Monday, December 27, 2010

Begging for an Audience

I have a strong emotional reaction to begging. I always feel like I'm being manipulated and conned. And that's basically what begging is. It's a guilt trip to play on your natural sense of selflessness. I don't like being manipulated. Or, more specifically, I don't like noticing that I'm being manipulated. If someone can manipulate me without me noticing, it probably means I'm having a great time.

I don't have a 'great time' when I find people begging me to 'show support' for my local amateur theatre. It seems to me that if you're relying on charity then maybe you need to revisit your product. Maybe if I don't want to come along and you're begging me to 'do the theatre a favour' you need to ask why I don't want to come along in the first place.

It's a weird situation when part of your hobby involves needing an audience for it to go well and be satisfying. You don't have this sort of problem with RC aeroplane pilots or stamp collectors. You do need it for ballet, and theatre, and music. It's also somewhat helpful for sports. It lives in that strange twilight of something you do for fun and something that is done to create a product. In the case of theatre it also needs quite a bit of money to get started. Theatre space isn't cheap to maintain. A couple of dud shows in a row and you're in real trouble.

And of course a "dud" show isn't necessarily a bad one. It's just one that didn't get a decent audience. It may be extremely good and extremely well reviewed but if it's not getting bums on seats then what do you do? In your frustration, and with your faith in the product, what do you resort to?

Well, you beg.

Please come and see my Brechtian re-imagining of 'Milo and Otis'.

You get down on your hands and knees and scream "WHY WON'T YOU COME?"

But the problem is that this comes across as more than just a little bit selfish and pretty darn insincere to boot. 'Please give me charity so that I can enjoy my hobby'.

You wouldn't do that for your stamp collecting or your rock climbing. 'Hey! I'm trying to raise money for a set of ropes.'

But then, people do try it. People who love slouch biking or rowing or motor-cross, go on massive tours. They get charities involved and raise money for the ride. They get their trip sponsored by charity and get to ride until they're sick of riding. All on the dime of people's selflessness and with the promise that all the left over cash goes to the charity in question.

The squeaky wheel always gets the grease.

The selfish, manipulative thing that it is.

Me personally? Well you can't pander to my sense of responsibly to supporting the arts. I don't have one. Instead, excite me about the prospect of getting value for money. Enthuse me about the product. I had the director of a play take me aside and tell me that even though I didn't enjoy the last play she'd directed the sequel was, she imagined, right up my alley and that I'd be missing out if I skipped out on it and that worked so much better than any amount of appealing to my charitable side.

Plus I laughed more at her play than anything else I saw all year.

Image by Minassian Livingston

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Look at me

Everyone wants to be loved.

And most everyone is loved from the get-go. There's something about a tiny screaming lump of squished, purple human being that makes parents go shaky. Perhaps it's that the kid has selflessly taken on the screaming part of the process after a very difficult few hours on the part of the mother.

From that point on, we revolve around love. Being loved is what keeps us dry and fed. Eventually though, we hit puberty and start looking for another kind of love. Romantic love. This is the cause of most of life's frustrations. Unwanted, unrequited and unlasting. There's a plethora of pit traps to avoid. We're hard-wired to want new and exciting love rather than old and comfortable love. That rush of adrenalin, serotonin and a cocktail of other fun drugs flood our systems making us feel like Greek gods. All swanned up and ready to go.

But there's one sort of love that I've become addicted to. It doesn't last for long, but then it doesn't have to. It's the love you get when you step out on stage in front of sixty people and they all want to see you succeed. You make them scream with laughter and it's only for a second but it's pure and it's multiplied by the amount of people in the room. It's the thrill of knowing that everyone in that room, if only for an instant, wants to take you home and be your best friend forever.

One way to get that acclaim is to remove clothing. I've done it dozens of times and people lap it up. It's said that when a girl takes off clothing it's sexy and when a boy takes of clothing it's comedy. I can attest that in the boy's case this is true. Having a room full of people laughing at your semi-naked form is pretty darn intoxicating, and yet, it is tinged with sense of rejection.

Female performers have moaned that they feel over sexualised trying the same joke and that the double standards leave them feeling hard done by. Myself, I feel the same frustration at not being considered a piece of meat. I'd like to think that I have an attractive form but the old ego can take a hit when it hears how terrifying and comical an ordeal it is for people to witness me in my underpants.

Then I found something better.

I posed as an artist's model. It was intoxicating. For an hour and a half I stood or sat naked as an artist friend of mine made me feel like I was the most important object in the room. And not because I was clever. Not because I was funny. Purely because I was a beautiful object.

I read some rules about posing that stated that you're not supposed to look at the artist when they draw you but I stared at her as she looked at me and there is something extremely affirming about being glanced at 60 times a minute. It made me feel important and it made me feel beautiful and it made me feel cultured.

And now a picture of my cock.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

In defence of grocers and their grammar.

I quite like writing, and I like getting it right. The rules for the English language aren't the hardest in the world to learn but there are a lot of inconsistencies. We're told in grade 4 "i" before "e" except after "c" and yet the most commonly used word that has an "i" and a "e" is "their". This makes for a confusing introduction.

Then of course you've got your plurals and possessives. It is a delight of pedants to get nice and angry over the local fruit shop owner and his delight in writing "Avocado's". Perhaps, I always think to myself, he's making some sort of existential comment about his produce.

"Tangerines" is short hand for "Tangerines are available". Perhaps "Tangerine's" is short hand for "Tangerine IS". A claim to you, the potential purchaser, that tangerines exist and an attempt to excite and enthuse you with the recollection of its existence. With this in mind the local junk mail takes on a very "People's Republic" feel.

DVD IS.
CD IS.
BRAND NEW DVR IS!

Not a Nazi. Grammar nor otherwise.

There's one rule though, that always breaks me. I understand that "dogs" means multiple dogs, and that "dog's" can abbreviate "The dog is". ie. "The dog's surfing on the last segment on 'A Current Affair'". It can also mean it is possessive. ie. "the Dog's paws".

But use a possessive pronoun and it all falls apart. If "It is" then you can write "it's". That makes sense. But if "it" possesses something then you write "its". There's no frigging reason to not put an apostrophe! Why make such an arbitrary rule?

The dog's paws.
Its paws.

They both possess.

It doesn't make any sense. It is arbitrary and weird.

I mean wierd.

I mean...

DAMNIT!!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I can take it apart

There is nothing like a freshly serviced car with all its fluids topped up and everything in working order. And let me assure you that in my garage there is nothing like a freshly serviced car with all its fluids topped up and everything in working order.

This afternoon I removed a cornucopia of objects from my car. I've been driving around for months with what appeared to be a scale replica of the Jasmine Allen Estate covering the floor and seats of my vehicle. Papers, receipts and tissues I could ignore. It was the pair of metre long inflatable crocodiles that really inspired me to knuckle down and clean the damn thing out.

My back seat.

Everything in the back seat was supposed to be in the boot and everything in the boot was supposed to be in the bin. I pulled it all out, vacuumed an inordinate amount of soil out of the carpet and even replaced the light in the ceiling of the car. Now everything is in its place.

As I was finishing up I discovered that the rear right seat belt was busted. I'm sure we've all done the dance of gently teasing out the seat belt to ease it from its enclosure. Indeed I grew up around second hand Volvos so I've developed the delicacy and patience in my hands and fingertips that eventually lead me to be quite a successful lover.

Sadly, this seat belt was completely locked. It just wouldn't work. Now I've never been much of a car guy but I grew up with a lot of meccano and lego. If there's one thing that being a young boy has taught me it's that everything comes apart with screwdrivers and a set of wrenches.

But cars are tricky. Everything is layered upon everything else. The seat belt was under the speaker which was under the rear right panel, with was under both the rear panel and the right panel and the back seat. Simple, I thought...

  • Just undo the back seat
  • Remove the right panel
  • Remove the rear panel
  • Don't confuse the screws
  • Remove the rear right panel
  • Remove the speaker
  • Realise the speaker is plugged in
  • Unplug the speaker
  • Remove the speaker
  • Remove the belt mechanism
  • Discover that it's impossible to open the belt mechanism
  • Swear
  • Replace the speaker
  • Replace the rear right panel
  • Realise I've confused the screws
  • Swear
  • Replace the rear panel
  • Snap a plastic clip
  • More swearing
  • Replace the right panel
  • Do up the back seat

Easy. I may not have solved the problem but I do at least know that I can take that part of the car apart and put it back together with only two pieces left over. That's pretty darn good in my book.

And I can probably find where those pieces came from when I do it all again to reconnect the speaker that I forgot to hook up.

  • More swearing

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Painting over a Banksy

If Batman and Gary Larson had a baby it would be Banksy. (The logistical issue entailed make this an unlikely proposition) In the night Banksy swoops down and creates brilliant pieces of art and social commentary that make you laugh and think.

Of course his canvas is often public spaces and this means there's no security guards pacing around and grabbing you when you touch or lick the paintings. (They hate that, but if you've never tasted a Picasso you're missing out.) They're not safe and this becomes all too obvious when these masterpieces get painted over.

The destruction of Banksy's art often hits the news like it's some sort of great tragedy but I find it somewhat reassuring. My supposition is this...

The best art is transient.

Like a firework or the flight route described by a Monarch Butterfly. Try to capture that and all you have is ash and death. We humans are so terrified of our own mortality we're desperate to lock things down. To save them. To prevent them from changing. Taxidermy? Photographs? Detective Comics #27 encased in a mylar bag?

But everything falls apart. Everything is ultimately destroyed.

That's what makes it so precious.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pool games and how to die from them.

Long before video games and the Internet, children used to swim in pools. I was no exception. I'd strap on a pair of DTs and launch myself from the roof of the shed into 4 feet of water with nary a thought for my spine and/or skull.

Most kids would play games in their pools but swimming in our pool was always more of a science experiment. We'd run around the pool and create a powerful vortex. We'd experiment with waveforms with such enthusiasm that the pool would always need a refill of at least 20 centimetres. If we'd had access to an elephant you can be assured that we would have known its mass by the time the sun set.

The problem is that this is only an option for half the year. Only lawyers and doctors could afford heated pools. But, as it turns out our doctor was a family friend. My younger sister grew up with his daughters and so occasionally we'd get to fight back against nature and its wretched claws of Winter.
Brrr
I've heard it said that Australia doesn't have a class divide like in other countries. That there's something in our culture that prevents us separating along those lines but I know the truth. There are above-grounders, and there are in-grounders. Those uptight 'toffs' who are too good to suffer from the common man's problem of climbing the side of the pool and balancing their genitals on the dull rim of the pool edge before dropping into the water. THEY THINK THEY'RE BETTER THAN ME?!!

I digress.

So it was that we'd revel in the warmth of that pool. The heating system was quite clever. It was thick, strong bubble wrap that floated on top of the pool. As a child I assumed that the bubbles worked like tiny magnifying glasses, concentrating the sun's rays on the water. It was only considering this article that I realised that this wouldn't work at all because there wouldn't be additional heat. It would just be concentrated into tiny spots.

Turns out it basically works like a blanket, allowing radiant heat in and then preventing it from leaving by convectional means. You can buy huge sheets of the stuff and then cut it to fit the shape of your pool.

My mother, always on the lookout for a deal, snaffled up the offcuts to use on our pool. And so it was that our circular above ground pool became heated by a landscape of giant triangles of plastic. It looked like the Arctic ocean in the summer.

Sans Ice-breakers
There was a lot of horseplay around that pool and there were the occasional accidents. Most of mine tended to involve the last desperate struggles of a drowning bee and an immune system that was far too excited about being let out to play.

But one afternoon my mother decided it would be fun to lift me up and throw me into the pool fully clothed. I'm a pretty decent swimmer and it was only 4 feet of water. What wasn't considered is what would happen if I managed to flip as I hit the water and what if I hit the dead centre of the biggest triangle of bubble wrap?

I hung in the water, completely cocooned, bound up like a house fly in a spider's web. My arms were crushed up against my chest and my attempts to reach the surface and it's precious, precious air supply looked for all the world like a T-Rex doing doggy paddle. I inched upwards towards the light and finally breached into the tiny transparent cavern of air bubbles at the top of my own personal lamination.

I sucked in just enough air to pump out a desperate "elp!" before dropping straight to the bottom of the pool like a stone. I think it was at this point that my mother realised she'd inadvertently tried to murder her son. As my vision got dark I dimmly remember hearing a splash.

I was plucked out of the pool and unwrapped like a Nintendo cartridge on Christmas morning. (ie. with haste and the knowledge that I'd have to be forcefully blown into if I didn't work). I was cold, wet but I'd learned a valuable lesson.

No matter how much someone cares about you, they're probably going to kill you.


Photo: Mariko on beach by Mash Potato - Arctic Intersection by US Geological Survey

Friday, October 15, 2010

Stranger Danger

'Don't talk to strangers'.

From a very young age I knew that there was a broken logic to this. What sort of person constitutes a stranger? I'm supposed to be polite to people and ignoring them seemed distinctly rude. How old was a stranger? Should I not talk to people my age who I didn't know? How would I make friends? Should I not talk to their parents? What about kindly old ladies at the supermarket when I was lost? It all seemed a bit arbitrary and complex.

"What would a stranger do to me if they caught me?" I asked.

"They will cut off your toes" my mother said.

Quite a brilliant white lie if you don't want to have to answer the follow up question to the real answer, 'What's sodomy?'.

I liked my toes. What I needed to do was keep on the lookout for people who seemed the kind of deviant who might like to collect the toes of a six year old. I didn't know who that might be but I knew that I'd recognise them when I saw them.

My subconscious filled in the blanks. Every time I dreamt of being chased, it was by 'The Stranger'. His thick moustache. His padded red jacket. His dark sunglasses topped with a blue Terry Toweling hat. My legs wouldn't move. Alleyways would get more and more narrow. Dead ends would leave me trapped and yet unable to scream.

I would awake, gasping in the darkness, knowing that I'd be unable to get back to sleep without his terrifying moustache taunting me. In the future, I'd turn the light on and read until I could distract myself from the horror but for now I would just play the scene again and again in my head.

I picked up the 'reading' thing pretty early on and quite frankly, I got over it pretty quickly too. There's only so many 'Digger' books that you can read before you start to fantasise about 'Digger the dog' running out into traffic.

"Run Digger, Run!" *screech! Thud!*

It was early on a Thursday morning in 1983 and a roll of brown paper had turned up on our front steps.

"Ah-ha! It's here", my mother exclaimed and handed me the 30cm long package.

Inside were two issues of 'Whizzer and Chips'. A British comic for young children full of slapstick, puns and base humour. Suddenly all those months of mundane practice reading about that blasted dog had paid off. This was something worth reading. This was something I could get behind. This... was funny.
Only 8p. I didn't even know what that was, but still a great deal.
But aside from that, I had something to look forward to. Each Wednesday the newsagent would drive his jeep past the house and lob my beloved subscription into the front yard. Just like a newspaper but for kids.

There was a TV commercial at the time that portrayed a subscriber to the Courier Mail (that rag) as being in his garden when the paper was delivered. With a flying leap he managed to pluck the spinning newspaper out of the air as the delivery guy drove past. This image haunted me and I was entranced by the idea of replicating it with my comic.

I knew the delivery was in the late afternoon on a Wednesday. I staked out my position. I tried to figure out statistically where the most likely location for the drop would be. It was a big yard and there would only be a brief few seconds in which to prepare myself. Not an easy task for someone as easily distracted as myself.

I waited. I watched. I prepared. The growl of a car would focus all my energies. Kingswood, Volvo... And then, JACKPOT! A Jeep. It hurtled round the corner and screamed past. An arm whipped a cylindrical package towards me then paused to readjust a pair of dark sunglasses and a blue Terry Toweling hat.

A comic book dropped forgotten into the plush lawn.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Spitting out the apple

My friend @girlclumsy is constantly goading me for being an apple fanboy and I get the feeling that it's only going to get worse over the next few weeks while she gets used to her latest decision. I'd like to go on record to state that I do not like Apple.

In 2003 my mother decided that she wanted a new computer that could backup all the old home movies onto DVD. I knew just how tricky setting up a PC for video production could be and so I made the suggestion that she get an Apple Mac.

From what I understood this would be the perfect setup. It would work straight out of the box and (more importantly) I had no idea how it worked so she'd have to bail up someone else for help when it inevitably screwed up, and she did.

I remember playing with her mac for the first time. Text was the biggest frustration. That bloody Command/Control key problem. They're switched in their locations on the keyboard. But of course that's a problem with retraining the wetware, not the hardware.

Those first few weeks were frustrating though. I felt like I was trying to drive a sports car through a cow paddock, and in some ways I was. But then something odd happened. Things just worked. I'd plug in some device and it would recognise it immediately. I'd try to set up something tricky only to discover it only took clicking a button. Everything just worked.

I was still tied to my PC though, and it was all set up like I wanted. Then I bought the video game 'Myst Uru'. My computer suited the requirements on the box. There was no reason it should not have worked, but there was so much rampant piracy on the PC that they'd created a system that prevented copies from being made, and this system was fundamentally flawed.

I installed that damned game over 20 times trying to get it to work. One time I managed to get far enough that the character could walk around in a totally black environment before crashing. After a week of clicking and waiting and cursing I'd finally had enough. "F#$@ this for a game of soldiers" I cried, "I'm getting a Mac".

And I did, and it was good. My music listening habits completely changed thanks to a new ipod and I got my hands on Photoshop. I was moving up in the world. I got an apple sticker in the pack so I proudly whacked it on the back of my 1979 Volvo. It was a bit strange that whenever I travelled with the device I effectively doubled the value of the car.

Everything worked straight out of the box. I didn't have to spend hours putting together equipment nor tracking down drivers. I was very happy and I wanted to share my happiness. I also found myself much more angry and vocal whenever I had to deal with Windows XP. "Why the f#$@ would anyone put themselves through this pain?"

I loved the experience of not using Windows. There were so many fewer problems. But that's not the same as loving Apple. I don't want to belong to a cult. That implies that I trust Apple, and I don't trust them as far as I can throw them. Their business practices are controlling and manipulative.

If I were to make a switch I'd have to find a way to export all my music settings and info. I'd have to get Photoshop running again (possibly having to buy another version). When it comes down to it, I'm trapped in a gilded cage.

I like using my Apple computer, but I don't like Apple and I'm not a fanboy, and when it comes down to it, people who define themselves by what computer they prefer to use...

Well that's just really, really lame.

Now if you'll excuse me I've got a sticker to peel off my car.

Monday, October 4, 2010

You punched a girl in the face?

Doesn't it make you angry?

The young girl with a head full of dreams wanders out knowing that this is her big chance to gain all the validation that her daddy never gave her. She sings and the crowd applauds. The judges tell her smiling, "Sorry dear, you just don't have what it takes. It really is very terrible. There are no words for how awful that was."

She mouths "No, please" as the tears rush forward. It's all she's thought about since the first day she saw the audition notice. All the way along she was supported and her dreams seemed closer and closer. Now, at the last hurtle he's cast her aside like a poorly aimed fishing rod.

The bastard. What a horrible prick. He could have at least sugar-coated it. Here, look how horrible he was. I'll load up Youtube and show you.

Doesn't it make you angry?

The matt-orange oompha-loompha from the shores of Jersey. She's all dosed up on alcohol and rage. Mouthing off, making problems. Another patron is fuelled with rum and POW! Clocks her in the face. Whoa! What an arse-hole. Look! Watch the slow-mo version. Isn't it horrible?

Doesn't it make you angry?

That self absorbed nightmare gets everything she wants and she's still not happy. She didn't want a brown pony, She wanted a black pony. Not a Porsche, an Esprit. Yes, this exact model and colour of car but not early. Poor little princess wanted it during her party when all her friends will be around to be jealous.

What a bitch!

I'm so bloody indignant!

And it works. It makes you angry. The bait was set and now you're in the trap. You've been emotionally engaged and they did it all for you. Kyle Sandilands, "Dicko" Dickson, Simon Cowell. They didn't start out like that. They worked hard to adopt that attitude of bile and vitriol. If they were nicer you might hate them less, but you wouldn't get to enjoy the rush of getting indignant.

I am being entertained!
These situations are manipulated to get the most emotionally charged situation they can. The more offensive the characters, the more you can hate them and the more invested you are in their story. They can't stop it. They were specifically chosen for the role and put in a position where all their worst attributes would bubble up.

The camera man will watch a fight break out and think 'Great. This footage is gold'.

The editors will see the girl run offstage trying desperately to put her love back in the box and think 'That's going in.'

The directors will watch the angry douche-bag character tip over a table and think 'That's the perfect point in the narrative arc for this'.

It's their job. They get paid well and they'd have to give that all up to make a stand.

You, on the other hand, only need to press the off button. They make this for you. They torture these people emotionally for you. Like an ancient roman at the colosseum.

The question you need to ask yourself is this. If you were the only person in the audience and you were asked if you'd like to watch someone get bullied for your entertainment, would you say 'yes'?

Because make no buts about it. If you watch these shows you may as well have punched that girl in the face yourself.

...and that's what makes me angry.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pizza Trap

I'm always mindful of being caught up in the trap of brand allegiance. Getting caught up in the cult of any one product just means that you're putting your decision making skills to the side and letting someone else make your mind up for you and that 'someone else' tends to have less than selfless motives.

I don't have a favourite tomato sauce, I always choose the cheapest milk, and I'm always looking for computer tech that works better than apple products. One day I may find it.

One of the few places I stumble is on cheap-arse takeaway pizzas. I've tried Eagle boys. I've tried Dominos. I always end up back at Pizza Hut. Maybe it's the fact that my first dining memories were of my family all dressed nicely and sitting patiently at the Pizza Hut restaurant. (remember those?)

I only really choose Pizza Hut when I simply don't have the motivation to make it all from scratch and coincidentally enough, it was a scratch that turned out to be the thorn in my paw. A scratch, there's the rub. For Pizza Hut set aside $10 million towards a scratch-and-win promotion.

You could buy a lot of grease for that.
So the card specified that there was a 1 in 84 chance of winning so I was pretty darn pleased when I managed to scratch off all the panels and find 3 x $5 prizes. So, off to Pizza Hut to claim my prize? Not so fast. You can't just rock on up. No. You've got to post the ticket down the Victoria. Dang! That's 60c out of my potential winnings.

Imagine how many people won, only to decide that all that effort isn't worth $4.40. Looks like Pizza Hut plan on keeping a big chunk of that $10 million they've put aside. But blow them. I'm not going to be beaten. I've got envelopes and stamps lying around. I'll be damned if I'll let them get away without paying me my $5.

Yep I'm going to seal up the ticket in an envelope and...

NOT SO FAST!

Because a quick read of the small print specifies that you've got to include the logo from the pizza box. Oh, the one that's already in the bin? Right. Fine. I'll dig through my bin to grab the logo. It's not worth $4.40 but this stopped being about the cash long ago.

Right. Ticket, scratched. I didn't scratch off the 'void if removed' panel. The address is correct. Done. This ticket is heading down south and they'll have to post me my cold hard cash...

Except that's illegal. They won't be sending cash. They're going to send me a damned cheque for $5. It'll cost almost that to drive to my bank.

FINE!

I'll do it. For $2.50 in petrol and a 60c stamp I shall not let these sons-of-bitches win.  That remaining $1.90 will be all the sweeter for the fact that I'll have taken their stinking money. I'll have run their gauntlet and beaten their brilliant plan to offer $10 million while actually sending out 'Fuck all'.

Ticket scratched. 3 x $5. Logo from bin. Addressed. Sealed. Sent. Done.

Now to just sit back and wait for the letter from Pizza Hut. And arrive it does. I hastily slit it open to enjoy the fresh scent of a letter that points me to this phrase on the ticket.

Only scratch 3 panels, dummy.
So because I scratched off all nine windows instead of just three (like every single other scratch ticket in the universe), I am not eligible for the prize.

If you do have three identical values on your card the chances are
(3/9)*(2/8)*(1/7)
or
(1/3)*(1/4)*(1/7)
which equals
1 in 84

Sound familiar?

So each frigging card has a winning combination. They could have just made every 84th card a prize-winning card but instead they've got a system that tricks people into screwing up their entry. And this means that even though 83 in 84 properly scratched cards don't win that still counts towards their "$10 Million to play for."

That means that if everyone plays correctly and everyone goes through the hoops to claim their prize they still only have to pay $120,000 in prizes.

I didn't even realise there was a competition until after I'd eaten my pizza. I certainly didn't use it as a reason to select Pizza Hut over the competitors. But you know what? This whole experience has left a very bad taste in my mouth and I'm thinking about the fact that Pizza Capers is only a minute or two more up the road.

So congratulations Pizza Hut. Your brilliant scheme to excite your customers has destroyed one of the very few brand allegiances I've ever had.

And just consider yourself lucky that I didn't scratch off $10,000s instead of $5s

Friday, September 24, 2010

Emoti-concerns

Discworld author Terry Pratchett once said that anyone who uses more than two exclamation marks is a psychopath. I've always subscribed to that school of thought and it occurred to me recently that I have developed a number of other rules in my own personal style guide.

One that was pointed out to me recently by the often imitated but never duplicated Girl Clumsy is that instead of writing an ellipsis as dot dot dot, I would always write comma dot dot. It's like I had to decelerate into the pause for fear of giving the reader whiplash.

I read a brilliant text about punctuation titled 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves'. It puts into black and white how punctuation has traditionally been used, but what it doesn't state, is how it is currently used. The web is a dynamic landscape and  we're suddenly trying to communicate subtleties to an audience who prefer, what can only politely be referred to as, large brush strokes.

How to put forward the notion that we're being gently ribald and sarcastic and not simply being tactless and plain-spoken?

Enter the emoticon.

In the early eighties Scott Fahlman typed the first ascii visage and turned the facial expression on its ear. Suddenly you could quickly and easily explain if you were happy :) sad :( or wished to infer that the recipient was, metaphorically, a part of the male genitalia 8===D

You could also, if the fancy took you, make a sarcastic comment. While the text medium was plain and obvious, tagging a comment with :P to infer a friendly tongue poke could disarm a potentially hostile comment. Of course, this, as was pointed out by the aforementioned Girl Clumsy with the phrase "You and your fucking sarcastic emoticon", would only go so far. Some would say that there is a little truth in every joke and you can't really get away with saying "And thus finishes a comprehensive list of your many flaws :P"


All in all I learned to simply not make sarcastic comments in text.

Now the emoticon removed a lot of problems, but it also created a few of its own. Most emoticons end up down the tail end of a sentence and the default use is to simply replace the period with the emotion. It can get confusing when dealing with question marks but the most frustrating thing is what to do when making an aside in the text and then finishing that aside with an emoticon.

An aside can be created simply by putting a comment in a set of parentheses (Just like this). But what if I wanted to put a smiley face at the end of the aside (Like this :) )?

What the hell has happened there? I wanted to put a simple smiley but now it's far too happy at having a light bulb jammed in its throat. What if it's a frowny face (Like this:() Even ditching the question mark it still looks like a frog.

Well I'm solving this problem right here and now. From this point on an emoticon officially replaces periods, question marks and exclamation marks. It also replaces the closing parentheses mark. Want to put an emoticon in the middle of the sentence? Too frigging bad! You shouldn't be writing run-on sentences anyway.

"And what of the interrobang?" I hear you ask. You know what? You can fuck right off you typographic hipster douche-bag! The interrobang serves no purpose that a simple question mark followed by an exclamation point can't. Indeed to really add emphasis to your exclamatory question you can even add two.

But never three.

That would be the sign of a psychopath wouldn't it?

WOULDN'T IT?!!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How to go to sleep

Sleep is something that should be easy. We need it to survive and pretty much every animal does it in one way or another, but we 'storytelling apes' live in an increasingly artificial environment. We evolved a response called 'stress' to deal with dangers. It allows us to boost our body processes for short bursts and survive more effectively.

The problem starts when our day to day lives involve more and more perceived danger. It's no longer pythons and cheetahs. It's emotional danger like job loss, traffic or work responsibilities that you really, really need to have a good night's sleep behind you in order to get them done.

Sleep is not something you are supposed to do when you're being attacked by cheetahs but our dumb bodies can't figure out the difference between that sort of stress and the stress of knowing that you need sleep but not being able to trip the trigger and fire off to the land of Nod.

Not all insomnia is caused by stress but I'm sure everyone reading this has had at least one moment where they've wanted to yell at them self "WHY WON'T YOU SLEEP?"

Poor Technique
On the occasions that I've had difficulties sleeping I've had the curious notion that getting to sleep involves figuring out the trick. Finding the switch that knocks you out. Each night you have to figure it out anew because as soon as you solve the problem you fall dead asleep before you can put the solution into short term memory.

This is clearly nonsense.

But I did find a trick. It worked for me every one of the dozens of times I've used it. I found myself with too many ideas in my head to settle and was having trouble clearing my mind. I offered this method to a friend who has quite bad insomnia. She said that it worked well for her for quite a lot longer than most other tricks but eventually became less effective as time went by.

Your mileage may vary.
I imagine a stone egg. Like an ostrich egg but made out of dark rock. It sits upright on top of an opaque, still liquid. (Yes I know it sounds stupid and hippy)
A light tan liquid starts to make its way up the egg, making it's way to the top. The liquid slowly coats the egg and represents your restfulness. As you feel more restful the cloak of liquid makes its way up the egg. Don't force it. Let it naturally climb up with your restfulness. If you start to feel more awake let the liquid drop down. The covering should match your restfulness. Eventually the liquid will reach the top of the egg forming a liquid tan shell over the top.
That's the first step. You should now feel totally restful. Now begin to imagine a second covering climbing up the egg. This time it's black liquid. This represents your unconsciousness. That feeling of blacking out. It will climb much slower and your more likely to jump back out of your mental state. Just let the black drop back down and the tan ooze back down the egg. Reassure yourself that it's okay to go backwards.
The goal is to get the black ooze to make it's way around 3/4 of the way up the egg and keep it there. Like the egg is wearing a trench-coat but you can still see it's head.
The hard part is making sure to concentrate on the egg and not let your other thoughts intrude on the exercise. But because it's not boring and you have a goal it's much more effective than counting sheep.
Good luck and sweet dreams, you delicious monkey.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The clothes that make the man... an asshole.

What you wear on your chest says a lot about who you are as a person. A low cut top suggests that your self worth is wrapped up in your sexuality. A tie suggests that you prefer to suffer for the delight of others. A fish tie suggests the reverse. A simple white t-shirt suggests that you have no imagination or possible excessive imagination when it comes to visualising yourself as a 1950s greaser.

If you really want to be obvious you can wear a t-shirt with text on the front. This reduces the ambiguity of the message. A t-shirt that says 'Female Body Inspector' or 'Amateur Gynaecologist' may just as well say 'I'm quite partial to date raping you'. A t-shirt that reads 'Porn str' may just as well say 'Targt'.

A simple solution

If you're buying a gift for someone and you're thinking about a novelty t-shirt try to consider whether the joke works as well on a t-shirt as it does in a racy email.

I once received a gift from my new girlfriend at the time. She knew I had a big hang up about Marijuana use but I'd also made a comment about how the letter 'J' was my favourite letter. She found a t-shirt that had a smiley face with a joint hanging out of it's mouth that read 'Have a nice J'. I figured at the time that she had just not thought it through, although in hindsight I realise she was probably a sociopath. I stopped wearing this shirt outside because the oddest people would walk up to me and comment loudly and politically about my excellent choice.

The next one was a promotional t-shirt. My grandmother got her hands on a free shirt that had an enormous drill on the front of it and read 'I've got a powerful tool'. Out of the ten grandchildren (six of them male) she chose me to gift it to. Being that she is one of the dozen or so women to have actually seem my genitals (albeit when I was aged two) I could choose to see this as a flattering comment but the message it sends as a piece of clothing is closer to 'I AM a powerful tool'.

The final one was a tricky one. It took me a while to twig as to the implications. I enjoy Family Guy and one of my favourite moments was when I first realised it was an adult show with blow job jokes.

DIAMONDS.

She'll pretty much have to.

The problem is that I was so excited that the shirt had a joke I loved on it that I failed to realise that the message I was sending was, "I am a chauvinist and I like to control women" and that's something that, ironically, I'd prefer to keep close to my chest.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cross

I was a guest at a wedding on Saturday. It's not common for me to go to church because it generally makes me angry. I've trained myself to notice when I'm being emotionally manipulated and so a church service sends up red flags like a communist golf course.
The most impressive piece of manipulation was the crucifix. Christ has always been portrayed as suffering for our sins. Hanging limply from the brace of one of history's most horrific execution devices.
I can't help but feel that this church romanticised the experience a little.
I can't WAIT to be crucified!
I've always found it to be a macabre sort of logo. The Jesus Fish was, I felt, a decent attempt at rebranding although it didn't really take. I guess the idea that the magic trick of multiplying fish is seen as less impressive than that of absolving the sins of mankind.
And that's what it was all about, right? Jesus dies so that mankind's sins are absolved. Jesus goes to hell and we go to heaven in his place. But he didn't, did he? He came back after three days.
Not even three days. He died after 3pm on the Friday and he was back up and out of the cave before dawn on the Sunday. That's... what? Less than 37 hours? And then he ascended bodily to heaven to live forever and ever at God's side.
So 37 hours in hell by Mr J. O'Nazareth is enough to account for all the sins in the world? Even the murders and the rape and the genocide? All Hitler had to do was accept Jesus into his heart on his deathbed and then BAM! Absolved. Is that an eye for an eye?
If so, I guess we can conclude that:
A) Jesus was really really valuable and/or Hell is very, very nasty indeed
or
B) Someone upstairs is much better at writing up contracts than everyone else downstairs.
But that doesn't make any sense because where would the lawyers end up?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fingered

The anus is a magical thing.

The human body has an opening at the top and an opening at the bottom. It's like a tall, complex, meat donut. The mouth opens and closes with the very obvious jaw mechanism. The other end though, is pure poetry.

A circular muscle. There are over 50 sphincters in the human body but the one with which we are most familiar with is the anus. It can close completely shut or dilate to a size that, on some websites, can put the good old, vaginal baby shoot to shame.

It is, most would concur, an 'out' hole. Pleasant company is happy with 'in' holes. The mouth, the nose. But 'out' holes are generally avoided in polite conversation. Even the 'out' process of 'in' holes is seen as 'a bit icky'.

The problem is that a lot of medical problems can be diagnosed with a careful swipe of a knowledgeable finger in the right orifice. Men my age know that in half a decade or so they're going to have to start having quite an intimate relationship with their GP.

I imagine there are women out there saying 'Tough bollocks, Dan' and rightly so. They've had to deal with flattened boobs and metal ducks since they were in their early twenties.

Quack Quack Quack
(Don't come back)

But there's a lot of reservation out there. A man's anus is his castle.

My castle has been under siege my entire young life. I have a condition called RAP or Recurring Abdominal Pain. It rarely bothers me now but was a thorn in my side while I was growing up. I've had all sorts of invasive procedures and any number of manly calloused fingers travelling the road less travelled.

The big one though, was the barium enema. In order to get an x-ray of 'the lower third' you need to line the area with a metal fluid. Basically, you lie down on your side and a hose is lubed up and then inserted. A milky white, viscous fluid is squeezed down their pipe and up yours.

After a few minutes of this they need to force it further up the canal so they pump air up there. Having my colon inflated is truly one of the strangest experiences I've ever had. The doctor turned to me and explained what was going to happen then followed it up with the line...

"They say this is what Mary Poppins feels when she flies around on her umbrella."

I imagine he was trying to lighten my mood and make me feel a little better but it's really not the best of jokes. I guess he keeps the top shelf gear for the cancer patients.

And I just get left with the bottom shelf.

photo by PKMousie

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Green with Envy

When I was five, each Friday evening my mother would drive to the local bowls club and pick up my father. They’d hang around and laugh and have a few crisp drinks of ice cold (and horrible tasting) beer and my brother and I would be given full access to wander around the bowls club. The only rules were...

  • Don’t leave the bowls club grounds.
  • Don’t step onto the bowling green. The bowling green is the most important part of the bowls club. It is not for silly games. Never, EVER stand on it.

This gave an enormous amount of freedom and yet our favourite game was always to walk around the very edge of the green, not quite falling into the trim, manicured grass. One step from danger. The grass looked like uniformed army cadets. Measured, straight and carefully groomed. Once a week they’d be pressed.



None of these taste any good to a five year old.

When the sun went down we’d explore every corner of the interior but the thing that fascinated me was the ceilings. The club had that off-white puffy surface that kind of looked like sprayed on concrete and kind of looked like marshmallow. It appeared to be specially designed to absorb the sick, sticky cigarette smoke that climbed the walls and nested above us.

I’d stare up at that texture befuddled by how anyone could find out what it felt like. It looked alluring. It looked like the sort of surface that could hold you, absorb you and nurture you.

Eventually, many years later, I found a similar texture on a low ceiling. What once seemed far away was finally within reach. I hesitantly reached out and pushed into the marshmallow surface, but it was rock hard.

And slightly sticky.

Today I stopped off at the old bowls club. The building is still occasionally used by a bridge club but the greens have fallen into disrepair. The blades of grass claw upwards like rebellious, leather jacket wearing bikers. Bristly weeds dot the field.

I stopped at the edge and looked out into the ruins of the forbidden green. I guiltily looked around, then walked out into the centre.

Forget your motorbikes. Forget your leather jackets.

I stand on the grass.

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