Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Taking Care of Buzzness

Science, which frankly has never made me supremely confident since it gave me my hair, is now introducing its next Hot Concept: genetically engineered mosquitoes. And just in time for the holiday season.

For those of you who are not so scientifically inclined, allow me to break this down. Genetically engineered mosquitoes are mosquitoes that are genetically engineered. Now, I don't know about you, but this strikes me as colossally misguided when you consider we don't want genetically non-engineered mosquitoes. I myself hold a long-standing vendetta against the little stinkers. For example, my precious childhood memories of Halloween in Florida mostly involve being told we couldn't trick-or-treat because of mosquito-borne encephalitis. No, that is not precisely true. My memories mostly involve my dad happily disabling the doorbell. But the mosquitoes were a very real problem nonetheless. This is especially true in Florida, where the population breaks down as follows:

Mosquitoes - 38%
The Elderly - 20%
Mosquitoes feasting on The Elderly - 40%
Other - 2%

And so now scientists want to create mega-mosquitoes. OK, granted, there is some context to this. Technically, they're creating them to combat dengue fever, a debilitating disease, as evidenced by its nickname, "the fever you don't know how to pronounce."

Mosquito control officials in the Florida Keys are waiting for the federal government to sign off on an experiment that would release hundreds of thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes to reduce the risk of dengue fever in the tourist town of Key West.
[...] Officials are targeting the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes because they can spread dengue fever [...]
The trial planned by mosquito control officials and the British company Oxitec would release non-biting male mosquitoes that have been genetically modified to pass along a birth defect that kill their progeny before reaching maturity. The idea is that they will mate with wild females and their children will die before reproducing.

First of all, I do not buy this "non-biting" business. If you are a mosquito, you bite. Especially if you are a member of a superspecies of mosquito. You'll be smart enough to go, "The hell with this non-biting crap, I'M-A GO GORE THE NEAREST LOCAL ELECTED OFFICIAL, HAHAHAHAHA, 'CUZ I'M A MOSQUITO, B**TCH." This trait is hard-wired.

Also, notice the article doesn't go into much detail about what the über-mosquitoes will be like. So I must admit there is a very small chance of this being a positive development. For example, what if they turned out to be, oh, I don't know, doctor mosquitoes? Large, urbane, speaking bugs with white coats and stethoscopes and Lexuses? Of course this only raises even more scientific questions: would they get their own soap operas? How about their own comic strips with names like "Rex Mosquito, M.D."? But one thing we can know: if this scenario came to be, our insurance companies would never cover it. ("Dear ED PHILLIPS: We regret to inform you that Despair Mutual cannot cover your BLOOD DRAW on October 18 by Dr. KLAUS McSTINGER. Reason for refusal: NOT A ROUTINE PROCEDURE - DOCTOR WAS JUST HUNGRY.") Still, I guess this sort of development could benefit biodiversity, right?

Wrong. Let's read further in the article:

The district's website says the modified genes will disappear from the environment after the mosquitoes carrying it die, resulting in no permanent change to the wild mosquito population.

That's right. They aren't going to keep the mosquitoes around. On the contrary, they're just meant to DIE OUT AND BE OF NO FURTHER USE TO HUMANITY WHATSOEVER, like telemarketers, but slightly more likely to pronounce your name* right. This is why I've decided I'm against science, as a general omniprescence on Earth, like Dunkin' Donuts. Clearly, it exists only to complicate what's there, making it even more bleedy, stingy and buggy than it already was.

And frankly, if we did create a mutant super-species of intelligent mosquitoes, you can bet your life the floundering economy will be completely busted by the resulting calamine lotion deficit. So the hell with it.

Still, even if we never see the übers, let us not forget we still have roughly 7 quadrillion regular mosquitoes to deal with. And lest you forget, here in America we have a saying: "When we have a wealth of perfectly good diseased scummy smelly stinging little pests on hand, we are DARNED WELL going to PUT THEM TO WORK." We could put them to work in the following industries:

- Used car sales (they could sell the Ford MustSting)
- Opera extras (they could sing in Wagner's Die MeisterStinger)
- Chandelier sales (they could make a fortune off a product called EncephaLights)
- University teaching assistants (actually this has already been done)

Oh, but no-o-o-o. Instead, we keep on breeding the same old non-thinking, non-doing, space-wasting, government-style mosquitoes who are slightly less likely to contribute to society than that family who got a television show on account of they have something like 47 children, all named "Jebediah".

In other words, they are a hopeless species. And so are the mosquitoes.

Unless, of course, this is all a cunning front on the part of the Aedes aegypti - an artful, intelligent pretense of muteness and uselessness - and they're all actually sitting behind me here, hovering silently, just waiting to bite the bejeezus out of my arm for having writt.... hey............. OW (THUD).

* Well, maybe they do pronounce your name right. My name gets turned into noises normally associated with the Heimlich Maneuver.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Dream On

Last night I dreamed I was at my college. It didn't look like my college, but I knew anyway. My instincts for this sort of thing are spot-on, especially if you ignore the small detail that I was hallucinating. I was back at college and I wanted out.

"I FINISHED already!" I wailed (probably in real life too). "I don't WANT to take another class. I don't WANNAAAAAAAAAA..."

But the dream marched relentlessly onward, because dreams are like that, or at least mine are. I had to go to class, and when it turned out to be the wrong class, I had to try and drop the class, fill out a battery of forms, plead my case before a variety of deans, fill out another glut of forms, then realize I had neglected to go to my next class.

I awoke in a grim mood. I had had it with dreams.

I understand some people have interesting, even exciting dreams. Swashbuckling pirate escapades, jungle adventures involving the word "Ungawa," and the like are nothing out of the ordinary for certain individuals. Whereas my personal dreams are boring. No, not boring - "boring" is too mild a word. They are the stuff of a lethal, static, terminal dullness that would plunge a lesser soul from REM straight into a coma.

This doesn't really have to do with bureaucracy, as featured in my recent college dream. That's a different animal entirely. I am willing to accept that I can't escape bureaucracy, even in my dreams. After all, I lived in France, where the local bureaucracy emits a force field so powerful it can ensnare the dead. In one famed case, a Mr. Jean-Philippe de Wanker of Toulouse received a flu shot and was summarily sentenced to pay the government upwards of your mortgage in monthly flu-shot taxes, Band-Aid taxes, that-little-alcohol-swab-they-clean-your-arm-off-with-before-the-shot taxes, ow taxes, and taxes for each individual air molecule breathed during the procedure. He was required to remit these fees every single month until the year A.D. 28,536 despite the fact that Mr. de Wanker actually died in 1997. As the French government put it, "Ce n'est pas an excuse. En plus, nous ne sommes pas currently in our offices to state that ce n'est pas an excuse."

Ha ha, of course this is funny humor. I am only kidding: the French would never clean your arm off before a shot! But the point is bureaucracy exists in all our daily lives, dreams* included, so we had better darn well learn to put up with it. But here's the thing: I want at least a few fun dreams once in a while. The boredom has got to be tempered. To use more poetic terminology: you can't eat Cream of Wheat all the time. I demand a few M&Ms stuck in with it.

Here's my theory: we don't remember all the dreams we dream, because some happen during our light sleep and others during deep sleep. So presumably, our M&M dreams (this is the scientific term) get lost in our deep sleep, and we remember nothing. That's why I hereby proclaim I am favor of designing, engineering, and selling via SkyMall a personalized DREAM-SHUFFLING PLAYLIST MECHANISM. That's right. You'd be able to customize it to your own tastes, assuming you have some! Then, once you activate the shuffling mechanism, you'll be able to shuffle all your dreams around, iPod-style, between your lighter and deeper sleep periods -- the result being that occasionally, M&M dreams will come to the fore.

But what, exactly, is an M&M dream, you ask? Well, I am here to tell you. If we are to believe science - which we should because it is hosted by Bill Nye, and sometimes even Alan Alda, such as in those videos they showed in my psychology class - M&M dreams fall into the following categories:

- Dreams that actually revolve around M&Ms, obviously.
- Dreams that revolve around your most intensely, hotly desired sexual fantasies, and that possibly also involve M&Ms. At least we would not rule it out.
- Dreams where you get to run around inside Dylan's Candy Bar at night and they also sell things like personal space shuttles and elephants.
- Dreams where you get to be in your favorite movie, unless of course your favorite movie is something from the Lifetime channel, in which case, you actually do not deserve to have good dreams.
- Dreams where you get a fantastically inspired story idea, wake from it, frantically write it down, and then realize in the morning that what you've written amounts to "Florna floob hoo ha then they drive a car fwoo fwoo goobleknob Des Moines ha ha ha glurb Mavis glurb glurb sea turtle pilaf." I actually do have some experience with this one.
- Dreams that involve beloved deceased family members, unless of course you do not have beloved deceased family members, in which case dreams that involve horrible detested deceased family members such as your racist sexist arsonist lecherous pervert serial trout-molester Uncle Bob, at whom you get to fling cat-box deposits. Because if dreams are not heartwarming, they should at least be therapeutic.
- Dreams that revolve around M&Ms in colors that don't even exist.

But for the most part, we dreamers of the universe are not nearly so fortunate. It is as though we have forgotten to pay for our premium upgrade,** and instead we dream about vacuuming our floor, or checking our Facebook messages, or picking our teeth. If we get really lucky, we might even dream about vacuuming our teeth with our Facebook messages. But we never dream about anything good! Or at least - and I think we can all agree that this is the real problem facing us as a species - I never dream about anything good. That's why the federal government, if they are listening, should give me a generous grant to develop that dream-shuffling playlist. So much of waking life would be so much less aggravating for the knowledge that, in the night to come, we would be able to "switch it up" as needed between REM and deep sleep. It would be okay if some of the dreams didn't totally make sense - that's the price you pay for a jumbling mechanism. But at least dreams should have some entertainment value. I would even be willing for there to be infomercial segments between them, but seriously: they should be entertainment. Alan Alda could be the host.

But until the government gets behind me on this, I guess we're going to have to accept our natural, underevolved dream mechanisms as they are. All I can say is, enjoy what you can of your dreams. Also, for God's sake don't have dreams in France. It's not worth the paper-pushing hell that will follow. The government is never in their offices, but they still know every little thing you do.

* Please enjoy this handy footnote to remind you that dreams were our original topic.
** As a result of which we would get the Disney Channel, HBO and Showtime.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gracias, tout le monde!: A Snarkompendium of Stuff To Be Thankful For

It's Thanksgiving, which means we, as Americans, should all take a moment today to sit back and reflect on those aspects of our lives that enrich us emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. I speak, of course, of stuffing and candied yams.

No, only kidding, of course. Candied yams are gross. But here are 25 things I personally am thankful for, and if you don't agree with me on every point, then no offense or anything, but you are obviously a cold unfeeling swinish ingrate. Just saying. But either way, I do urge you to add to the list in the comments, or in your own blog / alternate web space. Let's keep the thankfulness going. Here are my top choices:

- The Amtrak Downeaster, which allows many fine hardworking Americans, as well as puppeteers, to commute between Maine and Boston. The high points are friendly, highly competent personnel and large, comfortable seats (I am talking about on the train, not on the friendly personnel). The low point is a seat-pocket magazine called "Arrive" that tells you things such as what Laura Linney is thinking.

- Paper plate-and-crepe paper jellyfish, obviously. See?

- This New Yorker cover cartoon of Paul Ryan reading "Atlas Shrugged" to Mitt Romney for a bedtime story. This cartoon alone validated the entire 2012 election, as far as I am concerned.

- Marzipan.

- The French pronunciation of "Tupperware," which is quite frankly the most wonderful thing in the world. It is so wonderful I will not even attempt to reproduce it for you here. You have to go find a French person and get him to say it. Now.

- Also "Twitter."

- My college, which was responsible for my going to Paris.

- Not currently being in either college or Paris.

- The unerring human capacity to remember a funny moment from a favorite movie or TV show as far, far funnier than it actually was.

- Carmen Sandiego computer games from the '90s, without which I would know approximately nothing.

- Wal-Mart and Target being open four hours earlier for Black Friday, thus allowing us the precious holiday gift of four extra hours in which to trample our fellow man.

- The great American supermarket, without which I would not have written the great American supermarket musical. Or "supermusical" as I prefer.

- Baby wallabies, wombats, and (ESPECIALLY) kangaroos, as follows:

- And while we are on the topic of kangaroos, this puppet, my bedfellow and sometime costar (see below), who earlier this year survived an assassination attempt at the hands of evil demon sugar-shocked children.

- Non-evil-demon, non-sugar-shocked children - who make up 98% of the kid population, at a conservative estimate - and who make up some of the finest audiences I've ever been lucky enough to perform for, and who push me to keep getting better.

- Thrift stores, which enable me to squander my money on WAY quirkier crap than at your average big-box store.

- Tove Jansson's Moomins, whose sweet-natured, free-wheeling ways make me want to learn Swedish, so I can read these wonders in the original. Or else just relocate to Moominvalley.

- The fact that, contrary to some people's beliefs, the world will not actually be ending on December 21, because, true historical fact: the Mayans were goobers.

- The fact that, in the event the world actually does end on December 21, we will not have to see the upcoming Family Circus movie.

- Gumball machines.

- People who have fun creating, because this ability is impossible to "generate," easy to lose due to overthinking, and darn near impossible to summon back (because this would be due to more overthinking).

- The art of giving people and things names other than their own, including but not limited to Ace Hardware, which I have long called - drawing on my innate abilities as a subtle and gifted humorist - Ass Hardware.

- The following words: bifurcation, gerund, stoat, Zumba.

- Also, while we're on the topic of words, the entire Italian language, without which I would laugh significantly less.

- S'mores Pop-Tarts, which will be my undoing.

- Last, but not least, this Thanksgiving meal, courtesy of the Swedish Chef.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Her Snark is Worse than Her Bite

Recently on Facebook, I came across a personality test that determines what animal you are, based on psychological traits. I tried the quiz, of course, but I'm somewhat skeptical of its claim that I am a dog. I mean, first of all, how many dogs do you know who have gotten through Columbia? ZE-RO, that's how many - and with good reason, namely, Columbia discriminates against dogs. Their so-called diversity initiatives are a laughable FICTION.

Furthermore, not to speak ill of dogs, but psychologically they are not, shall we say, the most complicated critters in nature. Scientists agree that dogs rank, in terms of psychological complexity, just below amoebas and above Olympic swimmers. Oh sure, some dogs, such as Siberian huskies, give the impression of psychological complexity, but it is all just a façade. They may look all noble and complicated and intense, but beneath it all, what they are thinking basically boils down to one thought: "I wish to lick my own crotch."*

So as you can imagine, I'm a little ticked off by this result, despite being a big fan of the species (with the exception of little demon weenie mutant-rodent imitation-canine breeds with names like "winkie-poo," which Mother Nature clearly thought would be hilarious to create after consuming one too many schnapps). Now if I had gotten to pick my test results, I would have picked the parrot, or personality type ENTP. The test describes the ENTP/parrot individual as follows: "ENTPs prize intelligence and competence [...] They are often described as witty, clever, cerebral, and resourceful. They are verbally inclined and they often have a perverse sense of humor [...] They sometimes chatter."

See, I would be totally OK with being a parrot! I would even be OK with being a petting zoo parrot because you could deposit guano on whoever deserved it, or else just when the moment carried you. 

But frankly, I don't think we can compare humans to animals. Just think about the depth of humanity. When you are standing on a crowded subway platform at rush hour, you are surrounded by a diverse medley of individuals of such infinite psychological nuance and depth that, if you could somehow see into the entirety of the psyche of just one of these individuals, you would be totally grossed out. Because of course humans are disgusting. This is evidenced by the variety of porn sites out there. I mean, not that I would know anything about these sites personally, but I am told there is a vast wealth of pornographic media on the Internet (I am told there is an Internet), and word has it this media runs the gamut from straight to gay to robot to meerkat to flatworm.** Say it with me: our generation is SO spoiled.

Nevertheless, I can't say I care for the animal personality test, which doesn't take into account the nitty-gritty everyday life details of the individual. So here is my own, holistic*** quiz, designed with the true essence of a person's inner, primal animality in mind:


The ultimate pizza topping would be:
1. Seeds
2. Science Diet
3. My young

My species' natural enemy is:
1. Cat
2. Coyote
3. Wolf Blitzer

Complete this sentence: Humans' best quality is their ______
1. Companionship
2. Body warmth at night 
3. Tasty femurs

When confronted with a child fallen down a well, I will:
1. Run to get help from the farm family
2. Continue engaging in personal hygiene as though nothing has happened
3. Cough a hairball down the well after the child

My instinctive reaction upon meeting others is:
1. Sniff butts
2. Exchange business cards
3. Sniff butts while exchanging business cards

Now, you can score yourself as follows: did you pick mostly "A's," mostly "B's" or mostly "C's?" In all three cases, the result is the same: you are a doofus, because the answers are labelled 1-2-3.

And ultimately, let's face it, does it really matter what animal you are in your psyche? Because, be you moose or fox or Arctic Tern, there is one common, fundamental trait that defines us all: every last one of us - from the mightiest world leader to the lowliest "Belchin' Beulah"-brand soft drink distributor**** - truly believes, from the bottom of his heart, that his life is WAY more interesting than anyone else thinks.

Except for me. My life is fascinating. Speaking of which, if you'll excuse me, I have this urge to go eat out of the garbage.

*But aside from this they are very different from the presidential candidates.
**Flatworm porn mainstay: video of a single flatworm dividing and dividing and dividing.
***Meaning, "written in six minutes while mostly thinking about eating a bagel."
****Serving vending machine districts 883, 884 and 886, but not 885 (except weekends).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Grime Time

I have an entertaining and wonderful variety of friends, each of whom keeps me attuned to certain aspects of life. For example, my friend Yamila keeps me attuned to filth. Unlike myself, she is a self-proclaimed "germophobe" with an uncanny ability to remain aware of dirt in the city. This is no mean feat, comparable to remaining aware of all the air molecules around you. It's impressive.

"NICOLA! Don't put that THERE," she will exclaim as I reach down, happily, to place my handbag on an urban surface teeming with bacteria so severe that many of them are visibly leaping, prowling, bucking, forming amateur Gilbert and Sullivan societies, etc. So I jerk my bag away, as if I've suddenly noticed the offending filth. But the fact is, I don't notice. I'm sadly inured to urban bacteria. But the point is, she notices, and I am grateful for it.

I don't understand why the discrepancy. I do, however, believe that many of us were desensitized to germs in early childhood. Many of us pictured them as gentle nonthreatening cartoon beings who came in cheerful colors. At least I know I did:

No dice, friends. Have you ever stopped to consider the magnitude of even a single bacterium? Let's consider these horrifying pictures:

Magnified 10,000x


So we can see that one lone germ does pose us a very real threat, and we haven't even gotten into the matter of its other four boroughs. Wasn't this all so much easier when we were kids? Back then, germs invaded our bodies on a near-daily basis in the form of violent comical ear infections, and we never cared. It just meant an opportunity to go to the Ear Infection Clearinghouse (aka Pediatric Group) with 10,000 of our contemporaries, all of whom, at any given moment, were shrieking. Not because they were ill, mind you, but rather because we were all fighting for control of the waiting room's main attraction, a Pac-Man video game machine with a vile smeary screen from which we would pick up yet other varieties of ear infection.* It was the Circle of Ear Infection Life (cue the soulful wailings of Elton John). Then the pediatrician would prescribe you Amoxicillin; it is federal law that pediatricians must prescribe Amoxicillin for everything from vertigo to shattered ribs. Fortunately, Amoxicillin is awesome, and to this day I retain a certain fondness for it - so much so that I would request it in bubble tea form, if it were an option.**

Anyway, sadly, as we get older we are forced to become more and more aware of germs' impact on our lives. This is why Mother Nature, who has a sadistic sense of humor, invented universities. This brings me, by way of seamless segue, to an article which came to my attention some weeks ago. Written by Donna Duberg for the Tork Better Business Center, its headline boldly asks: ARE COLLEGE STUDENTS' HYGIENE HABITS MAKING THE GRADE?

This was definitely news to me. I don't mean the article, you understand, but the question. I honestly didn't think anyone needed to ask this. I had always assumed it was universally known that college students, as a species, rank on the Hygiene Totem Pole somewhere down there near tapeworms, only with lower breeding standards. I mean, even tapeworms don't date tapeworms. If you are out at a bar and see what looks like a cute tapeworm couple out on a nice date, chances are they are actually breaking up, the female saying to the heartbroken male something like, "I'm sorry, Arthur; it's not me, it's you. You're a tapeworm."***

But back to the college students. According to the article, a study (evidently funded by the Bureau of Honking-Ass Understatement) found that fifty percent of students "noted they do not regularly wash their hands after taking public transportation," while fifty-seven percent "do not routinely wash their hands after returning to their dorm or home from class."

Well. Excuse me while I inhale for long enough to release a six-minute DUHHHHHHHHH audible as far away as Bolivia. If you have ever come into contact with a college, you know they are populated by germs so virulent they can travel from a freshman dorm in Minnesota to infect pygmy persons in the Congo in less time than it takes you to scratch yourself. And I'm not even going to mention the issue of college restrooms, except to say that the task of attempting to use one is fraught with such horrible peril that if you have even the most minimal hygienic standards,**** you will end up playing a giant hideous game of Musical Stalls, entering each individual stall only to scream, duck out at lightning speed, and repeat with each succeeding stall until you have exhausted all possibilities and your only option is to relieve yourself out the window. Unfortunately, in New York City they have a rule about this.***** But as I said, I'm not even going to mention the restroom issue.

Anyway, even though I'm no longer a college student (even though I do still hold the distinctive honor of being regularly hit up for money by members of my graduating class who are themselves richer than your standard deity) I guess I owe it to myself to start becoming much more vigilant about the filth issues. There are so many small things we as individuals can do, such as carrying hand sanitizer, covering our mouths when we cough, never touching anything, and of course keeping a respectable 3-continent distance from all institutions of higher learning. And above all, remember, when letting down your tapeworm suitor, to let him down gently.

And if all else fails, you might want to take some Amoxicillin.

* I guess they just kept making more of them, like My Little Ponies.
**This could actually work, right?
***Source: National Geographic.
****In other words, if you are unfit for college.
*****You absolutely must bring a plastic bag.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What's it Like to Be a Commuting Puppeteer?

One of my favorite things about being a puppeteer, aside from being able to walk into Michaels and legally purchase tax-deductible ear hair, is the commute. Although I work in Boston, I actually live in Maine, a large green moose-intensive state whose State Song, according to the Internet, is the "State of Maine Song." Don't try to tell ME this is a coincidence.

Anyway, this presents a transportation challenge, because Boston is located in the United States, whereas Maine is located in the Deep North, a conglomerate of moose-intensive countries consisting of Greenland, Canada, Denmark and whichever one has the Moomins. Fortunately, you can get to Boston by Amtrak. As a bonus, this means you don't have to drive. You get to bypass those parts of the Boston beltway populated by vehicles weaving and swarming around each other like crazed hostile spermatozoa at 156 mph. The world's ultimate example of the crazed spermatozoa driving style is on permanent display at Paris' Arc de Triomphe; the "Renault Crazed Hostile Spermatozoon" is the actual name of a car in France.

But back to our original topic, which is: puppetry. Puppetry dates back at least to the ninth century B.C., when the Indian epic poem Mahabharata made mention of the earliest puppets.* Several thousand years later, puppetry has reached its natural apex: my commute to Boston. Even though it is an apex, it can get pretty darned boring. Fortunately, you can pass the time by engaging in fun commute activities, such as:

- Listening to your fellow passengers' inane conversation about the size of the tray tables.
- Falling into a deep slumber.
- Waking up, an hour later, to find the conversation still revolves around tray tables.
- Collecting free moist towelettes from the Amtrak Café Car on each individual commute until finally you have amassed enough to start a MOIST TOWELETTE EMPIRE and TAKE OVER THE WORLD MWAHAHAHAHA.

Then, before you know it, you're in Boston! So you pick up your enormous suitcase, causing 96% of your fellow passengers to remark that (a) the bag is a big bag, (b) you are a small girl, or (c) both. (The urge to make these remarks is apparently so strong, they would still make them if you were LeBron James.) You heave your bag into Boston, where you proceed to hoist it from T to bus, until that glorious moment when you arrive at your venue, open your bag to set up, and find you have brought the wrong set of puppets. Still, the show must go on, and fortunately it goes smoothly, except for the 6,396 interruptions due to tears, fears, tantrums and incontinence. And that's just from the parents.

No, in all seriousness, performing for kids is wonderful, because when they interact with the puppets, they do it so wholeheartedly, so enthusiastically, that you can't help but believe that you're making a difference in the world; that you, personally, are a proud torchbearer in a majestic tradition, descended from the very earliest epic Indian Ernies and Berts.

Following the show, you do a puppet-making workshop, in which you cheerfully and clearly explain how to make a paper bag into a simple silly puppet, say a monster with googly eyes. Only the kids aren't listening because they're busy building an intricate lobster with fully functional pinchers; a full-body Eskimo woman complete with perfectly detailed, miniature Inuit garb; etc. Clearly YOUR artistic guidelines are falling on deaf ears.

At the end of the day it's time for you to return, with the satisfaction of a professional day well spent, to beautiful wild Maine, where, upon arrival at the train station, you are promptly mauled to death by a moose. No, only kidding. The moose only stops to comment on how big your bag is, because the urge to make this remark is so strong it transcends species. You smile politely and go on, but not before handing the moose your business card, which is just the sort of shameless, blatant self-promotion favored by your tawdrier, cheaper puppeteers.

For the fact is, even though you love commuting into Boston (and you especially love moist towelettes), you're not about to turn down a gig in the Deep North, even one from a moose. Because all avenues must be kept open. Or at least driven down in a Renault Crazed Hostile Spermatozoon.

*Ernie and Bert.

Monday, July 30, 2012

When Boring People Attack

I take a lot of public transit, which means that wherever I am*, I get to hear a lot of other people's conversations. This is excellent for a writer or masochist. Over the years, as an astute observer, I've learned not only to absorb, but to pose myself crucial questions about humanity ("When will humanity get its large butt out of my way so I can move my suitcase?"). You can't put a price on that kind of knowledge, although I guess if you were to ask me I'd say $29.99 sounds good. 

The only problem is, however much I learn, I never seem to be able to put it to any use. I've come to a conclusion about this: people are boring-ass. Yes, this is a problem, a deep and real one, on the order of world hunger, only more dire. This is why you never hear Miss America contestants saying they want to end world boringness. It makes them too emotionally overwraught. They can't handle the magnitude. I mean, could you?

Therefore I'm posting here, for what it's worth, several recent examples of this rampant and very alarming problem, so that we and/or the March of Dimes may do something about it. At least it's more interesting than what I was just doing, namely reading Cosmo. I am never entirely comfortable with Cosmo, because it is always asking me things like my Sex I.Q. I don't totally understand what this means, but I assume a person with a high sex I.Q. reads Dostoyevsky during coitus, whereas a person with a low one, oh, I don't know, munches on beef jerky. I'm no expert in these matters, although I am not against outfitting your partner with a reading stand, if you think this would be a graceful option. 

Now, without further ado, a variety of representative instances of Terminally Boring Discourse that I've encountered in real life:

- Example 1: As I typed these words on a morning Amtrak commute into Boston,** there were two 50-something ladies behind me, having an extremely long conversation about: American Girl dolls.

STUDIO AUDIENCE: How long was it?

It was so long that I had time to drink a whole thermos of coffee, and when I tuned back in, they were saying, "Now when she got her NEW doll, she wanted a BUNK bed, and..."

As a side note, I once had the idea to create an American Girl from the Neanderthal era whose name would just be a grunt, spelled "Nguhhhh," complete with a series of feel-good stories with names like "Nguhhhh Saves the Day." This story would be about her saving her pet buffalo from velociraptors, or Ursula the Sea Witch. As of yet, I have seen no kickback from this.

- Example 2: I do a lot of commuting with a big bag, which compels a lot of fellow travelers to observe to me - pay close attention here - that it is a big bag. The observations usually go something like this:

FELLOW PASSENGER (helpfully as I struggle with the bag): That's a big bag.
ME: Heh, heh. Yeah.
FELLOW PASSENGER (helpfully as I continue to struggle with the bag): Yep, that sure is a big bag.

Meanwhile I am attempting to lug the big bag down a train corridor the width of your standard bendy straw, which means I have little time for chit chat (so, tragically, we never make it to the conversational apogee of "Boy howdy"). Also, occasionally, there is my favorite variation:

FELLOW PASSENGER: That's a big bag for a little girl!

Regrettably, I do not keep a big flame thrower in the big bag. 

- Example 3: While I don't mean to devalue other people's accomplishments here, I have noticed that, with alarming frequency, the people you meet have children who do exactly what you do, only more important. Here is the aggregate version of a conversation I have had 85,679,420,122.2 times (the .2 time, I went to the bathroom):

OTHER PERSON: So what do you do?
YOU: I'm an actress.
OTHER PERSON: Wowee! Really! You don't say! Brittnee and Zack are both into drama up at Vanna White Magnet School for the Performing Arts. Just like you.
YOU: Buh.
OTHER PERSON: Zack recently interpreted the role of "Flower #3" in A Midsummer Night's Dream Jr. Critic Gus Grandecrotte of the Coccyx Daily Tribune singled him out as 'luminous.' Of course, he said he was talking about the lighting design, but we're pretty sure that was code for Zack.
YOU: Wug.
OTHER PERSON: Anyway, now Zack has signed with the Gersh agency and has a 13-movie contract with Paramount, in addition to which he's slated to be the Face of Dior starting fall 2013. What did you say you do again?
YOU: I'm going to take my life now.

Okay, I admit, acting is a bad example, thanks to the common perception that pretty much any random-bucket bonehead yahoo cretin Chick-fil-A CEO can do it and get hailed as Thespis reincarnated.*** This is of course extremely false, on the grounds that ... uh ... let's see here ... never mind, I have forgotten.

At any rate, this is just one more subspecies of Terminally Boring Discourse, which I cite not so much for its boringness as its lethalness, although it can't hold a candle to ...

- Example 4: The "Chewman" method of conversation, named for the popular dog toy which you grab and shake and ON PAIN OF DEATH DO NOT LET GO. To make matters worse, in this form of conversation you, the victim, are usually tag-teamed. Leading boringness researchers agree that your assailants are usually named Uncle Bud and Aunt Pam, and that the conversation must include a strict 55-repetition minimum of the phrase "OH yeah":

AUNT PAM: So our dermatologist's cousin's proctologist's realtor's proctologist got a new pool put in.
YOU: Oh?
UNCLE BUD: Yup. OH, yeah. Uh-huh. A new pool. One of those swimming pool-type pools that, y'know, you can swim in 'em.
YOU: Huh.
AUNT PAM: Yup, one of those pools, one of your swimming pools that you can go right out and swim in. You can go right out and swim in 'em, those pools.
UNCLE BUD (introducing nuance): Big pool, too. She always wanted one of those big pools.
YOU: Hm.
AUNT PAM: OH yeah. Big, big pool. OH yeah. Nice pool. She always wanted one of those big pools. Got your concrete, got your chlorine, got your water.
AUNT BUD: OH yeah.
UNCLE PAM: Big pool, too. She always wanted one of those big pools.
YOU: Whoa, Uncle Bud and Aunt Pam, sorry to interrupt, but it says here in the Daily Quotidian that tomorrow a great fiery roaring death comet will incinerate us all to crisps, obliterating all known life, at 8:00 (7:00 Central)!
AUNT PAM: She always wanted one of those big pools.

And thus the legal question arises: am I within my constitutional rights to garrot these people? The answer is yes, but only under very strict circumstances, such as - and I quote from the Constitution here - "if you are having a sucky day." Also if they surpass the maximum limit of OH-yeahs.

Of course there are always more peaceful, even creative ways to deal with this same frustration. For example, you could entertain yourself by persuading Aunt Bud and Uncle Pam to continue their conversation to the tune of "Born to Hand Jive" from the toe-tapping musical comedy Grease. It'll be amusing, for one thing, plus the song has a whole lot of OH-yeahs in it. Here is an excerpt:

OH yeah, yeah, yeah - everybody!

It's a big pool, baby,
It's a big pool, baby - yeah!

How big is the pool?
How big is the pool?
How big is the pool?
How big is the pool?

Bigger, bigger, bigger and bigger
Now can you chewman, baby?
'Cause it's a big pool, baby
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, yeah
It's a big pool, oh yeah!

Yeah! It's toe-tapping! Who's with me on this? ...

(Sound of crickets chirping)

... Okay, never mind. I take it there's no room for innovation here. I guess boring persons and the rest of us will just have to coexist exactly the way we always have. But let's agree on one thing, you and I: if you get to regale me with tales of a foreclosure in Escondido, installing that nice new chestnut wood-paneling in your TV room, or your colonoscopy, it is only fair that I, in return, should get to relate a minimum of 25 anecdotes from figure skating competitions I watched in 2009, or, worse, the clothes I'm thinking of putting up on eBay.**** 

Just always know, from the bottom of your heart, that no matter who you are, or what your conversational habits may be - somewhere, to some special someone, we are all boring.*****

* Generally, at any given time, here.
** Motto: "Taunting your sorry commuter hiney with nonsensical use of the words 'Inbound' and 'Outbound' for our own amusement since 1905"

*** Vanna White.
**** In the interest of full disclosure, I actually do bother my mom with this one, as if it is interesting or something.
***** Except for me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

SDCC redux: post-Comic Con reflections

And so San Diego Comic Con has wrapped up for another year. Bummer. I always miss it when it goes. On the other hand, I always seem to go through the same sort of cycle with it. What with all the other stuff that goes on in the year, I tend to forget how much I enjoy it, then July circles back and we're off again and... WHEEEE! COMIC CON!! Awww, it's over. Something like that.

(Fleeting reflection on the above: despite all my inner protracted teenage angst, I suspect I am not really a very complicated person. It's like when feminists get all irked over how women get characterized as simple creatures who only care about shopping for shoes, and you're like, yeah! Boy howdy! How dare the patriarchy-- OOOOH! SHOES!)

Oddly, for someone who enjoys the whole Comic Con shindig so much, I must admit to having a very minimal understanding of comic culture. Take the other day, when I posted that picture of the action figure my dad and I dubbed "Sewing Machine Man" (savin' the world from eviiiil / with his BOBBIN O' JUSTIIIIIICE). There are probably ten thousand megageekazoids* out there who, if they saw that picture, would spit out their Cheez Doodles in indignation, squealing, "THAT'S not Sewing Machine Man! That's ZORTHOR THE DISEMBOWELER," or whatever.

(Special note to all megageekazoids offended by the preceding remark: I don't mean to suggest all of you go around subsisting on Cheez Doodles. I realize some of you prefer pork rinds. Thank you.)

And now, as it's still fresh in my mind, here is a roundup of some of the highlights of Comic Con:

- We actually ditched Comic Con on Friday in favor of spending the day at the San Diego Zoo, where we chilled with a variety of gorillas including one who had a condition that would make him remain forever undersize. I don't recall the name of this condition, but I like to think it is "Weenie Syndrome." Fortunately, those afflicted with WS can still live fulfilling lives, with Regis Philbin being just one example.

- My sister and I met Grant Imahara of "Mythbusters" fame, on which occasion I may or may not have acted like a goofass. But then, that is my thing. Also, how is that dude 40-plus years old? He looks younger than I am.

- We ran across a variety of whackadoodles permanently stationed across from the San Diego Convention Center for to blast Bible passages on megaphones and helpfully notify us that our sorry asses were hellbound. This was all worth it once I saw the lone soul in the Gaslamp District holding a (hand-lettered) sign reading, quote, "Superman died for your sins."

- For the second year in a row, one of my puppets and I got our picture taken by official Comic-Con photographers, and for the second year in a row, I have no idea how to find the picture or where it might end up. The cyberspace equivalent of the crack between the car seats, I guess. That is where I once misplaced a Cocoa Puff at the age of four. Its whereabouts remain unknown.

- And, last but not least, there was this replica of the Incredible Hulk made entirely from Legos. I will forever be grateful to the omnipresent camera of the good folks at GoComics for ensuring I will cherish such memories as this one when I am old and decrepit and too pathetic to do anything else.

But seriously, isn't this like the coolest thing EVARRR?

Till next year, dear Comic-Con. You grow on me every time.

* Excuse me, I meant "informed persons."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Comic-Con 2012

Good morning from Pacific Time! To celebrate my accomplishment of finally getting myself from France time onto Maine time onto California time only to get myself back onto Maine time in a few days,* here are some photos from the Comic-Con.

 San Diego Convention Center, as viewed from the outside. No madding crowd because they were all on the inside at the time, while we were waiting for the trolley.

 And looking in the other direction, toward the Gaslamp District (taken as we were heading to lunch at the formidable Royal Thai).

 Balboa Park, or as I like to call it Bowelboa Park. It's not an insult. I love the place. It just lends itself.
 And more of same, featuring yours truly...

 This is one of the signs outside the GoComics booth (#1714 if you're here!) featuring the Chickweed characters the way they were some 14 years ago...

And one of the most recently released Chickweed titles, SONATA FOR PIANO AND ARMPIT (available for order at http://pibpress.blogspot.com, pluggity plug plug!), on display at the booth...

Moomins!!! (at Drawn and Quarterly's booth)

Banners hanging from the ceiling...

 I myself am on Team Veronica, and proud of it. I mean, how could you not be? Betty is a dweeb.

This is part of the queue that lined up to have my dad sign posters and things. Those are 9 Chickweed Lane and Pibgorn books on the table.

 This is an action figure dude we dubbed Sewing Machine Man, or Bobbin Man. Doesn't that look like some sort of totally sick sewing machine in his hand there? I SHALL DESTROY YOU ALL WITH MY BOBBIN OF DOOM BWAHAHAHAHA !!!

 This booth is called "Meat Bun," so how could I not take a picture of it? I mean ... it's called "Meat Bun."

 Coffee! Yes! The regulation size cup o' joe in my hand means I am back in America. Wahooo!

*I'm what they call a "go-getter".

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Aujourd'hui j'ai fait du sport

Athletic regimen while revising thesis: 1) Following 20 minutes of contemplating getting up to reheat coffee, 2) get up to reheat coffee. 3) March efficiently back to work space, job done. 4) Go back to get coffee you left in microwave. 5) Repeat.

I am willing to make a fitness DVD series if somebody wants to make me a lucrative offer.


Thanks to the artistic stylings of local grocery chain Monoprix (see below), I've decided to start requiring that everything I consume be in Rubik's Cube form.

I guess this will pose something of a challenge where coffee is concerned, though.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Yep, I too would fear the Caped Crusader if he were the size of a standard Vienna sausage

In keeping with yesterday's post, here are Spidey and friends in finger form.

Etsy eats up more of my time than Facebook, trying to find my keys, and local bureaucracy COMBINED.

They can be your own, you know.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pride and Prejudice ... in finger puppet form

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a classic novel of great merit must be in want of finger puppets.

That's right. These are Pride and Prejudice finger puppets, available on Etsy. From left to right, you have Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley.

Clearly Jane Austen (who, by all accounts, never posted even once on Etsy) died too young to realize that true creative greatness lies in another art form.

Friday, June 1, 2012

This is Your Brain in Training

I'm happy today, because according to the New York Times, nothing I do is actually my fault. I feel I can trust the Times over other city publications, which is frankly silly. What is the real difference between the Times, and, say, the N.Y. Post? Frequency of use of the word "sicko," that's all:

Times: Man Kills 3 in Bronx
Post: Sicko Kills 3 in Bronx

Times: Israeli Officials Weigh an Imposed Palestinian Border
Post: Sicko Officials Weigh an Imposed Sicko Border

Times: Crossword Puzzle
Post: Sicko Puzzle

So, yes, I have confidence in the Times, and this confidence is at an all-time high now that they've gone on the record as stating I cannot be held responsible for any of my actions. Why, you ask? The answer lies with our bud neuroscience. Let us consider the brain:

Whoops! Ha ha. Wrong brain. I meant this one:

SOURCE: Duke University Medical School
Anyway,  the reason I mustn't be held responsible for any of my actions is because according to neuroscience, my personal brain, age 24, is still in training. IIII KNOW! AWESOME, RIGHT? I have this on the authority of a Times article entitled  "What the Brain Says About Maturity," written by no less than Dr. Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology at Temple University. According to Dr. Steinberg:

Significant changes in brain anatomy and activity are still taking place during young adulthood, especially in prefrontal regions that are important for planning ahead, anticipating the future consequences of one’s decisions, controlling impulses, and comparing risk and reward. Indeed, some brain regions and systems do not reach full maturity until the early or mid-20s. (NYT, May 29, 2012)

That's right, fellow young adults: your brain is a trainee brain. It is the equivalent of a bepimpled teen boy named "Zack" who is on his third day at the Regal Cinemas up the street, learning to scoop popcorn, yet not quite mastering it with 100% accuracy.

However, there is hope for progress (I mean for my brain; I am not so sure about Zack). According to neuroscience, one day soon my brain shall grow up, in a peppy montage with Timon and Pumbaa at its side. Or maybe I am thinking of Simba. No matter. My point is, my young adult brain will become an old adult brain, and then I will be responsible for my actions. That will be a dark day indeed, because at the moment, whenever I say or do something asinine, I have only to go, "HA HA! THAT WAS JUST MY BRAIN FORMING!" or, "WHOA THERE! THAT PREFRONTAL REGION SUUURE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS!" and it's all taken care of. Everyone will instantly forgive you everything including cannibalism, except if you live here in France, where you can legally be sentenced to death for asking if there is a public restroom.*

In fact, let us divert to this important issue for a moment. There are exactly two locations in the Republic of France featuring toilets.** One of these is my former host family's house, although if you come to France (motto: "Liberté, Égalité, A Frightening Lack of Bubble Thé"), I do not recommend you use their toilet. First of all, you are not invited, and if you were to enter the house you would surely be licked to death by a vicious tiny dachshund. Second of all, the toilet is extremely volatile, which I interpret as strong finer feelings regarding who uses it. Sadly, the toilet has no say in this matter, and is thus reduced to silent passive-agressive measures such as blocking up for the hell of it. This was always enormously effective and resulted in the near-constant presence of the family's hardy plumber and general all-around fix-it man, a guy named "Serge" whose mysterious omnipotence convinced me he was also secretly running the government, possibly while wielding a plunger.

The other local toilet "hot spot" is my school, Paris III, which is admittedly hard to access given that it is surrounded at any given moment by a billowing mass of carcinogens. In France there is a firm law that smokers must keep a strict .000000000000005 cm distance from a building. In the event you DO get to the Paris III restroom, the health risk, without getting into indelicate detail, is significantly greater than if you were to just let your bladder explode.

But back to my original topic,*** which is: my brain-in-training. Young adults with young adult brains, if you are out and happen to do something such as the following:

1. While sitting at lunch across from individual you wish fervently to impress, attempt to
utter a sophisticated witticism, which is probably actually stupid, but whatever.

2. Follow this with a demure sip of coffee.

3. While taking demure sip, accidentally let loose a 7,600-decibel snort at your own witticism and spray coffee in your own eyes.****

Then just remember what neuroscience says: you didn't actually do it. Then feel free to go forth and commit all manner of atrocities, such as arson or buying the National Examiner. Your prefrontal regions are simply too pre-frontal to know better.

But that's not to say the conscientious (meaning "weenie") among us can't take certain measures to check our impulses. For example, you could take up a hobby. Just make sure it's a worthwhile hobby that contributes to your mental abilities (example: world travel), and not a dangerous hobby that ensures your brain's swift atrophy until all you have left up there is Hamburger Helper (example: college).

And for the rest of you brain-in-training young'uns, live it up, enjoy the moment, and - from the bottom of my heart - don't tell me about it. Oh, and above all, if you do decide to take the world-travel route, and you come to France, and while here you simply MUST use a bathroom, then I assure you - in all seriousness - that it IS okay to use one. In Ohio.

* Answer: No.
** Source: Fodor's
*** Did I have one?
**** Not that this actually ever happened or anything.