Friday, February 20, 2009


The narrow little pantry off our kitchen has always been a mysterious space, perpetually overflowing with stuff while somehow remaining devoid of anything you’d actually want to eat. Last week, I decided to find out what was really in there. The answer: expired things, and individually wrapped fortune cookies.

I knew we had a few fortune cookies around, saved for my daughter over so many nights of Shing-Yee takeout, but what I found was a full-blown infestation: an entire Easter basket of them on one shelf, a grocery bag of them on another, and families of five huddled behind every box of crackers and cereal. I half-heartedly tried counting them on their way to the trash, but I lost track somewhere around 75.

I threw out a ton of other stuff too, including three different varieties of Teddy Grahams from ‘07, a cup of Split Pea Soup from early ‘05, and a tub of Crisco that supposedly would've been better if used by October of 2006 (I have my doubts).

As I was tossing all this stuff, I started to wonder about the expiration dates themselves. What do they really mean? For example, what sort of line did those Trader Joe's Bagel Chips cross in December of ‘08—was it merely a taste thing, or were they somehow dangerous? I've always suspected that some manufacturers set the dates arbitrarily, mostly as a way to prompt you to buy more.

Once I got into the flow of this purge though, I realized that I didn’t care if I was throwing away perfectly good food—I liked the license that the expiration dates gave me: Yes—I can be free of this accursed box of Triscuits forever! I didn’t even have to apply any judgment—things were either expired or they weren’t.

Which made me think that life would be simpler—or at least less cluttered—if everything bore expiration dates. Hmmm…do I really need to keep this Spin Doctors CD around? Oh look—it expired in 1993! But just as I was getting excited about this idea, I realized that somebody would inevitably start putting expiration dates on clothing, finally giving my wife the leverage she needed to throw out my entire wardrobe. So, you know…nevermind.

Friday, February 13, 2009

No Kindle For Me

I have always been a gadget-geek. If our house were suddenly buried by a Vesuvius-like volcanic explosion, future archaeologists excavating the site would discover a ridiculous number of battery-powered artifacts: three Blackberry phones, four iPods, four laptops, and no less than SIX digital cameras. (And to these archaeologists I would just say: be sure you find the right chargers for all this stuff, because you’ll be S.O.L. without them.)

This electronics habit, combined with my love of books, would seem to make me the ideal user for Amazon’s new Kindle 2 reading device. I’ve never actually held a Kindle in my hand, but it sounds pretty cool: a ten-ounce tablet capable of storing 1,500 electronic books, which you can purchase 24/7 using the Kindle’s free “Whispernet” wireless service. The Kindle 2 even has a text-to-voice feature that will actually read your books, magazines, and newspapers to you, if you like that sort of thing.

I won’t be getting a Kindle, however, because I just don’t see it meshing with my current program of buying way more books than I will EVER have time to read and letting them accumulate in every corner of the house: some on my nightstand, a few more on the kitchen counter, a small collection in the living room, and several precarious towers on the floor by the bookcase.

On an intellectual level, I recognize that I don’t have as much reading time as I did when I was an English major at UMass, but that doesn’t seem to stop me from walking into bookstores and convincing myself, over and over again, that I will somehow find time to read THIS book. And even when I’m willing to admit that I don’t have time right now, I tell myself that I must have this book at the ready when the rare and miraculous reading moment does arrive (i.e. the next time I can’t sleep).

Until then, I can at least enjoy my books as the beautiful objects that they are, occasionally picking one up to lose myself in its cover art or the pulpy scent of its pages. More often though, I’ll just end up knocking a heavy stack of them onto the floor while feeling around for the TV remote, or I’ll spend an hour looking for something important only to discover that it’s under a pile of stupid fricking books.

Which is just another way of saying that the books’ very physicality exerts a subtle but constant pressure that eventually results in—TA-DAH!—my reading one of them. Okay, so maybe I have to buy sixteen different titles before I reach this point, but still…reading is a good thing no matter how it happens, right? And somebody has to keep the publishers in business.

Clearly, getting a Kindle would upset the delicate balance of my life. If I could download any book at any time of the day or night, I could no longer justify buying them preemptively. And because I wouldn’t be getting a pretty new paperback or hardcover to fondle, I’d have even less desire to acquire anything until the moment I felt moved to read, which might never happen, given that I wouldn’t be tripping on books everywhere I went.

So what would motivate me to read...ever again? My fear is that I would just toss the Kindle in a drawer and go back to watching TV.

However, I think there might be a solution to this problem if Amazon can only find a way to implement it. I’ve written the following skit to dramatize my proposal:

INT. LIVING ROOM – NIGHT: Derek sits on his couch in front of his big-screen TV. An Amazon Kindle 2 rests on the table beside him.

KINDLE: Dude…didn’t you tell me that you were too busy to read? Why do I hear the TV?
DEREK: I don’t know. Leave me alone.
K: Wait—are you seriously watching Kath & Kim?
D: Well, yeah, but…I’m just waiting for The Office to come on.
K: It’s a rerun this week.
D: Yeah, but 30 Rock is on after that.
K: Dude, you should totally read a book right now.
D: Eh…
K: You liked Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, right?
D: Sure.
K: Well, customers who bought that also enjoyed The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Oh, and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which Oprah practically soiled herself over. You must know her, right—she’s on the TV too.
D: Yeah, I don’t know…I’m feeling kind of fried.
K: Dude, I can even READ IT TO YOU, you know, since you seem to have forgotten how...
D: Excuse me?

Now, I’m not completely out of my mind; I know that today’s technology wouldn’t allow you to converse with your Kindle. However, we do have the technology to allow some tattooed cube-dweller in Amazon’s Seattle offices to connect via Whispernet—which is really just Sprint’s cell service—and pretend to be your Kindle (thus all the “dudes”). And you know, I think I’d be fine with the pretending. I might even pay a small monthly fee for it, as would a large number of lonely people.

So, please consider it, Amazon. The way I see it, everybody wins: you get to sell me yet another battery-powered hunk of plastic, I keep reading (sort of), and our house is a whole lot tidier.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ceci n'est pas un gâteau.

Just a few thoughts of the Monday morning variety (i.e. things that seem interesting until I’ve had enough caffeine to realize how stupid they are):

"Ambiance" is a uniquely human concept that you could never explain to a gorilla, no matter how well it knew sign language. I would even venture to say that when we do discover intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, they still won’t know crap about ambiance.

At this very moment, it’s looking like Slinky Repair 101 would’ve been more useful than any of the classes I actually took in college (but I’m still holding out hope that my semester devoted to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity will eventually pay off).

Whenever I get stuck behind someone who is driving really badly, they are almost always going to the library.

Most restaurant desserts are obviously designed by people who hate dessert. I keep forgetting this, and so I get tricked into ordering things like the Flourless Chocolate Cake. I take one bite and I’m like, “Mmm, this is really…rich,” by which I actually mean, “Yeah, this isn’t even cake.”

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pissing and Moaning

Like most New Englanders, I try to dedicate a portion of each day—even if it’s only 20-30 minutes—to complaining about the weather. This winter has already delivered such a wealth of meteorological misery that the only challenge has been deciding where to begin: the forty-bajillion inches of snow, the butt-numbing arctic cold, the skating-rink sidewalks, or maybe even the freakish Wizard-of-Oz winds that tore the gate off our fence.

Even our cold-loving dog Hugo seems ready for spring. I notice this most when I take him outside for the final time each night. This would normally be a two-minute jaunt, but with everything covered in hard, iced-over snow, Hugo and I end up slipping around the neighborhood for a half-hour while he searches for an acceptable place to empty his bladder.

The upside of these nightly trips is that, at least until the hypothermia sets in, I get some quiet time to think. Although, I pretty much always end up thinking the same two things: “Why won’t you just GO already?” followed soon after by, “Seriously…WHAT DOES IT FREAKING MATTER WHERE YOU PEE???”

The rest of the year, this is not a problem. At some point during our walk, Hugo will step into the grassy strip along the curb and start into his “tinkle trot,” which closely resembles a gymnast approaching the vault: his pace quickens, and after a dozen swift strides, he stops and strikes a regal pose while spattering the grass below. When he’s finished, he sniffs the air approvingly, and then steps squarely into his own puddle as he departs the scene.

But there’s no grass to be found now, Hugo WILL NOT pee on the sidewalk itself (it’s a canine thing), and the snow is piled so high everywhere that he can’t even walk through it. He still tries though, starting his trot on the sidewalk and only heaving himself up into the curbside snowbank at the very last second. His momentum carries him forward for a few more awkward steps, his feet crunching down through the snow’s icy crust and sinking him up to his belly. Eventually, he’s just stuck there, limbs ensnared, and he gives up. He looks up at me, and I swear I can hear his thoughts (which are naturally in haiku format):

Winter exhausts me.
Why do we live here again?
I blame you, human.

And so we walk on, with me trailing Hugo and repeating, “Hurry up…hurry up…hurry up,” a command that we started using when he was a puppy. Whenever he peed on his own, we’d whisper “hurry up,” gradually conditioning him to associate the words with the act.

I do worry, however, that I’ve now spent so much time saying “hurry up” when Hugo is merely preparing to pee that I might’ve changed its meaning for him. Maybe Hugo now thinks that “hurry up” means “Browse for a pee-spot, but be extremely selective.” For all I know, he might be desperately trying to hold it the whole time because I won’t give the right command, which he now thinks is something like, “Holy Freaking Crap, it’s about time!”

As it is, I usually have to go pretty badly after about fifteen minutes of this. I think all of the psychic energy that I pour into convincing Hugo to pee ends up backfiring and setting my own bladder off. And so now we’re off in some far corner of the neighborhood, Hugo still hasn’t done his thing, and I’m doing my own version of the tinkle trot to stave off incontinence.

I will admit that I’ve been tempted to go outside somewhere, but the houses in our neighborhood are very close-set, and there’s not much cover to be found (aside from the snowbanks anyway). So far, I’ve never given in to this impulse, but it does make me wonder why people are so weird about this stuff: they don’t think twice about a dog peeing on the street, but if they see another person doing it, they just call the police. I guess humans can be pretty picky about where they go too.