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Man! It has been awhile. I really appreciate your looking after the place while I've been gone. Everything looks terrific. Seriously - the chrysanthemums would have been withered shadows of their former selves in my care. Even my goldfish seem perkier. I can't thank you enough.

So take a load off! Make yourself comfortable! I'll make coffee.

Friday, February 29, 2008

eight ways to get asked to leave staff meetings

  • bathe in fish juice
  • order invisible friends to put clothes back on
  • spell, out loud, everything everyone says
  • periodically ask if person next to you wants to see your rash
  • play ‘chew and show’ with cookies
  • get up and run fingers through the hair of whoever’s speaking
  • suggest group consider how Captain Kirk would handle situation
  • two words: interpretive dance

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

my other bad couplets

other bad trees were killed to make the tree-death (printable) version

1. my elephant couplet

Flyswatters hold no appeal to the elephant:
due to her size, gnats and flies seem irrelephant.

2. my manatee couplet
The lumbering, sweet-tempered manatee
despite her great size shows no vanatee.

3. my couplet describing a grade-school loser

He's the guy who jabs and pokes at you in lunchlines,
then tries to tell you jokes without the punchlines.

4. my condom couplet
Having sex every now and then is
the perfect time to wrap your pen-is.

Monday, February 25, 2008

a word from the head office

toward a new corporate restructuring plan

as it happens, this plan itself has been restructured in tree-death (printable) format

it has also been restructured into a tree-death (printable) format just for SCHOOLS, if you're interested, though you'll need to print the pages back-to-back and fold them into a cute little booklet; it's an arts-and-crafts feature to make it feel more "schooly"

The Head Office Restructuring Committee (HORC) was formed last year in response to the need for a new committee to be formed. Following the consumption of literally dozens of half-caff lattes and the general acknowledgement that a cohesive restructuring plan will never be created until managerial pig-headedness and office in-fighting is quashed (i.e. never), the Committee has prepared this booklet as a summary of progress. Presented largely in rhetorical-question-and-facetious-answer format, the Committee hopes you won’t notice the misplaced participle at the beginning of this sentence which implies that the Committee itself, rather than the booklet, has a format. If we’re an office anywhere near worth our salt, these grammatical mistakes will engender extensive and vitriolic staff feedback.
--The Committee to Openly Mock the Head Office Restructuring Committee (COMHORC), February 2008

The Committee will be guided by the following priorities when making decisions regarding restructuring, except in cases where we don’t feel like it:

  1. Dedicate so much time to planning the restructuring that it is impossible to facilitate the creation of an office culture that values collaboration, reflection, and communication, because we’re all too freaking busy going to restructuring-plan meetings
  2. Promote a greater sense of those things that make each office division pissed off at the others
  3. Take advantage of corporate discretionary fund to go on frivolous fact-finding trips and “retreats” to nice local restaurants
  4. Over-extend the use of all existing office facilities such that members of the office staff can butt heads as much as possible

1. Is the office going to move to a structure that streamlines and improves transparency?

Please. Streamlining and transparency are so 2005. If we’re going to steal a restructuring model from another company, you can be damn sure it will have a funky, hip descriptor (who has a “name” anymore, anyway?) with loads of corporate street-cred. Something like an Organic, Multi-Phase, Triangulating (OMPT) Restructuring Model, only softer to reflect the fact that we’re warm and fuzzy while at the same time getting across the idea that we are all about kicking the ass of other businesses. Maybe, “Fuzzy, Warm, Whole-Customer TimeFrame with Special Ass(everation)-Kicking Adjunct.”

In the meantime, you could call what we’ve been doing “investigating” types of restructuring plans, if by “investigating” you mean “having all our friends at other companies email, fax, and otherwise pelt us with whatever rubbish ideas their companies have been using to deal with their own structural inadequacies.” This has been very helpful in that it has proven to us that yes, in fact there are dozens of other companies around the world just as screwed up as we are.

As a side note, it turns out that the classic type of restructuring model, which involves focusing resources in areas of greatest market opportunity, is very unlikely to work for us. So expect to see this as the proposed model from the Head Office some time soon.

2. Is the Restructuring Committee looking at personnel, budget expenditures, and internal conflicts, or is it looking only at the office management structure itself?
As we’re sure you can imagine, it is very hard to look only at restructuring and also fulfil our mandate to get our sweaty little fingers into as many office pies as possible.

3. The process seems too fast—what can we do about this?

Lace up them running shoes, baby.

4. How will low-level office staffers be included in the process?

In much the same way that smoking is included in the life of a professional athlete.[1]

5. Will there be an approval process after the new restructuring plan is completed?

Our intention is to make you believe that your input is valued throughout the process. By the time the new plan is actually created, we hope to have had a number of occasions for you to say what you think while we sit and stare at you with empty smiles on our faces. After you have been thanked and your suggestions summarily ignored, we will leave to ridicule you behind closed doors. So no, genius, there won’t be a separate approval process.

If the new structure is profoundly different from what we currently have, how will staff be able to prepare for the change?

Even if the restructuring plan is finished in time for an adequate period of adjustment to take place, we plan to pack that time full of amusing time-wasters, which we like to call “professional development.” These will include visits from the top professionals in the field of corporate restructuring, people with “best-selling” books entitled things like All Work and No Play Means Johnny Needs a New Corporate Structural Model, and REST(rict)RUC(tions)TUR(n out)ING(enuity): Bringing Peace of Mind to Your Head Office. They will come with their pre-fab presentations, foisting their agendas and opinions on us by the roomful and trying desperately to jam our square realities into their round ideas.

People who agree with us will get to go on trips to offices in exotic locations to see how much easier it is to be happy with your office’s structural model when you work in an exotic location. In short, we will do exactly what we feel is necessary to alleviate our guilt about those people whom we’ve made unhappy with the changes. Then we will stop thinking about it.

What if the new plan appears to require a change in contracts or staffing levels?
This is a very sensitive issue, mostly because nobody likes it when we in the Administration say we are going to start “making changes in staffing levels,” a polite euphemism for what we in Admin more often call “cutting loose the debris.” You’d be really surprised the way people’s danders get up when the idea of losing their jobs rears its head. Go figure.

Because of this, we will never EVER talk about people losing their jobs, even when we have every intention of getting rid of them. Instead, we will continue our policy of passive-aggressive staff review and control. This is that thing we do where we don’t tell you, “You should have done this in that situation”; what we say is, “It’s interesting that you chose to do that in that situation. I might not have chosen to do that. But you did, which is interesting.” It’s also that thing we do where we don’t tell you what we think personally, but we tell you, “You should know that this is what people are saying about you.” Often we do this during formal job evaluations, which is great fun. You should see the looks on your faces when you suddenly think that you’re completely alone and everyone around you is talking about you and you don’t know who you can trust. It’s a hoot.

Anyway, we the Administration hope that breeding this fear and mistrust and self-doubt will cause those people we don’t like to quit of their own accord, thus saving us the emotionally draining experience of firing them. Oh, sorry—this was another planning question, wasn’t it?

8. What precisely, then, is the goal of the Committee?

The goal of the committee is to develop another bizarre-as-hell restructuring plan that reflects the narrow views of those random people involved in the committee and to provide ample time which will be largely wasted on excursions to theoretical restructuring conferences and to other companies who serve as exemplars of bizarre-as-hell restructuring. Bearing this in mind, the committee is striving for a January 2009 implementation date, with a proposed restructuring plan in place by September 2008. We know this is not enough time, but we don’t care. We will labor and delay for months, the restructuring plan will not be done until August—probably just before most office staff goes on vacation so that it will be presented to public outrage which will be frustrated and/or forgotten during the next two weeks, after which everyone will become overwhelmed by the end-of-the-calendar-year routine and won’t have the time or inclination to look at, critique, discuss and modify a restructuring plan. Then the Christmas holidays will roll around and a cabal more clandestine than freemasons will put the plan in place as a fait accompli for January.

Your Role
The committee is genuine in its quest to appear to want feedback from all members of the office community, particularly mid-level management. If we have time, we will make an effort to appear to want feedback from low-level staff as well. And lastly, from tech support. We ask EACH OF YOU to do three things:

1. Review the questions and answers contained in this document. Be distracted by the colored font. Ask yourself, “Why lilac?”

2. You will have time now during which you could prepare your own reports or read emails and other communications relevant to your actual job. Instead, spend this time examining the attached documents and any other stuff we throw at you. Consider how it would overturn your professional life if we decided to make our restructuring plan conform to one of those provided. Additionally, and most importantly, forget the practical issues associated with this plan. Rather, think “big picture”; practice talking about these restructuring models in broad, general terms. Use phrases like “workplace efficiency” in ways that never actually address either the workplace or efficiency.

3. Spend time going to long, drawn-out meetings where people are asked to talk about sensitive issues that get everyone riled up. Get riled up. Be assured that what you say will go nowhere. Become part of the negative undercurrent here at the office. Start sending hostile emails to like-minded thinkers swimming alongside you in the undercurrent. While you send these, notice that, on the office email system, new folders with attractive icons have been set up and dedicated to the controversial topics discussed in the aforementioned meetings. PAY NO ATTENTION to these folders—they are absolutely pointless, and frankly pretty stupid. The only people who contribute to these folders are sad losers who obviously don’t understand how this process works. These people are also compulsive committee-joiners and energetic do-gooders who will have the enthusiasm and joy beaten out of them in due course.

Your efforts in these matters will help make it easier for our confused ideological oligarchy to run the office unimpeded. We appreciate your understanding.

[1] A dangerous thing that we’ll try to avoid, though we know we can’t entirely.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

zen rude-ism: the principle of wanting to stay asleep

from Chin's Ninth Moan

The Awakened One has achieved his status by embracing the One Reality that there is no Awakening, just a world full of bastards, jerks, and wise-asses.
--Chin the Kibbitzer, in response to the Second Sutra of Pying-Pyong's Dog

the second sutra of Pying-Pyong's dog

At breakfast, Pyong said, "It's like this: trying to achieve Awakening you might as well try to make the perfect piece of toast. You know how you never get it just the way you want it? A lot of it is mood--sometimes you want it crispy, sometimes you want maybe a kind of warm bread, and sometimes other things you are thinking. But you make the toast and it crunches and you get the stiff crusty parts lodged in your gums, which is a pain you never want I can tell you, or maybe it's too soft so when you dunk it in your tea--which is another thing you can never get right so don't get me started--it flops over like damp socks. And then there's the piece that maybe if you're lucky has what you want in the middle except the whole piece didn't toast evenly which is something that drives me so crazy I could go on all day.

"So the Awakened One is some guy who makes perfect toast one day. And he wakes up and he sits there and says, 'Okay so my whole life I'm spending making toast and now it's perfect. What the hell is wrong with me? Like I have to invent headaches for myself with the life I got? And somehow perfect toast is the achievement that my life will now get my head screwed on straight. Boy do I need a vacation.'

"But I could put it another way: Awakening is crap, and you do yourself a favor to figure that out early. Even my dog knows that."

And Pyong fed his toast to his dog.

the third moan of Pying-Pyong's dog

Fu-Lin asked Pying-Pyong, "Master, is your dog Awakened?"

Pying-Pyong replied, "What are you bothering me with this now I got a million things to do? Ask the dog, you need to know so bad. Only give him some jerky first which he enjoys when you do that."

Fu-Lin fed Pying-Pyong's dog. The dog snapped at him and bit through his finger, drawing blood. "He bit me!" Fu-Lin cried.

"So you got your answer," Pying-Pyong said. "Now get out of here. You give me a headache like I don't have words for. And get some more jerky."

Monday, February 18, 2008

teller is dead

not only is Teller dead, but so are a lot of trees, which contributed to this (printable) version of the following post

I thought it might be useful to explain a little bit about my relationship with my wife. You know, just in case you were wondering. And I thought I would begin by explaining the death of Teller.

As you will no doubt have already gleaned, I refer to Teller, the mute half of the Penn & Teller magic act. I realize that limiting the man to “the mute half of Penn & Teller” does him a disservice; he has a broad and deep list of extremely impressive credits to his name. One would think that such a disservice would matter more to me, now that he’s allegedly dead. But one would be mistaken.

About a year ago or so, my head decided that Teller had died. Don’t ask me why it decided this; my head just does things like this from time to time. It had come up with an elaborate story in order to fool me: one with lots of colorful detail to make it feel that much truer. My head told me that Teller’s death had been a shocking tragedy. Sitting down to lunch by himself in a restaurant in Los Angeles one day, he had selected a particular fish (the special of the day) as his entrĂ©e. At one time, I even knew the kind of fish it was, but it escapes me now. Some kind of unusual white fish, I think, like shad or mooneye. But not shad or mooneye.

In any case, this fish--notorious for its boniness--was nevertheless served whole from the grill. Teller tucked in while reading an esoteric book on magic. At one point, so immersed was he in his reading that he stopped giving his meal the attention it required: he swallowed two particularly pernicious fish bones. They went down badly and lodged in his throat, closing his windpipe. His arms flailed; his eyes bulged. More than usual. Someone nearby attempted the Heimlich maneuver, but the upward thrust only served to embed the bones more firmly. Within minutes, Teller had suffocated.

See what I mean? Pretty vivid for a load of complete rubbish, isn’t it?

The special beauty of the way my head works is that once it comes up with a gem like this, it doesn’t send me out immediately to preach my drivel to random acquaintances. Oh no. It plants little fallacious land mines, then sits back and waits for them to detonate. Which can happen any time.

So I’m hanging around one afternoon in January and my wife says to me, “Oh, I meant to tell you - Yvonne de Carlo died.” One of the reasons I know my wife still loves me is that she still tells me things like this. I know maybe five people in the world who both A) know that Yvonne de Carlo played Lily Munster (and also a couple parts on truly fine episodes of Fantasy Island) and B) care. My wife is one of them. I figure if she didn’t love me, she’d talk to one of the other four people about Yvonne de Carlo and leave me out of the loop. At least, this is what I tell myself. In my darker moments, I consider that she may tell all five of us, and I’m at the end of the list.

Let’s not go there now.

So it’s a grey rainy afternoon in London and my wife says to me, “Yvonne de Carlo died.”

And I reply. “Oh no--really? Jeez. First Teller, now Lily Munster.”

My wife got that look on her face that a person gets when they ask someone for directions to the bank and the someone says, “Flipknot hammock furry jinkle buttress.” It was as though she hadn’t experienced enough confusion in her life to be able to fill her question with the right amount:


On some level, I sensed her perplexity, but it didn’t register with me, because I considered what I had said matter-of-fact, normal, and entirely a part of the fabric of reality. “What what?” I replied, unhelpfully.

“What did you say just then?”

“Just when?”

“Just then--before the thing about Lily Munster.”


My wife did not slap me for this, which demonstrates the full extent of her capacity for restraint. “No, you said someone else died. Who else died?”

“Oh, yeah. Teller. You know. Teller’s dead.”

My wife searched her deepest recesses frantically for more confusion to offer to me. After all, she had turned to me in her hour of need, presented all her confusion and hoped that I would dismiss it with a soothing clarification. Instead, I had taken the big mess of her confusion and before her very eyes sculpted it into an enormous flummox-shaped bafflement.

Her face scrunched up more and she leaned into me and said (with just a vague hint of desperation to her voice), “What the hell are you talking about?”

For a moment my resolve flickered. For a moment, I questioned what my head had told me. But no--it happened. Of course it did. Mentally, I shrugged off the flicker.

“You know, Teller. He died a little bit ago. The fish bone in the restaurant?”

My wife giggled a nervous giggle. “Teller? From Penn and Teller?”

“Yeah. He choked and died a few weeks ago.” I narrated the event for her - the lunch in LA, the whitefish (hake?), the book on magic, the well-meaning bystander, and Teller’s untimely and tragic end. With each detail, the amusement on my wife’s face expanded, and my resolve withered. I found I couldn’t place my source material for the account - had I read it in the newspaper? Unlikely, as I rarely read the newspaper. Television, then. But would TV news have had that book detail in it? Maybe a friend told me about it? Thing was, I hadn’t spoken with those other four people in a long time...

By the time I finished, my wife could barely contain her hysterics. Not that she especially tried. If I’m honest, I should admit that my rising, burning embarrassment did nothing to quell her laughter, nor did my sheepish mutterings of “Shut up.” Suffice it to say that we deduced, together, that the fatalistic Teller anecdote was merely a fantastic lie that I had concocted for a reason that would remain an indefinite mystery.

In any other marriage, that would have been the end of it. As faithful readers of my work will no doubt have discerned by now, however, my marriage differs somewhat from other marriages.

For the next several weeks, the pseudo-spectre of Teller haunted our conversations. Upon learning of Sidney Sheldon’s passing, I said to my wife, “That reminds me...did you hear that Teller from Penn & Teller died?” Initially, my wife could not be sure if I had forgotten our previous conversation on the matter (she held numerous irrefutable precedents upon which she based this uncertainty). To be fair, at this point I wasn’t sure if she had actually had the conversation about Teller, or if it was just a marvelously complicated memory by head had invented for my aggravation and its own amusement (again, my head does this sort of thing from time to time). The idea being, I can hardly fault my wife for her suspicions.

“Teller isn’t dead. You made that up,” she reminded me.

Anna Nicole Smith’s accidental drug overdose: “Wow. She was even younger than Teller when he died.”

“He’s still alive. Why do you keep saying that?”

Ian Richardson’s surprising demise: “His doctor said he was in good health. I think they said Teller had just had a physical.”

“Teller is not dead!”

Kurt Vonnegut’s death following his head injury while at home: “That is a real shame. One of the great black humorists of our day. Speaking of black humorists--”


As you may have surmised, by now I had taken to offering periodic faux-bituaries just to rankle my betrothed. I’ll own up: seeing her flip out because I said Teller was dead when he wasn’t sent ribbons of childish glee up and down my person. I realize this may mean I’m even more disturbed than my behavior to this point suggests, but I don’t care. I’m not proud of this needling torment, mind you. But, given the chance, it’s probably more than fair to say I’d do it again.

One night, we prepared for bed, and I switched the news on. A report came through stating that Charles Nelson Reilly had died of pneumonia. I made my obligatory connection to Teller. My wife, completing her evening’s ablutions, stepped out of the bathroom in order to issue a roary groan (or a groany roar) and howl, “Why do you keep saying that? He is not dead! What is it with you?”

At this moment, my head suggested I ask a question: “Why does it bother you so much?” I can’t imagine why such an obvious line of inquiry hadn’t occurred to me before.

Clearly my wife hadn’t asked this question before either, and she deflated almost visibly before me, as though she had suddenly and involuntarily re-routed all her irate energy into the part of her brain designed to work out problems. Trying to save face, she converted her fluster into annoyance: “I just don’t think it’s a nice thing to do! The poor guy is out there, still alive somewhere, and you keep telling people he’s dead.”

Not people. Just you.

“Well, so what? You still talk about him like he’s dead. And I just don’t think you should because it’s mean.” By now my wife had worked out that she didn’t have enough fluster to generate an annoyance and would have to settle for a sort of medium-strength petulance.

I pointed out that Teller was a much wealthier man than I am, and that he had a great many distractions in his life which might prevent him from hearing that some nobody living in London had fabricated (albeit somewhat comprehensively) a myth concerning the man’s death and refused to let go of it. Actually, given the sorts of shenanigans Penn and he get up to, part of me thought the myth might actually amuse Teller. Even if he wasn’t, he could always seek revenge by telling people that in fact I had died. And he had access to better information-dispersal systems than I did, so his lie would likely reach further than his widow...wife, that is. In short, while my beloved’s defense of the man was admirable and a little cute, I felt fairly confident Teller himself didn’t suffer a whole lot at my hands.

My wife’s final volley fell far short: “I still think you’re mean.”

In the months that followed, I explored my wife’s sensibilities on this subject: why didn’t I let it go? Was the thrill of getting under my wife’s skin really worth playing with the fate-tempting hand-grenade of another man’s suggested death? Did Teller really mean so little to me that I would use him in this way?

Of course, by the time such musings made their way around my head, I knew the answer: yes, I would tempt fate. Yes, my concern for the man approached non-existent. Yes, I would continue to make jokes at the expense of his failing vital signs.

After all, he was dead to me.

(Snook, maybe?)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

10 things Og, my caveman neighbor, always complains about

  • shrieks from women he clubs over head to mate with
  • local basic cable package pretty lousy
  • GAP no longer stocks animal-skin loin cloths
  • sloping forehead draws attention to receding hairline
  • fireplace mocks him
  • cost for knuckle-waxing at beautician is highway robbery
  • dyslexic people who call him "Go"
  • zoo refuses to give Rogaine to sad, grey, bald woolly mammoth
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm somehow never seemed quite as funny as Seinfeld
  • poor selection of dinosaur meat at local deli

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

lobster bisque belgique

Many of you are undoubtedly familiar with Maurice Sendak's unforgettable 1962 masterpiece of postmodern verse, "Chicken Soup with Rice." The piece spoke to an American people living with the threat of imminent nuclear disaster, confronting the paranoia of the Cold War, reeling from the understanding that the "jungle music" known as "rock 'n roll" was not a fad, but an institution. This America needed reassurance; this America needed to know that the simple life would not be destroyed by bombs, absorbed into some communist conformist sensibility or subverted by Elvis' hips or the Beatles' moptops.

Sendak provided just that reassurance. His folksy, down-home recipe for the simple goodness of life spoke to the hearts and minds of our insecure countrymen. The problems of Sendak's world are modest: drooping roses, August heat, hosting a Halloween party, and so on. And all problems can be solved modestly: with soup.

We live in a different time. We know different things. We lack the insecurity of our parents and grandparents. Should a nuclear disaster grow imminent, Hollywood has taught us that Bruce Willis or Steven Seagal or Nicolas Cage will find the bomb, defuse it and kick the ass of the would-be bombers. In the unlikely event that they fail and plunge us into war and nuclear winter, Hollywood has taught us that time-travelling robots will return to a point prior to detonation and rewrite our future. Communism has proven to be as big a threat to American life as Esperanto. As for rock 'n roll, we have learned that our fear of this music stemmed from our inability to confront our shame. And as we all know, 21st-century America has no shame, so we're happy to let the music of our culture put our rampant gun violence, irresponsible sexual habits and tacit acceptance of illegal drug use to a funky, danceable rhythm.

A different time calls for a different poetic voice. Our children are the children of privilege and ambition. No longer content to tend flowers or host Halloween parties, they become clandestine pot-growers inspired by television and hope one day to crash the Vanity Fair post-Oscar party. Sendak's sentiments have no meaning for them and they drift aimlessly in a world without verse.

Children, drift no longer. I have arrived with the verse for your world. At least for the next six months.

Lobster Bisque Belgique

by Chris McColl (mostly)

a chicken soup for the privileged soul
with much gratitude and a smug sense of entitlement (from whence derives this almost piratical appropriation) to Maurice Sendak

On our January
ski holiday in Gstaad,
Fritz booked us in at Gildo's—well, MY GOD.
Wintering in Suisse? Give it the nod.
Eat one meal.
Eat all week.
Eat their lobster bisque belgique.

In February, I'll be there
for Jean-Paul G's anniversaire
with Puck catering the whole affair--
tres tres fou
tres tres chic
tres tres lobster bisque belgique

In March, Spring Break means that we're dismissed
To Brunei and all its hedonists.
Only ten-figure incomes make the list.
Swim at the Sultan's club.
Swim with the Sultan's clique.
Swim in lobster bisque belgique.

"April is the cruelest month."
T. S. Eliot's said to've said this onth.
Leth cruel? The Fat Duck for Easter lunth.
Heston's bubble
and Heston's squeak
Heston's lobster bisque belgique.

In May, of course we'll go to Cannes,
Enjoy Coco Chanel and coq au vin.
Join George C. at Casino Lucien.
With his winning smile
and my winning streak
We'll be winning lobster bisque belgique.

Divorcees in June say “I re-do”
(in a dress by Wang and shoes by Choo).
Paparazzi fight to get a view.
The couple’s presents? Gorgeous.
The couple’s future? Bleak.
The couple’s passed on lobster bisque belgique.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


So I’ve recently become very involved in and passionate about this new sport. It’s called Refond (emphasis on the first syllable). It was invented by my six-year-old daughter Beatrice. The object of the game is that Beatrice wins, no matter what.

To say that Beatrice has a competitive side is accurate only if she is also described as being shaped like a monogon. A monogon the size of the Great Wall of China. To play any game with her is an exercise in subordination, as she automatically assumes that she will go first. A suggestion to the contrary will require an explanation: this will need to be lengthy, convincing and more than likely slightly threatening. And even when and if she finally succumbs to someone else starting a game, the unspoken understanding is that, should this person win, the win will not carry any real weight in the Beatricentric folds of our household.

Crisis points are reached whenever the tide of a particular game turns against my little one--you know, she’s just rounded the final bend in Candyland and draws the card that sends her back to the Peppermint Forest. In these times of crisis, it’s like having a three-foot Allan Dershowitz next to you. Last night, she argued with me fervently that because I rolled the die when it was her turn, she should be allowed to have the number that came up on the die. Nevermind that the roll brought her right back into contention in a game she was losing. That wasn’t the point. Indeed, the rolling of dice is always subject to legal scrutiny in Beatrice’s world: if the roll comes up unfavorably, you’d better hope it didn’t graze your elbow, because of course that means you got in the way and the roll didn’t count. It’s interference.

When she wins, she is insufferable. When she loses, she is inconsolable. In much the same way that she seems to believe that dessert is the only reason to eat a meal, she likewise believes that winning is the only reason to play a game. Losing is not just unacceptable, it is offensive. Losing causes her entire little world to fall in a shattered heap at her feet. And she is old enough to realize that she’s going to lose a lot, since she’s the youngest in the family and she has the least experience with the various games we play (having said this, she possesses one of the most devastating short-term memories I’ve ever come across and one plays Concentration with her at one’s own risk; my defeats at her hands have rarely been anything but humiliating).

The discovery of Refond has finally provided her with certain security in the world of familial competition. She invented it one Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago when she and I were home alone together.

There is nothing I would like more than to explain the rules to you, but it would be like trying to explain the shape of fog. Here’s what I can tell you: it involves a ball. The playing surface is the floor of our family room. I lean against one wall, in the midst of some oversized pillows and a bunch of stuffed bears who live in the pillows. Beatrice sits opposite me, about ten feet away, squeezed between the legs of one of our dining room chairs. We take turns rolling the ball back and forth across the floor. I think I’m meant to try to get the ball between the legs of the chair, which is of course impossible because the entire space between the legs is filled with child. What Beatrice is meant to do is a delightfully protean mystery. Oh, right--occasionally, at random moments, we shout, “Refond!” Well, I say random. Beatrice insists that there are clear reasons for saying it, and that whenever I say it, it’s always at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. Which is fair enough.

In spite of my tone, I must state for the record here that I have had more fun playing Refond than I have ever had playing any other game or sport in my life. Honestly. The beauty of it is, you know that you can’t win, so you don’t really have anything at stake. And with such a plastic set of rules, it’s impossible to play well, so there’s no pressure there either. All that’s left is the opportunity to sit and watch the marvelously convoluted imagination of a six-year-old attempt to turn an ordinary setting and a largely unpredictable series of events into a comprehensible victory. Of some sort.

The flights of rationalization and defensive logic involved in this process are beyond absurd - they are outright hysterical. I have never laughed harder at anything in my life. I have laughed until I gasped, until my abdomen burned with the ache, until I cried. And my daughter, herself infected my hysterics, desperately tried to get control of my laughter in hopes that it would allow her to regain control of her game.

Tonight, for instance, when I said I wanted to play, I began by asking Beatrice to confirm for me the fact that no one but her was allowed to win. This she would not do. I can understand this - without the bitter possibility of losing, winning tastes far less sweet. But I pressed this point, because I have always understood it as central to the game, and I wanted to have my understanding confirmed by the game’s creator and mistress. What I failed to appreciate, however, was that attempting to fix this rule in stone broke the second rule of the game: no Refond rule will ever be fixed in stone.

“You can win if you put the ball in the goal [between the legs of the chair].”

“So I just have to do that once, and then I win?”

“No, if you do that, you get a point.”

“How many points do I need to win?”


I laughed here, at both her precision and her excess. I couldn’t help myself. She laughed too. I said, “We can’t play until I score 225 goals.”

“Okay, then, we’ll play to 20.”

“That’s still too much.”

“Okay, then, you can get 10 points for a goal.”

“So I only have to score two goals, and then I can win?”

“Yes,” she replied and promptly filled every square inch of the “goal” with her tiny body.

“Right, so like I said, I can’t win, because there is no way I can get this ball into your goal if you’re going to park yourself in front of it like that.”

“But you have two goals you can use.” This sentence delivered with the authoritative air of the experienced professional reading to the young neophyte from the international rulebook.

“Ah. What’s the other one?”

“The other chair.” She points to another, slightly larger chair, about two feet away from the one she’s gripping.

“Okay, so if I score twice in either of these goals, I win?”


“Fine.” With this clarification of play, I prepare to roll the ball into the unprotected goal. Sensing this, my daughter shrieks and throws her body flat and outstretched on the floor, such that her arms and head block one chair while her legs block the other.

After a few more minutes’ negotiation, we resume play and I manage to score a goal. “Yes! Ten points!” I yell, the smell of victory finally wafting in my direction. I make a bit of a show here, whooping it up and bragging of my accomplishment to my other daughter, seated nearby. Beatrice, meanwhile, insists that I’ve only earned two points. I shout back that she said the goal was worth ten. Our debate escalates, and she senses that my superior volume could win the day. So, when I am momentarily distracted by her sister, Beatrice kicks the ball wildly. It bounces off the coffee table and hits me on the foot.

This move was apparently precisely what she was going for, as evidenced by her reaction: “HAH! YES!! GOAL! 5000 points! BOO-YAH!!!”

Game play is paused here as the phrase “boo-yah” coming out of the face of my child has reduced me, once again, to a giggling mess. The girls follow suit. When, minutes later, Beatrice is finally able to draw enough oxygen into her lungs to speak, she explains (rather haughtily, in my opinion) that if the ball ever hits a player after it bounces off of something, the player who throws it gets 5,000 points.

Again, fair enough. I have no one to blame for my ignorance but myself, after all.

One of my favorite aspects of Refond is that, unlike conventional sport, it does not have a clear endpoint. There are no banal markers like “innings” or “quarters” or “periods” or the like. Instead, each Refond event contents itself with a slow disintegration under the weight of its own complexity. At some point, my attempt to reconcile the various rules that Beatrice has constructed, along with her attempt to keep track of her own contradictions and reversals, will leave us both prone on the floor, psychicly shattered. Sometimes gameplay will be halted by a bathroom break, which walk might itself occasion a glimpse of some distraction more enticing than Refond: mom making lunch or sister fiddling around at some website. Every so often, as different props are introduced as Refond equipment, the props themselves lead the players into other recreation.

In all these instances, the promise of continuing the game remains in the air as heavy as the reality of the game’s conclusion. Some element of Refond, then, permeates all our daily activities; the game goes on for Beatrice even when it isn’t Refond season.

So, now we also play Refond Race to the Top of the School Steps (“You weren’t holding the rail the whole way up! I win!”) and Refond Clear the Breakfast Dishes Best (“Yours didn’t count because you pushed in my chair and I was supposed to do that. I win!”)

Someday, I hope to compile a rulebook for Refond - one that real sports geeks will pore over and memorize in order to engage in legalistic debates with one another, like they do about the designated hitter rule in baseball and the offside rule in European football. I’d love for there to be a National Refond League: a whole bunch of people who get together and compete in the sport and know that, no matter what happens in the end, Beatrice wins.

Even if she isn’t there.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

zen rude-ism: the principle of not-doing-by-having-someone-else-do

from Lai-tze's fourth sutra

He who seeks Zen must learn to do by not doing. HOWEVER...if he can learn to do by having someone else do for him, he can seek Zen while enjoying a nice salad and having his dry cleaning picked up.

--Rude-ist Master Lai-Tze

the third kondo of Lai-Tze

After laboring for weeks, Seiko wandered one morning into the hut of his master, Lai-Tze. He found his master playing a ball-and-cup game while reclining in a bamboo chair.

“Master,” Seiko said, breathless and weak, “I require your wisdom.”

“You got it, kid,” said Lai-Tze. “Shoot.”

“You have told me I would find Zen in the mending of your roof. I did not. You said I would find Zen in the tending of your garden. I have not. You taught that I would find Zen in the cleaning of your dishes. I have not. Nor have I found Zen in the washing of your clothes, the sweeping of your floor, or in the drawing of your bath each evening. Each day I end my meditations in exhaustion, feeling no closer to Awakening.” Seiko sat on the floor heavily.

“Hey, look, you can't rush these things,” the master advised. “I mean, Zen could be anywhere! In your ear, under a bath mat, the bottom of a lake. Who knows? You can't force it. You've got to be more like me. For instance, when I want clean laundry, you don't see me racing out to get it myself, do you? I just wait, and it comes to me.”

“But that is because I bring it to you,” Seiko said.

“Very clever. And you say you're no closer to Awakening.” The master winked. “Now, I'm pretty sure I saw some Zen in the kitchen. So, if you go make my lunch, you might stumble across it.”

Seiko felt wisdom creep over him. “But, Master, would not the wise course be to wait and let Awakening come to me here?”

“No. That totally won't work. You need to go make lunch. Seriously.”


“Trust me on this. I'll have a sandwich.” The master returned to his ball-and-cup game.

Seiko prepared tuna melts.

Monday, February 4, 2008

10 reasons I'm going straight to Hell when I die

you'll no doubt be pleased to learn that the trees who died making the tree-death (printable) version of this list all went to straight to Hell as well
  • mocking the "Taller Women Dating Shorter Men Support Group" website
  • contract I signed with Satan
  • saying Johnny Cash's performance in last music video must have been posthumous
  • always rearranging tchochkies in apartment of OCD friend
  • spending time at wife's aunt's funeral making up "The Sphincter Song" in my head
  • telling daughters last weekend that if they didn't lay off one another I'd pick up the smaller one by the ankles and whack the bigger one with her
  • actually writing down rules for party game called Mean-Spirited Judgment of Others
  • I'm just a bad person
  • could't resist great deal spiritual travel agent got me on direct SulfurousAir flight**
  • must do what it says on the Community Chest card I picked last time I played Monopoly

**Offer good only upon demise. Ticket non-refundable, non-transferrable. Not valid with any other offer. Void where prohibited.