WE DID IT

Today I was thinking, “what is the worst thing you could ever do on the Internet?” Even I was surprised by how quickly the answer came to me. (See? It’s so awful I had to hide it behind a link, like some deformed child chained to the wall of a fruit cellar.)

SAY CHEESE, INTERNET

The talented and diminutive photographer, Anya Garrett, recently did something more incredible than she probably imagined. In a photo she recently posted on her Flickr page, she has actually managed to capture the precise image I have in my head whenever I hear someone say the word “blogosphere”: PERFECTION.

Coincidentally, Lisa recently posted a picture on her Flickr page that perfectly captures the image I’ve had in my head whenever I run into someone and they ask me what I’ve been up to lately. I usually answer, “oh, just writing a ton. Really focusing on the writing. Not doing a lot of shows these days. Guess it’s just not a priority for me right now,” but the answer in my head looks a lot more like this. (The only thing missing–and this is technically impossible with Lisa behind the camera–is Lisa in the background, performing and holding multiple yoga positions in order to divert my attention back to her.)

ART IMITATES ART, AND THEN LIFE IMITATES THAT

In 2001, I participated in a kind of art swap called “20 things. 20 people.” The idea was to make 20 pieces of art to be distributed amongst the project’s 20 participants and, in return, you would receive 20 unique art pieces. Neat.

Since I’m not particularly crafty, I decided to use the project as a clearinghouse for ideas I’d had over the years–things I believed had some kind of (creative, financial) potential, but a potential was too lazy or too unskilled or just too busy to realize by myself. I had hoped other people would take these ideas, one sent to each member of the project, and do something wonderful with them.

Among those ideas was one of my personal favorites, held over from the first dot-com boom, when everyone seemed to have a ridiculous amount of disposable income. Baby Wigs. Wigs for babies. The way I imagined Baby Wigs was they’d be made from soft yarn adhered to little skull caps that would fit snugly over your baby’s head. The yarn would enable designers to experiment with all kinds of adorable or impossible hairstyles–for instance, a golden yellow “bee hive” hairdo with little yarn bees attached to it–while still providing your baby with a practical hat to keep its crazy, bald head warm. I even went as far as naming the product–”Wigglewear”–because this is the way I focused my creative energy back in 2001. I would share the idea, in great detail, to anyone who would listen or anyone I could corner for several minutes, and many people thought it was a pretty viable product, particularly because babies are one of the two areas of consumer behavior where people will make purchases without a moment of rational thought. (Pets being the other category.)

Many years passed, and then I saw a commercial parody on Saturday Night Live for “baby toupees,” which was very funny because it featured babies in toupees. (Incidentally, my original idea for Baby Wigs was wigs made of synthetic human hair, because I thought it would be really hilarious. I only switched it to yarn because I realized I was in the minority of people who found babies with thick, bushy Ted Koppel haircuts hilarious.) As I said, the commercial was a parody, preying on the “insecurity” of babies who suffer from baldness. Funny, and a nice coincidence.

But now (via kottke’s “buzzfeed” sidebar) everything has come full circle, as I see there is a legitimate (sort of) company that actually manufactures real (intentionally hilarious) toupees for babies. And sure, they’re marketing them as Halloween costumes–babies love trick-or-treating, after all–but let’s be honest. Baby Toupees is definitely hoping these items become year-round fashion. And they’re right, too. I only hope the CEO of this company is the very same person who received that highly marketable idea from me in 2001.

GAMER TAG

I promised myself I would never buy a piece of shit product from Microsoft, but then I fell in love with the Zune. OK, that’s not true. But I did sort of surrender (I can’t think of a better or more accurate word) to the Xbox360. (Screw off–I know I’m a nerd who is throwing my adult life away, but I am also an incorrigible nerd who is throwing his adult life away.)

Apart from how much I dislike its “gaming for babies” interface, and its unfathomably bad design and construction–which makes me so angry I sincerely wish I could meet the people who designed it just so I could hold the pinch-waisted, over-perforated Xbox360 in front of their faces, hiss, “How dare you?” then smash the console against the ground, shattering it like the shoddily constructed toy it is–it’s proven to be kind of fun once I start playing games on it. So that’s good.

One thing that’s very new to me is the addition of online gaming, and it’s the feature that made me relent to MS. Several of my friends have an Xbox360, and the ability to use the gaming system as a way of connecting with pals, and then shooting them in the face was just too great for me to resist.

When you setup your Xbox360, it’s a lot like setting up a computer–all that “blow into the cartridge, pop it in, flick the power switch, and play” stuff is no longer applicable. As part of the setup, you have to create a “gamertag,” which is how other people can identify you online. They see your gamertag whenever you’re logged in, and its the name that appears above your characters head whenever you’re playing in any kind of cooperative online game. Most people either use their real names or some kind of badass variant. Generally, the rule seems to be the more badass your gamertag, the more time you’ve spent living in the apartment above your parents’ garage. I’ve seen a lot of gamertags like “BigBadMofo” and “DiabloHelixx” and “Bad2ThaBonz” and “ChestExploder84.” My gamertag is “glenn close.”

Another aspect of online gaming that’s really new to me is “voice chat.” This means speaking to other gamers live, over a network, often during gameplay. And *that* necessitates wearing a headset that is so completely pathetic it requires you draw all the curtains in your home and cover your mirrors like a Jewish funeral, in order to engage in online gameplay without suffering a debilitating crisis of dignity. (I’ve only reached for the headset once so far, after promising myself and Lisa I never would, and after only a few minutes of messing around in a game called Gears of War, I had to stop because my eyes were involuntarily producing hot, blinding tears of shame–like some kind of biological dignity defense system.) People tend to use voice chat to shout orders to their “team,” taunt other players with homophobic slurs, or lament their character’s death with a loud, expletive-strewn interjection. The overall tone over voice chat is one of exaggerated machismo, usually undermined by a slushy, orthodontia-induced lateral lisp.

Even with limited experience in online play, it seems obvious to me that the only way to really, truly get the most out of gaming is to run around in violent, multi-player online shooters while pretending to be a raving, screeching, queen. Imagine joining a game of Halo 3 and finding yourself suddenly playing alongside, “glenn close,” a mincing, giggling soldier who sounds like a cross between Perez Hilton, Chris Crocker and Madame.

For some (obviously childish) reason, this seems like it would be the most fun imaginable. Every time my player is killed, I’d shriek like I’d just seen a mouse. And, upon being re-spawned on a level, I’d greedily announce, “Oh my, look at all this delicious man steak! I do declare!! I don’t know whether to chainsaw them to death or drag them to Ibiza for the weekend. Hellooooo…who wants to party?” I think about this a lot, actually. I’m sure I’m missing a deadline.

WHY YOU’RE STILL SINGLE (DIRECTOR’S CUT)

A little while back, I linked to a back-page humor piece I contributed to for RADAR Magazine: “100 Reasons You’re Still Single.” I also mentioned I’d try to dig up my full list of contributions, and post them here as a kind of addendum to the piece. One person cared, and to the one person I say this: Here you go. (They asked us to come up with ideas that were “relate-able” and I did try to do that, and mixed them in with ideas that were maybe a little less universal, but made me laugh. Also, Lisa helped me with a couple, and gave me the raw materials to think of a couple more.)

- Have a daily “to do” list with only two items: “whale on abs” and “punish delts”

- Have less body hair than your last three girlfriends

- Pepper your conversation with words like “manscaping,” “Bennifer,” “celebutante” and “blogosphere”

- Have a five o’clock shadow, on your ass

- Are the captain of the Duke lacrosse team

- Collect ninja throwing stars

- Wear your karate gi on dates

- Hang a samurai sword in your cubicle

- Insist on calling your enormous collection of “Spawn” action figures “a good investment.”

- Keep referring to your penis as “Da Mayor”

- Have only three MySpace friends, and one of them is “Saw III: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”

- Posed shirtless in your MySpace profile picture

- Have actively solicited friends to add you to their MySpace Top 8

- Think it’s cute, after your first night having sex with someone, to sneak into his bathroom with a tube of lipstick and write “WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF AIDS” on the mirror

- Wear “month of the year” panties

- Constantly bring your work home with you, and you’re a proctologist

- Begin stories with “I swear I’m not a stalker but…”

- Choose the fist bump as your preferred method of greeting, and always insist the other person “lock it in”

- Eat dinner with an arm guarding your plate, like a death row convict

- Call your therapist from the office, on speakerphone

- Keep telling women “I’m just looking for that special someone to replace my therapist, cleaning woman, and dominatrix.”

- Have a “Peeing Calvin” decal on your headboard / on your office window / on your Prius

- Cruise around town on a Razor Scooter

- Refuse to stop wearing that “World’s Greatest Rapist” baseball cap

- Have the names of six different women tattooed on your arm, with icons next to each one indicating whether they were a “psycho”, “lesbo” or “cheating whore.”

- Were featured in three different Girls Gone Wild DVDs

- Have a dangerously high Thetan count

- Constantly brag about your participation in a charity run for “titty cancer”

- Have more than zero stuffed animals on your bed

- Jokingly refer to your Blackberry as a “Crackberry” and Target as “Tar-Jay”

- Constantly remind people that you don’t have a television

- Make your point in an argument by saying, “I think Carlos Mencia said it best…”

- Have ever responded to someone by saying, “that’s so typical for a Sagittarius”

- Made your own bong

- Invite people over to watch you get your pet iguana high

- Use the word “funky” to describe absolutely everything but music

- Own an actual Steve Miller Band album instead of “Greatest Hits”

- List your occupation as “Cam Girl”

- Are saving yourself…for the Lord

- Use Febreze in place of detergent, deodorant, and conditioner

- Think you’re a “Miranda” when you’re obviously a “Samantha”

- Contribute to political discussions by stating that more people voted for American Idol than in the last Presidential election

- Own fannypacks for every season

- Purchased your dining room set using “Marlboro Points”

- Think having a “cool sense of fashion” means dressing exactly like Neo in The Matrix

- Own a 60″ flat screen Plasma television, a $3,000 stereo system, and you sleep on a broken futon

- Have taken at least one cell phone picture of your own bowel movement

- Celebrate Halloween in your office every year by shaving your head and wearing yellow contact lenses and custom-made Nosferatu fangs

- Think there is no difference between being “confident” and being “an insufferable douchebag”

WHERE THE COREYS WENT WRONG (A 478-PART SERIES)

After watching the first episode of A&E’s The Two Coreys, I knew I would never watch it again. I realize that’s a very easy statement to make, and probably (hopefully) one that many other viewers have made and will honor. However, my reasons were very particular. It wasn’t because the show is being packaged like a sitcom, when it is much more obviously a “sad-com.” It wasn’t because of how obviously staged and awkwardly resolved every conflict is in the show. (The premiere episode included the following three scenes in quick succession, without any development between them: A) Corey Haim is feeling “messed up” and decides he needs to step outside Corey Feldman’s house and “take a walk”; B) Corey Feldman and his wife, Susie, sit on their couch together and wonder, out loud, if Corey Haim is going to be OK because he seemed “messed up”; C) Corey Haim, who has no job and probably not much money, returns from his walk with an expensive vase in a Tiffany’s box—a very-belated wedding present for Feldman and his wife. Really? Corey Feldman’s mansion is right around the corner from Tiffany’s? Haim just walked a few blocks to Tiffany’s? And dropped several thousand dollars on, of all things, a sort of tasteful crystal vase? That’s how Corey Haim’s mind works? Wouldn’t it have been a bit more believable if he’d returned with a gift card for Armani Exchange or Jamba Juice?) And it wasn’t because all the shots of the Coreys shade-tippin’ in leather jackets upset my delicate stomach.

I had to stop watching the show out of a very personal frustration, after realizing the producers had squandered an opportunity to create the best celebrity reality show in television history. I mean this sincerely. I’ll explain.

At the beginning of the first episode, the Coreys are invited to attend a special 20th anniversary screening of their masterwork, The Lost Boys. Forget that the screening was obviously manufactured by the show’s producers, and was held in what looked like a Boy’s Club auditorium in Schenectady, NY. Or that, at one point, Feldman explained to an audience member that he would consider doing a sequel to The Lost Boys “only if it were done right” i.e. with a camera that wasn’t built from a cardboard toilet paper roll taped to an empty box of Crunch n’ Munch, and painted black. The most salient piece of information to come out of that screening was a suggestion, from one of the Coreys, that they write the sequel to The Lost Boys themselves.

When I heard that, I was riveted. I thought, “Oh, that’s pretty smart. The whole arc of this show will be the Coreys (and the third, less handsome, less formerly drug-addicted Frog Brother) hammering out a script for The Lost Boys 2, and trying to sell it as their comeback film.” The best and most realistic scene in the premiere episode of The Two Coreys was watching them sitting around Feldman’s kitchen table, spitballing the plot of The Lost Boys 2. Haim following up his meandering, unfocused idea about “limited psychic vampire powers” with the statement, “Wait. I have one more totally awesome idea,” showed so much promise. Imagine a whole season of that.

Now, take the “revelatory” scene at the end of the episode where Feldman confesses that Lost Boys 2 is actually in the works, as a straight-to-DVD feature, and that he’s been asked to cameo—but Haim hasn’t!!—and pretend it never happened. It was a cheap device anyway, greedily played for a brief moment of tears, but it represented very short-term thinking on the part of the show’s producers. WHAT IF…Corey Feldman hadn’t known about Lost Boys 2, either? It would be very easy to keep that information from him. What if neither of them knew? And the entire season of the show was devoted to the two Coreys brainstorming, scripting, calling former friends to lock down casting, and then pitching LOST BOYS 2? And then, in the final episode, the producers shoot a scene where the Coreys are at a Blockbuster video and see, on the new releases shelf right next to Leprechaun in Tha Hood 3: The Glimmering, a copy of the straight-to-DVD film, Lost Boys 2? While the Coreys have just spent 13 episodes writing and pitching their own version of it, calling in favors, burning bridges, getting into arguments, hinging all their hope on the new script—the film already existed as some junky DVD with a bunch of soap opera actors and hip-hop artist, The Game? The mind reels.

I don’t wish any additional harm to befall either of the Coreys, but it would have been so easy to keep those guys in the dark. Their combined commitment to fantasy is so rich and enormous that it blots out any real sense of reality. They wouldn’t conduct research. They’d just plow forward with their script in total ignorance, and it would have been amazing. Like Windy City Heat, with somewhat known actors, instead of a shrieking homeless man. Instead, though, A&E has decided to follow the absolutely winning box office smash formula of You, Me and Dupree and, as a result, American TV viewers have lost something very, very precious.

IT HAS RISEN

Tremble is fully operational again, all the way down to the archives. I owe a huge amount of thanks to Jay Allen, who volunteered a lot of time and patience in helping me get the newly-migrated site up and running again with Movable Type. It is comforting to know, in an Internet full of danger and predatory behavior, there exists a real American hero willing to share his considerable skills to help a technology ape like myself.

I’ve been receiving all sorts of advice from friends, regarding my stand-up show at Virginia Tech tomorrow. People have asked whether I think I’ll even address the shootings that happened on campus a couple of weeks ago (yes, only because I think it would be really weird not to), whether I booked the show before or after the tragedy (before; honestly, if they were trying to find an entertainer specifically to help them heal after the horrible events that happened there, I don’t think I’d be on their A-list. I would be somewhere between a staged reading of “Richard McBeef” and a live performance by Cody Marshall, “America’s Old West Six-Shootin’ Sharpshooter Hypnotist.”), and why VT hasn’t canceled the show. (I don’t know.)

One very popular topic of conversation, especially among other comedians, has been the offer of advice on what *not* to say onstage, during the show. A lot of the jokey advice has been some variation on telling the audience “I’m killing”/”I’m dying”/”I’m bombing” during the show. And when I say “a lot of the jokey advice” I mean, “nearly all of it.”

But so far the best advice was given to me last night at a party by a guy who was A) high and B) clearly in the throes of ADD. He told me (and I’m paraphrasing) that college students really think scrotums are funny, so I should paint my balls to look like the Seung Cho, and then pull them out of my fly in the middle of the performance and talk to them (my balls), as if I’m having an animated conversation with the person who killed many people on their campus, possibly some of them friends of people in the audience. He seemed to think this would be an excellent way to break the tension in the room.

I love that advice for many reasons. First, it’s a refreshing alternative to a lot of other advice I’ve been given. It’s also batshit crazy. And, if offered sincerely (which it kind of was), it is possibly the greatest miscalculation imaginable in the world of entertainment. A miscalculation on the order of Hudson Hawk or the Emeril Lagasse sitcom. (Never Forget!) Even if I had painted my balls to look like a more comforting figure in these students’ lives–Nelson Mandela or Dane Cook–it would still be a huge error of judgment. But painting them as Cho is just worlds beyond ordinary; it is another tragedy in itself. Then there are the logistics of shaving my scrotum, then painting my scrotum to resemble Seung Cho, and concealing my scrotum inside my pants until I have warmed up the room sufficiently to reveal them, and making sure the makeup didn’t smear while in my pants, or upon removal. Would I have to wear very large, baggy pants to insure my balls would have enough clearance to insure a pristine rendering of Cho when I took them out? All of these things would have to be considered in order for the audience to receive the full, unhindered impact of my crowd-pleasing scrotal ventriloquism.

In fact, even discussing this advice here hypothetically, and purely second-hand, seems insane and wrong to me. That’s how ridiculous the advice was. I guess what I’m trying to say is, where can I purchase some waterproof, smudge-free makeup? Come on, Internet. I need another hero.

HOW TO RETURN TO THE OLD STANDARDS

About once every three years I become convinced that my testicles are poisoned, and that I am dying from it. It is not an STD-generated fear, though STD-hysteria has occasionally factored in over the years. Maybe it’s because my testicles seem paradoxically important and vulnerable. Or because my testicles are so unknowable. Or possibly it’s because I’m a tremendous narcissist who craves attention so much that he would pay any price to have a total stranger closely examine his most intimate parts. I just don’t know! (Which is why I favor option #2 re: my vastly unknowable balls.) Whatever its source, as James Frey has his irrepressible Fury, I have the Fear. And, again like Mr. Frey, my Fear is largely the product of a vivid imagination that I will go to any length to pass off as non-fiction.

A couple months ago the Fear returned like clockwork and, after consulting with my physician, I became convinced that something must be done. Someone else must take a good, long, hard look at my testicles. So I made an appointment for a testicular sonogram. A testicular sonogram, or “TS” as its known in industry lingo, is kind of like an ultrasound for pregnant women. The primary difference is instead of staring a monitor and seeing a fuzzy image of the miracle of life beginning to take form, with a TS you stare at a fuzzy image of your balls. Just sitting there, not doing much. No wiggly baby-fingers or heartbeat. Just a tiny little island of balls in a sea of VGA blackness. My little babies.

When my name was called from the waiting room of the Radiology clinic, I put away the copy of What’s Inside Your Chest Cavity Magazine, and walked to the back of the office where I was greeted by a tiny, middle-aged Russian woman. She instructed me, “Go there and take off bottom. Leave on tops, remove all bottoms. You can keep socks.” Then I was ushered into a changing closet while she prepped the examining room for our “date.”

To reinforce the Radiology clinic’s cheery “Illness Is Dehumanizing” patient care initiative, the changing closet was appointed with the existential grimness of an IT guy’s dream office. It was beige and windowless,with a dismantled Radio Shack computer piled up in one corner and several old Dilbert comic strips taped to the walls, yellowed and brittle with age. The only distinctions it had were an open cardboard box filled with disposable gowns and a full-length mirror mounted to one of the walls.

The mirror was an unnecessary extravagance, in my opinion, because I sincerely doubt I would need (or want) to see myself in a full-length mirror, wearing nothing but a hooded sweatshirt, t-shirt, and brown socks. It is not a good look. In fact, it’s probably the second-worst look; add a wizard hat and it’s officially the worst look. You should never be in a position where you’re a wizard hat away from the worst possible look a man can ever present.

The fully dressed top with no bottoms look was popularized by Porky Pig. And, if my memory of the Looney Toons universe serves me well, Porky Pig was not a cartoon character who commanded a great deal of respect. Kids weren’t clamoring for Porky Pig t-shirts and lunchboxes, and I don’t know anyone who ever yelled at his television screen for Bugs Bunny to “stop pulling focus from Porky!” He was, after all, a bald, stuttering, pig who walked around with his pants off. Not much to relate to there, particularly when he was competing with He-Man and the Superfriends for your Saturday morning cartoon attention. I think I had more respect for Rubik The Amazing Cube than I did Porky. At least Rubik knew how to get things done, as long as that genius kid molested him into a solved state first.

I do remember Porky Pig’s many embarrassing attempts to court Petunia Pig and thinking, Man, he’s got to tighten up his game. No one should see your scrotum before the first date. It’s common sense, but it’s amazing how often we forget it. No one is going to give her heart to you in full if all she can think about is, “Do I really want this guy sitting on my furniture?”

So there I was, Porky Pigging It (you’re welcome, Wikipedia) and staring at my own embarrassing reflection. It occurred to me that the mirror might have been a page ripped straight from the book of Marines Special Forces boot camp—a psychological pummeling designed to completely tear down your sense of self in order to better prepare you for the degradation that awaits you in the next room.

With my legs bare, my feet socked, and a blue, paper gown covering my genitals, I was led into a room with some outdated equipment and a cold examination table. The Russian lady was kind of enough to turn my bed down, dragging a clean sheet of butcher paper across the exam table. She told me to lie down and spread my legs a bit. I obliged.

Then she went to work on the paper belt securing my gown. I had double-knotted it for safety so she was having some difficulty. She was spending a lot of time down there and it was making me uncomfortable, so I offered to help. (“Here. Let me get that.”) This in turn, made her uncomfortable, which made me even more uncomfortable. Because of the goal of this operation—to expose one’s balls—it’s easy to accidentally fumble through the motions of something resembling coitus during a procedure like this, even when your partner is a near-midget Russian woman in corrective shoes who makes your penis want to cry.

Eventually we reached the actionable point of our meeting: my balls were out. And, once out, the Russian elf jammed a large sheet of white paper between my legs. The paper had a circular hole in the middle, large enough to slip my scrotum through. (Coincidence??!! As an aside, I would like to say the award for Most Demeaning Job in the Medical Industry goes to whomever is charged with quality control to make sure those paper-holes have been properly cut.) With my scrotum shaft concealed beneath the paper, and the rest of my body covered in sweatshirt or socks, all that remained exposed was one genuine set of balls. I take back all that stuff I said about Porky Pigs and wizard hats; this is the worst fashion choice a man can make, hands-down. I have some friends who think nothing is funnier than swinging their scrotum out of their zipper and then posing for pictures with oblivious strangers, but those guys are wrong. It looked like a groundhog scared of its shadow.

Once out, the technician wasted no time in covering my balls in conductive jelly, and working them over with electronic paddles. She spent about 15 minutes doing this and exhibited neither a sign of disgust (I can’t say the same for me) nor pleasure. In fact, it seemed like she’d gone numb from the sheer volume of testicles she sees on a daily basis. I wonder if she goes home at night and writes in her diary: “Tuesday. More balls today. So many balls…I feel as though I am chained to the wheel of life, except the wheel is just some balls instead. Not to undermine the metaphor or anything…”

Obviously, during a procedure like this there’s not a lot of room for small talk but that didn’t stop me from trying. I guess I thought conversation would lessen the singular awkwardness of lying on a table with your balls covered in jelly while your testicles are broadcast on television. As I searched my brain for suitable chitchat subjects it kept rolling back on the obvious. Finally I asked, “Just curious. On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate my balls?” I thought it would be funny until, without even looking up to acknowledge me, she dead-panned back, “seven-point-three.”

HOW TO DISPEL THE MYTHS OF HANUKKAH

[This post was originally published in issue #2 of Jest Magazine. I think it's time to post it here.]

The holidays are upon us!
Like most Catholics, I am looking forward to Christmas with the limb-twitching anticipation of a small child. Unlike most Catholics, I am Jewish. That means I won’t be celebrating Christmas. Instead, I’ll be celebrating a less “mainstream,” but nonetheless magically mysterious holiday called “Hanukkah.”

Like it or not, there exists a great many misconceptions about the holiday Burl Ives once called “Christmas, minus joy.” As a service to non-Jews, I would like to answer some of the more common questions surrounding the great festival of lights. I hope this will serve as an invaluable reference guide to those wishing to better understand their dentists or moneylenders.

QUESTION #1: HOW DO YOU SPELL IT?
This question reminds me of a great trick I used to play in summer camp: I would approach the smartest kid in camp and say, “I’ve got a spelling challenge for you!” Then, once a crowd gathered, I would say, “Chrysanthemum is a tricky word. Well, I’ll bet you can’t spell it.”

I’d let him give it his best shot, take a dramatic pause, and say, “Ooh, I’m so sorry. The correct spelling is ‘I-T’. It. If you’d listened to my challenge carefully, you would have known I said, “I’ll bet you can’t spell ‘it’.” Then snatch the “World’s Smartest Camper” sash from him, place it around you, and run around in a circle shouting, “I AM SMARTER THAN MOSES!!”

What does this have to do with Hanukkah? How about everything? You see, there is no single correct spelling of the holiday. That’s one of its many mystical qualities. “Hanukkah” is perfectly acceptable when addressing gift cards. Alternately, any of the following spellings are also acceptable:

Chanukkah
Hannukah
Hachachanukkah
Chakakhanukkah
Cockblockanukkah
Count-Choculanukkah
Star Trek II: Wrath of Khanukkah
Fake Christmas

QUESTION #2: WHAT DO THE HOLIDAY’S MANY SYMBOLS REPRESENT?
Hanukkah, like many Jewish holidays, is ripe with symbols. These symbols are inextricably bound to a rich Jewish history. Unfortunately, I don’t know any of it because I spent most of my time in Sunday school drawing pictures of the Incredible Hulk and Garfield. However, since even my patchwork knowledge of Jewish history far surpasses the information you non-Jews have gleaned from watching Friars’ Club roasts, I will do my best to illuminate your dark ignorance about the symbols of the Jewish faith.

The Menorah: This is the most commonly known symbol of Hanukkah. A menorah looks a bit like one of the tasteful candelabras Liberace kept perched atop his piano during intimate performances. Liberace was not Jewish. I cannot stress that enough.

There were 12 tribes in ancient Israel, six on the National team and another six on the American team. The menorah holds nine candles, with each flame representing one of the nine tribes that anyone cared about. Sincere apologies to the tribes of Levi, Dan and Expos. Maybe you should have worked harder on your bullpens.

The Dreidel: The dreidel symbolizes the Jewish people’s love of gambling. Dreidels have four sides, with each face marked by a Hebrew character. Children spin the dreidel and pray that it lands on the side that symbolizes “take everyone’s pennies and, as you slide them all to your pile, laugh maniacally to rub it in.”

The Chalice of Immortality: In my family, we would traditionally bring this out on the first night of Hanukkah. My father would recite a prayer as we passed the chalice around, taking turns drinking the blood of Christians from it. Every Jewish family I know has one of these but for some reason they are not as commonly associated with Hanukkah as the menorah or those chocolate coins, which, if I’m not mistaken, also contain the blood of Christians. For confirmation on that last part, I’d suggest consulting a rabbi or chocolatier.

QUESTION #3: WHY IS HANUKKAH CELEBRATED OVER EIGHT DAYS?
This question finds its answer in the Old Testament. If you do not have a copy handy, you can also consult Stan Lee’s book, How To Draw Comics the Old Testament Way. The Maccabees, who were later known as The Anheuser-Busch Maccabees, were everyone’s favorite tribe and were charged with protecting the temple. According to the Old Testament, they fucked up. The temple was destroyed by trolls, and the Maccabees were left in the rubble. One of the Maccabees had the idea that they should re-build the temple before God showed up, or they would all get in huge trouble. It was decided that the work required to erect a temple—even a lousy one—was nothing compared to the guilt they would feel when they saw God’s disappointed face, so they got to work.

There was only enough lamp oil to light them for a single day, but by some miracle that oil lasted a full eight days. That still wasn’t enough time to build a whole temple and God smote the Maccabees upon his return, but you have to admit that eight days is still nothing to sneeze at. Some say the nine candleholders represent each of the eight days the lamp oil stayed lit, and the ninth candle represents the day God killed all the Maccabees and arranged their slaughtered bodies to spell out the words “HAPPY HANUKKAH (OR CHANUKKAH – WHATEVER YOU LIKE).”

QUESTION #4: DO JEWISH PEOPLE REALLY JUST WISH THEY CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS?
No, but Jewish people do wish they celebrated Easter instead of Passover. Consider the contrast between chocolate bunnies and unsalted matzo, and try to convince an eight-year-old child that he’s one of the chosen people.

QUESTION #5: DO YOU REALLY GET GIFTS FOR EIGHT DAYS IN A ROW? IF SO, THAT KICKS CHRISTMAS’ ASS.
Yes and no. Let me explain. Getting gifts for eight days in a row may sound fantastic but try to imagine how you’d feel staring at a pile of gifts, opening one, and discovering it contains only the left partner of a pair of slippers. Add to that the following night’s anxiety of trying to avoid opening what you know will be nothing but the other slipper.

This prolonged cycle of stress and disappointment may be the single most Jewish tradition of them all.

QUESTION #6: SO, LET ME REITERATE MY PREVIOUS QUESTION. DO JEWISH PEOPLE REALLY JUST WISH THEY CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS?
*Sigh.* Yes. (sound of pistol being cocked.)

HOW TO MAKE THEM READ THEIR EMPLOYEE HANDBOOKS

[this is what happens when i write an entry over the course of two days. i will give you a hug if you can figure out where day two began.]

Does it make me a horrible and out-of-touch white person simply because I expect certain types of employee behavior befitting certain retail establishments? I know one cannot expect happiness from an employee earning slightly above the minimum wage, and I absolutely wouldn’t encourage cruel and humiliating personality modification training from a corporate level. (A friend of mine briefly toiled as a waitress at a Friendly’s® restaurant and, during her interview, the manager demonstrated how to speak while smiling. Additionally, a few days into her tenure, she found a sign posted on the door of the employee break room that indicated something like, “WE’VE BEEN SEEING A LOT OF FROUNS [sic] LATELY. [sad face] WE NEED TO SEE MORE SMILES ON THE FLOOR, OR ELSE SWIFT AND APPROPRIATE ACTION WILL BE TAKEN.”) I’m just saying that, as different hubs of consumer activity make tremendous and costly efforts in their design and branding to elicit specific responses from customers, those customers grow to expect interactions that are consistent with their own manufactured emotional connections to the products they seek. For example:

Ice Cream Shop
I know this request is sometimes difficult, particularly when your manager keeps cutting your hours to avoid full-time benefits, but it would really be great if you could pretend you’re really happy to be working around all of that delicious ice cream. Here’s the thing: no one walks into an ice cream shop because it is an item on their to-do list. People walk into ice cream shops because, for whatever reason – job stress, negative HIV test results, low impulse control – they have decided they’ve “earned” an ice cream. Earning things makes you feel happy, even if the happiness is sort of flimsy and will be sometimes become converted into embarrassment or self-loathing, just as sugars are converted into fats, the moment you’re face-to-face with the dried fudge streaks in the bottom of a Haagen-Dazs “Dazzler” cup. And, for this reason alone, it is sort of necessary that the teenagers delivering you that milky joy appear (appear!) happy to do so. When you cluck your tongue at us for ordering something that requires machine-blending, or refuse to make eye contact, or blankly respond to our orders with, “what else?”, or punch a co-worker between the shoulder blades while you’re making a Fribble, it sort of punctures that delicate happiness that directed us into your establishment in the first place.

(When I was a teenager, the Ben & Jerry’s employees always did a great job of exhibiting this kind of ice cream-related job satisfaction. Maybe it was because their employers had the least restrictive rules and the most desirable uniforms. [the cherry garcia tie-dyes were so coveted that B&J customers paid good money to dress like B&J employees. to my knowledge, there is only one other retail chain that has achieved that level of customer-empathy, without being driven purely by irony: Hooters.] And maybe it was because their employees were WASPy, with creamy, unflawed skin that was totally resistant to the pore-raids of New York Super Fudge Chunk streaks across the cheeks and chin. Either way, they were the very model of ice cream shop-appropriate behavior.)

Fancy Coffee Café
I do not require that you act French or Italian; just try not to act like you’re serving me an Egg McMuffin. I still can’t place my finger on exactly what depresses me in certain coffee shops. I only know that when Starbucks first began proliferating, their employees were empowered with a sense of novelty that could only be the product of serving very expensive cups of coffee with crazy names, like Mocha Bravissimocchina. And, at some smaller, independently run coffee shops, this good-time feeling of perfection still exists. (Hi, Gorilla.) The employees are a fun, multi-cultural hodge-podge of tattoos, rumpled thrift-store clothing, crazy hats, and multiple sexual preferences. That feels about right for a latte. Again, not sure why. Maybe it’s because they make it feel like I’m not just purchasing a stomach-burning cup of caffeine. It’s more like I’m making a donation to an artist. Keep up the good work!

Record Store
Please make me feel self-conscious every time I pick up a CD or LP. At larger chain record stores, the employees are often happy at the mere fact that you’ve bought something. That is a failure, as far as I’m concerned. Records are not mere commodities; they are a fair representation of who you are as a human being. Your record purchases cut to the very quick of your psychological and emotional make-up, and should be judged as such. That’s why I can’t buy records at places like Best Buy. There, the employees are so detached and non-judgmental that your music purchases might as well be a stack of blank, recordable CDs.

Having been on both sides of this transaction – I used to work at a Rhino Records store – I know the value of being told by an employee, “Nice one!” when you buy the “correct” album. Likewise, it is an employee mandate to call you out for purchasing Music Inspired by the Television Show, One Tree Hill. Call it petty and superficial, but how else do you explain the success of The Killers. (P.S. If I worked at a record store and you walked up to the counter with The Killers album, I’d smack it out of your hands and send you back to try again. And you’d thank me in three years.)

Scented Candle/Christmas Tree Decoration Shop
I would really appreciate it if your employees were women in crocheted sweaters who faintly smelled of cat pee. And yes, I’d like very much to see your plastic Jack-O-Lantern brooch light up and play spooky music when you squeeze it. Thank you, ma’am.

Honey Emporiums
This is by no means a mandate, but it would be cool if your employees were giant black bears, in aprons. Just saying. As it is, not that many people crowd their way into stores that specialize in the sale of different varieties of honey, and honey-related products. The bears would be a great touch. Much better than if you staffed your store with angry swarms of bees, or black teenagers.

Time Machine Repair Shops
For the purpose of authenticity, in addition to the roster of underpaid kids, I would appreciate the presence of one Cro-Magnon Man and one confused Sherlock Holmes.

Family Home-Cooking Style Restaurant
Ease up. Time and time again, I’ll eat at one of these “mom’s cookin’” restaurants and leave with the same complaint: the food is too good. It would be nice if one of them would trade in fantasy for reality. When I order “green beans,” I expect them to be served in a hot, microwave-safe dish covered in plastic wrap. When I remove the wrap, a scalding blast of steam should rise off the beans, searing the tips of my nose hairs. And the beans, now suddenly cold since their protective plastic wrap has been removed, should be floating in a small pond of their own canning fluid. Steak should be served well-done, and curling up around the edges. And, when I ask the waitress what dessert choices are available, I expect her to reply, “shit on a shingle,” and then run upstairs to her bedroom to cry. Just like mom!

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