Friday, June 27, 2003

Well, I'm off. I'm leaving in the morning for my annual media fast in my own personal undisclosed location. See y'all in a week.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Like a lot of states, Missouri is having budget problems right now. Specifically, the Republican-controlled legislature has sent the Democratic governor (Bob Holden) several budgets that respond to the budget crisis (caused by a sluggish economy, funding cuts from the feds, and unfunded federal mandates) by cutting services and, of course, cutting taxes. Constitutionally, deficit spending is not possible, and Holden maintains that (1) these are not balanced budgets and (2) they contain unacceptable cuts to education. He's already cut over a billion dollars from various other areas, but stands by his assertion that it's better to close tax loopholes favoring large corporations or increase taxes on gambling than to cut education spending any further. It's frustrating as hell, but the Missouri GOP has been out of touch with reality for so long now that I can't call it surprising.

But this did surprise me: Christie visits a lot of rural schools for her job, and she's learned to keep her mouth shut about politics. It's the only workable option when you're a liberal state employee visiting mostly conservative rural areas, now that conservatives have adopted the victimology that used to be the hallmark of the extreme left wing. She's had to bite her tongue more than once at hearing a group of teachers complaining that they wouldn't be getting raises again this year, and so-and-so got let go, class size is going up, and it's all Governor Holden's fault. If it were me listening in, I wouldn't be able to bite my tongue, because my jaw would be on the floor.

Where does this stuff come from? The media around here aren't exactly The New York Times (tee hee), but they do get the basic facts right. Like Holden vetoing a budget because it has too many cuts to education, and it being sent back to the Republican legislature so they can refuse to fix it. It's happened a half-dozen times now. I have three thoughts on where these folks might be getting the idea to blame Democrats for their problems.

1. It's beamed down from the mothership every night, along with the idea that Saddam used WMDs when we invaded back in March.

2. Talk radio.

3. Their Democrats=Bad, Republicans=Good filter is so strong that their brains actually rearrange the words in the news stories to fit the filter.

In other news, there's a car in the parking lot at work with two bumper stickers. One has an American flag and the word "Indivisible." The other says "Recall Holden". The contradiction has, apparently, not yet sunk in.
Good Dan Savage today. Here's a taste:
Here's what I learned reading through the angry notes: when a woman gains a lot of weight and refuses to have sex, it is, at bottom, all her husband's fault; gay guys are NOT more fucked up than straight guys, and I'm a SELF-HATING HOMO for saying that and IT'S NOT TRUE and I really should DIE and someone needs to put a BULLET in my FUCKING ASSHOLE HEAD; it's never, ever okay to hit a woman, even if she bites your dick in half; and smoking pot--nonaddictive pot, a drug that no one in human history has ever overdosed on, a drug millions of people use occasionally without doing themselves or anyone else any harm--WILL KILL YOU!

I stand corrected.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

This is embarassing. Sure, I only missed two, but the two I missed had to do with mythology and classical literature. For a former classics minor, that's humiliating. And I was just looking at the story of Uranus the other day. Yeah, I know; I'm a geek.
On Sunday, Dick Gephardt said, "When I'm president, we'll do executive orders to overcome any wrong thing the Supreme Court does tomorrow or any other day." Jesus, has this guy even read the Constitution?

In other candidate news, Letterman has the Top Ten Signs You're In Love With Democratic Presidential Candidate Howard Dean. Well, they do say that any publicity is good publicity...

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

This is what happens when you spend your afternoon debating tax policy and writing rulesets and database design for a new web product:

Premise 1.1:
The government is necessary, and requires funding.

Premise 1.2:
The best means of funding the government is the one which is most efficient (i.e. does the least to slow the economy).

Premise 1.3:
Taxation is, at present, the most efficient means of funding the government, considering the level of funding required of a contemporary government. Other means, such as the rent of public lands and the sale of public goods, provide useful supplementary income, but don't come close to meeting our needs.

Therefore:
Taxation is necessary. (Major Premise One)


Premise 2.1:
Everyone needs money in order to survive. This is not strictly true, as you can get by on bugs, etc., but it's close enough to true that I think we can agree on it for the sake of argument.

Premise 2.2:
Taxation, because it takes money away from people is a harm, as it interferes with their ability to survive.

Premise 2.3:
When the fact of a harm is necessary, but you can choose the method by which that harm is distributed, it is best to minimize the amount of harm.

Therefore:
The best form of taxation is the one that best minimizes the amount of harm inflicted, which is defined as interference with the ability to survive. (Major Premise Two)


Premise 3.1:
Utility, as defined by economics, is the best determination of value, much better than the face value of the bills themselves. (In economics terms, this comes close to being a tautology.) See http://www.amosweb.com/cgi-bin/gls.pl?fcd=dsp&key=utility for a good definition of utility.

Premise 3.2:
The utility of a given dollar is a good gauge of how necessary to survival that particular dollar is to the individual who has it.

Premise 3.3:
The Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility states that as more of a good is consumed, the utility of each additional unit of the good decreases.

Premise 3.4:
The Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility does apply to money. (If it didn't then money would be the only except to this law, which would be odd to say the least. But some folks say otherwise, so I've gotta take this as a given.)

Therefore:
To take a given percentage of X's income does less to interfere with X's survivability than to take that same percentage from Y's income interfere's with Y's income by a ratio that is directly related to the ratio of their incomes. (Major Premise Three)


To sum up:

Major Premise One:
Taxation is necessary.

Major Premise Two:
The best form of taxation is the one that best minimizes the amount of harm inflicted, which is defined as interference with the ability to survive.

Major Premise Three:
To take a given percentage of X's income does less to interfere with X's survivability than to take that same percentage from Y's income interfere's with Y's income by a ratio that is directly related to the ratio of their incomes.

Conclusion:
A progressive tax system, which derives a greater percentage of its income from individuals with higher incomes, minimizes the harm inflicted on the populace by taxation, and is therefore the optimal taxation system.
Okay, it turns out the term of art I was looking for is Diminishing Marginal Utility. Unfortunately, there seems to be some disagreement on the question of whether DMU applies to monetary wealth. Now, DMU seems to be considered an almost universal law, and those who claim it never applies to monetary wealth are either Objectivists, and therefore insane (man, it's fun to poke the Randians), or folks who are rejecting the premise because they don't like the conclusion it would lead them to (such as that a flat tax is bad). Anybody out there got an concrete studies on why DMU does or does not apply to monetary wealth? Preferably ones that a layman can understand. Because I've found a few abstracts that might well be what I'm looking for, but they might as well be in Martian, and I'm not sure I'm willing to learn a new language just to win an argument.
I'm in an argument, and need your help. Well, except for Billie, who's the one I'm arguing with. We're arguing progressive vs. flat taxes, and I'm looking for research for and against the idea that $1 is worth more to a person with only $5 than $10 is worth to someone with $50. I've run across it in a number of avenues, and my own experience being broke and being flush back it up, but I'd like to see some concrete studies on the matter. Anybody got an recommendations? My studies of economics have been strictly informal, so there's a strong chance that there is a technical term for this principle that, if I knew it, would make things much, much easier. So that would be a help as well.
This was a movie weekend. Saturday night was The Italian Job. Christie and I have both been wanting to see it since it came out, but kept being busy on the weekends and tired during the week. (or, if not tired, at least not in the mood to go out and hit the movies)

I can keep this one short and simple: I love a good caper flick, and that's exactly what this is. Great ensemble, fast moving plot, good dialogue, and just enough surprises to keep things interesting. Two thumbs up, definitely.

Sunday afternoon, it was time to see The Hulk. There have been a lot of electrons spilled explaining, at length, what was wrong with this movie. Too dark. Too overwrought. Several reviews said Eric Bana was too subdued in his portrayal of a buttoned-down, inexpressive scientist. And, of course, they said the CGI was unbelievable.

Piffle, I say. First of all, this is a movie about a man who's gotten so good at repressing his emotions that the only way his id can come out is when he gets blasted with gamma radiation. Of course he's going to come across as subdued. The very first thing we see happen to him as an adult is his girlfriend and partner dumping him because he won't open up. His response? "I don't wanna talk about it." Personally, I think Eric Bana did a great job portraying Bruce Banner, a man with a cacophony of emotions boiling just underneath the surface of his skin, and I look forward to seeing him play Hector (aside: casting Brian Cox as Agamemnon is beyond inspired. I so want to see this movie).

I thought the CGI pushed the technology about as far as it can go. No, it wasn't perfect. But it looked a hell of a lot better than the "burly brawl" in the Matrix: Reloaded. The Hulk was a fully realized character in this movie, not just a prop to be used in the action scenes, and I think they pulled it off. In twenty years this'll probably look as fake as the rubber shark in Jaws, but we aren't there yet. That's no reason to put off making fantasy pictures until then.

I won't say it's a flawless film. There was a point I found myself wondering not just what the characters were thinking in allowing Bruce's father to go on, and on, and on. It's a long speech that drags down the rhythm of the film, which was by then fairly fast-paced, having built up that speed slowly. The speech ends, and we go right back into the action. I'm fine with breaking rhythm for good dramatic reasons, but this speech did nothing other than tell us what we already knew: Bruce's dad is nuts. I've sat across the Thanksgiving table from a few of these rants (not from any members of my family, of course), and I understand the urge to hulk out just to make it stop, but that doesn't make it any less annoying.

But like I said, the action picks up again right after, and the ending is very, very satisfying. Five minutes after I left the theater, I'd forgotten my lone gripe, but had clear memories of a half-dozen great things about the movie, and I was able to ride that good movie buzz all the way home. So, yeah, two thumbs up, but your mileage may vary if all you're looking for is "Hulk smash!"

Oh, and go rent Ride with the Devil, Ang Lee's take on the Civil War western.

Monday, June 23, 2003

I am so not here right now. I can already hear the surf in my head.

One week.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Sometimes just a piece of the story is better than the whole thing...

Her: "He's standing there in his boxer shorts, and he walks up to the table and sort of sets his nuts on the table. Then he picks up a big book, I think it was a dictionary, but by this time word had spread through the house that he was gonna do his trick, so this guy comes running in with a hammer..."

Friday, June 13, 2003

Layne's got an interesting post on the nature of self-loathing (or the dangers of introspection, or any of a dozen other themes, depending on how you read it). She's just back from a hiatus and doesn't have an anchor tags just yet, so you'll have to scroll down to Thursday, June 12 to read it. If I break down what she's saying to its basics, here it is: She's more honest in her blog than in her life, therefore the people who read her blog know her better than anyone in her life. She knows herself better than anyone else. She hates herself. Therefore, we must hate her too. Or, at least, we ought to, because she's such a disappointment.

I'm not sure where to start with this, so I'll start at the beginning. Now, honesty has never been my goal with this blog. I rarely out and out lie, but I do sometimes fiddle with the facts in order to get to the truth. So I would never say my blog readers know me better than my friends. But even those bloggers who claim absolute honesty are still, in the end, crafting a facade through their blog. They don't post pictures of themselves when they first wake up, or describe in detail the odor of their last bout of intestinal distress. No matter how close your blog comes to your life, the map is still not the territory, and there is so much that can never come across in a blog. How you laugh, for one thing. My friend Emily has a very pretty laugh. You could even call it decorous. But when she really gets going, she'll pop out a snort that sounds remarkably like a mule hiccupping, after which her eyes get wide, and her hand comes up, too late, to catch it. And then more laughter, which leads to more snorting... You get the picture. And it's utterly charming because it's completely beyond her control. Joy unleashed.

Theron likes to snake his foot out, not to trip you, exactly, just to remind you to pay attention to your balance. Christie talks to herself and sings Dadaistic, improvised songs. Off-key. Billie, after a year of dating Emily, has caught her snort. These are things that would never show up in a blog, but are so much a part of who they are that I can't imagine them without. And that's not counting the stories that go nowhere, the smells of cooking, both good and bad, or the look on their face when they've just been woken up by a wet, sloppy kiss from a black lab.

So, yeah, your friends may not know your deepest fears, hopes, and dreams, but they know things about you that your blog readers can't even guess. And your friends may know more than they let on. From time to time, I give in to the temptation to think myself mysterious, and I'm lucky enough to have friends all too willing to dispell that misconception.

Point two: We know ourselves better than other people know us. A couple of years ago, Theron and I were hanging out in his kitchen, and he pointed down to my feet. "Everytime I see somebody standing with one foot on top of the other, I think of it as 'The Mike Stance'."

I looked down, and sure enough, I had my right foot on top of the other as I leaned back against the counter. I'd never noticed myself doing it before then, but I suddenly understood why all my left shoes had a footprint on top of them. My ex-wife would ask me what was wrong, and I'd have to work to find the answer, only to find that, yes, I was in fact angry, or stressed out, or had a headache, or whatever. But I didn't know until she pointed it out to me. I was too stressed out to notice that I was stressed out, I guess.

There's this spot in my mustache (it was very, very young in the picture at left, and has filled out since. I hope.) where the hair is a bit lighter, and a bit thinner, and the hair always seems to part right above it, so it looks like I have a bald spot in the middle of one side of my mustache. Drives me fucking nuts. But most people don't even see it, because, unlike me, they don't see my face often enough to be drawn to the flaws like I am. And even if they do, their relationship to me is such that they see what's right about my face before they get to what's wrong with it. Similarly, if Christie gets a zit, which does occasionally happen, I look at her and see a beautiful woman with a little zit, not an enormous zit with a beautiful woman behind it.

Here's an extreme example. I had a friend in grad school named Jane. Because of a medical condition, one side of Jane's face looked swollen, but was actually covered with smooth scar tissue, while the other side was untouched. As it happened, it was the left (her left, my right) side. Now, the right side of the brain is the one that handles facial recognition, among other things. Because God has a sense of humor, the right side of the brain actually processes what shows up in the left side of our field of vision. That means that when we look at someone, our brain is mostly looking at just one side of their face.

So, when I looked at Jane, my brain was looking at the side with no scar tissue, which was, for the record, classically beautiful. In fact, the first time I met her, it only took about 15 minutes before I completely forgot there was anything out of the ordinary about her face. Kirksville's mostly a walking town, so we knew each other for a year or two before she ever rode in my car. She was in the back seat, so naturally when I went to talk to her, I looked in the rearview mirror. Suddenly, my brain was looking at the scarred side of her face rather than the untouched one, and I understood in a flash more about Jane's character than I ever had before. Thanks to the vagaries of genetics and neurology, the face Jane sees in the mirror every day is nothing at all like the one the rest of the world sees when they look at her.

The secret, if you haven't figured it out yet, is that life is like that for all of us.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

I'm not, strictly speaking, a believer in astrology, but I do believe that when wisdom shows up on your doorstep, it's likely to have been on the road for a while, and thus might not look it's best. In other words, be open. Which is why I subscribe to Rob Brezny's Free Will Astrology newsletter. Well, that and the fact that he manages to entertain and provoke me just about every week. This week, he quoted an Anne Herbert essay, "Tricky Prayers". Here's a taste of what she said that made me smile:
There's a story about training dolphins in Gregory Bateson's "Steps to An Ecology of the Mind." The dolphin trainers had a rhythm of teaching dolphins tricks, and dolphins picked up on them at a fairly predictable pace. It took a few days to a week for a dolphin to get a new trick down.

Then the dolphin trainers thought of trying to train a dolphin to do something the dolphin had never done before. Not a specific new trick, but anything the dolphin had not previously done. It took a while to communicate that idea, but once it got through, the dolphin whooshed out of the water and did 15 new tricks in a row. Like, "Oh, you finally asked me something interesting."

All of which brings up the question, "Is God as smart as a dolphin?"

I come up with tricks I want God to do. I ask for local tricks like, "My toe hurts. Fix it." Or "My heart hurts. Fix the situation I think is causing the pain, now." I ask for larger tricks: "Nuclear waste hurts. Fix it."

But I'm sure God is as smart as a dolphin. And the stuff I can think of asking God to do isn't close to being the coolest stuff God can do. So it might be more useful for me to get out of the way and make it easier for God to generate God-style tricks, instead of my keeping up this patter of tiny me-style suggestions.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

It's perfectly obvious to anyone who knows me that I'm irresistable to women. It's even obvious to me. By women, of course, I mean certain types of women. And by irresistable, I mean in a certain way. Married women, for example, love me, as do older women (it seems to kick in around 65). When I got divorced, I heard a million times that she was a fool.

Certain other types completely ignore me, but I count that as their loss, and assume that they will one day grow out of their affection for boring, poorly trained men.

I prefer to think about the ones that adore me. Geek girls, for example. The freshly divorced.

And then, of course, there's Christie, who adores me with a force I find both wondrous and terrifying.

We're going to Michigan together this year. Yes, that Michigan. My home away from home. My annual weeklong experiment in living with other people. My sanctuary from email, television, and just generally everything except for dear friends, a few chosen authors, the sand, the water, and the sky. And the cottage.

That cottage is where I place myself in my mind when the world is too much with me, and when it's really bad, Carrie is there, and my arms are going around her, everything buried in the scent of her hair.

But the figure in my head is unclear these days, and in a few weeks there will be another brunette standing in that sun-drowned room, and I will bury my face in her hair and feel, if not forgetting, at least the building of new memories on top of the old.

It's time.
When I went to the dentist the other day, I parked next to a minivan with the customized plate, "VOX DEI", which may well be the most disturbing license plate I have ever seen.
It's one thing when the New York Times gets caught making up stories. Nobody who remembers Whitewater is going to be surprised by that. But this is the last straw. I mean it. My faith in journalism has been destroyed.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

It's recipe time:

Strawberry Orgasms with Maple Whipped Cream
1 quart strawberries
1/4 cup brown sugar
20 ml (1 tsp. plus 1 tbsp.) Balsamic vinegar
1/2 pint of heavy whipping cream
Vanilla sugar
Maple Syrup (if you don't know the difference between real and fake, stop now, and seek professional help)

Let's start with the strawberries. Get good ones. This is a very forgiving recipe, and can make even the worst California Strawberry™ taste great, but the better a berry you start with, the better this recipe will turn out. Once you've picked them out and brought them home, fill a bowl (or your sink) with cold water and dump them in. Dunk 'em, roll em, run more water in, and just generally do what you can to clean the strawberries of sand, debris, and other unmentionables. Quick now, while you're thinking about it, stick a good-sized bowl (about 3 quarts) in the fridge for the whipped cream.

Pick out a nice bowl that will fit in your fridge. I like glass myself because the strawberries take on a rich, dark red as they sit, and beauty is not to be wasted. Put the brown sugar in the bowl, and pour the Balsamic over it. (a note on Balsamic vinegar: I personally can't taste the difference between a $25 dollar bottle and a $250 bottle, but even a $10 bottle will taste wonderful and be a nice indulgence.) whisk it until it's nicely mixed. Rinse off your whisk and set it aside to dry; you'll need it in a bit.

Slice the now-clean strawberries into the bowl with the Balsamic mixture. You can slice 'em big or small, artsy or rustic, or you can just cut off the caps (the part with the leaves) and remove as much of that tasteless white junk as you can. Vinegar is an acid, and it will break down the fruit somewhat, so if you slice them too small, you'll just end up with mush. Similarly, if you just cap them, they'll have to marinate for half a day to really absorb the flavor of the syrup. The last time I made these, I sliced them about half an inch thick (roughly three pieces for an average sized strawberry) and let them sit for about three hours before eating.

Gently mix, coating as many of the strawberries as possible. Cover and refrigerate.

The cream. By now, that empty bowl in the fridge should be nice and cold. If not, you can chill a stainless steel bowl very quickly with ice water. A chilled bowl isn't a necessity, but it helps, trust me. Now, get out your jar of vanilla sugar.

What? You don't have vanilla sugar? Okay, well, we can work around it. But keep your eye out for a nice glass jar that closes airtight. Clean it thoroughly, let it dry, and then fill it with sugar, half brown and half white. Chunk up a couple of vanilla beans and add them to the mix. Stick it up on your shelf and let it sit for a couple of months. When the sugar starts to run low, just add more; the beans will hold onto their flavor for years.

So, if you've got vanilla sugar, throw a tablespoon or so into the bowl. If not, use a mixture of white and brown sugar, and add a half teaspoon of good vanilla. What? No good vanilla? I really can't help you, then. It's not about price, either. I've got a huge bottle of Mexican vanilla that I paid $5 for at Hen House. So no whining!

Drizzle about a teaspoon of real maple syrup over the sugar and mix it up a bit with the whisk, taking time to break up any chunks that may have formed in the vanilla sugar in its time in the jar. (I realize my measurements are not particularly exact, but whipping cream is an art, not a science. But it is an art informed by science. Anyway.)

Start whipping. With the whisk. I recognize the temptation to use an electric mixer, but whisking is just as fast, and gives you better control. Worried about technique? Don't. Just imagine you're reeling in a fish. Now do that motion with a whisk in your hand. See how quickly you can whip that bulb around? If you keep your bowl tilted about about a 45 degree angle in the crook of your left arm, you'll have a nice steady base, good contact of liquid to whisk bulb, and you'll be better equipped to stop whipping while you're still dealing with whipped cream, not whipped butter.

When the cream has about doubled in volume, check the flavor. If you're like me, it won't be quite sweet enough, so drizzle another teaspoon of maple syrup over the top, then start whipping again until it forms a soft peak. This means just what it sounds like. Ridges that form in the cream tend to stay, but everything is still malleable, rounded, and, yes, soft. Conventional wisdom is that whipped cream needs to be used right after it's made, and that's generally true. However, it will stay palatable for quite some time if you stick it in a strainer, then put the strainer over a bowl. And you'll want to cover it so that it doesn't pick up nasty flavors from the other stuff in your fridge.

Serving suggestion: Fill a wine glass to the 2/3 point with strawberries, making sure that the liquid comes at least to the halfway point. Top with a generous dollop of cream.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Uplifting Story of the Day
First of all, let's just get it out of the way: I sometimes talk like a gourmet, but I eat like a twelve year old, especially when it comes to breakfast, which I usually get out of the vending machine. So, last night I had strawberries glazed with brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, topped with maple whipped cream and this morning, I had coffee and a Honeybun™ from the machine in the breakroom.

The machine in the breakroom is a vending machine mostly in theory. In practice it works much more like a slot machine. But the only other food machines in the building are two floors up and a quarter mile away, so if you work in the basement (it's a nice basement, but it's a basement), you pays your money and you takes your chances. I put in my money. I punch some buttons. The screw turns, my breakfast inches forward and then balances there, three feet above the swinging door, having formed a bond with the next Honeybun™ in line, the exact nature of which I prefer not to contemplate. It's hanging on the edge like Gene Wilder in the opening of Woman in Red.

My options:

1. Shake the machine. This is a risky proposition. The front legs of the machine have already broken through the tile floor, and are in the process of digging into the concrete. Because of this, the president of the company has actually been heard to say, "The next goddamn person to shake this machine is fired, on the spot!" I'm in an autonomous division, reporting to a CEO who reports to the owner, so my job wouldn't actually be in danger, but that doesn't mean I want to piss off the president. So that's a factor. In addition, the machine's been pushed all the way against the wall, which makes it impossible to pull my usual maneuver: lift the front of the machine and drop it. This almost always works, and only slightly increases the holes in the concrete, but doesn't work when there's no room behind the machine.

2. Get help. I know there's a woman in the next room who could open up the machine and give me my Honeybun™. All I have to do is walk about 30 feet and ask for help. You understand, of course, that this is only an option in the strictly formal sense. I would never actually do this.

3. Buy another Honeybun™ and hope they both come tumbling town together.

As much as I disdain plans that contain the word "hope", I go for number three. And I do, indeed, get my Honeybun™, but just the one. The second Honeybun™ is now dangling there, laughing at me. So I go walking back to my desk, toting my $1.20 Honeybun™, having taken the whole thing as evidence that the world is not my friend today (see below entry).

Half an hour later, Kevin comes by my desk to talk about a project. We chat for a bit, then off he goes. Three minutes later, he's walking by again, with a Honeybun™ in his hand. "Mike, do you like these?"

Having just eaten one, I can't really honestly say yes, but I do anyway.

"Here, take it. I got a two for one thing from the vending machine."

At least occasionally, there is justice in the world.
Recipe for a gloomy Tuesday:

1. The weather should be gray, and it should be on the verge of raining all day, but with no actual precipitation beyond a light mist.

2. Start the day with a dream about your ex-wife. It should be the mildly happy kind, one in which your divorce never happened, and you still believed in happily every after.

3. At work, get one or two things done right away, and then, for the rest of the morning, whenever you're on the verge of actually accomplishing something, someone should come by your cubicle or call, preferably with an "emergency" that isn't.

4. Leave work for your first dental appointment in two years. Spend an hour listening to soft rock and looking for patterns in the dots on the ceiling tiles while a young woman pokes at your gums and scrapes sharp pieces of metal across your teeth. Make an appointment to do it all over again on Thursday, giving you something to look forward to for the next couple of days.

5. Stop by the house on the way back to work to clean up a couple of things. Pick up an old stack of crap, find a three-year-old postcard from your then wife talking about how much she misses you.