Monthly Archives: January 2005

viral marketing

1/31/05

Believe it or not, but in the 31st week of our pregnancy, we’re switching doctors. Not because our old doctor was bad or anything – in fact, he is world-famous at his position – but the thought of going into labor in Park Slope, Brooklyn and trying to get through the worst rush hour traffic in America to 168th Street in Upper Canada, Manhattan was too much to fit into our puny four-dimensional minds.

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While at the new doctor’s waiting room, I was sitting near this gigantic old woman who erupted into that wet, gargantuan, disgusting Medieval cough that was SURELY laced with typhoid, cholera, yellow fever and The Grippe. It was one of those coughs where you try to hold your breath for a few minutes to let it dissipate; if my pregnant wife weren’t so damned hearty, I would have whisked her out of there and sprayed Purell into her lungs.

All of which reminded me of my Favorite Places to Get the Flu. I’ve lived a little while longer since I made the first list, so I’d like to add a few sites that might do the trick:

1. the sneeze guard at the Elizabeth, NJ Ikea cafeteria

2. the M23 bus pole during morning rush hour along 23rd st

3. our pediatrician’s office on Joralemon Street

4. the pen for signing Visa bills at the Yaffa Café on St. Marks Place

5. the copy of New York Newsday on the seat of the 2 train heading out of Manhattan

6. the cab door handle out front of the Chelsea Clearview Cinemas

7. the divot where the cashier tosses you a subway token at the 125th St. A-train station

8. the game basketball at the W. 4th St. courts

9. the “START PRINTING” button on the Rite Aid copy machine on Hudson Avenue

10. the open vats of salsa at La Taqueria

11. the enclosed Room of Plastic Balls at the McDonald’s Playland

12. the “going up” button on the elevator at Columbia Presbyterian Hosptial

13. the public phone, platform 2, at the LIRR station on Atlantic Avenue

14. plastic tub of not-individually-wrapped forks, 8th Avenue Deli

and yes, the best is still

15. tonguing drunk sailor at the Manhole during Fleet Week!

Have I missed any?

daily dairy diary diarrhea

1/30/05

Welcome to xtcian 3.0, the third major overhaul in my blog since I first logged on in June 2001. To be honest, I didn’t start writing religiously until April 2002, but I get credit for early adopting, right? Actually, no: my brother Steve does. He has been spot-on in some of his technological predictions, and blogging was one of his best. He made a blog for the Pink House movie that I thought we were all going to use, but by the time our lead actor was in the hospital and a typhoon washed away our set, I figured that probably wasn’t going to happen.

Steve did get one thing wrong – I think he once said that people will stop using home PCs with any sort of computing power; they will simply be dummy boxes with the main processing unit outside the home. Perhaps he underestimated the video game culture, or the security concerns of having all your secret documents (porn) outside your immediate control. Or maybe I’m misquoting him and he didn’t say any of that.

Anyway, you’ll notice no real external changes here, but my ability to post and DELETE SPAM has taken a quantum leap forward into the 21st century. Coincidentally, this happened on a weekend when blogs themselves became the topic of conversation (again) in the New York Times and Slate – two very different articles, but both offering predictions of where the medium will go in the next few years.

When people start talking about the Power of the Blog, I get that same uncomfortable feeling I had in the early ’90s when I was pretending to speak for Generation X – trying to force any movement to your liking is a one-way ticket to heartbreak and cringe-worthy prognostications. I don’t feel like any particular blog will ever have the power of say, Fox News, but the living organism of the “blogosphere” – which will include one nugget of info from 4,000 different blogs – will. For instance, I’ve written in this diary for a long fucking time, and it’s my belief that when all is said and done, I will have provided this entry, this entry and perhaps two future entries as my tiny contribution to the national debate on anything.

Which isn’t bad. But I certainly don’t believe that my power as a modestly-popular blogger extends any further than that.

Besides, the mercurial vacillations of Americans never cease to prove paradoxical. What if someone came to you in 1990 and said: “there will be a forum called the Internet on all computers by 2004, and every little theory and rant on the Powers That Be will be accessible by millions at the touch of a button.” You might be tempted to think, “well, I guess that will be the end of all government shenanigans, and our leaders will be held to a higher standard, and the voice of the people will drown out the agenda of major corporations!”

And yet, the opposite has happened. So while blogs may be some mitochondria of future power, but they could also be just one more way that your voice is ever more meaningless in a cruel, uncaring universe. Here’s to my futile stab in that black, gaping existential maw!

Room to Breathe

Steve, here, with the first posting in Ian’s upgraded blog.

Notwithstanding my whining comments about Movable Type last week, I did finally manage to migrate Ian’s web site to Movable Type 3.14.

Why do you care as a reader? Well, I hope this will boost Ian’s morale, by making it easier and more fun to keep this blog!

The new MT will, we hope, reduce the time Ian spends defending against comment spam. There’s comment moderation now, and a new version of MT-Blacklist that can do lots more, easier.

At the same time, I made a few other improvements. We’re on a much faster server now, with pretty much unlimited disk space. (That’ll make my job easier, since I won’t have to constantly manage the disk space.) I also switched to a faster, more capable database.

I put a lot of time in on this. I hope it helps Ian stay enthusiastic about blogging, and I hope it helps the readers stay engaged.

Let me know how the new system works for you!

tour my amygdala

1/27/05

The Buddhists say that if you really hate something, you should lean into it and truly understand your feelings. Don’t avoid it: revel in it. The only way around is through.

It is with this in mind that I present today’s blog. Case in point – I hate brown slush. Sure, a snowstorm is terrific and skiing is awesome and winter has its charm, but the brown, diesel-colored sludge churned onto the road for three months puts me in a state of apoplectic depression.

I have hated it since I was a kid, those frozen mountains of black snow backed into the corners of all the parking lots in Iowa. I want to get a giant hair dryer and melt them all. I despise walking in it, then seeing my own footprints re-frozen day after day. Just thinking about brown sludge can make me stop what I’m doing and force me to think about other nice things, like daisies or blue jays.

So, in an effort to quell this horror, I am offering three examples of prime brown slush right here on the blog. May it be a reminder to myself in gentler times about the beast Earth and its wobbling axis.

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8th Avenue bus stop trough slush

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puddle slush congealed corner 7th Avenue and Union

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car-spackled slush oozing on Berkeley Street

leo-nard bern-stein

1/26/05

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Anyone with a bit of media savvy or a passing familiarity with Seymour Hersh’s work in The New Yorker will know that he’s not some flaming left-wing wacko; in fact, his reporting and bona fides (he uncovered the My Lai massacre 35 years ago and won the Pulitzer) give him a gravitas that no amount of right-wing shit-shoveling can take away.

Which is why his speech now available on the Democracy Now website is particularly harrowing. If you have 20 minutes free and want your fucking socks scared off, by all means go watch the video or sample a bit of the transcript. This man is not screwing around. Here’s a bit:

It’s going to go very bad, folks. You know, if you have not sold your stocks and bought property in Italy, you better do it quick. Europe is not going to tolerate us much longer. The rage there is enormous. I’m talking about our old-fashioned allies. We could see something there, collective action against us. It’s going to be an awful lot of dancing on our graves as the dollar goes bad and everybody stops buying our bonds, our credit — we’re spending $2 billion a day to float the debt, and one of these days, the Japanese and the Russians, everybody is going to start buying oil in Euros instead of dollars. We’re going to see enormous panic here.

Naturally, the readers of this blog who lean to the right will chime in to say how this is overblown rhetoric, but suppose for a minute Hersh is right. If the last five years have proven anything to us – from the tech crash to 9/11 to anthrax to climate change to power outages to flu vaccines – is that WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, YOU ARE ALONE IN THIS WORLD. Don’t expect a safety net or a superhero to swoop out of the sky and rescue you: if things go south in this country, too fucking bad for you.

As far as I can see, it’s a good season to behave like a survivalist; I don’t mean hoarding cans of Spaghetti-O’s in the larder like my Mormon cousins do, I mean just being aware that you might want to have a few things in place if something terrible happens. If there were a stock market crash in 2005, you can’t run down the street flapping your arms screaming that you weren’t warned.

But what does that really mean? I’ve got a kid on the way, and when we aren’t paying for our lives through writing and other projects, we rely on the occasional dividends from stocks invested in American companies. We could wildly diversify into international stuff, but will that really save our bacon?

And if the infrastructure goes, how the hell will we get around this city? You need electricity to power the gas pumps; even the Prius runs out of fuel eventually. Try leaving the country, but who would take us? In some daymares, I have Tessa and I hauling the kid around in a Baby Bjorn as we walk over the mountains into Canada like the Von Trapp family escaping the Anschluss.

We’re all woefully underprepared even for the most minor emergencies. And why should the neo-cons care? Half of them are too rich to see straight, and the other half believe it’s the End Times anyway. You can hope for one of two things: first, that something amazing happens that rescues us from this administration – or second, that we all live long enough to see this government vilified in textbooks as the worst thing ever to happen to the American experiment.

grandmother of record

1/24/05

Tessa’s grandmother Lucille – known to everyone as Nonnie – has been a regular fixture in Tessa’s family lore for all 88 of her years. She came from very untrusting German stock in the Hill Country of Texas, making her a bundle of neuroses that is as hilarious as it is endearing. I think Tessa credits Nonnie with a good deal of her sanity, and her plaintive aphorisms are all over Five Wives, Three Secretaries and Me.

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Sandy, Nonnie and baby Tessa, 1969

One of Nonnie’s most famous quotes was delivered mid-rant to Tessa and Jason at some point ten years ago, when she summed up her entire philosophy about the vicissitudes of her fellow man: “well, you know, you don’t want to get too mixed up with people…”

We thought that was one of the best things to spring out of her brain, and she and I quote it whenever some insane assholes are threatening to take over our lives. Tessa also told the always-excellent Virginia Heffernan, who managed to put it into a wonderful article she wrote about the passing of Johnny Carson in yesterday’s New York Times.

It may have taken almost a century, and Nonnie – stuck at the nursing home in Huntsville, Texas – may not fully grasp it, but Lucille Tessman finally got herself into the New York Times. And that, my friends, is cause for celebration.

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Nonnie, Sandy, Tessa in 2003

friends are calling “yoo hoo”

1/23/05

Blizzard of ’05

If you grow up in Iowa, you’re used to thinking about snowstorms that defied descriptions, you know, snowdrifts that piled up so high that you couldn’t even open your front door. Well, for many kids in Brooklyn, this weekend is going to have been that storm. Too bad for them it happened on Saturday and Sunday, because this would have been a very rare DOUBLE SNOW DAY, which is every 4th grader’s dream.

I went out before it got too intense, around 2pm Saturday, to get groceries at the Food Co-op. Needless to say, every other person living in Brooklyn had the same idea, and it was a fucking nightmare. Two hours later, the conditions got intolerably cold and windy:

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By 7pm, you couldn’t see up our old street at all:

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And by midnight, the whole neighborhood looked like a quaint, frozen village stuck in an 1880s-era snow dome:

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When we woke up Sunday, most people couldn’t get out of their stoops, but there sure as hell weren’t getting into their cars. This is a neighbor’s Prius and another neighbor’s VW Bug:

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Deciding we’d brave the sub-zero wind chill, Lindsay and I walked over the Prospect Park, where I thought there would be very little activity. Instead, every single family from a mile radius was out there with their kids:

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It has to be one of the first reported cases of “sledlock,” where lines of thirty kids were waiting their turn to fly down the hill and make a quick right turn to avoid braining themselves on the lightposts. I’ll go out on a limb and say this was THE BEST DAY OF THESE KIDS’ LIVES judging by the screams of pleasure:

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Lindsay used his 6’5″ frame to get some good momentum down the hill. He handed the sled to me, and as I neared the bottom, I hit a mogul that threw my cap over my eyes. While I was struggling to see, I hit a HUGE mogul that sent the sled into my mouth, where it lopped out half my front tooth:

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ACTUAL SERIOUS CONVERSATION AFTER MY TOOTH-LOSING SLED RUN:

Me: Um, dude? I have to go home.

Lindsay: Why?

(I give a pathetic smile, showing that I now look like I live in a trailer outside Gaffney, South Carolina)

Me: Because of THITH.

Lindsay: Oh no! Did that just happen?

Me: Yeth, is there any blood?

Lindsay: No. Shit. I don’t believe it.

Me: I better go home.

Lindsay: Yeah. I mean – um, yeah.

Me: I can’t believe it either.

(I turn to leave)

Lindsay: Hey, wait. Do you need me to say something to her? Like tell her that you weren’t doing anything reckless or something?

Me: I dunno.

Lindsay: I can tell her we weren’t rough-housing.

Me: No. I mean, she already knowth why I came out here.

Lindsay (dejected): Okay. See ya.

Hours later, I realized that Lindsay and I would have had the exact same conversation in 1977. Funny how shock just turns you right back into an 8-year-old. When I told Tessa that story, she couldn’t stop laughing for a half an hour.

As You Live It

1/20/05

Oh, it’s all so disgusting and sad. That cruel monkey was inaugurated to the tune of at least $41 million of big donor money while so much of the world is in such yawping pain, and nobody even gives a shit. Flurries of emails went around to boycott spending today in protest, but… there we were in the biggest progressive capital of the bluest of blue states, and there were TONS of people shopping at every store in New York City. I thought, well FUCK it and bought a double soy latt

smear on affected area

1/19/05

I’ve always had a strong fascination with product names, especially those for medications. In fact, I wrote a whole play about it – or more accurately, about the fates of four English majors stuck at a pharmaceutical firm where they have to come up with a new name for a bed-wetting drug in ten minutes or else they get fired.

In writing it, I realized that drug companies follow strict, dopey rules when they name their drugs: among them, the drug has to subconsciously sound like what it treats, it has to have the vague anagram of a solution, and it has to have a every expensive Scrabble letter in it, like a K, X, Y, Z or V.

So I’d like to list my favorite medicine names, because I think a few of these are truly brilliant:

1. Vioxx – Violent treatment against pain, and not one, but TWO X’s right in a row. Too bad it makes seniors fall down dead, because this drug is named for ACTION to the EXXTREME, baby! Celebrex or Bextra? Boring. My back spasms cry VIOXX!

2. Ayr (saline nasal spray) – Oh, how simple yet sneaky. Take the most innocuous word in English; indeed, the most innocuous thing in LIFE – air itself – and jack a 21st-century “Y” into it. If you’re not breathing Ayr, you’re not breathing!

3. Paxil – Not my anti-depressant of choice (I take the more selective Celexa), but combining the Latin word for peace in a little parcel of a pill was a stroke of genius. Honorable mention goes to Zoloft, for lofty reasons.

4. Castor Oil – You have to give castor oil balls for staying castor oil. Nothing sounds worse, nothing has quite the same greasy viscosity combined with feeling like a castaway on your own island of abject misery. And yet, with a name like that, you know it fucking WORKS.

5. Allegra – It’s almost a straight-ahead anagram for “allergy,” but also combines the Italian music direction “allegro,” meaning a spritely, fast tempo. With your sinuses feeling this gay, how could you not gambol in the pansies?

6. Desitin – Destined for your ass, maybe.

7. Rogaine – The subconscious anagrams abound: Are you that rogue who gained all his hair back? How does it feel to regain rows of thick hair? Grow again, Rogaine!

8. Zyprexa – Are you kidding? It has a Z, a Y and an X! This medication for schizophrenia and “acute bipolar mania” has a name as fucked up as its patients, and that’s pretty awesome in my book. Too bad Zaxxon was already taken.

Oh, you’d like to know my LEAST favorite medicine names? Well, there are two, really. Two products whose names should have been axed at the design stage. You have to remember that someone heard these names at a board meeting, and said, “Yes. Yes, let’s go with that. Brilliant work!” Designs were laid out, plans were unveiled, thousands of crates were shipped, and nobody said anything about:

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