Archive | July, 2010

How to Use a Phone… Possibly

28 Jul

The powerful force that is iPod Nano is having trouble with the intricacies of his or her feature set. I wade in with a cautionary tale about escalating phone service turf wars and possibly, a little practical advice…

iPod Nano –

I’ll have to admit up front that I’m a little unfamiliar with most of these terms. I did pick up “Phone,” “does” and “INTERNET,” but beyond that you might as well have been speaking Esperanto for all the sense it made to me.

I’m constantly amazed by the variety of communication options the youth of today have at their disposal. (Well, not “constantly.” I do take a little time off from my amazement now and then, usually to do “something for me.” “Something” usually entails a nap, a glass of Scotch or a Scotch-related nap.)

When I was younger, we were limited to alternating weekday use of the local party line and some makeshift tin can-and-string phones. The adults (who actually paid the rent on the line) had the line tied up day after day, talking to each other about gout remedies, the new (and unmarried) woman who had moved in down the hall, which percentage of lye would remove stains but not skin or hair, whether or not the Kaiser was “full of it” and so on.

If my friends and I wanted to have a long, private conversation without having to look at each other, we would turn to our old standby, the tin-can-o-phone. This gave us the chance to speak uninterrupted for the most part. Occasionally rival tin-can operators would cut our string or attach one of their own strings to our pre-existing network with the intent to hijack the conversation(s).

We’d retaliate by grafittiing the nearest alleyway with disparaging rumours about their incredibly small coverage area or insinuating that usage of their tin-can system reflected poorly on the “tied-in” individuals and was quite possibly an affront to God. (Most things were in those days, and those who argued this “fact” tended to be labeled “affronts” the fastest.)

As more and more people sought to add their own string to these networks, a greater number of rivals began operating in the area. They would undercut our string system with offers of fatter, more secure string or additional cans placed in convenient and semi-private areas.

Tensions ran high, causing line snappages in major boroughs and wreaking havoc on our semi-private lives. A few kids came across some hemp, which was a major breakthrough thanks to its longevity and potential smokability.

The hemp looked to put most of us out of business but Karen Judson’s parents de-regulated the industry by throwing out every manner of thread, yarn and twine in their garage one afternoon. Small startups tied on to hemp lines, gradually bleeding the system of its precarious exclusivity.

We all raced against the inevitable, devolving into a series of small-time turf wars predicated on “strand thickness” and “can portablility.” The first kid who realized you could transmit of heavy-duty fishing line was a millionaire by age 15. The young entrepreneur who discovered that a tomato paste can could do the same job as a #10 (with no signal degradation or noticeable volume drop) sold out to Jacob Bell’s authoritarian mother for an undisclosed amount of coinage and chewing tobacco.

The rise of private phone ownership soon sank our beloved industry. We began to communicate with each other through a mixture of indecipherable hand gestures and blind ads in the local paper. Our parents enjoyed their newfound freedom, which allowed them to find out the latest on their siblings’ mostly illegitimate children without having to suffer through 20 minutes of corn medication recommendations or a post-potluck recipe exchange.

So, to answer your original question: yes. The internet IS amazing!

Clifton L. Tanager


A History Lesson featuring A.V. Tanager

20 Jul

I’d like to take a break from answering unanswerable (and the occasional shouldn’t-be-answered) questions to introduce you to my grandfather, Artemis Valiant Tanager. While I won’t be introducing you to him literally, mainly due to his having passed on decades ago, I’d like to treat you to one of his wonderful stories about his days in the Spanish-American War, also known (mainly to him) as The War to End All Wars. He also referred to it as the Great Depression and The New Deal occasionally, when not referring to it as The Era of Good Feelings. He did love a good generational label.

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to locate a photo of Grandpa Artemis, no doubt due to photography still being very much of a “dark art” during his most photogenic years (age 12 and age 31, if I’m not mistaken). However, I did find a rather nice scientific drawing of a Palm Civet Cat, who will be featured prominently in the following tale. Enjoy.

My great-grandfather, Artemis Valiant Tanager, was a veteran of the Spanish-American War. Keeping with the family tradition (which he had just started that afternoon), he would often sit down on quiet nights and regale us with horrendous tales of his proud service of his country (mostly the United States).

He’d dim the lights, often inadvertently, before beginning his story. As an “attention-grabber,” he would sometimes accompany the dimmed lights with a lusty yell and a few muzzle-loaded shots, usually aimed high and wide, thanks to his delirium tremors and failing eyesight.

We’d gather around his feet, our little hearts racing and our little hands surreptitiously checking ourselves for bullet wounds, and sit in rapt, near-catatonic attention as he began:

“We were encamped for a few weeks, nestled deep within the lovely rolling hills on the outskirts of southern Manila. Unfortunately, many of us were too dead, too wounded or too scared to enjoy what was left of the scenery and most of these autumnal memories have only returned via gunfire-triggered flashbacks or years of regression therapy.

The Filipinos were somewhat ill at ease as well, what with their country being used as a war-ridden playground for a battle between Spain and America. We indicated through a series of inept hand gestures that their invitations to play “host” for this war must have been lost in the mail, a common occurrence with drunken Pony Express riders and their none-too-sober mounts.

In fact, their invitations had been lost, having been bundled with several thousand care packages on a steamer located up in Cleveland, OH. It had followed a circuitous route through the Great Lakes before emerging in the Atlantic and heading for the Philipines. Unfortunately, a calculated attempt to “stir things up” saw the ship run full-bore onto the nearest Filipino beach, launching itself over a scrub-covered mound and unceremoniously drop its entire load directly between the two peaks that bookended Manila. Obviously it was a huge mess and those at the receiving end were none too pleased.

Anyway, the men and I had received our orders earlier that day via the Filipino version of the Passenger Pigeon: the Palm Civet Cat. The small packet of top-secret information and lifetime supply of cyanide pills was carefully inserted by highly trained couriers into the lower intestine of the cat.

Though known for their ill-tempered clawing and unrestrained bowel movements, they actually could become quite tame given the proper training, although the constant stench was somewhat of an annoyance.

Ike, you can use the facilities when this story is finished. It’s rather rude to keep interrupting.

(An aside: Grandpa was referring to my cousin Ike, who was three years my junior and somewhat of inconvenience to be around, thanks to his constant urination which led directly to his constant dehydration. Spending time with Ike meant rotating between the nearest restroom and nearest sink/water fountain. He was also a poor conversationalist, what with his words being continually drowned out by his water intake or muffled by the door to the men’s room.)

Someone had discovered, most likely due to boredom or being hopped up on the local fortified mango wine, that the beans found in their heaping piles of feces could be used to brew a rather strong cup of joe. Of course, “joe” had not yet become widely used slang for coffee, but instead referred to the eye-wateringly powerful beverage made from a mixture of civet cat feces and the 90-proof mango wine.

We lost a few men to what we now know as “e coli” and a few more to the heart-stopping power of the wine’s most active ingredient: polypropylene glycol. While its many uses around the world render it safe to consume in small quantities, a weeklong-bender’s worth would usually turn a healthy man’s blood into something between high-pressure plastic and memory foam. Shortly thereafter, it would turn their minds into a mush we referred to as “Mango Madness.” Those under the spell of “MM” often rushed headlong into the nearest body of water before emerging briefly to futilely attempt to set themselves on fire.

Ike– again. You can wait. All this urination can’t possibly be good for your remaining kidney. Maris, stop picking at that bullet wound. There’ll be plenty of time for that when the wound becomes infected.

Anyway, the messages would be retrieved from the civet cat droppings along with the precious coffee beans and assorted roughage. After a quick cup of joe and a scan of the illegible map, we were ready to storm whatever the hell it was that to the very blurred north of us.

Long story short, within 24 hours we had reclaimed the capital from the peaceable but proud Manilans and were celebrating with a spiked cup of deadly mango-joe. We sold our coffee secret to Juan Valdez Sr. who promised to take it to his grave as soon as he made a quick fortune.

The rest of us adopted a fair amount of the tamer civet cats as pets, taking them home with us to become coffee makers, guardcats and handy shipping containers for various illegal products and substances.

Ike, as soon as you’re done collapsing in pain, you may use the restroom. Maris: I’d like to take a moment to refer to the release form you signed prior to your visit.”

– Clifton L. Tanager

Is It Love?

14 Jul

A young woman wonders if she’s receiving mixed signals. I am only to happy to adjust her antenna and other metaphors…

Ashley –

You’ve got a heck of a conundrum there. It’s tough to tell these days (or any days, really) if someone is interested in you or just wants to touch your arm.

I know I had to send a ton of signals to my future wife back when we were in high school. I started out subtly, by making eyes at her on the sly or passing by her several times a day, including a few awkward times in the women’s locker room.

As that didn’t seem to be working, I tried different tactics. I sent her anonymous notes, scented with her favorite perfume and worded with letters cut out of the local newspaper. They would say sweet, but innocuous things like, “When you turn around, I’ll be the first person you see.” Or, “You look like an angel when you sleep.” Sometimes I would throw her a curveball like, “I borrowed your dog.”

Well, she was obviously flustered and panicked by the extra attention, so much so that she had to take off several days from school. I passed the time by sending her locks of my hair and handcrafted dolls in her likeness.

When she returned to school (coinciding with the dismissal of our suddenly overwhelming law enforcement presence), I began to make another, more intense play for her affections.

The first thing I did was switch all my classes so I could have the desk directly behind hers. This was a bit of a struggle, but I was able to maintain my grades. I did draw a few questioning looks during the Home Economics class and was asked to leave the Rhythmic Gymnastics class entirely, but I remained faithful, eventually bringing home a B+ in Advanced Quilting.

It took nearly 18 months but one day I finally got through to her. While I was innocently carving my initials into her wooden leg, she glanced my way. At first she seemed apprehensive and mildly terrified, but as we got to know each other, her face regained some color and she agreed to accompany me to the Fireman’s Ball if I would agree to stop carving things in her leg.

All in all, it was a magical evening. We drank punch, ate tiny sandwiches and danced under the stars (thanks to a recent devastating fire at the VFW, during which most of the firemen were too drunk to put down their drinks and douse the flames). The night went off nearly without a hitch. The lone exception was a small leg fire caused by some careless cigar ashing by the Fire Chief. As we beat out the flames with some alcohol-soaked towels, she asked me if I would mind accompanying her at the Box Social the following Tuesday.

The rest is, as they say, history.

I’m hoping those signals start coming in loud and clear, Ashley. This could be the “one.” A quick hint: take a good look inside your locker or on your person for any anonymous letters or carvings.

Clifton L. Tanager

How to Love One’s Self

7 Jul

Just a note of warning: the following delves into some rather sensitive subject matter, so if your children often accompany you at the computer monitor, you may want to cover their eyes or pretend you landed at this site on accident. This week, we help Nick get a firm grip on his extracurricular activity.

Nick –

By definition, once you receive help with this, it is no longer masturbation. Plus, given your young age, anyone who tries to assist will be spending a long time around people who don’t like them and once they return to civilian life, find themselves surrounded by people who don’t like them, but are less likely to sexually assault them.

As for whether or not this will cause you to go to hell? I couldn’t say for sure. I know the boys and I read through a great deal of pornography back in our day. During our prolonged and mandatory stay at the Korean front, it was often the only female contact we had that didn’t immediately require some sort of caustic ointment or slug of antibiotics.

True, some of my compatriots would get carried away and end up with minor abrasions or carpal tunnel syndrome, but I never heard of anyone going to hell for it. I even brought it up with the local chaplain as a favor to McMichaels, who was on the receiving end of parental guilt (and cookies) with every new care package.

The chaplain took me aside and asked if it was me who was having this problem. I informed him that I was only asking for a friend of mine. I showed him my still-mobile wrists and hairless palms which seemed to settle it in his mind. He told me that there were numerous passages in the Bible that forbade all sorts of actions, from walking above 4 km/h on Saturdays to writing general correspondence in all caps.

Sure, he said, the Bible prohibits “manual override” or whatever you fellows are calling it, but it also prohibits shooting others and others shooting you. It also has given me a celibacy oath, but I’ll be darned if I’m following it here, miles away from clean water or ecumenical oversight committees. You’d be wise to just do your best to stay alive and relatively disease-free at this point. Tell McMichaels or whoever it is that you’re protecting, that all’s fair in love and war. Even self-love.

Now I know your current situation most likely does not involve random hails of gunfire or moral-free red light districts, but I would imagine you can apply these same bent rules to your life. All else being equal, if this is the worst that you get up to (pun definitely not intended) then you’ll probably end up alright.

As for your followup questions:

1. I would imagine there would be no serious damage. Just remember to pace yourself. Lubrication is also key.
2. No. Heaven’s full of them. That’s why they call it “The Happiest Ending on Earth.”

P.S. If it “feels terrible,” you’re probably doing something incorrectly.

Clifton L. Tanager