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RAH's parents

The Brains of a Spider (NSFW)

Spider will produce these discharges at intervals as irregular as he is, whenever his medication wears off.  He does actually believe several of the things he says, but some are purest mahooha, and he is utterly disinterested in discussing which ones.  Each installment is absolutely guaranteed to contain enough pixels to produce a recognizable picture of him doing something that will astonish you, if you are a fan of nano-puzzle-solving.  He likes having his work studied that closely.

Readers are welcome to join the conversation! If you are moved to respond to Spider's musings, feel free to write in at Any responses that Spider replies to will be added to the comments on the blog page.

"I do not repudiate anything I said in TBOAS #1, last night....but later last night, I had a visit from my Jeanne, whose Soto Zen Buddhist teacher called her Dancing Wisdom; Perfect Peace.  She advised me that starting a conversation with the world with quarrels and insults is exactly the wrong thing to do.  As always she is right.  The insults may be irresistible but they butter no parsnips.  Maybe we’ll argue another time. When argument can be motivated conversation rather than mortal combat.  My life experience has been that summer and politics are a hypergolic mixture, best handled by expert bachelors in Hazmat gear.  I don’t like to overdress in summer.”

10. Now THAT'S cold…..

Dear Mary, Jim, Marisa, and Laurie,

Guess what?  It turns out you’re nuts if you wash your clothes in hot or even warm water.  Who knew?

Jeanne, that’s who.  She intuited it, over forty years ago.

Hot water ages clothes, makes them shrink, costs a lot (90% of the cost of a typical load is heating the water; only 10% goes into running the very powerful motor that spins and churns the enormously heavy wads of wet clothes), and bleeds the colors.  Cold water doesn’t do ANY of those things.  And nowadays, it does do very nearly everything hot water used to be good for.

Come to find out, the detergent manufacturers, fully aware of how expensive washing clothes can be, got together and spent the last 15 years trying to find ways to make detergent clean as effectively in cold water as in hot—the Department of Energy kind of insisted they do that—and they succeeded!  So you don’t need the hot water as much as you think you do.  Modern enzymes work fine in “cold” (actually room temperature) water.  In fact, it is now said the only times you need hot water are if you’re washing the bedding and clothes of a sick person, or if you’re washing shitty diapers or drawers.

Knowing this, the washing machine manufacturers have, over the same 15-year-period, again at the firm suggestion of the DOE, quietly reduced the temperature of their warm-water setting, until it is now 15 full degrees cooler than it was in your mom’s day.  And nobody has noticed.

Oh, and the same experts who tell us this also add that while hot water is a teensy but measurable amount better than cold at making really smelly loads of laundry smell cleaned (a problem I’ve never noticed myself), you can get the same effect by adding either a quarter-cup of white vinegar or, if you just can’t stand to smell vinegar (like me), a few teaspoons of essential oil.

Here are the bottom lines, at least for me:

• If you wash 4 out of 5 of your laundry loads in cold water, that’s 864 pounds of emissions you didn’t put into the air, that year—same thing as planting and raising a third of an acre of trees.

• Washing in hot water for a year will cost you $265 per person in electricity.  Cold water will cost a hair under $16 per person.

I did not know ANY of the above until I read today’s Good News Network email.  Jeanne trained me to do all laundry but sickroom laundry in cold water just because she was a hippie.  She instinctively got that hot water ain’t free, but we had no idea just how far away it was.  It was only after she died and I became totally responsible for laundry that I started to notice how incredibly long my clothes last before they wear out, compared to how fast they used to fall apart before I got married and always used the hottest water setting.  And only this morning did I get how much Jeanne’s hippie instincts saved us in electricity all those years, and me in the eight years since.  

Over the 37 years I lived with Jeanne, her hippie instincts saved us $18,426 in electricity alone.  In that time, two of us could have washed our clothes in hot water for $530 a year, total $19,610.  Washing in cold instead cost us $32 a year, total $1,184.  And our clothes lasted forever.  Even today, about half my total wardrobe was acquired in the first years of my marriage, and still looks fine.

Oh yeah—and we also planted, in effect, almost 24.5 acres of trees in 37 years.  And did not add 63,936 pounds of poison to the atmosphere for no good reason.

Some like it hot.  They shouldn’t.  TANSTAAFL.  (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.)

One last ‘oh yeah’: the same Good News Network email that led me to all the above information (ongoing thanks to Joan Gillis for turning me on to the GNN) also greatly improved the taste of my breakfast by informing me that Dolly Parton has just very quietly, with minimal publicity, given her 100 MILLIONTH BOOK to her Children’s Reading Program....making her my second favorite singer named Dolly.  Buy her latest CD, will ya?


PS—folding the laundry, I was taught at the seminary—thank God!

09. Only I have balls on my head: ask my doctor

We’re pretty sure.  I sate to hey this, but hay, Jorge, I think that, even though I have excellent drugs these days—almost Buddhist Medication—I think of it as hahahazen—neverthemore, I believe we ought to talk about the time I acquired a rash on my groin, and what happened when I tried to resist it, and it went to my head.  Because it could happen to you—it won’t, ok?, but it could, and if it did, I wouldn’t laugh at you.  In your presence.

I acquired this tiled mesticular annoyance, ok?  Not as a result of poor sanitation, poor hygiene, dubious companions, or anything really funny, alright?  Just a rash.  Probably the constant heavy use, is my guess, and I’m stickin’ with it, pun untended.  Son of an itch....  The Itch Bitch, to give it a nom de plums.

But my GP Dr. Susanne Schloegel is a very attractive young woman, with a healthy sense of humor, and I’m old enough and thus pathetic enough to have some funny scruples about those things (all scruples are funny; SCRUPLES’d be an excellent title for a theme book of funny short stories), and so I tried to self-meditate, and not-think my way through the problem the way I usually do.

Well, an itch on the greatfruits requires some powerful juju, bees!  Trust me, ladies, if you don’t know this of your own experience.

Being an unreconstructed hippie, because I was never assembled right in the first place, I have half a dozen different hairbrushes, for different parts of my hirhead suit.  Excuse me, my hirsute head.  I selected one—but by what process I can no longer recall!!!—and addressed my past-date large white organic eggs with it, and....Problem Solved.

Until the next day, when, as I just said, I could no longer recall which brush I’d used.

I hated to repurpose and replace five, broken-in, hairbrushes.  So I applied a head-improver called logic, and noticed I had at least one brush so horrifically sadistic, I could never have itched SO unbearably as to apply that sharp-toothed puppy to my softballs.  (Hey, I coulda said cannonballs.)  That one was clearly safe to bring in close contact with my personal skullbone.

Which left me with a selection of four other brushes with which to soothe my two sons of itches.  Once again, I had life by....well, you know.

But I must have screwed up somehow.  Perhaps I tried to brush my hair in my sleep, because Jeanne was in my dreams that night.  I’m not sure.  All I know is, a few days ago I happened to, most unusually, glance into my bathroom mirror—why would I do that often?  It no longer matters what I look like: I have already won, and lost, my Jeanne—and there in the mirror, to my extreme harold, I beheld that the hair on the right side of my head was perceptibly fuller and thicker than the hair on the left side of my head.

A visit to the doctor could no longer be avoided.  I decided, after a great deal of thought, that the doctor in question should perhaps best not be my shrink....  I was committed to a solution, but didn’t wish to be committed for one, if you see what I mean.

“Susanne, do I come to you with boring questions?”

“NEVER!” she said, shuddering at some memory, or another, or the other six.  Possibly all eight.

“Sit down.”

She double-checked.  “I am.”

“Of course you are.  The question I’m abask to out you is in the running for Most Original Medical Question You’ve Ever Been Asked.  I’m not saying it’s the winner, NASA Celery, but I’ll bet cash it’s at least a finalist.”

She paled.  Susanne knows I don’t bluff.  “Go ahead,” she bread savely, eyeing the Ativan jar.

“Is there such a thing as....’hemispherical hair loss’?  I’m afraid I have contracted the first case on record of side-specific crotch-rot of the scalp.”

So now I have a nut-specific rash-ointment, called TesticulaRich, which as I expected looks exactly like shampoo—come on, would I use real poo?—and I’m going to be completely candid and tell you applying it is the most fun I’ve had in hours, now.  

I admit I do still have the damn itch....but I am more convinced than ever that on me, it looks good: that I have finally found mine itch in the world.

08. Meet Nobutake Ito

Meet Nobutake Ito, who plays wonderfully louche manouche, and is probably the best, fastest two-fingered Gypsy guitarist alive in the world.

I heard of him first in a documentary about antiGypsy prejudice, that focused on a Django Reinhardt Festival near where the cat used to live in Belgium, at which Gypsies were not welcome within fifty miles.  To show how racist the place was, the doc featured a Japanese manouche group who were welcome to perform though Gypsies couldn’t even listen: a very well rehearsed group with the delightful name The Swing Niglots.  We were shown that the guitarist/leader/chief lunatic, Nobutake Ito-sama, always ceremonially tied back two fingers for performance, so he would have no unfair advantage over The Master!  Awesome.  Those Niglots smoked.  Real deal.  Django would have sold them reefer without hesitation.  I will bet there are damn few North American musicians who can perfectly reproduce any sort of Japanese music on authentic instruments.

By this point I was already in love.  A day’s work on the internet brought me a site that was almost in English, at which with huge difficulty, and cut and paste, and Google Translate, I was able to locate Nobutake’s email address.  With the further help of Google Translate, I composed a very short, exquisitely simple email in Pidgin Japanese, begging for as many of his records or CDs as he would be willing to send me for fifty dollars American.  A week later, his return email, even shorter than mine, said something very close to, “Money not desired.”  While I was puzzling over that one, 3 CDs arrived in the mail, with a declared value of I forget how many yen.  They were the two Swing Niglots CDs, NIGLOTS SWING and SWING NOIR, plus Nobutake’s previous solo album CERCA DE SEVILLA, on which he permitted himself to use all four fingers as long as he wasn’t playing a Django tune.  Happy camper, I.

Jumpcut a few years.  One day out of the blue I wondered how good old Nobutake Ito is doing, and sent him a second email, in almost comprehensible Japanese with the help of an exchange student whose English was rotten.  I think I got the part right about, “I will pay you in yen, any amount you ask for more of your work.”  Back came, “No money,” so I started watching my mailbox, and soon arrived ROSE TAROT, the debut album of the renamed Swing Niglots, now known as Note Noire, and also TU DJAIAL, a second Note Noire album which has a cognitively-dissonant-with-Django-music, but most impressive, featured vocalist named Kyoko Hikiba.

So there you are.  I hold a commanding position in Nobutake Ito Fandom, with zero other members in Canada or America so far as I know.  All I can do for you is play you a few sample tracks, with bonus track by Note Noire/Swing Niglots’ only local competitors in Tokyo, who call themselves, I swear, the Yellow Django Revival....and then there’ll be other weirdos with the best Japanese Django Reinhardt collections in North America.

On all attached samples I’ve degraded bitrate to fit them in an email, so as not to bloat this website.  I wish I had room for .aiff.  My respect for Nobutake Ito is quite high.  I have no idea who the Django Reinhardt of Japan is, let alone what his or her music sounds like.

If anyone out there can figure out how one as ignorant of Japanese as I can successfully order the CDs of Note Noire and/or Nobutake Ito-sama, without imposing on the poor man as I have, please hip me, and I’ll pass the word here.  The best email address to use for comments on this blog is <>.

Cerca De Sevila is from Nobutake’s solo album of the same name.
Charleston is from Swing Noir by the Swing Niglots
Nagasaki and Tu Djaial are by Note Noire with Kyoko Hikiba
Djangology is by Yellow Django Revival, from their CD Live At Rocky Top

07. There Really Is No Off Switch
or: I Guess It Really is Worth Eighty A Quarter

On Turner Classic as I type, taken directly from the station’s own synopsis for this film:

Marion Davies, Bing Crosby, 1933.
Choreographed by Busby Berkeley!!!
[OK, the exclamation points are mine.  More on that later.]

A singer loves a teacher, but leaves her behind to seek fame in the movies. He succeeds, but she eventually follows him out west and becomes a star in her own right.

I have two immediate questions, that probably not many others would:

First, how good a dancer could she possibly be without her own behind, which we’re told she left to seek fame?  I mean, is that ironic, or what?  Gifts of the Magi, right?  I picture her auditioning for A Chorus Line, trying to sing, “Tits, and ass....” though clearly only half-qualified.  It adds an extra layer of poignancy, I know.  But how easy do you think it would be to find a good, trained dancer with literally no ass at all? Pretty easy, actually, now I think about it.  

And nowadays there’s always CGI.

Second, in just what sort of rite did she become a star?  Religious?  Or, uh....otherwise?  Can you make one of those movies with no ass?  (I really don’t want to know.  Please don’t send me yours.)

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Not many people are aware, by the way, that the male star’s full name is Bada Book, Bada Bing Crosby.  That’s the only explanation I can think of for the ubiquitous iniquitous commercial that keeps chanting that otherwise completely meaningless slogan at me.  Even after that cognitive breakthrough, I still don’t know what the chant is meant to convey.  We’re discussing vacations; why do they keep raving about baritones?

Sorry, I’m mistaken: that’s “Bada book, bada BOOM.”  Somebody wanna tell me who the hell Boom Crosby is?  I know David’s an active man, but he hasn’t exploded, has he?

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found a single new word that perfectly fits my personal default mindset.  Wouldn’t you know it begins with A?  I tell you, there is a growing body of evidence that this world really was specifically and cleverly constructed just for me.  

The word is “anoesis.”  It means—are you ready?—”a state of mind consisting of pure sensation or emotion without cognitive content.”  I hypothesize it derives from “one whose esis is located up his anus.”  That’s where I live.  With occasional visits back out here for supplies, rolling papers and so on.  If I put food in my mouth, it reaches me eventually.  Jeanne used to say I test high in Buddha nature, and I think that sounds a lot nicer than saying I’m permanently shitfaced, so I’m gonna go with it.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

And another thing!  I’ve been watching carefully, and neither “Busby” Berkeley nor any of his fellow dancers ever wears one.  (“bus-by [noun] - a tall fur hat with a colored cloth flap hanging down on the right-hand side and often a plume on the top, worn by soldiers of certain regiments of hussars and artillerymen.”) (I said “moron that later,” didn’t I?  Line 4, above.)  

Why call yourself “Ten-Gallon,” if you wear a beret?  Or wear a derby hat if you don’t bowl?  And did they really used to have regiments of hussies back then? No wonder war has traditionally been so popular with young men.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Which dislodges a chunk of acid that’s been napping in my brain for decades, producing a sudden flashback I can’t resist to The Realist, the first underground newspaper, created and run by the great Paul Krassner, who invented Fake News (no shit), back in the 60s (no shit!).  Specifically, issue #64, from February 1966.  A splendid cartoon collection by Mort Gerberg called, “The Junkie Batallion.”   (Wow.  An acid flashback—in black and white. Far out....)

Some asshole had seriously proposed that instead of drafting good clean god-fearin’ Murkin boys to go get drilled in Vietnam, they should be draftin’ them got-damn junkies!  Mr. Gerberg pictured the inevitable results beautifully.  

You can Google the whole collection at; I shall firmly restrict myself to the two cartoons I have attached.  Some things you just don’t forget, especially if you read them when you’re nine months short of your eighteenth birthday.

(Mort Gerberg is alive and well today at age 87.  He lives in NYC with his wife Judith Gerberg, an internationally-known career counselor. Their daughter Lilla is a noted health expert.  The cartoons he so ably drew 52 years ago were not drawn from his own life.  Or mine.)

06. Why do you think they call  it a "Ho'," Joe?

Dear Chuck,

As a fatter of macked, my very first job, and damn near last, was at Howard Johnson’s.  

They used to get around the minimum wage law (and you’ll love this: the minimum wage was a dollar and a quarter!) by giving you a free meal.  Not one employee ever “took advantage of” that beneficence.  We knew too much about Howard Johnson’s food.  (There is also no example on record of a HoJo employee ever voluntarily drinking Ho-Jo Cola.  Recurrent rumors, but no photos.)

You, with your unique background, probably know the problem with HoJo: the franchisees were kept on such tight leashes, the only way they could possibly hope to make their monthly nut and take home a dime of profit for the IRS was to cheat, somehow, as mercilessly as possible.  

Par example, my maiden HoJo did not sell vanilla ice cream.  

Most of its customers believed it did, but they were mistaken.  HoJo makes, or made then, some shit called “Frostee,” which is absolutely flavorless ice cream—just like President Dump: it has no taste whatsoever.  The idea is, or perhaps was, you put it in sundaes or shakes as filler along with a short shot of cheap fake-fruit-flavored syrup, and it can pass as ice cream, than which it is vastly cheaper.  But it is very cold and wet, and it looks exactly like vanilla ice cream, and came in tubs identical to those ice cream came in....

Yep.  Our manager had us put tubs of Frostee in the vanilla slot, and serve cones and sundaes made from them.  (Don’t ask what he had us put in the chocolate slot.)  Not one customer ever noticed the bait-and-switch, though once in a while one would get a very odd look after his first lick.  Then he’d shrug and get out of the way.  When the inspector from Howard Johnson made his monthly “surprise” visit to check on little things like fraud, the manager would distract him in the kitchen with a bottle, while we ran around outside putting the vanilla ice-cream back where it belonged, laughing like drains.

Once, a new kid was working the counter alone for a few minutes, and he hadn’t listened when he was told that you must always bleed off any leftover air pressure before disconnecting the old HoJo Cola canister in order to put on the new one.  The explosion took out about six feet of counter and three of the kid’s fingers.  The manager was out the swinging doors in about a second, pale with worry, way too busy to guard his tongue.  He could see that his employee was down, but so what.


And relaxed, when he was assured none were.  Close call, there.

I was ultimately fired for refusing to make a banana split.

I’m not claiming I was heroically defending that customer, falling on my scoop.  My decision was, I promise you, purely selfish.  (If those last two words ever belong together.)  I simply was fastidiously unwilling to touch a HoJo banana split with my ungloved hands....even for enough money to take Kathy to the movies.  (And hey, she had once given me a ticket to Shea Stadium to, of all things, hear a band!  Good band, too.  Quartet, from Liverwurst....)

The procedure was to go back into The Hidden Place—the kitchen, where the cook did his dirty work—where the bananas were intelligently kept.  You did not want the customers seeing them.  The swarm of fruit flies and less wholesome bugs hovering over the box would have been a clue to an observant man.  Your job was to firmly shut your eyes, and nostrils, and anus, reach into the box, and remove one of the horrid black slimy things with your  left hand, while your right hand did a quick-and-dirty job of scraping all the maggots from it, back into the box.  (Waste not, want not.)  Then you cut one end off, poured the contents into a tin dish, and covered it with enough Frostee-scoops, fruit paste and whipped imitation-cream to disguise it, and of course to contain the smell.

I was explaining all this to the customer, in the hope that he would let me off the hook, when I heard a cough behind me, and turned to find the manager holding out his pocket change—my severance pay.  

That was one of the last times I ever worked for a living.  Just never had the stomach for it.


05. Great quote I just found, re our Marisa

Dear Laurie,

I just ran across this wise quote:

Don't limit a child to your own learning, for she was born in another time. --Rabindranath Tagore

One day our Marisa is gonna make me feel like such an ignorant dummy.....

Time was, hundreds of years would go by, and basically, nothing happened but soap opera: nobody learned anything new that was important.  Three or four lifetimes might go by before anybody you could possibly hear wrote a new song good enough to learn, or dreamed up a new story good enough to repeat.  Everybody was busy, every day, all day, just keeping the pilot light lit.

Today, every hour we learn something new, and I’m running out of room to store new information.  I just read an hour ago that some guys have just seen, actually seen, are seeing right now, some stars that are only 250 million years older than the Big Bang....which happened just under 14 billion years ago!  That means those stars are both unimaginably old, and unimaginably far far away, that we can’t see anywhere near that far.  

So how can these guys possibly see these most ancient of stars, when they’re too far away to be seen?

Turns out that somewhere in between us and them, there is a very large galaxy (like our Milky Way, our street) which is acting like the lens of a microscope or a magnifying glass or a telescope.  It magnifies the stars way behind it (from our point of view) so ridiculously much that it makes them visible to us.


When my grandmother Agnes graduated from school, assuming she did (how would I know?), they didn’t know there were such things as galaxies, with billions of stars: we just thought there were a few thousand stars, the ones you can see without help.  Most humans were really comfortable with the numbers one, two, three, and many.

When my mother graduated from school, mankind believed there was only one galaxy, and this was it.  The Milky Way was clearly all the stars there were.  They had no reason to believe any other star had planets.  No reason to believe they didn’t, either: we just didn’t have a clue, because we were doing real good just being able to see the very nearest stars, just up the street a way.  

Today we have seen thousands of planets, many of them very like Earth, and just the right distance from their star to permit liquid water, which means they might have life as we care about it.  

Until I was in school, we had no faintest clue how huge the universe was, and when we found out, it blew everybody’s mind!  It still blows mine.

At this rate, by the time my sweet grandchild Marisa’s thinking about taking some time off work to have her first kids, human beings might be living on a planet circling some star too far away to see with a telescope.  I just hope Marisa will also have enough spare time to tell her ignorant old Grampa, back on Earth, as much of the new information as he is capable of understanding, at his level of knowledge.  At the same time, I kinda hope she’ll often be too damn busy.

Maybe by the time her kids are ready to stop learning and start living, nobody will die anymore.  Ever.  Maybe everybody will be in love with everybody else.  Maybe in some forgotten museum there’ll be an exhibit attempting and failing to explain what, and how much, money used to mean to everybody, but it will draw very few visitors, and before too long will  Isn’t that a lovely euphemism for trashed?  It might one day be impossible to convey to anybody what scarcity was, why we insisted on constantly competing, why we thought we needed greed, why we kept insanely denying our commonality.

Sir Paul said it pretty well in “Tug Of War”:

In years to come
They may discover
What the air we breathe and the life we lead are all about
But it won't be soon enough
(soon enough....)
Soon enough
For me

No, it won't be soon enough
(soon enough....)
Soon enough

Your no-longer-outlaw in-law,


04. The name is everything, sweet Amaranth!

Case in point:

The latest previously-unheard-of stuff that’s been touted to me as a food supplement worth paying a ton of money for a tiny quantity of, and it isn’t even organic (yet), is amaranth.  The word on the cyberstreet is, it’ll put color on your genitals, strengthen your inane system, reverse that nasty shortness of pants, and cure....well, your hide if nothing else.

That name, amaranth, which sounds to me like a chick I really wanted to ball back in the Sixties, will for sure be the making of the stuff, commercially speaking, the same way “sweet potatoes” turned “yams” from something fed to hogs and Africans into solid gold.  And thus may end up bringing about its extinction, naturally.  Those Africans now eat junk food, and the pigs died of gluten deficiency—as, soon at this rate, might we.  

Are you Amaranth Cartel investors really sure you want your restaurant to be discovered by the whole world?  In no time at all, someone whose last name ends in a vowel will be selling you expensive protection....and you’ll need it.  But it won’t work above street level, and soon some giant conglomerate will take you over and run amaranth into extinction by trying to grow too much, and to literally starve the growers.

If you really think that stuff is good for your health, maybe you should have just kept your mouth shut, and kept calling it by its original name.  You do know its original name, right?

They used to call it tumbleweed.  

If I’m lyin’, I’m fryin’. That’s what amaranth is. Yuppie tumbleweed.  People really will eat any goddamn thing, if it reminds them of a chick they used to want to ball.

Oh, and while I’m on the subject of names:

I now own the finest automobile I have ever owned in my life.  I’ve owned her for fourteen years, and put a grand total of about a hundred bucks a year (Canadian!) in maintenance into her in that time.  There have until this month been no repairs, and she still works so perfectly in all respects that the dashboard clock still keeps perfect time.  She drinks a thimble of gas a week, whether she needs it or not, has her oil replaced regularly every 4 or 5 years, but never needs it topped up, and contains the very best sound system I own.  Sound crisp as breadsticks.

Toyota named it the Echo.  What a lovely, aptly evocative name.  Disappears, whoosh!, leaving behind only an echo and widespread aesthetic envy.  I’ve never been moved to give mine a personal name, like Miss Agnes or Gay Deceiver, because I’m just so pleased with Echo.

Unfortunately, while doing so, they also ran the name of the exciting new model past some “focus” groups—as in, “Focus and the horse we rode in on: we ain’t smart enough for cars yet, just pickup trucks.”  Tell us what you think of the car, they were instructed, because they seemed confused.

God help us all, and I swear this is true: the answer that came back most often was, “Love everything about her but that dumbass name.  ‘Echo’.....that’s short for ‘echological, right?  I ain’t gonna buy a car that don’t go fast, don’t cost too much, and don’t choke the losers I leave breathin’ my exhaust.  Think I want my buds and neighbors thinkin’ I’m a got-dam tree-hugger?  Give me a nice name that don’t turn me off, that don’t go meanin’ something on me—like Corolla!”

Even worse, a followup focus-in-our-asses group found that the focus group had belated focused on the odd spelling of eco, realized it must really be pronounced “etch-o,” took that to mean some sort of Mexican food....and in these strange times, that's not a meme you want scratched on your car, either.  It would remind me of a mouse named Gonzalez famous for his speed, but I’m sophisticated enough to watch cartoons.

So after a single, very successful first year, they changed the name to Yaris, which only has meaning in certain neighborhoods on (actually, under) Neptune.

And sales took off.  Sign right here to vacation with your whole family on Venus, you marching—

S’cuse me.  I was about to call the focus pocus people a name, there.  One which was coined by that prescient Cassandra Cyril M. Kornbluth back in the April 1951 GALAXY—all too accurately foreseeing today, with a classic story called, “The Marching Morons.”  

Jon Stewart certainly glossed the current President with an accurately evocative name.  Anybody but me still remember Fuckface von Clownstick?  That could have been the name of the president in Cyril’s story.

If only more of us had remembered it.

03. Inane, eh?

Dear Mary,

You grew up in the Bronx, too.  What is a Nay?  Eh?

Okay, it might be spelled Neigh, the way it turns out “getting underway” is actually spelled “getting under weigh,” an obscure nautical term.  (To do so, one weighs the anchor—get it?)

But what is one?  I’m sixty-nine, I could die last week, I don’t want to wait anymore, and I don’t want to die not knowing.  

(Or knowing, either.  I just want to be clear about that.  What I’m aiming for is, about ten minutes before I rattle me clack, a red man with horns, cloven hooves, a lawyer’s shingle, and a forked tail will appear before me and say, “Sorry, Spi—I’ve had the bastards shoveling like Heaven down there, but I’m afraid it’s no use: the whole place just froze over.”  Once that’s no longer one of the possible destinations, just answer my question and I’m ready to go anytime.)

I’ve wondered for a very long time, now.  In fact, it was one of my very first questions about language.  Ever since I started learning, back in the Bronx, to understand what others around me were saying, I’ve heard people earnestly, usually emphatically, urging me and others to fuck a nay.  Or neigh.

“Ya think Annette Funicello’s got nice boobies, Anthony?”

“Fuck a nay!”

I had no way to picture that, you see.  Or to be at all clear on whether this was something one did because one really hated nays......or because one really loved fucking them.  I didn’t even know if nays came in male and female, or what, and we won’t go there.  I mean, would advocating the fucking of nays be a prudent thing, or an imprudent thing, to do in the hearing of nays—and if the latter, how were you to know if there were any in earshot?  I knew I could be standing right next to a flaming nay and never even suspect it: perhaps naydom was something that didn’t show, like a political party, or being a Caucasian whose ancestors came from some different shithole.  It was all very worrisome.  I thought of asking somebody, but anyone I knew who looked like he might have fucked nays also looked like he might just kick the shit out of anyone who quizzed him about it.

I can only say that I have never knowingly failed to fuck a nay.  Consequently I’ve never missed it.  Nor they me, to the best of my knowledge.

I just don’t get the point of all this mystery.

And while I’m at it, what the fuck is “earshot” all about?  

A Marine sniper with a Barrett or Valmet M-82 can shoot any desired part of a human ear accurately from 4,000 meters, or 4,400 yards.  Jack Reacher could do it with his head in a bag.  But the guy whose ear it was would never hear the shot, if he was facing to either side, with his head behind that ear.  Remember that the round in question is a fifty-cal!  Hard to converse with pink mist.  I suppose it would be possible to communicate by firing a meter to the left or right of that ear in Morse code....but the message would be as private as smoke signals.

Even back when under five hundred meters was as far as anyone could shoot an arrow, that was hardly conversational distance.  What made anyone ever think of ears and shooting in the same sentence, in the same furshlugginer word—let alone every time the subject of how far one can hear came up?  Why wasn’t it, from time immemorial, known as “ear-throw”?  Because it might confuse barely literate people into thinking it was pronounced “earth-row”?  

As George Carlin said, these are the kind of questions that kept me out of the good schools....

Maybe that’s it....and maybe this happened so long ago that the “shot” they were thinking of was a sling shot.  (What do you think, David?  How about you, Goliath?)  Incidentally, not many people these days are aware that one of the earliest serious weapons was a self-explanatory and much-feared variant of the child’s slingshot called the slingshit.  (Certainly doesn’t sound serious, I know.  But trust me: it is.  I’ve been hit by one.  I said I grew up in the Bronx.)  Among its many virtues, it used one of the byproducts of another early weapon, the bullista.  An attempt at a child’s version, the kittenapult, was abandoned at the implacable insistence of a Lysistrata, and some other women.  Most other women, really.

Today, of course, no matter where on the planet we may seek to hide, the President of the United States will always have us all within earshit.  Just this president, though.

One may hope, anyway.

Your unforgivably, but understandably, smug Canadian brother
(our turn in the barrel will come.  But not this year.)


Dear Mary and John,

At regular intervals these days, I find myself standing in the hair care aisle in the pharmacy, staring helplessly at all the shampoos, trying to guess which one I want.

(At least I’m smart enough to know I DON’T want the one that advertises it’s “…like a blast of hydration to your scalp.”  That means it’s the same thing as pouring water on your head.  Why not just use real water?  It’s way cheaper.)  (Unless you insist on ORGANIC water.  But you wouldn’t believe how much of the world supply of that is monopolized by homeopathy people.)

I’m pretty sure I want some form of Pert Plus, because that one has conditioner mixed right in with it—making it, at least as far as I know, the only hair-goop you can buy that does not look EXACTLY like semen.  I like saving an entire step in the hair-washing process…and especially if it means I don’t have to artificially inseminate my scalp.  “Nice haircut, Spi.”  “Thanks—just a little something my hairdresser knocked up for me.”  No, thanks.  Even the most passionate fan of reproduction doesn’t want to watch the fetus gestate ON HIS OR HER OWN HEAD for most of a year.  Imagine the neckaches!

But there are MANY varieties of Pert Plus, each identified only by a cryptic word or two, none of which ever quite seems to apply to my particular hair.  Jeanne used to buy a variety that always worked perfectly for me…but not only do I forget which one, I have a strong suspicion they stopped making that kind.  Nothing there on the shelf looks right.  

So I stand there in the aisle, slack-jawed, a baboon examining a shelf of library books, looking for the good one.

“VOLUMIZER,” says this one.

Do I WANT my hair to have volume?  I GUESS so.  It has area.  I mean, I don’t want a PERM, but….who doesn’t look good with more hair?  If your hair DOESN’T have volume, you’re two dimensional, Mr. A Square.

“FOR DRY HAIR,” says that one.

Is my hair dry?  Uh…sure.  You know, whenever it isn’t wet.  Is YOUR hair dry when it’s wet, buddy?

“FOR CURLY HAIR,” offers another one.

To make my hair curlier, you mean?  Or to make it less curly?  And which would I prefer?  My hair’s a LITTLE curly.  How much is just right?  HOW CAN I NOT HAVE KNOWN, FOR ALL THESE YEARS?  Am I an ISLAND?


I’m not even gonna try and GUESS what the fuck THAT means.  But no, I don’t think I care to go “deep down,” fella.  You’re not gettin’ in the shower with ME.


Do I WANT moist hair?  Then why do I own a hair DRYER?

Sooner or later, I make a decision as to which of these is…well, not most accurate, but at least least inaccurate, and I buy it and take it home, and sometimes it seems to make my hair look good and sometimes it seems to make it look like shit, just like all the others.

But today, Pert finally hit my sweet spot.  It called to me from the shelf in the pharmacy.  At last, someone understands my personal style needs, groks my unique esoteric follicular requirements, supplies all I ask of hair-goop.  The label says it all:

for normal hair

I bought two bottles, just to help make sure the new format succeeds.  And I used it tonight, and you know what?  My hair is clean, by God.

And normal-looking.

What was so hard about that, fellas?

Now my only problem is, I wore my glasses into the shower (I like to look down on the unemployed).  It was a serious mistake, because now I was able to read the ingredients—which, and I swear to Grid I’m not making this up, included the following two: polymethacrylamitopropyltrimonium (yes, that’s only one word! which nobody but Danny Kaye could possibly pronounce in one breath) and, my favorite, dihyrogenated Tallowamidoethyl hydroethyl minomium methosulfate.  In my adolescence I had a favorite fantasy involving two Ethels in a Buick station wagon (they used to call them woodies, didn’t they?), but two ethyls on my HEAD, on meth, trying to steal my gestating fetus, is too much excitement for me, even today when excitement is thin on the ground (unless you’re an unarmed highschool student who forgot his or her vest).  

But the moment I glance away from those two ingredient names, they vanish from my, from anybody’s, mind.  So what’s the problem?

—yo’ bro