Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2005
From: Shane Sinnott
Subject: A Question Answered
The other day I was telling my friend how I had started dating someone new, and wondered aloud how long it takes a person to put various small details together and conclude that someone’s life is a joke.
I myself had no idea, and neither did my friend, but my roommate overheard us from a faraway part of the house, perhaps aided by the thin hallway and wood floors.
He yelled, with authority: “Two months.”
Thought you should know,
P.S. He added the caveat that in the summer it takes a bit longer.
Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2005
From: Jonathan Lewallen
Subject: Season’s greetings!
For those of you used to receiving our Christmas cards and who may be a little confused, we’d like you to welcome our new neighbors, the Schwartzfelds. They joined our little community in May and are very nice. And don’t worry, we haven’t told them anything bad about our family (except for you, Uncle Rob—just kidding!).
It’s been a year of losses and gains. After the sad passing of our beloved cat, Sprinkles, the Lewallen family welcomed a new member, Charcoal. She’s mostly black with gray paws. And despite what you might think, she’s been nothing but good luck—so far!
Little Ryan has been busy with hockey practice, and his coach thinks that next year he might be the team’s starting center! We’re so proud of him. He’s worked so hard. The twins have begun the college search, and so far it has been a mixed bag. They want to stay together, but that might not be possible. Maybe if Sarah can keep her grades up they’ll get lucky. All we can do is try to find the best situations for both of them. We want so much to see them succeed, and if that means having them attend school halfway across the country, then so be it!
With all of these extracurricular activities, it’s been hard finding time to get to the mall to do our Christmas—sorry, Schwartzfelds!—holiday shopping. And those crowds! Joyce says she’s going to do all of our shopping on the Internet next year. Of course, she said that last year, too! Sometimes I think we spoil our kids, but we do love them. We’ve been so busy this holiday season that Joyce hasn’t even had time to bake her famous gingerbread-raisin cookies. Just kidding! They’re delicious.
We hope that you have all had as good a year as our family, and in this season of joy and thanksgiving we ask that your thoughts and prayers be with our soldiers overseas.
All the best,
Date: Thu, 8 Dec 2005
From: David Grossman
Subject: Have Reached A Certain Point in My Life.
There comes a point in every man’s life where the siren call of Lou Diamond Phillips reaches his ear.* His stoic face and manly attitude are sheer brilliance. The other night, I had a choice: I could either work on a 10-page paper (of which I have about half a page) concerning the region of Russia known as Kabardino-Balkaria, or I could watch The Triangle, a Sci-Fi Channel miniseries about the Bermuda Triangle. It’s directed by Bryan Singer of X-Men and Usual Suspects fame, which I think was a very good call. (I wonder how they got him. Probably lots of money. Or maybe it’s the fact that Singer lost his entire family to the Bermuda Triangle.**) I was about to turn it off, until I saw the opening credits. In the film was—you guessed it—Lou Diamond Phillips. He plays Meeno, a former Greenpeace activist who, after a mysterious incident in the Triangle, is a changed man. And not for the better. Certain parts of his memory are gone. Vital parts, like the very existence of his second son. Can you imagine how frightened his wife was?
Unfortunately, the whole film doesn’t revolve around Meeno. It focuses on a group of people from different walks of life (a star/hunky meteorology professor, an oceanic expert, a skeptical news reporter, a psychic, etc.) who are brought together by an admittedly eccentric billionaire who wants to know “Why are all my ships missing?” Part 2 is tonight, I believe.
Just wanted to let you in on the momentous moment in my life. Lou has called, and I have answered.
- I wonder what this experience was like before February 17, 1962, when Lou was born. I also wonder what this moment was like for Lou himself. One can only imagine.
- This is a lie.
Date: Wed, 30 Nov 2005
From: Matt Cummings
Subject: Missed having you at the fair.
You really should have come with us to the Cornish Fair this summer, but I understand why you couldn’t make it. It was pretty fun. Owen had his first funnel cake, was dazzled by the lights and rides and animals, but he’s still a little young to really appreciate it fully. Salinger was there, which was one of the highlights for me. I almost didn’t recognize him at first with his arm shoulder-deep in the vagina of a heifer during an artificial-insemination demonstration. He was picked out of the crowd at random. He grumbled all the way up to the front, but you could tell he kind of liked the attention. The strangest thing, though, was that it seemed like he may have done it before. He was just that good at it, requiring only the briefest instructions from the farmer who was (1) oblivious (or at least indifferent) of the fact that one of the country’s literary treasures was about to fist his bovine, and (2) a little disturbed when Salinger refused to wear a glove. He just rolled up his sleeve, waiving the glove away, and said, “Either I go in natural, or I don’t go in at all. Now, where’s the lube?” I have yet to hear whether or not the insemination was a success, but, really, that’s hardly the point. I think all of us learned something special that day. I know I did.
Again, sorry you couldn’t make it. Let us know when you’ll be in New Hampshire in the near future and we’ll think of something else to do.
Date: Tue, 29 Nov 2005
From: Douglas Scofield
Subject: the lath and plaster wall in my house
I’ve completed three-fourths of the work necessary to demolish a wall in my house separating two smallish bedrooms. I throw away the plaster and use the lath to make a toasty fire in my parlor.
Good day to you, sirs.
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005
From: Marc Nesbitt
Subject: Correction InRe: Steak Fantastic pizza review
I’m not here to piss on anyone’s parade, but it’s the Steak FANATIC Pizza from Domino’s.
I’m also not a Domino’s sales rep, but for the love of Papa John, get the name right.
A) The commercials for this godforsaken grease trap are on 700 times a weekend, easy. Not only do they say the name of the pizza 10 times a commercial, they spell it out for you as well, usually during the ubiquitous “Raise the Slice and Watch the Cheese Elongate” shot.
B) This woman said herself she’s on the Domino’s e-mail list, which, while inexcusable, means she had to have seen the name of the pizza, properly named, in the e-mail that interested her in the first place.
I shouldn’t be surprised at this, since it came from someone who likes Domino’s Ranch sauce. Even the guy who invented Ranch sauce hates what they’ve done to it.
Point being, if we don’t put a stop to this type of gross malapropism, then the next thing you know, some guy’s telling you Quentin Churchill used to be the Prime Minister of New England, and they loved the part in Scarface when Al Pashmina said, “Say hello to my little buddy.”
Date: Thu, 20 Oct 2005
From: Megan Neuringer
Subject: Kevin Dolgin
Uh-oh. What have you done? I’ve heard about love at first sight, but love at first read? Perhaps it’s not an unusual condition (in fact, I’m sure I felt this over certain writers at other times, but it hasn’t happened for me in a long time, no, not like this), but after reading Kevin Dolgin’s piece on his visit to the Dalmore Distillery, I literally feel love-struck for him! I am no alcoholic (and I say this not as a lady who doth protest too much—really, I am no alcoholic!), but the physical act of reading Mr. Dolgin’s whiskey descriptions made me feel dizzy and buzzed: a.k.a. drunk. And in this state, I indulged in something I find particularly pervy: I Googled Mr. Dolgin to find out more about him. I know—totally creepy, right? And I swear: I’m not a creep (there goes that protesting lady again). Wait: is it creepy to be this self-conscious? Ah, one is vulnerable when one is in love! I mean, I am vulnerable when I am in love!
I know you might be skeptical. But what if it’s real? Here’s why it could be …
When I was 20 years old I went with my older brother on a trip to Scotland. We heard seals bark on the Isle of Skye, we ate vegetarian haggis and deep-fried Snickers bars in Edinburgh, we saw giant hairy coos urinate in the sunlight, but my favorite memory is of our visit to the Edrouder Distillery. What 20-year-old girl enjoys not only drinking single-malt whiskey but also learning all about it? This one did. And the smell! The scent of single-malt whiskey fermenting and cooking is so delicious that I want to put on a fancy dress and high heels and then splash it behind my ears and on my wrists. And I really am not the perfume type.
So what I’m getting at is that Mr. Dolgin brought me back to that day in the Edrouder Distillery, only it was a different day, a better day, and how can you improve on someone’s memory? I don’t know, but Mr. Dolgin did. I don’t want to be forward, but may I start calling him Kevin now? That’s his name, too. So Kevin just hit me right between the ribs, and honestly: it felt good.
Kevin. I never thought I’d be in love with someone named Kevin, let alone someone 15 years my senior. (I found out Kevin’s age in the aforementioned unfortunate Googling. I also found out that he’s pretty much a Paris local, and I live in the American Paris: a.k.a. New York City.)
I guess what I’m doing in this letter, McSweeney’s, is asking Kevin Dolgin out! I would really like to learn how to do that water trick he mentioned, and I’m a better student in person. I will buy the whiskey, and I’ll even spring for the good stuff.
Sincerely (and utterly embarrassed),
Date: Mon, 17 Oct 2005
From: Ajah Alvarez
To: Forgive me
Usually I try not to be too critical. I make it a point not to write hate mail or blast people on blogs or chat rooms just to impose my superior opinion. But please, McSweeney’s staff, who is hacking into your Recommends list? It used to be authentic. It used to be real. I’d find rare gems, real recommendations that I loved but never had the courage to pay forward to someone else. Recommendations like The sound a large book makes when snapped shut and Ice Fishing are classic. Who ice-fishes? Nobody! Which is why it makes such a good recommendation! I’ll try it now. But I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter? I can’t believe you list that. Everyone has tried that stuff. Hence its popularity. It’s not a diamond in the rough. It’s not flying under the radar. Everyone has tried it. It has no underground fan base or unexpected ingredient that makes it unique. It is internationally recognized as a good substitute for butter! Which is exactly why it is not in need of a Recommendation.
Your game is slipping. Your aim should be to highlight the overlooked, the taken for granted. The Recommendation should solicit a reminiscent “Oh yeah, I forgot about that” or a “Mmm … tacos.” Every idiot in California watches Laguna Beach, myself included (step No.1, admitting it). It is in no way overlooked or underappreciated. TV spots for Jarhead? What the hell, man?! I hate Jake Gyllenhaal and the oh-so-ambiguous you-think-you’re-so-much-better-than-me guess-what-you’re-NOT Sarsgaard. It’s getting plenty of MTV, Young Hot Hollywood exposure as it is. I hope someone’s paying you for your ass-kissing. Please, wait. I didn’t mean that. I don’t mean to hurt you. I’m sorry. Come back. You got to understand that I love you guys. I really do. But my love is waning with each step you take wading into mainstream. Refrigerating Fresh Grapes I give you. That is a true Recommendation. Cold, crisp grapes bursting in your mouth are great. And Roman Holiday, that’s also a headliner. But Punching It In? I feel sorry for whoever thinks that is exciting enough to list. I can only picture a bunch of poseur nerds at McDonald’s eating BigMacs with their pinkies up, cocking their head like parrots, and “Punching It In” cheering, “Mickey D’s! All right!”
Holding a Soft Baby Chick. What’s with the patronization! Everyone wants to hold a soft baby chick! The desire is innate. It’s like listing Riding a Unicorn. Everyone wants to do it but only a selected few have access, primarily princesses. Please keep in mind that the majority of your readers are from metropolitan areas where baby chicks are scarce and usually in marshmallow form and those just don’t feel the same and they melt.
Root Beer is great, so are Binder Clips. But I’ll be damned if I eat Wolfgang Puck Canned Soup while listening to Nina Simone and telling my sister to hit up Triple Dub.McSweeneys.net. And I’m probably not going to read The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov solely because of your description of it being a “tour de force.” Everything is a “tour de force” nowadays. Please have your writers stop trying to write like writers and write like real writers. Day-yum, Gina!
OK, I think I’m done.
Editor’s Note: Ajah later offered an addendum.
I just found out that Nina Simone and Nina Sky are two separate entities, the former of which is cool and the latter of which is not. I would like to retract any statement made on October 17, 2005, that might have reflected negatively on whichever Nina is not a reggaeton bumping bordiqua duo.
Date: Tue, 4 Oct 2005
From: adam cloe
Subject: Pimp Juice
One day, on one of my frequent nostalgia trips to a place I can only call Nellyville, while at the same time perusing the McSweeney’s New Foods section, I found myself serenaded by the dulcet tones of “Pimp Juice,” leading me to a startling revelation: Pimp Juice, if at all possible, should be canned, labeled, and sold in stores. I wanted to submit a New Food review on it but I suspected that your editorial process probably favored foods that actually existed rather than ones I made up in my head. Little did I know that Nelly was already at work making my fantasies into reality. What is it they say about great minds?
For the uninitiated, Nelly goes to the trouble of defining, midsong, what Pimp Juice actually is:
Uh, hear me out now
Now your pimp juice is anything attract the opposite sex
It could be money, fame, or straight intellect
It don’t MATTER! Bitches got the pimp juice too
Come to think about it dirty, they got more than we do
After lamenting about how juice is frequently used in vain and expounding once again on how the girl in question seems to have a strong desire for foot-rug contact, the song ends with a final, gleeful chorus. Where the purple nerd flavor comes in, I don’t know.
But I could not be more excited. This is easily my favorite rap-referencing energy drink, and should be yours too.
Let it loose,
Date: Tue, 04 Oct 2005
From: Snuggelpuss Lovepuppy
Subject: I want you to be honest …
Do you think I’m pretty?
No, really, I know I’ve gained a couple of kilograms over the past few months. Does it show?
Please be honest,
Date: Mon, 03 Oct 2005
Subject: In defense of the Killers (no, not that sort of killers, those I’m not defending)
You and I are on the same page. I’ve been singing the praises of the lyric “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier” for months (no, not that sort of singing—if you heard how off-key I am you’d understand why I don’t do that).
Perhaps this make us childlike and easily amused, but that means we’re the sort who will ultimately live a happier life. Right?
Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2005
From: Daune Luper
Subject: Shanghai KitchenÂ—60 Vegetable Spring Rolls with Shiitake Mushrooms
I am trying to find out where I can buy these. I live in Houston, Texas. My sweet “Mama Jean” was babysitting at someone’s home and came across these in her freezer. She took the wrapper and asked if I could find them on the Internet. When I tried pulling them up, I got 14,000 different places to look. I found an exact match on your website. I am going to keep looking; however, if you know, could you please respond to my e-mail? Thanks from a person longing for some really good spring rolls.
Date: Tue, 27 Sep 2005
From: Matthew Daughtrey
Subject: Natural Shaving
Date: Tue, 27 Sep 2005
From: Rugg, Charlton A
Subject: Shaving advice
I must concur with Mr. Ufford and respectfully disagree with both you and Francis C. I have now tried your shaving-sans-shaving-cream recommendation. (It took me a while to remember to try it because my morning ritual is, well, sort of a ritual.) While it was not the unmitigated disaster that I expected, I cut myself thrice and got a bad shave. I note that this technique is only possible as a result of modern shaving technology, with its lubricating strips and its microfins, and I certainly would not want to try it with a single-blade disposable.
If I may, I’d like to make another recommendation, which will result in both a better shave and the eventual crippling of Big Shaving Cream. Shaving brushes. This sounds quaint to many now, but I have been using one for many years and wholeheartedly endorse them. You can use them with either a special shaving cream (not made by BSC) or a regular bar of soap. The swirling action of the brush massages the face and lifts the whiskers, leading to a closer shave. Plus, it’s cool! Look for badger bristles; they’re the best.
And to Mr. Ufford I say, the trick to not fogging the mirror is to leave the window and door in the bathroom open while you shower.
Charlton A. Rugg
Date: Tue, 27 Sep 2005
From: Chris Kratsch
Subject: In response to Matt Ufford
Though for several years I have maintained a closely trimmed beard, and so do not suffer from the trials and tribulations of daily razor-shaving, I do recall my solution for the post-shower mirror fog. Blow dryer. Point a blow dryer, on its highest heat and speed settings, at the place in the mirror where you expect to see your face. The fog will clear up in a few moments, during which you can stand uncomfortably still in the presence of your own nudity.
Secondarily, your recommendation of Sharps’ Kid Glove Shave Gel reminds me of a general soap-product complaint that has been brewing within me for some time.
Used to be, shaving cream was foamy and lotion soap was gel-ly. Now, it’s all the rage for shaving cream to be in gel form, and lotion soap to be delivered in foam by a prefoaming pump. Have scientists recently determined that facial skin prefers gel, while nonfacial prefers foam? If this is the case, it disturbs me that the human race has had to suffer through inefficient skin-soaping technology for so many years. Couldn’t this have been remedied earlier? Please write your senators and demand that there be an investigation into the failure—nay, gross negligence and incompetence—of soap science regarding this matter.
Patiently awaiting the enormous fork,
Date: Tue, 27 Sep 2005
From: Ray Olson
Subject: Review of Ed James’s review of your recommendation
While I agree with the overall thesis of Ed James’s letter of September 21, 2005—insofar as the lyric he quoted you quoting is not a good one—I am dismayed by some inaccurate word choice on his part.
Chief among my complaints is his use of the word “alliteration.” In modern usage, “alliteration” describes the repetition of a consonant sound. As the “soul/soldier” lyric quite pointedly repeats an entire syllable, “alliteration” does not sufficiently describe what the lyric does, technically.
While Mr. James does well to criticize a positive review of something bad, his technical inaccuracy somewhat compromises his critical credibility. If Mr. James wanted to make his point thoroughly, he might have referred to the “soul/soldier” lyric as a “pun.” The lyric makes a play on words with similar sounds, which is a type of pun. Unfortunately, had Mr. James complained of a “meaningless and contrived pun,” he still would have come far short of an effective analysis. “Contrived” is a word that is bandied about all too often, these days, by critical types. Rather than adding any actual meaning, the term seems to be used primarily to establish a very general tone of highfalutin criticism. When something is properly called “contrived,” the term is understood to mean something like “obviously intentional,” perhaps with the understanding that it is meant to appear not so. A pun, generally, likes to call attention to itself; if nobody notices a pun, it doesn’t exist. And behind every pun is the person who wrote it, who wants you to notice. Therefore, an air of contrivance seems unlikely in the context of punning.
Last, the alleged “alliteration” is further modified by the word “meaningless,” another word whose actual meaning is often subverted in order to express a vague sense of disapproval. Does Mr. James actually mean to imply that the lyric’s wordplay has no meaning at all, or does he merely mean he does not care for its meaning? I suspect the latter. Had his own usage been more precise elsewhere, I might have given Mr. James the benefit of the doubt for having performed a bit of wordplay of his own, by self-consciously using “meaningless” in a such a manner as to render itself, in fact, meaningless. However, in light of the words that surround it, I am forced to conclude that the word’s placement here amounts to another example of carelessness; in other words, it strikes me as rather unfortunately uncontrived.
I hope I don’t seem excessively critical. It is only because what Mr. James does is vitally important that I would hold him to the highest standards of clarity and effectiveness. Mr. James, you are responding to a literary quarterly’s website’s recommendation of a very popular song; if we cannot be precise in such circumstances, what can we expect of our culture?
Co-Chair, Institute of Fancy E-mails (a San Diego think tank)
Date: Tue, 27 Sep 2005
From: Mitch Norgan
Subject: Laying your mind to rest
I know how worried you are about my future, and I am writing to let you know that everything is going to be OK. As proof, accept these events:
1. My neglected beta fish has been adopted by my roommate and now has both food and fresh water to look forward to.
2. I bought the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds and it’s the greatest thing I’ve heard in years.
3. My college has lowered my scholarship requirements from a cumulative GPA of 3.5 and 40 hours of community service annually to a cumulative GPA of 3.25 and 0 hours of community service annually.
Here’s hoping your recent outbreak of gray hairs and worry lines subsides.
P.S. I can’t resist adding postscripts to personal correspondences, regardless of circumstances.
Date: Wed, 21 Sep 2005
From: Ed James
Subject: Really Wretched Recommendation: Killers’ Alliteration
To The Faceless Purveyors of Questionable Taste,
“I’ve got soul / but I’m not a soldier.” An incredible lyric.
With regards to the recommendation of The Killers’ song “All These Things That I’ve Done,” I would like to express my disbelief. “Incredible” is an apt description of the aforementioned lyric, if only to describe newfound depths of banality. The meaningless and contrived alliteration therein seems to be the most unlikely origin of the “happy household” that spawned this recommendation.
It’s enough to cause me minor heart palpatations, which prevents me from operating heavy machinery. To ease my concern, I tried imagining the state of mind of a previous correspondent, the underage Italian from Milan, but kept wondering whether he’ll be selling his old scooter. I might be needing it.
Date: Tue, 20 Sep 2005
From: Francis Chmelir
Subject: McSweeney Recommends
I believe that in these fickle times, the word “genius” gets thrown around so liberally, the word has almost lost all meaning. This seems to be particularly rampant in music reviews and perhaps Dick Enberg’s U.S. Open tennis coverage. However, the recent recommendation to shave after a hot shower, sans shaving cream, is true genius. It is so simple yet its results will amaze.
Fellas, do yourself a favor and give it a tryÂ—if only to take down “Big Shaving Cream,” which in my opinion needs to be taken down a notch. For example, I like to imagine, with every shave, that I am slowly taking down the Gillette company. By this logic I am also undermining a certain NFL team that plays in Gillette Stadium and who has recently run through the league like the Nazis through the Maginot Line … but that’s just me.
This natural shaving technique will catch on, and then, look out. I started shaving this way over the weekend and the Patriots lost to Carolina. Coincidence or a very powerful recommendation?
Date: Mon, 19 Sep 2005
From: Matt Ufford
Subject: The wrongness of your shaving advice
Allow me to preface this letter by saying that yes, I’m disappointed in my own passion about this matter. Certainly I could have found a subject of greater gravity in The New Republic, but I’ve never read The New Republic, andÂ—let’s face itÂ—I care more about shaving habits than politics. (Wait, The New Republic is about politics, right? I honestly don’t know.)
Anyway, regarding your recommendation of shaving sans shaving cream immediately upon exiting the shower, I had the following thoughts:
1. Although shaving post-shower is a good idea, is no one else’s mirror totally fogged up for several minutes following a shower? Can I get a recommendation for what to do while I wait for my mirror to clear up? Nothing snarky, pleaseÂ—I’m being sincere.
2. Who says I have to put a towel on my waist? What does that have to do with the quality of my shave? Does McSweeney’s not want my genitals to touch the sink, or is it bothered by the notion of its readers shaving nude?
3. People (and by “people” I mean “men and steroid-using women”), do NOT shave without some sort of gel/cream/lubricant on your face unless you enjoy facial bleeding and/or toilet-papering your face. The best product out there is Sharps’ Kid Glove Shave Gel, which goes on clear for that McSweeney’s-approved whiskers-disclosure and also has a nice tingly feel, like your face is suddenly six years old and has just won its first spelling bee.
4. No, I’m totally straight, but flattered, thank you.
Date: Mon, 12 Sep 2005
Subject: Re: David Patrick Kelly
I am a little confused concerning your recommendation of David Patrick Kelly. Are you in fact recommending his performance in The Warriors? Or are you recommending him in The Longest Yard? For the sake of your dignity, I do hope it is the former.
I am also surprised that you did not recognize him and his outstanding performance in other blockbusters such as Commando, starring the ever-formidable current governor of your home state, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Or perhaps his role in 48 Hours. Eerily enough, his character in that film was named Luther as well, and bore a similar resemblance in scumminess to Luther in The Warriors. And you can’t tell me you missed him in The Crow as T-Bird; a stellar performance.
Anyhoo, just thought your recommendation of David Patrick Kelly should be a little more … how you say it … robust?
Date: Mon, 12 Sep 2005
From: Washam, Alexis
Subject: David Patrick Kelly/McSweeney’s Recommends
I would also like to remind readers of David Patrick Kelly’s memorable performance as Jerry Horne, brother and partner in crime of Benjamin Horne, owner of the Great Northern Hotel, in Twin Peaks. The scene in which he returns from a European jaunt and rhapsodizes to his brother about the deliciousness of a Brie sandwich is not to be missed. Neither is the sandwich.
Date: Wed, 24 Aug 2005
Subject: State of mind
Dear McSweeney’s artists,
I’m writing this letter because I would like that you try to imagine my state of mind.
Don’t worry, I can help you.
Think about a seventeen years boy (in Italy, where I live, we are overage at eighteen) that is looking at his group of friends going somewhere with their new cars and their new girlfriends.
He could think to follow them with his old scooter, but surely, it could be the same; so he will decide to go home and maybe he will watch an old movie.
Now, if you think how Stanislavsky said, you can easily imagine my state of mind.
GROUP OF FRIENDS: McSweeney’s artists
OLD SCOOTER: My old novel
NEW CARS: Your new novels
MY LONELINESS: Nothing where publish any novel in Italy
NEW GIRLFRIENDS: McSweeney’s issues
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2005
From: Close, Michael
Subject: Canned salmon
To the readers of, and, more specifically, to any frequent heeders of, McSweeney’s Reviews of New Food:
I wholly reject Ellia Bisker’s positive review of canned salmon. Unless you find yourself obsessively pining for your “preciousss” as you sulk in your dark cave dwelling, or are the type of person who would feel no squeamishness while inspecting warm roadkill with your fingers, avoid this nastiness. I opened a can not six months ago to a blast of stench, and looked in to see a macabre fish mashÂ—spine, scale, fin, bone, and this unrecognizable white gunk (guts?) polluting the pale, opaque, and utterly discombobulated pink flesh. It looked as if some grizzly bear, maddened by hatred, had abused the corpse of the boniest salmon he could snatch from the stream and canned the results. In the hierarchy of fish, fresh tuna reigns supreme, while canned tuna is a notch above cat food. The relationship to salmon is parallel. Fresh salmon takes perhaps sixth or seventh place. I’d say canned salmon is best suited for massive agribusiness applications. To suggest that one might eat this abomination cold, straight from the can, is pure, cruel absurdity. I wouldn’t stock it in my nuclear-holocaust-survival shelter.
Consider yourselves warned,
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2005
From: Grant Vaught
Subject: dryer noise
Good morning, McSweeney’s folk,
I just read the recommendation about having your own washer and dryer, and I found it nice to have someone else think of the dryer background noise as comforting. Personally, I like it when it’s going and I’m lying in bed getting ready to go to sleep. It works almost as well as a good storm.
(Editor’s Note: Instead of our usual reverse chronological order, the following three letters are displayed in chronological order so that they may be enjoyed in their proper sequence.)
Hello, esteemed editors,
In McSweeney’s Quarterly Issue No. 16 I found a strange incongruity in the story titled “The Doctor of Mental Health,” by Miranda Mellis.
First let me say that I have the utmost faith in the writers and editors of McSweeney’s. Once, sometime not long ago, I even subscribed, until money ran out like so much single-ply toilet paper that never lasts as long as you would have liked it to. In fact, I may or may not love you allÂ—this is not to say I am in love with you all, because that could end only in polygamy and I am from Massachusetts and not Utah, although, sadly, we do have a Mormon governor, somehow or other. I digress.
At the opening of Ms. Mellis’s story, the narrator states that he has no pets, and this is a cause of worry for his sole friend, that there is no “pizzazz” in the narrator’s life. I commend you for the use of this word, by the by. On the final page, though, there is a cat, a cat to which the narrator is emotionally attached, and which may or may not be his reincarnated mother.
From whence yonder cat? Is it the fabled Gato sans Nombre of Guatemalan legend that is actually an evil spirit taking residence in a man’s home and cursing his lineage meanwhile? Was the narrator lonely, and bought the cat, or maybe saved it from the MSPCA? Is the cat considered family and therefore unlisted as a “pet” per se? Is the narrator God, and created a cat with emotional attachment ex nihilo, and are you then saying that God needs therapy? I agree then.
But simply it perplexes me, and as I feel myself a not uneducated sort, I desire, oh you Aristotelians, to know.
Thankfully and with much pizzazz,
Daniel E. Pritchard
Dear Mr. Pritchard,
Time passes, and people get rid of cats? If you love something, set it free. If it never explains why it disappears, there is no God? Esp. when said cats appear to be reincarnated mothers. Elision? Withholding? A ravish in the warp and woof? Yes, a continuity problem exists in that I did not explicitly state how and when said cat was gotten rid of: through that void of information, friend, throw your faith in hermetically sealed narrative, and see if it comes back to you. If it doesn’t, it was never yours.
Sorry if my e-mail was ornery and clipped, but I was living in New York that week. It was 106 degrees. My dog was angry and wouldn’t get out of the bathtub. Anyway, I wrote a sequel and had me some fun doing it; perhaps this will help provide some clarity.
Sequel to “The Doctor of Mental Health,”
McSweeney’s Issue No. 16
By Miranda Mellis
At my former residence there was a party, a block party, and I was, presumably, ipso facto, invited, as I lived on the block. I went to the block party, which is to say, I descended my stairs and went to the stoop. This was my first block party. One of the neighbors, Larry, with whom I was acquainted, was there, along with his sister, a thick woman endowed with a horse mane of dry hair and, despite three children, the manners of a delinquent. Today she wore chartreuse plastic sandals and a purple barrette with a sort of flowery piece of cloth hanging from it. The heels of her feet hung over the ledge of her sandals. She had a marijuana leaf tattooed on her sternum. On her back a cadre of muscular barbarians stood menacingly about a girl, prone on a slab. An elf seemed to flee the scene. Her low-cut T-shirt read “Sacred Vine” and pictured a sinuous naked woman entwined in a cluster of grapes.
The three of us watched the party. The revelers hoisted babies, fried “weenahs,” drank and drank, dropped cigarette ashes into plants, danced “mano a mano,” and hurtled raucous bellows and cries with enviable morale. I was anomalous, sans tattoos and offspring. A group of children were playing tag. I must have been staring, because Larry’s sister said, “Don’t ya wish ya had kids?” Larry’s immediate Pah! Pah!Â—and then again, much louder, PAH! PAH!Â—did not offend. For Larry was an unhappy man, an addict of methamphetamines. His face was a twitching mask of ressentiment. One could not take him personally: he suffered the unnatural erosion of his person, by way of his flesh. His sister, however, took offense on my behalf. “Whyncha go eat glass, Larry,” she croaked, in her voice like an ancient raider. “Whyncha go streakin’ in a knife stawm.” She patted my shoulder. “Ya know,” she went on, “youse could at least have an animal friend, a familiah, like a cat.” Larry, himself a family man, often suggested I get a pet, but no one had ever suggested I get a familiar.
It occurred to me as I considered the noun familiar that my lifelong non-engagement with the familial sprang from my incapacity to become familiar. I was not without sorrow, not without loneliness as a result. And yet, over time, I had become habituated to the lunar angst of solitude and avoided even the occasional bout of “mano a mano.” (It must be said that such boutsÂ—traumatically, mysteriously refulgent though they may beÂ—are not at all required.) In any event, I wondered if this notion of the familiar might be some kind of key into understanding, and perhaps even someday managing to become part of a “family life.”
Soon after the block party, Larry’s sister demanded he take over the care of her family’s cat; her youngest had developed a disabling allergy to dander. He told me as much one afternoon, just as I happened to be en route to the main branch of the library to seek knowledge of the familiar. Larry’s face was purple (he is choleric) at being thus importuned by his sister, but he feared her too much to say no. Thinking to further my understanding of the familiar in praxis, I volunteered right then and there to take the cat temporarily, until a long-term solution could be found. Larry suddenly became unfamiliarÂ—for he smiledÂ—and I witnessed, all at once, his gristly teeth. Discomfited by his change of aspect and his craven, wheedling cries of appreciation, I quickly made an arrangement to receive the cat, Grainy FieldÂ—so named by Larry’s niece Julie, for her wheat-colored, variegated coatÂ—that very evening. Instead of taking out books on the habits of witches, I took out books on the care of pets. Larry arrived on my doorstep that nightÂ—three hours past the appointed timeÂ—with various paraphernalia: a litter box, a bag of generic cat food (which I threw away; I would cook for Grainy), and two small tin bowls.
The first day was spent observing the cat. Although old and, in reality, mild, Grainy was thin and somewhat ravaged. She hissed to communicate her needs, and arched her back in the classic “Halloween cat” fashion. On our first walk together, people responded variously to her. To be sure, she was not used to wearing a harness and writhed and leapt about. But I would not have her running loose in the streets. On more than one occasion, a person crossed the street to avoid us.
Grainy ended up staying with me for the rest of her life and grew plump and contemplative. We became very intimate, sleeping together every night, eating meals together. Indeed, she became my familiar. We were living in a very nice location, across from a girls’ school, the year she died.
I had recently undergone counseling, on my friend Carolette’s advice. The therapist had, toward the end of my tenure with her, indicated repeatedly her feeling that Grainy was the reincarnation of my mother. This intimation, unlikely as it seemedÂ—I had become vulnerable, in the course of therapy, to suggestionÂ—created tension between Grainy and myself. In what was to be our third-to-last session, my therapist brought in a sheet of paper on which she claimed to have “trance-channeled” a message from my mother, who had, she said, possessed Grainy’s body in order to give me the following message:not unwownerse ownert owners not that OWNER wownerll hownerde or do hownerde the truth of how OWNER feel ownert owners that OWNER strategownerze measure contaownern because not for some pay-off cash cow because ownern the moment OWNER am tryownerng to learn what owners don’t go travelownerng the world wownerth you mownerserowneres creatownerng pathways of sufferownerng just look at how you’ve decownerded rattle sorrow owners shameful when ownert owners not shameful at all ownert owners sownermply. What ownert owners; could be a kownernd of evownerdence or understpownerstonownerng there, of condownertowneronownerng of how one owners both afraownerd of relyownerng pownerston also too closely watchownerng for sownergns of unrelownerabownerlownerty. OWNERts not faownerr to say that OWNER’m because you still have a mother-owners that really ownert? arealOWNER wownerll not be replacownerng that relatowneronshownerp. Pownerston there owners no dad ownern your pownercture pownerston no mom ownern mownerneowner would lownerke to stop judgownerng my dad pownerston sayownerng that he owners lackownerng that he owners so much less what he should be cash cow he just owners what he owners, he owners my parent, you have so much you have everythownerng. OWNER have so much OWNER have everythownerng. OWNER want to stop tryownerng to show pownerston hownerde myself at the same hush-to present RATTLE pownerston hownerde THAT-to present OWNER pownerston hownerde VULNERABOWNERLOWNERTY. Angels all around me OWNER guess protectownerng me pownerston sayownerng OWNER have the knowledge that OWNER need owners my son, everythownerng owners ownermpermanent. Why hascat become so ownermportant to you. She has become. She occupowneres a lot of space ownern me. OWNER kownernd of need her to take up a lownerttle bownert less space. IOWNER.
Not long after, this therapist disappeared, only to reappear later as a meat saleswoman.
In the interim, Grainy developed a blood clot and shucked off this mortal coil.
Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2005
From: David Simison
Subject: SoyNut Butter
Please note that Leah Strauss does nothing to warn potential consumers about the actual effects of SoyNut Butter. While it looks like peanut butter, and smells like a mix of peanut butter and dried lentils, it should, under no circumstances, be consumed. It tastes like guano, has the gritty consistency of bad hummus, and coats the inside of your mouth in a putrid goo that instantly causes you to gag and hack it up into the sink.
Dave Simison (who found the shit in his mom’s pantry and ate a spoonful after mistaking it for its delicious, more well-respected cousin, Jif)
Date: Thu, 21 Jul 2005
From: Matt Cole
Subject: Sean Wilsey’s Vacation in Maine
Regarding Sean Wilsey’s ambivalence toward items made by inmates in the Maine State Penitentiary system, I’d like to offer the following brief personal anecdote.
My folks scored me a cutting board with the same legend stamped on it, only no identifying number. Let me state that they’re from Gardiner, Maine, and know how to get there from here without asking, if you catch my drift.
At first my response was like Mr. Wilsey’s: I was leery of using it, a little put off. I’d like to say that its eventual inclusion into the rotation with my other functional cutting boards was motivated by altruism, or the recognition of some broader truth about the value of work and our criminal justice system. The fact is that I needed a good cutting board, and the others were all dirty or in use.
It’s a fine cutting board. It’s rectangular, about 12 inches by 6 inches, with a cut-out handle at one end. The side with the stamped “certificate of origin” sports four hemispherical rubber feet. These are key: they perform the traditional anti-slip role, and warn the less observant not to use that side. I have kind of a thing about that, so that’s a bonus.
Sometimes a helpful guest, washing, stowing, or preparing to employ this cutting board, will remark upon the little printed legend. I am free to employ a number of responses, from a straightforward explanation to a simple, mysterious shrug and raising of the eyebrows, as I turn away to my next culinary task.
Date: Wed, 6 Jul 2005
From: Michael Jansen
Subject: The urban opera
Have you seen the five-part saga that is “Trapped in the Closet” by R. Kelly? It’s, like, totally the best thing ever. Who knew that a gun, a gay pastor, and a cigarette-smoking cop could come together in such a dramatic fashion?
Despite his predisposition towards peein’ on teenagers, the man knows how to hype an album. Perhaps this sort of lesson can be passed on to other wayward celebrities: come up with the most melodramatic storyline in the world and people will forget all about your statutory rape charges. Think of what this could do for Roman Polanski!
Date: Tue, 5 Jul 2005
From: Tony Antoniadis
Don’t want to rain on the parade, but as far as I know, you needn’t type in www, mention www, or verbally abbreviate www in order to access a Web page. You just type in the address and move on with more important things in your lifeÂ—as follows: I devoured four pounds of cotton candy in Coney Island yesterday, then regressed to a form of iridescent molecular energy. Because life is for the living.
How do I get down from here,
Date: Fri, 1 Jul 2005
From: Bryan Stroud
Subject: The relative ease of “triple dub.”
Almost, but not quite. The proper way to pronounce WWW is, in fact, “tri dub.” My friend Nick, who lives in an apartment complex with its own bowling alley, was the first to use it in a sentence: “I can look up the number of any restaurant in the country while driving from Akron to Youngstown because my new T-Mobile gets the tri dub.” I wept a little bit the first time I heard him say that because I realized how much of my life I had wasted on unnecessary syllables. But then we prank-called a Taco Bell in Anaheim and everything was better. You can see (and hear!) that “tri dub” is a full 33 percent more efficient than your clunky, awkward “triple dub.” That’s a savings every household in the country can use.
Date: Thu, 30 Jun 2005
From: Larry Hirshberg
Subject: And I Couldn’t Help Smelling It When It Was Over.
Dear Earwax Removal Drops Users,
After reading John Langdon’s letter of June 23rd, I feel compelled to respond. Those earwax removal drops provided me with a similar experience a number of years ago. The difference was this: I was in a grocery store, not a clothing establishment, and when my ball of wax freed itself and emerged, it dropped directly onto the floor in the middle of the aisle. I don’t remember if anyone saw or commented on the size of the thing, but I do remember this: The feeling of having that dried-grape-sized obstruction OUT OF THERE allowed me to enthusiastically utter the disappointingly underused term “eargasm.”
Going deaf the electric-guitar way.
Date: Tue, 28 Jun 2005
From: abby wolbe
Subject: more signs
Dear McSweeney’s and Bill McKechnie,
Much like Mr. McKechnie’s recurring exposure to the GUILT MUSEUM sign, I am daily affronted with a sign that means nothing to me and yet occupies my mind for hours. The only word on this vintage poster large enough to read while walking by is “ORPHELINAT.” I know the poster is a plea to the public of France in the 1920s to support a charity for orphans, and that’s plenty well and good and I should be satisfied with it, yes, but my upbringing in the American South and my single academic year of French apparently do not supply me with the flexibility of palate to accurately pronounce ORPHELINAT, and it drives me crazy. The sign is the first thing I see when I walk into my office each morning, and I walk directly at it each time I leave my desk to use the restroom. I could linger longer, but what’s the point? I still can’t pronounce it. In my head, I hear “OR-FUH-LEE-NAHHT,” and then I vary the speed with which it would be said: “ORFL’NAT!” or a very deliberate “OR. FUH. LEE. NAT!” with a defiant French accent. In my head, as I hear it, there is always an exclamation point. No matter how I hear it, it always sounds plodding and clumpy, a veritable horse’s ballet of pronunciation.
I have always considered myself an excellent prounouncer, and this poster, this ORPHELINAT, is my undoing. As the poster’s creators envisioned a public racked with compassion for the shabbily clothed orphans in the drawing below ORPHELINAT, I am similarly distraught, but in a vain pursuit of pronunciation.
Date: Tue, 28 Jun 2005
From: jules verdone
Subject: Baseball knowledge will not help you pick up girls?
Baseball knowledge will not help you pick up girls? Depends on the girl.
Wow, was this night a surprise. You’re like this year’s version of Brian Roberts and the Nationals rolled into one.
You’ve got the staying power of Julio Franco, the patience of Frank Thomas at the plate, the might of David Ortiz, and the quickness of Jose Reyes. I wonder if there’s anything you CAN’T do; are you sure your name’s not Ichiro? Hell, I’d go so far as to call you one of the season’s most underrated kissers, as if Brady Clark inhabited your lips.
Show me a guy who can talk baseball and reads McSweeney’s, and I’ll show you a deliriously happy dame. Bonus points if he doesn’t flinch at subtitles in the offseason.
Brooklyn, New York
Date: Fri, 24 Jun 2005
From: L. Suzanne Stockman
Subject: Regarding Sonicare Open Letter
Dear John Whitehead,
Great open letter!
So, where can I find a Sonicare replacement brush head for 10 bucks? They’re normally $14, or maybe $12.99 on sale, and a two-pack is about $24.99. How about hooking a sister up? Thanks!
P.S. Sorry to hear about your rotting teeth.
L. Suzanne Stockman
Date: Fri, 24 Jun 2005
From: Peter McGinty
Subject: A response from a person or entity who was unlikely to respond
Dear McSweeney’s and Mr. Whitehead,
I feel obliged to leap to the defense of the Sonicare toothbrush as an employee of its creators.
I would like to suggest that this is perhaps a case of the bad workman blaming his tools.
I empathize entirely with the pain and anxiety that two cavities can cause and wish Mr. Whitehead a speedy recovery.
That said, we must control ourselves and avoid lashing out at the most convenient target.
Why, what kind of world would we live in if people or countries simply lashed out blindly in anger, without taking the time to consider cause and effect and their own possible guilt and/or complicity?
I would like to point out that cavities take years to form and when the initial decay has set in it is very hard to remedy the situation.
Even the Sonicare Elite might struggle to reconstitute the decayed organic matter. No, I’m afraid that the Sonicare is intended for upkeep and prevention and not, unfortunately, regeneration.
Your father himself gave the Sonicare a glowing report.
I also am the proud owner of a Sonicare and while it can work wonders on grout, I find it is most effective at preventing dental decay.
I urge you to give a deserved chance to this fine dental utensil and feel sure that once anger and fear have subsided, you will find great worth in such a fine gift.
Employee of people or entities who were unlikely to respond
Date: Thu, 23 Jun 2005
From: John Langdon
Subject: a story and a moral
Dear Mr. McSweeney & his constituents,
I went deaf. I’m 23 and, naturally, I like plenty of music. A great amount of it is better appreciated at ear-shattering decibels, but due to strained circumstances between myself and my strikingly intolerant and out-of-touch neighbor, I have not been able to enjoy music above a whisper without worrying that a slight increase in volume will prompt angry phone calls from said neighbor, followed by the condo-board president, and, finally, my landlord. I am sonically unfulfilled.
Anyway, half deaf. I spent a few days in NYC visiting my brother. Almost immediately upon my arrival, all hearing in my right ear abruptly ceased. It’s an odd sensation that is quickly replaced by frustration and embarrassment. Bar conversations turn into guessing games that result in confusion and offense, not sex. Needless to say, my relatively short-lived disability stymied a good time in the Big Apple.
Upon serious medical consultation (read: the third-shift stock boy in a D.C. CVS), I picked up some eardrops that supposedly dissolved a potential wax buildup. I used them for days, each time giving me the audible sensation of Pop Rocks. Still, progress appeared slow, and each time I doused my ear I was awarded only a greasy trickle of dissolved refuse. I applied the drops on the fourth morning, resolving to stop if there were no effects.
There were no effects. I gave up, reluctantly resigning myself to a life in which stereo headphones had no meaning.
Much later that day, as I was doing some very necessary clothes shopping, my ear began to feel wet. I figured it was just the final droplets of my failed attempts. Five minutes passed, and like a large pea in a small water slide, a plug of earwax slid onto the unsuspecting shelf above my earlobe. I’d venture to state that there is no comparison superior in size, appearance, and consistency than an oversize raisin made of, well, earwax.
I was simultaneously disgusted and ecstatic. I could finally hear the appalled reactions of onlookers to the right of myself. I figured I’d share the story because I’m sure it has some sort of metaphorical application to life.
Actually, I’m not so sure, but I really had to tell someone just how awe-inspiring that volume of wax really is.
I was going to sign out with “Finally hearing you loud & clear,” but the following seemed more appropriate.
Still trying to get laid,
Date: Tue, 21 Jun 2005
From: A. Revilla
Subject: The Mike Jones Rotting Question
Dear McSweeney’s and Mike,
Yes, I have just let something rot for the heck of it. My item was a drink from Dairy Queen. At first, it was laziness that inspired my inaction, then it was pure science. Eventually, the drink filled with fruit-fly maggots. I tried to keep them in the cup using cellophane wrap, but it didn’t work. When my room filled with fruit flies, I had to abandon my research in favor of common sense.
Hoping your girlfriend doesn’t have to,
Date: Tue, 21 Jun 2005
From: Sarah K Dell’Orto
Subject: McSweeney’s tested, intern approved
I realize I’m a little late on this one, but I just wanted to send some praise for the McSweeney’s Recommended “Askew Chair Placement.” I recently began a summer internship at a fancy-pants office, and as an intern it is my primary responsibility to look busy. The other day, as I was leaving my desk to go to the bathroom for the 57th time, I tucked my chair in. But somewhere in the back of my mind a light bulb went off, and I thought, “Askew Chair Placement!” I angled my chair slightly and wandered off through the maze of cubicles, confident that if my boss were to walk by he’d think, “Oh, Sarah must be photocopying something,” instead of, “Where the hell is that damn intern when I need her?” I returned half an hour later, unnoticed, and proceeded to check my e-mail for the remainder of the afternoon.
Only temporarily absent,
“Humanities Editorial Intern”
New York, NY
Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005
Subject: Penny Hardaway?
I was just browsing your “McSweeney’s Recommends” section when I stumbled across your thumbs-up for Penny Hardaway.
Was that a joke?
The only time I recall him adding something for the Knicks this past year was when he went on IR, thereby freeing up a roster spot for someone more deserving.
Same with your recommending Stephen A. Smith, a man who single-handedly has managed to keep me from watching any NBA pre-, halftime, or post-game shows on ESPN.
Date: Fri, 17 Jun 2005
From: bill mckechnie
Subject: … signs …
Dear Those Reading,
Some years agoÂ—mebbe 20, 25Â—I had occasion to drive past a sign here in what they call North Central Florida, which is primarily rural, and to drive past it fairly often … and for several years, as well. It was rustic-looking, partly by choice and partly by accident, and all it said was (to me) GUILT MUSEUM.
Now, I knew it really said QUILT MUSEUM, but the alternative reading was much more piquant. That a “Q” turned “G” could be so disruptive I found intriguing. I’d always drive on down the road thinking of Woody Allen or Richard Nixon or perhaps Albert Speer and then I’d see something else that would carom my thoughts into a different vector.
Just thought I’d give that to the world; GUILT MUSEUM. I’d planned to do something with it, but maybe someone else can.
Go, Devil Rays!
Bill (Rex Scotorum)
Date: Fri, 17 Jun 2005
From: Feldman, Kiera
Subject: re: Bowline Knot
I might have been a bit misleading in my last letter. The bowline knot of interest was actually tied by a nice, shirtless man in the Home Depot parking lot. Hell, I didn’t have even a ballpark guess (nor guesstimate) as to how many trees or holes or rabbits there were supposed to be. Also, “Fucking damn it fucketty fuck fuck!!” might have been ringing throughout the lot, garnering me some handy sympathy. Were these expletives in frustration, or in amusement at making my rope rabbits mate? You decide.
Lastly, I’m sure you got to practice on shoelaces when you were a kid; I only had safety velcro.
Thanks for the tip,
Date: Fri, 17 Jun 2005
From: mike jones
Have you ever just let something rot for the heck of it? Two days ago my girlfriend left her half-drunk carton of peach juice behind the TV. Today when I pointed it out, she said she didn’t like the juice. Still, she refuses to throw it away. No particular reason was given for this. I’ll keep you posted.
Date: Wed, 15 Jun 2005
I find it distressing, and a symptom of our times, that the authors of the List “How Other School Subjects Would Be Spelled by People Who Refer to the Three R’s As ‘Reading, ’Riting, and ’Rithmetic’” have completely neglected the vital subject of ’Rt.
Date: Wed, 15 Jun 2005
From: Brook Andrews
Subject: Not Knowing: The Underappreciated Half of the Battle
I very much enjoyed Nico Vreeland’s thoughts on what might compose the other half of the battle. It seems to me, however, that Nico has overlooked a fundamental truth about the battle. That is, if Knowing is half the battle, the other half is Not Knowing.
I think it is only fair to give due credit to Not Knowing. It does, after all, compose half of all battles.
Very Truly Yours,
Date: Wed, 15 Jun 2005
From: Martin, Luke S
Subject: ATTN: complaint department
I should have won an uncirculated Dave Eggers novella during the Philadelphia stop on Salvador’s book tour. This is what guest correspondent Matt Schwartz says about my supposed roller-coaster naÃ¯vetÃ© on McSweeneys.net:
“Kevin Moffett read his story from the issue, and later shut down some know-it-all who claimed an amusement-park ride needn’t complete a loop to be a roller coaster. This is not the case, and Moffett let him know it.”
I am that know-it-all, and proudly so, relative to the arrogant bastard Moffet, who nearly shares the same name with inglorious Canadian pop stars the Moffats.
In two years McSweeney’s will publish my novel, statedly an allegory for gruesome love. It will be about a rabbit lost in an Arizona supermarket and a two-headed alligator who has no ass and therefore cannot shit or eat. The unfortunate alligator will starve to death in 14 days.
An Internet rumor spreads, revealing that read backwards, the novel lambastes all forms of premarital sex, homosexuality, and godlessness. Offending 82 percent of their readership, McSweeney’s goes under. A line from the book goes as follows:
“Surely, Eli hates God. The things he wants bad are sex and drugs.”
Read backwards: “Drugs and sex are bad. Wants he, things the god hates. Eli, surely.”
I will have my revenge. Meanwhile, I will continue to celebrate every word published.
Klondike Steamboat Jackson
Date: Mon, 13 Jun 2005
From: Shawn Freebern
Subject: Bowline knot
Lest someone lose a mattress:
The rabbit comes out of the hole, goes around the tree, and then back into the hole. He does not come out of the hole two times in a row.
This not only makes a better knot, it also jives with rabbit physics.
Date: Thu, 9 Jun 2005
From: Therese Bataclan
Subject: Of extracurricular activites
This morning I passed a door with a flyer taped onto it. I thought it read “Cadaver Club.” It didn’t. The first word was in Latin, something I was not acquainted with. I thought it a shame; if there was a Cadaver Club here I would probably join.
Continue swimming naked,
Date: Thu, 09 Jun 2005
From: Matt Ufford
Subject: Ford Madox Ford, by way of Mary Shelley
Two months ago, T.G. Gibbon called Ford Madox Ford the “20th century’s greatest author.” This is an unforgivable lie. While valid arguments exist for F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, I think we can all agree that the best author of the last century is Stephen King.
Also, it’s not right to judge Mary Shelley on her sexual practices. Only God and Dr. Phil can do that.
Keep on keepin’ on,
Date: Mon, 30 May 2005
From: McGurdy, Paul
Subject: Rituals in my old house
I had recently come to realize that I was master of an enormous old house. It was built of dark, wet wood, from the outside imposing, yet also repulsive, as organic decay often is. The many rooms inside the house seemed to yield to swamp and forest and back to house again.
Having forgotten I owned the house, I had also neglected it. The brown syrup of guilt mixed with my blood, and my arms and hands grew heavy.
The next-door neighbor, a middle-aged woman with a head of thick auburn hair, met me on the porch and opened wide the front door. It was a ceremony of my irresponsibility: none of the doors fit properly against their jambs, so locks and keys were useless.
A damp paper of dark paisleys, or, possibly, large paramecia, covered the walls of the foyer. I coughed, and a rhythmic banging pulsed behind the undulating wallpaper. My neighbor stood still a moment, then sighed and beat the wall several times with the base of her palm until the sound ceased.
“The pipes,” she explained, as if I were a child. “You have to knock them back or they will burst.”
My neighbor led me around the house, opening doors, tying back curtains, shaking dusty moisture off the cloths covering the deciduous furniture. I assumed she was to thank that the house hadn’t fallen down entirely. I felt her awaiting my gratitude. But I wanted so much to be alone, and I knew that my room on the top floor would be emptyÂ—though never safe, no, never apart from the rest of the houseÂ—and there were certain rituals I wished to perform.
She opened another door.
“Your sons,” she gestured. “And your Busters,” she continued, for I had not one son but two, and not one dog but two. My sons were dancing together in the parlor. How had I forgotten them? I nearly knelt to offer my hand to Buster, who approached cautiously, but the Buster that sat looking at me from under the grand piano made me step back.
“They have also missed you,” my neighbor said, her gray teeth smiling behind clumpy pink lipstick.
“I will …,” I sputtered, “just give me … Just let meÂ—” And I fled up the stairs, which were slippery beneath my feet. I passed dozens of people on the landings and in the hallway of the top floor, and they all had something or other to say, but I simply had to be alone. Alone with my rituals.
It was not right, it was not good, but I reached my room and closed the door. It did not close all the way, but it would have to do. There were fancy European cigarettes, and I lit one. Would I begin the ritual? I looked out the window. Down below, wet woods pressed a throng of people against the house.
Paul G. McCurdy
San Francisco, CA 94110
Date: Thu, 26 May 2005
From: Feldman, Kiera
Subject: re: Notes from the McSweeney’s Tour
Dear Road Trippers,
A friend and I drove from San Diego to Portland in a low-riding station wagon over the weekend. Though my advice may be more hurtful than helpful, I feel I should answer your tips call regardless. I can’t say these will work for you, or even be remotely applicable, yet here goes.
Please pack your car carefully. Remember, the spatially-challenged should not be accountable for making two station-wagon loads of crap fit into one ‘92 Subaru. Perhaps you’re like us and are traveling with a mattress on the roof of your ‘92 Subaru. To securely lash your mattress, you should use bungee chords and rope. Rope should be tied with what is called a Bowline knot. Other sailing knots might work, but the Bowline has a fun rhyme. It goes like this: “The rabbit comes out of the hole, goes around the tree, and then back up through the hole.” I would recommend not bothering to cover the mattress in hopes of protecting it from bugs and dust. We used garbage bags and essentially created a sail. Sadly, other vehicles don’t appreciate the Glad Drawstring Odor Shield spinnaker.
Music is especially important because it comprises your entertainment once you run out of things to say to each other. Remember, the road is hot, lonely, and prone to funny smells without a good supply of music. My co-road tripper brought about 80 mix CDs that had titles like “Super clubtacular party hip-hop dance mix HEYYY to the window to the wall remix!!” I had room for only one CD in my bag. It was “The best of This American Life.” I recommend more diversity in your road-tripping entertainment. Sure, you might find an assortment of novelty tapes stashed under the seat, but keep in mind that these will get old after five hours or so. Up until that point, I enjoyed disco, Mariah Carey, Fiddler on the Roof (Side A)/Digable Planets (Side B), and TLC and Coolio demos. Even though it may seem like a good idea, I assure you that listening to the instrumental side for extended periods of time is anything but.
I’ll end with some to-the-point advice: snacks, water, frequent bathroom breaks.
Best of luck,
Date: Wed, 25 May 2005
From: Delia Guzman
Subject: Foolproof Roadtrip Rules
1. When playing the alphabet game, make sure to conduct the game to ensure you don’t get the hard letters, i.e., K or Q. Not a lot of words begin with K or Q. For instance, if there are two of you, make sure you go secondÂ—then you don’t get K or Q; if there are three of you, go first; etc.
2. Don’t eat at any restaurants with misspelled or mispunctuated names, e.g., Kountry Kitchen, Sal’s Burger’s, etc. Trust me on this.
3. Remember not to eat foods that are certain to make you sick. Don’t eat those pickles in the sealed plastic bags, pigs’ feet in those big gallon jars, pickled eggs with beets, or anything with boiled eggs.
4. Either drive or sit in the backseat on the passenger side. Both places allow for maximum view of either the road or the driver, respectively. This means you’ll be in control of the car or the driver, which is almost as good.
5. If you’re driving through Kentucky, DON’T believe the signs that greet you at the border which read “Kentucky: it’s that friendly.” It’s NOT that friendly. It’s not even a little bit friendly. The roads are all “parkways” and the directional signs at interchanges of these parkways don’t say helpful things like “Paduca, left exit; Frankfort, right exit.” No, they say things like “Cowpie City, left exit; Other Cowpie City, right exit.” By the time you figure out which exit to take, you’re on the wrong parkway and, inevitably, you’ll end up in some Cowpie City and you’ll be lost. Lost in Kentucky. They make movies about people who are lost in Kentucky, and these movies are not happy movies. Kentucky is NOT that friendly.
Date: Tue, 24 May 2005
From: Laura Morley
Re: The British Breakfast In A Can: A Defence
Though I appreciate the groundbreaking, trailblazing endeavours of your new-food reviewers, I feel the British food recently reviewed by Ori Fienberg deserves a revisionist perspective. I have been British for 22 years, nearly long enough to earn a clock, but have never heard of ‘mutton sog’ or ‘head cheese.’ Sausages baked in batter are ‘Toad in the hole,’ and blood pudding is usually known as ‘black pudding.’ Haggis and fried Mars Bars are both Scottish delicacies, and don’t constitute staples of the ‘British’ dietary canonÂ—in the same way that bratwurst is indeed a ‘European food,’ but not one you’d expect to find in, say, Greece.
I also took exception to the observation that the mushrooms in a canned breakfast were canned, rather than fresh. It is ontologically difficult for them to be anything but canned.
Date: Wed, 18 May 2005
Subject: Letter to McSweeney’s
You should reconsider Cream of Wheat. I chose “reconsider” because I’m pretty sure most of us at one time considered it. (Didn’t you?) Then again, it’s possible that I speak only for myself here. All I really know is that about, oh, 19 years ago I ate the stuff routinely for breakfast. What turned me on to it? Well, at the age of 9, my parents, of course. I think I ate it plain back then, but these days I take it with mixed berries and brown sugar. Should you pick up a box, note (recall?) that it does not require the added sweetness; turns out wheat farina and partially defatted wheat germ pack their very own flavor-punch.
In sum, if you’re looking for a good hot breakfast, visit aisle 6, halfway down on the right, one shelf up from the Quaker Quick Oats. (If you don’t live in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, I can’t provide a specific location. Ask a stockperson; he/she will probably be able to tell you.)
Thinking of you,
Date: Mon, 16 May 2005
From: Katherine J. Lee
My friend frequently greets me online with the word “Boo.” This leads me to believe that she is heckling me. She claims she is trying to surprise me.
Tell meÂ—were you surprised, or hurt? Be honest.
Katherine J. Lee
Date: Fri, 13 May 2005
I work in scholarly publishing and, like Ruth Martin, am frequently creeped out by the invented words of academia. However, “liminality” is indeed a legitimate derivation of “liminal” (see Concise OED, 11th ed.).
Date: Fri, 13 May 2005
From: Ellia Bisker
Subject: Goya Jamaican Style Ginger Beer
I feel compelled to offer a rebuttal to the bad review Goya Jamaican Style Ginger Beer received on your website. While it’s true that this is not a beverage for the weak of palateÂ—or, I might add, the faint of heartÂ—this is the very reason to seek it out. The perfect antidote to the kind of bland, flavorless pap that makes you wonder why you even bother with food anymore, this fizzy soft drink makes it impossible for your mouth to be bored: its spicy yet sweetly delicious bite penetrates your entire taste-olfactory system, tingling satisfyingly in the back of your throat in a way that suggests it just might cure minor respiratory ailments (and possibly put hair on your chest, if this is something you like).
There are many brands of ginger beer on the market, but this is the only one that compels my father, otherwise a reasonable man, to drive several towns away in order to buy it by the case at the only supermarket in our area that carries it. Fanatical? Perhaps. Justifiable? Absolutely. If you like spicy food, this drink was made for you. If you don’t like it, well, to quote my freshman-year creative-writing professor, “I guess it’s just a matter of taste … not that you don’t have any.”
Date: Tue, 10 May 2005
Subject: Mary Shelley
I understand the importance of Mary Shelley to Romanticism and the Gothic novel, but I think we should all remember that she liked to have sex on her mother’s grave. She may have even conceived her first son in the graveyard. No matter how she has affected our lives, she remains icky.
Date: Tue, 10 May 2005
From: Ruth Martin
Is “liminality” a word, because it’s not in the OED (at least not the online version). Has academia mass-hallucinated this term?
P.S. Seriously, I’m creeped out.
Date: Thu, 05 May 2005
From: Grant Vaught
Subject: Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper
I just wanted to comment on the negative review this soda has received on your website. While the name is a bit long, the new Dr. Pepper concoction is quite tasty to this tongue. I prefer the regular, but my wife prefers the diet, which isn’t that bad either. The problem with regular Dr. Pepper is that it is really only good when it’s ice cold. Once it gets a little warm, it starts to get a cough-syrupy aftertaste to it. The new Dr. Pepper somehow avoids this. Is it the cherry? The vanilla? I’m guessing it’s the genius combination. Also, since regular Dr. Pepper tends to not taste too great out of a soda fountain, I’m eagerly awaiting the new flavor to get in there and defeat the old again. Here’s to the wily chemist who concocted this new brew.
Have a swell one,
Date: Fri, 15 Apr 2005
From: T.G. Gibbon
Subject: Mary Shelley
You know, being as I am a Philadelphian and an enjoyer of good things, “The Philadelphia Flyers Have a Time Machine” is one of my favorite serials of all time, way ahead of William Langewiesche’s “American Ground” series in the Atlantic Monthly. But I have to say I was really disappointed with the latest installment.
Mary Shelley is a particularly famous little girl from a particularly famous family, the broadest details of which are readily available even to Wikipedia users. Why then all the inaccuracies? She grew up in London. Her mother was dead. She was not blond. Normally I don’t nitpick such historical inaccuracies. I realize that for most the past is an undifferentiated blob of fairy tales and Masterpiece Theatre and not the intricate and delicate crystal of human interaction I know it to be. But from a site nominated for a Webby I expect more. Where is your world-famous fact-checking department?
Mary Shelley is not a mythic figure. She touches us all today. Not necessarily directly through her work but through the example of her life and her relationships with others. She was, as you know, friends of the doctor and second-rate author John Polidori, who was the uncle of critic William Rossetti, who married Lucy Brown and was the uncle of the 20th century’s greatest author, Ford Madox Ford, who was the mentor of Robert Lowell (and rumored by some to be responsible for Lowell’s conversion), who was arrested with William Sloane Coffin, who was a friend and Bonesmate of George H.W. Bush, who is the father of traitorous failed politician George W. Bush, who is cousins with Billy Bush, who hosted Access Hollywood with Pat O’Brien, who was mocked by traitorous failed comedian Jimmy Fallon on Saturday Night Live, which was once hosted by Wayne Gretzky, who was on the New York Rangers with Brian Leetch, who was on the Rangers with the totally awesome Eric Lindros, who was on the Flyers with Chris Therien. Such a close and intimate connection between the two protagonists, if in any way hinted at by the author, would have given the story comic, and indeed human, depth. Precision and accuracy is, therefore, not just a matter of persnickety schoolmarms but an essential artistic tool.
By the way, anyone see Mike Tyson at that press conference? He was practically fucking lucid. Good for him.
All the best,
Date: Fri, 8 Apr 2005
From: Virginia Carpenter
Subject: Mr. Schweiger’s Fight Against the 12-Year-Olds.
I have just read Mr. Schweiger’s “realistic assessment” of how many 12-year-olds he could beat up before they overcame him. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. Mr. Schweiger obviously has very little experience with groups of 12-year-old boys. The average 12-year-old boy is a much more formidable opponent than Mr. Schweiger gives him credit to be. Against a group of them, I believe that Mr. Schweiger (or his friend) would be lucky to take out one before the rest of them pummeled him to bits.
As a seventh-grade teacher who instructs P.E., let me inform Mr. Schweiger of a couple of points.
First, the average 12-year-old may be small, but he is in much better shape than the average 21-year-old man. Due to years of afterschool sports (Little League, basketball, football, etc.) and at least 250 minutes of required physical activity a week, the average 12-year-old boy has built up quite a bit of muscle mass. Plus, Mr. Schweiger does not take into account just how quick they are and how much endurance they have. Most of my 12-year-old boys can sprint a quarter mile in less than two minutes and can play a full hour of basketball without a single break. The average adult in this country can barely get 30 minutes of exercise a week. Even if the rest of the boys didn’t fight back, Mr. Schweiger would be too tired to continue after taking on two or three boys.
Second, Mr. Schweiger seems to think that the average 12-year-old boy would be timid and hesitant in a fight, that only a couple of “brave” ones would even dare to attack him. It’s a statement so naive that it seems hardly worth refuting. Nowadays, the second a boy enters into the public school system, he starts learning how to defend himself from older, bigger, and stronger boys. By the time he’s 12, he’s got a whole arsenal of methods for inflicting damage in a fight. Mr. Schweiger admits that he hasn’t been in a fight in a while. Mr. Schweiger may be bigger, but he’s strategically outmatched.
Third, from observing my students play “Bombardment Dodge Ball,”* I have noticed that 12-year-old boys are full of organized strategies of attack. It also doesn’t take long for a group of boys who don’t even know each other to silently organize themselves into a lethal attack force. It’s actually fascinating and almost beautiful to watch a group of boys, who may not even speak the same language, come together and ruthlessly pick off their opponents, one by one.
Realistically, this is how the fight would go. Mr. Schweiger was correct in assuming that the boys would surround him. The weakest of the group would distract Mr. Schweiger while the other boys rushed him from the side and pushed him over to the ground. A few would quickly pin him to the ground while the rest started hitting and kicking Mr. Schweiger at his sides. If he’s lucky, none of the boys will have picked up any implements (such as bats, sticks, or heavy backpacks) to beat him with.
I’m sorry to shatter Mr. Schweiger’s dream, but if he took on a group of average 12-year-old boys, it would be over in less than a minute. Maybe he would have had a chance to start beating on the boys who distracted him, but he’d be down on the ground before he could cause much damage.
It’s a good thing he’s a pacifist.
- “Bombardment Dodge Ball” is played just like regular dodge ball, where players who are hit must leave the court. The two main differences are that Bombardment Dodge Ball is played with five balls and when there are few players left on each team (or when there is not a lot of time left in the class), the referee blows the whistle. Players may then cross the line that separates the teams to run up and attack their opponents. This allows for quick resolutions to games that are dragging along.
Date: Mon, 14 Mar 2005
From: Adam Webb
Subject: The italicized Garamond ampersand
Dear McSweeney’s, I was delighted to see today in the McSweeney’s Reccomends column your appreciation of the italicized Garamond ampersand. I have been singing its praises to uninterested parties for months. When you get a chance, check out the italicized Garamond lowercase zÂ—you won’t be disappointed. Notch the page zoom on Word up to 500 percent and stare in awe as you would in a gallery in front of a breathtaking painting.
Date: Mon, 14 Mar 2005
From: A. Emerald Mystiek
Subject: Binder Clips
When I was a kid, my family used large binder clips to close bags of chips, that is, in place of so-called “Chip Clips,” except that we called the binder clips “chip clips.”
Having never seen one of those cheap fluorescent green plastic things labeled in big black letters “CHIP CLIP,” and having never seen binder clips holding papers together, I believed binder clips were chip clips, that they had been designed and manufactured to keep bags of chips closed.
I was in my teens before I saw binder clips used with paper, and I thought to myself, “Isn’t it interesting how well chip clips work to keep papers together? How crazy!”
Having now used both binder clips and Chip Clips on bags of chips, I believe I can firmly state: Chip Clips suck. Binder clips rock.
And so, this new home that I have made with my husband has taken a cue from that lovely aspect of my childhood, and there are no Chips Clips to be found in my house.
Date: Mon, 14 Mar 2005
From: Michael Whiting
Subject: RE: Italicized Garamond Ampersand
A perfect harmony of power & elegance my arse.
Monotype Corsiva does it with style & no need for the fancy italics. I suspect you only went with Garamond because of a happy accident. While stumbling upon all the necessary elements must have been an awesome experience, the journey should never outdo the destination.
No way. Never.
Kind regards & best wishes
Date: Tue, 1 Mar 2005
From: Peter Brown
Subject: Peter Ward Brown’s House in the Suburbs
I apologize for the lapse in my correspondence regarding the building of my House in the Suburbs, and thank Ms. Christine Latrielle/Barrett for her letter of Feb. 22 seeking further comment on it. We did indeed close on the House in the Suburbs and have lived in it for some 15 months now.
Signing the stacks of papers involved in purchasing a House in the Suburbs, I repeated a phrase quietly in my head: “It’s not where you live, but how you live.” I repeated this phrase over and over until it became to my mind a kind of commodity, a product I could purchase and take home in a plastic sack much like those at any of the several nearby super center/stores where I regularly purchase things of varying weights that get put in the many spaces in and around the House in the Suburbs.
I have struggled to decide what I want to tell you of the 15 months we have lived in the House in the Suburbs. Do I detail the minor repairs that are made as the house gets used to its own sense of weight, and begins to settle in on itself? Of the eight bags of candy we distributed to trick-or-treaters? About the casual wave I give to my neighbors Jeff and Kathy (whose last name I do not know) and Brandon and Sarah (whose last name I know only because their People magazine once mistakenly showed up in my mailbox). Should I share how my wife and I kept an almost obsessive tally of the yard signs in our development during the last election (which suggested that the development, like the rest of Ohio, went for Bush, 13 yard signs to Kerry’s nine). Do I articulate how the general malaise of having betrayed political, intellectual, and environmental ideals to build the House in the Suburbs is overwhelmingly salved, if not trumped entirely, by convenience and vague bromides about safety and schools? How I found myself thinking one day as I watched my children, now 4 and 2, playing on the swing set their grandfather laboriously constructed in our backyard, that while building a House in the Suburbs was for me a form of betrayal, not doing so certainly would seem a type of neglect?
What I really want to do, McSweeney’s and Ms. Latrielle/Barrett, is to find one true and certain thing I can tell you about the House in the Suburbs, one pure, simple, concrete thing that, even if I did not like it, would be honest to the furthest extent of my experience. I struggle mightily with this because in the suburbs, all of these thingsÂ—truth, honesty, politics, idealism, convenience, betrayal, neglectÂ—they all seem somehow keyed to the exact same frequency, a low, dull-sounding hum that hardly seems a significant presence in my life the longer I live in and around it. It masks itself innocuously, and it is difficult to tell if I have made peace with it, or simply grown used to it being around.
Fuck it, McSweeney’s: I think it’s where you live after all.
Peter Ward Brown
Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2005
From: Josh Kramer
Subject: The Independent
It was with great joy that I read your recommendation for The Philadelphia Independent. The incredible seasonal periodical is a mammoth production (“too big to read on the subway”) and I am always impressed with the amazing articles and graphics. It is everything a newspaper ought to be: unbiased, informative, cheap, and enjoyable. As a young suburbanite living outside of the city, I feel clued-in reading “The Periodic Journal of Urban Particulars.”
But, alas, all good things do come to an end. And so is the case with the Independent. Yes, it’s true! What you’ve so aptly described as “Perhaps the best local newspaper in the country” is taking a break. In their 21st and final issue, their reasons were explained in “A Note to the Reader”:
“We need a break. We may start up again one day, and if we do, we promise our second volume will be even better than our first. But the first volume may turn out to be it for the Independent, in which case we ask only that you keep a place for us, in your desk or on your shelf.”
You can find the entire article here. Thanks for recognizing such a fantastic publication.
Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2005
From: Schwier, Stacey
Subject: Root Beer and Caffeine
Sometimes life has really weird coincidences. Like today when I signed on to view your web page and saw that you recommend drinking root beer. I concur! It is quite possibly the best drink in the world, in my humble opinion. However, it is equally interesting because you state “Caffeine free” at the end. While on vacation the past two weeks, my husband and I had a debate over just that very fact!
You see, one day my husband said, “I’ve not had any caffeine today,” to which I replied, “Yes you did! You had a root beer!”
And that started the entire debate.
I won the debate, thank you very much, because we had shared a Barq’s Root Beer, which is caffeinatedÂ—just check the label.
But my victory dance didn’t last long, because yesterday, while at our local grocery store, my husband pointed at the IBC bottles and turned one toward me to show me the “Caffeine Free” statement printed on it. So we agreed to call it a tie. Some root beer is caffeine free and some is not.
And for the record, how can you not recommend Barq’s as the best root beer ever? It has bite, you know! Maybe it is the caffeine …
A fellow root beer fan,
Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2005
From: Sean Carman
Subject: Response to Amy Bergen
I’m 41 years old, I live in Seattle, and I do a bit of freelance writing. When I was younger I briefly considered a career in journalism, but instead I went to law school. I’ve lived in Seattle for seven years, but I recently applied for a job in New York City.
Recently I read your letter from Amy Bergen, 22, who has grown tired of New York and thinks she might like to move to Seattle.
Ironically, in connection with my possible move from Seattle to New York, I have myself been pondering a similar dilemma. Any relocation involves a hundred questions with only vague hints for answers. What do I want to do with my life? Why can’t I be happy where I am? Will changing places solve all, or even any, of my problems?
These questions are, of course, too weighty and personal to be addressed on the McSweeney’s letters page, so for Ms. Bergen I have in mind a few questions of a more practical nature.
Where’s your apartment? Is it rent-controlled? It’s not in the West Village, is it? Can I have it?
Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2005
From: Craig M Webster
Subject: advice for amy
Ms. Bergan’s dilemma is one that all too many 22-year-olds face, and fortunately I found this oracle thing outside my window that seems to answer all questions in a direct and nonpartisan way. Unprecedented! So I asked about Sarah’s situation, and here’s what it said:
In the soul of your heart’s bosom
the call of debauchery in the city throbs.
But don’t let the fascination of fascist freedom
water down your hunt for something trueÂ—
why assume a job
when with yourself you could take
a journey into the wilderness
and meet lions, tigers, and maybe a rake(?)Â—
they provide the nourishment for you
to abscond forever from boxed-in days,
and you offer to them explanations of Reaganimics,
Bushropology, and the word "malaise"Â—
the pandas would be caring,
the soft, supple moss supine,
and you’d lose altogether what
it means to be “yours” or "mine"Â—
(And upon this realization)
You ask yourself, “What have I done with my precious
experience at the nonprofit, or with my journalism degree?”
Your eyes water, your nose twitches,
and you realize that you must flee.
You shoot up from your wholesome nap,
scurry out of the barbaric jungle
and into the city’s ungodly trapÂ—
and there you type up a
resumÃ© that tiptoes around
your 10-year jungle stay.
You become a corporate assistant
in Tampa, refuting claims of
malpractice and denying workers wages,
taking coffee breaks with fellow
employees and working unprovidential shifts …
you eventually move up in the
ranks making seven eight nine digits
until your husband asks you a question
that resonates in your heart’s bosomÂ—
“Would you like to go to the zoo today?
It’s free with this pass … and we could bring Ray!”
You intake a breath uncountable
in length, and respond blankly,
“Not today, Frank,
I told Marci I’d stop by the bank.”
He slumps back to his office and continues his work,
and who calls but your favorite parrot, Sarah,
that loquacious little bird.
“I’m going to die soon,” she says to you.
You hang up the phone and then reheat up a bean
burrito and eat it slowly, crunching the
“Let yourself out!” you exclaim,
and then a burst of happiness erodes the
pathos and fury and discontent that breathe life in
your nervous system.
(Now that they’re gone, you sure don’t miss them!)
All of this happens as you put the uneaten part of the burrito in the
refrigerator, and upon moving the milk to
the door compartment,
you find $20!
Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2005
From: Allison Clarke
Subject: Response to amy bergen
Dear McSweeney’s/Amy Bergen,
Being 24, financially unstable and familiar with opportunities to work at local nonprofits, I must warn you against a move to Seattle. I love Seattle and have been a long-term resident, but I do so with the aid and usage of my driver’s license and car. We, the people of Seattle, love our cars, frequently use them, and will accept no substitute. There is no good mass-transportation system in this city (unless you define the word “good” as riding around on a urine-soaked tin can on wheels or being shuttled the two miles between Seattle’s two major tourist attractions on the aboveground, fire-prone monorail). After three years at the University of Washington, I finally had to break down and beg my parents to let me take their car to school. I am still paying their lofty price two years later.
In short, trying to navigate Seattle or any of its surrounding areas is very difficult without the ability to own and operate a motor vehicle. My advice is to stick to a city like New York with a subway or even San Francisco with its neat little trolley thing.
My warmest regards and admiration for your work,
Date: Tue, 22 Feb 2005
From: Christine Latreille
Subject: Peter Ward Brown’s house
I’m sitting here with a painful urinary-tract infection, having blown off work (thank God), and have just gotten off the bathroom floor after two hours of lying there wrapped in the horrid wolf-face-printed blanket that I love to loathe but secretly love. It reminds me of my boyfriend and cocoons me in wolfy warmness. The fever is setting in, I forget what I’m doing here. Oh yes. So I was reading a book, then came to this website, started reading letters, and came across Peter Ward Brown’s letters and his tale of suburban house/home building. Letter after letter filled with funny anecdotes and stories, reminding me of my own suburban oasis, and then … Nothing!
Did he finish the house? Is he bankrupt? Has he thrown caution to the wind and painted the house magenta and tangerine? All I envision is a sad little house that no one writes about anymore. Poor house. I have to pee now.
Date: Mon, 21 Feb 2005
From: amy bergen
Subject: hello, mcsweeney’s
Here’s my deal. I am 22 and unattached. I did some journalism in college and I work for a nonprofit (I’m leaving in August, having made a one-year commitment). Like such luminaries as Gore Vidal and Sarah Vowell, I have no driver’s license. And you have assumed by now my financial situation. Other than that all things are equal. Although I hear Seattle’s nice.
Where would you go if you were me?
Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2005
From: McLaughlin, Mary
Subject: More on the frosting/icing debate
I’m sorry, but I have to object. Mr. Cipriani has it all wrong.
Hitmen ice people.
Politicians frost people.
That is the difference.
Date: Fri, 18 Feb 2005
From: Kristine Adams
Subject: Another Suggestion for Improving Rock, Paper, Scissors …
In reading Mr. Sam Mean’s February 18th List “Things That Paper Could Be Replaced With to Make Rock, Paper Scissors More Believable,” I was reminded of the following addition my father made to the game: The Laser Gun.
Made by shaping thumb and forefinger into the shape of a gun, pointing it at your opponent and making laserlike sounds, the Laser Gun was trump because, as everyone knows, a laser can blow up anything.
Of course, as soon as Dear Old Dad brought out the Gun, so did we. And, as everyone knows, one Laser Gun shooting another results in both Laser Guns blowing up, which ends the game.
More recently, now that I’m almost-grown and discovering things to which I was oblivious as a child, I wondered, and confirmed, that his creative twist was merely a way to get out of playing the game with us for too long.
Date: Tuesday, 15 February 2005
From: Zak Rouse
Subject: In what ought we be carrying our books?
I am a recent college graduate who has recently found employment in the library of a Chicago law school. As a consequence of my position, I am constantly around law students, a rare breed indeed. Lately, however, I am perplexed by the fashion/accessory choices of my patrons.
My relative youth, in tandem with my recent departure from a collegiate setting, should be able to provide me with a decent awareness of what’s hip and fashionable for the young academe on the go. As has been my experience, generally, books are carried in one of the following: (A) a backpack or (B) a shoulder bag (or satchel, if you will). I am confused, however, because as of late it seems that many of the patrons at the law library at which I work seem to have opted for some bizarre sort of carryon-luggage-type bag, complete with a telescoping arm and wheels. They’re like small suitcases.
I tell you, I never saw anything like it in my four years of undergraduate studies. I thought, for a moment, that maybe law students carry more and heavier books than I ever did as an undergrad, but it occurs to me that I hung out with grad students of all varieties in my four years as an undergrad, and all of them hoisted their books on their shoulder(s) in some sort of conventional book bag.
Moreover, this trend toward the carryon-luggage-style book bag makes for a colossal pain in the ass, a lot of the time. It inhibits the user’s ability to navigate revolving doors, takes up precious elevator space, and, worst of all, constantly makes me feel grumpy and hurried, because it reminds me of being in an airport (and when I’m in an airport, I’m generally grumpy and hurried). Plus, these bag users are constantly banging into things with their unwieldy bags of junk.
What gives? Can this new wave of young academics no longer bear the weight of their own literacy?
Zak Rouse, bored librarian
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2005
From: Cole Louison
Subject: The Gates
Mickey Pemulis Sweeney:
The Gates were raised today and I went after work to check it out. It was about to start getting dark so I took the train up from Times Square to 57th and walked the two or so blocks. You could see the pieces of orange from at least a block away. I had one more street to cross, then one more block and one more street to the park, and I had that feeling you get in the huge parking lot of an amusement park when you finally get to where you can see the spine of the rollercoasters sticking out into the sky.
It was still under construction, with big crates of beams and boxes of fabric everywhere. Volunteers were using the same golf carts they sent to bust us during the croquet party. I guess they were just going to leave everything there overnight.
All the feet seem to be in place. They’re some kind of metal that’s the color of slate. Some of the feet have rusted a bit, but all of them are a long horizontal rectangle, with one or two brick-sized pieces supporting them. Between those pieces and the ground are either rubber or what looked and felt like a fat slap of cardboard. On top of the feet are the orange squares that the vertical beams lock into. Those squares are level, but the beams are tweaked in different ways, I noticed. The crossbeams to all of the gates look level. You can just tell, walking around, the weird patterns and trails they make when partially lined up that they’re perfectly level. Dead balls plumb, as Brian at the building company used to say. DBP. So I guess where they cheated it was around the base. The difference is inside the squares, is my guess. However they did it, those fuckers are rock solid.
Anyways, it’s really well done. The fabric is that ductile tarp kind, and the pieces have a kind of pull cord sticking out at the side made of the same material. They’re not really cocoons like I’d (we’d?) hoped. The color of the fabric is, I think, different than the paint on the beams. I wonder if that was on purpose. Maybe it’s the same paint, just on different stuff. They’re all different sizes. Some are at least 20 feet wide at the top, almost square, and others are as wide as the narrowest walkway but maybe 30 feet high.
It was probably 5:30 when I got there, and it had been clear all day. The gates were a dull orange, the fabric a little brighter. Offsetting it all, I thought, were these radiant high triangles sticking up at both ends of every single foot. They were like these little skeletal tripods and they were that construction color orange that is brightest when there’s the least bit of light left in the day. I’m not sure road cones are the same color, but some cyclone fences are exactly this color. And the reflectors that were stored in the long flat tacklebox underneath the front seat on the schoolbusÂ—exactly the same color.
It all felt under construction, just like a building project that’s a nice project but still in the making. I wonder if they’ll drop the flags all at one time? Like, maybe, the man himself lights one of those fat, short cannons from the Civil War at first light on the 12th to signal everybody. That would kick fucking ass. I don’t know what’s happening Friday night, but I might get up early Saturday and go in just so I can see the first banners drop.
Date: Sun, 13 Feb 2005
From: Peter Cipriani
Subject: Icing/Frosting debate
You ice a kicker.
You frost a windshield.
There you go.
Glad to be of help,
Date: Sun, 13 Feb 2005
From: Elizabeth Fullerton
Subject: Orange Juice Rebuttal
It is with great consternation that I write this letter. One Patrick Morris recently wrote, “Anyone that drinks no pulp is, sorry to say, a baby. What, you can’t take little bits of orange? Well then you don’t really like oranges. You’re just a fake orange-juice drinker.” I most respectfully say that Patrick Morris is a punk. If one wishes to eat little bits of orange, then one should go eat an orange. If one wishes to drink juice, then one must drink juiceÂ—not chucks of pulp and orange. However, I will agree with said punk that orange juice is the best juice to drink. Unfortunately, he should take a step back from his position on pulp vs. no pulp. Orange juice isn’t meant to be divisive. We orange-juice drinkers must unite. Otherwise, the Cranberry Juice Council will win. And we all know that wouldn’t be a good thing.
Date: Sat, 12 Feb 2005
From: Andrew Cavette
Subject: Fish v. Salmon
I have a jar of tartar sauce in my refrigerator. It is good tartar sauce; I like it very much. The label puzzles me, though, because the label contains four “suggested uses.”
The suggested usesÂ—though not meant to be comprehensiveÂ—are as follows: FISH, SHELL FISH, FISH STICKS, AND SALMON.
I know the difference between FISH and SHELL FISH; I can even understand separating out FISH STICKSÂ—you wouldn’t put sour cream, bacon bits, and chives on french friesÂ—but do you happen to know the difference between FISH and SALMON?
Also, if it isn’t too much trouble, could you please pass the ketchup?
Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2005
From: Josh Loh
Subject: Stay or go: I submit still an open question
Although Mr. Cassels’ solution to the The Clash’s “Stay or Go” controversy is certainly logical and reasonable, I feel compelled to object that the situation is not as clear as Mr. Cassels’ reductionist argument would have you believe.
First, it is not clear that the speaker, however much he would like to avoid trouble, is the ultimate decision maker. The Clash state that his “Darling [must] let me know” whether staying or going is the correct choice. The trouble that the speaker sees coming in the future is not dispositive: his decision alone will not resolve the situation. Rather, the unknown darling of the song may disagree with The Clash’s assessment of the situation or even be ultimately unmoved by the double trouble The Clash invokes. Thus, “stay” remains a viable option.
In addition, it is not clear that The Clash look upon trouble as a negative. Though both I and Mr. Cassels have been raised in upstanding homes to regard trouble as something to be avoided, The Clash as a nonconformist band with roots in the early punk-rock movement may have quite different views on the relative merits of trouble vs. twice as much trouble.
Thus, I argue that the question of whether “stay or go” is the correct decision is still open for debate, and worthy of consideration in a long, perplexed song which reflects the confusion of The Clash at finding themselves in a situation not of their own making and incapable of resolution on their own initiative, caught as their lingering desire to conform to societal norms and avoid trouble inevitably conflicts with their desire to break out of the closeted social strata that human society has trammeled them in.
Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2005
Subject: Response to Previous Letter
I am not Canadian but I wanted to respond to some of Michelle Orange’s lucid observations about American cities.
Once, in New York, I slapped the ass of a Canadian gal. This put me in the company of such esteemed men as Mick Jagger and my friend Jeremy’s dad. In my defense I did not know she was Canadian at the time. When I found out I apologized for the slapping. I felt like maybe I was giving Americans a bad name. I offered to buy her a drink. She said, “Eh,” just like Michelle Orange said in her letter. I didn’t blush, though. It seemed like overkill after the apology and the drink.
I walk around on the street as well, but I don’t have dreams of picking up coins and things. Instead, I think of all the ears in the world. What are the chances that if you devoted your life to the pursuit that you could stick your finger in every single one of them? Slim to none. By “you” I mean me. By “ears” I mean ears.
Anyway, thank you again for promoting amity between two large nations that happen to sit one atop the other like children’s blocks or people doing it.
Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2005
From: “benjamin morris”
I was gonna weigh in on the frosting-icing debacle but instead I totally have to agree with you guys on the clementine recommendation. Goddamn, those things are good. Here in Scotland, where all the clementines are imported from Spain, the season is long goneÂ—it was probably six weeks shorter than in the U.S., unfortunately. But man, you should have seen the crates stacked up in the grocery stores while we had ‘em. “Wall-to-wall treetop-tall,” someone might call it. And they would be right. At one point back in November I used a clementine in a poem (which of course made the poem instantly awesome)Â—and when I read it to my flatmates, well, guess what happened? By week’s end three more clementine poems were floating around the flat. It’s not like I was jealous or anything, because I like poems as much as I like clementines and think there should be more of both of them in the worldÂ—I’m just saying, they really are the awesomest thing in the history of things or awesomeness. But don’t ever let me catch you hanging around with satsumas, cause they ain’t nothing but poseur bitches.
In other news, there’s this place near my flat that sells nothing but window blinds, but they don’t have any installed in their own windows. What’s up with that?
Take it easy,
Date: Mon, 7 Feb 2005
From: Rottman, Mike
Subject: Frosting vs. Icing
In the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Data has a dream about cutting Troi up like a cake, one of the dream images involves Worf eating a piece of TroiCake. Two times he mentions the “mint frosting.” You will remember, of course, that Data is an android capable of performing 60 trillion calculations per second and whose vast memory banks contain the sum of all human knowledge. It is hardly possible that Data’s flawless mind would employ an incorrect syntactical usage. We have no choice but to conclude that frosting is what goes on a proper cake, whether that cake is a half-human, half-Betazoid woman or not.
Furthermore, I have spent many nights dreaming of frosting Deanna Troi, and the one time I tried icing her, it just changed the mood of the whole thing.
Date: Mon, 07 Feb 2005
From: P M
Subject: The king of juice
Some kid last night tried to tell me that apple juice was the best juice ever. I almost spit out my orange juice onto his face. I’m serious, it was close to coming out. It would have ended up on his face had I not calmed myself before realizing his ignorance and preparing my battle.
Orange juice cannot be touched as the pinnacle of all juices. While the other two mainstays (grape and apple) follow not far behind, orange juice will never be touched. There is nothing to debate. All these new, fake juices give real juice a bad name. I mean, who drinks cran-straw-grape-mango-mellon juice? Who can take the sweetness of cran-pineapple juice?
Orange juice is in its best form with lots of pulp. Anyone that drinks no pulp is, sorry to say, a baby. What, you can’t take little bits of orange? Well then you don’t really like oranges. You’re just a fake orange-juice drinker. You give us die-hards a bad name. We like the pulp because it’s real, it’s from the orange. I mean, if you’re going to cut up an orange to make juice, I’m pretty sure you’re going to leave the pulp in and not take hours trying to pick out the little bits. That’s how juice is supposed to be.
Orange juice is also best paired with a big bowl of cereal, preferably dry cereal, straight out of the box. If you’re eating cereal with milk, along with the grape juice, that’s a little too much liquid and you end up not being able to finish the juice and you also have to urinate every 12 minutes. It best goes with dry Cheerios. This is quite possiby the best snack combination ever. I insist that you try it sometime.
Date: Fri, 4 Feb 2005
From: Marc Peacock Brush
Subject: A baked potato
I wonder if you’ve seen a certain commercial. Probably not. I fear it’s been relegated to the wastelands of basic-cable daytime programming. I saw it at the end of a Cosby Show rerun on TBS. Today, Friday, about 11:55 a.m.
Which seems appropriate, given its forgettable nature: A man, nondescript, middle-aged, next in line at a Wendy’s. He approaches the counter and orders some standardized combo/value meal, nothing special. One of countless such orders placed every day. (Aside: Is convenience always tantamount to homogeneity? Must we all revel in selecting the same easy subset of food already preselected for our ease and convenience?)
But then comes the shocker: He asks to replace the french fries with a baked potato. We immediately cut to the adjacent room of assembled diners, booth after booth, table after table, a frozen portrait of awestruck patrons. They stop chewing midchew; they look on with googly eyes; they drop their jaws and inhale with deep trepidation, just like in a horror movie. It’s almost as if someone had completely changed the balance of their lives, reordered their fail-safe natural world, taken the values and priorities they depend upon and thrown them in a blender set to liquefy.
A baked potato.
Then a quick cut back to the guy at the counter, with his ho-hum expression, as if to say, “What? What’s the big deal?” And then it happens. A small, fleeting, throwaway moment that brings everything into clarity for me. We cut back to the dining area, where a riotous pandemonium seems ablazeÂ—people running for the exits, mothers grasping for their childrenÂ—and someone jumps across the screen. Literally. That’s right, he’s flying. There must be a trampoline off camera, because he hurtles across the frame at a dizzying speed, several feet above the tabletops, almost at eye level with standing patrons, so, what, he’s 6 feet airborne? If you blink, you’ll miss it, but this is the essence of the commercial.
They want us to believe that this exaggerated leap is but another entertaining example of the flight impulse at work inside the Wendy’s. A clear expression of the way we might feelÂ—ecstatic, otherworldly, capable of inhuman delightsÂ—with a more flexible value menu. The pure joy of finding that rare combination of convenience and variety. But come now, it’s something much, much bigger than that, isn’t it?
Would you want to be this man? I would. I would love to fly with fantastic abandon in the face of every challenge to my static and comfortable way of life. I would love to leave my body for the sky at the very next sign of our diminished sense of progress. I would love the option of a baked potato instead of french fries.
Earthbound and yours,
Marc Peacock Brush
Date: Fri, 04 Feb 2005
From: Michelle Orange
Subject: OK by me in America
I have noticed a lot of things since moving from Toronto to New York. Sometimes, even with my eyes shut tight, like newborn fists, I notice them. But that’s not what I want to tell you about. I’m here to accentuate the positive. Because it’s February, the month of Black History, White Presidents, Big Red Hearts, and Catacomb-Gray Complexions. When better?
I would like to talk about the fact that:
Â—American passports last for 10 years. That’s twice as many as mine. I imagine that, aside from the reduction in fees and paperwork, the 34-year-old who renewed his passport at 25 feels the full appreciation for this interval.
Â—Mail delivery on Saturdays. I don’t know why this is not more celebrated. Sure I’ve had countless things lost in the mail and been treated like an orphaned street sock at the post office, but one card from grandma or Spin magazine delivered on a Saturday morning and America is the Greatest Country on Earth.
Â—You can make an American boy blush just by saying “eh.” I’ve known the ones who have to get angry to feel alive and the ones who can’t feel anything unless you’re mad at them and both will turn to Jell-O when one of those slips out.
The other day I found 20 dollars in the street. Earlier that day I had spent over an hour in a bank trying to convince a teller that neither my home country nor city were part of the United States. I failed and left in a Pigpen-esque cloud of filthy sentiments. Then I spent three more hours working with the engaging, adorable children of Brooklyn, who have Canadian kids beat in the personality department. Then I walked into the street and found 20 bucks in my path, folded up like an origami flower.
Sometimes New York is my abusive boyfriend, but mostly it’s just the place I live. The place where I have determined that on average you can pick up a penny for every block you walk. You have to keep your eyes open, of course, and be willing to weather the inexplicably withering looks of the people who apparently don’t care for common cents.
Someday, McSweeney’s, I will walk every block and become a wealthy woman. Someday before that day I will attempt to calculate how many blocks there are. It’s beautiful to me, it’s rich, that the sidewalks of New YorkÂ—possibly the greediest city in the worldÂ—are littered with, yes, socks, but also cash, coins and the coffee cups to collect them with, should you be tacky enough to bother.
New York City
Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2005
From: Patrick Cassels
Subject: Go. Clearly
Why did The Clash feel the need to write such a perplexed and long-winded song for such a simple question?
If I go there will be trouble
An’ if I stay it will be double
Clearly, to go is the better option, as it will cause half the trouble as staying. It’s pure logic.
I’m as embarrassed for them as you are,
Date: Wed, 2 Feb 2005
From: Maryanne Ku
Subject: A Singular Investment Opportunity
Please loan me three hundred thousand dollars so that I may purchase the house of my dreams. It is located in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, and is quite charming for a ranch. I never liked ranch houses. But I do like this ranch house. It has three bedrooms (but the full daylight basement will have three moreÂ—including a monster game room!Â—when it is finished) and has been renovated with pretty cherry-stained hardwood floors. There is also a kitchen with stainless-steel appliances and a wine cooler! In the back of the house there is a concrete storage room that would be the perfect space for my darkroom. But, most importantly, there is the backyard. It is a dangerously steep and moderately wooded slope that leads down to the bank of a rippling brook. The property line, I am told, extends to the middle of the stream.
Honestly, you cannot put a price on the peace of mind afforded by a moving body of water in your backyard. I am plagued with daydreams of me sitting on a cushion of dry leaves, listening to the whisper of water flowing over stones, writing in my Moleskine. I promiseÂ—cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye or whateverÂ—to repay you with a modest interest within ten years. In return, my door will always be open to you. Anytime you are in Georgia (which has a bad rep but I’ve come to love it since moving down from New York), you can stay in my house and play pingpong. I will cook you dinner and make you crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e. Then you can go out back, sit by the stream, and know that you will go to heaven because you gave me the gift of a dream come true.
Maryanne Georgia Ku
Date: Tue, 01 Feb 2005
Subject: Flying Home
Yesterday I was on my way homeÂ—stopped for a few hours in the Washington D.C. airport on the way from Munich to Portland, Oregon. There were two marines sitting nearby, decked out in their dress uniforms, all shiny black leather and handsome blue creases. They looked smart, like nice guys, calmly having a conversation. Later a younger guy with big arms bulging out of a gray USMC T-shirt and with the Marine logo stitched on his carryon bags comes bursting in to our aisle of seats and down. The Marines don’t talk to each other, though they notice each other. I figure they must be traveling together and perhaps the brass doesn’t mix with the young bucks. Later the two officers are escorted by the gate agent to the Jetway. The young Marine calls a friend on his cell and asks what that many stripes signifyÂ—seems they are master sergeantsÂ—and tells his friend with a giggle that he ended up right next to these two officers. His next call is to his parents and he tells them of his recent graduationÂ—how he excelled in his classes and how his instructors were so proud of him and how they hadn’t had anyone do that well on all the tests in many years.
So, it occurs on me that the uniformed Marines are escorting dead soldiers back to Portland. That they went to the tarmac early to supervise the loading of the caskets. And, indeed, before we land the pilot comes on the intercom and haltingly tells us to stay seated so the Marines can get off the plane early and attend to their business … of getting the coffins of these fallen heroes home. I was seated on the right side of the plane, just over the rear hatch and saw the 8 or 10 Marines waiting below to ceremoniously move the coffins. I saw, too, one soldier’s parents, not young, perhaps 50, coming to the plane in all their shocked grief. Couldn’t watch for too long. I saw the young Marine downstairs at baggage claim talking with his dad, who went out to go pull the car around while the bags were starting to come out on the carousel. The young Marine shouldered his two heavy duffel bags and moved like a big halfback through the crowd out to the street.
February 1, 2005
Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2005
From: Lawrence Denes
Subject: Frosting vs. Icing
I’m not sure what you were trying to pull in calling it “frosting.” You don’t put frosting on a cake. Frosting goes on cupcakes and brownies and whatnot. It is most definitely icing. While they do refer to the same substance, the important part is the amount and the manner by which they are applied. Thus, icing is a much more involved process than simple frosting. Any idiot can frost something. It takes a trained professional to know how to ice a cake. You must ration the icing accordingly so that the icing is evenly distributed around the cake, and you must make decisions that really can only be made properly from the instincts of a seasoned pro. Icing a cake is a very, very delicate process and I don’t think whoever iced your chocolate cake with the vanilla butter-cream icing would appreciate that insult to his or her work.
Jealous of your delicious-sounding cake,
Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2005
Subject: clearing up the frosting issue
Icing, as a general rule, is thinner and more, for lack of a better term, drippy than frosting. Icing cannot be swirled into short sugary waves of fluff on the top of a homemade fudge cake. Icing is what you dip cookies in, or drizzle over cinnamon buns, probably because their pearlescent trails on the side of the foodstuff end up looking like icicles. Icing can be made with powdered sugar, milk, or water and vanilla.
Frosting, on the other hand, can be a meal unto itself. It is thick, and if it’s RIGHT, it’s butter-based, or, in the case of God’s Gift To The World, cream cheese-based. Frosting can be in a bowl over your head, turned upside down, and it won’t embarrass you.
They are both delicious, but vastly different.
Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2005
From: Jamey Kitchens
Subject: The Difference ’Tween “Frosting” & “Icing”
Dear, dear McSweeney’s,
Frosting = Thick, creamy, often piped into shapes on cakes and pies (i.e., rosettes, shells, genitalia). Icing = Thin, aqueous, dries hard and smooth. Regularly found on Christmas sugar cookies (Christmas trees, stars, angels, genitalia).
I understand the question was more than likely rhetorical, but I was bored.
And now, admittedly, a bit embarrassed by my knowledge of sweet dessert toppings/fillings/accoutrements.
Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2005
From: Ben J Herendeen
Subject: McSweeney’s Recommends
Blowing gently on the face of a baby is hit or miss. Blowing gently on the face of a dog is guaranteed to make the canine sneeze, snarl, and get very defensive. With my Ezekiel, I blow and then recoil before he can bite my face. It’s our favorite game. He gets very pissy this way. Then we get in a car and he whines until I roll down the window, at which point he sticks his head out into the 40 mph gusts. Fickle son of a bitch.
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2005
Subject: Long Cold Winter
It is very cold in our apartment. I don’t think our heater is working right. Also, our neighbor, Doug Watson, keeps coming over and saying how warm his apartment is. Would you ask him to stop?
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2005
From: Stephen Elliott
Subject: Dear McSweeney’s
I’m writing from New York, which is where you used to be before moving to San Francisco. I live in San Francisco, which is where I know you from, but I’m in New York this week promoting a book, one that you originally published in hardcover but is now out in paperback. But that’s not why I’m writing.
I’m writing because I’m on a train and last night I asked a woman to marry me. She’s a member of the Bloomberg administration, an actual appointed official. We’ve been flirting since we met at the Democratic Convention, because everybody in the Bloomberg administration is actually a Democrat, even Bloomberg.
Chloe was wearing pink pants, a pink sweater, and a purple vest. She looked like she was going skiing. We were at Andy’s Tavern and she was having just one more drink, though she should have left an hour earlier. There was a snow emergency. It was a Sunday. The F train wasn’t running. The city had been buried. The bar was practically empty, people were staying inside. I couldn’t blame them at all. It was so cold out it went straight to your bones and stayed there.
Chloe was telling me how much she liked children, how that was the most important thing to her. She told me a story of a woman who’d had a child and was so in love with her child she couldn’t see anything else. She was in love for the first time in her life. Chloe would be like that.
Anyway, we had already eaten at one of those trendy New York restaurants, the type with a steel dish of olives and smoked almonds on your table, the kind where you sit on a stool instead of a normal chair with a back. It was rumored Bill Clinton went there, and that he was still cheating on his wife. At some point during my third drink, fueled by Chloe’s passion and charisma, her clean cheeks and full lips and her hair which is like silk, I said, “Why don’t we get married and have children together.”
She kind of laughed. Partly, I think, because she knows I don’t actually want children. I don’t even like children. I’ve never been good with kids. Children are loud, and selfish. But I was having visions, there was a moment where it all made sense. Chloe and I would have this nice home in New York, a small place like the rest of them, but nice. Our sexual problems would dissipate over time, the way they do, and we’d become comfortable. I would love her, her political connections would help my career, and I’d enter into this period of normalcy that would end one day when I woke up in a panic, shared a nervous breakfast in the nook with my wife and two children (a third on the way), got dressed, left for work, and never returned.
After that I would stumble around the Midwest. I’d stay in cheap hotel rooms, the kind Richard Ford writes about. I’d live with a view of truck stops, step over potholes filled with pools of oil reflecting the street lights in orange-tinged rainbows like a liquid TV tuned to the channel of static. At some point I’d arrive in Chicago, where I grew up and saw my hard times. I’d look up old friends; find out who was in and who was out. No doubt a few of them would be dead, but the ones who weren’t, the ones who hadn’t succumbed to a drug addiction, would have settled into a routine. I would arrive at the realization that most of us end up in the same placeÂ—a spot to live, a means to survive, a spouse, a child. Most of us, but not me. Maybe I’d have a rapprochement with my father.
All of this was interrupted by Chloe reminding me of the time she came to visit in San Francisco. “We didn’t see each other the first night,” she said. That was true, but it wasn’t my fault. I had flown in early in the morning and had been on a television show. I walked right on to the morning news carrying a venti cup of Starbucks coffee, then I tried to get up and leave before the commercial break. The whole thing was a disaster. Then I went to my friend’s house and watched football for six hours and drank some beer. She was at a hot springs on the other side of the Golden Gate with a friend and was stuck in traffic coming back to the city. By the time she returned, after nine o’clock, I was headed to sleep and said I would see her the next day. Which I did.
“You should have seen me that night,” she said now. I looked at her quizzically. I was on my third drink and she was on her fourth. We weren’t coming from the same place. I wasn’t dressed warm enough for the weather, and it would take me an hour to get back to where I was staying. “And you didn’t hang out the next night either, after the reading. Where did you go?”
I didn’t know where I had gone. I don’t have that kind of memory. My dreams of what I would call The Comfortable Years were replaced by a vision of a woman who kept tabs on my whereabouts, questioned my motives. A person who was going to demand being treated well, whatever that means, and who had the confidence to demand respect. Someone with a long memory, capable of sustaining a grudge. I can’t stand it when people are mad at me. Chloe would be mad at me all the time. Then, of course, there was the whole birthing process. Sure, I would love the children, and in later years I would sleep on a lonely, guilt-lined bed with nothing but their pictures in my wallet to remind me, but she would love them more. She would love them with a love that burned. She wouldn’t need me. A relationship can survive anything except contempt.
“Where did I go that night?” I pondered. We were finally leaving the bar. I was going to catch the A train into Brooklyn, no sense in trying to find a cab in that kind of weather, with the streets as slick as ice rinks. I almost made it to the train without incident, except Chloe needed help taking off her boots so I went inside with her. In her living room, her roommate stood at the window, speaking on a cell phone. She assured us over her shoulder that she would help Chloe with her boots; I wasn’t going to be needed. I returned to the pavement, slipped underground into the subway. And I was gone.
New York, New York
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2005
From: “Close, Michael”
Subject: What about Alton?
When I first read your recommendation of Rachael Ray, I swear I said to myself that instant, “Alton Brown would be a better fit for the regular readers of this site.” Now that some writers of “Letters to McSweeney’s” have begun debating over the wisdom of this endorsement, I’m saying it again out loud. Rachael Ray was in FHM or Maxim or Stuff or one of those mags, for Chrissakes. Borderline eye-candy. I mean, she’s no dummy, speaks well, and makes a nice TV presence, but isn’t McSweeney’s generally a destination for the educated? Alton’s Good Eats, while perhaps skewing a bit nerdy with its attempts at humor, gets down to the basic science of cooking. It’s Food TV for the mind as well as the appetite. I highly recommend it.
Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2005
Is everyone as busy as they look? Is it important to appear busy while doing nothing at all? I look very busy right now. I am typing furiously. Papers are scattered all over my desk. Drawers are open. Folders are stacked sky-high. My boss walks by and says, “Kate, you look swamped.” And I say, “Oh, not at all.” He thinks this is sarcasm. It is the truth. I have been playing on the internet and picking my nose for 5 hours.
Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2005
From: Rachel DuBois
Subject: “Food for thought”-related pun
Don’t listen to the clamoring naysayer(s?). Rachael Ray is a darling, culinary ingÃ©nue more than worthy of your praise and recommendations. Despite the fact that she misspells her own name, she’s a whiz where it counts and does things with warm Brie that most men only dream of.
Besides, if it weren’t for Rachael’s ubiquitous Food Network presence, we’d all be forced to endure more Bobby Flay and no one (not even Mrs. Flay) could bear that.
Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2005
From: Charlie Hopper
I have a question.
My Uncle Don, used to the heat of South Carolina, was being visited by my sister from Indiana, who is always cold. She had been looking forward to going down in August and being hot. But Uncle Don cranked up the air conditioning while she was there, and finally one day she was so cold she put on a sweatshirt. “You can tell you’re a Northerner,” said Uncle Don, disparagingly. The question:
Does that remark make sense or is it insane?
Date: Mon, 17 Jan 2005
From: Elizabeth Wing
Subject: Are You Fucking Kidding Me?
You’re recommending Rachael Ray to your unsuspecting readers? She sucks. I can’t believe you’d recommend Rachael Ray over oh, say, a delicious toasted egg bagel with butter and hummus, or evenÂ—I’m just sayingÂ—Elizabeth David, or M.F.K. Fisher.
Rachael Ray. You guys suck. I used to love you, but now you suck.