Dorothy and the Multiverse

Wait! That’s not helium! — Last words of Henrietta Gale, June 26, 1937.

Dorothy’s parents took her to the dog pound on her sixth birthday. She walked slowly past the cages of beagles and corgis and stopped to look at a cairn terrier puppy. It was love at first sight. She named him Toto.

Dorothy’s mother baked a birthday cake while her daughter and puppy played outside. When the cake was done, she set it aside to cool, lit a cigarette, and walked out to the garage, where her husband was inflating balloons for their daughter’s party.

She saw his mistake immediately. “Wait! That’s not helium!” she cried, but it was too late.

###

“Look what your dog did to my flower bed,” said Mr. Glitch, who did not in any way resemble famous character actress Margaret Hamilton or any trademarked Warner Brothers character.

“Toto would never do anything like that,” said Dorothy, just as Toto began to relieve himself on the ruined flowers.

Mr. Glitch took a step towards the dog, then stumbled, lurching forward. Toto interpreted this as an attack and bit him on the ankle. Mr. Glitch smiled the coldest smile Dorothy had ever seen.

###

The doorbell rang while Dorothy was setting the table for lunch. It was Mr. Glitch, with a court order authorizing him to seize Toto and have him euthanized immediately. Her uncle read the document carefully and said there was nothing they could do. He told Dorothy to get Toto and hand him over to Mr. Glitch.

Dorothy went outside to find Toto. She paused for a moment and made her decision. She wasn’t going to let them kill him. She was going to run away with him, as far away as possible. She picked Toto up and started down the road.

They didn’t get far. A storm forced them to return to the farmhouse. Moments after they went inside, a piece of flying debris hit her in the head and knocked her unconscious. She had a vivid dream. When she woke up, the storm had passed, and Dorothy had decided not to run away after all.

Mr. Glitch returned shortly after Dorothy woke up. Toto was euthanized later that afternoon.

Universe #2

Mr. Glitch took a step towards Toto, then stumbled, lurching forward. Toto interpreted this as an attack. He jumped up and bit Mr. Glitch on the thigh, severing his femoral artery. Dorothy ran for help, but by the time the doctor arrived, it was too late. Toto was euthanized later that afternoon.

Universe #3

Mr. Glitch took a step towards Toto, then stumbled, lurching forward. Toto interpreted this as an attack. He jumped up and bit Mr. Glitch on the thigh, severing his femoral artery. Dorothy cleaned the blood off Toto’s face and quietly returned home. The coroner determined that Mr. Glitch had been attacked by some kind of wild animal, possibly a wolf. Toto lived a long and happy life with Dorothy and her aunt and uncle.

Universe #4

Dorothy’s parents took her to the dog pound on her sixth birthday. She walked slowly past the cages of beagles and corgis. Her mother steered her past the cairn terrier puppy, who was licking himself in a manner that she thought was inappropriate. Dorothy stopped to look at a six-month-old female collie. It was love at first sight. Dorothy named her Lassie.

Dorothy’s mother baked a birthday cake while her daughter and puppy played outside. Dorothy’s father went into the garage to inflate helium balloons for his daughter’s party. As he prepared to fill the first balloon, Lassie burst into the garage, knocked him down, and started barking loudly.

“What’s that, Lassie? This isn’t the helium tank? This is a propane tank? The helium tank is over there?”

Lassie, Dorothy, and her parents lived happily ever after.

Epilogue

Another young family arrived at the dog pound moments after Dorothy and her parents left. The boy walked slowly past the cages of beagles and corgis and stopped to look at a cairn terrier puppy. It was love at first sight. He named the dog Toto.

Timmy and Toto were inseparable. One day, Timmy fell down a well. Toto could hear Timmy’s cries. He stayed by the well and whimpered in distress for a while, but then he was distracted by a squirrel. Timmy’s body was never recovered.

Today Is National Ice Cream Day — Or Is It?

We have always celebrated National Ice Cream Day on the third Sunday of July.

— George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

In 1984, Ronald Reagan signed a presidential proclamation naming the third Sunday in July as National Ice Cream Day — or so the dairy-industrial complex would have us believe. But the actual text of that proclamation refers only to dates in 1984 — so where did the recurring Ice Cream Days and Ice Cream Months come from?

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RONALD REAGAN, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim July 1984 as National Ice Cream Month and July 15, 1984, as National Ice Cream Day, and I call upon the people of the United States to observe these events with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this ninth day of July, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-four, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and ninth.

And why did Reagan wait until July 9 — almost a third of the way into the month — to sign this proclamation? The obvious answer, of course, is that he didn’t want to detract from National Duck Stamp Week, which ran from July 1 through July 8. But wait! Look at this:

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the week of July 1 through July 8, 1984, as National Duck Stamp Week and 1984 as the Golden Anniversary Year of the Duck Stamp. I urge all Americans to observe these occasions with appropriate ceremonies and events, including participating in this program.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this third day of July, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-four, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and eighth.

Do you see? National Duck Stamp Week was July 1-8, but he waited until July 3 — when the week was almost half over — to issue that proclamation. Was this a passive-aggressive means of asserting a deep-seated hostility towards commemorative dates in general? Or was the government engaged in secret ice-cream- and duck-stamp-related ceremonies and activities that the general public has no knowledge of even today?

And why do we have a National Ice Cream Day and a National Ice Cream Month, but no National Ice Cream Week? Why has there never been a National Year of Ice Cream? If there’s an entire month devoted to ice cream, why isn’t there even a single day set aside to honor hot fudge?

These are deeply troubling questions. I have, however, decided to set aside my misgivings and celebrate National Ice Cream Day with appropriate ceremonies and activities just as President Reagan may or may not have intended. If you’re in the United States today, I urge you to do the same. And if you’re not, then of course you’re not bound by our national customs, so you’ll just have to celebrate with ceremonies and activities that are inappropriate. I’m sure you’ll find a way to rise to the occasion.

New Filibuster Rules for the Texas State Senate

The shoes Wendy Davis wore during her filibuster have some great Amazon reviews
The shoes Wendy Davis wore during her filibuster have some great Amazon reviews

Recent events have led some Texas state senators to conclude that their filibuster rules — which forbid eating, drinking, sitting, leaning, going off-topic, or leaving the senate floor for any reason — are too lax. The following are some new restrictions they’re considering:

1. If you’re a senator engaged in a filibuster, you must speak only in sentences that can be spelled out using a standard set of Scrabble tiles. For example, “the muzzled dog ran through the maze” is permissible, because it can be constructed using one Z tile and two blank tiles, while “the muzzled dog zigzagged through the maze” is not.

2. Vulgar language will not be permitted. Don’t say “pregnant” when you mean “expecting”. Don’t say “trans-vaginal” when you mean “through a lady’s special passageway”. Don’t say “rape kit“, ever.

3. During each sixty-minute period, you must say at least one sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet exactly once. Remember to stay on-topic.

4. The dress code will be strictly enforced. All senators must wear appropriate footwear. Appropriate footwear is defined as brown or black men’s dress shoes for normal senators and shoes of any color with at least a 3” heel for lady senators.

5. The president of the senate may, at any time, interrupt you and demand a numeric accounting of your speech. You will then have thirty seconds to respond with the total number of Scrabble points for all the words you’ve spoken while you’ve had the floor. The calculation should be performed as follows: use the face value of each Scrabble tile. Assume that blanks are used only when absolutely necessary. Assume no double- or triple- letter or word squares. Don’t forget to add the 50-point bonus for each 7-letter word.

6. In the past, senators have said “I yield for a question, but I do not yield the floor” in order to ensure they kept their right to speak after answering a question. This is no longer sufficient; in order to hold the floor, you must say “I yield for a question. Simon says I do not yield the floor.”

7. The president of the senate may, at any time, interrupt you to ask a question from a basic literacy test. You have twenty seconds to answer correctly.

8. Scrabble tiles are not permitted on the Senate floor.

9. The clock says whatever the governor says it says.

 

Total Recall

I’ve had my car for a little over seven years, and I’m pretty happy with it despite the fact that I’ve gotten approximately three dozen recall notices during that time. It all started with a problem with unintended acceleration that resulted in a series of recalls: first they wanted to inspect and/or remove the floor mats. Then they wanted to replace the floor mats (because we shouldn’t be forced to drive with bare carpet under our feet, like savages). Finally, they wanted to cut off part of the accelerator pedal on the theory that if the pedal is tiny enough, then you’ll never step on it, and you’ll be really, really safe.

These lights have nothing to do with the recall, but I was impressed when they all lit up at once.
These lights have nothing to do with the recall, but I was impressed when they all lit up at once.

At some point they must have noticed that the more recall notices they sent out, the more business their service departments got — after all, if your car is due for maintenance and you get a recall notice in the mail, you’ll probably just get everything done at the dealership at once instead of going elsewhere for the oil change. So they kept sending more and more of them — and maybe it’s just my imagination, but the jargon seemed to get more confusing each time. The most recent one went something like this:

‘Twas brillig, and the spliny struts
Did gyre and gimble as it stormed:
All wobbly were the bolts and nuts,
And other parts deform’d.

Beware the insufficiently hardened intermediate steering extension shaft, my son
It bends like wire! It breaks like glass!
Beware the dread floor mats, and shun
The pedal meant for gas.

It goes on like this for a while, and from what I was able to decipher, it’s saying that at any moment the steering column may spontaneously disintegrate, leaving you clutching a disembodied steering wheel; the car will then spin out of control, resulting in a fiery crash and an untimely and painful death for anyone in or near your car.* Also, you should get those floor mats looked at again.** The repair should take about an hour.***

This sounded pretty serious, so I promptly took my car in for service after procrastinating for 3-4 months. The repair was pretty uneventful, but apparently the dealership has added a new amenity to its waiting room: complimentary medical advice. While I was there, a man in a white lab coat walked up to a pregnant couple and had a fairly lengthy conversation with them; this is the only time I’ve ever seen someone say “thank you, complete stranger off the street, for the extensive unsolicited advice regarding my pregnancy” without being sarcastic. Then he continued approaching people, seemingly at random, and giving each person medical advice (except for one woman who turned out to be a physician herself; she got career advice instead).

He never talked to me, despite the fact that I was obviously at serious risk of dying of old age waiting for my car to be ready. I was a little disappointed at the time, but at least I know that when I get the inevitable “Notice of Possibly Faulty Medical Advice Dispensed in Service Department Waiting Rooms” letter from Toyota, I’ll be able to safely ignore it.

*This may be a slight exaggeration.

**The recall notice didn’t actually mention the floor mats. But every time I take my car to the dealership, they want me to let them hack off chunks of my gas pedal, and I have to keep refusing over and over again.

***Hi again. I don’t really have anything to add; this paragraph just looked weird without a third footnote. Oh, hey, while you’re here, I have a question. Do you have any idea why I wrote “deform’d” instead of “deformed” in that poem? I mean, the apostrophe is totally unnecessary, right? And yet I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it.

Rejected Submissions to NASA’s “Send a Haiku to Mars” Contest

NASA needs your help. They’re soliciting haiku poems to send on a future mission to Mars.

Two hundred million
miles from home. Did I forget
to turn off the stove?

I love the view but
hate this planet’s atmosphere.
Yelp rating: three stars.

I’ve a feeling we’re
not in Kansas anymore.
Stupid GPS.

It’s cold here on Mars
every day. So you’d have to
be crazy to stay.

But I think it’s worth
The distance from Earth, to see
the Martians at play.

NASA wants haiku.
Limericks are considered
inappropriate.

It seems fitting that
these poems for Martians were
written by Vogons.

My Cats Are So Helpful

This week I came down with Three-Day Killer Death Flu. I also had a high-pressure deadline at work, so my cats didn’t get as much attention as they’re used to. Fortunately, instead of complaining, they decided to help out around the house.

I woke up yesterday morning to find that the cats were cleaning their toys.

Seffie's favorite non-laser toy
They may be messy eaters, but at least they wash their own toys.

I took that picture on my phone and posted it to Facebook. As I was typing the caption, my cat Seffie came into the kitchen. By the time I’d finished typing (I’m a slow phone typist), she’d had taken the toy out of the bowl and was playing with it. Apparently it had been soaking long enough.

This morning, I woke up to this:

That's right -- I didn't clean up the dry food from the floor. I was overworked and sick, okay? Don't judge me.
It’s deja vu all over again.

So I took out the toy and changed the water. I also give them fresh food every morning; when I turned around after throwing out the old food, this is what I saw:

Finally, a cat picture.
Apparently the blue toy needed washing again.

The blue toy may not be obvious in that photo, but you can see it in this close-up.

Not just a pretty face.
And the cycle continues

I wonder what I’ll find in the kitchen tomorrow.

Update: I’ve started a Things I Found In My Cat’s Water Bowl tumblr.

These Writing Tips Will Change Your Life

In an attempt to add some much-needed structure to this blog and to provide a valuable resource to the community, I’ve decided to devote this and all future posts to helping people become better writers.

We’ll start with a few classic tips I’ve seen elsewhere and incorporated into my own writing.

1. Stick to a schedule.

Setting a schedule and sticking to it has helped me avoid procrastination. I work on my blog from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm on Saturdays, my epic steampunk dystopian romance literary suspense trilogy from 10:50 pm to 11:00 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and my weekly shopping list from 7:52 pm to 7:54 pm on Wednesdays. I set a timer at the beginning of each session; when it rings, I finish the sentence or shopping list entry I’m working on, and then stop.

It’s important to come up with a schedule and set of procedures that work for you. You’re probably not going to get it right the first time. For example, when I started out, I’d stop writing the moment the timer went off. I found that leaving a thought unfinished sometimes led to confusion (like the time I needed toilet paper but bought a new toilet instead), so now I take the extra few seconds to finish the current thought.

2. Read like a writer.

You should read this book. But finish this blog post first.
This is a very funny book.

I’ve seen this bit of advice a lot, and for a long time I had no idea what it meant. It finally “clicked” for me a couple weeks ago when I was reading Dave Barry’s Insane City. Instead of just laughing hysterically at the zany antics of the characters, I found myself looking past my initial impressions and focusing instead on the intense, burning envy I felt towards anyone capable of writing something that funny.

This has improved everything I’ve written since then. For example, here’s the shopping list I wrote the Wednesday before I read the Dave Barry book:

Milk

Oranges

Yogurt

Broccoli

Quinoa

And here’s the one I wrote the following week:

Nutella

Red Wine

Ice cream

Tequila

Duct tape

Ski mask

Twine

Latex gloves

Plane ticket to Florida

See the difference? Each list took two minutes to write, but the first was five words long, and the second was 17 words. Reading like a writer helped me get into the mind-set I needed to more than triple my productivity.

3. Show, Don’t Tell.

Here’s a sentence that uses an adjective to tell the reader something:

The clerk at the car rental agency in Miami was unhelpful.

The scene becomes more vivid if I instead show actions that support that description:

She handed me the keys and asked if I needed directions anywhere. I told her I needed to find the nearest 24-hour gun store. She said she didn’t think there was one. Fine, I said, I’ll improvise – just give me directions to Dave Barry’s house. She asked for the address, and I explained that I didn’t know it, which is why I needed directions. Then she just stared at me for a minute and said something about having to help the next person in line.

4. Avoid “weasel words” and the passive voice.

Consider this sentence:

In retrospect, the death threats may have been a bit of an overreaction.

Pretty wishy-washy, isn’t it? By saying the death threats may have been an overreaction, the author is implying that they may not. And if they were, who overreacted? And how much of an overreaction is “a bit”? The sentence is practically meaningless. If you take out all the extra words and use a more active structure, you get a sentence that conveys the author’s true feelings:

He had it coming.

Clear, concise, and to the point — I think you’ll agree this is a huge improvement.

These four simple tips did wonders for my writing, and I hope they’ll help yours as well. If you have a favorite tip of your own that you’d like to share, or if you have a tricky writing problem that you’d like some help with, please tell us about it in the comments.

Why That’s Not Me Sleeping In A Glass Box at MOMA

Ever since I heard about Tilda Swinton’s performance art piece “The Maybe”, which involves her sleeping in a glass box “on top of a mattress, with just her glasses and a carafe of water” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, I’ve been wondering: why does she need her glasses? She’s just going to sleep, and maybe drink some water. She’s not even going to pour the water into a glass. She doesn’t have a book or a wristwatch, so she won’t be reading or checking the time. It’s possible that she’ll need her glasses when she leaves the box, but if that’s the reason, why doesn’t she also have keys, money, credit cards, and/or a phone?

The dishwasher is negotiable.

I’m currently putting together a proposal for a follow-on art installation that’s similar to “The Maybe” with a few key differences:

Instead of Tilda Swinton sleeping in the box, it will be me.

My cats will also be in the box. Unless they get bored, in which case they’ll need to be let out of the box, and then let in again when and if they want to return. It would probably be easiest just to install a cat door on the box. I’ll also need a couple cat wranglers to keep an eye on the cats and make sure they don’t leave the museum.

I can’t just lie down and fall asleep. I need to read for a while. I’ll need my Kindle in the box.

Seffie won’t let me go to sleep unless I play with her with the laser pointer first. So I’ll also need a laser pointer. I realize this isn’t ideal, but it’s unavoidable.

I usually run the dishwasher right before going to bed. I’ll need to hear dishwasher sounds each day until I fall asleep. If installing a  dishwasher on the museum floor turns out to be impractical, I might be able to get by with recorded dishwasher sounds, as long as they’re realistic enough and MOMA sends someone to my house to wash my dishes.

Instead of a carafe of water (which I assume is an open container, although I can’t find any pictures of Ms. Swinton’s carafe), I’ll need a bottle that closes; I’m concerned that if I have an open carafe in a small space, I might roll over in my sleep and spill it. Also my cats would probably drink out of it. You’ll notice I’m not insisting on a glass. I’m willing to rough it for the sake of my art.

I’ll need my cell phone. I’m not planning on making any calls, but I can use it to check the time or tweet about any unusual dreams I might have. Also, I plan to use it as an alarm clock. I don’t want to oversleep and get locked into the museum overnight. And I hate to sound overly mercenary, but if I’m being paid to sleep for seven hours, I don’t see why I should spend any extra time sleeping for free.

Some of these requests will take a bit of work on MOMA’s part, but I’m sure they can accommodate me. At least I’m not demanding to have my glasses in the box with me. That would be unreasonable.

Thank You For Reading My Blog. Here Are a Few Things You Should Know.

As part of my ongoing quest to make this blog as confusing as possible, I’ve changed servers again, moving it back to wordpress.com. If you see anything strange, please leave a comment or send mail to info@unlikelyexplanations.com to let me know. I’m especially interested in strange things about this blog — missing images, etc. — but really, feel free to tell me about anything strange you notice anywhere.

This is not a cat blog; however, I sometimes add gratuitous cat pictures to posts that have nothing to do with cats. This is one of those times.

Gratuitous cat picture
Gratuitous cat picture

Take everything you read here with a large grain of salt, unless you have high blood pressure, in which case you should take everything you read here with a large grain of salt substitute, unless you’re allergic to salt substitute.

This blog accepts no responsibility for any adverse reactions you may or may not have to any salt or salt substitute you consume while reading this blog.

Some of the posts here were written by my cats. You can generally tell by the writing style: the cats tend to use words like “mncmnzlmxhfb” or ” srassrfmn” more frequently than I do. If you have trouble understanding one of the cat-authored posts, you’re not alone. Google Translate is useless for this.

I have instituted a new comment policy. It’s available as a link in the menu above, but since this is a full-service blog, I’m including it in its entirety here…

Comments are strongly encouraged! I’d love to read your opinions and stories. Please just follow these simple guidelines:

I don’t moderate comments (other than spam), but I get a lot of spam, and I don’t always check my spam queue. If you try to add a comment and it didn’t appear immediately, please use the contact form to let me know I need to fish it out of the queue.

If I don’t know you and you leave a comment that’s just a generic compliment, I’ll probably assume it’s spam and delete it. This is especially true if you use words like “informative” to describe one of my posts.

Comments absolutely must be on topic! Not necessarily the topic of the post you’re commenting on, of course, but they need to be on some topic.

I sometimes post pictures of my cats on this blog. Comments referring to my cat pictures must contain at least one of the following words: adorable, cute, sweet, beautiful, charming, exquisite, or delightful.

Comments must be written in iambic pentameter.

Comments must be signed with your full name, email address, home address, phone number, and the names and addresses of three character references. Or you can just make up a name and leave the rest of those fields blank.

Before you hit the “send” button to post your comment, please stop for a moment and ask yourself, where did I leave my keys?

Comments involving embarrassing stories are always welcome, unless those stories are about me.

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