Friday, November 27, 2009

The Best Way To Get Some Free Time. (Easy Good Things: Time)

What's this all about? Click here.

Tip: Schedule everything.

Category: Time.

I have a schedule for pretty much everything I do. I have a work schedule (with its own schedules there), a schedule for when I write, a schedule for when I exercise, a schedule for when I teach the Babies! how to write their names... or at least make big swirly circles that I'll say kind of look like their names... and more schedules than that.

That may sound as though it doesn't leave a lot of free time, but you're wrong and I'm right, and here's why: Scheduling things to be done at certain times means they don't have to be done at other times.

A big problem in my, and I bet your life, is the feeling that I should be doing something. We're always so busy that when we're not busy, we feel like we should be busy, and either go do something to be busy, or feel guilty about not being busy. The result? No down time and no relaxation.

Take working out: We all know we should exercise, and we all know we don't exercise enough. As a result, when we have free time, or time that would otherwise be free, we're likely to either use that to exercise, or, more likely, use that to feel bad about not exercising.

I work out on a schedule: I work out every "Day that's divisible by three," and on Sunday nights, I do yoga, too. That comes out to about 10 workouts a month, plus yoga. The benefits of that schedule are that on days that aren't divisible by three, I don't feel as though I should be working out. I've got my scheduled time to work out, and so I'm free to not do it at other times. Today's a workout day, as it turns out, so in a little while I'll go jogging. Tomorrow's a Saturday, and not a workout day -- and I'll be free to laze around watching Lost, season 3, secure in the knowledge that I'm using my time wisely.


Want to watch "New Moon" online, already? You can Watch New Moon Online the same day it came out at "Let Me Watch This."

Comment on this post! You could win a book or magazine subscription (details here) and you'll be making me happy (details on that here.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Whodathunkit? -- The Three Best Things You WANT To Know About Thanksgiving.

It's time for another Whodathunkit?, that feature I run just before every major event in American life to give you the facts you really want to know about that big event. It's the only blog post guaranteed* to make you a hit at the next big social event!
(*note: "guaranteed" means "not guaranteed.)

This Whodathunkit?, as the title says, will give you the Three Best Things You Want To Know About Thanksgiving, which by my calendar is less than a week away. (That's how you know my calendar is an American calendar: It has Thanksgiving on the proper day, the day God and Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt decreed. Some calendars -- I'm looking at you Canada-- claim Thanksgiving is some other day, which is completely ridiculous. Canada's Thanksgiving, for example, is supposedly set on the 2nd Monday in October, and it meant to celebrate -- give Canadian thanks for -- the end of the harvest. That's so dumb. Everyone knows that "Thanksgiving" has nothing to do with the harvest and everything to do with surviving through the winter, or, as I pointed out last year, hoping to survive through the winter.

Yes, those Pilgrims were an optimistic bunch, having a Thanksgiving dinner before they had anything to give Thanks for, but at least they weren't so strange as to set the holiday on some Monday in October. Which itself isn't as bad as some other countries' Thanksgivings. Like Croatia's Thanksgiving. Did you know that Croatia celebrates Thanksgiving?

Did you know that Croatia was a country? Now you do, and you'll thank me the next time you're watching Jeopardy! and the category is Countries That Sort of Rhyme With 'Moesha'.

Croatia's Thanksgiving doesn't give thanks for being Canadian, or for not-yet-having-survived the winter, like real Thanksgivings do. Instead, Croatia's Thanksgiving celebrates "the seizure of the city of Knin by the Croatian Army during Operation Storm in the War of Independence." The highlight, that website says, "is the ceremonially lifting of the Croatian flag on the Knin fortress"

Which sounds dramatic and all, but is it as touching a ceremony as when the President pardons a turkey? I think not.

Another country that gives thanks is China, but they do it exactly the way you'd expect a bunch of Communists to do it: By using "Chinese Thanksgiving," or "Chung Ch'ui," as an occasion to exchange traditional "moon cakes," only the traditional mooncakes are used, in times of war, to hide secret messages and "thwart their enemies," according to the website "More4Kids," which is obviously very diligently working to make sure that Kids don't trust the rest of the world, judging by their comment that "there is a lot of bad stuff happening around the world," and so kids should be thankful they live in America.

In America, at least, Thanksgiving is still celebrated on the proper day -- a Thursday in November, although which particular Thursday it is depends heavily on whether the president needs to jump-start the economy; I'm surprised that President Obama didn't decide to move Thanksgiving up a week earlier this year, the way FDR did during the Depression. The Great Depression, that is. Well, the other Great Depression.

Anyway, Obama didn't use that trick to get our economy going, preferring instead to try the "let's let people get new pickup trucks using federal cash" trick. Apparently, the secret manual of knowledge about Americans, the manual that presidents use to control Americans' lives, has been lost.

Or maybe Obama didn't need to move Thanksgiving up, since corporations have done an effective job of ignoring Thanksgiving entirely and simply starting Christmas whenever they darn well please, as evidenced by the November 6 release of the 1,000,000,000th version of A Christmas Carol.

Jim Carrey's latest desperate bid for our attention -- next he'll resort simply to setting his hair on fire in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York -- isn't the only thing jumping the gun on the Christmas season and relegating Thanksgiving to the back burner. ABC Family is airing two Christmas movies tonight, November 20, but they're three days behind Richie Rich's Christmas Wish and Merry Madagascar. I hope Richie's wish wasn't that Thanksgiving continue to be a separate, independent holiday.

Because it won't be. I predicted last year that eventually Thanksgiving would join the ranks of holidays we don't really celebrate anymore, and this year is proving that prediction even more true. A local Middleton, Wisconsin bar advertised today on the radio that people could watch the Packers-Lions game "on Thursday" at the bar. The Packers and Lions play on Thanksgiving, so not only did this bar offer to let people come sit in a bar at midday on Thanksgiving, but the ad didn't even mention that the day was Thanksgiving. In the ad, it was just Thursday.

This might well be the last year that Thanksgiving is even a holiday; it may be that next year Thanksgiving isn't celebrated at all. Preposterous! you say? (Good for you! Nice vocabulary!) It's not preposterous, though: as more and more people have to work on Thanksgiving, at bars and at the stores that are now open during the day on Thanksgiving, how long will it be before everyone just decides to work? If all your kids and relatives have to work at the stores where people want to shop, how is that a holiday? Three years ago, four major retailers were planning on being open more or less their regular hours on Thanksgiving. Now, almost every store is open at least part of the day on Thanksgiving, including retail giant Fashion Bug.

Fashion Bug.

But can you blame them? If everyone else is open on Thanksgiving, and they are, then Fashion Bug has to open, too, or all the holiday shoppers will spend all their holiday money on factory remnants at other stores. So my prediction last year - -that someday Thanksgiving will mean "eating Turkey Hot Pockets and McDonald's Pumpkin Pies while standing in line at Best Buy" is closer than ever to coming true. I predict that we are at most two years away from people simply opting to have their big "Thanksgiving dinner," if they have one, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, while using Thanksgiving to either work, or to shop.

Until then, Thanksgiving is theoretically still a big event, and we'd better make the most of it, which I'm doing by providing you The Three Best Things You WANT to know about Thanksgiving. As always, I will leave the boring, ordinary facts to the mainstream media; let them tell you how to deep fry a turkey without blowing up your house (hint: you can't, and it's foolish to try), let them talk about the football games and the crowds of people lining up for Black Friday (soon to be Black Wednesday). Here at The Best of Everything, I give you stuff that will amaze your friends, inspire your neighbors, dumbfound your acquaintances, and otherwise exhaust your thesaurus with synonyms for amaze and friends.

Friendly-amazing things like...

1. Thanksgiving is a more philosophical holiday than you think, raising profound questions in our deep-thinking society.

holidays are an occasion for some introspection or soul-searching. On the Fourth of July, we ask questions like What's the meaning of liberty, and I wonder if that firecracker would really blow my hand off if I held it while it exploded? On Valentine's Day, we ponder such quizzes as How many roses can I get using the $1.78 I have in my change dish in my car, and Why didn't I plan ahead and save a couple bucks from last night's poker game?

But Thanksgiving brings out the really big questions. Questions like this person's question to "Askville:"

What would you prepare your vampire lover on Thanksgiving?

That's a real question, or at least a question asked on Askville, which makes me think that whoever asked it was serious, because a question like that is too stupid to not be serious. (That person apparently continued to have problems that holiday season, asking what to give her vampire lover for Christmas...)

I was curious about what other questions people might ask about Thanksgiving. So I went to Google -- how everyone, including Richard Dawkins, proves everything, nowadays; Google is the foundation of science, replacing dark matter in the lives of scientists who don't want to think -- I went to Google and did a search for What do you do on Thanksgiving. I was sure I'd get lots of questions suggested, given that just typing What do you do led to these other questions that people had asked:

I did pause a moment when I saw the fifth question down, but then I got distracted from feeling sorry for that person and instead wondered if perhaps the same person had searched those questions in order, and, if so, what that person's day had been like, first realizing that they're bored, then meeting a drunken sailor, then wanting to sing the drunken sailor song, but their iPod freezes up, then looking up the lyrics, only to realize that the drunken sailor has broken her heart and made her cry, then...

Well, I continued typing, the questions got more elegant, yet:

But eventually I finished typing and found an entire article about what to do on Thanksgiving in Orlando, which I read, only to find out that in Orlando, stores are open on Thanksgiving, too, so Thanksgiving is dying even in the Magic Kingdom.

Thanksgiving doesn't just raise questions about vampires and sex and Disney World, though. It also makes people ponder the origins of life, something being done by the person who called the Butterball Turkey hotline to ask if turkeys have belly buttons.

No. They don't -- I hadn't ever even thought of the question, and now I know the answer! But that person's question has made me wonder this: What kind of person sits around wondering whether turkeys have belly buttons, and why didn't that person just look at the turkey they were cooking?

That Butterball hotline gets 10,000+ calls on Thanksgiving Day; I wonder whether anyone calls it the rest of the year, and whether one could call for non-turkey related questions? Like, if you couldn't get through to the Kleenex hotline, could you call the Butterball hotline and ask them, instead?

And did you know Kleenex had a hotline? They do, and I was going to look up the number but I got distracted by the fact that there's a frequently-asked questions section of the Kleenex Website, one which includes this (apparently frequently-asked) question:

What are some innovations Kleenex® Brand Tissue has introduced to the facial tissue category?

As I read that, I imagined hundred, no, thousands, no, tens of thousands of people looking up the phone number for Kleenex, and then calling up to (breathlessly) ask the operator: What are some innovations Kleenex® Brand Tissue has introduced to the facial tissue category?

One innovation, by the way, is that Kleenex invented the first three-ply facial tissue. America Rules!

One thing Kleenex leaves off its site is the credentials it's help line operators have. Butterball doesn't do that; they trumpet the experience their people have: "Each of the turkey experts attends "Turkey U" to prepare for the calls that will be coming in."

But enough of that. On to number 2:

2. New York Isn't The Only Place Holding A Parade, You Know. I'm always amazed that parades still exist, period. They seem so anachronistic, like pocket watches or intact families. Who wants to go sit outside and watch bands go by, and local politicians riding in convertibles waving, when we could be watching a little kid forced to memorize a speech for his dad's benefit? And by memorize, I mean "read from the papers he's holding in his hands and the cue cards that aren't shown on camera:"

You know what's sad about that? That kid was, I bet, forced to do that in an effort to get him onto TV and make him famous (and his parents rich), and the best his dad could parlay that into was a chance to say "Let's Play Hockey" at a hockey game. Even Balloon Dad did better than that -- he got dinner in New York City with ABC executives.

But being in New York means that Balloon Dad and Hockey Kid will miss the other Thanksgiving Day parades, like the "Montgomery County Thanksgiving Parade," which will have their own giant balloons and floats, but which will no doubt be put to shame by the real Thanksgiving parade at the site of the real Thanksgiving: Plymouth, Massachusetts, where the real Pilgrims celebrated real Thanksgiving...

... In July...

But never mind that! There's a parade in Plymouth that celebrates everything Thanksgiving! It's got a detailed model of the Mayflower! It's got a depiction of the first Thanksgiving in 1621! It's got...

... a replica Victorian church complete with carolers?

Dang it! Et tu, Plymouth? Even in the Cradle of Thanksgiving, Christmas is taking over? It has to be Christmas carolers, right? After all, there's no Thanksgiving carols, or even Thanksgiving songs, right? Of course there aren't.

On to number 3!

3. There's are Thanksgiving Songs! I should really learn to read on before I ask those questions.

If it's caroling you want, Plymouth, and people who look past Thanksgiving to get to Christmas, then it's caroling you will get.

Everybody thinks there's no such thing as a Thanksgiving Carol, but everybody's wrong, and everybody should have asked me, and should have asked The Knox Clan, who wrote themselves some Thanksgiving carols, carols they've posted on The Knox Clan blog, carols like "Something Smells," an unfortunately-named carol sung to the tune of Silver Bells, with lyrics like:

Should I spray
The stink away
And have a take-out Thanksgiving Day


But, you say, those are just knockoffs of Christmas carols, aren't they?

You're very perceptive. If you won't accept those as Thanksgiving songs, then how about actual traditional Thanksgiving songs, songs that you know and love from your childhood, provided your childhood was in the 1670s or something. Songs like Here we go over to Silly Tilly's, a delightful song celebrating the animals' Thanksgiving together. Or songs like the stirring Singing, the Reapers Homeward Come, which features this stirring opening verse:

Singing, the reapers homeward come, lo! lo!
Merrily singing the harvest home, lo! lo!
Along the field, along the road,
Where autumn is scattering leaves abroad,
Homeward cometh the ripe last load, lo! lo!

Now, that song may not exactly be your cup of tea, but it's at least a billion times better than every single thing Lady GaGa will do in her life. Although, in the interest of fairness, I feel compelled to note that road and abroad aren't really rhymes.

I tried searching for a video for Singing, The Reapers Homeward Come, but all I found on Youtube was this:

But that video does have its own charms, so it was worth the effort.

The number one Thanksgiving carol of all time, though, is certainly Alice's Restaurant Massacree, which you probably know as "Alice's Restaurant" and my kids know as that song that I play which goes on forever and is just a guy talking.

"Alice's Restaurant Massacree" tells the absolutely true* (*probably not) story of how Arlo Guthrie dumped some garbage for his friend, Alice, and got a ticket for littering, a ticket that later kept him from being drafted into the Vietnam War.

Arlo gets all the fame from that song, even though it was abandoned-church living Alice M. Brock who set off all the events by being a lousy housekeeper.

Alice M. Brock deserves a little fame herself, for setting off that probably-not-true chain of events, and she's gotten a little fame herself: she's not just a lousy housekeeper with questionable taste in friends, but also an author, having written and illustrated the book How To Massage Your Cat. She also illustrated a book, owned an art gallery, and writes a blog. The blog is called "Alice's Blog," and can be found by clicking this link.

On that blog, I learned that Alice isn't just memorialized in Arlo's song, but in another song, as well, the aptly-titled Another Song About Alice:

How many people do you know who have inspired two songs about themselves? I only know, like, ten. Counting our cats.

Now, let's have Arlo sing us out:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Best Worst Villain, EVER. (Part Five: What's your plan, man?)

The final installment!

Part Five in my ongoing investigatory series in which I'm whittling down all the villains, ever, into just the one Best Worst Villain, EVER.
Part One: Naming The Villains.
Part Two: Let's Lose The Chicks.
Part Three: Go It Alone.
Part Four: Sure you're crazy, but just how crazy are you?

Everyone's got to have a goal. Maybe even more than one. And the higher the goal, the better, right? Reach for the stars, we're told, because even if you don't make it, you'll get farther than you would have otherwise. I'm pretty sure that's more or less how that inspirational poster, or t-shirt, or poster-featuring-a-guy-wearing-a-t-shirt, goes.

I've never actually liked that quote, myself. I've never gotten it, actually, and in my own mind, I rephrase the quote to be this:

Don't reach for the stars, because your arms are in no way long enough to actually reach the stars, and you'll look foolish standing there with your arms up over your head reaching into the sky with people asking you what it is you're doing. Instead, if you want to actually reach the stars, why not learn something about rocket science and help spearhead a project to send humankind into space, since that's more likely to work and will have tangible benefits for you and for humanity, whereas just standing there with your arms up over your head really doesn't do anything for anyone.

Equally inspirational, right? And helpful, which is important in the Motto Business. Too many Mottos don't have any real world value anymore. A stitch in time saves nine? Who stitches anymore? Nowadays, if clothes get a little ripped, people throw them out. Heck, most people throw them out if they think the clothes might rip someday.

Or what about this Japanese "Motto" I got from "Mottos From The Web:"

"Live as one already dead."

How is that supposed to work? What does that even mean? Live as one already dead? Does that mean I'm supposed to decay? Lie around all day? Crave brains? I'm mystified. And I shouldn't be, because I doubt one already dead would be mystified. Unless I was dead and someone told me that saying, which I think could even mystify the dead. That saying is what's wrong with Japan.

Well, that saying and vending machines that sell teenage girls' underwear.

An inspirational motto can help one have goals, and goals are important, because without goals, we're all just going through the motions of life while not heading anywhere. A goal keeps your life from being one big hamster wheel. Setting your sights on something, anything, gives you a reason to keep doing the things you're doing.

Take me, for example. I have all kinds of goals, some of which are long-term goals (e.g., 1. Get published & make enough money to move to Hawaii, 2. Invent an entirely new kind of doughnut) and some of which are short-term (Don't let my boss figure out that I'm blogging and listening to Dan Patrick online when he thinks that I'm writing a brief). I'm a very goal-oriented person, the kind of person who, now that he thought of it, really does want to invent a new kind of doughnut, the kind of person who isn't sure, exactly, how to go about that but who thinks it might be a pretty big deal if he were to achieve that goal.

The kind of person who, while typing that last paragraph, suddenly thought of Bear Claws, and then wondered if Bear Claws are the same as Apple Fritters, and who then suddenly wanted an apple fritter/Bear Claw very badly. A goal-oriented person who wants an apple fritter/Bear Claw very badly.

Villains, as a group, tend to also be goal-oriented people. That's one of the things that sets them apart from the rest of humanity, and from heroes. In fact, villains are among the most goal-oriented people, while heroes are among the least. If there were a spectrum, then, villains would be at the goal-oriented end of the spectrum, while heroes would be at the just-lazing-about end of the spectrum.

There should be a spectrum. I'll make it so:

Creating that picture made me think it's been a long time since I heard Heroes & Villains by The Beach Boys. So let's listen to that:

As shown on the Spectrum, heroes, as a whole, are not very motivated or goal-oriented people. What goals did you ever hear set by, say, Superman, or Spider-Man, or Timmy Smith?

You all remember Timmy Smith, right? He was the hero of the Redskins' 42-10 victory over the Broncos in the Super Bowl. So a great running back, maybe, but goal-oriented? Also probably maybe, in that running backs are trying to get across the goal line.

So Timmy Smith, alone among heroes, has a goal. But other heroes do not. They don't set out to do something, on their own. They react to other people doing things. Did you ever see Superman get up in the morning and say "Today I'm going to make the world a better place by slowing down the Earth's rotation a tiny bit so that the day is a bit longer and people can enjoy their lives a little more?" No, you didn't. Because he didn't do things like that. He just sat around in his Fortress of Solitude, being all Solitudey, until someone was in danger and he went and reacted.

Ordinary people, as shown on the Spectrum, are somewhat goal-oriented. We want to get a promotion, or get home from work on time, or make sure that we set our DVRs to tape Web Soup because we're not really sure when it's on, and in fact, we secretly suspect that Web Soup is making "new" shows by combining some clips from old shows with some new clips, so that each show kind of seems familiar, making us feel as though we're losing our minds, just a little, because we're never sure if we've seen this Web Soup before or not, so we just tape and watch them all. That's the kind of goals ordinary people set. Heroes, to the extent they have goals, have them when they're in their ordinary-person alter-ego. Spider-Man had no goals. Peter Parker did, though: he wanted to be a photographer and hook up with Mary Jane. Harry Potter, as a wizard, had no goals; he just tried to survive Voldemort's attacks. But Harry Potter, as a teenager had goals: He wanted to be good at Quidditch, and he wanted to hook up with Ginny Weasley.

I'm starting to see a trend there.

Villains, in contrast to ordinary folks and heroes, have goals-a-plenty. No good villain lacks for motivation and no good villain will ever be caught short-handed in the ambition department. Whether it be robbing that bank on the street corner or creating an army of praying mantises to help drive Starbucks off the face of the Earth or good, old-fashioned let's just take over this planet and all the others, villains know that it's easier to get out of bed in the morning when there's a purpose in your life.

And the greater the ambition, the greater the villain. Measuring the goals of the remaining villains on the list will help us eliminate a few more candidates and move further towards the goal of this series, towards choosing The Best Worst Villain, EVER.

Here's our remaining candidates for that title:

Solomon Grundy (New addition!)
Token Female: Reverse Wonder Woman.
The Lizard.
Marvin The Martian
Doctor Octopus
Lex Luthor
The Joker
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Ivan Drago (suggested by The Boy)
The Anti-Monitor
Gorilla Grodd.

The goals of that group vary from Gorilla Grodd's "Beat up Flash and Wonder Woman" all the way up to The Anti-Monitor's "Destroy the Multiverse."

The first obvious starting point is to get rid of those whose goals are too small, then. As commendable as it is to have a goal (you hear me, you layabout heroes? Get a goal! You've got super-powers, for God's sake. Why are you just sitting around waiting for someone to attack, instead of using your x-ray vision to diagnose people's diseases, having your power ring help people commute to work carbon-free, and otherwise improving the world?), as commendable as that is, having a goal that's small-potatoes gets you kicked out of the running for Best Worst Villain, EVER. And so we say goodbye to The Lizard, whose goal was to find a way to heal himself and/or to beat Spider-Man. We bid adieu to Doc Ock, too, as his goal was...

... what was Doctor Octopus' goal? Maybe he didn't have one. I think he got to be a villain when an accident grafted those arms on, and then he was just out to harass Spidey, for some reason. If he ever had a plan, then I don't know what it was. Whatever. He's out.

The Joker's gone, too. While he occasionally spouted off about anarchy in the last Batman movie, his obvious goal was to just create trouble. And, yeah, that's a goal, but it's not a very good goal. It's the same goal my 3-year-old Babies! have, really: Mess things up, yell a lot, don't let anyone sleep in on Saturdays. If The Joker had regularly taken his pants off when company was around, he'd have been my 3-year-olds.

And Mahmoud Ahmendijad's out for the exact same reason.

Ivan Drago (suggested by The Boy) had as his only goal beat Rocky. Not only is that a small-time dream, but any goal that makes me think of the hit 70s song Rocky by Austin Roberts is not a very good goal.

Grodd's out, too, but let's face it -- he was always going to be kicked out. As Darwin made very clear in his Origin of Species, "survival of the fittest" means that whenever humans and monkeys fight, monkeys lose. (The same is true, strangely, whenever platypusses fight with the Forgotten Gods Of the Maori: when that happens, monkeys lose.)

(Note: If there is not, in New Zealand lore, a legend in which the Platypus is created by the Maori Gods as an example of human perfection, only to then turn on them and try to take the Gods' place in the heavens, resulting in an epic battle, the end result of which is that Platypus loses and is transformed into the humorous creature we now know, if that legend doesn't already exist, then dibs.)

(Note, two: I'm not sure Platypusses live in New Zealand.)

(Note, three: I'm also not sure that "Platypusses" is the plural of "Platypus." Maybe it should be "Platypi?")

Solomon Grundy
is a harder case. He's my sentimental favorite in this journey; I really would like him to win even though I didn't remember he existed until midway through the series. But I'm not sure that "getting Jade To Love Him and occasionally being a hero" is a worthy-enough goal, and the fact is, he's made up of sewage, which would not be very pleasant to sit next to at the awards ceremony, so I'll kick him out.

Next goes Voldemort. His goal: Beat a kid. That's what it boils down to, doesn't it? He set out originally to conquer the wizard world, but then his whole quest devolved into Beating up a twelve-year-old boy who couldn't even do magic properly. (I never got that; if Harry Potter was such a powerful, magical person, why couldn't he cast spells even as good as Hermione, who was from a Muggle family?)

And, lastly, Lex Luthor is gone, because deep down inside, I think Lex's main goal, all along, was to get his hair back, which means that all of Lex Luthor's villainy, all his fights, all his genius and giant robots and death rays and jetpacks, all of it amounted to being embarrassed about baldness. Which, in turn, means that eventually, Lex Luthor will just come out and invent a Giant Robot Death Ray JetPack Combover. I can't risk having that as The Best Worst Villain, EVER.

No amount of cool costumes, sexy female
or laser-gun wristbands can rescue

That leaves us with the Destroyers, Villains with large goals:

Marvin The Martian
The Anti-Monitor

So let's get rid of the remainder. Galactus? He was a planet eater who had a surfer working for him as his "herald." As a planet eater, he didn't so much have a goal as he had an eating disorder.

Ozymandias should actually have been kicked out a little earlier, as he relied on others to do his work for him. (He tricked Dr. Manhattan, didn't he? I think he did. Plus, he had that stupid cat-thing. Out.)

The Anti-Monitor and Mangog deserve special mention. Each of them had a clearcut goal. In Mangog's case, it was draw the sword of Odin from its scabbard. Mangog, remember, was a monster created from the combined hatred of a billion billion people. That's a lot of people. To get an idea how many people that is, picture a person:

Got it!

Then multiply that person by a billion:

Um. Okay?

Then, multiply all those people by another billion:

I'm going to get that little backwards "E" symbol...

And the result is this:

That doesn't seem right.

No, wait, wait. The result is this:

Still seems a little wrong.

That's Mangog, and his goal, as the living embodiment of the hatred contained in a billion billion people, was to draw the sword of Odin from its scabbard -- which would have resulted in the end of the universe.

The whole universe.

All of it.

Even platypusses. Platypi. Whatever.

Do you see a problem with that goal? Because I sure do: what's going to happen to Mangog? Isn't he going to die, too? If the whole universe goes?

Of course he is. As noted philosopher Louis C.K. said, "Things that are not can't be, because then nothing wouldn't be. You can't have ... nothing isn't and everything is."

He really did say that, too:

So Mangog wants to destroy the universe with him in it. That's not the smartest goal in the world. Or any world. It's a terrible goal. That's the problem with The Anti-Monitor, too. He wanted to destroy the multiverse, erase it with his anti-matter waves -- but he lives in the multiverse.

Have these guys not thought this through? Obviously not. Thinking things through would have led to a goal along the lines of "I'm going to destroy almost all the multiverse, but leave the parts that I like, and have the citizens of those parts make me their supreme ruler lest I destroy them." Or a plan like "If I'm strong enough to beat up most of Asgard and the Norse Gods, even Balder, and get to the Odinsword, then I can just take over the universe and threaten to pull the Odinsword anytime someone gives me any backtalk."

Those are goals that are worthwhile: Ruling the entire universe, using just the power contained in your own body. Destroying the universe = not a good goal.

And so we come to the final Villain, the Villain that embodies all the criteria required of The Best Worst Villain, EVER. The Best Worst Villain, EVER, is:

Marvin The Martian. Marvin embodies all of the necessary criteria, in that:

1. He is not a woman.
2. He works alone.
3. He's crazy -- but so crazy that he's almost sane, and
4. His goal is a worthwhile one.

Marvin's goal is simple, but majestic: Destroy the Earth. And in its majesty, it is also villainously selfish: He wants to destroy Earth because it obstructs his view of Venus. In that simple, yet enormously tragic goal, Marvin embodies the Best of the Worst: he is willing to destroy an entire planet to improve the view from his Martian condo. His goals are set high, and yet, there is absolutely no redeeming quality to them. He doesn't want to rule the universe, for any reason. He doesn't think he'd be better at running things; at least with some would-be dictators you could say that, that they think things might be better if they were in charge.

He has no revenge motive. He's not trying to get back at anyone. That's something that, while we might disagree with it, we could at least understand it. Oh, yeah, he caused you to lose your hair, I get it. Or something. But Marvin's not out to get back at anyone.

He's not evil, either, not in the typical sense. Sure, yeah, destroying a whole world for selfish reasons is evil, if you want to get technical about it, but he's not, like, mean about it. It's just business, in a sense -- the business of improving his view.

Marvin's simple selfishness put him on a path to world destruction, a path he followed -- and follows still -- singlemindedly, and singlehandedly, a goal he pursues with the calm ruthlessness worthy of The Best Worst Villain, EVER.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Best Worst Villain, EVER (Part Four: Sure, You're Crazy, But Just How Crazy Are You?)

Part Four in my ongoing investigatory series in which I'm whittling down all the villains, ever, into just the one Best Worst Villain, EVER.
Part One: Naming The Villains.
Part Two: Let's Lose The Chicks.
Part Three: Go It Alone.

The foundation of western Civilization is this one, central thought:

That's so crazy it just might work.

Sure, there are those who contend that the foundation of western Civilization -- the greatest civilization in the greatest hemisphere on the greatest planet ever, up top! -- can be found in different principles, say, ideas foisted off on us by such charlatans as Aristotle or the "Founding Fathers." But what ideas did they ever give us? Nothing, I say. Here's a summary of Aristotle's career:

He was an ancient Greek.

Now, that'll get you pretty far in life, it seems. In fact, for the bulk of human history, being an ancient Greek was an all-access pass to the philosophical high life, kind of like being on The Hills is now: people pay attention to you for no apparent, reason, and you have a pretty good social life. But, on close examination, being an Ancient Greek doesn't contribute anything more, really, than being on The Hills, and I can prove it using the scientific method of comparing the great thoughts of Aristotle with the great thoughts of Heidi Montag:

Representative quote from Aristotle (as located by Googling the phrase Aristotle quote*)
*for an explanation of how science has come to mean, simply, "googling things," see this article, by me.
"A friend to all is a friend to none."

Representative quote from Heidi Montag (located much the same way, but with more interference from pictures of her):

"I plan to win an Oscar. I’m very ambitious."

Let's compare those two, shall we? Aristotle's, to begin with, is dumb. It makes no sense. If I'm friends with everyone (all the people) then I'm friends... with everyone. But Aristotle claims that makes me friends with nobody (none of the people.) Maybe math hadn't been invented by then -- I'm not sure when Pythagoras came up with it -- but even if they didn't have numbers, ancient Greeks should have known that everyone isn't equal to nobody, that all is not none. Right? Who's with me, here?

So Aristotle's saying is dumb, and also unhelpful to society, because what he's really getting at is a claim that we shouldn't be friends with everyone. What kind of advice is that? Thanks, Mr. Antisocial Ancient Greek. Maybe you didn't get invited to parties and wanted to turn that into a virtue, but I'm not buying it.

Meanwhile, look at the simple homespun wisdom of Heidi Montag's inspirational quote, which I'm thinking of turning into a t-shirt -- the modern repository of all great wisdom. Heidi's quote sums up, in 9 words (I counted, and I bet you just went back and did, too), what modern America is all about: fame, and arbitrary recognition of fame. She understands that today, in America, "ambition" no longer requires backing by hard work or talent or drive or even people liking you. No, if you're trying to get ahead in modern America, if you're ambitious, all you have to do is get enough people to pay attention to you and you've made it. And then, at some point, they'll give you an Oscar to recognize that people know who you are. (Or, in some cases, they'll give you a Nobel Peace Prize.)

So if you were trying to get ahead in America, and you could only take advice from one person, and you had to choose between Aristotle and Heidi Montag, you'd be a whole lot better off choosing Heidi Montag, is what I'm saying, and that's proof -- scientific proof-- that the ancient Greeks weren't so hot after all. (Plus, they believed that the sun was driven across the sky in a chariot. Those nuts! Modern people would never believe something that defies all rational logic.)

In fact, villains could use a little dose of Heidi Montag, themselves, because Heidi's advice is a surer route to the kind of world domination they seek to establish, time and time again -- surer and more fun and less costly than, say "Fighting the Avengers" or "Sending 500 Giant Robots Into Center City To Demolish It" or "Turning the Moon Into A Kind of Super NASCAR and entering it in a race against the Legion of Superheroes" (that last one is a script I'm writing that I hope will help resurrect Will Ferrell's Ricky Bobby character.) Fame and fortune, especially fame and fortune achieved almost, seemingly, by accident, can put a person into the limelight and let them become a person of influence...


...whereas the methods villains use, like the afore-listed and like other methods (cloning, wars, digging into the bank vault using a giant drill) they've tried, fail over and over and over again.

So why do they keep trying?

Because they're crazy. That's why they're villains in the first place, remember. They're nuts. They're bonkers. They're off the ranch. They're a couple throw-rugs short of a model home**
(**That last saying brought to you by the National Realtors Association. Have you hugged a realtor today? If so, you're kind of weird.)

But their crazy isn't to be shunned and feared, like some wackos should be. No, villainous crazy should be encouraged, because, as I said, villainous crazy is building on the foundation of Western Civilization. Remember, that foundation is the phrase:

That's so crazy it just might work.

That quote is so obviously the foundation of Western Civilization that it seems pointless to provide evidence of my assertion, but I'll do it anyway, in question-and-answer form:

Q: How did Western Civilization find the West, in which it formed a civilization?
A: By crazily opting to sail West and risking falling off the edge of the world.

Q: What was the world's understanding of the American and French Revolutions?
A: That they were crazy to try to defeat royalty and then-established world powers.

Q: How crazy were the major accomplishments of Western civilization so far?
A: Seriously crazy: We drilled through mountains to build a railroad, dug through Central America for the heck of it, and even pretended to land a man on the moon in the 1960s. More recently, we have sent roller blades to Mars for no apparent reason, we gave a second TV show to Jenna Elfman, and we came up with pizzas that cost only $5!

I rest my case. Western Civilization wouldn't exist without the crazy ideas to sail off the edge of the world, to set up a new country with no money and no experience, to claim that all people are created equal when some of them are clearly Madonna, and other crazy notions. Forget "democracy" or "capitalism" or "swine flu vaccines at Walgreens:" Western Civilization is founded on craziness.

So. Villains and crazy: We love us some villains, and they love them some crazy, and that's good because it helps advance civilization, right? Right. Without crazy villains, we wouldn't have the technology to invent Death Rays (now being used by Wal-Mart against shoplifters), or single-use Rocket Submarines (commuters in Tokyo have these already) and, more importantly, without crazy villains, we would have no reason to have bank security guards to stand vigilant against constant break-ins, road construction crews to repair damage caused by RoboTanks marching on Metropolis, architects to design fancy headquarters for the superhero groups necessary to guard against these villains, or satellite TV. (It's a little known fact that the Justice League's satellite HQ, when not used for their meetings, is sublet to DirecTV.) Villains, and their crazy schemes, are propping up our economy, and thank God for that, or I'd have to get a real job.

Just like civilization wouldn't exist without crazy, villains wouldn't either. Being a villain means being crazy. It doesn't matter how you get there -- whether you were born nuts, whether you went crazy because Superboy interrupted your experiment and caused you to lose your hair, or whether you went crazy because you realized that you were a zombielike creation made up of vegetative matter found in sewers and therefore will never be with the woman you love...

...Oprah..., I mean, Solomon Grundy...

(Boy, I bet everyone gets those two confused)

However you got to crazy, you've got to get there because otherwise you wouldn't be a villain. Supersmart or superstrong sane people do not move to tropical islands and create MegaViruses. They do not launch rockets at the moon (unless they work for NASA and have some old rockets lying around and need to distract people from the constant failures by making up some story about ice on the moon). Sane SuperPeople with SuperAbilities go play for the Yankees and make $150 million dollars a second, or they make a bunch of hit movies and then become Scientologists and brainwash a wife, or they star as "Arnold" on the hit 80's TV series Diff'rent Strokes, but they do not try to take over the world or kill people. You've got to be nuts to do that.

And you've got to be really nuts to be a great villain. Because crazy, like cool, is not a straight line; it's a circle. Crazy starts out just to the side of sane, but then, the crazier it gets, the further it gets from sanity.. but then, just as the great scientists in Modest Mouse pointed out will happen with the universe, crazy comes back around until it becomes so crazy it's sane.

The Best Worst Villain, EVER, then, will be someone who's crazy -- because he's a villain -- but who is so crazy, so demented, so far beyond the pale that he's almost sane again. His schemes will be so crazy they just might work. Because regular crazy never works -- Al Davis' Raiders never win anything that counts. Hardees' doesn't sell any good food.

But super-duper-mega crazy? That stuff works: Samuel L. Jackson's entire career is premised on it. So is Rachael Ray's. Internal Combustion Engines: super-duper crazy -- "let's power our transportation via a series of explosions!" is the thought behind that.

So our list of remaining Villain Candidates can be pared down by eliminating the crazy-but-not-too crazy. The current list:

Solomon Grundy (New addition!)
Token Female: Reverse Wonder Woman.
The Lizard.
Marvin The Martian
Doctor Octopus
Lex Luthor
The Joker
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Ivan Drago (suggested by The Boy)
The Anti-Monitor
Gorilla Grodd.

From that list, we can cut out:

The T-1000 -- because he's a robot, and robots by definition aren't crazy. They have logic circuits, as everyone knows, and if the logic circuits break down we know it because they just walk in circles.
"The Rake," from the Decemberists song of the same name, and the guy from Country Death Song by The Violent Femmes. Both these guys killed their kids, and while that's crazy and despicable, it's also commonplace and not too smart.

The Red Baron (both the real one and the one from the Peanuts comic): He was a flying Ace. An evil one, but crazy people don't fly airplanes well; they invent wings and use those.

All the old guys who ran all the haunted amusement parks in all the episodes of Scooby-Doo, and Rob Lowe in Wayne's World. Rob Lowe liked Tia Carrere, which is proof of sanity. True, he lost to a bunch of idiots from Illinois, but that's not insane, it's just lame. The old guys? If I recall correctly, the haunted amusement parks were always covers for a secret mining operation to find the lost gold that Grandma had buried there years before. That's a crazy level of effort to go to, but in the end, it's still a desire for gold, which isn't crazy enough. Not with the price of gold these days. (More proof that villains are crazy? Sane people don't invent a haunted amusement park to get gold; they invent a company that tells people to mail their gold in and then trust they'll get money back.)

Mr Norrell (who I think turned out to kind of be a villain?): I'm actually cutting him out because in retrospect I don't think he's a villain.

Darth Vader: Was he crazy? I don't think so. Darth was the one who didn't believe in giant battle stations, remember, but trusted ancient religions, which would've been a really smart move had the Emperor listened to him. Darth headed off Han Solo in Bespin, and always sent in the stormtroopers first. I think Darth Vader wasn't hardly crazy at all; he had only the minimal level of craziness required to make him a villain -- probably brought on by being called Annie all the time -- and further proof of his minimal craziness is that it took almost nothing to turn him good again; Luke just threw him a Father's Day card or something.

Saddam Hussein and The Mariner (from The Mariner's Revenge Song by The Decemberists): I think we agree, just not crazy enough.

Toth (from Raiders of the Lost Ark:) He was nuts -- he used his scarred hand to recreate that one thing to find the Lost Ark -- but, in the end, was just a regular kind of nut.

The remaining candidates,

Solomon Grundy (New addition!) Token Female: Reverse Wonder Woman. The Lizard. Marvin The Martian Doctor Octopus Mangog Lex Luthor The Joker Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Voldemort Ivan Drago (suggested by The Boy) Galactus The Anti-Monitor Gorilla Grodd. [SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE OR READ THE COMIC BOOK THIS'LL KIND OF WRECK IT FOR YOU] Ozymandias, from The Watchmen,

I think we can agree, all display the requisite minimal level of supercraziness to keep on going. Whether they want to destroy everything that ever existed, or exist as a piece of skull grafted onto the Dark Arts' teacher's turban, or use their mental powers as the King of Gorillas solely to fight Wonder Woman and The Flash, these villains are nuts, but really, really nuts -- they invent healing potions, they break their soul into pieces to make themselves immortal, they alone know the power of the Umonium P-38 Explosive Space Modulator and intend to use it to get a better view of the planets by destroying those worlds that are in their way... they're nuts, and nuts enough to almost be sane.
Next up -- I'll cut the list down further by looking at what our Modern Philosopher Queen, Heidi Montag, suggested is the key to existence: Ambition!

Go on to Part Five, "What's Your Plan, Man?" by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The First Best Song By Alli Millstein: "Our Love Is Underground."

So you thought maybe I was just making it up when I claimed that I'd been contacted by a world-famous singer-songwriter who reads my blog?

Well, you were wrong. Because unlike the many other delusions of grandeur with which I fill my day and which I use to distract me from things like "work" and "driving safely," this delusion of grandeur is actually true. It's a truelusion of grandeur.

Or something. I'm not really into vocabulary.

Anyway, today is the First Best Song by Alli Millstein, today's song being "Our Love Is Underground." Here's my video for it:

You can listen to the song while you read what Alli has to say. I asked Alli to pass along how she came up with the idea for the song, and she said:

When I wrote Our Love Is Underground I actually wrote the lyrics first, before coming up with a melody. For me, that happens once in a while. Sometimes I have a creative surge lyrically and end up writing five or six sets of lyrics, and then just saving them. Whenever I have writers block I can go into that bank of lyrics and try and pull something out that I haven't used.

When I wrote the song, I was thinking about New York, and it seemed like an interesting idea to me about falling through the cracks in the sidewalk in the city. The song sort of grew from that idea. Like many of the songs written on the EP, I was going through a time of transition when the song was written, and the song reflects my struggle with that transition.

I understand what Alli means. I once wrote a song called Eatin' Gummi Bears, which reflected my struggle with eating gummi bears. As I recall, I didn't like eatin' gummi bears. That experience gave me the insight to ask Alli about any changes the lyrics might have gone through and the creative process she took in writing Our Love Is Underground. She said:

The lyrics for the song have stayed the same since the day I wrote them, although I did consider revising them at different times. I decided against a revision, considering that what I have works, why mess with it?

The melody to the song, and the chord changes came to me after I wrote the lyrics. I remember I had these lyrics, and I was just playing around one day and found a
chord progression and melody that fit with the words. I had a recording I did of this song about 6 months after I wrote it, but the recording that's on the EP is a much more polished, professional recording.

The recording is very polished and professional, and quite lovely. (Can I say lovely? I mean, it sounds kind of girly as I type it, but that's really the word that fits best. Whatever. I'm secure in my masculinity, and it's a lovely song.)

I also asked Alli to pass along anything else she'd like to add about the song, like stories about performing it live, maybe. She said:

Our Love Is Underground is a particular difficult song for me to perform live given the vocal part. If the sound isn't set up well, or I'm not concentrating, things can turn sour quickly. Luckily, I think I've worked out those kinks by now, and it finds it way into my set now and again.

The song has a long title, so I think sometimes I forget to announce the name. I at one point considered naming the EP "Our Love Is Underground," but decided not to because I was worried people would think it was a love-song album, which it's not.

It certainly is not a love song album, as we'll see here in the Month of Alli Millstein. Look for another song of hers coming soon. In the meantime:

Click here for Alli's Myspace page

Click here for Alli's Facebook page,

And click here to buy the EP "Human Nature" on Amazon.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Grocery Shopping In An Alternate Universe: A Parable

This post appeared first on Thinking The Lions. I know it doesn't quite fit here, but it's important enough that I'm putting it on all my blogs today.

I was one of the lucky ones, I suppose.

I was able to get hired by an employer who offered a great grocery plan. And not only that, but the plan covered my family, which meant that only a few months after getting hired, we'd be able to get to the grocery store almost any time we wanted and buy food.

I liked the plan. Even though I had to pay 15% of my income each month towards groceries (whether or not I bought any), my employer was paying 85% of the cost (whether or not I bought groceries), so I could accept that part of my pay was being taken towards necessities I might never use. It even kind of made sense to me that my employer covered 85% of the cost of the Grocery Plan for the higher-ups who made 2 or 3 or 4 times what I made. Sure, they could afford to pay more for their groceries -- and if they did so, it would reduce my own costs-- and, yeah, 15% of my just-about-minimum wage earnings really kind of hurt a lot more than if I was paying, say, 15% of $200,000 like the guys at the top, but it seemed fair, to me, that we all paid the same exact percentage. Besides, whenever it came up in my mind, I just reminded myself to look only at the percentages, not the actual dollars.

In just three short months, I was covered under the Grocery Plan and it was about time, too, as the kids and my wife were really hungry. We'd put off going to the grocery store until we were covered, but not by choice: Without a Grocery Plan, we couldn't find a grocery store that would let us in unless we paid in advance for everything we wanted.

"But I don't know what I want, yet," I told one lady on the phone. "I don't even know what you offer or what it costs. How can I pay for it in advance?"

She was apologetic and said that's just the way it works.

So anyway, when my Grocery Plan went into effect, I called up and got pre-approval to go to one of the three grocery stores that were kind of near us. The one I really wanted to go to, just down the street, wasn't in the plan, but I could deal with that. I don't mind driving a little, especially because it's important to control the costs of groceries by using only pre-approved stores.

My wife asked "What if we just need a gallon of milk in a hurry? Can't we just run to the Store nearby?" So I asked the insurance lady that, and she said that we could, in an emergency, but that they might not pay for the groceries if we did that and we should try to call them first. Anyway, my wife's just a worrywart. We can plan ahead and never need to run out and get milk at the last minute.

Once I had the pre-approval, I drove to the grocery store, but they told me I needed an appointment to shop. When I asked how long it would be until I could get an appointment, they said they could get me in during the afternoon on Tuesday, three weeks from now.

I wasn't starving, yet, but the kids were pretty hungry. The littlest one, Mr Bunches, hadn't eaten since I lost my last job and I was worried that maybe it was starting to affect him.

"Isn't there any way I could get some groceries today?" I asked the lady at the desk. She said that there was an Urgent Groceries across town, if I felt it was that important.

I pictured Mr Bunches and the way he'd stared longingly at the refrigerator, and decided this was pretty urgent. Not a Grocery Emergency or anything, but pretty Urgent. And besides, even if it wasn't terribly urgent, what other choice did I have? I might have been able to wait a day or two, but three weeks?

So I drove to the Urgent Groceries and went inside. The lady at the front desk asked to see my card and asked what I was there for.

"I need some groceries, today," I said. "I've got some little kids, and a wife, at home, and they haven't eaten in a long time." She looked skeptical, like I didn't belong there, and I wanted to say "Hey, it's your fault that I couldn't get into the regular grocery store," but I didn't, because I didn't want to get them mad at me.

She handed me some forms and said that there was a $100 copay, which really surprised me. "I already pay a premium, through my work," I said. "It's 15% of my income, the same as everyone else's in the business, even the higher-ups -- they make, like 3 times what I do but we all pay the same share, so that's fair, right?"

She said that the co-pay is in addition to the premium, and said I should look at my Grocery Card. I'd never looked at it before -- that whole stack of Grocery Policy Papers and things they'd given me was pretty confusing, and I hadn't read it anyway because it was the only policy my boss offered, so it didn't matter whether I liked it or not, I had to take it or leave it. I didn't really like that I'd pay more every time I went to the Store, but I figured if it became a problem I'd limit my trips, go only when I absolutely had to.

The card said that the copay was $50, and I showed it to her. "That's for regular shopping, not Urgent Groceries," she said. "Urgent Groceries are double."

"I have to pay more if it's more urgent?" I asked.

"Yes," she said, and she didn't sound sympathetic.

"But it's not even my fault I'm here. I tried to go to the regular Grocery Store and they didn't let me in."

"Sorry," she said, but she didn't sound sorry. I had to write out a check for this "copay" and hope that they wouldn't cash it before I got paid on Friday, but what could I do? I needed groceries, and I didn't want to go home and see Sweetie and Mr F and The Boy staring at me.

Then she gave me some forms and said to check in with the receptionist, which was weird because I thought that's what I'd done. But I began filling out the forms and telling them my grocery history, as best as I could. I'd never had Groceries before, so I wasn't really sure how to answer some of the questions.

I sat in the waiting room for about 50 minutes, but I didn't mind because I knew I probably shouldn't have been there. I mean, when I looked at the other Urgent Grocery shoppers waiting their turn, they all looked worse than me. One guy kept smacking his lips and saying "Hamburgers!" over and over, and his eyes looked glazed. There was a little girl there who looked really thin and pale, like she'd never eaten. I thought she should have gone to the Emergency Groceries, or maybe even a Fast Food Place. I didn't mind that she got to go shopping ahead of me.

There were a couple other people like me, though, who didn't seem to really be that needy. I bet they'd done what I did: Just realized that they kind of needed to get some Groceries, and couldn't wait 3 weeks.

While I was sitting there, I couldn't help but wonder why it was that the Regular Grocery Stores weren't open past 5 p.m., or before 9 a.m., or even on the weekends. It might make it easier if they were open longer, or had different shifts. I mean, for regular grocery shopping, I'd have to take time off of work just to go get some potato chips, and if I couldn't do that, I'd always be at the Urgent Grocery Store, since that was the only one open past 5 or on weekends.

Oh, well, I figured. They know what they're doing. It's not up to me to second guess how the grocery business is run.

When they finally called my name, I stopped reading the old Shoppers' Guide they had in the waiting room and got up with my list in hand. I was actually kind of excited: I'd waited so long for this and now I was finally going to get some Groceries!

I took the list Sweetie had made and moved into the store. The first thing I needed was the Bakery, to get some Bread. I didn't see a sign for that, and I asked the clerk up front.

"We don't have a Bakery," she said. "This is an Urgent Grocery, so you can't get everything you need here. If you really need something that's not here, we can refer you. The Emergency Grocery has everything, downtown."

I decided that I didn't need Bread so much, and moved into the Cereal aisle. The selection was pretty slim there, too -- just the bare necessities, but that's what you get, I figured, when you have to go to the Grocery Store after hours. I walked around that aisle for a while trying to figure out which one to get, but I'd never had any cereal before and couldn't tell whether any of them was better than the other, or which one I might need, let alone which one a 3-year-old or my wife might need.

There was a Cereal Assistant, though, and I asked her whether she would recommend one or the other Cereals in the aisle. "I can't really recommend anything," she said. "I'm here to take information from you and pass it on to the Cereal Specialist. Then he and I will talk it over and he'll tell you what you need."

So I answered her questions ("I like sweetened cereal for the boys," I said, and "Maybe something with raisins.") She put it all into her computer, and nodded, and then said she'd be back in a while or the Cereal Specialist would come in in a bit.

After about 10 minutes, the Cereal Specialist came in. He asked me the same questions the Cereal Assistant had, looked at my stomach and my cart (which was still empty) and said "You need corn flakes."

"How much are they?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said, "But I'm sure your insurance will cover it. You should talk to them about it." He handed me a box of corn flakes and then patted my shoulder and said to make a follow-up appointment about a week before the box was empty.

I put the cornflakes in the cart and walked past all the other cereals, wondering why I had corn flakes instead of one of those other ones. It kind of bugged me, to tell you the truth. I'm not the smartest guy about these things, I know, but I saw a Dateline report a couple months ago where they were talking about how corn flakes don't really do that much to curb hunger, and they're not all that nutritious or tasty. I didn't watch the whole thing ('cause... boring), but I got enough to know that maybe I'd never try corn flakes.

Still, he was the Cereal Specialist, and nobody's ever really sure about these things, right?

I did know I needed milk for the corn flakes, and I headed over to the Dairy Aisle. All the milk was behind a counter, where a lady stood in a white coat. I wondered if she was a doctor, and asked her.

"No, I'm the Milk-A-Cist," she said.

"Oh," I said. "I need some milk for these corn flakes. We're going to eat tonight!"

"Did you call your prescription in ahead of time?" she asked.

"Prescription?" I asked.

"I can't sell you most milks without a prescription from the Specialist," she said. "If you've called it in, it'll probably be ready. Otherwise, you might have to wait."

"I've been here a pretty long time already," I said, "And I didn't ask about a prescription in the Cereal Aisle. Isn't there anything you can sell me?"

"We've got some over-the-counter stuff that might work, almost as good," the Milk-A-Cist said.

"Let me have some of that," I said, and she pulled out a bottle of water.

Water with cereal? I wasn't sure about that, but, I'm not Grocery Expert. I didn't go to Grocery School for 8 years or anything, so how should I know what's best? Besides, what else could I do?

"Will that work with cereal?" I asked her.

"I'm not supposed to give advice like that," she said, "But the label says it should be okay. Do you have any allergies to water?"

But I didn't know. I'd never been to the Groceries before. Then I had another thought: "Is that okay for 3-year-olds?" I asked.

She shook her head. "No, you'll need Childrens' Water for them." So she got some of that, too, and then rang it up. I showed her my insurance card, but she shook her head.

"No," she said. "Prescription Milk would be covered, mostly, but for over-the-counter things, you've got to pay cash."

That didn't make any sense to me at all, but, again, who am I to say what makes sense in these things and what doesn't? All these complexities are probably just lost on me. They must be, since the other day a guy on the radio said that we have the Greatest Grocery System In The World. So the weird stuff must work, and I'm not questioning it.

I paid for the waters and then was going to head out, but I looked down and thought Cereal and water doesn't seem like much of a meal, so I decided to try and get something a little more hearty. I headed back to the Meat Department to look for some chicken or something.

But at the Meat Department, there was another clerk. She said "Do you have an appointment?"

"No," I said, "But I didn't think I needed one. This is the Urgent Groceries, right?"

She shook her head. "The Meat Department is a specialist. We can't see you unless you have a referral."

"What's that?" I asked. She sighed and said:

"You have to go back to your regular Grocery Person and get them to refer you to us. Then you call us and make an appointment, and we'll help you with your Meat needs."

"I don't have a regular Grocery Person," I said. "I've only just gotten on a Grocery Plan."

"You should call your plan administrator and ask them to assign you a regular Grocery Person," she said. She seemed pretty nice and added "I'd like to help you, but that's all I can do."

I was really kind of upset. I didn't take it out on her, or the Meat Department, though. It was probably a law, I figured -- probably some stupid government law that was keeping them from helping me right now. Those God damn regulations! It's always like that: every time the government does anything they screw it up. I said that to her:

"Stupid Congress, right?" I nodded. She shook her head, though, and said:

"No, sir, it's just the Policy requirements."

I didn't know what that meant, though. So I thanked her and then said:

"Do you know who my Plan Administrator is?"

She said it was probably in my Policy, whatever that is. There was a 1-800 number on the back of my card, though, so I used my cell phone to call it while I walked back towards the front of the store. I couldn't get a hold of anyone, though. They said to call back during "normal business hours." That made sense: I worked during the day, so they must, too. I'd try to call the next day, I figured, on my lunch break.

Luckily for me, I didn't have to check out at all -- my Grocery Plan was going to pay for EVERYTHING. Except the water, of course. I showed my cereal to the cashier as I went out and she motioned to me.

"We need your address," she said.

"Why?" I asked.

"To send your statement of benefits," she said.

Whatever that is. I gave it to her. She also made me make a follow-up appointment. "Will I get more groceries that day?" I asked. She shook her head and said "It's just to see how these groceries went." I wondered if I'd have to pay a co-pay for that, too, but I figured I could just cancel it. She said I couldn't just call in and talk to them, either, and I'm not going to miss a day of work if the Groceries are fine.

I headed on home, where we feasted on corn flakes and cereal. The Boy complained about the dinner, saying that his friend's dad, when he got hungry, had gotten to go to a fancy restaurant and have a three-course meal.

"Well, what Grocery Plan does he have?" I asked. The Boy didn't know what a Grocery Plan was, so I explained to him that everyone has to have a Grocery Plan, that there's companies out there that will "cover" your Groceries, so that when you get hungry, you go to the Store and they tell you what groceries to get, and then they pay for him.

"Why do they do that?" The Boy asked.

"Because it makes sense," I said. "Nobody knows in advance how much their groceries are going to be, and when they'll need them..." but he interrupted.

"But you know you will need them, right?"

"Maybe," I said. "Not everyone needs groceries."

He shook his head. I could see he didn't get it, and he said "Everyone will need groceries some time or other." I didn't know how else to explain it to him, so I said

"Well, if they need groceries, they get on a Grocery Plan through work and then they'll get them."

"Can't they just buy a Grocery Plan?" The Boy asked. Sweetie and I laughed at that.

"Sure," I said. " I suppose they could just call a Grocery Plan Company and sign up but that'd cost them a bundle. It's better to get a job and have their boss give it to them."

The Boy still looked a little confused and said "But doesn't everyone need to eat? Shouldn't everyone be entitled to at least get some groceries, somehow?"

You've got to expect that from kids: They think that everything's a right, that things like groceries are just guaranteed to be given to you and that somehow, society can guarantee that. I tried to set him straight:

"Everyone can get groceries, if they want, Boy," I said. "But you can't just go around handing them out. We're not Russia, you know. That kind of thing doesn't work. Besides, imagine if the government were to take over the grocery industry!" Sweetie laughed at that, too.

"The government does pretty good with some things," The Boy said. He's probably got teachers that fill his head with that crap.

"Like what?" I challenged him.

"They deliver the mail all over the country, pretty quick, and it's cheap, too. You can mail a letter for less than fifty cents and it'll go from Maine to Alaska in a day or two."

I didn't even know where to begin with that one. "The Post Office?" I said. "That's your idea of government efficiency? Have you ever seen the lines at the Post Office? You wait forever just to get stamps, and the government has to pay the Post Office just to keep it in business." He was being ridiculous. I mean, yeah, I had to wait to get into the Urgent Groceries, but that was different because it wasn't the regular grocery store, which I could have gone right into if I'd had an appointment, plus, once I was in the Urgent Groceries, I'd hardly waited at all.

"Why do they do that?" The Boy asked. "Why do they pay to keep the Post Office running?"

I'd never thought of that, but I gave him an answer: "I guess," I said, "It's because it's important to the government, and people, that everyone gets to mail a letter or send a package and keep in communication with people."

"Aren't Groceries as important as mail?" The Boy asked.

"No," I said, "It's not that. Everyone agrees Groceries are important, but if the Government got into the Grocery business, it would put the private Grocery Companies out of business, and plus, nobody would want to go into the Grocery Store end of it." Something about that bugged me -- I kept thinking of Federal Express and UPS and the Post Office, for some reason, but I shrugged it aside. "We've got the Best Grocery System In the World, and you don't want to mess with that, right?" I figured if the guy on the radio swayed me, it'd sway The Boy.

That was the end of that, more or less. I was going to, the next day, call ahead and make a Grocery Appointment so I could go to the regular store in three weeks, since the follow-up appointment wasn't for new Groceries, but I was pretty busy and, anyway, I had groceries now, so I didn't need an appointment for three weeks away. I didn't know how long the corn flakes would last, but I guessed that if I couldn't get in when they ran out, I'd just go to the Urgent Groceries again.

The only real shocker was that about 3 months later, we got this thing in the mail. We got, like, four things, actually, all these papers that said This Is Not A Bill and had all kinds of figures and numbers on them. I couldn't figure them out -- I've been to college, but these were confusing -- but I didn't need to figure them out. Since they said This Is Not A Bill, I didn't need to do anything so I just threw them away.

The fourth one, though, was a bill, and it was for $4,000. Four thousand bucks! And they said it had to be paid within 30 days or they might send me to a collection agency.

I didn't have four grand sitting around, and anyway, I had a Grocery Plan, so this had to be a mistake. I finally got a chance to call the number on the bill and talk to the lady -- I had to go outside at work to do it because I'm not supposed to make personal phone calls -- and I said that it had to be a mistake because I had a Plan and because it was so expensive.

"I didn't even know how much those corn flakes cost!" I said, and she said that she was sorry about that but there was nothing she could do.

"But the Cereal Specialist said I needed those corn flakes and didn't give me a choice," I said. She didn't have any answer for that one, so I said "Well, anyway, it must be a mistake because I've got a Plan, so I don't have to pay for corn flakes."

"It's not a mistake, sir," she said. "You're not covered for those benefits you received," and when I asked what that meant, she said that because I was a new enrollee, I wasn't covered for Hunger, as that was something she said was a "pre-existing condition."

"You mean," I said, "If I was hungry when I went shopping, you wouldn't pay for it, but if I wasn't hungry, then you would?"

"Exactly," she said. She explained that helped keep their costs down so that I could afford the Grocery Plan.

I tried to make a payment plan, but she said they didn't do that, and that I'd have to pay in full or they might garnish my wages. I talked to a guy I know about this, and he said that maybe a lawyer could help me, but all the lawyers I talked to just said that I could file bankruptcy, and I don't want to do that if I don't have to. I've been just sending them $20 here and there, whenever we have a little extra money, and hoping that they don't sue me or something. I can't keep that up for long, though, since my boss said that they're going to have to start charging the employees more for Grocery Plans to make ends meet at the business. So they're going to raise the contribution to 25%, which seems fair, I guess because with the recession and all, everyone's cutting back and I don't want to get laid off, so paying more seems like a good idea if it keeps me in my job. We couldn't ask many questions, since he told us about it on a conference call; he's on vacation right now, someplace warm like Guatamala or something, but he said even he's going to pay 25% of his wages, so it's not like I'm the only one sacrificing.


You wouldn't put up with that kind of thing for groceries... so why put up with it for health care?

Tomorrow, or soon, the House of Representatives is going to vote on the health care reform bill. This bill is not everything that's needed -- but it's a good step along the way.

Health care is a basic right that America should guarantee to everyone, and you can help. Contact your representative and tell him or her that you want Universal Health Care. See the links below.

Then contact the White House, and remind President Obama that he said this:

'We can have universal health care by the end of the next president's first term, by the end of my first term,'' Obama said, bringing 600 union workers to their feet during a question-and-answer session with members of AFL-CIO affiliated unions...

And tell him to quit mucking around and get Health Care Reform passed!

To contact your legislator, click this link and follow the simple directions

To contact the White House, click this link and fill in the form.