Monday, December 28, 2015

Back to Blue Amberol

Some folks are collecting old vinyl records because they're cool. They have bigger pictures and you can hold onto the jacket while you listen. But some people say an LP sounds better than a digital version of the same music, which is weird. See, to get sounds onto vinyl you have to squash it and take out any loud asymmetrical events while a digital copy can sound so much like the master tape even the guy who mixed it can’t hear the difference. With filtering, compression, and surface noise you could make any recording sound like an LP. But why?

Monday, December 21, 2015

I still like klobasa and polka, though.

Well, this is vexing. Voters in the tiny Balkan nation of Slovenia have rejected same-sex marriage. I myself contain a sizable percentage of Slovene DNA, so it’s difficult to not feel a little ashamed. What up, homies? Did you forget how first the Austrians, then the Italians, then the Yugoslavs all took turns denying you the right to exist? Did you maybe think they were trying to make gay marriage retroactive, universal, and compulsory? Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. For a lot of these folks, a Slovene boy hooking up with a Croat girl is still considered a mixed marriage.

Monday, December 14, 2015

History will absolve me.

Remember how Superman would squeeze a lump of coal between his mighty pink hands, replicating the effects of eons of geological action and producing a fabulous diamond? Well, it turns out diamonds are made out of carbon. So here’s my genius plan: capture the carbon in the atmosphere, mash on it real hard until it turns into shiny diamonds and distribute the resultant tons and tons of valuable gems to impoverished persons everywhere, thereby solving the challenges of global warming and world poverty in a single brilliant stroke. Absurd, you say? Go ahead; snicker. Remember, they laughed at Jack Benny.

Monday, December 7, 2015

:30 spot radio


Natural, wholesome brown sugar or toxic, soul-killing white sugar? Brown rice or white? It’s a simple choice. Brown things are just plain better than white ones. That’s where the folks at Primal Harvest got the idea for their Natural Brown Salt. White salt comes from large corporations, and it contains chlorine, the chemical element government scientists use to destroy life in our nation’s water supply. Natural Brown Salt is gluten free, and it comes from the bulk section of your supermarket, so you know it’s good for you. Primal Harvest: for simple people.

Monday, November 30, 2015

A matter of scale

Limestone is made out of tiny seashells. Layers and layers of tiny seashells, laid down over a mind-bogglingly vast span of time by generations of small critters. Then over another mind-bogglingly vast span of time rainwater will get into the cracks and stay there. In the middle of Iowa, about 74 million years ago, a rock from space bumped into the planet Earth and made a big dent, blowing all the limestone away. The crater is buried, but if you drill a well in Manson, Iowa, you get soft water, while the whole rest of the region has hard water.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Sparklers in the tailpipe

Somebody once told me everyone’s normal till you get to know them. Which is so true. A person who at first seems pretty unremarkable may turn out to be deeply peculiar, for instance an oboist or model railroader. Another time on an occasion I’d like to forget, a guy whose name I can’t remember said “I always get into trouble when I compare my insides with somebody else’s outside.” Because everybody’s life is hard. It’s like a Buck Rogers rocketship in a Republic serial. From a distance it looks like it’s flying, but it’s really just hanging by a thread.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Found wanting

My neighbor is growing his own mangrove swamp, out by the curb. Actually, right now it’s in a clay pot and stands about three centimeters high, but he has a vision of an extensive National Park sized thing, with trained monkeys that bring him icy cold martinis. This man is a genius. He has a goal which, if handled correctly, can remain unattained for the remainder of his life. I’ve wanted a 1972 Buick Riviera for over four decades now. I hope I never get one. I’d be left with two tons of rusting steel and nothing to live for.

Monday, November 2, 2015

I have great ideas like this all the time.

They say Daylight Savings was designed to conserve electricity, but every office, store, and factory in the USA is artificially lit, so that can't be it. It does give you a 25-hour Sunday once a year, which is pleasant. Here's my genius idea; forget the Daylight Savings thing, but make every Sunday an extra hour long. Every week. Then fix it back by deleting the last hour of work every Monday. So at 4:00 p.m. it's suddenly 5:00 – quitting time. Also, I always forget how to reset my wristwatch, but I'd remember if I did it twice a week

Monday, October 26, 2015

Welcome Koji

Somebody just had a baby. Well, a lot of people did, but these are special friends of mine, so I noticed. And a thing occurs to me; right around now we’re being joined by the first cohort of humans with a pretty good chance of living into the 22nd century. Unlike us, they will grow up with no particular expectation of flying belts, which were always a terrible idea because just imagine being hoisted up into the sky by your belt. I have no idea what they will grow up expecting. I have no idea what people hope for anymore.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The long arc

I know a guy who knows a guy who walks out of every movie before the end; he says last acts are always a letdown. That's a pretty good point. The part where they're introducing characters and complications can be engaging and novel, while tying up loose ends is more pedestrian. Or maybe writers are just usually people of an age where they have some experience with beginnings, but for endings they fall back on formula. They should hire extremely old people to finish their stories. Of course, then most movies would end, “Where am I? Where's my lunch?”

Monday, October 5, 2015

Vast. Cool. Unsympathetic.

Even using hypothetical VASIMR rocket technology, which has the distinct disadvantage of not existing, they figure it would take about 150 days to get to Mars. It would be like riding in a Dodge van from Christmas till Memorial Day with nothing to eat but cold Hot Pockets and Tang. I mention this because I was recently on an airplane for several hours and did not like it much. I watched part of a movie about people driving cars, and was surprised to learn that famous actors like Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson are so underpaid they cannot afford sleeves.

Monday, September 28, 2015

One man's trash

Years ago I paid a visit to the Roy Rogers Museum, out on the edge of nothing much else near Victorville, California. Out front there was a gigantic fiberglass model of Trigger (the Smartest Horse in the Movies). Somewhere inside, Trigger was actually stuffed and mounted, while in the lobby were glass cases containing, among other stuff, every wristwatch Roy had ever owned. Here at home I'm surrounded by an exhibit of books I've already read, music I'm done with, cellphones I used to yak into. And seriously, I can't imagine anybody ever wanting to curate a Dave Maleckar Museum.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Phoenix Iron Works

In some ways, things are looking brighter for America than they have in years. There haven't been any new Styx albums for a decade, and we seem to have gotten that scarf thing out of our systems. But we're sad and twitchy because we work wimp jobs for wimp companies with Dr. Seuss names like Twitter and Google. That's why we compensate with such brutal movies and sports. Me, I'd rather see a Norma Shearer picture over the weekend, then go back Monday to bust my hump for an outfit called something like Mount Savage Locomotive Works or Consolidated Vultee.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Hollywood, you know where to find me.

The people in movies spend a disproportionately large amount of time driving and punching and nowhere near enough eating and pooping. Also, when they talk, they don't spend as much of their time as actual humans do telling each other about sports on television or the plots of movies they've seen. That would make a good movie, I think. Some people are at a table eating food, and they start talking about movies, and explaining them to each other, because they haven't all seen the same ones. Then somebody says, “Excuse me. I have to go to the toilet.”

Monday, September 7, 2015

Not smart, just clever.

A lot of times when I try to say something funny, what I get is blank stares. Then a lot of other times I'll say in all seriousness something that is, apparently, just an absolute hoot. That's what I've been told, anyway. Absolute hoot. Upon what do I not have my finger? The pulse, that's what. Fortunately, somebody always shows up to tell me about kombucha or Kneebody or Jeff Lint. Somebody whose weltanschauung is more aligned with the zeitgeist. Otherwise I could not participate in any reasonably contemporary colloquy; as it is, I still often just nod and bluff.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Inexorable March of Human Progress

Archimedes used something called the method of exhaustion to calculate the value of Pi. That means, I assume, that he worked on it until he got really tired, and then took whatever number he had at that point and said, “That'll do.” And it was good enough for almost everybody when they were figuring out how much strap iron to buy for a wagon tire, or the total length of a pizza crust. Then Newton and Leibniz simultaneously invented calculus, which led to more and more accurate values. Oddly, though, both these guys have rectangular cookies named after them.

Monday, August 24, 2015


There are maybe a couple hundred billion galaxies. In our galaxy, there might be 400 billion stars. About 0.000000045292 percent of the sun's radiation strikes our planet. Of that, about one third bounces right off, about a quarter runs the water cycle (ocean currents, clouds, rain, rivers, stuff like that) and maybe 0.02 percent is used by plants for photosynthesis. And all our food and also our fuel are minor side effects of that photosynthetic process. My point is that probably you shouldn't have invested the energy to tell me my yogurt cup goes in the recycling, not the trash.

Monday, August 17, 2015


We can't believe people used to go to public executions, or even that there was such a thing. But attendance was pretty much mandatory, and it's easiest to understand as a kind of edutainment. The takeaway was: “Here is why it's important to obey the rules.” An expedient way to reinforce social norms. We've got our own ways of horrifying the future. Forget about us eating animals, imprisoning huge numbers of our fellow citizens, moving two tons of metal to get one clerk to Walmart. Bad enough, but then there's this: We poop into large bowls of drinkable water.

Monday, August 10, 2015

And Sioux City is 2.6% Native American

Time was the hills around Fincastle in Botetourt County, Virginia, were covered with apple orchards. You can tell because the housing developments are called things like Orchard Ridge, and you can buy gifts and collectibles at the Apple Barn. A few miles away in Roanoke, the people who sleep where the orchards used to be spend their days in cubicles, and the apples in the supermarket come from Chile. Meanwhile, in Texas, Wichita Falls has a 54-foot tall artificial waterfall that is clearly visible from Interstate 44. The city fathers built it in 1989, I guess because people kept asking.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Self evident

I’m about egalitarian as a guy can be. I don’t hold myself above other people, nor do I judge them. Among the people above whom I in particular do not hold myself, nor judge, are the following: People walking and texting directly in front of me. People out in public in pajamas and shower clogs. People with comb-overs. People with neck tattoos. People who put a “support our troops” sticker on their bumper and believe this simple act of adhesion serves to support anybody at all. When you get right down to it, I guess I’m just a people person.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Brain, too. Wear it out.

There's collectors who buy stuff and then never use it. Like they'll get some Star Wars action figures (they are not dolls don't call them dolls boys don't play with dolls) and never unwrap them so they can keep them perfect forever. Or those beautiful doll houses that no child will ever touch, the tiny wooden rocking chairs crying out to be splintered, swept up, and discarded. And your own personal working parts, like for instance liver? Use them up while you still can, otherwise people like Jack Bruce and David Crosby will get all the enjoyment out of them.

Monday, July 20, 2015


People who are sure they know the way things ought to be just make life tougher for those of us stuck with the way things are, which tends to take up most of our time and energy. And since the way things are right this moment is the direct result of absolutely everything that's already happened ever, any improvement scheme would need, to be effective, to be retroactive. If I fall in the river and begin to drown, I don't need the folks on the bank bickering about whether the government or the private sector should have provided swimming lessons.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tiny armored flying vampires

I think I speak for my entire species when I say that I do not like being bitten by mosquitoes. I prefer not to be infected with malaria, chikungunya, or lymphatic filariasis. I don't even much enjoy little itchy bumps on the tender flesh of my ankles or, most infuriating, the elbows. On the other hand, I am a big fan of green tree frogs and anoles, who in turn are big fans of mosquitoes as menu items. Fair enough, I guess. Plus, when you spray for mosquitoes you also kill the fireflies. That's a metaphor for something, I think.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Politics and geography is my worst subject.

I was in the car all day and it was hard to hear the radio because there was a lot of road noise, but I think I heard someone say that Greece might leave Europe. This would be shame, because Greece is our number one source for literary quotes that you can skip right over as opposed to French or Latin which you have to kind of guess at. Also, much of America’s best authentic Italian pizza is provided by people of Greek descent. Anyway, the only continent with any room left is Antarctica, which is too cold for olives.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Doritos also

Remember being young and at a party and probably there’s beer and certainly there’s a pair of ar-5s blasting out some Marshall Tucker or Mason Proffit or some other band with a name that sounds like it might have been Vice President under James K. Polk and possibly there is a bong and a baggy filled with Indiana ditch weed and the later it gets the less you want to leave not because you’re having so much fun which actually you’re not but you are absolutely sure that as soon as you go something wonderful will happen? Life’s like that.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The 50-foot woman could see radio.

We have a treasured heritage here of focusing on certain topics, and among these the subject of Extremely Large Pencils is writ large. Because who doesn't like really big or really tiny stuff? Dollhouses and model railroads, or King Kong and the legendary Giant Booming Prairie Chicken of Rothsay, Minnesota? So the new Ant Man movie should be cool. But here's a quibble: if you size-shifted your retina, you'd change the wavelengths of sensitivity, so as you got tinier purple things would look red and x-rays would look purple. Bad news if you're looking to Stan Lee for rigorous science.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Next Week: Back to Big Pencils

I don't generally do politics. Lots of good writers have it covered, whereas what's going on in Dave's brain is often sadly underreported. But right now the hilarious clown car of GOP hopefuls includes the governors of two states where I have personal history. Bobby Jindal running on his executive record in Louisiana is like applying for a chauffeur's job with a shopping bag full of DUIs and accident reports. And while I'm not saying Wisconsin's Scott Walker is in anybody's pocket, it might be a good idea to compare those dents on his face with David Koch's key ring.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Right in our wheelhouse

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Clutch time

Before long, all our vehicles will operate autonomously. Soon we won't need drivers anymore. There are about 1.5 million heavy truck drivers in the United States, about 600,000 bus drivers, over 200,000 cabbies. That's not counting local delivery vehicles, pizza guys, the ice cream truck. Most of these jobs are going away. For the remaining drivers, this will do what disco did to blue collar musicians; nothing pushes incomes down like an overcrowded field of competing freelancers. Meanwhile, the leading providers of on-demand autonomous services will no doubt merge to form massive conglomerates that dominate the field. Goober uber alles.

Monday, May 25, 2015

It's English. I write in English.

So I'm trying to make these little essays better or at least to slow the degradation which seems to be the inevitable fate of any protracted human endeavor. Those of you who don't do this kind of work might think, “What is he whining about? It's 100 words. I say more than that just ordering at the drive-through.” Which, sure, but probably sometimes you ask for the same breakfast or lunch you did last time, but I can't do that, because I'm committed to new words every week. Well actually not new. I proudly recycle by using a preexisting language.

Monday, May 18, 2015

I'll settle for any one out of three.

Years ago in the printing business, somebody told me the pick two rule. You've probably encountered it. It goes like this: Fast. Cheap. Good. Pick two. I thought it was elegant then, and I still think so now. Then I noticed it could be nicely adapted to work for amplification for bass guitars. In that case, you get to select any two from these three: Loud. Light. Cheap. I'll bet you can find a set that applies to your own area of interest and expertise. Now I think I've found the pick two rule for my rants: Clever. Prompt. Original.

Monday, May 11, 2015


Tell you what. Mothers' Day might be the worst day of the year. Yesterday afternoon I bicycled through the environs of the Audubon Zoo and dang not only was every single parking space filled but there were vehicles parked under the trees fender to fender all the way to the stables. Families were loading and unloading walkers and wheelchairs and strollers and there were moms of every age and description each with her own amorphous clump of offspring. And everyone looked genuinely miserable. Okay. So for one day of the year, I can be almost glad my mom is dead.

Monday, May 4, 2015

while you've a lucifer

Words. Am I right? Like the word fag, referring quaintly to a cigarette and pejoratively to a gay man. And the two senses have two different etymologies, thusly: Fagot is an old word for twig, like you would use for kindling. So, a cigarette is like a little burning stick. Meanwhile, in Yiddish, fagele literally means little bird (from the German Vogel) and, yup, is Yiddish slang for queer. So when you think about, it's not even the same word. It's two different words, spelled and pronounced exactly the same. They are (God forgive me I can't stop myself) homophones.

Monday, April 27, 2015


My brother tells me the Mason-Dixon line is where youse guys meets you all. Yup. It's also the eye contact frontier. The further south you go, the more likely folks will look you full on in the face as you pass. Because it's so muggy, you're automatically exchanging intimate body fluids with everyone within your vapor radius. Might as well smile and nod. And smile like you mean it, not that tight angry little thing people do with their mouths. Let me see those gums, count those molars. Give me a smile like a Golden Retriever, or don't even bother.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lime green. Of course.

A note to hikers: I hear there's a gallon of water in every almond, which makes them the most efficient source of hydration you can carry. Here's another great way to conserve water and reduce your carbon footprint. It can take 2,000 gallons of water to grow enough cotton for one pair of jeans. Then factor in the petroleum used to power the planting and harvesting, the transport and manufacture of each bale. What if there was some way to more directly convert crude oil into wearable raiment? What if a polyester doubleknit leisure suit is your greenest garment option?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Most Mondays, I fritter away my 100 words on some ephemeral minutiae or other, stirring up my simmering mental soup to keep the bottom of the brain pan from scorching. Not this week. This week I am a man on a mission. Listen. There is such a thing as the American Pencil Collectors Society. It was founded in Sterling, Kansas, in 1958, and it is open to citizens of all nations. They ask only that you “have a genuine interest in pencil collecting of any kind,” and hand over ten bucks. Ten bucks. I think you know what to do.

Monday, April 6, 2015


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Monday, March 30, 2015

A least make two

Gene-splicing scientists are working to resurrect the extinct woolly mammoth. Also the thylacine, a sort of marsupial wolf that looked like a stripy skinny dog. Of course, it's not even kind of a dog. All marsupials are more closely related to each other than to any of the mammals to which they bear superficial morphological similarities. They're like us; what ends up shaping you is the niche you occupy. Which, getting back to the mammoth, is why I don't think it's a good idea. Can you imagine anything lonelier than being born 40 centuries after your last relative had died?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Also: Oboe. Banjo.

Remember the droll signs that used to get tacked up in storefront businesses and diners? They said things like, “Our credit manager is Helen Waite. If you want credit, go to Helen Waite.” Or “You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it helps.” Side-splitting. But there is such a thing as job-specific madness. Military commanders can sit around chatting over beer and pretzels while people are getting maimed and killed on their say-so. Comics feel compelled to expose their social anxiety defenses to drunk strangers. And pedal steel players? They deserve their own chapter in the DSM.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Special muttonchop citation to Q and Old Kinderhook

The first president with facial hair was Abraham Lincoln, the last was William Howard Taft. In between, just two were clean-shaven. From 1861 to 1913, only 8 years went by with a whiskerless White House. I assume this reflects the prevailing fashion all over the country during those years. And beards are the thing right now, especially among very young men. Not that little Van Dyke that allows an actor to portray his own evil twin; big Old Testament prophet whiskers on these shiny open unformed faces. Walking into a hipster bar is like stumbling into a bearded lady convention.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Like a big pizza pie

Our word amateur comes to us through the French from the Latin amator, from the root amare, to love. So an amateur is somebody who does something for love rather than money. A lot of times we use the word to imply a lack of skill. Certainly, I would hesitate to avail myself of the services of an amateur or “shade tree” dentist. But amateur poems and amateur cooking compare favorably with the output of any credentialed professional. And I gotta tell you, I'd sooner hop in the sack with an amateur than a seasoned pro. Sometimes, enthusiasm trumps expertise.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Oh. Lightbulbs.

A partial list of topics considered perennially funny: Mothers in law. Catholic school. Jewishness. Blind dates. Traveling salesmen. Two of anything entering a bar. A shipwrecked person. A golfer. Keith Richards, drug use of. Keith Richards, articulation of. Keith Richards, facial wrinkles of. Airline food. Arrivals at the gates of heaven and subsequent inquiries. Talking dogs. Talking frogs. Talking ducks. Talking bears. City folk visiting farmers. Farmers visiting city folk. Okay. That's some funny stuff there, alright. Of course, humor is largely a matter of impeccable comic timing. If you have not been amused, you were probably reading too fast.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Belaboring the point

If you think that Bathos and Pathos are two of the Three Musketeers, I don't know whether to send you to the front or back of the class. Actually, nobody much gets pathos wrong; but bathos? Well, bathos is when Eleanor Roosevelt is meeting Mahatma Gandhi and they both fart at the same time. Then there's bemused, right up there with comprised as one of the words it's real easy to get wrong. Bemused doesn't mean amused. It means sort of set to thinking, musing. Think of beguile, becalm, befuddle. Or bedraggle. Let us by all means think of bedraggle.

Monday, February 16, 2015

We'll call you.

You know how when something really heavy is transpiring in your life, you'll go into the restroom and run the water and splash a double handful into your face and then grip the edges of the sink and take a long searching look deep into the eyes of your reflection? Me neither; I'm more likely to check my teeth and nostrils for parsley and boogers, respectively. But I suppose actors actually have to practice this unless they want to hear casting directors say, “Sorry. You have the right look and great abs, but your sink schtick could use some work.”

Monday, February 9, 2015

Last call

Like cocktail hour, it's always the end of the world somewhere. Death, pestilence, war, and famine are the traditional harbingers of the final days. But it seems like the apocalypse has whole platoons of horsemen. Prewashed jeans, the passenger pigeon, fluoridated water. A Muslim president from Nigeria, the insidious introduction of fructose into our food, casual Fridays. Fire or ice, bang or whimper. For yeast, the End comes from their own poisonous alcoholic excretions, so their Armageddon is somebody's delicious pint. For me, nothing suggests impending doom better than knowing there is such a thing as currywurst flavored energy drink.

Monday, February 2, 2015

son if it was up to me

It's possible to listen to a song and just plain miss the idea. Like when Reagan's handlers thought “Born in the USA” might make a good campaign song. Or last week when Dropkick Murphys told Wisconsin Governor and odious dickweed Scott Walker, “Please stop using our music in any way... we literally hate you.” “Dancing Queen” is sad. So is “Happy Together.” And then there's some dudes with no girlfriends who every weekend pile in one guy's car and drive up and down the same street. Everybody leaves them alone. “I Get Around” may be the saddest song ever.

Monday, January 26, 2015

1%: Bikers or Billionaires?

The big news is that one percent of the people in the world have more of the money than everybody else combined. And don't get me wrong, I have the same visceral resentful reaction as you do. But don't forget, being wealthy is expensive. The number of dollars it takes to feed a family of four for a day in your neighborhood isn't enough to tip the wine steward in some joints. One humanday of healthy nutrition is a more consistent measure than any currency, so we have to conclude that rich people get much crummier money than we do.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Dang, my shoelace broke. I need to sharpen this pencil. I burned the toast. The bus is late. My team lost, my job sucks, somebody parked in my space. Squeak in chair. Zit on nose. There's bills in the mailbox, ants in the kitchen, and ketchup down the front of my shirt. They say don't sweat the small stuff. I say only sweat the small stuff; the big stuff will stop you cold. A guy named Edward Noyes Westcott said, "A reasonable amount o fleas is good for a dog – keeps him from brooding over being a dog, maybe."

Monday, January 12, 2015

Mass media

I was watching football on the television, and when they talk about the players as they go on and off the field, they always mention their weights. These are pretty large numbers, usually between two and three hundred pounds. Call it an average of 250, which gives us roughly 1.4 tons a side. Okay. Here's a way to make football more fun. Instead of limiting the number of players, let's define a team by weight. So you could put 12 men on the field if they average 230. Who wouldn't enjoy watching 22 jockeys line up against 8 sumo wrestlers?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Lives of the Philosophers, Pt. 4

Ludwig Wittgenstein had for a father one of the richest men in Europe as well as a one-armed brother who became a famous concert pianist. His other three brothers committed suicide. Ludwig himself studied engineering until a “constant, indescribable, almost pathological state of agitation” drove him to study the philosophy of mathematics. Either philosophy or mathematics alone would have been too easy, I guess. Seriously, this guy was so smart you needed to be Bertrand Russell simply to misunderstand him properly. I can't actually read Wittgenstein. It's like watching a powerful motor rev itself to pieces on a static dynamometer.