May 2003 Archives

¿como se llamas tus llamas?


Dustin's parents have llamas. Two of them, named Victoria and Junior. Real, honest-to-goodness, native-to-the-Andes llamas, living in the backyard of a house in Martinez, California.

They got the llamas because of the goats. Dustin's parents also have goats, named Annie and Barbara. The goats have great names because you can pronounce them like you yourself are a goat. I wonder if the llamas are jealous of the goats' clever names.

The goats maintain Dustin's parents' property. They eat grass and dry brush around the big backyard. I have always heard that goats will eat anything, so the grass and dry brush is probably the least of it. I have also always wanted to feed them trash, like tin cans and old shoes, just to see if they would eat it, but I fear what might result if I overestimated their gastronomic capabilities. You can also grab the goats' horns and wrestle with them, which they seem to like. They don't seem to have any desire to butt people.

Dustin had just gotten used to the goats. It was pretty strange to have them at his house, but he had grown to accept it, embrace the eccentric wonder of being a goat owner. But he might have a little more trouble getting acclimated to an animal that, as far as I know, isn't even indigenous to this continent. I think they also spit a lot more than the goats do.

There's a "Sesame Street" episode where a girl takes her pet llama to the dentist to get its teeth cleaned, which I still consider one of the most fascinating and terrifying things I've ever seen on television. Those teeth! Those lips! The inevitable "llama/pajama" rhyme!

Dustin's parents got the llamas to protect the goats. I don't know if llamas are particularly fierce, but they are probably a little tougher than goats. Bigger, if nothing else. Still, I would think lllamas wouldn't really be contenders in any kind of an animal kingdom Tough Man-style contest. Which begs the question: What are Dustin's parents going to do to protect the llamas?

YEAR: 2009

Dustin: Thanks for coming over, Sean. Did you graduate yet?
Sean: Just got a few more classes to go.
Dustin: Yeah, me too. Anyway, have you seen what my parents just got?
Sean: No, what is it?
Dustin: It's a giant.
Sean: A giant?
Dustin: Yeah, a giant. They got him from Narnia.
Sean: Um, why a giant?
Dustin: They got it to protect the blue whale, which is guarding the elephants, which guards the llamas, which are guarding the goats.
Sean: That's a lot of pets, Dustin.
Dustin: Also, the goats guard a family of kittens, which protect a bunch of mice, which guard some spiders, which are watching over an ant colony.
Sean: An ant colony?
Dustin: It's protecting a small petri dish full of protozoa. The ants have been given my room.
Sean: And have all these animals seeen you naked, Dustin?
Dustin: Yes.

Goddamn I am excited about meeting these goddamn llamas, goddamn it.

near-great moments in retorts


Since he was a young man, my godfather, Buzz, has had a great comeback stored up, ready to be whipped out for devastating effect. It's a retort so powerful, so witty, that the retortee could only react with stunned silence and/or tears. It only requires the correct lead-in.



Retortee: What a day. I am hot from the sun.
Buzz: Nice to meet you, Hot. I'm Buzz, from the Earth.

Devastating, I tell you! Or, at least, it would be, if anyone actually said they were "hot from the sun," rather than simply "hot." Still, if ever there's a recent Eastern European immigrant with a limited grasp of English idioms that encounters Buzz on a sweltering summer afternoon, it could very well become a truly Great Moment in Retorts.

On Friday night, I attended Gay and Lesbian Night at Great America. My friend Cody was celebrating his graduation and birthday party, so a group of us came out to celebrate the occasion and enjoy the roller coaster goodness.

Right away, one can see the difference at Great America, due to Gay and Lesbian Night. There were at least 75% fewer overweight people there; fatasses are usually as much a part of the park as Logger's Run or the Vortex. People performing in the "Superstars" make-your-own-music-video booth had actual talent. Everyone was extremely friendly and nice - I didn't witness any pushing or shoving in line, and there was a lot more random conversation with strangers than usual. You could buy beer and malt liquor beverages. The most popular prizes at the arcades were oversized stuffed bananas. And there were free handjobs on Sponge Bob ride.

OK, that last one was a lie.

I'm not gay myself, despite what my parents might secretly suspect. I'm they have resigned themselves to grandchildrenlessness from me, and my attendance at Gay and Lesbian Night merely confirmed a lot of their suspicions.

Sean: I'm going to a play tonight, Mom.
Mom: (knowing glance at Dad) Have fun.

Dad: So what did you do this week, Sean?
Sean: We painted and redecorated the apartment.
Dad: (knowing glance at Mom) Sounds... fun.

Sean: So, Aaron's going to move in with his girlfriend.
Mom: Oh, honey, are you all right?
Sean: Yeah, I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?
Mom: (knowing glance at Dad) No reason.

Anyway, I had a really good time, even as a touristing heterosexual, even though the girl-watching element of going to an amusement park was non-existant. Not to say that there weren't attractive girls there. The problem is, cute lesbians at a theme park is very much like sunbathing high school girls at the pool where I work. Sure, there's eye candy, but it's hard to get enthused when, for social and/or legal reasons, there's zero candy-enjoying potential.

To the rides!

Top Gun: Just an extremely good stand-up roller coaster. Even after you've gone on it many times, it still surprises you, especially the portion where the track nears the water. Still, if Great America was really intent on simulating the experience of being on the deck of an aircraft carrier, you'd think they might have budgeted more than $35 for the decor. Maybe pumping Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone" makes some visitors believe in the balsa wood faux flight equipment, but not this one.

The Revolution: Bourgeois rentier capitalist amusement parks, your time has come! The Revolution will not be televised! Change will come, change out the riders' pockets, redistributed to the proletariat water. The shackles of theme park oppression will be broken, except for the chest-crushing restraints and the big heavy thing over your crotch.

The Demon: Not as good as Top Gun, but the Demon has become the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad of Great America: older roller coaster, but still great - mostly undervalued because there are newer attractions. So, lines are short, but payoff remains high. The Demon simply needs to bill itself as the second-wildest ride in the wilderness, and it'll be set.

The Demon also manages to get by with just the chest restraints. It is perhaps the only attraction in the whole park that does not involve a heavy piece of metal resting locked in over one's crotch. The roller coaster might come off the rails, but they'll be damned if your crotch is taking a hit. If Great America made automobiles, each car would be equipped with crotch airbags on the driver's and passenger side. Your car might be hurtling across the freeway at 75 MPH, but your crotch would enjoy a smooth, cushioned ride.

The Grizzly: What's notable about the Grizzly is, besides the skull-rattling wooden ride, is the semi-abandoned office park visible as you exit the ride. Great America is in the heart of Santa Clara, and is surrounded by the wreckage of the tech bubble's crash. For many of the park's neighbors, a real scary ride would involve worthless stock options, layoffs, or a rapidly increasing price-to-earnings ratio.

If Great America was run like other companies in same area, there'd be free admission. PayPal donations would fund the Nickelodeon Fun Area. Employees would have stock options and unlimited cotton candy. Benches would be replaced with thousand-dollar ergonomic chairs. And to pay for the park's upkeep, there would be small ads on the back of each roller coaster car. Everyone at the park, employee or patron, would be a millionaire, at least on paper.

When I left the park, dancing was in full swing. A very talented drag queen was lip-synching "All By Myself" across from the Demon. Yellow and blue Human Rights Watch stickers were plastered in the lines for every ride. The rides were closing, so I headed to the parking lot. It had been a great night, but I was done; roller coasters are great, but I do not dance, except in musicals.

Mom: Oh, you'd dance in a musical? (knowing glance at Dad)
Sean: Goodnight everybody!

Male Nurse Trebek

Surgeon: We're losing him.

(EKG flatlines. Patient expires)

Female nurse: He's dead.
Alex Trebek: I'm sorry, it was a blockage in the right ventricle. The right ventricle.

Bomb Squad Trebek

Police Ballistics Expert: Should I cut the red wire, or the blue wire? Dammit, there's no time!

(Cuts blue wire)

Alex Trebek: The wire leading to the power supply is generally marked red, so you should have cut the blue wire. The blue wire. That'll cost you.

State Attorney Trebek

Defense Attorney: Due to the extenuating circumstances of the case, and the attempt at restitution made by the defendant, we would ask that the state agree to a suspended sentence and extended probation in exchange for a plea of "Guilty."

Alex Trebek: Can we accept that? Judges?

(Three beeps emanate from the bench)

Alex Trebek: I'm sorry, the state of California insists on jail time. Jail time.

Stand-Up Comedian Trebek

Alex Trebek: ...So we drive on a parkway, but we park on a driveway. And on Jeopardy!, the questions are the answers, and the answers are the questions. What's the deal with that?


Alex Trebek: Johnny Gilbert, is this thing on?

Wheel of Fortune Trebek

Contestant #1: I'd like to buy a vowel.

Alex Trebek: (Sighs) If you must.

Contestant #1: Can I "U"?

Alex Trebek: For the love of God, it's "Laissez-Faire Economics!" "Laissez-Faire Economics!" This isn't that difficult, people!

Contestant #2: Alex, I'd like to solve the puzzle.

Alex Trebek: (Sighs) If you must.

Google Search Engine Trebek

Google User: (types "pyongang north korea")

Alex Trebek: Did you mean pyongyang north korea?

Google User: Even in search engine form you remain smug, Trebek!

today's young people

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People are always asking me about today's young people, because they know that I, as a swim coach, have the respect and trust of the young people. The young people listen to what I say. The young people stack their kickboards when I ask them to. The young people confess to me their most profound anxities, their deepest secrets.

And so it is that I can state with confidence the two most compelling issues to the young people of today: Caterpillars and Gummi-Worms. First, caterpillars. Our pool had swarms of caterpillars yesterday, crawling across the cement, falling into the pool, inching their way across the dangerous volleyball court. The children sprung into action. Swim pratice was secondary to the task of rescuing the caterpillars, making caterpillar homes out of empty boxes of Cheez-Its, debating whether the caterpillars were poisonous, and trying to find caterpillar food. Even after practice, the pool was abuzz. Not with the usual gossip about Coach Sean's hair, or Coach Sean's revolutionary side-breathing drills, but with the quest to find and rescue as many caterpillars as possible.

The caterpillars were not poisonous, by the way.

The media talks a lot about how kids today are apathetic, how they don't believe in anything. Maybe they'd be right if they were talking about streamlining off the wall, or quieting down when their handsome coach is talking, or even washing said coach's car, but it's a different story with caterpillars. They show a concern for caterpillars that exceeds their empathy for their peers or younger siblings. They hit each other over the head with kickboards, yet delicately carry multiple caterpillars in the palms of their hands without jostling them. Caterpillars mean something to these kids. I think that with the right platform, a third-party caterpillar candidate could do quite well in the 2024 presidential election.

Gummi-Worms are also important, due to their bright colors and deliciousness. The youth of today loves Gummi-Worms nearly as much as caterpillars. I have fielded as many questions about Gummi-Worms in the past two weeks as I have about my personal life, stroke technique, and the Iraqi conflict combined. The youth of today want Gummi-Worms, and I will be the man to provide them. Except to Lane 4 if they don't stop splashing right this instant.

From Chazz Palmentieri's "A Bronx Tale":

"Alright, listen to me. You pull up right where she lives, right? Before you get outta the car, you lock both doors. Then, get outta the car, you walk over to her. You bring her over to the car. Dig out the key, put it in the lock and open the door for her. Then you let her get in. Then you close the door. Then you walk around the back of the car and look through the rear window. If she doesn't reach over and lift up that button so that you can get in: dump her."

"Just like that?"

"Listen to me, kid. If she doesn't reach over and lift up that button so that you can get in, that means she's a selfish broad and all you're seeing is the tip of the iceberg. You dump her and you dump her fast."

The Door Test is a brilliant exercise to judge the relative selfishness of broads one encounters. It's very simple, in that you don't really have to administer a test - you just unlock the door, walk slowly around the back, and wait for truth to emerge. There's no subjectivity either. The Door Test is 1/0, Pass/Fail, Keep/Dump. It's better than evaluating door-opening in a non-automotive context, because there are no confounds like issues of chivalry, or the risk of pedestrian traffic jams. The lock button is judge and jury, presiding over the Door Test like a Roman emperor watching gladiators, indicating a broad's success or failure with a mechanical "thumbs-up" or "thumbs-down."

A female acquaintance of mine recently failed the Door test four times, over a two-day span. One or even two such failures might be understandable, but four indicates a certain lack of empathy. It won't change the way I relate to said acquaintance, probably, but it's somewhat disheartening to learn what sort of broad a girl truly is. In contrast, Miss Fitzpadrick passed the Door Test with flying colors, leaning over to unlock the driver's door before her own door was even shut. Huzzah, Miss Fitzpadrick, huzzah.

I wonder if technology will soon render the Door Test obsolete. My own car lacks the power door locks so omnipresent on today's horseless carriages, but other vehicles are becoming too modern for the Door Test. Does Mr. Lexus C-Class even notice that his ultra-convenient remote-keypad door-unlocker is, in effect, destroying his car's selfish-broad-detecting capabilities?

It may be past the heyday of the Door Test, but I plan to keep utilizing it as long as I can to separate the broad wheat from the broad chaff. And when the last manual door locks disappear, and we're all riding in hovercrafts with robot chauffeurs, I will shed a brief tear for the Door Test, and move onto the only possible remaining system of broad evaluation: whether or not she'll put out.

more like bad-ison avenue!


Recently, the boundaries of advertising have shifted. Or, possibly, without cable television in my apartment, I am simply more easily shocked by the style and content of the ads thrown in my path through e-mail and regional sports programming. Questions:

1) Since when is it OK to be pitching hard liquor on television? Did the laws change, or was it just a sudden, across-the-board shift in network policy? At first, I thought companies were advertising the malt liquoresque knockoff drinks like Smirnoff Ice and the Captain Morgan's-brand-girl-beer in order to also hype the parent alcohol product. But now, I regularly see TV spots for Jack Daniel's, usually promoting the whiskey's age and quality.

The kicker is that each ad carries the tagline, "Enjoy responsibly." I'm not sure if there's really a "responsible" manner in which to consume Jack Daniel's, especially if the target whiskey drinker was inspired by a commercial airing before the 8th inning of a Giants-Expos clash. Really, a more functional tagline would be "Enjoy as responsibly as possible, while drinking 80 proof alcohol," or "Beer before liquor, never be sicker," or even "Please do not wet your pants."

2) In the pornographic spam e-mail I receive, why must the girls advertised be both Barely Legal and also residents of Third World countries? Regular American cum-guzzling sluts are apparently run-of-the-mill and ordinary; the porno spam community demands underage AND underprivileged erotic models. Does the simple act of masturbation have to involve a fucking Development Studies lecture?

3) Did I miss the breakthrough in the field of penis-enlargement technology that happened sometime in early 2002? All of the sudden, the AM airwaves and my in-box are constantly casting aspersions on my manhood, my ability to please a woman, and even my ability to go into a locker room with my dignity intact. Ron Jeremy's Law states that penis-enlargement power will double every 18 months, so I shouldn't be too surprised. I guess I didn't realize how dedicated these penis researchers were, working round-the-clock in their quest to aid the men and women of America.

On a more personal note, I don't believe in using penis-enlargement products that have been tested on animals, because that's just wrong. Unless it was like a tooth-whitening, penis-growing multi-vitamin with ephedra in it. How about it, penis scientists?

4) Why does the little boy look so scared in the Uniroyal Nail Guard commercials that run ceaselessly on Fox Sports Net telecasts? He's sitting in the back, his mom survives a flat tire, and he's clearly terrified. Huge, staring eyes, and trembling hands while the other children cheer. No one noticed this in any stage of production? Is this supposed to scare mothers and fathers into getting some goddamn nail protection for their goddamn tires? Seriously, maybe Child Protective Services needs to look at the dailies from that shoot.

5) Is Wendy's involved with the Mafia? First the "Where's the Beef" lady dies, and now Dave Thomas bites it. You're telling me this is a coincidence? Plus, the burgers are fucking square. Something sinister has got to be going on here, OK?

the matrix: reloaded


Ever since I saw "Bound", I have been a big fan of the Wachowski brothers. Of course, "The Matrix" pretty much blows "Bound" out of the water, though it lacks the crucial hot girl-girl sex that really gave "Bound" its heart.

One of the elements I liked in both movies was the Communist themes running throughout. Joe Pantoliano has to wash a bunch of blood out of money in "Bound," Neo takes a red pill to be able to see the truth, etc. Unfortunately, the way I introduced this line of thought to my associates at the Squelch was, "I think 'The Matrix' is better than The Communist Manifesto." I wanted to talk about the big machine of capitalism feeding off the blood of workers, or the use of color, or... well, it didn't matter, because you can't go into any kind of rational discussion when you lead with a bold claim like "I think 'The Matrix' is better than The Communist Manifesto."

So tonight I'm seeing "Matrix 2." I will predict in this space, only slightly less boldly, that it will be better than the sequel to the The Communist Manifesto.


On Friday, I was setting up the pool for practice when I discovered, under the pool cover, a large drowned rat. It seemed enormous for a rat, possibly due to being water-logged. I fished the rat corpse out with a large net, double-bagged it, and tossed it into the dumpster.

I was concerned that the dead animal posed a health hazard. I announced that practice would be delayed until I talked to the pool manager, who quickly informed me that they often had "varmint issues." Dead rats aren't a problem as long as the chlorine level is sufficiently high, which it was. Practice was back on schedule, and the 6 & Under group excitedly lined up.

Word of the dead rat had spread quickly. I worried that many of the young children would balk at jumping into the jumbo rat's watery grave. Instead, I had never seen them more excited. They wanted to know all about the rat. Was it big? Did it smell? Could they see it? Where had I put the rat? Which dumpster? Was there a chance the rat could be removed from the dumpster so that they could see it and possibly touch it? Could I please be more concerned with their interests the next time we had varmint issues?

I still added extra chlorine to the water, just to be safe.


It was the Fourth of July in 1996, smack dab in the middle of a giant heat wave. I had drawn lifeguarding duty from 11-4, along with a junior guard. Because of the holiday and the oppressive heat, crowds were huge. I was blowing my whistle constantly, yelling at kids for running, jumping twice on the diving board, and general rough housing.

Two hours into my shift, the power went out in the neighborhood. This had two results. One, the pool's filter system shut off. This wasn't such a big deal, since there weren't leaves and pine needles and other natural debris in the water, and anyway we could compensate by adding chemicals. The second effect was that any neighbors who'd been huddled around their air conditioners before would now head to the pool as their only cooling-off option.

Maybe fifteen minutes after we lost power, just when the first swells of heat-stricken neighbors arrived, a fat French kid named René vomited into the water. Projectile vomit. Beaucoup vomit. And, of course, the filters had stopped.

Already stressed by the crowds and the heat, I flew into a whistle-blowing frenzy. I cleared the pool, dumped gallons of chlorine into the water, and slowly, horrifyingly realized I would have to clean up these litres de vomi by hand, while hundreds of sweltering poolgoers observed my progress.

Le père de René stood at my side, apologetically explaining over and over that his son had not seemed ill, had in fact swam and eaten with gusto all day. When people came up to ask why the pool was closed, he would snap, "Look, ze keeds sometimes trow up! It joost happens!" Of course, he didn't offer to aid in my paper-towel-and-net-based cleanup efforts. I felt like one of those Alaskan Exxon Valdez volunteers, only with bile instead of crude oil, and thankfully, no afflicted birds.

While I scrubbed and skimmed, I thought about how much this job sucked. What had I done, I asked myself, to deserve such a fate? Then, I remembered how, days earlier, I had thrown up from drinking for the very first time, in my sleep, all over myself. Kind friends had cleaned up the entire mess, even washing the shirt I'd been wearing, and put me to bed. So maybe, I rationalized, this was just karma coming back around.

Of course, I totally lost my cool when I saw that fat fuck René eating an ice cream sundae half an hour later.


This story didn't happen to me, but I really wish it had.

My friend Kelly was working at a community pool in Richmond, California. That day, an African-American family was having a barbecue. After lunch, one of the aunts waded into the pool, holding a beer in one hand and a large pork rib in the other.

Kelly blew her whistle. "Ma'am," she said. "You can't eat that in the pool."

The woman looked at her in disbelief, then glanced down at her sauce-covered hand. "It's just a rib," she explained, and continued wading.

I was at some sort of camp, working as a swim and writing instructor. In the morning I was informed of two things: The Squelch was taking a "field trip to Zembla" that day, but before that occurred, I was to play in the camp's celebrity soccer game. Most of the players were just ordinary campers, except for the opposing goalkeeper, Arsenal's David Seaman, and my teammate, pop superstar John Mayer.

My father Dennis was there, trying to give me tips on game strategy, and how to get it past Seaman. I tried to listen, but I felt so tired that it was hard to get going. The opposing team was kicking our asses from the get-go, with Seaman making save after save and even scoring on an embarrassing breakaway where he dribbled right past me. Dave Matthews-soundalike John Mayer was the only one keeping our team respectable. And he was letting me know about my defensive failures.

"You're playing like Sunderland!" Dennis shouted, and I had to agree. Mayer just would not shut up, either. This is when the tide began to turn. I began to play with a ferocity not seen since the animals went at it in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I scored one goal past a showboating Seaman. I slide tackled a young child, earning more disapproval from Mayer, but setting up another goal for our team. Finally, the ponytailed Seaman missed a back pass from one of his teammates, leading to an own goal. Somehow, we had triumphed.

I ran over to John Mayer for a celebratory high five. His guard down, I put him in a quick headlock, and began giving him a noogie. "I'm John Mayer," I said to him. "Blah blah blah. My brand of acoustic-guitar-based pop has earned me a legion of followers. Blah blah blah. I sound like Dave Matthews. Blah blah blah."

When I released John Mayer, he looked like he was about to cry, but he was laughing. He told me he was a big fan of my work on Zembla and was sorry he couldn't attend the field trip. He congratulated me on the game, met my sister Molly, and, as we were parting, gave me a hug. I whispered, "John, your body is a wonderland," and then I woke up.

*warning: contains spoilers*


Note: Avoid this entry if you haven't seen or plan to see Citizen Kane, Dick Tracy, The Usual Suspects, Seven, The Sixth Sense, Presumed Innocent, or The Crying Game.

I don't go to very many movies. Many of my friends tend to go to the cinema with their significant others. I'm hyper-critical about filmed entertainments. Plus, I don't "date" much. I'm not in a "relationship." I spend most weekend evenings "crying into a pillow."

The other factor in my movie non-attendance is that I seem to attract spoilers like a souped-up Camaro at a white trash discount auto parts fair. I can clearly remember being ten years old and hearing my friend breathlessly describe the shocking Madonna-related plot twist in Dick Tracy. I learned that Rosebud was the name of Charles Foster Kane's sled before I even knew what Citizen Kane was. My parents took me and my sister to see The Crying Game about an hour after I found out that Jaye Davidson had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor in that same film.

I've also witnessed a lot of spoilers given to other people. Many years ago, my friend Adam gave away the ending of a movie to our friend Brad. Brad bided his time. Months later, we rented Seven. Brad and I had already seen it, but it was Adam's first time. After the scene where Brad Pitt shoves Kevin Spacey, disguised as a photographer, my friend Brad loudly exclaimed, "Boy, if someone did that to me, I'd kill his wife and his unborn child!" Adam laughed at first, and then went white as he realized the movie had been ruined for him.

A few weeks later, Brad was retelling the story to our friend Dan. He remarked on how perfect the revenge was, how helpless Adam had been. "It would have been like the credits for The Usual Suspects had said, 'Starring Kevin Spacey as Keyser Soze.'" Dan, who hadn't seen The Usual Suspects yet, silently wept.

As a result of this, I'm always on my guard when anyone is discussing movies. At the slightest mention of a suspense film, I'm ready to jam my fingers in my ears and yell, "I'm no-o-o-ot lis-ten-ing!" Still, sometimes, all preparations are for naught.

When The Sixth Sense came out, I heard right away that there was some secret to the film, a great surprise ending that left everyone who saw it shocked and amazed. Knowing that, I was on my guard. I couldn't see it on its opening weekend, but I was planning to see it the second week it was out. After class one afternoon, I boarded an AC Transit bus. The driver was trapped in a conversation with an eager graduate student, who mentioned in every other sentence that he was a linguist. I relaxed. The bus driver didn't really know what a linguist was, so the graduate student searched for an example.

"Have you seen the movie Stargate?" he asked.

The bus driver shook her head.

Disappointed, he continued on this new conversational tack. "OK. OK. Hey, have you seen The Sixth Sense? It's good."

Instantly, I froze. The bus driver answered quickly.

"Oh yeah. Wasn't it surprising how Bruce Willis turned out to be dead the whole time?"

I threw down my copy of the Berkeley Daily Planet in disgust. I left the bus, cursing under my breath, wishing there was a way I could go back in time and avoid the whole conversation, or, failing that, ring the "Stop Requested" bell loudly and angrily. But there isn't. Time travel would lead to many dangerous paradoxes, and the "Stop Requested" bell sounds wussy no matter how hard you pull the cord.

Presumed Innocent isn't really covered in this blog entry, but the ending is pretty unexpected, if you haven't read the book already like I had.

Usually Zembla is not home to long descriptions of dreams, but last night's was especially vivid, timely, and wacky, so here goes:

I was at my uncle and aunt's house in Atherton, though they weren't home. Mike Barnett and his girlfriend Jessica were there, as was Academy Award-winning actor Michael Caine. Michael Caine had an advanced case of SARS, and thus was confined to the study, where he tottered about in bedclothes and a surgical mask. In the dream, I was struck by how calm Michael Caine was, how bravely he faced his own mortality. He and I spoke a lot, primarily about the time when he had played Scrooge in our ill-fated Diablo Light Opera Company Stars 2000 production of "A Christmas Carol." I had worked stage crew for the show, but what impressed Michael Caine the most was how I had saved the technical rehearsal with some quick thinking and calm action.

I felt bad hearing Michael Caine lavish praise upon me, both because he was so sick and so brave, but also because I couldn't remember the show or the incidents he kept complimenting me about. Mike and Jessica confirmed that actor Michael Caine had indeed played Scrooge for a Contra Costa County teen theater production, and suggested my memory was faulty. After some time, I was convinced, both of Michael Caine's performance and in my own vaguely-explained role in saving the production.

Watching Michael Caine suffering from SARS began to make me very sad, and I think I may have even wept in my sleep. I wasn't weeping for the imminent loss of such a fine actor, which Michael Caine probably is, although I haven't seen any of his films since "Noises Off." No, I had always been impressed by Michael Caine the actor, but, as I told Michael Caine himself, seeing him battling SARS in my aunt and uncle's study had made me even more impressed with Michael Caine the man. I think we would have hugged, except for the whole SARS quarantine thing.

When I woke up, I felt terribly sad. We had lost a fine man, as well as any and all hope for "Blame It On Rio II." It wasn't until I was in the car driving to work that I began to question whether Michael Caine had really chosen to work with Diane Kamrin and the rest of the DLOC crew in a role he'd already pioneered in "Muppet Christmas Carol". ("Slightly less respectable than Stars 2000," Mr. Barnett remarks) Yes, it had all been a dream, and Michael Caine was still alive to make a bunch of critically-acclaimed films that I would never, ever see. The lasting goodwill I now feel toward the man is enough to make me rent "The Quiet American," except Brendan Fraser is in it and it's based on a crappy Graham Greene novel and I don't really want to have to picture Michael Caine doing it with a teenage Vietnamese girl.

My cousin celebrated his First Holy Communion on Saturday, the second-most notable occurrence of the day for me. Since I am a heretic, I viewed the ceremonial first feast of Christ's transubstantiated flesh with a more detached, dispassionate eye. Other people see a young man taking the first step toward embracing the savior and living eternally in His love. Me, I try to look for the weird and the comedic as I journey down the road to Hell.

The first thing I noticed was that Catholics cannot sing. Not that you could really tell, since every single hymn is a lockstep, droning, tuneless dirge. To make matters worse, this church, along with a few others I have attended, has decided that many of its prayers should be sung, but without any attempt to fit a reasonable melody. What results is that a bunch of tone-deaf white people warble, "Ou-ur fa-a-ther/ Who art in hea-a-ven," and the Lord's Prayer takes three-and-a-half minutes to get through, and the Baby Jesus cries.

Maybe my perspective has changed because of the church across the street from my apartment. It was the Christian Layman Church for a few years, and was very sparsely attended. I used to imagine what church services would be like there:

PRIEST: And now, an epistle from Paul to the Corinthians. Be not...
CHURCHGOER: Uh, father? Could you, um, you know...?
PRIEST: Put it in layman's terms?
PRIEST: OK. So Paul is writing a letter to these dudes in Greece, and...

About two years ago, the Laymen were replaced by a large Baptist Church. Now, Sunday mornings on Ward Street feature gospel music, well-dressed African-American families, a multitude of fancy hats. Walking by one afternoon, I heard the minister thundering, "You know the difference between Ice Cube and Vanilla Ice. But do you know the difference between damnation and salvation?!?"

Maybe it's unrealistic of me to hold up my Irish Catholic family to the musical standards of a gospel choir. Still, even if rhythmn is too much to ask for, couldn't there be melody? Couldn't there be meter? Does off-key singing keep the devil away? (Answers: No. No. Maybe.)

It's also a bit unsettling to see a bunch of suit-clad eight year-olds affirming their commitment to following Jesus and rejecting Satan. The little girls wear white dresses and veils, I guess because they're marrying Jesus. I know that when I was eight, I basically treated religion like it was school. Adults would think I was extremely devout and holy, mainly just because I could read and remember large portions of the Bible. I was just worried there might be a test or a Bible trivia competition coming up, which I would of course be expected to ace. There wasn't much spirituality to the whole thing, unless you count the enormous guilt - I once stayed awake at night for a month after I ate half of a butterscotch candy out of the Brach's bin at Safeway, positive I was bound for Hell. Which I guess I am, for different reasons, if Jesus turns out to be right.

My main point is that young children don't really have the capacity to make decisions about their spiritual lives. I got baptized when I was seven (older than normal). When I went up to get my head doused in holy water, the priest had me remove my prized sport jacket, just so it wouldn't get wet. Because of all the Satan talk that followed, I was left with the impression that the suit jacket was removed because it was dark-colored. For years, I would watch anxiously when men in suits would do anything near the altar, for fear that the devil would take advantage of their dark-jacketed vulnerability.

My cousin wore a gray suit for the ceremony, and he can't sing, so I think Satan's out of luck this time!

Top Five Rejected Lyrics From Bryan Adams' "Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?"

5. Tell me have you really really really really loved a woman?
4. Seriously? I mean, really really really loved a woman?
3. Really really really really really have you really really really really really really loved a real woman?
2. Dude, cross your heart and hope to die, have you fucking loved a woman or not, motherfucker?
1. Oh, you can't tell me it's not worth really really dying for, I can't help it, there's nothing I want more

Kristen has already written about Sarah, who rescues turtles in Costa Rica. While she focused on the good, selfless animal-related work, I am going to be nitpicky about social behavior and the English language, as usual.

After dinner, I forget who left first, but as they were walking out, they told Sarah, "Good luck with the turtles." Hearing that, I realized that, had I been leaving just then, I probably would have also told Sarah, "Good luck with the turtles."

It turns out everybody says "Good luck with the turtles" when they leave Sarah. Sometimes it's "Say hi to the turtles," but usually it's "Good luck." Such is the nature of casual conversation when people know about your memorable job but very little else about you. At book signings, Neal Pollack is queried about his fictional weblog characters. I work at a children's science museum, so people often ask, "How are the dinosaurs?" when they see me. It's a clever thing to say, only it's actually not, since everyone has the same faux-clever reaction.

My job which requires me to have similar brief conversations with a constant stream of visitors throughout the day. I'm always conveying nearly the same bits of information every time: restrooms are at the bottom of the stairs; we close at 5 pm; yes you have to pay parking in advance; ha ha no only on weekends. Invariably, I say the same things over and over again, like a robot or a philosophical zombie, especially "Thanks" and "Have fun." I say thank you if I get a pen back from a visitor, if they tell me how many adult chaperones are coming in, if they purchase a membership, if they say "thank you" to me. The last usage tends to throw people off - they expect a "you're welcome" or at worst a "No problem."

In response, I have developed many faux-clever things to break up the monotony. I tell schoolchildren that they can't eat in the exhibits because a T. Rex once ate a kid's peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. I tell parents that two-year-olds are free because toddlers are deadbeats who can't hold a job. And visitors smile at my "witticisms," not knowing that I've repeated that same joke ten times already that day.

What I'm recommending is, when interacting with charming British biologists, look past the knee-jerk "clever" response. Instead of wishing Sarah fortune with her turtles, tell her how, even though turtles are quite slow, you felt that the two of you became friends quite quickly. Or, compliment her on coming out of her shell. Or focus on her beauty: "Sarah, as loyal as you are to the turtles, in a competition of personal loveliness, your hare would be the winner."

What I'm recommending when interacting with parents of dinosaur-mad youths is just shut up and give them their damn change, OK Sean?

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