Friday, July 1, 2016

Undercover Bosski.

Narrator: General Secretary Joseph Stalin has the responsibility for overseeing the lives of 250 million fellow comrades of the Soviet Union. But sometimes his heavy load of duty keeps him from spending time with the proletariat. So Comrade Stalin is going... undercover!

Narrator: His illustrious identity disguised, "Comrade Ivan" goes to People's Glorious Revolution Widget Factory #239 in Leningrad to meet with some typical workers.

Tiev: Welcome, Comrade Ivan! I am Tiev Kryptysnk.

Stalin: Call me Ive.

Tiev: Let me show you around, Ive. Here in PGRWF, we are proud of our widgets!

Stalin: They look good. Like good widgets.

Tiev: The best! No imperialist pig can make widgets like our widgets, eh?

Stalin: Nyet! Never! The workers control the state! Happy workers create superior widgets!

Tiev: Here's your station on the line. When a left-handed widget comes in, you insert a right-handed thingamabob in shlotnik A, see? And when it's a right-handed widget, you insert a left-handed thingamabob in shlotnik A. Then send it on its way!

Stalin: Left, right, right, left. Shlotnik A. Got it.

Tiev: Okay! But for today, just sit and relax, maybe have a drink.

Stalin: What?

Tiev: Oh, don't worry. There's no raw materials to make the widgets, so we're in Spiachka. Don't worry, we'll make it all up at the end of the month, in Goriachka. Then we work very hard so bosses can get their bonuses!

Stalin: That's when the raw materials come in?

Tiev: No, that's when they get desperate and we use substandard materials. If there's no steel, so what? Lead is fine. Tinfoil works. Just so we fill the boxes and get them out the door. It's shturmovshchina! Long live the revolution, eh, Ive?

Stalin: Uh, da. I'm, uh, I'm going to step out to the little comrade's room just now.

Tiev: Sure, take all day. Nothing going on here!

Narrator: Having enjoyed his time at People's Glorious Revolution Widget Factory #239, "Comrade Ivan" flies to Stalinsk, coal mining powerhouse of the Workers' Paradise.

Natalia: Hello, I am Natalia Babeski, totally equal worker in Great Soviet Coal Production Facility of Stalinsk, and---holy slappink catfish!

Stalin: What?

Natalia: Comrade General Secretary Stalin! Here in our facility! I am having massive coronary right now!

Stalin: No, my name is Ivan. Ivan, er, Mustachekov.

Natalia: Great General Secretary Stalin is pulling my leg! What an honor to see you here! My God---I mean, my heavens--I mean---screw it! How can we make your trip to our humble coal mine wonderful, Your Supremity?

Stalin: I am just simple Comrade Ivan from Minsk, and---

Natalia: Please, General Secretary, come sit down, have some tea!

Stalin: I think I had best be going and--- Say, is that my, uh, General Secretary Stalin's picture on the wall? Very handsome, eh?

Natalia: Of course! We all love you! We'd do anything for you! I would do anything for you!

Stalin: Well, that's fine... Say, how would you like to fly in an Ilyushin Il-14?

Narrator: Disappointed at somehow being discovered, Comrade Stalin proceeds to his final stop, the world-famous Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant.

Stalin: Greetings, comrades! I am Ivan Mustachekov, and this is my, er, daughter, Natalia.

Natalia: Zdravstvuj. I am Natalia and this is Ivan, who just happens to look familiar to you but is not.

Boris: Hi. I'm Boris Snertyalev. You're here to see the tractor factory, right?

Stalin: That's the plan! Wait here, Natalia.

Boris: So, there's where the wheels are made. Those are the round things. Sorry, but I have to point that out. Some people... Anyway, and down that row they make things out of glass. Not my department.

Stalin: Uh-huh, uh-huh...

Boris: Hey, did you hear the one about the fellow who sneezed in the Kremlin during Stalin's speech?

Stalin: Umm... what?

Boris: Stalin steps forward and yells, "Who sneezed during my speech?" No one says anything. Stalin yells, "First row! Shoot them!" The guards shoot everyone in the front. "Now, who sneezed?" Everyone is paralyzed with fear. Stalin says, "Second row! Shoot them!" Everyone in the second row is killed. Blood is everywhere. The survivors are shaking like leaves in a gale. "Now," says Stalin, "WHO SNEEZED?" One fellow in the back timidly raises his hand and says, "It w-w-was I, G-General Secretary." Stalin says, "Gesundheit." Ha ha ha! Isn't that a good one?

Stalin: A knee-slapper.

Boris: Oh, we have a million of them here. Hey, why is Stalin more democratic than Hitler?

Stalin: I cannot imagine.

Boris: Hitler killed the Jews; Stalin kills everybody! Ho ho! Tell me this, how do we know Stalin didn't kill Lenin?

Stalin: Perhaps we should---

Boris: Because we know where Lenin's body is! Oh, wait, this one will kill you!

Stalin: We shall see.

Boris: Two Ukrainians are discussing Stalin's generous treatment of their people while having lunch. The first one says, "You know, I just can't stand my mother-in-law." The second one says, "Well, try the white meat." Isn't that sensational?

Stalin: Well, I think I've seen enough.

Boris: Ivan, I love a man with a good sense of humor. Come back anytime!

Narrator: Having seen some of the great citizens of the glorious Soviet Republic, Comrade Stalin returns to the Kremlin to think of what he's experienced.

Stalin: Thank you, Narrator. Yes, it is I, the General Secretary. How much fun I had, meeting the people! And I even got a new private assistant, Natalia! As for Comrade Tiev Kryptysnk, I said his hard work has merited an island vacation. So he has been sent to the archipelago. The Gulag Archipelago! And as for Comrade Boris Snertyalev, the one with all the funny jokes? Although that sneeze thing was not funny when it actually occurred... Anyway, I arranged for him to take his act before a squad of our finest marksmen. And I can tell you, he was hit! I mean, he was a hit! A fine farewell appearance. So do your best for the Soviet Union, comrades! And remember, Uncle Joseph is always watching!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sharker image.

You know it's really sad for the Discovery Channel when their big whoop Shark Week programming resorts to reruns of Jabberjaw

But it's even sadder when they have to get old episodes of Misterjaw (featuring his pal Catfish).

And when they go a game show based on the old Ideal Game of Jaws game....

It is very difficult for anyone under a certain age to understand the effect that the movie Jaws had on an astonished world. Back in the 1970's and early 1980's, one enormous movie could kick the culture into an unpredictable direction, and it happened several times: Jaws, Star Wars, The Sting, Saturday Night Fever, E.T., Raiders. I'd say in the 1960's the only time that happened was Dr. No, and even with Bond it took a fast run of movies to really dominate and change the culture. Apologies to Steven Spielberg, but compared to Jaws, he's been in a sophomore slump for 41 years,

These days I do believe popular culture is so broken and scattered that one movie can no longer have that power. I think it's a good thing, really. I mean, do we really need the Jaws game? A Saturday morning shark cartoon? Two Saturday morning shark cartoons?

The power of Jaws is still in force today. No Jaws, no Shark Week. No worldwide reports when a shark bites someone in New Zealand. No big scene with Bruce and Sharks Anonymous (or whatever they called it) in Finding Nemo. And definitely no Sharknado.

And no way would I have tried shark in a Spanish restaurant a few years back. I thought it would be funny to bite a shark before he bit me. What I didn't know was that uncured shark meat is full of urea, and so my nice shark steak tasted like pee.

So sharks, if you see me in the water, don't worry. I won't bite you. You taste terrible.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Books suck.


If it's not bad enough I have to work on other people's books all day, which labor is better for me than honest work like digging ditches (I have delicate knees, you know), I am compelled to work on my own books, which is a goddamn nightmare. There, I said it. 

What are books? Novels are stories lies about fake people. Histories are lies about real people. Self-help books are lies through and through. Who cares? Stupid books.

The U.S. Library of Congress, chock full of stupid, stupid books. 
Even my immature rampages don't come from nowhere, and mine is caused by a project I've been trying to get started. I had intended to write a mystery, a real whodunnit, and when you do that you face a sophisticated audience that's been reading these things for a century and is hard to surprise. So I've been plotting, plotting, plotting for weeks, and finally got an outline I thought would work. At last! After a challenging day of beating others' books into shape, I sat down to write.

Nothing came out.

I can't even write about how hard it suddenly was to write, because I couldn't write.

They call it writer's block, but it's more like writer's constipation, although one hopes the eventual product will be superior to that of the metaphor.

I feel like an ED sufferer, to switch medical metaphors: This never happened to me before! And while that's probably not true, it hasn't ever felt quite so... useless, shall we say. Like shooting pool with a rope, to quote the great Rodney.

And there are reasons. The last project I engaged in was not my idea initially, but rather was suggested to me; I wound up doing hundreds of hours of work for nothing. Hey, I'm no government employee; if I don't work, I don't get paid. How much time can I reasonably spend writing things on spec? Hollywood may be full of vipers, but everyone gets paid. Publishing? Not so's you'd know.

When I woke up this morning I realized what part of the problem was; I had intended to use a bit of exposition early on that would have made the opener bland, a kind of "and then this happened and then that happened" passage that would bore the character who was telling it, let alone the reader. By working in the information in with some more craft, I could remove the blandness and make the opener work better.

Aha! I'm a genius! Writing is great! Yahoo!

Please, someone, murder me. Thanks.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

A toast!

It was quite surprising, or at least it was to me, to hear that General Mills had not released a new cereal in 15 years. Didn't it always seem like Kellogg's and Post and General Mills were always throwing new cartoon characters hocking new cereals at us? But for General Mills, it's been status quo since 2001. 

Tiny Toast, available in blueberry and strawberry flavors, is that new cereal. It's crunchy little toast-shaped oat/corn/rice cereal with no artificial colors or flavors (if you care), no high-fructose corn syrup (boo! hiss!). I'm sure you have some questions about this epic new product.

Q: Does it really look like toast?

A: Unlike General Mills' Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which does not look like toast, Tiny Toast looks like little toast. Maybe more like croutons, come to think of it, but what are croutons but tiny toasts?

Q: How's it taste?

A: Like a crunchy summer breeze in a blueberry field. One that doesn't have too much sugar. There is actually something buttery to the cereal (contains no actual butter).  I recommend it.

Q: Does it have a cartoon mascot?

A: Unfortunately, no.

Q: Aren't you a little old to be eating sugary cereal? Shouldn't you be on to, like, Uncle Sam laxative cereal by now?

A: Yeah, probably. But I won't I won't I won't! You can't make me!

Okay, that's enough questions. I raise a toast to you, General Mills -- a tiny one, but a toast nonetheless. Good job, cereal tycoons! You still got it. Don't want until 2031 for the next new cereal.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The lighter side of doom.

A friend of mine likes to say, "Everything in life is either a blessin' or a lesson." Despite that, he's still my friend.

I wish I had his attitude, I really do. I don't know if there's any hope I ever will. As I told him, I come from a long line of pessimists. It is the way of my people. When things go right, we are pleasantly surprised; when things go wrong, we get to say "I told you so." The feeling is that this gives us a natural superiority. But we wonder why we don't want to get out of bed in the morning.

There's a book I have never read, but the original 1992 edition had one of my all-time favorite covers:

To be fair, co-author Doris Flexner also wrote The Optimist's Guide to History. But that book is not still in print. The Pessimist's Guide still is. In its third edition. My people are many.

Of course, there is a lot to be pessimistic about these days, what with the nation nominating felons and con artists to the highest office and all. We have defined deviancy down to the level of... well, exclusively of white Christian employed taxpaying males in committed monogamous heterosexual relationships. Our culture is garbage, our enemies sharpen their knives, and our leaders only see foes among their fellow citizens.

These things have a tendency to make SMOD look like the man of the hour, even though he is an extinction level event. Or rather, because he is an extinction level event.

Our problem is America is that we've always been too optimistic. Our stupid sunniness has not prepared us for such crappy times as are descending. That's one edge the Russians have over us: they're completely used to things going to hell and gone. It's not that they're dumb; as P. J. O'Rourke wrote in Eat the Rich, "In Russia... where chess is a spectator sport, they're boiling stones for soup."

Maybe the Russians lost the Cold War because they didn't want to get out of bed in the morning. Whatever. As we slide down the chute to domestic chaos and international strife, we may be able to draw wisdom from this wonderful video, "Complete History of the Soviet Union, Arranged to the Music of Tetris," courtesy of Pig with the Face of a Boy (via IMAO and the People's Cube). If, as some folks I know think, a Hillary presidency will take us farther down the road to Communist dictatorship, at least we can try to think of a catchy tune to go with it.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


No use denying it any longer: Summer is here at Stately Key Manor.

Our cows are lookin' good.
I've come to like longer days as I get older, as many of us do---one of the reasons so many flee to Equatorial areas in retirement---and only now does it strike me as odd that the moment we get to the warmest season of the year, the days start shortening up. Dramatically it's all wrong. The longest day of the summer should appear around August 25, not on the first day. That way summer builds to a climax and leaves time for the denouement. Who writes this stuff?

But I certainly can't argue with the set design. The sunsets in summer are famously gorgeous, but so are the sunrises.

This is when I know what Homer was talking about when he referred to "rosy-fingered Dawn" opening up the light of the day. He uses the term five times in the Iliad, twenty-one in the Odyssey (your translation may vary). Eos, goddess of the dawn, opens the gates of heaven and brings forth the sun. Dawn may be rosy at other times of the year, but never more so than summer.

It's easy to take for granted the little things, like not having to Nanook up when going outside, not having darkness before quittin' time, and all that. But I quickly focus on the burned-out lawn, the shvitzing in 95 degrees and 110% humidity, the guys strolling about with mandals on their ugly monkey feet. Well, I can't blame the last bit on the weather.

Summer's not actually my favorite season, not that it cares what I think. No one asked me.