Geek Chic

March 16, 2010

It’s no big surprise that nerds are taking over the universe.

This, of course, is something that has been a long time coming. Most of us knew, deep in our hearts, that eventually the smart folks would be in charge. However, a lot of us assumed that Type A personality salesmen and that high school quarterback who still pumps gas at the hometown Citgo station and still does whippits in the Denny’s parking lot during shift change would be able to hold off the full-scale invasion for at least a few more decades. But it looks like their time has come.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When Percy McPocketprotector asks Molly Sue Easypants to the junior prom, he’s still getting the floor mopped with his braces. But nerds have come a long way since the slide-rule stereotyping of years gone by.

But a word of warning to many of you self-described geeks out there: Just because you’re a video-game-playing, science-fiction reading, Pokemon-loving dork doesn’t mean you’re something special.

There are plenty of ways of determining exactly when it was that being a geek became cool. Nerds have wallowed in the lower depths of the social scale for a long time, and there are plenty of items to point at as a turning point as to when this shifted. Most people would peg it to the ascent of Bill Gates as the world’s richest person, because–let’s face it–he probably still showers with his underwear on, and all the money in the world apparently doesn’t stop one from using a cereal bowl as a hairstyling product.

I’m sympathetic to that thought, but making gobs of money and being awesome on the social scale aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. I peg it to the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King winning the Best Picture Academy Award. It’s fair to say that Hollywood hasn’t necessarily been hostile to geeks, but they certainly haven’t helped–for every Grade-Z science fiction flick and grating performance by Jerry Lewis perpetuating nerdiness as a valid lifestyle choice, there’s a thousand Ryan O’Neals, Tom Cruises, and Sean Connerys slamming the ladies and being the hit of the party. But having the movie industry actually recognize the epitome of the best representation of what it means to be a geek…well, let’s just say the World of Warcarft servers fell silent for whole minutes after it won, and no doubt attributed to all the half-orcs and dwarves that got born about nine months later.

The problem, of course, is once there are enough geeks out there, the mere act of being a geek means less and less. And there is always a segment of the population that strives to not be like everyone else, and many folks become quite conflicted when a once-obscure space opera only dozens of people obsessed over becomes a major motion picture and years of devoted fandom become useless when every bonehead and their brother can just look it up on the Internet Movie Database’s trivia section. Most of these poor kids don’t have any other avenues of interest to go to, and simply become geeks without all the awesome geek parts. Also See: Emo.

I’m lucky. I’ve been a geek for quite some time. If you were to go back in a time machine and ask me what my life goal was, here would be the results:

Age 4: I want to be a pirate.
Age 6: I want to be a stage magician.
Age 10: I want to build my own computer from random bits I bought at Radio Shack.
Age 12: I want to beat Sid Meier’s Civilization on Deity.
Age 16: I want to work for the National Security Agency.
Age 18: I want to be the world’s foremost expert on the Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.
Age 21: I want to write and star in my own steampunk version of Dune.
Age 32: I want to beat Sid Meier’s Civilization on Deity.

However, I didn’t embrace geekiness whole-heartedly. I never got into anime–I mean, the Japanese are just…weird. And I never really got into role-playing beyond the most basic level. And I didn’t own any console games between the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Wii, so I apparently missed out on such wonderful products as the Nintendo 64 version of Goldeneye as one of the greatest cultural milestones of the century.

Now, I’m not going to say anything about my lovely wife about his, though I would like to point out that our first date involved a book store and at one point in our marriage I’m pretty sure she once played Super Smash Brothers Brawl for 36 hours straight. I’m just sayin’.

While we are celebrating the cerebral, it might be prudent to point out what is NOT within the realm of the geek:
1. Just because you are a female, you cannot become a “sexy geek girl” just by putting on a pair of glasses. Tina Fey and Olivia Munn can pull it off because they are real-world capital-N Nerds. Some random hottie on the internet looking for attention and thinks she classifies as a nerd because she has an iPod, glasses, and an unbuttoned white men’s dress shirt and nothing else are not.
2. Number of Call of Duty units sold: 55 Million. Number of American soldiers in the actual World War II: 16.1 million.
3. Just because you picked up the Foundation series at the used book store or once watched forty-five minutes of magna at two in the morning in your dorm room via dial-up doesn’t mean you get a free punch on your geek card. It involves a more drastic change in your lifestyle to be a geek, such as pissing in empty Mountain Dew bottles so you don’t miss a minute of that EverQuest campaign you’re playing, or actually reading any of those Harry Turtledove books your odd aunt gave you one Christmas when you were eight.

Even with all of this information, there isn’t any particular well-defined determination of whether one is a geek or not. However, if you are already in the process of writing me a scathing e-mail about how the gestation period of a half-orc is not, in fact, nine months, then we may have a pretty good idea of where to start.

How To Beat The Second Quarter Revenue Report Blues

June 19, 2008

This week has been a particularly harrowing one for me. And it can all be attributed to one reason: meetings.

In my real job in my real life, I am not nearly important enough to justify going to too terribly many meetings. I can usually get away with attending only one incredibly useless meeting every two weeks, if that. But for some reason this week was a perfect storm of wastefulness because I’ve packed in enough doodling, playing with my watch, sending inappropriate text messages, and trying to sneak peeks at my co-worker’s cleavage while someone else getting paid more than me talks endlessly about something that will never affect me anytime this millennium, but thankfully providing me with about a ream of paper’s worth of information, almost two pages of which I will utilize in my job.

It’s hard to really say too much more about meetings that anyone doesn’t already know. Somehow, corporate America has created an entire industry, which includes but is not limited to, books on how to hold more efficient meetings to software designed to help more efficiently arrange them, all to get ten minutes of legitimately useful information and stretching it out for an hour yet somehow considering this to be the epitome of free-market efficiency. Of course, the meeting is not an exclusively American invention; no doubt they slowly evolved from our European ancestors, where meetings in the local guild workshops were routinely held, though, to be fair, this was mostly a way to determine which one of the workers was going to get to eat that day and how often the soul-crushing beatings were going to be administered.

Well, being in so many meetings this week, I had plenty of time to think about ways to make fun of meetings, so I’m presenting below a list of the common personalities one will find at the standard American meeting.

That Guy Who Used To Work For This Awesome Company
This is the individual who, regardless of the topic, will compare it to how things used to be run in this awesome company he used to work for but no longer does for some invisible reason. When he worked at Standard Banana, for example, they’d get a 250% efficiency bump every time they gave out a sparkly key chain. Or Friday afternoons used to be da bomb back at National Synergy because some dude dropped off a chest full of ice and Yuengling for everyone to enjoy. The implicit intention of such suggestions is that because they worked so well in his former Valhalla, they would work gangbusters here, even though this is an open shop and doesn’t employ third-world adolescents.
Sample Quote: “When I worked for American Tin and Sand, they used to let us turn our radios up to .4 decibels on Fridays and on the day before a federal holiday. It was AWESOME!”
How to Neutralize: Tell him his ex-wife works at his old company now.

The Guy Who Always Manages To Come Up With A Counter Example To Everything That Is Only Vaguely Related To What Was Just Said
This person walked into the room with his head crammed full of righteous indignation, files mental folders in his head full of statements to make. And if nothing related is said to bring them up, then he’ll force them in an arbitrarily unnecessary way. He came to the meeting to make a point, regardless of whether it’s the right point or not. It’s very close to the actualization of an internet forum, only with more smarm and less chance of the word “asshat” being used.
Sample Quote: “Your report said that there would be no more revisions to the regulatory code this year, but you just said that IT was coming to reinstall the software next weekend. What are we supposed to believe?”
How to Neutralize: Ask him about his mother.

The Woman Whose Only Concern Is That She Will Be Able To Make It To Her Daughter’s Soccer Practice On Tuesday
This is the co-worker who, upon any new change being implemented in the workplace, will immediately distill its contents to determine if this will affect her ability to attend her child’s sports practice. “I have to be home by six on Tuesdays!” she’ll remind everyone every Monday and Tuesday and, in all probability, Wednesday through Sunday, too. And when little Robert is old enough for slow-pitch softball, well, you might as well chain the doors shut and burn the place down.
Sample Quote: “If this new Phase III Sales Website overhaul causes me to be even one minute late for the practice run, I will bitch about everything until the day I die.”
How to Neutralize: Torn ACL.

The Quiet Guy Who Doesn’t Say Anything All Meeting Until The Very End, When He Pulls Out The Verbal Equivalent of the H-Bomb
He’s older, probably has a comb-over and a tie that matches your grandfather’s couch. He rubs his temples and grimaces and shifts his weight around and finally when everyone is about ready to get up and leave he sternly bellows some self-aggrandizing comment. While they probably have the experience and astuteness to make some sort of positive contribution, they’re just use it to express their discontent with the world. For the record, before anyone is smart enough to point it out, this is me, only perhaps without the comb-over and not quite as much astuteness.
Sample Quote: “It will never work, and so help me Hannah, I will destroy anyone in my path who will make me change. I am going to go to my desk now and pout.”
How to Neutralize: Decaf.

Some Old Windbag That Wants To Talk About Anything Except What Is On The Poorly-Defined Agenda
One doesn’t want to heap too terribly much blame on this person, because pretty much no one wants to talk about what’s on the agenda, either. But this person, instead of converting a meeting from a deadly boring snorefest to a halfway decent way to pass the time, instead infuses the room with her own sense of dullness and perfunctory nothingness. She will be wearing a sweater with an animal or a flower on it, even in August.
Sample quote: “Your report on the profit projections for the third quarter reminds me of something my cat did this morning.”
How to Neutralize: Counter with your own stories about prison.

The Person Who Drafted That Poorly-Defined Agenda
Agendas suck, because they are ultimately about nothing except the self-puffery of the person who called the meeting in the first place. On the other hand, they’re a necessary evil because it at the very least tells you about how far along you are until the meeting ends. And they couldn’t take a grammatically correct sentence if it meant it depended on their advancement in the company. Oh, wait. That apparently doesn’t matter, since a person’s advancement in the company id dependent on their ability to organize meetings. Of course, the person with the agenda is also the one running the show, and they’re the ones who put you in this position in the first place. So screw ‘em.
Sample Quote: “Listen to me, or your fired. And even though I’m speaking, I said ‘your,’ not ‘you’re.’”
How to Neutralize: Retire.

Welcome to Spring!

March 29, 2008

Spring has sprung, and as always it presents the population with brand new activities to enjoy. (Granted, here in Western Pennsylvania the concept of the first day of spring is purely academic.) Circumstances have changed and the things once thought lost causes in the dark recesses of winter now become golden opportunities to screw up the rest of your year. So have fun this spring, and keep these thoughts close to the top of your mind:

Baseball: Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, why? Watching baseball is bad enough. It’s a boring, archaic game, less a pure sport of athletics and synergy and more of chunky guys battling it out for the best ever in hand-eye coordination—and not just for hitting the ball out of the park but poking a syringe needle into a butt cheek. People who follow baseball (read: people over the age of 50) will fulminate about the balance of pitching and hitting, and the intricate strategy involved in the process of the game. This is—to put it diplomatically—a steaming pile of lies and sinful transgressions. Baseball is reduced to “hack at ball with bat, run if you hit” when you get right down to it. And the only strategy involved is somehow managing to keep your salary costs low enough that you can laugh all the way to the bank to cash your luxury tax check. It doesn’t need to be said that the situation is entirely different for hockey, which, thanks to the foresight of the National Hockey League, the average season lasts about 18 months and pretty much any team with a stick and at least for Norwegians can make the playoffs. (sorry, Columbus.) It can therefore also be legitimately classified as a spring sport.

Finding Love: Spring is a notoriously busy time for getting notoriously busy. Bulky sweatshirts are shed, the air is fresh and breezy, and pink haltertops and sandy beaches are a pleasant substitute for an otherwise expensive Cialis prescription. Hormones are normally escalated to the point that the mere coexistence of opposing genders is enough to spark romance, as is evidenced by the popularity of spring break, dance clubs, and book store checkout lanes. (Hey, to each their own.) A word of warning, though: getting too preoccupied in the spring may lead to a summer of question marks and warning signs, a fall of stressful conversations and raging battles of reality versus star-struck love, and a destined, lonely winter bundled up in Uggs and your grandmother’s comforter, drinking hot chocolate laced with rum and listening to the Indigo Girls. I’m just sayin’.

Spring Cleaning: After the winter doldrums, where most people stay indoors breathing recycled air and not cleaning, it’s not only cathartic for people to clean, it’s also a good way to get your husband off his ass to do work by not putting out until he does. (See above.) A lot of junk accumulates over the fall and winter months, and most people will spend plenty of time carting bucketfuls of kitsch and paperwork, partly from a devoted sense of cleanliness, and partly from going through about one-fifth of last year’s insurance papers and tax forms before declaring “screw it” and chucking the whole pile in the wastebasket. It’s also useful as a psychological tool; the symbolic “cleaning of the house” will be a good segway to getting your own state of affairs in order, at least for the next two weeks before you get weak and eat a plate of chicken wings and call your ex.

Speeding: Spring often affords a small window of glorious, glorious opportunity for most people: exceeding the speed limit. At least, it is for people in temperate zones such as myself. During the winter months, large piles of gray, disgusting snow pile up on roads and make truly ridiculous speeding difficult to manage. After spring, road work tends to slow things down, since construction workers tend to look unkindly upon those who go 85 through work zones. So after the black ice melts but before the cones go up, it’s a wonderful opportunity to live out that fantasy you’ve always had: to put the metal to the medal and see how fact your Sebring can go on the highway. I’m cautiously putting my money on “not very much.”

Gardening: For those of you who aren’t aware that World War II is over, gardening presents a wonderful opportunity to 1) occupy your time with horticulture and nature; 2) get some exercise and fresh air after a stuffy winter; and 3) spend months upon months of hard and sweaty labor so that, at the beginning of fall, you will have about six medium-size deformed tomatoes and two dozen cucumbers that no one will ever eat, ever. Still, it’s a good way to get some use out of that straw hat you for some reason own, unless you plan on moving to Sao Paulo to be a banana rancher or star in a coffee commercial.

So there you have it, in rough order of who caresedness. Remember that spring is not only a reminder that new opportunities await the initiated, but also that taxes are soon to be due, demolishing all your hopes and dreams for a prosperous new season. Happy filing!

Gary Gygax, RIP

March 4, 2008

Gary Gygax, co-creator of the Dungeons and Dragons line of games, failed his save roll today. He was 69.

Gygax probably isn’t particularly well known by name outside of a few pockets of specific demographics, that demographic undeniably the overlap of the “young,” “male,” and “geek” population. (Although he had a voice spot that barometer of ultimate celebrity, Futurama, was fulfilled with all the grace and dignity that talking cartoon robots drawn by twelve year old South Koreans can generate.) Sure, sure, there are middle-aged guys playing GURPS and girls who play D&D and a few inner bell curve populates who crack out the ten-sided die on occasion, but it’s difficult to not see role playing games as primarily a young adolescent male hobby. Also see: kinda creepy.

I’ve visited the town of RPG but I’ve never moved there. In my teenage years I’d play some science fiction-based role playing games—I wasn’t particularly interested in fantasy games, a weird combination of elves and spells and hellhounds and warmed-over pseudo-occult Disneyfied Alistair Crowley-style Merlins and trolls. Certainly, this was the epitome of geekdom: the ranking clearly goes playing bridge with grandma’s friends > chess player > sci-fi fan > kobold enthusiast. So by throwing dice around in a world of warp engines and alien races, I solidified my own self of self-importance by declaring that at least I wasn’t playing dungeon hockey, even though it would take only one sufficiently advanced technology to prove that we both bleed red. Ultimately, I decided that the world of RPGs was just a touch too geeky for me to tolerate, so I abandoned it to go geocaching and pursue a degree in Economics, clearly a lateral move at least. Right?

In Gygax’s world, though, there was nothing at all like it. (Actually, the first rule in Gygax’s world is that proper nouns should be allowed in Scrabble. But, later.) The best anyone could come up with were these monstrous tabletop wargames simulating such grand campaigns as the Napoleonic Wars or the Peloponnesian Conflict, “simulating” being about as accurate as Survivor being an accurate simulation of surviving. No, these wargames didn’t have much to do with dungeons or dragons, but they had plenty of complicated rules to argue about over a table full of baldy painted pewter horses in a four-year span every other Thursday night.

By creating Dungeons and Dragons, he filled a niche probably nobody in the world knew existed. The ensuing commercial success of D&D established a large, lucrative hobby that exists in almost ridiculous proportions today. (Technical note: Dungeons and Dragons and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons are two completely different products, a fact that 1) the people who should know that already knew that, and 2) the people who didn’t know that don’t really care.) Of course, as with all new, creative, and ground-breaking ideas in this world, it took only a few years for it to become a small commercial darling into a company beset with partnership drama, financial difficulties, and a Saturday morning cartoon, all clear signals that the death bell is soon to toll as soon as it can get a good +2 modifier to do so.

Still, Gygax launched what would turn out to be genre that billowed out beyond a sixteen-page bluebook filled with spreadsheets and formulas. The computer game industry makes more money than the movie industry, and there are very few games on the market that can’t point to some influence to role playing. While role players are hardly mainstream, no longer will passersby stop by a half dozen teenagers grouped around a handdrawn map with a bunch of dice and half-painted orcs and ask “What the hell are you guys doing? You guys are dorks.” They will now stop by a half dozen teenagers grouped around a handdrawn map with a bunch of dice and half-painted orcs and ask “What the hell are you guys doing? You guys are dorks. Come fix my computer.” (Aside: the response to that last statement is dependent on the gender and amount of cleavage of the asker.)

All broad, sweeping generalizations aside (cough, cough), role playing games also confer several extraordinarily important skills and benefits to its players.

1) It encourages face to face socialization, at least compared to MMORPGs and programming visual basic to display and repeat on the screen “Miss Dalton is teh hott!” along with a crude graphical representation of her most outstanding attributes.
2) It familiarizes players with mathematical equations and rational thinking, a highly prizes skill even if it’s only incorporated into a game, given how important calculating things in base eight helps out in the real world.
3) Many a role player has thanked their lucky stars they played Dungeons and Dragons as a child when the inevitable horde of armored changelings descends upon them on their thirstiest birthday.

The fantasy genre didn’t rise and set on Dungeons and Dragons, but it did a lot to legitimize itself over the ensuing decades. What A Beautiful Mind did for eccentric game theorists and Million Dollar Baby did for foxy boxing, role players can point to The Lord of The Rings and say, “ours.” Also see: kinda creepy.

Lip Gloss

November 28, 2007

It’s about time we talked about lip gloss.

Cosmetic fads tend to kind of fly under my radar most of the time, since I’m hardly in the market; the only cosmetics I wear are other women’s lipstick on my collarbone. (Those who know me well can vouch that that is a purely theoretical statement.) And I’m selectively uninformed about it; I lump lip gloss together with all other lip-related makeup, up to and including Carmex and self-induced collagen implants, one step of personal knowledge somewhere between color coordinating shoes with purses and The Gilmore Girls.

Thankfully, due to my crack research team of me looking up stuff on the Wikipedia thirty seconds before starting to write anything, I know a little bit about what the lip gloss thing is all about. Namely, It’s yet one more thing caged rabbits have sacrificed their eyes for to make certain parts of our face slightly shinier.

Lip gloss, ostensibly, is used to put a brilliant sheen on your lips, not unlike lipstick or about a hundred other products. Of course, lip gloss is quick and easy to apply and, most importantly, also is available with glitter, metallic, and frosted accents for those times when you want to look like a 13-year-old girl with identity issues or perhaps a seductress combing the world for a mark who is attracted to making out with a girl whose lips remind them of a microwave oven.

Of course, I’m probably missing the point, mostly because I don’t care too terribly much for cosmetics. I think most women are beautiful enough as they are and don’t need artificial methods of enhancing their attractiveness. Then again, I also believe in a gold standard and Quentin Tarantino movies, so perhaps my judgment should be viewed with a rather large grain of salt.

But, still, it seems that lip gloss has benefited from a rather remarkable marketing campaign. Lip gloss is sold as an alternative to a lot of different cosmetics, when really it’s just toned down lipstick without all the fussing about with colors or materials. While plenty of women in their twenties and thirties wear it, many of the new lip gloss innovations seen to gear their pitch to younger, preteen girls, with their aforementioned accents and flavored varieties. (It tastes like money, I presume.) Some are even sold as health supplements, used (I guess) to heal the burning, inalienable feeling that somewhere in Southeast Asia a poverty-stricken child has pale lips.

Of course, lip gloss is highly popular with young women, personified in the lamentable movie Bratz, a serene attempt to somehow convert all of the negative stereotypes of materialistic (yet strangely and eerily diverse) youth propagated by the popular doll set into a family-friendly motion picture, the moral of which, like all women-coming-of-age stories, I guess has to be “Be yourself, assuming that yourself includes lip plumper, tight pastel T-shirts with glitter writing on it, and greenish highlights to piss off your grandmother who in about six years will unbeknownst to you give you the money you will take to college supposedly to buy books and Yaffa blocks with but you will use it to buy your first brick of hash with instead.” The movie, which I will proudly admit I have not seen, apparently is the first movie to have more screen time devoted to the application of lip gloss than actual dialogue, kind of a Pax-TV-version ratio worthy of comparison with Goodfellas. Of course, a movie such as Bratz whose depth is such that falling into it would have a scarce chance of inducing vertigo, less dialogue and more lip gloss is probably a positive development.

The virtues of lip gloss is not lost on the entertainment industry, who view the preteen market as a lucrative demographic as yet to be tapped, at least once you factor out Hannah Montana tickets, ponies, pink cell phones, and (I assume) posters of Corey Haim. (Hey, you’ll have to forgive me if my frame of reference for young teenage girls stopped around 1989. I’ve been busy.) Two—count ‘em—two songs have been released entitled Lip Gloss, one way back in 1993 when I’m pretty sure lip gloss was simply a twinkle in a 3M engineer’s eye. Of course, that song is by a British alternative rock band and whose lyrics appear to be largely symbolic of things that are definitely more related to the back rooms of Glasgow pubs instead of pre-teen-girls. (Actually, I doubt this is true. I’m just saying it because, as with all British media I come into contact with, I assume every word is cockney rhyming slang for some unearthly depraved sexual act.) The other is by Lil’ Mama, the lyrics of which appear to have little to do with cosmetics and a lot to do with repetition. At least it’s good to know that, black or white, rich or poor, Britpop or hip-hop, we all have one thing in common, and that’s lip gloss. Unless you’re male, then, well, no. We have Corey Haim.

The Lonely Nevada Sky

September 9, 2007

Steve Fossett is one of the modern day adventurers of our time. Like adventurers of the past, he has broken countless records, pushed engineering to its limit, and, one can extrapolate, encountered new and creative ways to pour money down a rathole to increase his name recognition for anyone who feels like reading a decade-old copy of a Old Bored Rich Guy World Record Almanac.

Making his name as a commodities broker, he made his money early in life and then chose to spend the difference trying to break various records. Some of Fossett’s accomplishments are admittedly pretty impressive. He swam the English Channel, a glorious achievement many people have failed, least of not the Luftwaffe, and certainly more than I could ever accomplish—the only record I’ve ever set was spending the longest time watching Irish soap operas while simultaneously not looking for a job. Fossett has climbed the highest peak of six of the seven continents, and has records in areas relating to nonstop aircraft flights, gliders, cross country, ballooning, speed sailing, and the aptly named Ironman Triathlon, which I can only hope involves a contest of eating massive quantities of raw flesh, watching consecutive hours of rugby on a black-and-white television without a bowel movement, and going the longest amount of time without telling his wife that he loves her.

In one notorious example of his early glimpses into adventurousness, as a college student at Stanford in the mid-60’s he once swam to Alcatraz, which was at the time closed to the public, and installed a banner proclaiming the highly important political statement of “Beat Cal.” Afterwards he, along with Sean Connery, overpowered a group of domestic terrorists threatening San Francisco with biological weapons in an elaborately planned maneuver that seemed to take what seems like upwards of 1,600 hours of completely ridiculous dialogue and draggin’-ass action along with $8 of my money to resolve.

One can hardly begrudge someone from living what is no doubt a dream of many; if you’ve earned the money, why not spend it on something you enjoy and will mean something after you’re dead? Granted, you probably don’t want to become dead in pursuit of that goal, but then again if there’s no chance you’re going to die, then why not just stay home and play Yahoo! Sheepshead with some housewife in Malaysia?

Fossett has propelled many feats of engineering and endurance with help of another idle millionaire interested in pissing money away, Richard Branson. Branson is head of the Virgin empire, known for such successful and diverse offerings as an airline, mobile phone carrier, and trying to be a second-rate second-rate Donald Trump, which in the grand scheme of things is kind of a sad aspiration for a billionaire.

Fossett probably came to prominence in most people’s minds when he was in the news for repeatedly failing to complete his quest to circumnavigate the globe in his hot air balloon. I would suspect that most people couldn’t come up with a whole lot of reasons that such a voyage could not be completed. I mean, there isn’t much to a hot air balloon besides some nylon, a big ol’ fire, some sack of sands, and a desperate and child-like hope that if the winds change direction one degree differently than you expect your ludicrous choice of transportation to fly around the world with nothing more than a few cubic sheets of fabric and the sheer amount of determination which is roughly equal to, and the quality of, what the hell it was that decided to make you do this in the first place will come to an abrupt and unfortunate end. The timing of the media stories was poor from Fossett’s perspective, since they ignored all his previous successful attempts and focused on his inability to complete the quest, a move that some people felt was an elaborate marketing ploy for Cialis.

Rich people finding new and creative methods to use their money in inefficient ways to further aggrandize themselves are hardly new. Self-serving charitable organizations, egotistically named institutions, and grandly conceived plans with more emphasis on establishing a name for the annals of cultural history than any of the financial, productive, or practical considerations they relied on to become rich idle billionaires in the first place.

There are several examples of this throughout history. Howard Hughes is a perfect parallel of what happens when rich people are allowed to waste their money in a manner of their own choosing. Hughes was an extraordinary visionary and expanded his business into a diverse conglomerate of interests that included aviation, engineering, motion pictures, hotels, tax evasion, and Jane Russell’s mountainous breasts. His once excellent financial acumen soon descended into Elvis-like hedonism, such as buying up massive quantities of Banana Nut ice cream from Baskin Robbins mere moments before declaring he was sick of it and purchasing television stations so he would have something to watch in the early morning hours. (In his defense, at least he didn’t attempt to manage the construction of the Denver Airport or tried to merge AOL and Time Warner.) He eventually died of a multitude of disgusting reasons, no doubt partly because of his indulgences that fell well outside of his abilities, but mostly because he was completely batshit crazy.

Alas, Fossett has become a victim of his own success. While scouting out areas in Nevada to beat the land speed record, his aircraft disappeared. At this point his plane has been missing for quite a few days, and search parties have come up with nothing but sand and damaged flying saucers, which, according to regular reports from Coast to Coast, occur at a frequency of once every government denial of Area 51.

Regardless of his eventual fate, Fossett has proven to us one thing: that no matter what, regardless of how incredibly pointless it is, as long as you have the drive, determination, and an endless supply of wealth to piss away, you can accomplish anything.

Final Tap

September 2, 2007

One of the more terrifying aspects of modern society is the feeling of helplessness, of a loss of control. Sure, in decades past it may have been a Russian nuclear warhead pointed directly at the White House, or perhaps a seemingly random attack by a Muslim fundamentalist or Patty Hearst. But absolutely nothing—nothing—compares to the unheeded peril of walking into an airport restroom while in the presence of a senator.

The most tragic thing about the Larry Craig scandal—I mean, besides his family being forever embarrassed, the loss of prestige of the normally staid Senate, and the misdirection of attention to other more compelling public policy issues, such as the subprime mortgage collapse and Lindsay Lohan being barely dressed on the cover of Maxim magazine—is that I am now officially scared of using the men’s room.

Now, granted, there’s always been a little bit of trepidation in going into any public restroom. There’s no surprise that many citizens avoid them at all costs, including but not limited to taking a leak in the empty Dairy Queen cup you found on the floor of the back seat while driving down the interstate instead of setting foot one into the Quick-N-Go john. Public restrooms, much like the refrigerators at work and the city park after Saturday night, are all the proof that anyone will ever need that communism is a failed ideology. There are so many variables that can affect your bathroom experience, and a large portion of those variables are inherently disgusting.

I’m going to pause right now and advise all my readers that the scenarios I am describing are largely male-specific. Thankfully, I have very little experience in going into the women’s restroom. Now some of you may have risen their eyebrows at the phrase “little experience,” no doubt prompting the thought “that pervert should have no experience with female toiletries.” I regret to say that this is false. For a summer I worked at a rather large retail department store known for their blue décor and lackadaisical attitude towards health care and Chinese quality control procedures, and part of my job description was to “maintain” the restrooms. Now, thankfully, “maintaining” and “cleaning” are two different things; all I had to do was make sure there were enough soap and towels, and reports any gushing streams of rancid water to the proper authorities, which was the 22-year-old community college communications major they installed as the night manager. But I had to maintain both genders’ worth of restrooms, and let me simply state that I would rather watch Faces of Death repeatedly for the remainder of my life than ever take a job that requires me to witness the horrifying things I’ve seen in the better half’s bathroom ever again.

Anyway, Senator Larry Craig of Idaho has introduced a scary element into an already scary activity. There is, apparently, a remarkably elaborate and menacingly simple set of nonverbal cues that has evolved by those who are interested in engaging in non-digestive-related activities in the restroom. Toe tapping, hand waving, and strategically placed luggage all seem to indicate to otherwise casual observers that you want more than a handful of Charmin and last week’s Saturday Evening Post to pass the time while you do your business.

And that’s why I’m concerned. Who knows what happens when I go in there? What if I sneeze at the wrong time? What if I hear “Afternoon Delight” over the muzak speaker and accidentally tap my shoes to the beat one too many times? I would normally dismiss it and state that this is something one wouldn’t have to worry about unless you were at a historically seedy location such as a bus terminal or a check-cashing establishment, but I always assumed that the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport would have met and exceeded that particular threshold.

This isn’t Craig’s first accusation of impropriety. Way back in the early 80’s, he was involved in the congressional having-sex-with-pages scandal, otherwise known as “Lucky Bastardgate.” And congressional Republicans have had to fend of a series of embarrassing scandals, from Mark Foley’s clumsy propositioning of male pages to Ted Stevens’s apparent lack of ability in participating in any form of public policy debate without handing a sackful of cash to oil company executives, an action of dubious constitutionality if not for the fact that petroleum extraction is one of the three branches of the Alaskan government.

Craig has since resigned, apparently in response to him losing the chairmanship of the Creepy Bathroom Sex Solicitor Caucus. His political future is in doubt, as elective office now seems out of place and a career as the more glam half of a mid-80’s pop duo is unlikely. My personal suspicion is that he will appear as one of those “security consultants” on daytime talk shows about how to prevent your children from triggering some hidden bathroom sex code every time they have to go pee at the Decatur IHOP.