Several of us were talking, trying to imagine what might await humanity in years to come. Many of my peers were envisioning a bleak future. Wishing to introduce a note of optimism, I said, “I can foresee a time when we need no longer carry a compass, sextant and chronometer. Instead, a single tiny apparatus will replace these cumbersome implements. Who knows? It may also provide the benefits of a pocket abacus as well as the ability to transmit and receive messages without repairing to the Western Union office.” There followed a profound silence. I could tell they were impressed.
Monday, December 24, 2018
I’m sure some of the French showing up at our borders are very fine people but I am becoming alarmed about the bad elements coming over here to foment unrest and chaos. I’d been aware of the disruptive “yellow vest” demonstrations in and around Paris, but that’s a long way away and I was shocked when a truckload of these protesters showed up in my neighborhood and began literally to tear up the street. I rushed out onto my porch. “Hé toi,” I shouted, “Allez-vous en!” They just looked at me all snooty. I’ll have to work on my accent.
Monday, December 17, 2018
It’s a bit of a blow to the ego to learn that humans make up only about 0.01 percent of the planet’s biomass by dry weight. Compared to other mammals, we totally score though. We’re more than a third of total mammal mass while all wild mammals together are about four percent. The rest, about 60 percent, is mostly our cows and pigs. Remember, this is mass, not a headcount, and cows are big and squirrels are small. But still. There’s barely enough giraffes left to populate Dubuque, Iowa, which is a pleasant thought although the ceilings are pretty low.
Monday, December 10, 2018
When you’re restricted by a sacred code of personal honor to 100 words you want to be extra careful about which ones you use. Here’s a for-instance: Sometimes the words yet and still mean the same thing. Like, “He remains there yet.” “He remains there still.” Then, they can kind of be opposites. “Is he here yet?” means he has not arrived. “Is he here still?” means he has not departed. Furthermore, “He is sitting still” can mean he remains as yet or that he is motionless. I ponder these imponderables. So, sometimes the late Dave Maleckar misses a rant.
Monday, November 26, 2018
Have you heard about master stock, where you save meat juices in the braising pot and add more seasoning and use it again and again for different meats and keep this up for 100 years and the stock just gets richer and more delicious? Coffee cans of nuts and bolts and washers are like that. When you need a fastener you go digging through it blissfully, whistling tunelessly. When you take anything apart you throw the hardware bits into the can. You can pass this container along, hypothetically, for generations. For confirmed putterers, this is our little whiff of immortality.
Monday, November 19, 2018
Note to self: When the weather turns cool it becomes way too easy to huddle at your little table in the same clothes you slept in and maybe to add a layer if the room feels chilly and before you know it in less than 24 hours you are no longer the Purposeful Man of a Certain Age Striding Confidently along the Concourse of a Busy International Airport you are instead the Musty Smelling Unshaven Codger in Sweatpants and a Peanut Butter Stained Hoodie Shuffling in Worn-Out Slippers from Room to Cluttered Room. Watch yourself buddy, is all I’m saying.
Monday, November 12, 2018
Okay, sometimes it seems like everything is changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up. In fact, you may have noticed that you yourself might be actually slowing down. But guess what? I’m here with good news. Remember the best you ever imagined it could be? That’s what I have for you. Remember how good you felt before you learned some uncomfortable things? I can help you unlearn those things. Plus, go look in the garage. Is that a shiny new Jet Ski? Yes it is. I bought it for you. And I put it on your credit card.
Monday, November 5, 2018
About 300 million years ago, while the landmasses were busy forming the supercontinent Pangaea, plants developed tough woody tissues which then-current bacteria were incapable of digesting. While the bacteria were evolving their way around this, an incredible number of trees fell down and didn’t rot at all and that’s where all the coal comes from. Plus because of all the carbon trapped this way, the atmosphere became insanely oxygen rich, supporting things like eight and a half foot millipedes. But all good things come to an end and this Carboniferous Period gave way to the Pennsylvanian, which featured Fred Waring.
Monday, October 29, 2018
Here’s the thing about gravity; it’s nothing personal. You and the world are simply strongly attracted to one another and pound for pound you’re pulling on the planet just as hard as it’s pulling on you. If you should happen to tumble down a flight of stairs or go flying over your handlebars, remember that the floorboards or asphalt are absorbing exactly the same punishment as you are. Everything’s in perfect balance. Equilibrium is preserved. That’s how I can accept that bad things happen to good people. What still irks me is how often good things happen to really rotten people.
Monday, October 22, 2018
In case you’ve wondered: J.D. Power is a consumer research firm. They don’t have labs, or test tracks, or any of the other stuff you might want to have when making qualitative judgments about motor vehicles. What they do is take surveys. They do this for their clients, by whom they are paid and to whom they issue their prestigious awards. Their clients then present these awards as evidence of their products’ quality. I may not be the sharpest taco in this bag of hammers, but don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes and tell me it’s sweat.
Monday, October 15, 2018
As a boy I assumed that Zorro, Superman, and Sky King were all one guy, who also sold everything from watchbands to refrigerators. This authoritative Brylcreemed baritone didn’t look like anybody I knew in real life, so I guess it never occurred to me that there might be duplicates. After peaking with the election of Ronald Reagan, that square-jawed broad-shouldered American male archetype is pretty much passé now, supplanted by a different standard spokesman – hipper, self-effacing, way more woke. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t miss the old model. I just wonder if little Beardy McTightsuit is really any improvement.
Monday, October 8, 2018
The woman behind the counter at the Quality Inn is a serious contender for the coveted title of World’s Oldest Desk Clerk and as a result we’ve spent the night in a handicapped room which is also a smoking room. So the bathroom is unusually spacious and everything smells of stale tobacco smoke. Back when people smoked indoors, everywhere smelled like this, including airplanes, libraries, and hospital rooms. In winter, there was also a pervasive funk of wet wool and Hall’s Mentholyptus. And I think people were stinkier too– didn’t they sell something called 5-day deodorant? How did that work?
Monday, October 1, 2018
I often go for weeks without spitting. My salivary glands are in no way deficient, I just don’t spit all that much. Baseball players, on the other hand, spit all the time. Some of them project neat photogenic spheroids, some scatter a fine aerosol spray, and some (my least favorite) lean forward and just sort of drool. Is this required? Do they practice? Do they remember not to do it at home or in church? People with much nastier jobs (football, legislation) seem to keep their expectorations largely in check, but America’s pastime is soaked in something more than tradition.
Monday, September 24, 2018
Adjectives can be problematic. Certainly not always – like “red rubber ball” is okay because who cares if you mean a ball of red rubber or a red ball of rubber. But what about “sturdy men’s boots?” Or this: “white railway carriage.” There’s a way to read that one which is totally not okay. I don’t even like to sort laundry by color. Hence the pink diapers on our babies. Now we arrive (finally) at the issue. Microsoft wants to update my hard drive and I find myself questioning seriously if I want to install something called “Malicious Software Removal Tool.”
Monday, September 17, 2018
What happened last week is I simply forgot to write a rant. It just didn’t feel like a Monday, you know? And by the time I noticed, it was too late to get my head in the game. I couldn’t think of anything to write about. But now I can write about that, and so last week’s lack of topic becomes this week’s topic; like how maybe we don’t give enough credit for refraining from the act of creation. For instance, Schubert gets mad props for his Unfinished Symphony while I get no recognition at all for my unstarted one.
Monday, September 3, 2018
It’s Labor Day, a national holiday to honor working people. The rest of the world honors them on May first, International Workers Day, but we don’t do that for a couple reasons. First off, the socialists who selected May Day were commemorating the Haymarket riot, so there’s something kind of pink about it. And second, May is way too early to put away your seersucker suit and white bucks. I was outside this morning and down the block was a crew of Honduran rooferos nailing shingles like crazy and sweating their asses off. Working. On Labor Day. Where’s the respect?
Monday, August 27, 2018
Probably they don’t have snappy Captain Video-style uniforms, but NASA has Planetary Defense Officers. I learned this because one of them made an announcement from their Washington D.C. headquarters about an asteroid that will pass Earth tomorrow: "There is absolutely nothing for concern by this pass of 2016 NF23. This object is merely designated a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA) because its orbit over time brings it within 5 million miles (8 million kilometers) of Earth's orbit, but there is nothing hazardous to Earth or even unique about this pass of the asteroid." So, you’re reassured, right? I know I am.
Monday, August 20, 2018
That story of the boy who cried wolf? I think the real moral isn’t don’t lie, it’s don’t tell the same lie twice. He should have cried “Wolf!” one time, then followed up with stuff like “Coyote!” or “Bear!” “Wombat!” Mix it up a little and keep it fresh, is what I’m saying. Because once a statement is debunked it’s real hard to get anybody to believe it a second time. So Iraq is free to acquire weapons of mass destruction, saucers to land at Area 52. And when Paul McCartney actually does die, everybody will be all, “Yeah. Right.”
Monday, August 13, 2018
A plurality of Americans call sneakers tennis shoes although we don’t wear them for tennis but with a polo shirt to go shopping. While wearing a baseball cap. You may not be old enough to remember this, but until pretty recently the only people who wore baseball caps were actual ballplayers, children, and peculiar older men riding the bus in ratty overcoats. Some of these men knew how to miraculously retrieve nickels from your ear. I’m not sure this happens so much anymore. Apparently there was a time when little boys’ heads contained nickels, but those days are long gone.
Monday, August 6, 2018
Roscoe Tarp. Robert “Pete” Roberts. Boozy McAllister. Norb Fenstermacher. Todd Lumbar. Fats Rotunda. Scoopy Maxwell. Schmuck Delafontaine. Bud “Hammertone” Case. Stuff Smotewell. Marzipan Doop. Dwight Spittle. Alonzo De Havilland. Culpable Tom Boxout. Monk Armbruster. Aramis Ramirez. Skrote Penumbra. Fieldmarshall Marshall. Blotto Kirkpatrick. Spanky Molybdenum. Harper Snoo. Uncle Joe Rosenzweig. Toledo Joe Rosenzweig. Big Joe Rosenzweig. Little Joe Rosenzweig. Infinitesimal Joe Rosenzweig. Snapdragon VanOrpp. Biff “Anteater” Wexler. Fantomas Lopez. Spats Muffuletta. Thorpe “Thorpy” Thorpner. Aquafina Akimbo. Mopey Figg. Pancreatitis Jones. Walt Fidget. Sweets Underhammer. Kleek Quigley. Topaz Ambrosia. Bo Foy. Doc Sphagnum. Euclid “Nibbles” McGee. Halliburton Embarcadero. Ajax Weft. Eeph Crimple.
Monday, July 30, 2018
Down in the colony, every worker is considered one of the queen’s sisters. They care for the little baby workers, their nieces. That’s why they are named ants. It’s spelled that way because there is no U in team, and these gals are nothing if not dedicated team players, spending so much time swarming on kitchen counters that we call them Formica. Then there’s this: Back in Bible times, ancient Hittite warriors who had successfully pillaged Israelite towns would get home and lord it over the rest of the folks, tending to act sort of snooty. Hence the term Haifa-lootin’.
Monday, July 23, 2018
By reading any word in this sentence, you have agreed to the following statement: I accept the terms of the 100 Word Rant User Agreement, which I have never seen, including any and all future additions and changes. I further hold 100 Word Rant free from any legal, moral, ethical, or emotional liability for damages including but not restricted to hailstorms, papercuts, vague feelings of doubt and anxiety, mass extinctions, and unnerving encounters with extremely sketchy door-to-door roofing contractors. It is obvious to me that this contract is totally legit and would certainly be admissible in a court of law.
Monday, July 16, 2018
A stay at Auschwitz, the global gold standard for shitty experiences, left Viktor Frankl with this thought: “Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” I say let’s build it.
Monday, July 9, 2018
I’m unhappy to learn that the pink fairy armadillo may be threatened. You just need to look at one to know that it’s not going to threaten you back. It looks like a chipmunk on Halloween or a crappy cosplay gerbil at a rodent sci-fi convention. It has pink armor about two sizes too small just draped over its shoulders like those European guys do with their sweater. It’s got disproportionately large pink turtle feet, like a toddler wearing her dad’s sneakers. If hamsters ever decided to make a low-budget horror movie this is what the monster would look like.
Monday, July 2, 2018
What’s so great about passive longevity, like “third generation farmer” or “family-owned in the same location for 75 years?” When you brag on how long you’ve stayed put, it seems to me you’re kind of saying, “My grandparents were driven by some blend of determination, desperation, grit, gumption, necessity and just plain stupidity to uproot themselves and start from scratch in a place where everything from the food to the language to the smell of the dirt itself was strange and new. But not me. I’m nothing like that.” Meanwhile, we got folks exactly like that waiting at the border.
Monday, June 25, 2018
Association football is the most popular team sport in the world. It is known in the United States as soccer to distinguish it from other games called football like Gaelic football, Australian football, Rugby football (League and Union), American football, and also Canadian football which features mayonnaise instead of ketchup. You know what it is when an American starts calling soccer football? It’s pretentious, that’s what it is, like a philosophy major at a Midwestern land-grant college smoking Gauloises. What are you going to do next? Start calling trucks lorries, cookies biscuits, fries chips, chips crisps? Stop it. Talk normal.
Monday, June 18, 2018
Want to understand what Hannah Arendt described as the “banality of evil?” Look at Jeff Sessions’ face, listen to his voice, as he declares war on children. It would be nice to think, “We’re better than this,” but the bare fact of it proves we are not. We build camps to hold undesirables. We huddle in craven acquiescence. This is what we are. This how we treat people. It’s pure-D meanness. If this is how we protect the land of the free and the home of the brave, why even bother? The free and the brave have all gone away.
Monday, June 11, 2018
Friends, we got packs of coyotes roaming Chicago while the wild hogs are closing in on downtown Tulsa. We’re separating mothers from their children and shipping them off across an archipelago of detention centers. We got rivers of molten rock gradually paving over the 50th state. Somehow we got the Canadians pissed off – the Canadians! – and it’s probably only a matter of time before the French are asking for their statue back. Not to go all Jeremiah on you, but just because we’re not roasting rats over garbage fires yet doesn’t mean this isn’t the end of the world.
Monday, June 4, 2018
Here’s what we know: After an unknowable interval during which everything that ever was or will be was contained in a single inconceivably compact package, it fell apart and since then everything has been getting further and further from everything else. The tiniest things tend to clump together; the biggest things to break up. Basically, it’s all trying to turn into cold iron and then remain absolutely still, maybe forever. That’s it. We used to think that maybe there would come a time when everything would fall back together again. But the more we learn the less likely that seems.
Monday, May 28, 2018
The toilet tank was refilling periodically so I shut off the stop and sure enough the tank drained to the very bottom, past the neck of the flush valve. So I took the tank off and went to True Value on my bike for a matching shank washer and I installed it but when I reassembled the whole deal it was leaking worse than before. By then it was time to clean up and go the Columns Hotel to play a set of Dusty Springfield hits. That was yesterday. If you’re thinking, “This isn’t very funny,” well, no, it isn’t.
Monday, May 21, 2018
Near as I can tell, poké started out as basically Hawaiian ceviche. Now there’s this big poké scare here on the mainland, a build your own approach with little forms where you check off the ingredients you want and somebody piles all this stuff in a bowl. It’s like a salad bar without all the tedious and exhausting legwork. And while it’s a real step-saver for the hungry patron, it also saves the restaurant from the laborious process of creating actual recipes. It can be good, but then so can opening every Tupperware and eating a bowl of cold leftovers.
Monday, May 14, 2018
It’s one thing to be surprised by something wonderful that’s gone on for a long time before you notice it. It’s another to declare that this wonderful thing was unknown and unseen and uncelebrated until you discovered it. Black people make music! Unschooled hillbillies make art! Women write books! Ain’t I clever to have noticed? Often, these amazing discoveries occur long after the work is done, the purpose achieved, the creators long gone. Like busy little insects stumbling across something big and dead, and dragging bits of it back to the hive. Art needs critics like the sky needs astronomers.
Monday, April 30, 2018
If there’s this one thing you like to cook that you always end up saying, “Well, that’s just more for me,” maybe you should change recipes. If you keep saying “I can quit whenever I want,” maybe it’s time to wonder why you never want to. If you think the people who make garments have been sneakily and gradually using less cloth every year, maybe you should admit you need bigger pants. If you notice that somebody is looking at you slackjawed, head cocked liked a puzzled dog, maybe you should shut up about what a great listener you are.
Monday, April 23, 2018
Every field of endeavor has its jargon. Like when farmers are running implements across their acreage real fast, they’ll call it walking the dog to make work sound like fun. Soldiers might talk about the pink mist or blue on blue contact to make horrible things sound a little less horrible. In the cubicles where the business of business gets done, you might jump on a call to hammer out a game plan that puts boots on the ground. Maybe circle back to grab hold of some actionable metrics. All this language to make it sound like you’re doing something.
Monday, April 16, 2018
I read once about how a Chinese emperor might spend his days moving through spare harmonious uncluttered spaces no matter where he walked in his palace. It was because when he looked as if he wanted to sit, a chair would miraculously appear. If it seemed he might want write, suddenly he would have desk, paper, pen, ink. The people who provided these services where invisible, unnoticed, unmentioned. My life is kind of like that, but it’s globally outsourced so it’s hard to feel any personal responsibility. I own maybe a billionth each of maybe a billion slaves. You too.
Monday, April 9, 2018
We’ve had some pretty loony ideas. I mean collectively – not just me and my immediate family. “Let’s visit Thomas Edison’s boyhood home,” is not all that weird. But what about “Why not boil up these tiny lobsters with some hot pepper and wash ‘em down with beer.” “Hey! We could set fire to these leaves and suck the smoke into our lungs!” “I’ll bet this special powder could drive a small chunk of metal through a tube fast enough to punch a hole right through a human!” And, “Walking is so slow. Let’s sit on these enormous powerful excitable animals.”
Monday, March 26, 2018
There’s this magazine in my house that features many pictures of extremely thin young women wearing shoes that if the Spanish Inquisition was to threaten me with them I would without hesitation deny my God. Presumably, the reader is encouraged to strap these implements onto her own feet. Voluntarily. Meanwhile, the folks at Yves Saint Laurent are advertising a perfume called Black Opium. I see what they’re going for. Edgy. Exotic. Illicit. But let’s just say no. They need a new brand name that’s drug free but still as glamourous, forbidden, and darkly seductive as substance abuse. Maybe “Bowel Cancer.”
Monday, March 19, 2018
Some people have names that seem to predetermine their careers. Like, once there was a boy named Wally Cox, and he wanted to be an actor. So he did that, but first he had to change his name to Bud Cort because there was already an actor named Wally Cox. See, two actors can’t be in the union with the same stage name. (Musicians have no such rule, so we can have multiples of Bill Evans.) Then there’s Heinrich Hertz. I suppose if your family name means “cycles per second,” you inevitably grow up to do some kind of science.
Monday, March 12, 2018
Stephen Jay Gould said interbreeding a chimpanzee with a human being would be “the most potentially interesting and ethically unacceptable experiment I can imagine.” I believe this shows a lack of imagination. What about creating a hideous chimera that was simultaneously a breath mint and a candy mint? Or an unnatural garment that combined the functions of shirt and jacket? Suppose a twisted genius were to bring together the attributes of a fork and a spoon in a single utensil? What if it occurred to some rogue restaurateur to combine breakfast with lunch? What if it included a jazz trio?
Monday, March 5, 2018
It was awful chilly (for here) so I put on my leather jacket when I went to the coffeehouse. And one of the young folkies said, “Hey, is that vintage?” I looked at it and said, “Well, it is now.” It’s weird when stuff you got new is a collector’s item. The thing is, once you’re done growing everything fits forever and some things take forever to wear out. It depends on how much use they get. Like, my dress shoes and work boots will probably last the rest of my life. I‘m pretty rough on the leisure wear, though.
Monday, February 26, 2018
You need a license to be a plumber or electrician or HVAC technician. (See? Poetic.) You also need a license to cut people’s hair or paint their nails. You need a license to sell beer or to go fishing. You need a license to help somebody get born and another to embalm them when they die. Dentist, detective, dietician? Licensed. From head to toe, optometrist to podiatrist, you need a license. Locksmiths, massage therapists, hair braiders – hair braiders! – need licenses. Mimes and buskers, too. And, of course, you need a license to drive a motor vehicle. Those things are dangerous.
Monday, February 19, 2018
Some people say there’s no such thing as a stupid question. I would like to ask them why they say that. I would like to ask over and over, because any question gets stupid if you ask it enough times. Like shouldn’t beheaded mean the exact opposite? What does Chanel No. 4 smell like? Why isn’t anything old-fangled? Is Shigella really the legit name of a bacterium or is that just the Yiddish word for it? That’s about it. Oh. Yeah. One more thing. Does anybody actually think this is what the founding fathers meant by a well regulated militia?
Monday, February 12, 2018
There was a story in the paper that asked the question, “How do you review a restaurant whose chef is accused of assault?” Which aside from being the most white people problem ever, addresses a quandary we might all encounter – how to separate the art from the artist. Is it okay to enjoy the work of Miles Davis even though he was notorious for knocking women around? Joseph “Exterminate all the brutes!” Conrad? Or further back, the work of Richard “I was Nazi before Nazi was cool” Wagner? I say yes. Because they’re dead and can no longer collect royalties.
Monday, February 5, 2018
I have neglected pencils as a topic for far too long. A box of 72 special “golf pencils” sells for $11.99. What makes them golf pencils is that they are only 3 ½ inches long. They are short pencils, about half the length of a normal pencil, which I can get 36 of those for $4.29, or 72 for $8.58. Why is this great? Dude, this an opportunity to use one half each of 72 pencils, then sell them for a cool $3.41 profit. It’s like getting paid to write, which should be the whole point of it, I think.
Monday, January 29, 2018
By all reports, North America was a pretty nice place to live before 1492. People had figured out how to grow maize and beans and squash, and how to groom forests to make harvesting venison more convenient. They built mounds and buried golden plates for Joseph Smith to find. Then a (literal) plague of Europeans arrived. In a historical blink of an eye the forests where stripped away, the mountaintops removed, the rivers dammed, the grasslands desertified. A time-lapse movie of the last five centuries would look like maggots on roadkill. It’s a shame we can’t make immigration reform retroactive.
Monday, January 22, 2018
Other than holding a bunch of unarmed noncombatants hostage to ideological conflicts that have as much lasting consequence as the Nestorian heresy the worst part about neo-tribalism is how once you pick sides you have to swallow an entire set of orthodoxies in one big bolus. As a result you got smart people who choose to be stupid on specific chosen topics. Like there’s good science that indicates that climate change is caused by human agency and that GMO foods are safe and nutritious. And most of us are absolutely convinced that one of those statements cannot possibly be true.
Monday, January 15, 2018
Suppose you attended journalism school with a minor in political science. Suppose further that you had decided that a career in broadcasting was what you wanted, that you had interned first at a small-market station, become a stringer, a staff reporter, finally gotten a shot at the big desk. And from there the quality of your work and your studied on-air gravitas have earned you a national audience. You have the respect of your colleagues and the trust of an audience of untold thousands. What is left to strive for? The opportunity to repeat the word “shithole” on the air.
Monday, January 8, 2018
A hospital near Bangkok is providing penis lightening laser treatments. Longtime readers will know that I’m not the kind of writer to use this news as license to make cheap jests invoking schoolboy euphemisms for the male genitalia. Not happening. But I do have questions. Like, isn’t this something to be avoided? I know if someone asked me, “What should I do with this laser?” I would likely respond, “I don’t care, just don’t point it at my penis.” In fact, didn’t Goldfinger threaten James Bond with this very treatment? And finally, are these people simply confusing albedo with libido?
Monday, January 1, 2018
Everybody makes these lists for the new year, so me too. Even better, mine is a countdown of lists. Okay: Five things I will never ingest again: Tang. Space Food Sticks. Pimento loaf. Those candy dots on a strip of paper. And this one big bug that fell out of a tree (I was drunk). Four people you didn’t know weren’t Jewish: Dave Brubeck. Charlie Chaplin. Bruce Springsteen. Rachel Maddow. Three Stooges who are not the Three Stooges: Joe Besser. Joe DeRita. Joe Lieberman. Two perfect things that we’ve actually gotten right and don’t need to change ever: Shoelaces. Pencils.