Friday, September 28, 2007

One Thing Lead to Another...

I’d like to blame the belt sander, or maybe the person who decided a belt sander would make a great Christmas gift for me.

I held it for the first time, absorbed its sturdy, yet manageable heft, felt its magic surge into my body. I then applied it firmly to the windowsill in our spare room, which was about the size of your average handicap-accessible portable toilet.

My office, once cluttered with thousands of papers and virtual fjords of dust, was to become the baby’s room.


Thirty minutes later, I had reduced the once ornate painted sill to a clean sheet of wood the thickness of a flattened cereal box. I had burrowed through seven layers of paint: white, mud brown, pus yellow, hippie pink, bird poop white, fluorescent green, and gray.

As I stood amid zillions of microscopic dust particles, admiring what my newfound power had accomplished, my wife appeared. I expected her to comment on my menacing muscular manliness and request an immediate trip to the bedroom. Instead, she said, “Do you think we need to be concerned about lead paint dust?”

My wife has an odd way of showing her appreciation for my hard work.

Within minutes, she was on the Internet, discovering that lead paint dust is one of the top three most evil substances in the world, the others being chemical or nuclear weapons and the imaginary film of goo that covers everything in the average public restroom.

Let me give you an idea how powerful and heinous lead is: sanding lead paint for just a few seconds can create enough dust, once it spreads through the house and settles, to provide enough material for a mediocre 500-word humor column.

Inhaling lead dust can also harm small children. Since my wife and I had ordered a small child from and were awaiting its arrival, we decided to attend a workshop on how to clean up all the lead dust I had maliciously spread through the house.

You’re not going to believe this, but lead-safe clean up requires sealing off rooms with plastic and duct tape, putting on a giant haz-mat suit, wetting all surfaces in your house with a spray bottle, setting up your expensive new vacuum with a HEPA filter, then realizing you have to disassemble everything and do it all over again because you forgot to pee first.

That sounded like too much hassle. I thought it would be easier for me to go around and lick all the surfaces in our home to make sure I got the lead poisoning before our daughter did, but my wife did not approve this plan.

She pointed out that we still had more lead-painted surfaces in high-friction areas, like doorways and windows, which would always cause more vile dust. Besides, if getting lead out of the house was that difficult, imagine how tough it would be to get it out of your body. Exorcism, animal sacrifices, colonoscopy… who knows.

So we sold the house. Which is a shame, because by the time we handed over the keys at closing, we had turned the office into a cuddly, cute space for a baby.

And thanks to my trusty belt sander, I had increased the size of the room by 20%.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sports Are Dumb

I’ve figured out why I keep following these distant pro sports teams from Boston.

Athletes and fans are dumb. By absorbing myself in that world, I get to feel like a genius.

Take the Red Sox, for example.

Back in June, when we were gloating about a 500-game division lead over the Yankees, I said the teams would be neck-in-neck come September.

Everyone on the Yankee pitching staff seemed ready to enroll in AARP, except those who were about to enroll in their first driver education course. But I knew that wouldn’t stop them.

As I write these words, the Red Sox have just a 1½ game lead over the Yankees for the division title. At the rate of their present decline, the Sox franchise will have folded and moved to Las Vegas to become and exhibition softball team by the time this column appears in print.

What did we expect? These are still the Red Sox.

David Ortiz sounds like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz when he walks to the plate; the bat boys are constantly squirting oil onto his knees and elbows.

Our Japanese wonder-hurlers are now having their arms re-attached with duct tape after each game.

Eric Gagne, once the mighty record-setting closer of doom and intimidation, is secretly on the Yankees’ payroll.

Kevin Youkilis keeps getting hit by pitches because his ridiculous batting stance distracts the opposing pitchers.

Then there's Manny. Oi.

That’s the way things are with this team. The one thing you can count on is that they will make things interesting.

I also feel really smart now that the Patriots have been caught illegally filming opposing coaches during games.

Coaches giving signals to their players are always in plain view. Here's a revolutionary new method the Patriots could have used to steal the signals without being penalized:

  1. Grab a pencil and a notebook.

  2. Write down the signals and what they mean.

Instead, they had to get high-tech, which attracted the attention of league officials, who swooped in like Roscoe P. Coltrane to apply the slap on the wrist.

Meanwhile, the NFL continues to enhance is reputation for having pointless rules. The espionage itself is not outlawed, just certain methods of it. It's like having a no-fly zone that you don't enforce against hot air balloons.

Lastly, Celtics fans have become so desperate for a winning season that they’ve fooled themselves into believing the trade for Kevin Garnett is going to bring long last championship number 17.

Ya. Just one problem. Can Paul Pierce share the ball?

If Pierce ever threw a decent pass, a space-time vortex would open and suddenly zap him out of reality.

And let’s not forget what the C’s had to give up in order to get Garnett: half their roster, including promising young stars Al Jefferson and that other guy, seventeen first-round draft picks, two assistant coaches, nine scouts, six secretaries from the front office, 40 million dollars, and that little pipe the leprechaun chews on. Ouch.

See? Next to Danny Ainge, Bill Belichick, and Theo Epstein I look like a Rhodes scholar. And the best part is that if I turn out to be wrong about all of this, it means my favorite teams have won and I still get to be happy.

Aren't sports wonderful?

Friday, September 14, 2007

How to Get Top Dollar for Your Child's Soul

Just when I thought the Internet was making TV obsolete, CBS has made a major contribution to society.

They finally found something useful and productive to do with our children, rather than keep them in school where they cost us money.

I’m referring, of course, to the controversial new reality TV show “Kid Nation,” in which 40 youngsters aged 8-15 were transported to a New Mexico desert to form their own society without adult supervision, electricity, or chocolate milk.

Critics say the program exploits children and encourages unusually vicious wedgies. The kids involved also had to miss a month of school, but the show’s producers argue that the experience of building a primitive society on national TV is just as educational.


But it’s not only educational, it is lucrative. “CBS acknowledges advertising on the program is low going into the season,” observes the famous Washington blog Precious, Precious Caffeination, “but predicts sponsorship dollars will flow readily -- and grow steadily -- once viewers start demonstrating their typical penchant for this kind of demeaning crap.”

Good-bye, property tax increase!

Clearly, we should all write letters to CBS to thank them for finding a more cost-effective way to educate our children.

If you’re not convinced, just look at the numbers: Each child was paid $5000 to participate the show. By acting standards, that’s not much, but we all know children will work for cheap (my allowance when I was 10 years old was $5 a week, which I thought was fantastic. These kids are lucky).

And even though some of the participants in “Kid Nation” got $20,000 “gold stars” based on their performance on certain tasks, you’d have to fill a whole Radio Flyer wagon with gold stars before they compare with the ad revenue, with a typical prime-time spot pulling in as much as $600,000 these days.

So, according to my calculations, each episode could produce a profit of approximately one hillion-jillion dollars.

Think about it: With this discovery, it won’t be long before school systems across the country lay off all their teachers and instead hire camera crews to film kids running the school themselves. If parents ever want to see their kids, they can watch them on local access cable TV, right after these important messages.


And if you aren’t convinced this new method of education will actually benefit the children, listen to the parents who signed away their offspring “Kid Nation.” For example, the mother of a ten-year-old in Miami Beach told the L.A. Times that her son “came home a stronger, more confident and more self-reliant child.”

See? This is not exploitation. Neither was slavery, for that matter, since those who spent 16-hour days picking cotton in the 110-degree Mississippi heat enjoyed such fringe benefits as physical fitness, closeness with the land, and the opportunity for musical self-discovery.

In America, we don’t take advantage of others’ misfortune for our own financial gain. We would never buy cheap clothing made by child laborers in Indonesia, nor would we maintain half-baked border security so foreigners can visit us and work under the table for less than minimum wage.

So I, for one, plan to watch every episode of “Kid Nation.”

Just as soon as I find a way to download pirated copies of it for free.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Smoke and Mirrors

Philip Morris

987 Corrupt Avenue

SomeRedneckCity, NC 47748

Dear Mr. Morris,

I realize you are not a real person. You are a faceless tobacco corporation bent on hording humongous profits, even if it makes people get sick and die, and even if my Moons Over My Hammy end up tasting more like smoke than eggs.

By calling yourselves “Philip-Morris,” you sound like a human being who might actually care. Just like all these developers that call themselves pastoral names like “Plum Creek,” rather than a name that more accurately reflects their mission, such as “Earth-Raping Pirate Pillagers, LLC.”

Well, I’m on to your charade, and now you’ve gone too far. You tried to make yourself look responsible by putting public service ads on TV, encouraging parents to talk to their kids about smoking.

How dare you?

A recent University of California-San Francisco study confirmed what most mammals realized a long time ago: rebellious teenagers want to do the opposite of what their parents want. Seeing those ads will make them more likely to smoke.

It was a clever ploy, Mr. Morris. You thought a gullible public would see your ad and think you were an okay guy after all, while you laughed all the way to the bank, knowing full well the ads would actually prompt more young people to take up the habit that lines your pockets.

The same study also found that anti-tobacco ads funded by the settlement from when 38 states sued your hindquarters (remember the “Truth” campaign?) appealed to rebellious teenagers and actually succeeded in preventing many new smokers from starting up.

Whenever I hear a conservative politician talk about shrinking government and privatizing more services, as if the mighty dollar can make everything better, I think of you, Mr. Morris. You are a fantastic example of how such rhetoric is simplified and short-sighted.

If you need another, check out a new study from the same university, which found that just watching the ads for anti-smoking products like Nicorette can help you quit smoking, even if you never actually use the product.

Naturally, the corporations that make Nicorette and similar products are recognizing the valuable public service contributions made by their ads, and have boosted their advertising budgets.

Ha! You are so naïve, Mr. Morris. Actually, these companies, according to a report on National Public Radio, would rather reduce their advertising, which has led some people to suggest the government ought to subsidize it so the public health benefits can continue.

And then there’s the whole DirigoChoice fiasco. You probably aren’t familiar with our situation up here in Maine, Mr. Morris, but many of our citizens lack health insurance. DirigoChoice was our state’s effort to give these people a hand.

We hired Anthem to take care of the details. Well, the Portland Press Herald says Anthem has dropped our contract because they aren’t making enough money off us.

Did you catch that? They were making money off Maine taxpayers, but not an obscenely huge enough amount of money. So they’re moving on. They have bigger fish to exploit.

Anyway, I just wanted to drop you a note of thanks for providing yet another example against those who champion an unfettered free market economy. I guess you’ve performed at least one genuine public service after all.