An Open Letter to Mr. Willy Wonka

March 26, 2006

Mr. Wonka:

I recently purchased your Laffy Taffy® product and thought you should know that the product packaging did not live up to its usual high standards.

Namely, I found that the jokes made no sense at all. Joke #91, from Nicole P of Kingman, AZ asks:

"What happened to the wind?"

The answer (under flap) given is:

"It blew away."

Now, I'm sorry.

But I think I'm a half-way intelligent person. For example, I have a blog. I spent some time with this punchline, trying to make it work. Maybe, I thought, "away" is wordplay, and it's meant to be heard as two words: "It blew a way." A way where? Home? To the store? I don't know, I need more information. And either way, it's not funny.

My riddle for you is this:

What happened to the wind joke?
It blew.

See what I did there? I took the double-meaning of "blow" and worked it so I made fun of your wrapper.

But, wait.

Is it possible, Mr. Wonka, that the wind joke is actually a very concise Shaggy Dog Story? A joke with no punchline at all, in effect, making it quite funny, in an absurdist vein?

Now that I think on it, Joke #91's a cracker, to be sure. I hadn't expected such a high level of humor from your company, therefore wasn't looking hard enough. I say, well done. Well done, indeed.

Having thought this through, I will withhold comment on Christy M.'s Joke #92 about the cow jumping over the moon, which I found dreadful, but I see now it may just need a good rethinking.


Eric "Babe" Morse
President, SPASTIC


Donna? Read!
Lou? Read!
Everybody Read!

A couple years ago, my family moved to The Country. Our first visit to our son's elementary school let us know we weren't in the City no more. At the front entrance, a large cutout of Jeff Gordon waved to us. A word balloon instructed us to "Race Into Reading!" The rest of the school was NASCAR'd as well, with models and stickers and flags and books on racing. The first book order, he came home with a Dale Jr. punch-out book.

As I mentioned recently, March is Reading Month. The structure (can it reach snowclone status?) X Into Reading is ubiquitous, as schools struggle to find new and interesting school-wide themes. Just a quick Googling uncovers schools who:

Dive into Reading
March into Reading
Step into Reading
Dip into Reading (ice cream theme)
Rocket into Reading
Tune into Reading
Race into Reading
Escape into Reading
Get Clued In To Reading (with Inspector Digit!)

It's got to be tough for those Media Specialists who each year have to come up with the cool, motivational theme. Well, folks, never fear. Reading Month 2007 is taken care of. Bookmark this page and check back next year. Feel free to steal any of these ideas. Any attribution to SPASTIC, LLC would be appreciated.

It's Kirk. He's reading Suess' Oh, The Places You'll Go!. The whole month, the hallway is plastered with planets as kids read more and more books. For every 100 books read, the principal gets on the PA and does his Bones impression: "Dammit, Jim! I'm a doctor, not a librarian!" Every kid that reads a certain number of books gets plastic Spock ears as a prize. Could be fun...
Here's a quick mockup of a hallway poster:

Kirk_and_Checkov_read copy

Baseball theme? Playground? Nope. How about a tribute to White Castle Sliders? Little square pieces of paper covering the halls with book titles kids have read written on them. The classroom with the most books read gets a field trip to the nearest Castle, as well as a visit from the Indian in Harold and Kumar (I don't remember if he played Harold or Kumar). If school meets goal, the principal gets "steamed" in all-school assembly. Bonus if you can work in very small amounts of diced onion.

This, of course, would be a month-long Tribute to the '80s heavy metal supergroup Spïnal Tap. Many books on Druids would be made available, as well as Ten Little Indians: Special Edition (the one that goes to eleven) and the Illustrated Book of Saints, which includes the oft-neglected Saint Hubbins. The month could culminate in a staged retelling of the Billy Goats Gruff, with a giant inflatable goat's head that, unfortunately, stands a good chance of deflating and suffocating a few children.

Matisyahu beat boxes softly over the PA every morning as students enjoy 20 minutes of Sustained Meditative Reading. Motivational Reading Month posters could include such icons of the Jewish faith as Madonna and Ashton Kutcher. For the goyim in the house, Fiddler on the Roof and Laverne and Shirley would be playing on a loop in the cafetorium. As students complete books, Estelle Costanza and Helen Seinfeld tell the kids they could just plotz, they're so proud, but isn't Arthur a little easy for you? Why not more of a challenge? What's wrong with a Nancy Drew once in awhile?

torahtorah_read copy


Don't Speak. Me Know What You're Thinking.

Just tea for two
And two for tea
Just me for you
And you for I...

So, I hate to disclose the fact that I'm exercising.
But I am.
Well, I am trying.

I'm Gazelle-ing. The GazelleTM is sort of like a flying NordicTrackTM. You sort of feel like Fred and Barney as they take off in their car, feet spinning wildly until finally they gain traction and speed off. Except with the GazelleTM, you're just always flailing about in space.

Anyhow, the guy that makes the GazelleTM is Tony Little, and he yells at me on his "butt-kickin' workout" that I Can Do It and that if I Believe, I Will Acheive. He's kind of crazy, but he's actually quite likeable. I'm kind of getting into the GazelleTM scene, though I really don't feel like I'm working as hard as when I do things where I'm touching the ground. But I think that may be the Point.

So, I'm in the groove, Zero G Flailing. And every seven minutes or so, Tony says:

"In the privacy of your own home, just you and I"

I do a little convulsive twitch that throws my rhythm all off. One leg hitches up, the machine tilts crazily, and I am nearly tangled in the Aircraft Grade Cabling.

Tomorrow, I'm going to watch Tony with the volume off. I'll play my own soundtrack: a thumping groove with some William Safire samples thrown in. It's my New York Techno.


My Green For The Day
(it's not what you'd think)

But green's the color of Spring.
And green can be cool and friendly-like.
And green can be big like an ocean, or important like a mountain, or tall like a tree.

Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

-Kermit The Frog


Dr. Suess had a birthday. Not coincidentally, it is Reading Month... four short weeks for lesser-known children's book writers to cash in on the lucrative Elementary School Meet & Greet market.

What do you mean, we can't get Rowling? How about the 3rd Rock From the Sun guy? Crap. Jenny, didn't your brother write a kids' book? It was a cereal jingle? Close enough! Get him on the phone! We need Authors! Now! No, April's too late! MARCH is Reading Month! In MARCH, we read!

So it is that I've been reflecting on Suess. I always think of him as this funny, smart guy who knew how to get down on the floor and look a kid in the eye and just play with him. But he also knew how to make a kid think... with a little help from a parent, he opened the door to discussions about anti-semitism, racism, and the environment.

In thinking of Ted, I also think of another childhood hero, Jim Henson. Here's another guy who knew how to talk to kids, and slip in something More without preaching. Following is a poor excuse for Poetry, but it's my small attempt to process what I've been feeling since I saw a Super Bowl commercial with Kermit.

In a time not long ago
Things were different from today
We needed stories of Sneetches and Whos
To help show people the way.

These simple stories showed those who would hear
How silly it was to be uncertain and fear
The things that make Peter different from Paul
And that a person's a person no matter how small.

Alongside these stories that taught
What kindness can mean
Came a similar character
Though smaller, and green.

Kermit the Frog was his name
And like Horton and others
He simply taught of injustice,
And respect for your Sisters and Brothers.

Kermit turned 50 last year,
For that long Mr. the Frog's been adored.
To celebrate this milestone
He made a commercial for Ford

It must have somehow seemed right to
Use It's Not Easy Being Green,
A song about intolerance,
To pitch an SUV.

Sure, the car that he's endorsing
Is all tree-huggy-hippie, but there's doubt:
Would Kermit's dad (Jim)
Have allowed him to sell out?

This rhyme, it goes on
(I'm long past laconic)
My point, I guess, it this:
Isn't it ironic?

I'm just sad, I suppose
To see HensonTM get caught
Sucking up to Big Bucks
For, I fear, they've truly lost the plot.


Maligner Notes

I learned a new word today. Well, new usage for a word. And it's not a hard one. And I hope you don't think me naive for not having known this. But I feel better now that this gap in my vocabulary has been spackled.

Regarding the (newly-dead) Slobodan Milosevic, Condi Rice said this weekend that he was

"one of the most malign forces in Europe in quite a long time."

I've never thought of malign as an adjective. "Malignant", yes. But there it is in the dictionary. Harmful, evil, mean. Yup.



Flat-out Wrong?

Recently, my local paper ran this headline:

Online course to help kids think global

My first thought is, surely they mean globally. Adverbs, hello?

But then the doubts come.

Am I being a Neanderthal Prescriptivist Looney, taking issue with this?
Perhaps there's no problem, the doubting voice calls. Isn't this the same as "Think Different", where we were told that there was a thing that existed called the "Flat Adverb", and maybe people have started clipping the -ly from "globally", and that's perfectly OK?

Google finds lots of “Think Global”s, but I want to believe that many of these fall into structures like “…those that think global warming is a bunch of hype…”

But there’s a good amount of adverb-flatteners out there. Thinkglobal2005.org sought to "explore the impact of globalization on your way of life..." ThinkGlobal magazine covers international trade topics. Also, metroblogging.com tells me to "Think Global. Blog Local". It seems that Think Global, Act Local is a pretty big slogan out there; it shows up a lot.* I don’t know if anyone in particular owns it.

But here’s the thing.

I’m much more inclined when I’m resting.

Hang on, that last sentence got away from me.

I’m much more inclined to be OK with a tagline that uses a Flat Adverb. Think “Local”. Think “Power”. Think “Pink”. But saying “X Thinks Global” in a newspaper headline is saying this is how we talk. And I don’t think we do, yet.

Do we?

*Globecitizen.com tells me that "This is some of my observations and analysis of the Global Village I live in..." I find this helps my case.

PS: I’m finding I like Jason Mraz. But, can I buy a vowel for that last name? It’s like those fantasy names I never know how to pronounce, like “Fendthrrjl”.


Ah? So.

I just gave a design test, where students had to create an ad for a refreshing beverage. I gave them the image (lime splashing in cool, clear water) and the headline:


As they are turning in the finished project, and I'm seeing the headline in 150 point type, I realize that there is a difference between




One is contented. The other is running away in terror. I've made a note of it.


Memos Def

To: SPASTIC employees
From: Human Resources

Re: Usage

First, someone has accidentally been printing papers that have
written in 72 pt. Garamond to my Laserjet (is this Latin? Yiddish?). If this your document, I have a stack of them for you to pick up. Also (and it pains me to say this), I'm afraid I found an AP Stylebook stuck in my shredder this morning. It must have accidentally been dropped there by the night custodian. If you are missing yours, I will gladly buy you a new one. And I am sorry for your loss.


Thanks to everyone for the positive feedback on my recent series of memos regarding usage. Even though you don't say it to me in person, I can tell that they've gotten eveyone's blood pumping. In that vein (tee-hee!), I've come across another trend.

Please remember:
Even if I spend time both in New York and London, it does not make me a transponder.
A Transponder is also not a sportscar.

Oh, and related: please, please refrain from calling Trans Ams "trannies". No one says this. And it gets us on some very strange mailing lists.

I hope this helps.