New this fall!

Every fall season, something changes. Not just the leaves or what we wear for clothing or what we eat and drink, I mean TV and movies. That show you watched on Tuesday nights has suddenly switched to Thursday nights to make room for a new show. That movie that was supposed to premiere in October has been moved to January. It doesn’t mean that these moves are good or bad, they just happen.

This is my way of telling you that the first Letter will now be mailed out on October 1.

Why October 1? It will actually be ready before that, but I’ve picked October 1 because that also happens to be the anniversary of Professor Barnhardt’s Journal, which launched in 2002. So there will be a certain continuity there that pleases me, not to mention the fact that when you get older you forget when you started things.

Ideally I would wait until the first week of October to start everything: new sites, new publications, paying bills, taking showers. It would make everything a lot easier to remember.

A contest

The first issue of The Letter will be mailed the end of this week (here are the details on what it is). How would you like a year’s subscription for free?

Somewhere on this site I’ve hidden a phrase about The Letter. Take a look around the site to see if you can find it. Once you find it, send me an e-mail and tell me what the phrase is and where you found it. The first correct answer gets a free subscription for one year.

And don’t worry, I didn’t make the phrase impossible to find, like on an archived page from 2002. It’s fairly easy to find if you click around a bit.

Good luck!

UPDATE: Contest is over.

Random thoughts on a (too) warm September evening


1. No interest in the new iPhones. I’d like to see Apple come out with a manual typewriter. Think about what would happen if they did. The typewriter would quickly go from a retro/nostalgic/niche item to the must-have tech item of the holiday season. They can even do them in different colors with the Apple logo on them. I’d buy three or four.

2. Saw the revamped monster cereals at the store today. Only a box each of Boo Berry, Frute Brute, Yummy Mummy, and Frankenberry (in fact they were completely out of a couple of those) but tons of Count Chocula. No one likes the Count? Maybe it’s because you can get that any time of year. He should watch out though. Remember what happened to Quake?

3. Funny quote from John Hodgman: “Newspapers thought people would want to pay money for information. But we now know from the Internet is what they really want is their own opinions fed back to them for free.”

4. I’m looking for work. Check out the About and Writing pages above for more info. And thanks!

17 Years!

This month marks 17 years I’ve had this site. Holy HTML, Batman!

I always use this time of year to post a brief summary for newcomers (here’s what I wrote last year). If you’re new to the site, hello and welcome! There are tons of archives for you to browse. If you’ve been reading the site for years, a hearty thank you.

I’m thinking about redesigning the site. I’m always thinking about redesigning the site. A web site design is never really done. It’s all temporary, depending on the mood or the season or how bored you are. The plan is to at some point go back to being a full web site, with a separate welcome page that will link to this blog and other sections. I’m even going to add a regular podcast.

But that’s the future, when we’ll all have jetpacks and eat colored pills for dinner and our brains are hooked up to the web wirelessly 24/7 and we’ll no longer have to type our tweets just think them. Let’s talk about the present, where it’s suddenly cold. And hot! This is the weird time of year, when you sit in front of a fan during the day but at night you wake up shivering and you have to grab a blanket. It’s supposed to be 90 on Wednesday and then 67 on Saturday. I can’t wait for the day when fall really locks in and the highs for every day is 67. And then 60. And then 55. And then 39. Those days can’t come soon enough. (Pants > shorts, hot tea > iced tea, early sunsets > late sunsets, fall TV > summer TV).

An update on The Letter: it will be in your mailboxes soon. New stuff up at PBJ too (that’s the pop culture blog/mag I update a couple of times a week), and you can read my 2003 essay collection Book, with Words and Pages for free.

A check for bananas

When I was a kid and ran around my neighborhood with the innocence and freedom that youth allows, I would often be stopped by the old woman who lived two houses down, in the curious old house with the incredible vegetation in the front and back yards. Bushes that hid your view of the front door, trees in the dark backyard that seemed to guard the house, vines growing up the front and side, wrapped around the windows. It was the closest thing to a haunted house that we had in the neighborhood.

Her name was Mrs. Decker, and she loved bananas.

She called me Babe Ruth, because I used to play wiffle ball in my yard every chance I could. I would be walking or running down the street towards home, and I would suddenly hear someone calling “Babe Ruth! Oh, Babe Ruth!” (I can’t remember if she ever even knew my real first name. To her I was always The Sultan of Swat.) She told me to come up the steps to her front door, where she proceeded to give me some money to go across the street to the supermarket to buy her bananas. Nothing else, just bananas. This happened twice a week.

When I returned with her bunch of bananas she gave me 25 cents for my efforts. Please note that even in 1973 this was a small amount of money. I’m sure I put it away until Friday night, when I would go down to the Reliable Market and buy a bag of junk food and watch The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222 and The Odd Couple.

I thought of this while at the supermarket today. The woman in front of me bought nothing but a bunch of bananas and…proceeded to pay for them with a check. Now, I’m not one to stop someone from using paper over electronic when the situation arises, but this was a little ridiculous. The least she could have done to make it look like she was buying more, even if it was just for show, was to buy something else at the checkout. A packet of gum, a gossip magazine (Wills and Kate just had a baby!), or something. But no, she just had her sad bunch of bananas and everyone in line had to wait while she asked the cashier what the date was, filled out the check, and waited for the cashier to put it through the register.

Can I also mention that she didn’t put one of those plastic dividers behind her bananas when I pulled up behind her with my cart full of groceries? This is just one of the examples where I think shoppers at supermarkets should be put in prison. The other four?

1. Leaving your cart in the middle of the aisle or the end of the aisle while you walk down that aisle – or even two aisles away, which I’ve seen many, many times and find baffling – looking for something. There have been dozens of times I’ve actually had to move the cart to the side myself because the person was too far away for me to say “Excuse me, is this your cart?”

2. Stopping in the middle of an aisle to have a conversation with someone you haven’t seen in days, and then you sigh heavily when I come by with my cart and want to get by (or you simply don’t move at all). I’m sorry for interrupting your convo. Maybe you could text each other?

3. Putting something in your cart, and then four aisles away you decide you don’t want that thing after all, so you just put it on the next shelf you see. This is why I often find frozen dinners next to the potato chips.

4. Not putting your cart away in the corral after you’re done loading your groceries into your car. Today I saw three carts right next to the corral, because the people couldn’t be bothered to walk 7 more steps to actually put it in the corral. I wish Alcatraz was still in operation for these people, so they could be shipped there to live their lives, where they’ll never again have to deal with shopping carts or supermarkets or private toilets.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you’re just buying bananas, pay in cash.

(Here’s that house today. Not so scary anymore, though picture it with trees on the other side of those cement stairs, vines crawling up the side, and no lights at night and you’re 8 years old.)