Apr 032013


A museum guide is leading a tour at the Smithsonian Museum of Weird Shit.

GUIDE: And this is the Presidential Wing…Here, you’ll see the remarkable inauguration gowns worn by the First Ladies over the years. Each is one of a kind, each has a story to tell, and underneath each, you’ll see the First Ladies’ skeletons, which are used to hold the gowns up.

MAN: And these are…replicas?

GUIDE: All these dresses were actually worn by the First Lady at the inauguration.

MAN: I meant are these the real skeletons themselves? Not just…I don’t know, some high-quality, resin-based replicas made from a mold of the real skeletons?

GUIDE: These are the real deal.

The guide leads the group to the first display.  

GUIDE: It’s the evening of April 30, 1789, and President Washington is speaking at Federal Hall. At his side is Martha, wearing this dress of fine salmon-pink faille. Grand, isn’t it? It might have shocked some patriots to learn that this dress was made in Britain – by the Queen’s dressmaker. But they would have been well-pleased to know that Mrs. Washington’s skeleton was reinforced for the event with strong American hickory.

He reaches out and knocks twice.

WOMAN: Wait, where did you get all these?

GUIDE: They’re on loan from the current First Lady.

WOMAN: The skeletons, I mean.


They walk to a new display.

GUIDE:  This is the dress Mary Todd Lincoln wore in 1865. The deep purple velvet was chosen by her African-American handmaid. And, if you grab her arm and pull, you’ll see what a creaky skeleton she had.  It could often be heard outside of her body as she performed her duties – writing letters, hosting state dinners, keeping in working order the tank that held the deceased First Ladies’ skeletons. Does anyone know which famous catchphrase resulted from this?

BOY SCOUT (hesitantly): “Abraham Leakin’ heard Marry Todd Creakin’ and decided to oil her bones?”

GUIDE: That’s right. Of course, her husband would rarely have had time to carry out a complete oiling, so the procedure was usually was performed by her physician – whose skeleton you can see on her right.

BOY SCOUT:  Man that’s a small cage.

GUIDE (shrugging): People were smaller back then. Moving up a century or so, we have Mamie Eisenhower and Jackie Kennedy. A quick look at the two,  and you’ll see a major shift in fashion.

WOMAN: What are all those marks on Mamie’s femurs?

GUIDE (takes out glasses): Huh. Those are probably from her husband’s claspers.

WOMAN: But they’re so deep.

GUIDE (winking): Guess it shows how much Ike liked her. No, you’re right. They’re unusually deep. And it could be biological, or it could be from back in the seventies, when a group of schoolboys got their hands on the skeleton and did a great deal of whittling and carving. You can still see their initials and messages to each other.

MAN: Did the schoolboys make those bumps?

GUIDE: They did not. Those are called “bone roses” or “skeleton thorns,” and they occur naturally.

MAN: They look painful.

GUIDE: They would have been extremely painful. It’s likely Mamie never even knew where she was, much less that she was the First Lady. Now, finally, over here, we have Ida McKinley, who is popularly believed to have had the greatest wingspan of any First Lady. However, that honor actually belongs to Barbara Bush. Can anyone see how she did it?

BOY SCOUT: Extenders.

GUIDE: Precisely. That’s why we have them fighting here. Obviously, these are not their inauguration dresses. They’re some cool unitards we designed. If there are no further questions, I’ll conclude the tour by pressing this button, and letting them begin. Please stay out of the range of their swords.

MAN: What about all those skeletons over in that corner? Aren’t those part of the exhibit?

GUIDE: Yeah…they’re sort of on their way to the dump, though. Okay, have a good one, folks.

The room fills with sounds of swords clashing and pained robotic bellows. 

 Posted by at 2:14 pm No Responses »
Mar 222013



Here’s how I decided to deal with my acne when I was thirteen:

An office. My 13 year old self is sitting at a desk. Tweezers enters.

Tweezers: Sup.

Me: Oh…hi. Are you some tweezers?

No response. Tweezers just sits down in the chair in front of the desk.

Me: If you are I think you’re in the wrong place. Because I recently got acne and I’m holding interviews to determine the best way to get rid of it.

Tweezers: Yeah, that shit’s all over your face. You should use me to get rid of it.

Me: What? How?

Tweezers: I have sharp metal edges you can poke at your face with.

Me: That would get rid of my acne?

Tweezers: [shrugs] Maybe. [Leaning in to peer at my face] Damn. I sorta wanna touch that shit…

Me: [shrill] No, don’t! [Then, trying to be calm] I was thinking more along the lines of Oxy? Or my friend Alex, right before his Bar Mitzvah, I guess he got this face treatment, right? So he wouldn’t break out that weekend. Do you know how they do that?

Tweezers: Tweezers, probably.


Tweezers: Probably he got his face poked at with sharp metal tweezers.

Long silence.

Me: Well…thank you for coming by. I’ll let you know.

Tweezers: So, who else is in the running? That Clearasil waiting out there?

Me: Sure, maybe.

Tweezers: Because I killed that Clearasil before I came in.

Me: What?!

Tweezers: [shrugs] It’s just some soap.

Me: Oh my god. Oh my god.

Distressed, I run my hands through my (cool, gelled) hair as I try to figure out what to do. Finally, I look up.

Me: Okay, I’m going to give you one chance… but only because semi-formal is tonight. [spraying cologne everywhere] Now come on, we’ve got a lot of work to do.

 Posted by at 9:40 pm 1 Response »
Mar 062012

 “Kanye West media trainer quits after disastrous ‘Today’ interview” – New York Post

Dear Mr. West,

I’m writing to inform you that I will no longer be working as your media trainer.  I reached this decision after your interview on the Today Show—specifically, when I was standing on the rim of Mount Erebus, and I scraped the frost off of my goggles only to see the contrail of my own biplane arching above me. But I’ll try to explain myself in full, since the roots of the problem stretch back further than that.

You came to me a year ago, Kanye, and asked for help. You had recently humiliated a teenager in front of millions, over a piece of trash-metal that MTV had found in its trash. As I watched footage from your other appearances, it became clear that the incident with Ms. Swift was only the beginning. Still, despite the things that gave me pause (your daily assertions that the “2Pacalypse” was at hand; that time you said the members of Coldplay were more talented than The Beatles), I agreed to take you on as a client. I know what media attention does to people. Without accredited training, everybody ends up doing the same things you did.

Unfortunately, you fostered such a toxic work environment that it was almost impossible to help you. On my second day, you heard that a blogger had criticized one of your songs.  You immediately held a press conference and said, “Don’t blame me—didn’t write it.” Then you told everyone that my husband had. That hardly seems necessary, I thought.

Things only got worse. For a man who had criticized George W. Bush in such spectacular fashion, you certainly spent a lot of time with Dick Cheney. One merry afternoon, the vice president was tossing vases at the ceiling and a shard of glass cut me above the eye. You laughed and laughed.

You expected me to perform tasks that weren’t stipulated in my contract. Take these shirts to the dry cleaner. Get me some sushi. Develop me a four-dimensional video camera that records images of music.  (With the budget you gave me, did you really think I could succeed? And did you always have to point it at me, after it became clear that my prototype could “only” predict the death of whomever it was filming?)

I did not enjoy riding in your five-wheeled car. I found it frightening and impractical.  For Christmas, you gave me a Swarovski crystal swan. That’s a really bad present.

But none of these things on their own were enough to make me end our partnership. In spite of everything, you were making progress. You charmed the crowd on Letterman. When you went on The View, your head didn’t explode even once.

Things changed you went on the Today Show. I hope you understand that my clients cannot think that I coached you to act that way. Getting tripped up by Matt Lauer’s routine pleasantries. Taking offense at the most innocuous questions. Tweeting about how unfair the interview was the moment you left the studio. Getting on the first Japanese whaling vessel you could find. Working for your transportation all the way to the Southern Ocean. Sneaking off at night and stowing away on a Finnish icebreaker until it reached the shores of Antarctica. Meeting up with a group of American scientists and forming a close bond, only to tie them up, push snow on top of them, and leave camp with their sled. Riding at breakneck speeds along the ridges of the weakest glaciers, so that they’d collapse and reveal the Palace of the Ice King. Telling the Ice King that if he let you live, you’d perform a concert at in the hall by the menagerie of the snow-beasts. Turning the speakers so loud that they stupefied these people—these gentle people who had never heard anything louder than a swimming seal, or the chimes of an icicle choir. Rushing up to the King as he and his retinue lay dazed, and stealing the man-lings he reared in his warm pouch, thrusting them roughly into your satchel. Taking the tiny creatures to the polar bear who guards the ruby nests, and forcing them to risk their lives to steal the rubies, which you planned to bring to the Seahorse of the North, the scourge of the Frozen Realms and sworn enemy of the Ice King. But some of the rubies, you said, you would give to your media trainer. All the media trainer had to do was come down to Antarctica, in her little trainer’s plane, and the media trainer would get them.

Ash is raining down from the sky. It will not be long till Erebus erupts, and yet I find myself crawling closer to the rim, closer to the one warmth here.

Mar 062012

Since being named chair of the Department of Energy’s climate change committee, Jim McFadden hasn’t exactly become a household name.  But that’s the way he likes it.

“I’m not doing this for the recognition,” he says.  “I’m not trying to be Princess Diana, here.”   The look in my eyes stops him in his tracks.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” he rushes to say.  “She was a beautiful woman.”

“Is that…all she was?” I ask, trying to remember how to modulate a voice.

“She was…she was very graceful,” he stammers.

“I couldn’t agree more!” I almost shout, my ‘protection stench’ dissipating and my hormones starting to selectively erase my memory.  Back to the matter at hand – how long before there’s a big vacuum that sucks up extra carbon dioxide?

McFadden laughs.  “If it were that easy, we’d have done it already.”  On top of that, McFadden explains, the government isn’t allowed to research anything that ‘fights’ global warming until 2017.  “We lost a softball game to the auto industry,” he admits sheepishly.  “So we’re starting on a grassroots level.”

McFadden’s job is to call people and remind them to turn off their lights.

“If you’re not in the room, turn ‘em off.  It’s that simple,” he says.  “Except if you see a movie about a robber, and you don’t want to take any chances.  Or if you like keeping the Christmas lights on all the time, because it makes you feel cozy and you want people driving past to feel cozy too.”

“Or what if there was a Dracula around?”  I point out.  “Draculas hate lights.”

“Exactly,” says McFadden.  “There will always be exceptions.  We’re not trying to knock out global warming with a single blow, here.  The main thing is, you paid good money for your light bulb, and you deserve to have it last as long as possible.”

Suddenly, I catch a glimpse of McFadden’s planner.  It is a sheet of paper with three phone numbers on it; the words “call these” written above.  As if to confirm my suspicions, McFadden is waving another sheet of paper that says, “Yep, only calling these three,” and nodding at me while maintaining unblinking eye contact.

I find it hard to believe that so few people could solve a problem as big as global warming.  But it’s nice that McFadden is letting me interview him, so I don’t pry.  Luckily, McFadden tackles the issue himself.

“I know, I know.  It doesn’t seem like a lot,” he says.  “But take a moment, and imagine if those people were to – pay it forward.”

“Why, you could…change the world!” I exclaim.

“That’s right.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some calls to make,” he winks.  He literally makes his mouth wink the words out.  Unnerved, I rush from the room.

Next, I’m headed to China to meet with engineer Ling Yun.  In 2006, China became the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases, and Yun is working to reduce these emissions.  My flight leaves from Atlanta, so I make a stop at the Coca Cola factory, which has been a fixture in this easy-going southern city since 1886.  Inside, my press pass gains me a sip of their newest concoction.  “It really tastes like pie,” I holler. “I feel like I just ate a big piece of pie!”  As my plane takes off, I can’t help but smile.  It’s been a good day.

China, or so the story goes, is a land of contrasts, a subtle mix of the old and new.  It stands by the principles of its forefathers even as its sayings industry puts billions into finding the “next Confucius.”  It holds onto its ancient culture of filial devotion while developing a new one based on transportation tubes.  It keeps its prisoners in feudal dungeons, but turns their corpses into plastic for those “BODIES…The Exhibition” shows.

All this and more is reflected in Ling Yun’s face, because I hold an old Chinese mask in front of it for half the time he speaks.  It helps me.  As we stroll down the corridors of the country’s biggest lead factory, Yun stresses the importance of technology in his crusade against global warming.

“This is the largest iron cylinder in the world,” he boasts, throwing open the doors to a vast warehouse.  “Using technology, we keep it white hot with just half the coal we needed before.”

Next, he leads me to a sparkling hall filled with wheels on motorized poles.  Each is attached to a computer that monitors energy efficiency.

“No room of wheels has greater spinning synchronization!”  Yun shouts above the din.

Watching twenty thousand wheels spin backwards, then forwards, then backwards again, then briefly stop, then forwards, does have a certain pleasure.  Perhaps this is how that old Venetian trader felt, the great Signoro Marco dí Põlo, when he marveled upon the same sight that greets this trader’s eyes (trader of words, that is!).

But despite the vibrant beauty of this oriental land of horrible factories, I have my doubts as to whether Yun’s efforts will be enough to turn the tide against global warming.

“Let me put it this way,” says Yun, in the straw-inflected voice that results from firm mask pushing.  “The US didn’t worry about things like carbon dioxide while it was industrializing.  Why should China?”
“We only want to hold some of the nice things,” says an orphan, appearing from out of the shadows.  “Some of the nice things like you have.”

Perhaps the little fellow is right.  But is it necessary for Yun to pay his workers in dry ice, or keep a cylinder of carbon dioxide strapped to his back, punctuating his sentences with a rush of gas?

“We are a developing country,” he tells me.

Two men, two perspectives.  Yet Jim McFadden and Ling Yun are working towards one goal – making sure we never have to watch our children burn up because they couldn’t put their protection-suits on fast enough.  Their methods may not be perfect; their solutions are by no means foolproof.  Perhaps there are other approaches, I think, as I scan the long list of names I’m supposed to have interviewed for this article.  But the point of the matter is this: neither McFadden nor Yun is telling us to use our cars less.

Mar 062012

Peter’s parents were going into the city that afternoon, so they had dropped him off at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  As soon as he got there, Grandma took him into the living room to read a story.

“You can come closer,” she said as she began.  “I’m not going to bite.

Grandma was always saying things like that.  She was a funny grandma, and usually Peter liked her.  But today he was feeling shy.

“Grandpa told me the same thing,” said Peter, holding out his arm.  Grandma bent down to get a closer look.

What she saw made her barf, basically.  It looked like Peter’s arm had been shoved through a meat grinder.

“What’s going on, gang?” came Grandpa’s voice from the kitchen.

“I hope you’re ready for dinner,” he said, suddenly popping his head in.  One look at Grandma’s face told him something was wrong, and so did the sound of Peter’s girlish shrieks.  Before anyone could do anything, Grandpa made a break for it and crashed out of the nearest window.


Later, when the police came, Peter showed them where Grandpa’s secret room was: it was beneath the floor of the garage.  The chief got onto the ladder that led down, but only after some of the lower-ranking policemen made sure there were no booby traps on it that might blow him up.

When he got to the bottom, the chief looked around and let out a low whistle: he had never seen so many biting-related things before.  In one corner was a display case full of metal teeth, the kind you put over your regular ones so you can bite harder.  In another, there was a bookshelf stacked with hundreds of books like “Where You Should Bite When You’re Biting a Child” and “I Bit a Million Kids: The Autobiography of Chuck Koestler.”  To top it all off, the walls were covered in paintings, paintings of men biting children.  Some of them looked as if they had been painted a long time ago.

After making his notes, the chief went back to the car where they were keeping Grandpa.  They had caught him by a stream.

“You’re a real sicko, gramps,” the chief said, whacking Grandpa with his stun baton a little.

“Oh yeah, he’s a real sicko all right,” Officer Jenkins agreed.  “We’ll be putting that sicko away for a long time, eh, Chief?”

“Oh, sure, sure,” said the chief, turning away.  Officer Jenkins bothered him.  Why did he always have to talk so much, the chief wondered.  The chief knew the other officers also agreed about Grandpa  but they were more quiet about it.  They weren’t always talking everyone’s ear off.

“Have fun in jail, sicko,” said Officer Jenkins.

That’s when the chief really lost it.