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The only thing I’m looking to enlarge is my audience, thank you

The only thing I'm looking to enlarge is my audience, thank you“So I was reading your blog yesterday,” said my friend, Helen, “and I noticed that the ads were gone. You must have paid extra to have them removed.”

I nodded. “Yeah. They were getting a little intrusive. The final straw was when they posted three penis-enlargement ads on one page. I’m all for free enterprise, but I wish the medical community would focus on curing cancer instead of enlarging penises.”

“You’d think there’d be profit potential in curing cancer,” Helen said. “Right? If I was a venture capitalist, that’s an idea I could get behind. You could save lives, end needless suffering, and make a pile of money doing it.”

“Yeah, but priorities,” I said. “Impotent men need erections. It’s nice to have lofty ideals, but curing cancer apparently takes too much work.”

“Isn’t it a tad insulting that they wallpapered your website with penis-enlargement ads?” Helen asked. “I mean, what does that say about you and your content?”

I shrugged. “I’m not sure. Maybe their adbot read my self-deprecating humor and figured I had an inferiority complex. I may doubt my worth as a human being, but that’s no reason to impugn the length of my penis. They’re two very different things.”

“Right,” Helen said. “And besides that, you don’t even drive a big truck.” 

“I’m not a marketing professional, but I have to wonder what the click-through rate is for those ads,” I said. “I mean, that’s a very specific topic, and it seems more like something you’d search for deliberately, rather than randomly click on. Like when I’m reading a humor blog, I’m there looking for laughs — not for ways to extend my manhood. If one of those ads popped up, I’d have to be easily distracted to click on it. Talk about getting squirreled.” 

Helen laughed. “Exactly. Like, who reads a blog post about traffic, then sees a penis-enlargement ad and says, ‘Well, I guess I never thought about it before, but I do have a minuscule prick. Maybe clicking on this ad can help me.’ That’s more of a product you purposefully seek out, as opposed to an impulse buy.”

“Well, maybe not,” I said. “Maybe they should put those pills at the checkout counter, along with the gum and bottled water. They’re not something you think about when you’re buying groceries, but they could definitely be an afterthought when you’re waiting in line, thumbing through an issue of People. Like, ‘Well, I already got milk and eggs and peanut butter, but what I don’t have is a product that can elongate my johnson. Thank goodness the store thought to put these pills here in plain view.’”

“Well, don’t feel too bad about your website,” Helen said. “When I had a blog, it was covered with wight-loss ads. Apparently, the adbot combed through my content and concluded that I was a monstrous lard ass. Anybody reading my material obviously had to be morbidly obese and in the market for a physical transformation.”

“I just feel better being ad-free,” I said. “I’m tired of commercials telling us we’re too fat, too impotent, too poor, too hairy, too ugly. I don’t need anyone telling me all those things. That’s what my self-deprecating humor is for.” 

Helen smiled. “And the best part is, making yourself feel miserable doesn’t cost you a thing!” 

“Except, of course, for the yearly cost of the ad-free plan,” I said. “After all, when it comes to eliminating penis-enlargement ads, somebody has to get the short end of the stick.” 

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Big media and its incessant war against Millennials

Big media and its incessant war against MillennialsLast week, I was invited to participate in an editorial meeting at a metropolitan newspaper.

I followed all of the reporters to a conference room and took a seat. The executive editor sat in a chair near the front.

“Listen up, everyone,” he said, holding up his hands. The chatter in the room slowly subsided. “We need a new angle this week to demonstrate why Millennials are pieces of shit. Does anyone have any ideas?”

A woman in front of me raised her hand. “Can we do a feature about how most Millennials are living at home and mooching off mom and dad?”

Approving murmurs swept through the crowd.

The executive editor shook his head. “No, no. The whole living-at-home bit has been played out. Besides, recent studies show that Millennials are now buying homes they can’t afford, just like the generations before them. What else?”

A man standing against the wall waved his pen. “I know! How about a piece that talks about the entitlement attitude Millennials have in the workplace?”

“Yeah!” someone called out.

“No.” The executive editor shook his head. “It’s good, but we’ve been there before. We need something fresh — something that really plays to the hearts of the few older people who still read newspapers. These folks are our last surviving customers, and if we don’t give them stories they want to read, then we’re out of business. So c’mon, people — think! What’s an unexpected way that we can bash Millennials?”

The room went quiet for a moment.

Someone in the back blurted out without raising her hand: “Millennials are terrible tippers.”

“That was done not too long ago,” someone else said. “I read something similar on the wire.”

“Millennials are killing retail by shopping online,” someone else called out.

Everyone looked at the executive editor to get his reaction. He shook his head.

“All Millennials care about is social media,” somebody said.

“How do you create a story out of that?” someone else said. “It’s much too broad.” 

Suddenly, without warning, the executive editor pointed at me. “You. I don’t recognize your face. Do you work here?”

Everyone in the room turned to glare at me. My face grew warm.

“No,” I said. “I’m a –”

“Speak up!” someone yelled.

I raised my voice. “I’m a humor blogger. I’m just visiting.” 

“You look young,” the editor said. “Are you a Millennial?”

“Actually, I’m not sure,” I said. “No one’s ever told me. I’m either a really young Gen-Xer or a really old Millennial, like Iliza Shlesinger. I remember things like turntables and typewriters, and I didn’t grow up with the Internet. In fact, I might be what they call an Xennial. I have things in common with both generations.”

“Whatever the hell you are, we need a fresh perspective,” the editor said. “You got any ideas?”

Everyone in the room continued to look at me.

“Well,” I said, shrugging, “I’m always frustrated when I see a story about a person who’s retired in their 30s. It’s almost as if they’re profiling them to remind us readers that we’re not good enough. Like, ‘Here’s someone who’s retired, and meanwhile you never bought a house, gotten married or had children.'”

I swallowed, looking at the crowd. “Actually, since I’ve told you all that, you might as well know that I don’t even have a girlfriend at the moment.”

Horrified murmurs swept across the room. People turned away to avoid my gaze.

“I think you touched on something,” the executive editor said, sipping from his Starbucks coffee cup. “I really like it, actually. We find a rare Millennial who’s achieved major success at a young age, and we do a profile to show other Millennials why they’re human scum. When they see someone their own age who’s accomplished so much, it’ll make them re-examine their own pathetic lives living at home with their parents.”

“Well,” I said, “I wasn’t suggesting –”

“I think it’s great!” someone called out.

“Me, too!” said someone else.

Enthusiastic chatter erupted. 

“We should profile a tech entrepreneur,” someone said. “They’re always successful at a young age.”

“We could play up the fact that very few Millennials achieve any sort of success in their life — let alone retire in their 30s,” someone else said.

“We should interview some unemployed Millennials with overpriced English degrees to get their reaction,” I heard another person say. 

I held up my hands. “Excuse me? Mr. Editor, sir? Excuse me?”

A group of reporters swarmed to a whiteboard and started story-mapping the idea. In the middle of the board, they drew a gigantic circle that said, “Millennials suck.” From there, they drew interlinking threads to connect other disparate ideas such as “underemployed,” “reluctant to get married or buy houses,” “worthless degrees from crappy colleges” and “totally dependent on mom and dad.” 

The executive editor sidled up to me and slipped his arm around my shoulder. 

“That was a terrific idea,” he said. “Can we hire you as a freelancer to tackle it?”

“Actually,” I said, “I’m a humor blogger, not a newspaper–”

He recoiled, taking a step back. “What are you telling me? That you’re a lazy, entitled Millennial who thinks he’s too good to work for a living? What, did you get rich selling Bitcoin, or something?”

“Whoa!” I said. “I didn’t say that. You put those words in my mouth.”

“So working here doesn’t meet your stringent expectations?” the editor said, yelling. “What, are we not hip enough? We’re too stodgy, old-fashioned? We don’t have a strong enough social-media presence?”

“I feel like I’m missing something here,” I said. “I’m not sure where all this wrath is coming from.” 

“Well, excuse me,” the editor said. “I’m sorry that this antique, out-of-date newspaper isn’t good enough. I guess we can’t all have graduate degrees in environmental literature!” 

I winced. “I don’t think I ever claimed to have a graduate degree in–”

Before I could finish, a couple of burly security guards grabbed me and hauled me to the lobby. They picked me up, slammed my head into the front door to open it, and heaved me onto the sidewalk. I landed hard on the concrete and lay sprawled on my stomach, my face in the gutter.

“And stay out!” the executive editor yelled. “Go run home to mom and dad, Mr. Environmental Literature!”

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Big-city sprawl is stealing small-town charm

city night lights

If you define “progress” by the city taking over, then yes, I guess we’re seeing tons of progress.

I like living in a small town. There are so many quirks that you don’t get to enjoy anywhere else.

Like the one time I went to a community theater to see a play. As everyone was settling into their seats, a man in a bathrobe walked in. I saw him and assumed he was part of the show.

Nope — he was part of the audience. He walked in along with everyone else and claimed his own seat. No explanation; just a man in a bathrobe. Everyone around him acted like everything was perfectly normal.

Giving directions is easy in a small town, because instead of street names, you can use landmarks. “Drive down yonder to the old convenience store and make a left at the ramshackle trailer with a dog tied to the front porch. You can’t miss it.”

I used to work in a small real-estate office, and people often asked me for directions.

“How do I get to this particular street?” a man asked me one time.

“Well,” I said, “you go down Main Street and turn left where the pizza place burned down 15 years ago. Go past the building that used to be the post office before the new one was built and drive until you see the vacant lot where Harry’s gas station once stood, before old Harry died and the building was bulldozed. To get to the street you’re looking for, turn right at the building that used to be a pawn shop back in the day. I’m not quite sure what it is now.”

The man glared. “Did I mention that I moved here last week? Your directions are absolutely worthless.”

Shopping can be a problem in a small town. When I was a kid, the nearest grocery store was in the next town over. All we had locally were two dinky convenience stores that reeked of cigarette smoke.

I remember begging my mom one time for a box of macaroni and cheese. She relented, and we brought it home to cook. When we opened the box, the macaroni was crawling with weevils. (I don’t recall if the box had a “use by” date, but given the infestation, it was safe to assume that it was past its prime.) 

Another time, at the other store, we picked out a carton of eggs. Opening the box, we saw that all the shells were yellow and hollow. It was as if someone had stuck a pin in each of them and sucked out all the contents.

“Durn,” said the storekeeper, when we showed him the carton. “I reckon you won’t be frying those with bacon come Sunday morning.” 

Life is less formal in a small town. Sitting in my favorite restaurant, there’s a view of a bar across the street. When dining one evening, I watched as a drunk staggered into the parking lot and took a gigantic leak in the parking lot. Not the most appetizing sight when you’re enjoying a savory meal.

I’ll tell you what, though: I’ll take small-town character over big-city class any day. The only problem with small towns is that they seem to be disappearing. Cities are stretching their grimy tentacles and smothering them in their wretched grasp. With every chain store that moves in, a fragment of local history gets torn away.

It makes you nostalgic for those days when you could wear a bathrobe to the community theater. 

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Ode to a bygone love

I’m wondering where you are tonight.

I’ll tell you where I am. I’m in a smelly cab traveling through downtown, surrounded by a city that’s blinding me with neon and swallowing me whole. I’m leaning against the blotchy, fog-coated window, which feels like a sheet of ice against my flushed face and fevered cheeks. The passing storefronts blur in a swirl of color, with bright-lit logos blaring their brands and straining to claim a piece of the late-night desert skyline.

It’s as if everyone’s reaching for a bittersweet slice of American pie — that delectable dessert all encrusted with cash and oozing with gold. Some of us feast on the favorable filling, while others of us loathsomely gnaw on the crumbs.

Are you out there, I wonder … ensconced in your apartment with the shades drawn and TV glowing … sipping a drink to close out the week, and to shut yourself off from the world?

Or are you somewhere else out there, not alone, but in the city … sharing drinks with a stranger at the far end of a bar, smiling at his lines and shivering — quivering — as he traces his finger along your arm? Are you moving on with your life — diving in, plunging forward — putting the past behind you and filing away the snapshots of our time together … those everyday moments that flicker away into obscurity, leaving only wisps of memory to cling to and cherish — moments stained in sepia from the constant slippage of time?

Wherever you are, I hope you’re happy. I hope you’re vibrant and lively, savoring the moment and finding something sacred to dedicate yourself to in this chaotic maelstrom of wistful existence. You always used to want something more — something deeper and more meaningful; something to lend credibility to the idea that there’s a purpose for us — a purpose for all of us — a purpose beyond the confining, mundane realm of reality and the banal, everyday struggle to survive.

I once felt a magic with you, but the enchantment is gone. You made me feel dazzled and dizzy … awestruck and giddy … but the sparkle fizzled out, and the glow faded away. When you left, all your warmth went with you, drifting away like a pleasurable scent … tapering to nothing like a dying candle’s flame.

What did it all mean, our being together? What was the takeaway? What did it boil down to? Are we only snapshots in each other’s existence — mere stepping stones to better paths and possibilities? There has to be a meaning behind it all: some nugget of knowledge we can savor and embrace.

Or was our relationship more like a beautiful poem — wandering and lyrical and dripping with imagery, but in the end merely an artistic diversion from the tedium of reality and the meaningless of existence?

I’d like to think it all meant something more. Love’s not just a sideshow to the main attraction, or a way for us to piddle away the time. Love in itself is a reason for living— a state of being to aspire to. It creates a rushing, lilting harmony against the sterile, static silence — silence that permeates the hollow, gray, eggshell-like foundation upon which this punishing, sinister world resides.

I know I have to put you behind me, but there’s a part of me that can’t let go. People are right when they say I’m stuck in the past. And they’re right that I’m too afraid to move on.

I’m afraid if I let you go, your memory will fade from my mind, like a flickering imprint of a bright light when you close your eyes … or the lingering warmth of a stranger’s touch when they brush their fingers across your back.

You were always my center — the force that kept me grounded. And you were always my compass — the pointer that gave me poise. I can’t just relegate you to my mind’s deep recesses to rot away and wither. If I do, my memories will mist over with haze, and the light of your love will grow dim. That vibrant, loving, whimsical person I used to hold and cherish will wane into a caricature of who she used to be — a fragment of her former self … and all she meant to me.

I can’t just file you away like a forgotten photo. Your image is too lifelike, too real. A photo can preserve a memory, and a memory can preserve a moment, but some moments demand more than lifeless, static preservation. Some moments need to be relived, and re-experienced — especially in our darkest, dreariest hours — because they not only enriched our lives, but because they gave our lives meaning, and depth.

But then again, maybe it was all just a fling. Then again, maybe we weren’t meant to be. Maybe you’re out there, right now, skipping through the present and filling your heart with someone new.

Did any of it mean to you what it all meant to me? Or did I only glean more from the experience because I was so needy? Are you the strong one, putting it all behind you and closing the chapter on our love? Did I crumble more completely because my heart and resolve were so fragile?

I think it’s better to feel too much than too little. And I can’t just sweep it all away as if you were only a footnote to my existence. The emotions are still too real — too vivid and intense.

I see you in my subconscious, in my peripheral vision. I’ll spot you to my side, standing framed in an open doorway … but when I turn your image dissolves like a sunbeam smothered in shadow … and once again I’ll be all alone, ensnared in a dark apartment, plagued by a haunted heart and a troubled head that’s rattling with ghosts.

In those still, pre-dawn hours, when the world’s a pale glow and the deep-sleep dreams are dwindling, I’ll feel the warmth of your palm pressing into my chest, and I’ll stir and reach out for you … but there’s nothing there but bunched-up sheets, and a gaping space where you used to be.

I’ll lie there, then, wide awake with receding dreams, reality pouring in like molten steel to remind me that you’re gone.

Back in the cab, the night feels raw and throbbing, like an open wound that just won’t heal. I’m trapped in here behind a steel cage, barreling down a city street on a ride I can’t control.

If I press my hand against the glass, I almost can feel your breathing, your heartbeat. Or maybe that’s the city’s pulse — its erratic, harried thumping … alive and real and palpable, with neon searing into my senses to offer simulated life.

Are you out there, I wonder? And if you are, are you thinking of me? We once forged a foundation of tenderness and affection … but has that foundation succumbed to decay? Are we severed, separate, disparate, divergent … or are the lines of communication still sound?

Gazing at the city, my thoughts all drift to you. Can you hear the words I’m thinking? Can you feel the pain I bear? Can we correspond across this psychic thread … or are my pleas just tumbling into a void?

I opened up to you, and I told you where I am. I only wish you could have heard me, so you could tell me where you are.

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Smoldering ashes of youthful ambition

I gazed out the taxi-cab window, staring with hypnotized eyes at the sparkling lights of downtown. Life, vitality … excitement. And yet I felt no part of it. I felt empty, barren … like the acres of desert wasteland surrounding the city. That’s the problem with this city: I never feel whole. I always feel as if the desert, its emptiness, is creeping past the city limits, reclaiming the cement and concrete and casinos, crumbling the foundations that keep this whole shimmering palace standing. Maybe someday it will all collapse, and the tourists, the drunks, the losers … all of them will come crawling from beneath the rubble, dazzled by the brilliant sunlight — parched by the dry, desert air — and wonder where in the world their lives have disappeared to.

There’s a nervous tension in the air tonight, fraught with despair and uncertainty. Or maybe it’s inside of me — I don’t know. It’s a tense, harried energy, like a current surging through a severed cable, snapping and sparking with nowhere to go.

I think back to fifteen years ago … of fun-filled Friday nights, conversations with strangers, plastic cups sloshing with beer, the neon-filled nightclubs. The memories are aged and hazy, cobwebbed from neglect and fogged over by experience … but the images are there, still and real. Mired in time, they glisten through reminiscence.

I can see them, still: old friends from college, preserved in adolescence. Rowdy, ragtag groups ushering in diversion and shrugging off adulthood … embraced and encased in that snug cocoon of youth … that fragile, transitory covering that eventually fades away— flaking off like skin, crumbling away like a shell — bringing the horizon into focus, the future into the present … narrowing paths and possibilities and forging granite realities from the shapeless, wanderlust, cotton-like clouds of infinite aspirations.

Life. Vitality. Excitement.

And the smoldering ashes of youthful ambition.

We were on the verge of something big back then. Our dreams blurred like billboards of twinkling neon, but the visions were bright. Standing on the steps of my dormitory, I could feel it: a rushing, sweeping tide carrying us to the precipice of destiny — to a boundless, endless landscape of opportunity, and chances.

But dreams can turn to dust, and the brightest of visions can dim. Beckoning horizons can be replaced by drab, concrete walls — lifeless and windowless and impossible to scale — blocking off the distance, blotting out the light … and shutting in the soul while closing in from all sides.

I remember walking downtown with friends on a cold autumn night, lose and springy, a noticeable bounce to my step … and a homeless man grabbing my hand and saying “You’re Clark Kent, man! You’re Superman!” And he wouldn’t let go.

And the raging lights bathed the streets with a surreal sheen, pulsing to the rhythm of the city and the trembler of traffic, casting a glamorous gleam on the scenes below. Out on the town and unencumbered by age, we felt like we were on the cusp of something wonderful and magical — something shared in the collective heart of our own generation. Our toes inched across the starting line, waiting for the sound of the starting gun to spring us forward — to run, baby, run … galloping like gazelles toward adventures unknown.

Only somewhere along the way, we lost our momentum. Somewhere along the way, it all fell apart. The levity of dream gave way to the tedium of truth … and the luster of youth gave way to the specter of age.

Later that night, I met a woman in a bar. She was a college senior, like me. Nestled in a corner in a standing-room crowd, we had to shout to be heard above the jukebox jumble.

Animated by alcohol, the conversation drifted to post-graduation goals. Her dream, she said, was to travel to Europe: to saturate her senses with the sights, sounds and smells of faraway lands. It would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, she told me, grinning. An adventure.

Yet she didn’t have the money, and she didn’t have a plan. The dream was there, alive and real, but the means were not. It was a “someday” thing; a dream to be realized if only life would allow.

The bar was smoky, and dim … and she and I moved together, slowly, leaning closer and closer … but then the door suddenly flew open, letting in a late-evening chill. The icy breath draped over us, sweeping away the heat … and for whatever reason the passion dissipated, breaking the spell and sucking the warmth that had enveloped us like wool.

And I realize now, that chill, that coldness — that icy sting that had sucked away all the warmth — that was the same feeling I felt when I realized that my tomorrows were limited, that my future was finite.

It was the feeling you feel when you truly grow up; when you emerge from your youthful cocoon into the world of adulthood.

The day your dreams dissipate, and fade.

I lost sight of that woman in the bar — at some point she pulled away and retreated into the din. I didn’t follow her or call her back. And I wonder sometimes if she ever made it to Europe, crossing the expansive seas on a cross-continental flight, armed with only a suitcase and a camera and a blank mental canvas to soak in all the scenery — to saturate her senses with Europe’s sights, sounds and smells.

Or I wonder if she’s like me, like so many others in our generation: adrift with no direction — with no compass or vision. Maybe she’s trapped in a job that she hates, or maybe she doesn’t have a job at all.

I wonder if maybe she gave up on that trip to Europe, realizing with despair that it could never come true. Maybe the real world closed in, curling its gnarled, icy fingers: fingers that can pry into daydreams, to stir up the doubts … fingers that can shred away fantasies, to pull lovers apart.

Ah, nebulous memories tonight as this taxi flees down the freeway. It’s Friday night, but there’s no excitement in the air, no bounce to my step. Something’s changed these past fifteen years. The lights of downtown are as bright now as they were then, but their neon glow seems somehow muted. No longer do they seem surreal and gleamy; now they’re just carnival-like, and gaudy.

If I were strolling downtown right now, at this very moment, I doubt the homeless man would be there. And I doubt he would grab my hand and call me Clark Kent.

If he was there, maybe he’d miss me as I passed, because I’d look the same as all the others on the street — all the weary, jaded adults who’ve forgotten how to dream — because like them I’d have no whimsical sense of purpose … and no supernatural aura.

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The future turned out to be as dull as the present

back to 1984

This isn’t quite the future I had in mind.

When I was a kid in the 1990s, I used to watch Back to the Future II — the one where Doc and Marty travel from the year 1985 to 2015. I remember how exciting it was then to dream about the future and all the technological advancements it would bring.

Talk about a letdown.

Instead of hoverboards, we got Facebook. I’d say that was a pretty crappy trade. I guess the filmmakers couldn’t envision a world where everyone wanders around with their mouths hanging open, staring at their phones. Only Orwell could have imagined such a nightmarish scenario. As far as futures go, this one feels less like “Back to the Future” and more like “1984.”

Great Scott, Marty!

We spend so much time looking forward to the future, and when it finally arrives, it’s always a disappointment. There are always unaccomplished goals, unfulfilled ambitions. Plus, the music in general sucks. My favorite iTunes playlist looks like the Billboard chart from 1969 — and that’s just the way I like it.

They say you should live for the moment, and I suppose they’re right. It’s good to have goals, but if you postpone all your happiness for some future date, you’re going to end up in an alternate 1985. 

Speaking of which, sometimes it feels like life skewed off into an alternate timeline, and that the present we’re living in isn’t the one we imagined it would be. But that’s life. It’s not a straight, unbending line. It’s more like a twisting, wending river that carves new paths as it flows over time. It’s always readjusting itself and finding a different, more interesting way.

So no, this isn’t the future I imagined. It’s not as thrilling as I thought it would be when I was a kid.

But when you take life one day at a time, then overall, things are pretty darn good. 

Well, most things. I’m still peeved that we never got such technological advancements as flying Deloreans or hydrated pizza.

You’d think that humankind would be further developed by now. 

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R.I.P. Neil Simon ~ Master of Comedy, Screenwriter, Author and Pulitzer Winning Playwright ~ 1927-2018

The world seems a little more somber today. Neil Simon was one of the greats. Growing up, I actually preferred his Hollywood movies. I watched “Seems Like Old Times” again and again, studying the cadence of the dialogue — how each line had the perfect number of syllables. I think that film alone taught me a lot about writing. It’s not just the content — it’s how it’s presented, how it’s spoken. Simon’s writing always landed spot-on. He was undoubtably a huge influence on my own work. What an amazing talent. In a world that’s becoming increasingly serious, we need more people with Simon’s humor, wit, and humanity. His writing wasn’t just about jokes — it was about characters, warmth, and meaning. His material was truly timeless. Simon leaves an unparalleled legacy and a mountain of work audiences will enjoy for generations to come.

By Hook Or By Book

neilsimon

Neil Simon, the prolific comedy writer who created such Broadway hits such as: Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound, Plaza Suite, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, and The Sunshine Boys, has passed away from pneumonia. Between 1965 and 1980, his plays and musicals had more than 9,000 performances. Just in 1966 alone he had four Broadway plays running simultaneously. He also wrote the screenplays for over twenty films. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize he also received: the Mark Twain Prize; a Tony Award for Best Playwright for The Odd Couple; another Tony and the aforementioned Pulitzer in 1991 for Lost in Yonkers; a special Tony for his overall contribution to American theater; 16 Tony nominations and four Oscar nominations, among many more. In 2010, The New Yorker’s John Lahr wrote: “For almost half a century, his comedies have offered light at…

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The rich are suffering the most in the U.S.’s overheated housing market

Rich people need houses too meme

With luxury homes growing more and more scarce in today’s overheated housing market, rich homebuyers are having to forego basic necessities such as Olympic-sized swimming pools and cobblestone driveways.

According to recent data, the lack of available housing in the U.S. is pushing the rich into increasingly substandard living conditions — including homes that lack indoor swimming pools and which feature laminate floors instead of hardwood. 

The finding came from a recent economic report issued by the Association for Statistical Study and Emerging Sciences, an industry think tank that examines socioeconomic issues plaguing the wealthiest Americans. 

“In an environment where housing inventory is low and homebuilders are scrambling to catch up, the rich simply can’t find the homes that meet their stringent expectations,” said Brenda Puddleduck, one of the researchers behind the study. “There simply aren’t enough luxury palaces with marble countertops and indoor theaters to go around. It’s a crisis that’s going to deepen unless the government takes immediate action.”

Homebuilding slowed after the Great Recession, as capital and resources were diverted from Main Street to help bail out prosperous Wall Street bankers. Demand for extravagant housing dropped to historical lows, prompting regulators to take desperate measures to re-inflate a sagging housing bubble.

Today, thanks to massive quantitative easing and rampant speculating on Wall Street, the rich once again are spending gobs of ill-earned money. The problem, however, is that due to a lack of building, demand for luxurious housing has far outpaced supply. 

Molly Snotbucket, a condescending stockbroker who charges clients to gamble their money, said her dreams were dashed recently when she went house hunting for a palatial mansion. 

“I was looking at homes in the $2 million price range,” she said, “and all I could find were 5-year-old hovels with outdated oak cabinetry and brass light fixtures. I felt like I was wandering through a homeless shelter.”

The devastation facing the wealthy has prompted one lawmaker to introduce a bill mandating that dinky affordable-housing units be torn down to make way for new luxury-home communities. 

“Our country is facing a new sort of housing crisis,” said Bronson Von Dimwit III, a state senator from an undisclosed state. “One solution is to use eminent domain to tear down aging single-family homes, which will make way for new gated golf-course communities.”

Indeed, more city councils across the nation are rejecting proposals for single-family communities, demanding that homebuilders instead focus on constructing opulent McMansions for the country’s underserved elite. 

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Dimwit III. “The problem is that we’re lagging behind where we need to be. The severe shortage of mansions has put us in a dire situation.”

Some rich people have resorted to extraordinary measures to find acceptable housing. 

Wilbur Punkster, a tech entrepreneur who makes gobs of money selling the private data of his products’s users, said that he had to renovate his new home recently to add an indoor racetrack and gymnasium.

“Basically, I had to spend extra money on things that should have come with the house,” he said. “And not only that, but I had to spend two whole weeks in the east wing while the crews completed their work. There’s not even a hot tub over there. I felt like a prisoner in my own home.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. According to the study, there may be a silver lining on the horizon.

“With rising interest rates tempering demand among low- and middle-income Americans, fewer people are entering the housing market,” Puddleduck said. “This shift will allow homebuilders to focus on the needs of the rich. Maybe then, the people who truly matter will see some much-needed relief.” 

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The fight for survival in the supermarket aisle

Sage advice

Sage advice.

I can’t walk through the grocery store these days without some wide-eyed, deranged maniac barreling down on me with a shopping cart.

You’ve seen these people — they’re half-crazed and on a mission. The way they shove their carts down the aisle, you’d think they were tackling a linebacker. You have to jump aside when you see them coming, flattening yourself against a shelf of soup cans just to survive. 

When you least expect it, they’ll careen around the corner and stare you down for the mere sin of existing. If you’re not careful, they’ll wedge you against a produce display, crushing you and leaving you for dead atop a mound of overripe, $1.99 tomatoes.

But this is the world we live in. Everyone’s out for themselves, even in the supermarket.

People drive the same way they shop. Everyone’s out to get ahead — to climb over anything and everyone who stands in their way. People tailgate, cut each other off, weave manically from one lane to another and flip off slowpokes for driving 55 mph in a 55 zone. Shopping and driving are microcosms for the way people generally live: bitter, self-focused and determined to outmaneuver everyone else.

In that vein, I saw a movie recently on Netflix titled “How It Ends.” (Don’t worry; I won’t give away how it ends.) Forest Whitacker appears in one of the lead roles. (He seems like a nice guy, but he always has that half-irritated, sleepy-eyed look, as if the director asked him to film a scene before his morning coffee.)

The movie was OK. Basically, some catastrophic event happens that wipes out the power across the U.S. Within a matter of days, society collapses and people everywhere degenerate into thieving, looting survivalists who attack and kill each other to get to where they’re going.

In real life, that’s pretty much what you’d expect to happen. If anything, the movie was a little too realistic, and therefore depressing. As much as I’d like to envision an end-of-the-world scenario where humans don’t degenerate into predatory scumbags, given the way we shop and drive, the outlook seems bleak. 

Similarly, “The Walking Dead” is a popular TV show in which human survivors navigate a post-apocalyptic world filled with rotting zombies. Now, maybe I’m a defeatist, but if society ever collapses and zombies swarm the streets, then what’s the point of surviving? Seriously. Let’s just wrap it up and call it quits. Humans gave it a shot, it didn’t quite work out (as evidenced by the aforementioned zombie situation), so let’s call it good. The end. Why wander around with biceps and a crossbow and try to reconstruct civilization? That’s a lot of pressure to take on. Maybe whoever is next in line in the food chain can give it a shot. Who would it be, the bears? The lions? Let’s give one of them a turn.

Who knows — maybe in the world they build, they won’t cut each other off in traffic. 

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When you’re less successful than an empty desk

Just Sitting Here

Um, hi?

It’s not exactly a confidence booster when somebody gets introduced to an empty desk and ignores you completely. 

This happened to me years ago, and it’s happened to other people I know, too. I was working at my desk when a manager tromped in with a high-level executive. I had heard that she would be bringing him around to acquaint him with everyone in the office.

Well, everyone important, anyway. 

Passing me, she pointed to an empty desk and said, “And this is where Jenna sits. Jenna is our director of communications. She’s not here today.”

“Ah,” the executive said, marveling over Jenna’s deserted workstation. “Fascinating.” 

I looked up with an eager grin, waiting to be introduced. The manager and executive stomped past me so that she could introduce him to another empty desk.

“This is where Tom sits,” the manager said, pointing. “Tom is our primary copy editor. He’s on extended leave in Hawaii.” 

“Ah,” the executive said, nodding at the darkened computer screen and the swivel chair with no occupant. “Very nice.”

I continued to look up with the same eager grin pasted to my face. The manager and executive tromped past me and out of the room.

My eager grin slowly melted as their footsteps retreated down the hall.

I wasn’t quite sure what to glean from the experience. When an empty desk boasts a more vibrant social life than you, it makes you reconsider your place in the world.

To make matters worse, Jenna’s empty desk ended up getting the promotion I was gunning for, too. I knew something was up when I saw the custodian shoving the desk into the coveted corner office. Our manager made the announcement that Jenna’s empty desk would now be overseeing the entire department and reporting directly to the Assistant Vice President of Content Creation. 

Jenna’s empty desk got a window overlooking the park behind our building. It also received a sizable bonus and some hefty stock options.

Tom’s empty desk ended up accepting a position in Corporate. They had to dismantle it so that it could be shipped to headquarters in New York City and reassembled. I understand that it’s on the fast track and on pace to become a junior partner. 

As for me, I couldn’t compete with two empty workstations, so I left the company. I’m not sure anyone even noticed. As I left on my last day with my cardboard box full of stuff, my co-worker of three years asked if I could vacuum his workstation when I swept up that evening. 

“Don’t you know who I am by now?” I asked, glaring.

He shook his head. “Sorry. You’re not ringing any bells. I guess we were never formally introduced. Didn’t the manager bring you around when you were hired?”

I never talk to anyone from my old office, but I heard that my old desk is doing well. Apparently, it’s been on the fast track since catching the attention of a high-level executive.