Monthly Archives: May 2009

a bright orange bag on the carousel

5/31/09

Just back from a sad, emotional and often deeply funny weekend in Norfolk… but two planes, one train and two taxis later, I can barely conjugate verbs. So I’d like to ask you this: if you see something oddly beautiful or inspiring today, can you put it in the comments section?

i’ll follow the sun

5/27/09

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with Lynn, April 2003

One of my best friends from high school, Lynn Barco, died this morning from kidney failure – and I’m finding it hard to believe that someone so constantly engaged with the world is no longer in it. Lynn was my first actual friend in high school – my violin stand-partner Karyn knew we were both huge Beatle fans, so she stuck us in a small room to talk about it. Lynn and I both found the situation ridiculous, but we did become fast friends, along with Karyn, Hamp, Steve, Dan, Marcie and a conglomeration of like-minded souls trying to get through the early ’80s with our dignity intact.

I spent thousands of man-hours with Lynn in the school darkroom, developing pictures to be inserted in the yearbook, carefully making sure that we, ourselves, were never represented. Even at 14, we found that kind of thing ostentatious and creepy. The darkroom had a cassette player, and it was there she introduced me to the indie weirdos of the day: Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Aztec Camera, Let’s Active.

Lynn always had a plan, was always on the way to a show, or an event, and you were free to join her if you wanted. She got excited about things, and while she shared our own teenage, grumpy, casual disregard for most of what Norfolk and Virginia Beach had to offer, she was willing to go on any adventure – musical, philosophical, literary – you had humming.

I remember staying late at her house with our friends, watching a VHS tape of Urgh! A Music War, drinking soda (not allowed at my house), listening to her sister’s old Styx albums. I remember sitting on the porch in the summer of 1983, discussing whether or not “Every Breath You Take” was one of the Police’s great songs (our take: no.) I remember going water skiing with her dad, and her teaching me that if you rub powdered meat tenderizer on your skin, the mounds of jellyfish in Chesapeake Bay would never sting you.

She was lovely, and unsentimental. She wouldn’t have gone for any refrigerator magnet profundity, so I’ll leave it with one of our favorite songs.

Rocky Raccoon he fell back in his room

Only to find Gideon’s bible

Gideon checked out and he left it no doubt

To help with good Rocky’s revival-

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Hamp, Kris, Sharon and me, with Lynn in front, graduation day 1985

our delicate blue marble

5/25/09

You know how contests always seemed rigged? Like some dude or some woman gets their entire sorority or choir or mega-church to vote for them, and you wonder if you’d ever be able to muster up that kind of following? Well, now you can be that very pain-in-the-ass institution that pushes someone into victory.

Namely, my buddy Seth – a young man known to many of you – is trying to win this contest put on by Hyatt. Due to the economy, Seth is one of those guys who is removing himself from his job with the blessing of his company, and this could be something tremendously awesome for him.

I’ll let him explain the details, but know this: he’s a former housemate, a Carolina grad who bleeds sky blue, and all-around excellent fellow. Let’s win one for the home team, shall we? Here’s Seth:

***

Well, this is mortifying. I’d always imagined that Ian would offer me the xtcian stage because I had something important to say, rather than merely an absurdly self-serving favor to ask. But I find myself in striking distance of winning a free year-long vacation, and for that I figure it’s worth making an utter fool of myself.

Specifically, I’m hoping you’ll vote for me online in a contest sponsored by Hyatt Hotels, where the prize is 365 free nights at any Hyatt throughout the world, plus one million airline miles with the airline of my choice. Last week, the night before the contest’s deadline, I contrived an utterly cheeseball last-minute entry – a video – so that I could tell myself that I at least tried. Then, the other day, I got a Fedex telling me that, from 48,000 entries, I am one of 20 semifinalists.

Now, to get me to the final round of 5, I’d need you to follow the 4 easy steps below to vote. In case it offers any motivation: if I win, and if you can represent to me that you voted for me at least 6 of the 8 possible times, I will throw your name into a hat and hold a raffle of my own, where I’ll transfer to the raffle winner five of my free Hyatt nights (this, provided that Hyatt will allow me to do so – I’m working on figuring out with them if that would be okay).

[ed. note: as of 6/3/09, voting is closed – thanks!]

STEP 1: Register. Go here to join Hyatt’s Gold Passport global frequent guest program and get a number. Save that number. (I’m sorry that this is required, but they don’t ask for any unusual information, and it’s the only way. There will be no spam ever as long as you uncheck the boxes asking about special offers.)

STEP 2: Vote for me! Go here and select my entry, located in middle of the bottom row. And look, I’m fully aware that there are worthier entries to vote for than my pandering ramblings. Please vote for me anyway.

STEP 3: Repeat Step 2 every day this week until next Tuesday. You can vote once per day up to eight times, peoples. Please do. Optional autopilot program: If you’d like to help me out but want an easier way, just follow Step 1, send your Hyatt Passport number to me at [email redacted] and tell me who you want to vote for (um, me), and I’ll vote as your proxy.

STEP 4: Spread the word. To win this, I figure that I’ll need pretty much everyone I know, and perhaps most people they know, to vote for me each day, so any assistance in making that happen would be most appreciated.

That’s it! If you have any questions, use the comments, and Ian or I will check in throughout the week to let you know the results. Maybe someday I’ll get to return to the xtcian guest blog slot with something more altruistic, or at least more consequential, to say. And with your help, I will be typing that blog entry from Bali.

***

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Seth holding 14-month-old Lucy in Paris, 2006

augmentin’ my misomania

5/21/09

Okay, for the nine readers I’ve got for today, I’m going to tell you this: I motherfucking PRAY you don’t get as sick as I just did for the last six days. What a god damned disaster. I’ve held off discussing my diseases on here – if you can believe it – only telling you guys half the time I come down with something, because it would make me look like an open wound bawling at the fucking sky. But THIS one took THE FUCKING CAKE.

Six days, in bed, with my sinuses and eyeballs on fire, migraines that would induce projectile vomiting, a perforated eardrum, trying desperately to chomp down antibiotics like Augmentin and Omnicef. The nights got so bad I turned to Tussionex, a Vicodin-laced cough suppressant that doubled as a fucking PSYCHOTROPIC HALLUCINOGEN.

One teaspoon of that shit, and I was writhing in a hot sweat, dreaming that I was back in high school, cornered by all 99 of my classmates, where they demanded to know why I had a crush on Sharon F., and what was so special about me that would make her like me back… all right in front of Sharon. Then I witnessed my little dog Lily get stuck in a tube where we couldn’t help her, and had to say goodbye. This shit went on ALL NIGHT. SIX NIGHTS.

It wasn’t until this morning, when I woke up in New York and heard an actual robin chirping, that I believed I’d ever be well again. I have lost six pounds, and my eyes have black circles under them. I walk around, hollowed out, looking at all the beautiful scenery thinking “I wish I were here.”

No remedies, no immune boosters, I’m tired of all that fucking shit. Here’s the deal: Lucy gets something from every toddler at her preschool, and brings it home. She gets over it in 24 hours, and I get over it in 144. I can’t make her wash her hands every time I see her, and I can’t carry around a fucking bottle of Purell. Jesus, it’s probably not even her. Forget scapegoating my daughter; I’m just a gaping, needy, vortex of mucous cells that CRY OUT FOR INFLUENZA.

I’m at the end of my rope with this fucking shit. I used to be depressed, then despondent, now I’m just ANGRY. I refuse to be Polly Prissypants, walking around my own home wearing a bactericidal mask, having Howard Hughes-like soups prepared in a sterile dish. WHAT the FUCK.

Anyway, have a happy Memorial Day. Healthy motherfuckers.

i’ll have the glenmorangie with fries please

5/18/09

The lovely Katie sent me a deeply disturbing article from the Wall Street Journal about… yes, you guessed it, AMERICANS WHO PUT ICE IN THEIR SINGLE-MALT SCOTCH. Parts of this piece actually make it sound reasonable, and even the author breezily admits to liking a “scotch cocktail”. Pardon me while I boot and then rally on top of my high goddamn horse.

It’s fine to put ice – or blasts of water or soda – into a run-o’-the-mill blended scotch like Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark or Johnny Walker (Red or Black, not Blue), because they aren’t meant to be all that great anyway. Water and ice smooths out the rough edges, and makes a vaguely unpleasant drink into something merely boring. Frankly, if you’re going that route, I’d suggest a nice bourbon, but then again, I retain a significant amount of “sorority girl” in my Weltpolitik.

A single malt, however, is an entirely different beast. It hails from one particular distillery with its own idiosyncrasies, usually aged between ten and twenty years, and is presented to you as an expression from that tiny place and time. Something like a Macallan 18 year old can actually contain several much older barrels in the mix (called “vatting”), aged in rare sherry casks. There’s currently a shortage of these kinds of whiskies.

Let’s go even further. I have a bottle of Glenfarclas 41-year-old, distilled in December 1966, one of 326 bottles taken from Cask 4107. This particular cask was selected for an amazing flavor that conjures chocolate, dried apricots, the burnt top of crème brûlée, charred firewood and ancient leather chairs. A dram is only a third of a shot, but it’s an experience that took longer than most of our lifetimes to achieve.

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Imagine finding a lost Van Gogh or Rembrandt, something indescribably evocative – then having it carefully transported from the old Austrian attic where it was discovered, all the way to your house in America. When the movers get there, you say, “Okay, cool. Now stick it in the pool.” THAT’S what you’re doing when you chuck ice into a single malt.

Hey, I’m all for snazzing up your drinks with as much shit as possible. Gimme a Purple Schoolbus or a Grasshopper or a rum with Five Alive, Mountain Dew, coconut flakes and rainbow jimmies any day of the week, as long as we’re on the Outer Banks and the Heels are playing. But if you’re planning on tossing a couple of fluoride-laced ice cubes into your glass of 1986 Bruichladdich, you should save yourself the trouble and just hit yourself on the head with a hammer while you flush $20 bills down the toilet.

double click command-c command-v

5/17/09

I know I’m prone to railing against the plummeting quality of the MainStreamMedia™ (much to commenter cm’s annoyance) but Maureen Dowd – probably the most widely-read columnist at the NYTimes, just lifted an entire paragraph from another blogger and put it in her latest piece (now corrected, of course).

You can see the side-by-side comparison here, but the most delusory part of this is Dowd’s explanation:

josh is right. I didn’t read his blog last week, and didn’t have any idea he had made that point until you informed me just now.

i was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent — and I assumed spontaneous — way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column.

but, clearly, my friend must have read josh marshall without mentioning that to me.

we’re fixing it on the web, to give josh credit, and will include a note, as well as a formal correction tomorrow.

Which, of course, would lead anyone to ask… um, did your friend dictate the blog’s contents word-for-word to you? To which she responded:

no, we were going back and forth discussing the topic of the column and he made this point and i thought it was a good one and wanted to weave it in;

i just didn’t realize it was josh marshall’s point, and we’ve now given him credit

my friend didn’t want to be quoted; but of course i would have been happy to give credit to another writer, as i often do

Now, I don’t like to pick on Maureen Dowd, as I think she’s one of the good guys, and I’ve agreed with her outrages large and small. The worst I’ve ever said of her is that she thinks of a painfully clever phrase first, then writes a column around it – and if that were illegal, they would have taken this blog away from me back in 2002.

But she is doing nobody any favors with this kind of low-rent, sloppy “attribution”. I love the New York Times and despite its many flaws, it’s the Paper of Record that this country desperately needs, as (perhaps) all others fall away. 150 years from now, our descendents will be able to see their great-great-great-great grandparents’ wedding as having happened on a particular day in a particular place. In the meantime, it’s the newspaper that has to be the grownup, the Old Gray Lady by which everything else is measured.

Anyone with more than two fingers can see a “cut and paste” for what it is, and Dowd’s paragraph in question is – except for a couple words – a carbon copy down to the punctuation. There was no “friend” “discussing” the “point”, and just saying that makes me embarrassed.

Three things could have happened:

1) Maureen Dowd has no idea how plagiarism works in the post-Google era

2) She’s farming out her columns to be written by staffers with little oversight

3) After a week full of television appearances and other media events, she quickly hammered out an obligatory column on Dick Cheney, and took a paragraph from previous research – or an email from friends – and absent-mindedly pasted it into her file, and hit “send”.

If it’s any of the above, JUST SAY SO. You don’t get to be casual about this, not at the New York Fucking Times. You don’t get to say “oh man, it’s all cool, I was just talking to some dude who mentioned blah blargh bleughgh”. Your liberal readers are all moral relativists and will cut you abnormal amounts of slack, but only if you’re honest with them.

If not, then fuck it. There are thousands of columnists and passionate writers who would give their left pancreas to have that gig. That’s one lesson I’ve learned here in Hollywood: if you’ve got the Dream Job, behave like you deserve it.

the funhouse mirror

5/14/09

At some point you have to ask yourself: where does your chemistry stop and your choices begin? You look at your situation and assess that you are taking all of the drugs you’re willing to take, and getting all of the talk therapy you can handle, and any outsider would look at your life and conclude that things seem pretty much fine.

And yet, you stand on the edge of a chasm: on the other side lies a place called “general well-being” or “contentment”, and you realize the gap between you and this other place is still too wide to jump, even with a good run. Then comes the debate that everyone has at some point… does anyone actually live over there? Besides true Buddhists and those without compunction, does anyone have a rest state of organic happiness, or is it like General Public sang, “it’s a sad but natural fact, there’s something deep inside that stays lonely forever”?

It’s not a debate you want to have with anyone else. Even those with the patience of a saint will tire of your gloom in short order. Even those who are tremendously depressed themselves will bark at others to “snap out of it”, to “think positive”, as if their diminished powers will suddenly find purchase in someone else. More likely, everyone is barely keeping it together, and have no strength to play sideman in anyone else’s blues.

Here’s the kicker, though: everything we do – especially long-term – we do because it provides a payoff. Ask yourself, why are you negative? Why are you choosing dread? I mean, once you’ve wrestled most of the demons with chemistry and therapy, what are you gaining from your misery? If it wasn’t providing something, you would have stopped long ago, so what exactly is it?

And then it hits you: it’s your identity. It’s who you are. Who would you be if you weren’t Unhappy? Where would you get your power if you weren’t full of Rage? You have been these things for so long that you don’t know who this other, “happy” motherfucker would be. Think of alcoholics in recovery – it must be almost impossible, since so many of them knew themselves to be funny, raucous, unreliable, self-immolating drunks. They have to rebuild a new persona, and let’s be honest, that’s really goddamn hard.

Ask yourself: would it really be so bad to be someone slightly different? Would you really lose your energy if you didn’t have something making you angry, and would others find you less interesting if you hadn’t brought a trauma along?

Suppose you were to choose being positive – when it was an option, of course – and you felt the chasm between you and warm happiness begin to close. Perhaps you even could even walk over there now. What if you discover that you have just as much energy and remain just as interesting? What if you could stop hoarding, end your desire for coddling, and best of all, stop considering yourself an exception for everything?

We eat what kills us, and then, when told of our condition, hoist a flag of what we eat. Our town is washed away by a hurricane we name our children after.

cuz you’re lonely in your nightmare let me in

5/12/09

In Which I Get Totally Generational Again

Look, I helped write two books on this stuff. You should listen to me. Unless you think that any talk about American generations is hopelessly generic and paints with such a broad brush as to be patently misleading – but since that describes everything I write on here, you should ask yourself why you keep coming back for more punishment.

Here’s the scoop: I’ve oft moaned about my particular generation’s relatively pathetic contribution to the arts, especially given that we were supposed to be the next great creators. The Baby Boomers were batshit and changed the game, sure sure, but us Generation Xers were supposed to take it all in, remain fascinatingly introspective, and create the kind of Masterpieces the Silent generation had done before us.

Not clear? Here’s a simple guide:

Silent Generation, born 1925-1942. You got your Beatles, Stones, Brando, Woody Allen, etc.

Baby Boomers, born 1942-1961. You know these motherscratchers.

Gen X, born 1961-1981. That’s us. Unless you’re under 28, in which case IT’S YOUR BEDTIME

ANYWHOODLE… generational behavior, like recessive genes, tend to skip generations. We were supposed to be more like the “Silent” folks, who grew up in the rigidity of the 1940s and 50s and became the storytellers. Sure, the Baby Boomers freaked out and danced badly, but they didn’t actually create any of the art from that time – that was the folks a decade older than them.

Neil Howe and Bill Strauss predicted the same thing would happen to us: we would be a “reactive” group of people, a cohort of Americans who would look at the carnage wracked by the Boomers, call bullshit, and then write our novels, make our movies, etc… but the eldest of us are pushing 50, and we really haven’t stepped up to the plate.

Who are our writers? We already lost David Foster Wallace, leaving us with some very good writers like J. Lethem, Z. Smith and the like, but are there any Updikes, Fitzgeralds, Vonneguts and Roths? In pop music, do we have anybody that can stack up against the oeuvre of the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Elvis Costello, U2, R.E.M. or even Duran Duran?

Sure, the marketplace is entirely different now, and plenty of writers, musicians, journalists, painters and other artists aren’t allowed the time to flourish the way they did in years past. But would you call Generation X a cultural juggernaut?

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I think I understand why we’ve failed ourselves. Every generation has a fatal flaw. The Silent Generation had one of the worst ever: they went through the “sexual revolution” at the same time as the Boomers – except the Boomers were doing it at 18, and the Silents were doing it at 38 with their spouse and kids at home. It was just bad luck for the Silent Generation; awesome sideburns, finding your G-spot, and having sex with your neighbors just came around too late for them to partake without fucking up us li’l Gen Xers.

As for us, it ain’t rocket science. Here’s Gen X’s problem in a nutshell: the internet appeared in the world at EXACTLY the right time to ensure we would never dive into our Masterpieces. As we were winding up to slap the world upside the ass with our lusty, groundbreaking works, we were fucking sidetracked by that “I KISS YOU!!!” guy from Turkey.

Since then, we have deviated from, digressed over, and forgotten completely about our Greatest Works in the face of the most overwhelming onslaught of Attention Deficit Disorder entertainment since the Roman Vomitorium. We have so much cool shit now, from the Wii to the Shuffle to YouTube (and prøn, of course) that asking us to concentrate on Art is like distracting a fat kid from cherry frosting.

There’s something poisonous afoot here too; the easy access to videos from our youth, to Facebook friends from third grade, to ironic T-shirts with Grape Ape on them… it retards our growth and throws us into a toxic soup of nostalgia, irony and snark. All three elements can destroy creativity – nostalgia begets preciousness, irony promotes cliché, and snark snuffs out the light.

They say narcissism is as viral as the flu, but it doesn’t have a thing on ADD – if you don’t have ADD yet, you aren’t trying hard enough. Shit, I’m amazed I’ve kept this blog for seven years, given how badly I get shoved off-course (during the writing of this, I also accidentally researched J.D. Salinger’s girlfriends, looked at all the recent pics of Duran Duran’s drummer, read some notes from 1992 about “13th-GEN”, and then learned how to make an “ø”).

I write televisions and movie scripts by forced sabbatical; it’s the only way I can do it. Give me 36 hours, and I can give you anything. But not everybody has that luxury, and god knows it drives my wife bonkers.

Already, I can hear the emails and comments: What about hip-hop? What about the Art of video games? Why do you always present these ideas in generational terms? Aren’t you just describing your own problems and extrapolating them to us?

Perhaps that’s true. And perhaps so much about American culture has shifted that nobody is allowed to be a superstar in their field anymore, because that space is now being taken by thousands of people basking in the fifteen minutes afforded them by the internet. Or maybe the jury’s still out on Gen X, and we’ll get it done – we’ll be known for more than just excellent writing on “The Daily Show” and “30 Rock”.

It’s just that I’ve always been mindful of that great Aimee Mann lyric:

I should have seen the cracks in the ceiling

and the mirror covered up with dust

But I was busy talking on the phone

keepsakes vs. gravity, round II

5/11/09

Okay, so apparently you can’t “fucking bet on it” that I’ll get that sheet metal onto the door: Tessa forbade it, so I had to come up with another solution to get photographs to stay up without the use of tape. After dealing with the inner fury associated with lacerating my leg for no discernable reason, I landed on an idea Martha Stewart woulda loved.

I took jute twine and criss-crossed a wooden frame, using the nail gun to clamp the twine between door and frame. I stretched the twine taut, then cut off the excess around the frame, leaving you with the door you see at the left:

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Also pictured are the other things I put up for Tessa’s birthday: better cork boards, a dry-erase board for all our work goings-on, a mail slot for all the shit I forget, and a little digital picture frame to remind us of those who live far, far away from California. Oh, and that’s Lucy’s “kitchen” where she makes tea for her stuffed frog Thierry.

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The twine solution works only for large pictures, but that’s fine, because I like experimenting with the big formats, and there’s cork for everything else. It looks forlorn, all this pinboard and nothing on it yet; can’t wait to fill it with insanity.

Any projects you guys working on?

have we got him his diptets, honey

5/10/09

Okay, so, the quick story of how I spent last night in the St. John’s emergency room: one of the things I’m doing for Tessa’s birthday is “reducing the amount of chaos in her life.”

Wait, I didn’t see the irony in that sentence until now. Let me start over.

In order to make our humble bungalow a little less chaotic, I took down all the loose, jumbled cork squares that were holding up a million pictures, prescriptions and receipts, and replaced it with a clean system of dry erase boards, linen pinboards, an Important Mail slot, and even a digital picture frame that’ll show a bunch of different images (instead of printing all of them out).

But we still love paper photos and various effluvia, so I decided to make our bathroom door magnetic, thus getting rid of all the tape and mounting squares that screw everything up. So I got a roll of sheet metal about 6 feet by 2 feet, and was measuring it against the door, when Lucy got out of the bath and wanted to tackle me as usual.

I told her to stand about fifteen feet away, while I put the sheet metal down. Instead, the damn thing coiled up, snapped over my shoulder and came down behind me, slicing straight into my calf. I knew in about a half-second something was terribly wrong – about a half-pint of blood was already on the floor, all over my shoes and splattered on the bottom of the stove.

My immediate thought: SHIT! I’ve hit an artery. I yelled for Tessa to call 911 and to bring a small towel, and limped backwards to lie down and raise my leg over my heart. My wife, as many of you know, is not terribly fond of blood – which was now everywhere – but she was there in seconds. I tied the towel tight around my calf and gave directions as best I could.

Here is the mind of ADD at work, and I hope some of you can relate: within five seconds I knew I was bound for the emergency room, I knew the emergency room meant at least four hours of time, and I called out for my cell phone and a backup battery, because I have Scrabble and email on it. I do not fear losing my foot, I do not fear pain, I fear boredom.

Ah, but my poor Lulubeans. She stood there screaming in shock, and I kept on trying to use my most boring airplane-captain-during-turbulence voice, saying everything was totally okay and normal. She was having none of it; it’s hard to listen to reason when your Daddo is lying in a blood-spattered crime scene, twisting a tourniquet made from a formerly-white burp cloth and a metal spatula.

The firemen and paramedics were in my kitchen within seven minutes and praised my spatula tourniquet, carting me off to the ambulance as I kept yelling to Lucy “all is well! Everything is fine!” like Kevin Bacon in Animal House. Once we were on the road, and they had all my vitals, I noticed I was clutching my iPhone, and took a picture.

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I also saw the Facebook app, and thought it might be a nice update. So I typed it in, and wow… if you ever think you’re alone in this world, update your Facebook status. I have a friend who went from “Married” to “It’s Complicated” a few weeks ago, and it sent the eastern seaboard into a tizzy. As for me, THANK YOU FACEBOOK FOLKS for all your wonderful notes. I’ve always been careful about updates because I don’t want to bore anybody, but perhaps some tweets have the opposite problem.

Two things had to happen at the hospital: stitches and a tetanus shot. The lignocaine shots you get before the stitches? UNBELIEVABLE. I’m pretty impervious to shots, but these were dementedly tortuous. And isn’t there something, I dunno, barbaric about the concept of stitching your skin back together? Like they haven’t come up with anything better?

Speaking of which, tetanus shots, once the domain of screeching elephantine needles stuck into your ass for fifteen minutes while you howled and shat yourself, are no more. Now you barely feel the shot at all, which is good news for those of you wanting to walk barefoot at a construction site.

Two hours and I was out of there, barely enough time to put “BETWIXT” on a Triple Word Score. I got seven stitches from a nurse named Amy Adams, which was cool, because Tessa and I rented “Doubt” the night before. And my amazing wife spent Mother’s Day evening cleaning up a bloodied kitchen, and talking our daughter down from Hyperventilating Crazyville.

*sigh*

Oh, but that metal sheet? It’ll be framed into that door, you can fucking bet on it.