothing. If I hurry I can scoop the cat litter before she gets home.

If I don’t have my iPhone when I’m in Köln, how will I ever find McDonalds?
If I don’t have my iPhone when I’m in Köln, how will I ever find McDonalds?

Photo by Ahgee via Wikimedia Commons

This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

I Think I Was Better Off Isolated and Ignorant

Quick, count the number of computing devices within six feet of you right now. For me, that number is four. It would be five if I counted the laser printer, which does contain more computing power than Apollo 11. But there’s really only one criterion when determining whether a device deserves to be called a computer–can you play Solitaire on it?

Here’s a peek at my office:

The Future Home of SkyNet
The Future Home of SkyNet

How did it come to this? I remember the day I got a pager. It seemed like science fiction, just one step away from having a Star Trek communicator three inches above my left nipple. I thought, “No matter where I go, now they can always reach me. My life won’t be worth living.”

My life was still worth living, at least most of the time, but I had no more excuses for not coming when my bosses called me. I was like a circus tiger perpetually crouched on a pedestal. I couldn’t rest because the jump-through-a-flaming-hoop command might come at any moment. It’s an imperfect analogy, since I was unable to leap onto the VP of Marketing and bite his face off, although if I’d been able I feel certain I’d have done it.

Cell phones made this worse. Suddenly I couldn’t dawdle before I answered a page, pretending I was at the movies or in church. When the phone rang someone was right there on the other end demanding that I talk to them immediately no matter what I was doing. I could have let it go to voice mail, but nothing curdles my happy face like sitting on an un-checked voice mail that I suspect won’t be much fun to listen to. Might as well answer the damned call and get the misery out of the way.

I perform at a themed festival set about 500 years before cell phones were invented. It seems like half our paying customers are on their phones at any particular moment. I have to treat those phones as something other than cell phones. So, I tell people they have enormous, hideous leeches pressed to the side of their head, sucking out their brains. No one’s ever been offended. Almost everyone has laughed. Lots of people have voiced their sincere agreement with my premise.

Cell phones are wonderful devices that we cherish, and upgrade, and trick out with Lady Gaga ring tones, but on some level we despise them. They chain us to those who would steal the minutes of our irreplaceable lives.

I love computers though. I remember the day I bought my first computer, and I remember the day I first built a computer. I remember the day I swore I’d never build another computer because a Japanese assembly line could build them cheaper than I could buy the parts. There’s nothing bad about computers. Except that they enable our own poor judgement to steal the minutes of our irreplaceable lives. I go on the internet to look for shoes, and five hours later I’m staring at animated, dancing muskrats in fishnet stockings singing “The Boys Are Back In Town.” I don’t remember how I got there. If I did, I might not be able to stand the shame.

Now all the devices have been combined. Every cell phone has Solitaire. You can make phone calls from your computer. Each device links you to people and information all over the world. Each device enables you and every person in the world to waste your time like your life was just an all-you-can-eat buffet with endless shrimp fried rice.

If all this new-fangled modern computing is like Star Trek come to life, I’d like to report that it has great promise but is somewhat flawed. I’d expect better from an advanced, utopian society that seems to have no problem with inter-species sex. Maybe we should have started with different technologies, like those steaks that pop out of the walls.

I'm including this photo of a cat with a cell phone because... well, it's a damn cat. By the way the photo was taken with an iPhone.
I’m including this photo of a cat with a cell phone because… well, it’s a damn cat. By the way the photo was taken with an iPhone.

 Photo by Josh Semans.
www.flickr.com/photos/joshsemans

The Return of the Greasy Pig Shank

When I was four years old I knew that stealing a cookie today is worth more than the promise of any number of future cookies. I knew it in my marrow, and my sneaky fingers knew it too. I forgot this knowledge once I got an allowance and could buy my own cookie. Today I can express the concept, but I don’t really know it anymore, not like I did when I was four.

It’s aggravating to forget things. It’s worse when you remember that you used to know something and that you don’t know it now.

As I’ve grown older my mind has emptied itself like a pitcher, and it hasn’t always been refilled with similarly precious knowledge. For example, when I was in high school I could talk calculus to you all day. Now I can barely figure tips and make change. I have bartered away my math skills to instead become the Michelangelo of Powerpoint slides.

Other knowledge has drained out of me throughout my life. When I was seven I could look at a picture of a dinosaur, tell you the beast’s name, and pinpoint when it lived, within a hundred million years or so. Now when I hear paleontologists talk they use entirely unfamiliar dinosaur names that I believe they’re just making up to screw with us. As another example, at twenty-four I could diagnose and repair about any gasoline engine. Now when I open a car’s hood it makes no more sense to me than looking into the abdomen of a dissected hippo.

Today I find myself needing to learn German. The idea fills me with perplexity and dread because I don’t know any German at all. This despite the fact that I once had a German class. I had several. One time I said some German sentences to real people who spoke German in a real country called Germany. They answered me, and I said some more sentences, and I think I ended up in a stuffy restaurant eating a gigantic, greasy pig shank with a warm beer.

I don’t understand a single word of German today. In college, I studied German in Germany and minored in German. I should be ashamed.

As an aside, I majored in sociology, specializing in statistics and research methods. That includes telephone surveys, like the calls you get on Sunday afternoons asking what radio stations you like. If you think about it, I literally have a university degree in how to annoy people.

I need help to learn German again, and for that help I turned to my servant and companion, Google. Like a faithful Irish Water Spaniel, Google brought me three German-learning options and laid them at my metaphorical feet. I shall refer to these as “Option X,” “Option Spends-A-Lot-On-Advertising,” and “Option Holy-Crap-It’s-Free.” Here’s what I found.

Option X has an informational video that includes a drawing of Yoda, so that was in its favor. It claimed I’d learn just like a small child learns, and lots of testimonials promised that this system is amazing. It made so much sense and was so popular that I immediately developed a virulent, suspicious hatred for it. And yet, it includes no writing or grammar, and I can take the lessons in the bathtub if I want. I was promised that I’d learn useful phrases quickly, and the basic course costs less than the Lord of the Rings Trilogy on Blu-Ray, so I ended up pretty impressed.

Option Spends-A-Lot-On-Advertising must indeed spend a lot on advertising, since the full course costs as much as an iPad Mini. Even the basic course is pricey. Instead of buying it, my wife and I could each have our own Lord of the Rings Trilogy Blu-Rays, with another copy for our cats, and we could all learn to speak Elvish. But the cool thing is that I’d get a sophisticated computer learning experience with audio feedback to tell me that my German words sound like a ’58 Impala shifting gears. The less cool thing is that I can’t do that in the bathtub without electrocuting myself. It teaches grammar, writing, and a huge vocabulary, although it may take a while to get past phrases like, “the girl is above the train station.” I figure if I want to approximate two years of 8 a.m. German classes, this is the way to go.

Option Holy-Crap-It’s-Free has some German lessons you can take on the computer. But really, who gives a shit? It’s free.

I know which one I’m choosing.

In the spirit if getting off to a good start, I decided to begin reclaiming the German language and my profound childhood cookie philosophy at the same time. I thought I remembered that the German word for cookie might be “kuchen.” A short web search showed that a “kuchen” is actually a cake, and “küche” is the room in which you cook a cake. The German word for cookie is in fact “cookie.”

That seemed too easy. And it was. If cookie is “cookie,” then why is the Cookie Monster called “Krümelmonster” by German children? And I’d think that “Christmas cookie” would be “Weihnachts cookie,” but sadly it’s “Weihnachtsplätzchen” instead.

Crap.

I wonder how you say “Tyrannosaurus Rex” in German?

I hope to soon be able to speak to this German Shepherd in its native language—bratwurst.
I hope to soon be able to speak to this German Shepherd in its native language—bratwurst.

Photo by Marilyn Peddle

Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Why Twitter Doesn’t Suck

I broke down and dove into Twitter six months ago, on the advice of several strangers. They didn’t have candy, but it turns out they did have good advice about Twitter. Here’s why their advice was good:

First of all, I don’t use Twitter to talk to my friends. Twitter’s a big place where anyone can read whatever they want, and I don’t have anything to say to my friends that I want millions of other people reading. If I just wanted to talk to my friends, I’d never touch Twitter. I’d go to a bar, like we always do.

I use Twitter to connect with people who are interested in the same things I’m interested in. That’s mainly writers, agents, and publishers. I sometimes look for actors and food service workers, which are pretty much the same thing. I find them and follow what they tweet. Sometimes they follow me, and a-hah! We’ve made a connection.

I don’t tweet that I just ate a sandwich or that I’m waiting for Popeye to show up on Once Upon a Time. Some people like to do that, but I don’t. I try to share things I think will be useful or at least interesting to more than three people.

Unlike Facebook, a Twitter profile reveals little about you. You can share a photo if you want, you can write a 160 character bio, and you can list a website, which frankly can belong to an auto body shop and no one would know or care. That’s all. I don’t worry about creepy strangers following me. All they really know about me is what I choose to tweet. If I tweet my address and where I keep my stash, then I deserve a home invasion.

The 140 character limit isn’t a pain in the ass like people think. If I have something cool to share, I tweet a brief explanation plus a link to the full thing. A lot of people do that. For example, right now someone just tweeted “Like Gargoyles?” plus a link. Ooh, and “I wept blood after talking to my agent” plus a link. Next I’m looking at “A sadist uses trained monkeys to torture his victims” plus a link. You think I’m kidding, right?

If I’m following a thousand people, I don’t have to scan the tweets from all of them all the time. I can make a list of just the independent publishers, or only the agents, and I can follow that list when I want. It takes a tad of effort, but it makes the Facebook list creation process seem like rebuilding a Corvette t-boned by a dump truck.

Hashtags make things easy. A hashtag looks like this: #hashtag. If I tweet about humor, I might stick a #humor hashtag in my tweet. That way, anybody searching for that hashtag would find my tweet. I also like to use #mentalillness, #dumbass, and #vampirecows. If I want to see what people are saying about science fiction, I can search #scifi. It’s a good way to find cool links and to find new people you want to follow, or who might be fooled into following you.

I can manage my electronic space pretty easily in Twitter. I drop in when I have a few minutes, and I check out tweets on topics about which I’m interested. I spend far less time on Twitter than on Facebook, but I get a lot out of Twitter. I can just look at the things I’m interested in rather than wading through my friends’ religious manifestos, pictures of lions hugging bunnies, and notifications that this was the worst morning of their lives. I love them all, but it’s a lot to read through when I only have five minutes.

Twitter doesn’t try to sell me shit. Sometimes people send tweets that try to sell me shit, but I can just stop following them.

To sum up, if I just wanted to hang with my friends, I’d never use Twitter. For finding people and information that interest me, it’s been the WD-40 of social media. Well, maybe not that good—let’s say it’s been the crescent wrench of social media.

Oh, and one more thing. It’s a lot harder to flame someone or write an insane rant if you’re limited to 140 characters, because you have to write with discipline. That alone is worth its weight in kittens.

Visit me on Twitter at @BillMcCurry.

“Is it ok to wear red shoes with a green shirt on a #bicycle after #laborday? #fashion #roadkill

Photo by Mo Riza.

Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.