Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2002
From: Dan Kennedy
Subject: Hand Gun Rules and Regulations
I’m living in Brooklyn now. Right between the yuppie couples who renovate the brownstones and the older working class Italian people who have been living in Brooklyn way before it was trendy to do so. I don’t feel like I fit in with either group here, really. The yuppies ask me what I’m “going to do with the building” and I always resist telling the truth which is, “continue to rent the top floor of it until I move again.” This morning I was walking to the subway when an obese drunk man on the corner pointed his hand toward me with his thumb up and index finger extended. He took aim and then made a “bang” sound with his mouth. I didn’t really know what protocol would be with something like that since we’re both adults, so I just waved. It didn’t feel right. I’m thinking now that maybe I should have hit the ground and counted to ten. The rule is ten if you’re dead, right? Ten or fifteen? Whatever.
I have an invisible shield so it doesn’t matter,
Brooklyn, New York
Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2002
From: Dan Kennedy
Subject: This guy just makes good sense
There’s a new candidate running for President of the United States. He was on the subway last night. He got on the F train, locked his mountain bike to the center post inside, lined up his half smoked cigarettes to kind of see how many he had the way presidents will do sometimes, and then started telling us about some of the things he’s going to do. The big item on his platform is a new kind of bomb that he would have our armed services drop on countries when necessary. It only puts people to sleep. That way problems can be solved while they’re asleep or groggy and more cooperative. I’m not entirely sure how it works, because like all of these slick talking politicians, every time I tried to get some details on these big campaign promises, he would start talking about something else. When I asked him exactly what we would do with all of the sleepy people, he started talking about secret societies in Hollywood, a reserve of cocaine and LSD that the President has access to at all times, McDonald’s (the fast food restaurant) and how it is responsible for most of the wars we fight (I know. I never knew this one either), and radio waves that we can all receive if we demand the right to monitor them.
Brooklyn, New York
[NOTE: The following is an exchange between a McSweeney’s reader and the Web Site Editor about the nature of fun, specifically the childhood sort. Like many fine things in life, they have difficulty describing it but know when they’re having it.]
When we were little, my brother Raymon dug holes in the yards where we lived or played. One time, at the babysitter’s house, he dug a hole so deep that he fell asleep inside it, and everyone looked for him for hours. He was six. Now he’s thirty-seven, and whenever he buys a house, the first thing he does is dig a small pond. He also taps his foot at the dinner table.
My father dug a hole in the backyard once. He was planting a big tree. Of course, I had to climb down inside to see what was what. When I tried to get out, I found I couldn’t. The hole was too deep. It took my father a couple of hours to find me. I think he was inside the house having lunch or something. When I tell this story — and I have told it a few times since — people always ask me, Did you call out for help? Did you yell? The answer to both of those questions is no, I did not. I just stared at the dirt in front of me and waited. I knew eventually someone would find me. I was, I’m going to guess, nine- or ten-years-old.
Web Site Editor
Web Site Editor,
Is that story famous in your family? It ought to be. My mom forgot me and my brother at the roller-rink once. Sounds sad, but it was funny. The manager was locking up and we were standing outside with our skates. I was a pretty good skater. I had big pom-poms on my skates and could do what we called “The Can Opener.” Do you know this move? Anyway, the manager came out and asked what we were doing, we told him we were waiting for our mom, so he had us go inside and call her. She had been working a lot and when she finally answered and said, “Hello” in this really sleepy voice, I knew she had forgotten. So I said, “Mom?” and she goes “Oh my god!” and hung up and came and got us. We love telling that story at family gatherings.
I don’t think he hole story is very famous in my family. I’m actually pretty certain I’m the only one who thinks about it anymore. But that’s true of a lot of things.
Anyway, what move was The Can Opener again? I can remember Shoot the Duck, I think it was called, where you got down with one skate underneath you and one leg shot out forward with your toe pointed up and the back wheels on the ground and you propelled yourself forward by pushing off the ground with your hands.
You skate backwards, too?
The Can Opener and Shoot the Duck seem to be the same thing.
Only I never pushed off with my hands. We would skate and then assume the position. I can skate backwards, but they don’t let you do that at roller rinks anymore. Someone killed someone that way I guess. Hard to believe. Sounds suspiciously like an urban legend. Every time I hear the story, it’s someone’s cousin’s friend’s dad who killed his own kid or something that way. Do you skate backwards? Oh, what about The Dogsled? That’s where you get six skaters in a row and hang onto each other’s waists and crouch down and go as fast as you can. I was the youngest, so I had to be in front. It was scary! We would go pretty fast, and always crashed.
Where do you live that Shoot the Duck is called the Can Opener? Shoot the Duck was Shoot the Duck in Louisiana, which probably explains everything right there. The license plate motto for Louisiana used to be Sportsmen’s Paradise, though I think that’s changed now to something more innocuous, like Friendly State Next to Texas Where You Can Play Various Games of Chance. In Louisiana there were definitely people who did that dogsled maneuver, but I never knew what it was called. I’m going to guess that it wasn’t called the dogsled, there being no dogsleds anywhere in sight.
The pushing off with your hands part is probably something only I did, because I never had enough speed going.
Talk to you soon.
In Ohio, we called Shoot the Duck the Can Opener. I think it comes from the dive called the can opener. That’s where you jump off the diving board and grab one leg and hold it to you chest with that foot pointing down.
All of this roller skating talk has reminded me of the time I fell on a skate. This is the most painful thing I can imagine. My brother Damon was a really great roller skater. He could do jumps and everything. Although, he did break his nose diving once.
I’ll tell you what all this skating talk reminds me of, this time when I went skating and came home and the next night, at around dinner-time, this girl called the house, and said, Hello, is Paul there? and I said, This is he, and she said, I saw you skating yesterday at the such-and-such. I was there with my friend, and her explanation went on for a while and it seemed like even though I had no idea who she was and she had no idea who I was that maybe our families went to the same church or something, and I said, Oh, okay, and she said, What are you doing? and I said, You mean right now? and she said, Yeah, right now? and laughed, as if what she had said could mean anything else, and I said, I don’t know, nothing really, and she asked me, Do you want to go skating some time? Now this next part is just the best, because this is just me and my nervousness and general social ineptitude right here, right in a little nutshell, and I said, Uh, look, we’re eating dinner right now, I’ve got to go eat. We’re having ham. Then I hung up.
Talk to you soon.
Your story reminds me of this kid, Brian Rogers. When I was ten or so, I had a huge crush on him. I wrote about him in my diary and all of that. He was my brother’s best friend. (Damon, not Raymon.) So we were playing this game called flying turds. I will explain the game next. Anyway, Damon goes, “Hey Brian, Amy has a crush on you! Do you like her?” Brian was from Kentucky and he had this really strong accent, and he goes, “Not really.” Whenever I tell this story, it makes me laugh out loud. I was so horribly mortified! Damon laughed hysterically.
Flying turds was a game we would play in town. We lived in the country and Brian’s family lived in town. So we would stand at the top of Mulberry Street. It was a big hill. When you saw a car turning up the street, you had to yell, “Flying turd!” and run down the sidewalk. You had to hide behind the bushes in front of Brian’s house before the car had passed you.
I am sitting here trying to figure out where the fun would be in playing flying turds. Help me out, because maybe I’m being obtuse. I’m sometimes obtuse. When you yelled out “flying turd” were you calling the driver of the car a flying turd, or were you identifying yourselves as flying turds? Because, you know, there’s something about saying that and then running madly down the hill that makes me think you were the only ones around doing any flying.
I think sometimes it is next to impossible to understand what all seems fun at any given time. My grandmother on my mother’s side loves telling me and my brother about how she liked playing two games when she was growing up. One game involved getting together with a bunch of her friends, taking bushel baskets and filling them up with whole walnuts. Then one friend would get to sit on the ground while the other friends upended all the bushel baskets on the lucky friend’s head. These were whole walnuts, Amy. My grandmother said that was a lot of fun. The only thing she recalled being more fun was sitting on the curb with her legs stuck out while neighborhood boys rode their bicycles over her legs.
You ever hear what happened to Brian from Kentucky? Like where he is now?
Brian’s family and my family are friends, so I hear about what he is up to quite often. He lives in my town, but we never see each other.
About flying turds, well I’m not sure about who is the flying turd. If I thought about it, I suppose it would be the car. But I think this speaks to your point about what fun is. I never thought about the definition of the “flying turd” until you brought it up. I think yelling “Flying Turd!” was fun in itself. Try it! Did your grandmother ever say if it hurt? Because sometimes you are having fun and it hurts and you don’t care. Like skateboarding. You fall down, it hurts, you don’t care. It’s almost better, because you have a great bruise or something.
Date: Wed, 6 Nov 2002
From: Luke Stacks
Subject: Kevin Sampsell, I know where the carpenters went!
My father was a carpenter up until I was about 14. Then he had a midlife crisis and decided to be a poet instead, publishing a magazine and doing editing work on the side. After that he divorced my mother and moved to the suburbs of Portland. In any case, that’s one less carpenter. And he was obsessive about wood, man! Hope this is helpful. Maybe there’s a hidden nation of former carpenters who turned to other work around the age of 45. Frankly I am not worried about losing carpenters though, it’s the janitors I am worried about. Who wants to be a janitor?
Best in Health,
Date: Wed, 6 Nov 2002
From: Paul Reeve
This is a note for Kevin Sampsell. It’s about how he described the implications of the proliferation of bricks for the American character in “In My Humble Opinion, Part Two: Brick Buildings.”
Before I go on, I feel like I’m going to have to justify myself a bit just because the point I’m going to make has a couple of different aspects that could end up making me look like a jerk or a fool. One of them is that though I’m going to mention that I recently read War and Peace, I’m in no way interested in showing off about the fact that I actually read that book. Another is that while my observation may seem trivial or simplistic, may even seem to suggest that I missed the point, I’m actually writing this letter because I wonder if Kevin might enjoy a thought like this even given the lightness of the piece that it’s a seemingly pedantic comment on. Another is that I have to swear off of any charge of extreme literal-mindedness that might follow on this observation. This I won’t explain.
So here it is. The passage reads, “Since when is it so cool to be in a brick house? Are we as a people that sad, that stoic, that . . . Russian?” But — here comes the Tolstoy — in the part of War and Peace that describes the burning of Moscow during Napoleon’s ill-starred campaign of 1812, I learned that the Moscow of the day was a city made almost entirely of wood. I don’t know if this was true again afterward, or if it has later ceased to be true. But in my mind, it seems to undermine the association between bricky cities and Russian sadness. At the least, it resists the suggestion that things run the opposite way, with more wood in the U.S. implying a less Russian sadness and stoicism. The Russians stayed sad and stoic in a whole city built of wood!
[Note: These next two letters were received during the summer while the two correspondents were in Korea for the World Cup. We have a lot of letters. Sometimes it takes a while to read them all.]
Date: Wed, 6 Nov 2002
From: Dennis Kim
Subject: Summertime, Korean style
We are in Taegu now. we spent the day in Gyung Ju after yesterday in busan. I can say that after the initial few days of exhaustion, I am having a great time. This is probably better than the cross country trips since there is less driving, more adventure and more Asians doing Asian stuff.
The generation gap is so pronounced, with old ladies crouching on street corners with racks of fish to the young girls wearing designer clothes with surgically altered faces. It’s a strange juxtaposition of old school and new materialism.
The beach was something else. People just go in fully clothed, like wearing jeans and all that. Today we saw the famed Emilie Bell in Gyung Ju. As for brides, word on the street is you flash that blue passport and the ladies come running. We have yet to get our party on though, since we have been doing a lot of tourism stuff. I guess we’ll probably have to check that stuff out when we return to Seoul.
By the way, does anyone know what type of sea creature is about 12 inches long, looks like a living intestine and has no face? We saw a ton of those in Busan Jagalchi fish market.
Date: Wed, 6 Nov 2002
From: Anthony Myint
To elaborate, there were Korean men in slacks and dress shoes. One guy had a suit on and drew no special attention. There were whole groups of boys and girls in school uniforms playing in the water. There were people burying each other, fully clothed, in the sand. There were butt-naked kids 3 and under. There was a huge ring of empty beach around the European guy in a thong. There were jetskiing maniacs about 3 feet from the (fully clothed) swimmers—sometimes pulling logs around on their jet skis.
Dennis could be heard asking aloud, “What are The Rules?”
These sea creatures were crawling all over each other, as if competing for top honors in a most-disgusting thing ever contest. In fact, I am going to go look for a picture of these mothers.
Date: Wed, 6 Nov 2002
From: Carl Gottlieb
Subject: Pray with a ballot
Yesterday was Election Day, and I am ashamed to say that I did not vote. The day is now lodged in my timeline. It’s just like freshman year of college when I decided not to fast for Yom Kippur. I had no idea of the impact of such a small thing. It seemed like the year didn’t turn over, and I was stuck in 1994 for twice as long. Then I failed a couple of classes. And yesterday, I didn’t vote. Now, this year will drag itself on for another two. And this morning I woke up so tired.
With head hanging low to the ground,
Formerly of New York, New York
Date: Mon, 30 Aug 2002
From: Michelle Orange
Subject: I don’t see anybody else here
Upon entering my local Blockbuster there erupted a greeting, with all the subtlety of a firing range target, from someone resembling the woman who on my last visit noted having “not seen you in a while” prompting me to note having ‘never seen you before in my life’. Her hair—previously pylon orange, now bull’s eye red—proved only a starter-startle to the cryptic “Hi Michelle!” that followed. I made straightaway for the far reaches of the store, mildly unsettled by this run-in. After protracted lingering in the hopes of another clerk surfacing I sulked toward the checkout. The placement of my selection and card on the counter was met with a deft yanking of the movie out from under the card, tablecloth-style. As my eyes settled on the unspilled card she said, with a cursory nod, “I don’t need that. I already have your account up.” Implicit in this is her facility with a) my first AND last name and b) accessing my records should the mood strike, or should I strike it for her by passing the store looking inconsistent and ill-advised, as I do twice daily. While my rental history is enough to bewitch most anyone (“What kind of enchantress rents Caddyshack and Belle de Jour together! On a Sunday of all days! In November of all embers!”) I perish the thought of certain blemishes on a largely impeccable history falling into the wrong hands, without giving me the opportunity for rebuttal, recusal, or good old-fashioned selective recall.
Moments of sheer madness recorded forever. Choices that Hugo himself would turn a piteous eye and ready pen toward. Why had I not faked a second user on my card? Why did I not say that Someone Like You was a clerical mix-up? Why, dear God, had I rented Head Over Heels on a Friday night? Clearly I had suffered enough. As she scanned in my movie, I saw no late charge where I knew a recently incurred late charge should be. And so it begins. Apparently, she is infatuated beyond all personal dignity and professional restraint, driven to stem the tide of her ardour with the knowledge that that obscure object of desire is somehow objectionable. How could I not have recognized the signs, which, if unchecked or not rewound, lead to obsessive monitoring of account activity, sussed out rental patterns, wild speculations on cyclical mood/movie corollaries, sexual blackmail, holds placed on movies she thinks I’ll like, hoarsely whispered negotiation of erasing Most Valuable Primate from my files while crouched in the special interest section? As a Blockbuster veteran, I know too well that the held become the beholden: I wielded that scanner gun wherever my besotted heart or hearted underpants pointed me. I know all the tricks. I’m like Forest Whitaker in Panic Room only the panic room is my rental history and she’s Forest Whitaker.
Dollars to donuts there’s a mohawk in our future,
Date: Fri, 9 Aug 2002
From: David Politzer
Subject: La Salle Ave. at rush hour
I had been staying with my pseudo cousins Timothy, Melissa, Devin (age 3) and Luka (age 0.3) in lovely Berthoud, CO. I went on what Devin calls “a nice long walk”. He on his little 4 wheel scooterbike thing, and I on foot, we explored the neighborhood eventually reaching a big grassy field. We abandoned shoes and scooterbike and played in the field as I remember playing when I was small enough to be tossed around like a beach ball. I spun him in circles holding him by the hands, then by the ankles. He loved it and kept asking me to do it again and again. I told him I might puke because I was getting dizzy, he didn’t seem to care. I don’t get to spend a whole lot of time with 3 year olds.
Yesterday morning, it came time to leave. The sun was shining and me and the boys (Timothy and Devin) took a ride to a field of sunflowers. I recognized the potential Kodak moments a couple days before, so I wanted to make a last minute trip. We loaded up the bike trailer, and set out for a morning ride.
Back at home, I had to force my affections on Devin—he was reluctant to say goodbye. I picked him up, flipped him upside down and gave his raspberry jellied face a big kiss. He loved it.
I made it to Omaha in one day thanks to a not so healthy diet of Dr. Pepper and Hershey’s Special Dark. My body had that weak wobbly feeling of a post caffeine high when I finally set foot in Omaha.
This morning I left early, landing here, somewhere in the city of Chicago in a little computer repair shop. The woman behind me has downloaded a Bollywood film, and the sounds of digitized sitars twang. Some advice if you have never been to Chicago: don’t arrive at rush hour unless you know where you are going.
On the Road