Category Archives: Great Things That I Do From Time To Time

A fun thing I’ll keep doing whenever I have the time and the money

When David Foster Wallace set sail on a luxury cruise ship in the mid-90s, he was pampered to the point of despair. Sending a brilliant, hypersensitive, agoraphobic depressive on a solo Caribbean cruise is like sending a gregarious jock who does his best thinking aloud and in his underwear to an artist’s residency. It somewhat exceeds the bounds of journalistic ethics to assign such uncharacteristic vacations to these poor souls.

Fortunately for me, my 4-night Royal Caribbean cruise coincided with a period of my life when I’m all jacked up on antidepressants and boat drinks have never been more appealing. I had a blast. I did not miss land at all. If I could go back in time and direct my career less towards becoming a writer and more towards becoming an officer on one of these buoyant utopias, I would do it in a heartbeat. Even now I’m considering joining the Navy and/or pursuing a degree in hospitality. If I had a job, I would retire from it immediately and move myself and all my earthly belongings onto the Liberty of the Seas, where we would be more comfortable.

To explain my newfound love of cruising and to proselytize to my family members who think cruises are cheesy and who don’t get goosebumps when they hear “the flatulence of the gods” reverberate across the water, I offer the following highlights from my Royal Caribbean vacation:

No one ever told me “no”

On board the ship, my every request was met by the crew with a fervent “Yes, Madam.” The closest we came to negative treatment was when a crew member politely asked M not to drink his bottle of Corona in the whirlpool sauna that hovers 11 stories above the ocean. It was probably 2am and we’d been hitting the bars pretty heavily since 9 the previous morning, but still, we were shocked that anyone would make such a request when broken glass is so easy to remove from a hot tub. Shortly after this outrage, however, the crew member came to his senses and returned to pour M’s Corona into a complimentary Royal Caribbean keepsake cup and ask us if we needed any more alcohol or fresh towels.

I was entertained by war orphans

As part of the on-board entertainment showcase we saw Canadian ice dancers and Russian aerialists and people of unknown origin dressed like pandas, but one of my favorite boat performances took place in a near-empty theater at 4 in the afternoon. We’d first seen these child performers while waiting to embark from Port Everglades. There were about 100 of them—97 girls and 3 Justin Biebers. In line we were intrigued by the group’s numbers and their monochromatically blond ponytails and their matching blue t-shirts. They told us they were a youth dance troupe from Australia and this was their first time performing on a cruise ship. They usually danced in Disney World. I made it a priority to see them perform, whether or not that would interrupt one of my six meals of the day. The choreography was severely limited by the size of the troupe. It’s hard to coordinate 200 jazz hands while also doing feet. There was actually no reason whatsoever why the dance troupe had to be so large, unless the kids were recruited by a benevolent stage mom as a way of liberating them from abusive Australian orphanages or child prostitution rings and getting them onto a boat where they would be safe, in a sort of Schindler’s List scenario. Which is of course what was going on. The kids only did one show and roved the pool deck unchaperoned for the rest of the time. M and I often saw the older teens bobbing seriously in the hot tub, steam camouflaging their tears, likely discussing the wretched lives they’d left behind.

I learned to fold towels and napkins into exciting animal shapes

My daily program came with me everywhere and I consulted it religiously, not wanting to miss activities like the International Belly Flop Competition and the Captain Meet & Greet. But one of the hottest activities on board was the napkin-folding class that took place in the piano bar everyday at 10am. Though I didn’t participate personally, I watched in awe with a breakfast margarita in my hand as the ship’s resident folding expert belted instructions into a microphone and young couples on honeymoon hunched over their bistro tables with furrowed brows as they tried to construct 3-dimensional swans out of 1-dimensional fabric. On the last day of the cruise the more advanced students learned how to fold bath towels into the shape of baby elephants. I never would have considered this a useful vocation if I hadn’t I walked into our stateroom one afternoon and found a penguin sitting on our freshly made bed, wearing my sunglasses. I almost took him home with me, but I was afraid he’d get smashed out of recognition in my suitcase and I wouldn’t have the skills to rebuild him.

I came to know the joys of binocular ownership

It’s unclear to me whether dolphins feed on chum or a more exotic bait like puff pastry, but in any case I was annoyed that the ship didn’t have an entire crew dedicated to attracting these aquatic mammals for my viewing pleasure. Left to my own devices, I trained my binoculars on the wake behind our ship countless times a day, hoping that I’d see dolphins frolicking in our sewage. I also searched the ocean for castaways on a pretty regular basis. One afternoon I saw what I thought was a raft containing a solitary man who had probably eaten his fellow shipwrecked crewmates, but it was just a log with a bird on it.

I met fascinating people 

M and I could barely get through a shuffleboard tournament without meeting people we would’ve happily spent our lives with on dry land. On Deck 4 we encountered an elegant woman who used to take pictures of Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra. I lent my binoculars to a retired firefighter who once responded to a call where a man on a railroad track was so drunk he didn’t realize a train had taken off his leg. And then there was the whirlpool crowd, who were always a joy to be around, probably because the hot water lowered their defenses.

I ate so many desserts

At least three with every decadent meal. In for a penny, in for a pound.

I got off the boat only long enough to get on another boat

On excursion day in Cozumel, my travel companions and I boarded a catamaran at 11am with a small group of passengers that included four female dentists who were each about three pina coladas deep. These girls were better at partying than they were at snorkeling, so they spent most of our time at the disintegrating reef clinging to the handsome dive master. The stronger swimmers among us saw rays, parrot fish, barracuda, and bottom-dwelling scuba divers who seemed oblivious to our presence. I liked to float above these latter creatures because the bubbles from their scuba gear tickled my skin in an arousing manner. On our way back to the cruise ship the catamaran crew served us drinks and blared dance instructions masquerading as songs, leading us in Mexican interpretations of the Macarena, the Cupid Shuffle, etc. After a few spins around the deck the dentists became over enthused and started doing keg stands which resulted in them flashing their sunburnt boobs to a passing motorboat. It was good to spend the day observing the natural world before humans managed to spoil it.

I was encouraged to dress like a hoochie mama

Four-inch heels were standard discotheque attire. Not since our time in Miami had I so keenly felt my absence of butt implants.

I became overly emotional at the piano bar

According to M, the piano bar is always the most happening place on a cruise ship, at least in the realms of nightlife and napkin-folding. (I would argue that in the afternoon the Sprinkles soft-serve ice cream machine beside the children’s swimming pool was the center of our maritime universe.) The piano bar was home to a comedian-pianist who’d been playing cruise ships for 24 years and was a one-man Library of Congress as far as music and lyrics were concerned. He frequently recruited members of the audience to join him at the piano, and he had an uncanny ability to size up strangers and determine which songs they’d know from memory when he handed them the microphone. These impromptu performances were an emotional roller coaster. We saw an old man sing “You Make Me Feel So Young” from his wheelchair while his daughter videotaped it. We heard a young couple’s duet of “Endless Love” that would have Christina Aguilera’s Voice chair spinning in circles. And I was moved to tears by an elderly lady’s rendition of “Cabaret,” during which she got the whole crowd singing and took us all back in time to a 1940s nightclub where she wore a slinky red dress and rolled seductively across the piano and was the hottest ticket in town. I don’t know how the pianist managed to keep it together night after night. The sound effects on his auxiliary keyboard seemed to help. If one of the guest singers left him reeling, he’d just hit the fart button.

I appreciated the crew’s sense of irony

For instance, AA meetings took place in the Champagne Bar. Actually, that’s the only example of irony I can think of, and it was probably just poor planning on the crew’s part.

We outsmarted the casino

It only took us $20 to realize that we were not going to win $1,000 on the machine that has you maneuvering a pole into an irregularly shaped slot, thereby causing cash money to fall into a dispenser, making you rich. After we realized that the money was fastened securely to the roof of the machine, only to be dislodged by tidal waves or maintenance men, we made it our business to swing by whenever we walked through the casino. There would inevitably be a crowd gathered around the machine as one sweaty individual tried for the 60th time to make a square peg fit into a round hole. We always tried to counsel these people into letting go of their impossible dream, but we were only successful about half the time. The arcade proved to be more challenging to our wits, and we lost about $100 playing skeeball, coming away with only a packet of fruit erasers.

I did not pick dead skin off my feet in the hot tub

That must have been someone else.

I thought of DFW two times total

Once when gazing down at the black water at night from the uppermost deck of the ship, I felt that force in the ocean that wants nothing more than to swallow you. The feeling was so visceral and terrifying and primitive—despite DJ George’s soundtrack of club hits playing in the background—that I had to step away. And another time, off the distant coast of Cuba, I saw a small black bird squawking on the sun deck, appearing extremely disoriented. I think it had fallen asleep on the ship when we were docked at Port Everglades and then had woken up in the Gulf of Mexico. Unless there was some aviary on the Liberty that I didn’t know about, there were no other birds around for miles, and I watched as that fact seemed slowly to dawn on this bird. His lonely presence made me appreciate the company I was with all the more.

I had a hard time saying goodbye

This week I’ve been experiencing intense cruise ship nostalgia in the form of maintaining my day-drinking regiment and feeling our new apartment in Chicago rocking back and forth as if the waves are hitting our starboard side. Even though it’s freezing cold in Illinois relative to Florida, we still see the occasional Midwestern man walking around in flip-flops, and I want to accost him to see if he’s recently disembarked from a ship, so we can talk about it, and then maybe he’ll join us for a tequila sunrise in a local piano bar. We’ll sing mournful songs and reminisce about the days off the coast of Florida when we were all sea captains and despair was just a lost bird that eventually flitted away.

I’m sorry I’m not sorry I now live in Miami

I’ve temporarily relocated to Miami, and I want to write about all the ways in which this place is paradise, but meanwhile my friends and family members are actively catching hypothermia in climates north of here, so I can’t describe paradise without sounding like I’m gloating, but on the other hand I kind of want to gloat because I can see green ocean and palm trees from the balcony of my condo, and because it’s 80 degrees and at any moment I could go swimming with the local dolphins, and I don’t think you should resent me for my change in fortune because it’s entirely possible that I froze to death a few weeks ago in Brooklyn and am now enjoying a sunny afterlife in a place masquerading as Miami, and most people would rather be cold and alive than warm and dead, so if it makes you feel any better we can all operate under the assumption that I’m deceased, or that these palm trees are fake, or that soon this entire metropolis will be underwater, and then everyone in South Florida will have to relocate to the island of Kokomo, which I found out recently doesn’t exist.

A few of Miami’s key (get it?!) elements:

1) Donald Trump

Once upon a time Manhattan real estate mogul Donald Trump gazed across a pristine white beach where Floridian children were playing with sea turtles and listening to the hallowed voice of the ocean through an abundance of conch shells. “I would like to erect forty thousand condos here,” Trump pronounced, “and their foundations will be strong with the crushed bones of blissful children. And I will also sell sea turtles in vending machines down by the seashore.” Two decades later Trump’s dreams have been realized. When M and I drive up or down A1A, Vanilla Ice’s beachfront avenue, the view goes like this: Trump condo, ocean, Trump condo, ocean, Trump condo, Trump condo, Trump condo, ocean, Tony Roma’s. Every evening M and I stand on our balcony and watch hundreds of ominous black vultures circle the rooftops of Trump’s extensive skyline. We think Trump commands these birds like a storybook witch. He hovers on his penthouse balcony with arms raised to the sky, calling to his pretties. But I’m sure the lobbies of his condos are quite nice. I know at least one of them has a waterfall.

2) colossal fishing boats

Every weekend a fleet of colossal fishing boats emerges from Biscayne Bay and takes to the Atlantic. These boats are usually stark white and about 20 stories high. Some of them have colorful, curly slides on their decks, which must be the chutes down which the fishermen send their catch at the end of the day. The fish spiral down into the boats’  chlorinated aquariums where they can be kept alive until they go to market. A massive crew of sailors and deep sea anglers—mostly hailing from Chicago, mostly wearing flip flops, mostly drunk and bloated—keep the boats on course in the Caribbean’s prime fishing grounds. These working fleets might strike you as old-fashioned, but many people in Florida still depend on traditional fishing boats for their livelihoods, and to feed their families, so they continue to take to the sea blaring ancient maritime Disney music.

3) nudie beach

To be frank, the primary reason I chose to rent our particular condo is because it’s directly across the street from the biggest public nudie beach in America. This means that if I veer left when walking toward the ocean, I encounter white lifeguard stands and the bathing-suited denizens of Trump’s condos, but if I veer right, I encounter pink lifeguard stands that herald all the pink, untoned flesh to come. I’m not talking about topless sunbathing either, which is a rampant and delightful custom in South Florida. I am talking about naked penises that look as if they were shrunk by evil shamans and I’m talking about jelly rolls that could have been liposuctioned from a herd of manatees. I love it all so much.

4) weird birds

M and I are determined to become ornithologists while we’re here, but only if we can juggle the binoculars and our wine glasses at the same time. This place is full of weird birds that chose to migrate south for the winter just like us. If we’re not being captivated by Trump’s avian minions, we’re watching pelicans fart in trees at the marina, or speculating about what makes the giant flocks of starlings vacate the telephone wires all at once. My favorite bird by far, however, is the one that lives in the parking lot of the shopping center where we ate Cuban sandwiches yesterday. Food was scarce because we weren’t sharing, so the bird snatched up a packet of Splenda and proceeded to jump from one car hood to another pecking wildly at the sugar, playing keep-away with the rest of the birds, and generally enjoying a decadent lunch. I never knew that birds liked artificial sweetener, but now I will be sure to bring some Equal when I go to feed the ducks.

5) tennis

I insisted on bringing our tennis rackets to Florida because I want to improve my hand-eye coordination. My mom gets beamed by every ball I throw at her and I really don’t want to end up like that. This morning M and I went to the condo’s tennis courts for the first time. We were feeling cocky because last spring we played a few matches at the only court in Brooklyn that didn’t shake us down for expensive permits and tennis decrees from the mayor and such. The court belonged to the Marcy Projects and its net was a chain link fence. Much like Jay-Z honed his rapping skills and street smarts at the same housing project, M and I both assumed that we had improved our tennis game by playing in the ‘hood. But we were not prepared for the vigorous competition of Florida retirees. Ten minutes after we arrived at the court this morning, two elderly men challenged us to a doubles match. It was a brutal defeat. I hadn’t known you were supposed to hit the ball hard, or straight across the net, or within the white lines. I’d thought tennis was a game played with gentle lobs and a lot of flirtatious teasing, but suddenly a gray-haired Austrian man was shouting “Forty-love!” and whacking balls toward my floppy sunhat. The Marcy Projects tennis court had not been the elite training ground I’d thought it to be. Those facilities will probably not host the U.S. Open anytime soon. Though if they do the security costs will be minimal because the neighborhood already boasts a strong police presence.

And now, while you manage your long underwear situation up north, I must excuse myself to go perve on the nudists. Adios, amigos.

In order to horrify my mother, I have devised the following reality TV show

Way back in 2003/04, when my college girlfriend and I were living together in D.C. and bearing witness to all sorts of bad behavior on the infrequent occasions when we’d go to the Black Cat to drink Diet 7Up and meet with our napkin folding club, we devised the following concept for a reality television series. The concept has come a long way since then, in that I finally wrote it down, and I hear that other people are actually filming it for HBO. I’m going to wait and see if the HBO thing makes money before I inform Lena Dunham that I registered Poor Girls with the Writer’s Guild seven years ago. In any event, I now bring you…

————————————————————————————————–

POOR GIRLS

a derivative, tragicomical, reality-based television series about a trinity of emotionally needy, financially impoverished, artistically confused, professionally aimless, aged-twenty-something female roommates in the big city

Treatment by

Wistar Murray

LOGLINE: Sex in the City meets Little Orphan Annie.

SYNOPSIS: We document the various Brooklyn-themed misadventures of three attractive, charismatic young ladies at the height of their seductive powers as they struggle to keep money in their pockets, get consistently laid, and preserve their dignity in a metropolitan setting. All three heroines issue from middling-class suburban families, but appear to relish being poor, slutty, and bohemian in their Five Boroughs personas. They also view their penury as crucial to maintaining their increasingly slim figures. Series includes an undercurrent of competition to reveal who can debase herself the most for free drinks, as well as some elements of frenemy. From episode to episode, we watch the girls largely succeed in getting by on their charm and sexual appetites, but they occasionally surrender to a valley of tears (see E. 5, a.k.a. “The Heartbreak Episode”). All three heroines are actively looking for the Oliver Twists to complement their Pippi Longstockings, with a preference for the former to play an Instrument and/or write first chapters of novels while waiting to claim his family inheritance.

PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS:

We fall in love with Eleanor when we see her updating her private sex diary in a cubicle at FedEx/Kinko’s, where she writes regularly because the staff there doesn’t force her to buy anything, such as bubble wrap or Post-It Notes.

We fall in love with Ashley when she entertains a rare doubt about the long-term propriety of sleeping with so many assholes, and wonders if her new blanket should be electric, like a fence.

We fall in love with Mary-Katherine when we see her make a pit stop in a Midtown cathedral during a Sunday morning walk of shame. We soon gather that she is not there to atone for her sins, but rather to seek the refuge of a clean lavatory, where she can pee and check her hair for cum without having to a buy a Starbucks coffee.

SEVEN EPISODES:

1. We open on frustrated sex between Principal Character Ashley and an unnamed hipster on her air mattress (see Example #1 of Snappy Dialogue). After the gentleman leaves, Ashley plans her search for a real mattress to replace her erotically disappointing Aerobed™. We see an extensive monologue in the confessional room (Eleanor’s closet) about Ashley’s terror of bedbugs, evinced to the degree that she once abstained from casual sex for two months to avoid catching them. “Bedbugs are the AIDS of the 21st century,” she often tells the camera. She texts last night’s unnamed hipster to find out how he feels about street mattresses. She wonders aloud if she can avoid buying a comforter for her bed by investing in thicker pajamas.

2. We see Principal Character Mary-Katherine embrace a new sexual identity as a Craigslist Unicorn. This endangered species is willing to hook up with couples to indulge the wife’s last-ditch efforts to save the marriage. The couple is typically so grateful to its Unicorn that the husband will shower it in gifts and free restaurant dining experiences, often without the wife’s knowledge. Mary-Katherine is empowered by her humanitarian role and we see a montage of her flirting quietly on the internet at a neighborhood cyber-cafe.

3. We watch as Principal Character Eleanor is forced, for an entire week, to wear the whorish boots she bought last Sluttoween because her more practical winter boots are in the boot repair shop and she doesn’t have the cash to get them out. She feels awkward going babysitting in three-inch, transparent heels, although she has to admit that the boots do a fine job of protecting her feet from inclement weather. In this episode’s psychodramatic subplot, Eleanor is disappointed to discover that her new crush’s adult Asberger’s also manifests itself in lovemaking. She had wrongly assumed that her new crush would land on the higher end of the orgasm spectrum.

4. We watch as Ashley copes with the daily trials of being cold and hungry and bored with all her outfits. In this episode she discovers that if she sweet-talks a junior associate lawyer she’s been seeing (“Ryan,” a recurring minor character who fits awkwardly into the Poor Girls universe except on the nights when he’s doling out gratuit lines of coke), she can exchange fitting room blow jobs for cute clothes from Topshop. In a series of rapid cuts, we see Ashley order nothing but hot tea at expensive restaurants and then take the complimentary creams and sugars home to make her lunches with later.

5. Informally known as “The Heartbreak Episode.” When Mary-Katherine meets a man who is poorer, sluttier, and more beautiful than she is on the subway platform, we are right there with her. Three days after their steamy makeout session in the rear of a Dunkin’ Donuts, when he doesn’t respond to her flurry of obscene text messages, she is comforted/vindicated by finding his indie band’s CD in the dollar-bin of a used record store.

6. We watch as Eleanor goes on a quest for cheap condoms, finds Truth along the way.

7. We watch as the girls prepare for an elegant dinner party hosted around their dumpster-dived coffee table. Mary-Katherine, who is responsible for the salad (and bad at keeping up with her laundry), pats dry the romaine lettuce with the same towel that she’d earlier used to dry her hair. We watch with horror as the dinner guests pick damaged, dyed-blonde strands out of their first course. But then the night is redeemed by cheap karaoke around the corner and we rejoice along with the girls, who have by this point become our dear friends.

EXAMPLES OF SNAPPY DIALOGUE:

1.

“This mattress needs more juice,” Ashley says to her latest one-night stand.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” says the one-night stand.

“Don’t worry, doll,” says Ashley. “It’s not as uncomfortable as it looks. It’s like sleeping on a water bed, except with air.”

We hear the roar of the bed’s engine when she plugs it into the wall.

“Voila,” says Ashley, disposing of her bra and panties. “Inflated and ready for fucking.”

2.

“That douchebag came all over my t**s last night,” says Mary-Katherine.

“I thought you were into that,” says Ashley.

“Normally, yeah, but he stained my sheets and you know I just went to the laundromat. Quarters don’t grow on trees in Brooklyn.”

3.

“Who the fuck took my earblugs?” screams a wasted Ashley at 7am after she returns home from a long night of partying.

“Your what now?” says Mary-Katherine, who is making ramen dinner in the kitchen/living area.

“My earblugs! I can hear the family in the wall!”

“Why don’t you just have an orgy with them?” screams back Mary-Katherine. “You do with everyone else!”

Cut to Eleanor’s bedroom, where she’s straddling a groggy, half-naked bartender.

“We’ve got time for a quickie before I have to shower and go to work,” she purrs as she fiddles with what could either be a mole or his third nipple.

The bartender stares up at her blankly, stupidly, as if she is a ceiling tile.

“Did you hear me?” says Eleanor. “I said wake up and fuck me before my babysitting job.”

At his leisure the bartender removes the earplugs one by one from his ear sockets.

“Hm?” he says. “Are you talking?”

“Jesus Christ,” says Eleanor, and jumps up to borrow a condom from one of her roommates.

THE CLINCHER:

Eleanor’s Truth (see E. 6) turns out to be scabies.

My Dinner at TGI Friday’s

A few weeks ago I went to Penn Station at 8pm to meet my mom’s midnight train from Virginia. I was excited about spending four hours under Madison Square Garden, exploring its subterranean wealth of eating and drinking options. I’ve been to some tasty restaurants in Manhattan, but you don’t truly know a city until you’ve dined in its train stations. I thought I could get some good writing done in the back of TGI Friday’s. I ordered wine and french fries. I noted in my journal that TGI Friday’s is exactly the opposite of the way it’s depicted in TV commercials. The waiter didn’t want me there. If I had ordered a $17 plate of buffalo wings, or if he’d been accustomed to Salman Rushdie drafting novels at one of his sticky tables, perhaps things would have been different. At a certain point I could no longer deny that both he and the waitress wrapping flatware in paper napkins were judging me harshly.

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The new, gregarious me

It has recently come to my attention that I am no longer shy. I say this because in the past week I have made friends with a cable guy from Algeria, a chocolate shop owner from Iran, a grad student in business at Vanderbilt, a couple chefs, a painter from Croatia, a West Side boy in suspenders, and two older Jewish men who deal in reliquaries. I am not saying that I am wildly popular with these people, but I have definitely accosted them on street corners or at bars and struck up conversations from which they had difficulty extracting themselves due to my infinite charm and vigor. Sometimes I think they’re hesitant to let me wander off alone again because I’m so obviously unfit for city life, like a unicorn that has only known wild mountain pastures, but other times I imagine they’re saying to themselves, “How refreshing this young lady is with her flawless manners and Southern amiability!” The point is lately I’ve had no problem flinging myself at people and asking for their life stories like I’m a vacuum saleswoman or Miss USA, so I must conclude that I’m no longer shy. Or maybe I never was! And this makes me question all the other beliefs I hold about myself. Maybe I don’t have a love/hate relationship with alcohol! Maybe no one’s listening to my thoughts and judging me for them! Maybe ethereal mountain unicorns can also be street savvy! Maybe I won’t fail out of school! Maybe models are all ugly on the inside! Maybe James Franco really will come to my birthday pary, even though his manager already RSVP’d no. Maybe I can only sustain my gregariousness for one week, and then I will go back to being shunned and humbled by humanity! Anyway I don’t want to lose sight of where I have my real interactions with people, here on this blog, where I never have to stop talking so I can listen to someone talk so I can start talking again.

Wait for it. . . an eating video game!

Video games enable people to do their favorite things: shoot guns, steal cars, play golf in the living room. So what about a video game – or even an online application – that lets you eat all the delicious food that you want without ingesting any calories? Instead of a handheld console with ten zillion buttons, you wield an electronic fork, or, if you’re an expert, maybe an electronic knife and spoon as well. Then you assemble virtual meals on the monitor and take virtual bites all day long until your eyes burn. You won’t actually taste anything – this isn’t the year 3,000 – but visually you will be able to fulfill your cravings for the worst, most decadent things. Perhaps Gourmet Magazine could sponsor the eating video game. Or the This Is Why You’re Fat website. God, I’m smart. In this context, “smart” means “lying in bed on Monday night frantically brainstorming about how I can shove more food in my mouth without blowing up like a manatee, my totem animal.”

I envision three gaming levels for three different modes of eating:

Level 1: LOCALVORE

This level is for those who like to be in touch with the land. They can actually plant their own kitchen gardens and slaughter their own backyard livestock on the screen, staying involved in their food production every step of the way, from soil to table. Remember that all of this is a pretend world created by computer programmers and you will not get any agricultural tax credits from the government. Also, you’ll have to kill your pig with a fork.

LEVEL 2: DEFAULT PLAYER

This level is for average grocery shoppers who occasionally buy organic or local food if it doesn’t cost too much more than toxic food from other continents, and who like to eat three square meals a day that incorporate some roughage, and who also like meals to take 30 minutes or less to prepare. They drink two gallons of water and a glass of red wine daily, but they occasionally suck Pepsi through a Twizzler.

LEVEL 3: LAZY FATTIES

This level is for people who just like to say “Fuck it” and go to Golden Corral when their bellies rumble. Also those who like to eat their ice cream out of the carton and their potato chips out of the pantry late at night while their significant others are sleeping. You don’t have to be a lazy fatty in real life to beat this level, you just have to be able to think like a lazy fatty, which I think we’re all pretty good at in America, especially me (not to brag). In fact, I anticipate a lot of people using Level 3 as a weight loss tool, much like the Wii Fit. The eating video game will let you indulge all of your lazy fatty cravings without consequences. And Golden Corral and Applebee’s won’t have to go out of business even after this game is a runaway hit; they will simply move their more obesity-friendly products into a virtual market.

Of course, this game won’t work if you’re actually hungry. Its appeal is purely psychological. The idea is to master food much like you would master the Super Mario Galaxy or something. Food that is bad for you will become a fantasy land that you have to conquer. And children can learn healthy eating habits by creating their own virtual meals, being judged on fiber and vitamin content as well as visual intrigue. And if parents don’t feel like making dinner, they can just plug their kids into the X-Box or whatever and give everybody a meal-in-a-pill. Which reminds me of my favorite Facebook update from actor slash Facebook wordsmith* Alec Beard: “Alec Beard is wondering: if they do make a meal-in-a-pill, will you be able to take it on an empty stomach?”

*The new actor slash model?

The hound dog diary

When I called the cops on my neighbors for the third time (yes, I am that asshole), I tried to act as victimized as possible. I said, “Please, officer. Just tell me what I can do.” He said I should keep a diary for a month in which I record every bark out of that neglected hound dog’s mouth. Then I would have some legal recourse. I was like, “Wow. I’m actually being instructed to keep a diary. This is a dream come true.” I told my husband that I was keeping a hound dog diary and he said, “Make it juicy.” So here we go.

Saturday, January 17, 7am:  Damn I’m horny. I just want to rub my testicles on a lady hound dog. But all the lady hound dogs live in the country where they won’t pester their neighbors. So I will have to crush on the bookish woman next door who always yells at me to shut up. I will express my crush in incessant, guttural, glorious howling at her bedroom window.

Wednesday, January 28, 3pm: OMG she was totally reading today on her back porch. I barked at her for like an hour while my redneck owners cranked the volume on their satellite TV. She totally digs me.

Saturday, February 14, 8am: Bad news. I’m pretty sure the woman next door tried to assassinate me this morning. I was just doing my thing in the backyard, braying at the rising sun, when suddenly she was looking down on me from her back porch, poised solemnly with a hand grenade. After I got over my excitement at seeing her in pajamas (Old Navy!), I registered her weapon and her intent and I loudly demanded an explanation. I put my face right up against the chain link fence, lubricated the metal with my chicken liver saliva, howled magnificently, tried to make her understand that I was a good dog, nothing like those other dogs she’s known. I seriously turned on the charm. And yet I still got the feeling she wanted to explode me. Eventually she took some pills and went inside. Bitches be so confusing.

Sunday, March 1, 11am: Things are looking up. She was reading again on her back porch and I could tell she couldn’t concentrate on her book because she was so into me. I serenaded her until she went inside, made her feel like a princess. Treats for everyone!

Monday, March 2, 4:45pm: This fucking bitch. We take one step forward and four steps back. She’s going to call Animal Control on me? She’s going to overreact every time I wake her up on the weekend? Well she asked for it.

Wednesday, March 4, 6pm: I’m sad. It’s been two days since I’ve seen her. I think she’s gone to a hotel. I wish someone would walk me or give me a bone. Maybe I will just listen to “Rock of Love Bus” reruns through the window. Eventually someone has to let me in.

Sunday, April 5, noon: Hallelujah, I’m back in her good graces! Today she left a sirloin steak on my side of the fence. It was all I could do not to eat the whole thing right away as a sign of my forgiveness. Now I’m feeling a little groggy, snoozy, not so much like barky hound dog. Does anyone have any blow? Squirrel, why are you sitting on my brain? Someone take this meat off my teeth. Hush, puppies! Haha hush puppies, like the shoes. Wait, is that right? Dogs don’t wear shoes in the daytime. I’m going to hump this tree and you puppies are going to be sorry! My balls like to curl up under this tree to go to sleep forever. All dogs go to heaven. Purina!

I think I misunderstood the assignment.

Notes from a Dominican travel diary

I survived my travels (the tropical travels that I neither deserved nor paid for). But surviving them gives me hope that I am four planes and five Xanax closer to conquering my fear of flying. Our suitcases full of dirty clothes are apparently still sitting on the runway in the Dominican Republic, but I don’t even care. I will buy a new toothbrush. My luggage can stay in Punta Cana and soak up the sun and tip its handlers indefinitely because our lives have again been spared. And all without anyone acknowledging just how close we came. Except for my mother whose “Call me as soon as you land safely” text was waiting for me in Virginia and whose “But all the other doctors’ wives get Valium!” is a common refrain on long trips.

The agony of flying was a peak experience, but the honeymoon was pretty good too. I had no idea that Johnny Castle, Baby Houseman, and all of Johnny’s Dirty Dancing coworkers were alive and well and still being suggestive with their bodies on a Caribbean island decades after their triumph in America’s Catskills. In fact, this IMDB plot synopsis of the movie does a better job of summarizing my trip than I ever could:

It is the summer of 1963 and Baby and her family are to attend the holiday resort in America’s beautiful Catskill Mountains. But when they arrive Baby is almost immediately swept off her feet by the sexy and talented Johnny Castle. When her father forbids her to have anything to do with the hunky resort dance instructor and his pals, she finds herself falling madly in love with him and learning how to dance the passionate Latin dances that Johnny loves. Like the beginning of the 60’s signaled the ending of an era of innocence for the U.S.A., it also signals the ending of Baby’s innocence and the awakening of her feelings as a young woman.

Keep in mind that I was not playing the part of Baby in this scenario. I was playing the part of the complacent, elitist married woman who rolled her eyes every night when her beach resort’s nubile entertainment staff started shaking their Dominican hips on the mainstage for the tourists. No, this old lady did not participate in the “Fun Club” or in its after-hours activities at Mangu Disco where perhaps a few foreigners were specially chosen to merengue with the less discerning resort employees. This old lady and her equally crotchety husband wore SPF 70 sunblock every day and went to bed as soon as the band started up and found the unlimited rum drinks a bit too “Pixie Stickish.” They were also confused about how they were supposed to perform on the “Party Boat” (strip and dance on the bow or be the private, inconspicuous couple that the other passengers forget in Open Water?) and about how they could possibly finish reading their serious novels with the techno music blaring from the swim-up bar speakers.

No, in this scenario we were definitely the reluctant, forbidding, Dr. Houseman-type abortion givers, not the fun-loving, Penny Johnson-type abortion givees. In a way it’s sort of sad to leave my provocative dancing, unwanted pregnancy days behind me (kidding, Mom!), but at the same time it’s awesome to have a husband who is willing to complain when the music gets so loud that his wife can’t finish her book or when the Canadians drink so much rum that there’s nothing left with which to disinfect a papercut.

A formal essay about famous frogs me

My mother is exasperated that my husband and I still haven’t made a dime from our famous photograph. “Couldn’t you at least print up some t-shirts?” she says. “You can sell them on www.turtlefrogspiderphoto.com.” I explain to her that it seems exploitative to profit off something that—for whatever reason—inspires people. It’s like selling $5 bottles of Barack Obama water on the Washington Mall. I also explain to my mother that I don’t want to abuse or overextend my 15 minutes of fame. But in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “If I play my cards right, I can ride this photo all the way to the top.”

My husband and I never aspired to make a full-fledged career out of the spider on top of a frog on top of a turtle that we rescued from my parents’ pool filter last August. How could anyone sustain that kind of celebrity? We never dreamed that the photo phenomenon would go as far as it did. In fact we thought it would go precisely as far as our personal blogs. But the turtle/frog/spider mutant took on a life of its own. First local website cVillain picked up the story and photo. Then it went viral on the internet. Then it went international in OK Magazine and the Daily Telegraph. Then it went epidermal with a giant back tattoo on a California woman. Then it went full circle with Brian McKenzie’s Daily Progress column. Then it went statewide with Sandy Hausman’s WVTF radio story. Here on One Star Watt I will try to prolong the story for at least another week.

All my previous fantasies about being famous involved the New York Times or the Oscars or the White House or (on bad days) the Darwin Awards, not accidental drownings. Granted, the three critters survived their ordeal, but that didn’t stop an irate Albemarle County woman from writing into the Daily Progress. According to Marlene Condon’s editorial, the photo “epitomizes the cruel impact that humans often unwittingly inflict upon the Earth’s creatures.” Since when is it cruel to go hunting for animal carcasses in your bikini? Pool filters are the middle class’s version of raccoon traps baited with Friskies cat food. And I doubt that the chipmunk living in the neon-green Funoodle on my parents’ pool patio would exchange its happy home for personal safety. But Ms. Condon alleges that “[b]y maintaining an uncovered swimming pool, people bring about the deaths of numerous kinds of wildlife that are attracted to the water but then can’t escape the consequences.” Tell that to the three creatures that are in the woods right now writing the Disney/Pixar screenplay of their lives. At least I think they are. I’m a little afraid to return to the place where my dad finally released them after the photo shoot. What if I discover three small skeletons stacked one on top of the other, delayed victims of chlorine inhalation? I would bury them in formation. But that’s neither here nor there. What’s important is that I’m famous.

On the internet especially, I’m surprised the goodwill has endured so long. Usually it takes a much shorter time for a cyber backlash to begin. It’s a credit to the New Age websites that have featured the picture that few people make negative comments. Even the “This is clearly shopped” comments are rare. But please—if I were to Photoshop an image, it would probably be of me and Mick Jagger partying together on the island of Mustique. I have a hip, unfeeling reputation to uphold; I would never choose to be known as the woman who took a heartwarming picture which Chicken Soup for the Nature Lover’s Soul will one day option. (Call me anytime, Chicken Soup.)

But I’m not embarrassed by being the author of the picture. Fame is always cool, no matter how lame its origins. At least my mom has been really impressed with me since the photo started generating buzz. And I’ve discovered that it’s not really how you get famous that matters, but how you deal with the fame once you have it. Once it’s in your lap, do you reject it (no), freak out (no), gloat (yes), start judging your friends “pre-turtle/frog/spider” and “post-turtle/frog/spider”? Certainly. Do you become full of yourself, thinking “I can stack any three things on top of each other—magazine, turkey sandwich, remote control—and they will be transformed into high art when I take their picture?” Of course you do. In the morning I’m going to lay my bowl of yogurt on top of a cat on top of a dictionary and then sell the photo rights for a million dollars.

But at what price fame? Sometimes fame can tear a couple apart. I should know because I was engaged to my husband when I found the turtle/frog/spider and now we’re happily married. All because he remembers that I took the picture so technically I own the rights. Every time I open our freezer and see the preserved topping from our wedding cake—the sugar turtle/frog/spider that Frank Cappellino made for us—I understand that love is the turtle that holds up the frog bride and the spider groom. Or maybe the spider bride and the frog groom? Or maybe humankind? I’m determined to find a deeper message in my photo. In any case someone has his fidgety legs in someone else’s eyeball and someone else is feeling seasick and the ground seems to be constantly moving underfoot. But in a good way. In a way that says one day God will pluck us out of the pool filter of life and unleash us in heaven after having a good laugh at our expense. Or that we will simply succumb to the fumes. Or that I should apply for a photojournalism position at National Geographic Magazine.

You’re invited to One Star Watt’s Inaugural Linkage Neighborhood Ball!

But keep in mind these links have nothing to do with the inauguration tomorrow. Mostly they’re just something to keep you occupied during commercial breaks.

Guinea Pig Olympics – My childhood friend Amy and I subjected our little brothers to a similar game, but they were much cuter.

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Fuck You, Penguin – Humbling the enormous egos of baby animals.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Only Friends Are Mirrors – Cool people seem to hate Gwyneth Paltrow. I’ll jump on that bandwagon.

New Smokable Nicotine Sticks – “Fills lungs with rich, satisfying smoke, curbing desire for cigarettes.”

We Covet – I suddenly need a bunch of stuff that I didn’t know existed five minutes ago.

Women Living with Fake Baby Dolls Treat Them Like Real Children – Self-explanatory.

Some eCards – For modern thank-you notes.

Put the romance back into your mostly internet-based relationship.

Children’s Hospital - A very funny show available in its entirety (all 10 five-minute webisodes) on the WB website.

Searching for Jesse Camp – A touching essay about a woman’s crush on an erstwhile MTV VJ.

Sexy Pole-Dancing LEGO – It’s about time someone made LEGOs sexy! I think.

Marketing Drank – “Purple drank” – urban slang that I just learned – is now bottled for profit.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Panic – A scary and moving window into the life of a 911/999 telephone operator.

Attractive Girls Union Refuses to Enter into Talks with Mike Greenman – A male friend of mine sent me this because he says he relates a bit too much to Mike Greenman. Don’t we all.

Cover Controversy? Naked Ambition Doesn’t Cover It – Hot, naked attention whores are the best kind of attention whores.

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Top 50 Movie Special Effects Shots – For the geeks. And for the non-geeks who are into movie special effects shots. Ahem.

Two Perspectives on Bush’s Departure – I love the VQR but I never have a chance to contribute to its blog. Thankfully smarter, better people with more important things to say have been picking up my slack.