The Next Exit

I-80_Eastshore_Fwy

 

I’m scooting along on a stretch on Hwy 40, travelling at about 76 mph, as I head to work. To my right, and slightly ahead of me by a car length, is a big ass truck. To my left, more commuters. It’s a three to five lane spread, depending on the stretch of road and if there’s an exit nearby. We are approaching an exit. A car is suddenly on my right hand side, moves past me and gets directly behind the big-ass truck, then, sans the blinker, moves over in front of me. I won’t say cut me off because I didn’t have to slam my brakes on, just give a nice, sharp push. The truck that was following this car in the other lane is sliding slowly up past me and headed to claim his spot behind the big-ass truck. Then it happens.

 

The car who had to suddenly be in front of me decides they need to be not only back in their lane, but needs to take the current exit, another two lanes over. The problem was this: the exit was directly to everyone’s right, like at a 90⁰ angle to the right. So they swerved drastically to the right, cutting in front of the truck that was next to me, squeezing between his front bumper and the back of the big-ass truck and missing both by a couple of feet, and then across two more lanes, and disappeared.

 

I express my usual verbal opinion to an empty car. “Stupid F@ck.” There used to be an exclamation point in there, but I’m a little numb to idiots now days. Let me put this in context.

 

I had to work a few weeks in Nashville this month. When I first got on the highways surrounding Nashville, I looked up to see a digital sign over the road telling me that “201 people have died in car wrecks in Tennessee so far this year. Don’t be next.” A definite WOW factor in their message. And I applauded them for not being politically correct and putting it out there for idiots to chew on. After a week there, I read a paper that told me that on the stretch of road I travel every morning, there had been 43 wrecks since the first of the year. That’s an average of one accident every three days. And that was only for a stretch between two sequential exits on that road, not the whole thing. So of all the sections of highway you might want to screw around on, this would not be the one.

 

Flash forward a week later. I leave work and head to a massive bookstore west of Nashville. As I approach the same exit I take every day, I head to the right fork, which actually takes you back left (thanks Nashville, makes sense). But that was muscle memory. I meant to head down the two lane fork to the left, which takes you back right (thanks Nashville, makes sense). Then it happens. I glance once in the rearview and suddenly cut across four lanes of traffic. I made my exit. And I immediately expressed my usual verbal opinion to an empty car. “You stupid F@ck! What the F@ck are you doing!” Exclamation points and all.

 

I can see that sign overhead indifferently ticking off one more body count as it tallies its statistics. My wife and kids back home crying over my grave. Some guys with the TDOT steaming my remains off the pavement. The guy behind me saying the same thing about me that I say about other people. I’m shocked at myself. I am a man possessed. I must exorcise this demon immediately. As I drive, I begin pondering what caused me to act like an idiot, putting myself and others in mortal danger.

 

Anger. The driving and layout of the roads in Nashville is sometimes horrible. You might move through three different exits in the span of a few minutes. And if you miss one, you’re out the fifteen to twenty minutes it takes you to follow whatever road you’re on to the next turnaround. You have no choice. Late for something? Too bad. Extra gas. Extra time. Extra late.

 

Idiot factor. You feel like an idiot for missing it. How hard can it be, you say to yourself, to figure out which freaking exit to take? What are you, a moron? Yes and no. Sometimes, things appear to be arranged to purposely confuse you. Take the road names themselves. Even-numbered highways run East-West and odd-numbered run North-South. So interstate 65 runs North-South and I40 and I440 runs East-West. Then you have I24. It runs at close to a 45 degree angle, but more north and south than east and west. Go look on a map and tell me what you think. And right where I24 connects I40 and I440, it’s completely vertical on the map. So if you’re trying to decipher how to head east on I440, take a connecting road that runs north-south on a map, and then ramp onto I40 headed east again, and you know you need to head north on this connecting road (I24), do you translate that north into I24 east or I24 west? Quick now, you’ve been driving for a couple of hours, you have to piss like a Russian race horse, you’re late for work, and if you miss the exit, you’ll be late for both things. You’ve got a mile to decide and you’re surrounded by idiots on all sides. It’s raining. And . . . Oh, you remembered that west takes you back towards Nashville, so that would mean north is actually west and HOLY SH!T THERE’S THE F#CKING EXIT! NOW! NOW! NOW!

 

In short, it’s a high-pressured, instantaneous decision made by an idiot with dementia. So how to override this seemingly involuntary, knee-jerk reaction?

 

Know that you are filthy rich.

 

When you tell someone about your commute to work, do you relate it in miles or minutes? More than likely minutes. We measure our morning drive in time, not distance. It’s time we are battling. You don’t think about anything beautiful that you might pass by every morning. You don’t think about landscapes and things along the way. You think about whether or not some idiot is going to cut you off. If there’s something in the road you won’t see until it’s too late. Whether or not your boss is going to give you grief over those 10 minutes. Or you go into a catatonic daydream state. You know, where you sometimes think back and realize that for the last 15 seconds, you have no idea what’s been happening on the road around you? I did that one time on the way to Birmingham and lost close to a minute. Was on a straight-away and looked up and was on the other side of a curve. I’m not certain, but I think I went for about a mile and half in internal-movie mode. That’s some scary sh!t.

 

So the clock is our Master. We bow to it with our pedal. We look at shaving off a few seconds by passing 3 cars before we get over. We race to the next red light. We see every other car as an obstacle. As lost time waiting to happen.

 

The only way to win is to change the music. Put on a slower song. Ease back on the pedal and let them all pass you by. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. There is something very Zen about actually going 45 in a 45 and watching cars pass you. I imagine myself as a multibillionaire. Nothing to do for the day. Out cruising in my 15 year old car as a disguise so no one will know how rich I am. Look at them scurrying to their little jobs. It’s a mind trick. And if you do the math, driving an extra 6 miles an hour for 25 minutes isn’t going to save you more than 2 or 3 minutes. It’s just not worth it.

 

So come fellow billionaires. Let’s take our golf carts to our garages, pick out our crappy, incognito ride for the day, and head to work at a leisurely pace. And if we miss that exit? Who cares? We have all the time in the world. We’ll take the next exit because we can. And maybe, if we’re lucky, one of those peons hurrying to work won’t kill us and we’ll live to see another day.

 

 

 

The Colors of Autumn

Maple-oliv2

A cool wind brushes my face today and I realize, with a surreal clarity, that today is the first day of Autumn. Maybe that’s not what the calender says, but I know this breeze is the first of its kind this year. A refreshing harbinger of seasonal change and nature’s yearly metamorphosis, the wave of air nudges me slightly, inviting me to be a part of a cycle that has run its course for millions of years.

I close my eyes for a moment and a nostalgia-undefined bathes me in a memory that, though it swallows me whole and I float momentarily in its comfortable bliss, does not lend itself wholly to me but rather reaches out to slight me with its dreamlike tendrils and then fades completely, leaving behind only a whisper of pleasant recollections lost to time.

The swath of wind continues its path around me like a gelatinous parcel of time, plucked from Mother Nature herself just for me, and reforms itself behind me as it mingles with its airy brethren to continue on a never-ending journey.

Though my eyes are closed, I can see. I can see the crimson, water-colored maples sliced in half by the power lines next to our house. The acrylic yellow oaks placed carefully at intervals by a hand more knowing than our own, intermittently scattered to balance a picturesque landscape weighted heavily with evergreens who appear oblivious to Autumn’s protocol. The dry crunch underfoot as small feet wade through ankle high leaves on their way to all the neighbor’s houses with sweet expectations. The blur of color through the backseat car window, the bright canopies mixing together like a spinning color wheel. The orange peel horizon bleeding to a dark red, and then purple, matching the freshly painted forest, tree tops outlining a jagged graph of nature herself as the colored leaves and woods meld into one giant, charcoal landscape, as if the Universe itself had punctured the atmosphere and leaked its heavenly ink down on our world, all the while filtering the stars and keeping them above, something to focus on when the world turns dark. The glassy, upside down reflection of ocher and scarlet leaves on a clam, early morning lake, still sleeping under a blanket of mist, yet to stir.

I have stood in place, feet planted firmly like a statue, and traveled through the mountains of my hometown, the forests of my past, the streets of my childhood on Halloween, the wayside tapestries of youthful road trips, and the colorful horizons of lakes and rivers.

 

 

Don’t forget to check out my project on

Sorry, Charlie on Kickstarter

 

 

Dick-Fil-A

John_Martin_-_Sodom_and_Gomorrah

 

I usually don’t write about politics. Or things that have been beat to death in the media. Or things in politics that have been beat to death in the media. Or religion. Or religious things that have . . . you get the idea. Actually, I usually only write about things that affect me personally. Very egocentric writing. I’m an only child.

 

And this has affected me personally. Mainly, my chicken sandwich. I like Dick-fil-a’s chicken sandwich. Spread on two packets of mayonnaise, get a couple extra pickles thrown on there, and boom, you’re in business. The only problem I’ve ever had with Dick-fil-a was based on my inability to remember things. They’re closed on Sundays. I know this. I’ve known this for years. But I will still occasionally turn my car in that direction on a Sunday. And when I get close by, I think dammit! Why did I do this again? I mumbled to myself, half joking, half not, “Crazy Fundamentalists.” This was long before the newest debacle. How many other chains deny me my nasty, eating-out habits on Sunday? I can’t think of any. Look, just hire atheists to work on Sundays. It’s that simple.

 

And politics really shouldn’t squirm its way between my buttery buns. As a matter of fact, no views from owners or CEOs should ever affect what you eat. If it did, you wouldn’t eat anywhere. Have you ever spent time around or read articles on people who are billionaire heads of companies? Read Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test and tell me you disagree with the findings. Most of these people, Steve Jobs included, probably belong in a special ward with padded walls. Know an outlier who defies the rule? Let me know. Most of the superrich are disconnected from society and the day to day grind. For that fact, and you can see this on the Boob Tube, most of them are disconnected from reality. They are lunatics, and if they succeed at what they are doing, we laud them and call them eccentric. You catch your boss staring in a mirror while practicing how to be intimidating, and he’s just a prick.

 

So when I hear that the owner of Dick-fil-a really is a tight-ass fundamentalist, I’m suddenly torn. He doesn’t just passively extol himself for being self-righteous like most of them, he gives money to people who are trying to do away with people’s rights. That puts him in the political arena. That puts his company in the political arena. This has nothing to do, by the way, with free speech. He was free to open his big, Southern Baptist mouth, and insert his sanctimonious foot. If you are surfing that warped metaphor of subliminal bizzaro anti-logical schizophrenic reasoning, I don’t know what to tell you, except maybe, go back and get your GED.

 

If I go get a sandwich, am I saying what he did was okay? Am I saying I’m on his side? No. But I am contributing, ever so slightly, to his massive stacks of Holier-than-thou money, which will then be used to make the world a little less diverse. A little narrower in its views. A little less tolerant.

 

So how bad do I want that sumptuous chicken, tender yet crispy, resting delicately on a perfectly toasted bun? I’m fat, so I can’t promise you anything. But if I do give in, you can bet that while I’m washing it down, I’ll be mumbling to my hypocritical self, “Crazy Fundamentalists.”

Volkswagen Bitch!

Volkswagen Bug

 

My family and I are driving down Airport Road, having a conversation about – “Volkswagen Bitch!” my daughter screams, and I feel a sharp slap across my cheek and ear. It forms a belly-buster of an echo in the car. My wife, sitting next to me, winces, the left side of her face screwed up in a seizure-like, frozen explosion of expectance. Pow!

 

“Hey now,” my wife exclaims. My son is ducking and moving side to side like a beach crab in the UFC. He senses her mad excitement, her complete lack of motor control, and her gloves-are-off (legally, I might add) attitude.

 

“If you don’t let me get you now, you can’t get me later,” she warns. He does not give in. There is silence in the car for about thirty seconds, then, Pow! She has feigned disinterest.

 

“Hey!” my son yells, and like all pillow fights after the first three minutes, shit just got real.

 

What started this madness? My daughter and I were riding in the car one day and I said, “Hey, what if we took this whole Punch Buggy thing to the next level?” She weighed in and, before you know it, Volkswagen Bitch! was born. Let me go over some rules on this next level enhancement to an oldie but goodie.

 

First, it has to be a bug. Yes, we experimented with calling it on all VW’s, but then it was harder to get validation. Trust me, there are plenty enough bugs out there to get a car full of compadres red-faced before their destination.   Next is validation. You can’t absentmindedly call VB’s and then claim them to be just out of sight. Some people, like me, will turn the car around, even if we’re running late, and go back to validate said VB! If you are lying, or if you have accidentally, in a fit of anxiousness, erroneously called VB! Then you have uttered a False Volkswagen. The penalty here is that everyone in the car gets to slap you. And keep in mind that the people who will be slapping you have just been wrongly violated by your palm. Their reprisals will rank high on the Pimp Scale.

 

And so, after calling VB! and said validation, comes the pot of Bitch Slap at the end of the German-made rainbow. The Connection. It must be open handed. And preferably, consist of 75% fingers. Too much palm can lead to things ‘getting real’ in a high speed vehicle. And absolutely no backhand. Real pimp slaps are not for VB! If all players can keep it at a moderate 6 to 7 on the Pimp Scale, everyone’s masochistic tendencies are usually satisfied by the end of the trip. Oh, and make sure to get permission from new passengers before playing, as new recruits are often caught entirely unawares and may veer sharply from the observed rules once initiated.

 

More rules: You can’t call VB! on bugs in car lots. This only leads to a car full of manic, auctioneer sounding, stuttering lunatics who flail wildly and without clarity of purpose. You can only call VB! when everybody is inside the vehicle. An impromptu game in Denny’s can draw unwanted attention and drama to your family’s breakfast. You can’t call duplicate VB’s, e.g. you can’t call it on a bug in a parking lot, then drive by 30 minutes later and call it on the same one. This is not a False Volkswagen, but is frowned upon. If you can’t reach the other players in the vehicle, for safety reasons, you may save up VB’s and use them on passengers once you have exited your vehicle. But once you are back inside the vehicle, even if you had 8 or 10 saved up, you can no longer use them. Exiting a vehicle and returning to it erase all saved VB’s.

 

So the next time the kids are bored on a long trip, put away those Nintendo’s and that scavenger hunt piece of paper, and bring a little something to the table that will keep everybody wide awake and hyper-aware on that endless road. Volkswagen Bitches!

 

We are currently working on another next-level game called Po Po Mutherfucker! After a trial session, we are letting our bruises and lesions heal. When we are talking to each other again, I will give you an update.

The Dark Sam

I’ve wondered around Wal-Mart for an immeasurable amount of time.  I say ‘immeasurable’ because once your physical body passes through the portal under the black hole marked ‘Grocery,’ and the elder gatekeeper greets you, time, space-time, whatever you want to call it, ceases to obey the laws of physics.  Minutes are made of syrup, and not that runny knock-off brand of syrup either.  I’m talking Log Cabin minutes.  Reference points disappear.  The gatekeeper offers you a weighted receptacle.  This is to slow you down.  It also sends a subliminal message that you must now fill said receptacle.  As your Will begins to leave your body, the automaton drags you forward.  You believe you are in control.  That you are the one manipulating the receptacle.  You are not.  The connection you made when you placed both hands on the bar has short circuited your Will.  The connection from the wheels to the floor connects the receptacle to The Dark Sam.  There is now a direct flow of Consumerism flowing from The Dark Sam into you.

Now there is the Labyrinth.  You creep slowly up and down every single isle.  You may feel as if you have only traversed the isles necessary to that little piece of paper you call a list.  The one you left on your kitchen table.  But you have not.  You are skipping forward in jilted sequences of awareness.  But you always follow The Dark Sam’s complete path.  It is manifest.  Behold.

And at some predestined locus of points, The Dark Sam will whisper the slightest hint of a suggestion in your pliant ear.  You and your party should separate.  Continue to separate parts of the Labyrinth.  You may start to resist, small remnants of your Will that splintered on exodus.  You do not wish to lose your mate to the Lost Path.  But The Dark Sam whispers into your very Soul.  That it’s not that big of a store.  That your mate will be right where they said they would when you return.  That you won’t both be circling the Labyrinth in the same direction, just out of sight of the other, for twenty Log Cabin minutes.  And when your receptacle is full, you approach the debit card portal.

This portal is congested.  The Dark Sam requires a sacrifice upon the altar with no quantity key.  This is proof, by the way, of The Sam’s inherit darkness.  The Sam is efficient.  It would be efficient to have a quantity key on the self-directed altars.  Yet there are none.  You must pass all twenty packs of Kool-Aid before the debit altar.  Individually.  Separately.  This is senseless.  Chaos.  Darkness.  The Sam is Dark.  Behold The Dark Sam.

All hail The Dark Sam.

Baptist Outpatient

I had my Religion out this morning.

 

These days it’s an outpatient,

not like ages ago when the king himself

had to forcibly remove it.

 

I couldn’t go to church for six months prior,

they didn’t want me to read my bible for 5 weeks prior,

tithing anywhere was just out of the question

ever since the first doctor’s visit,

wasn’t allowed to pray,

to any specific entity, anyway,

couldn’t say things happen for a reason

without mentioning cause and effect,

had to sign a disclaimer that I understood

I would no longer be seriously considered

for political positions,

but I could keep my church membership

cause church’s have tons of members that don’t practice anyway,

I couldn’t dress nice on Sundays

unless I also dressed nice through the week,

couldn’t give glib responses to complex questions

while donning an all-knowing smile,

had to pick a random foreigner and

start a conversation with them,

had to read the classics,

Plato, Aristotle, Socrates,

and for some reason

even though I was getting my religion out

I had to read books on other religions,

had to read Hitchens, articles on Westboro Baptist,

magazines on war in the Middle East,

lots of reading for some reason,

couldn’t watch Lifetime and had to watch R-rated movies

with dirty words and sex scenes with unmarried people,

had to listen to rock-n-roll and Marylin Manson and John Lennon,

had to drink a six pack over the weekend,

couldn’t participate in any function that contained

interpretive dance,

had to say the phrase, ‘No fucking way!’

in a crowded restaurant loud enough for people

to overhear,

had to spank my kids if they misbehaved

instead of just reasoning with them,

had to watch all the Harry Potter films,

utter the phrase, ‘Protego’ at myself in a mirror

then shake uncontrollably while pretending to have

caused an infinite paradox,

could not tuck my shirt in,

had to surf the Internet for porn,

 

and I had to do all this before they would even consider

taking it out.

 

They said while they were in there they went ahead and

removed what they could of my Guilt.

 

But I know they didn’t get it all

because I sometimes feel like I did a bad thing

by having it out.

 

 

Cosmological Obesity

Corn

 

I recently looked on the back of the microwave popcorn I was eating to check out the nutritional information.  This was more out of sheer boredom than healthy curiosity.  It stated that each 3 tablespoons of unpopped kernels makes about 3 cups of popped popcorn.  It also stated that 3 tablespoons of unpopped popcorn had 170 Calories and that each cup of popped popcorn had 45 calories.  So 3 cups of popped popcorn would be 45 times 3, or 135 calories.

 

The law of conservation of energy states that the total amount of energy in an isolated system can neither be created nor be destroyed: it can be transformed from one form to another or transferred from one place to another.  This is disturbing.

 

The reason.  I have disproved a law of physics.  This will surely eclipse this whole E=MC2 thingy.  And I am certain that I will be asked by collegiate professors, lab people in white coats and funny accents, and people who play with gluons and quarks and things like this, to repeat said experiment.  I can see every household in the world with their TV’s turned to the Cartoon Network (it’s my discovery and I can make history on any channel I damn well please) as my bag of movie theatre, extra butter popcorn swells, and the microwave concludes the epic experiment with a succinct DING! that reverberates through a new universe of chaos, where ‘laws’ of physics no longer apply.

 

Just to make sure you understand that this is 2001 Space Odyssey monolith big, once I get finished popping the popcorn, there are 35 Calories that have been annihilated.  They have met up with an anti-Calorie or something and passed into nothingness.  In the space of 2 minutes, human time, the laws of physics as we know them have broken down.  This is not happening at the quantum level people.  This is occurring right before our eyes.

 

I have contacted the proper authorities numerous times and they assure me that all is well.  I offered to perform the experiment right in front of them and they said ‘No.’  I didn’t take no for an answer.  Some government goons, dressed up like normal cops, came and removed me from the university’s cafeteria.  The fact that they are trying to cover this up only reinforces my theory.  The manufacturers of microwave popcorn are attempting to shrink our universe.

 

I know what you are thinking; the universe is expanding, so maybe shrinking it will balance things out.  Maybe the manufacturers are on our side.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Unsuspecting consumers and movie goers eat 17.3 billion quarts, or 69.2 billion cups of popcorn every year.  If we lose 35 calories for every 3 cups, that’s 807,333,334,500 Calories that are sucked into oblivion.  But it doesn’t just go away.  That’s 807 billion Calories we are carelessly dumping into another universe.  Every year.  Through some sort of miniature black hole in our microwaves, we are contributing to another universe’s obesity by spreading billions of Calories haphazardly throughout their Universe.  We are cosmic enablers.

 

I implore you, dear reader, to stop eating away our universe.  I do my part.  When the imposter at the concession stand offers me a large bag of popcorn, I pull out a large cobb of freshly boiled corn from a Ziploc in my wife’s purse, dripping in butter and still steaming from the pot (I’m looking into a correlation between my use of the microwave and my own weight, so for now I would recommend not using the microwave at all until my studies are complete).  I hold it right up in front of everybody and exclaim, loud enough for all their victims to hear me, “Do not shrink our universe!  Do not contribute to multiverse obesity!  Keep it on the cobb and out of the microwave!”

 

I stare at the undercover concession worker.  I let him know that I know.

 

For further information on how to keep your universe from shrinking, go to http://www.keepitonthekernel/government-archives/area52/shrinking-universe/movie-night.net.

 

 

A Singularity at Moe’s

I finish my nachos, pile everyone’s baskets, napkins, and cups onto the tray, and head to the front of the restaurant.  I get to the trash cans and stand motionless in front of them.  I look back and forth from my pile of trash sitting atop the tray to the opening above the hidden receptacle.  I have stuffed myself, as usual, and I am ready to back up this dump truck to the junkyard and raise the truck bed, letting the entire truckload of culinary rubbish slide as a whole into the depths of obscurity.  I can then waddle sluggishly out the door and find the nearest couch where I can let the fat molecules slowly form.  But I am logistically trapped.

 

My task is to remove my junk from the table after I’m done and deposit it in said receptacle.  I would normally say this is fine because in most restaurants where you bus your own tables, they don’t expect a tip.  At this one, they do.  At the checkout register.  The people serving me are not waiters.  They don’t make $2.18/hr, so they don’t survive by tips alone, although I’m sure this establishment is sticking as close as they can to minimum wage.  So a tip is appreciated, I’m sure.  But aside from trying to improve the stingy wage limits set by restaurants, I’m not sure what the people who have assembled my nachos have accomplished so far to deserve a tip.  I can see contributing to the fellow who added a little extra meat on my nachos (those dipping spoons are so small), but I’m not comfortable with him sharing the tip with the managerial looking guy who I’m sure I caught counting my nacho chips.  I don’t want people who are watching food costs this close, and adhering to corporate propaganda religiously, building my nachos.  I want the disgruntled dishwasher who is angry at the company for not giving him a 50 cents raise to fix my plate.  I want the manager to see the six scoops of meat he’s placed on my nachos and pass out face first into the chips he’s counting.

 

At any rate, I always tip.  And I usually get my two scoops anyway because I have methods for getting my way.  I am an only child, you see, and I must get my way.  Here is a trick, but you can only use it on the same person once every so often.  When they place the single, company-approved scoop onto your chips and look up to ask if you want cheese, just freeze.  Stare at the plate in their hands like they are your child and the nachos are really a test they are presenting you that they have received a ‘D’ on.  Don’t let the disappointment on your face spill over into contempt or condescension.  This is important.  You still love your child after all, don’t you?  You just want them to do better.  They have failed.  They will know this.  Don’t rub it in.

 

Then, with an air of lowered expectations and resignation, tell them to “Um… just go ahead and add another scoop of meat if you would.”  It is important that, while delivering this message, you maintain only intermittent eye contact with them.  After all, it is hard to look them in the face after what they have done.  You are embarrassed for them.  You are causing the child, sorry, I mean employee, to handle a barrage of conflicting emotions all at once.  You have placed them in a state of uncertainty and when things are in this state, anything can happen.  A moment ago, you were smiling and carrying on.  Now they have placed your friendship in question.  Will they add insult to injury by charging you for that extra scoop?  Of course not.  That’s not how friends do friends, no matter how long the friendship might last.  Even if it’s over at the register at the end of the food line.

 

I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t care.  I got my way.  I have my extra scoop and that is all that matters.  It really is.

 

And so I tip.  I am happy and they are happy.  Everyone but the manager who is coming to with broken chips pasted to his face.  It’s ok.  Our minds usually wipe traumatic experiences like this from our minds.  He won’t remember a thing.

 

But I’ve digressed.  In front of me is a small hole.  It appears, although I know it only looks this way because of its relative size with respect to my heap of trash, to be approximately 2mm in diameter.  I am sure it is actually closer to 4 or 5 mm.  I’m sure it’s because they don’t want me to throw away their plastic basket.  My first thought is why don’t they just make the basket larger?  Then they can have a sensible sized opening.  I’m not looking for a manhole size hole; I would just like it to be reasonable.  I grab the corners of the nacho paper and lift them up to form an upside-down, bean and cheese filled parachute.  Then I slide, with much more concentration and precision than should be expected of anyone, the sludgy parachute over the hole.  It sits atop the hole.  It is taunting me.  I’m sure the manager who was chip counting is watching and laughing.

 

For a moment, I contemplate shoving all the baskets into the hole and then breaking the tray over my head before forcing it into the hole as well.  Better judgment prevails and I manipulate this impromptu and mocking filth into the singularity before me.  I have a disgusting amount of crusting cheese on my hand and under my fingernails now (I know I was just using my fingers to shove the same thing into my mouth, but now that I’m done with it, the leftover food has metamorphosed into an abomination).  And since I have just disposed of all my napkins, I have no way to remove this filth.  I place the baskets neatly in a stack on a shelf above the hole.

 

I walk out feeling subjugated.  I am a crusty-handed garbage-man cheese-tool.  I mentally weigh being subjected to complex janitorial work at the end of my meal against getting an extra scoop of meat on my nachos.  I will be back.  I have failed.  They know this.  Don’t rub it in.

 

Firsties

Lab_tweezers

Let me say right off that I generally have no problem with people washing their hands.  There are many cases where cleaning one’s hands is a mandate.  Like the doctor after he gives you a prostate exam.  After a particularly productive sneeze, assuming you use your hands like a human and don’t do that vampire looking thing where you explode into the bend of your arm.  Or after you check the oil or change a tire.  It all makes sense.  As long as you perform this action in a certain order.

You wouldn’t eat your pizza or fried chicken and then think, “I should have washed my hands after changing junior’s diaper.”  You wouldn’t wash your hands to go work in the yard.  There is an order here that makes sense.

That’s why it disturbs me that there appears to be a good many people out there who are washing their hands before they use the bathroom.  It would be easy for you to say at this point, what does it hurt?  I’ll tell you.  My brain.

It is a completely useless action and lacks any ties to reason or prudent judgment.    They are snubbing rationality.  They are obviously confused with respect to the linear flow of time and the very essence of cause and effect.  I question the very soul of any individual performing this flawed and unusual action.  Just to be clear, I would not let a doctor operate on me who washed his hands before using the bathroom.  Why you say?  Someone that confused as to the order of things could possibly sew me up first and then remove my appendix.  They might prescribe me a medicine and then send my blood off to be tested.  I think they do this anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, these people are still washing their hands after they do number one, and I don’t have beef with that.  And if you are laying asphalt for a road crew, I’m not suggesting you run to the Porto-Pottie and wrap molten tar around your gold-member without washing first, but that’s an anomaly.  The people I see doing this are in offices and cubicles.  It seems common sense that blue collar workers, people who pulp wood, work in iron shops, fix cars, and are generally knee deep in the grit and grim of everyday living, would actually be less inclined to OCD tendencies concerning cleanliness than someone who doesn’t know how to check their transmission fluid.  They are less paranoid.  They don’t submerse their arms to the elbows in a bucket of Germ-X just because they walk out of Wal-Mart or pet their dog.  I suppose white collar phobics who sit in front of a computer all day have more time to do, well, what I’m doing now.  Surfing the Internet and reading about germs instead of performing a useful function.  As exampled by any conspiracy theorist, the more information you have about anything, the more paranoid and delusional you will become.  Talk to a person in charge of counterterrorism and you’ll never open a piece of mail or ride a bus again.  Talk to someone at the CDC for a couple of hours and you’ll feel your throat swelling shut every time someone coughs in your vicinity.

But even if being over-informed is to blame for this delusional behavior, that doesn’t explain why they wash their hands first.  I could see scrubbing them after the fact until they turn red and blister, but doing it prior makes no sense.  Germs usually enter the body through openings, hand to mouth in general.  I don’t see someone infecting that body part with bacteria from common office equipment.  I can hear the doctor now.  I’m sorry to have to tell you this Mr. Bailey, but it looks like you have an acute keyboard infection on your penis.

The Mayo Clinic, the CDC, the WHO, they all give the same advice on when to wash your hands.  After using the restroom.  Never do they say before.

I am also concerned that these Firsties will, like all deranged people who are infected with extraneous and afflicted ideas, eventually carry this on to the next level.  I don’t wish to enter the bathroom only to find a colleague scrubbing his junk in the sink like Meryl Streep in Silkwood.  Or perhaps, since urine is acidic and actually kills bacteria, find the same person wetting their hands down thoroughly in front of the urinal.  It has to stop.

I’ll do my part by leaving these conspiracy theorists with some useless and harmless information they can be paranoid about and then misapply to their philosophies with deformed logic.  Some soaps have been shown to cause irritation to the urethra.  This can make it easier for bacteria to get inside your body and proliferate.  Once the bacteria are inside your body, they will multiply at a geometric rate inside your bladder.  These are infectious living things that will be living inside of you.  And the only way a doctor can remove them at this point is with a Q-Tip and a pair of tweezers.

 

Literary EKG

I was recently reading a blog about sentence length at Divertir Publishing.  It mentioned reading level algorithms which I immediately researched.  I was intrigued because, although I write every chance I get, I’ve never really thought about how it affects the reader.

Some people, like my wife, enjoy quick reads.  If she comes across a really descriptive paragraph that is laying out the environment, she skips ahead.  She wants the meat of the prose only; just the facts, Mam.  Whereas some readers, like myself, can sit down with Proust or Dickens and be happy.  If you want to tell me, in five pages or more, how you put on your pajamas last night, that’s fine.  As long as the language is intoxicating and the words perform their ballet gracefully on the page.  But what makes a quick read a quick read?

Sure, there’s the reader’s interest level.  You love a book and so you stay up all night and finish it at 3:00 am.  But sentence length plays an important role too.  The shorter the sentences, the quicker your inner voice is going to read.  And of course, since there are fewer words to read, it’s a quicker read by default anyway.  Short sentences infer action, and maybe dialog.  It races forward.  Bullies its way along the pages.

Longer sentences command more attention.  You can’t have ADD and read a Proustian sentence to the end.  Once you reach the fourth aside, you start daydreaming and wondering what the first part of the sentence was even talking about to begin with.  Longer sentences infer complexity.  They are for setting scenes, backstories, character’s thoughts, philosophies, and description in general.  They saunter, nonchalant across the page.  They may require more introspection and brain power.  I may read Dickens, but I don’t attempt to do so waiting in a doctor’s office.

So sentence length is important because it can affect how your work is read.  And that means it can determine your audience.  And knowing your audience is compulsory.

The Flesch Reading Ease and the Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level tests are used to determine ease of comprehension and reading difficulty.  They are used by people like the U.S. Department of Defense, included in applications like Microsoft Word, and used as a gauge for certain standards on documents like insurance policies.  And the algorithm used in these tests both use words per sentence as a variable.  The other variable is syllables per word.  The longer the sentences, the more syllables per words, the more complex the work.  At least in general.  Sure, there may be plenty two syllable words you’ll have to look up in a dictionary, and an algorithm like this doesn’t allow for obtuse metaphors, but overall it’s a good measuring stick.

So like any good geek, I felt the need to turn sentence length into a mathematical construct.  I developed a program that takes anything written, measures the sentence length, and graphs it for a visual representation of the words per sentence.  Using the graphs, you should be able to tell a few things about the work without actually seeing it.  For this article, I’ve only graphed the first 50 sentences.  Can you tell what kind of read the first graph would be?  Don’t look at the X-Axis label.

One for the Money

It’s Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money.  A quick read.  I’m not grabbing the average length yet, but from the graph you can see the novel starts out with words/sentence in the 8 to 15 range, with only 3 sentences over 20 words.

What about this one?

Swann's Way

It’s Proust.  A brain bender and acquired taste.  Easy to get lost.  It can’t even be graphed using the 50 word max.  Here’s the full graph.

Swann's Way Full

The intro to Swann’s Way hardly ever dips below the 20 words/sentence mark.  And a couple of paragraphs masquerading as sentences weigh in at over 160 words.  I wonder if Proust talked like he wrote.  You would have to have Steven Tyler lungs.

After a few different books, I fed it one of my blogs called Potential Energy.  I think it looks like a healthy EKG.  This looks to me like a diverse mix, enough to keep you on your toes so you don’t wander off on me.

Potential Energy

Then I fed in the first part of one of my novellas called Sorry Charlie.  It looks like someone should hit the nurse button.  There seems to be a literary arrhythmia taking place.

Sorry Charlie

And maybe I shouldn’t place to much import on these little graphs, but I’m very happy with Potential Energy and not so much with the start of Sorry Charlie.  At any rate, I think these might be useful.

You could, for instance, feed in a book and see at a glance if it matched your reading level or preference.  You could gather metrics over time to uncover patterns in the graphs.  You might be able to tell a particular genre by the graph.  Every book would have an EKG.

If you are a writer, you could use it as a tool to pick out the flow of certain sequences in your book.  The graph above can be colored in under the line for specific ranges where there is considerable action, as noted by contiguous, short sentences, or where there is more thought provoking prose, as evidenced by a cluster of longer sentences.  You could then visually ascertain whether your writing was leading the reader down the path you intended.

And of course, there are other chart styles that could be explored.  Other variables you could take into account, so on and so forth.  But aside from all the geekery, I will certainly give the overall sentence length variation a look.

If you would like to play with the already available algorithms online, Google ‘reading level algorithms’ and feed in some of your writings.  Are you writing for your audience?