Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Blurry perspective adds magic, hot air balloons

Good glasses didn’t exist until the beginning of the twentieth century, with advances in glass grinding and the official licensure of optometry as a profession. The practice wouldn’t have worked earlier than that anyway, because the magazine industry hadn’t been around long enough to keep waiting rooms stocked with three-year old issues of Redbook.

It was a much more magical world before optometry. In medieval times, dragons flew in the sky, fairies frolicked and horrible teeth weren’t a turn-off. Longing for those magical times, I decided to take a naked-eye jog the other day. But nothing perverse happened, not that I saw anyway.

I’d barely got an iPod when I decided to go for this iJog, without wearing glasses or contact lenses, relying only on my keen sense of smell to guide and protect me in my eye-fog. Indeed it was a magical experience, much like in the days of yore. Instead of the usual yipping Chihuahuas, little white bunnies and red-haired leprechauns ran up to dance with and serenade me (That’s what it looked like; all I could hear in my shiny new white earbuds was Sheena Easton’s “My Baby Takes the Morning Train!”).

Near a park, instead of Honda Civics and minivans I saw four Ferraris racing. Oh, if I were nine years old again! But it was good that I wasn’t because this sight would have sent me into ecstatic spasms from which I’d never recover. Stop signs and traffic were not the annoyance that they usually are. I saw a truck hauling a real-life Idaho potato as big as a pre-fabricated swimming pool, a hungry wolf that thankfully stood perfectly still as I ran by, several supermodels, a hot air balloon behind a tree, several Chilean flags, and a couple of unicorns (one black and one white) where a Holstein cow used to graze. I didn’t know I lived in such an interesting neighborhood.

It reminded me of when I first got glasses at age 17. A lot of magic disappeared from my life, and the world got uglier that day. I was much more handsome before glasses, but it wasn’t that the frames looked geeky on my face. It was that I could actually see my face, instead of the usual creamy blur in the mirror. Pimples theretofore weren’t really noticeable, but now I knew all of mine as individuals with their own sassy personalities. Moles had instantly sprouted thick dark hairs. Dust and lint was everywhere in the world of wearing glasses. Quarters became nickels. Suddenly all the cars got scratched and dented. Even the cheerleaders, who always looked dream-like and airbrushed before my glasses, were now slovenly, clumps of mascara blotted their eyelashes.

But glasses are important to teen life and culture. Glasses are the teen movie makers’ best prop. How else would one indicate that a girl, geek or librarian, whom everyone used to overlook, had instantaneously become hot, if not by having her yank the eyeglasses off? This doesn’t work for guys like me. I tried it. I even took my hair out of is bun and shook my head glamorously. Nothing happened. Maybe I needed a better soundtrack.

Someday we might not see glasses anymore. I hope it’s because we decided to go back to blurry and magical and not because of Lasik surgery. If I have to stop wearing glasses, I’ll still be reaching for them to push them back onto my face occasionally, an affectionate habit I find myself doing when wearing contacts. If I ever let them laser my eyeballs, I’ll have to get a little button installed on my nose between my eyes, something to push so that it looks like I’m doing something useful as I habitually reach for my phantom frames. I hope the button makes magical stuff appear, maybe a hot librarian leprechaun riding on a unicorn.

As Benjamin Franklin, inventor of the flexible urinary catheter once said, “I’ll see it when I believe it.” And if you don’t believe me about the enormous potato, I’ll send you a postcard that proves it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

About the Wolves of Yesteryear

[I wrote this last year when it was timely. Now it's all about gay senators in the Idaho Statesman. Reading it so much later sounds stupid, but I do love the animal-walks-into-a-bar formula.]

A wolf walks into a bar somewhere in Idaho. Bartender says, “We already got a hundred of yous guys, and since you came around, all the elk have been makin themselves scarce. Some customers are complainin.”

“Who?” says the wolf.

“The otter,” bartender says. “He’s the one who says you ought to leave.”



“Yeah, but who says I . . . oughta?”

“Yeah, that’s the one, Otter”

“I got that part. But who’s this guy saying I oughta take off?”

“Yeah. You know the otter. Swims in the rivers.”

“Rivers. Yeah. Those damn rivers.”

“You’re right. We ought to dam the river. More irrigation and hydroelectricity.”

“We oughta? Says who?”

“B. Otter”

“Yeah, I heard we oughta, but who says so?”

The Risks

There are pros and cons to having wolves in our state. Some of the drawbacks include elk herd depletion, human endangerment, and worst of all, wolves at large impersonating others. Wolves impersonating sheep, wolves impersonating your grandma, wolves impersonating celebrities and politicians on the Tonight Show: not so funny.

But the solutions are relatively simple. By letting the wolves eat just the fugitive genetically inferior ranch elk we can kill two birds with one hand in the bush. And we can always spot the phony grandparents by what big eyes and what big teeth they have, and, face it, even listening to a wolf’s ideas on TV is better than Jay Leno doing another Paris in jail joke.

Werewolves Got Mad Ball Skills

We know about the minuses, but many fail to recognize the potential benefits of wolves in our community. Remember that in Teen Wolf, Michael J. Fox was only capable of winning the city championship basketball game when his werewolf powers were enabled. And we all know that the Boise State Broncos men’s hoops team could have used a little more figurative “chest hair” last season. A healthy breeding population of Canis lupus nearby and a nice full moon quadruples the likeliness of the varsity-level cross-mutant species Canis sapiens. Somebody queue up the Kenny Loggins at the Taco Bell Arena.

Woolf: the New Cashmere

Many advances in pharmacology and chemistry have come from efforts to preserve and explore our earth’s assets in rain forests. Natural resources aren’t just valuable because they look pretty. Byproducts and renewable organisms can often be used for scientific, commercial, personal hygiene, and fashion progress, such as in cures for warts or the potent pheromone perfumes that many of us rely on. Idaho’s wolves could be shorn, or, alternatively, their dander could be collected with rakes to be spun into a designer, patented fabric. This “Woolf” could be made into beautiful sweaters and accessories. Imagine Paris Hilton, emerging from the courtroom or a club, sporting a chic Woolf gown, coat, and handbag made in Idaho. That’s hot!

Other wolf products are also hot. Sprinkle wolf urine around the perimeter of your yard to keep the neighbor’s lab from leaving you her brown treats on the lawn. Idaho wolf howling could be recorded and mixed into an outstanding album for the nature sounds CD industry previously dominated by waterfalls, forest birds and crackling fires.

Howling for Kitsch

The wilderness souvenir industry is vital to Idaho’s (and China’s) economy. As the wolf population thrives, so do sales of black truck stop t-shirts with a silhouetted wolf howling at the forest moon. And every person that comes into an Idaho truck stop or vacation destination gift store to buy a famous Idaho wolf tee is highly likely to also spend big on polished rocks, dreamcatcher key chains, gem state shot glasses, and postcards with pictures of a trout so gigantic it has to be strapped to a quarter horse.

Better Natural Selections at the Butcher

Don’t we realize that wolves are helping us by weeding out the weakest and most inferior cuts of meat? With the wolf selection process, only the healthiest, most agile, most evasive, and most delicious livestock will survive. I noticed that my Easter lamb chop last year was the tastiest I’ve ever had. Last year also hosted the highest North American wolf population in a century. Coincidence? I think not, and Charles Darwin agrees.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A New Century of Functionalities

iPhone still has "a ways to go" to be the Wal-Mart of electronics!

Recent multi-function gadgets like the iPhone and the alarm clock radio are merely okay, if you ask me. American innovation could break some real geek-ground with my suggested and hereby fully copyrighted “functionality maximizations”:

The iBall

You’ve heard of the camera phone and the mp3 phone and now the iPhone. You want one. But, whoa them digital horses before stampeding out to wrangle up a gadget that will be obsolete as soon as the teenage asst. mgr. at Best Buy sweet talks you! For all we know, Apple might soon proudly release the next advancement in Multiplatform Functionality, the iBall. This is what I’d imagine.

In addition to phone, video, web browser, Windows Vista, camera, and mp3 player features, the iBall has a laser with three functionalities: pointer, teeth whitener, and hair and wart remover (on the 470 model, $400). With an upgrade, iBall also comes equipped with a mirror, electric shaver, contact lens storage kit, stopwatch, paperweight and smallmouth bass fishing lure (on the 480 model, $500). The iBall also comes standard-equipped with a round functionality, so that when you engage its fuzzy green absorbent cover (sold separately), Rover can join you in a game of fetch.

The iBall resolves another of the iPod and iPhone’s deficiencies. What if you’re in a pinch one day and you have to use your iPod or iPhone to run a nuclear facility or life support system? You’re out of luck. The following is taken verbatim from the software licensing agreement which we all electronically “sign” by checking a digital box after not reading it (Shame on you, informed consumer!):


Lawyers are funny like that. But take heart, technophiles! The iBall has aircraft navigation, life support and nuclear facility operation functionalities (on the 490 model, $583).

Triple-TV Fridge

The appliance juggernaut LG doesn’t make only cell phones to zap your gonads with carcinogenic rays. They also make microwave ovens for that, and they have a new TV fridge. Actually, it’s been around for more than a year, but it hasn’t really caught on. The refrigerator with a built in 13.1” LCD television is the first ever such model, advertisers announce. And we all knew it was just a matter of time before this necessity appeared. A built-in weather center, more quality family time in the kitchen, and better advertisements than those free Bail Bonds magnets that come glued to the phone book are other appeals of the fridge. It retails for about $3000.

But the problem with the LG “Lunch Time Dinner Time Prime Time” GR-G267ATBA model is, sadly, not enough functionalities. This is the 21st Century, after all. Though self sufficiency and home ownership have always been components of the American Dream, what has the dream come to if we can’t watch “Dancing with the Stars” while grabbing a yogurt?

You see, the TV is on the refrigerator door, so that anyone opening the fridge door won’t be able to reach things inside and see the picture at the same time. This is a serious failure of engineering and design. It’s not like I’m the kind of person with so much extra cash that I could hire a butler to grab my yogurts when I’m watching the finalist episode.

It’s obvious that LG ought to make another model with a TV screen on the freezer side too, so that when we open the door for the milk, our kids don’t have to take their eyes off of “Dora the Explorer.” LG engineers can work on a patent for that after they’re done inventing my prototype mp3 player/blender. Because Life’s Not Good until I’m making a smoothie and jamming to Maroon 5 with the same appliance.

QSR Convenience Superstore

In the functionality industry, QSR stands for Quick Service Restaurant. But a cheap taco/Shell was just the beginning. Wrap your mind around this: Fill up the tank, buy a quart of oil, order a small bin of chicken in delicious mechanically-separated bite-sized form, buy a yard of fabric and grab a few clearance Steven Segal DVDs all in one stop. And while you wait for your nuggets to deep fry, why not get a haircut? One stop shopping, in one convenient little gas station. Add a pet shop, a row or two of sporting goods, and an area for plywood furniture. Expand the traditional sweatpants and dairy sections, install a pharmacy window, offer shopping carts in case your shopper wants to conveniently buy a little bit of everything, and to compensate for the audacious spacious ambiance not usually associated with old-fashioned little gas station restaurants, have people greet customers at the door. Then buy direct from the manufacturer at prices that you set and pass the savings on to customers. Brace yourselves for the functionality revolution.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ten Things You Can Do To Save The Cola Bears

Polar bears are vicious man-eaters. And they lovably promote Coca Cola during the holiday season. Many have heard that these magnificent spokesanimals are needlessly and heart-wrenchingly drowning in the Artic Ocean because of melted sea ice.

Some groups are selling carbon credits, which means that if you pay them, they will have some tree not cut down in your name. This is a brilliant business model, and I’m in. Anyone who wants some carbon credits, send me a few hundred dollars, and there’s a couple of trees in my landlord’s backyard that I promise to not cut down for you. Then you can guiltlessly leave yout Pontiac idling in the driveway with the A/C on all week.

But still unanswered is the question, what are carbon emissions? Carbon emissions come about whenever people do stuff and when other things happen, including burping, volcanoes, and those charcoal balloon fights that tend to escalate during so many backyard barbecues. This leads to the question, why is this writer bafflingly ambivalent toward Polar bears? Because, the only thing worse than Polar bears are Polar bears with sunburns. They’re even more ornery. If you don’t believe me, I’ll show you the scars.

But what can I do? A lot of people ask me, as they shrug their shoulders, which movement relies on an oxidation-reduction reaction that produces a little carbon dioxide. How can I help? They say with tears in their eyes, which are made mostly of water and sodium and chloride ions in solution with other molecules undoubtedly containing some carbon.

Here are some specific tips to curb your own carbon emissions:

1. Stop breathing. It’s one of the more radical reduction strategies, but thousands of people do it every day. You may also try holding your breath periodically, in private please.

2. Turn your 1971 Chevelle SuperSport into the world’s biggest Chia Pet.

3. If you must drive, drive downhill. Instead of taking the family in the Suburban to Stanley or the Teton Valley for the weekend, how about coasting the SUV down to Death Valley instead?

4. Only patronize salons that use solar-powered tanning beds.

5. Learn to photosynthesize. It’s a process that has to be learned in phases. Start by wearing lots of green, spread your arms out more often and turn toward the south. Drink lots of water. This isn’t for everyone and requires a high level of concentration on the cellular level. An effective alternative for the chlorophyll-challenged is to cover yourself with green algae.

6. If you have any extra carbon running around in the house or backyard, do not let it out into the atmosphere unless it is properly leashed.

7. Support Renewable and Clean Wolf Energy. Ecologists are now harnessing Idaho’s newfound wolf power with great big hamster wheels! By putting one gray wolf on a treadmill hooked up to a turbine, we can generate 1.21 jigawatts of electricity per wolf wheel. We keep the wolves fueled with all-natural cattle and sheep, two of our state’s most nefarious and delicious sources of environmental degradation, thereby throwing the stone around the beaten bird bush only once. This is also exactly enough electricity to send Christopher Lloyd back to the 1980s (before it was too late) in the De Lorean to shoot some commercials to remind you folks to…

8. Stop shaving your legs. I don’t know what it has to do with global warming, but there has to be something to it, the way it’s catching on among the greens. I know that Al Gore doesn’t shave his anymore.

9. Number nine wasn’t that funny but rest assured that it will be recycled.

10. Stop your subscription to this newspaper. Not only do newspapers have to slaughter millions of trees, but the carbon emissions of ink, printing presses, delivery trucks, and chubby sportswriters who ate a couple chili dogs at the game are unjustifiable. Newsprint is also responsible for 80% of fly and spider killings, and 92% of all desperation birthday gift wrapping.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mormon for president raises many, many questions

Can a Mormon be President of the United States of America? This has been a thrilling topic in the media for the last few months as Willard “Catcher’s” Mitt Romney runs for the Republican presidential nomination. American journalists have been asking such intriguing questions as, is your Mormonism close enough to the values and faith of so many mainstream Christians? And, what’s with your underwear?

These are not the questions you need to be asking a Mormon candidate. I know a little about the Mormen, and below are some of the questions we need to come together as journalists and ask. It will take some time for discussion and listening, and afterwards somebody has to be assigned to bring the refreshments (Costco cookies and punch from a powder mix) to nourish and strengthen us in the gym before we all, God willing, travel home in safety.

The first question is not which of his wives will be first lady, but will she try to feed the Queen of England funeral potatoes? These are shaved tubers in mayonnaise and cream of mushroom soup with corn flakes and cheddar on top. Will she follow this with a second course of jell-o with all manner of vegetable shavings and fruit chunks suspended within? Romney says his kids are all grown up, but how do we know that a President and Mrs. Romney won’t be “moved upon by the Spirit” to have seven more?

And yes, we need to ask if we can withstand another scandal, another potential betrayal marring the integrity of the White House and cabinet. Do we want to read in the headlines how the president’s aides were apprehended sneaking a 12 pack of Diet Coke into the oval office? What if his daughter, “if” he ever has one, gets a second ear piercing?

Voters of the nation are going to need a complete report of his home teaching for the past 30 years. Did he neglect his duties? At the end of his visits, did he ever fail to make the obligatory hollow gesture of offering “anything he could do for us before he left”? The ability to ask this question could prove vital to our next president:

“Well, Iraq, that’s all we had to share for this visit. Is there anything we can do for you before we go? Okay then. Bye-bye.”

Will he start important speeches like a Mormon sacrament meeting talk? “When the senate called me last week and asked me to give this talk, I was like, oh no, I knew shouldn’t have answered the phone. Ha ha, just kidding … And so this morning as I was preparing this state of the union talk, I did some studying. Webster defines the economy as…” It would be nice, however, to hear the speech with silent reverence instead of all that applause every time he says something like “those who love freedom.” Or would we have to cheer to hear him testify “with every fiber of his being” that he knows that we’re making progress in the war on terror? Would there be toddlers running up and down shrieking on the senate floor?

Will he institute a draft to send all 19-year-old males to Atlanta or Mongolia with those white shirts and ties? If he does, congress will have to budget for bikes with shocks, especially for the young men called to serve in Afghanistan, where I hear it’s rather mountainous. Will he institute tax credits for everyone who buys a trampoline for their backyard? Or NEA grants for scrapbookers and wooden knick-knack makers? Then what, subsidies for the Suburban or the 12-passenger van?

Will he move our nation’s capital to Jackson County, Missouri? After doing some research, I find that this isn’t such a bad idea. It’s more centrally located, and according to the county website, has a “$1.5 million girl’s softball complex, featuring 7 lighted and irrigated softball fields, 2 concession buildings, 5 shelters and an 8 station batting cage.” The county also borders the Missouri River, which adds its own personality as a substitute for the tidal Potomac because according to Wikipedia, the Missouri “is muddy and smells.”

And the riverbank would be a nice place for Queen Elizabeth to enjoy some of Mitt’s Dutch oven cobbler.

Neb Punsweed, Gas station clerk

Earl and I are making a screenplay about a lovable rural gas station clerk and his adventures. Tell me what are some of your most memorable gas station experiences?

Did you ever have a perfect stranger buy you a feather rose from the bin next to the rotating hot leather pouches stuffed with cholesterol and sodium they call polish sausages?

Stories about barf?

Methods of maximizing Slurpee volume?

Opening the door to the single-toilet bathroom to be surprised by an even more surprisingly chatty fellow?

Ultimate snack combinations (e.g. Ranch Corn Nuts with Diet Dr. Pepper)?

Any manner of gas station experience you share with me might be made into our blockbuster, and you will be compensated with a ticket to the premiere and some popcorn.

Land dream career with this job interview template

No single job interview is the same as any other, but most human resource professionals look for the same basic compatibilities in choosing among dynamic candidates. The following questions are based on these business skill sets. And the following answers, though you might have to tailor them to your own work experience and personality by using hand gestures, can be given word-for-word at a job interview to assure your hire.

Q: What’s your biggest weakness?

A: Perfectionism. But it’s not the kind of perfectionism that inhibits me and makes me demand that the water cooler be chilled to exactly 42 degrees—which is, by the way, cold enough to refresh but not so cold that it bothers my sensitive teeth. Instead, mine is the kind of perfectionism that makes everything I do at work perfect.

Q: What’s your biggest strength?

A: My greatest strength is that I … Well, no, not that probably. I’d have to say that my greatest strength is… Looking back on my working experience—well, I have so many crucial… Um, let’s see. Yeah, um, I’d have to say my biggest strength is my decisiveness.

Q: Have you ever taken home office supplies that belonged to your employer?

A: No. I don’t steal.

Q: I mean, how much would you say the sum value of the supplies was: less than five dollars, less than 20, less than 50, around a hundred dollars or more?

A: Okay, okay—one time I left the office with a pen in my pocket, and little did I know it was made of platinum. It was a complete accident that I took it home. Then I lost it under the fridge. Outta sight, outta mind, you know. But little did I know, my company was very protective of their employees, and cared a lot about their personal lives.

They hired an expert firm to make sure all our phone calls were clear and that we got good rates from the phone company or something like that. One of their home surveillance cameras revealed that under my fridge had accidentally rolled $8,000 worth of ballpoint pens, $8,038 with the added value of the trademark Pewlet Hacker anagrams.

Q: What do you expect from us as your employer?

A: I expect my stapler to be filled to capacity with staples so that I don’t have to bring in any of my personal staples from home.

Q: It says here on your resume that you are a problem solver. Can you tell me of a situation where you solved a problem in the workplace?

A: One time I was starving. My stash of grahams was just crumbs and my quarters for the vending machine were depleted. So I went to the office fridge. There were a few odds and ends, but nothing to satisfy—a veggie hoagie, Mexican in a foam container that said “Devin” on it, some chow mein in a cardboard tub, an egg salad in a Tupperware, some alfalfa sprouts, and a pack of Kraft singles. Suddenly I had a stroke of problem-solving genius and realized that what I had before me were not separate snacks, but components for one big meal. Alone, not much, but together, one heck of a Dagwood Bumstead. I scraped the veggies off the hoagie roll and started stacking—gooey enchilada, sprouts, noodles, processed cheese, a scoop of egg salad, even a piece of fried chicken from the back (I took it off the bones). It was a tower of satisfaction.

Q: We have a culture here. It’s synergistic. It’s innovative. It’s definitely dynamic. It’s transparent and employee-oriented. We’re proud of it. Why do you think you’d fit in with our culture?

A: Because I’m a functionality-optimizing, groundbreaking, deal-closing, drawer-organizing, forward-thinking, ahead-moving, strength-leveraging, coffee-filtering, vertical-marketing, face-mailing, revenue-maximizing, nothing-but-the-best-brands-of-spearmint-gum-chewing, uber-blogging, search-engine-optimized, cost-minimizing, cats crying, babies crying, sky falling down like rolling thunder, charisma oozing all over the place, follow-upping idea hamster. I got lots more adjectives on my resume too.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Wind Cave, Wyoming

I crawled out of the windy canal and felt reborn. A group of Jackson Holers applauded our rebirth. Congratulations, it was fully-formed triplets, two of us with honking adam's apples, and our milk teeth already come and goners! I still got my wisdom teeth.

That's Kadee, Kyle's girlfriend. She's nice. One time when we were in Portland, somebutty (neologism copyrighted, Andrew Jorgensen, 2007) kicked over a potted flower in the plaza and while we all stood there looking at the jerk walk away, thinking about what a jerk he was, she went over and picked the flower up and put it back into its position in the little geometric formation. Let us be thankful for all the good people in the world it takes to make up for all the bastards.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Making millions from infomercials

This is the true story of a real infomercial millionaire. Susan Successful leveraged her free time and her hyperactive salivary glands into a multi-hundred dollar envelope labeling and licking home business. That was just the beginning. Then she learned REAL ESTATE SECRETS. And now she eats guacamole all day in her condo overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. If you want to buy her time share from her, act now. Hurry! Write this number down before the paragraph ends: 1-800-TIMESH…

Let’s get the bandstands to gladrags success story from looking straight in at what comes from this gift horse’s mouth. Susan says:

“I was pitiful. My life was mostly just sitting at home, watching basic cable television during the forsaken midnight and dismal daytime hours with all the other unemployed, heartbroken insomniacs. I started by selling my extra gold jewelry I just had laying around under couch cushions and in dusty drawers and in my aunt Melba’s grave. I got my check and bought a computer and some computer-learning software from a nice elderly man with a moustache on TV. I started working in the home business industry, a multi-million dollar industry which does lots of stuff, some kind of stuff from home, for millions of dollars.

“I had a little extra cash from a government handout the guy with the question marks all over his suit told me about, and so I invested. What I invested in was my body. At that point I was working out 25 minutes a day on my ab-o-matic on which I had just made the fourth easy monthly payment. I was eating nothing but magic bullet wheat grass raspberry omelet smoothies. And my colon was completely cleansed, in a revolutionary way that the medical establishment doesn’t want you to know about. In short, thanks to infomercials, I was as fit as Chuck Norris and Tony Little’s love child (if they’d had one) who has been supplemented with all-natural Relacore and a steady regimen of Yoga Booty Ballet.

“One day I went in for an appointment at a sky scraper office when the elevators broke down. Stairs were no problem for me. But I bumped into a couple of men with extremely short legs, twins in expensive suits, struggling up the stairwells to their penthouse on the roof. So I snatched ‘em up like a late night TV opportunity and carried them up to the 63rd floor, one li’l millionaire on each shoulder. I practically flew up those stairs, as if on the wings of Bowflex.

“When we got to the top, they took me to the swimming pool where a Ferrari and some palm trees were parked in the background. There, I bent down and they whispered in my ear the two Secrets of real estate and of being a millionaire. Number one, ‘Get the heck out of real estate and into the real estate trade secret infomercial business’ and two, ‘Get your book promoted by Oprah.’ I shook their stubby hands, and the rest is history.”

Susan Successful is the epitome of the American Dream. It’s good to see that the Dream lives on in the entrepreneurial spirit. It lives on in the inspirational and self-help publication industry. It lives on in the CEO who finds a way to maximize profit for the American shareholder by outsourcing to India. It lives on in the kids selling lemonade on the corner for 10 cents a cup, a net loss to their parents who subsidize the industry to keep them busy and from whining about boredom, much like how the Federal government subsidizes pork bellies. It lives on in the dude who wants to get paid for writing like a smart alec. Eat your heart out, Horatio Alger, Jr.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Compliment delivery a complicated art

One evening a while ago I was enjoying some TV with my friend Jeff and his wife Lindsay. Out came the ladies with the numbered suitcases on “Deal or No Deal”. “Those girls are so beautiful,” Lindsay noticed.

“Sure, they’re pretty, but you could’ve been one of those girls. You were hot,” Jeff answered. She was six months pregnant at the time, and at that moment quiet enough for me to hear her eyelids close. I nearly burst out in giggles, but I opted instead to silently fix my gaze on the thirty painted, pixilated ladies on their huge plasmoid HD. Jeff’s intentions were pure. He meant to sensitively praise his wife’s beauty after he somehow intuitively sensed that she was comparing herself to the TV models. Using the past tense acknowledged that this was not required of her in her present state. How sweet is that?

Guys get frustrated with this irrational and often reckless habit of comparison. Why can’t women find practical role models and standards, and then let it go? Take me for example. When Lebron James scored 29 consecutive points to beat the Pistons in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals, I went out to see if I could hit 15 baskets in a row. Unfortunately, there was no hoop in the driveway, so we will never find out who is better between Lebron and me. And I am perfectly satisfied to leave this mystery unresolved.

Still, compliment delivery is a complicated art. Recently I heard report of a discussion among friends about a girl’s new hairdo.

“It doesn’t look so mommish today as it did yesterday.” Some guy said. “I mean it looks good, it’s kind of motherly... but not in a bad way, kind of like a hot mom.” She didn’t appreciate that. No doubt they were just pointing out that, being so young and still childless, she wasn’t a real hot mom yet; she just faked it with a hot mom’s hairdo.

A few pointers can aid the oblivious in giving a compliment. When complimenting a woman’s eyes using a simile, remember to use classy but not common comparisons. For example, instead of “gosh, your pretty eyes are the color of root beer,” say that her eyes are the “hue and effervescence of champagne,” even if they’re green. When it comes to similes, it’s vivid and dramatic effect, not accuracy that women appreciate. But be careful. No woman wants to hear that her thighs are awesome like hungry panthers or that her ear lobes feel kind of like dried mangos. Even if you add, “If you knew how much I love mangos you would know what a compliment that is. You can ask my friends. I love chewing on those things. I used to be like addicted to them,” it’s never as good as “you are as splendid as a jewel in an Ethiop’s ear.”

The exchange of compliments has many elaborate but unwritten cultural rules. In fact a compliment can be an insult! Many people have an emotional style that some psychology experts call assive-progressive. When one such person hates another’s sweater, she won’t say that the sweater is kind of ugly, she’ll say, “Well, isn’t that a colorful sweater!” with vindictive cheerfulness in her cheeks.

Guy-to-guy compliments also present unique challenges. Beware the pitfalls of adjectives, men, and limit them to two (cool and nice) or simply phrase the compliment as a question. This is enough to verify that you have noticed something new. Try “Cool shirt,” “Nice shoes, man,” or “Got a haircut, huh?” This is about as elaborate as the gold standard of homophobic sensitivity allows.

When I was a junior in high school I had a life-threatening crush on a princess. She had an adorable nose and sandy hair that curled just above her shoulders, which were brown and freckled from playing tennis. I sat behind her highness in English class. I don’t remember much about Beowulf, but if the Danes had shoulders as lovely as hers, there is no way Grendel the monster would have torn them from their bone-lappings.

One full week of strategy went into every 17 seconds of my interaction with the princess. Lying in bed, I prepared a series of conversation topics to have in queue for the one weekly moment when I was in my seat before she sat down and had to face in my direction for a few seconds. The topic list I was prepared to discuss included the tires on her 1995 Nissan Altima, her dog which I learned from eavesdropping was a brown chow named Chocolate, and the art and science of dermatology. She seemed tired when I brought up dogs, and I forgot all about the tires and I was self-conscious about zits that day, so I decided to compliment her.

It had to be subtle enough not to be creepy, but grand enough to make her fall in love with me. I felt the compliment swell in my trachea as it rose up to my lips. I trembled at the future, at the joyful ramifications, at the chain reaction of love my compliment was about to spark. What spontaneous and awesome compliment would I give?

“Cool shirt,” I said.

The princess and I never hooked up.