Oh No Man, I Haven’t Got The Time Time

A friend of mine died this week, too young, and too soon. He was a music nerd, cultural commentator and technology geek par excellence, and will be missed by many — in both virtual and real world spaces. He was a private soul in his personal life, so I’ll not mention his name here at this sensitive time out of respect for him and his loved ones, but I do want to publicly note his passing, and celebrate his life for those who come here and knew him.

We met in virtual space in early 1993 in the CompuServe RockNet Forum. He later launched and managed a series of online communities and websites under variations of the “Xnet2” moniker that survive to this day, with about ten folks from around the world having been connected in one way or another pretty continuously from ’93 to now. Others have also joined along the way. The community currently resides in a private group on Facebook, so when I left that social media platform, I ceased being actively engaged with them on a regular basis. I had assumed that, as has happened in the past, the group would eventually reconstitute somewhere else so that I could jump back in, but that’s apparently not to be at this point, alas.

My friend and I likely exchanged hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of written words over the years, both within the group and in private. He was always a good sounding board for me, and I tried to be the same for him. We only met in person a few times, relatively early in our relationship, when people were still figuring out what online friendships and virtual social networks were all about, so that “RLCOs” (real life conferences) seemed to be required events to cement those bonds. These days, I think most digital citizens understand those aren’t necessary, even though they’re fun when they happen. We saw Pere Ubu together once with other friends from virtual and real world spaces. That was a very good day.

My friend shared my penchant for seemingly pointless surrealist games, and was willing to create time-consuming silly things just because it was fun to do so. He and I and others in the group romped and stomped in little self-contained worlds in a variety of amusing (to us) ways and places over the years. One example: if you remember my “What Would Don and Walt Do?” page (offering random life tips from Steely Dan lyrics), I hatched the concept, but it was his programming skill that made it actually work. There was also an interactive dungeon. And a tree house. And other similarly goofy things.

We both later wrote and published novels: he inspired a character in mine, and I inspired a character in his. He recorded a great album, and I gladly wrote a press kit for it. He hosted and helped me design and maintain a variety of personal and work websites over the years, including early versions of this one. There was always lots of creative energy in the spaces between us. And some friction, I have to admit, as is to be expected over a 22-year relationship between two strong-willed, highly cerebral, opinionated, and sometimes touchy individuals. I’m glad and thankful that our last communications were positive ones. I just wish that there had been more such missives lately, but with all of the moves in my own life over the past year, I was unfortunately not the best correspondent.

The Xnet2 group that my friend organized and sustained did have a public face at some points in its history. Most people came to that portal via word of mouth from current members. Very occasionally, outsiders would join us cold, if the following “invite” on the ’90s version of the Xnet2 website didn’t scare them away:

This is the XNet2 antiSocial club.

XNet2 is dead. Long live XNet2.

If you’re interested, send an e-mail to [redacted] with “info xnet2” in the body of the message.

If you’re still interested after you do that, send e-mail to [redacted] with “subscribe xnet2” or “subscribe xnet2-digest” in the body of the message.

You’ll get the hairy eyeball from all of us if you do, so make sure you know what you’re doing, please and thanks.

Oh, yeah. It’s a community. Really. We don’t want a whole ton of people moving in. Just you. Maybe.

The SnotNet Collective

If that enticed you enough to investigate further, there was an Xnet2 Charter and an Xnet2 FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) List, both of which were randomly generated in real time from snippets and fragments that members of the group could create and save as the spirit moved us. The FAQ List grew to contain about 1,200 mostly absurd entries before SpamBots overwhelmed it and it was abandoned. I have the full list, and reading through it provides a wonderful remembrance of the creative and fun spirit of the group and the person who built and sustained it.

So in honor and memory of my friend and creative foil, I picked my Top Ten Xnet2 FAQ’s and I share them with you below. He wrote some, I wrote some, other people wrote some, and some we just stole. They make no sense, and yet they make all the sense in the world, depending on the lens through which you view them. Life’s like that, right?

#648 (5/18/2000):

Yes yes yes, it was a very, very interesting episode in Xnet2’s history: a crime drama with both philosophical and psychological overtones. During Japan’s 12th Century, a music critic and a programmer relate conflicting stories to a young woman known as “The Mistress of Light” as the group takes shelter in the Tricycles of Love. The different tales revolve around a trucker who has attacked a couple wandering through the woods, tying the husband up and forcing himself on the wife. The husband was found dead in the forest by the music critic, but what actually happened between these people is inconclusive. The trucker, the wife, the husband (through an Australian medium), and the music critic all present different and irreconcilable versions of the events in question to the authorities. The music critic and programmer are disturbed by the absence of an objective truth, but the young woman seems not to care. The three find an abandoned baby inside the Tricycles of Love, and the young woman steals some of the items left with the child and leaves. The programmer fears for the baby’s safety, but the music critic states he already has several children and offers to care for this one as well. Weird, huh???

#738 (12/14/2000):

Was the fire in a transformer box, the round garbage can looking thing with a couple of insulators and wires leading in and out? Did it drip anything cool on the ground? Did the neighbor’s cats lick it up and turn into Wizard of Oz flying monkeys before they died screaming?

#465 (10/8/1999):

Bambino fui merino, Bambino fui un puta.
Bambino fui asi asi, Bambino fui prosciutto.
Bambino pecorino, Bambino molto gnocchi.
Bambino-bino-bino fui un roll e roll e rochi.
— “Rock and Roll Genoese” by Xtobal Colon, 1492

#1004 (7/6/2004):

Employee X is a 52-year-old accountant and holds an MS in Accounting. He started working in New York City restaurants in 1992 and continues to enjoy the torture of restaurant employment. As a result of his restaurant experience, he is familiar with virtually every aspect of restaurant operations, as well having gained an insight into the minds of its owners, staff, customers and vendors. More importantly, Employee X’s dubious past gave him an inside peek into the brains of the freeloaders, ass-lickers/kickers and ecstasy club kids that have come to define a certain segment of the restaurant industry. Employee X chooses to hide behind a pseudonym out of an overwhelming respect for the Slavic mafia.

#147 (8/8/1998):

Mistuh Whatever is here tonight. He gonna git down tonight brother. He gonna git wid it.

#80 (7/8/1998):

It’s all in your head. We spent years trying to get it all out, but not the merest portion would come forth, no matter how we drilled.

#46 (1/6/1998):

Intuition just bein’ logic you ain’t quite figured out.

# 715 (9/17/2000):

Once upon a time there was this list, see? Almost like a regular internet mailing list, only . . . not. No real subject, no real raison d’etre, if ya know what I mean, just a bunch of folks who kinda sorta knew each other (“friends”) suddenly roped together into a chain gang, or a reality tv show, out in a still-unsettled frontier corner of cyberspace, where the people were a little . . . off, all of em, in their way. “Quirky.” “Eccentric.” A real esprit de corps, tho, if ya get my drift. Possessed of a sense of *PURPOSE*, but no idea [thankst gawd] what that purpose might be. Anyhoo, that list blowed up and reassembled itself a few times, one too many times, and the final blow-up was way nasty. All the folks were sitting in their booths, chowing down on Big Macs and Pronto Pups and soy burgers and sate and parathas, smirkin’ and snarlin’ and sneerin’, when all of a sudden a coupla heads exploded, just like that, squirting hair, teeth and eyeballs, and special sauces of various flavors [no vegemite, tho!] in a zillion directions, all on the plate glass window out by the jungle gym, on the uniform of the manager (whose own head had, not coincidentally, been one of the ones that exploded), on a few particularly surly customers (the Gary Glitter dude, in particular, got blown across the room and wound up in a barrel of peanut saus, and was ejected from the joint looking like a headless tub of goo who’d, uh, had an accident). Some of the folks who were there headed for the hills, some of em re-grouped and moved to Brighton, where they amuse themselves to this day sitting on benches, playing skittles and cribbage, occasionally staging three-legged races and such. And we, many of us, wound up here.

#311 (1/16/1999):

They are tuned into fighting and procreation, and as long as you ain’t humping along on your belly going bbrrrrup bbbrrrrup bbbrrrrruuuup they ignore you.

#49 (1/6/1998):

Whatever this is, this is NOT art.

1,000

WordPress tells me that this is the 1,000th post on J. Eric Smith Dot Com. Huttah!

I’m guessing that there aren’t a lot of solo blogs out there that hit this mark — though in reality, I’ve actually been far more prolific with my online writing than the post count here would indicate. This version of the blog compiles and consolidates a lot of earlier sites, and I deleted a lot of things along the way that I didn’t want to carry forward, or that I reserved offline after original publication for other purposes.

Here’s the tale of the tape: I have maintained an active online presence since 1993, launched a personal website in 1995, and blogged regularly since September 2000. The website you’re reading now is the fourth incarnation of my blog. The first served as a repository for over 750 reviews and feature articles I wrote in the ’90s for print clients, before most of them even had their own websites. The second version focused on creative writing projects, including a poem a day published in 2004; several articles went viral during this period, helping me to develop a very strong online brand. The third version provided an archive of professional posts written for commercial and academic purposes.

This current, fourth version of my online home consolidates all of these earlier pieces — professional and personal, entertainment and education, left brain and right brain, humorous and serious — dating back to 1995, and serves as my home for new writing of all flavors. It also incorporates pieces that I wrote for other blogs and websites, often under pseudonyms. I’m not telling you which ones they are and where they originally appeared, though. If you recognize them, a gold star for you. But then: Shhhh!

I’ve made some money on some of these items, and used others of them for professional and academic pursuits that had high return on time investment beyond initial compensation, but this website ultimately reflects the fact that writing is my primary hobby. It’s the thing I do to enjoyably fill spare time, some of which might truthfully be better spent doing other things, but such is the nature of creative compulsion. I enjoy scribbling, and I appreciate having a public forum to do it.

That being said, by being such a diligent, sometimes feverish hobbyist over the years, I have definitely made myself a far better and faster writer at work, and my ability to communicate via the written word is now the cornerstone of my marketability to employers and clients alike. So all things considered, I’m at peace with having freely shared a lot of my work online, minus one unfortunate foray into unpaid writing for a venal and unethical commercial website that ended poorly. We live and we learn.

If you’re new to my site and writing and want to know more, here are the ten posts that WordPress tells me are the most frequently viewed by my site’s visitors, excluding the front page and general information sections:

On Success, And Who Defines It

The Worst Rock Band Ever

Understanding Organizational Development

March of the Mellotrons: The Greatest Classic Prog Rock Album Ever

Top 20 Albums of 2014

Let’s Take It To The Stage: The Greatest Live Album Ever

How To Write A Record Review

Five Common Misconceptions About Nonprofits

I Like The Bee Gees

You Ain’t Got A Dog In That Fight

That’s an interesting (to me) combination of pieces covering a pretty broad spectrum of my writing subjects and styles, and I get why some of them are popular, though not so much with others. So as a supplement to the voice of the people with regard to my writing, here are ten additional pages that I personally would consider as contenders for the best 1.0% of the work archived here — recognizing that creative people are often the worst judges of their own work, and that if asked to recreate this list a year from now, it might look very different:

The Road to Anywhere

The Analog Kid Speaks

Compassionate Grounds

Rock And Roll Is Not Collective

Moments: Portugal and Spain in Six Tiny Vignettes

James Joyce Vs Breakfast

The Grease Group

Rulebound Rebellion: An Ethnography Of American Hardcore Music

Jefferson Water

Sweetman

So there’s 20 pieces for you to read or re-read, if you’d like to help me celebrate my 1,000 post milestone here by engaging with the back catalog. There’s also a pull-down menu at the right that allows you to trawl back through the archives to 1995, and the search bar is always an effective way to find what you’re looking for — or to surprise yourself by finding what you weren’t. And if you’ve got a favorite that I’ve not mentioned, let me know. I might have forgotten that it existed, and might enjoy re-reading it again!

Regardless of where you surf on from here today, thanks for reading and playing along all these years. It has been — and remains — fun to have a big online sandbox to play in, and I appreciate you all bringing your buckets and shovels over every now and then.

Mysteries of Chicago (Part One)

It has been about three months since Marcia moved to Chicago, with me following behind her a few weeks later. We then moved from temporary housing into our long-term apartment about a month ago, so we’re starting to feel settled in our work and residence, and are beginning to develop the routines and identify the favorites that make a place feel like home. We’re figuring the City out, and enjoying the experience.

That being said: there are still some things about Chicago that remain mysterious to us. Here are some of the early, obvious ones for us — though I am sure there will be many more to follow. Any help or perspective from long-time Chicagoan to get these things figured out, or are they actually mysterious to the natives too?

  1. Why do the streets in the Loop named after Presidents exclude Jefferson and favor John Quincy Adams’ place in the sequence over that of his father?
  2. Why is eating breakfast out such a big deal here, with people patiently waiting in line well over an hour for a pancake?
  3. Does the Purple Line really exist, and if so, why would anybody get on it?
  4. Why the obsession with caramel and cheese popcorn being mixed together, creating an end product that tastes like Captain Crunch with a yeast infection?
  5. Why do street lane lines appear to have been painted by a drunken random number generating robot?
  6. Why are pizzas made out of pie crust, and why are the toppings all out of order?
  7. Why is the City’s most famous, most trafficked downtown Avenue named after the state on the other side of the Lake? And for that matter, why is the Lake named after that place, too?
  8. Why is the per ounce price for meat at  Chicago Steak Houses similar to that of many precious metals?
  9. How did the Chicago political machine produce Chicago, while the Albany political machine produced Albany?
  10. Bicycles on the sidewalks? Really?
That's just wrong, Chicago.

That’s just wrong, Chicago.

Moments: Portugal and Spain in Six Tiny Vignettes

1. Lisbon: First day in Portugal, Marcia and I leave our hotel, heavily jet-lagged, for our first walk together in Iberia. Time to kill before we meet our new travel companions for dinner. Down the hill toward the historic central waterfront market, aimless, following gravity’s pull at each intersection. Turn a corner, and hear a sonic blast warm front of the most extraordinary pulsing rhythmic racket from somewhere unseen, ahead. Follow the noise: primal, pounding, pummeling rhythms of metal and hide, bestial, wild, attractive, audible id. Glimpse a parade line one block away, push through the crowd, turn another corner to confront a movable carnival feast of color and light and noise, winding its way to places unknown, primitive masks evoking ancient gods, rites, passions, dances, magic. We are suddenly part of something. We don’t know what. Mysteries make everything better.

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2. Rural Andalucia (I): Long bus ride into the country from Seville ends with a 30-minute jumble along a bumpy, twisted, dusty dirt road, winding between prickly pear cacti and olive trees, signs telling us this a private hunting preserve for the region’s richest residents. Arrive at a ranch where prize toros are raised for their final moments of public pain and posthumous glory in Spain’s finest bull fighting arenas. Greeted by Matias, an impossibly handsome young matador in training, dressed in traditional chaps, hat, coat, boots, his rock star dreams of arena triumph balanced by his efforts as a law student; he will succeed, one way or another. Pile into a wagon pulled by a tractor, Matias riding alongside on a fine grey horse, carrying a long spear, into the fields where eight choice bulls await their final journey in blissful, aggressive ignorance. Matias runs the bulls. He shows us the field where the cows and calves live, food atop a hill, water miles away in the valley, the long daily trips between the points of comfort keeping the animals healthy and lean. Matias demonstrates the matador’s moves in the ranch’s central show arena, manipulating the cape, frozen in handsome snapshots of equipoise, muscles clinched, a beautiful dancer in all but name. As he poses, Marcia whispers: I can has matador?

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3. Ronda: Ancient Roman mountaintop city atop a vast gorge, overlooking fields, groves, green, lush, history palpable in layers. Whitewashed walls protected long-ago citizens from plague, modern police cars protect today’s residents from parking violations, creating traffic jams as they tow vehicular offenders. Heat as a layer of clothing, worn atop shirts, hung from hats, sun haze and sweat. Leave a euro in a tiny church’s till as we pay our respects to the Holy Mother, and are rewarded with a carry-out prayer in the language of our choosing. Enter the bullfight arena at city center, wind through the shadowy concrete paths that the enraged beasts themselves follow to their final conflicts, past paintings and scrims explaining the rich cultural history of this most savage form of communal entertainment. Emerge from the dark tunnel into the ring itself, the paint of the walls mirroring the sun-yellow color of the sand. At the center, a lone figure stands with the distinctive long instrument of his trade, mere meters from his eternal foe. This is the place! Centuries of heritage unfold before us, as the mighty Caterpillador faces down the terrible Bobcat in all of its fury. Shivers. Heat haze. Herculito’s Final Task.

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4. Rural Andalucia (II): Another long bus ride into the country, Luis the driver navigating us safely through impossible straits and passes, no scrapes, no sweat: El Jefe del Autobus! Arrive at a beautiful family-owned vineyard overlooking a lush valley, ancient Ronda on the horizon’s hilltop. Greeted by Moises, one of the brothers who cares for the grapes and olives with which the family makes fine, organic wines and oils. Moises gestures down into the rows of grape vines, pointing out the fragrant lines of rosemary, thyme, tarragon nested within, designed to draw desirable bees and birds to combat the family’s greatest nemesis: the terrible tiny spiders. A palpable tremble as Moises utters that phrase. Shadows cross the sun. Dark birds take flight, croaking in horror. The Terrible Tiny Spiders! Terrible! Tiny! Spiders!!! We cannot see them, but we know they are there, waiting, patient, poised, eternal. Everywhere. Unseen. Always. This is the history of Spain: Ferdinand and Isabella unite their kingdoms to protect their people from Terrible Tiny Spiders; Franco died screaming amidst dreams of Terrible Tiny Spiders; the sultans of the Alhambra trembled within the embraces of their concubines as the Terrible Tiny Spiders swept through their gardens like poisonous smoke; there they are, there, there, crawling beneath the hooves of Guernica’s horses, battling the ants that infest Dali’s paintings, parachuting like Jesus from the spires of La Sagrada Familia, lurking in the corners of La Casa Del Bacalao. Terrible. Tiny. Spiders. We now understand Spain.

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5. Figueres: On the bus again, en route to the Theater Museum that the great Salvador Dali built to preserve his own legacy, in his own way. The skies are grey, mountains on the horizon evoke deja vu, Dali’s landscapes embedded in brain matter, known but not, silent but sensed. A palpable sense of personal pull, approaching the home and tomb of one of the greatest figures in my personal creative landscape, a man, a force, a presence who shaped the way I understand and process the world, how I see beauty, how I admire the muse, how my dream life invades my waking world, how I ask how, and why. Headphones are over my ears as we exit the highway, my iPod set to random play mode. “The Wheel” by Coil begins to play as we approach the museum, another very important touch point for me. Coil, like Dali, have long shaped the way I hear beauty, how I admire the creator, how my waking world invades my dream world, why I ask why, and how. The song begins with a tape recording of a ghost’s voice, a faint vocalization from the great beyond whispers to us from deep within tape hiss, then the drums, then the haunted, haunting lost voice of beautiful John Balance explains the world and all the things in it, and Sleazy is there, too, also calling from the places and spaces we who live have yet to experience, except in dreams. As the bus stops, these words linger: Oh, I was dragged here by an angel. Thank you.

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6. Barcelona: Last night in Spain, rain falling in torrents. Two people, one umbrella, in search of arroz negro, the traditional paella made with squid ink and langustinos. On Gaudi’s Avenue, Sagrada Familia at one end, Hospital of Saint Paul at the other. Slip into a small restaurant, take a table in the corner, order anchovy-stuffed olives, albondigas, arroz negro. A baby at a nearby table cries and can’t be comforted by an attentive mother. Somewhere behind, above, beyond us a strange noise arises, a series of shuffling clicks, or clicking shuffles, disconcerting, like something from a Japanese horror film, or one of the Alien movies. The mother continues to soothe the baby, but it is disconsolate. A large woman with a nearly-shaved head leaves the table near us and goes to the restroom, and she does not return. The clicks shuffle, perhaps in the heating ducts, or maybe just around the corner, where we cannot see the source? Wait! Perhaps the shuffles click from within the restroom! The large woman still does not return. Another man enters the restroom. He, too, is gone for the evening. The arroz negro arrives. We scrape it from its pan, and crack the little arachnids atop it with our teeth, sucking the sweet meat from within the hard carapaces, leaving little piles of claws and legs and tails on a plate between us. The clicks shuffle. The shuffles click. Now near. Now far. The baby weeps as the mother rocks her gently, trying to eat her own paella with one hand. We finish our meal and request la cuenta, the check. The waiter nods knowingly and walks away. We wait. The clicks shuffle. The shuffles click. No one emerges from the restroom. The check never comes. We wait. We do not dare use the restroom. What happened to the people inside it? Something scuttles across the room at periphery, just out of sight. Click. Shuffle. Click. Marcia leans across the table and says: The alien should eat the baby first.

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Getting Drunk in Iowa (An Oral History)

Early Lytton (73 years old, Retired Senior Vice President of a Certain Bank in Des Moines): Well, the worst approach to being a serious drinker is to consume cheap beer. You just have to drink so much liquid at so little benefit. I used to golf with a guy who would drink a case of Budweiser every day. I just can’t imagine that. My tolerance is higher than average, I’d say, but if I drink six or seven cheap beers I always feel like crap the next day. Not because of the alcohol, mind you, but because of all the junk they put in cheap beer. I can never drink enough cheap beer to get to a happy spot before I just get puffy and tired of drinking. What’s the point?

Miles Packwood (77 years old, Retired Managing Partner of a Certain Law Firm in Des Moines): What junk in cheap beer do you mean, Lytton? Like rice? That’s one I’ve heard. Is there other junk in there?

Ollie Primghar (80 years old, Former Gas Station Owner in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Who Retired to Iowa in 1995 for the Nicer Weather): Did you know they fortify Canadian beer with pure black Canadian shale, eh? It tastes like metamorphosis!

Early Lytton: Well that explains a lot then, Ollie. But here in America, the cheap beers contain rice, like Miles there said, and also all sorts of chemical sweeteners, monosodium glutamate, dyes, antifreeze, horse hoof jellies and who knows what else.

Ollie Primghar: Well, you can’t make a Jell-O fruit mold without horse hooves, so don’t knock them, eh?

Roland Le Grand (71 years old, Retired Chief Information Officer for a Certain Insurance Company): I’ll admit that I was a 12-pack of cheap beer a day guy for years, and I got fat and felt awful all the time. Now, I drink expensive liquor with thirty to forty percent alcohol in it, and I swear my total expenses are lower, since it lasts longer, kicks you faster, and you don’t have to buy as much Tums and aspirin the next day. I always counsel young folks at the club to just switch to vodka. It’s got to be better for you than beer. Or if not vodka, then Scotch. That won’t give you a hangover, and it tastes mighty fine. Try it on ice, if it’s not too expensive, or with a splash of water. It’ll love you like nobody’s business.

Ollie Primghar: I like my Scotch with a donut. They need Tim Horton’s in Iowa.

Early Lytton: I used to drink Scotch, until it became the choice drink for all those punk young bankers who argue about their fantasy football teams while moving small amounts of money from gold to rhodium to palladium and back, before going off to buy expensive cigars that they chew on for awhile then leave all over the golf course. I wouldn’t be seen dead in public anymore with a Scotch in my hand. bilde

Miles Packwood: On a crisp summer day, I’m partial to a nice gin and tonic. Gin just tastes good.

Early Lytton: Oh come on, gin doesn’t taste good, Miles! It just tastes different.

Miles Packwood: No, Lytton, I’m going to stand up for myself here: gin tastes good, sir! It does! Brown liquors, on the other hand, are just awful, no matter what. Scotch. Whiskey. Bourbon. Yuck! Even more so when ice melts in them. I start gagging just thinking about them. Ugh!

Roland Le Grand: You’re just soft, Miles. I slurp down Johnny Walker Blacks one after the other. They taste great, and I feel good. I will back you up, though, regarding your position on gin. I’m an eight or nine gin and tonics guy a day during the summer. That is delicious. I recommend Gilby’s. It’s the best for the buck, in my humble opinion.

Ollie Primghar: When you mix them tall, like I do, the quality of the gin isn’t all that important, eh? So I say go Gordon’s for that kind of mix. You can get it cheap. Also, Gordon is a popular men’s name in Canada, so it reminds me of home.

Roland Le Grand: I like to take a pint glass and mix up a big gin and tonic, with a slice of lime, adding ice and limes as the day goes on. I leave the limes in there, partly to give me a rough estimate of how many I’ve had, but also because it just keeps it fresh and flowing. I’ve sort of got a system.

Early Lytton: I’m ashamed of all three of you. Gin and tonics are for girls, not men.

Roland Le Grand: Well, maybe so, but I read online that gin and vodka produce the least intense hangovers and bourbon produces the worst hangovers, due to some chemical byproducts when they’re fermented. However, I can tell you from experience that if you mix varieties and types, or drink mixed drinks, then all bets are off, since the different types of impurities and the sugar in mixed drinks will all interact in random, vomit-producing ways.

Ollie Primghar: I always try to remember that “Chug the Merlot, Hug the Terlot,” and “Mix your Liquor, Get much Sicker,” eh?

Early Lytton: Who would chug Merlot anyway, Ollie? That’s just terrible wine. No character.

Ollie Primghar: Well, okay then, fancy pants, you’ve been sitting here telling us all night about what not to drink and arguing with our tastes, so how about you enlighten us all instead and tell us what your perfect drinking experience would be, eh?

Early Lytton: Well, that’s a good question there, Ollie. So let’s see: first, I’d go down to my cellar and pull out three bottles of Prairie Moon Marechel Foch 2004 Reserve. It’s the best wine ever produced in Iowa, and I bought up most of the stock several years ago. It’s hearty without being truculent, plays well with all foods, has a nice nose and a truly fine ass – or whatever the right term is for that sweet taste you get at the end. Next, I would put some great old jazz on the stereo by Enoch Light or Stan Getz or Herb Albert, just stack up the records and let them drop and play. I don’t use any of those compact diskettes or iPod boxes in my den. They’re nothing compared to good old pliable vintage vinyl albums, ripe with pops, redolent with warps, rich with character. Now, then, with the stage all set, late at night, while my lovely family is sleeping in the safe confines of my stately manse out in West Des Moines, I would turn on the giant plasma screen TV, mute the sound, and guzzle the wine straight out of the bottles while watching video-taped episodes of my favorite daytime talk shows. And then I would just laugh and laugh and laugh . . .

Humor in Iowa

(Note: This originally appeared in 2014 on the defunct Des Mean website, to which I guest contributed anonymously on occasion).

Does Iowa rank number one on Forbes’ list of “Top 10 Most Humorless States in America”?

This is the question that I pondered with the three founding members of The Des Mean Editorial Board late one night last summer at our favorite neighborhood bar in Des Moines — which I am not naming here, because we all dread the thought of the Young Professionals discovering it and yup-yup-yupping the locals away by imposing signature cocktails and trivia nights.

That conversation prompted some other conversations, and then they put on their successful business-people hats to think about whether there was money to be made through exploring (and exploiting) the original silly question in a serious fashion. It didn’t really seem to be a “goer,” as they say in the biz, so they considered a nonprofit model instead — because Iowa is definitely the Number One State in America for Half-Assed Charities, according to any number of click-bait websites and a casual look at where the big philanthropic money flows around the State.

That avenue seemed promising, since they already knew of more than a dozen hucksters in Central Iowa with cushy “Executive Director” (heh heh!) jobs at “nonprofit” (giggle!), “charitable” (snnrrk!) “cultural organizations” (haw haw haw!!) that they founded themselves, filling no discernible needs, for no apparent benefit, and raising big bucks (for themselves) in the process.

Oh, wait, we’re sorry. Did we say “hucksters”? We meant “community engagement entrepreneurs.” (Pffftt!!)

The original Des Mean folks had decided that they’d be happy to declare themselves community engagement entrepreneurs too so they could slop at that bountiful trough, too, so last fall they organized the Des Mean Foundation for Humor in Education as a 501(c)3 charitable corporation and anointed themselves as the founding Board of Directors. (Note: I didn’t join them on the board, since I thought it would conflict with my real nonprofit job, and I didn’t want to bite any hands that fed me in my real job; it’s a small state, y’know?). The trio then collected some seed tax-exempt “gifts” (pfffbbbttttt!!!!) from their friends, hired crazy Swede Konrad Yüngermann to be their roving curator and man on the ground in Iowa, and got down to the serious business of being funny, for educational purposes. Which are charitable. Seriously. No smirking this time. All straight faces.

How do they satisfy their charitable mission nearly a year on? By offering five blog posts each week on the Des Mean website (Note: now defunct), Monday to Friday, with no advertising or any other commercial interests, plus regularly populating their popular Twitter feed and then analyzing the ways in which native Iowans interact with the information they present to them. It’s a lot of work, and it takes a lot of time, but they run a tight ship, in keeping with their 501(c)3 status, and I am happy to help out in a volunteer capacity as I am able.

They pay Konrad for his work (Swedes are not charitable, despite being Socialists), but they donate our time to the charity as volunteer board members, only claiming reimbursement for such necessary business expenses as lunch interviews, road trips to look at funny stuff (one of them drives a hybrid car, so that keeps costs down, though it’s a little embarrassing in some parts of the state they visit), phone bills, late night pizza orders, transcription services for their oral history project, and other similar office incidentals.

They’ve been serious and consistent about their output, and they’ve got a higher website update rate that the lion’s share of cultural organizations hereabouts, so I think they’re doing a good job on that front. They’re also carefully and thoroughly monitoring, analyzing, and processing traffic flows, referrals, and other social media buzz-word thingies in real time as they work through our ongoing search to divine the answer to the original formative question: Are Iowa and Iowans inherently funny or humorless?

What have they learned so far?

Executive Committee Meeting.

Executive Committee Meeting.

Since the Foundation Board members are all native Iowans, and Konrad the Swede has lived here long enough to have lost his native accent and to say things like “please put my pop in the sack” to the Hy-Vee bag girls, they have concluded that they collectively embody one key variable in the analytical work: They are all Iowans, trying to be funny. Can they do it?

Their traffic logs and targeted marketing campaigns make it clear that over 90% of their readership lives in the State of Iowa, so their followers embody the other key variable as they explore our their original core hypothesis: Are Iowans capable of laughing at themselves, and their home state?

Using an adaptation of simple Mendelian Inheritance principles, they posit that there are four possible humor interfaces between their Iowa writers and their Iowa readers here:

  1. Des Mean is not funny, and Iowans are humorous enough to know that.
  2. Des Mean is not funny, but Iowans are humor impaired and think that it is.
  3. Des Mean is funny, but Iowans are humor impaired and don’t get it.
  4. Des Mean is funny, and Iowans are humorous enough to laugh along.

They are desperately hoping that Scenario Number Four is the one that will be sustained by their research, but they will probably need a few big federal grants and a some more humor writers and a lot more late night pizza parties at Young Professional-free bars before they can state that confidently.

Let them know what you’re thinking. Let them know what you’re laughing at.

Most of all: let them know if Iowa and Iowans are funny.