WIFE: I’ll leave in a couple minutes, and I should be home by 5:30.
ME: Okay. Please drive carefully, sweetheart. I’d hate to get stuck making dinner for the kids if something happened to you.
Behind the K-Mart we went dumpster diving. Not dumpster skimming. When I go dumpster diving I go all the way.Read More...
After Thursday practice, while the other boys got bored and wet in the showers, four of us hung back in the locker room and choked each other because we didn’t have any money to buy drugs, or anyway any dealers we could trust to not sell us ibuprofen or oregano. It was a game we’d learned in middle school.Read More...
Being president is a time suck. Doesn’t matter if you’re the president of Bulgaria, Trader Joe’s, or the United States of America: it’s a hassle. In a move to save the US president time and increase his efficiency, the White House is using a new (but secure) website that they say revolutionizes how this and […]Read More...
by Erica Gingrich
Nobody over the age of about 12 besides Captain Jean-Luc Picard looks good on those big viewscreens they like to use on Starfleet control bridges. Nobody. Not in movies about the future, and not in our video-conferencing, webchatting present.Read More...
President Obama has been hopping up and down at his bully pulpit decrying the growing levels of inequality in our country. He says he wants to fix this cancer eating at the core of our society with a few tax incentives or some such over-the-counter-strength remedy. And even that has no chance of getting through […]Read More...
Tohd responded to criticism that this latest cut could lead to lowered safety standards and increased risk for people who live near power plants and major gas lines. Most such facilities are strategically located in working class communities, Tohd explained, so the danger is well contained.Read More...
I’m an entrepreneur and an expert in consumer brands. AMARead More...
Dear The Tank,
Can I ask my stalker to write a letter of recommendation for me?
I know it sounds crazy but he’d write a really good one and I need the job. You could say no one knows me better, right?Read More...
a way for meaningless people to find meaning.
a way for useless people to be useful.
a means to an end whose result is the volunteer’s conceitedness, appropriately suppressed.
another means for pissing off Ayn Rand lovers.
just another way of saying voluntarism.
a means for liberals to do what conservatives preach.
WIFE: I’ll leave in a couple minutes, and I should be home by 5:30.
ME: Okay. Please drive carefully, sweetheart. I’d hate to get stuck making dinner for the kids if something happened to you.
COWORKER: Good morning.
ME: Hi. How was your weekend?
COWORKER: Same old. But any weekend’s good. How about you?
ME: Yeah, the usual. Though a funny thing happened last night.
COWORKER: Yeah, what?
ME: I had this really long, intense sexual dream about you.
WIFE: Will you ever leave me?
ME: Never! I mean, not unless I get one of those brain tumors that makes you do crazy stuff. Like the guy who became an arsonist.
WIFE: It’s so exciting that in just a month you’ll be married.
FEMALE FRIEND: I know!
MALE FRIEND: Any advice for us? What’s the key to a happy marriage?
ME: Always delete your internet history. I’m serious. Every single time.
The samosa wallah at the street corner is back. His stall now has a blue tarp roof held up on bamboos. When he sees me, he shouts in Hindi, “And, sahab, everything alright?”
“Everything’s great. With you?”
“All fine. Just back from village. Brother’s sons.” He points at the two boys in stained tees hunkered in the small enclosure. With delicate twists of their fingers, they are sealing samosas for frying. The place hums with the scent of salted dough and nigella seeds.
As I take his leave, a silver Lexus zips by, driving over the nearest pothole. I automatically bring my umbrella down to deflect the splash.
Much of the way till the café is lousy with potholes. I have still decided to walk. The rains have let up, and there’s a spell of mildness before it becomes hot again.
I get a text saying she’s going to be late: there’s a traffic jam.
I walk on, in and out of the gap-toothed shadows of the high-rises, passing crows hopping on dumpsters, dogs with paws caught in plastics, and vendors standing behind barrowfuls of veggies till I reach the traffic signal by the tree with the yellow bangles.
The tree is an old cluster fig. It has had its monsoon bath. The sooty branches now end in clean greenish pink leaves. Tyres painted yellow have been pulled over its branches. There is black brushwork over the tyre nearest to the ground: “Punchur Repar” it says and gives a cell number.
I wait at the traffic lights, behind a gaggle of moms clutching their children’s wrists with one hand and with the other keeping their saris inches off the wet ground. It’s two in the afternoon; the kids are fresh off school, all shirts untucked, half-pants hanging askance from butt-cheeks, mouths busy in chatter.
“Excuse me. Do you speak English?”
The speaker is a young man in shirtsleeves and jeans. He is unshaven, and his bloodshot eyes are focussed on me.
“Umm … this is so embarrassing … I’m due for an interview in an hour. At … M. G. Road. My wallet’s been picked. Could you please lend me some cash? I swear I’ll pay you back.”
The capillaries in the man’s eyes are inflamed at the edges, leaving clearings at the centres. He is upwind, and, when the breeze from the park rubs past him, I smell alcohol.
“Can’t help you. Sorry.” I turn to cross the street.
I notice them when I’m at the divider: women nursing infants, and a smattering of men on the footpath lining the park. Villagers. The women in saris, the men in dhotis. Large studs on earlobes. When I reach the sidewalk, one from the group—an old man with a trust me moustache—greets me.
“Sahab,” he says, his palms clasped in display of respect, “we’re going for pilgrimage, sahab. At the platform, they stole everything: boxes, beddings … money—everything. Didn’t leave anything. Don’t even have the money to go back to village. Stuck here with women and children. Be very gracious of you, if you—”
He cuts himself off as he sees me glance across the street. On the other side, the interviewee is slowly shaking his head at the pilgrims. He stops when he sees me looking.
I turn to face my accoster. His eyes hold my gaze for a second and drop. Others from his crew step forward.
I smile. “Just bad luck today.”
An immaculately paved, eucalyptus-lined avenue leads to the café from the park. Although the café is at most a hundred meters from the main road, the racket of traffic is almost non-existent here. The hush only draws attention to the on-off beats of unseen sprinklers.
At the café, all chairs under the awning are taken. The tables are littered with iPhones and iPads. Occasionally, a cup of latte rises from this ocean of touchscreens like a flipped iceberg. People are talking, laughing, and pausing to snap photos of food.
The interior of the café, beyond glass doors, is deserted save the baristas and a teenage girl with a Livestrong wristband at the corner table. When I enter, she checks out my reflection and goes back to her Dell.
The conditioned air chills my ears and nose within minutes. I order a coffee and choose a table beside the bookshelf. There are lots of Asterixes, and Vogues, and an ill-treated The Old Man and the Sea.
The door opens, and a girl in a pink Adidas windbreakerenters.
“What the Delhi government doesn’t get is the outrage the—”
The door swings shut cutting off the voice from outside. The girl sits opposite Wristband, gives my reflection a once-over, pulls the windbreaker sleeves to her knuckles and says to her friend, “I’ve a headache.”
“Done breaking up?” Wristband asks.
“Oh yes. Know what the—”Windbreaker lowers her voice and releases the adjective with an exaggerated lip movement that exposes her lower incisors“—fucking bastard did?”
Wristband raises an eyebrow.
“He deleted my entire phone! Can you believe it?”
“As in my complete, total phonebook, my messages, trip photos, everything! I totally need my contacts. Such a psychic he is!”
“Whatever! Know what he says? He knew I was gonna dump him, so he did it on purpose!”
“You want some coffee? For your headache?”
“Yeah, okay. I still can’t believe he did that.” She looks at Wristband’s laptop. “What you doing?”
“Econ. Copy from me later.”
The hiss of steam from the Cimbali eats up Windbreaker’s reply. I pull out my cell and dial.
She picks up after two rings. “Hey.”
“Wow, you took the call. I thought you only look at the cell to check messages.”
“How far are you?”
“Shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes. The jam was bad: state buses and autos. Anyway, guess who I met?”
“Arpita? College Arpita? Wait, she’s not coming with you, is she?”
“Yes. Poor thing. She was getting down from the bus in a hurry and got a scrape. I took her to get a Tetvac. All that rust.”
“Hmm. How long is she gonna be with us?”
Meera’s voice drops a notch. “Be kind, she’s having a bad day. Today’s her half-day too. Okay … see you.”
I disconnect the call and pull the Hemingway out from the bookshelf. The door opens again. Of the two women who walk in, one is carrying a baby within a lavender-coloured sling tied with a knot over her shoulder. Both are wearing cheap, printed saris. Their elbows are white with dust.
They seem stunned by their own courage. At first, they huddle (the mother rights the sling and gently pushes in the jutting knee of the baby) taking in the surroundings: Windbreaker gawping, her friend twisting in her chair to get a better view, the baristas frozen in tableau. God only knows how I seem. Then, in a show of defiance, with her glass bangles tinkling, the mother drags a chair out and sits side saddle. She is barefoot, and … yes, so is her friend.
I get a glimpse of the baby: smooth skinned, muscovado brown, and asleep. There’s a daub of kohl on its temple. The mother touches its cheek with a finger, and it smiles.
The other woman stands beside her. She’s holding a tightly pressed piece of cloth. It looks like a hand towel that’s been folded over and over. I have seen clothes like that many times before. On construction workers. It’s what they use as a buffer to carry a Jenga tower of bricks balanced on their heads.
She clenches it and walks up to the counter. She peers at the pastries on the display shelf and says something unintelligible to the barista.
“Huh?” the barista says, leaning forward. His nametag catches light and gleams: Amol.
She points at the muffins and asks in accented Hindi, “How much?”
“Seventy-five. PACHATTAR RUPIYA,” Amol says.
The woman backs off and licks and bites her upper lip. After some twisting of the cloth in her hand, she reaches inside her blouse and pulls out a crumpled bill.
“Brother,” she says, “make a little less. We are poor people … got paid today only.”
Amol, practically a teenager himself, glances at his colleagues. They shrug. Amol turns back to the woman, his lips moving in silent calculation. Then he says, “Sixty-five, can’t make it less than that.”
The woman nods.
The mother gets up and joins her. Cautiously, they unwrap the muffin and break it in two, collecting the crumbs on the mother’s palm.
“Excuse me,” Windbreaker waves at Amol, “we need some service over here?”
“Sure ma’am, be right there,” Amol starts on his way out from behind the counter.
I pick the book up. My cell buzzes: V r almos thr
And again after a few seconds: Oh i c u don come out
I look up and spot Meera and Arpita at the far end of the awning. From the drop in light outside, it looks like clouds are massing again.
There’s a noise of rushing air as Amol flings the door open and runs pell-mell, his apron flapping, causing Arpita to grasp a chair in alarm, his eyes on the fast-disappearing lavender knot.
“What was that?” Meera asks, when they reach me.
I speak while pulling out chairs, “There were two construction workers. Women. Think they didn’t pay. Anyway, hi, Arpita, how’re you?”
“Don’t ask. It was such a bad jam. I ran into your would-be, she got all worried and took me to the Chemist.” Arpita points at the Band-Aids on her hand and upper arm. “In this weather, this one is going to be a pain—” she taps the one on her arm “—intra-muscular.” She adds with a tiny smile, “Don’t worry, I’ll be off quickly.”
“Nonsense. Stay. So, you still in that HR job from campus?”
“Yeah. Don’t ask.” Arpita moves the loose hairs off her forehead, combing them back with her fingers. She wears her hair short now, but the gesture reminds me of the college days when her hair used to fall to her waist “Still can’t afford a car, not even with EMI. Nightmare in this city, it is, let me tell you. Every single day, this counting change for bus fare is such an irritation. You won’t believe the way the conductors behave if you ask them to break a hundred. I really need to get a car.”
Meera leans forward, her brown eyes gleaming with a mix of mischief and compassion, cheeks dimpled with a smile, and says, “Guess what she did today?”
“She gave away all her change to these people she met at the terminus. They told her they were stuck, all their money’d been stolen.”
Amol is back. The mother is trailing them reluctantly: her friend’s wrist is in Amol’s grip.
“Suresh!” Amol shouts, “Police, call police. Saali chootni, first calls me Brother! ‘Make it a little less. Poor people.’ Then shows hundred-ka note and runs away without paying!”
The woman’s lips are swollen, especially on the left side of her face. Her chin trembles. Tears glisten in her eyes as she struggles to free her wrist, speaking rapidly in her tongue.
“Stop the drama!” Amol raises his free hand. She flinches, and the fold of cloth perched on her head wobbles.
“Amol!” Suresh, the elder barista, is beside Amol, hissing, “Customers!”
Amol swallows and whispers back by way of explanation, “You would have taken it out of my salary. As it is the difference—” he is drowned out by a screech from Arpita.
She’s stood up and is wagging her finger at the mother. “You! You told me your money was stolen. Remember? Today itself? Showed me your baby and cried? I gave you eighty-five rupees? What happened? What? No answer now?” She whirls to face Amol. “Call the police, I’ll tell them! Robbing honest people! Ooff!” Arpita pulls her arm down and massages her deltoid.
“Please, Arpi.” Meera takes advantage of the silence. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t wanna insult you, the exact same thing happened to me three days back, but she has a baby. Look.”
I exchange a glance with Meera and say to Arpita, “Arpi, come on, let’s go somewhere else.”
By the time I put the girls in a cab and get back to my building, the rain is coming down hard. In front of the lifts, a crowd has gathered: three street dogs with pleading eyes.
As I wait for the elevator, an auto rickshaw pulls up. Plastic curtains cover the sides, but you can see the nose of a dog poking out in between. Mr. Mehta, my neighbour from third floor, steps down and gropes inside. Finding the end of the leash, he tugs.
“Lucky, come on!” he says in Gujarati. Inch by inch, the yellow Labrador slides out of the carriage and, after climbing on over the building floor, slumps and doesn’t budge.
Lucky’s coat’s been shorn at intervals, and the skin in those gaps is mottled. The rest of his hair is styled in arrowheads. As Mr. Mehta pulls him toward the elevator door, the mongrels make way, and, after some deliberation, one barks. The Labrador does not reply.
I hold the elevator door open. Maybe spurred by the noise of the auto backfiring, Lucky stands up and shuffles inside.
Mehta says to me, “Thank you. Eight years old. Took him to the doctor.”
I am about to follow him inside when two small girls bound down the stairs. “Uncle! Uncle!”
The one with pigtails is carrying a much scribbled-on paper, and the other’s clasping a collection tin and a pen.
The girl holds the tin up. “Hi, uncle. Ten rupees each, please.”
“For school? For what you are collecting?” Mehta asks as I reach for my wallet.
“Needy people,” they say.
We love to help our readers. If you occasionally have to write reports or summaries, if you like to be informative in your holiday letters, or if you just like to send emails that are cogent, we believe we have a great gift for you. And of course, if you write for a living, we’re here for you without question. Because we care.
Throughout history, assemblers and collators of linguistic sensibleness such as the estimable Henry Watson Fowler have combined great advice with excellent examples of sound usage. One of Fowler’s many contributions is his defining of collective nouns, such as “pride of lions,” or “flock of sheep”—“pride” and “flock” being the collective nouns in these cases.
A lot of people who only read Fowler superficially complain mistakenly that he’s a blockheaded prescriptionist, but he is much more sophisticated than that, and he knew that languages evolve, and societies, too.
Having just the right term for something can reveal the inherent truth inside that something. We at Stoneslide have teamed up with downsized lexicographers from American Heritage Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, and the Oxford English Dictionary in order to find the deep truth within the following occupations and affiliations. We’ve created these helpful expressions for you.
We hope you’ll enjoy the increased power and precision in your English usage.
a collision of commuters
a petri dish of schoolchildren
an echinacea tab of schoolteachers
an unfortunateness of poor people
an invisibility of homeless people
a cluster fuck of legislators
a bumbling of bureaucrats
a circle jerk of Republicans
a rim job of Democrats
a drum circle of Green Partiers
a taxi stand of Independents
a ridgeline of Libertarians
a hand job of governors
a blow job of judges
a sucker punch of voters
an ebola scab of lobbyists
a clipboard of coaches
a pharmacopeia of football players
a plug of baseball players
a pancake breakfast of Boy Scouts
a cookie sale of Girl Scouts
a Roman collar of pederasts
a scanty of strippers
a lap dance of Secret Service agents
a shoulder mic of cops
an agony of dentists
a scrub of doctors
a group hug of therapists
a beard of professors
a mendacity of lawyers
a slot of Nevadans
a tree hug of Californians
a handle of Wisconsinites
a pint of Michiganders
a fifth of Yoopers
an accent of Minnesotans
a kindness of Philadelphians
a courtesy of New Yorkers
a traffic jam of New Jerseyites
A Frost of Vermonters
a James of Bostonians
a Joyce of Dubliners
a Yeats of Irishmen
an Allende of Chileans
a perfection of editors
a divinity of writers
Read other very important developments in communications:
Open to any kind of story up to 10,000 words in length.
We’re looking for previously unpublished stories that exemplify the power of narrative to make one think and feel. Ideal stories will use character, plot, description, humor, and concept to open new emotional and cognitive territory for readers. The contest is judged by the editors.
1st $3,000 + publication
2nd $500 + possible publication*
3rd $250 + possible publication*
Four stories will also be recognized for:
-striking use of wit: $100*
-beguiling character: $100*
-description that makes us think we were really there: $100*
-propulsive plot line and/or scene $100*
*All honorees will be considered for publication in the forthcoming Stoneslide Collection, and/or in The Stoneslide Corrective
Contest opens Thursday, March 20 (first day of spring)
Entries due by Saturday, June 21 (first day of summer)
Notification made on Tuesday, September 23 (first day of fall)
What do you have to do? Write a kick-ass story. Pay a $10 entry fee.
Wait for an answer…
Get more and more anxious.
Yell at your kids and the dog.
Imagine how good it would feel to win.
Try using the Rejection Generator to calm your nerves.
Rabidly check your email on September 23.
More than 3,000 writers showed up to hear a talk given by a professional housepainter and self-published author about how his two worlds overlap. The attendance was greater than that at any other talk at the annual conference of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, which is being held in Seattle this year. AWP officials said they thought the heavy attendance was due to a misunderstanding of the title of the event, which was “Stripping and Writing about Stripping.”
Gene Dyeford, the housepainting author at the center of the brouhaha, said that he just wanted to share some of the writing lessons he’s learned through hard experience, and that he was thrilled that so many of his fellow writers turned out for him. “I chose to talk about stripping, because to me, that’s the key step in both painting and writing—and one that’s often overlooked. You have to put in the hard work to get a clean surface, scrape away the old misbeliefs and doubts, if you want to create something new and beautiful. You see?”
Many would-be attendees couldn’t fit in the small conference room assigned to Dyeford, and at the talk’s start time, a large crowd stood outside the door, craning their bodies and standing on tiptoe trying to look in. A small contingent of recent MFA graduates started chanting, “No strippers, no peace!”
One person who actually made it in the room, current MFA student Luke Allison, seemed grateful for Dyeford’s advice. Says Allison, “I think what he said made sense. But to be honest I kept looking to see if there was a curtain or another door where someone else might come out. Then when I realized it was just this dude, I tried to leave but everyone else was pushing in at the door. Then I kind of gave up and sat back down. But, you know, my mom wants me to paint the rec room this summer, so I learned how to use a drop cloth.”
The organizers of AWP took responsibility. “We should have anticipated that the title of the talk could lead to some confusion and asked the gentleman to change it,” said Cindy D’yermaker, AWP’s associate junior vice president for apologies. “Even though the description of the event clearly stated that Mr. Dyeford was a housepainter and wanted to share his experiences related to that fine profession, we should have known that no one reads past the headline anymore, especially writers.”
Being wealthy can be difficult. Perhaps no one knows that more than job creators, the men and women who supervise people who supervise other people who run companies. Their morning and evening commutes can be brutal. Even with a driver, phone, beverage, and suite of printed and electronic reading material, sitting in traffic has to be irritating for someone as important as a job creator.
The California Department of Transportation and two Silicon Valley counties want to make commutes less traumatic for job creators. Beginning next month, in San Mateo County and Santa Clara County new lane usage will be mandated on Highways 101, 92, 85, 237, and 1, and also Interstates 280, 380, 680, and 880. Only job creators will be allowed to use these lanes. Additionally, lanes on El Camino Real from Sunnyvale to Burlingame’s southern border and from Millbrae through Daly City will be designated for the exclusive use of job creators.
The job creator lanes grew out of an economic analysis of potential improvements to the state’s highway system. A panel of economists scored six different proposals based on how much they would increase economic production in the state. The job creator lanes stood out. The average job creator’s time is worth 17,000 times as much as the average worker’s, so an approach that helps only a few job creators turns out to be more valuable to the economy than one that helps thousands of normal folk. “All men may be created equal, but job creators do a lot more for the economy,” says Hernando Bosch, one of the authors of the study.
Job Creator Lanes will be located in the leftmost portion of roadways. Depending on the road, these lanes will either shift carpool lanes rightward or eliminate them entirely. “We didn’t want to have to wait for the roads to be widened,” says Cal DOT’s Heinrich Febricci. “These job creators should receive this much-deserved benefit sooner, not later. And frankly, the economy needs this boost sooner, not later.”
Regular people who use the lanes will be fined $1,500 for a first offense, and their vehicle will be impounded. Further, they will be charged $100 an hour for every hour the vehicle is held. A regular person caught a second time using a Job Creator Lane faces up to a year of jail time, a fine ranging from $3,000 to $10,000, and vehicle seizure. Fines will be scaled inversely to offenders’ incomes. The lower the person’s income and ability to pay, the higher the fine will be. All fines and fees will go to support an annual summer picnic for job creators, along with an ongoing public awareness program that will relentlessly inform regular people of the contributions job creators make to society. A third violation is considered a capital offense.
Some job creators think this doesn’t go far enough. Winston Beedlekrump is the CEO of Creekside Plastics & Combustibles, a manufacturing company located in Millbrae, California (San Mateo County). He says, “Unless they make it a mandatory death penalty charging, that bleeding heart Kamala Harris, as the A[ttorney] G[eneral], will make sure these jerkoffs don’t get the needle. She’ll lean on the D[istrict] A[ttorney]s, and the bums will sit in some cushy prison for the rest of their lives, watching cable TV I pay for with the $44 of income tax I have to hand over every year. Thank God my company doesn’t pay income tax.”
Beedlekrump adds, “Don’t get me wrong, the highway lanes are a good start, but the people in the other lanes can still look in at you. If these counties really want to make themselves a global capital for job creation, they’ll take up a plan I’ve floated several times to build an elevated roadway just for us. We wouldn’t be limited by existing entrances and exits. We could have a lane that takes you right to Carnival North, or Madera. If they’d really look at my plan, I think it’d blow their minds.”
Sheriff’s deputies, police, and highway patrol officers will be issued readers that register whether or not a vehicle is owned by a job creator. Because it would be an affront to ask job creators to affix government-issued stickers to their vehicles, transmitters will be put in their cars and trucks that will project a hologram with the letters JC visible in bright, golden light.
The process to apply to be recognized as a job creator is straightforward, according to Cal DOT’s Febricci. “Everyone who counts already knows the governor.”
The determining factor as to whether someone is classified as a job creator isn’t, interestingly enough, the number of jobs a person creates. The measure is a person’s net worth. Febricci explains: “Because job creation is good, and because a person’s level of wealth is the most reliable indicator of inherent goodness, this method makes the most sense. Basically, if your net worth is greater than 100 million dollars, you’re considered a job creator, and you’ll receive this benefit. Some of these people got rich and stay rich by cutting jobs or shipping them elsewhere, so actual ‘job creation’ is not the most useful measure.” The benefits also extend to job creators’ spouses, children and stepchildren of legal driving age, and domestic employees who chauffeur the family around using the family’s vehicles.
The head of the Valley of the Silicons Chamber of Commerce sees the lanes as a mixed blessing. Chamber president Steve Perturbernot says, “Of course I’m in favor of anything that aids job creators. But what about small business owners? I guess I could be convinced that their not being rich enough makes them less deserving. I just wish more businesspeople could be allowed to participate in this excellent idea.”
Environmentalists and clean-air advocates oppose the plan. They say its elimination or impeding of carpool lanes poses problems. Febricci brushes aside their concerns. “Job creators are a heck of a lot more important than the environment and the penny-pinching carpoolers who are so infatuated with it,” he says. “And let’s not forget, people can still carpool. We’re not outlawing it or anything,” he says. “In fact they’ll have to, since gas is so expensive and median income keeps going down.”
Beedlekrump couldn’t agree more. “It’s good to see the government do something right for a change.”
Electrician Ed Bempter, of Fremont, California (Santa Clara County), thinks it’s a bad idea. “I’m on the road all the time. Don’t these super rich people already have enough advantages? Do they really need more?”
Talmudichter A. Jones, a professor of traffic awareness at Ball State University, in Indiana, says he’s studying the situation closely. “This could prove interesting, beyond northern California,” he says. “I hearken back to the Roman roads built in the second century, which were such improvements in their day, but later provided the means for the Goths and Vandals to strike at the heart of the empire. You never know what will come of traffic measures.”
Mega-billionaire Walter Smorgasboard, of Omaha Nebraska, has learned of the plan and says he opposes it. “Wealthy people should be doing more to help America, not harm it. And this is definitely harmful.” He adds that in his view wealthy people who support such high-visibility privileges are thinking too short-term. “Sitting in traffic and watching you zoom by is going to make that ‘average Joe’ blame you. Then he’s just one step away from grabbing a pitchfork in his hairy hand and coming after you. Sure, your car has the bullet-proof security package, but Mr. Joe will certainly scratch the paint. I tell my friends, you don’t want to live in a world like that.”
Febricci doesn’t think the controversy will amount to much. “We have 2.6 million people living in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. You’re bound to have a few bad apples who complain every time there’s progress.”
Applications to be classified as a job creator living in, working in, or commuting through either of the two counties will be accepted beginning next Tuesday.
More developments out of the Bay Area:
More about wealth in America:
Being president is a time suck. Doesn’t matter if you’re the president of Bulgaria, Trader Joe’s, or the United States of America: it’s a hassle.
In a move to save the US president time and increase his efficiency, the White House is using a new (but secure) website that they say revolutionizes how this and future presidents will deal with the intelligence community. Staffers say that the beta rollout alone is cutting President Barack Obama’s time spent dealing with terrorist threats, kill orders, and the like by 20%.
Facebook is notoriously known for gutting users’ newsfeeds of content from their friends and relatives and inserting ads for nearby carwashes, farm implement manufacturers, or other businesses. White House staff are now using a similar algorithm to pick and choose which intelligence reports are displayed to the president based on his previous interests and demographic information. They say this has cut out a lot of “unnecessary claptrap” and allowed him to get to his basketball game 20 to 30 minutes earlier each day.
“Time he used to spend agonizing over drone attacks (which he always ultimately approved), he now spends shooting hoops or engaging in other healthful activities,” says Marcy Dugan, administrative administrational aide to the president.
Obama says, “I love that this gives me more time for the girls in the morning. Of course, at their ages, they’d rather die than spend time with me so I use the opportunity to play Brick Breaker or GTA: Vice City.”
To critics, aide Dugan says presidents have always received filtered intelligence messages. “No sitting president has ever known about every piece of data every day. To think otherwise is to think like a complete idiot. Just ask the late Lyndon Johnson.”
According to people familiar with the new intelligence system, the president hasn’t been bothered with an update from the Middle East in at least two months. “There’s always something happening there, but really nothing ever changes,” says one West Wing source. “How many presidents have given themselves ulcers hoping for some good news on the Palestine question? That’s not going to happen on my watch.”
While the president remains blissfully unaware on some issues, he can keep an eye on things that matter to him, without it going through the bureaucracy of the President’s Daily Briefing. “About half of his updates have something to do with Uzbekistan. We think it’s because he once clicked on a story about a swimsuit model from there.”
The United States National Transcontinental Chamber of Commerce has expressed great interest in this development. “We think that if the president is going to cut his intelligence briefings, perhaps that time could be filled more productively than with exercise or family time. Perhaps, like with Facebook, this time could be filled with ads, but live ads, presentations from business representatives who have or want to have contracts with the government.” The Chamber goes on to say that they think “the president owes it to the American people to pay greater attention to the needs of business.”
The former Facebook programmer who wrote the algorithm says it can be expanded to free up more of the president’s time. “I can make this thing cut his domestic policy briefings, too. Anything, really. From the environment to unemployment, I can make it so he doesn’t really have to be informed about anything that’s dull or annoying. Congress would be out of the picture entirely. This could be a great efficiency booster. Bush II would have loved this.”
Mortimer Fuckledunch, a Tea Party member and Republican from California, calls this a great development. “Normally, I hate every single thing Barack Hussein Obama has done, including being born. But this here’s a good idea. Anything to increase efficiency. And if they do the ads thing, to let businesses not be trampled on, even better. As long as the money stays in the private sector.”
The former Facebook programmer says his next assignment is to eliminate all presidential cogitation surrounding the upcoming White House Easter egg hunt.
More articles on governance and innovation:
by Erica Gingerich
It was a Skype call last week that made me realize why there are almost no old people in movies or TV shows about the future. Why? Because as we all learned as kids from The Jetsons, in the future, everyone would be using video phones, Casio watches, and G-type-main-sequence-star-solar-powered Jumbotrons to communicate across the vastness of outer space.
And let’s just be brutally honest here, shall we? Nobody over the age of about 12 besides Captain Jean-Luc Picard looks good on those big viewscreens they like to use on Starfleet control bridges. Nobody. Not in movies about the future, and not in our video-conferencing, webchatting present.
Whether it be FaceTime, Skype or Chatroulette, by the time you’ve reached 30 at the very latest, it’s near impossible to mask the damage wrought by that bottle of Malbec you killed all by yourself and chased with two double whiskeys the previous evening. There’s apparently an East Coast plastic surgeon these days specializing in “FaceTime Facelifts” to help freshen up “mature” faces so they’re webcam-ready and palatable to all those tween digital natives who think wrinkles, nose hair, and, like, full-time jobs are groooossss! But who has time between webchats for plastic surgery, right?
Okay: so back to that shocking Skype call last week. It was with a fresh-faced, zaftig 20-something HR person who was calling me about an opening at her company. She was a pleasant-albeit-rather-average-looking girl, but she had youth on her side. I didn’t. Her cheeks were full and rosy—in the little video thumbnail of myself at the corner of the screen, my cheekbones loomed sharp and harsh. She leaned into the camera (a-ha, so that’s what Sheryl Sandberg really meant?). I leaned back as far as I could. I leaned left. I leaned right. I did the hokey pokey and I turned myself around in the swivel chair. I turned the desk lamp on. I turned it off. I lowered my office chair. Then I raised it again. Nothing helped.
In that little thumbnail of myself, I swear I was the spitting image of Ricardo Montalbán in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. And with great chagrin, I realized that if I were in a movie about the future, I’d already be dead. Either “retired” by an android-assassinating cop played by Harrison Ford, or “renewed” in a “Carrousel ceremony” that looked like the ultimate bad LSD trip.
Or I’d be playing the part of the old black lady oracle character from the “Matrix.”
Sure—Khaaaaaan exuded a menacing, ageless sort of intergalactic Latino sexuality in that tight-fitting, futuristic Jazzercise bodysuit of his that played up all that great man cleavage he had going on. And that, like, totally awesome! 1982-post-punk spiky coif he sported in the movie—the one that looked like Barry Manilow’s and Billy Idol’s hairdos had danced the merengue and cha cha with themselves and made a lovechild? It was a modified shag meant to evoke a sort of macho, youthful insouciance. Even after all the battle scenes, exploding dilithium crystals, space junk schrapnel, and hand-to-hand combat with Kirk, there was not a hair out of place on Khan’s luxuriant, Rogaine-worthy mane.
At age 62, “Mr. Roarke” was still undoubtedly one of the most handsome and virile men to have ever graced the silver screen. Or planet Earth, for that matter.
But every time he appeared on the USS Enterprise’s big flat-screen monitor—the kind you could get for a few hundred bucks at Best Buy nowadays—and threatened Kirk and his crew with total annihilation, you couldn’t help but notice that he had wrinkles beneath that cosmic-ray-induced permatan of his. He EVEN had décolleté wrinkles, like the rich bitches of a certain age sunbathing on the French Riviera with their hunky Balkan boys. Khan may have been a “genetically superior tyrant,” but he nevertheless could have done with some Botox and Restylane fillers to plump out those “11s” frownies and gaunt, geriatric cheeks of his.
So as I was having my own “Wrath of Khan” webcam moment last week, I realized that it was time to take control of the situation. If I already look this old and wrinkled now on webchats at the tender age of 40-something, I can only shudder to think of just how off-putting I’ll be to younger chat partners someday when Verizon starts offering holocalls in 2035.
“Hey, grandson, does this hologram make me look fat?”
So just in time for Valentine’s Day 2014, The Stoneslide Corrective has launched the Internet Beauty (lighting) Initiative. St. Valentine, are you listening? We’re ready for our close-ups!
The SC Internet Beauty Initiative is for people over 30 who have been too scared ’til now to turn on their webcams when they Skype. Or as Barbra Streisand sang, it’s for people who love people over 30, but just don’t want to have to suffer the eyestrain of all the wrinkles and accelerated decrepitude when they do a quick Facetime call with an older loved one.
How to solve the problem? Sure, there are fancy smartphone apps like Chromic that allow you to add funky filters when you take videos or pix with your smartphone. And we’re sure there are apps out there somewhere—or in development somewhere—that will allow webchatters to alter their appearance for the better in real time. Maybe they give you Miley Cyrus’ peachy complexion with Beyonce’s bodacious butt and Marilyn’s sly smile.
We’re also anxiously awaiting the app version of those 1980s shopping mall “Glam Shot” studios that would give you wind-machine tresses and the glow of a gazillion jean jacket rhinestones illuminating your face.
But for the rest of us old farts who have finally ditched our dumbphones—well, to put it delicately—HOW much time do we really have to wait around for these technological advances before we shuffle off this mortal coil? I mean—we’re over 30. Knocking on death’s door. We need something that we can use NOW. Today.
That’s why the SC Internet Beauty team is reviving a then-state-of-the-art technology from the 1970s, and transforming it into a bold new design idea for electronics that Steve Jobs definitely definitely definitely should have thought of when he made the first iPhone, but didn’t.
Remember those makeup cases you could get at JCPenny’s or Woolworth’s that came with the pop-up makeup mirrors with lights? Back in the glory days of disco and women’s lib, those mirrors had three settings you could imagine Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda using to get ready for work at 8:15 a.m. in the movie 9 to 5. Three settings that said it all about a modern woman’s life and beauty needs in 1979: natural daylight, office fluorescent, evening.
We seem to remember that they even made a special Bianca Jagger Studio 54 version with settings for:
As a girl, I was fascinated with my mom’s beauty-light makeup mirror. My sister and I would sit in front of it for hours (or until the batteries ran out) and shuttle as fast as we could between the different settings. Bright white. Blue white. Soft amber gold. Our little smooth-skinned, unwrinkled eight-year-old selves were too naïve to comprehend why anyone would care about what they looked like in natural daylight. And we certainly didn’t understand why anyone would need to put on makeup in the evening, when she was going to sleep.
But that was then, and this is now. Apple and Samsung, Microsoft and Asus? You listening? Women make, what? like 80 percent of the purchasing decisions on electronics, digital devices, major appliances, and cars? So start making female-friendly equipment! Make me a laptop, tablet, or smartphone that’s got beauty lighting built right into the case. With light settings that have been updated and specifically tailored to the lifestyle of today’s modern woman: Post-Cabernet-binge apricot; Bikram-yoga glow; boardroom beige; first-sip-of-latte foam; subway drizzle.
I personally don’t care about getting the latest netbook or laptop or tablet that’s ever thinner and lighter. Actually, most women don’t, because we’re smart enough to convince men to carry all of our shit for us. We could still be lugging around old Commodore 64 consoles in our handbags and you men would offer to schlepp them for us just to get laid. Give me a laptop with beauty lighting so that I’ll look great on Skype, and throw in a drawer next to the DVD drive for my makeup brushes and tampons, and an extra USB port for my e-curling iron while you’re at it.
But until the day the Samsung Stepford 1 with beauty lighting comes onto the market, the best present you can get for that special 30-plus woman in your life this Valentine’s Day is a bouquet of GE or Sylvania soft-pink, 40-watt incandescent bulbs. Forget the roses and chocolates. These little pink beauties are the gift that keeps giving. We know they’re getting harder to find now that all those commie socialist liberals in California and New York have pushed for bans on “dirty bulbs.”
But it’s not a Luddite recalcitrance and resistance to LED and fluorescent lights that has us hoarding the last incandescent light bulbs being produced by mankind before production stops forever. In a modern economy where all of us will be working until we’re at least 75, ensuring that we’re enveloped in a soft-pink incandescent glow at all times well into the 2040s and 2050s is also good for our financial bottom line, too.
For those of you romantics out there who will be without power this Valentine’s Day as the next polar vortex rips through your particular part of the country, you can forego the light bulbs altogether and just bring home a bouquet of long-stemmed taper candles. Because if your smartphone or laptop still has enough juice left to allow you to webchat at all this Valentine’s Day, do it—just imagine how great you’re gonna look in the soft flicker of candlelight.
See life-improving devices designed by The Stoneslide Corrective.
President Obama has been hopping up and down at his bully pulpit decrying the growing levels of inequality in our country. He says he wants to fix this cancer eating at the core of our society with a few tax incentives or some such over-the-counter-strength remedy. And even that has no chance of getting through Congress, which is constitutionally disposed against anything that can be called a remedy.
Many in the punditocracy say it’s hopeless. They sigh and imply that we will all just have to live with inequality (fortunately, they just happen to be on the fat end of the equation). But they are missing something so obvious that we start to wonder if they all have logs in their eyes.
It is particularly disappointing that President Obama, who probably does care about the issue, has missed this obvious solution. His enemies on the right would say he’s spending too much time hobnobbing with celebrities to do anything useful, but it’s precisely because he’s been hobnobbing with celebrities that he really ought to have seen this solution.
What is the problem with inequality? In essence it means that a few people have way more of the stuff everyone wants than most people can get. In the United States, the richest 0.1% now have so much of this stuff that they can build towers with it, dive and swim in it, and use it to perform personal ablutions, all while the poorest go cold and hungry for want of it.
Well, fixing that is hard. Because the rich have the money, they have the power, and you can’t just take it away without a fight. But what if we simply created a new kind of thing that everyone would want and gave it only to the people at the bottom of the income distribution? Then they have something that the rich want but can’t have. We can re-balance society without having to rework the economic system or fight against entrenched interests.
Here’s how it works.
Everybody loves celebrities. Everybody wants to see them sing, or dance, or act, or do other things that someone has clandestinely recorded and uploaded to the internet. Their fame sometimes seems like a lustrous, golden oil that they bathe in. Others want desperately to feel the touch of that oil.
Well, imagine if celebrities banded together to create a new class of entertainments that would be available exclusively to those in the bottom income brackets. A concert series, a new hot TV show, something else. The exact form doesn’t matter; it is a venue for allowing normal people once-in-a-lifetime access to our demigod stars. All the tickets are given away free and only to the poor.
Now we have a decision to make. Are these entertainments exclusively for the poor, meaning that tickets are non-transferable, or can they sell their tickets for a quick profit? If we allow them to sell their tickets, we know what will happen. The rich will pay out a comparatively small amount of their money and end up with all the tickets and nearly all the money. The point of our plan is to create an alternate source of value available only to the poor, and so we have to make tickets, or access in whatever form it takes, non-transferrable.
This is where the real genius of the plan kicks in. You see, the involvement of top celebrities will make our entertainments irresistibly desirable. Imagine if I told you that right now in a theatre downtown, your favorite stars were luxuriating and displaying themselves in ways they never have before? What if I said that some class of people is allowed to go in and see, but you are not?
The rich hate it when they can’t have something. That’s why they’ve done everything they’ve done—worked hard, slept with whatever unsavory types was necessary, sold out whomever they had to—to never be told, no you can’t have this. The ability to wave their hands and acquire things that others long for is precisely what makes them rich, and being rich is what makes them feel worthwhile.
So being locked out of these new shows will drive the rich a little berserk. They’ll spend their free moments—whether sitting in the backseat of a Mercedes or waiting for a companion at Le Cirque—dreaming about what they must be missing out on. They’ll turn over ideas and schemes about how to get it. They’ll talk amongst themselves about what they don’t and can’t have. The tables will be effectively turned, the rich longing for what the poor have, and the poor of course still longing for mansions, jets, etc.
This is a new form of equality, in which both sides crave what the other has.
Now this whole plan relies on celebrities using their power for good. You may wonder if they’ll really follow through. The celebrities who participate will, of course, lose out on a little time and potential income. However, this will be more than made up for by the salve such performance provides for their liberal consciences. Also, the knowledge that they are, by the power of their talent and fame, remaking American society for the better will appropriately bolster their egos. If President Obama really wants to fight inequality, he will explain this to some of his Hollywood pals and make them feel like the saviors of society that they could be and always have known they were in their hearts.
More articles on society and governance:
CEO dismisses criticism as “class warfare”
A California power company is shutting down all safety checks. The utility says teams from an out-of-state corporation can perform the inspections at a lower cost. Tohd Power & Light, headquartered in New Moldova, California, is slashing jobs and tightening its corporate belt in order to boost profits. In 2013, Tohd P&L earned $1.7 billion on revenues of $16.4 billion. That’s a downtick in profits of 6% from 2012. CEO Danvorious Tohd says he expects profits to climb by at least 15% in 2014.
Tohd P&L has contracted with a Nevada company, DarnGood Inspectin’ Inc, to check its natural gas pipes, electrical lines, warehouses, physical plants, and all other infrastructure.
In recent years, Tohd P&L has eliminated its vehicle maintenance department, its cafeteria workers, most of its administrative aide pool, most of its accounting pool, and all of its janitors. These functions are now contracted out to other companies, or to individuals who work as independent contractors.
Tohd says, “Now, as we jettison this final peripheral function, safety inspections, all we do is deliver gas and electricity. We can focus on what we do best, which is buy low, sell high.”
Tohd responded to criticism that this latest cut could lead to lowered safety standards and increased risk for people who live near power plants and major gas lines. Most such facilities are strategically located in working class communities, Tohd explained, so the danger is well contained. Mr. Tohd says that as CEO his most important duty is to maximize returns for shareholders. “If you’re not rich and getting richer, what’s the point in living?” he asks.
Tohd goes on to say, “That Tom Peters gentleman, the venture capitalist who finally told the truth about all these scumbag 98 percenters, he’s on to something. I feel like people are vilifying me all the time.”
Tohd provides an example of this vilification: “Look at our Community Responsiveness Board. Whenever you see that mentioned in the paper, do they talk about what a great job it’s doing or how its members are spending hours each year thinking about how our activities might affect normal people? No, they just write about how everyone on the board is either my family member or a lawyer working for my family trust. Do you see how mean-spirited that is? They’re implying that my family doesn’t care about anything but themselves. That’s the kind of attack we rich folk have to live with every single day.”
Tohd further points out that this sort of “class warfare” is entirely unidirectional. He and his ilk absorb the blows without retaliating. “It’s one of the burdens of wealth,” he says. “I could cut off electricity for everyone who complains about this mythical ‘safety problem.’ We know who they are. We track all that social media stuff against our records. But do we do it? No. Sure, one time I gave the go-ahead, but I was just mad that the Warriors lost and I called it off the next morning.”
Tohd says he’s “sick and tired of the middle class complaining about ‘oh, the rates are too high,’ or ‘oh, how will my kids eat?’ If you were a good parent—and a good person—you would be wealthy, instead of middle class, and you wouldn’t have these mundane concerns. If you think about it, the middle class are childish, always complaining. People worry about the demise of the middle class, but I say, if they’re going to be such whiners, good riddance! The middle class can’t be choked out soon enough, in my opinion.”
When it’s shown that “choking out” the middle class simply means there will be greater and greater numbers of poor people, whom he seems to hate even more than the middle class, Tohd says that poses no problem. “Yes, I hate the poor. Who in his right mind doesn’t? But at least they’re easier to control.”
Tohd says one of the things he finds most distasteful about the middle class and the poor are their tacit demands “to be treated with respect, even reverence. If you’re rich, you constantly have to attest to the ‘greatness’ of the middle class and the ‘nobility’ of the poor. It’s sickening. But all rich people have to do it. I swear to God, the only thing more repulsive than the middle class and the poor is kowtowing to the middle class and the poor.”
Tohd Power & Light is known for innovative strategies and tactics to ratchet profits skyward. Several months ago, CEO Dan Tohd convinced California residents, lawmakers, and regulators that fining the company after it was caught intentionally overcharging customers would be “a mistake, because fining businesses kills jobs.”
Tohd Power & Light closed at $66.45 per share yesterday, a gain of $0.75.
More from the worlds of business and finance:
I’m an entrepreneur and an expert in consumer brands. AMA
I’m here for the next hour…
What makes you an expert? Can you tell us what you’ve done?
I’m anonymous here, so I can’t be specific, but I’ve dealt with lots of big brands—Fritos, Sony, others.
You mean you eat chips while you watch TV?
No, I’m an observer. A cultural critic. And a savvy brand advisor.
So, your friends ask you what you think before they buy a new phone…
Yes. Yes, they do, because they respect my opinion and my judgment. Lots of people have told me they’re glad they listened to me. And not just about phones, lots of things. Like restaurants. Do YOU know how to tell if a Chipotles is well run? I can tell you. The food’s not the same at all of them.
Does it make you feel important to act like a big shot? Anyone could say they like Fritos.
I’ve been studying this for years. This is what I do. And Fritos is an undervalued brand. A lot of people don’t get that.
Studying? Did you finish college or did you leave when you were just three classes short of a degree because of some girl in Pennsylvania? If the latter, do you regret not listening to your mother who said you’d end up a jobless bum if you didn’t finish—and now look at you?
Anyone else? Anyone?
Have you considered getting a job?
a way for meaningless people to find meaning.
a way for useless people to be useful.
a means to an end whose result is the volunteer’s conceitedness, appropriately suppressed.
another means for pissing off Ayn Rand lovers.
just another way of saying voluntarism.
a means for liberals to do what conservatives preach.
earn your way to Heaven with one Saturday a month.
absolution for the non-religious.
if everyone did it, no one would have to do it.
confuse your parents and their bridge partners.
the easiest solution to any social problem.
a reason for the existence of the needy.
The Stoneslide Corrective has purchased a spot during America’s most beloved television broadcast. Stoneslide’s Sylvester Stonesman says, “We believe we’re the first literary publication to advertise during this orgy of consumerist hedonism. Don’t get me wrong, we like orgies. And hedonism. But our point is that there’s more to life… Anyway, we’re proud to bring you this bit of sporting literary synergy.”
Read other developments in the world of sports:
by Tracy Elin
Tanya met the hussy when she picked up Gary for Thursday choir rehearsal. But she came up with her plot a few hours later, as she snapped long strands of spaghetti to fit in their little pot, crumbled ground turkey into bits, and chopped through a fleshy green pepper.
Gary had mentioned this new officemate a few times in the preceding weeks. He’d said, “It looks like they hired a new photo editor. Her name’s Valerie.” Then he reported, “Valerie’s starting on Monday. No one but the boss has met her yet.” Finally, in the last few days, he’d described settling into the office with Valerie—moving the printer to make more room for Valerie, asking if Valerie had any allergies, showing Valerie around. He’d formed hopeless crushes on coworkers before, and the way he pronounced her name, as if he wanted to sigh as he said it but knew he had to hide that feeling, made her suspect he was falling into that trap again.
Tanya knew her husband was soft and easy to push into almost any accommodation, and so she wasn’t surprised on that Thursday when she opened the door to the office to see that Valerie’s things had taken over most of the space. She also wasn’t surprised to see that Valerie was pretty. She’d expected that.
Gary stood up quickly and said “Hey, Tanya!” and then prompted the two women to shake hands.
“It’s your first week, right?” Tanya had said. “How are things going?”
“Oh, it’s good,” Valerie said. “The people are nice.” She looked directly at Gary, who had turned around to pack up his bag. Tanya could see that she wasn’t one of those timid, flighty girls. She was direct.
“Are you figuring everything out?”
“I think I know what’s what.”
“Valerie’s a quick study,” Gary said. Either he had no inkling what Tanya was thinking at that moment, or he was a complete idiot. Even after years of marriage, Tanya wasn’t sure which was likelier.
At the stove that night, she added garlic to the olive oil she’d already heated. The smell transmuted the air in the kitchen. After a moment, she added minced onions.
She called to mind the image of Valerie. It wasn’t that Valerie was a great beauty, although undeniably pretty. But she was younger than Tanya by enough to be in a different category—a young person, not a near-middle-aged one. And if the two were stood side by side, 100 out of 100 observers would pick Valerie as the more desirable. There just wasn’t a competition in that regard.
And now Gary would be spending every day sitting at a desk facing hers, so that all they had to do was lean around their monitors to see each other. It seemed inevitable that Gary would be drawn to this new young thing.
Then Tanya had her idea. She had plenty more garlic and onion in the drawer. Put enough of it in Gary’s food, and Valerie would smell it, even if she never got closer than her spot on the other side of the desk. And with that smell, she wouldn’t try to get any closer.
Tanya crushed a few more cloves of garlic and skinned and sliced another onion. She dropped it all in the pan, feeling as sinister and excited as some character in Greek mythology brewing a revenge against an unfaithful husband. She looked for more ingredients. Cabbage? Fenugreek?
When she fed it to him, he just said, “That’s good. That’s very good, honey.” He always said the same thing with the same degree of enthusiasm no matter what she cooked. It was one of the mutual dishonesties that enabled them to live together.
“Don’t worry, there’s plenty for you to take the leftovers for lunch,” Tanya replied. She smiled and thought she would have to remember to give him the container before she left in the morning.
When Gary opened his lunch the next day, Valerie leaned and looked around her monitor. He had to admit that he liked seeing her face. He liked noticing what she was wearing in the morning, and he liked spying little opportunities to glimpse a part of her body and evaluate it without her being aware. It almost made it seem worth coming to work.
“That smells good,” she said.
“You think so?” Gary had been so depressed looking into the familiar red and grey mixture that he couldn’t imagine anyone else having a different response.
“Oh yeah. It’s making me hungry.” She slapped her belly. She had a frank physicality that made him think she’d been an athlete in her past. He hadn’t yet found an excuse to ask about that.
“Take it,” Gary said and held out the dish that Tanya had packed for him.
“Nah. It’s yours.”
“Really. Take it. I had some last night. My wife…” he felt like he had to be cautious here “… she makes stuff like this all the time.”
“You’re a lucky man,” Valerie said.
Gary made a noncommittal noise and held out the container once again. Beside the impolite mixture of feelings that surfaced as he contemplated his relative luckiness in being married to Tanya, he really hated her cooking. It was enough he had to stomach it at dinner. He didn’t want to give up his lunches.
Valerie took the lunch, not realizing how kind she was being.
“I’ll be back in a bit,” Gary said.
He walked to the deli on the corner. He picked out an energy bar to serve as his lunch. He’d never tried one before, but he figured it would have the caloric heartiness to get him through the afternoon. Tanya and Gary kept close track of their relative expenditures, and there was no way he could conceal the six dollars for a sandwich or a salad. But he could claim that the bar was some candy or a cup of coffee. That would be okay.
When he got back to the office, Valerie said, “That was great!” She’d washed out the container and left it on his desk. They smiled at each other, as if relishing some secret they shared.
For the next several weeks, Tanya made sure to package up some of her pungent leftovers for Gary’s lunch. Gary was just as certain to hand the dish to Valerie and walk out to the deli.
Each day, Valerie made some joke about the job having great benefits. She and Gary both felt awkward about the arrangement—it crossed some line between their work lives and home lives. But they both sort of liked that about it, too.
At night, Tanya asked Gary what he thought of his lunch. She wanted to hear a compliment, of course, but she also wanted to be sure he’d consumed her protective potion. Gary usually responded with some observation related to how a dish could get even better overnight. Some days, to shake things up, he said he’d eaten it cold and really liked it that way.
With the reduction in his caloric intake, Gary began to lose weight. He’d never been fat, but he’d been soft, with a pouchy belly and arms that jiggled if he wore short sleeves. Both women noticed this change in him.
“What do you think of the placement of this picture now?” Gary called from across their abutting desks one afternoon. “Does it work better for you?”
Valerie could have opened the file from her own computer, but she got up to walk around to his side. She was eager to be close to him, to talk something over without the screens and distance in the way, to see things as he did, rather than from the opposite side. She’d realized a couple weeks before that she was letting herself fall for him. He was so dependable, so consistent, so gentle, that she found her affection for him and her reliance on him increasing each day.
For a while, earlier on, Valerie had thought it was safe, since she’d had no spark of attraction for him. But lately, that had come. She didn’t know why exactly, but she now wanted to be close to him.
So, when she could, she kneeled down next to him. She put one hand on his arm, as if to steady herself. The flirtation was heady. She was intensely aware of where their bodies met. And that contact felt like the most exciting thing in the world for that instant.
She said something about the picture, hardly aware of the meaning. Language was now only an indicator of their closeness, relative positions, and remaining distances. It was a way to insinuate a testing finger of intimacy, working through the barriers that stood between them. And there were a number of barriers. There was the fact that they were coworkers. Anyone knew that was a bad idea. There was their basic difference in age and attitude. There was, needless to say, the fact that he was married. But she also remembered how, early in their acquaintance, she had felt an unguarded enthusiasm from him. She had quashed it when it seemed to hint at what she now hoped it had meant. And that was a final barrier: her earlier coldness and his withdrawal because of it.
She pointed at the screen, drawing an imaginary line to guide his work, and at the same time leaned even closer, so that their bodies were close enough to sense the warmth and the musk one from the other. Valerie felt Gary stiffen a little and slide away from her. The movement was subtle, but because she’d advanced so far toward him, she couldn’t miss it.
Now, one interpretation for this would be that one of the barriers, probably his sense of fidelity to his wife, was stronger than Valerie had figured. But there was also room for misunderstanding. So, Valerie swiveled and put a hand right on his shoulder, looking into his face. He avoided her gaze.
She felt ridiculous. She said, “That will be fine.” and retreated to her side of the room.
Her ripe feelings turned sour as she moved her computer mouse to appear occupied with work. Was she inferior to Tanya? That wasn’t it. Gary probably couldn’t think about breaking a promise. That was what she had come to admire about him: his reliability, his steadfastness. She started to feel guilty for even entertaining the wish, and she admired him a little more.
Gary, at the same moment on his side of the room, was wondering at why he’d come to view Valerie as so irksome. He was conscious that he’d sort of developed an instant crush on her when she’d started work. But now he found that the more she talked to him, the more she got close to him, the more she touched him, the more he wanted to just get away.
Gary didn’t consciously register how the smell of Tanya’s excessive garlic and onions had caused this. Since the first time he’d caught that odor from Valerie—unpleasant and murky in its own right, but also reminiscent of Tanya—it had lodged somewhere deep in his mind and tainted every impression of Valerie that followed, tainted it with a little queasiness and a lot of distaste. The nearer she came, the stronger the queasiness.
In the weeks that followed, as Tanya noticed that Gary no longer mentioned the name Valerie and that he seemed unusually quiet and sad, she understood that her potion had done its job. She went on mixing a new batch each day.
Dear Stoneslide Corrective,
Yes, it is all too true. [Advice to Expectant Mothers.]
I am uncool and unfashionable as can be, according to my 13-year-old daughter. And even, sometimes, my son.
Thank you, Stoneslide, for clarifying my position.
It was not always like this. There was a time they came running to me when I entered the door, rushing to my arms, their voices trembling with excitement. “Mommy, Mommy!” That stopped a while ago. I got a dog so someone would greet me.
There was a time they told me everything. There was a time I hoped. What did I hope for? For all this to continue, unbearable as it sometimes was to live in those moments.
But things are okay now. They cannot take the car keys yet, but live in that netherworld between childhood and adulthood. The netherhood.
The boy eats too much sugar and bounces off the walls, and the couch, and the dog, and his sister, and his sister’s friends, and makes us crazy. But then he’ll come back and tell me he loves me and give me a huge hug. All is forgiven then. And I mean, all, including his first six months of projectile vomiting and yelling in my ear nonstop for three hours every evening. A hug is everything. Even when I have to get it from the dog, but the dog has no arms and can only endure mine. Of course, my husband is home at night, but I must sustain myself during the day!
The girl, when she emerges from behind her door, I can observe. She does not voluntarily hug me, not under any circumstances. On Wednesdays, the short day at school, she and her friends collect deli sandwiches and Starbucks on their way home and come to our house. They are all lovely girls. They sit around the kitchen table for the rest of the afternoon eating, talking, snapchatting and hashtagging with more friends, doing homework. “Of course I know what a hashtag is!” I say. “And you’re not supposed to use it in real spoken conversation. Jeez!” Of course, I won’t admit it but I don’t really know what they mean when they talk about hashtags.
Last week a couple of the girls showed up in advance of my daughter and I let them in. I was having lunch myself at the table just then. When my daughter arrived with the rest of the group she glared at me (that’s our fun way of communicating). I said I could eat lunch there, too, and suddenly I was conscious of my faded, dog-hair-covered work-out clothes and sneakers, my hair still clipped haphazardly on top of my head from pilates class, and the discomfiting question came to mind: if I were their age at school, would they let me sit with them at lunch?
I got up and busied myself in the kitchen, feeling very domestic after ignoring the dishes the whole first part of the day. “I’m a mom, I’m a mom,” I said over and over in my head, to calm myself. Because I knew the answer.
My mom friends sometimes tell me: “Don’t listen to your kids, you are cool! You’re a fabulous mom and person!” Do they really mean it? But it doesn’t really matter. I am my kids’ mom, and I’m there for them.
“No offense, Mom,” my daughter said, watching me across the kitchen, “but you might want to try skinny jeans. Also,” she continues, “no offense, but your hair is too curly.”
She’s only 13. The car keys are still mine.
-Lisa Meltzer Penn,
Read Lisa Meltzer Penn’s bio.
Other perspectives on contemporary family life:
A new law requiring breast-feeding in certain situations is being praised by advocates for maternal and infant health, but it also has its critics among libertarians and others.
The law, passed by the Paterboro Town Council last July, recognizes in its preamble the scientific studies of the last few decades that have found that breast-feeding has innumerable health benefits for infants, including helping with immune system support and brain development. It also notes findings that breast-feeding helps mothers connect emotionally with their babies and “lose a few of those extra pounds without having to get off their seats.”
The law, which applies to all 7,300 residents of Paterboro, requires that new mothers attempt to breast-feed at least eight times a day, unless they have a certified medical reason not to. The law continues in effect through the first year of a child’s life, though the number of required feedings tapers and bottle-feeding breast milk can be optioned in after four months.
“We based this on the science,” says town council member Fred Updike. “The children are our future, and we just asked, what do they need?”
The most controversial provision of the new law holds that the benefits of breast-feeding should not be withheld from any child. It mandates that if a woman who is producing milk sees a child under age one who appears to be hungry or lacking in proper care and if she then ascertains that the child’s caretaker is unwilling or unable to breast-feed, she must, immediately upon finding a reasonably comfortable place to sit, breast-feed that child. Any man or non-lactating woman who comes upon a possibly hungry child under age one must immediately find a suitable breast-feeder or phone the Town Hall, where they will maintain a call list of lactating mothers. Furthermore, to “fairly distribute the burden of breast-feeding,” the bill requires all women between the ages of 18 and 47 to use breast pumps or other means of stimulation to extend lactation for as long as possible.
“We feel really good about this bill,” says Mitch Wells, another town council member. “And it was hard, but Democrats and Republicans, we came together on this. Someone had to help the kids.” The other council members, Vern Hughes, Mike Hammon, and Jimmy Westin, are all men. Asked about this, Wells replied, “It’s not about men or women, black or white, rich or poor, it’s about a whole community trying to support the kids. What is wrong with you reporter people?”
Republican Vern Hughes agrees that the law is a great example of bipartisan problem solving. He adds, “Not only is it good for kids and moms, but this is going to help our budget in the out years, since these kids will be healthier and smarter. We won’t have to hire so many teachers.”
One of the bill’s most vocal critics has been libertarian blogger Trevor Hughes, who lives in the Mossy Notch neighborhood of Paterboro. “I know it doesn’t affect me directly,” he says, “but I have to speak up. Remember the thing about ‘they came for the Jews’? Next thing you know, the state will be telling me to eat vegetables. The nanny staters can come up with a, quote-unquote, good-for-you reason for any oppression. You know, just because they’re good for me, and my Twinkie and red meat lifestyle has already imposed huge costs on the state Medicaid system because of my Type 2 diabetes, I don’t want anyone telling me how to eat. They’ll probably tell me I have to eat kale, because all the hipsters like that. I’m really worried that this law puts us on a path to tyranny that could affect men, too.”
Another critic comes in the person of Jimmy Gantz, owner of The Landing Strip, A Gentlemen’s Club. Gantz says the law is poorly conceived. “Sometimes our ladies’ sitters cancel at the last minute and they have to keep babies in the dressing room. Most of our dancers aren’t nursing a child, and so when that little one gets hungry while Mom’s on stage or working the floor, she loses money. That’s just wrong.”
The principal of Paterboro High School has also noticed problems. Paterboro High has an elevated level of teen pregnancy. Principal Jenny Fawkes says that’s already problem enough. “But for some of our student mothers who are 18 and therefore subject to this ordinance’s strictures, it’s been a nightmare.” Fawkes says the school only has space for two dedicated nursing rooms, so often times, young mothers are forced to breast-feed in bathrooms, or, worse, in classrooms. “The boys are always making comments, none of which I can repeat here.”
We also reached out to one of the country’s foremost experts on infant and maternal health, Florence Leche, for comment on the bill. “I always said I’d support a bear baiting bill if it also increased awareness about breast-feeding,” says Leche. “So this, ummm, puts me in an uncomfortable position. I don’t know. It just sounds creepy, but I do want everyone to breast-feed.”
More on governance and/or regulation:
KID: Butt cake, butt cake, Gramma made a butt cake!
WIFE: Sweetie. You know it’s called a bundt cake.
ME: Her nomenclature’s more accurate.
More True Things I Shouldn’t Have Said Anyway:
KID: What’s a super colliding super commuter?
WIFE: Sweetie, I think you mean the Super Colliding Super Conductor. It’s what scientists use to learn how the world works.
ME: What it really shows is that the universe will keep expanding until every living thing dies.
More True Things I Shouldn’t Have Said Anyway:
Team fights suit by saying other fans are really to blame
This football fan wants the whistles to stop blowing and his ears to stop ringing. Everett D. Reddy says attending home games of the Seattle Seahawks football team has “permanently and devastatingly damaged” his hearing. The 30 year old says he’s attended six to eight games a year since 1991. “And with the new stadium it’s just gotten crazy loud.”
Sound during games at CenturyLink Field has been measured at over 136 decibels. This noise can disrupt the opposing team’s ability to communicate, providing the Seahawks one of the league’s strongest home field advantages. The fans collectively are often called the “twelfth man” for their ability to influence the outcome of a game. But Paula Polska, an audiologist at the University of Washington, says sustained exposure to such loud noise can damage hearing. “A jet engine is only slightly louder.”
Reddy, who lives in Tukwila, just several miles south of Seattle, says he has been a fan “ever since I could watch the TV on Sunday, when I was around two or three years old.” He says he loves his team and feels bad about the lawsuit, but he must protect his family. “I drive truck for a living. I have to be able to hear horns, or people saying ‘Look out!’”
The Seahawks dispute the suit’s claims, and have launched a countersuit. A representative for the team did not hold back when criticizing Reddy’s action. “This joker messed with the wrong sports organization,” says Deputy Assistant Vice Director of Community Communications Byron Kerdul. “What does he think we are, a baseball team? We’re football. Football kicks ass and football takes names. This allegedly deafened pudwhacker is going down.”
A judge has allowed the team’s countersuit to move forward. The Seahawks’ filing says that if Reddy has suffered hearing loss, it is other fans who caused it and other fans who should be the respondents. “We are a mere venue and a mere athletic product on a field. It is the people in the stands who make all that noise. We simply offer a few fireworks and a little amplified music. If anyone is culpable here, and we are not conceding the existence of any culpable party, it is the so-called Twelfth Man. He is the only logical respondent,” the countersuit says. “Our investors should not be held liable for the misdeeds of others, even if we take their money on game day.”
The team’s novel legal strategy calls for the creation of a “reverse class action,” in which the judge would certify a class consisting of everyone who attended a Seahawks game between 1991 and 2014, and their heirs and assignees. That class would then be responsible for damages to Reddy and any future complainants. The team’s motion contains a stirring argument for the delicate nobility of professional sports: “American sports franchises are beloved by millions of people. The teams can’t be held responsible for harms associated with their activities without tragically impairing this love and all it means to so many. Where would such destruction stop? Blame us for widespread use of performance enhancing drugs by teenagers? Point the finger every time some Little League coach cold cocks an ump? Accuse us for the income inequality that rewards a lucky few with almost immeasurable wealth while leaving the masses immiserated? No, the American people must take responsibility. Furthermore, none of the acts alleged in this suit would have been possible without the public subsidies provided for the construction of the field. So, again, it is the public, not the team or its ownership that is to blame.” Carrying the argument to its logical conclusion, the team’s suit further holds that in the class action Reddy should name himself a respondent, and his parents for incubating and nurturing his love of the Seahawks.
Fans aware of Reddy’s lawsuit are enraged that anyone, especially someone who says he’s a fan, would attack the team and its faithful. Melissa Duntzer voices the thoughts of many when she says, “I bet this jerk made up that he’s been a fan since he was a kid.”
Howie Jankster, another Seahawks stalwart, says, “I don’t doubt the dude’s ‘damaged,’ but I think it’s between the ears. That’s on him, not football.”
Repeatedly, fans who know of the suit call it “a bunch of crap.”
Ernest “Red Rider” Hawkings operates a queso pump in one of the stadium’s concourses. He says even if Reddy does have hearing loss, it’s his fault. “I wear earplugs. That fool can.”
Reddy counters that he did wear earplugs sometimes. “That stadium just dominates earplugs,” he says.
Rage from other Seahawks fans is more philosophic, taking broader implications into account.
Martin Hanks says, “First of all, even if this is true, how can that compare to Seahawks ball? Sundays are everything. Football is everything. And all of it’s sure as hell more important than some wussy’s precious hearing.”
An official with the National Football League concurs. “There is nothing in this country more important than football,” says league representative Arnold Traymps. “Natural disasters, poverty, Congressional gridlock—none of it can touch football in terms of importance to the American public,” adds Traymps.
There are some Seahawks fans who see Reddy’s lawsuit as the first play in a march down the gridiron to victory for public health. Jeff Mayvs says he stopped attending games in 2003, the year after CenturyLink opened. “That place is a joke. Yeah we pummel other teams’ offenses and play-calling. But at the cost of being dickheads, health-wise, to our own people? Screw that.”
One researcher posits that the noise at CenturyLink, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium, and other sports venues can build camaraderie. George Mason University psychologist James Dreddit says the extremely high noise levels at such places can be an unparalleled community-builder. “It often increases the sense of oneness already inherent in being a fan with other fans,” he says. When told of Reddy’s lawsuit, psychologist Dreddit, an alum of the University of Wisconsin, a school not known for celebrating or cheering weakly, said, “He sounds like a wuss.”
More from the world of sports: