Code, nerd culture and humor from Greg Knauss.

"Thomas?"

"Daddy?"

"Let's try it. Say 'Q'apla!'"

"Ka-pa!"

"Q'apla!"

"Ka-pa!"

"Good boy! And, remember, don't tell mommy that I'm teaching you Klingon."

I'm visiting my father-in-law in the hospital and Steve, one of his respiratory therapists, comes in. He removes the pass-through valve from the tracheotomy and inserts a red rubber tube into the hole -- maybe a foot and a half down -- suctioning whatever goo has collected in the lungs. The machine makes nasty slurping noises. It took me a long time to get used to it.

"I used to be the RT shift supervisor at another hospital," Steve says. "And it was my responsibility to show the new residents around.

"Every once in a while, I'd head to the ICU in front of the tour and find a patient that wasn't on the ventilator, and I'd mix up some apricot and pear juice and put it in the suction reservoir. When the tour came through, I'd be going through my spiel and say, 'Oh, looks like this needs to be emptied.'

"And I'd unscrew the reservoir and drink the juice.

"I got a couple of them to throw up."

We finally finished clearing out my father-in-law's storage unit today, reducing twelve years of accumulated crap to an empty twenty-by-ten space. And there, once the boxes were cleared away and the shelves broken down, once the trash was dumped and the dust swept out, were the naughty words.

They must have been there for years, a decade and a half at least. Carved into the floor when the concrete was wet and covered over since Reagan was in the White House, some vandal had tried his hand at immortality. Except the limit of his vocabulary appears to have been four letters, because after a few choice profanities -- the classics -- etched into the floor was the word:

BICTH

I used to think the only thing I needed to solve all my computer problems was a high-powered rifle and a bus ticket to Redmond.

Now, it turns out, I'll need to stop by Provo on the way back.

We arrive home and start unloading stuff from the van. I pile as much as I can onto my arms and Jo grabs a few bags and hefts Mike out of his seat. She hands a paper shopping bag with a few things in it -- sippy cups, baby wipes -- to Tom and says, "Thomas, would you take this inside, please?"

And Tom grabs ahold of the handles and starts dragging the bag up our front walk, like it's boulder trailing after a chain tied around his neck.

"You don't think he's being sarcastic, do you? Dragging it like that?" I ask.

"Oh, gosh," Jo says. "Where in the world would he get sarcasm from?"

"Well, the X chromosome for a start..."

Our supermarket has little signs hanging over each aisle, announce what's available at various spots along their length: "Crackers," or "Juice," or "Canned Meat."

And just past the "Cereal" sign is one that says "Adult Cereal."

But it turns out to be just high-fiber.

My Dinner with Thomas, a Voluble Two-Year-Old: A Play in One Act

Tom

Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Dad-dee!

Father

Yes, Tom?

Tom

(Points to fork)

Mine!

Father

Yes, Tom.

There is a BRIEF PAUSE.

Tom

Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!

April 23, 2001
Apr 23 2001

I saw my father-in-law tonight, and ended up staying longer than I usually do, until a little after nine. So when I stop off at the gas station to pick up a Coke for the drive home, the doors stubbornly refuse to let me in.

I press my nose up against the glass and can see inside: Chips! Candy! Blessed, life-giving caffeine! And all of it frustratingly out of reach. The lights are low, but if I squint, I can make out a few things in the murk: The sloshing of the Orange Bang machine; "fresh" donuts, stocked and ready for the rush; and two Sisyphean hotdogs, left for dead, eternally condemned to turn on the weenie warmer of the damned.

And I think about the guy, eleven hours from now, who will walk in and think that, hey, a dog and soda does sound like a good breakfast. And he'll pick one up and put relish on it -- that relish right there, with the cover off -- and some mustard and he'll get out to his car and take a big bite and... shudder... slightly. He'll make a sort of popping, crunching noise as he chews, strange white bits inside the hotdog's dried, leathery skin grinding against his teeth. He'll swallow, hard, and stick his tongue out and say, "Gah."

And then he'll take another bite.

Not that I'd know or anything.

April 22, 2001
Apr 22 2001

There are few things more viscerally theraputic than spending a Saturday afternoon heaving crap -- broken hammers, old car parts, splitered wood -- out of the back of a van and into a pile of garbage at the dump.

But one of the things that is, is hauling the old shower doors out first, so you can aim for them.

April 21, 2001
Apr 21 2001

Never Let the Facts Get In the Way of Making a Sale: First in a Series

I phoned up our cable company today, to schedule a repair guy to come out and replace the static we're currently getting with the sweet, soothing narcotic of TV. The operator gladly took my information, told me that their van would be out Monday morning between eight and ten, and then tried to sell me HBO, "so you can watch the fight tonight."

April 20, 2001
Apr 20 2001

Also, repeated use of "Heh" and "Y'know" don't constitute a style.

April 19, 2001
Apr 19 2001

So far, so fast:

Five years ago, I was writing Hit & Runs for Suck about monkeys. (First item.)

But today, today, I'm writing Hit & Runs for Suck about monkeys. (Fourth item.)

April 18, 2001
Apr 18 2001

Last night, the Judging Amy was recording on the TiVo and The Simpsons was paused on the TiVo and "Wonder Boys" was playing on the VCR and "405" was downloading on the computer and "The New Detective" was copying on the tape player and the phone rang and no wonder our attention spans have been shot to...

Um. Where was I?

April 17, 2001
Apr 17 2001

I used to have a rule. It was a good rule, a sound rule, and it served me well right up to the moment I got engaged, where it pretty much went straight to hell.

It went like this:

"Never spend more than $2,000 on something unless you can live in it or drive it."

It turns out that $2,000 is an enormous amount of money to a geek who wears his clothes until they dissolve and eats whatever is near the reigisters at Trader Joe's. The only reason the number was $2,000 was because that's how much the computer I wanted cost. I got my car for $760.

But for a couple, pfft, two grand is nothing, especially when the woman has taste. Our first purchase as pending newlyweds, the Sofa We Are Going to Have for the Rest of Our Lives, nearly caused me to swallow my tongue when the brittle woman at the furniture store did the math, adding in the fancy cusions and the fabric we wanted and the Scotchguarding and all. I had to be physically restrained when she tacked on fifty bucks for delivery.

But now, nearly six years later, I'm so deadend to enormous

bills that I can look at what we spend on, oh, baby wipes and only spasm slightly. Heck, given how baby-wipe-oriented our lives are, I'm surpised it's not more.

Which, I'm guessing, is the only reason that I could have just spent $20,000 on new computers for work and done it all via the Web, without kicking any tires or talking to any humans. I supposed I've spent twenty grand at one time before -- the downpayment on the house -- but that took months and a lot of looking and poking and signing and dealing with annoying people. I ordered the machines the exact same way I order a book from Amazon, only without as much irritation at the shipping charges.

I'm sort of afraid where this trend is taking me.

April 16, 2001
Apr 16 2001

Proof that One-to-One E-Mail Marketing is a Complete and Utter Failure: First in a Series

  • I keep getting Viagra spam.

I mean, come on.

April 15, 2001
Apr 15 2001

I'm on the phone, with my aunt, with the news.

"That's wonderful, sweetheart!" she says.

"Thanks! It's, um, a little earlier than we had planned. For the first time in our lives we're ahead of schedule. By, y'know, three or four years."

"How's Joanne feeling?"

"A little sick. She's doing pretty good."

"Well, congratulations!"

"Thanks!"

And there's a pause.

"So have you guys figured out what keeps causing this?" she asks.

April 14, 2001
Apr 14 2001

Between the deeply religious experience provided by Fatburger and the quirky, know-the-password vibe at In 'n Out, Los Angeles is far and away the best hamburger town in the country.

Which, given the rate at which I'm expanding, is another good reason to flee into the hills.

April 13, 2001
Apr 13 2001

If there's a single test to accurately determine the passage of a boy into manhood, it's Star Wars.

I first saw the movie -- over and over again -- when it came out and I was nine years old. I was instantly swept away by the epic tale of swashbuckling adventure.

When I saw it again, at 14, I noticed that Princess Leia doesn't wear a bra.

April 12, 2001
Apr 12 2001

I'm at the hospital, going to visit in my father-in-law and I'm walking down the hallway when I pass a woman emptying the trash cans. I nod and smile and she winks at me.

Later, I head outside to get some air and pass the woman again. I nod, and she winks.

And even later, as I go to leave, I again approach her, from a ways down the hall. Before I can get close enough for nodding range, though, I notice that she's winking at me.

Um.

Is she flirting? She's got maybe a decade on me and I'm got this wedding ring and, I dunno, a hospital doesn't seem the right place to go to pick up men and-- There! She did it again!

And again!

And now I nod and she smiles and we pass and I look over my shoulder and she's winking at the fire extinguisher on the wall. And then at the open door she passes next, and then at a guard walking behind me.

So either she's got a bad eye twitch, or she's really flirtatious.

April 11, 2001
Apr 11 2001

You can tell the new playgrounds. They're slick and well designed and really, God, so much better than the old ones. At some point in the last twenty years, there has been a revolution in the art and science of playground creation and the results are almost uniformly good.

The sandboxes are all curvy instead of squared off and the jungle gyms use wood and plexiglass and have multiple levels and cool climbing stuff and the slides are all slick, twisting plastic instead of the long, straight metal that burns you when you sit down on it on a hot day.

And they even throw in the clever sop to eduction every once in a while. While Tom ran around looking for things to pretend to drive and Mike lolled near sleep in my arms yesterday, I went over and played with the letter wheels.

There are three tumblers mounted between wooden posts, with four letters on each: P, R, B and M on the first; E, I, O and A on the second; and G, N, T and D on the third. You can spin them -- all three at once or just one at a time -- and out will pop a word. Like say:

PRBMEIOAGNTD

You'll note that the letters have been carefully picked and positioned to prevent anything naughty from being spelled, with only the occasional nonsense word showing up. Out of the 64 different possibilities, only nine don't have dictionary entries of one form or another. Not that I'm an obsessive or anything.

("Ped," for instance, is a natural soil aggregate; "rit" is an abbreviation of "ritardando," meaning "with a gradual slackening of temp." But you knew that.)

And you can cut that nine down to eight if you think that "pid" belongs in the dictionary. I mean, doesn't everybody on the playground know it stands for "process ID"?

April 10, 2001
Apr 10 2001

Los Angeles City Election Statistics:

  • Number of flyers, fold-outs and advertisments I received in the mail regarding the election during the final week of the campaign: 46

  • Number received on the last day: 10

  • Number of automated phone calls left on my answering machine during the last day: 5

  • Number of amusing Republican Party flyers touting the fact that "Every Vote Counts!": 1

  • Number of amusing Democratic Party flyers touting the fact that "Every Vote Counts! Good God, Remember Florida? Get Off Your Asses, for Christ's Sake!": 1

  • Amount I care about any of the candidates or offices, measured on any scale you want to use: 0

April 09, 2001
Apr 09 2001

The CPU fan on my computer started to go yesterday, sputtering and grinding and moaning at annoyingly random intervals, helping enormously in my quest to develop an uncontrollable facial tic.

So I took out a pair of pliers and tortured it to death. If only my other co-workers were so easy to deal with.

And now, after installing a replacement, my office is blessedly, wonderfully, completely quiet. If you don't count the air conditioner or the whine of the monitors or the jabbering in the hall or the noise from the street or the little snik my eyelid makes when it starts spasming.

April 08, 2001
Apr 08 2001

The Baby Bjorn is a wonderful invention, and near the only way I can wrangle Mike while keeping up with Tom when we're out in public and I'm not allowed to use duct tape. Basically a marsupial pouch for humans, it mounts like a backpack in reverse and lets you hang a baby in it, his face forward, his hands out and his legs free to do whatever they want.

And when you're at the park and the kid gets excited by all the sights and noises and smells and starts flailing around, they want to kick you in the crotch.

April 07, 2001
Apr 07 2001

You've gotta love Quebec. By which I mean, you have to laugh at them until your ears bleed.

Years ago, Joanne and I took a vacation to Canada -- we flew to Seattle and drove around the whole western side of the Other Half of North America -- and couldn't help but boggle at how far the English-speaking majority has bent over backwards for a bunch of snotty wannabe Frenchmen.

I mean, come on. Spouting Gallic pride five thousand miles from Paris just makes you annoying. Or, rather, more annoying. The silly, nationalist, flag-waving Quebec keeps trying to cede from the rest of Canada over their huffy insistence on all things former-colonizer, but you can't help but think that if they ever manage it, the only difference it will make is to put another name under the "Third World Nation" column down at the UN. Their first official act as a new country would be to request foreign aid from Canada.

Especially amusing is their utter inability to handle the fact that English is the new lingua franca.

Quebec has raised enough of a stink over their forgotten little language that every product in the country is double-labeled, once in English and once in French. Jo and I were in a Vancouver supermarket -- across the continent, in a place where American English is spoken better than in LA -- and everything on the shelves had an English side and a French side: crackers, chips, cookies.

You can tell what I shop for, can't you?

We're walking around, looking for road munchies, marveling at the sheer bureaucratic goofiness of it all when a thought occurs to me.

"Oh, hey," I say.

"What?" Joanne asks.

"I've gotta check something out. C'mon!"

I trot over to the condiment aisle, trailing Joanne behind, and walk it quickly, looking for a particular bottle of thick salmon-colored goo: Salsa, mayonnaise, mustard, salad dressings... There!

"Hee," I say.

"What?" Joanne asks again.

"French dressing," I say, holding the bottle out to her. She takes it, turns it over, and reads:

"Français."

I wish I'd thought to check the English muffins.

April 06, 2001
Apr 06 2001

It's worth it, sometimes, going downtown; late at night, with the empty freeways and the empty buldings.

You swing right, north, off the 10 and then back left, around the Staples Center, on these great curving interchanges. You can hit eighty if nobody's around and it feels you're flying, your center of gravity lashing back and forth, the lights roaring by. You haven't got a choice now -- you're committed -- and you head north again, on the 110, into the heart of the LA skyline.

It's beautiful at night, these silent buildings sliding by like great ships floating free in space. Driving the surface streets doesn't work -- you need to be on the freeway, going fast. You sail past at seventy, eighty miles an hour, and these enormous buildings -- these monsters, these cathedrals -- are coming, are upon you, are around you, are gone.

It's breath-taking, heart-stopping -- moving fast and free, through the darkness and the twinkling lights -- and for one fleeting moment, you can leave the surface of the world.

It's worth it sometimes.

April 05, 2001
Apr 05 2001

Some days, the only thing that gets me by is the degauss button on my monitor.

Ooo. Pretty colors.

April 04, 2001
Apr 04 2001

Like most people -- and by "most people," I mean Joanne and I -- Joanne and I can't help but give our kids embarrassing Mafia nick-names.

For a while, maybe five or six months after he was born, Tom got tagged as "Thomas Two-Diaper," because he'd invariably re-wet himself, right after being changed.

As he got stronger, he took to squirming around as much as humanly possible, usually when we were in the best position to drop him. So: "Tommy the Fish."

And since Mike has recently started to waggle his head back and forth when he gets tired, we call him "Mikey No-No."

I'm sort of hoping the novelty of this rubs off before they get to high school. But I doubt it will.

April 03, 2001
Apr 03 2001

Tom and I are cruising along, minding our own business, when this woman -- busy chatting on her cell phone, playing exactly no attention to where she's going -- appears out of nowhere and broadsides us.

Good thing we were in the supermarket, pushing carts.

April 02, 2001
Apr 02 2001

Joanne and I got an invitation to a local church over the weekend -- in the form of a post card, delivered via third class and addressed to:

GREG AND JOANN KAUSS

OR CURRENT RESIDENT

God is a mass-marketer.

April 01, 2001
Apr 01 2001

What I figure is this:

There's a Home Repair Zen, a karmic balance between what works in a house and what doesn't, and by actually fixing the kitchen light I've upset that delicately teetering yin-yang. I've messed with cosmic forces beyond my reckoning. I've tread on ground that man was not meant to walk.

That's the only reason I can find for the counter being broken.

In our kitchen is one of those two-and-a-half gallon jugs of water, y'know, that come complete with a carrying handle and a little push spigot. Normally, it's planted pretty far back on the counter, next to the fridge, because Tom is endlessly fascinated by spigots and will happily pull any that he comes across, marveling at whatever comes pouring out for a few seconds before setting off in search for another.

In my hurry to leave today, I filled Mike's bottles with water and left the jug too close to the edge. So when Tom came by on his regular spigot-discovery rounds, he emptied nearly two gallons of water on the counter, the floor, into the drawers, under the refrigerator.

"Eee!" he said, excitedly. Spigot!

This has happened before, of course, and a couple times in the past I've had to drag out all the rags we keep on the back porch and mop everything up. It's the only time the fridge gets moved to clean behind it, now that I think about it -- it wasn't until we had Tom that I even realized that refrigerators have behinds.

So I grunt and push and pull and yank and strain and the fridge slowly inches out of its spot between the wall and the counter. I need to turn it onto the back porch because there's not enough room between it and the stove to get my ass back there, so I start angling it around, too fast, too hard, and it hits the corner of the counter and instantly cracks off a hunk of the tile.

"Eee!" Tom points out, back from searching the rest of the house for more spigots.

The piece is sharp, a couple of inches on a side, from the corner. The counter top is a sort of light gray, but underneath it's stark white, and the damage stands out like a broken bone protruding from a leg.

But I'll be damned if I'm going to fix it. I've got no idea how to fix tile. I know it involves "grout," somehow, and maybe "effort," and I don't want to be associated with either.

No, oh no. I've learned my lesson. I upset the balance of my house by fixing the light and I'm not going to make that mistake again.

I'm afraid of what would break next.

Hi there! My name's GREG KNAUSS and I like to make things.

Some of those things are software (like Romantimatic and Buzz Clock), Web sites (like the Webby-nominated Metababy and The American People) and stories (for Web sites like Suck and Fray, print magazines like Worth and Macworld, and books like "Things I Learned About My Dad" and "Rainy Day Fun and Games for Toddler and Total Bastard").

My e-mail address is greg@eod.com. I'd love to hear from you!

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