Monday, February 28, 2005

No clementine, my darling

Something I’ve learned in my vast six months of marital experience is that once you settle down with someone, you must maintain a constant vigil not to get trained.

The other day, my wife Kara and I were relaxing after a stressful day at work by watching a TV show in which several people were violently murdered, when she said, “Could you get me a clementine out of the fridge?”

An innocuous request at first glance, I agree. And sure, we had plenty of clementines in the fridge, mostly because the grocery store only sells them in crates that you could use to ship a kangaroo. And she did ask me during the commercials, which consisted almost entirely of former sports legends enthusiastically tossing aside their dignity to discuss the benefits of drugs with names like Perpendiculus.

Truth be told, I kind of wanted a clementine, too. But I didn’t get her one. There was a bigger issue to consider. Sure, I wouldn’t have minded getting her a clementine, but did I really want to spend the next sixty years as a produce retriever? That’s not how I want to spend my life -- I want to spend it harassing my wife in the newspaper.

For the record, her spot on the couch is no further from the fridge than mine. And as any swimmer will tell you, it would have been easier for her to get to the kitchen than me, because hairless legs are much more aerodynamic. Okay, if I’m being honest, we were both wearing jeans, and she doesn’t shave her legs much in the winter anyway – but that’s not the point. The point is twofold:

1. I will make ridiculous arguments to avoid standing up.
2. If you ever find yourself hosting American Idol, you must resist the urge, no matter how powerful it is, to end every episode by saying, “Seacrest out.”

I know what you’re thinking. This whole discussion is pointless, because in about ten years, scientists will have genetically modified fruit to come when you call it; the clementine will just hop out of the crisper and walk into the living room.

And this may be true, but how long have we already been waiting on personal jet packs? “Give us personal jet packs,” we say to the scientists, to which they reply: “Here, have some Segway scooters.”

So I don’t trust those scientists to bail me out. I have to look out for number one. And after she’s taken care of, I have to look out for myself. Besides, even if we did get personal jet packs, how would we decide who gets to be the one to fly to the fridge? We’d be right back where we started. Thanks for nothing, scientists.

Anyway, of course I eventually got her the clementine, but I waited until the next commercial break. I may have to resign myself to a life of produce retrieval, but that doesn’t mean I have to do it promptly.

So I am resisting my training for now, but I don’t hold out much hope for myself in the future. If other husbands are any indication, my trip to obedience school has only just begun. I just wish the only tricks I had to learn were “sit” and “stay.”

Seacrest out.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Warning: Column ahead

A poster in my workplace recently informed me of something I never would have figured out on my own: the international sign for choking is to put both hands around your neck, and then -- and this is the important part -- look like you’re choking. So the next time you have half a Croissan’wich lodged in your esophagus, you must fight off the urge to do jumping jacks or go shoe shopping, and remember to put both hands around your neck and imitate a choking person.

I bet even people who are too shy to really get into Charades, or people who don’t like dancing in public (e.g., men), could still nail the international sign for choking if the meatball was big enough.

While researching this article (i.e., Googling for five minutes), I discovered that there are other useful widely recognized signs. Did you know that the sign for having a heart attack is: “grasping the heart, clinging to your chest”? This one might take a little more practice than the choking one, but don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.

There’s no mention of the heart attack sign being international, though, so if you’re in Europe, and you fall to the ground clutching your chest, the locals might think you’ve just looked at the exchange rate. Therefore, when traveling abroad, you should at all times wear a full-sized sandwich board that says, “If I’m pointing at this sign, I’m having a heart attack. Also, I’m Canadian, so how aboot a little CPR, eh?”

I agree that making choking motions when you’re choking and making chest-clutching motions when you’re having a heart attack may seem counter-intuitive, but I’m sure the official sign-making people had their reasons. They’re probably the same people who put the tags on hair dryer cords warning you not to dry your hair underwater. This is actually very good advice, as those of us who have tried to make a poor man’s Jacuzzi with a hair dryer in the bathtub can attest.

In fact, I think there are some more signs that we need to be aware of. As a public service, I’ll list the most important ones here:

The International Sign for Burning Your Finger in the Toaster: Hop around the kitchen, swearing loudly. Shake hand up and down rapidly. Refuse to learn lesson, reach for bagel with your bare hands again next time.

The International Sign for Slipping and Falling on the Sidewalk: If members of the opposite sex are present, stand up quickly. Otherwise, take your time getting up. (American version only: call Jacoby & Meyers.)

The International Sign for Being Awakened by a Ringing Phone: Insist that you weren’t asleep; lie for no good reason. Say things like “Awake is me, and that is what I was.”

The International Sign for Planning a Wedding (Female): Ask bridesmaids what color dresses they want to wear; disregard all input. Buy three-hundred page bridal magazines at the grocery store, find nothing worthwhile in any of them; buy more anyway.

The International Sign for Planning a Wedding (Male): Feign enough interest not to get in trouble. Despite your best efforts, learn what a calla lily is.

The International Sign for Ending a Column: Stop writing.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Curses! Foiled again

Being a Philadelphia sports fan these days sure seems a lot like rooting for the bull at a bullfight, or the Democrat at an election. Oh, we’ve gotten tantalizingly close a few times, but just when we start to think we might actually win the big one, in steps Joe Carter, or Shaq, or Deion Branch -- all of them FedEx men delivering the same cruel package: a second fiddle.

The important thing now is to be careful not to learn any lessons from our losses. I’ve found that one should really just avoid serious introspection altogether. After a devastating loss, it’s best to find something totally out of your control to blame it on, preferably something that can’t be fixed through hard work or determination. This is where you come in, William Penn.

You may have heard already about the Curse of William Penn, and I imagine that as long as our championship drought continues -- no city with all four major professional sports teams has gone longer without a championship than Philadelphia -- the Curse will start getting more serious mainstream attention, like the Curse of the Billy Goat that plagues Cubs fans, or the Curse of the Black Pearl that plagues Johnny Depp.

Come to think of it, Johnny Depp could probably play a mean Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams, who, in turn, was plagued by his own curse: The Curse of the Guy Who Threw the Marshmallow that Joe Carter Knocked into the Left Field Seats in the Bottom of the Ninth Inning in Game Six of the World Series.

Anyway, in case you’re not familiar with why exactly William Penn would want to curse the city that he founded, he’s purportedly mad ‘cause they went and erected buildings that are taller than his statue atop city hall, blocking his view and giving him general skyscraper envy. So I did some digging, and I think I can irrefutably prove that, indeed, something curiously foul is afoot.

Since 1987, when One Liberty Place, the first skyscraper to tower over William Penn’s statue, first opened, William Penn has not had a single base hit. Shots on goal? Zero. And his quarterback rating is off the charts, in the bad way.

Why do we keep putting this guy in? He's a veteran, but he plays like a rookie.

I did some more research to see if I could gain a little insight into what we can do to make William happy. Here’s one of his old aphorisms that we can learn a lot from:

Were it universal, we should be Cur’d of two Extreams, Want and Excess: and the one would supply the other, and so bring both nearer to a Mean; the just Degree of earthly Happiness.”

I know I feel a lot better about the Curse after reading that passage. Cur’d of two Extreams? The man can’t even spell. Billy, nobody’s going to take you or your curses seriously if you don’t at least turn on your spellchecker.

It’s just a shame that curses always seem to be directed at the core of all that is important about a city: its professional sports teams. Why can’t curses ever plague anything insignificant, like educational systems? I know I’d trade a hundred SAT points to have some guys I’ve never met who make fifty times what I do win a trophy I’ll never touch. Sad thing is, I think I’m serious.

And Benga was their name-o

If you’re looking for a cheap way to keep yourself entertained through the winter funks, and the snowshoes you made from the cardboard box your HDTV came in just aren’t cutting it, Trashcan Jenga is a really fun and inexpensive game to play with your housemates.

The beauty of Trashcan Jenga is its simplicity; some people play their own variations on it without even realizing it. It’s one of those games that just kind of sprouts up organically, like polo when there are a bunch of horses, mallets, and rich people lying around. All you need to play Trashcan Jenga, though, is a trashcan (didn’t see that one coming, did you?), some trash, and, above all, the desire to outwit, outplay, and outtrash your opponent.

Winning at Trashcan Jenga is like rebounding in basketball – you have to want it more than the other guy. I am the Dennis Rodman of Trashcan Jenga. The rebounding Dennis Rodman, not the cross-dressing Dennis Rodman. Sometimes at the Gap, though, it is hard to tell which is the girl’s side and which is the guy’s side, but before I get to the register, I always check the tag to make sure it’s a dude’s low-cut demi bra.

Okay, enough of that. Here are the rules:

1) All trash must go in or on the trash can.
2) When the can is full, you must balance your trash on top of the heap. If the heap gets taller than you, you may stand on a chair.
3) If you added the last piece to the trash tower, it is your responsibility to subdue and remove any raccoons from the kitchen.
4) The last person to have added a piece when any part of the tower falls to the ground loses.
5) The loser has to take out the trash.
6) Yakety-yak.
7) Don’t talk back.

Which brings me to the point of this article, which is this: any moment now, US Weekly will start calling Jennifer Garner “Jenga.” You hear it now, too, don’t you? That is the sound of inevitability.

Now I’m no journalist -- I just do a poor imitation of one in the newspaper -- but I’m pretty sure I just delivered my very first scoop. Hopefully, you’ll remember the first time you heard somebody call Jennifer Garner “Jenga” the same way you fondly remember the first time you asked, “What’s a Google?” Or, if you never asked that, the first time you asked, “Can I get an internet on my abacus?”

The thing that makes the “Jenga” nickname so inevitable is the fact that she is, according to several covers of US Weekly, dating Ben Affleck. Sure, we’re all still paying off the therapy bills from the emotional scars left by Ben and Jennifer Lopez’s breakup, but I think it would make us all feel better to have another really, really stupid celebrity name combination. So goodbye, Bennifer; hello, Benga.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I’ve never seen any of us in US Weekly. It should really be called THEM Weekly. Or maybe Please Don’t Encourage US Weekly.

Oops -- I almost got all the way to the end of this column without telling you the most important – oh, gotta go – raccoon in the kitchen.

When Mikey met Conshy

Hi. I’m Mike. OK, good, you’re still reading. It looks like we’re getting off to a peachy start here, you and me, so let me give you some inside advice: tuck this issue of the paper away somewhere safe, because this is the very first column I’ve ever written, hopefully the first of many, and thirty years from now, if the next Ice Age comes, you can burn it for heat.

The world’s first installment of “Just Humor Me” is well into its second paragraph now, and it’s going as strong as ever. Once you’ve been in the newspaper business (or “The Biz” as we call it in “The Biz”) for more than a paragraph like I have, people finally start to cut you some slack. I’ve found that you can command some hard-earned respect in this business once you’ve been a columnist for at least seven sentences.

If you just went back and counted the number of sentences, may I suggest a switch to decaf? Decaf Ritalin, I mean.

So here we have what promises to be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. I’m excited that we have the opportunity to spend some quality time together every week, right here on your kitchen table, or better yet, on your lap (just not in the bathroom, please – we’ve only just met). Don’t worry; even though I like you, I won’t be weird or clingy. You can still see other columnists.

If you should find yourself reading one of my columns in the future, and a cat plops itself on top of the paper, I will understand if it’s easier for you to just quit reading. Barring feline intervention, though, I hope you will find this space diverting enough to actually read all the way through to the end, unlike The Odyssey – and honestly, don’t feel bad about that anymore. Your English teacher didn’t read the whole thing, either.

So if you like this column, I hope you’ll check out the next one. And the one after that, too. But not the one after that, because I’ll have completely run out of ideas by then. For the next couple of weeks, though, before I go mentally bankrupt, the only goal for this column will be to get one good laugh out of you per week. Courtesy chuckles will also be accepted. If you can’t even muster one of them, a good exhale will do.

The fact that you are reading my first weekly column is the fulfillment of one of my three lifelong dreams. I took care of another lifelong dream this past summer, when I got married before going bald. Thanks for getting me this far, hair. You can go ahead and migrate down to my back now, ‘cause honestly, I don’t feel like brushing you anymore. Who do I need to impress? Those pictures are taken, Baby.

Oh, and my third and final lifelong dream? To be the sixth member of N’Sync. Sure, boy bands aren’t exactly as popular as they used to be, but check me out: It ain’t no lie, Baby, bye, bye, bye, (bye bye). You couldn’t see it, but I totally just nailed that dance move where it looks like I’m saying “bye bye bye” with a hand puppet.

Until I move on to boy band fame, though, I’ll be spending my time with you, right here in the good old New York Times or Conshohocken Recorder (whichever writes back first), and there’s no place I’d rather be. See you next week.