snow in october

Ah, the middle of October, when thoughts naturally turn to ghoulish pumpkins, crunching leaves, and drunk Germans. Unless you live in Minnesota, where we got our first snow a few days ago. Granted, it was only a couple inches, but THAT”S NOT THE POINT! I  want to have burnt sienna tinted thoughts of baseball and bountiful harvests. I should be trying to find my rake, not my windshield scraper.

I’m no meteorologist, but I think we had four days of autumn this year. We had a lovely mild summer, with none of those four-day stretches of ninety-three degrees and eighty percent humidity during which an entire city becomes cranky. But no matter how nice summer is, Midwesterners know that it’s all a tease; winter will always show up, distract us with a week of crisp, clear forty-five degree days, and then proceed to stick its frozen boot up our fat Midwestern asses for five months.

I’m not a native Minnesotan. But I’ve always preferred cold-weather cities to the other extreme. Do the math with me—no matter how cold it becomes, if you put on enough layers, you’re no longer cold. You’re unable to move because of all the layers you’ve had to put on, but you have defeated the elements. Whereas, in someplace like, say Phoenix, even when you’ve removed ALL your layers, you can still be miserable. Cold places are better than hot places—Q.E.D. (which stand for ‘quod erat demonstrandum,’ which is Latin for ‘I took some advanced math classes and for some weird reason remember the Latin phrase for ‘there—I proved my point’)

I’m not a native Minnesotan, though, and I don’t quite think like one yet. The first time I saw the temperature forecast on the front page of the newspaper (news used to printed on paper) and read “8 degrees,” I thought it was a typo. That’s missing a digit. That’s not enough degrees, I thought. But Minnesotans have this amazing, resigned calm about the whole winter thing.

Everybody here has the same attitude you see in “Chinatown” when the photographer says to Nicholson, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” Here, it’s “Stop whining, Sven. It’s Minnesota.” Everyone seems to have accepted their fate. It’s a strange, mass-delusional badge of pride, making it through a brutal winter. You get to the other side of it and people pat each other on the back saying, “Yeah, that winter in ’88—the pipes froze, Grandpa slipped on that sheet of ice, we had to drive in whiteout conditions…” You don’t hear people say “Man, remember the summer of ‘92? That was awful—it got really…hot.”

So people in Minneapolis do the rational Scandinavian thing. We cope. We trudge through snow banks, each of us wrapped up like old Ukranian women walking through  the shtetl, muttering things like “We have a great theater scene here. We have a great theater scene here. We have a great theater scene here.” And there’s no use complaining, because when you do, a local is always nice enough to point out “It could always be worse.” Thank you, Captain Perspective.

I like that people here openly taunt Nature. For example, skyways.  If you haven’t experienced one, a skyway is an elevated, enclosed climate-controlled bridge, and Minneapolis has a series of them connecting, essentially, all the buildings in downtown. It’s like a Habitrail, with hamsters in suits and Starbucks kiosks. And it’s our way of saying “Screw you, God. That winter bullshit? Bring it on.” (note: if there is a God, then what I’ve written is satire and I don’t actually mean “Screw you.”)

The best thing about winter is spring. I grew up in Southern California, and sure, they have seasons. I’ll never forget the first time I felt the subtle change as the calendar turned from the Brushfire Solstice to the Mudslide Equinox. But there is no feeling quite like that first time the mercury hits fifty after five months of ridiculous, marrow-chilling temperatures. The entire city erupts in a communal ‘woohoo!’ that can be heard as far south as Des Moines.

So I’m fine with winter. I embrace the invigorating chill, and the wind that cuts through you like a set of knives from an infomercial. It’s just too soon. Snow this early in the year is like giving someone a Nobel Peace Prize after a few months as President. It’s beautiful, but it’s too soon.

I’m just not ready to get all Currier and Ives-y. It’s too soon to start thinking about when I have to mail gifts I haven’t even bought yet. It’s too early for winter storm watches, and weather advisories, and road conditions. It’s too early to hear that “the temperature is thirty-one, but it actually feels like it’s nineteen.” I’m not ready for…ah, who am I kidding. I’m a Minnesotan now. Bring it on.

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zombie pride

It was inevitable. The backlash had to happen. First, the dominant culture is afraid of the marginalized outsiders. Then, they embrace them, intellectuals praise them, Hollywood makes movies about them. Finally, the overexposure causes the outsiders to resent all of this, criticizing a culture that has appropriated its very soul.

So it is with Zombie-Americans. Tired of being mocked and caricatured, the zombies are rising up (this time metaphorically) against the living.  At an event in Wausau, Wisconsin, over five thousand zombies attended a conference called “Things That Are Eating US.” The president of the Zombie-American Coalition Embracing Fundamental Responses to Overt Negativity (ZACEFRON) addressed the brain-eating throng:

“As a zombie, I have I have witnessed the revulsion from people as we have just tried to coexist. We never asked for a place at the table–only the freedom to stumble around your cities at night. We are not here to frighten your children–but we do want them to stop pretending to be us.

As with so many things, the media is to blame. Now that we’re trendy, you would think some filmmaker would paint a true picture of zombie culture. But “Zombieland”? Really? Woody Harrelson from ‘Cheers’ is after us now? There’s a band called ‘The Zombeatles’ and they do a song called “Hard Day’s Night of the Living Dead”? How clever. People meeting up for ‘zombie pub crawls’?

This has to stop, non-people. We deserve respect.  At least vampires are occasionally given nuanced portrayals on film. And they’re shown living in Gothic mansions, while we are always seen living in some dingy graveyard.

We are not without a sense of humor. We tolerated your Halloween costumes and were even willing to laugh at the first couple of ‘Living Dead’ movies. But these portrayals of us are based on stereotypes, and they have led to fear and hatred.

The mainstream culture needs to realize that zombies are people, too—or, more accurately, were people. To trade in caricatures is unfair. Like most hatred, zombiphobia is rooted in ignorance. The living must realize, when they put on their blotchy makeup and tattered clothes, that somewhere there is a young zombie who’s afraid to come out of the grave because he doesn’t want to be ridiculed.

We can come together with our non-zombie friends. If only they knew how many of us live in their world, as accountants, telemarketers, Starbucks employees. Some of us have even chosen to hide our true selves to reach celebrity status in the land of the living. Kim Kardashian…Brad Garrett…Willem Dafoe…all undead Americans.

We, the zombies, are like the living in so many ways, and yet we are treated as second-class citizens. How many of us have tried to buy a nice townhouse, only to have the realtor run away screaming because we look different? How many of us have been prevented from exercising that most basic right, that of voting, simply because our limbs sometimes fall off? We still deserve a voice! Even now, In most states, a zombie is not even allowed to get a driver’s license!

It is true. We eat brains. But is that any stranger than eating liver? And while it’s true that we kill some of you, you end up rising from the dead and becoming…well, a zombie. And you have no memory that we killed you, so nobody’s the wiser.

Although we have come far as creatures, we have many slow, shuffling steps to go. Why are there no roles for zombies in any prime-time network shows? You’d think we’d be perfect for “Two and a Half Men,” but they went with a kid. Even reality TV—“Survivor”? I think a zombie could do very well on that show.

In closing, let me just say that we, the undead, will not stop with our brain-eating and what-not. But we demand more than brains. We demand equality. Where is our health-care plan? Why are they shooting us in the head, instead of trying to understand us? We are not so different from them. We WERE them, at least until they died and turned into us.”

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too much information

I know too much. Not in the counter-espionage, “I’m afraid you know too much, Mr. Dane, so we will have to eliminate you” sense, but in the sense that I know too much random, pointless information. For example, I know that the plastic thingy at the end of a shoelace is called an aglet. How is this useful? Unless I were to land a job in the fast-paced shoelace manufacturing industry (“I need that shipment of aglets by tomorrow morning or heads are gonna roll!”), there is absolutely no reason for me to remember this. Yet there it is, sitting on a shelf inside my head, there for me to access whenever I need it. Which would be never. But when I need to remember, say, the phone number of someone I promised to call—no, those seven digits are lost in the murky, pot-addled crevices of my brain—hidden, no doubt by ‘aglet’ and six other tiny, meaningless facts.

I’ve been reading trivia books since I was eight years old, which means I’ve been annoying friends and strangers for about forty years. In that time, I’ve told people that the Utah state bird is the California seagull, pointed out that Lincoln Logs were invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, and explained that Gerald Ford pardoned Robert E. Lee of treason. I know that Edison got a patent for a method of making concrete furniture, I know that Jethro Tull was a horticulturalist who invented the seed drill, and I know that White-Out was invented by the mother of one of the Monkees. I even know that Steven Stills auditioned to be IN the Monkees! It’s a sickness! Did you know a cricket’s ears are on its legs? Of course you didn’t—why would you need to?!

It would be different if I could turn this vast pile of scrap knowledge into something profitable. But it’s not like ‘smart guy’ is a job description. I don’t think you can be a professional Scrabble player. You might suggest I try out for Jeopardy, but the problem there is my personality. The first time Alex Trebek did one of his patronizing “no, sorry—we were looking for a Turkish naval battle—remember the category” comments, I would knock over my podium and kick his haughty Canuck ass.

So here’s my crackpot theory. Suppose, instead of using only ten percent of our brain’s capacity, there’s actually only a finite amount of storage on our cranial hard drives. I believe that the fact that I still remember my address from when I was in junior high and the name of the crazy waitress I had sex with in Omaha in 1987 means that I have two less places to store important things. How else to explain that, despite two years of college French, I can barely order a croissant, and yet I can tell you that the raised reflective markers on California freeways are called Bott’s Dots. Sure, I know that Al Capone’s business card said he was a used furniture dealer, but there’s apparently no room in my head for how to do basic plumbing, or even sew a button.

I understand that scientists are close to developing a drug that will allow you to erase certain memories. Well, I’ll be the first in line at Walgreen’s to fill my prescription. See, I think we’ve got artificial intelligence all wrong. Instead of trying to make machines think like people, we should be doing a little reverse engineering to make our brains more like computers. Specifically, we need a ‘delete’ key.

I’m not talking about some ‘Eternal Sunshine’/’Dollhouse’ total brain wipe, just the ability to selectively erase bits of information we don’t need anymore. At one time, it was important for me to know all the lyrics to “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero,” but now, not so much. With the brain delete key, you would be able to unclutter the space up there and make room for what you need now. It would be like defragging your head. That uncle tells you in way too much detail about his penile implant? Nod, smile, and then hit ‘delete’. Your best friend gets drunk and shares with you that he always thought your mom was hot? Delete! Delete! Delete!

I suppose knowing a bunch of random trivia isn’t the worst quirk a writer could have. Goethe could only write if he had a rotten apple in his desk, and Proust kept a pet swordfish. L. Frank Baum came up with the name ‘Oz’ when he was looking at a filing cabinet with —wait, I’m doing it again, aren’t I? Sorry.

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what if?

What if we’re wrong. And by ‘we,’ I mean…me, and the people who agree with me. For instance–as much as I might think fundamentalist right-wing narrow-minded racist misogynistic homophobes are idiots–what if I’m wrong. What if, when I depart this plane of existence, I am greeted by the real St. Peter–at a real gate, with a real clipboard in his hands-and he’s working through a checklist.

“Okay–pro-choice…that’s not good. Had sex with other men…that’s a big ‘no’. Believed that Christian doctrine is –and I’m quoting here–’a feel-good myth that keeps people weak and easy to manipulate and encourages right-wing narrow-minded racist misogynistic homophobia’–that is definitely not what we’re looking for. Off to the fiery pit with you.”

Or what if we’re wrong about the internet. What if, instead of being potentially infinite, there is actually a limit to the amount of, for lack of a better word, crap that can be posted to the web. What if, at some point, some blogger (or worse–a ‘Tweeter’) could post something entirely innocuous, and all of sudden, the internet is full. No more room. What if all that information basically crashed the whole thing–one nerd in his basement thinks “I should add some Flash animation to my website, then link my website to my Facebook page where people can see a link to my YouTube video–” and the whole thing goes kerflooey.

No more IMDB, no more Googling, no more email–talk about a good old-fashioned Christian apocalypse…the skies would be raining twenty-something middle-management lemmings jumping out of corner offices–the streets would be littered with Blackberries and Bluetooths (Blueteeth?). People would be forced to actually talk to each other.

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god’s press conference

I had a vision recently. I had been meditating, focus my energies on spiritual things, purging all thoughts of self and embracing the cosmos, and…smoking a little weed. Anyway, what came to me in this vision was the transcript of a sort of ‘press conference’ held by God. As God’s vessel, I was asked in this vision to relay the comments therein to all major media outlets (yes, God actually used the phrase ‘major media outlets’). What follows is what I remembered from this mystical communication…

“Before I take your questions, I have an opening statement and some new policies to announce, and I’d like to clear up some misconceptions. First let’s talk about what you call the ‘ten commandments’. Just so ya know, I drafted 613 of these, but most of you thought that was too many, so fine, I thought to myself, let’s focus on ten of them (but give it up to the Orthodox Jews for committing to all of them).

Now I thought you could handle ten, but clearly that was too much to ask, so if you’ll get out My book, we’ll cut the list down to some basics you might be able to handle. Hmmm…adultery—I can’t seem to stop that one; graven images—well, frankly there’s not as much of that going on as I thought there’d be—guess it was just the one time; My name in vain—hmmm…I suppose I’m over that one—even I swear—you should have heard Me after I created Limbaugh…look—how ‘bout we just say don’t kill, steal or lie and move on. And try not to lie about killing or stealing—that’s just pushing it.

Next—how did the universe start. Now Me, I figured you had more important things to worry about, but if you must know, here’s the deal. Your Earth rests on the back of a giant tortoise—kidding! If you must know, I was, metaphorically, sitting around one day, and I thought, sure I’m all-powerful and all-knowing, but what does that mean exactly? So, I created a life form that would question my existence, hoping that you would come up with some creative answers—I get kinda bored sometimes, and thought I’d see what you guys came up with. Oh sure I can keep creating things, destroying things, creating, destroying, blah blah blah…but you’re the only creation of mine that seems to like talking to me. I think it’s cute, and I feel a little less…alone.

Again—don’t push it. You don’t have to talk to Me about everything. And specifically—professional athletes—stop thanking Me for winning games—that’s all on you. if I’m the reason you won, doesn’t that mean that when you lose, you’ve let Me down? You really want to deal with that? And come on, if I were a sports fan, the Cubs would have won what you call the ‘World Series’ at least once in the last hundred years.

And I do NOT single people out and tell them to do things. And I certainly don’t tell people to kill people (duh—see above)! If one of you decides to, for instance, shoot a doctor at a clinic because you don’t believe in abortion, I had nothing to do with it–it’s all on you. Don’t tell people it’s My will. Please. If anything is gonna make Me come back and bring down some celestial whup-ass, it’s that. I’m just sayin’.

Now I’ve selected some questions from the many you have submitted—

  • Can You create something so large that You can’t move it?

Yes, but that would be stupid.

  • On Bewitched, who was the better Darren?

Obviously, Dick York.

  • When I do laundry, I always seem to lose one sock. Where does it go?

Unfortunately, you’re not really advanced enough beings to understand, but I will say that those missing socks all return to the laundry room–in some form.

  • Was there a Big Bang?

Not really. When I made everything, I did notice a sound, but it was more of a “whoosh” than a bang. I have no idea what caused it.

  • Is there anything You wish You hadn’t created?

Oh sure…Want the short list? Those little gnats that fly around all summer… Kansas…Charlie Sheen…and I have no idea what I was thinking with Ann Coulter.

  • Why do You allow innocent people to suffer?

That is an excellent question. I’m glad to have the chance to address it. You see, no one is more aware than I am of how many innocent people suffer. But what you don’t realize is the meaning behind all the needless suffering, the whole point, for example, of good people being killed and whatnot is that to really understand the background to this issue you have to look at the underlying issues, and–I’m sorry, but that’s all the time I’ve got—I hope I’ve answered some of your questions, and I’ll talk to you all again very soon. Thank you. Peace out.”

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who will bail out the superheroes?

It saddens me to report that our world, and indeede the universe, is a more dangerous place, now that the Justice League of America has disbanded. The ad hoc group of superheroes has filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection and will, for the immediate future, no longer be available to defend Earth from evildoers. According to a brief statement from their publicist, the New York based agency Hill & Knowlton, the League will be going through a ‘reorganization’ and plans to focus its energies on ‘sustainable growth.” President Obama has asked Superman to step down, and the remaining superheroes will have sixty days to work out a merger with British football club Manchester United.

Fortunately for Earth, a new group has formed which will be called the Collective of People with Unusual Abilities. This group intends to “strongly suggest that criminals stop,” and it vows to do “several quirky things which might at least in the short term prevent evil from destroying the world.” The CPUA has announced that they may be contacted by world leaders at their office on the second floor of the former offices of Pinnacle Bank in Beaverton, Oregon.

The Collective consists of the following:

accountant

Ten Key—able to enter over 12000 keystrokes per hour…he is called upon when confronted with multiple evildoers, and is able to determine within seconds the number of people who will be killed by the evildoers

the filer

The Filer—an uncanny alphabetizer, The Filer is able to quickly and efficiently determine whether a given evildoer has attacked Earth before

text girl

Text Girl—has the ability to text all of her friends about an upcoming attack, using only abbreviations

clock boy

Clock Boy—When he was eight years old, his parents took him to the U.S. Naval Observatory, where was accidentally exposed to a toxic dose of cesium from the atomic clock; since that fateful day, he has had the ability to determine the exact time without wearing a watch—here is a picture of him indicating that it is five o’clock

These four intrepid savants are our best defense in this scaled-back era. God speed the CPUA!

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