Jang Scissorhands

I grew up a 5 dollar haircut kind of guy.  For a long time, that’s all I would pay for haircuts.  Then when I got a little older, I began to go to the more upscale boutiques.  The kind that charge 17 bucks for a regular cut.  Why?  For the same reason that every other guy does.  They always have those 20 something hot chicks.  Some with big boobs.  Young, hot, and big boobs.  And if you are lucky, maybe they have to lean over on you a little to get that one piece of hair.  And I don’t know of any other legal way, non-divorce causing way, to have a young, hot girl lay one of her boobs on your shoulder for a second while she plays with your hair.  And it’s much, much cheaper than the strip clubs.


I know what you’re thinking.  Dirty old man.  And you’re absolutely correct.  But there is something that transcends the 5 bucks and the shoulder boob.  Every barber shop and boutique I’ve ever been in operates the same way.  Time is money.  Like the old time scribes, they get paid per job.  And so like the old time scribes, they rush you through the process and end up with some misprints or lopsided bangs.  If you’ve ever crawled out of a Wal-Mart shop looking like Scotty Don’t, then you understand the prolonged mental agony of having to watch your mangled hair slowly repair itself over a couple months.  You have to say goodbye to first impressions and deal with people who try to not stare at the side of your head while they talk to you.  You become another casualty of this manic, impersonal production-like process.  Suddenly that 17 bucks doesn’t sound so wonderful.  Of course, you can get your hair mangled for less, and I have.  But it’s much less humiliating to get hair-raped for 5 bucks instead of 17.  It’s barberism.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.


So when you finally find someone who gets it right, you stick with that person.  After I lost my job last year and had to move home, I drove all the way here to get my hair cut.  People who have had their follicles violated understand.  That’s why, even though I am happily married, I have established a relationship with another woman.  Her name is Jang.


Jang has two degrees.  Literature and Art.  She has gone to school, but says she really learned how to cut hair by applying her artistic skills to the process.  And she is a good artist.  This makes her, in my mind, the Ms. Miyagi of barbering.  It’s like something you would see in a Jackie Chan or Jet Li movie.  Like when they read their adversary’s calligraphy to deduce what their fighting style will be.  I’ve never really thought about it, but I like the philosophy here.  Instead of someone blowing through beauty school and then working their production line process in the same stale pattern as everyone else, Jang has taken the foundational knowledge necessary and then applied her artistic philosophy.  It works.


For starters, there’s no rushing you out of the seat.  It takes as long as it takes.  At some of her older jobs, when she was working for the Man, that presented a problem.  The Man wanted to maximize profits.  Jang wanted a happy customer.  Those two don’t usually go together.  But Jang has her own place now.  No rushing.  As a result, I am automatically calmer as soon as I walk in the door.  There is classical music playing, but it’s not the pretentious kind or the kitschy elevator jingles.  It’s just soothing.  There are smiles and she asks how the kids are doing.  But she actually wants to know.  It’s not just banter.  It’s sincerity.  Then she begins.


It’s here where things get fuzzy.  Time slows and folds in on itself and there is happiness all around me.  It’s very Zen.  I am calm like a glassy lake in the early morning.  I can hear the ocean.  I open my eyes and my wife is staring at me with a knowing smile.  She recognizes my barbershop bliss.  It’s funny, but wonderful.


When I leave the Lily Flagg Barber Shop, I know I have cheated on my wife.  At least it feels like it.  And I will do it again and again in the coming months.  And it won’t cost me 17 bucks.  And I can do without the boob on my shoulder.

The Library of Lost Works

I keep thinking about the fact that a friend of mine’s journals all burned up in a fire.  She had kept them from the time she was 13 or so and then boom, fire and no journals.  All that history.  All those thoughts, epiphanies, the pain and the joy, the excitement, the loneliness, the everything that was her life, recorded over the years and then gone in a day.


I think about it every time I write in my journal.  I write for two reasons.  One, to get all this shit out of my head.  I mean, can you imagine if I kept the fact that eating microwave popcorn causes obesity in other universes to myself?  Holding in a groundbreaking theory like this could cause serious mental constipation.  No way.  Sorry you guys have to be my vent, but there you are.  The second reason is for my grandchildren or their progeny.  Haven’t you ever wondered what it was like for your grandfather or great grandfather growing up?  Sure, you get a clipped story every now and then, maybe on Thanksgiving or Christmas, and that story is of course repeated again and again until that small section of their life is carved in mental marble.  But wouldn’t it be nice to know it all?  You know what made you who you are.  And since your caregivers helped carve out the better part of you (or maybe worse part), wouldn’t you like to know what parental carving tool was used on them?  And so on and so on?


So my fear is that I am going to spill my life onto the pages of all my journals over a ten or twenty year period and then have it vanish in a night.  I wonder how many people have lost things this way.  Maybe somewhere there is a Library of Lost Works.  It’s probably just down the street from the Library of Works Never Produced.


For instance, I’m certain no one has ever painted a picture of a prairie dog shooting Einstein with a shotgun, in watercolor.  This would be in that library.  Maybe a book called 1,999,999 Ways to Snort Gluons Through a Garden Hose.  That would definitely be in there.  What about an ice sculpture of a campfire?  A concerto in K minor?  A car that runs on irritating bullshit.  You could feed it a constant stream of car commercials on the radio, or maybe hook it up to a politician’s mouth around election time.


Of course, the minute they popped into existence in the Library of Works Never Produced, they would, by definition, be forced to pop out of existence there and pop into existence in the Library of Lost Works.  This would make it very difficult to check out a book in the Library of Works Never Produced.  You would have to be very quick.


And if you actually wrote a book detailing 1,999,999 Ways to Snort Gluons Through a Garden Hose, for a brief moment, the book would exist in both the Library of Works Never Produced and on your rather filthy computer desk.  One should be very careful at this exact moment to not suddenly destroy the book or it would be in 3 places at once, causing a literary paradox.  It would exist, be lost, and never have existed, all at the same moment.


What were we talking about?



Proactive Directory Assistance

DAVE:   Hello?

PDA:   Hi, this is Marcy from Proactive Directory Assistance.

DAVE:   Uh… yeah?

PDA:   Do you happen to know the number to a local Mexican restaurant called Frontera?

DAVE:   Excuse me?

PDA:   Do you know the number to a restaurant called Frontera?  It shows here that it’s about 4 miles down the road from you.

DAVE:   Ummm… no.  Can’t say I do.  So, what’s this in refer-

PDA:   The number is 256-564-7755.


PDA:   Will that be all today, sir?

DAVE:   I’m not really sure what – uh – yeah, whatever.  Sure.

PDA:   Well again, this is Marcy with Proactive Directory Assistance and we appreciate your business.  For your convenience, our discount rate will appear on your local telephone bill.  We look forward to calling you again in the near future.

DAVE:   Whoa, whoa, whooooaaa.  What?  Did you say – are you trying to charge me or something?

PDA:   This is a one-time charge of .85 for a local number.  Wait a sec, looks like you were already upgraded to Gold.  Congratulations!  We are very happy you have chosen –

DAVE:   No, no, no.  Hell no.  I didn’t ask for the number and – wait a minute – I didn’t even call you.  You called me!

PDA:   Yes sir.  We are Proactive Directory Assistance, always a step ahead of our competition.  And while you didn’t specifically ask for the number, you did tell us you didn’t know the number correct?

DAVE:   Yeah, but – wait a damn minute, I don’t even want the number!  And competition?  Who the hell is your competition?

PDA:   You, sir.


PDA:   Is there anything else we can do for you, sir?

DAVE:   Well, I’m sure as hell not paying for the information you’ve given me.  Flat out.

PDA:   I’m sorry sir, but you already have.

DAVE:   Excuse me?

PDA:   We contract with a company called Proactive Transaction Services.  As a special service, at no extra charge to you, they were able to take care of this entire transaction before we even called you.


DAVE:   This is complete bullshit.  I’m pulling up my bank account right now and if anyone’s fucked around with my account…  You know what?  Let me talk to your boss!

PDA:   No problem, sir.  That number is 888-456-9987.


DAVE:   What are you – no.  I want you to connect me directly, right now, to your – hey, you’re not charging for that are you?

PDA:   Certainly sir.  You did receive the information, correct?

DAVE:   Yes – but –


PDA:   Would you still like for me to connect you directly?

DAVE:   YES!  NO!  Wait!  Are you going to charge me for this?  You know what, just connect me anyway.  Doesn’t fucking matter at this point ‘cause I’m not going to FUCKING PAY YOU A PENNY!

PDA:   Yes, sir.  No problem.  Please hold for a moment and remember that this conversation may be recorded to insure quality service.


PDA:   Hi, this is Dan with Proactive Directory Assistance.  How can we help you today, sir?

DAVE:   Well for one I’m not paying a dime for anything you’ve done or given me because I didn’t ask for any of it.  For starters, Marcy here called me in the middle of my show and – WHAT THE FUCK!

PDA:   I’m sorry sir, is there a problem?

DAVE:   I’m looking at my account right now and there is a charge – a deduction on my bank account for $35!  Are you fucking kidding me?!  You cannot take money out of my account!  I am calling the police right now!

PDA:   Would you like that number, sir?


DAVE:   No goddammit.  I can’t believe you took money out of my account!

PDA:   Actually we didn’t sir.  As Marcy explained we contract with a company called –

DAVE:   FUCK both of you!  You are both insane!

PDA:   I’ll tell you what, sir.  If you like, I can connect you with our complaint department.  There is, of course, no extra charge for our gold customers like yourself, sir.

DAVE:   Complaint depa – gold customer? – is that why you charged – because I’m a gold – what the hell is wrong with you people?

PDA:   Yes, sir.  Our statistics show that the best way to serve you is to proactively assign our most popular combo package, the Gold Package.

DAVE:   Gold package?  You know what you two fucks?  If you don’t reverse this goddamn charge right now, I swear to God I’m going to crawl through this fucking line and strangle the living shit out of both of you.  I mean it.  I’ll find out where this company is and I will come and hold you two stupid fucks underwater for a fucking hour and then I will burn this place to the fucking ground and salt the motherfucking earth so nothing will grow there for centuries.  Do you understand me?  And I’m going to tell every motherfucker I know, including the police and the FBI and the CIA and all my friends, not to answer their phone until I can come down there and stick my whole arm up your asses and grab your trachea and rip it out of your body through your motherfucking assholes.  Do you understand that, you two stupid fucktards?


DAVE:   Cry if you want to you stupid shit.  Mar – seeeee.  Da – yuuuun.  Thieving fuckholes!

PDA:   Actually sir, that’s your fiancé, Rachel.  We called her as part of our Proactive Restaurant Concierge.  She was looking forward to surprising you with a date at the Frontera Mexican Restaurant.


RACHEL:   I’m so – sor – sorry.  I didn’t know you could be like this.  I do – do – don’t understand.

DAVE:   Oh my god!  Rachel?  What are you doing on the line?  What…

RACHEL:   I don’t feel like I kno – know you.

DAVE:   What?  Oh God no, baby.  Listen it’s just – these people – they just got me so excited – I just

RACHEL:   It’s like you weren’t even my fiancé.  Like you were another person.

PDA:   There, there Rachel.  It’ll be ok.

DAVE:   Hey, you shut the fuck up!  That’s my fiancé!  Get off the line you bastard!

RACHEL:   Who are you?

DAVE:   No, baby please listen –

RACHEL:   I’m just, kinda – scared.

PDA:   We understand Rachel

DAVE:   Look, if you don’t get off the line you –


DAVE:   Hold on baby.  Someone’s about to break the damn door down.  Don’t go anywhere.


PDA:   Rachel?

RACHEL:   Yes?

PDA:   It’s going to be alright.  We called the Sheriff as soon as Marcy transferred him to me.


PDA:   They’ll take care of everything


PDA:   This happens sometimes.  It’s just a good thing we were here.  God knows what could have happened.

RACHEL:   I’m just so confused.


RACHEL:   Oh my God, what was that?  Gunshots?

OFFICER:   Hello?

PDA:   Hi, this is Dan and Marcy with Proactive Directory Assistance.

OFFICER:   Thank God.  I’m glad you guys called me.  And you were right, this guy was a lunatic.

PDA:   No problem officer.

OFFICER:   Mam, are you going to be ok?

RACHEL:   I’m just so confused.  I – just – I’ll just stay with my friend Lauren.

PDA:   Would you like that number?




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



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.




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.



Giving Alms

pic credit

I'll tell you the problem
with Faith.

Its bias.

No one has faith in something that they don't like.

That they don't agree with.
That they look down on.
That smells.
That makes them uncomfortable.
That they fear and loath.
That doesn't give them hope.
That doesn't promise infinite happiness.
That isn't a reason for everything.
That doesn't love you unconditionally.

If Faith wasn't so biased,
we could have it in our fellow man.

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?

Potential Energy


“You have a lot of potential.”

Anyone ever said that to you?  A lot of my high school teachers told me this.  At the time, it kind of sounded ok, I mean, compared to what other people were saying about me.  Then I got older.  Not all at once, but rather slowly.  And I started to realize that this wasn’t a very helpful comment.

I tried to define the comment.  That’s what older people do.  They like to define things, to draw a nice, little mental box and then define something so they can stick that now-concrete thing in the box, put a label on it, and then defend that label to the death at any social gathering where there is an abundance of alcohol.

I thought of batteries.  They have potential energy.  That’s a good thing when your lights go out.  Batteries sit in the drawer and wait silently and uncomplaining until you need them.  Of course, if you never need them, you will probably forget that the flashlight is in the drawer and when you move in a few years, you will find leaked acid all over those important receipts you kept hidden away.

I thought of fossil fuels.  They are ripe with potential energy.  They take millions of years to form and are essential to mankind’s existence.  Of course, when man uses up all the fuels, which should be in about 30 years or so, the world will come to a screeching halt and revert back to medieval chaos like in Mad Max, where guys who wear thongs shoot bunny rabbits in the desert.

I thought of springs.  When they are compressed, they have a lot of potential energy.  They help our cars ride smoother and make sure our office chairs retain their original position after we lean way back in them.  They also help Tiggers lead a fulfilling and productive life.  Of course, they can also press deep into your rib cage at night and cause you to not get a good night’s sleep, be late to work the next morning, lose your job, and cause you to be homeless inside of two months because you haven’t a penny in savings.

I thought of a weak nuclear force acting on the baryon charge, otherwise known as nuclear potential energy.  But I didn’t contemplate this idea because I had just copied and pasted the sentence from Wikipedia.  It doesn’t actually make sense to me.

I thought of bows and arrows.  They have potential energy and they help hunters kill things.  That’s good.  Killing things.  Of course, if you don’t know what you’re doing and shoot a bow incorrectly, you can end up with a huge bruise and welt on the inside of your forearm.  And when you can’t hold back the tears, the other hunters will laugh at you.  Or so I’ve heard.

I thought of chemical energy.  No, really, I did.  Chemistry is responsible for pharmaceuticals.  We can take pills to help us be more unipolar, to stay awake all night and study for exams, to examine alternate realities at outdoor music events, and to fight off infections we might incur as a result of attending said events.  Of course, your drinking buddies could get you to eat three packs of Mentos and then funnel a two liter diet coke, which would cause you to projectile vomit and then suffer a collapsed lung.  Or so I’ve heard.

Then I thought of gravitational energy.  I thought of that boulder sitting atop the curved cliff that they show you in all the text books.  The boulder just sits there and obeys the laws of inertia.  It’s probably scared of heights.  And it probably can’t see what’s behind it, because it’s a boulder.  So it’s forced to sit there, frightened beyond reason at the chasm before it, and always wondering who is about to sneak up from behind and shove it over that cliff.  Dreadful thing if you ask me.  Such a graphic representation to convey to an impressionable teenager.

But I realize now the subtle hints they were giving me.  That one day they would sneak up behind me and push me to my death.  I know they are out there with their PHD’s and such, in the shadows, waiting for the right opportunity to transfer my peaceful potential into a flailing juggernaut of kinetic downfall.

So I wait.

I watch.

I listen.