Very Good Friday.

April 18th, 2014 | FredKey

I don’t know if they do it anymore, but the Old Town Bar on East 18th Street used to close on this day. I went past there some decades ago and there was a hand-lettered sign in the window: Closed due to death in family 2000 years ago.

The New York Stock Exchange is closed too, and good on them. I have nothing against stocks or speculators or rich people, but it’s just not a good day for money changing.

It’s a fast day for Catholics. Despite our reputation as being big fun-hating meanies, our fasts are pretty easy. No meat. (Fish is not meat, which the fish might object to if they weren’t so busy eating one another. Eggs are not meat, which I’ve always thought kind of odd for reasons I won’t get into here.) Furthermore, on fast days you should only have one meal and two bites to eat that together do not make a meal. You don’t have to do it if you are a kid or an old-timer. Compared to the fast that the Greek Orthodox do for the Great Lent and Holy Friday, the Jews do for Yom Kippur, and the Muslims do for Ramadan, we have it easy. And it’s only required today and on Ash Wednesday.

Many years back I had a long, convoluted argument with a girlfriend who was not a lapsed Catholic so much as a jumped-in-the-car-and-tore-away-from-the-church-like-Thelma-and-Louise Catholic. At the time I was barely holding on to any faith, but was being pulled steadily closer to the church. She was indignant over the basis of Christianity being something so cruel as a crucifixion.

“But that’s what happened,” I said (as best as I can recall). “That’s what human beings did to him. That’s on record, as clearly known as anything else at the time.”

“So at its very heart is this holy man being tortured to death? What does it say about us?”

“Nothing good.”

I am sorry to say that she was unable to see that human nature has got a hell of a lot of evil in it. You can deny the divinity of Christ, but you cannot wish away the evidence of what we did to him, or the evil we did and still do to one another. To do so is not being a freethinker, it is willfully ignoring the truth.

In this fallen world you can never have an Easter without a Good Friday, though. If that seems cruel, it is nothing compared to what the world once was—all Good Friday, no Easter at all.

Ban the books, spoil the library.

April 17th, 2014 | FredKey

My last post this week on National Library Week. Promise. Maybe.

Actually, this post is on the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, which doesn’t actually begin this year until September 21. But since we’re on the topic of libraries, I thought I’d bring it up.

Whatever else you think of him—and I think he’s fantastic— if you claim to support free speech, you will have to agree that Mark Steyn is dead right when he says that free speech means nothing unless it includes speech you don’t like. But more and more people, the same people in most cases who like to think of themselves as daring artists and courageous scientists, all are for banning the crap out of speech:

A generation ago, progressive opinion at least felt obliged to pay lip service to the Voltaire shtick. These days, nobody’s asking you to defend yourself to the death: a mildly supportive retweet would do. But even that’s further than most of those in the academy, the arts, the media are prepared to go. As Erin Ching, a student at 60-grand-a-year Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, put it in her college newspaper the other day: ‘What really bothered me is the whole idea that at a liberal arts college we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.’ Yeah, who needs that? There speaks the voice of a generation: celebrate diversity by enforcing conformity.

The problem under consideration here is that I suspect that the American Library Association only gets thrilled defending banned books that they happen to like. To be fair, I do think that they try to accommodate library patrons, even if they don’t like the books their visitors want. Most (nearly all? all?) librarians are politically liberal, but the ones I have seen will force themselves to bring out copies of books by Sean Hannity if that’s what people want (although they may wear surgical masks and gloves while handling them). I do note that searching for radio host Rush Limbaugh on my library system database brings up more anti-Limbaugh books than books by Limbaugh or by friendly writers. And the whole multi-city system has just one copy of his first children’s book.

As for books that truly are vile: My library system has Mein Kampf, by the way, as it should, it being a hugely important book in world history. No copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, though. Both of these are best-sellers in parts of the world where hating Jewish people is a fun pastime. But I think the latter book, being older, is less relevant to current research, so I’d give the library a pass on not carrying that.

The main problem I guess I have with the banned book week business is that most of the complaints about books come from concerned parents who want to protect their children, not from Puritan killjoys who worry that other adults are having fun. So however you feel about it, Banned Book Week is mostly about librarians celebrating a triumph over concerned parents. And yet the main problems faced by the librarians’ cohorts, the teachers, come from the fact that parents don’t care enough about their children’s education. And why should they, if all they get for their trouble is disparagement and ridicule?

It’s an offshoot of the evil vine that entwines all of American culture. The only things we can celebrate are the triumph of some Americans over other Americans. All this while there are genuine enemies who would like us crippled or dead. I wish the ALA would express more interest in the banning of books worldwide, for the list of books banned in China or Saudi Arabia is probably longer than the list of books allowed in those places. (In North Korea they would probably be eaten, anyway. The books, that is, not the librarians, but you never know.)

READ! SMASH! DIE!

April 16th, 2014 | FredKey

Continuing our theme of National Library Week…

The American Library Association loves to make all kinds of posters that show celebrities reading books, with the big word READ next to them. If you’ve been in an American town library or school library I’m certain you’ve seen them. They often feature celebrities, minor or past their prime, showing how reading books has turned them into… whatever they are now, I guess. I suspect the designers have to Photoshop the book covers right-side-up after the shoots.

Personally I’m not a big fan of the “READ!” poster series. It would be like having nutritionists put out posters with celebrities saying “EAT!” Okay, I’ll have 17,000 cookies. 

People who read crappy, vicious, dark, or evil-minded books are less happy, more confused, and less balanced than people who don’t read at all—this is a personal observation, not something for which I have data. And speaking of data, “READ!” posters are like yelling “DATA!” at computer programmers too. What data do you want? ”DATA!” Okeydokey…

This one I thought was particularly stupid.

Ooooh, yeah. Because when I think of the Hulk I think of sitting down with an enriching tome, just as he does when he isn’t smashing gigantic things into tiny splinters.

It’s part of this Avengers series. I guess they had to do something for the main members. Thor probably reads Scrolls of Fenrir and Uncle Volstagg’s Bathroom Reader or something. Tony Stark reads manuals and his checkbook. Cap reads The Art of War and Clausewitz. I’m even willing to say Bruce Banner reads books, maybe on anger management. But the Hulk?

“BAH! READ OR HULK WILL MURDER PUNY HUMAN!”

All right, big fella, cool down. Let’s relax with a good book. How about this?

“DAN BROWN? WHAT, YOU THINK HULK TOTAL MORON?”

Hmm—maybe Hulk not so dumb after all!

National Library Week!

April 15th, 2014 | FredKey

It’s so busy around here that I almost forgot it was National Library Week. Celebrate libraries…or else!

No, please celebrate responsibly. And I mean that, as someone who has attended a couple of librarian conventions. The librarians usually share hotel rooms to save money so they can use it for more booze.

Librarians are ca-raaaaaazy when they get off the leash.

Some fans awaiting my next book.

I guess National Library Week is like most weeks, in that we (A) are asked to consider the importance of the thing, (B) honor the people who make it work, (C) send money or at least stop voting against funding for the thing, (D) attend events showing our support, and (E) do it for seven days. So I guess you should thank a librarian.

Sure, why not. I mean, I don’t feel the urge to thank a librarian in the same way I would thank a veteran. Veterans only get one day, not a week. And librarians have a job, they get paid. No one is shooting at them—most of the time. Thank God. You’d hate to have people claim to want to “get a gun and go archival.” If it came to that I’d be more inclined to thank a teacher, because some of our schools are disgraceful and full of stupid, violent children. I’ve known several earnest young people to wash out of the teaching profession despite all the years and dollars spent getting degrees in education for that very reason.

Libraries, unlike schools, can usually throw the creeps out.

Anyway, even that is not the same as thanking a veteran. You thank the serviceman for doing what he signed up to do. But I’m talking about thanking a teacher not for teaching but for being classroom fodder in a terrible environment.

Anyway, I’m sure I would be much hotter on librarians if they would push my books on their customers. Hey, guys, maybe between now and the next National Library Week you can hawk the merch, okay? If so, the drinks will be on me.

Slogan’s run.

April 14th, 2014 | FredKey
I’ve never been to one of the Fairway Markets (proudly serving NY, NJ, and CT!) but I’ve noticed that their slogan is “Like no other market.”

I thought for a bit on whether that was one of those jujutsu slogans, one that is as easily used against the wielder as for it. “Like no other market” could mean that it’s astronomically overpriced; selling kumquats for $59 apiece and steak for $1,200 a pound would certainly render it like no other market.

Still, this slogan has a ring of positivity that seems to speak well of the store. After all, Bloomingdale’s has survived in New York for a long time with the slogan “Like no other store in the world.” People never seemed to respond, “Yeah, it’s a lot worse!” Its uniqueness was taken as a good thing, and that seems to be the case for Fairway too.

Lots of small businesses try their hands at slogans. For some time every pizzeria I knew had a cartoon of a fat little Italian and the words “You tried the rest, now try the best!” I guess the box manufacturer just stuck that on. Once in the city I saw a pizza place with the slogan “The Best of the Rest,” which was either lousy English or breathtaking honesty.

There are some Web sites that give examples of bad slogans. Some of them are undeniably bad—”Open Happiness” by Coke was dull and prissy at the same time—but others, like Raid’s “It Kills Bugs Dead” was effective, and used for years. Maybe it was bad grammar, redundant, or just dumb, but it got the message across with attitude, which is how we like to approach vermin. “You’re coming into MY kitchen? I’ma gonna kill you DEAD, punk.”

"It Kills Bugs or Injures Them" is not going to do it.

Over the years I’ve entertained the notion of using my incredible writing powers in the advertising game. I don’t draw very well, but I can write some pretty snappy words. Here’s a few I came up with for some well-known commodities:

Coke: “Beats Pepsi’s Butt”

Pepsi: “Coke Tastes Like Socks”

Dr Pepper: “Anyone Seen My Period?” [hold contest to find period in Dr]

Band-Aids: “You’ll Love Our Schtick”

Schick: “You’ll Love Our Schick”

Raid: “It Kills Bugs Not Just Merely Dead, But Really Most Sincerely Dead”

Twinkies: “Give In and Eat It”

Lotrimin: “Or You Could Just Scratch. Pig.”

Spam: “Yes, It’s Food”

General Motors: “Please We’re Desperate”

Goodyear: “We’re Like Rubber, You’re Like Glue!”

CBS: “Lots of Good-Looking People…On Television”

Chase: “We Have Money”

Geico: “Because Your Driving Sucks”

Brookstone: “You Won’t Know You Need It Until We Show It to You”

Bayer: “Store-Brand Aspirin Tastes Even Worse”

Exxon: “You’ll Love Our Gas”

Frosted Mini Wheats: “Put a Little Sugar in your BM”

Charmin: “Because You Have to Buy Toilet Paper Anyway”

7up: “The Anti-Cola”

Campbell’s Soup: “Just Like Mom Used to Make, But with Salt and Flavor”

American Airlines: “Most Flights Get There”

McDonald’s: “Food, Folks, and Fat”

Ben & Jerry’s: “Socialism Never Tastes So Sweet”

Crocs: “Plastic Shoes—Because Why Should Barbie Have All the Fun?”

Barack Obama: “Yes We Cannot Not!”

All the frills upon it.

April 13th, 2014 | FredKey

Being that today is Palm Sunday, I have one week to come up with my hat for the Easter Parade!

Yes, that’s right—ladies and bloggers show off their new hats at the Easter Parade. Don’t you read the rotogravures?

I’m torn this year. There’s a lot of ways I can go with this. So many styles to choose from.

Here’s the ones I’ve been toying with; drop me a line and let me know your favorite.

Any given day.

April 12th, 2014 | FredKey

Sometimes we fail to take into account just how many of us there are.

There’s a lot of us.

We generally feel that the world is populated by maybe a couple hundred people, like on Seinfeld. There’s our friends and family, others we encounter regularly (coworkers, the guy at the doughnut shop, the loud family at church), and celebrities; the others fade into moving obstacles we have to get around.

But the moving obstacles feel the same way.

If you are told that you’re one in a million, then taken literally that would mean there are 317 just like you in America, 7,000 just like you worldwide. The yous could not fill a ballpark, but you’d still fill almost 117 high-capacity city buses.

One of the lessons I learned about the Internet is that while everyone is unique, very few people are truly distinct, self included. A lot of the egomaniacal beliefs I had in teenhood about my own precious characteristics have been utterly dispelled by seeing them (and hating them) in others. But that’s okay; humility is important. And belief in our personal uniqueness is the blade we use to sever our ties of civility.

With all these people running around, and our similarities so outweighing our differences, I feel confident in making these unproven but plausible assumptions:

In America:

Every morning, four thousand men take the garbage to the street wearing their Scooby-Doo pj pants.

And another thousand take the dog out wearing the same.

It’s true and you know it’s true.

Every day, two thousand Americans accidentally consume someone else’s earwax.

Every afternoon, twenty thousand Americans eat nothing but cake for lunch.

A thousand of them are eating Twinkies or mock Twinkies.

Seven hundred office workers prove their uniqueness ironically by hanging a poster of Gary Larson’s famous “I Gotta Be Me” penguin cartoon.

Twelve thousand office workers eat something at their desk odoriferous enough to make coworkers clear out for the duration.

Eighteen hundred white shirts and blouses are destroyed by red wine or blue cupcakes.

Two hundred fifty-three thousand parents use language in front of their children they regret, one hundred sixty-nine thousand of them because of traffic incidents. All but three thousand of the kids are familiar with the language because of the movies the parents watch.

Two hundred and three people walk out of the bowling alley in the rental shoes every day.

Two thousand thirty grown single men sleep with a stuffie chicken.

Seventeen thousand one hundred women leave the house with only one earring. Four thousand two hundred people leave the house with mismatched shoes. A dozen guys manage to leave without pants.

Forty people eat bowls of cereal in the car on the way to work. When they get pulled over or have accidents, 100% of them feel persecuted.

And every single American who has to get up before he naturally arises feels put-upon and miserable.

Even the ones with really cool Scooby-Doo pj pants.