Date: Wed, 6 Dec 2006
From: Andrew Meek
Subject: Re: Chockablock

Dear McSweeney’s,

I was very surprised to read Haley Coleman’s letter (29 November) regarding the use of “chockablock.” Sadly, I have never been to the States, much less had the pleasure of visiting South Louisiana. I’m currently staying in London but was born in Edinburgh and have lived, roomed, and squatted in many towns and cities up and down the British Isles and can say with some degree of confidence that the use of the word “chockablock,” while far from common usage, would meet with nary a raised eyebrow in any (British) location.

Although I’ve never encountered the elaborate hand signal (as described by Mrs. Coleman), I have run across several helpful ways of articulating the level of chockablockedness one is trying to describe. A common London variant, for example, when trying to convey a fire-code-violating level of busyness would be “chock-a-fuckin’-block,” where each word is pronounced as a complete sentence (occasionally with accompanying jerks of the neck). For those pressed for time, a common diminutive is the simple but fun-to-say “chocka”: “I wouldn’t bother with that place, it’s chocka” etc., etc.

Andrew Meek

- - -

Date: Tue, 5 Dec 2006
From: Matthew Daughtrey
Subject: Chockablock

Kia Ora, McSweeney’s,

With delight and considerable bonhomie, I’d like to let Haley Coleman know that Louisiana is not the southernmost location to use the term “chockablock.” It is in current and constant use throughout the fine antipodean colonies of both Australia and New Zealand, often suffixed with the friendly “mate.”

As far as I can recall (having moved to New York—what the …), there was no gesture associated with it. There was, however, a quite nice ice cream on a stick.

Additionally, Wikipedia offers the following:

Chock-A-Block was a BBC children’s television programme in the early 1980s. “Chock-A-Block” was an extremely large yellow computer …

Fred Harris played “Chock-A-Bloke,” and with that little nugget we move from wry amusement to mild discomfort, which is how I know to stop.

Haere ra,

- - -

Date: Tue, 5 Dec 2006
From: Shane Sinnott
Subject: Re: Haley Coleman’s Chockablock Question

Hey, Haley,

My father—born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa—uses “chockablock” all the time, though without the Southern USA hand gesture you mention. He used it a lot when we were younger as a “nay” vote on Saturday family outings, usually in reference to malls, Ikea parking lots, etc.

Another thing he says sometimes is “Yahantee Skinner!” (pronounced “YAWN-TEE-SKINNER!”), used as an exclamation of awe or surprise, which he claims is the 100 percent true real name of a runner on South Africa’s national track-and-field team when he was a teenager.

You might be also interested to know that a fun thing to say here in Montreal, if you want to do the French/English mashing of cultures thing, is “Qu’est-ce que fuck?”

Shane Sinnott

- - -

Date: Tue, 5 Dec 2006
From: Lindsey McGuirk
Subject: Happy Birthday/Apology

Dear McSweeney’s,

Coming up on December 7, America will be remembering, mourning the tragic attack on Pearl Harbor 65 years ago. But also happening on December 7: my friend Amanda will be celebrating another birthday. Now, not only is it difficult for her to share a birthday with a devastating bit of history, she now also has to share it with the memory of her birthday last year … a birthday that my actions now overshadow. Let’s just say that the night started out grand, a group of us wined and dined in celebration of our cherished friend, we traveled to a local club to hear Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings … a group I had been raving about … and then things got ugly. Long story short, I apparently thought the night was mine to celebrate and partied like a rock star … where birthday girl tended to my side. In an attempt to quell this humiliating night (“I did what?!”), I would like to appease Amanda with a birthday wish from McSweeney’s—her love, her confidant, her travel-down-the-road-and-back-again friend. So, as I will be sitting on the sidelines this year to ensure that she gets to celebrate her birthday as she deserves, I’ll be rooting loudly for a McSweeney’s sing-along in honor of this charming lass.

Lindsey McGuirk

- - -

Date: Mon, 4 Dec 2006
From: Marc Nesbitt
Subject: Re: The Swearing Of Jeremy Piven

Dear McSweeney’s,

The metaphor below is simplistic, to be sure, but the point itself needs to be made.

In your imagined world of two to three decades from now, people will be arguing the merits of Piven v. Sam Jackson as the greatest practitioners of the American swear.

Abruptly dragging the NBA into the fray, I say this:

Piven is LeBron, Sam Jackson is Michael Jordan, and Mr. Bob De Niro is Oscar Robertson.

Guy averaged a triple-double for his career.

Mimon Jones

- - -

Date: Mon, 4 Dec 2006
From: erin dobrinen
Subject: comment on recommendations

Dear McSweeney’s,

I check your Recommendation List regularly to learn about unique music, food, and entertainment that I should try. However, the latest recommendations included “not twisting your ankle.” I think this is a subversion of your list because it is something to avoid, not something to seek out. You could go on forever listing anti-recommendations like “not getting audited,” “not seeing your crazy ex,” or “don’t get food poisoning.” Or we sum up the whole list by just saying “try not dying” or “enjoy good stuff, avoid bad stuff.” Come on, think positively!

E. Dobrinen

- - -

Date: Fri, 1 Dec 2006
From: Thomas L. Largey
Subject: Yerba Mate

Dear McSweeney’s: I’m sorry, but there are some lines that even I won’t cross. I’ll eat blowfish; I’ll snack on warm brains served from a monkey skullcup; push comes to shove, I’d even drink unicorn blood to save my life. But I will not eat or drink anything made from the member of anyone from the holly family—or the cummings family, or the smith family, or the jones family. It just isn’t right.


P.S. Not for nothing, but the fact that the holly family is not nearly extinct leads one to surmise that only members long past their useful primes are used to make this stuff. Gross.

- - -

Date: Wed, 29 Nov 2006
From: Haley Coleman
Subject: Chockablock

Dear McSweeney’s,

I have just been catching up on your letters section. (Sorry, it’s been an incredibly busy couple of months. I got married last week! I’ll catch you up on that later.) I wanted to let you know I was astounded to see in Matt Baker’s letter from October 3 that he uses the term “chockablock” in reference to the amount of useful observations in a previously printed article. I would never have considered myself to be sheltered in my life, but I have never heard anyone outside of South Louisiana, where I was born and raised, use this term! Indeed, we even have a hand motion for it, which involves pinching all of your fingers together, much like the universal sign for lots of money, and then tapping the pursed-together fingers of both hands together at the tips, while saying “chockablock.” I will also provide a frame of reference sentence here, which was overheard in the crowded balcony section of my hometown church at Christmas Eve mass a couple of years ago, where an elderly man told his equally elderly wife, “Whew, Mama, it’s chockablock up in here, cher!” So I’m curious to know, is this term indeed used everywhere except in Georgia, where I have been stationed for quite a few years now, and everyone gives me confused stares every time I say the word? I’d love to find out.

Sincerely yours,
Haley Coleman

- - -

Date: Mon, 27 Nov 2006
From: Laurie Stuart
Subject: troubled americans


I recently picked up your book Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans at my local library. It was in the travel section.

Your fan,

- - -

Date: Sun, 26 Nov 2006
From: Shawn J Sarwar
Subject: Re: McSweeney’s Demands!

Dear McSweeney’s, I find myself increasingly confused and frightened by my new station as a full adult and member of society. There are so many decisions to be made and I sometimes feel as if everyone else is cooler and more sexually active than myself. I know your recommender seeks to guide young people in difficult life choices, but I feel that your advice is sometimes thin and easily ignored. For example, while I enjoy watching The Wire, I find it very easy to say “Fuck persimmons.” I’m sure they would be delicious if I gave them a chance, but you’re just recommending them, you offer no guarantee that I’ll even find them satisfactory! I’m not asking you to change your recommendations, just make me believe that if I don’t adhere to your edicts my friends and neighbors will all become more wealthy and sexually desirable because they listen to the simple truths that you offer. Simply changing to “McSweeney’s Demands!” or “McSweeney’s Declares!” would satisfy that need. Also, if you could offer some type of comprehensive guide to surviving your mid 20s, from how to dress to how to trick people into thinking you’re more successful than you are, I would find that immensely helpful.


S. Shawn Jessee
Charleston, SC

- - -

Date: Tue, 21 Nov 2006
From: Robert Rorex
Subject: You Broke My Stride

Dear McSweeney’s,

I wish to express my extreme discomfort when trying to read Ben Greenman’s “Fragments From If I Did It! The Musical.” While I have no problems with the content or subject matter, I must take offense to the article’s presentation. Mr. Greenman, how dare you open your piece with “Last night I had the strangest dream” if you do not intend to continue mimicking Matthew Wilder’s ‘80s hit “Break My Stride.” Do you realize how frustrating it is trying to reconcile your lyrics with the cadence and stanza length of Wilder’s faux-reggae rhythm when they are not even remotely similar? In fact, the differences were so overwhelming that I was unable to finish reading your composition, as my head was filled with lines about getting my laundry clean. What does that mean?

In the future, please try to limit references to addictively bad songs from my childhood to prose work only. While this won’t necessarily keep the song from pulsating in my head for the entire day, it will prevent any confusion stemming from harmonic and rhythmic conflict. Thank you.

Robert Rorex

- - -

Date: Sun, 19 Nov 2006
From: browneyedgirl
Subject: None

Dear McSweeney’s,

What should I ask my lovely relatives to give me for Christmas this year?

Thank you, and happy holidays,
Sarah Page

- - -

Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2006
From: Sam Weaver
Subject: In-N-Out Review

Dear McSweeney’s,

I find Ben Pawlowski’s review of In-N-Out horribly insufficient. Yes, he is new to the gloriousness that is In-N-Out, but someone with more experience should weigh in on the subject. While the simplicity of the menu might possess some banality—a banality that is erased by the quality of the taste—the underlying “hidden” menu speaks volumes about the beauty of the establishment. Of course, the menu is not that hidden, as it is brazenly displayed on their website. (Animal style [grilled onions, extra spread], protein style [for the carb-conscious], Neapolitan milkshakes [these are the items that fill men’s (and women’s) souls].) Also, you can easily order your french fries “well done” for an extra-crispy crunch. Also, animal-style french fries are gluttonously glorious with gobs of their spread under melted cheese topped with grilled onions. Heart attacks be damned.

Sam Weaver

- - -

Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2006
From: Jeff Alford
Subject: Hot moves

Dear McSweeney’s,

Do you know anything about those Internet mortgage banners with the dancing silhouettes? I am mesmerized and fascinated by them. One week, I saw two cowboy silhouettes doing what I guess is line-dancing, and next thing I know they’re dancing on an enormous cartoon bicep—and there’s a tattoo gun in front of the bicep, as if these dancing men were just inked on! Then there’s another one with a ribbon dancer, and another with a couple performing hypnotic hip swirls … Is this what the future of technology will look like? Will we get holograms on our desk with these dancing enigmas?

If so, I cannot wait.


- - -

Date: Wed, 15 Nov 2006
From: Logan Zickefoose
Subject: The Grieving Ms. Coulter

Dear McSweeney’s,

To be quite honest, I somewhat doubt the factual accuracy of Mr. Richardson-Bryan’s five stages of grief recently attributed to Ann Coulter. Specifically, I take issue with stage four. Masturbation (that is, the stimulation of one’s own genitals for pleasure) is certainly not something that a fine, upstanding conservative Christian such as Ms. Coulter would engage in. Indeed, such an act, to my ears, seems far more likely from one of the “corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie chick pie wagons” that Ms. Coulter has so valiantly committed her pen and career to defending this country against. Now, McSweeney’s seems to be a reasonably upstanding outfit, and I’m sure you have only the finest of unpaid intern fact-checkers in your employ, but, to be blunt, Ms. Coulter has never masturbated. Ever.

R. Logan Zickefoose

P.S. I believe “fling feces” and “foam at the mouth” could both adequately stand on their own as separate stages in the grieving process. Give it some thought.

- - -

Date: Wed, 15 Nov 2006
From: Joshua Smith
Subject: Re: Micah Nilsson’s review of Trix Cereal

Dear McSweeney’s,

Micah writes that “[f]or a while I enjoyed the novelty of it, how the red ones tasted different than the turquoise and pink ones, each one distinct and yet totally unconstrained by any similarity to any flavor of the natural world.” However, as a former Trix enthusiast, I would be remiss in my duties as a one-time fan if I didn’t remind Micah and the rest of the world that somewhere between my childhood and my adulthood (perhaps five to 10 years ago?) Trix changed from individually flavored cereal pieces to an unfortunate morass of one flavor for all pieces. Not only were there no longer unique flavor combinations from bite to bite, but the new combined flavor was significantly less tasty than one bite with an evenly distributed variety of pieces from Trix Version 1.0. So, unless Micah Nilsson happened upon a really old box of Trix, I suspect this purported experience of differently flavored Trix cereal pieces to be false, a clear example of synesthesia.

Joshua J. Smith

P.S. I also remember Grape-Nuts tasting so much better when I had them as a kid than I think they taste now …

- - -

Date: Fri, 10 Nov 2006
From: lozeau
Subject: the local strip club

Dear McSweeney’s,

I can understand why you would reject my list of porno films with literary themes but 10 months later publish Jonathan Shipley’s strikingly similar “Phrases on the Marquee at the Local Strip Club to Cater to a More Literate Crowd.” After all, he must have worked hard to find time to write the list while also performing his duties as an 18th-century Welsh bishop/treasonous Whig. I would, however, like to see just two of my titles published, as I cared for them like they were my own children, and it was awful to have to see them suffer the pain of rejection. Those titles:

Assalom, Assalom! East of Peed-on

I now realize the second title may only be appropriate for a porno film and not for a strip-club marquee (except in Rio).

By the way, regarding the published list’s “Tale of Two Titties”: I would have gone with “Bright Lights, Big Titty.” LOL? I thought so.

Lincoln Hawk

- - -

Date: Fri, 10 Nov 2006
From: Paul Elsberg
Subject: Keep those cameras safely rolling.

Dear Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency:

I enjoyed “Rejected America’s Funniest Home Videos Submissions, as Logged by Junior Production Assistant Intern Kenneth Polk” by Andrew Kiraly (11/10/06). I couldn’t help but notice, however, that the first two submissions listed—one involving a jet-ski accident and the other, an awkward moment between co-workers at an office birthday party—had the same video code: AFV956382. Weird that two such disparate incidents should be part of the same video submission.

So my questions are: Is the guy riding the exploding jet ski the same guy who punches his co-worker? Or is he the guy who was punched by his co-worker? Which event occurred first? And, if it was the jet-ski accident, did the guy show signs of permanent scarring at the birthday party?

Sittin’ here wonderin’,
Paul Elsberg

- - -

Date: Thu, 09 Nov 2006
From: Amy Castellano
Subject: Mountain Man Dance Moves

Dear Mr. Timothy McSweeney,

For so long, I had been searching for that perfect accessory. My bathroom, although fully functional, lacked that chutzpah that would take it to the proverbial next level. I ran the gamut of options out there for a small to midsized bathroom such as mine, from nutmeg-scented candles to potpourri made of the finest mulches, even a “Hang in there!” kitten poster for added fuzziness. Nothing was oomphy enough until the day I discovered Mountain Man Dance Moves, by far the best-looking book on the market today. It contained all the chuckles one might want in a single sitting, and the unicorn cover is enough to make any passersby stop and wish they had thought of it first. So, to you I say thanks. My bathroom is now the envy of all my friends, not to mention the most hilarious one on the block. Please keep up the good work.

Mostly sincerely,
Amy Castellano

- - -

Date: Tue, 31 Oct 2006
From: Benjamin R. Cohen
Subject: Do I quibble? Very well then, I quibble (to paraphrase Whitman)

Dear Mr. McSweeney,

If I might quibble with your excellent (and timely! but more on that later) nod to Diane Rehm: her show is two hours long. The first hour, I want to assume, is the one you recommended as “good radio.” The second hour, usually on culture, and sometimes even on Ellen Burstyn’s memoir, maybe not so much.

But now it is later and I promised a follow-up to an earlier comment. (Remember my introductory sentence?) And this was: Holy crank, did you hear her rip Limbaugh a new one last week? I thought she was reading an e-mail from a coked-up listener, reaming Rush about his asinine Michael J. Fox comments. But it was just her, just her saying that isn’t right, this will not stand, this must stop, you pack it up and go back to your hole, Rush. That was just her. It was good. And, of course, it was Hour One commentary.

I remain,

Benjamin R. Cohen
Charlottesville, VA

- - -

Date: Fri, 27 Oct 2006
From: Sarah Avery
Subject: Indy’s bullwhip


I very much enjoyed Andy F. Bryan’s “Back From Yet Another Globetrotting Adventure, Indiana Jones Checks His Mail and Discovers That His Bid for Tenure Has Been Denied.” I wonder if Bryan knows an old bit of Vassar College legend. His fictitious Professor Stevens complains of Indiana Jones, “Moreover, no one on the committee can identify who or what instilled Dr. Jones with the belief that an archaeologist’s tool kit should consist solely of a bullwhip and a revolver.”

I was a student at Vassar in the last years of the late Walter Fairservis’s teaching career. I don’t know how true campus tales were, but word had it that Fairservis had begun his distinguished career in archaeology by running off to India almost empty-handed when he was 19 years old, and that Steven Spielberg had phoned Fairservis while developing the idea for the first Indiana Jones film. What, Spielberg is said to have asked, were the three things Fairservis would have brought with him if he had it to do over again? A hat, a gun, and a whip, Fairservis is said to have replied. Is it true? I have no idea, but in the late 1980s and early 1990s, students would call him Indy Fairservis if they thought he wasn’t listening.

Sarah Avery

- - -

Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2006
From: JesseJ
Subject: Rabies shots are no big deal.

Dear McSweeney’s,

I’m writing to clarify a gross misunderstanding. Simply stated, rabies shots are not a big deal. Rabies has always gotten a bad rap. I can remember my parents warning me not to approach stray and/or wild animals. I always thought they were being overly protective. What’s the big deal about rabies? What’s the worse that can happen? I’ll need, like, 20 shots in the stomach? Whatever.

My stepmother apparently agreed with my reasoning and purchased a rabid cat. Sure enough, the cat bit me and I was informed that I needed rabies shots. Imagine my relief when I found out that I only needed 16 shots, four in each limb. Let me tell you, when you get 16 shots within an eight-week period, it’s no big deal. It’s completely routine after, like, week five.

When I told my classmates, kids were initially afraid of me, but soon that fear turned to awe. I knew what they were thinking: “How could this seemingly regular kid stand all those shots?” I told them what I’ve been telling people for the last 18 years: Rabies shots are no big deal.

Jesse Johnson

- - -

Date: Thu, October 19, 2006
From: Jackie Brook
Subject: Re: Menopause: A Question

Dear McSweeney’s:

Oftentimes, I spend my lunch hour looking at websites to entertain me and aid in my procrastination from actually getting to work. Typically, I start with the trashy gossip sites, work my way through the trashy news sites (thank you,, and end the hour with whatever goodies McSweeney’s has to offer. Today was spent learning about Heather Mills and Paul McCartney’s increasingly acrimonious divorce, a priest’s “relationship” with ex-Rep. Foley (I myself am not certain which came from the “news” site and which came from the “gossip” site), then finally one woman’s struggle to get her letter on menopause published on your site.

Callahan’s letter (I won’t dare assume Ms. or Mrs., as she seems like the type that might take offense to such a presumption …) was well written and thoughtful, and while I don’t necessarily think you are discriminatory toward the older set, she raises some interesting points.

However, I stopped reading the letter halfway through. Callahan says, “I can assure you the original story I wrote for those menopause-mongers really did suck.” Her use of the word “monger” genuinely irks me. For a “monger,” according to a generally accepted dictionary’s definition, is one that peddles. I pose the question: Who peddles menopause? If there is, in fact, someone who peddles menopause, please let me know. They are selling far too much of it to my mother (I think she may be addicted) and it has to stop.

With that said, please do not publish anything else menopause-related. I am a 22-year-old worried enough about my fertile uterus being impregnated that I don’t want to have my carefree sex ruined by recognizing that I will be barren in 20 to 30 years.

All best,
Jackie Brook

- - -

Date: Sun, 15 Oct 2006
From: Son of King Pharmacist
Subject: Dear McSweeney’s—Letter to McSweeney’s

Dear McSweeney’s,

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately.

Works written in a classical vein should be printed in serif fonts, don’t you think? They will make your words seem more austere than usual, which should be the desired effect. Imagine if Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations had been printed in Arial Narrow or Verdana. Could we have bought the stagnancy of Miss Havisham? Would her wedding cake have seemed quite so desperately uneaten if it were described using the anything-but-gothic font Franklin Gothic Book? Could her yellowed dress jump off the page in such a cool shade? I think not. Sans-serif fonts are entirely incapable of describing mustiness or dankness, and they fall short even in depicting scenes of impenetrable gloom. Desperation is a foreign concept to these metropolitan characters, which are better at illustrating the brash frivolity of Paris or the neon glow of Times Square during New Year’s festivities. Impact, Vrinda, and Kartika are spectacular fonts for scenes of modernity—skyscrapers, Scottish heroine junkies, pop-culture journalism, and new-wave populism. These sorts of fonts are far too open and inviting for the likes of Dickens, and the same goes for Mary Shelley.

Furthermore, I think all World War I and II stories should be printed in fonts that attempt to approximate the appearance of a typewritten letter insomuch as it is very difficult for people who have not experienced war to write about it. Courier New is especially adept at creating a fraudulent authenticity that is sure to leave the reader vulnerable to hokey depictions of the storming of the Normandy beach. In fact, any written work dealing with life between 1900 and 1958 should be either typewritten or displayed in a similar font, if for no other reason than because I could not believe an account of the McCarthy trials if I saw it in Lucida Sans or Helvetica. I would feel rather as if I were reading a blatant anachronism—doomed the entire time to wallow in unforgiving awareness of the retrospective nature of the prose. Even the most popular default font of our time, Times New Roman, will not suffice despite its membership in a long and distinguished line of serifs ranging from Sylfaen to Perpetua.

I mean no disrespect to modern-day serifs, of course. I only wish to convey the fact that even novelty fonts such as Edwardian Script more adequately portray both the whimsy and horror of yesteryear.

I have yet to investigate the proper trappings for works written after 1958. As you know, the Vietnam War was a long and difficult period that presents many confusing conundrums. Society became a great deal more complicated after that, but the challenge of formulating a font-related template for contemporary literature is one that I am more than willing to undergo if you are willing to provide the proper funding.

Please let me know if you are interested.

Jason Gantenberg

- - -

Date: Mon 9 Oct 2006
From: Lori Callahan
Subject: Menopause: A Question

Dear Open-Minded Folks at McSweeney’s:

I recently submitted something for your “Open Letters” section. It was titled: “An Open Letter to the Editor Who Rejected My Story About Menopause for a Book on the Same Topic Whose Title I Will Not Reveal, or The Mature Way in Which I Handled Said Rejection.” Sadly, you passed on it. I hope it was not due to the length of the title.

Because I am such a whore for seeing my material published on McSweeney’s, this has caused me many a sleepless night. It has made me resort to my Pinot Grigio bottle (thank you for alerting me to the fact that “Pinot Grigio” should, indeed, be capitalized) for escape from the soul-crushing realization that anyone would not find the topic of menopause funny.

What is causing this insomnia, alcohol abuse, and great consternation on my part is something that a friend of mine said, perhaps only to comfort me. He said that he thought McSweeney’s would never publish something with the word “menopause” in it because that might alter the public’s perception of what a hip, irreverent, youth-oriented website it is. He implied McSweeney’s might be “squeamish” about publishing a piece with this word slapped all over it because of the implications therein: that McSweeney’s actually might have a wider demographic than they thought. And they don’t want it.

Say it ain’t so!

Now, from years of experience, I have never known McSweeney’s to be squeamish about any topic. Consider the lively debate spurred within this very section—"Letters to McSweeney’s"—on such varied and disgusting topics as: the merits of combining personal hygiene (showering) with other necessary tasks (shaving, plucking, eating, reading) in the interest of saving time. Remember the spirited discussions on the proper forms of address for redheads (“ginger” OK—"firecrotch" not OK). And who could forget spaghetticorn? Not me. So it is established that MsSweeney’s does not shy away from controversial subjects.

You seem to be an open-minded group. So I must conclude that my piece was not up to your impeccable standards, and that you just don’t find menopause as hilarious as I do, especially when certain “editors” of certain “books” about certain “topics” want you to take it seriously. But that’s OK. And that’s another story—I can assure you the original story I wrote for those menopause-mongers really did suck.

But just for the record: I am not now contemplating, nor have I ever contemplated, menopause. I do not advocate it for anyone. It is not even on my “to-do” list. I now use the word “menopause” interchangeably for anything that is fucked up, not working properly, or making me sad. As in, “My car is going through menopause this week: I must take it in to have its delicate internal parts probed.” Or, “The editor who rejected my story must be going through menopause or something.” See? It does work as a metaphor.

Anyway, thanks for letting me get this off my chest. I still have faith in you.

Still ovulating,
Lori Callahan

- - -

Date: Fri, 6 Oct 2006
From: Allison Carr
Subject: James Tate

Dear McSweeney’s:

I would like to second your recommendation of Mr. Tate’s poems. There is a special place in my heart for Mr. Tate, as he hails from my hometown, and I had the good fortune of interviewing him a few years ago when he gave a reading at my college. The man, while guarded, is damn near the most prolific and unassuming writer I have ever encountered, either in person (the only) or through his work (thousands), especially considering he made the big leagues at age 24 with The Lost Pilot. Return to the City of White Donkeys is a gem and is best coupled with a collection of his earlier, more concise work, Selected Poems, the volume that won him the Pulitzer Prize.

Be well.
Allison D. Carr

- - -

Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2006
From: Carlton Doby
Re: To the Editors of Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney’s Book of Lists

Dear Editors of Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney’s Book of Lists,

Allow me to reintroduce myself. For much of 2003, I was the puzzlemaster of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Each week I produced a vexing “Brain Exploder” for the enjoyment of McSweeney’s readers. I left the employ of McSweeney’s in early 2004 after inventing a computer program that could automatically generate Sudoku number puzzlers at the rate of 11 per minute. These puzzles could then be sold to one of four newspaper syndicates at the rate of $900 per. To put it in puzzle terms, if Sally is riding on a train from Boston to Chicago at a speed of 70 miles per hour, and Franklin is traveling from Phoenix to Chicago at a speed of 90 miles per hour, and every person on both trains is doing one of Carlton Doby’s Sudokus, then Carlton can afford Ann-Margret’s former Hamptons estate at a fixed-rate mortgage of 3.7 percent.

On December 2 of last year George Clooney handed me a message from you at my villa in Côte d’Ivoire. This was not just a friendly greeting but a plea for help. You were preparing your new book, Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney’s Book of Lists, but the manuscript did not have enough lists involving unicorns. You asked me (and talented others) if I could produce some. I said I could.

The following day I delivered to your electronic inbox not one but two such lists. They were titled “Punch Lines to Jokes Unicorns Like to Tell About the Irish” and “Your Recurring Dreams About Unicorns Explained, 1970s Baseball Edition.” I did not hear back from you right away, but this was no blow to my self-esteem. I knew my entries were to comical list anthologies what nonfatal snowmobile accidents were to America’s Funniest Home Videos.

On June 6, 2006, I received a contract asking my permission to reprint only “Punch Lines to Jokes Unicorns Like to Tell About the Irish.” You offered $25 and a copy of the finished book. I thought you were fools to reject “Your Recurring Dreams About Unicorns Explained, 1970s Baseball Edition,” but I not only consented, I insisted that you donate the $25 to your storefront PBS show, the San Francisco–based 826 Valencia. And while this might seem exceedingly generous on my part, let me explain something about my frame of mind at the time. Between June 6 through June 8 of this year I was intermittently engaged in a fragrantly oiled threesome with a pair of beautiful models who shall remain nameless until my memoirs (although for fans of both crosswords and Deal or No Deal I will say only that the experience has given me a vivid new understanding of the terms “17 Across” and “23 Down”).

I never received my copy of the book, but I hoped it had been donated to the children of 826 as well. So, while browsing in my local bookstore last week, I purchased Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney’s Book of Lists and brought it home. I had not even turned to Page 30, however, before I received a shock. McSweeney’s had published my property, “Your Recurring Dreams About Unicorns Explained, 1970s Baseball Edition,” without offering appropriate compensation for me to subsequently refuse. This is not just an outrage but a betrayal. I demand restitution.

Specifically, I demand that McSweeney’s pay itself an additional $25, and mail itself a second copy of Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney’s Book of Lists. If these demands are not met within 10 business days, I will have to insist that you cease distribution of this book. My attorneys are preparing the necessary motions as we speak, and if you don’t think I have the resources to see this through, I should point out that perhaps my most famous (and lucrative) Sudoku, “Sudoku No. 471,” was created by a fun-sized Snickers bar I had placed on the return key of my laptop while I was upstairs receiving a “Johnson & Johnson” (street lingo for a soapy bathtub handjob) from a popular television actress whose name is an anagram for “a sky-hi margarita.”

My representatives await your reply.

Carlton Doby

P.S. Adding insult to injury, you edited one of my Irish-joke punch lines in order to make it grammatically correct, but now the joke makes as much sense as MapQuest directions written by Mark Danielewski. I’m sorry, what part of “Aye laddie, and they’re boat for sale” do you not find hilarious? Even a barely conscious Tara Reid laughed at that one when I told it to her at the Vanity Fair party. I won’t sue you for it but Jeepus Crow it annoys.

- - -

Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2006
From: Matt Baker
Subject: Former President Ronald Reagan

Dear McSweeney’s, Amelia, World,

Amelia Gray’s wonderful review of Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home was chockablock with wonderful observations, but unfortunately also included one glaring mistake. All American presidents, sitting, dead, impeached or otherwise, are still considered “president,” as opposed to “former president.” This quirk of U.S.ian etiquette even applies to asshats like Reagan.


Matt Baker
100 miles east of Dixon, IL

P.S. This is an unofficial prescript only, like the Flag Code, and will not result in jackboots kicking in your door at 3 a.m. for infringement.

P.P.S. Yet.

- - -

Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2006
From: Thomas L. Largey
Subject: Bad Toronto Hair

Dear McSweeney’s:

I totally agree with Pasha Malla that Toronto fans have the worst hair in professional sport.

It is not easy speaking truth to power, and P. Malla deserves our praise, support, and gratitude.

Slugger O’Toole

- - -

Date: Fri, 29 Sep 2006
From: Pasha Malla
Subject: RE: “Gratings”

Dear McSweeney’s:

These FreeDarko folks do some of my favourite writing about basketball, anywhere, and Dr. Lawyer Indianchief’s look at the New York Knicks’ fall from grace is spot-on awesome.

I pledged allegiance to the Knicks until Toronto got a team back in ‘95; at a game in Detroit, I once patted the top of Kenny “Sky” Walker’s hightop fade as he made his way out of the tunnel. The Knicks feel now to me like that ex-girlfriend you hear about through friends who let her life go down the shitter—you’ve moved on, but still feel sad, sort of, and wonder if you could have done something to help.

I’m assuming Indianchief wrote this little missive before Isiah went and hired his old buddy Glen Grunwald to head things in the front office. Aside from consistently having the worst hair in professional sport (Steve Nash at his worst doesn’t even come close), Toronto fans are all too familiar with Grunwald’s baffling managerial tactics and empty promises.

When Grunwald was the Raptors’ GM, a “Fire Grunwald” movement in the city gained momentum with each questionable trade, signing, and staffing decision. From keeping Vince over Tracy to picking up a near-geriatric Hakeem Olaujuwon (ever see a 7-footer airball a breakaway dunk?), the guy seemed more intent on sabotage than on creating a winning franchise. When he was finally canned in 2004, he left a club in shambles, with what remains a bleak future. (I don’t care what anyone says—that we’re banking our next season on a point guard who spends half his time on a spinal board doesn’t bode well for the win column.)

For Zeke to hire Grunwald now feels a bit like the captain of a sinking ship inviting a giant squid on board to help save passengers. And that squid is hungry. And it has a mullet. And it thinks paying Antonio Davis a billion dollars a year, or whatever it was, is a smart move.

That said, Grunwald was the one who saw a future in Chris Bosh. And who knows, maybe his last two years away from basketball have given him time to reflect. Maybe he’ll get a totally amazing haircut. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll be the one to turn things around for the Knicks, after all.

Yeah, maybe.

Pasha Malla

- - -

Date: Thu, 28 Sep 2006
From: BestOfHorses
Subject: Equestrian Directory

Dear Horse Enthusiast,

Equestrian Directory 5,000 Members

Our Mission
Equestrian Directory is a free service offered to the world’s equestrian community. Through Equestrian Directory, owners of horse-related websites can register their sites in our directory. After your site is approved by our editorial staff, it will then be available to the thousands of Internet users who visit us daily. Again, this is a free service. Our goal is simply to improve the connection between people who provide horse-related information, services, and products and those who seek them.

Best regards,
Christine Wendin, COO

- - -

Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2006
From: Aire Hjelle
Subject: September 20th New Features

Dearest McSweeney,

Before I tell you how gut-bustingly funny Jason Roeper’s and Brendan Lloyd’s features were today, I have a confession to make. I was two hours late to work. I was late because my next-door neighbor, who is just a wonder to look at, had a birthday last night and no one to drink with. I am, though, the proverbial “trooper.” I don’t care that I’ve drunk every night this month that doesn’t have an M in it—when it’s someone’s birthday, you never let them drink alone. Never. (Remember this; you’ll be quizzed on it later.) Plus, I could look at this man all night long. His looks are more than just reminiscent of a Thelma and Louise–era Brad Pitt (without the uncomfortable rape scene). People notice you when you’re drinking with a Brad Pitt look-alike. They also tend to notice that you’re really not in his league at all and that’s fine! I’m really working on trying to become this guy’s pimp. It’s going to start with a staged crashing of a Girls’ Night Out and it will end with him giving me 10 percent of his earnings from turning tricks. I told him this last night, and he just laughed.

Anyway, I came to work two hours late, and decided that, since I was in no mood to actually do work, I would send people funny letters composed entirely of hyperlinked words. As I was about to link your website to the word “explain,” I decided to pull the link up so as not to inadvertently send people hurtling to the pornographic outposts of the World Wide Web. And that is when I read Brendon Lloyd’s fine piece “The Recording Industry Will Destroy You.” I chortled in my office, somewhat uncomfortably because chortling is a noise that doesn’t go well with a hangover. I thought to myself that this Brendon Lloyd would be a fine recipient of a funny, hyperlinked letter or some peanut-butter cups (who doesn’t like peanut butter cups? And don’t tell me people with peanut allergies. Just because you cannot eat something doesn’t mean that you don’t like it), but there was no e-mail address. My heart broke.

Completely distracted from my original purpose for visiting your site, I clicked away to the “Short Imagined Monologues,” billed as “New today.” Jason Roeper’s “I’m Beginning to Think No One’s Coming to My Cinco de Mayo Party” had me snickering, especially the Evite part. I had that uncomfortable moment of recognition: here I am, wasting away in an office job, on the worst type of welfare (incompetence and laziness in a corporate white-collar job), spending hours writing Evites for parties and events that will probably only be sparsely attended by my many acquaintances in this city. Yes, when I read that bit about Evites, I gazed into the darkness. And snickered. I hope it snickered back.

I would tell Mr. Roeper this myself (and offer him peanut-butter cups, too!), but I find myself fatiguing and will probably have to close my door and take a long nap very soon. It is for this reason that I will have to scrimp on the sycophantic stylings that seem to get letters posted to the page. (Actually, brevity might have been a better way to let the world read this. And avoidance of parenthetical remarks.) In all honesty, though, I love you, Timothy McSweeney, in a completely platonic way. You’re one of the few bright spots in my otherwise banal existence.


P.S. Quiz time: What must you never let someone do on her birthday? (Mine’s tax day, if you’re curious. Start training now.)

- - -

Date: Fri, 15 Sep 2006
From: Templeton Dink
Subject: G.I. Joe


I heard a slightly interesting fact. I heard that G.I. Joe is not available in stores during times of war. I heard this fact from a reliable source, Jon at my work. I wonder if the perpetual war on terror will rob an entire generation of the joys of the kung-fu grip, making Destro and Snake-Eyes kiss, and the popular breaking off of the small crotch bit and making a floppy-legged Joe.

Best regards,

Templeton Dink
Vancouver, BC

- - -

Date: Thu, 7 Sep 2006
From: Kmlavoy
Subject: Does Meghann Marco have other geographic exploratory talents?

Dear McSweeney’s,

First off, congratulations on having two capital letters in one name. I think you’ll find, like I have, there is no end of fun telling people, “… that’s capital M and capital S.”

Meghann Marco did such a great job on the Midwest. I was hoping she might clear up a question that just came to my attention.

Route 41 starts at 95th in Chicago, and wends its way slowly north. Unlike North Avenue (which is Route 64 all the way), it becomes different things at different points. Sometimes it’s Skokie Boulevard, sometimes it’s Lincoln Avenue. Here is my question: 41 is Lake Shore Drive all the way along the city of Chicago until it hits Foster, then 41 becomes Foster. But Lake Shore Drive continues onward to Hollywood, where it turns left and then north to Sheridan Road. What is Lake Shore Drive north of Foster? Is it still 41? Why do these crucial yards of Lake Shore Drive not get the Route 41 designation? Can I still tell people to take 41 north to Sheridan Road and hope they don’t end up in Wisconsin before they’ve realized their mistake?

Kevin LaVoy

- - -

Date: Wed, 6 Sept. 2006
From: L. Callahan
Subject: Pinot Grigio

Dear fellow winethusiasts at McSweeney’s:

Glad to hear you’ve come to your senses about Pinot Grigio. I too used to be a bit of a red-wine snob, but recently I’ve been enthusiastically recommending this spectacular beverage to any who will listen. But beware, all Pinot Grigios are not created equally: Santa Margarita—now that’s the stuff!

Pinot Grigio has often taken a back seat to the more pedestrian Chardonnay, but as any true wine connoisseur knows (as McSweeney’s surely does), Pinot Grigio is to Chardonnay as crack is to coffee. It cannot be beat for the Prozac-like lift it gives you. Drinking Pinot Grigio does for the wallflower’s personality what Viagra does for the, well, you know. This “idea fuel,” as I like to call it, truly has inhibition-inhibiting qualities, as experience has taught me. For example, consumption of one-half to two-thirds of a bottle induces in me the desire to do standup comedy. Note that I did not say it makes me funny. It merely makes me bold. This is the only drawback as far as I have noticed. That and offering to show people my yellow bra, which I pronounced “Lellow” for added comedic effect. Blessedly, it allows only the vaguest of memories the next day of what I said or did under its influence.

So drink up. Did I mention Pinot Grigio gives you no hangover? Only regrets.

A fellow white wino,
Lori Callahan

- - -

Date: Thu, 31 Aug 2006
From: Julia Schulte
Subject: More things on corn


I simply must add to the fine suggestions of what tastes good on corn already submitted by my fellow McSweeney’s lovers.

Up until about a year ago, the only things that ever touched my corn (on the cob, that is) were butter and salt. Then, through a general lack of foresight coupled with incredibly good luck and friends, I found myself crashing at a mostly empty house with a good friend for most of last summer—in Santa Cruz, no less! Neither of us had a job at the moment, or the desire to pursue one, so we spent most of our time sleeping, drinking ice coffee, eating coconut popsicles, and hosting barbeques.

It was during the preparations for the first of these events that my friend introduced me to elote. I understand that this is simply “corn” in Spanish, but it just sounds so exotic (especially if you don’t know how to spell it!)! Anyway, elote simply entails slathering a grilled cob of corn with sour cream and then sprinkling this whole mess with queso fresco. I know, I know, sounds unlikely, and it’s messy as hell, but I will never eat my corn any other way. Try it!

Much love,

- - -

Date: Fri, 18 Aug 2006
From: T.G. Gibbon
Subject: The Kennedy Boy

Dear Sirs,

I have to take issue with Dan Kennedy’s son’s interpretation of atomic reality (August 18). He claims matter is held in its for-all-intents-and-purposes solid form because the particles give in to their desire for movement and that “Daddy” is an aberration for resisting and struggling with his urge to move. I think this toddler is not nearly so goddamned clever as he thinks he is. It is, in fact, little boy, the ambivalent (literally!) desire of electrons to rush inward (“don’t want to”) and to fly outward off into space (“but I have to”) that keeps the universe functioning properly for you and me and our Lunchables. Without this tension—the very emotion Daddy is feeling, or pretending to feel—replicated on the subatomic scale billions of trillions of dozens of times a nanosecond, Junior would not have his happy home, his free food, or his Music Television.

Good luck in science class, you baby!

Best wishes,

TG Gibbon
Philadelphia Native

- - -

Date: Fri, 18 Aug 2006
From: M. Pawlowski
Subject: Fries and sauces


While reading one of Kevin Dolgin’s excellent updates on places in Europe worth visiting, I noticed an unfortunate error. In the article “Les Frites de la Liberté,” Mr. Dolgin describes the types of sauces one might enjoy on french fries. I understand that errors were inevitable due to “hastily scribbled notes,” but I feel obliged to correct.

“Stoofvlessaus” should be "stoofvleessaus"—it’s a brown meat sauce that looks disgusting (just do a Google image search on “stoofvlees”) but tastes great—and “loohcaus” should be “looksaus” (garlic sauce).

I know this might sound pedantic, and I would normally never mail anyone for such a trivial matter, but both these sauces rank among my personal top three favorite sauces, so I hope you will understand my concern.


M. Pawlowski

- - -

Date: Mon, 7 Aug 2006
From: Sara Boettcher
Subject: Lettuce

Dearest McSweeney’s,

From a basil plant on the back patio to Jenna Fischer’s blog, your recommendations routinely hit the proverbial nail on the head. (Although I can’t vouch for the whole shaving-after-showering routine, being female and not predisposed to facial hair. But that’s another letter.)

However, I do take issue with your recommendation of the band Lettuce. The recommendation itself may be sound, but the analysis of its namesake—"the nutrient-free vegetable"—is not.

Unless your idea of lettuce stops at a leaf of iceberg atop a Big Mac, I beg to differ. Have you heard of romaine? Green leaf? Red leaf? In a regular serving (about two cups), all contain a few grams of fiber, plus more than 100 percent of the RDA of vitamin A. Add in a little vitamin C, some protein, and a touch of iron and calcium, and lettuce is a pretty well-rounded little veggie. Plus, if you don’t cover it in bacon and Gorgonzola (both of which I heartily recommend), it’s extremely low in calories.

Thank you for your attention to this matter, and I look forward to your next set of recommendations.

Your nutrient-rich friend,
Sara Wachter-Boettcher

- - -

Date: Fri, 04 Aug 2006
From: Nick Johnson
Subject: Re: Jonathan Shipley’s Newest List

To the fine folks at McSweeney’s,

Someone in your fact-checking department has screwed up. According to Mr. Shipley’s list of David Blaine’s newest stunts, he will take the lead in “the Houston Opera’s production of Eugene Onegin.” This is obviously false for two compelling and, dare I say, grand reasons.

First of all, it’s the Houston GRAND Opera. Why? Because it’s grand, obviously. Secondly, this past season’s opener was a fine production of Boris Godunov, which is widely regarded as the best of Russian operas. Why would we go with something less grand? It just doesn’t make sense.

That being said, I would welcome Mr. Blaine to audition for the HGO’s upcoming season. Though I have absolutely no affiliation with the Grand whatsoever, it sure couldn’t hurt business. Besides, nothing could spice up The Magic Flute more than Tamino removing the Queen of the Night’s head and then reattaching it with an air of apathetic panache. Now that’s grand!


- - -

Date: Thu, 27 Jul 2006
From: Thomas Lingner
Subject: Meghann Marco is right!


Meghann is right! It’s about time somebody told those states which way is up.

I went to school in Wisconsin (decidedly Midwestern) and I’m sick and tired of hearing people talk about other places (especially Kansas, damn it) as if they were Midwestern. I’m not saying that Wisconsin is the only state in the Midwest. There’s Ohio, Illinois, and a few others. Meghann knows which ones.

Anyway, I’m just glad someone finally set the record straight. Hear! Hear!

Tom Lingner

- - -

Date: Thu, 27 Jul 2006
From: Alicia Kraft
Subject: On the correctness of Meghann Marco

Dear McSweeney’s,

Could you please inform Meghann Marco that she is my newest hero? I have been attempting to explain to people—mostly coastal transplants—what the Midwest really is (and, more importantly, what it isn’t) for years. I find myself feeling much more vindicated than the issue probably warrants. I like it.

Alicia Kraft

- - -

Date: Thu, 27 Jul 2006
From: Adrian Alexander
Subject: Meghann Marco Does the Midwest

Dear McSweeney’s,

Meghann Marco had some interesting observations today about the mythical “Midwest” and which states are actually part of it. I wonder where she lives. It must be on one of the coasts or in Chicago; definitely not in any of the so-called “flyover” states. I’ve been to all of the states mentioned except North Dakota, and I don’t plan to fill in that gap in my travels anytime soon. Some gut reactions, though, to Meghann’s musings:

Kansas—I live there now (not my fault). It’s not the Wild West, not even Dodge City. There is no Wild West anymore, except maybe the West Village. I don’t know how far west the “Midwest” is supposed to extend, but I do know that Kansas is the geographic center of the contiguous 48. That’s its claim to fame now.

Kentucky—I’ve never heard anyone from Kentucky claim they were Midwesterners. They’d pee in your mint julep if they heard you say that.

Nebraska—They grow corn there, lots of it. Just like in Illinois. Sounds “Midwestern” to me.

West Virginia—This doesn’t even dignify a response. Moving on …

Pennsylvania—See above.

Oklahoma—I’m originally from Texas. Oklahoma is not Texas Lite or anything even resembling Texas. Oklahoma is Baja Kansas.

North Dakota—You may have a point here.

South Dakota—Deadwood is practically in Wyoming, it’s not really part of South Dakota. Weak criterion for classification.

Missouri—It’s what historians call a “border” state, kinda like Kentucky. The northern part is like Iowa, so it’s pretty Midwestern. Likewise the east, around St. Louis, which is basically Illinois west of the Mississippi. The south is an extension of Arkansas via the Ozarks, and the west is, well, like Kansas. I honestly don’t know what to call it. I just work here.


- - -

Date: Sun, 23 Jul 2006
From: Allison Carr
Subject: Spaghetti Sauce and Corn


Regarding your recommendation of the serendipitous combination of spaghetti sauce on corn on the cob: I feel compelled to applaud you on this find (never before have I allowed anything other than butter, kosher salt, and coarsely ground black pepper to coat this summertime treat) and to remind you of a slightly different yet equally serendipitous version of this delightful pairing: corn in spaghetti sauce (or any pasta-oriented red sauce, really) on top of pasta. While cutting the corn direct from the cob into the sauce may be the more rustic and seemingly gourmet method, the frozen kind works just as well, and has potential to make even the most culinarily obtuse appear as a bona-fide Epicurean. (If using uncooked corn, be sure to simmer the sauce on the stove until the sauce is warm and the corn is cooked.) I will take it one step further and suggest the addition of pepperoni chunks (not that disgusting presliced kind that comes in the greasy package, but actual pepperoni sticks cut into small chunks. These too must have some cook time in the simmering sauce). With these two items as a start, anyone can make Prego taste homemade in under 10 minutes.

Best regards from a lifelong lover of all things edible,
A.D. Carr

- - -

Date: Fri, 14 July 2006
From: Alicia Aho
Subject: Bed Rest

Dearest McSweeney’s,

I may be prone to flights of hyperbole, but that will not stop me from saying that this time you promise to cement your reputation for genius like never before. My congratulations to George Viebranz for undertaking an utterly fascinating experiment that promises to be of incalculable benefit to the struggling astronaut minority—and for transmuting the leaden physical inactivity involved into the gold of pure intellectual achievement. You, sir, are living the dream. You may well be instrumental in saving the world. Congrats as well for not letting phrases like “muscle atrophy” and “bone loss” scare you away from an experience guaranteed to both educate and entertain the lazy, voyeuristic masses of which I count myself a member. I look forward to reading what will surely be the Recherche du Temps Perdu for the Internet set.

All my love,

- - -

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2006
From: David Stinton
Subject: You Can’t Be Cereal


Blinks bill themselves as “The First Cereal You Can Eat Like a Chip”? Have we forgotten Fingos?

As an advertising major in the mid ’90s, I was told to find a new product on the shelves and develop a campaign for it. I chose Fingos, “the cereal made to eat with your fingers.” No milk, no bowl necessary—you ate them right out of the bag like, ahem, chips.

My headline, “Give Your Family the Fingo,” was dismissed by my classmates as a joke.

David Stinton

- - -

Date: Fri, 07 Jul 2006
From: Meg M.
Subject: Re: Ikea Salty Black-Licorice Fish

Dear McSweeney’s:

This letter is in response to Sam Kean’s review of Ikea’s Swedish Fish. While I agree with Mr. Kean that salt licorice is a shock to the uninitiated palate, it has a draw that is difficult for some to ignore. I had never heard of salmiak (one of the Scandinavian names for the product) until I met my Swedish friend Rebecka in junior high. She gave me some little gumdrop-shaped candies, and only knowing they would be salty, I took the entire endeavor as a challenge. These days, whenever Becka writes, she sends a little box of black, salty encouragement along with the letter. See, salmiak possesses a sick cleansing-product flavor beloved by Scandinavian children, who were introduced to it as babies, practically. Sure, it’s rough on our foreign tongues. The salt used to flavor salmiak is ammonium chloride, of which the Wikipedia says:

In nature, the [ammonium chloride] occurs in volcanic regions, forming on volcanic rocks near fume-releasing vents. The crystals deposit directly from the gaseous state, and tend to be short-lived, as they dissolve easily in water.

Of course this shit is intense! It’s ephemeral! It’s licorice and volcanic fumes! Mr. Kean touched on a hot issue. Salt licorice is either loved or hated. It kills your tongue, and there is a salt-licorice-flavored alcoholic beverage that’s even been rumored to kill whole people. It’s exactly the kind of thing a 12-year-old can double-dog-dare their best friend into eating an entire bag of. A dare for good kids, causing no property damage (excepting black vomit) or arrests. The experience of salmiak leaves you craving exotic foods. You might travel the globe in pursuit of gastronomic challenges and learn to appreciate the cultures that produce them. You might grow up to be an ambassador of good will. Salt licorice can open you up to a life of glory and praise. I, for one, love salt licorice and just can’t wait to save the world. Also, it actually starts tasting good, once you get over the numb tongue. Pussies.

Megan Mitsch

- - -

Date: Thu, 6 Jul 2006
From: Maranda
Subject: Re: Jeremy Wang-Iverson’s letter re: your recommendation of shaving right after a shower.


This is also the best time to pluck one’s eyebrows.

Just thought I’d let the ladies know.

Maranda Harold

- - -

Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2006
From: Elmer Lamb
Subject: Letters


Thinly “veiled” self-referential inside joke; zany take on words you printed. Slavish fawning and literary pretensions. Stretched metaphor (maybe) pertaining to personal observation(s). Irony. Not Postmodern or post modern but postmodern, clarification for personal satisfaction, gamy catchphrase.

Very Truly Deeply,
Elmer Lamb

P.S. Unnecessary witticism.

Post post scriptum: I would SO count this as “being (published).”


- - -

Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2006
From: Jeremy Wang-Iverson
Subject: Shaving


I’ve read a couple of your books, magazines, things that you do, and I’ve laughed, thought about things differently, had good conversations, as I’m guessing you hope. But none of your output, as much as I admire, enjoy, and look forward to it, has really changed my life. With the exception, of course, of your recommendation of shaving right after taking a shower, without shaving cream. I thought you were mad, but I will never go back. The technique should be taught in health classes across the country. If anything deserves a re-recommendation, it would be this.

Jeremy Wang-Iverson

- - -

Date: Sun, 25 Jun 2006
From: Kyle Oster
Subject: Constructive Criticism.

Dear McSweeney’s,

I would like to say, first and foremost, that I love your website. I think you do an outstanding job providing outrageously wonderful material, and I look forward each and every day to reading what you put up.

However, while reading the food reviews, I was very disappointed. Upon seeing the review for Campbell’s “Soup at Hand,” I was shocked. They are not that good! The taste is mediocre at best, and let’s not forget the safety hazard! One time, I accidentally overcooked the soup, and when I took it out, it scalded my entire hand! I had no choice but to fling the entire can across my living room!

What a mess! It took me forever to clean, and I still have the smell of Creamy Tomato in my carpet.

On another note, I think your open letters are marvelous. I loved the letter to Taco Bell’s Crunch Wrap Supreme. Enough to actually try one.

It was delicious! I could not have been more satisfied. I have been a reader of McSweeney’s for about three weeks, and you are already beginning to control what I do and do not eat.

That is quite the responsibility. Don’t ruin it.

Kyle Oster

- - -

Date: Tue, 20 Jun 2006
From: Andrea Watson
Subject: Spaghetticorn

Now you’ve done it, McSweeney’s. I officially have a swoonish crush on you.

You recently recommended the culinary combination of spaghetti sauce and corn. Even on a planet of over 6 billion people, I still thought I was the only person to indulge in this seemingly unexpected yet glaringly obvious pairing.

I just wanted to thank you for that inadvertent warm hug of shared tastes and also to humbly note that a dash of cheese—whether shaved pecorino Romano or melted mozzarella—adds a deliciously salty kick.

Hoping to have your babies,
Andrea Watson

- - -

Date: Tue, 13 Jun 2006
From: Shannon Di Gregorio
Subject: A rebuttal to Benjamin Cappel’s Tropicana FruitWise Fruit Bars review

Dear McSweeney’s,

I respectfully completely disagree with Mr. Cappel’s assessment of the new Tropicana FruitWise Fruit Bars. I love them! Imagine you are 7 years old (if you, like myself, were born in 1980) and you have taken the Fruit Roll-Up your father packed in your lunchbox and smushed the whole thing up to make one delicious lump of Fruit Roll-Up product. Now, if you could take that memory and eat it, you would have the new Tropicana FruitWise Fruit Bar. Again: I love them! You might, too, if you have a nostalgia for ’80s fake fruit-snack foods.

Shannon Di Gregorio

P.S. To be fair to Mr. Cappel, I have only tried the Cherry Berry flavor. The others may indeed be suitable for fixing a flat.

- - -

Date: Mon, 12 Jun 2006
From: Carolyn Bramble
Subject: Redheads, foreign

Dear McSweeney’s,

I so often read your letters but rarely have anything of interest to add. Today, however, my semester’s worth of Hebrew 101 proves useful once again. In response to Miss (Jessica) Voelker’s question about redheads and the use of the word “ginger,” I would advise her that in Hebrew the word for redhead is “gingi,” taken from the English word “ginger.” For whatever it’s worth, that’s the one I’d use.

Carolyn Bramble

- - -

Date: Thu, 8 Jun 2006
From: Marie Rowley
Subject: Re: Kari Anne Roy’s review of Beverly


Every word of this review is true. Beverly tastes like death, Imodium AD–flavored death. But do not be mislead by Ms. Roy’s words of warning; when you are in that great big room of sodas, you absolutely have to try Beverly. Even though you know it will only end in tears, you have to try it. You must stare carbonated death in the face, embrace it, and only then will you emerge victorious. I’ve done it every time I’ve been in Atlanta (and a couple times when they had a satellite museum in Vegas), and I assure you it is an extremely life-affirming experience.

M.K. Rowley

- - -

Date: Fri, 02 Jun 2006
From: Shane Sinnott
Subject: The Two Month Rule


In light of recent events, I thought I’d touch base with you regarding my previous (Dec. 13, 2005) letter’s assertion that it takes one about two months to ascertain the various problems and negative qualities relating to a new dating partner.

She just broke up with me, after six months, but I think the rule still holds. The problem is I forgot to factor in some distractions: she spent a lot of time applying to graduate schools and looking for an apartment—this while I mostly drank beer and made witty comments about whatever happened to be on TV. Plus, the winter here in Montreal is a complete fucking write-off, in terms of being motivated to make any life-changing decisions.

The point is The Two Month Rule, like many unfounded and unproven rules, requires a little finessing and an understanding of the larger factors at work in order for it to remain sound. It’s a good rule: you just have to remember to personalize it to your own particular situation, dig?

Shane Sinnott

- - -

Date: Thu, 25 May 2006
From: Jessica Voelker
Subject: Fwd: Redhead, familiar

Dear McSweeney’s:

I am aware that “firecrotch” is unacceptable, but what about “ginger”?

(Miss) Jessica (Voelker)

- - -

Date: Wed, 24 May 2006
From: Terry McDermott
Subject: too little too late

Dear McSy’s,

You ever find yourselves over-brushing in a feeble attempt at last-minute amends for months of piss-poor dental hygiene before a dental checkup or cleaning?

I bet you do.

And don’t think the hygienist isn’t onto you.

Your gorgeous friend,
Ter “Bleeding Gums (literary)” McDermott

- - -

Date: Mon, 22 May 2006
From: Kelly Rodibaugh
Subject: to have and to hold

Dear McSweeney’s,

Rosie’s sharp observation about the simultaneity of the having and eating of cake really strikes a chord with me, as I have only recently begun to appreciate the truth of this previously incomprehensible cliché here in the philosophical conundrum that is my late twenties.

I would add that although you continue to have the cake after you have eaten it, because matter is neither created nor destroyed in this universe, the cake will experience “phase shifts.” It is completely within the realm of possibility to keep the cake with you even after it has reached its next evolutionary step, although at some point you may decide you finally possess the fortitude to go ahead and let that cake go. This is a decision that may require the counsel of a therapist, spiritual advisor, or someone close to you. A support group can be extremely helpful in the cake-release process.

It might be helpful to realize that you never really “had” the cake in the first place, that you and the cake chose to be together, and could just as reasonably choose to separate when you are no longer experiencing satisfaction with the relationship. I mean, it’s pretty arrogant to assert that you “have” the cake, just like that, without offering the cake anything in return. What have you done for the cake lately?

The thing is, you are better off without the cake. When you met the cake, he had a Confederate flag hanging on his wall, and when you asked about it, the cake just gave you some high-school-civics-class “states’ rights” argument. The cake likes Steely Dan just a little too much. The cake argues with you about how much to tip. The cake is no good for you.

My advice to you is to go ahead and let someone else take the cake. That cake is like pie in the sky at this point. You just have to walk away. It’s a piece of cake.

Yours in Solidarity and Confectionery,
Kelly Rodibaugh

- - -

Date: Mon, 22 May 2006
From: Nick Rebman
Subject: Re: Having your cake and eating it too

Dear McSweeney’s,

No disrespect to Rosie Sharp, but I think she’s missing the point with regard to “having your cake and eating it too.” The idea is that you can’t do both at the same time. Allow me to elaborate:

Suppose you buy a cake. The cake looks absolutely splendid in every way. The very thought of it makes you giddy. This, in essence, is the joy of having cake. But you dare not eat it! For if you do, the cake will be gone. And then, of course, you will no longer have it.

Perhaps a more accurate phrase would be “You can’t have your cake and eat it too because, due to the nature of the space-time continuum, an object cannot exist in two different states at the same time, unless of course it’s really, really small (which cake is not).”

Still, Rosie and I aren’t so very different. The phrase in question bothers me too, albeit for a different reason. Consider this: I buy a cake, but I eat only half. Thus, I’ve eaten my cake, and yet it appears that I’ve somehow defied the laws of physics … because I still have my cake! (Sorry if I just blew your mind.)

I imagine some smart aleck will chime in and point out that “you can’t have your whole cake and eat the whole thing too.”

But frankly, that sounds pretty stupid. It just doesn’t roll off the tongue.

Nick Rebman

- - -

Date: Mon, 15 May 2006
From: Michael.LeGower
Subject: Re: Reviews of New Food/Dental Care Products

Dear McSweeney’s,

I take issue with the review of Herbal Colgate I recently stumbled upon using your fancy “hyperlinks.” Were I you, I would refrain from further publication of such glittering reviews of toothpaste in your “Reviews of New Food” section, lest someone get the idea that it would make for good afterschool snacking or pre-workout noshing or other prepositional-activity eating. After all, you wouldn’t want any loyal McSweeney’s readers contracting dental fluorosis and losing their teeth, thus rendering your oral-care advice pointless. Or would you? If you would, then you’re out of luck because dental fluorosis really only strikes the young and I’m assuming a product like “Herbal Colgate” probably contains minimal amounts of fluoride anyway. But still, eating toothpaste is just gross.

Michael J. LeGower (Mrs.)

- - -

Date: Mon, 15 May 2006
From: Rosie Sharp
Subject: Technically Unrelated, But Nonetheless Annoying (to me)

Dear McSweeney’s,

The discussion about “fan” vs. “fanatic” brings to mind a turn of phrase that has always bothered me: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” While I understand the subtext of the statement, it is entirely possible to have your cake and eat it too. In point of fact, it would be impossible to eat your cake without having it.

Today I discovered that the first (written) use of the phrase is credited to a dramatist named John Heywood in “A Dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue,” published in 1546. In this original context, the exact phrasing is, “Wolde you bothe eate your cake, and haue your cake?”

Yes! This makes sense. I have no investment in maintaining strict adherence to Olde or Middle English(e), but this vindication of my idiomatic pet peeve reminds me that the modernization of language can, at times, compromise or obliterate meaning. It also serves as proof that something written all the way back several hundred years ago can still be correct, and something a lot of people currently say can be incorrect. Normally, I’d be inclined to go with the “fans” of the new-usage abbreviation argument, but I may be forced to side with the snooty guy, if accepting one case and not the other is trying to eat my cake, and have it too.

Rosie Sharp

- - -

Date: Mon, 8 May 2006
From: David Kennerly
Subject: Issue 19


Issue 19 of the quarterly is brutal.

David Kennerly

- - -

Date: Mon, 8 May 2006
From: Lane Bowen
Subject: Re: “McSweeney’s Recommends” and Senile Dementia Around Abbreviations

Mr. Bowlin’s claim to redundancy regarding “fan” being the abbreviated form of “fanatic” may have some merit; however, his argument flared my nostrils in return. Yes, “fan” is derived from the word “fanatic” and may mean the same thing, but the fact that it was coined in 1682, in my estimation, does not necessarily support his beef; it could even discredit it. 1682 was a long time ago. Words change over time. Could it be that originally, yes, “fan” was merely the shortened word for “fanatic” but over time it has come to mean something less, “fanatic” being the stronger usage to describe an ardent enthusiast? If Mr. Bowlin’s argument that the word “fan” was short for “fanatic” in 1682 so therefore must mean the same today is true, then by that same logic wouldn’t we still be speaking Olde or Middle English? Or, at the very least, “nostalgia” would still only mean “homesickness” instead of “a longing for the past,” and “slut” would still mean “a serving girl” instead of, um, you know, what it means today.

Looking for the newest OED edition,
Lane Bowen

- - -

Date: Mon, 8 May 2006
From: Jed Scott
Subject: Re: OED

Dear McSweeney’s,

Barrett Bowlin suggested you consult his favorite, the 11th edition of the OED. Since they only began the third edition in 1990 (immediately after they finished the second in 1989), I wonder where he got an 11th edition. Since they have only made it to the third edition since they started in 1884, I figure that the 11th should be published starting around 2400. It’s a Future Dictionary of England! Barrett, will you share with us?

Jed Scott

- - -

Date: Mon, 8 May 2006
From: Mark Tennenhouse
Subject: As good as driftwood—and also—gumshoe work


I just wanted to let you guys know that my Issue 19 arrived in the mail last week, and it was really just a total delight. My entire family pored over its contents with pretty big smiles. And the box! My God—it’s so simple—the box is amazing.

I was impressed enough that I thought I’d e-mail you guys and just remind you that you’re doing a bang-up job, and I hope you can keep it up, because it’s refreshing. And just so good—like driftwood good, which is almost as good as it gets.

And also, more importantly/interestingly, one of the photographs: “Costumed children photogaph; Workmen’s Circle School, Winnipeg 1930. Courtesy of the Yivo Institue for Jewish Research.” I happen to be Jewish and also from/live in Winnipeg. And I feel like there are pretty decent odds that one of the kids in that photograph is a friend of mine’s grandfather (it’s a big Jewish community, but not that huge).

Do you guys know anything else about that photograph—or maybe you could provide me with a jumping point to learn a little more?

Mark Tennenhouse

- - -

Date: Fri, 5 May 2006
From: Matthew Simmons
Subject: Stephen Colbert

Hey there,

I know it’s been a week and all, but this is bugging me. Since Colbert was appearing at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in his ironic cable-news-pundit character, wasn’t he technically just implying truth to power?

Matthew Simmons

- - -

Date: Tue, 2 May 2006
From: Barrett Bowlin
Subject: “McSweeney’s Recommends” and Senile Dementia Around Abbreviations

Dearest Those-in-the-Know,

I, too, enjoy the soothing vibrations of the Flaming Lips. They’re quite the musical band. Always curious about the group’s biography and mechanics, I was pleased to find that McSweeney’s had recommended Staring at Sound: The True Story of Oklahoma’s Fabulous Flaming Lips (by Jim DeRogatis). What set my Flaring Nostrils off, though, was the sheer redundancy contained within the recommendation: “Really just recommended for fans (or maybe fanatics) of the Lips …” Drink your Guatemalan Antigua before you toss these suggestions off, folks. The term “fan” is short for “fanatic,” and it’s been like this since 1682. (Check your favorite edition of the OED for proof; mine is the 11th!)


- - -

Date: Mon, 1 May 2006
From: Aaron Polk
Subject: None

I thought you would be amused by this. I certainly was.

This afternoon I was pleasantly surprised to receive a package from McSweeney’s. Inside said package was a copy of The Better of McSweeney’s. I was confused at first, having not gotten around to ordering a copy. But I eventually remembered that this book was a free gift for subscribing to the quarterly.

Tonight, I was in a bar reading from my free gift (that’s right, I read in bars) when a complete and utter stranger approached me and asked what I was reading. I showed him. He was intrigued by the photograph on the cover and asked if he could see it. He perused the contents page and mentioned several authors therein that were “favorites” of his. This stranger and I chatted briefly about some of those authors. He asked about McSweeney’s. I told him about it, not only directing him to your website, where he could subscribe himself, but telling him of several bookstores in the area that sell your publications. Eventually, the stranger introduced himself as “Paul” and left me alone. While I read, I noticed that he was at a nearby pool table.

The point here is … and there is a point … I went to the bar to get a refill on my beer. I left unmanned on the table my cell phone, a laptop computer, a trade paperback of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, and my copy of The Better of McSweeney’s. I stopped on the way back to my table to chat with an old friend. I imagine that I had left my table unattended for 15 minutes. Tops.

Well, it turns out that 15 minutes is more than enough time for someone to steal books.

That’s right. My cell phone was still on the table. My laptop was still in its bag, propped up against one of the table’s legs. But my books had been stolen.

Incidentally, “Paul” (if that was his real name) was nowhere to be found.

I just thought you would be pleased to see that there are thieves in the world who think two books are more valuable than a brand-new cell phone and a laptop computer. I cussed a bit about it at first, but eventually I had to chortle to myself.

Aaron Polk

- - -

Date: Wed, 26 Apr 2006
From: Douglas Holm
Subject: re: Scott Domansky’s list

Hi there,

Hopefully some other astute reader has pointed this out by now, but in Scott Domansky’s 4.26.06 list, “Diseases I’m Glad Aren’t Sexually Transmitted,” he has included a disease that is often transmitted sexually. To wit: scabies.

Now, I don’t know if that’s the kind of thing you’d want to correct or not, seeing as how the lists are humorous pieces and not intended to be taken seriously. The error does seem somewhat conspicuous, though.

Whatever you choose to do, please forward the following link to Mr. Domansky:

While there are more comprehensive scabies-related sites out there, this one has the best picture.


- - -

Date: Wed, 12 Apr 2006
From: Greg White
Subject: Southern Hemisphere Dynamics

Dear Sir/Madam/Whoever,

Regarding Mr. Callan’s suggestion that shove may come to push in the Southern Hemisphere, I feel obliged to remark that this is not so. Push does indeed come to shove, the shove being more forceful than the push and therefore placed after it during the escalation of fisticuffs. Escalating processes occur in the same order in both hemispheres—for instance, one would also look before leaping in the Antipodes. Non-Escalating Processes, or “ungradiated processes,” do not have their own momentum and therefore can be influenced by the magnetical currents that, in the Southern Hemisphere, are …

Oh, forget it, you wouldn’t understand.

Greg White

- - -

Date: Tue, 11 Apr 2006
From: Hamilton Falk
Subject: Gerard Callan Jr.’s Emancipation

Dear McSweeney’s,

For shame. By printing the letter of G Callan on your site you are implying that it is an acceptable thing to sell your sporting soul. Like any religious experience, support of a sports team involves moments of transcendent joy, but also requires significant suffering before the ecstatic feelings of winning and declaring your friends (who are fans of other teams) to be fools living in service of a false god. Perhaps being an Eagles fan (it makes me even sadder to know that Callan used to be a member of my own sect) can be compared to Judaism, with our pre-Super-Bowl-era championship the equivalent of escaping Egypt, followed by decades of oppression, and finally leading to a modern time of prosperity, only to be attacked by rockets launched from Palestinian states in the form of T.O. Regardless, the way that Callan suggests playing fantasy football (and rooting for Tiki Barber, or “Ronde without a ring”) is like becoming an agnostic religious scholar. The Passion leaves along with the pain, leaving those who make the switch empty husks buying Daunte Culpepper Dolphins jerseys and wondering if Shaun Alexander will continue to produce TDs without an All-Pro guard. This isn’t to say that one shouldn’t play fantasy football, but it should involve the same sacrifices already being made. You should never draft a player for a division rival, turning down T.O. in much the same way you would punch a fire station after a particularly tough NFC championship loss. The point is, we shouldn’t be encouraging the youth who find so much inspiration in the works of Timothy McSweeney to forsake their sporting soul. Please make them understand that once you draft Tiki Barber on your fantasy team, you are starting on a path that eventually leads to condemnation and a 6-10 season in which your team fails to win a division game.

Hamilton Falk


- - -

Date: Fri, 7 Apr 2006
From: Brian Graham
Subject: Prediction page

Dear McSweeney’s,

You should stop making sports picks under the influence of alcohol. Seriously. It’s just no good for anyone.

Except, maybe, your local beer-production company.

Daylight-saving time always makes me feel this way.

That is all,
Brian Graham

- - -

Date: Mon, 03 Apr 2006
From: Amy Castellano
Subject: Thomas Hynes’s list of Congressional perks

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing in response to the list titled “Perks No Longer Allowed to Congress Under the New Proposed Ethics Code” by Mr. Hynes. It is my first day on the job here in Congress, but already I have noticed that the representative I work for does in fact have an autographed football in his case of “political trophies.” I cannot ascertain the provenance of this football, but it might have Terry Bradshaw’s signature on it. The only rebuttal to this argument would be that it is common knowledge that Mr. Bradshaw is incapable of carrying anything smaller than a football in that big mitt of his, such as a pen, nor anything larger, for that matter, such as a network TV talk show. But I digress. I have yet to espy the Congressional Slip ’N Slide or the sundae bar, but I shall keep you posted as these come to my attention.

Amy Castellano

- - -

Date: Tue, 14 Mar 2006
From: Gerard Callan Jr.
Subject: Emancipation of the soul (courtesy of fantasy football)

Dear McSweeney’s,

I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank competitive fantasy football (and by “competitive” you know what I mean—$) for once and for all opening this young man’s eyes to the reality of sports. When push came to shove—or shove to push, if you are from south of the equator (for I imagine everything is like the reverse toilet down there)—I sincerely and happily rooted for Tiki Barber to run rampant over my beloved Eagles and felt not the slightest bit of remorse about it. I grew up, like many other young boys (and even girls these days), living and breathing with the rare rise but all-too-often collapse of my sports teams. It kept me up at night, stole my appetite for hours, and caused me more anxious moments than I would like to admit, but I have found the antidote and fantasy football is thy name. After providing me with the mindset to rationalize with ease, rooting for a player on a hated rival, you have unlocked the bonds that had previously shackled me to a life of quiet despair. Despair, of course, because I am from Philadelphia, but that is neither here nor there. Because the reality is this: most, if not almost all, professional athletes are perfectly content with not winning as long as the checks are rolling in. If this were not true, then the train of thought that allows me to root for Tiki Barber would never leave the station, let alone glide into its destination with ease. So thank you, fantasy football, for restoring my appetite and curing my insomnia. Now only if I didn’t spend all hours of the night doing player research and scouring the FA market, I might actually get some sleep during football season next year.

Good luck and Godspeed,
G Callan

P.S. GO, BIRDS! ;)

- - -

Date: Thu, 16 Mar 2006
From: Pierce, Thomas JN
Subject: Hot day in Rangoon

Dear McSweeney’s,

There are reports of bird flu in chickens in Mandalay, so we’re going poultry-free. I run the library at the American Center here in Burma, and people are paying closer attention to the problem than they were before, but they’re also still reading Lucky and Cosmo. We get a lot of monks coming to the Center, so they like to read Tricycle and Shambhala Sun, but not only. Even a monk needs to read Cargo from time to time.

Anyway, I just wanted to say we order McSweeney’s regularly and people like it, even if they don’t always get the references. Then again, I don’t always get the references, either. People are coming in to read and also watch the news (CNN and Democratic Voice of Burma) and to get cool. It’s about 100 degrees outside. The power is off most of the day in buildings without generators. Fortunately, it’s not that humid yet, but the heat fixes a bead on you if you’re outside and all you can do is stare at the street.

Todd Pierce

- - -

Date: Wed, 8 Mar 2006
From: Matt Meshulam
Subject: Regarding Greg Boose’s defective Israeli paratrooper bag

Dear McSweeney’s,

I too once owned an Israeli paratrooper bag. Its strap broke as well. Rather than criticizing the poor craftsmanship of said bags, I am simply writing to share an additional remark that could be made in the situation with which Mr. Boose and I were faced (Note: This could be said regardless of the outcome of whichever war the bag was used in): “Good thing they didn’t use these straps for the actual parachutes.”

Matt Meshulam

- - -

Editor’s Note: The following letter is a response to this announcement:

Maria Vasquez has received a coded post card (PDF). Help us unlock the message. If you figure out what it says, please let us know.

My Dear Friends,

The message in question is written in pigpen code, wherein: the letters A through I each correspond to a section of a tic-tac-toe board, starting from the top and going from right to left; the letters J throught M each correspond to a section of an “X,” starting from the top and going counterclockwise; the letters N through V follow the same tic-tac-toe pattern, only with a dot in each section; and the letters W through Z follow the “X” pattern, with a dot in each section.

Further complicating this case, the message is written upside-down on the postcard, clearly the work of a crafty correspondent.

But not as crafty as I.

The decoded message reads:


I am not in the habit of intruding upon strangers’ correspondence, but perhaps you should quit wishing, apply yourself, and stop spending so much time and effort on amateur spycraft.

Josh Leinwand

- - -

Date: Wed, 15 Feb 2006
From: Molly Griffin
Subject: I took the wrong drink.

Dear McSweeney’s,

I was at the local coffeehouse two weeks ago and ordered a regular hot chocolate—something warm and familiar, you know? When I went up to the counter to take it, the girl put no whipped cream on top; that was OK, I figured. Usually they ask if I want any, and if they ask I’ll say yes, but I don’t like to be a bother, so I just took it when she handed it to me.

But it had a sort of … dreadful peppermint aftertaste. Do you believe it, I took the wrong drink. I sipped and sipped—perhaps it was just that I had brushed my teeth before leaving. You know how that is (especially with milk). My friend tried it and told me that it was chai tea. I took someone’s chai tea.

I don’t really know what chai tea is, but I don’t hope to ever have it again. I have an issue with tea. I’d like to drink it, but … I had some green tea once and that made me gag, and then I took someone’s chai tea by mistake and it caught me completely unawares, and now I wonder if I’ll ever drink tea and enjoy it.

My bigger dilemma, however, is a moral one. Should I have returned the drink? Whose did I take? Did they settle for hot chocolate the way I settled for chai? Do they hate me? Did they watch me take their drink out of the woman’s hand and walk away with it and then make a face at it, and did they then question their own tastes? I weighed these questions with my friend; she said the workers there dealt with this sort of mix-up all the time, it wouldn’t be a problem to ask for the correct drink. But I didn’t do it. I forced it down because I’d already ruined someone’s night and now this is what I deserved: a disgusting drink. What does this say about me?

Molly S. Griffin

- - -

Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2006
From: Jon D.
Subject: Quite Possibly the World’s Best Joke, or at Least One of the Better Ones

Dear McSweeney’s,

I just made up this hilarious joke. It requires, however, that British singer/songwriter/producer Brian Eno have a son named Philip. Philip is in a job interview, or something.

Philip: “Hi, I’m Philip Eno.”

Interviewer: “That’s funny, I could have sworn that you were of European descent on account of the color of your skin and the manner in which you speak.”

That’s it.

Yours truly,
Jon Deutsche

P.S. Do you get it?

P.P.S. I like his ambient albums just as much as his pop albums.

- - -

Date: Fri, 3 Feb 2006
From: Lindsey McGuirk
Subject: A better Joe Cocker impression than that other guy’s?

I love McSweeney’s. I think it’s a cliched “breath of fresh air.” But I must say, I was really taken aback by the declaration that Timothy McSweeney’s Joe Cocker impression is better than that other guy’s. Have you ever really seen “that other guy’s” impression? I mean, have you seen it being performed from the head of the dining room while eating tuna noodle casserole? Have you ever conversed with the pastor’s family on Thanksgiving while being serenaded by a mean Joe Cocker impersonator? Because I have. “That other guy,” being mocked by McSweeney’s, is my father. Since I was a little girl, he has dazzled the crowds with his Joe Cocker impression. He has taken it public at numerous karaoke bars and work parties. He has consistently embarrassed my mom with his act. And now Timothy McSweeney dares to say his own impression is better?

Where are the fact-checkers at McSweeney’s? I call a duel!

But seriously, what are the chances of me having a father who does a great Joe Cocker impression and that particular statement being made on the McSweeney’s website. You guys must have been at karaoke night at the Windhaven Bar in Cranberry, Pennsylvania, on July 12, 2002.

Yeah, I agree, that was my dad’s best performance yet.

Lindsey McGuirk

- - -

Date: Tue, 31 Jan 2006
From: Billectric
Subject: The Knock on Wood Imbroglio

As Poe or any of those 19th-century writers might observe:

Is est unus rex-abyssus imbroglio.

but while they would never dream of translating their little quotes, I will do so:

This is one king-hell imbroglio.

I admit that Mr. Hewitt makes a good point. If, in fact, knocking on wood implies a response to pre-existing adversity, then I hope I never have to knock on wood, either. Mr. Hewitt also had the drinks to back him up.

All I have is a photo of myself in front of the stage, taken with a disposable camera, at the Vans Warped Tour while the Bosstones played. Typically, the photographer was too far away and we all look small, inconsequential, and virtually unrecognizable. Had I but made the acquaintance of Mr. Long sooner, and taken his advice, I might have found friends who know how to take better pictures. You know, like ones in magazines.

Mr. Mayer is on to something when he substitutes one phrase for another. I prefer to replace “knock on wood” with “thank my lucky stars.” I might say, “I’ve never had to face crushing adversity—thank my lucky stars,” or, having been asked the question, I might simply say, “No, I’ve never had to—thank my lucky stars.” If someone walked in on the conversation without hearing the question, they might think I was saying that I’ve never had to thank my lucky stars at all for anything. They might even be offended by such an obviously haughty boast. Let he who brags take heed lest he fall.

Mr. Cassels is quite right that these lyrics need further dissection before we can possibly hope to settle the matter. Yes, I placed a comma in there. If the band can’t put a comma between Mighty and Mighty, as Mr. Hewitt so astutely observed, then someone with a cool head and leadership ability needed to tromp in and alter their terrain without permission.

Bill Ectric

- - -

Date: Tue, 31 Jan 2006
From: Eli Horowitz
Subject: A letters contribution

As an employee of McSweeney’s, I try not to interfere with this free exchange of ideas on the letters page. But at this moment of crisis I feel I can make a contribution, and it would be unjust to keep my voice silent. I am of course speaking of the current lyrical debate, which should be a debate no longer.

The key thing is not what comes before, but what comes after. If we assume, as Bill E.‘s friends do, that the dude is actually knocking on wood, then what sense can be made of the lines that follow the wood-knocking? Specifically, "I’ve never had to knock on wood … it makes me wonder if I could." I can’t see any plausible way to interpret this under that theory. He is wondering whether he is capable of knocking on wood? No—he’s clearly wondering if he could endure through heartbreak, suffering, etc. (“I’ve never had to [feel pain so powerful] … it makes me wonder if I could [endure].”) “Knock on wood” is just a parenthetical aside.

The Eddie Floyd song, however, really is talking about wood and knocking. I will now return to my busy day of falling behind on the next issue. Sorry about that.

Eli Horowitz
San Francisco, California

- - -

Date: Wed, 25 Jan 2006
From: Patrick Cassels
Subject: More on “Knock on Wood” debate

Dear Sirs and Madams,

I must say I was fascinated by Mr. Ectric’s thoughts on the nature of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “Knock on Wood.” Admittedly, I, too, have always taken the phrase to mean the verbal action of knocking on wood—not, as Mr. Ectric so glibly suggested, by its expressionistic meaning.

Nevertheless, I feel there are a few lines that must be examined more closely before putting the matter to rest. To start, it should be pointed out that the clause “I never had to …,” if it is indeed not directly related to “… knock on wood,” must then be related to the trio of questions in the preceding verse:

Have you ever been close to tragedy,
Or been close to folks who have?
Have you ever felt a pain so powerful,
So heavy you collapse?

However, if this is the case, then the aforementioned clause is in something of a disagreement with the verse, and should instead be “I’ve never knocked on wood …”

Secondly, the singer says, in the chorus, that although he has never had to (be close to tragedy, etc.), he does know someone who has; yet only a few lines previous he claims that “No” he has never had to do any of the things listed in the verse, including knowing someone who has been close to tragedy. So which is it, gentlemen, do you or do you not know someone who has been in the immediate vicinity of tragedy?

Finally, on an editorial note, it seems to me that by placing a comma between “I’ve never had to” and “knock on wood,” Mr. Ectric is presupposing that he is correct, and that “knock on wood” is a separate clause. And though he may very well be correct, the matter is far from closed.

Patrick Cassels

- - -

Date: Wed, 25 Jan 2006
From: David Mayer
Subject: Bill Ectric … Genius

Dear McSweeney’s:

I am writing in support of Bill Ectric (Linguist, Hero, Patriot) and in condemnation of his shortsighted, illiterate, unremarkable friends. I too have debated the Bosstones KOW reference and I too have been mocked by my disloyal and ungrateful personal network as a result. In fact, I had this very debate with my wife three years ago over Texas-sized pancakes at the Texas-sized Texas restaurant the Big Texan, while on a cross-country road trip and it nearly resulted in her having to walk her ass back to Ohio.

“Knock on wood” is clearly being used as an interjection, an interruption, a clarification, a superstitious—it’s too dangerous for me to even finish this sentence so I better “knock on wood” RIGHT NOW—declaration. The COMMA in the lyrics clearly indicates such and I submit that the KOW, in fact, replaces the word “EITHER.”

Therefore … the song reads …

By the Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Have you ever been close to tragedy,
Or been close to folks who have?
Have you ever felt a pain so powerful,
So heavy you collapse?
No? Well …
I’ve never had to, EITHER,
But I know someone who has,
Which makes me wonder if I could.
And I’m glad I haven’t yet,
Because I’m sure it isn’t good.
That’s the impression that I get.

Read this way … the line “Which makes me wonder if I could” refers to the fact that knowing someone who has suffered tragedy makes the singer wonder if he too may one day suffer tragedy. It is a careless wonder and—like all careless wonders—it requires the aforementioned wood knocking.

Vive you, Bill Ectric.

Vive you.

David Mayer

- - -

Date: Wed, 25 Jan 2006
From: Jeff Long
Subject: Regarding billectric’s debate

Dear McSweeney’s,

Please let Bill know that he is right. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are in fact saying that they’ve never been so close to tragedy, but now that they mention it, they really should knock on wood.

Also, please let him know he needs to get new friends, because his current ones are obviously idiots.

Jeff Long

- - -

Date: Wed, 25 Jan 2006
From: Andrew Hewitt
Subject: Re: Knocking on wood

Regarding Bill Ectric’s confusion over the lyrics to the song “The Impression That I Get” by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, I have to relate the real meaning of the song, as was revealed to me once in a pub by my sister after a few drinks. Apparently she’d heard it off someone else, who’d heard it on the radio, or off another friend, or a dog or a small insect or something.

The singer is indeed saying (sorry, Bill) that he has never had to knock on wood, as it is a song about a friend having to take an AIDS test. The person who took the test said to the writer of the song that he was going for the test, and that he would get the all-clear, “knock on wood.” The songwriter was then hoping that he would never have to be in the same position where he had to rely on the knocking of wood to remain AIDS free.

That said, I still don’t trust the band as they could do with a comma in their name.

Yours sincerely,
Andrew Hewitt

- - -

Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2006
From: billectric
Subject: None

Dear McSweeney’s:

I’m hoping you can clear up a raging debate between me and several of my friends, who just don’t understand. I say “between” and not “among” friends, because it is all of them against me. Right, then.

Are you familiar with the lyrics to “The Impression That I Get” by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones?

All my friends think that the singer is saying that he has never had to knock on wood. “We hear him saying it!” they cry. “How can you say he isn’t saying it?! He’s never had to knock on wood!”

But I maintain that he is really saying, “I’ve never been close to a tragedy or pain that was so heavy I collapsed, knock on wood.” My friends’ interpretation makes no sense, anyway.

Here is the actual verse. Please tell my friends that, while you understand their confusion, I am, in fact, right.

By the Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Have you ever been close to tragedy,
Or been close to folks who have?
Have you ever felt a pain so powerful,
So heavy you collapse?
No? Well …
I’ve never had to, knock on wood,
But I know someone who has,
Which makes me wonder if I could.
And I’m glad I haven’t yet,
Because I’m sure it isn’t good.
That’s the impression that I get.

Bill Ectric