Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Episode 46: How to Go on Vacation

Faithful readers, I hope you are all sitting down and I hope you have bomb shelters full of cans of Dinty Moore beef stew, Fanta Orange soda and Little Debbie Oatmeal pies, because I have some bad news: The Psychopedia is going on a two-week hiatus. Yes, it seems I have run out of things to tell you to how to do. Hahahahah! No, don't fear! I will never run out of things to tell you to do, trust me. Why just this morning, I felt an uneasy vibration from a general westerly direction while I was in the shower and I was fairly certain that it was caused by someone somewhere putting toilet paper on the holder incorrectly, so right there in my bathroom I wrote "How to Put Toilet Paper on the Thing" on my mirror with toothpaste so as not to forget to write that one up when I got the chance. I don't always come up with them in bars - contrary to popular belief - and when a cocktail napkin isn't readily available, a mirror and toothpaste just have to do.

I'll be visiting the following states: California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, so I should have a lot of How Tos ready for you when I get back. Look for:

How to Not Burn Up in a Forest Fire
How to Visit a Bordello
How to Have Eight Wives
How to Prank Call the Focus on the Family People
How to Not Fall Asleep While Driving
How to Get the Hell Out of Oklahoma as Fast as Possible
and How to Get Out of Arkansas Even Faster

...all when I get back. Feel free to go back into the archives and study up on some of the classics Episodes you might have missed. I would hate to get a bad vibration while on vacation because you boiled an egg incorrectly.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Episode 45: How to Choose a Paint Color

People are always asking me to come help them choose paint colors for the different rooms in their houses. They always say "oh, but your house is so pretty, you MUST come help me choose!" and what they're totally forgetting is that ninety percent of the rooms in my house are painted "Neutral Beige." Seriously. What they're remembering is the fancy green pillows my sister picked out or the artwork on the walls. No one ever remembers that the whole damned house is the color of a day-old biscuit. So I go over to their houses and I choose the most outrageous colors just because I never get to. "Lilac Explosion." "Chartreuse Cocktail." "Camel Toe Camel." And I always choose whichever one based solely on the name of the paint chip, which is how at least one friend ended up with a "Bruised Clavicle" living room. What makes it all funnier is that I'm almost completely color blind. Why do you think all these dumb drawings are in black and white? I can't see red when it's mixed up with green, or vice versa, which makes things interesting at the grocery store. Bag of limes, bag of tomatoes, what's the difference, right? And also I have trouble in the teal/aqua/turquoise department, but that's probably perfectly fine since I'm not decorating the set of Miami Vice anytime soon.

I recently got asked by my friend Carol to help her choose paint colors and stuff and before things got out of hand, my sister stepped in and did a little damage control and the decorating day was saved so to celebrate we all went to a furniture store to look at fabric for a fancy custom ottoman and the salesman who was helping us was very terse and condescending with my sister (who has an interior design degree) and he slammed the sample book shut and said "so, are we done here?" and that was a big mistake, let me tell you. Because whatever happened next was not going to be fun...for him. It's like when my mother gets mad: you know you're in trouble when she starts a response by saying "now you look here...." My sister's "tell" is the raised eyebrow. And when he slammed that sample book shut, her eyebrow shot up so fast it hit a chandelier that was on display far overhead. I think I actually said "uh-oh..." out loud. So all that ended badly and he lost the sale because my sister did some research and found the ottoman elsewhere and cheaper. So there's a lesson for you, somewhere in there.

Episode 44: How to Start a Collection of Something

Everybody collects something. Dolls, baseball cards, addictions. Whatever, everyone's got something. I once looked at a house for sale that had an entire room turned over to Barbie dolls in their original boxes, stacked on top of each other, floor to ceiling, wall to wall. Which is mainly an indicator of a lousy real estate agent if you ask me...those should have been the first things out of that house when they put it on the market.

Anyway. I used to have a friend back in the olden days who killed someone in a drunk driving accident. He was driving too drunk and too fast down a boulevard and clipped someone getting out of their car, and the victim was thrown some crazy long way and died instantly. I know, it's a terrible story. My friend kept driving but someone with a cell phone was following him and called the police and finally the police caught up with him several neighborhoods later. He was yanked out of his yellow Chevrolet Malibu and the car was searched quite thoroughly. When the police pried open the trunk, they were quite interested to see that it was full of serial killer biographies - like fifty of them. Paperback copies of Helter Skelter, the Jeffrey Dahmer story, and Ted Bundy's and Richard Speck's and on and on. And also (to coincidentally tie it together with the first paragraph!) a bunch of doll parts. A big pile of them. Now of course, having serial killer books and dismembered dolls doesn't make you guilty of anything per se, but consider this a cautionary tale. When my friend went to trial, those serial killer books kept coming up as "evidence" of something sinister and in his closing argument, the prosecutor brought them up at least three times and I remain convinced that they affected his sentence (guilty, almost four years, he served the full sentence and was denied parole every time he came up for it). So be careful about what you collect - or more importantly, where you display the collection; it could come back to haunt you and you could end up in the slammer. Think about that the next time you pick up a Precious Moments snow globe.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Episode 43: How to De-Kernel a Corncob

I KNOW. This is the second corncob-related How To in a month. But corn is everywhere right's in the grocery store, it's in my CSA basket, it's in our gas tanks, even! Gosh! It's practically all I can think about, corn corn corn. Even last night I had a dream about going to Cracker Barrel and seeing corncob dolls smoking corncob pipes. In honor of corn season, I'm including a recipe for corn pudding because it's my grandmother's recipe...though I think she got it out of a Parade Magazine actually, but for women of a certain era I suppose that was pretty much home cooking. Anyway! It has bourbon in it!

Her name was Virginia Speed Strong. She was a schoolteacher. My grandfather called her "Jinx," which is the best girl nickname ever, as far as I'm concerned. "Jinx"! I mean! Doesn't she sound like a World War one fighter pilot? Or pilotrix? I just this very second decided that if I ever get a standard poodle I'm going to name her "Jinx." Not because my grandmother was poodle-like in any way (though she did have Fancy Hair, now that I think about it), but just because I like the name and I've always wanted a standard poodle, so I might as well kill two birds with one stone.

I heard about this de-kernelling method through a friend of a friend and I thought it was some crazy original invention but no: it's all over the internet, so I don't feel guilty about spilling the secret.

So blah blah blah, the corn pudding:

3 large eggs
1 1/8 cup evaporated milk
3 cups canned creamed corn
3 cup fresh corn kernels
3 1/2 T melted butter
3 T brown sugar
3 T cornstarch, mixed with 3 T water
3/4 t fresh grated nutmeg
5 T bourbon (optional - AS IF!) plus a swig for you
1/2 t salt
1/2 t white pepper

Oven at 350°F. Butter a dish. Beat eggs and evaporated milk together. Stir in everything else and add to eggs and milk and dump it in the dish. Drink six or seven fingers of bourbon, neat. Bake 45 minutes; should be slightly brown and a knife should come out clean.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Episode 42: How to Prepare for a Parental Visit

Okay, so my parents are moving back to town after a few years in California. They want to live in my neighborhood, but until they can find a house, they're putting everything in storage and moving in with me. So if you need me, I'll be at the liquor store....I kid! I kid! They'll be at the liquor store too! Because I know I'm not easy to live with. I mean: it takes a long time to adjust to The Way I Do Things. Like for instance, there are three cutting boards in the kitchen, but only one of them is for cutting. The other two are for displaying vegetables and putting the olive oil and balsamic vinegar bottles on. There are two colanders: one is for onions, one is for draining things and you cannot mix them up. There's a knife that has the word TOMATE (it's French! or something!) cut out of the blade, and it must only be used for cutting tomates. No other vegetable. If you write any words on the new chalkboard wall in the kitchen, you must cursive.

I know: the minutiae is overwhelming. But that's how I am. One time I was throwing a Shakespeare dinner party with my friends Beth and Thom and there were like twenty people there and we were all dressed like we were from India (I'll explain one day, if I can work up the energy) and we had spent all day cooking crazy Indian food and I had tracked down this fig ice cream for dessert. Or maybe it was date ice cream. Hmmm. Something Indian anyway. And I almost had a nervous breakdown because I couldn't get everybody back around the table to eat the ice cream because everyone was busy trying to figure out the hookah. Like it made me mad, which makes me think I might be a little bit bossy and controlly. Nobody ever did eat that stupid ice cream. Anyway, it was a fun party. The lead singer of Big Country was there, before he went to Hawaii and committed suicide. But better before than after, I guess.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Episode 41: How to Save Money

First off... avoid Las Vegas like the plague. I've never been anywhere where every single thing visible in between the spot my feet stood and the far horizon was designed to take money out of my wallet. And I didn't even gamble! Unless you count the ten dollars in quarters I spent on the "That Girl" slot machine that featured a giant photograph of Marlo Thomas-Donahue on it, but that wasn't so much gambling as it was giving back to the person who gave so much, right?

But it's hard to blame Las Vegas for making you spend your money; they have so many fun ways to get rid of money, you almost don't notice you're doing it. I went with a group of friends and my sister, ostensibly to surprise another friend for his 40th birthday and the Big Joke Idea was that we were going to go to the very expensive Barry Manilow show at the Las Vegas Hilton. Well, we made the host pay for all the tickets because I mean! BARRY MANILOW!? I like a cheese sandwich but I do have my limits! But I figured what the hell, and we all got dressed up and went to the show and I was all grumbling about it because it was going to be cheesy and awful and luckily there was a bar just for the people who were going to the show called the Copacabana so I had eleventy glasses of wine in about six minutes and then of course three-quarters of an hour later, I was standing on my seat waving my glow-stick over my head, singing all of the words to every song he ever sang, including that one that was the theme to that Goldie Hawn/Chevy Chase movie with the albino, the dwarf and the Pope.

The lady next to me got very excited when he sang the medley of commercial jingles that he'd written (State Farm, Dr Pepper, etc), especially when he got to the I Am Stuck On Band-Aids song and she grabbed my arm and squealed I have Band-Aids in my purse right now! So then when he sang You Deserve a Break Today, I asked her if she had an Egg McMuffin in her pocketbook I might could nibble on.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Episode 40: How to Visit the French Quarter

Eleven or twelve years ago, I went to New Orleans (after a week in Gulf Shores, AL) with my friends Melissa and Adrienne and Suzy and Frank. It was May but it was already a hundred and sixty-seven degrees, and for some reason now lost to the fuzziness of time and probably also the fact that you can drink liquor drinks all hours of the day even right out on the sidewalks, as we prepared for our evening out on the town, I decided to wear a red bobbed Prince Valiant know, like one does. This item belonged to Adrienne, who had quite the wig collection, and I suppose she dared me to wear it. She apparently under-estimated both my daringness and my sobriety! But if it's anything to judge by, one girl in the group was wearing a denim ball gown with the Hee Haw logo printed all over it.

So anyway, there we were, the five of us, traipsing up and down ye olden Rues of New Orleans. Being a five-some of not-uncomplicated tastes and needs in food, we did what every tourist in New Orleans does: we ate at an Italian restaurant. Then we went from bar to bar, where I swang high on a swing above a crowd at one bar and also got invited up to be the sexy dancer for a bachelorette party at another, which I'm sure they're all puzzled about when they watch the video nowadays) and then we suddenly found ourselves lost and on the bad end of one of the Rues. Sure enough, some malfeasants accosted us, threatening and demanding and generally making me question my costume selection. Right as we were about to turn all of our worldly goods over, one of them leered at me: "yo dude, why are you wearing a wig?" And you know what? I knew exactly what to do. So I sprang into action! That's right: I lied. "It's because I have cancer and the chemo has made me bald!" I wailed, and then I started crying like Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice.

WELL! Those are the magic words, lemme tell you. Suddenly, the group of guys who had been one millimeter away from robbing us were patting me on the back and telling me it would be okay...and let me tell you, if they give Academy Awards for being able to cry on cue, which I think they might actullly do based on some of the ones they've handed out, they can just put the Oscar in the box and send it to Sunnymeade Drive. I threw in a little Jesus Blah Blah and a little bit of Uninsured Blah Blah and before I knew it, the Crips and/or the Bloods (I never did get who was who) were suddenly not robbing us and were instead walking us back like a security detail to civilization, where tourists throw up in the gutters. Which is not something you read about in stupid old Henry James's travel books, you can be sure of that. Anyway, Lassez le bon temps le blah blah!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Episode 39: How to Choose a Pet

There are some stories that should never, ever be told. Things happen that should just pass by and never be spoken of again. Never alluded to, never joked about. This is probably one of those stories because every time I tell it my sister says "you know, you should really quit telling that story." So this is the last time!

When I first got my grey tabby cat Fanny from the pound (they had named her Ariel, which I quickly boycotted), she was approximately a year old. I had her at home for a few lovely days of new cat fun when suddenly she started hollering to beat the band and sure enough, turns out Sweet Fanny was in heat. I didn't have a car at the time, so I loaded her up in her cat cage and as she yowled out loud nonstop, I bicycled her over to the vet I had chosen, who turned out to be a hippie voodoo vegetarian veterinarian, who believed rubbing singed rosemary on an elderly cat would heal cat arthritis or whatever. That type of thing. I was into it back then, sort of. So I busted in with my yowling horny cat and said "make it stop! make it stop!" And Dr. Sensitive Manson Family said he wouldn't operate in the middle of a heat cycle, that it would unduly stress out the cat and also it was expensive and since I didn't even have a car, I probably couldn't afford it anyway, so why didn't I just put Sweet Fanny back into her cat cage, peddle home and masturbate her?

(I'll give you a minute here).

Okay, so I KNOW! However you just responded when you read that, multiply it times about fifteen; that's how I responded. I was advised to go purchase a super-nubby oven mitt at the grocery store and to put it on my hand and with the help of mood lighting, the dulcet tones of Natalie Cole and a can of Chicken of the Sea, I was to place my be-oven-mitted hand between Fanny's hind legs and let her, well, um... see, you can just finish thinking about it your own self. This is the part of the story where my sister says I can be a little vague, that people get the picture long before I say the phrase "stimulate your pussy," as the vet put it. I'm not making that up.

So that number-one-on-the-list psychologically shattering life moment came to pass and then when her heat cycle was over about a week later, I pedaled her back to the vet and got all of that ladybusiness taken care of because I threw that oven mitt away toot suite and didn't really want to have to go buy another one anytime soon. I just knew if I went and bought another one, the cashier would know that I was some sort of chronic crazy cat masturbator.

Anyway, now Fanny is a happy spinster cat. I have noticed all these years later, though, that when I'm in the kitchen baking or whathaveyou...anything that requires oven mitts... Fanny - now almost twenty - comes and sits in the kitchen doorway and looks at me with lowered cat eyelids and makes a low purring sound as if to say "you wanna go again, big fella?"

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Episode 38: How to Select a Parking Space

Oooooo, parking lots. Is there another public space - other than that hideous WW2 Monument on the Mall in Washington DC - that instigates as much outrage? Between the people driving one mile an hour around and around in a circle until a front space opens up so they don't have to waddle an extra five feet and those stupid RESERVED FOR EXPECTANT MOTHERS signs, I almost lose my mind every time I drive into one. You don't have to obey those signs, you know, the expectant mother ones. It's not a law. And it drives me insane that they would think I would obey them. I mean...I know it's a medical condition and all but so is my hangover and nobody's reserving me a close-up parking space. But I think some mothers (of course, I'm not talking about you) these days are like a whole privileged class, what with the fancy parking spaces and the way everybody gets out of their way when they barrel down the mall hallways with strollers. I make a point to never get out of the way because you know what? I didn't knock them up. It's not my problem. I once even kicked a stroller as it veered too close to me when I was window shopping at the mall and the lady navigating it glared at me and I think she was thinking of saying something smart-alecky but I headed it off and said DON'T EVEN! right out loud and she wasn't expecting that and she scurried off to load little Madison up into her Suburban, no doubt. Which would have been parked in the RESERVED FOR EXPECTANT MOTHERS spot if I hadn't parked there myself. Ha ha ha. Too bad, lady. Maybe if you had saved it for marriage you wouldn't be in this predicament.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Episode 37: How to Take a Nap

Now that I'm a fully grown adult, I do love a nap. I think the best thing possible to have happen is to finish your job early and then be able to race home and slide into your little envelope of bed-sheets and snooze away for an hour before Access Hollywood comes on. But as a child, I hated napping. I hated it so much I would devise ways to trick time itself: I had noticed that whenever I got up from a nap, my hair was always a mess. So one day when Mom told me to go take my nap, I marched upstairs, messed up my hair and then marched right back downstairs and yelled "I TOOK MY NAP!" and I think I got away with it that one time. I was also suspicious of naps as a child because once my evil little sister tried to kill me while I was mid-nap by beating me in the head with a golf cleat. Now that my sister and I own a house together all these years later, I sleep with one eye open because you never know when she might decide to finish the job she started thirty-seven years ago.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Episode 36: How to Score Bowling

Knowing how to manually score bowling is truly becoming one of the Lost Arts, like Drunk Driving and Casual Shoplifting. But I think you'll find that all three of those come in handy at one time or another. I do dislike when I go to by local Bowl-a-Rama and there's some fancy automated machine that does all the work for you. I mean! That's like calling a cab just because you've had two bottles of wine in forty-five minutes!

I learned how to score bowling in the 7th grade at Wedgwood Middle in Ft Worth, Texas, during one of those times when you could tell the physical education budgets were being crunched because instead of Baseball or Football, we suddenly had a whole semester of the down-market made-up-sounding sports, like Square Dancing and Hopscotch or, yes, Bowling. I wasn't really good at the actual game at the time, but when it came to the scoring, I was a viking. It clicked in my brain and has stayed there ever since; despite the very nature of this particular blog, it's one of the few things I actually know how to do. I've become a better bowler since then - my family even tried to create a new Christmas tradition by going bowling on Christmas Eve, which only lasted a couple of years because we were all hungover on Christmas morning and that's no fun at all. I bowl a pretty consistent 180-200, which isn't bad considering my form largely consists of throwing the ball as hard as possible to create what I call Maxxxximum Down-Alley Pin Action(®) rather than trying to aim it in any one particular place, which is probably for the best because I've usually had a pitcher of Miller High Life before I even get my rented shoes laced up.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Episode 35: How to Plan a Cross-Country Trip

Okay, you should know that I will stop at the cheesiest, minor-est tourist attraction in the world, especially if there is a giant fiberglass animal used as a mascot in front of it. Giant Bigfoot in Willow Creek, California? Check. Giant Babe the Ox in Klamath? Mmm hmmm. Chicken holding a knife and fork next to the Boobie Bungalow in Elkton, Tennessee? Got it. It doesn't matter what it is or if there is any historical significance at all. I've seen three different World's Largest Ball of Yarns and let me tell you, each one was more satisfying than the last. You show me the exact spot in Napa Valley where Falcon Crest's Angela Channing slapped Melissa Gioberti and I will show you my own personal Lourdes.

I once went on a family trip to the Grand Canyon with my father and mother and sister. We flew into Phoenix and then drove up through the middle of Arizona to Williams, where we then got on another road to the very rim of the Canyon. On the way, we passed a highly cheese-alicious attraction called The Flintstones' Bedrock City and I yelled "STOP! STOP THE CAR!" and started pounding on the no avail. My father had had quite enough of being in the car so I cried and cried and pounded on the back window of the rental car as my dream destination disappeared toward the receding horizon, in a cloud of dust. I would not be calmed. This trip was ruined and no amount of Canyon-staring or donkey-riding or Indian-mound-plundering was going to console me. I cried for a week. I was 35.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Episode 34: How to Experience a Chain Restaurant

I've worked at a lot of different restaurants in my life but the only one that really resembled a chain was a place in North Carolina called Fitzgerald's. There were only two of them, so maybe that doesn't count. But they were carbon copies of each other, with fake 1920s memorabilia and spats hung on the wall and stupid machine-gunned bullet holes in the wall. Because yeah, nothing sounds more delicious than a filet named after Zelda Fitzgerald, who went insane and died in a fire when her nuthouse burned down. Make mine well done, please!

Anyway, there was this big tall country-assed donkey girl named Mary who worked there and she had a way with the tables, yes she most certainly did! More than once, I'd hear her say something like "Land sakes, you'd think a big fella like you coulda cleared his plate! You can do it, Big Boy" and the guy would be like a full-grown forty-year old. Or "okay, y'all, you got everything? 'Cause I gotta go take a crap so if you need me I'll be in the bathroom..." She got complaints all the time but she never got fired, largely because we were all fairly sure she had a knife in her purse. Which brings me to: you should be nice to your servers, whether they're enslaved at a chain restaurant or a local independent. Because all the stories you hear about server revenge that people say are all exaggerations? They're not. I personally once saw a male server stir a bourbon & Coke with his winky and then serve it to some toothless hillbilly, who I must say totally deserved it for ordering a goddamned bourbon and Coke in the first place. I saw a hamburger bun go down someone's pants...front and back. You can complain about servers, you can even get them fired. But you can't un-eat the food they just clipped their toenails into. I'm just saying.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Episode 33: How to Make Lemonade

Being a master horticulturalist, I - like all master horticulturalists - have a Meyer Lemon tree in a pot. In the three years I've had it, I have harvested exactly two lemons off of it. I get lots of blossoms all the time and then you can see the beginnings of a whole mess of lemons but then a rainstorm knocks them off, or heavy wind, or when I get all drunk up on wine and knock the tree over on my way to answer the doorbell that didn't really ring though I swear to god I heard it at least twice. The two lemons I got, I hoarded and kept secret from my sister, who had been eyeing them as well. She noticed they were missing from the tree and asked about them. "Owls," I said. "Owls got them." Then I went on and on about how there is a scurvy problem among the owl population and they have evolved to the point that they crave citrus. Needless to say, she didn't believe me for one second, as this was before I knew How to Lie. Too many details! Drat! I ended up using the two Meyers in a single glass of lemonade and while it was the best lemonade I ever had, I was sad to not have the lemons anymore. BUT I DID WHAT THE NEEDLEPOINTED PILLOWS SAID TO DO! Life gave me lemons and I indeed made lemonade.

As summertime refreshment goes, I like iced tea too, but I don't have a tea tree or a tea bush or a tea whathaveyou, whatever teabags grow on. I'll have to research that and get back to you.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Episode 32: How to Not Vomit

Many years ago, my friends Andy and Suzy and Frank were invited to a masquerade ball one Halloween. While they were all getting ready, they decided to have a few cups of a homemade punch called Gitchee Gloomee, which was made up of little bits of this and that left over from various parties at Suzy's: Galliano, Pernod, Rum, Apple Schnapps, Bailey's; you know...the things you never know just what to do with. Several cups of this concoction later and they were, as the French say, in their cups.

Late for the party, they jumped into the car and hurried. Andy was the driver (this was back when drunk driving was a legitimate sport) and he was dressed in a traditional skeleton costume. Frank was in the backseat, dressed as Al Capone. In the passenger seat was Suzy, dressed as the Blessed Virgin Mary, right down to a realistically swaddled fake baby. As they zipped drunkenly in and out of traffic down West End Avenue, the Blessed Virgin Mary started to feel a little, uh, less Blessed. She demanded that the skeleton/chauffeur stop the Tercel and just as he did, the Mother of Christ threw the car door open, the Christ child fell into the gutter and the Blessed Virgin Mary threw a quart of neon green Gitchee Gloomee up all over him...right in front of the giant plate glass window of the original Houston's Restaurant. She lifted the blue edge of her headdress and wiped her mouth, looked up at the three dozen forks-frozen-in-place onlookers on the other side of the glass and waved at them as if she had just left a blessing behind and having witnessed this display, they would all now be cured of whatever ailed them. Which, since it was Houston's, was probably a lot of ailing.

Then she sat back upright and closed the door and a skeleton, Al Capone and the Blessed Mother drove off into the night, leaving a vomit-covered Baby Jesus abandoned by the side of the road. And if that's not a useful religious allegory, I don't know what is.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Episode 31: How to Be Mean

So last Thursday, I was sitting in my Obama-stickered Honda Element in a fancy super-white part of town and a car pulled up next to me. The passenger window rolled down and suddenly there were some sportswear-clad arms waving at me, all bony pink elbows and underarm chicken fat. I could only assume that either my car was on fire or this particular woman wanted to tell me some Very Important News about a sale at Talbot's, so I rolled my window down as quickly as possible, just in time for her to scream "Obama's going to ruin America! OBAMA'S GOING TO RUIN AMERICA!" Now I like intelligent political discourse as much as the next person - especially at a stop-light in the middle of the day - but even I knew this was a lost cause. You can't argue sense into a woman wearing that much costume jewelry from Chico's, that's all I'm saying. So I sighed, smiled, and then very calmly said "oh, why don't you go fuck yourself?"

As I drove away, I thought of a handful of other things to say: "no, dear, that bad haircut you're sporting is what's ruining America!" or "that's perhaps true, but you should really work on those arms." This is called l'esprit d'escalier ("stairway wit")...the perfect riposte thought of a hair too late, on the stairway after a dramatic exit. But no, I had already left the scene, so "why don't you go fuck yourself?" had to stand.

One of these illustrative examples was stolen from the movie Broadcast News. Another is from my old friend Bob Andrews. So just shut up about that already.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Episode 30: How to Be Patriotic

Once many years ago, my sister and I decided to go downtown to see the big symphony-accompanied July 4th fireworks show. We stopped by Kentucky Fried Chicken and each got a little picnic box (breast, drumstick, mashed potatoes and biscuit) and then we walked the 12 or so blocks from our house to the riverbank, where there were 100,000 other chicken-greased fireworks fans baking in the hot sun. You really had to get there early, so by the time the fireworks started at 9, you were exhausted and you were ready for them to be over like the very second they started so you could just leave.

Anyway, on the blanket next to us were a pair of redneck ladies and after about three hours, their dates showed up, shirtless and drunk and berating everyone within hearing distance for not being patriotic enough because we didn't WOOOOOOOO every time a firework exploded, which was of course every half second or so. And then one of them stood on his cooler and gave everybody the finger. Now that's the scene they should be putting on the back of money, not that Declaration signing, if you ask me. Then one of the ladies said to him "Rupert, these people didn't come down here to watch you act a fool! Sit your ass down!" And then, in unison, everyone around them WOOOOOOOOOOOed at last.

So, la la la, happy 4th of July. You'll just have to imagine that I'm giving you the finger. Which I totally am.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Episode 29: How to Grill Food in the Summertime

In Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina, there's a scene where a character burns to a crisp because she adds lighter fluid to a burning charcoal fire and the flame travels up the stream of fluid and into the can, where it gets all explodey. At least I think that's the book this scene is in; it's either that or Little Women. I always thought this scene was a little bit over-the-top and unbelievable, myself, but didn't really have the energy to fact-check. I'm not The New Yorker.

Until! This one time? At band camp? No, wait; wrong How To. Anyway, once I had a charcoal fire started and it was not doing well, just sort of smoking and not firing up in any sort of possible meat-charring way. Now reader, I will say that I had had two or seven glasses of wine, delicious Stone Creek merlot. That's how long ago this scene took place: so long ago that a person could still drink merlot and not be hooted and hollered at. Surprisingly, through a drunken haze, I remembered that fateful scene from the aforementioned book and knew not to just squirt more fluid on the fire. So I very logically poured it into a styrofoam cup and then threw that directly onto the smoldering briquettes. WELL! All the smoke ignited instantly into a giant ball of flame that engulfed me for one millisecond. And then it disappeared and this is the first time I've ever told anyone this story, I think, probably because it's embarrassing. But not as embarrassing as when my mother borrowed her parents' brand new car and lit up a cigarette (which she was not supposed to be doing anyway, needless to say) and flicked the ashes out the window and they blew back in the rear window and caught the backseat on fire and she was just driving around with flames pouring out of the windows. But I'll save that one for another that I suspect will be called How to Get In Trouble By Spilling Your Mother's Shameful Secrets to the Entire World.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Episode 28: How to Walk in the City

When I was in college in Memphis, I got to go to New York City on a junior trip. I was in some big fancy building in Midtown and got on an elevator and was suddenly sort of pushed to the back by the crush of people before I could press the button for my floor. So I had to yell "hey, y'all, could y'all mash that number 27 button for me?" After the uppity sniggering at my accent and vocabulary had subsided, I vowed to never again look like a small-town tourist when in the big city. Sidewalk etiquette is where provincialism crops up the most, I think, unless you're German, in which case we all knew you were a tourist anyway because ever single German who has ever left Germany wears weird pants and funny shoes and is thus instantly identifiable. They should just put that on the German flag: Wir tragen seltsame Hosen und Schuhe lustig.*

That same trip, I was out late one night with my fellow travelers (underaged drinking at some Jamaican joint!) and on the way back to our hotel near Lincoln Center, we watched a homeless man drag a grand piano on casters out into the middle of the street, go through the motions of lifting up the tails of his imaginary tuxedo, sit down on his bench and proceed to play some fancy piece of music that my memory says was "Rhapsody in Blue" but was probably something else. At the end, we all applauded. Then he stood up, bowed and picked up the end of the rope attached to the piano and dragged the piano off into the night.

I think this is where I'm supposed to say "and now you know.....the rest of the story!" But I don't so I won't.

*Translation courtesy of iGoogle Translate so don't blame me if I just called you a stinky donkey.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Episode 27: How to Go to a Movie

One time when my sister was in high school and I was home from college for some reason or other, I tricked her into going to see David Cronenberg's The Fly. That really didn't go over so well; it's really not her type of movie, since there isn't a princess or a maid of honor in it and it doesn't end at a prom. Anyway, the audience was really nervous and fidgety and there were a lot of funny comments from frightened audience members that served to break the tension. All of which crescendoed when Geena Davis had that dream sequence where she gives birth to that giant fly larvae baby thing and the woman behind us said as clearly and loudly as possible, "I don't know why she don't get a can of Raid and put a STOP to that shit!" So even though today's How To advises against talking in movies, you're allowed to if you can be that funny.

I also tricked my sister another time when I made her ride a carnival ride where you twirled upside down and then stopped upside-down in mid-air and her purse flew open. I'll save that one for another time (How to Go to the State Fair...coming in September) but let's just say that the lady carny way way below us got a bunch of free birth control pills. Which from the looks of things, she was probably going to need later that night.

Thanks to world-famous authoress Katharine Weber for suggesting this one.