Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Going Down

Whenever I search using Google, it presents me two helpful Tips of The Day. They are random. Today's tips:
1) How To Land an Airplane in an Emergency
2) How To Make an Origami Picture Frame

I shouldn't try to find a relationship between the two, but it's my nature to connect everything into One Big Whole.

I wanted to learn to fly an airplane, but I'm a procrastinator, and I still haven't finished filling out the application form thirty years later. So if I am at the controls of an airplane, it is already an emergency. As for origami, I can fold a dollar into a tiny pirate hat.

I think the first thing one should do if 1) one is at the controls of an airplane; 2) one doesn't know how to fly; and 3) the plane is pointing down, one should first 4) put down the origami.

But instead, the instructions say, "Take a breather." I presume they meant to say, "take a deep breath," because when your plane is nose down it's not a good time to go for coffee and donuts. The instructions say you might be "overwhelmed by the gravity of the situation." If I can count on anything in a plane crash, it's being overwhelmed by gravity.

I think the next step could be skipped too: "Keep the aircraft level." I promise to wait until my second lesson to practice barrel rolls.

Next I am instructed to "correct the pitch and bank, simultaneously turning the yoke and pulling it, to align with the artificial horizon." The one thing plane crashing and origami have in common is that the instructions are confusing.

"Call for help." Useful.I presume they mean over the radio.

"If a red light is lit, tell the controller. Below the red light, there will be a description of the light, i.e. Generator, Low Voltage. Obviously this requires prompt attention." Obviously, it helps if you know how to fix a generator while flying a plane. The instructions remind me that the "push-to-talk" button is right next to the "autopilot button," which, if pushed accidentally, could result in a crash, which I think I'm resulting in anyway.

"Give the controller the airplane's call sign. This will not only clearly identify you, but the controllers will be able to get basic information about the airplane that you probably won't know about." Like where the pilot went?

"Find the airspeed indicator." Spinning clockwise = bad. But alternately, "Do not let the aircraft fly too slowly, especially near the ground." Glad to know that, because if it were up to me, I'd try to fly really really slowly, really really near the ground, then just step out.

"Never land with a full tank of fuel." Or a full bladder. Maybe now would be a good time to fold that origami diaper.

My favorite instruction comes next:

"Land the plane."

Alrighty then—and after that I'll get back to curing cancer.

"The controller will likely lead you to an airport, but if not, try to avoid obstacles." Is the ground an obstacle? I hear The Hudson River is popular this time of year.

"Reduce power to idle by pulling the throttle all the way towards you. It is a black lever located between the pilot and co-pilot." This would be a helpful direction except we don't know where the pilot and co-pilot are.

The instructions then explain that during the last few seconds I'll be using a variety of flaps, slats, throttle and reverse-thrust to slow the plane. Just in case, I'll make a little origami air-bag.

The final step says, "Congratulations! You have landed an airplane." My first thought was, "How do you know?" But of course if I were reading the last step, either 1) "Congratulations!" or; 2) I was skipping ahead in the instructions. Regardless, it's good to have a positive attitude.

In honor of my success, I'll keep my origami parachute as a souvenir.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Don't Call Me Rich

This morning on the radio I heard the hundredth interview with someone who lost his fortune to Bernie Madoff. The man complained viciously that now, after years of careful planning, he might be forced to work.

I tried to be sympathetic. Let's say you had a baby bunny rabbit and kept it for years on your plush red velour couch, and fed it only milk and bon-bons its whole life. Then suddenly you cast it into the woods to fend for itself. Something like that.

(My friend has a huge, red, circular velour couch that his Siamese cats nest on. I can't get it out of my mind. It looks like it was made from Muppet hide.)

The more the interviewer listened, the more Mr. Bunny ranted an raged. After wishing death by starvation upon Mr. Madoff and his family, he began to blame the U.S. Government, demanding reimbursement. I suppose that's because Madoff doesn't have any money, and the government does. And after all, they seem to be reimbursing a lot of people lately. Mr. Bunny's voice was rising to the range where only bats could hear him as he sprayed spittle on microphone.

She asked if he had ever met Mr. Madoff. He said no, and now he doesn't want to. He had never set eyes on the man, but still gave him $250 million dollars.

According to my investment history, I could do better with your money than Bernie. If I could get a complete stranger to give me $250 mil, I would only lose half of it.

Here's the part I can't get over: if I had $250 million dollars, and I lost $249 million, I'd still have one million dollars.

I understand Mr. Bunny not wanting to get a job. I've been unemployed for over a month now, and I've never been happier. I know people get rich without jobs, so I went to The Internet to find out how I could do that. I looked up the keywords Get Rich No Job. It looks like most opportunities are in telemarketing and envelope stuffing.

I was accidentally invited to a prominent lawyer's dinner party. An attractive young drunk woman in a sequined dress, which was trying to slip away from her like everyone else, drug herself up to me and gurgled, "Are you rich?"

"Sorry, no. I'm Michael."

Nice," she slurred as she raised her champagne glass at my face and slithered away.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What A Doll

Happy Birthday Barbie!

She turned 50 yesterday. That makes her a Pisces: intuitive, creative, and prone to addictions, but you can tell that by looking at her. She looks great, though—far younger than her years—which often is the case with people who are injected with plastic.

To mark the special day, oppressive paternal regimes have banned Barbie altogether, including India, Saudi Arabia, the Taliban and West Virginia.

Barbie has been through a lot. As of today, she has had 108 occupations. It caused a media stir in 1995 when she was recalled from her Teacher Barbie job for not wearing underwear. She ran for president in 2004, as a member of the Girl Party. (She lost.) For all these years, she has not been able to get down off her tiptoes.

According to Mattel, Barbie had a sister Skipper, introduced in 1963, and Tutti, her twin, who came in 1964. (?) Both vanished years ago, and were never seen again, mostly because nobody looked. Barbie got three new sisters thirty years later.

Including a horse, a lion cub and a chimpanzee, Barbie has had over fifty pets, not counting Ken. She and Ken, her boyfriend of forty years, broke up on Valentine's Day 2004, because he would not commit. (We know the real reason. Hello, cardigan sweater.) They reunited last year. They are still not engaged.

If she were life-sized, she would be 6' tall, 100 pounds, a size 4, and her measurements would be 39-19-33. Her inventor, Ruth Handler, also held a patent on prosthetic plastic breasts for women, which had a very natural look and feel.

Barbie was named after the inventor's daughter, and Ken was named after the inventor's son. So, um, ick.

Barbie was the first doll I bothered to undress. I learned a lot, although I ran into a few surprises years later. Ken was missing a few details too. At least, I think they were missing.

Parents can fly their children to Chicago to visit Barbie Place, where for $1200 (airfare included) you can have tea with your doll and get her hair styled. For about the same price, you can go to cosmetology school and style her hair yourself. There is also a Barbie Hospital, where you can replace broken limbs and heads, although not necessarily with matching ones. Parts are expensive, so it is often cheaper to buy a new Barbie than it is to Frankenstein one together out of spare parts. That is one thing Barbie and real people have in common.

So happy birthday, Barbie. I wish you fifty more fascinating years. And good luck with that Ken thing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Go Fish

I am dazzled by gear and distracted by shiny things, so you can imagine that I took to fishing like a fish to water. I could spend an hour just watching the precise mechanism of a spinning reel methodically wind line onto its spool like a spider retracting a web.

I could stomach weaving a worm or leech onto a hook, but I never could bring myself to spear a minnow. Minnows have eyes, and a little Mr. Bill-shaped mouth.

As a little boy, it didn't bother me to catch fish in the Kearney Canal, which was a ditch. Harold and I would spend summer days crawling among the concrete chunks that buttressed the shoreline, eating cold beans out of a can and learning to lie. Carp would try to eat whatever garbage floated to the bottom, sucking crud off of miscellaneous junk that we, or generations of boys before us, thought would be hilarious to throw into the water. Amid that gunk, a worm looks good.

At some point, someone presented me with the notion of "catch-and-release." It is supposed to be more humane and sporting, but I still pierced the fish's lip with a rusty hook. I just no longer did it for a reason.

I imagined an alien landing on Earth, hooking me by the lip and dragging me kicking and screaming into his terrifying, suffocating spaceship, then saying "Just kidding!" and turning me loose. The trouble with fishing is that once I start thinking, I ruin it.

Art, my former father-in-law, had a cabin in Minnesota, where we'd vacation for a week each summer. It was understood that I was to fish with Art every night. I'd bathe in DEET, pick out a pole from his formidable array lined up like épées along the porch, and march dutifully to his 1950's-era pontoon boat. The deck was carpeted with AstroTurf and her frame made roughly of steel that had been brushed royal blue. It looked like a floating football stadium, and was about as nimble. We'd cast off at 8pm, and the mosquitoes would clock in around 9.

We think Minnesotans are joking about their mosquitoes, but they are not. Minnesquitoes really do cast a shadow. At dusk they swarm you in such a thick cloud that they obscure light, and the drone of their wings sounds like suspense music from a horror film. Luckily the DEET I had marinated in was as repugnant to them as it was to me, or in seconds they'd have sucked me dry as a raisin.

I decided I liked fishing, I just didn't like catching. Art would tell stories, and I'd nod and chuckle. Under the cover of darkness and behind the curtain of mosquitoes, I would skip baiting my hook. I'd simply enjoy the lazy repetition of casting and dragging my line through the water. Usually Art caught more fish than I did.

Art normally caught walleyes. It appears to me that all fish are wall-eyed. You never see one that is cross-eyed. One evening Art landed a wall-eyed pike. It fought viciously, which is to be respected, because pike have big, razor-sharp teeth. If you could train pike, they'd be great for making a julienne of potatoes. But you can't train them, so they julienne whatever they want, like fingers.

"Pick him up by the eyes," Art instructed. "It stuns 'em."

I bet you could count on that stunning just about any animal, I thought. I grabbed a net. My brain went from fingers julienne to imagining an alien picking me up by the eyes.

As it happened, that was the last night of our vacation, so I didn't go fishing again that summer. As it happened, I was divorced the next spring, so I didn't go fishing again at all. But whenever I'm in a sporting goods store, I stop by the fishing section and admire the meticulously intricate spinning reels. My imagination may have ruined fishing for me, but it didn't ruin the gear.