Date: Mon, 13 Dec 2004
From: Jason Novak
Subject: Some Thoughts
I’ve read through your website some more since my last letter. There are so many nice things there from your readers. They seem to be witty, well educated, and adventurous. The ongoing travel accounts, the short stories in installments, the open letters, and so on, are all marvelous. I wonder, though, whether the common man with no future or imagination has a voice on your website. So far, it seems to be free from that.
How would you feel about an account, in installments, of a simple peon’s voyage from couch to chair, and from chair to refrigerator, and back again? This commoner would necessarily have no higher education, and no prospects for breaking out of dead-end careers. I’d nominate myself if I had the ambition to keep you updated on just how feral the Girls Gone Wild have gotten on late-night paid TV programming.
Girls Gone Feral, the companion cassette to Girls Gone Wild, features women who’ve abandoned civilization for a life of degraded uncertainty in the Alaskan wilderness, sleeping in fresh malamute carcasses, eating dung, and howling infernal discourses that even Professor Chomsky might concede have no human precedent. In the second and third volumes, the Girls steal firearms from a kindly unsuspecting trapper on location for a Disney film about a personable anteater on its long journey back to Africa. This allows them to move from dung to an elk diet.
Of course, the first step in the business of hunting elk is to shoot at them. Elk tend to get awfully big in middle age. With this bigness comes confidence. An adult elk in Alaska, in open hunting season, stands before the feral huntress unmolested out of luck alone. Felling them with the fantastic laser-guided arsenal at a feral huntress’s disposal takes less effort than felling a sapling fir on a concrete island in the middle of a busy metropolitan thoroughfare. In felling the tree, you need only mind where it lands. In felling an elk, you need only take care that you don’t deposit your laser-guided pellets into another feral huntress.
I myself have gone elk hunting in Alaska on two separate occasions. The first wasn’t in Alaska at all, but in the wilderness outside of Red Bluff, California, and was conducted against birds with a .32-caliber sidearm. But firing blindly into the sky whenever a flock of something-or-other took wing overhead was a suitable introduction to the business of shooting at game.
The elk hunt came later, after formal training with rifle-shaped toys that had built-in clacking mechanisms. It was with my grandfather, somewhere around the Little Big Horn battlefield, which—being in Yellowstone National Park—is outside of Alaska proper, but for brevity’s sake Canada has been excised from the geography of this remembrance. The elk were away on vacation.
The site we chose was already littered with lead debris of dubious origin—bullets of every make, every shade of decay. We were squarely in the middle of what would have been, over a century earlier, violent anarchy. Perhaps the elk sensed the spiritual torture of the ground we were on and saw fit to meet execution in some other prospector’s backyard. This was, after all, mining country.
The dominant theme of a drive out to the Great Plains from California is the number of dead mining towns that crowd up the highways. Even the tiny enclave we landed at outside of Butte had a dozen ghost towns between the local cemetery and the water pump—an arid jungle of tourist shops and condemned cottonwood brothels. The high desert that runs through Nevada and Utah, and even up into eastern Washington, preserves its past nearly as well as the ice in Alaska, except for all the deterioration and rotting.
Like ghost towns on the Great Plains, there are perhaps thousands of abandoned sailing vessels lodged in the ice of the north Atlantic; ill-fated expeditions for a fabled gap above North America called the Northwest Passage, but better known as Greenland. One such expedition, as recounted on TV during one of my trips from the couch to a chair and back again, still boasts a store of food perfectly preserved in the cabins below—canned foods—in lead cans. The personal notes made by the residents of this mass grave record the slow and ugly process of an entire ship’s crew going mad from lead poisoning.
In this way, I believe I may be going mad from life poisoning here in this tiny closet in this rundown apartment in Oakland. This vessel is lodged in right alongside hundreds of other ill-fated cubicles, the doomed crews all mad on the noxious vapors of life. Here is my log book, and just like everyone else’s, our children—those of us that manage to fashion any—will study in the great universities to become eminent historians so that they can read the insane jottings of life-poisoning victims. As they slowly go mad on life themselves. My sons! My daughters!
I sometimes wonder how archeologists of the future, if that discipline survives the future, will go about reading the data on the computers they pull out of the ground. Assuming of course that these delicate hard drives can take a few centuries of abuse from the elements and looting from the feral huntresses that our inevitable technological attrition will produce. How will the scientists holed up in monasteries dedicated to preserving civilization in places like Manitoba unlock the secrets held in our ephemeral databases?
I ask you!
Until then, I leave you with this small legacy, and am
Your disobedient servant, &c.,
Jason Thomas Novak
Date: Sat, 4 Dec 2004
From: Patrick Cassels
Subject: I was out of “the ’Tussin.”
As I’m sure you’re aware, winter is closing in on us, its icy arm drawing ever closer, and although December has just began, I’ve already developed a rather severe head cold.
This morning it was at its worst, my temples throbbed, my throat was sore, my left nostril gurgled and clogged itself with every inhale I took—I needed fast relief.
Still in my pajamas, I stepped into the bathroom and pulled open the medicine cabinet for some Vicks DayQuil. There was none to be found. There was, however, a fresh, unopened bottle of its nocturnal counterpart, NyQuil. I pondered deeply in front of the open cabinet, weighing the consequences of drowsy side effects with the symptoms of my current illness. In the end, I needed the fix—I tore off the cellophane safety seal with my thumbnail, opened the bottle, and gave myself a dose of the strictly nighttime formula. So I ask:
Does this make me a vampire?
Pat Cassels, Lord of the Nightwalkers.
(P.S. I politely request that you not share this information with the usual band of vampire hunters who hang out Saturday nights at the 7-Eleven off Route 9-D in Wappingers Falls, NY. For they are the chosen ones, whose power I cannot match.)
Date: Wed, 10 Nov 2004
From: Brian Beatty
Subject: You’re so very, very welcome.
There’s a trick to reading the political articles in Victoria’s Secret catalogs. (I know that’s why I subscribe.) Simply pretend that the supermodels modeling the brassieres and panties in all those pictures aren’t wearing brassieres and panties. That really changes the way you think about the world.
P.S. Keep on keeping on. I mean it.
Date: Tue, 09 Nov 2004
From: Jeff Johnson
Subject: Finally done with my exam!
My qualifying exam went great! “Flying colors,” as they say. Sure, I mean, they had me a little upset (sobbing uncontrollably) at a couple points, but in the end they said I exhibited progress like a sloth moving out of sunlight. I guess they mean I know which direction I’m heading, and I certainly do … onward and upward! Dr. Winzeler was so sure of my drive that she said the research I was proposing would require an army of well-trained post-docs to complete within a decade. Sometimes I’m not sure if I match up to even half a post-doc, but she has a way of making me feel like I can do just about anything!
For the most part, my committee really tried to keep the exam upbeat with all their funny jokes, like when Dr. Wittenberg said that his poodle could set up a cleaner assay plate than me. He’s hilarious! Can you imagine a poodle holding a pipet?!? Now that’s a silly image! At one point Dr. Schmid asked me if I was high when she was lecturing about vesicular transport in class, which made everyone else laugh, but I just said no because I don’t think illicit drugs are very healthy. I guess the professors here are pretty liberal, if you know what I mean!
I’m so glad that’s all behind me now … and to think I was so nervous! I thought it was kind of strange that they never said congratulations or that I officially “passed” or whatever, but I guess that’s how it works in academics. Hard work for such little rewards, but I can’t help it, I love academia! Anyway, I got a call from my dean saying he wanted to discuss an “exit strategy” for me (whatever that means!), so I’m going to head up to his office to see what the heck he’s talking about. Thanks so much for putting up with me being such a stressball these past few weeks!
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 2004
From: Jacob Piehl
Subject: Good karma?
How can you, in good conscience, endorse the parking-spot pull-through? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve spotted a parking place at the end of a row, only to have it taken before I arrive by an unseen pull-througher. Not to mention the near-head-on-collisions I’ve encountered while actually pulling in to parking spots at the same time as a PT’er. Good karma? I beg to differ.
Your recommendation of pumpkin muffins, though, somehow manages to offset this gaffe.
Date: Fri, 01 Oct 2004
From: Sarah L. Reiter
Subject: Information about Hershey’s Pie
Recently while eating a piece of Hershey’s Pie at Burger King, I flipped the pie-shaped container over and uncovered that Hershey’s Pie is made at none other than Edwards Baking Company, One Lemon Lane, Atlanta, GA 30307. This is a subsidiary of Edwards Fine Foods. They have a helpful “pie finder” which will help you locate any of their other fine varieties of pie carried at your local supermarkets nationwide.
The pie finder can be found here.
If you click on the “indulge yourself” button it gives you a list of ways to “indulge” other than eating pie and it reads like a Cosmo article. Nowhere on any of the sites do they list the Hershey Pie. It must be an exclusive-rights issue, perhaps. However, upon closer inspection, if you visit the “products and whole pies” section, there it lists the “chocolate sundae pie,” which is described as “rich chocolate blended with vanilla for a taste you’d expect from an ice cream parlor” and “prepared in a chocolate cookie crust and topped with stripes of chocolate syrup.” DOES THIS SOUND LIKE ANYONE WE KNOW?
Further information about the corporation and their pie and baked-good distribution as well as retail brands, which also include Heidi’s Gourmet Desserts, can be found here.
Date: Wed, 22 Sep 2004
From: Kristin Peterson
Subject: A letter for you about my trip to the convenience store!
Here is a list of items I purchased at the corner store in Mayo Beach, MD last Saturday. I needed all of them immediately, if not immediater:
Tampax multi-pack of tampons (cardboard applicator)
Band-Aid brand flexible bandages
Pack of Marlboro Light 100s
Four bottles of lighter fluid
The woman behind the counter said: “I hope you know what this looks like.”
I responded, “Yeah, it looks like you shouldn’t fuck with me.” (But I only said it in my head.)
PS: You should know that I was working a catering job, involving two barrel grills, one pit barbecue, and a complete lack of lighter fluid.
Date: Fri, 27 Aug 2004
From: Skip Cronin
Subject: We All Win—Follow-up on the Open Letter calling for the death of lovely RenÃ©e Z.
Only one response is adequate enough to pay homage to Evan Thies suggestion that Cable News Organizations have Renee Z. sacrificed for a ratings bonanza: “Dare I say, Genius!!”
Let’s not forget we can pull in the not quite avant-garde MTV crowd, with the White Stripes connection. Imagine the youth market reached by Gideon Yago as he ponders the song with which Jack will honor Renee’s untimely demise. You just reached the under-18 market with a bullet. Pun intended? Damn right!! Of course, as Bob Goen reports on Entertainment Tonight, what the public really wants—nay, deserves—to know is, “Was it Jack White’s baby?” Or was it that jackass from the Von Bondies? Wasn’t Zeta-Jones seen at a Bondies concert in the weeks prior to the killing?
This could go on for weeks. It’s perfect.
For Entertainment Tonight, MTV News, CNN, and the Weather Channel, I am ever so hopeful.
Date: Fri, 27 Aug 2004
From: Tiana Dargent
Subject: A man and his pen.
This guy who sits in front of me is in the engineering department of the university at which I work. He often meets with sales reps for various things such as pumps and filters for the on-campus plant. About five minutes ago he asked me if I wanted a pen since he’s been receiving so many from these supply companies. Never one to refuse something free, I accepted, and he passed me a brand-new shiny red pen with “BE WELL HUNG” emblazoned across it. At this point I chuckled, and when he looked perplexed I told him he gave me a pen with a penile reference. With a horrified look, he exclaimed, “I received it from an industrial-hanger supplier! See?” (as he showed me the brochure). I maintained that it was probably still a penile reference that related also to their business, and that it was most likely a marketing tactic.
He threw the pen in the garbage.
University of Ottawa
Date: Tue, 24 Aug 2004
From: Will Akers
Subject: Iraq v. Kosovo
This is in response to Mr. Tony Moore’s recent letter defending the handling of the war in Iraq. He argued that that war is more justifiable than the NATO bombing campaign carried out under President Clinton in the late 1990s, because while only 4,000 Baghdad civilians died as a result of U.S. operations, more were killed by NATO’s bombing raids. He offered no statistical evidence to support this claim, but simply offered the number of sorties flown on a particular day, without bothering to mention how many were regularly flown during the heaviest periods of fighting in Iraq, or even what is a typical number to be flown in any modern conflict. After noting those 697 sorties, he said, “Hmm, I wonder how many human lives were lost in those 309 strikes, those 68 days.”
Mr. Moore, I can tell you. In 10 minutes of Internet research, I learned that while roughly 11,000 Iraqi civilians have been confirmed killed (according to a website that is unprofessional-looking but whose sources are bona fide: iraqbodycount.net), only about 500 Yugoslav civilians died in all of the Kosovo bombings put together (hrw.org). It should be noted that even the Yugoslav state-run media outlets did not bother quoting figures higher than 1,200, significantly less even than the number you gave for those who died in Baghdad.
Putting numbers aside, it should also be remembered that while NATO operations in Kosovo were supported by the United Nations (nato.int), the campaign of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq has not been, which denies it any shred of validity as an act of international justice.
Date: Sat, 21 Aug 2004
From: Andrew Holman
Subject: Letter to McSweeney’s: Olympics.
So, they changed the rules to Olympic archery a little. No big deal—they do that, right? Because maybe they were a little skewed before, or some rules are redundant or obsolete now, right? I thought so. Until the sportscaster said to her partner something to this effect: “Gee, this year’s new rules make Olympic archery a lot more suspenseful to watch on TV, don’t they?”
LAME. Lame I say. Now I am certain that no other result was desired due to such a change in procedure. Not surprising. I’m not even appalled. They need to do that. They need to cater to the youth of America, with their short attention spans, the ones who watch MTV and explosions, who read Dan Brown. The seats in the Olympic arenas this year are next to empty. Have you noticed? They need to fix that. Advertising companies might stop paying so much for spots during the Olympics. Then TV companies will get more money playing the Olympics for a smaller amount of time. Then the Olympics will dematerialize.
Like this: POOF!
I’m not disgusted at all. I’m excited. All of this merely promises a thrilling destiny for the Olympic Games. I can’t wait. Do you know? Tell me you won’t be enthralled when the athletes enter the arena on Harley-Davidsons and perform ridiculous, scripted monologues taunting their opponents, all to a background of metal music. Or when they announce new Olympic sports, like Laser-Tag, or Doom 3. They will all have Pro-Wresteling/American-Gladiator-esque names like “The Thorpedo.” I can’t wait. Listen: if you are not excited when just after the men’s 400-meter comes the robots’ pommel horse, I will kick you in the teeth and call you a rotten liar. Because you would be.
Date: Fri, 20 Aug 2004
From: Adrian Murray
Subject: Flavored Crisps … Mmm!
W/r/t “any of the Various Flavored Potato Chips Available in Canada and Not in the U.S.” Great recommendation! I would suggest that you wander into an Irish pub or import storeÂ—you can usually pick them up there. Or there’s always online shopping. I usually buy in bulk. That way, I only need to reorder every two to three days or so.
I know you’re probably talking about Walkers (what with the raving about Pickled Onion flavor) but you really cannot beat Tayto (the Irish brand). Their Cheese and Onion just melts in your mouth. Although if I persuaded some young vixen to plant one on me, I’m sure she’d tell me my breath was rank. Good thing that’s not a problem. (I guess.)
Now I’m depressed and hungryÂ—I think I’ll just pour this bag of Tayto on my chest and have at it …
Date: Wed, 18 Aug 2004
From: Matthew Pleasant
Subject: Hurricane Charley
I have been answering phones for our local paper’s help line. My ear was sore from the receiver so now I have a headset. The headset makes my ear sweaty, and I keep accidentally picking the receiver up anyway, putting it up to the earpiece. People don’t have power or water, but it is on the way. They have more volunteers than they know what to do with, I have heard. North Lakeland Little League practices will be canceled until further notice.
Date: Wed, 18 Aug 2004
From: Anthony Johnson
Subject: Giving a guy the bone
I was a little confused by Matthew James Olah’s letter requesting a “return” to giving the bone. I can tell him, categorically,that there is no need for such a “return”;I recently spent four days hiking in the woods with 20 other gay men. We were able to both give and get the bone numerous times.
I trust this information will allay Mr. Olah’s anxiety.
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 2004
From: tony moore
Subject: well, there’s the last nail in the coffin
Under Bill Clinton, the U.S. used about 330 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 90 ALCMs against Iraq (just) during Operation Desert Fox. But let’s not forget about the 230 laser-guided bombs that also were used and about 250 dumb bombs. That’s 900 bombs. Keep in mind, that’s just one of the U.S. operations in Iraq at the time under Clinton.
Now, here’s a snip from CNN on the situation regarding the Bosnians, the Serbs, and the rest of the Yugoslavs during former President Clinton’s regime: “Air power again hammered away at Yugoslavia Saturday night into Sunday morning, flying 697 sorties and scoring 309 strikes during the 68th day of attacks, according to NATO.” Hm, I wonder how many human lives were lost in those 309 strikes, those 68 days. At least Bush got rid of two fascistic dictatorships with these current “wars” (the Baathists and the Taliban, as a reminder), and, in Baghdad, a city of about 4 million, under 2,000 Iraqi lives were lost [and about 25 million were freed nationwide]).
Some decisions, many of the greatest in history, in fact, often lead to the loss of human life. Sometimes adult decisions have to be made, and progress comes at a price. (Just ask the 15 to 20 thousand French killed in WWII before the Allies ever had a single man on the ground there [from the over 590,000 tons of bombs we eventually dropped on them].)
To slip off to a tangent, another popular complaint about the way the Iraq (and Afghanistan) conflicts have been handled is that the postwar situation is sloppy. Here’s the thing about this. In terms of what was accomplished, you’d almost have to consider what happened a civil war (by proxy). Sure, it was externally initiated and executed (let me put it this way, if the people of Iraq could have, they would have done it themselves, hence my civil-war-by-proxy analogy), but in the end the results were the same. So, looking at it in those terms, what do you think the U.S. was like after our own civil war? I’ll tell you. Years of what you’re seeing in Iraq right now. Years and years. Hell, the South is still steamed over it. Heading back to Bosnia for a moment, as it might be vaguely fresh in some readers’ minds (but I doubt it), look what happened there after Yugoslavia disintegrated. Bedlam. As we’ve seen time and time again, and which much of our population seems to forget, the vanquished in these conflicts usually don’t just shrug it off and integrate into a new and wonderful society created by the victors. Why does this come as a shock every time it happens? And does the unrest, like a chaotic postictal reaction, make the initial actions unwarranted? I don’t think so.If the old (and sort of vulgar) adage “you have to break some eggs to make an omelet” has ever had relevance, it’s now.
Date: Thu, 12 Aug 2004
From: “ben johnson”
In a letter to McSweeney’s dated 8/5/04, Cameron Wicks wrote:
“Superfund expired in 1995, during Clinton’s first term. Yet, it’s Bush’s fault for not renewing it. It really sickens me how Democrats/liberals accuse Bush and his administration (along with most other Republicans) of lying, when you guys can’t even present truths. You rely on lies and the stretching of the truth to make your cases.”
Superfund (the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act in conjunction with the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorizations Act) did not expire in 1995. The Superfund program has received appropriations during all fiscal years between 1996 and 2004.
Historically, a tax on crude oil and certain chemicals and an environmental tax on corporations were the primary revenues for Superfund. These taxes represented a fundamental component of the “polluter pays” principle upon which Superfund was founded. The law authorizing this tax on industrial polluters expired in 1995.
The Clinton administration routinely requested reinstatement of the taxes in its budget proposals. However, every effort to reauthorize the taxes failed.
The Bush administration dropped the reauthorization request from its proposed budget altogether.
(Sources: McSweeney’s Letters; Charles Smith, “Not-So-Superfund: Growing Needs vs. Declining Dollars,” Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 3, Number 3, March 2003: ehp.niehs.nih.gov; General Accounting Office, "Superfund Program: Updated Appropriation and Expenditure Data, February 18, 2004: gao.gov [PDF].)
Date: Wed, 11 Aug 2004
From: Matthew Olah
Subject: Punching it in
Who was in charge of changing “The Bone” to “Punching it in”? I hope they were fired for coming up with such a pansy name. Can we please change it back to “The Bone”? The proper way to do this is to invite a friend or co-worker to “Give me some bone” and then bang knuckles (some prefer to do this gently). The best is when you get to introduce someone to “The Bone,” because at first they think that you are going to hump their leg or worse (“Do you mind if I give you some bone?”). Their apprehension will soon turn to glee as knuckle grinds knuckle.
Matthew James Olah
Date: Thursday, 05 Aug 2004
From: Cameron Wicks
Subject: your anti-bush stuff
First of all, I am almost certain you won’t publish this, as I am aÂ Republican, writing in defense of George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. Most liberals and Democrats blab their heads off, then do what they accuse Bush of doing: oppressing people and their right to speak. I want you all to know that I think you are wrong. George W. Bush is the right man for this country. I think the war in Iraq was justified by the fact that Saddam Hussein was an oppressive, murderous man, who slaughtered, robbed, and raped millions. Most liberals and Democrats also tend to ignore the fact that Hussein defied the U.N. something like 10 times. But hey, who cares about that? Stopping a maniacal dictator isn’t as important as calling the president a tyrant and a murderer, right? If you had done your research (or maybe just acknowledged the truth), you’d also know that Superfund expired in 1995, during Clinton’s first term. Yet, it’s Bush’s fault for not renewing it. It really sickens me how Democrats/liberals accuse Bush and his administration (along with most other Republicans) of lying, when you guys can’t even present truths. You rely on lies and the stretching of the truth to make your cases. And, whether or not Cheney registered in Wyoming right before he was picked as the V.P. candidate doesn’t matter. He was still registered in Wyoming when he was picked. In fact, I’ll bet every single one of your anti-Bush facts can be reputed. Hell, I just might start sending you repudiations for each one. I really can’t believe the hypocrisy of the liberals/Democrats. You call Bush a liar and un-American, but, to me and to many other people, you have proven yourselves to be both those things. Look for more e-mails disputing your anti-Bush propaganda, ‘cause I’m gonna send a few. Good night.
Date: Thursday, 05 August 2004
From: Michael Hinson
Subject: vegan gummi bears
This printable correspondence is in response to Nancee Reeves’s review of vegan gummi bears. I appreciated her introduction to the difficulties inherent in a lifestyle choice such as veganism, but I’m left wondering: Is there an even higher-minded lifestyle choice, the exponents of which forbid consumption not only of products containing animal bits, but also of products made in the image of animals?
Not really looking for a fight,
Date: Fri, 30 Jul 2004
From: Baker, Matt
Subject: Band Names
Why did you do it? By “it” I mean respond to KEVIN’S QUESTION regarding the ultimate band name? Now, EVERY IDIOT IN AMERICA will be writing you, suggesting various band names. Well, I won’t do it. Sure there’s a STRONG TEMPTATION to do so, but why HUDDLE WITH THE MASSES? It’s too easy. I once considered creating a list for McSweeney’s of possible band names, but thought, “No, it’s BEEN DONE BEFORE.” Band names these days are so ESOTERIC, BASTARDS with philosophy degrees alone can understand them. I mean, Blink-182, Beastie Boys, Coldplay … what do they mean? And why is it that everyone seems to be in a band? You’re in a band, Kevin’s in a band, my DICKHEAD BOSS is even in a band. I realize the desire to not be a CLIPBOARD NAZI or CUBICLE HERMIT, but we can’t all be drawing FIFTY THOUSAND SCREAMING fans at Madison SQUARE GARDEN. Let’s be realistic, people.
Date: Tue, 27 July 2004
From: Joan Deely
My daughter, a devout McSweeney’s reader, kept calling me over to the computer the other day to read something she had up on the screen. I was packing for a trip and fairly distracted, so, in exasperation, she printed the piece out and handed it to me as I rushed out the door.
Two hours into the ride to Maine, I read the story about Nathan, the tragically late, erstwhile Flaming Lips fan, and his father.
I cried. I tried to read it out to my husband. I cried again, choking the words out at a very slow pace.
My son played Yoshimi for me last year as part of his ongoing, and frequently successful, effort to reach out to me through music. I’ve been humming bits of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots ever since. I can’t say that I completely grasp the concept of the CD, but I do enjoy it quite a bit. When my son hears me singing it, he kind of lights up, and we casually acknowledge how cool we are that we both know and like this music.
We don’t always communicate so easily.
The story of Nathan and his father, and their connection through somewhat obscure music like the Flaming Lips, was intensely personal for our family.
After reading it, I reminded myself to treasure these connections my children make with me through things that mean so much to them but are completely unknown to me. My brother and I tried to get through to our dad with Cream (you know that extended drum solo?) and the Beatles, but succeeded only in deepening the chasm between us.
I will always think of Nathan now when I hear Yoshimi, when we make family jokes about pink robots and who is going to save us from them.
And I promise to listen each and every time my kids say, “Hey, Mom, listen to this CD, these guys are so cool …”
Dear Mr. Smith,
Thanks for asking. Here are some possible names for your band:
The Baby Animals
The Silent Killers
The Kokaine Kings
The Impotent Pandas
The Jewish Problem
There are plenty more where that came from. That is just what I came up with on the train home. Just so you know, the name Lupus Lupus is already takenÂ—a truly awful band including myself, Andrew Leland (managing editor of The Believer), and various others. Our last show was 11 months ago, and God willing, that period will be doubled or tripled before you hear from us again.
Great Caesar’s Ghost,
Date: Thu 22 Jul, 2004
From: Kevin Smith
Dear Mr. McSweeney,
Being a big fan of yours, I am writing to you with a very important question. What should I call my band?
Date: Fri, 16 Jul 2004
From: Bryan Stroud
Subject: Culinary fine-tuning
I’m curious about the “A1 sauce, Tabasco, and vegan Parmesan on aglio olio” recipe in the “McSweeney’s Recommends” section (about a quarter of the way down). Specifically, I’m wondering about the proportions of the ingredients. I tried to make it yesterday and I’m pretty sure I used too much Tabasco. Or maybe A1 sauce is spicier than I remember. Whichever, please adjust the listing in the “Recommends” section to reflect suggested quantities of each sauce ingredient, or maybe my fellow readers can respond with proportions they’ve found friendly. I’d experiment with different ratios but I don’t want to buy more A1 than is absolutely necessary.
Date: Wed, 7 July 2004
From: Goldowsky, Joshua
Subject: Some Concerns
Your coverage of why we should dispatch President Bush clearly illustrates why this man should not be re-elected. I feel, though, in interest of equal time, that you fail to bring to light a similarly disturbing fact about Mr. Bush’s main opponent, John Kerry of Massachusetts. While both McSweeney’s and, especially, Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 are quick to point out Bush and his cohorts’ connections to big businesses such as oil, military contractors, and the like, there is rarely any mention of Mr. Kerry’s dubious relationship with another big industry; specifically, a company that is, as its own website describes, “the most global U.S.-based food company” and “a $2.5 billion global icon.” I, of course, speak of the Heinz ketchup cartel.
Yes, it is well-known that Mr. Kerry’s wife is an heiress to the Heinz family fortunes. But where are the op-eds about how this link may distort Mr. Kerry’s policies once in office? Can’t one imagine an even more grotesque school lunch program than the one from the Reagan administration? Ketchup would not only count as a vegetable, but as a carbohydrate, a fruit, and, somehow, even a protein.
Where is the speculation that if, God forbid, there is a tomato famine in this country, President Kerry will invade Italy? With the price of condiments rising, who knows what kind of dastardly risks he is willing to take?
I’m not sure if I am ready to support a candidate whose own personal fortune rests on the sale of a product whose very design produces torture and angst for even the most average citizen to operate, such as the ketchup bottle, especially when drunk at a diner at three in the morning. Would the populace not be shocked to learn of whatever deal the Heinz corporation has clearly made with the dead in the selling of their Linda McCartney’s meat-free entrÃ©es in England or with some kind of sorcerer to concoct the unnatural UFC “banana” ketchup currently on the market in the Philippines? If he will secretly deal with the dead and mystical, who else is he capable of making covert deals with? Clearly, any person connected to a company that claims that Delimex Tacquitos offer an authentic taste of Mexico, surely cannot be trusted to come up with an acceptable foreign policy.
And most disturbing to me is what will happen when we learn the full extent of Mr. Kerry’s participation in the war against the Hunt family and their ketchup concern. It will be mass hysteria, to say the least.
So now that there is no clear candidate, I would like for McSweeney’s to consider for its endorsement for president of the United States, my father. He is a 59-year-old unemployed Air Force veteran who has no ties to big business; so using our military for financial gain is not an issue. The only grudges he holds are against his former employers, so we may have to invade the Hamptons at some point; but I’m sure most of the country would back that anyway. Also, since he is unemployed, I’m sure he would accept a salary well below the $400,000 the president currently makes; a savings he can pass on to the taxpayer. He is also quite handy around the house, so, for example, if the White House needed a new porch built, or if something went wrong with the plumbing, he could fix it himself, giving back more savings to the taxpayer.
I know endorsing a candidate for president must be tougher than it seems. In return, we can offer the good people at McSweeney’s unfettered access to a White House that would be unparalleled as far as wacky high jinks and fart jokes are concerned. So, please, sleep on it and let us know ASAP so we can get enough crepe paper for the banners.
New York, NY
Date: Fri, 07 May 2004
From: Daniel Silverman
Subject: “Goodbye Ernie Flynn”
You think that being followed by an ambulance is weird? I agree, but I am followed by ice-cream trucks, which I regard to be slightly weirder. Between March and September (hey, this is Vancouver, okay? Ice-cream trucks mobilize on warm days in January around here), their banshee song dogs me through my days. I think I was probably twelve when I first noticed this, but it could have been going on for longer. Ever since I started riding my bike a lot, I found that wherever I went these gaily painted juggernauts would be waiting, on cross-streets, in alley-ways, and other hyphenated intersections. I have rarely seen them actually moving (perhaps it is a rest stop on some kind of southerly migration to the other hemisphere where it is summer in November, and they are waiting for the flock), but they pervaded my adolescence with the same tenacity as grunge music, drugs, and virginal despondency.
To my horror, in March, I glimpsed a Good Times (ha!) ice-cream truck circling one of the residential complexes at the university where I now work, circling like a lone vulture waiting for a slowly starving and dehydrated desert wanderer to finally give up in exhaustion and fork over five bucks for a half-melted, overly sugary factory-refining-byproduct of a snack. Its loudspeakers had some kind of digital playback, rather than the traditional bells and whistles (or whatever), which had developed some form of machine asthma, and its sound grated like gravel in my sinuses.
I can only take comfort that since I have been made forcibly aware of the Doppler effect—via the ever increasing pitch as they bear down on me like black helicopters (and yet, so much more menacing in their false joyful innocence)—I can now detect one at a distance of 1.3 kilometers, and know which direction to run. That is, if there is not one waiting in ambush by an otherwise safe and peaceful roadside.
Date: Mon, 3 May 2004
Subject: I never took the porn… well, not much of it anyway.
Dear good folk at McSweeney’s,
Being the subject of a recent essay published in your relatively respected publication, I’d like to address a couple inaccuracies that I believe were perpetrated by the author. It seems Greg Bellerose, while ruminating on the brilliance of “Death or Glory,” recalled my car as being uncool. Well, that probably was fairly accurate as it had Bondo spots over one side and at times had wheels of differing sizes and assorted unsightly dents due to the occasional neo-operational miscalculations. Okay … but about the porn. I never took porn from my older brother. Well, not a whole lot of it anyway … and he sure did have a lot of it in a surprising number of mediums considering the years in question here. As for the six-pack! Am I the only one in this lovely land who has ever lost track of a six-pack of beer on the floor of the back seat? I think not. And as for my skipping class and Greg only skipping gym … has he no respect for the physical-education arts? Is the importance of spending approximately thirty-five minutes walking slowly around a scenic quarter-mile track and pondering the mystery of what really happened to the last six-pack on Friday night utterly lost on my old friend?
The part about the life-changing properties of the Clash was positively spot-on anyway. Greg was kind enough to soothe my hurt feelings regarding my car by assuring me he believed it was likely the only vehicle ever to make it to both a Jesus and Mary Chain show and a bunch of Dead shows. Thanks, Greg. Well, I suppose upon further reflection, the essay was not so very inaccurate. Just forget I said anything…
Date: Wed, 21 Apr 2004
From: Bill McKechnie
Subject: … Kevin Dolgin, sorta …
To Whom It May Concern
Dear To (if I may be so informal … I’m Bill),
Yesterday, as a birthday gift (#64 … Hitler was 115) from an old army buddy, I received word of your terrific website. I ended up spending far too long reading letters and archives but enjoyed the vast majority of them … or I’d have stopped, right?
Kevin Dolgin’s “useful foreign phrases” triggered a couple of thoughts which I’ll leave with you and let you handle as you please.
My first contact with foreign phrases was with those taught to me by Larry Christy my freshman year in college, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. His contribution was a very Russian-sounding string of noises which more or less resemble “Yahn-ye gah-va-roo pa rosski strahs-veechee baba.” It is supposed to mean, Larry told me, “Good day. I am a prostitute. I do not speak Russian.” Later, I traveled in Russia, but the opportunity to use that particular phraseology never came up, likely for the best.
The following two bits came out of my stint as a German linguist stationed in Berlin in 1963 and 1964.
Not long after I’d arrived, one of the short-timers was using his last leave to travel in Italy. I asked if he knew any Italian, and he said he knew one phrase, translated as “The time has come for me to leave the ship!” Flourishes were almost demanded in the utterance of such a grandiose statement, although on his return, he sheepishly said he, too, had had no occasion to use it. Dommage.
Those of us who had attended the Army Language School in Monterey (now, I understand, the Defense Language Institute) were given a pretty good grounding in the language and had access to many places there not usually frequented by regular soldiers. We were often complimented on our German and were able in many cases to avoid being fingered as Americans. (Adam Fisher, my above-referenced birthday friend, and I were once taken to be Danish by the proprietor of a very local and intimate neighborhood bar, much to our great glee.)
One of our colleagues there was a whimsical guy named Meeks, I believe, who put a real spin on the whole compliment scenario. When someone would say, “Oh, your German is very good,” he would humbly shrug and casually say, “Ach, danke … aber es ist nur eine umfassende strengwissenschaftliche Darstellung des Wortschatzes der Neuzeit und der Gegenwart, mit besonderer Beruecksichtigung der Syntax, des Stils und idiomatischen Brauches.”
Let me put it this way. Let’s say you ran into a German whose English was quite good, for which you rendered a kind word. His response, comparable to the above, would be, “Oh, thank you … but it’s just a comprehensive and strictly scientific representation of the vocabulary of the modern and present-day languages, with special regard to syntax, style, and idiomatic usage.”
He had memorized, verbatim, the explanatory title-page intro in the Wildhagen-Héraucourt German-English dictionary, which I have in front of me. To see the look on others’ faces as he rattled it off was truly awe-inspiring, although once you knew the gag, it was difficult to suppress a giggle. He could really pull it off, too. Very impressive.
Anyway, thought I’d share these with you, triggered as they have been by Kevin’s remarks. They’re now yours … or his … or somebody’s. Enjoy … and keep up the good work.
Date: Wed, 21 Apr 2004
From: Michael Degnan
Subject: Kyle McGivney and Risk
At the risk (ha-ha) of encouraging a deluge of letters on the subject (and being part of that deluge myself), I must take issue with Kyle McGivney’s strategy for global conquest in Risk. Beginning in the Americas is a good option—true—but John Warner’s strategy of beginning in Australia is more universal.
The odds are not in your favor if American territories do not fall your way. If, say, you only get one North American card and one South American card, while an opponent draws three of each, you are screwed. In Australia, with its four territories, you are much more likely to have an even share. (You could even start in Siam!)
Of course, now that the cat’s out of the bag (thanks, John), the Australia strategy is almost as bad as a land war in Asia.
Date: Wed, 21 Apr 2004
From: Baker, Matt
Subject: Re: They Live
I write to inform you that, unfortunately, you, Mr. McPharlin and Mr. Muhl, are misguided in your independent views of They Live. It is not “good” nor is it “bad.” They Live happens to be a great movie, invaluable for its filmic teachings. Listen closely and I will tell you how.
Firstly, it incorporates thoroughly horrible acting on the part of Mr. Piper, something so rare, it’s a shame he has not made a career out of it like Kevin Pollak. There are great dramatic performances (see Hopkins, Anthony), and mildly incompetent ones (see Seagal, Steven), but for truly bad acting that actually makes it to theater screens, Mr. Piper was at the top of his game.
Secondly, nostalgia never gets old. Those who grew up in the avarice-tinged ‘80s would love this film for its sci-fi parody of American society’s greed, its depiction of the isolation felt by a blue-collar man living day-to-day, its endless portrayal of Skeletor faces being blown away.
Thirdly, it contains wretched dialogue. While the bubblegum line is the most widely known (I saw it once in a Dean Koontz novel, not attributed to They Live, which cemented my hatred for Mr. Koontz), my personal favorite is “Life’s a bitch, and she’s in heat.” There’s also “You look like your face fell in the cheese dip back in 1956.” And more. This movie is practically a handbook of how not to write movie dialogue. For that alone, its value is priceless.
Fourthly, it’s dumb. Follow my reasoning here: the coveted eighteen- to thirty-five-year-old male wants to see action movies unencumbered by plot or character depth, and not requiring any actual thought process to entertain (see Independence Day, Demolition Man, or any non-Connery James Bond movie—except Diamonds Are Forever). They Live succeeds for the same reason that the Matrix sequels fail: there’s no thinking required. Who goes to an action film to learn Kafka and Nietzsche? Would you go to a John Woo film to learn the fine art of origami, or to a Michael Bay movie to learn Colonial-era animal husbandry? Of course not. You want to see stuff explode; you want to see bullets, bodies, and vehicles of all types defy the laws of physics. You want mindless, desensitizing violence.
They Live deserves a space on the shelf of any movie cognoscente. Mark my words, movie historians will heavily footnote this movie.
Oak Forest, IL
Date: Mon, 20 April 2004
From: Felix Muhl
Re: They Live
Sean McPharlin is, like most of us, both right and wrong. This surely applies to many aspects of his and our lives, but at the moment I am specifically referring to his letter concerning They Live. Sean is right: that the fistfight is totally awesome. Sean is wrong: that the movie is not actually good—that it is, in fact, bad. Sean’s is an honest mistake; there are many reasons that the movie should be awful, beginning with the starring role of Rowdy Roddy Piper (no Andre the Giant or Mr. T, to be sure). Nevertheless, through strength of will, it rises above. It is glorious. It made me feel good.
Nelson County, Virginia
Date: Mon, 19 April 2004
From: Kyle McGivney
Subject: Attacking Australia
In John Warner’s letter to President Bush, et al., he claimed that the best way to win the game of Risk is to attack Australia first. This is a very common folly that is most often seen in inexperienced or idiotic players. It has been a long time since I have seen anyone win with that strategy. If you attempt it against me, I will roll over you like a cheap thing that gets rolled over on a regular basis. The best strategy in Risk is to try and seal up two continents: North and South America. I prefer to begin with North America, as I’m sure Bush would prefer this as well. Blitz the continent in the early moves and make sure that you seal it off at Greenland, Central America, and Alaska. That’s five new pieces in your control. It might take you two or three moves to complete the take of the continent, but in the end, it will most likely be worth the effort.
Yes, I know what you’re saying: there are too many sides to defend! It’s too risky! God, shut up. The name of the game is risk. And that’s not even a clever pun or catch phrase, because that is quite literally the name of the game. You have to take some risks to win. Otherwise, not only do you get bored, rotting away in Australia, but you also ultimately lose. It might not be initially easy to crack your oyster, but trust me, you can be cracked. Especially if there’s an experienced player around.
Once I take North America, I will storm South America, and be left with only three borders and a seven-piece bonus. Australia? Australia who? In conclusion, Bush’s absolute best option in his quest for world domination was to sack Canada.
Date: Tue, 13 Apr 2004
From: Paul Coccoli
Subject: Dave Kneebone and Warlords
I can only assume that your comments regarding this “Dave Kneebone” person and the Atari 2600 classic Warlords were directed squarely at me, because I am the One True Master of Warlords. I have not been beaten since 1996, when I first mastered the game. I have two copies (one backup) and four paddles (that require some warming up before each session) in my home, awaiting a formal challenge. I expect a response from Mr. Kneebone swiftly, and it had better be littered with trashtalk. I am only good at one thing, but at that one thing, I am the best.
I will take on three Dave Kneebones at once!
I am totally and completely serious. I would play people for money, but no one is foolhardy enough to take me on…
P.S. Have you ever read the manual for that game? It’s hilarious.
Date: Tue, 13 Apr 2004
From: sean mcpharlin
Subject: Comments Regarding They Live
I write to you this evening concerning your recent recommendation of the 1985 John Carpenter film They Live, in which you incorrectly identify the two most notable attributes of said film to be:
1) The line involving bubble gum and ass-kicking; and 2) The proposition that the film is, in fact, “good.”
As to number 1, while this is a line often recalled, it is certainly not the most memorable aspect of the film. That honor goes to the fight scene. To recommend They Live without bringing up the fight scene is the equivalent of recommending Jurassic Park without mentioning the dinosaurs, of recommending Scanners without mentioning the exploding head, of recommending Being John Malkovich without mentioning the presence of John Malkovich.
Listen: the film concerns the takeover of Earth by nefarious aliens posing as the heartless, Reagan-era yuppies infesting the bulk of the 1980s. Our hero, played by wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper, happens upon a pair of sunglasses through which he is able to see the aliens for who they really are. This disturbs him. So he asks his friend, played by an actor of actual talent, Keith David, to put on the sunglasses to see for himself. Keith refuses. Rowdy asks again. But Keith is steadfast. So Rowdy punches him.
I haven’t personally timed the length of the fist-fight that follows, but it feels like half an hour. It is epic. It is stunning. It is without end, or to be more precise, it contains endless endings but ignores them all. It goes on and on and on and then, when finally it is truly over, it continues. It is the longest fist-fight in film history and therefore, I contend, the greatest.
To further establish the scene’s greatness, we need look no further than the episode of South Park featuring the cripple fight between Timmy and Jimmy. The fight is hilarious for its brutality and length. How was this accomplished? By copying the They Live fight frame for frame. There is no mention of bubble gum in this episode.
As to number 2, despite the fight scene, and despite the brilliance of the film’s overall conceit that what’s really going on may only be seen through special sunglasses (revealing yuppies to be aliens, billboards to feature slogans such as OBEY, and all money to feature the legend THIS IS YOUR GOD), the movie is not, by any standard, “good.” It is in fact rather bad. Certainly a nice try, but, in the end, bad. It stars a wrestler, for god’s sake. You want a good John Carpenter flick, rent his 1982 remake of The Thing, also featuring Keith David (widescreen only, please).
To sum up, my complaint is not that you recommended They Live, it’s that you recommended it for the wrong reasons, and in overlooking the most obviously noteworthy aspect of the film—the fight scene—you’ve set me to wondering if you’ve even seen the damn thing at all, or are merely attempting to appear “cool” or “hip” by extolling the virtues of a largely forgotten relic of the ’80s.
As a final point, I’ve often used They Live as an example of a movie someone should remake. Why turn an acknowledged masterpiece like Dawn of the Dead into a piece of shit when one could take They Live, a great idea poorly executed, and turn it into something magnificent? Instead of turning great movies into mediocre dreck, we should only remake bad movies in order to improve them, and They Live should be first on the list.
Date: Thu, 08 Apr 2004
From: T.G. Gibbon
Subject: The King of Spain
I am nowhere near as well-travelled as Kevin Dolgin but I’d like to let everyone know I have been to the King of Spain on the Grand Place in Brussels. I want this to be known not for pure vanity but so that people realize the soundness of Mr. Dogin’s recommendations. Write them down in your little Britney Spears notebooks and make sure to go wherever he tells you to when you happen to be in Constantinople or Laibach.
I used to go to Brussels every now and then and always made sure to spend some quality time at the King of Spain (so named as the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the most powerful white man of his day, who gave it all up to become a monk, was born in Brussels). I’m an outdoor drinking sort of person so I can tell you that that market gets quite touristy; it is beautiful, central, and has a light show every night around ten or so. One of my evenings there was the night before a Belgium-Scotland soccer match. Each quarter-hour that passed crammed another couple thousand drunken Scots into the Place. The King of Spain and all its fellows were brimming, creaking even, with Pictish piss-ups. The upper windows of the King itself were stuffed with fans waving St Andrew’s crosses, Stewart lions, giant inflatable penises, and an inflatable love doll sporting the ubiquitous “ginger wig-n-tam” so beloved by kilted footy enthusiasts.
The Scot, as I believe Johnson first observed some time ago, does not believe in paying to urinate. Nor does he possess a highly developed capacity to interpret, ironically, pictographic bathroom gender designations. As such the King’s loo attendant was highly put upon that evening. As were our unaccented ears! The Scotland fans, calling themselves the Tartan Army, have, in addition to what you might mistake for Flemish accents, a particularly odious and maddening anthem. It is, quite simply, “Doe, a Deer” from The Sound of Music repeated ad infinitum. Seriously. They just start all over and never ever stop. As eventually we retreated to another district of the city the sound of thousands of Sawnies singing what can be considered either a children’s song or a show tune dogged our every step. To this day there is a voice within me, the ancient Lallands voice of my ancestors (who presumably moved to England for a reason), that insists “deer” is a two-syllable word. Doh’ a dee’arr, a fe-male dee’arr. That’s a full glottal stop on those apostrophes.
I wish I could give a bar recommendation from when I lived in Scotland but of my two favorite bars one was bought out and yuppified and I forget the name of the other. Suffice it to say they were on the Cowgate.
Date: Friday, 2 April 2004
From: Jennifer Keith
Subject: Regarding “The Journey of Matt Sanders”
I am happy to announce that Matt has accepted my proposal of marriage. He was most impressed with you guys for posting it. So now he is wearing his sweet little engagement ring, and I don’t have mine yet, so all passersby must assume that I am an adulteress carrying on with a married man. Thank you guys for helping me out and also for giving me some mystique.
Date: Fri, 20 Feb 2004
From: Jennifer Keith
Subject: “The Journey of Matt Sanders,” a real wedding proposal
One day Matt Sanders journeyed to the mountain where God lives. Upon seeing a man walking on his mountain, God asked the man, “Why do you seek me out?”
Matt Sanders replied, “I am on a quest, God.”
“What is it that you seek?”
“I seek happiness, Lord.”
“Is that all? I will tell you, then. In order to be happy you will need:
Underwear (clean, if possible)
Various books to read
A Modest Mouse CD
And an ashtray."
“Is that all, Lord?”
“Yes. I have spoken. Go now and seek your bliss.”
Jennifer Keith: Take a shortcut, Matt. Marry me and I can get you those things.
Date: Fri, 20 Feb 2004
From: Stout, Chris
Subject: Phun List Phriday… Shine On
While I’m certain that no one could have expected (or wanted) the list of “Major Hollywood Productions That Kill Off the Only, or Important Supporting, Black Character in the Film” be an exhaustive analysis, one unacceptable absence prompts this reply. The Shining: Scatman Crothers, who alone shares the tragic gift of our protagonist child, braves epic blizzard conditions in an effort to thwart Jack’s mad dissolution, only to be killed by a single axe blow within seconds of (what we anticipate as) his heroic arrival. Made doubly tragic by the fact that his extrasensory clairvoyant abilities did not help him see this end…
Date: Mon, 9 Feb 2004
From: Kaminsky, Darren
Subject: David Garnett’s second wife
Today’s feature on David Garnett’s Lady Into Fox refers to Quentin Bell, writer of Bloomsbury Recalled, as the “cousin” of Angelica Garnett. He was, in fact, her half-brother.
Both were children of Virginia Woolf’s sister, Vanessa Bell. Quentin was the son of Clive Bell and Angelica was the daughter of Vanessa’s longtime lover, Duncan Grant, a fact unknown to her until she was late in her teenage years. Her romance with Garnett was interpreted by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant as a type of revenge for keeping her true paternity a secret.
This interpretation is somewhat confirmed by Angelica’s 1960s memoir, Deceived by Kindness.
I know that I’m probably the 6000th person to write in, but, if not, then maybe this is helpful.
Paul Collins responds:
Ah!—you’re right. I misremembered that in the conversation. I should have known better than to discuss the love affairs and family histories of Bloomsbury without a scorecard.
Incredibly, an obituary one of the last surviving members of Bloomsbury appeared Monday morning, just hours after my and Tommy’s conversation was posted. Frances Partridge, sister of Lady Into Fox-illustrator Ray Garnett, was 103 years old. (“No cause of death was reported,” the obituary notes drily.) One of the last eyewitness accounts of Bloomsbury can be found in this 1999 interview with her in the Manchester Guardian.
I should also add to my interview comments that, for all their ups and downs, Ray and David Garnett remained together at the end, through her final bout with cancer in 1940. She died in the same bed that both she and their children had been born in; David’s description of those final days in his memoir The Familiar Faces (1962) is quite moving.
Date: 5 Feb 2004
Subject: Weston-Super-Mare, Welshness, and Purity
I’ve just received Issue #12 in my mail, and after enjoying the magic of the inner cover, I turned to the copyright page, where I read the first sentence: “This copyright page is being written in a bed & breakfast in Wales, in a town called Weston-Super-Mare.” “But wait,” my Inner Stickler (IS) said to me, “Weston-Super-Mare isn’t in Wales, it’s in Somerset.” (For the curious, the only reason the IS knows that is because W-S-M is the hometown of one of my favorite actors, Rupert Graves. The IS cares not about the source of its facts, but only that they’re available to use as stickles, to coin a term.) To which my Inner Stickler’s Inner Stickler (ISIS) replied, “Well, actually, it’s in North Somerset, which was set up as a ‘unitary authority’ carved out of the old county of Somerset in the latest round of local government reorganizations, of which the English seem to be so fond. However, that reminds of a website I once saw, belonging to the Association of British Counties, arguing that the creation of new local government authorities should not entail the extinguishing of the identity of good old historical counties, such as Somerset.” At which point I hushed both the IS and the ISIS, and read to the end of the copyright notice, chuckling many times.
Having finished the copyright notice, I said to the IS and the ISIS, “See, the point of this journal, and presumably of the copyright notice, isn’t purity, or rigidity. The fact that Weston-Super-Mare lies across the Bristol Channel from Wales doesn’t matter so much as the copyright-notice-writer’s unpleasant experience there. Whether Weston is a Welsh Atlantic city or a (North) Somerset one doesn’t affect the writer’s horror at spending a night in a shrine to a demon-child. And his horror pales in comparison to the decay of what passes for representative democracy in this country, expressed in terms that would make Lewis Lapham’s wry heart proud.”
“But of course,” the IS said. “We understand perfectly, my IS and I. After all, the name ‘Somerset’ derives from ‘Cymru,’ which is what the Welsh call Wales. As is the case with the old county of Cumberland, to the northeast of Wales, which has been subsumed into the new county of Cumbria, which might well become a unitary council within the new North West Region, should that option pass in the coming referendum.”
“Stop, already,” I cried. “Let’s just sit back and enjoy all the new writers in this lovely new Issue #12.”
“Don’t forget Roddy Doyle!” the IS pipped out as I pushed it back in the cupboard and locked the door.
Yours in stickling,
Editor’s Note: Due to an editing error, the Issue #12’s copyright-page note gave the impression that the editors of McSweeney’s believed that Weston-Super-Mare was in Wales, not Somerset. In the original draft, there was a revelatory sentence when the author realized that said town was not in Wales—where he had intended to go—but in fact Somerset; this realization was then linked to the California gubernatorial election and given great symbolic resonance. Late in the editing process, many sentences were cut for space, including this revelatory sentence, leaving this wrong impression standing, uncorrected. We regret this error and beg forgiveness from casual readers and young people whose sense of geography might have been unfairly warped.
Date: Sun, 25 Jan 2004
From: Tom Mullen
Subject: A Soliloquy of Unsolicited Solicitation
Please look at my work not because I am looking for work but rather my Unemployment Officer, Ms. Rose, requires me to contact at least two potential employers every week in order to keep receiving my unemployment check.
Heck, you can probably stop reading here if you want because my job is done. I’ve contacted a potential employer: You.
Little does Ms. Rose realize how difficult it would be to get at job at [insert agency name here]. Even less does Ms. Rose understand how much I don’t want to ruin a good thing by getting a job offer and risk forfeiting my unemployment benefits.
Anyway, here’s what I have to deal with:
All claimants must (a) register for work with the Employment Security Commission; (b) file a claim for each calendar week of benefits they request; and © actively seek work during any week for which unemployment benefits are claimed. Actively seeking work means doing those things that an unemployed person who wants to work would normally do. A claimant must seek work on two different days with at least two different employers and must keep a written record of all work-search contacts for periodic review by Commission staff. Claimants who are enrolled in Approved Commission Training may be exempted from these work-search requirements.
Much to my chagrin, I am not exempted from these requirements. I had considered enrolling in Approved Commission Training but nixed that after I found the only job path offered involved having to wear protective eyewear and once I saw the protective eyewear, I couldn’t keep a straight face.
If anyone is still reading, allow me to proffer a few tips on how to obtain Unemployment Benefits. First, one must admit there is no shame being on the dole. I am proud to earn more money in one week doing nothing than an Iraqi soldier earns in an entire month doing the same thing. Second, you must insist that the agency getting rid of you use the phrase “laid off” and not “fired.” If you are fired, you are not eligible to collect unemployment. I learned this the hard way. I also learned that if you just quit, you are not eligible, either. Thankfully, my Protestant work ethic would never allow me to quit. Third, if you are unfortunate enough to have to take a job, negotiate as much vacation time as you can. This way, when you get laid off you will not have to bother matriculating at the Unemployment Office until your PTO has been paid. The same holds true for severance. If possible, try to get as much severance as you can so you can take a trip or just sleep a lot. You see, you are not allowed to file for your Unemployment Benefits until all PTO and severance has been paid to you. You may be asking yourself or you may not—it depends on how interested you are in this sort of thing—how I know so much about obtaining Unemployment Benefits. Well, having been “fired!” once, “laid off” twice, and “quit” more than a few times (okay, so my Protestant work ethic is not working), I’ve learned to navigate the nuances of our excellent Unemployment System. I’ve sat in dumpy, paneled Unemployment Offices throughout the United States. I’ve impatiently listened to Career Counselors counsel my careening career. I’ve completed piles of paperwork only to be called back in to dot an i. I’ve discovered that freelancing does not affect your eligibility to obtain Unemployment Benefits, it simply prolongs them. (See Employment Security Commission, Section IV, on Ineligible Amount: Add the claimant’s earning allowance to the claimant’s weekly benefit amount. If, in a given week, the earnings reported by the claimant equal or exceed the ineligible amount, then the claimant cannot receive any unemployment benefits for that week.)
Perhaps, above all else, I’ve learned to wear the system down before it wears me down. Indeed, the system is getting friendlier. You can now file for your Unemployment Benefits online.
Thanking you in advance, since I seriously doubt I will be in touch—the ESC does not require a follow up—for your assistance and support regarding my Unemployment Benefits.
God Bless America and me,
Claimant, Tom Mullen
aka: Anonymous Jr.
PS: Should Ms. Rose call, please tell her if her name was Mary, she would not be a Rose.
Date: Thu, 22 Jan 2004
From: Taylor Cope
Subject: The Office, unlike Citizen Kane in at least one way
I write respectfully to correct an error made by you in your recent update of the “McSweeney’s Recommends” section of the website. You erroneously cite The Office as being a TV show (so far so good, as this is exactly what The Office is) that is the product of one person’s creative vision (problematic bit). In the interest of giving credit where credit is due, please allow me to trumpet the virtues of Mr. Stephen Merchant.
Stephen Merchant makes only one appearance in the office, in season two, episode five (if you’ve not yet seen it you have my pity) as “The Ogg-Monster,” one of Gareth’s Territorial Army buddies. He is, quite simply, a master of his craft, and those two or so minutes of screen time are among the funniest in the whole show. Though he is not as visible in the series as the much acclaimed Mr. Gervais, he is its heart and soul, as well as the lungs. Mainly, he wrote the whole damn show while Ricky Gervais (to whom I assume you refer when you give sole accolades) was off sleeping with supermodels and driving his Aston Martin at top speeds through London streets, smoking a joint and giving the finger to the screaming policeman pursuing him vainly.
It was during these times that Merchant slaved over a hot computer, developing the lock-knuckle and chronic eyesores that plague him to this day. In fact, if someone asks Mr. Merchant for an autograph (which happens at least twice monthly, usually at the Oxford Street branch of the Bank of England) he, despite his infirmities, will try vainly to grip the pen before choking back tears of shame—which, might I add, only further irritate the sores. Still, he soldiers bravely onwards.
I respect the inclination to give someone full credit for a project—after all, is there anything more magnificent than seeing one person’s dream realized fully? I have always maintained that what really made Citizen Kane an extraordinary movie, on top of the cinematic adventurism and finely wrought performances, was the fact that Orson Welles got to make exactly the movie he wanted to make, regardless of what anyone was going to think about it or how much it would cost. I know this is a simplification of a really quite drawn out struggle between Mr. Welles and the studio, but my point remains—he, for that movie, had a creative freedom that forever eluded him thereafter. Kane lives to this day as a monument and an inspiration. For what more can we hope in life than to see our dreams realized in their fullest, at least once? While I harbor no intention of trying to justify an industry that produces incredible amounts of commercially viable rubbish while denying resources to those who need them most desperately, I am a firm believer that we should all fight tooth and nail for our one shot at complete and total freedom, in any field we choose.
In this vein, I’d like to recommend Ricky Gervais’s recently released stand-up performance, “Animals,” available on DVD at all fine shops in the United Kingdom. It is magnificent, and fans of The Office would do well to procure it for their enjoyment. If you haven’t got a means of getting it, I’d gladly send you one in exchange for some of your books or something. I hope this has been enlightening or, failing that, readable.
Date: Tue, 20 Jan 2004
From: Matthew Simmons
Subject: My Baby Boy
I thought maybe you’d like the chords to “Hey Ya” by Andre3000 so you can play it on the acoustic guitar. Play it when you’re alone. Have a glass of wine first. Don’t be afraid to sing. Don’t be embarrassed. No one will hear you.
My friend Pharaoh taught them to me. That’s his name. I think. I met him on the Internet.
G C D Em
Date: Wed, 13 Jan 2004
From: Max Luker
Subject: Synonymically taking umbrage with Steinhardt, JFK, Bush
I take umbrage with the recent letter by David L. Steinhardt about his correspondence with Prof. Galbraith about the dealings of Robert McNamara, JFK, and the early-sixties Diem regime as understood through Errol Morris in his new documentary The Fog of War. Mr. Steinhardt refers to the “overreaction to poor airline security” known as the war on terrorism. Well, I did some right-clicking, and I found that maybe a better (superior, enhanced, healthier, well again, in good health) word than “poor” might be “pitiable.” Plus, JFK’s book about England was edging on boring there in the middle. But it had a good ending, right?
Date: Mon, 12 Jan 2004
From: : Stephanie Drury
Subject: Telepathic AIDS testing?
I saw a commercial that said, “One in three of Americans living with AIDS doesn’t even know they have it.” My question is: how do they know that?
You’re the best!
Date: Sun, 4 Jan 2004
From: William Williams III
Subject: YOUR NAME
I am writing you concerning your “GUIDELINES FOR WEB SUBMISSIONS,” specifically your use of my name, William Williams, as the example. Whether it seemed simple or innocuous, I assure you, I am neither. It may have been seen as a slightly comical usage to match the rest of your piece entitled “GUIDELINES FOR WEB SUBMISSIONS.” I must admit I am comical, even rather silly at times, and I too strive to be different in almost imperceptible ways. There was no need to stand out when my name did it for me. But three years ago, when a patch of skin on my forehead, my left eyebrow, and two-thirds of the eyelashes below turned white, it rather ruined my chances in a lineup. Still though, the name thing goes very deep. People who are looking straight into my eyes will completely ignore the colorless patches of skin and hair on my face and remark, “Your mama named you William, Williams?” To which I invariably reply, “The Third.” Then we both have a chuckle. And that’s just fine, except when I’m in a mood starting with the letter “A.” Then I flash them a small look that says, “You know that I know that you know you want to ask about my face.” But I’m not that mean, at least not often. But when you used email@example.com, that hurt. How you could have possibly known that my cousins used to call me “Willywill” when I was much too young to have a sense of humor is beyond me. My name has been abused more than people called Dick for Richard. People should address me as William or Will, and most do. However scores and scores have addressed me as Wheel, Wheely, Willie, Free Willy, Wilma, Wilbur, Wilberforce, Wilbur in the voice of Mr. Ed, and Bill. The last of which I refuse to acknowledge. I know the only justice for me and others with unusual names is to be remembered forever, while the masses with commonly bland names like Brian Johnson, Robert Smith, and Tom Jones will fade into obliv… wait, never mind.
William Hamilton Williams III
Date: Wed, 7 Jan 2004
From: David L. Steinhardt
Subject: Jamie Galbraith Explains That the Reason JFK Lost Control of the Vietnam War Is That Sometimes Shit Happens
Dear McSweeney’s: The Fog of War, Errol Morris’s documentary drawn from interviews with former Defense Secretary Robert Strange McNamara, has a moment that left me jaw-droppingly confounded: McNamara says that when President Kennedy learned that South Vietnamese Premier Ngo Dinh Diem had been killed in a coup—a coup the United States had encouraged—that Kennedy “blanched” and that McNamara had never seen the president so angry. McNamara then says, obliquely, that the event was especially disturbing because he knew the U.S. Government was “somewhat responsible” for the coup.
How could Kennedy have been surprised by this murder if his own people were behind it? Was it, like the Bay of Pigs, a bad plan that went even worse than expected? Was Kennedy supporting a dangerous action, yet foolishly naive about its implications?
To make this all even more complicated, Kennedy’s own assassination occurred just weeks later, leaving his vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, to clean up the mess.
These questions trouble me so much because when you listen to recently released tapes of JFK from the Oval Office, he is utterly engaged, asking his aides and military leaders tough questions that cut to the heart of issues, especially the ones these advisers are ignoring. Yet Kennedy’s blunder caused such chaos in South Vietnam that LBJ decided to escalate the war, which JFK had apparently planned to pull the United States out of.
If these are the types of mistakes made by an intelligent leader who was a serious, lifetime student of foreign affairs—his Harvard thesis was about England’s blunders that led to World War II—what hope do we have with a Texan who’d never even traveled abroad before he became president, and who now repeatedly suggests the United States should use “small nuclear weapons” in that after-the-fact overreaction to poor airline security known as the “war on terrorism”?
I searched the Web for answers to the JFK question and learned that Howard Jones, in his book Death of a Generation: How the Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War, writes that CIA director James McCone and his deputies also could not fathom how it was that Diem’s murder had not been anticipated. In a recent article, Jones adds, “America’s ensuing war in Vietnam graphically demonstrated the complexities of foreign intervention, suggesting that well-meaning nations can seldom determine the course of history. Indeed, the United States found itself victimized by its good intentions, leaving millions of people from America and Southeast Asia to pay the ultimate cost.”
Taking advantage of a slight acquaintance with Prof. James K. Galbraith of the University of Texas at Austin, I asked him for his take on the Diem matter. Not only has he written on the subject, most recently for Salon and in a major article for the Boston Review (available online), but his father, John Kenneth Galbraith, was one of JFK’s principal advisers on Vietnam at the time.
Dear Prof. Galbraith:
I’ve just returned from seeing The Fog of War and one question leaps out: McNamara says he’d never seen JFK so angry—he also says he "blanched"—as upon hearing the news that Diem was dead. McNamara then says he knew the U.S. Government was “somewhat responsible” for that coup.
You must be a very busy man, but I’m awfully curious how you would parse this data. I’m left grasping at straws: did the CIA get Diem without JFK’s direct authorization? What in the world did McNamara mean by “somewhat responsible”?
David L. Steinhardt
Many thanks for this message.
I’ve just come from Cambridge where I saw The Fog of War and also spent some time with Errol Morris.
I think the mystery here is not so very deep.
The Saigon coup was encouraged from Washington, though more aggressively by [presidential advisors Averell] Harriman, [Roger] Hilsman, and [Michael] Forrestal than by Kennedy himself.
It was not, however, closely controlled from Washington, and not by the CIA either.
You can hear, in the White House tapes around October 31 1963, discussion of troop movements near Saigon, but in the National Security Council they do not know whether those units are pro- or anti-Diem.
[Kind of like not knowing whether your football team is running toward their own or their opponents’ end zone! — DLS]
They certainly did not know, or anticipate, that Diem would be murdered. One can reproach them for not anticipating this, for not taking effective steps to prevent it—but you do have to ask, in honesty, what sort of steps they might have taken, short of betraying the coup itself (and therefore their own policy).
In a word they gambled, and it turned out badly.
Howard Jones is very good on the ins and outs of what happened in Saigon over those days, and I think you can take his account as fair and definitive.
Best & happy holidays,