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Sunday, 17 June 2007
If You're Norm Abram: A Woodworker's Project Journal


Step One:  Inspiration


If you’re Norm Abram, the first step to any woodworking project is packing up your flannels along with a dependable measuring tape and a truly ugly sweater and boarding a flight to somewhere inspirational, like, say, the Bermuda or Europe.  Anywhere they’ve built something out of wood is fair game, but luckily for you (you’re Norm, remember), the best examples of fine woodworking just happen to be in some of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.  You’d think the Afghans or the Serbs might have hand crafted a distinctive side table worth visiting, but no, apparently they haven’t.  Anyway, once you’ve arrived in Rome, or London, or St. Barts, you’ll find a museum or antique shop chock full of furniture musty with local flavor.  Hand chiseled joinery of all kinds will be fascinating, as will exquisite finish patinas and authentic brass drawer pulls.  “I just love these bun feet, which are also called onion feet,” you’ll gush, lovingly caressing the bun (or onion) feet on a mahogany blanket chest.  And while blanket chests made of mahogany are common, examples of Bermudian blanket chests are, naturally, best appreciated in Bermuda.   Thus inspired, you’ll announce your intention to measure the piece for recreation as this week’s project back in the New Yankee Workshop.  And after you’ve filmed your ten minute segment, you’re free to enjoy Bermudian beaches and   blue Bermudian oceans brought to you by viewers like me.


Is Norm inspired or just happy to see you?

If you’re me, however, inspiration must necessarily strike a little closer to home (as you will see, often as close as my living room), and recreating classical furniture styles is pretty much a non-issue.  If you’re me, you don’t work with mahogany of any nationality because it’s way too expensive.   While most wood is sold by the board foot, mahogany is priced by linear inch. What this means is that a 2X4 made of mahogany (if such a thing existed) would cost around $30.00, as opposed to $1.20 for one made from pine.  If you’re Norm Abram, you’re often found merrily sawing your way through vast expanses of mahogany.  Since relatively little is brought to me by viewers like you, you’ll find most of my creations are pine.  The whole reason wood stains exist is so that poor suckers like me can attempt to make pine look like mahogany (trivia!), though anyone who actually cared about such things wouldn’t be fooled.  It reminds me of those Designer Imposter Cologne ads that said, “If you like Giorgio, you’ll love Primo!”  Well, if you’re Norm Abram, you like Giorgio.  If you’re me, you love Primo


But luckily for me, inspiration is free. (I’m a poet, and I know it.) Verily, inspiration, like true love, has often been right there in front of you the whole time, just waiting for you to see past its lazy eye and club foot and finally notice its inner beauty.  That’s how, as I reclined in repose in the temple of my familiar (a.k.a. my living room), I was smote by the smiting smite of inspiration. Something I see almost every day suddenly struck a new cord deep within the woodworking part of me.  It kind of tingled.  How could I have been so blind to such blatant charm for so long?  It was so obvious.  It was so perfect.  It was this:

Teacher, mother....secret lover.


This, however, is no ordinary cartoon television set.  It’s the only TV that receives such fine programming as Ethnic Mismatch Comedy #644, America’s Funniest Tornadoes, and the soap opera It Never Ends.  You can catch all 7 episodes England’s longest running sitcom, Do Shut Up and match wits with contestants on the game show Touch the Stove.   And all with the existential twist of only being able to see this television on television.  For any of you still groping about in the shameful darkness of cultural illiteracy wondering, “Just where is this fantastic TV and why wasn’t I made aware of existence before now?” I’ll give you a hint.  It’s the TV Homer Simpson surreptitiously embraces and calls “Teacher, mother…secret lover.”


What could be more inspired than a display case for Simpsons collectibles made to look like the Simpsons TV?  Absolutely nothing!   And even if Mr. Norm Globetrotting Fancy-Britches Abrams had thought of it, he’d be out of luck because this is one piece PBS can’t fly him out to admire in person.  So nyah nyah nyah. 


Step Two: Selection of Materials


If you’re Norm Abram, you’d begin this project by happening upon a few sheets of pre-finished AAA grade plywood magically standing on end as you stroll through the mahogany forest of your enchanted workshop.  “This is just the material I need,” you’d say, if you were Norm.  Oh, happy coincidence!  You’d absently run your hand along its glassy-smooth surface while talking about how darn nifty the stuff was to work with.  “It’s expensive,” you’d say, “but well worth it for the mount of time it saves. Come on, let’s get started!”


If you’re me, however, you’ll begin the project by spending three hours down at the Home Depot going through a bargain bin of ZZZ grade Taiwanese plywood-like product, looking for a sheet that doesn’t look like it was found washed up by Katrina in some Texan bog.   No one at the Home Depot has ever even heard of anything like the plywood Norm is using much less stocked it, and even if they had, it would certainly be out of your budget since you’re me.  A full sheet of  ¾” thick plywood is eight feet tall, four feet wide, and weights about 75 pounds, so getting to the flatter-looking ones buried in the bottom of a stack isn’t easy or necessarily rewarding, especially when you finally do dig it out only to find it cracked down the center.  Add to this the significant weight of your Significant Other’s impatient stares,  bored sighs, and  “are we done yet?” toe tapping, and you’ve got quite a workout on your hands.  Here’s some advice you won’t get from Norm:  never bring Shawn wood shopping.


The third one up from the bottom looks good....


When you’re me and not Norm Abram, you’ll find that finally deciding on a sheet of plywood is only half the battle.  It’s not going to magically materialize in your workshop the way it does for Norm.  Half of the other half of the battle is getting the plywood into your van (you do have one, you’re me), and the final quarter of the battle is getting it back out again.   Here’s some more advice you won’t get from Norm:  be very careful opening your van’s hatchback once you get the plywood home.  If you’re me, you’ll have the hatchback open about four inches when the plywood will suddenly slide out from under it at impossible speed and bash you square in the shins.   Trust me; it’s bloody, splintery, and unpleasant.  If you’re me, you’ll notice that it sometimes sucks to be me. 


Step Three: Assemble the Carcass


I’ll bet you didn’t know that the basic box any cabinetry project begins with is called a carcass (trivia!).  And even if you did know that, I bet you’ve never built one.  And if you have built one, I’ll bet it wasn’t inspired by a piece of cartoon furniture.  And if it was, then I invite you to go read a blog detailing how to best canoodle yourself. 


Before you can begin assemble the five pieces of your carcass, you’ve got to cut the plywood up into those five pieces.  If you’re Norm Abram, step one of step three is walking toward your customized Delta Unisaw while saying, “Before we use any power tools, let’s discuss shop safety.”  A montage of you, Norm, confidently and safely operating a variety of power tools will soft fade in and out during your rather lengthy speech about both reading and understanding the instructions that came with your power tool.  “And remember this,” you’ll conclude, “there’s no more important safety rule than to wear these,” and here you’ll pause to tap the pair permanently grafted to your face, “safety glasses.”  


Now, if you’re Norm, you’re finally ready to get down to business.  Or, rather, if you’re Norm, you’ve somehow already managed to get down to business.  “I’ve adjusted the bade height, set my fence, and installed these feather boards on my fence to keep my workpiece nice and flat,” you’ll say, “and, as you can see here, I’ve already measured and cut the sheet of plywood down into five smaller sections, which will make it a lot easier to work with.”  Oh, have you, Norm?  And just when, exactly, did you do all that?  During the safety glasses montage?  Even Norm Abram couldn’t do all that that fast, and since you are Norm Abram, I ain’t buying it. 

Is Norm Abram faster than Norm Abram?


If you’re me, however, step one of step three finds you pretty much as you were at the end of step two, staggering about in the driveway with an absurdly awkward and heavy piece of wood.   If you’re me, you’d logically live where I do, so you’d have the two creepy little red haired girls that live across the way who remind you of the two little girls haunting the hotel halls in The Shining (“Come play with us, Danny…for ever and ever...”) staring at you with their creepy, vacant eyes as they circle you on their little pink bikes.  Remember, if you’re me, you’ve just had your shins bashed too, which is why you’d like to remind your readers that, regardless of what Norm says, there’s no more important safety rule than to wear these, pause and point to where they would have been had you been wearing them, shin guards.  And although you haven’t got a cabinet saw with thousands of dollars worth of customizations (And why would you?  Who do you think you are?  Norm Abram?), you do have a pair of saw horses and a circular saw you got on clearance.




In a recent episode of the New Yankee Workshop, Table Saws 101, Norm was heard to remark that his table saw handled as smoothly as a luxury car.   I suppose, if you’re Norm, that’s a comparison you’re in a position to make. If Norm’s table saw is the power tool equivalent of, say, a classic Jaguar XJ (and it is), then your circular saw, if you’re me, is a 1972 Ford Pinto.  Like the Pinto, your circular saw has been defamed due to safety hazards, specifically the lack of an electric brake that stops the very sharp and very exposed blade from spinning after you’ve finished making a cut.  Well, the Emergency Room’s loss is your gain, because with the money you’ve saved you can now afford other essentials for your project, like wood glue and cigarettes.  Anyway, the circular saw and the table saw, like the cars, essentially do the same thing.  They both have a motor that spins a blade. That’s why the British call a table saw a “circular saw bench” (trivia!).  True, if you’re Norm, you’ll look more stylish driving your car or cutting your plywood, but if you’re me, you could theoretically do both at once.   



And if you’re me, you’ve been trying like heck just to get the plywood onto the sawhorses so you’ll be composed and ready to go at the end of the safety shin guard montage.  Embarrassingly, this is becoming something of a chore.  Because you’re me and not Norm, you’ve bought space-saving sawhorses that fold-up for convenient storage because, unlike Norm, your workshop is actually a garage and Shawn will unreasonably insist on parking his car in it.  I bet nobody tries to park a sedan in the middle of Norm’s workshop, but I (and you, if you’re me) digress.  If you’re me, you’re discovering that sawhorses designed to fold up will do so indiscriminately, regardless of their sworn duty to uphold one end of an eight foot length of plywood while you wrestle with the other.   Even when you manage to keep the traitors upright there’s no guarantee they’ll stay in place.  The best of both worlds, of course, is when one sawhorse collapses and the other slides off in some random direction, leaving you a hobbled monkey in the middle with way too much wood on his hands.  All of this would be easier if you a had a helper, but, if you’re me, your lovely assistant’s  undying devotion seems to have lapsed into a resentful coma after “wasting an entire Saturday morning” in a certain home improvement warehouse, and even mentioning the word “wood,” however coyly, is bound to get you in trouble.


In the end you’ll devise an unconventional solution to the tipsy sawhorse dilemma, because, if you’re me, you’re more than just another unconventionally handsome face.  You’ll find that crawling under the plywood and balancing it on your head while pulling the sawhorses in under either end isn’t pretty, but it gets the job done. Besides, nobody saw you, and if you didn’t have to put everything in that damn blog of yours nobody would ever know, so stop making us look like rubes. 


Now you’re ready to grab that circular saw and start making this sheet of plywood your bitch.  It’ll feel good to cut some wood, rather than having the wood cut you.  Whoa!  Not so fast there, Sparky (if you’re Sparky). First, you need to take some careful measurements and mark your cut lines.  If you’re me, you’ll take a considerable amount of time doing this, never suspecting that level of precision you’re expecting is impossible with circular saw (Don’t say anything, though, it’ll spoil the funny surprise.).  Your assumption that a circular saws always cut in a straight line was proven false three unfinished projects ago, so you know better than to start cutting without first constructing some sort of saw  corral.  Ain’t nothin’ worse than an ornery circular saw, hoo boy!  If you’re me, you’ve sacrificed your romantic relationship for the sake of finding this particular piece of plywood, and that leaves you with plenty of alone time and no excuse not to cut it up right.   So, to recap, you’ve got your wood on the sawhorses, you’ve measured your cult lines, and you’ve clamped on a saw corral.  Lookin’ good!  Of course, in the time it took you to set this up, Norm has built a granite-topped kitchen island, a replica of an early nineteenth century bonnet-topped Queen Anne highboy, a wall of crown molding-topped barrister bookcases, and is now relaxing out behind his magic workshop in a Norm-topped Adirondack recliner he made himself.   



Well Norm may have precise, expensive equipment, he may have Corporate sponsorship, he may wear Giorgio and drive a Jaguar XJ, but, if you’re me, you’re about to build something nobody’s ever made before, and that makes you an artist and Norm a hack. Being the more camera-friendly of the two counts for nothing.  Corporate sponsors like DeWalt and Porter Cable power tools simply can’t handle you because, if you’re me, you’re too real.  This could also explain why your employer’s HR department and that one Red Lobster waitress seem to have trouble handling you, too.  So, good for you, and, since you’re me, good for me!  Perhaps now would be a good time to tell you how much I’ve always admired the way you triumph over adversity.  Sometimes you amaze me.  By the way, were you aware that that saw isn’t plugged in?  I’m not implying anything, you just looked a little confused there when you turned the saw on and nothing happened.  I know you know what you’re doing!  Well, excuse me for trying to help, Mr. Know-It-All!  No wonder you’re all alone out here.  Oh yeah?  That’s pretty tough talk for a guy who just got his ass kicked by a piece of wood.  I don’t have time for your nonsense anyway; the New Yankee Workshop will be starting soon and they’re flying Norm to Tokyo to look at a wood-framed mirror.   


Where was I?  Or, rather, where were you?  Ah, yes.  You may now commence the cutting of your plywood.  In fact, you may now spend the next two days cutting your plywood.  If you’re me, that’s how long cutting five board of exact dimensions will take you, exactly because the dimensions will keep changing.  Inevitably, if you’re me, you’ll wind up with one piece that’s longer or wider than it should be, despite your meticulous measuring.  When you trim it to size, you’ll discover that it’s now shorter or narrower than it needs to be, and, if you’re me, in some cases it will be both too narrow and too short.  If you were working off some sissy blue print like a certain television personality you sometime are does, then you’d be in a pickle.  Luckily for you you’re me, and you’ll simply throw your tantrum (thus effectively proving that the workshop is truly no place for children) and then get on with making all your other pieces shorter and narrower, too.  That way, all the pieces will still fit together.  You’re still well on you’re way to achieving your (my) unique and inspired artistic vision, even if it’s a shorter and narrower version of that vision.   

Now that you’ve finally sawn your five boards apart, it’s time to put them back together.  If you’re Norm, you’ll grab your pneumatic nail gun and slap it all together, which is inexcusably lazy given the tools at your disposal.  If you’re Norm, you could easily assemble it with dado joints cut on your table saw.  You could mortise and tenon to your heart’s delight on your deluxe drill press and band saw.  What about some grabbing the ol’ router and churning out some dovetail or finger joints?  Well, Norm?  These joints are the fingerprints left on a piece by a master craftsman.  Indeed, they’re the very thing that, if you’re Norm, makes your tape measure snap to attention when found on a charming Tuscan chifferobe or antique Southwestern headboard.

To be fair, sometimes, if you’re Norm, you’ll admit you’re taking shortcuts.  “I really should be using a Triple Lutz reverse Salchow joint here,” you might say, “but it wouldn’t add any overall stability to the piece and it would just take too much time to make.”  Excuse me?  If you’re Norm Abram, what’s more important that the craft of woodworking?  If you’re Norm Abram, what else do you even do?  What’s the rush?  Is the New Yankee Workshop now being broadcast live?  If so, how they get you, Norm, back and forth to Aruba in under an hour is an Ancient Norman Secret. 

Strangely enough, if you’re Norm, even a half-assed assembly turns out looking pretty good.  If you’re me, you suspect a fingerful of machine oil has been smeared across the New Yankee Workshop’s lens.  If you’re me, you’d never slap all your pieces together using a pneumatic nail gun, most likely because, if you’re me, you haven’t got one.  You haven’t got Norm’s table saw, band saw, or drill press, either.  If you’re me, your project, like Norms, will not bear the fingerprints of a master craftsman, which is fine because you’d be painting over them anyway.   But this doesn’t mean you’ll be cutting corners. In fact, if you’re me, you’re going to join the five pieces using pocket screws, wood glue, and biscuits.  I’d explain what pocket screws and biscuits are, but you’re me, so you know exactly what I’m talking about.  You know that employing these methods will result in a ridiculously strong joint (important since you seem to move fairly frequently) that will keep all unattractive fastening hardware concealed within the joint.  Employing these methods will also require the use of power tools that you, if you’re me, actually own.  The downside, however, is that these methods will result in drilled holes and slots which must align perfectly, else all will be rendered wobbly and the entire workshop will have to be burned down to eradicate all traces of your shameful failure. 


If you’re Norm, you’ve got a special “assembly table” where you put your projects together.  If you’re me, you’ve got a special section of “garage floor” where you put things together.  If you’re Norm, you’re oft heard to remark, “Now, with any luck, these two pieces should line up perfectly….and look, they do!”   Well, quelle surprise!  Pardon my French (French!), but everything always lines up perfectly for Norm.   Just once, I’d like to see Norm overcome some adversity, like, say, a misaligned joint or some lost luggage.    If you’re me, you’ve got adversity in spades.   If you’re me and they were going to name a fragrance after you, it would be called “Adversity.”   If you’re me, you’re often heard to remark, “Now, with any luck, these two pieces should come slightly close to maybe kind of lining up…and look, they don’t!  Fuck!  Fuck this cheap warped wood!  Fuck the tree that bore it!  Fuck the earth in which the tree grew!  Fuck everything!  Fuckety fuck fuck fuck!!!”   Now is the time when, if you’re me, you’ll be tempted to reach for the matches and a can of gasoline.   If you’re me, though, you haven’t got a handy can of gasoline.   If you’re me, you’d have to drive down to the gas station and buy some gasoline, and the gas can, too.   If you’re me, you’ll realize that being seen purchasing gasoline moments before a suspicious fire is likely to get some fingers pointed at you.  So, if you’re me, you’ll ask Shawn to run down and get it for you.  If you’re Shawn, you’ll be confused by the request and resent be woken from your nap and confused by requests.  If you’re Shawn, you’ll refuse.   

If you’re me, you’ll have found that shifting your attention from the woodworking problem to the arson problem has allowed your subconscious mind to subconsciously solve the woodworking problem.  If you’re me, or Thor, you’ll suddenly remember that the best way to solve most of life’s problems is with steadfast determination and a hammer.  You’ll find joints more agreeably fit together when given no other choice and whacking the sap out of two boards until they snap into place is more gratifying than arson any day (or, so someone with limited comparative experience, like me, would assume...).   If you’re me, you’re not quite done conquering adversity just yet.  Just because all the boards now “fit” together doesn’t mean they’re lined up to the perfection you most assuredly deserve. This is easily fixed by simply placing the unit face down on the concrete floor and standing on any parts not actually meeting the floor.  Works wonders, and it’s something you’d never hear from Norm, probably because it doesn’t look very stylish to be caught jumping up and down on your latest masterpiece.  Well, I admit the method isn’t pretty, but who could argue with these results?   

One sweet looking carcass.


Now tell me this isn’t the most beautiful carcass you’ve ever seen.   What?  Gad!  That is not my carcass.  I have no idea what that is.  Clearly an irreversible internet glitch of some magnitude has occurred, the kind of glitch which a woodworker such as me would know nothing about nor should be expected to explain.      


One Sweet Looking Carcass


Now tell me this isn’t the most beautiful carcass you’ve ever seen.  Since you’re me I know that it is, and if you’re not me, I’ll simply assume you think it is, too.  Life’s great when everybody agrees.  If you’re me, you take well deserved pride in the ninety-degreeness of all the corners and the way the carcass sits there, not wobbling.  Booyeah!  True, most casual observes, such as Shawn, will look at this carcass, literally stained with your blood, sweat, and tears, and fail to be duly impressed.  Why?  Because they’re used to watching Norm Abram build an entire house in the time it took you to get these five boards assembled.  Well, you could sit around all day resenting Norm (although, if you’re Norm, that’s probably really unhealthy), or, if you’re me, you can move on to step four, assembling the face frame for your carcass.


Step Four: Assembling the frame.


Now that you’ve built your carcass, you’ll want to frame the face of it with a face frame (italics!).  This will cover the unfinished plywood edges and give the piece an overall more refined look.  If you’re me, you can enjoy refinery without being a snob, unlike certain other woodworkers I’ve seen vacationing on TV.  The face frame will be constructed from strips of solid oak about 1.5 inches wide.  Since you can’t assemble a face frame while it’s being attached to the carcass, the face frame must be built in its entirety entirely independent of the carcass.   This means your measurements can be nothing short of perfect.


If you’re me, you excel at face frames.  But, if you’re me, you don’t happen to have any 1.5 inch wide strips of oak hanging around your workshop because so few of your projects actually make it to the face frame stage.   If you’re me, you’ll have to make a trip down to the Home Depot.  If you’re Shawn, you’ll foolishly offer to accompany me, perhaps thinking that a few strips of oak couldn’t possibly be as difficult to pick out as a sheet of plywood.  If you’re Shawn, you’d be wrong. 


The thing about long, narrow strips of oak is that they’re narrow and long.  The longer and narrower a piece of wood is, the more time the buyer must spend inspecting it for warping.  I’m sorry, but that’s just they way it is.  If you’re me, you have no control over the atmospheric conditions that cause wood to expand, contract, and warp.  If you’re me, you can’t help the fact that the Home Depot displays wood of this sort standing on end rather than in flat stacks, which would help avoid some of the warping.  If you’re me, it’ll be a cold day in hell before you deliberately waste good money on bad wood just to save some time.   So what if people look at you strangely as you set each piece of wood down in the center of the aisle and crawl around it to make sure that the entire length of wood lays flat against the concrete.  So what if you begin to suspect that the Home Depot’s floor itself isn’t level and have to try this experiment in a few different locations before you’re satisfied.  If you’re me, you’re a paying customer and you demand satisfaction. 


If you’re Shawn, you’ll swear that this is the last time you ever set foot in a Home Depot on a quest for wood.  If you’re Shawn, it appears you’re keeping your word.  If you’re me, you think that’s just fine.  If you’re Shawn, you can go ahead and be that way, but don’t be surprised when I lose interest in your hobbies, like washing dishes or paying utility bills.  With such domestic strife, no wonder so many men find the home workshop a safe haven where they can be alone to work their wood in peace.   I suppose that’s why some woodworkers are sad to see a project end.  But, if you’re me, you’re not even halfway done yet, so there’s no need to fret, although your project is coming along quite beautifully.


Step Five: Paint it purple.


I don’t know Norm Abram personally, but if you’re me, you’re willing to bet he’s never walked into a Home Depot and asked for paint colors with names like Luau Lavender or Purple Flurp.  If you’re me, nothing makes you feel manlier than bellying up to the paint counter and ordering several shades of lavender paint.  If you (I) think that’s fun, just wait ‘til you’re (I’m) wandering amidst the plastic flowers of a Wal-Mart’s craft section looking for just the right shade of bubblegum pink craft paint and some decoupage glue.  If you’re me, you obviously know how to have a good time. 


Actually, if you’re me, you really don’t mind the painting.  If you’re me, you’ll actually start to enjoy yourself for the first time in weeks.  You’ll almost forget the never-ending sanding and filling it took to prepare your plywood surface for painting, which was so horrendously tedious that you don’t even want to blog about it.  If you’re me, you’ve left the garage in haze of sanded wood particles which are now settling on Shawn’s car, which, if you’re Shawn, is what you get for parking in the middle of someone’s workshop (conflict!).   If this were to settle into your wet paint, the result would be disastrous, so you’ve got to do your painting somewhere else until the dust settles.  If you’re Norm, you have a separate wing of the New Yankee Workshop for painting and finishing called “The Finishing Room.”  If you’re me, your finishing room is called “The Back Yard.”   If you’re my dogs, “The Back Yard” is also known as “Outside.”  If you’re me, this explains why dog hair keeps settling into your wet purple paint.  After you’ve applied several coats of paint and dog hair, you’ll apply several coats of acrylic polyurethane, which isn’t really polyurethane at all but more like a clear latex paint (trivia!). 

The Big Purple Box

If you’re me, you’ll want to make some “knobs” for the “TV” out of scrap wood and paint them.  Then you’ll make the speaker out of thin dowels painted black and glued to a rectangle of wood painted pink.  Cover the knobs and the speakers with the decoupage glue to prevent the craft paint from running when you apply more acrylic polyurethane, which isn’t really polyurethane at all but more like a clear latex paint (redundant!).  Got all that?  Well, if you’re me you did.  Then you’ve got to cut your backing board to size, paint and “polyurethane” it, and set it into the rabbet grooves I forgot to mention you made earlier with your router.

If you’re Norm, you’ll take a block of mahogany to your lathe and carve yourself some bun, or onion, feet.  If you’re me, you think bun feet are ugly and you loathe onions.  Also, if you’re me, you haven’t got a lathe, and even if you did you still wouldn’t carve the damned feet by hand when you can buy them pre-made for less than two bucks each.  Unlike Norm, you do have a life outside your workshop, thank you very much. 


Step Six: The beginning of the end.


If you’re me, you can hardly stand how darn cool your project is starting to look.  It may very well be the coolest thing you have ever laid eyes on.  If you’re me, you may be so overwhelmingly impressed with yourself that you’ll momentarily forget that you’re not finished.  You’ve got to paint your shelves and install your shelf pins.  You’ve got make a door for the cabinet, which will be really easy because it’s just another frame and, if you’re me, you’re good with frames (applied knowledge!).   If you’re Norm, you’d have custom tempered glass made to fit the door.  If you’re me, you’ll go for Plexiglas.  Actually, you’ll go through quite a bit of Plexiglas because, if you’re me, it’s not as easy to cut as you thought.


Then, at last, you’re ready to fill it up with some priceless Simpsons collectibles.  If you’re me, you’ve got quite a lot, so this will take all of five minutes. 



And there you have it.  Your vision, if you’re me, has been truly envisioned. 


I’m sure there are less frustrating hobbies, like yoga or watching the Simpsons on TV.  But none are quite as rewarding.  And it’s still better than going to work any day.  I’ve shown people pictures of this completed project, and they invariably say I should go into business for myself, to which I reply, “OK, I’ll do it!  How many of these can I put you down for?”  That usually ends that conversation. 


Speaking of endings, I’ll leave you now with a few shots of other projects I’ve completed….a dog bed I built (and Shawn upholstered) and an X-Men action figure display I made for Shawn.  If you’re Norm, I hope you’re duly impressed. 








Posted by johnfrommelt at 6:11 PM
Updated: Saturday, 23 June 2007 6:39 PM
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Monday, 4 June 2007
An Aerostar is Reborn

Part I

The Ad 

For Sale: 1989 Ford Aerostar! Very Very Used!!  Not Running!!  Needs Work!!  $200!!! 250,000 stop-and-go city miles.  The radiator and maybe a hose or some other thing connected to the radiator has sprung a major leak and the van will not hold coolant.  Cannot be driven for more than 20 miles before dramatically overheating. Before that, the engine leaked oil but otherwise ran just fine.  The van has the usual amount of wear and tear you’d expect for a nearly 20 year old vehicle used primarily for hauling building supplies and large, hairy animals.  Has only ONE rear bench seat as opposed to the usual two, as the other was taken out to make more cargo room and wound up getting itself stolen.  Body has scrapes, scratches, dents and dings, and the rear bumper is cracked and sagging a bit more each day.  Has never been in a major collision or accident except for the time I accidentally backed into my next door neighbor’s parked SUV, but the damage was totally minor all around, no matter what he or his insurance company claim.  The van is an attractive two tone metallic blue and silver, or at least it is where the sun hasn’t faded and cracked the paint. Windshield is chipped and cracked.  Wiper blades need replacing.  No heat.  No a/c. No cup holders.  AM radio kind of works sometimes.  Was driven by a smoker, often with a smoking passenger.  Ashtray is full.  Washer fluid is empty.  Fabric headliner is disintegrating.  Rear hatchback pretends to stay open, but WILL come crashing down on your head the second you let your guard down. The “Door Ajar” warning light comes on for no reason, usually when the van is in reverse.  Temperature gauge does NOT work…wish someone had told ME that! And a lot of other stuff I’ve never even noticed is probably either broken or missing.  Could probably maybe be fixed up, especially if you know your way around radiators or parts that connect to radiators.  If you want it for parts, I’m pretty sure some of them still work.  Clear title, this baby is 100% paid for!  And now it can be yours!  There were only 1.1 million Aerostars made before they were discontinued in 1997!  Don’t miss you chance to own one of these limited and highly collectible vans before they’re all snapped up by classic car enthusiasts!   Van is being sold in AS IS condition, with absolutely NO implied or expressed warranties or guarantees of any kind.   

Any takers out there?  Anyone?  No?  Nobody?  You’re sure?  As a motivated seller, I’m prepared to throw in some extras…like a used dashboard rug and a pristine copy of the Arizona State Employee’s Handbook I found under the passenger seat.  I didn’t want to mention these in the ad because I didn’t want anyone getting carried away by the bonus items only to later realize that the van might not satisfy their transportation needs, if any.  Responsible sellers, like me, take great care to protect consumers from themselves.  Buyer’s remorse is nobody’s friend, especially when ALL SALES ARE FINAL!!   But we’re smarter than the average consumer here, aren’t we?  I know that you, readers of this highly relevant and important blog, would never be swayed by something as frivolous as a dashboard rug…regardless of its sensual glove-like fit and seductive all-velour reverse-weave.   Going once, going twice…any takers?  Anyone?  Last chance!  No?  Well, forget you suckaz, cuz this sweet ride has already sold.


Yep, that’s right.  I had no less than six responses waiting for me the morning after I posted this ad on Craigslist, four of which had nothing to do with painless, all-natural male enhancement.   Of course, this led me to wonder what happened to the old axiom “No pain, no gain,” but only in an offhand way.  Is a guy who’s been driving around for years in a dilapidated minivan really likely to have insecurities in such areas?  I think not.  Try the jerk desperately looking to unload his Hummer.  Still, four legitimate responses wasn’t bad.  Well, I suppose I shouldn’t count the response from some guy named Dickson wanted to trade me a Dell laptop for the van.  Now there’s two prime examples of “the name says it all.”  Actually, let’s narrow the number of legitimate responses down to two, since I’m guessing that the individual who was “very interested in Craigslist item, remove to please item from Craigslist, I will make to wire transfer from country not U.S.” was being less than sincere.


I suppose two out of six isn’t that bad, but it sure wasn’t the consumer frenzy I had been expecting.  Had I been too honest in my ad?  The van had a few faults, certainly, but I hadn’t done much to promote its many functional features, like the inflatable front seats (comfy!) or virtually intact roof.  You could leave it running (when it still ran) with its doors wide open in any parking lot in America and return hours later to find it exactly where you left it….definitely a perk for anyone living in a high crime area.  It had a deluxe ashtray with dual illuminated trays, one each for passenger and driver.  You could cram four packs worth of butts into that thing.  Now that I think of it, there were no fewer than four ashtrays conveniently located throughout the vehicle. There’s a feature you won’t find in today’s cars.  Perhaps my ad should have read “The Ultimate Smoker’s Van!”  But an asking price of $200 is bound to attract a certain class of buyer, and I had to be careful not to oversell it.  The last thing I wanted to do was to spend an afternoon adjusting someone’s expectations about how much car $200 will actually buy you.


The fact of the matter is I had no idea how much the van was worth, especially since Kelly Blue Book calculated its value at “N/A.”  I don’t know who this Kelly person thinks he or she is, but I do know there’s no reason to get insulting.  I bought the van for all of $1,000 with the expectation that it would last maybe six months.  Instead, it had faithfully served its admittedly undemanding master faithfully for three years (aside from an alternator incident which had been forgiven and forgotten…mostly because Shawn had footed the bill).   Our dogs loved that van.   I loved that van.  I loved the “flying wedge” shape that firmly asserted its belief that the laws aerodynamics stopped at the windshield.  I loved the ironically futuristic lettering used on the Aerostar nameplates (until they fell off).  I loved the odd looks I got from people when I’d point to it proudly and brag, “That’s MINE.”  It was distinctive.  It had character.  And I refused to look it in its one good headlight and tell it it was worthless.


The fact that I was genuinely and dumfoundedly (yes, dumbfoundedly is a word, regardless of what Word’s squiggly red underline is attempting to imply) surprised when thick smoke began pouring in through the vents speaks volumes to the van’s prior dependability.  Unfortunately, I happened to be boxed in the center lane of Route 60 during morning rush hour when that happened.  Having your car suddenly and immediately fill with smoke when you’re zipping along at a jaunty 55 miles per hour is an unsettling experience.  Breathing was suddenly challenge, and when I looked to see if flames were erupting from under the hood, I realized I couldn’t see the hood.  I began to sense that situation was rapidly becoming “not good” when I lost visual contact with the dashboard and steering wheel. Suddenly I was floating along peacefully in a rolling white haze.  I put on my directional signal, and since no one uses signals in Phoenix, ever, for any reason, I hoped my fellow travelers would interpret this strange blinking light as some kind of warning or distress signal.  How I got off the highway I will never know, since I had nothing but vague shapes and shadows to navigate by.  But even with its life’s blood evaporating into magnificent plumes surely visible for miles, that van refused to die.  Not only did it run long enough for me to exit the highway, but I was also able to drive it onto a relatively deserted side street (after rolling down a window---no, it hadn’t occurred to me before, and what’s your point?), where I parked it and quickly walked away from it, both to avoid being seen with it and to achieve a minimum safe distance should it decide to explode. 


As much as I had loved my Aerostar, the whole “mobile gas chamber” thing was hard to overlook  Had the rest of the van rated at least a low “fair” on the Kelly Blue Book condition chart (or had at least one remaining ironically lettered name plate), I might have entertained the idea of getting it fixed.   But there’s a reason they won’t do heart transplants on the weak and elderly, and, like a heart surgeon, I had to make the difficult choice of refusing treatment.  I didn’t even have a mechanic perform an autopsy.  It was time to let go.   But just because a relationship ends badly doesn’t mean you should park your ex curbside with a sign reading “FREE!!  JUST GET IT THE HELL OUT OF MY LIFE!!” (Unless that ex is named Scott…in which case you should do exactly that….he knows why.)  Sadly, there is no pasture onto which you can free your decrepit old Aerostar to roll serenely off into the sunset.  No, propping it on blocks in the front yard along with its predecessors is NOT the same thing.  And even if I couldn’t see it nobly laid to rest in the secret Aerostar burial grounds, I wasn’t going to have it hauled off and cubed in a junkyard…at least, not at my expense.   Maybe some mechanic would buy it and give it a new lease on life. If it wound up having its organs harvested, well, that was pretty noble, too, as countless others could benefit from its selfless sacrifice.   But how do you put a price tag on such nobility?


In the end, I decided such nobility was worth exactly $200; low enough to discourage nit picking and haggling and ensure a quick sale before the broken-down van sitting on the street became an issue with our HOA.  Surely there was something somewhere in the van worth at least $200 to someone somewhere.  With 1.1 million Aerostars in the world, it seemed more than likely one of them was foundering while wait-listed for a vital part that would otherwise likely be stolen from my van under cover of night.  And, as it turns out, I wasn’t wrong.  There were at least two someones out there interested in my van.  All that was left to do was call them.



Part II

Mechanics Drive the Shittiest Cars


The most promising response to my ad was from a man named Jimmy, whose brief yet enthusiastic response made him the obvious first choice:  “I need a van.  I would like to come by and see it at your earliest convenience.  Please call to arrange a time.  Thank you.”  It all fit so perfectly.  I had a van.  I had an earliest convenience.  I had a phone with which to make calls, and I enjoy being thanked.  So I called to arrange a time.  The conversation, like the email, was brief:


Man: “Hello?”

Me: “Is Jimmy there?”

Man: “This is Jimmy.”

Me:  “I’m the guy with van?”

Man (who claimed to be Jimmy): “Oh yeah.  So. What can you tell me about the van?”

Me: [In the interest of brevity, I will simply tell you that I recited, almost verbatim, the ad I had posted on Craigslist.]

Jimmy: “So it’s a six cylinder?  Or an eight?”

Me:  “I’m not sure.  It’s at least a six, possibly an eight.”

Man: “Fuel-injected?”

Me: “Um…”

Man: “Does it have a carburetor?”

Me: “Don’t all cars have those?”

Man: “Not if its fuel injected.”

Me: “Interesting.”

Man:  “This is your car, right?  You’ve been driving it?”

Me:  “The only parts I’m familiar with are the ones that that are broken."

Man:  “OK.  Well, it sounds good.”

Me: “It does?”

Man: “Well, my mother needs a new car.”

Me: “Your mother?”

Man: “She works for a hospice, and her car just died.  She needs another one quick.”

Me: “A hospice?  Really?  Like, she transports sick people?”

Man: “Yeah.  That’s why a van would be great.”

Me: “Well, yes, but I don’t know about this van.”

Man: “Can I come take a look at it this afternoon?”

Me: “Are you sure you should?”

Man: “What time is good for you?”


I hung up the phone feeling conflicted.  I mean, if this man wanted his mother sent blinded and screaming to a smoky grave it was certainly none of my business.  And if she happened to have some poor terminal soul with her at the time, it was still none of my business.  True, my blogs do make me something of a moral compass to many, but my leadership is strictly though example.  Aside from my bf 4-eva Shawn and the unfortunate souls who work under me, I rarely try to tell anyone what to think or do.  But something here wasn’t quite right.  Either Jimmy was dangerously optimistic or I was getting myself involved in something sinister.  Just how much insurance did mom have, anyway?  Did selling the murder weapon make me an accomplice to matricide, or a business partner entitled to his cut of the payoff?  Or was the whole “mom needs a van for hospice work” line merely an underhanded ploy for a sympathy discount?  Well, let him try.   Little did he suspect that I’ve worked for Target, and I’ve heard every line there ever was.  And if Jimmy truly wanted the van for his mom, who was I to refuse the sale?  I had been ruthlessly honest in my ad.  The only thing missing was a line reading “Trust me…you don’t want to buy this.”  And, anyway, he hadn’t seen the van yet.   


If I had had any idea that the van was going to break down and that I’d be forced to get rid it, I might have vacuumed and washed it while I had the chance, and maybe hung one of those tree-shaped air fresheners.  But then again, I probably wouldn’t have.  After dumping two gallons of antifreeze into it, I’d managed to get it home just as wisps of smoke began creeping in through the vents.  No way was I going to tempt fate and try to get it to a car wash.  Besides, getting it all gussied up would have seemed like an attempt to distract potential buyers from the van’s overall crappiness, which, if anything, I had taken great pains to emphasize.  No one who still uses the word appreciates being called a shyster.


When the time came, I went out to meet Jimmy and discovered him standing nervously by the van, which had three of four doors opened wide and was rocking under the substantial weight of two substantial women occupying it. 


“There’s hair all over back here,” I hard the woman crawling around in the cargo area say.


“There’s hair all over up here, too,” said the woman seated in the passenger seat.  She flipped down the visor and swatted at the gentle cascade of fine white Mesa hairs that greeted her.  “Someone’s got a dog.”


“Sorry,” Jimmy said when he saw me.  “I tried to stop them.”


“No problem,” I said.  “Try to steal it.  You won’t get far.”


“That’s my wife,” he said, pointing the stretch-polyester clad derriere of the woman crawling around the back of the van, “and that,” he said, pointing to the woman now going through the glove box, “is my mother.”


“What’s that?” Jimmy’s Mother demanded. “What did he just say?”


“He didn’t say nothing!" Jimmy yelled.  "I was just telling him who to two crazy bitches in his van were.”


“Does this car have air conditioning?” Jimmy’s Mother asked, yanking at levers and slapping vents.


“Ma, you know it don’t,” Jimmy said.  “I showed you the thing!”


“I’m just asking!” Jimmy’s Mother shrieked.  She eyed me suspiciously through the passenger side window and asked, “So you’re not having the van fixed?”


“No,” I said.


“Why not?”


“Because it’s not worth it to me.”


“Hear that?  It’s not worth it to him,” Jimmy’s Mother said to Jimmy’s Wife as they both plopped out of the van.


“It’s a nice van, though,” said Jimmy’s Wife.


“Can’t be too nice if he won’t fix it up,” Jimmy’s Mother muttered.


“He’s probably getting a new car,” said Jimmy’s Wife.


“Must be nice,” said Jimmy’s Mother.


While I didn’t really know Jimmy or his mother, I found myself more than willing to help him strap her into the van and send her out into traffic with a fond bon voyage. 


“So,” Jimmy said quickly, stepping in front of his mother, “the van overheats?”


“Oh yeah,” I said.  “Big time.”


“And just how many times did he overheat it?” I heard Jimmy’s Mother ask from behind him.


“The once was enough,” I said.


“Are you sure you had antifreeze in it?”


Oh, no she didn’t!  “Yes,” I said.  “Quite sure.”


“So it needs a new radiator, then” she said.


“At the very least,” I said.


“Gee, and all for only two hundred dollars, too,” she said.


Jimmy turned suddenly and slapped the van’s hood, hard.  His mother rolled her eyes at him and moved out of his way.  “Can we open her up?” he asked.


“Well,” he said, poking and prodding engine wires and belts authoritatively, “you’ve got a Vulcan V6 in here.  Fuel injected, so no carburetor.”


“Well, you know what they say,” I said.  “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”


“What’s the gas mileage like?” he asked.  “Pretty bad?”


“Oh, it’s awful,” I said. 


“Figured.  Now where’s the radiator leaking from?”


“Well,” I said, unsure, but willing to give my best educated guess, “kind of all over.”


“Mmmmm,” said Jimmy’s Wife, up on her tip toes and inhaling deeply.  “You can smell the antifreeze.”


Jimmy pulled the dipstick from the engine and wiped it clean between his fingers.  Then he rubbed the oil between his fingers and said, “That’s good.”


“What’s good?” asked Jimmy’s Mom.


“No metal shavings,” Jimmy said,


“Oh geez,” said Jimmy’s Mom.  “What about the radiator?  Is it any good?”


“I think he’s right about the radiator,” Jimmy said.  “There’s antifreeze everywhere.”


I didn’t turn to Jimmy’s Mother and say “I told you so,” but I did give her a smirk that said the same thing.  Further, I felt the need to needlessly expound on Jimmy’s diagnosis.  “It’s obviously a pretty serious leak.”


“Nah,” said Jimmy.  “That ain’t so bad.  Come look at this.”   He led to me to what may have once been a Chevy Blazer.  The entire front end was missing, so it’s hard for me to say.  None of the body panels lined up and each was a differing shade of gray primer blotched with black spray paint.  The whole mess was jacked up on bare, oversized tires, so when Jimmy undid a loop of rope and pulled the hood open, it was hard to see inside. “See?” he asked, pointing to one patch of rust among many.  “Now that’s a radiator leak.  Can’t go more than five miles without it overheating.  We got a couple jugs of water in the back there so we can get it home.”


“Oh,” I said.  What else was there to say?


“That’s how you can tell I’m a mechanic.  Mechanics all drive the shittiest cars.”


Aha! A mechanic!   Just as I’d intended.  How perfect was that?  My plan was coming together most excellently.  If Jimmy the Mechanic said he could fix the van up, then Jimmy the Mechanic could fix it up.   After all, we’d all just witnessed it pass the “metal shavings test” with flying colors.  I had no idea what that was all about, but it proved I was free to let go of any moral responsibility.   Things seemed to be going well.   In fact,   I considered getting myself a cheap plaid suit and going into used car sales full time.  The two responses to my ad proved I was a natural at piquing the buyer’s interest.  And if I could sell a twenty year old van that had messily coughed up its last gasp, just think what I could do with a car that actually ran. 


My self satisfied bubble popped when I overheard two words Jimmy spoke to his mother: “Test drive.”


“Oh, no,” Jimmy’s Mother said.  “I’m not driving that thing.”


“You were just in it!” Jimmy said.


“Not me,” Jimmy’s Mother said.  “You drive it.”


“It’s your car!”


Jimmy’s Mother would not be swayed, so Jimmy and I climbed into the van to take it for a spin around the block.  It was an illuminating experience.  I found myself saying things like:


“Well that’s just odd.  It usually starts right up.”


“Huh.  That’s new to me.”


“Which grinding noise, specifically, are you talking about?”


“What smell?  I don’t notice any smell.”


“That’s always been like that.”


“Ohhhhh….so that’s what that’s for.”


“Why are you asking me?  You’re the mechanic.”


Still, the van seemed to be holding its own, even when Jimmy floored the accelerator and tested the steering by swerving between neighborhood children on their bikes.  Then he suddenly slammed on the brakes, threw the van into reverse, backed up, slammed on the brakes again, and then sent the van lurching forward… possibly in an effort to test the locking mechanisms on the seat belts.  Either that, or he was trying like hell to get the airbags to deploy. 


“If this is how your mother drives,” I said, “I can see why she’d need a new car.”


“Just checking some things,” Jimmy said.


In the span of the ten minute test drive, I completely abandoned any half-hearted notion I may have had about selling cars for a living.  Jimmy was a nice enough guy, but I found my reserve of patience suddenly depleted.  The van was a junker. An above average junker to be sure, but a junker all the same.  Either you’re in the market for a junker or you’re not.  I had no intention of blowing my entire Sunday afternoon for a lousy two hundred dollars.   I had pets to clean up after.  I had laundry to do, and I needed some quiet time in front of the XBOX to come up with reasons for not doing it.  I usually like to start vocally dreading Monday morning by around 4 p.m., and this was putting me way behind schedule.  When Jimmy had finally parked the van and then turned the engine on and off three or eight times in rapid succession, I was ready to leave him with the keys and retire to my air conditioned living room and get on with my life.  He could come get me when he was ready.  But, to my relief, he called out to his mother, “It’s good!”


“It’s good?” she asked.


“It’s good,” he said.


She sighed.  “Then I guess you’ll have to take me to the bank.”


“You have the title?” Jimmy asked me.


“Sure do,” I said, ready to get the deal sealed and over with.  “It’s in the house.”


“Is it notarized?” Jimmy’s Mother asked.


“Notarized?” I asked.


“You have to have your signature notarized when you sell it,” she said.


“That’s weird,” I said.  “I sold a car before I moved out here, and I didn’t need to have anything notarized.”


“Well in Arizona you do,” she said.


“Hmm. I don’t remember getting anything notarized when I bought this van in the first place….in Arizona.”


“Alls I know is it’s gotta have that stamp,” Jimmy’s Mother said.  “I’ve been through this twice already in last six months,” she added, giving Jimmy a dirty look.


“Do you know where Joe’s Drive-Thru Liquors is?” Jimmy asked.


“No,” I said, confused by the question.  Granted, some pretty strong booze could only help this situation, but I rarely drink, and when I do, it’s usually with more familiar company. 


“There’s a guy I know works there,” said Jimmy.  “He’s a notary.”


Part III

The Fellowship of the Stamp



And so it was that I was to seek the fabled Notary at Joe’s while Jimmy drove his mother to the bank.  Since one should never embark upon a perilous quest without some sort of fellowship, I called upon Shawn the Groggy, fresh from his afternoon nap.


“When is that guy coming to look at the van?” he yawned.


Clearly, Shawn the Groggy needed to be brought up to speed, but that’s only to be expected when one’s favorite hobby involves lying about unconscious for hours.  While he poured himself some iced coffee, I checked the back of the title.  Sure enough, there, under “Transfer of Ownership,” were boxes for a notary seal and signature.  Curses!  The evil witch had been right!


To my surprise, Shawn was familiar with Joe’s Drive-Thru Liquors.  “I stopped in there once for a bottle of wine.  It was scary.”


“Scary,” I asked.  Why?”


“I don’t know,” said the newly dubbed Shawn the Vague. 


Undaunted by possible general scariness, we ventured boldly forth in Shawn the Vague’s blue, almost-kind-of-looks-purple, Geo Prizm.  The ride was short and without peril, for Joe’s was conveniently located in a strip mall right up the street.  Upon entering, I sensed no immediate scariness.  Joe’s was actually clean and brightly it, and offered a variety of convenience items as well as liquor.  Nothing scary so far.  Thus emboldened, I approached the cashier and asked, “Have you got a notary here?”


“Que?” he asked.


“A notary,” I said again, louder.  “We were told there was a notary here.”




A guy handing a bottle-shaped paper bag out the drive through window turned and said, “Yeah, that’s me.  Give me a minute.”


That was a relief.   Walking into a liquor store and asking for a notary felt a lot like asking McDonalds to do your taxes.  Notary Guy motioned us over to a glass side counter, where I presented him with my Certificate of Title. 


“So who sent you,” said Notary Guy. 


“Jeff,” I said.


“Jimmy,” said Shawn.


“Yes, Jimmy,” I said.  That’s it.”


“What’s his last name?” asked Notary Guy. 


“I have no idea,” I said.  “Apparently, I have a hard enough time remembering his first.”


“Drives a white pickup?”


“Not that I saw.  Tall guy…skinny…with a beard.”


“Dives that big black thing?”


“Yep, that’s him.”


“Ah, OK,” said Notary Guy.  “You know there’s a ten dollar fee, right?”


“Sounds fair,” I said, wondering if knowing the Jimmy who drove the white pickup would have made a price difference.


Notary Guy asked for my driver’s license, and began to make concentrated comparisons between it and information on the title.   His brow furrowed with confusion, and he looked up and asked, “Where did you get this title?”


“The DMV,” I said.


“Did you buy the car from a dealership?”


“No, I got it from a retired hippie couple over in Scottsdale.”


“Oh, OK.  I was just wondering why your name’s on it.”


“Maybe because I own it?”


“Yeah, but usually it’s another name.”


“You’re the man with the stamp,” I said, certain that years of liquor store fumes hadn’t helped Notary Guy much.   I wasn’t entirely convinced he had ever seen a title before, but as long as he agreed to stamp it there was no need to argue.  As Notary Guy seized a pen and began filling in blanks on the back of the title, I looked around the store for something scary.  Most of Joe’s clientele arrived on bikes or on foot, which rather defeated the whole purpose of the drive-thru. But then again, the drive-thru may have been why they had no cars to drive-thru with in the first place.  Arizona loves its drive-thru liquor stores, but its police are still humorless about open containers.   While watching sweating, red-faced men gasp for breath as they dig around in their damp clothing for enough a change for a 45 isn’t all that pleasant, it isn’t all that scary, either.  The same could be said for prominently displayed spinner rack full of magazines featuring women who seemed to be embracing their advertised ho-dom along with a variety of gardening tools and other hos. 


“So,” I asked Notary Guy.  “How are we doing?”


“Just a minute,” said Notary Guy, picking up the title and making a show of examining it officiously. 


It was then that I noticed the items in the glass case he was using as a counter.  I had never seen brass knuckles in real life before, and I noted with interest that many of the variety displayed in the case were clearly not made of brass.  Beside them on the velvet lay an assortment of glass pipes, metal pipes, and quarter-sized discs advertised as “one hitters.”  On the shelf below, a variety of large hunting knives was displayed on a bed of pornographic magazines, along with pepper spray and packets of aphrodisiacs with names like “Horny Goat Weed” and “Magic Arousal Powder.”  Filling out the bottom of the case was a neatly arranged row of bongs, tasers and stun guns, Polaroid film, and clothesline. 


When I noticed that most of the wine in the store was displayed behind this counter, I looked over at Shawn the Vague. His face clearly said, “Told you so.”  When I looked back at Notary Guy, his face clearly said, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” 


“Almost done?” I asked.


“Yeah,” said Notary Guy.  “I’m just waiting for my stamp.”


Well, so was I.  What was the hold up here?  I looked at Notary Guy.  Notary Guy looked at me.


“Um,” I said.  “Is the stamp not here?”


“Oh.  No,” he said.  “My girlfriend’s bringing it over. “


“Oh,” I said. 


“She lives, like, two minutes down the street.”


“Ah, OK,” I said. 


For the next forty minutes Shawn and I stood there, politely accepting Notary Guy’s apologies for the wait and his assurances that both the stamp and his girlfriend would appear any second.  He had already started writing on the title, so I figured he should be the one to finish it.  Besides, I didn’t know of any other Liquor Store Clerk/Notaries in the area.  During the course of our wait, he waived the ten dollar fee to compensate us for our inconvenience and offered us a free drink.  “A fountain drink,” he clarified, perhaps suddenly remembering where we were.  He made several animated cell phone calls and paced impatiently on the sidewalk in front of the store.  Shawn and I found ourselves watching the parking lot, anxiously asking each other “Is that her?” every time a car pulled up, as if one of us would know. 


When the girlfriend finally did show up, things only got worse.  She had the stamp, but instead of merely handing it to Notary Guy so he could do his stamping thang, she elbowed him out of the way and picked up the title.


“So what’s going on with this,” she asked.


“I got it,” said Notary Guy.  “It’s all set.”


“This doesn’t make sense,” she said, examining the title front and back.  “Why are both these names the same?”


“What names?”


“Here,” she said, pointing, “and here,” she said, flipping the title over and pointing again.


“Because it’s his car,” said Notary Guy.


“Did you write this in here or did he?”


“I did.”


“And he’s selling it?  This is the person selling it?”  




“To who?”


“I don’t know.”


“Where is he?”


“Where’s who?”


“The guy selling the car.”


“That would be me,” I said.


“This is your title?” Notary Guy’s Girlfriend asked.




“And you’re selling this car?”




“To who?”


“Jeff Someboday,” I said.


“Jimmy,” said Shawn.


“Yeah, Jimmy Somebody,” I said. 


“God.  This is all wrong,” Notary Guy’s Girlfriend.


“What?  Why?” asked Notary Guy.


“Because you put his name here.”


“Right.  It’s his car.”


“Baby, no,” she said.  “See?  It says Buyer’s Name.” 




“No, not right.  See?  Down here where it says Seller?  He’s not buying his own car, sweetie. He’s the seller.”




“This is all messed up.”


“I can fix it.”


“I don’t think so.  He needs a new title now.”


“It’ll be fine.”


“What are you doing?  You can’t just cross it out!”


“It’ll be fine.  See?  I’m putting my initials.”


“The DMV isn’t gonna accept that.”


“It’ll be fine.”


Was I annoyed when I left with a title that looked like a three year old had used it as an IHOP placemat?  Yes, I was.  Was I certain the title was now worthless, and that endless stream of DMV bureaucracy awaited me?  Indeed I was.  And when we got home, we discovered Jimmy was waiting for me, too.  And so was his mom.


Part IV

Sometimes They Come Back


The good thing about having someone refer you to someone else for any given service is that the person who made the referral is always responsible for the quality of that service.  And so when Jimmy asked, “How’d it go?” I had no reservations about informing him that his notary was an idiot. 


“He ruined the title,” I said.


As Jimmy scanned the title, I explained Notary Guy’s “write first, scratch out later” approach to document certification.  “There’s not much I can do about this now,” I said.  “I’ll give you a call when I get it fixed.”


“It’ll be OK,” Jimmy said.  Déjà vu.  “Just let me show this to my mother.”


But Jimmy’s Mother was having none of it.  I watched as he presented it to her and began to explain what I told him, but she cut him short and thrust the title back him.  “No! It’s ruined,” she squawked.  “God dammit!”  I moved a little further away down the sidewalk, both to avoid being seen with them and to maintain a minimum safe distance should they decide to explode. 


“This is exactly what happened last time,” Jimmy’s Mother was saying.  “I know they won’t take it.  Who did that to it?”


“The guy,” said Jimmy.  “The notary.”

“What?  That same one?”




“God dammit, Jimmy!”


With a good chunk of my Sunday now officially ruined for nothing, I began to roll up the van’s windows and lock its doors.  I had the feeling it would be sitting where it was for quite a while.  But it wasn’t over yet.  Jimmy walked up to me and handed me cash. 


“We’ll take it,” he said.




“There’s just probably gonna be some other forms you’re gonna have to sign once we take it to the DMV,” he said. Correctly interpreting the look on my face, Jimmy hastily added,”We’ll take it to the DMV and get the forms.  You don’t have to do anything but sign the forms once we get them.  We can just stop by tomorrow if that’s OK.”


Well.  That sounded reasonable.  I pocketed the cash and we began to write up a bill of sale.  I handed it to him so he could write in a name and address when his mother shrieked, “Jimmy!  Don’t sign anything!  He doesn’t need you to sign anything!”


“Well then,” I said. “I guess you won’t need me to sign anything, either.  If this van winds up broken down on the side of the road, and we all know there’s a very good chance of that happening, I am not going to have anyone coming to me and asking why it was left there.  So one of you can fill this out or we can just forget the whole fucking thing.”


That shut her up good.  It felt good, too.  “Ma, I’m taking care of this!” Jimmy yelled. “Sorry about her.”  He wrote his name on the bill of sale, and then hesitated.  “We live on Washington Street,” he said.  “Help me out.  How do you spell ‘Washington’?”  I thought he was putting me on until I noticed the way he held the pen and the jagged combination of capital and lower case letters he had used to write his name.  I spelled it out for him, and when he was done he said, “Whew!  That’s a long word!”   Of course, we needed two bills of sale, so we got to prolong the awkwardness by doing it twice.  


When we were done, Jimmy’s Mother grabbed the key from his hand and let herself into the van.  She sat there in the driver’s seat giving me nasty looks as I shook Jimmy’s hand and wished him luck.


“Remember,” he said.  “I’ll be back tomorrow with those forms.”  He smiled as he said, “Just me, though. Not her.”


When Jimmy stopped by the next day, however, he was NOT alone.  They were all there in the van, with Jimmy's Mother in the driver's seat.  It was a jarring experience seeing my beloved Aerostar being driven by a nasty little woman.   I suddenly wished I had taken pictures of it to remember it by.  Jimmy's Mother did stay in the van, though, while Jimmy presented me with a slip of paper.



"If you sign that it will fix the title," he said.  "But, um…  Well, the signature has to be notarized again."



"You're kidding."



"The stamp on the last one was smudged and they couldn't read it," he said.



"You're kidding," I said again. 


"But, you know, take your time getting that done.  Just give me a call and let me know when it's ready and I'll come pick it up.  But hey," he said, deftly changing the subject, "see how good it's running?  Buddy of mine and me put a new radiator in it last night."



"That was quick."



"I know people," Jimmy said.  "It only cost me $300.00."



I found this most unfair.  I would have happily spent $300 on the Aerostar.  But when you don't "know people," that $300 suddenly becomes $2,000. 


"Getting new tires put on tomorrow," he said.



"That's nice," I said, feeling bitter.  "I'll let you know when I get this notarized."



"OK then," Jimmy said.  "Guess I'll see you later."


I was a bit sad as I watched Jimmy climb into what used to be my van, which purred like a kitten when Jimmy's Mother put it in gear and drove it away.


Part V

Sometimes They Come Back Again


Shawn took the form to work with him the next day.  He works with a notary.  I'm sure there are certain subtleties to both signing and stamping a document that make it more difficult than it appears.  There has to be, because when Shawn came home with the form it was stamped, but not signed.  But by then I had had more than enough, so I simply forged a signature for the notary and called Jimmy to come pick the damned thing up.


And that was the last time I saw Jimmy, his mother, or my Aerostar.  I miss the Aerostar, but I can’t say the same of its new owners.  But I needed a new (used) dog-friendly mode of stylish transportation, so a new adventure was just about to begin.








Posted by johnfrommelt at 1:00 AM
Updated: Monday, 4 June 2007 1:42 AM
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Houston, we have a technical difficulty.

Posted by johnfrommelt at 12:51 AM
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Sunday, 4 February 2007
10 Questions You Should NEVER Call a Livestock Emergncy Hotline to Ask

Q: My bull fell into a ditch, broke its neck, and died.  Am I allowed to douse it with kerosene and set it on fire?


A: First, once livestock dies, it becomes something known as “deadstock.”  Seriously.  We cannot concern ourselves with deadstock, as spending taxpayer money attempting to preserve the life of something dead is bound to excite some leftist consumer watchdog group into an embarrassingly disorganized political protest.   No one wants to see a bunch of stoned hippie tree huggers picketing the wrong building with ungrammatical slogans scrawled on cardboard scraps.  It is simply too embarrassing for all involved.  Second, you are a freak.


Q: Squirrels are chewing through the PVC plumbing pipes under my mobile home.  I’m an old woman on a fixed income, and I can’t afford an exterminator.  Can you help me?


A: Last I checked, squirrels were not livestock.   One rarely sees a herd of branded squirrels being led out to pasture, and if you do, you’d better have your camera with you.   They also make poor rodeo attractions.   Is it our fault you didn’t set money aside in an interest bearing squirrel extermination account when you had the chance?  I think not.  Only now, when it is too late, do you see the folly of having stuffed your every available dollar down the front of an oily forty year old graduate student’s g-string while lewdly screaming “Shake it baby!”   On the plus side, Ms Fixed Income Granny, squirrels are edible and, in your case, plentiful.  Bon appetite!


Q:  My neighbor has a grapefruit tree, and grapefruits are falling off of it.  Is that normal?


A:  What? 


Q:  I recently bought a $650,000 house in an exclusive new subdivision.  There’s a farm next door, and the smell of manure is so bad I can’t open my windows and no one will come to my fancy cookouts.  Can you make them clean it up?


A: Nope.  Ha ha!!


Q:  I saw a cow standing all by itself in a field.  Can I take it?


A:  No, that’s called stealing.  Thirty years ago you would have been branded a cattle rustler and hung from the nearest tree for even thinking about it, and, in some places, you still would be.   By your logic, a car left by itself in a parking lot would be up for grabs, which makes you nothing more than a common thief.   Also, calling a law enforcement agency and telling them you’re thinking of stealing something makes you a stupid thief. 


Q: A flock of pigeons has taken up residence on my roof and covered it in droppings.  I demand that you send someone to clean my roof and get rid of these birds!


A: Oh yeah?  I demand that stick your head even further up your ass and drop dead.  Call back again and I’ll have you arrested.


Q: My perverted neighbor blindfolds his horse every day.  It makes me sick and I can’t get anyone to do anything about it.


A: That’s because the “blindfold” is, in reality, a fly mask.  The horse can see through it and it keeps bugs out of his eyes.  I’d find truly blindfolding a horse confusing and cruel, but not necessarily perverse.   If you ask me, the real pervert is you for making sick assumptions.  Get your mind out of the water trough!


Q:  I saw some horses and cow standing out in the sun, and I felt soooooo bad for them because it’s soooooo hot out.  Aren’t they supposed to have a shady place to stand?


A: Oh, sure.  You betcha.  There’s about 50,000 square miles of open range in this state, and we’re working hard to make sure all of it is shaded by the year 3015. Air conditioning may take some time longer.  We’re also going legislate that all horses have pretty bows in their manes and be named Flicka.   Cows will be treated to twice weekly masseurs and live, round the clock showings of Oklahoma!  You are an idiot. 


Q:  I love animals!  I want to volunteer to help rescue horses!


A:  That’s nice, but no thanks.  First, we are not a “rescue” organization.  And second, people who volunteer to non-volunteer agencies usually:

a.      Want a free horse, or

b.      Are so mentally imbalanced that even legitimate horse rescue organizations, who are desperate for volunteers, cannot deal with them, or

c.       Want to harass their neighbors into surrendering their horses to them, (see item a), or

d.      Have been unable to get hired by a legitimate animal welfare agency (see item b)


Q:  Is this the right number to call if I want to pay my cable bill?


A:  Sure is.  What’s your credit card number?


Posted by johnfrommelt at 2:13 PM
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Friday, 7 July 2006
The Baffling Case of the Sunday Headaches
It’s official: I’m getting older.

And not because I’ve just turned 35, either. Frankly, I look damn good for 35. In fact, just the other day, a coworker told me I had the “fresh face of a 25 year old,” which, I’m assuming, is the way middle aged women who read Oprah’s magazine tell someone they look 25. She may have been coming onto me-the way she comes on to every other male within sight, even the orange jumpsuit clad inmates who get bussed over from prison every morning to empty our trash and clean the restrooms-and she may make my fresh flesh crawl, but that doesn’t make her creepy compliment any less valid. Evidence of my vigor and vitality abound. I have the lean weekly paycheck of an 18 year old. I can climb up to 14 stairs without something popping. I’ve yet mistake acid reflux for a myocardial infarction and slump, twitching and gripping my chest, to the tiled floor of a Taco Bell. And I have never brightly chirped “T.G.I.F.!” at a coworker. If you remain unconvinced of my boyish charm, it can only mean that you’re suspicious and bitter, which, if you ask me, is the real sign of advanced age. Don’t blame this dewdropper if you’re all balled up and in a lather. You’re all wet, and so’s your old man. Dry up, you Dapper, and quit flapping your gums. Screw, why don’t you, you Palooka. And how!

As you can see, I’ve got many a rosebud yet to gather with pith and vinegar to spare. So what’s got this hep cat feelin’ like a blue square? Well, Daddy-O, let me lay it on down. A couple months ago, I began waking every Sunday morning with a dull throbbing headache that would eventually progress into an ultra light sensitive, needle in the eyes and blender in the brain ordeal of vomiting and cold sweating. Not only did this leave me feeling most unrefreshed and bleary eyed on Monday mornings, it also presented a mystery. Why only on Sundays?

It was time to dust off my deerstalker hat and look up an old friend, Mr. Scientific Method. Mr. Scientific Method suggested letting a doctor sort it out and slammed his door on my oversized magnifying glass. Well, nuts to him. What Mr. Scientific Method doesn’t know is that my doctor calls puncture wounds “boo-boos” and mysterious subcutaneous masses “uh-ohs.” I call him Mr. Last Resort. No, I’d have a go at solving this one myself, lest I be diagnosed with an “ouchie” and sent home with a prescription for St. Joseph’s aspirin.

To begin solving this mystery, I first made a list of known facts:

1) I’m youthfully vigorous and handsome
2) Headaches are bad
3) I get headaches on Sundays
4) Any month beginning on a Sunday will have a Friday the 13th
5) Friday the 13th is a kick-ass movie

It’s amazing how simply laying the facts out in linear form can suggest a logical course of action. After rewatching Friday the 13th, I made a list of possible causes of headache as suggested by this fine film, and then weeded out those that didn’t apply to my case:

1) Knifed in the stomach-no
2) Stabbed repeatedly-no
3) Throat slit with large hunting knife-no
4) Arrow pushed through neck from behind-no
5) Axed in face--maybe
6) Thrown through window-no
7) Decapitated with machete-no

Yet another list of facts, yet more revelations. Sure, it hadn’t conclusively revealed the headache causing culprit, but, in scientific research, ruling something out is definite progress, and ruling out 6 somethings makes you a candidate for the Nobel Prize. But I wasn’t in this for the inevitable fame and riches. Surely others suffered from the bizarre Sunday headache, and by first helping myself, I might be able to help them. Or not. Whatever.

At any rate, I was getting close. Having brilliantly ruled out Fridays, I instead focused my attention, like a red hot laser beam of science, on the other day in question: Sunday. What was it about Sundays that were different from other days? Why were they giving me headaches? I don’t attend church, or that would have been my prime suspect. So what did I do on Sundays that was different from every other day of the week? I made another list:

1) Sleep late

And that’s it. Well, that’s simple. What do I not do while sleeping late that I’d otherwise do while awake? Yep, it was time for a list again:

1) Write letters confessing fake problems to Dear Abbey
2) Smoke
3) Sing the entire score to the Pirates of Penzance
4) Drink 6 liters of highly caffeinated Diet Pepsi
5) Act as a Beacon of Decency for all who behold me
6) Eat pizza

It doesn’t take a genius to spot possible headache inducers there. The strain of coming up with etiquette-related gray areas is a full time job in itself, never minding the task of coming up with clever aliases. Perturbed in Peoria? That’s me. Aghast in Anchorage? That’s me, too. Devastated in Denver? Yep, you guessed it. Offended in Carterville? No, that one’s real. I’d have used “Comeuppance in Carterville.” The point is that these things don’t write themselves, people. The creative mind must necessarily run in a vacuum, and the natural side effect of implosion is headache. Case solved. Oh, and also, drinking all that Pepsi gave me caffeine withdrawal headaches every time I slept for more than 5 hours.

And so, for the first time in my life, I am unable to do something I could manage easily before. This Superman has found his kryptonite. A byproduct of age? Or yet another side effect of global warming? No, it must be age. Yes, time makes you bolder, even children get older, and I’m getting older, too. Alas. If I weren’t still so gorgeous, it might seriously depress me.

From here on out it will only get worse. I can see myself with Shawn in the not too distant future, on senior citizen’s Tuesday at IHOP. I’ll order my usual “Rooty Tooty, Fresh ‘n Fruity,” and Shawn will lean over and whisper, “No, you can’t have pancakes. The gluten makes you bloat.”

“What?” I’ll yell back.
“GLUTEN!” He’ll scream. “You can’t have GLUTEN!”
“I want pancakes!”
“No pancakes!”
“Fine,” I’ll say. “Then I’ll just have a Diet Pepsi.”

Posted by johnfrommelt at 7:13 PM
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Monday, 3 July 2006
Inspirational Triumph? I'll Be The Judge of That

Last night, Shawn and I watched the Disney movie “Eight Below,” which, according to the back cover of the DVD case, is a “triumphant and inspiring action-adventure the whole family will treasure.” Jess Cagle, of WCBS-TV/People Magazine, is quoted as saying Eight Below is “An exciting, heart-warming adventure.” I’ve never heard of Jess Cagle, but I have heard of People Magazine, so the endorsement seemed legit. Like most people whose home video libraries contain multiple titles ending in the word “massacre,” Shawn and I aren’t really the “heart-warming, inspiring tale of triumph” type. Actually, we prefer as few survivors at the end of a movie as possible, grudgingly allowing that one or two chartacters must necessarily make it out alive or there’d be no sequel. But we are also dog people, so the massacre buck stops here. In terms of puppies in peril, nothing less than inspirational triumph will do.

As many of you might know, Eight Below is about a team of 8 sled dogs that are left behind at a remote Antarctic base by a team of scientists who must suddenly evacuate and discover that there’s no room to take the dogs. This begs the question, “Well, how did they get them out there in the first place?” But I digress. The dogs are left chained up outside with the understanding that someone will return for them shortly, and, of course, due to the worst storm in Antarctic history, no one does. Shawn and I knew this going into the movie, but were lulled into a false sense of security by the Disney trademark. Sure, Disney killed Bambi’s mother, locked Dumbo's mom in psych ward, and fed Nemo's mom to a barracuda, but none of the dogs had their mommies with them, so we felt relatively safe from whatever Oedipal issues Disney's never quite worked through. Besides, these 8 dogs had something Bambi’s mother didn’t: Jerry. The back cover of the DVD case foretold that “Jerry’s beloved sled dogs must learn to survive together until Jerry-who will stop at nothing-rescues them.” In fact, ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, the line, and I quote, “Jerry and the dogs make an incredible journey to reunite” virtually guarantees a happy ending. Forget Bambi...think Air Bud...except there are 8 of him and he’s moved to Antarctica.

The film begins with Jerry and his team of dogs being forced to take a scientist in search of a meteor to a distant mountain. Here, I must make an aside to mention something that really, really annoyed me. The two men are bunkered down for the night in a tent in the middle of a vast and frozen wasteland. They fail to strip down to their long johns and engage in a playful wrestling match that awakens certain curiosities, but that’s not what bothered me. After all, it’s Disney. What irked me was this: as they prepare to go to sleep, Jerry notices a child’s drawing the scientist has, and asks, “Who’s the artist?” The scientist replies, “My son, Eric.” The camera then zooms in for a close-up of the drawing, upon which is clearly written, “To Daddy. I love you. Eric.” Whoever could the artist be? What a mystery! Knowing that the fate of the 8 sled dogs was tied to Jerry and his fiery intellect, I began to feel the first pangs of uneasiness, but chalked it up to poor communication between the script writers and Disney’s prop department. That Jerry will stop at nothing to rescue his dogs is of no comfort if Jerry’s as smart as what his dogs leave steaming in the snow behind them.

The next morning finds Jerry and the scientist out on the mountainside looking for the meteor. As luck would have it, the fist-sized meteor, after its travels through millions of miles of space and its high velocity impact with the Earth’s surface, happens to be lying out atop the snow where any idiot in a funny hat could wander by and pick it up. One wonders (at least I do) why fossils, gemstones, and murder weapons aren’t this accommodating, but, again, it’s Disney. We’ll just have to assume Tinkerbell pulled the meteor out from the deep crater that unbelievably hot objects falling from incredible heights must necessarily leave in a continent made almost entirely of ice and move on, because no one really cares about the stupid meteor in the first place. After finding the meteor, the team must race to make it back to base camp before a storm strands them out in the middle of nowhere.

While I’m perfectly aware that when one assumes, one “makes an ass out of u and me” (don’t laugh, you’re the “u”), I did think that this was the storm in which the dogs would be left. The scientist, having found his meteor, promptly slides off a ledge onto the ice, where he whines about having a broken leg before falling through into the water below. Maya, the team’s alpha dog, crawls out across the ice on her belly to bring the scientist a rope, and then the team pulls him to safety. Good dogs! Cold, wet, and injured (and still whiny), the scientist, I supposed, would have to be air lifted out in a tiny helicopter, and the dogs would have to fend for themselves for a few days out in the storm before being rescued themselves. Personally, I’d have left the scientist behind and gotten the dogs to safety first; but since this was wasn’t the inspirationally triumphant story of a stranded scientist and his long johns wearing, wrestling guide-who will stop at nothing to rescue him-it was obvious things weren’t going to swing that way.

But no, the injured scientist and Jerry, who is now suddenly ill and coughing for some unexplained yet dramatic reason, are heroically dragged back to camp through the storm by the dogs, led by Maya. It must be admitted that Maya reminded us of our own Mesa, though Mesa’s never done anything more heroic than bark at passing cars at 3 a.m. Since Mesa is a third or fourth generation mutt, there’s no way to tell which breeds she’s got in her (we’re still trying to figure out where her curly tail and webbed feet come from), and so every so often we’ll spot a purebred dog that reminds us of her. So we were big Maya fans. That’s why we were so distressed to see her and the seven other dogs left chained outside the base as a plane with all the people took off. There looked like there was plenty of room on the plane to me, even with the injured scientist groaning on the floor. As the plane took off and the dogs tugged at their chains and whined and howled piteously, Shawn and I decided at once that we did not like this movie.

But we were stuck. To turn the movie off would be to leave the dogs forever stranded in our minds. That would simply not do. Besides, there was Jerry-who would stop at nothing-to rescue them. And it’s Disney. Perhaps the dogs would get snowed on and look sad, but that's as bad as we were expecting things to get. We watched with baited breath as Maya, Dewey, Truman, Shorty, Max, Shadow, and Buck all broke their collars and chains and escaped to forage for food....leaving Old Jack behind. Old Jack is 10 years old and, as Jerry comments earlier, “ready to retire.” Old Jack never gets off the chain and starves to death, but not before Maya attempts to rouse him to action.

At this point, we decided we really didn’t like this movie. When another dog falls off a ledge and lies dying surrounded by the rest of the team, we decided we absolutely hated this movie. Sure, we have no problem whatever watching an entire sorority house fall under the blade of a masked madman who knows to twist the knife once it's in a naked co-ed's belly, but seeing a dog lying on its side fatally injured and whimpering while his littermate stands watch over him proved to be way too graphic for us.

And then there was Jerry-who will stop at nothing-to rescue his dogs....eventually. Nowhere on the back of the DVD cover did it even hint that the rescue would take about 6 months. Jerry spent a lot of time looking moody and ruggedly handsome, had clich?-riddled fights with his girlfriend, and taught kayaking at summer camps...but spent very little time rescuing his dogs. To be fair, he did have a few conversations with people that went like this:

"Fly me to Antarctica."
"Oh, come on!"

Meanwhile Max, the pup of the group, is stalked by a killer Leopard Seal who later bites Maya in the leg, crippling her, causing Shawn to cry out in dismay. I happened to be holding my cat Wednesday in my lap at the time, and he scared the hell out of her. She left a gash in my leg beating a hasty retreat, and Shawn moaned, “I hate this movie!”

In the end, Jerry ultimately arrives just in time to save the mortally injured Maya and the five other dogs, but not before pulling Old Jack’s frozen corpse from the snow. He smooches his girlfriend and everyone laughs happily ever after. The movie ends with a shot of a makeshift cross with two dog collars hanging from it. I’m sorry if I don’t find that image especially inspirationally triumphant.

Once again, Disney has scarred us for life...or have they? Actually, the true story upon which Eight Below is based is a lot less inspirationally triumphant. There was a Japanese Antarctic surveying team that was evacuated by helicopter from their base in 1958. They left behind not 8, but 15 sled dogs. Seven of those dogs were unable to escape from the chains and another 6 died on the glaciers. There were just 2 survivors, Taro and Jiro, who were brothers. They survived for just under a year on their own. I suppose the 2 dogs surviving is inspirational, but the 13 who died rather dampen any warm fuzzy feelings that might give me. The fact that today, Taro and Jiro are stuffed and on display in a Japanese museum doesn’t help much, either.

The whole thing rather reminded me of why I don't watch nature shows anymore. The last one I ever saw had to do with lemurs. It showed a baby lemur happily bounding around in a tree while the narrator commented on how innately agile these remarkable creatures are. And then the lemur fell out of the tree and landed on a log below, which broke its back. As it thrashed about screaming, the narrator calmly commented that sometimes the most agile of creatures can miss the mark, and that something would be along shortly to eat the lemur and end its suffering. Oh goody.

I'm pretty sure Shawn and I will stick to movies where the only things that die are terrible actors and the only people-who will stop at nothing-are psychotic killers. It's just so much more humane. And we've yet to find an actress who reminds us of Mesa.

Posted by johnfrommelt at 8:39 PM
Updated: Monday, 3 July 2006 9:08 PM
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Tuesday, 20 June 2006

Woodworker: n, someone who makes things out of wood.

I’ve worn many a hat in my day; certified FEMA participant, negligent bystander, person of interest, employee of the month, passive aggressive enabler, delusional prophet of impending doom, licensed insurance salesman, assistant number 6031, that asshole on the fifth floor, dog bite victim, and fat little Dixie Chick. None has fit me as well as the “woodworker” hat, although fat little Dixie Chick is a close second. OK, I was never the fat little Dixie Chick. I suppose “liar” might be more technically accurate, but my, what an ugly little word. Let’s agree on “grandiose” and move on to my woody new hat.

What impetuous, you might wonder, has led to my recent haberdasherous hijinks? They say a picture is worth a thousand words, even made-up words (which my spell check insists I create with alarming frequency...perhaps I should add “linguistic innovator” to my list of hats), so I offer the following visual explanations:

Some people claim that kitchen cabinets are for food, dishes, or other kitchen related items, not for an increasingly unmanageable Simpsons collection. This is why I point out that we’ve bought a separate kitchen hutch for those kinds of things.

How the hutch, too, became filled with Simpsons items is inexplicable. Well, I guess “inexplicable” isn’t really the most technically accurate word. There I go being grandiose again. But if we’re going to play the blame game, let’s at least play fair. Our house is only so big and suffers from a severe lack of designated storage doubt because I’ve also filled those other spaces with my collection. What’s pictured here represents about half of the total. A fair amount of the blame belongs to Shawn, who has duplicates of roughly half the items in my collection, all of which also require storage. And then there are the dogs, whose indiscrimination between vintage mint-in-box collectibles and Snausages makes any open display a mere smorgasbord. And finally, I blame Arizona, the dustiest state in the union. It’s uncanny; with all the windows shut to keep the air conditioning in and the 115 degree ozone-laden air out, a thin layer of dust will still accumulate within an hour after any surface is cleaned. Dust is not a collector’s friend, especially a lazy collector.

Nor does the collector find joy in all his treasures being hidden away in hutches or closets. Not only is my collection a source of deep personal pride, it also represents about a quarter of my income since 1997. This is not a light I want hidden under a bushel. We searched the far and wide Phoenix area for an appropriately large and reasonably priced display case of some kind for the collection, but came away empty handed. Little did we know it at the time, but that journey’s end was the beginning of another, for there was but one practical solution to our problem. We must design and build our own custom display case. Such an undertaking would demand skills we hadn’t yet developed, know-how we didn’t yet know, and machines with high pitched motors and sharp, sinister blades we hadn’t yet purchased. Rome was not built in a day, and this display case won’t be, either. It’s an apt analogy because the two are likely to end up roughly the same size. OK, that’s not technically true, either. Let’s just say that the display case will be, in its own way, Romanesquely grandiose.

The first step was painfully obvious. We’d need a moderately priced table saw to get the project up and running. I already had a hammer, a ruler, and a red toolbox. I was ready to hammer in the morning, I was ready to hammer in the evening...all over this land, your land, my land, from California to the New York Island, this log, it used to be a tree. All I needed was a reliable, accurate way to cut all kinds of wood.

And so it was that Shawn and I found ourselves at a Home Depot having the following discussion:

“Say, Shawn, isn’t that a Ridgid TS24000LS Portable Job Site Saw on a patented Work-N-Haul-It table saw cart over there?”

“Sure looks like one to me. See the heavy-duty 15 amp motor with the belt driven 5/8 inch arbor? That sucker can do 4,000 RPM’s.”

“No shit? What’s the maximum ripping capacity?”

“25 inches right side of the blade, 12 inches left.”

“That is one sweet looking carbide tipped blade. Bet that baby has a cut depth of over 3 inches.”

“3 and one eighth, to be exact.”

“Whoa, did you see this Retract-A-Rip fence and rail system? Those are dual cams on that fence, baby. Rick solid.”

“And that lightweight but durable cast aluminum table top is smooth.”

“Extruded aluminum is shit, bro. You gotta have cast aluminum.”

“Yep, I reckon it’ll do. Let’s us grab our crotches, spit carelessly in random directions, and throw this here saw in the back of the pick-up.”

Maybe it’s the Sodium Barbitol talking, but I must again fess up to being grandiose. The real conversation went more like this:

“Hey, Shawn, what do you think of this saw?
It’s orange.”

“I like orange.”

“Me, too!”

“Orange is, like, my favorite color.”

“Get out! Me, too!”

“So should we get it?”

“Well. Do we need one that big?”

“Sure. I mean, why not?”

“What’s this thing do?”

“Hmmmm. I’m not sure. This here is the blade, though. That cuts the wood.”

“I see. Isn’t this wheel in front supposed to turn?”

“I think so. I don’t really know.”


“Maybe the display model is broken.”


“So what do you think?”

“What’s ripping?”

“Ripping? Where does it say that?”

“It says, ‘Maximum ripping capacity 25 inches.’ Is ripping a good thing?”

“I wouldn’t think so, but maybe it is. Think that’s enough ripping? Do we need more ripping or less?”

“Do you know anything about table saws?”

“Well, I know we need one.”

Every weekend for a month, I dragged Shawn to Home Depot, Sears, Lowe’s, and then back to Home Depot, and then back to Sears, and then back to Home Depot, then to Sears again, and then to Lowe’s... Along the way I amassed a wealth of table saw knowledge. Ripping (cutting wood across the grain) is indeed a good thing, and more is better. I know what a riving blade, a kerf, and a throat plate are. I know what the difference between a T-Slot miter gage and a sliding miter table. I know what kickback is and why an anti-kickback prawl is important. And I know why arbor size matters. This knowledge, though, came at a terrible personal Shawn.

To this day the life drains from his face the second we step into a home improvement warehouse, and both “Tool World” and the “Tool Corral” have been ruined for him forever. I suppose I’m to blame. After all, it was I who would repeatedly stand him in front of a saw and present him with the query, “What do you think?” “It’s nice,” he’d say. “Nice? It’s a tale saw,” I’d say. “It’s not supposed to be nice. It’s supposed to be a terrifying display of limitless power.” “Oh,” he’d say. “It looks fine.” Toward the end, all he’d say was, “It looks just like every other saw,” and then claim he had a headache and needed to go home.

Choosing a saw turned out to be nowhere near as complex as I’d made it, though. Every pro of every saw had an equal and opposite con, and eventually you’ve got to just pick something and live with it. Picking something became much easier when a budget was introduced, and the final decision was a breeze. We got the saw that was in our price range and in stock, which, ironically, was the Ridgid TS24000LS Portable Job Site Table Saw on the patented Work-N-Haul-It cart.

I will also admit, however, that getting a full sized table hasn’t helpful in terms of making more space, even with the fold down patented Work-N-Haul-It cart. But that’s merely an egg broken for the omelet. I now spend my Saturdays out in the blistering heat on the back porch cutting wood, often with a purpose. The fun thing about sweating profusely and running a table saw is that all the sawdust sticks to you. That’s when you have to make sure Shawn isn’t looking and jump into the pool for a quick rinse off. Just remember to suggest that perhaps the filter isn’t working properly when he wonders why the pool gets dirty so fast. Wearing safety goggles in that kind of heat will lead to the amazing discovery of just how much that small covered part of your face can sweat. I have to keep stopping every now and again to empty the pools of sweat that collect in the goggles when they reach eye level. It’s quite disgusting, but it’s all of part of the creative process.

And what, you may wonder, have I created thus far? Well, I’m glad you asked. Early on in my quest for table saw knowledge, I came across and became obsessed with finger (or box) joints. It was my idea that the entire cabinet could be assembled using these attractive and sturdy joints.

I constructed a jig to make the joints, and it came out splendidly. I’m not being grandiose, it really did. The only problem is that the two pieces never quite fit together, and I wind up pounding then with a hammer screaming “Fit, damn you, fit!” until something splits and I have a enraged meltdown. We could have bought a second Ridgid TS24000LS for the amount of money I’ve wasted on wood I’ve ruined, but I refuse to admit defeat, even if Shawn has to get a second job to pay for materials. I’m just that committed. Besides, a woodworker is someone who makes “things” out of wood. I’ve made some things. Mostly they look like splintered pieces of hammer-beaten wood half glued together, but they are things. Ergo, I am a woodworker.

You will see pictures of completed Simpsons display case on here before long. Oh yes, make no mistake about that, you will see it. And it will be grandiose.

Posted by johnfrommelt at 6:38 PM
Updated: Saturday, 23 June 2007 7:15 PM
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Tuesday, 13 June 2006
Charo, Fay, Debbie, and Some Pregnant Chick in a Tube Top
I’ve been having a recurring dream where I’m teamed with Charo on a new reality TV series called “Don’t Drop the Taco!” At first I’m annoyed because a forty year old bag-boy from Cleveland gets paired with Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, clearly the most athletic of the bunch, while I’m paired with a has-been flamenco guitar player and geriatric booty shaker. Yeah, that’s fair. But later we’re all amazed to discover that Jim Palmer absolutely no good on water skis and a florist from Sacramento and Patti LaBelle prove to be stiffer competition in the Wacky Water Round. Although I’m relieved that our taco is soggy but undropped, I can’t help but feel that the only reason Charo is here is to plug her forthcoming album with the Salsoul Orchestra, Cuchi-Cuchi. “I haven’t been this exhilarated since I was a young girl growing up in Murcia, Spain,” Charo pants at the Wacky Water Round finish line, shaking the water from her sequined bathing suit, “the beautiful sounds of guitars flows there with the winds all the time. It’s the same sounds that flow in my new album, Cuchi-Cuchi, available in stores next month!” The show’s host, Tony Danza, nods enthusiastically while staring at the 65 year old Charo’s cleavage, which is considerably younger than the rest of her and promises to be on prominent display during the next round at The Pogo Stick Pagoda.

I wake up when the show ends and the grand prize, a 1994 Mazda Miata with only one original owner, is won by a chipmunk from Sarasota and Paris Hilton, Charo having long ago dropped her end of the taco when the 5 inch spike on her shoe becomes firmly embedded in the soft grassy field of the obstacle course. She fell flat on her face right there at the starting line. Brushing dirt from her sequins, Charo said, “At night, in Spain, breathtaking melodies serenade everybody, which is why I am so happy to share these songs with you on my latest album, Cuchi-Cuchi. Also, I have a house in Hawaii.” Why I would continue to dream about an event after I’ve been disqualified from it is possibly more mysterious than the dream itself. What does it all mean? Professional analysis of thematic elements has yielded one irrefutable conclusion: Shawn doesn’t buy me enough presents.

In other news concerning myself, Shawn and I were able to take in the “2006 Road Rage Tour” when it came to Phoenix last month. It featured The New Cars, who are actually the old Cars, minus Rick Ocasek and Benjamin Orr. Claiming to be the Cars of any vintage when you haven’t got Rick Ocasek is shameful, but I suppose it sounds better than Crappy Band of Nobodies. Shawn and I figured they’d be opening the tour, and since we were only interested in seeing the other band on the tour, not only did we take our time getting to the venue, we also decided to wait in the long, slow-moving line for $35.00 t-shirts. A video monitor near the line desperately attempted to make Ashlee Simpson “concert” seem appealing, and a squat and drunken homosexual man wearing eye makeup and holding a drink in both hands stood beside us is line making loud comments to no one in particular.

And there we stood while two women at the front of the line each requested a shirt in a size small. Each of them unfolded the shirts and held them against themselves and said to other, “What do you think?” While they both agreed that certainly the small size would fit, they both decided the next size up might me more comfortable. And so it went through sizes medium, large, and finally extra-large, which is the size they both decided to buy, 20 minutes later, and they waddled away from the counter saying something about how the extra-large would be better to sleep in. And this is why t-shirt lines always move so slowly.

We had been waiting in the t-shirt line for about half an hour when we were horrified to hear the opening cords of the song Call Me coming from the auditorium. It what rational universe does the legendary Blondie open for some upstart band of loser drummers and keyboard players like the New Cars? Has the world gone insane? First Bush was reelected, and now this. No wonder I get so many headaches.

We made it to our seats about halfway through Call Me, which is good. The original version of Call Me is about 10 minutes long and is never played on the radio. It contains a verse with the lines “Dress me up and show me off and put me on the scene. Dress me in the fashions of the 1980’s.” Last time I saw Blondie, this had been changed to “The fashions of the 1990’s.” I was curious to hear what it would be this time around, and we sat down just as Debbie was singing “Dress me in the fashions of the 21st century." For better or worse, that should be the last change to the song she’ll ever have to make.

I’m not sure which century Debbie’s lime green day-glo jumpsuit and white vest combo came from, but it doesn’t matter. She’s Debbie Harry. Debbie skipped entire choruses of Maria and Good Boys, spoke rather than sang the song Atomic, and held the microphone out toward the audience to avoid Heart of Glass’s “ooh ooh, oh oh’s” entirely. Debbie’s never been an especially strong vocalist, and at 61, she’s clearly no longer interested in trying. It doesn’t matter. She’s Debbie Harry. She spent a good amount of time kicking at a fan on the side of the stage in an effort to redirect it, lost an earring and found it two songs later, and constantly interrupted songs to wave at someone in the audience and say “Hi! I see you!”

We were enjoying the show immensely until a pregnant chick in a tube top arrived late a few rows ahead of us and decided she’d like to stand up and dance with her purse. Now, I love watching pregnant bimbos dance in tube tops as much as the next person, which is to say not at all, but there is a time and a place for everything. Pregnant tube top dancing is an activity best confined to one’s home, like nail clipping or ear-wax removal. Farther down the rows, a woman and her preteen daughter were also dancing to Heart of Glass. Debbie had just finished singing about how her love was no longer a gas and abruptly shouted in the microphone, “You know I always say to those guys! So long, motherfucker!” The mother leapt to cover her daughter’s ears, as though she could somehow beat the sound we had all already heard to her daughter’s ears, and Debbie moved on, riding high on love toward the bluish light. The whole thing reminded me immediately of Fay Fredricks.

Fay Fredricks is channel 12 News’ premiere blond anchor bimbo in Phoenix. She and her co-host, Mark Curtis, were discussing the then upcoming movie about September 11, United 93. Much ballyhoo was being made about whether or not the movie had been made too soon and if America was ready to see it. Mark admitted he felt it was too soon, and doubted he’d be comfortable watching real footage of the attack in a movie. “What do you think, Fay,” he asked, “is it too soon? Are you going to see it?” “Well,” said Fay, seriously, “I’m going to do something I rarely do. I’m going to reserve judgment. Until after I see it.” Yep. That’s what she said. Methinks perhaps Fay didn’t quite understand the question. Mark stared at her blankly for second, and I turned the channel.

There is no turning the channel on pregnant chicks in tube tops, however, and we had to make do with occasional glimpses of Debbie from behind the swaying fetus. The pregnant chick finally sat down after the guy she came with refused to get up and dance with her, I don’t think anyone blamed him. When Debbie, and the rest of Blondie, left the stage, Shawn and I got up and attempted to leave the theatre when we were set upon by a hoard of security personnel. “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” they hooted. “You guys won’t be able to get back in!” “Sorry, gentlemen,” we said, “you can keep your so-called New Cars. Blondie has left the building, and so shall we.”

Posted by johnfrommelt at 5:50 PM
Updated: Tuesday, 13 June 2006 5:56 PM
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Saturday, 13 May 2006
Sweet Suckin' Maggie
Topic: Venictive
Dear Skye222,

This is just a little open letter I’m writing to remind you, and anyone else who cares to read it, that, once again, you lose. You lose big time, baby! If there were a town called Loserdale, where up was down and down was sideways, you’d be their zoning commissioner. I bet you thought I was going to say you’d be the Mayor of Loserdale, but Mayor is an elected position, and, as I’ve mentioned, you are a loser. While I’m sure you possess plenty of pleasing attributes, say, pretty hair and keen command of Latin verb congregation, I can only attest to the clawing desperation and pathetic attempts at one-upsmanship you’ve exhibited when our paths have crossed, time and time again. There we have stood, metaphorically face to face, clashing repeatedly and bloodlessly on the eBay battlefield, thereafter resuming our travels down opposing forks in the road. My road is sunlit and shade-dappled, leading me northeast toward Victory with the glad weight of my gleaming prize in my hands! Your northwestern road inclines sharply where the pavement ends, loops around in a sudden and treacherous U-Turn, and propels you flailing back into the dark oblivion from whence you slithered, repeatedly struck by lightning and golf ball-sized hail. The bare trees lash out at you as you stagger by, head dropped in defeat, and even the burning shame you feel at having been once again bested by me will not warm your cold, empty hands.

The words “nemesis” and “arch-rival” are thrown around with the ineffective frequency of words like “suggested donation” and “no shirt, no shoes, no service” nowadays, so I shan’t bother to use them here. Frankly, I’d prefer a nemesis who doesn’t collect “Kissy Dolls” and dress them up in real baby clothes, anyway. Yes, that’s right; I know all about your “Kissy Dolls,” those grotesquely apple-cheeked plastic abominations that make “kissy” noises at you when you squeeze their arms together. Yes, I’ve checked your feedback. I’ve seen the auctions you’ve won. How many of these things do you need? What joy could you possibly glean from a product described thus:

“This all vinyl, 16" doll, called Tiny Kissy, is the re-issued version of a very popular early 60s doll by Ideal. I believe that she may have only been made for one year, 1966. There were a few different versions of the Kissy doll but this 1966 doll had an updated look to go with the times. She has very wonderful coloring. She is in excellent condition. Her kissing feature works when her arms are squeezed toward each other however I can't really say I hear a loud kissing sound if that is what it is supposed to do. It’s more like a gentle pop. She is a strung doll so can pose without a stand once she is balanced properly. This Kissy has on her original dress and panties. The elastic has worn out in the panties so they are being held up with a safety pin. Her orange hair ribbon is a replacement as are her socks and shoes. The outfit has no holes, rips, or stains. It is possible that her hair may have been slightly trimmed in back. I only say this because it seems a little bit shorter on one side than the other. It is possible that it is not though, as this is the only one of this type I have actually seen in my many years of collecting. ”

Who would want some lopsided old doll in ratty underpants making “popping” sounds at them? On what level is that experience attractive? Why not slap a wig on a roll of bubble wrap and give it a big ol’ squeeze? That’ll tilt your pop’o’meter! For the sake of all things tasteful, please go out and get yourself a cat. You could even name it “Kissy” and dress it up and push it around in a stroller if you must. At least it would be a real living thing, able to respond to your affections without having its arms forcibly crossed. Heck, you could even purchase a real non-Caucasian baby for half of what you’ve spent on your “Kissy” collection---or so I’ve heard.

But I’m making unnecessary judgments here. Hell, buy every damned “Kissy” doll in creation for all I care. I’m willing to “Kissy” and make up on that point, but you’re not satisfied with “Kissies,” are you Skye222? No, you must also collect dolls named Maggie. Little stuffed monsters named Maggie, 1790’s pre-Barbie fashion dolls named Maggie, and Maggie brand doll clothes. The whole sordid story is there in your feedback; prompt payments, courteous emails, excellent eBayer. But between the lines there lies a story of a woman spiraling madly out of control and on a fateful collision course with ruin.

Here she is: Sweet Suckin’ Maggie. Mint in package from 1990 and the only one of its kind to appear on eBay in 6 years. Squeeze her tummy and she sucks on her pacifier. Yes, a doll named Maggie that makes simulated mouth noises. Oh, how you must have wanted her. She must have haunted your dreams before she began to haunt your nightmares, for, for a brief period of time, you may have foolishly believed she could be yours. Surely you saw that I, “sirsimpsonator666” had already bid on Sweet Suckin’ Maggie. Surely you must have recognized my moniker from the countless other “Maggie” items I’ve snatched from your grasping talons. Need I remind you of the Maggie Simpson birthday candle debacle? Sure, you may have won that Maggie Simpson “Babyface” mug, but I was just tossing you a bone. I don’t care for hot beverages.

But how you could have underestimated my prowess on the Sweet Suckin’ Maggie auction, I shall never know. For you see, to me she is not simply another orally-fixated answer to the hollow emptiness in an echoing womb. She is the missing piece to a complete collection of 11 inch 1990 Mattel Simpson Dolls. You can’t have a Really Rude Bart with his kazoo that simulates unfortunate digestive side effects and a Bubble Blowin’ Lisa with her saxophone that blows bubbles without a Sweet Suckin Maggie there between them. It’s an unbalance that threatens the very cosmos.

Does cosmic balance mean nothing to you? What kind of a collector are you, anyway? Attempting to break up a complete, mint in package set is the ultimate eBay sin, yet there you were, clutching some popping doll in soiled undergarments and attempting to outbid me. And what’s with every bid ending with .35? You think I’m not onto that trick by now? Do you honestly think I’d allow myself to be outbid by a paltry 35 cents? Note that my winning bid ends in .85. A ha! Take that!

Why couldn’t you just walk away? Why did you have to keep bidding? Do you not yet realize that I am relentless? But no, you had to keep bidding and driving up the price, long after every other bidder had recoiled in dismay and went off to bid on something else. There you were, trying to best me by 35 cents at 10 second intervals through the entire last minute of the auction. Damn you, woman! The auction would have ended at $60.00 if you had just walked away. Perhaps you take some sort of sick satisfaction in knowing that I am now $147.85 poorer, and have been forbidden to bid on another Simpsons eBay auction for an undetermined period of time. That’s fine...for you of all people should know that Sweet Suckin’ Maggie is worth it. And just so you know, for less than another 3 paltry dollars she could have been yours. Yes, that’s right. $150.00 was the limit of the money I could beg, borrow, or steal for this auction. 3 bucks! You’ve probably got that much in change rolling around in your car!

Before I sign off to go admire the way the afternoon sunlight sparkles off the clear plastic window of the box that holds my Sweet Suckin’ Treasure, I just thought I’d tell you that I really like that 22” 1961 Ideal “Kissy” Doll you’re currently bidding on over there on eBay. While I’m not allowed to bid on Simpsons auctions, there was never any mention made of “Kissy” dolls. Wouldn’t it be just horrible to have to pay three times what she’s worth just because some crackpot decides he wants it? Wouldn’t that be awful? And if he won, I’m sure he’d pull it right out of the box it’s been protected in for 40 years and give “Kissy” a sassy new hair do. Then he might just offer “Kissy’s” head up for aution on eBay.

You never know.

Posted by johnfrommelt at 1:32 PM
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Sunday, 9 April 2006
The Amazing Adventures of John and Shawn, Episode 2

Posted by johnfrommelt at 1:39 PM
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The Amazing Adventures of John and Shawn, Volume 1

Posted by johnfrommelt at 8:22 AM
Updated: Sunday, 9 April 2006 1:45 PM
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Sunday, 2 April 2006
Partner In Crime
The other night, I was sitting in my living room and looking out the window when I saw a police car pull up in front of our house. I was about to say, “Hey Shawn, there’s a cop car in front of the house,” when another police car pulled up behind the first one. So instead I said, “Hey Shawn, there’s two cop cars in front of the house.”

“What are they doing?” Shawn asked.

“Nothing,” I said. “I wonder what they want.”

Shawn looked out at the two silent cruisers, and then looked at me. “Have you done anything I should know about?”

“No,” I said. “Have you?”

“No,” he said.

We stared at each other with paranoid suspicion. And then the two police cars pulled away. Apparently, they had just pulled over to have a bit of a confab, but their visit still proved illuminating.

“Besides being criminally gorgeous,” I asked Shawn, “just what do you think I would have done to bring two squad cars to the house?”

“I was kidding,” Shawn said.

“Uh huh,” I said. Had this not been the second time an unexpected police presence prompted Shawn to ask me this very same question, I might have believed him.

The first time I was accused of being a fugitive from justice was about two weeks after we had moved to Arizona. We were spending the evening puttering about the house in a quiet, law-abiding way, when suddenly the sky was roiling with the sounds of screaming turbines and the thunderous chopping of helicopter blades. The noise was deafeningly disorienting, and we began to run about bumping into things while screaming “What’s going on? I don’t know!”

Eventually we fled the house, only to find ourselves frozen in the front yard by blinding searchlights. A voice hugely amplified and echoing with authority began barking unintelligible orders from above, and we stood clinging to each other and squinting about in confusion. If I believed in things like alien abduction or the Apocalypse, I most certainly would have soiled myself. Clearly we were experiencing an invasion of some sort, but without decipherable sensory input of any kind, it was difficult to decide how best to meet it. A brief reprieve came when the searchlights shifted, sweeping over the house and then down the street. We seized the opportunity and retreated back into the house.

“What’s going on?” Shawn asked.

“I have no idea,” I said.

And that’s when he said it the first time. “Have you done anything I should know about?”

At the time, I was entirely too disoriented to be offended. It didn’t occur to me until much later that I had been accused of being a wanted felon. And I’m fairly certain Shawn wasn’t kidding. After all, he we had just packed up and moved cross-country at my suggestion and within a time frame that flirted with being sudden. Sure, we had known each other long enough, but not quite so long that one of us couldn’t conceivably have found the time to lead a secret life of treacherous debauchery.

But after you’ve lived with someone for a few years, you’d think they’d know better. The question, “Have you done anything I should know about?” becomes difficult to answer because it lacks specifics. Questions like, “Are you secretly a mass-murdering sociopath?” would be better, since then you’ve at least got an idea of the kinds of atrocities your partner thinks you’re capable of. “Anything” is pretty broad. It implies that there’s no deed foul enough to fall outside the realm of possibility. Unpaid parking tickets, setting nuns afire, pimping out meth-addicted fourth graders, jaywalking...they all fit neatly under the “anything” umbrella.

How long Shawn has felt trapped in a blood soaked web of deceit is impossible to tell, since he only shares these suspicions when capture seems imminent....which implies that not only does he think I’m a criminal, but an inept one as well. I like to think that if I did get it into my head to thin the counselor population at a remote summer camp that I’d get away with it, meddling kids or no.

Still, the question remains: What do you say when someone asks you “Have you done anything I should know about?” Now that I’ve had the time to think about it, I’ve come up with a few answers...

“No, but grab a shovel real quick and meet me in the back yard.”

“No, but be a pal and flush this down the toilet.”

“No, but if anyone asks, that head was in the freezer when we moved in and we’ve never been to Toledo.”

“No, but do excuse me for just a moment while I go set fire to my hard drive.”

“No, but if they ask you, my name is Jacques VanHeildelberg. I’m a traveling circus contortionist from Niagara Falls, and we just met last week in a microwave cookery class. Now help me find an eye patch.”

“Ready to be famous?”

Posted by johnfrommelt at 12:27 AM
Updated: Sunday, 2 April 2006 1:17 PM
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Monday, 27 March 2006

Once again, I’m on the prowl for a new and funky camera. By “new,” I usually mean one that’s been out of production for around 50 years, weighs as much as a newborn Holstein calf, and smells like the bottom of a longshoreman’s kitbag. By “funky,” I mean the kind that requires either an obsolete film format or a banned mercury battery, or, more often than not, both. And by “on the prowl,” I mean sitting at my computer with my hair-trigger cursor poised above the “Bid Now” button as I sort through eBay listings for cameras, most of which read along these lines: “Up for bids is this neat old camera I found wrapped in a sock in my dead uncle’s basement. It looks like it would work, but I know nothing about cameras, so this one is being sold ‘As Is.’ NO WARRANTIES OR GUARANTEES! NO REFUNDS OR RETURNS! BID NOW! DON’T LET THIS ONE GET AWAY!”

I find it odd that no one on eBay knows how to use a camera. The law of averages seems to dictate that at least a few people with cameras in their possession should have some fundamental understanding of how they work. How hard is it to look through a window and press a button? It’s the same basic principle behind anti-aircraft artillery and submarine periscopery. This leads me to believe that most of these sellers know exactly what the camera should do, and they know full well it isn’t doing it. “As Is” is a handy little term that implies most buyers will at least find the seller’s broken crap decorative, which is a sentiment I resent deeply. And I refuse to partake in any auction by a seller who doesn’t know the difference between “accept” and “except,” as in “I except money orders and checks,” or “No personal checks excepted!” I cannot accept this use of except, nor will I accept instructions from the exceptionally ignorant. I feel the need to bait sellers such as these with messages like, “I’ve got a fourth-party check drawn from a Serbian bank that has since been turned into a methadone clinic specializing in street mime rehabilitation. I have endorsed this check in green crayon using letters from an alphabet of my own creation. I know nothing about checks, so I can’t guarantee you can cash it, but it’s quite pretty and would look nice in a hardwood frame. Since you except no checks you should happily accept this one. Also, I’m trapped in an invisible box and am therefore unable sign for registered packages.”

Where was I? Ah yes, a new camera. The exceptionally attentive reader might ask, Have you not just blogged about how much you love the camera you already have? Just how many cameras does a person need? How many do you have, anyway? What’s with you and this whole camera thing? Do you have any idea how boring this is for the rest of us? And where’s your half of the rent? Shawn used to ask such foolish questions as well. Used to. Now he merely smiles serenely and escapes to a quiet place somewhere in his mind while I explain at great length that although my two Yashicamat cameras may look alike, one has the two element Yashinon 85mm f/3.5 lens and the other has a three element Yashikor 85mm f/3.5 lens. The difference between them is night and day. Or at least noon and 3ish.

I realize that cameras may not fascinate everyone. I’m sure my blog would be immensely more popular if I was a stamp collector or an amateur botanist, or a sassy ski bunny turned tell-all Hollywood escort. You gotta work with what you’ve got. It could always be worse. I could be blogging all about my dog’s latest bout with diarrhea and the havoc it wreaked on our (landlord’s) carpeting. I could tell you how much I love my iced tea maker. I could be reviewing Joan Rivers fan sites, or posting pictures of my cats dressed as famous news anchorpersons.

And yes, while I can talk Shawn into a glassy-eyed semi-coma with my personal version of camera evolution through the ages, the only reason I know about these cameras is because the line between charming antique functionality and hopeless obsolescence is so fine. It would suck to get all excited about finding a mint condition Agfamatic only to get it home and realize it will only work with 126 films...which haven’t been made in 30 years. Wanna know which film formats are still being made and by which companies? I bet you don’t. But I could tell you, just like I could tell you all about the great mercury battery debacle. I could tell you that thousands of cameras were made to operate exclusively on 1.3 volt mercury batteries, which were banned because mercury leaking from discarded batteries was poisoning water supplies under landfills. I could tell you that this single act doomed many a photographer who had built an expensive system around their mercury battery powered camera. I could tell you that people are still traveling to Europe, where the batteries weren’t banned until 1998, just to smuggle back as many mercury batteries as they can find. I could further tell you that mercury batteries were superior to today’s alkaline or zinc-oxide batteries because they kept a consistent voltage for the duration of their life, and that the modern day batteries of the same size are now a different voltage, 1.5 volts.

See? You see all the useless knowledge I’m stuck with? It impresses no one at parties, I can tell you that, and frankly, anyone it did impress isn’t the kind of person you’d want to par-tay with in the first place. That actually reminds me of a wildly funny and entertaining story, which I won’t go into here, because this blog is about cameras. I must remain “focused.” Ha!

Anyway, between Shawn and my sexy self, we own about 1,000 useless little plastic figures in the shape of various Simpson’s characters. There are only so many useless things a person has space for in the average household, and 12 pound cameras that don’t do squat will find no home here. And yes, I’ve got a few other cameras already. The camera I previously blogged about, my beloved Nikon F2, is and will always be a 35mm camera. There’s more to life than 35mm, though. There’s medium format, which produces a negative three times the size of a 35mm. That’s a huge negative! Is a bigger negative a better negative? Well, sure. While I understand that in the real world bigger isn’t always better (as with tumors, spiders, and frilly satin bows), in the world of photography, bigger is always better. Just think of it as the difference between a 3 and 7 mega pixel digital camera. Besides, if medium format wasn’t better, how could Hasselblad justify the $18,000.00 price tag of their new H1 medium format outfit? When you consider that the average coronary bypass operation costs about $20,000, it really makes you wonder how the two compare in terms of sound investment value. This begs another question: Is more expensive necessarily better? My $20 medium format Argoflex and I hope the answer is no.

This little guy was made between1945 and 1947 by the Argus Camera Company in Illinois. Argus is actually still in business, although now they make crappy digital cameras. This is a Twin Lens Reflex camera. The top lens is the one you focus with when you look down through the hood in the top of the camera. The bottom lens is one that takes the picture (strangely enough, it’s called the “picture taking lens”). This set up produces a phenomenon called “Parallax Error,” which means that since the two lenses don’t actually view the scene from the same height, you’re afforded ample opportunity to chop your subject’s head off when you take pictures with it. Jolly good fun, that. The Argoflex, and every other camera that came after it, regardless of who made it, shamelessly copies design aspects stolen from the newly defeated Germans at the end of World War II (there’s a fun fact for ya!).

My $20 Argoflex was in perfect cosmetic condition when I got it. The only problem was it didn’t work. Half the joy of older (“vintage” if you must...I avoid this term because it’s usually followed by “collectible,” the single most overused word in marketing today) cameras is that they’ve sat around unused for decades, giving all the internal parts time to fuse together and for lubricants used on gears and levers to solidify. I discovered that Argoflex E shutter blades are prone to sticking because the grease used to lubricate them made them stick. I discovered that one could simply clean the blades and it would work like new. I discovered that removing the lens to get to the shutter couldn’t be simpler. And, lastly, I discovered that having the “i” so close to the “u” on a keyboard when you’re repeatedly typing the word “shutter” means you’d better type carefully.

And so begins the blog segment, Vintage Camera Repair for Dummies.

Before attempting to repair your camera, you must familiarize yourself with its features. The following technical schematic should prove helpful.

Now that we’re familiar with the lens assembly, we can begin the more interesting disassembly. Remove Mysterio 1 by prying it off with a razor blade. This will bend Mysterio 1, but we’ll worry about that later. Loosen the several tiny screws hiding under Mysterio 1, which will reveal more screws that loosen the Silver Ring of Mystery, causing it to fall off unexpectedly, taking with it the Black Ring of Mystery. Now we’re making progress!

The abundance of tiny screws makes the next step fairly obvious.

Welcome to the inner sanctum! We’re close to those shutter blades now! While I will admit that what we’ve got here is essentially a horrendous tangled mass of gears, levers, and springs, a crystal clear photo of the assembly will make it simple to put everything back where it was.

Now it’s simply a matter of cleaning the offending gunk and setting the blades back exactly as they appear. Then, reassemble. When you finish, you should end up something that looks like this.

Deep down, I think we all knew there was no way the Argoflex was coming back after step 2, especially after I lost one tiny spring and spent three days looking for it, to no avail. Too bad, too, I really liked it. This is a Koni Omega Rapid, also a medium format camera, which I got to replace the Argoflex. It’s a press camera from the 60’s. It also has a loose back, which I understand is quite easy to repair. Challenge excepted!

Posted by johnfrommelt at 7:51 PM
Updated: Monday, 27 March 2006 8:02 PM
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Sunday, 22 January 2006
I Love My F2

This is what my Nikon F2 would look like if I had bought it brand new the year it came out, 1971. Having just been born, I had very little money in 1971, and, being a baby, if I had had the money, I probably would have spent it on something brighter and shinier. My second or third hand F2 is "gently used," a phrase which means "everything still works, but it looks like crap." My F2 is covered with scratches, dents, and dings, and brass is showing through where the chrome has worn off. Any used camera dealer will tell you, however, that this isn't "damage"; it's "character".

Yes, to look at my camera, you'd think I'd lived a life of savage, Indiana Jones-esque adventure. My camera says I'd not think twice about dangling from a helicopter skid over an erupting volcano with one hand, while snapping one Pulitzer prize winning photo after another with the other. It says I'm drawn to fiery explosions, lurid crime scenes, and stalking elusive cannibalistic tribes through lush Amazonian rainforests, scoffing at the notion of "personal risk" as I squint rakishly at hell on earth through a split-image/microprism type K viewfinder.

My camera is, of course, a liar. I have no idea what dashing millionaire playboy/photographer rogue owned it before me, but the back yard is as exotic as my photo shoots have gotten. I don't know what sort of thing my camera was used to, but it now spends its days waiting for one of the dogs to sit still and look toward the camera, which can be hell on earth in it's own, less fiery, way. To a dog, a camera is a potentially tasty snack treat, so keeping them far enough away from the lens to take a picture is an effort in itself.

Sometimes I worry that my camera is bored. I worry that groans each time the shutter opens to reveal Dougal holding yet another tennis ball in his mouth. I worry that it makes snide, sarcastic comments to itself. "Oh look, another shot of the doggie. Way to go, Ansel Adams! You rock!" It could have once belonged to a private investigator and spent hours attached to a zoom lens, waiting in nondescript cars parked outside seedy motels to catch the twilight exodus of well-to-do philanderers with suspicious wives. It could have frozen in time the last death rattles of soldiers in 'Nam, or plumbed the murky depths to discover sunken Spanish galleons. Sometimes, I worry that my camera sits in the darkness of its deluxe padded camera bag dreaming of days of glory long since past and plotting to throw a spring or a gear to end its suffering. It hates me, I just know it.

But then, like a dog adopted from the pound, there's no way to really know where the camera came from or what's its seen in its past life. It's just possible that it acquired it's scarred, swashbuckling facade from being hauled around in a Midwestern grandmother's purse. Or it could have belonged to a clumsy wedding photographer, in which case the camera would be an embarrassment to me. It could very well be afraid of dogs, and lie awake trembling in its padded bag dreading another toothy close up of Dougal, in which case it would still hate me. We may never know.

Regardless of its feelings for me, I love my F2. Until it develops the complex motor skills and intelligence to file a restraining order, it will just have to live with me. Why do I love it so? To attempt to describe it's many attractive attributes would be to attempt to describe the beauty of Helen of Troy, or the vastness of space, or the flavor of Dr. Pepper. But I'll give it a go anyway.

Nikon has recently announced that it will stop making all but two of its film cameras, and completely discontinue making manual focus lenses. For a company that revolutionized photography, this is big news. Not only did Nikon invent the body style that is now typical of all 35 mm cameras, all Nikon lenses fit all Nikon cameras; Nikon is one of the only camera manufactureres that ever thought to do this, and it's one of the major reasons they've gained such a loyal following. A Nikon lens from 1959 will still work on a $4,000 Nikon digital model manufactured last month. Likewise, a new $6,000 autofocus lens will still work on my F2...only it won't focus automatically.

This is bad news, because it means if I wanted a new lens for my camera, I'd have to buy an autofocus lens. The autofocus feature won't work, but it would make the lens three times more expensive than it's manual focus counterpart. Since I've never really been able to afford new equipment anyway, this isn't really much of a tragic blow to me, but it does reinforce the notion that film cameras are going the way of the 8-track.

And that's why I love my F2. It embodies everything that's completely obsolete about film photography. It thinks a pixel is a woodland nymph, and attaching a flash to it is a hopelessly complex procedure that requires three cables and renders the camera inoperable with less than 4 hands. While most digital cameras are about as heavy as a travel pack of Kleenex, my F2 is over two pounds of solid neck fatiguing brass, and its near indestructibility has earned it the nickname "The Tank" by those in the know.

Any idiot can point and shoot a digital camera and end up with decent pictures. But there's no skill involved, no talent, no art. Likewise, any 35 mm film camera made after 1980 offers the same soulless ease. With an F2, there's no such thing as "point and shoot." By the time I've lined up a shot, there's often nothing left there to shoot. And that's the way I like it. We manual camera fanatics refuse to let our cameras do the thinking for us, even when it's to our benefit.

Take, for instance, the science of light metering. Modern built in light meters are ridiculously accurate and make knowing how to calculate exposure times and apertures a science as obsolete as Phrenology. So why do we refuse to use cameras that use them? It's all about control. A camera with a built in light meter will automatically adjust your shutter speed or your aperture, or, in many cases, both, and the user can't override these settings. What if you want a slower shutter speed for a slight blurring effect? What if you'd like a darker, moodier picture? The only way to go is manual.

Sure, you could digitally enhance a digital picture and get a picture that's both moodily lit and slightly artistically blurred, but that's cheating and we all know it. You'll find purists like me squinting at the dial of a Bakelite light meter hanging around our necks. We'll point the meter here and take a reading. Then we'll point it there and take a reading. Then we'll average to two readings and come up with a baseline exposure and aperture setting. Then we'll look up at the sky, stare at our subject, and scratch our heads. Then, after minutes of agonized soul searching, we'll recklessly decrease the f-stop without adjusting the shutter speed and snap the picture. Ha ha ha! The anarchy!

And did our settings work? Well, we can't tell you. At least not right away, especially if we don't have our own darkroom. If, by chance, we happen to be using black and white film, it will have to be sent to the one lab in America that still processes it. We'll know how everything turned out in about 2 weeks. We want none of the cheap, instant gratification of digital. It simply won't do. A good picture is worth waiting for because it's more than a good picture. It's confirmation that you finally know what you're doing.

With the passing of film cameras, so too goes the passing of an era where people were truly amazed by pictures. Nowadays, everything can be added or subtracted digitally, and being in the right place at the right time is now just a matter of aiming your camera phone. It's too easy. You don't have to know your subject. You don't need an appreciation of the way light behaves. You don't have to take the time to really see what the camera sees. And so the pictures we take now really don't say anything about us.

But not so with my F2. Every picture, regardless of how it comes out, is a labor of love. The fact that I've taken 20 minutes to set the shot up tells you that there's something in there that's pretty important to me. And the time I've taken waiting for the right photgraphic moment has given me a deeper apprectaion of the moments in between. Well, except the one time I was hanging out the window of a rental car, taking random shots of people on the side of the road. Those didn't say much about me. But they were funny. And blurry, too.

Posted by johnfrommelt at 11:30 PM
Updated: Sunday, 22 January 2006 11:45 PM
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Friday, 20 January 2006
Eau De Cologne Por Homme
When Shawn hinted he wanted Dolce and Gabbana cologne for Christmas, “the kind with sandalwood in it,” I went online to discover what the name of this woodland cologne might be, and where it might be obtained for a reasonable cost. My own home-made cologne, brewed from leaves, roots, and assorted cactus parts, all of which could be found free in my back yard, mixed with the sporty, chlorinated essence of aged pool water, was likely to disappoint because there wouldn't be much time for it to ferment. Doubtless it would be ready for Valentine's Day, but that was no help now. Plus, I still hadn't come up with a name for it. Because it tends to fizz and froth when first applied, and because it was created by me, Bud Tocks, I thought of calling it "Pop Tocks." Then, because of the "mild tingling" sensation it produces, I thought of calling it "Bud's Fire Water." Now, however, because of the dark, earthy hue it's acquired, I may just call it, "Bud Tocks From The Black Lagoon."

But for now, I had a mission to track down Shawn's cologne. My first obstacle was discovering that "Gabbana" isn't spelled like "banana" with a G. Well, excuuuse me. The second obstacle was discovering that Wal-Mart, which does sell "Curious" by Britney Spears and "Spirit" by Antonio Banderas, doesn't sell anything made by Dolce and Gabbana. Neither does Big Lots (!) or my neighborhood Walgreen's. Who ever Dolce and Gabbana were, they couldn't be too popular if their cologne didn't share shelf space with the Olsen Twins or Jennifer Lopez.

Why doesn't anybody wear "Old Spice" anymore? It's a classic, and easy to find, too. Frankly, I don't think Americans need this much choice when it comes to personal odor. And since when does every woman semi-capable of shrieking into a microphone inspire a "fragrance?" Does anyone really want to smell like Celine Dion? Can she really smell any better than a $6.99 half quart of Jovan "Musk"?

Defeated, I returned home empty-handed and began to look for the cologne online. I found that for such an unpopular cologne, Dolce and Gabbana certainly thought a lot of themselves, price wise. What in the world could justify the price of this tiny bottle of smelly fluid? Luckily, I found answers. Most of them came from, a site where you can rate any product based on your own personal expectations, realistic or otherwise. If you're ever bored, I strongly suggest you visit this site and just read some random product reviews.

Dolce and Gabbana, it turns out, received the highest possible rating (5 stars) from a number of unique users. Join me now as I revisit some of the most convincing reviews.

"Zoorpa9" volunteers the following opinion:

Pros: It's nice warm undertone-base layer. More sophisticated than most.
Cons: Hard to find in rural America, if you live there.

This one is the core cologne of my arsenal of colognes. I wear it for day or night. It has complex top notes and a warm sensual base. I use Dolce & Gabbana regularly and the experience is great every time. People regularly complement me that I smell really good. It is great for upscale events as well as clubbing at South Beach hot spots. It may be a little more expensive than others out there, but it is worth it. I bought this on a whim while on vacation two years ago, it was that nice. I get positive vibes from most people anyway wearing nothing, but I like the positive reaction especially that I get from wearing it. There is not much to hate if anything.

Zoorpa9 sounds like a real "arsenal". Let's all send him some "good vibes" and move on to the next, no less compelling, review.

"gdog1982" wants the share the following:

Pros: Spicy scent, Designer, unique
Cons: Sprayer sprays very little

I have used this cologne many times and it has been excellent. The smell is very unique and would not be mistaken for any other type of cologne. I wore this all the time and would only need to use very little to have a nice smell. It is very lasting and can stay on for the whole day without reapplying. I got many compliments when using this cologne and i myself loved smelling it. I think it is a little pricey but that is expected because it is put out by a big designer brand. The bottle is basic shaped and does not have any special decorations. The box that it comes in has a velvety feel to it and is a very nice package. The cologne sprayer only sprays out small amounts when using it but a couple of sprays should be sufficient. The smell of this cologne is not overpowering like other lower priced or over priced colognes. If you are looking for a way to wear designer cologne and not drain your wallet this is the cologne for you. This cologne will also not annoy others who smell it because it has a spicy and pleasant smell. I recommend this cologne because it is unique when a lot of the other colognes out in the market have very similar smells.

He, himself, loved the smell. What more can one want? Let's read on and find out.

"Desimishu" says:

Cons: can be expensive

This is a great mens fragrance. An awesome olfactory experience for me when I first smelled it in a sample.The fragrance starts out with a beautiful freshness, with particular citrus notes or oils of bergamot, tangerine, orange and lemon. Hints of sage, tarragon and cardamom work beautifully. The ending smell or dry-down is very woody and rich created by the notes of sandalwood, cedar-wood, tobacco, musk and tonka-bean. A very romantic and sexy fragrance sure to attract the ladies.

This guy know the secret recipie...for attracting "the ladies." If, however, any one out there remains unconvinced of the tonka-bean's powers of magnetism, I offer this final, uncredited review:

5* - When I was in elevator, three girls came on other floor, they had detected my cologne. They told me they wanted to do me because of this cologne that drived them crazy.

Convinced that this complex, fruity, and sophisticated cologne was well worth the price, I bought Shawn some. After all, we all the know the axiom, "Be careful what you wish for." I'm not sure what Shawn will do with all the ladies this cologne will attract, but at least he'll have a "good smell" while doing it.

Posted by johnfrommelt at 9:41 PM
Updated: Saturday, 21 January 2006 8:53 PM
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Wednesday, 18 January 2006
Love Thy Neighbor
“...Thou shalt Love thy Neighbor as Thyself.”
-Matthew 22:39

I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s it seems weird and scary to me. And it’ll happen to you, too!”
-Abraham “Grandpa” Simpson

When I lived in an apartment in Boston, I had a downstairs neighbor who would call me up at 7 p.m. and whisper hysterically, “I can hear you sweeping!”
“Excuse me?” I’d say.
“You’re sweeping your floor. I can hear it.”
“And I’ve recently had surgery, and I need my rest.”
“Would you please stop sweeping?”
I’d hang up on her, and continue sweeping. Then she’d begin to pound on her ceiling. Then I’d practice tap dancing in a pair of steel toed work boots. My phone would ring again, and then I’d grab the silverware drawer and empty it onto the floor. She’d resume pounding with a violence shocking for a woman recently incapacitated by surgery. Then I’d tiptoe very quietly into the kitchen and grab my one pot and a wooden spoon. When all was calm and quiet for a minute or two, I’d put the pot upside down on the floor and perform a percussion solo I called, “My Downstairs Neighbor is a Pathological Liar.” For over two years this woman claimed to have “just had surgery” and needed to rest, which means that either she was having major invasive surgery every two days or that she was, as my song asserted, a complete pathological liar. Everything I did kept her from “resting,” including showering, washing dishes, and walking on the floor. If anyone anywhere in the building was making noise, she’d call me, day or night. The phone would wake me from a dead sleep and a tiny voice weak with agony would demand that I turn my stereo down.
“My stereo isn’t on,” I’d say. “You just woke me up.”
“Someone is playing a stereo very loudly.”
“It’s not me.”
“Are you sure?”
“Are you calling me a liar?”
“Well, who is it then?”
“How the fuck should I know?”

I hung up on this woman more times than I can count. I also slammed my door in her face more than once, after inviting her to call the authorities to have me hauled off for having pizza delivered after 10 p.m. Once I attempted to actually talk to her, and to calmly state that she couldn’t reasonably expect to never hear me walking on my floor or flushing my toilet. I assured her these were things I simply had to do. When she asked how I expected her to cope with it, I suggested she move far, far into the country, into a vine covered cottage nestled in a shady glen at the end of a long unpaved road. It was our one and only chat.

So I know that neighbors can be troublesome. I also know that one can reasonably expect to be inconvenienced by them from time to time. I am not what I would consider an “unreasonable person,” and I don’t expect the world to bend itself to my will every time I feel like whining. I wouldn’t mind if it did, of course, but I don’t expect it.

That being said, I must also say this: I hate our new neighbors.

I’d hate them even more if I knew who they were. It’s impossible to tell which of the dozen or so 15 to 20 year olds constantly coming and going at all hours of the day and night actually live in the house next door. They come on bikes, scooters, and skateboards. They come in tricked out Cadillac Escalades with neon running boards and Ford Escorts held together with duct tape. Spot any kid within a five mile radius of my house wearing a knit cap, baggy clothes, and a smart-ass smirk, and it’s a given that they’re headed to the house next door to hang out in the front yard, smoke, drink cheap beer, scream obscenities and be cool. Occasionally, they enjoy climbing up onto their roof to pass a pipe around while having a witty 3 a.m. conversation, every word of which can clearly be heard from my bedroom window less than 20 feet away.

Boy 1: “Hey dude, are you going to get food?”
Boy 2: “Yeah, so?”
Boy 1: “Will you get me a burger?”
Boy 2: “Where’s your money?”
Boy 1: “Come on man, don’t be a dick.”
Boy 3: “Ha ha ha.”
Girl 1: “You’re so sexy.”
Boy 3: “Thanks.”
Boy 1: “Where’s Damien?”
Boy 2: “Who the fuck cares?”
Boy 3: “Dude, I like totally had art with Damien.”
Boy 1: “Yeah, I know. Me too.”
Girl 1: “I totally love your art.”
Boy 1: “Thanks.”
Girl 1: “It’sexy.”
Boy 1: “Yeah, I know.”
Girl 1: “I, like, totally love Damien.”
Boy 1: “Yeah, he’s cool.”
Boy 2: “Me and Damien like totally threw up once.”
Boy 3: “Dude, I remember that! That was sick.”
Girl 1: “Damien’s awesome.”
Boy 1: “Dude, give me a cigarette.”
Boy 2: “Fuck no.”
Boy 1: “Come on man, don’t be a dick.”
Girl 2: “Ha ha ha.”
Boy 2: “Dude, I’ll kick your ass.”
Girl 1: “I totally love you. You’re so sexy.”
Boy 2: “Thanks.”
Girl 1: “Who’s car is that?”
Boy 2: “Is that Damien?”
Boy 1: “I’ll go see. How the fuck do I get down?”
Girl 1: “Ha ha ha.”
Boy 1: “Seriously, I don’t remember.”
Boy 3: “Just jump.”
Boy 1: “Fuck you, bro.”
Boy 2: “I’ll kick your fuckin’ ass.”
Girl 1: “You’re so sexy!”

If people want to drink, smoke whatever, engage in profound conversation and fall deeply in love, it’s really none of my concern. I don’t have the time to evaluate the motivations or personal choices of complete strangers unless they’re amusing. So why do I hate them? It could be because our dogs aren’t used to such goings on next door, and respond to every slamming car door and every scream of “Dude, I’m so wasted!” with a window rattling barrage of barking and snarling. It could be that I hate them because of the empty beer bottles left in our mailbox, or the trash that blows over from their yard into ours. It could be because a few of them actually live in a tent pitched in the back yard, or that our trash collection bins are always full of empty beer cans and covered over with old, stained mattresses. I could hate them for the nonstop noise, the cars parked along the front of our house, or for any one of inconsiderate, un-neighborly things they do that would have made my past downstairs neighbor collapse into the fetal position, whispering over and over “I’ve just had surgery...I need my rest...I’ve just had surgery...I need my rest...”

Or, I could hate them because I find myself saying, “Those damn kids next door are at it again.” Or because I find myself hanging out my bedroom window and shaking my fist, screaming, “You goddam kids better quiet down over there!” Goddam kids? Since when do I use the term “goddam kids?” Have I actually arrived at the point in my life when I let a pack of rowdy teenagers get the best of me? Am I actually old enough now to consider an 18 year old a kid? Have I become the uncool and grumpy old man who lives next door, constantly telling them to “knock that racket off,” “harshing their buzz,” and pooping on their party?

The oldest I’ve ever felt is when I found myself on the phone with a police dispatcher reporting that “those damn kids next door are being too loud and probably doing drugs.” I felt even older as I lurked by my darkened window, waiting for the cops to arrive so I could watch them bust up the party. Imagine my giddiness when not one, but two squad cars pulled up. Imagine the delicious satisfaction of suddenly hearing everything fall so quiet that I could hear “Shiiiiiit” being muttered under someone’s breath. A-ha! Take that, you punks! You hooligans! That’ll teach you to be young and free-spirited! Not on my watch, bucko!
While I was sad that the oleander hedge completely obscured my view of the two uniformed officers approaching the party now quietly assembled on the gravel of the front yard next door, I was, for once, glad I could hear every word.

Officer 1: “You kids having some kind of party over here?”
Boy 1: “No officer.”
Boy 2: “We’re just, you know, hangin’ out.”
Officer 1: “Is there a reason you need to be hanging out outside? It’s after 3 a.m.”
Girl 1: “We were just waiting for my friend.”
Officer 2: “And you weren’t climbing up on the roof there?”
Boy 1: “What? No, officer.”
Officer 2: “Then why did we get a report saying that there were people up on the roof?”
Girl 1: “Oh, well, they were up on the roof, but they were just waiting for me.”
Boy 2: “That was, like, just one time.”
Officer 1: “Are you kids doing drugs out here?”
Girl 1: “What?”
Boy 2: “What?”
Boy 1: “No officer.”
Officer 1: “Do you all live here?”
Girl 1: “I do.”
Officer 1: “You realize this is a residential neighborhood. Your neighbors don’t appreciate you outside being loud this time of night.”
Girl 1: “Oh my God! I’m so sorry. I had no idea we were being loud.”
Officer 1: “Why don’t you move the party inside?”
Girl 1: “Oh, God, we totally will.”
Officer 2: “If we get called back again tonight, you’re going to the only one in trouble since this is your residence. Understand?”
Girl 1: “I’m so sorry.”
Officer 1: “Keep it down now. We don’t want to come back.”
Girl 1: “Thank you, officer.”
Officer 2: “You all have a good night, now.”

I was disappointed. Clearly the punks were lying. Why weren’t batons smashing some skulls? Why weren’t pockets being turned out, evidence confiscated, and perps being wrestled roughly to the asphalt? No one even searched the house or looked into the back yard, where a beer can pyramid had toppled at the entrance to the tent. Where were the handcuffs and the Miranda rights? Where was the mace and tear gas? Where was the justice?

As the squad cars pulled away, Boy 1 said to Girl 1, “You totally played that off awesome.”
Girl 1: “I fucking hate cops.”
Boy 2: “Assholes.”
Girl 1: “How did they know about the pot?”
Boy 3: “Dude, they can totally smell that shit.”
Girl 1: “I hate cops.”
Boy 2: “Man, this one time? These cops were totally trying to hassle me and my friend, and we were all like, Fuck you man!”
Boy 1: “Man, I had the cops after me in Montana, and in Colorado, and in fuckin’ Oklahoma, but I was all like, Fuck you, man!”
Girl 1: “Oh my God! That’s so sexy!”
Boy 1: “I wonder who fuckin’ called the cops.”
Boy 2: “Assholes.”
Girl 1: “Fuckin’ neighbors.”

There was more, but it was much quieter, and it was hard to hear. I waited for a little while for one of them to do something loudly, so I could summon less forgiving authorities, but nothing happened. After a while I gave up. It was late and I needed my rest.

Posted by johnfrommelt at 5:14 PM
Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006 5:16 PM
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Saturday, 7 January 2006
Nickelback Annoys Me
You might be asking, "Just what the Dickens is a Nickelback?" If you are, it can only mean that the rock you live under is heavier and more secluded than mine. You have my jealousy. It also means that you have less exposure to popular TV and radio than I do. That's no easy task. Without cable, my channel selections are limited to five Spanish networks, five Christian networks, and two home shopping networks.

Sure, these stations can be entertaining, but never intentionally. The best Spanish station features a dead-eyed and stoned-looking Latina chick bending over a used Hyundai in a miniskirt and stiletto heels while a leering mariachi band plays in the background. These are ads for La Familia used car dealership, and they go on for hours. The Latina chick wanders from car to car in the lot, suggestively stroking stick shifts and steering wheels, followed by a fat man with a mustache and a microphone. The production qualities are pathetic, but not as pathetic as the Latina chick's occasional attempts at erotic dancing. Raising her arms above her head, the Latina chick makes a feeble attempt at wiggling her hips but comes dangerously close to falling off her heels. Then she stares expressionlessly at the cameraman until he decides to shoot an extreme close-up of her belly button jewelry. And the band plays on.

My second favorite station always seems to be airing the same game show, also in Spanish. This show both fascinates and perplexes me. I just don't get it. True, I don't speak Spanish, but I still feel that I should be able to get the jist of what's going on. It works with Spanish soap operas, so why not a game show? The show features two Latina women, scantily clad and heavily made up. They are joined by a man with a silver cape and a microphone. They exchange a few words, and then music begins to play and the women dance. Then a man is pulled from the studio audience. I gather he is the "contestant." The contestant stands between the two women on stage, and exchanges a few words with the man in the sliver cape. Then the women begin to dance again, making sexy cooing sounds as the camera zooms in on various jiggling body parts. The dancing is interrupted by a fat man who runs onto the stage in a dress, and pretends to cry. The women run over to comfort him/her until someone in a gorilla suit appears and threatens him/her with a plastic novelty mallet. The gorilla chases the man in the dress off the stage, the man in the silver cape shakes the contestant's hand, and the women begin to dance again. The end.

When I tire of not being able to understand what anyone is saying, I turn to the Christian stations. While they do speak English, I still can't understand what most of them are saying. Or, more precisely, I can't understand why anyone would want to listen to what's being said. Did you know God doesn't want us to eat fatty foods high in carbohydrates? Did you know that Bible is not only the word of God, it's a cookbook? It's true. The televangelist I heard it from lost three inches from his waistline following a diet outlined by God. I also enjoy the frequent appearances of "celebrities" like Mr. T, Tracey Gold, and Kirk Cameron, all of whom claim to have been led to the brink of damnation by sinful if any of them would know anything about Hollywood.

And then there's Jan Crouch, darling of the Trinity Broadcasting network. Aside from hosting Christian liposuction seminars and speaking in tongues, she travels the globe terrifying sick and underprivileged children in the name of charity and ratings.

From there, it's a short surf to the Home Shopping Network. It's easy to get the shopping networks and Christian networks confused, because they both feature scary women who urge you to get your credit cards ready and call now. The great thing about the shopping network is how unbelievably fake these women are, and I don't just mean their "youthful" appearances. One minute they're featuring Helga and her fabulous Goat Cheese Cold Cream, and the hostess says, "You know, Helga, I just love this product! I never use anything else!" Then Helga leaves, and Suzanne Somers comes on with her Seaweed and Raspberry Cold Cream. "You know, Suzanne," the same hostess shrieks, "I just love this product! I never use anything else!"

Given the options available to me, it should come as no surprise that I don't watch much TV. The radio stations down here are pretty much the same mix. Half Spanish, lots of country, several Christian stations, and a few top 40 stations. When Lindsay Lohan, Kelly Clarkson, and Ashlee Simpson start competing for air time it's time to tune out. I am proud to say that I have never knowingly listened to song by any of these "artists" all the way through. In fact, I can't listen to the radio at all anymore. It pisses me off.

Sometimes I'll forget myself while I'm in the car on the way to work, and I'll unconsciously turn on the radio. I'll hear a line or two of a song, get disgusted, and shut it off. Lines like, "If I could fly into the sky, do you think time would pass us by?" send me into sputtering fits of outraged ranting and steering wheel pounding. "Fly into the sky?" Where else would you fly? Flying underwater is called swimming, flying underground is called tunneling, and flying on the Earth's surface is called falling. Is the singer in an airplane or flying under their own power? Either way, flight has no effect on time; the two aren't related, except that "into the sky" and "pass us by" rhyme, albeit at the expense of logic. The question "If I could fly into the sky, do you think time would pass us by" is asinine. Who the fuck cares? Who wrote this song? Who decided to play it? Who's buying the album and why? It sucks! Doesn't anyone see that? Has the world gone mad?

So, anyway, for the last several weeks the line I always catch when I forget myself and switch on the radio goes like this:

"Look at this photograph,
Every time I do it makes me laugh."

It's innocent enough until you ask yourself this question: When was the last time you called a picture a "photograph?" I'll tell you when: never. Nobody says, "Excuse me, will you take a photograph for us?" or "Gee, this is a great photograph of you." No one calls their photo album a "photograph album" or a picture frame a "photograph frame." The word was obviously chosen for its rhyming capability with "laugh," but it's so artificial I can't stand it. It makes me crazy. Seriously. I fume over it. Why couldn't they have just gone with:

"Look at this picture,
Every time I do I snicker."

Refusing to turn on my car (sorry, automobile) radio no longer keeps me safe. In an innocent attempt to watch the Simpsons on TV (sorry again, I meant television), I was assaulted by the fist two lines of this damn song (oops...musical audio recording ) in a Verizon cellular ad (I mean, a Verizon Cellular Communications Corporation advertisement). It seems the music video performance of the song, called "Photograph" and performed by the band "Nickelback," is now available for viewing on your cellular telephone.

I'm familiar with the idom "you can't have too much of a good thing," but when "too much of a bad thing" becomes inescapable, it's time to head on out into the desert and look for a cave with a nice view. And that's why Nickelback annoys me. The end. That's it. I'm done.

Send in the dancing Latinas.

Posted by johnfrommelt at 7:26 PM
Updated: Saturday, 7 January 2006 10:41 PM
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Thursday, 29 December 2005

The New Year is coming at me faster than a sack of potatoes dropped from considerable height...say, from the top of the Stratosphere Casino, or off the Golden Gate Bridge. Actually, the chances of me being under the Golden Gate Bridge when a person or persons unknown decided to fling a sack of potatoes off of it are pretty slim, especially since I'd have to be in a boat. I am seldom found boating nowadays, and I've never been to San Francisco. (Did you know that Arizona has more boats per capita than any other state in the union? It's true!) I've been to the Stratosphere Casino in Las Vegas, but the only thing that fell on my head there was rain. Actually, the whole "being struck from above by a sack of potatoes dropped from considerable height" scenario isn't very likely, which makes it a terrible metaphor for inevitability. I guess I'm just not on top of my game today, which isn't surprising, considering my mood.

I've discovered last year's list of New Year's resolutions. There are quite a few resolutions I haven't kept, each one a broken promise to myself and a personal failure. Some of them, like "Give more to charity" and "Eat healthier and exercise more," aren't significant blows to my ego. Everyone writes these down, but few of us really mean it. I know I sure didn't. I just felt like no list of resolutions would be complete without them. In fact, according to a recent survey, those are two of the top 10 most popular resolutions. Other top resolutions include quitting some unhealthy habit or another (smoking, drinking, voting Republican), getting organized, getting out of debt, getting educated, and the ubiquitous "enjoy life more." Whether someone who's just given up smoking and gone on a diet is going to enjoy life more while organizing the garage to make room for exercise equipment is doubtful to me, but perhaps that's just the negative attitude that's kept me from keeping so many of my resolutions.

What resolutions did I make? Which resolutions did I keep? Which fell by the wayside? I'm so relieved you asked. Frankly, if you hadn't, this blog would have ended awkwardly, and I'd have yet another personal failure on my hands.

The following is a list of resolutions I made late in 2004:

Be crowned King of somewhere or something.

Consider thinking about possibly maybe deciding to quit smoking sometime in the future.

Give up false modesty. I'm lousy at it anyway.

Stop snapping "Don't you tell me what to do! You ain't the boss of me!" every time my boss asks me to do something.

Respond to that jury summons.

Appear on cover of The National Enquirer, along with headline including the word "romp."

Sue The National Enquirer.

Give more to charity.

Eat healthier and exercise more.

Dust ceiling fans.

Buy Microsoft and change name to "Crazy Eddie's."

Stop flinging sacks of potatoes off tall buildings and bridges.

Remove "Kill Whitey" bumper sticker from van.

Stop ending blogs awkwardly.

Excepting the bumper sticker resolution, this list was simply carried forward from 2003, and most of those were carried over from 2002. I've been working with the same core list since I was 27. Perhaps my resolution this year should be to come up with new resolutions. Or, I can just add it to the list.

I'm not going to sweat it too much, though. After all, when all is said and done, cantaloupes and bananas.

Posted by johnfrommelt at 2:25 PM
Updated: Monday, 2 January 2006 4:42 PM
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Monday, 26 December 2005
Love Plumber
Ah, the words of love... Je t'adore. Ti amo. Te quiero (Taco Bell y tu, Senorita mucho caliente!). If you were Swedish and in love, you'd say to your beloved, "Jag aelskar dig." Isn't that sweet? It's almost like, "I dig you." If you were Srilankan, you'd probably say, "Mama oyata arderyi." Serbians and Serbocroatians say, "Volim te," but if you were Slovak, you'd say, "Volim ta."

If you were Thai, you'd say, "Khao raak thoe." I'd be careful to sound affectionate when using that one-it sounds insulting to me, kind of like, "You rank ho!" In Japanese, the words your heart are searching for could be "Watakushi-wa anata-wo ai shimasu," but you've got to talk fast if you want to cram that toe-tingler into a tender moment. You Klingons out there can get right to the point with "SoHvaD vIghajtaH," Germans have the efficient "Ich liebe dich" (I ain't touching that one), and Bavarians have the creamy "I mog di narrisch gern."

In any language, love is indeed a splendid thing. However, when love turns not-so-splendid, it's the stuff of some spectacularly bad language. And I don't mean swears (although they are, I've discovered, an intricate part of it). I mean poetry.

Any writer will tell you that when emotions are running high, words flow fast from the heart to the pen, completely bypassing the brain. Luckily, most writers have the sense to erase those words once they've calmed down. Others, however, do not. Others post them on the internet.

Today, I offer you a selection of poems written by angry young men who've had their souls cleaved by the icy blade of betrayal. Treachery, thy name is woman! And woman, thy name is...well, never mind. I'll let the poets themselves tell you.

Is every break-up poem "just another somebody done somebody wrong song?" Certainly not. That would be like saying every angry young man is like every other angry young man, which would only make them all angrier. And then they'd write more poetry. And none of us wants that.

While these poems were all posted on line and signed by their authors, I have abbreviated their names to keep it all from getting too personal. After all, if a poem is good, it speaks for and to legions.

Suicidal Cunt
By D. D.

The Beautiful Bitch is Depressed and
Seeing a Psychologist.
Maybe suicidal.

Oh, well,
Have a Nice Slice.

When she forgot I existed,
I already imagined myself
drowned beneath a pond
and thought it was Beautiful and somewhat
in a weird way.

So if she kicks the bucket
I will also think
that's Beautiful
and clip out her Obituary
for posting on my Bulletin Board.

When guests comment on the strange artifact,
I'll say Oh
that was some crazy bitch I once knew...
playing Cool -n- Non-Chalant...

but black flowers will blossom in my mind
as I remember her
and it will actually be Classical and Timeless
like the Crypt of the Vampire Queen.

Wow. Give me a moment, my breath has been taken away. Such passion! It's clear this poem is far deeper than the pond the author imagined he'd "drowned beneath." Like that pond beneath another pond, this poem is multi-layered and impossible to grasp using only common sense. On the one hand, he denies the extent of his his anguish ("playing Cool -n- Non-Chalant..."), but on the other hand, he knows his bravado is a farce, and he is eternally enslaved to his "Vampire Queen." This "Bulletin Board," then, must be the battlefield on which his warring emotions are broadcast to the world. In fact, the poem itself becomes that "Bulletin Board." Yes, this one is sure to haunt you, "like black flowers" blooming in your mind.

Two Years Later
By A. S.

Life is a battlefield
Of choices made
And choices waiting
To be made,
Even if your choice
Is not choose.

And I have made
Some choices
That I sometimes regret--
Like opening up to
A total stranger,
Pretending to be
An aspiring writer,
Who took my heart
And stepped
All over it,

While I tried
To believe that
There was
Something greater
Between us.

The only thing
That I found is
That some people
Do not live
Their lives in the open,

Hiding some dirty
Past secrets that
Bring on guilt
And shame.

And they try to flush
Their past
Down the toilet, but
The lies just keep
Building up
And the toilet backs up,

And the plunger won't work
This time.

I wanted to be your lover,
Not your plumber to help
Your lies from interfering
With your social life.

Even back then
You kept saying
That you loved me
But referred to me
As some friend of
Your nonexistent
Norwegian husband,
And you never wanted
Anyone to know about
Your fatherless children,

As if your children
Are a source of shame.

And all I wanted was love
And openness.

But all I got were lies,
Lies and more lies.

Well, it's been two years
Now since you wrote me
That love poem, calling me
Your soft and wild
Lover and a clutter in
Your pink laws.

But all the softness
And wildness have gone
Somehow, after I returned
To Connecticut, dissolved
In all the fantasies
Of some ideal love.

And all I have are just
Old love letters and
Pictures of you and
Your children on my PC,
Fading in hollow dreams
That I could ever be a part
Of your family.

Well, go ahead and
Pretend that we never met,
Cringing about my
Bad breath, dandruff,
Receding hairline,
And social awkwardness,
While hiding behind the name
Of your nine years younger
Adolescent husband.

I suppose he's good at
Fixing your computer
Troubles because all your
Big writing career
Revolves around
Internet gossip and
All the things
You'd like others
To believe.

Well, I don't take
Myself as seriously--
I once believed in us
And our future together
Only to have my books,
Dedicated to you,
Thrown in the garbage
And have you deny
Ever knowing me.

As Bill Clinton
once said:
"I did not have sex
With that woman,"
Even though the
Evidence pointed
To the contrary.

Well, it's been
Two years since
I've been "that man"
That you choose not
To acknowledge,
And I'm taking my
Life back piece
By piece, refusing
To trash whatever
Tender moments
That we had together.

And we did have them,

So, go ahead, and
Pretend that you
Never loved me,
Creating more
Lies and fictions.

It doesn't matter.

All that matters
Is that I'm true
To myself and to
My heart.

December 15, 2005

This poem saddens me, most of all because I wish the title had been "Love Plumber" instead of "Two Years Later." I can almost smell the salty brine of Norway...or is it the author's "bad breath?" Quoting a former President in a poem is always risky, but in this case, I'm sure you agree the risk paid off. What a tangled web we weave with "a clutter" of "pink laws." I think the moral at the end of the poem is good, if not a bit trite. It's not as haunting as "Suicidal Cunt," but it's definitely more revealing, and scores points for including the date it was written.

Well, that's all the time we have for today's "Angry Young Man Poetry Round-Up." Keep your eye out for our future feature, "Whiny Women Writing About Lost Love and Rain."

Auf Wiedersehen!

Posted by johnfrommelt at 12:40 PM
Updated: Monday, 26 December 2005 8:08 PM
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Sunday, 25 December 2005
Burn, Baby, Burn
This captivating femme fatale is known in Marvel Comic circles as Dark Phoenix. But, at the same time, she is also Jean Grey (a.k.a. Marvel Girl). Jean Grey is a telekinetic telepath (she has the ability to move objects with her mind and the ability to read the minds of others), and she's one of the original founding members of the X-Men. Jean Grey becomes Dark Phoenix when The Phoenix Force takes over her body and consciousness. Just what the heck is a Phoenix Force, you ask? From whence does it come, and what does it want? And why's it picking on Jean Grey? I'm not exactly sure. I looked on line for a cohesive explanation, and this was the best one I could find:

"The Phoenix Force is the nexus of all psionic energy which does, has, and ever will exist in all realities of the multiverse. During its time as a sentient entity, it was known to possess the psyche of mortals (particularly those who happen to be telepaths) and thus amplify their psychic abilities to a cosmic (and in some cases, nearly incalculable) scale. Its primary form is that of a gigantic firebird."

Do you get it now? No? Me either. This is precisely why comic books only work as comic books. If the terms "psionic energy" and "multiverse" are part of your everyday vocabulary, chances are you're male and spend lots of in your basement bedroom wondering why more women don't wear spandex bodysuits and why none want to accompany you to next weekend's Sci-Fi convention.

"Hold on just a second," you might be thinking. "How can you judge these people when you, yourself, are blogging about things such as psionic energy and multiverses? Doesn't that prove that you're just like them? Aren't you being hypocritical?" And my reply would be, "No, I'm not. Now shut up."

I am not an expert on things such as psionic enery, multiverses, or the X-Men. In fact, up until about three years ago, I was oblivious to them. So why am I writing about these things now? What's changed? The answer isn't a what but rather a who. Shawn is an X-Men fan. And, being the warm and sensitive soul that I am, I like to take an interest in Shawn's interests. It began with the X-Men movies, and then came all 5 seasons of the X-Men animated series from the 90's, which Shawn has on pirated DVDs. Then there were a few reprints of the first of the X-Men comic series, to see where it all began. And then there were the two X-Men Legends video games. Regular readers of this blog will know that finding a video game that Shawn and I both enjoy playing is cause for some celebration. Yay. And, finally, there came the collection of X-Men Legends action figures.

None of this means that I'll be moving into a basement and sealing all my reading material into little plastic bags. I reject the ideals of the comic enthusiast and their sweatpants-wearing, Taco Bell-centric lifestyle. I have no desire to see the She-Hulk and Wonder Woman wrestle in a tub filled with radioactive pudding. In fact, I feel only pity for the cripplingly large breasted comic book super heroines whose creators send them charging off into battle with nothing more than an enchanted corset and thigh high boots (and, for the very last time gentlemen, a cape is not a daytime accessory). I, personally, don't have an "ideal woman," but if I did, the ability to lift a tank wouldn't be a part of that ideal. I also reject the notion that I'm perpetuating a negative comic book enthusiast stereotype. Have you ever seen a Gay Pride March? I'd be happy to swap stereotypes anytime. I'm not passing judgment here anyway. I'm just saying that spending my weekends playing Dungeons and Dragons in the smoke-free back room of a comic book shop, slaying evil trolls with my magical elf, isn't my idea of a good time. If it were, I'd attend more Gay Pride Marches.

About now, you might be thinking, "While this is all enormously fascinating, I'm not quite sure where this blog is going. Do you really expect me to sit here and waste my valuable time reading about some fictional flaming schizophrenic and Gay Pride Marches? Have you gone mad?" I'd probably reply, "I'm trying to set something up here, so just be quiet and let me think." And then you might say, "Well, I just don't find this kind of thing very interesting." And then I'd say, "So go write your own blog then." And then you might say, "Fine, I will. Your blogs suck anyway." And then I'd say, "Oh yeah? Then why do you bother to read them?" And then you wouldn't be able to think of a comeback right away. You'd think of a really good one hours later, but by then it would be too late, and I'd have already won this round. So there. Nyah.

Anyway, "The Phoenix Saga" began in 1976 and has since become one of the most recurrent, rehashed, revised and convoluted story lines in comic book history. You'd be surprised how much trouble a bird-shaped nexus of psionic energy can be, and how difficult it's made life for Jean Grey. In a nutshell, when Jean Grey is left to her own devices, she's Miss Pretty and Perfect in classic comic book do-gooder sense. But when the Phoenix Force possesses her, she becomes Dark Phoenix and a heck of a lot more fun- kind of like Olivia Newton-John's transformation at the end of Grease, only darker. Dark Phoenix is arrogant and vengeful and says things like, "I am fire and life incarnate." She can destroy an entire planet and its billions of inhabitants with a thought. She has the power to unravel the very fabric of existence, and has come close to erasing the entire universe more than once.

The photo that begins this blog is from "Phoenix:Endsong," a series of four comic books that endeavors to end The Phoenix Saga once and for all, thirty years after it began...even if it had to bring Jean Grey back from the dead to do it. Jean Grey's died a few times, but then, which of the X-Men hasn't? She's also had her mind controlled or wiped blank, spent several years at the bottom of the ocean in a cocoon, and been repeatedly dragged back and forth through both space and time. How else could she fight evil, side by side, with her daughter from an alternate future? All in a day's work for the X-Men.

And now we enter the very Nexus of this blog, where all things converge. Jean Grey, Dark Phoenix, Shawn, and Christmas (not Gay Pride Marches, though, we're done with that...for now) will all come together in a neatly gift wrapped blog package.

I mentioned that one of Shawn's hobbies is collecting X-Men action figures. Another hobby of his is having no response to the question, "What would you like for Christmas?" This is a direct contrast to the lists I have prepared for just such an inquiry, lists that leave no room for doubt, creativity, or frugal price-taggery. But this isn't about me, it's about Shawn. While we're out shopping, he might point to one or two things he sees in the store and might want, only to later change his mind and say, "You know, it's just not a fun thing to get for Christmas." Meanwhile, the item had already been bought and is sitting wrapped in my closet, and I begin to think of murdering him. Fa la la la la, la la la la.

And so, I began my Christmas shopping with no helpful input from the intended recipient. I also began it quite early, before Halloween. I began early because I had decided to get him an X-Men figure. What could be more fun than a spanking new figure to add to the collection? But I wasn't looking for just any figure. I was looking for Dark Phoenix. Since her first possession by the Phoenix Force, Jean Grey has taken to calling herself Phoenix. When she's being actively possessed, and therefore evil, she's Dark Phoenix. Shawn already has the Jean Grey/Phoenix action figure, so I figured he needed the Dark Phoenix action figure to complete the set. Since both figures are essentially Jean Grey, you may be wondering what the difference is. How can you tell if Phoenix is naughty or nice? Well, it's easy. Jean Gray/Phoenix wears a green outfit, and Dark Phoenix wears a red one.

The green Phoenix is relatively easy to find. Dark Phoenix, however, is a "variant." This means that there fewer of them made. Where does one go to find a rare Dark Phoenix? eBay, of course.

I will spare you the details of the fierce bidding war in which I soon found myself, assaulted from all sides by rabid collectors attracted to the phrase "mint in package." (It appears that these collectors prefer their action figures come to them in a virginal state. How creepy and old fashioned.) It was hell, but I persevered grimly, all the while reminding myself to make Shawn promise he wouldn't pose his figures like they are in this photo I found on the net. Just what kind of pervert poses his dollies and takes pictures of them? And what other pictures did he pose them in that no one else will ever see? Ewwww!

But it was about to get worse. Much, much worse. Remember when I said that I had started looking for the figure on eBay before Halloween? Are you wondering why I'm bringing it up again? The answer waits on the other side of the following empty space, but I must warn you. What follows may shock you. It may appall you. It might make you say "What the fuck?" It did all those things to me, and more. It inspired this blog.

Turn back now!

It's not too yourself!

This is your LAST warning!

OK, this is REALLY your last warning!

Ta-da! Yes, that's right; you, too, can be Dark Phoenix for Halloween. Or any other day of the year you've teased your hair and are feeling feisty. Bidding on this item began at only $399.99. Size: Petite. The ad stated that the outfit had been worn only once, "with undergarments, for picture taking purposes." Um, yeah, right. This thing just happens to be the perfect size for the woman wearing it, but it wasn't made for her? That's an interesting coinkydink. The ad also stated that there was a "hole in the feet for the heel of a shoe," but that "shoes were not included." So, ladies, you'll have to come up with your own pair of gold spiked heels.

For some reason, I think the line "I am fire and life incarnate" would be far more disturbing if it was coming from this version of Phoenix. I mean, we've already got a Phoenix and a Dark we really need Kinky Suburban Housewife Phoenix? Don't get me wrong, this woman does scare me. Deeply and truly. To what nefarious end will she put the wall outlet there behind her? Does she have a Dark Electric Hand Mixer? A Dark Hoover? Somehow, it's just not quite the same, is it? Just for fun, let's do a side by side comparison, shall we?

Having a hard time telling which is which? I'll give you a hint: Marvel's Phoenix is the one that doesn't look like your mom on crack. I almost feel bad for mocking this poor woman, but at the same time, what was she thinking? As a 35 year old man with Simpsons sheets on his bed, I often feel hypocritical when I suggest someone might be too old for something. In this case, however, I'm fearlessly chucking stones from the front steps of my glass house. There is an almost enviable self-confidence in a person who's willing to have photos taken in this get up posted on the net, but then History is littered with the wreckage of misplaced confidence. Doesn't she realize there are people like me about, who thrive on mocking anyone foolish enough to make themselves an easy target? Speaking of targets, what, may I ask, is she attempting to accomplish in this next pose?

If her ass is a secret weapon, she needs to do a better job keeping it secret. But I will admit it's got powers. I can feel myself being repelled by a powerful force even as I write this. "Noooooooo!" I can't help but wonder if she came up with these poses all by herself, or if there was someone on the other side of the camera coaching her. "Come on, baby, you're Dark Phoenix! You're powerful! You're sexy! Show me powerfully sexy!"

After the shock, fits of uncontrollable laughter, and eventual dry-heaving had subsided, I began to think of the marvelous adventures Kinky Suburban Housewife Phoenix could have (and probably already did have, before she decided to sell the suit...ewwwwww!). This is what I came up with:

My verdict? Close, but no freakin' cigar. This Phoenix is going down in flames. Burn, baby, burn! In the end, the outfit never sold. I wonder why? Maybe photos of the outfit simply hanging on a clothes hanger would have improved its chances, but we'll never know. And in case you're curious, I did indeed win Shawn's Dark Phoenix action figure on eBay. It now sits beneath the tree, mint in package, awaiting his childlike glee come Christmas morning. The worst part has been keeping this blog to myself. I am dying to get it out there, to share my pain. It's almost too much to bear alone. But to post this before Christmas would spoil the surprise I've suffered silently to keep. I just hope Shawn appreciates the hefty price I've paid for his Dark Phoenix-not in money, but in nightmares.

Posted by johnfrommelt at 12:01 AM
Updated: Sunday, 25 December 2005 12:37 AM
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