A Meeting of Great Minds

As a homebound basement scrivener, I take any and all opportunities to get out with people in the neighborhood. Being self-employed is great—no bosses, no shaving, I can watch “The Office” and laugh instead of cry—but it has many downsides, one of which is the isolation and the voices it tends to breed in your head. The voices that say that everyone you meet on the street is a robot except one, and that person must be eliminated with extreme prejudice.

Fortunately, I’m surrounded by people in like circumstance (except for the voices, I think), and also by people who love to drink. So just about every Wednesday, a group of neighborhood dads jump on their bikes after the kids are in bed and hit a local gin mill for a couple hours. (Actually, now that everyone’s kids are basketball-playing preteens instead of toddlers, it’s harder for most of us to get out.) I’m fortunate because it’s just like being a member of the Dad’s Club at the local parish without actually being Catholic and everything that entails.

Last night was a smallish group. A professor of Middle Eastern history, a trust specialist, an importer of car parts, and a basement scrivener (me). Here’s what we talked about, in rough order:

• heating bills, including a $12K bill for the church this month
• insurance, with horrible medical stories accompanying
• Olympic sex scandals and figure skating (one guy knew WAY too much about this for anyone’s comfort)
• Foreign toilets
• The word dickshine

I must take credit for the last topic, since that was how I described a local TV reporter showing all us dopes about the ins and outs of curling. To my surprise, no one at the table had ever heard of it. Is this truly some regionalism from southern Michigan, or a dated term that expired after I got out of high school?

An incredibly useful perjorative, dickshine refers to a useless yet self-important stooge of some kind, too insecure to be mean (unless in imitation of someone meaner) and too inconsequential to worry about. By this definition, just about every television journalist you’d ever meet would be a dickshine.

Comparing it to a Chicago regionalism, a dickshine is similar to a jagoff in many respects, except that a jagoff has enough initiative to make your life miserable if necessary, while a dickshine can only succeed in bringing annoyance.

I’m not sure that dickshine is related to the term dickweed. It might just be a city/country variation.

Dickshine definitely does not have any connection to fellatio, either giving or receiving. In fact, since one of the qualifying factors of being a dickshine is annoyingness, this might preclude sexual success altogether.

Closest synonym: piss boy. See Brooks, Mel, History of the World, Part II.

Etymological insights from readers are welcome.

Hot Fun(dies) in the Sun

Andrew Sullivan had a couple of great links since yesterday. Since it’s the middle of winter and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue hasn’t hit the stands yet, a little taste of HOT summer fun is just what the doctor ordered.

So if you like your red hot mamas of the Christian variety, check out the latest pix from the swimwear maker WholesomeWear.

Or, if you go for something a little more exotic, check out the latest from Down Under with Ahiida Swimwear!!

Who says we can’t all get along?

More from Disney-Monde!

Here’s some more copy from the aborted brochure for EuroDisney. For more, see yesterday’s blog entry. Warning: Snarky jokes about French history and culture ahead!


Named after Mariane, the glorious feminine symbol of our country, Mariane-Land celebrates all the splendor and vitality that is France. Experience those thrilling moments of French history and culture that have earned it a place at the head of all nations.

Storm the Bastille!
— Relive the excitement of the first days of the French Revolution, as you are tossed into a rat-infested dungeon as a traitor to the crown, tortured for intelligence reasons, then liberated by your comrades in arms. But if you find out you’ve allied with the wrong faction, don’t lose your head!

Napoleon’s Waterloo Water Park — More than just Europe’s premiere waterpark, this is an entertainment tidal wave! Splash your way through to the front line, as water cannons explode around you and British soldiers lunge at you with bayonets. Make it all the way through the defenses and see if you can unhorse Wellington! EXTRA ADDED ATTRACTION: The Dien Bien Flume — This fantasy water ride through French-occupied Vietnam begins with a leisurely ride through the beauties of colonial Saigon and leads to surprise water attacks by Ho Chi Minh’s battle boys.

WWII Surrender Ride — Climb into your very own replica German tank and roll through the scenic French countryside uninterrupted into Paris! This scale model will show you the splendors of the City of Lights, which the Parisians will hand over to you without your even firing a shot. (Don’t worry if the line for this ride is long. You’ll get through it fast — it’s a Maginot line!)

Hall of Heretics — Joan of Arc is your guide through this Animatronic salute to religious diversity in France. Meet the Huguenots, the Albigensians, the Jansenists and others as they tell their side of the story. Special pyrotechnics show twice daily.

The Sun King
— Full menu. Dine in regal splendor and toss your scraps to the peasants.

Let Them Eat Cake — Pastries, petit fors, and baked goods.

The Dreyfus Deli — Sandwiches, delicatessen food.

Catherine Deneuve Allure-O-Mat
— Discover all that is Deneuvean. From parfum to rouge, she’s got it all.

My favorite bit is the Dien Bien Flume, but I’m pretty sure that was Todd’s joke.

From the Vaults

With the time I spend bouncing around the house and fussing around and generally NOT writing, one might assume that my office would be as neat and tidy as something depicted in a furniture catalog. But as Felix Unger once pointed out, when you ASSUME, you….you…what was it again? These mnemonic tricks always stump me. I used to keep a list of them around, but then I forgot where I put it.

Anyway, since my new VAIO can only use floppy discs as shims or drink coasters, I decided to go through all of my old 3.5 inch disks and see if there was anything worth keeping on them. Many documents were backed up, but in back-up formats long forgotten, so I’m thankful that I wasn’t too clever back then, or too confident in my tech abilities, because this leaves me with some documents I can actually read. (A touch of nostalgia: Geez, remember when your file names could only be eight letters long? Ever try to decipher what PIRREVBK means 12 years later?)

While I’m thankful to have them, the gratitude doesn’t stretch to actually reading them. Man, my files are choked with some really really lame ideas. I keep them because of my taste for oddities, or my roleplay as the caretaker of some nickel museum full of Cardiff giants and Feejee mermaids. But, as poet Marvin Bell says, “The good stuff and the bad stuff are all part of the stuff. No good stuff without bad stuff.” Man, is that a turn of phrase or what?

One piece does still crack me up, even though my collaborator Todd Grove and I beat the jokes into the ground like we’re battling zombies in a horror movie. We almost sold this idea to SPY Magazine, but I can’t remember if they backed out or went under before it saw the light of day. Anyway, this is a parody of catalog copy for the new Disney park that opened in France back in the early 90s. (I should point out that at the time of the article, French-bashing was merely the realm of desperate comedians, not desparate politicians and pundits.) Here is an excerpt:

Cover copy:
Coming in 1992 — DISNEYMONDE !!!
The Happiest Place On Earth Comes to the Most Civilized Country in Europe!!

Inside copy:
Mickey and his pals are known and loved by people the world over. So after Florida’s DisneyWorld in the 1970s and Tokyo’s DisneyLand in the 1980s, where’s the best place to spread their joy next? Mais oui, but of course — France! Now you can visit all your favorite characters in a setting that mixes the famous Disney hospitality with that particular je nais c’est quoi that is French culture.

The French know well the darker side of life — we wrote the book on it!! But just because mankind is involved in a fruitless search for meaning in an illusory world under the shadow of oblivion doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy ourselves. Dive into France’s intellectual mainstream of the 20th century and find out how much fun angst can be!

It’s a Small, Bleak World — At DisneyMonde, nothing is quite so memorable as this trip through the nations of the world. And “nothing” is what it’s all about! Dolls from all over the world will sing songs in their native languages about our brief, puzzling lives and the fruitlessness of human striving.

No Exit Ride — Sartre told us that Heck is other people. But is life just an endless series of meaningless situations that we can never escape? You bet! On the No Exit Ride, you’ll shoot down a featureless black tunnel that appears to have no escape other than death. But does it? You’re probably “dying” to find out!

Huck Finn’s Left Bank — Marvel on this wonderful Animatronic cruise that brings together the literary lights of the Lost Generation and the beloved characters of Mark Twain’s America. See Hemingway duke it out with Injun Joe. Watch Huck Finn and Scott Fitzgerald stage a drinking contest. Listen to Gertrude Stein, Becky Thatcher and Alice B. Toklas sing “A Friend is A Friend is A Friend.” The Louisiana Purchase was never so vibrant.

The Nausea Cafe — Bread, coffee and too many cigarettes.

The Josephine Baker Cafe — Full menu of exotic dishes, served by the famous “Singing Orphans.”

Crazy Horse Saloon — An exciting new branch of Paris’ most famous burlesque show. Watch for the Tinkerbell Review every day at 8:30 pm. And at midnight, bring your hankies to the Piano Bar for the Edith Piaf sing-along.

Tomorrow: More joy from Disney Monde!! Bon soir!


I’ve written too much about intelligent design on this blog. That will slow down soon, if only because I don’t feel much like wrestling with a pig. That which is barely worth discussing is almost not worth mocking. Almost.

A friend sent along an AP article about the Roman Catholic position on ID, elucidated in their official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

The author, Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna, laid out the scientific rationale for Darwin’s theory of evolution, saying that in the scientific world, biological evolution “represents the interpretative key of the history of life on Earth.”

“This isn’t how science is done,” he wrote. “If the model proposed by Darwin is deemed insufficient, one should look for another, but it’s not correct from a methodological point of view to take oneself away from the scientific field pretending to do science.”

Intelligent design “doesn’t belong to science,” he wrote.

“It only creates confusion between the scientific and philosophical and religious planes.”

Don’t have to get much clearer than that. I went to Catholic schools for 12 years, and while I have problems with some church teachings, my education was top notch. And I remember one very, very crazed priest–the kind whose very intensity and mania made you physically afraid to be near him–with a very 17th century mind, who told us impressionable freshmen, flat out, “The Bible is not a book of science, or of history. It is a book of faith.” Then he’d start acting out scenes from British POW movies, doing all the parts himself. His point was clear, and maybe our fear helped us remember it.

My favorite part of the article, though, was this:

The article echoed similar arguments by the Vatican’s chief astronomer, Rev. George Coyne, who said intelligent design isn’t science and has no place in school classrooms.

Who’d’ve thought the Vatican had a chief astronomer? Is that strictly a sinecure, left over from the days of Galileo? Does the Vatican need an astronomer for more practical purposes, say, a space program? Does the Vatican have eyes on space?

A word to the wise: when Mel Brooks filmed “History of the World” and the segment on “Jews in Space”, it was fiction.

The Refined World of Letters

I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, “To hell with you.” – Saul Bellow

Dry Ink

Always watching...always watching....
Tell me again why I wanted to become a writer?

Today, I finished the first draft of a book that I think might have a huge audience. A book whose conceit, when I explain it to people, elicits broad smiles and moans that can be translated as “Damn, I wish I’d thought of that!” Of course, it’s only a first draft, and I’m not sure I can really make it work as well as my instincts tell me it should, but still, it’s done. I have a first draft now, and I can hammer and pull and prod and snip it to my heart’s content.

Feelings of accomplishment today? Nada. Bupkis. Zilch. Whatever funny word you can come up with meaning “zero.”

I tell myself, first drafts always suck. They’re just first drafts. They’re supposed to suck.

I tell myself, hey, you created something out of nothing. You persevered instead of quitting.

I tell myself, all writers hate their first efforts, and all the good ones are unsatisfied with their work even after the work is published.

Now, I can already hear the voice of Livia Soprano rasping, “Oh poor you!” Not looking for any sympathy here. I just wanted to spit a bad taste out of my mouth. With hard work and a lot of luck and inspiration, I’ll have some kind of book to show people in the near future. And that’s a rare accomplishment, especially for me. Someday I’ll get used to this vaporous feeling of non-accomplishment, the vaguely uneasy feeling that hangs around projects at this stage of completion. Or maybe not. All I can say for sure is, it comes with my territory.

Mr. Jinx Comes Clean

What could give more voyeuristic pleasure than reading something like A Million Little Pieces, shaking your head at the guy’s idiocy and (maybe, if you’re that type) finding inspiration in his redemptive journey?

Finding out it’s mainly a whopper and watching the little dink try and defend his integrity on Larry King et al.? Yeah, that’s pretty enjoyable schadenfreude.

Something even funnier? Check out the tale of Mr. Jinx’s descent into the hell of his own compulsions, at Jim Treacher’s site.

At Least He’s Being Honest

How hard is hard enough?WXRT, the local rock station for people like me who don’t so much rock it anymore as rub it after a bad sprain, for years has had a Saturday morning show called “Flashback”, in which they choose a year and highlight the songs, the news and groovy trends of said year. While intended to arouse feelings of nostalgia for a disappeared youth, the show generally feels like tonguing a cold sore. There are times you might be tempted to react to a song by gushing, “Ah, this is an old gem that could only be made back then,” but far more often the thought emerges, “Christ, I remember this garbage. Somebody actually made money off this back then? Were we all insane?? Was the dope that strong? God, I hope the kids don’t hear this.”

I especially look forward to the shows spotlighting 1976 through 1978. Gerry Rafferty. Fleetwood Mac. Al Stewart. Boston and Foreigner. Rockin’ Robert Seger. Because on those mornings, I get to shout, to no one in particular, “You hear this?? Don’t tell ME it wasn’t an abusive adolescence!”

So anyway, they ran a Flashback for 1977 last week, and they played Muddy Waters singing “I’m a Man” from his album Hard Enough. Fitting, fine and dandy. But one line stuck out at me, even after hearing it literally hundreds of times:

“I can make love to you, woman,
In five minutes’ time.”

Really, Muddy, is that the sort of thing you want to advertise? You want to tell her that she has to pay her share of the dinner bill, too? Does she feel like she’s getting a lot extra if you stretch it to seven minutes?

New Year, New Idea

Bob Vila Meets EROkay, so… these days, there’s big money to be made in home health care, right? No one has insurance, no one wants to bother going to the emergency room for things, everyone is more into do-it-yourselfing, etc.

When is a big company going to market a home medical staple gun?

Think about it. Sutures are rarely used for gashes and gouges anymore–it’s all done with a little modified Black & Decker. So why not sell little sanitary staple guns for the home first aid kit, with really expensive replacement cartridges for the staples? Wouldn’t such a little wonder be appealing to the man of the house, who could just seal himself up after an accident chopping wood? Wouldn’t the kids be fascinated by the mechanism while they’re being patched up? Wouldn’t a company love to manufacture some of these and sell them to consumers with a big scary campaign, even if they were pretty certain people wouldn’t use them?

Elements of Stylin’

The Little Red BookThis past year was an odd one for Christmas presents. Not that I measure my years by that standard, but some years are remarkable, some not. And I’m very, very grateful to have received three cocktail shakers. One was so small, I thought it was one you kept by the bedside for a morning eye-opener. Read into that what you will.

Another very welcome present was Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, illustrated by Maira Kalman, famed New Yorker illustrator and the author of, among other gems, Sayonara Mrs. Kackleman. This was just the coolest. It just exuded cool. (That’s the only verb that works with “cool”, right? Ooze, radiate, disperse, fling? Nah, true cool is only exuded.)

Everyone who looked at it just wanted to hold it, weigh it, be with it, love it and be loved by it. It was the right size, the paper was sumptuous, the layout crisp, and Kalman’s paintings understated and strange. While I live to be surrounded by books, I don’t turn it into a tactile fetish like some people. But this book might seduce anyone.

A perfect little book to help writers write perfect little books? That’s not meta. That’s just betta.

Of course, every writer should have some copy of Strunk & White on his or her shelf and refer to it as often as necessary, say, every few weeks or so. Of particular importance is Chapter V, which is a general discussion of style. One sentence in the Introduction touched my heart:

This chapter is addressed particularly to those who feel that English prose composition is not only a necessary skill but a sensible pursuit as well—a way to spend one’s days.

On days when my writing is sluggish and formerly fertile ideas begin to beg for a sheet and a toe tag, this sentence gives me comfort. More comfort, even, than three cocktail shakers.

(Sorry for the size of the pic. Over the holiday break, I’ve somehow forgotten my quick and easy way of shrinking jpegs down to sleek blog size. At least now you know what to look for: A red book with “The Elements of Style” printed on the cover.)

Two Very Big Thumbs

From revver.com, via Chicagoist.com, comes a little clip of Siskel and Ebert early in their careers, trying to nail a promo spot. Bicker bicker, bite bite. It’s hilarious. It’s well known they didn’t like each other early in their relationship, and after watching this, you might not like them all that much either. Siskel makes a lot of comments about Protestants that, while meant to be funny, don’t reflect well on him. But frankly, it’s a good thing no one has ever monitored my phone calls when I feel like I’m being funny.