Monday, November 30, 2009

Memory Marketing

When I was 21, I had a black hole memory. Once data entered, it was sucked in forever. I didn’t own an appointment calendar. Let's say on March 22 I scheduled a dentist visit for May 16 at 3:45 pm at his new office. Two months later I remembered to go, and what the directions were, and the license plates of every car I drove behind, and the names of the receptionist’s 13 grandchildren, and the exact number of pages of each of the 20 magazines in the waiting room. We’re talking really useful information.

Flash forward to present day: I can’t even remember what I just wrote about in the last paragraph.

Oh wait, that’s right. Something about memory. I know everybody notices the decline as their memory neurons forget what they’re supposed to be doing, and wander off to fiddle with other bodily functions they have no experience managing. That's the real reason the rest of your body also starts failing as you age.

But if I had really internalized when I was 21 that I was in my recall superpowers heyday, I would have milked it for all it was worth. I would have memorized Crime and Punishment. (OK, you caught me pretending to be literary. Better make that TV Guide.) I would have transcribed from memory entire three-hour conversations. And how impressively musical I would have been, recalling entire sets of song lyrics after one hearing and singing them back to anyone who would listen, and even to those who tried not to.

I should have marketed this ability. Imagine, you go to the county fair, and there's my booth. You come up and read something you wrote, fast, for 5 minutes straight, and then you challenge me to repeat it back to you word for word. My sign says I pay 20:1 to anyone who can catch me in so much as a one-syllable mistake, so you bet ten bucks per minute that I'll slip up. But I don't. When I see you many years later, I still remember every word, and exactly what you were wearing that day. I even remember the way you swore George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV" when you lost your $50, because that was a lot more money in 1985. But I have gone on to become a wildly famous blogger, and you have gone on to reopen the wounds of my victory that day, as cruel fate leads you to be reading this very blog and reliving that traumatic experience so long ago. So ha, I win again! But I digress.

There were more ways I could have made a career of this back then. Certainly I could have applied my skill to some sort of espionage, bringing our enemies to their knees by out-remembering them when it came to terrain, war strategies, or even after-battle rounds of that old memory game "Concentration." (Remember that? It was also a game show with an unmemorable host, if I remember correctly). Or I could have been a professional "rememberer." I could have helped many a husband avoid getting in trouble for forgetting his wife's birthday, or for forgetting where he said he was when he gave his wife some excuse for not coming home until 4 a.m.

But who knows if exercising my memory to that degree would have been detrimental? Sure, "they" say that the more you challenge your memory all your life, the more you strengthen it. But can you really trust "they"? You'll notice that "they" couldn't even get people to remember who "they" were, such that "they" are doomed to being referred to as a generic third-person pronoun. For all we know, it may be that if I had run around fulfilling my aforementioned memory fantasies, I would have used up most of my memory cells, and would continue to forget even more than I already do.

Not sure I'll ever know the truth, though. For all I know I actually did fulfill all those memory fantasies, but I just don't remember doing it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Male Nicknames

And now for an explanation of one of the most fundamental differences between men and women.

“We had a blast golfing in Myrtle Beach,” a guy will say. I’ll ask who he went with. “Regular crew,” he’ll answer. “Moose, Stokes, Tweezer, Mole Flaps, Germhead, Beano, and Doug.”

Poor Doug. Somehow he missed being hazed into male bonding with the highest honor men bestow upon peers: The Nickname. And somehow we women missed this ritual altogether. We irresponsibly and unimaginatively refer to our friends as Janet, Amy, Laura…all the tragic monikers forced upon us at birth which provide no data regarding our hangover escapades, sexual prowess, jail terms, scatological habits, or body hair patterns.

It’s obvious how this starts. When a little girl falls off her bike and splits her forehead, she’s allowed to cry and go get stitches. When a boy falls off his bike and splits his, the friend who pushed him off in the first place tries to keep him tough by shouting, “Ha! Get back up and keep pedaling, Bloodbrows!”

“Shut up, Man Heinie,” Bloodbrows will retort, because his friend’s last name is Manheim. The two share a joint epiphany, decide to start calling their friend Greg “Buckets” after the quantity he drools when asleep, and give his brother Craig the nickname “Gaybird” because he cried when he saw Dorothy finally get back home to Auntie Em. Ironic, because gay men hardly ever do this nickname thing.

From those early days onward, males take advantage of how good this schema is for confusing females. When a mother asks how something got broken, all her son has to say is, “Wingser pushed The Donnerator into it,” and she gives up. Later it works on girlfriends. “No, babe, I was not out with some other girl Saturday night! I was with Dink’s brother Slampuppy over at Beergut’s cheering up Rimrod after his iguana died.” She then has no idea in hell who to ask about his alibi.

Soon the nicknames become sacred. You could walk into a bar where 20 guy friends are whooping it up over “the game,” and in walks Mumps, a.k.a. Bob Mumphries. If one guy yells “Hey, Bob!” instead of using Bob’s hard-earned handle, the place instantly goes silent as the other 19 stop dead in mid-beer-sucking. The group basically shuns the nonconformist until he redeems himself by doing something rank like eating his own sweaty sock as commentary on the quality of the bar appetizers.

Yet the secret world of nicknames continues to confound women even more than garment-swallowing does. Men will tell you they do it partly because they’ve got three guys named "John" in their inner circle, and this keeps them straight. Some men have been answering to nicknames long enough that they don't even remember what their first names really are. But I think nicknaming is the way men feel most comfortable trading affection. When one guy chokes up over love for another, he knows the one way he can get away with showing it is by calling his buddy "Skanklure" or “Roachdung.” Women do exactly the opposite, more often treasuring friends by offering baked goods certified free of insect waste.

If you ask me, women should fight back by giving their sons names like “JamPants” and “RoadLicker” right on their birth certificates. Then men will have to nickname their friends things like “Dave,” "Joe," and "Bill." Maybe I'm just jealous and want a nickname of my own. Hmm. I'll have to start introducing myself to people as "GlueEater" from now on. No reason.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Garage Sale My Way

I'm not a fan of garage sales. I never have money when I pass by them, and I'm fine with not buying somebody else's coffee-stained bedroom slippers (only used three times!) I'm jealous of the profits, though. Sellers sometimes make a killing, and some buyers can spot collectors' items like Kentucky Derby tumblers and Betty Boop memorabilia and rake it in by reselling on eBay. Makes me wonder about the time I sold old LPs for peanuts at a friend's yard sale, all to one man who I doubt appreciated that entire spectrum of disco, jazz, baroque, and sitar.

Garage sale holders regularly thrive in the agony of dragging junk outside at the break of dawn, price-tagging every item, and then getting rained out before 8 a.m. I'm too lazy to do this, and therefore I've come up with the perfect solution. My type of garage sale honors true sloth, as too few things in this world do.

Here's how it'll work. I'll post signs publicizing the date, but that's where the preparation ends. On the appointed day, I'll allow into my home flocks of garage-sale traditionalists and perhaps accidentally a stalker or two. I'll declare, "With the exception of my dog, photo albums, and certain items of personal hygiene, everything is for sale." I'll tell them to be as free to suggest prices, to haggle, and to molest items as if they were in a Tijuana flea market.

Everybody wins. Rotten weather doesn't matter. I don't have to price anything or decide beforehand what to sell. I can hand out alcoholic beverages to get people too drunk to realize they're paying $95 for a refrigerator magnet. My clothes closet would finally exhale as I sold off all that clothing I bought while under the influence of the 80s. Certain things would sell easily because they're so covered with dust that buyers would mistake them for something useful.

If you think I wouldn't be willing to sell most of what I have, you're wrong. I'm not sentimental about material objects. My departed grandmother's jewelry? How much would you give me? I'm already starting to rethink reserving my photo albums. If you wanted my graduation portraits and the candids of me trimming my childhood cat's toenails, then I'd say knock yourself out. You could do worse.

I have a lot of multiples of things bound to sell like hotcakes. I have about a dozen eyeglass cases, too many funnels, enough mugs to serve coffee to the entire county, and an illegal number of Phillips screwdrivers. I have stuff unique enough to start bidding wars, like my flying cow toy and my Star Trek toilet seat lid that says "Beam Me Up NOW!" whenever you lift it.

I expect to become famous for revolutionizing garage sales – because we all know this idea will touch lives much more deeply than that thing about a healthcare public option. Once I've made the news, my possessions will become even more valuable for having belonged to me, and I'll be able to put my face on a set of sheets just like Ellen DeGeneres did and auction them off for $19,000. This is why I recommend coming over here the first time I do this while all the best stuff is still available. Rest assured, I'll have a pitcher of vodka tonics all ready and a Star Trek toilet seat lid with your name on it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Christmas is a Woman's Game

I know exceptions exist, but I think most would agree: The Christmas experience is really a woman's game. We're the ones who want it, need it, love it, and run it. One of my friends complained that her husband doesn't help with the cards, the presents, the decorations, and so on. Right. That's because he's a guy. He barely knows when it's December. He would rather shop for your tampons at the drugstore than for other people's gifts. And as for hanging wreaths and mistletoe, he thinks it strips him of the last shred of masculinity he salvaged after that time five years ago when he agreed to put his finger down on a gift ribbon so you could tie it into a bow.

Even as a woman who actually cut holiday card sending out of her task list years ago, I'm pretty sure I still have a lot more plans for the Yuletide than my husband. I've mused about where the tree will go in our house. I've jotted it down whenever somebody has expressed desire for something that I could buy them as a gift. I've bought the ingredients to bake snowman-shaped ginger snaps. Jim, however, has probably had a grand total of one Christmas-related thought: "Where are my car keys?" Keys are related to Christmas because you need them to drive away from Christmas-related activities.

Since women are often more nurturing, I guess it would then follow that we're more interested in the whole holiday togetherness and gift-giving extravaganza. Or maybe we're just more materialistic—specifically, more likely to equate material gifts with love. And maybe we're just more desperate for distraction from our mundane January-to-November lives, and possibly also still connected to the fantasy that some fat fatherly fellow in a red suit will shower us with all the stuff we ever wanted that men never gave us. God, it's great being a girl.

In keeping with their non-Christmas-mindedness, men also seem to need more straightforward hints about what women want for Christmas. A man can say, "I need to exercise more," and his wife will immediately be able to extrapolate, "That means he wants that 10.5mm x 165' climbing rope and an altimeter watch." A woman could write down for her husband, "The L. L. Bean catalog I put by your computer, page 72, item #3476, size small, in the burgundy," and she'd still wind up with an Allen wrench.

The whole Santa Claus legend should have been about a woman who distributes gifts, not a man. I bet this "Mrs. Claus" behind the scenes has always been the one orchestrating the whole deal. She's the one who keeps track of the naughty and nice lists, prepares all the gifts, and feeds and cleans up after the reindeer, while Santa simply goes out for one night and gets all the glory.

What is it that we women really want from men during Christmastime? We want you to get in the kitchen with us and bury your hands in raw cookie dough. We want you to plan parties with all the trimmings. We want you to delight in wrapping presents with designer paper and silk bows and bell-shaped chocolates with foil-wrapped M&M's as the clappers. We want you to buy us sentimental, all-I-want-for-Christmas-is-you greeting cards. We want you to build fires, light candles, sing carols, and get all tingly because December 25 is just around the corner. We just want you to be more like us in every way, that's all.

If that's too hard, just at least remember, item #3476, from the L. L. Bean catalog, page 72.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Men Can't Win

There's one thing that really traps men into a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. That would be the response they give when their girlfriends and wives ask, "Do you think she's pretty?" Notice I didn't say, "Do you think I'm pretty?" We all know the answer to that one. Your woman could have an extra set of eyes and you'd have to say yes.

I'm talking about the real sneak attack, the one that I frequently launch on my husband Jim. Referencing our waitress, a girl on TV, etc., I'll say to Jim nonchalantly, "She's beautiful, huh?"

Sometimes he'll just say "yes" and leave it at that. By doing that he makes the first good move of agreeing with me and the second good move of not embellishing with something like, "Yes! Unbelievable eyes, and the caboose isn't bad either." He knows if he said that he'd be signing a really big check for me to go get caboose surgery, and that certain ill effects to our relationship would ensue, the way ill effects have a way of doing.

But I like to push this issue beyond the comfort zone. When a celebrity who Jim thought was really sexy appeared scantily clad in a magazine, I showed him the pics. I'll protect her privacy by calling her "D," not that she's a very private gal, judging from the photos.

First, the truth: D looked fabulous. D is younger than I am, and also endowed in ways I am not. Jim, however, implied that he wasn't impressed. One might think this was the best medicine for my often flailing self-confidence. But instead, I thought, wow! If Jim doesn't think D is really great-looking, then what must he think of me?

Of course, there's always the possibility that Jim actually was impressed, but he refrained from gushing, in order to coddle my aforementioned ego. He figures if he doesn't say that D is pretty darned attractive, I won't feel inadequate, or feel as if I'm competing for his admiration. So he, like every other man out there, is really between a rock and a hardheaded woman. And this whole issue extends beyond looks.

If we go to a friends' house for dinner and Jim compliments their cooking too effusively, I wonder if that means he's not particularly thrilled with mine. But if he doesn't compliment their meal at all, after we leave I'll say, "What? Where were your manners?"

And so on. Each woman has her own sore spots. For me, as a humor writer, I can convince myself to take it hard if Jim recommends that I read some article because he thinks it's really funny. "Hey, pal," my inner child wants to whimper, "If I want to read a funny article, I'll just write one." Of course, it's not just women who can manage to talk themselves into being offended by their partners' most harmless commentary. It's a problem on both sides, whenever men and women dare actually talk to one another.

Maybe I'll give Jim a break the next time I think about asking him his opinion of another woman's looks, and just not say anything. And maybe I'll give myself a break by not worrying whether or not I'm prettier than D. At least I'm sure that I'm funnier.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Smell garlic? That'd be me – I regularly crush massive cloves and eat them raw. My resulting odor is so strong that my friends can't even stand to be on the phone with me.

'Tis the season when everybody gets sick but me – and I thank garlic. It contains an anti-microbial compound called "allicin." The minute I feel a throat threat, nasal nuance, or chest challenge, it's down the hatch with my buddy garlic. With this defense it seems I can go around licking doorknobs and dollar bills and shopping cart handles and still stay healthy. (I've only been arrested twice.)

I may go door to door, proselytizing my belief with fresh samples and verse-quoting brochures. ("Yea, though I walk through the valley of germs, I shall fear no eve ills, for garlic art with me.") I tell people you can't rely on the iffy potency of garlic pills or garlic that's been cooked. Rather, you smash up a hefty peeled clove and let it sit to oxidize the allicin. Then comes the brave part.

You'll not taste the garlic much if you put it on a spoon, pour honey over it, and swallow it down while thinking about baseball scores. You can also stir raw garlic into cooked food right before eating it, or smear it on buttered toast. I don't recommend adding it to something like chocolate pudding – but if you're really serious about staying healthy, and that's the only foodstuff in the house, then there are worse things than having a little fun with your gag reflex.

As I've mentioned, I do become quite aromatic. Once I was having my hair washed at a salon, and a fellow customer said, "I suddenly smell garlic." Rather than fess up, I mumbled that maybe a pizza had just been delivered. Some joke that the reason I stay healthy after "garlicking" is because no other germ-carrying humans will come near me. Let 'em laugh, but the legendary security from vampire attacks has also been holding up.

To note, the last time my husband had the flu, my garlic-infused membranes and I remained hale and hearty despite kissing him even more than usual. (When your last name is "Love," you automatically use affection to heal as much as possible.)

Some argue that I might just be experiencing the placebo effect. Who cares, if it works? Dr. Andrew Weil, my favorite famous doc, says studies are always trying to rule the placebo effect out, when we should be trying to rule this effect in. Exactly. Precisely. Garlickamentary.

So don't worry if you can't afford a flu shot. Bring a crop of garlic over to my house and we'll dine together. I'll provide the chocolate pudding.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wrong Numbers

How come when a wrong number calls, the person on the other end is always a weirdo?

We get answering machine messages from callers prattling on about church functions or who sound like they're trying to make a drug deal. Sometimes I call back to let them know they didn’t reach the right place. The last time I did that, it had been an androgynous voice leaving a flirtatious communiqué for a love interest. I put myself in this person’s position and thought if I'd left that message and gotten no response, I'd pine for a week. So I called back. “Just letting you know you got a wrong number,” I said. And the reply was, “Would you go out with me anyway?”

Is it wrong that I gave him the number of a single friend?

A wrong number will often ask if someone with some indistinct-sounding name like “Hmbuh” is there. The name will be so indecipherable that I’ll wonder, wait, maybe I really do live with this “Hmbuh” person. This might not be a wrong number after all.

Of course, as I relay that I can’t help the guy, he invariably hangs up in my mid-sentence. Then he invariably makes the brainiac move of hitting "Redial" to try again to reach his intended party. The second time around I’ll plan to point out his mistake by telling him my phone number as quickly as an auctioneer so he won’t possibly have a chance to hang up on – damn!

That's ok, I wasn't particularly in the mood for his abject disbelief when my number turns out to be the same one he has in front of him and I'm still not Hmbuh.

When I dial wrong numbers myself, I swear they're often answered by people who haven't picked up a phone in thirty years. They seem not only appalled that I would ask to speak to someone they've never heard of, but that I would be speaking to them through this newfangled device in the first place. Just before they hang up they're thinking, look at that, push buttons. What is this anachronistic abyss I keep dialing into?

I once heard a story of a married couple who met when he accidentally dialed her number one night. Apparently she was a wrong number who he soon enough saw in a hot little number, and before he knew it, his number was up.

To say goodbye or not to say goodbye to a wrong number – now this is enough to keep me awake on alternate Thursdays. Somehow "goodbye" seems too intimate. I feel I'm supposed to just hang up after our exchange, just like important people always do in TV and movies. Ever notice that? Scripts never have cops, lawyers, execs, moguls, or hit men say anything like, "ok, thanks so much, goodbye, take care now." Their sign off is always something like, "Not if he kills you first." There must only be so much collective time allocated to phone goodbyes in the world, and all around you new lovers are spending the last twenty minutes of every phone conversation saying goodbye, sometimes calling back to say goodbye yet again, because the first goodbye wasn't good enough.

Let it be known, if you've ever called my house by accident, and I said, "Sorry, wrong number," the truth is, I wasn't really sorry at all. I was really annoyed that I interrupted what I was doing to answer the phone. I probably felt that you should make this up to me somehow, and am still holding this against you, especially if you called my cell phone and cost me minutes.

There should be a penalty system that'll whip everyone, including myself, into much better dialing shape. You're allowed so many wrong numbers and that's it. After that, your phone privileges are taken away. You'll have to stick to e-mail, until you manage to terrorize people through that medium as well. Perhaps addressing the wrong number epidemic should be first on Obama's agenda these days. It's closely related to health care – the mental kind anyway – because too many wrong numbers are enough to put anyone in the psych ward. If you end up there, be sure to say hello to me and Hmbuh.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Wedding Vows

Flash Back Four Years…

I've been fretting about the decision my fiancé Jim and I made to write our own wedding vows. My best friend said, "Don't worry, your vows will be amazing." Therein lies the rub. Because I'm a writer, people will expect my vows to include phrases more epic than "therein lies the rub." Even worse, I have to come up with something personal yet somehow not pornographic.

And Jim seems serious when he warns that on our wedding day he might be saying, "Holly, I was going to recite some really meaningful, emotional vows, but…oh wait, that's right. I'm a guy." Either that or, "I wouldn't leave you in times of trouble - we never could have come this far. I took the good times, I'll take the bad times, I'll take you just the way you are."

I wish Jim and I had been born Neanderthals without this annoying facility for language. It was a time when you could get away with just taking care of your partner in the biblical sense and then carving him something nice in the cave wall.

There should be vow templates, with blanks to fill in. If you wanted to be truly honest in your vows, this could work: "My dearest [Blank], I love you dearly. How grateful I am for the day when we met at the [blank], drinking [blank] until we [blanked]. We have so much in common - like the way we both love to [blank], not to mention [blankety blank]. And even though that horrid woman is about to become my [blank]-in-law, I know I'm in for a lifetime of happiness. I don't even mind that you made me sign a prenuptial [blank]. Not one [blanking] bit."

That may be kind of negative, but I have the opposite problem. Jim does things every day that are so wonderful that any set of vows I write today would have to be edited tomorrow to include these new wonderful things. How sappy is that? I may be too easy to please. I weep in awe of his love for me if all he does on some days, despite my nuttiness, is something like, say, not leave me.

The worst would be if Jim's vows turn out to be "better" than mine. If they are, it had better be the last time he one-ups me. A woman wants her relationship with her husband to constantly remind her of her great abilities and talents, not of how she comes up short. Maybe I should tell him, "Never mind, let's just use canned vows." And then I'll be the only one with eloquent, personalized sentiments to read during the ceremony. Oh how he'll laugh!*

Flash Forward Four Years

*Whoops, apparently not. I'm still sleeping on the couch for that one.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Voice Menus

Recently when my fuse box was humming, I called the electric company. Their recording said to press 2 for "electrical emergencies." When I did, I was shuttled deeper into voice menus. I wanted to talk to an actual human, so I called back and pressed the option for "downed wires." Yes, that mistruth made me the kind of miscreant I work hard to protect myself from every day. But I did reach someone, who told me to turn off everything in my house.

When I did that, the fuse box stopped humming. But my brain is still humming over hitting the option for something as serious as "electrical emergency" and getting thrown into yet another voice menu abyss. Seems like I'm constantly talking to overly cheery computer voices for minutes on end every time I call Verizon, Wachovia, or Pick-a-Corporation. Meanwhile, I think the only thing I've actually ever managed to accomplish successfully through voice menus is to accidentally deposit my money into someone else's account.

What's next? Will voice menus eventually invade even the 9-1-1 emergency reporting system?

I'm afraid some day I'll dial "9-1-1" and hear, "Thanks for calling. Your call is very important to us. Please listen carefully to the following options, as our menu may have changed since the last time you inadvertently amputated an appendage. To report an accident, press 1. For systemic events such as heart attack or stroke, press 2. For crimes of passion, like beating the nearest living thing to death with a telephone due to the frustration of being trapped in a voice menu, press 3."

And if I press 1? "If you're on fire, say or dial F-I-R-E. All other callers, stay on the line and the next available voice menu will be happy to assist you." On choosing "Fire": "If you were grilling chicken, press 7. For steaks or venison, press 7 as well. If you weren't grilling, press 8-2-4-5-pound-star-0-2-6, or say, 'German Chocolate Cake.'" And I love the most common response from Cyber Sue: "I'm sorry, I didn't get that. Let's try again." Trying again is hard though once you have angrily pulverized the phone with your back molars.

I fear that this is the situation the electronic epoch will bring upon us. Compound that with the fact that more and more voicemail systems will try to sell you something along the way. If you're ever kidnapped, and are lucky enough to reach a phone, you may hear a voice menu say: "We’d be glad to rescue you. Please enter the latitude and longitude of your location. If you don't know the coordinates, press 1 to purchase a GPS."

The good news is that voice menus can only infiltrate phone systems, right? It's not like these menus will degrade our quality of living in other arenas. If you disagree, press 1. To end this paragraph, press 2. To finish reading this blog post, press 3. Or if you just want to go back to the days before we even had telephones, please hang up.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


“Too many vitamin pills are bad for health” was the headline of a recent news blurb. Advice changes hourly on vitamin dosages and I can't keep up.

It was much easier when my mother fed me Flintstones vitamins. All I needed the chewable gems for back then was building the bone and muscle that would become my constitution for life – big deal. Now I’m supposedly trying to build resistance towards you name it – cancer, depression, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, addiction, paying retail. Go into any vitamin store, and you’ll see 400 brands of 800 vitamins in 1,200 dosages. But I’m most stumped over why there are no distinctions made for weight. Both 100-pound me and my 200-pound neighbor are supposed to scarf down the same amount of B12? Give me 50 milligrams of a break.

And please note, you need differential calculus to figure out when to take these pills for optimum benefit. Most labels instruct you to take them with food. But E shouldn’t be taken with C, calcium should be taken with D, magnesium should be taken at night, and none should be taken without a stiff shot of Jack. The whiskey helps you forget that with the money you spent on vitamins, you could have purchased Latvia. Latvians don’t need vitamins, by the way, because they eat something very nutritious called "pea balls" on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, we pea-shunning Americans are stuck trying to figure out what vitamins we truly need. One method I can recommend is to stop taking all your current vitamins and see what happens. If you’re like me, you’ll find that suddenly the sun shines brighter; the air smells fresher. Walking upright is easier. Even pea balls taste better. But it won’t matter. Because sooner or later you’ll succumb to the recommendation of some article that says you must start taking troughs full of the most recently celebrated vitamin. Otherwise not only will you be considered nutritionally incorrect, but a person close to you will develop trench mouth.

The confusion is enough to cause the kind of critical stress overload that can only be cured by taking vitamins. Thus my conundrum. Sometimes I feel that taking supplements is going about nutrition the wrong way. It’s like, you know…what is that expression? I think it's "shoving the cart down the horse’s throat."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thanksgiving Sleep

At any given moment, scientists are conducting sleep studies using rats. They're letting the rats sleep, then prodding them awake, then letting them sleep, and so on. Question: Why don't they ditch the rats and just use Americans on Thanksgiving Day? That's when every one of us is also forced into the most insane sleep-wake cycle imaginable.

SLEEP: To fully cook a turkey paradoxically larger than the oven itself, we rise at 5 a.m. The sleep deficit gets us dozing.

WAKE: Guests arrive, and we’re so glad to see them we perk up. We unpack their convivial boxes of Asti Spumante. We talk at warp speed to catch up on Botox procedures and bar mitzvahs.

SLEEP: Due to lack of judgment induced by onion dip overdose, we look directly at the Thanksgiving Day Parade. It hypnotizes us with the soporific pace of a gigantic lumbering Sponge Bob Square Pants being passed on the left by an earthworm.

WAKE: We switch to the football game. Westbrook takes a handoff from McNabb…he runs for 70 yards…touchdown! Everyone dances wildly, overturning both the onion dip and the spooked Rottweiler. The last time you were this awake you were freebasing nutmeg in college. More stimulation ensues during commercial breaks as personified beer bottles shake it to Shakira.

SLEEP: We ingest turkey. Due to its natural sleep enzymes, even the hyperactive kids' faces end up plunged into cranberry remains for a catnap.

WAKE: Sleepy cousins have to drive home eventually, so we make coffee. Soon everyone is playing foosball without a foosball table and making Obama sculptures out of the cold mashed yams.

SLEEP: Dessert time. The sugar high of pumpkin pie rebounds into lows so low that guests pass out in corners coated with each others’ cinnamon-spiked drool.

WAKE: We argue with spouses over who should clean up. We play earsplitting Santana while scouring pans and shoving leftover turkey into fridges already suffocating from barrelfuls of "underrated" rutabaga stuffing.

SLEEP: Time for after-dinner drinks. We break out the Baileys and the Smirnoff and let a little lull us to sleep, perchance, to dream of sending the visiting Baileys and Smirnoffs home.

WAKE: Our guests didn’t drive all this way to not play Trivial Pursuit. We have a spirited match that takes us well into the 5 a.m. range.

SLEEP: We've been up for 24 hours. We fall asleep at once.

WAKE: At 6 a.m. on Black Friday, our shopping klatches phone us. The stores are primed for holiday spending. The gang’s coming to pick us up for some defensive crowd dodging and that contest where you see who can sneak in a lap dance while sitting with Mall Santa.

THE END: We decide to skip the shopping and with great empathy go rescue a few rats from the nearest sleep laboratory instead.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Home Vending Machine

Ever notice when you walk into someone's house, the one thing that's always missing is a vending machine? Mercifully, Maytag cared enough to do something about this injustice and created the

Personal Beverage Vendor, or "SkyBox."

This item doesn’t need money to dispense drinks – you just push a button. Bummer. What consistently ruins entertaining for me is the fact that guests can always pull a cold one out of my fridge without paying for it. So right there, you're losing the most attractive benefit. (When guests ask what to bring to my party, I tell them, "Cash.")

Still, there are plenty of reasons you can't live without your own vending machine, according to the product description. It reads, "Want to hear that satisfying vending-machine 'ka-thunk' when grabbing a cold beverage at game time? The SkyBox by Maytag brings the concession stand right to the living room, so you can savor the excitement of punching a soda machine. A backlight illuminates the front panel for that exciting vending-machine glow."

I'm sorry, but if you find the sound and the glow of a vending machine "exciting," and you aren't a Cyborg, then maybe you ought to get out more. Do you also become euphoric when brake lights come on, and find yourself aroused by ice machines? You may have a bigger problem than unorganized beverages.

A real perk: you can customize your SkyBox with the sports logo of your choice. (In their 42 choices for college teams, I notice they don't have a panel for the football team of my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. Maytag must be afraid Ivy Leaguers find drinking out of cans too lowbrow.) And certainly, a vending machine improves anyone's décor. I'm ready to chuck my houseplants and antique credenza just to make room for this classy machinery that until now I've only had the privilege of admiring in institutional hallways.

Of course the best part of owning this product is that your kids will be even more drawn to drinking soda than they were before, if you skip using the parental locks. Do you realize how much money you've been wasting on your kids for toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, and dentist visits? You won't have to pay for any of that anymore once they've drunk enough soda to rot away those high maintenance teeth for good. Even better, you can use the allure of the machine to finally get them into the habit of drinking beer. Many a parent has struggled with how to get a kid off Ritalin and onto something just as calming that the kid will stop forgetting to take. Problem solved.

I just wonder, though. Can Maytag meet expectations for authenticity? The thing would have to fail to dispense half the time. The labels would have to be rubbed off so you can't tell what you're ordering. It would have to be sticky as hell, be loud enough to wake the dead, and be easy to tip over. And it would definitely have to pop out warm Diet Rite no matter which button you push. Now for those kind of quality features, I'd pay double.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Vacation Renovation

I have some critical advice for your next vacation.

I figured this out from deciding to vacation in British Columbia. Big mistake.

It was gorgeous and loads of fun out there. Alpine mountains, pristine lakes, endless evergreens. We hiked, biked, kayaked, and hot-springed it.

What's the problem?

When you get home from a vacation like that, your crowded concrete neighborhood bobbing in humid pollution and your deathly insipid job seem especially unbearable.

Yet that's what you have to live with for 50 weeks a year.

This is backwards. People insist on having fun, in beautiful locations, during the 4% of time they spend on vacation. Then by comparison the remaining 96% of their lives seem like they're living inside an Edvard Munch painting.

Here's a better idea. Go somewhere ugly and do objectionable things, so that when you get back, you'll be astoundingly appreciative of your life circumstances.

How ugly and objectionable your trip should be depends on your current life.

If you're a retired 40-year-old who lives in a Hamptons mansion and bathes in Evian, the vacation you should take isn't that bad.

You could just swing an RV down to Wilmington, bring only two of your servants, and listen to a William Shatner CD all the way through. After returning, the daily massages and catered meals will seem much less tedious.

But let's face it. Most of us live in an OK house and work too hard at a job that we'd all gladly trade in just to see Halle Berry finally get it over with and get naked. Add in our various responsibilities, like keeping children alive, maintaining the OK house, wading through Spam, and exercising constantly to avoid the disease of the week.

Now it becomes clear what vacation you should take to make all this look good.

You're going to need some rope. And registration in a witness protection program. You may never find out how these two things fit into the vacation, but they're important for the instillation of fear.

Take only the clothes on your back for the two weeks; clean clothes are too reminiscent of comfort.

Travel by night only, sleeping by day in the sewers. Your final destination will be revealed by a small yet rotund deli owner placed in a strategic location.

When you get to this Place That Shall Not Be Named, you will do hard labor 20 hours a day – backbreaking, smelly tasks--for too little water and small portions of expired Jello salad.

You'll be allowed no communication with anyone you know. You'll never see the sun. You'll get one bathroom break a day.

Two weeks will seem like two months.

But then you'll be led, a shell of a human, back to the light of your former life. The one you lived in a shuffle between the OK house with the "demanding" family and the "boring" job. You'll never be so grateful to see a sink full of dirty dishes or a nine-page memo about possible direct-mail strategies. You will run through the streets hallelujah'ing your glorious lot in life.

This, I'm telling you, is the new face of the ultimate 21st century vacation.

And if everybody would please just follow this plan, it'll keep all of you damn tourists out of my favorite retreats.

But, I digress.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

TIVO To-Do List

Every TIVO owner remembers when we first gazed out the window and thought: "You know, taping TV onto videotape is just not who I am anymore. I'm tired of rewinding and forwarding to find my shows in this huge pile of tapes. That's so analog, and I live in a digital world. I want a menu on the screen of my recorded shows, so I can just click and play." And we thought, let us convert to the new way. And we saw that it was good. So good that we thought our entertainment-on-demand needs were finally met. We even graduated TIVO to a verb, as in "I TIVO'd 'Dateline'," just like "I googled her name," or "I spammed an entire hemisphere with offers from Nigerian bankers."

What we did not realize was, more than with videotapes, a troubling side effect would surface. My husband Jim put it well.

"The problem with TIVO," he said, "is that it feels like a to-do list."

In the name of all that is sponsored by advertising and laugh-tracked, I knew he was right. We're constantly overwhelmed by our surplus of unwatched TIVO'd shows. Not only do we feel compelled to watch every one, but we feel we have to watch and delete shows at a pace that leaves enough space to record more shows. It's like that old commercial about drug abuse, where the guy runs endless circles inside a prison cell saying he takes drugs so he can work harder, so he can make more money, so he can buy more drugs. With TIVO, we watch more shows so we won't have as many shows to watch, so we can make more room for the upcoming shows, so we'll have more shows to watch. And so forth into a black hole deeper than any pile of videotapes ever created.

With tapes, it never got that bad. You taped fewer shows, because you had to tape "Mondays from 8 pm to 8:30 pm on channel 10," instead of just "all Seinfeld episodes any time, any channel." Videotapes were much more cumbersome and stored fewer shows. You'd run out of blank tapes and either tape over stuff or give up. But TIVO's too easy. It's addictive. It's the epitome of the digital world sapping productivity.

Even our cheapest-version TIVO has its space limits, so Jim and I have our TV wars. When we program it to tape many hours of both figure skating (me) and football games (him), something's gotta give. Personally I'm surprised that TIVO itself doesn't just delete the football programs given the incomprehensible boredom, but of course Jim thinks the same of skating. (His grave error I'll be sure to explain in another blog.)

And so we sit, trying to get the TIVO "to watch" list down to just one screen. This has made me realize that entertainment of all kinds, not just TV, frequently feels like a "to-do" list. I'm not a theater person, yet I sometimes go to certain plays because I think I "should" – and my favorite part is always the curtain call. Then there's that movie on our "must-see" list. When the movie's running for the last night, I almost always feel like staying home instead, yet I feel obligated to go see it. If I don't put on any music while I'm cleaning the bathroom, I wonder what's wrong with me. And when I'm waiting at the doctor's office reading his interesting issue of "People" and I only get halfway through before it's my turn, I feel crestfallen and wish I could get away with stealing the magazine to read the rest of it. Go ahead and add the angst I feel when I look at my "to-read" pile of books.

For me, the pressure to enjoy my leisure time with just the right choices, and not miss anything "good," is harder to deal with than any job pressure I've ever had. I have to make my entertainment count, so I'll be recharged to work more efficiently, so I'll have more time to enjoy entertainment. However eventually I'll fall behind in work, which will cause me to drown my sorrows in even more entertainment, until that becomes so boring that I become a workaholic who has no time at all for entertainment, and then the cycle will begin again.

Would love to write more, but TIVO is waiting.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tick Test

I'm extremely allergic to good advice. If you need someone to look a gift horse in the mouth, I'm there. Can't get into a can of worms? Yours truly is standing by with the can opener.

My devil-may-care attitude literally bit me the last time I went hiking in Pennsylvania's Valley Forge National Park. It's an expansive, beautiful place with lots of trails where you can walk without the uninvited company of the ticks in the surrounding tall grass and forests.

But with a friend just as eager to commune with nature in an unrestricted way, I not only strayed from the trodden paths, I did it in shorts and a tank top. That's the proven method for broadcasting in tick-speak, "Free flesh. Come and get it!"

The next evening I got caught up in a documentary on the Lyme disease that ticks can carry, and just happened to touch the base of my skull. Jeepers, creepers. There was a tick lounging along the shores of my hairline. I've never trusted hitchhikers, so I decided to pull it out. I'd left the woods twenty-seven hours before. According to what I'd just learned, if this tick was carrying Lyme, it had plenty of time to pass it on to me.

In the morning I called my doctor to discuss taking a blood test. She said the tick itself could be analyzed to see if it was even carrying the bacteria responsible for the disease. Hmm, let's see. I could let a phlebotomist poke repeatedly at my historically unwilling veins, or a lab could prod the mooching insect instead. All I needed to do was find him in the trash I'd thrown him into. So I did what anyone would do. I made a germ-impervious spacesuit out of my ugliest bridesmaid's dress and started routing through the rancid garbage.

I held my breath, untied the trash bag, and peered into the refuse. Mmm, mmm good. Greasy paper towels, used tea bags - eureka! There he was, perched on top of some spaghetti remains, basking in Parmesan. I hoped he enjoyed eating that, because the lab would be submerging him in formaldehyde, which is much less tasty than imported cheese.

Before the tick could even think about washing down his meal with Chianti, I grabbed that lip-smacking freeloader and trapped him in a jar. I made him one sorry tick for ever checking into my hotel. He should have latched onto a deer instead. That way he probably wouldn't have been carted off to a lab, since most deer can't drive, let alone afford the procedure. Thankfully I didn't have to afford it, once I gave the code for "analyzing a tick" to my health insurance carrier.

"Analyzing a tick," they call it. Sounds like psychotherapy. I pictured a Freud descendant stroking his beard, declaring in a German accent to the tick laying on a leather couch, "You seem quite depressed. I recommend some hypnosis to heal your inner larvae."

It turned out the tick wasn't carrying Lyme, so I was thrilled to end my vigil for everything from flu-like symptoms to neurological problems. Even better, I am officially cured of my risk-taking, tall-grass-walking, tick-hosting ways. I'll be doing whatever it takes from now on to avoid ticks. Hiking every weekend will still be on the agenda. I'll just be doing it inside, on the stairs.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


How do serial daters doom their searches for perfect mates? Let’s count the ways.

They choose lovers based on pretty physiques, shared interests, geography and demography. They rely on chance meetings, fix-ups, or stalking a Kinko’s clerk just for her Celtic accent and rumored bi-curiosity. No wonder the divorce rate is 50% and unrequited lust is more commonplace than double-strength espresso at a Madonna movie premiere.

It’s simple: Picking a date should depend on one thing, and that’s compatibility of psychological makeup. You need shyness in one partner mediated by the other’s exhibitionism. You need her obsessive compulsive disorder justifying his retreat into golf addiction. It’s always been about harmonizing festering subconscious drives. Look at Ozzie and Sharon Osbourne. Did they connect because they both fancied clotted cream at teatime? No – they married because of complimentary mindsets conducive to biting off bat heads and mailing feces to annoying clients.

Of course, reading online ads gets people closer to picking someone with the right psychological profile. So many singles use the method that it's gained more popularity and respect than love itself. But how do you find a mate that matches you ideally in terms of rawest emotionality?

Enter Register there and you’ll be set up with singles based on info supplied by the one most deeply mired, albeit mercenarily, in the muck of your brain – your psychotherapist. He or she fills out a questionnaire and TheraDate boils the answers up in a lab to produce potentially perfect paramour pairs.

So what if this clinical incubation of romance evokes that proverbial brave yet dystopic new world? TheraDate has real promise for defibrillating the aging lonely hearts spending Saturday nights inflating the national Dove Bar consumption statistics.

Think of the guy so frugal he flushes only once a week, having to pay for dinner with a daddy’s little girl who wouldn’t dare flush for herself. Now think of this guy on TheraDate. Immediately he’s hooked up with a restaurant-avoiding agoraphobic – and love blooms. TheraDate can also help those with family ties more ephemeral than Etch-a-Sketch doodles, who therefore crave lavish attention. They'll now be easily diverted from freedom-starved momma's boys and steered toward doting sugar daddies instead. Whatever the mental minefields of subscribers, this service can’t lose.

Let's just hope that when your therapist fills out TheraDate's questionnaire on you, s/he's truly wanting to help you hook up, instead of hoping to portray you as so crazy that you'll have no choice but to finally give in to your therapist's sexual advances. But I digress.

Luckily many jaded singles, in attempts to cure their self-perceived repulsiveness, already have histories with a few dozen psychotherapists. From there, TheraDate simply joins singles together permanently in the holy acrimony that is everyone’s birthright.

Going this route could easily end up being the quickest way to date a Celtic bi-curious Kinko’s clerk anyway. You’re bound to click with at least one of her personalities. Only the TheraDate staff knows for sure.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bye Bye Teeth

Teeth are more trouble than they're worth. A few weeks ago I was out having lunch when I bit into what anyone would expect to break a tooth on – an overcooked noodle. Off came the filling from molar #19. This was my favorite of all molars so I was not happy.

Unfortunately I was in-between dentists, which I discovered is much worse than being in-between boyfriends, in-between jobs, and even in-between meals. Finally I found a dentist available that day to muzzle my exposed nerve. That's when the real fun started. Dr. C gave me a shot of Novocain and returned after ten minutes.

"Can you feel that?" she asked while poking my gum, to which I replied, "Yes indeed I can still feel that, you gum poker."

It ended up taking four shots before I felt numb. Maybe the wrong nerve was being medicated. More likely, the fates were finally paying me back for every sin by giving me an amazing resistance to all mechanisms designed to protect me from excruciating pain.

It got to the point where I asked for The Gas. You know, the nitrous oxide. That euphoria-inducing stuff that makes you think to yourself, "Ahhh. Hmmm, let's review my life. I'm half a mil in debt, but I should have that paid off by the weekend. And that staph infection eating away at my left leg? That's one pretty effortless way to lose weight."

An hour later I had so much Novocain in my bloodstream that to keep from passing out I had to concentrate really hard on baseball scores. (That's the second most common use of recalling sports trivia.)

An evaluation said I don't need root canal in the tooth, and who wants a root canal if they can avoid it, right? Nope, that's where you're wrong. Because based on the hassle of restoring just this one tooth, here's my plan to resolve the very trying human condition of owning a mouth.

I, Holly Love, would like to have a dentist whittle away all of my teeth to nothing. Then I'll have root canal performed on every tooth. That's right. Extract every last tooth nerve so I'll never feel pain in them again. I'll then have beautiful gleaming crowns placed on each tooth. Take that, molar #19, and all of your gnarly friends.

For this mother of all tooth improvements, I'll go under general anesthesia – forget Novocain. It'll be a once-and-done deal. All my controversial mercury fillings will be gone. I'll never be in the middle of another luncheon, class, crab fest, or coronation and have to duck out to the dentist. This will be like having bionic teeth. Remove and replace biological components, and you're left with low-maintenance, high-performance, good-looking ivories.

For being the first one to volunteer for this radical procedure, I'll expect to have it done for free. I'll grant photo shoots, of course. I'll be world renowned, a pioneer in all of toothdom, hailed for my bravery and innovation. This will be the best thing that ever happened to me…to dentistry…to all of medicine. My face now warms at this outstanding contribution I'll be making to humankind!

Or at least, it all seemed like a great idea when I was under the gas.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sweets Embargo

So my husband Jim and I make this pact: We can eat whatever we want when we're not home, but we won't bring any more candy, cookies, cakes, ice cream, or whatnot into our house. I figure this means we'll be well on our way to beating our sugar addiction. Beating it. With a whisk. Into a vanilla-scented, velvety sweet meringue to grace the top of a chocolate coconut cream pie, with a buttery graham cracker…wait, Holly, focus.

We launch this plan on New Year's Day. We have so many treats still to eat, from previous supermarket trips and leftover holiday extras, that we don't feel deprivation kick in until March. But then it gets interesting as I try to satisfy my sweet tooth without goodies. I start by gorging on pineapple, berries, and raisins, but let's face it. Fruit trying to be dessert is like a marshmallow trying to be a pillow. Mmmm, marshmallow.

I begin regularly adding half a jar of honey to my tea. I scrounge for random chocolate chips in the dark corner of a drawer. I slurp down expired pudding from the back of the fridge. Soon I'm chewing on hardened brown sugar nodules like a wannabe ex-smoker chewing on pencils. When Jim comes home, I kiss him passionately in hopes of savoring a morsel of any treat he's had from his workplace vending machines. I work from home, so he makes it to the promised land of "outside our house" much more often. Ah, outside our house. Out there we gave ourselves carte blanche…a la carte…a la mode.

We start ordering dessert every single time we dine out. If we go to someone's house, we have third and fourth helpings of their sweetest offerings. We think if we stock up out there, we won't care about the slim pickin's at home. But naturally, all this indulgence just keeps our sugar addiction alive. I end up buying chocolate bars to outfit my glove compartment. "So," Jim says when he discovers this. "We're allowed to fill up the cars with the stuff?" I say, "Well, you're not, but I am." I'm just trying to protect him from coming over to the dark side. The dark chocolate side…

I sorrowfully read through dessert recipes, salivating and smacking my lips on imaginary brownies, macaroons, snickerdoodles, you name it. If I were an alcoholic, I’d walk into liquor stores just to read the labels. Ah, 88 proof, I knew ye well. Here and there, we make up for our solid sweets deficit with sugary cocktails. Are you ready for a Godiva/Kahlua/Amaretto/Frangelico bonanza? This I admit is the same as pumping ourselves with pancake syrup through an intravenous line.

Our embargo saves time when food shopping because I just skip over all the dessert aisles. Of course, this is about as much consolation as it would be watch your house burn down and realize at least this means no more electric bills.

We do pretty well there for a few weeks. I start to crave sugar a little less. When I do feel the urge to reach for a tooth-rotting snack, I instead do something fun like learn piano music, read, or play with the dog. Jim even says he feels a little more energetic.

And then it comes time to have a party for the first time since the pact. We break down. We simply must bring an array of desserts into the house for this occasion. There has to be another loophole for when we entertain. So we go to the grocery store, and we buy enough sweets to cover all possible personal tastes. We bring home the entire gamut from coffee ice cream to devil's food cake to oatmeal raisin cookies to saltwater taffy to Boston cream pie and beyond.

I do kind of feel sorry for our guests, having never seen any of it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

War on Stuff

I officially declare war on Stuff of all kinds. "Stuff," despite popular belief, is not inanimate. "Stuff" is alive. Worse yet, it lives, breathes, and grows in direct proportion to your desire to get rid of it.

The most evil of Stuff (also known as Clutter) often tries masking itself as "Useful Objects." Its most powerful weapon is disagreement between a husband and wife about where items should reside when not in use. For instance, my husband believes that sunglasses, receipts, tools, pens, dog toys, gloves, remote controls, eye drops, passports, Mojito recipes, and trash all belong on the dining room table at all times. And that belief empowers Stuff. It allows it to recruit more, bigger, and increasingly immoveable troops. These cling to one another with great magnetic strength, fueled not just by gender differences but by the very core of the Earth. That's where more Stuff lives than anyone could conceive of. For starters, undiscovered Liberace paraphernalia, thousands of Westminster Dog Show programs, and your missing watch are actually down there.

My favorite futile method to conquer Stuff is the "geographical cure." I spend hours daily carrying Stuff from one location to another. I'll move some photos from downstairs to upstairs. I'll move a broken light fixture from upstairs to downstairs. Drinking glasses are always going from up to down; shoes are always going from down to up. But listen closely, and you'll hear Stuff actually snickering as you transport it to its proper home. It knows that the minute you turn your back it will break out again, scattering like a house of cards into chaos, slithering to inconvenient surfaces, multiplying, and consuming small children in its path just like The Blob. And this isn't as desirable as it sounds.

No, Stuff is a germ, a disease. I blame Stuff for why I've yet to write a book. I can't find all my book ideas under all my Stuff. Plus Stuff paralyzes with guilt. Should I ever manage to sit and start a chapter, Stuff insists that instead of writing, I should be writhing—in the agony of having nowhere to stuff all this unstuffable Stuff. If you inventoried my office desktop right now you'd find, among many other out-of-place items, carpet cleaner, a folding umbrella, and a jar of mustard, placed by my computer because I need to visit the mustard company's Web site. This jar does turn my office into a "safe room" in which I could survive a condiment embargo, but still.

What did I do to make Stuff want to torment me? I usually use it as directed. I cook with Kitchen Stuff, primp with Bathroom Stuff, get work done with Office Stuff. I then have the best of intentions for putting Stuff away. But what happens instead? Stuff puts me away. In an institution. I've heard that when you walk into a cluttered room, your brain automatically starts organizing everything. This depletes mental resources and drains you. Let's be honest—it literally attacks you. Just yesterday you would have found me in the bedroom, CDs hovering at my feet, laundry wrapped around my waist, and magazines hanging around my neck. I was Live Stuff Walking.

I'm terrified to go to sleep at night – terrified that the next time I wake up, it will finally be the day when Stuff wins the war. There won't just be junk mail, water bottles, and gum wrappers following me around like Pigpen's dust cloud. Having defeated me in a coup, Stuff will then set my house ablaze as platoons of light bulbs, picture hangers, and printer cartridges initiate a civil war to capture valuable space occupied by nail polish, books, and plant food. Coupons and DVDs will self-combust in attempts to asphyxiate sports equipment and gift wrap. I'll run screaming down the street, trying to escape droves of bloodthirsty extension cords and toilet paper rolls.

After I escape, you'll find me living in a cave, having vowed never to own one single solitary piece of Stuff ever again. Not one! (Luckily, a blanket made out of insect-studded bat fur and a jar of mustard don't count.)