Coping with Fall

(This was originally published in 2002)

Well, it’s fall again.

Yes, you can tell that Mother Nature’s Great Carnival Ride of Seasons is, though its incessant, nauseating spinning, coming around to autumn once again. Leaves are starting to litter the ground, kids are once more sent off to school, Supermarkets are starting to stock last fall’s apples, and paramilitary groups are breaking out the brown fatigues. It truly is a wondrous time of year. This is in no way meant to imply that the other seasons are somehow inadequate. All seasons are, of course, completely equal. I once wrote a column extolling the virtues of summer, and received threatening letters from such organizations as The American Autumn Council and Canadians For Extending Winter By One Month And Making It Year-Round. I really don’t want to go down that road again.

There are many clues to tell you it’s autumn, such as:

– Retail stores are clearing out the Halloween candy to make room for the Thanksgiving stuff.

– Leaves are falling from trees, genius.

– I mean, come on. Why do think it’s called “Fall?” A noticeably higher rate of ladder accidents?

– Sheesh.

Well, after you make the brilliant deduction that it is, in fact, fall, and notify the press, you may find yourself wondering, “Is there something about Scooby Doo that I just don’t get?” Assuming you can pass a drug test, the answer is yes, there is. But you may also find yourself wondering how to make the most of this fine season. Here are a few handy tips:

1. Jump into a pile of leaves. Yes, images of leaf diving abound in our culture, so it is a Good And Wholesome Thing. So, go and jump into a large pile of moldy, decaying vegetable matter. The spiders and slugs love company.

2. Taunt School Children. This one is a longtime favorite of mine. Go stand in front of an elementary school classroom’s window, and make faces at the children. Make a big deal about how you’re free to do anything you want, and reinforce the idea that being an adult means total freedom and no responsibilities. Be prepared to flee on foot when the janitor comes out waving a broom.

3. Watch TV. Fall is when the major networks launch new shows and show new episodes of old ones. So cancel all your social plans and vegetate in front of the TV. Whimper at Scott Baio’s latest comeback attempt. Enjoy the heart-pounding excitement and drama that permeates every moment of a forensic pathologists’ life. Giggle when you think of the ludicrous overabundance of forensic pathologists that will flood the workplace in about five years. Think naughty thoughts about the “Friends” actor of your choice, except for Lisa Kudrow. She’s mine.

4. Sit in the dark and think about your pathetic, meaningless life while the world seems to wilt and die around you. Then go out for tacos. Marvel at how our society can offer Mexican-like food in Canada. Wonder if Mexicans eat Canadian bacon. Do research by going to a friend’s house and calling random people in Mexico. Leave before phone bill arrives.

There you have it. Now you’re as prepared for fall as I can make you. Enjoy this beautiful season of death and dormancy with your loved one or object of your psychotic fixation.

Now if you’ll excuse me, “Friends” is coming on.

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Column Writing

(originally published in 2003)

I can’t tell you the amount of times that people have asked me, “What makes a good column?” I usually mutter something about Dave Barry and go hide behind the buffet table. This can cause problems in restaurants.

But what does make a good column? Insightful comments? Well-considered arguments? Horrible puns? No one really knows. Columns are one of the great mysteries of the universe, like where babies come from and what actually happens when you mix equal parts of Coke and Pepsi. (My theory for both is “a nuclear explosion.”) Let’s take a look at the structure of an average column.

First, we have the “Hook,” an opening line designed to get the reader’s attention. Examples of hooks are, “Recently, I was immersing cute puppies into a vat of sulfuric acid,” or “Everyone said I was a fool to take up nude chainsaw juggling.” But one must be careful, as a poorly executed hook will turn the reader off and send him looking for porn on the Internet. “The world of Backhoe Repair is a fast-paced and exciting one” is a completely uninteresting and poorly executed hook, especially if your column is on the zany antics in college dorms.

Immediately after the hook is the “follow up,” a second comment made to support the hook. Good follow-ups are, “Boy those puppies sure looked cute in their little Hazmat suits.” and “But I’ve never seen clothes for a chainsaw! Wakka wakka wakka!” As with the hook, the writer must choose his words carefully, as a bad follow-up will leave the reader confused and with a headache, as if he has spent an evening watching reality television. A good example of a bad follow-up is “But not as fast-paced and exciting as this in-depth thesis on the gross national product of Belize I’m gonna lay on ya!”

After that comes the part we columnists like to call “winging it.” You’ve stated your thesis, now you back it up. “Why sulfuric acid?” “How exactly would you get pants on a chainsaw?” “Is Belize like a country or something?” These are all questions your reader will want answered. And it’s up to you to answer them, since you were dumb enough to bring it up. Sentences like “Obviously, the Puppy Method is a surefire way to take over the world.” and “To my horror, I realized that the audience wanted me to turn the chainsaw on!” will keep them confused enough to where you can avoid answering.

Finally comes the “Zinger.” This a sentence used to wrap everything up and shoot the point of the column home with the reader. “And so, I learned a valuable lesson about puppies and dangerous chemicals,” and “It turns out it’s a good idea to learn to juggle before putting on a show for a room full of soulful-eyed orphans” are good examples. Sentences like “Well, me done now,” while having the air of finality, doesn’t really have the conclusiveness necessary for a good column, and should be used only as a last resort.

Well, me am done now.

A Guide to Summer

(Originally published in 2002)

Well, if you’re anything like me, then you’re likely wanted by several law enforcement agencies. My advice is to stick to the back roads and grow a beard. If you already have a beard, shave it off. If you’re a woman, try testosterone treatments. And if you’re a woman in Arkansas, I’d tell you to shave off the beard, but there’s really no need as you can easily kill anything foolish enough to come after you.

But if you’re anything like me and are not being pursued through the swamp by hounds, you’re probably really feeling the effects of summer right now. For in case you were wondering as to why the days are so long and you’re sweating so much, it’s summer.

But have you really thought about summer? Of course not. Knowing you, you’re probably too busy checking out attractive members of the opposite sex as they glide by in skimpy outfits. You’re probably doing that right now, aren’t you? You’re not even bothering to read this column, which I spend countless minutes sweating over. Well let me tell you something, you toad! None of those attractive people will ever do anything but glare at you with mild disdain. Nothing I do will ever be good enough for you, will it, Gigi? I fly down to New Zealand and kill a studio guard just to get on the Farscape set, and all you do is stare at me and call the cops when I address you as “Chiana!” Well, fine, you elitist snob. I’ll just start sending my haikus of eternal love to Claudia, instead!! W’ell just see who’s laughing then, won’t we??

Let’s start by looking at the word “summer.” “Summer” comes from ancient Australian, where it meant, “Crikey, It sure is bonza hot!” The Aborigine explorers who later colonized the island quickly picked up the word they heard the strange, pale, khaki-wearing natives use whenever it got hot, and a new word entered the English language.

But summer really never had any special significance until the 1960s came along, and bringing with it two things: Public schooling in the United States, and “Frankie and Annette” movies. Both of these seemingly unrelated institutions of pop culture served to popularize summer as a time for the young, ages 16 to 24 only, to frolic and play.

See, it was typically May or June when the few remaining teachers who hadn’t died of malnutrition brought about from low pay or been driven mad by the utter unteachability of the average American student died of heat stroke, brought about by the thick asbestos insulation that all schools have to this day. This left American students to their own devices, and those with enough intelligence to find their way out of the school building went to see “Frankie and Annette” beach movies.

It was the legendary “Frankie and Annette” beach movie (so named for their ubiquitous leads, the legendary team of Jerry Lewis and Lou Costello) that really popularized summer as a time to go to the beach and have cook-outs with your friends, then get in a surfing duel with the head of a passing biker gang to see who is “King of the Beach.” It was such candid pictures of youth culture that paved the way for reality television.

And now that you know the history of summer, let’s look at a few sure-fire ways to “beat the heat.”

Sure-Fire Method #1: Turn the air conditioning down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, then sit in the kitchen directly in front of your refrigerator with its door open. Strip down to your underwear and place your feet in a large bucket of ice water. Make sure all the lights are off to eliminate the radiant heat the light bulbs produce. Then watch a Discovery channel special on something cold, like the last Ice Age or penguin mating rituals or something. Stay as still as possible. Run off anyone else who may happen by: the heat from their bodies and exhalation will raise the ambient temperature.

Sure-Fire Method #2: Become an astronaut. When up on your shuttle mission, trick the other astronauts into flying the shuttle to Pluto.

Sure-Fire Method #3: Kill yourself.

Well, there you have it. Everything you need to get the most out of summer. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my computer is giving off far too much heat.