Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How To's-Day

How to Correct Someone’s Grammar without Sounding Snobbish:

When it comes to knowing stuff, I consider myself an expert. So, on the subject of correcting improper grammar, I can say with full confidence that there is only one way to pull it off without sounding like an insufferable know-it-all. You must be the offender’s English teacher. And no, this can’t be a self-appointed honorary position. If you are a state certified English teacher, and a current student in your classroom uses incorrect grammar in a written assignment, you may be able to correct that student’s grammar without sounding snobbish. In all other circumstances, it is impossible.

I’m not suggesting that you never correct improper grammar. In fact, I do it quite frequently. Just be aware that, in all cases, you will be resented by the very bumpkins you are trying to help.

For those of you that harbor the compulsion to correct the grammatical maladies of others, but prefer not coming off as haughty twits, don’t despair; I have a work-around:

How to Listen to Improper Grammar without Putting a Pencil through your Eardrums:

1-Count Words
Once you have established that the person speaking has no useful information to relate, try counting his words. This is surprisingly difficult and will completely divert your attention from the meaning and context of the words themselves.

2-Pretend She’s Foreign
Even the most anal of grammar snobs can smile indulgently at a foreigner who is butchering the English language. The next time your coworker uses the incorrect form of a verb, just convince yourself that she’s from Yokelstan.

3-Pop Quiz
Fact: Your fifth grade English teacher is concerned about your grammar skills and is hiring professional actors to interact with you. After each conversation, write down all of the errors you were able to identify in cursive on ruled paper using a black pen.

4-Shin Kick
When all else fails, a sharp kick to the shin will usually convert a whole stream of incorrect grammar into a single interjection. Remarkably, the shin kick is far less damaging to a friendship than actual grammar correction.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's... How To's-Day!

How to Eat Spicy Food without Looking Like a Weenie:
It is human nature (or at least “man” nature) to want the respect and admiration of one’s peers. Depending on social circle, this may be earned by exhibiting an extensive knowledge of politics, or literature. Some laud a quick wit and sharp sense of humor. Still others count athleticism and physical fitness as marks of honor.

But the ability to eat insanely spicy food, without flinching, is a ubiquitous indicator of coolness that transcends all the sundry spheres, be they social, economic, cultural, or even religious. Walk into a chicken wings establishment with your friends, down a basket of the joint’s most extreme offering with a smile on your face, and you will be forever branded a tough guy.

So, what of the faint tongued? Are they condemned to eke out a meager existence, cowering in the shadows of those more stout of mouth? Not necessarily.

The truth is; nobody actually likes those atomic chicken wings, or that center-of-the-sun chili. Sure, there are those that prefer their meals with a little kick, but when it comes to foods that literally require a hazmat suit for transportation, EVERYONE is faking it… so you can too!

While it may not be easy, by following just a few simple steps and guidelines, anyone can learn the skills necessary to enter the upper echelons of awesomeness. As one who has been a long standing member of the highly exclusive clique of spicy food consumers – and because I am truly a humanitarian at heart – I have taken it upon myself to reveal my secrets to the world:

1-Understand the Stakes
I really can’t stress this enough. When it comes to eating spicy food, there are three classes of people. At the top, of course, are those that can successfully eat spicy food while maintaining an amused, or at least an indifferent, composure. This group comprises approximately 2% of the population. The middle, and largest, group is made up of those that willingly admit to their own inadequacy and decline to eat spicy food. There is no shame in being a member of this group, which encompasses roughly 94% of all humans. The bottom group (about 4% of the population) consists of those who attempt, and fail, to consume spicy food in an acceptable manner (Exhibit A).

Be warned: there is no redemption from the bottom group. No amount of daredevilry and no exhibition of strength can ever blot out the shame of a failed attempt at spicy food. Seriously. You could pull a shark out of the water with your bare hands and chew its head off. It wouldn’t matter. The thing your friends would bring up at your funeral would be the time you ran maniacally around in circles, clawing at your tongue and begging for water.

Once you choose to leave the ranks of the middle group and partake of spicy food, you will be forever classed with either the top or the bottom. Don’t gamble with this. If you’re not 100% ready, continue to practice and wait until next time.

2-Practice Alone
There is no substitute for practice. The real secret to eating very spicy food is learning how to endure massive amounts of pain without reflecting that pain in your expression.

Get a mirror and watch yourself closely as you eat something spicy. Don’t worry about the things you can’t control, such as watering eyes, running nose, and reddening face (these will be addressed later). Rather, pay attention to your general demeanor. Try smiling while eating, and work on talking naturally without choking. If your eyes tear up so much that you can’t see yourself in the mirror, a camcorder on a tripod may be required.

3-Preemptive Symptoming
There are some physiological signs of vulnerability that no amount of practice can hide. Occasionally, these symptoms can be masked. For instance, if your nose tends to run when you eat spicy food, you might excuse yourself to the restroom and stuff balls of toilet paper up your nose before your meal arrives. Unfortunately, other symptoms, such as watering eyes, face flushing, and coughing fits, are virtually impossible to conceal.

For these, I recommend preemptive symptoming. If you try to blame your tears on allergies immediately after you take a bite of something dipped in Dave’s Insanity Sauce, your friends will see right through the guise. If, however, prior to your arrival at the restaurant, you mention you have a cold and make a point of coughing, shaking, and wiping your nose incessantly, your friends will not suspect a thing when you continue the same behavior after eating.

4-Self Talk
While in the act of eating spicy food, the effective use of self talk can sometimes be the difference between success and failure. When using self talk, avoid watered down and cliché phrases such as, “You can do it!”, or “Atta boy!” Instead try, “This will not kill me.”, and “two more minutes to infinite glory!”

Also, remember that self talk should always be mental. Never actually say the above phrases out loud.

Whether you succeed or fail in your attempt, you should do all you can to avoid future situations that could afford another opportunity for spicy food eating. If you failed in your first attempt, there is no point in trying again, and being around spicy food will only remind your peers of your defeat. If you succeeded, it is likely that your associates will demand a repeat performance whenever an appropriate menu item is accessible. It is mandated by the CSFE (Coalition of Spicy Food Eaters) that such repeat performances be delivered upon request. Failure to repeat a performance for any reason is grounds for expulsion from the coalition.

Remember, the glory of being a spicy food eater carries a heavy price tag, but it is one that is well worth paying. If you persevere, you can be counted amongst the elite, and the skills you learn along the way will benefit you throughout your life - especially if you’re ever taken prisoner and tortured for state secrets.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Demon Reborn - A Halloween Tale

A little background…

120,000 years ago I was born in the ancient kingdom of Rackhaman. As a boy, I played with my father’s dagger, pretending it was a sword, and found I had a knack for wielding the thing. I spent hours in the communal wheat fields with my little weapon, laying waste to the imaginary foes that raged against me.

Dahn Bhan, the leader of my township’s battalion, happened upon me one morning while I was thusly engaged. He saw warrior potential in me and, upon learning from my father that I had not yet been indentured, made me his apprentice. I studied the sundry arts of combat with Dahn Bhan for nine years. Under his tutelage I mastered, not only the sword, but every manner of weapon known to man. I became known as Mhal Ngat, or ‘Blessed Deliverer of Obliteration’, for no enemy could stand against me.

On my twenty fourth birthday, Dahn Bhan released me from my apprenticeship and charged me with a formidable task. For centuries my people had been abused and tormented by the demon Shahpikhart, and it became my lot to seek the monster out and destroy him.

For thirteen years I searched fruitlessly, but at last, through a series of dark negotiations with the vilest of creatures, I learned the location of the cursed stone cavity wherein Shahpikhart dwelt. Within days of my discovery, I stood at the blackened entrance of his cave and, without hesitation, shouted my battle challenge.

From deep within the cavern I heard a guttural growl that shook the earth. My eyes strained into the abyss. Two glowing green eyes slowly took shape as the creature began to emerge from the deep. The emerald eyes darted back and forth as they searched for the source of the challenging call. Finally, they locked on me, and the ground-rumbling growl became a malevolent chuckle.

“Where is your army human?” His voice was surprisingly languid.

“I am alone, and am come to vanquish you.” I held his gaze and spoke with confidence.

“Your flesh will only serve to whet my appetite boy. Many will suffer the consequence of your insolence after I have devoured you, for my hunger is not easily sated.” His grotesque head was now dimly visible as he crept nearer to me from the depths of his putrid hole.

“Never again will you feast on the flesh of man!” I screamed, and flew at him with the fury of a thousand years of unrequited offences.

Whether by luck, skill, or intervention of the gods, I danced and weaved through the onslaught of his furious attacks and found myself standing beside his outstretched neck as he craned his head around to begin another barrage of attacks. With one swift and powerful stroke, my sword flew through his neck like the wings of a falcon through a thick fog.

All four of his knees buckled sideways as his body, bereft of his tainted soul, fell suddenly limp. It was over. Yet, as I turned to leave the cavern, I heard a sickening, gurgled voice from behind me. I turned and looked upon Shahpikhart’s disembodied head, which was still glaring at me with its glowing green eyes.

“Know this;” the head choked, “though you have broken this body, my spirit will live on forever and will torment you through this and all your lives to come.”

With that, the eyes went dim and silence filled the lair of the fallen demon.

Upon returning to my village, I was immediately hailed as a hero. Word spread of my deed, and I was eventually named King of the Nine Nations. I lived in peace and luxury, but I was always vigilant. Shahpikhart’s dying threat echoed in my mind throughout the years and I often sought out spirit speakers to learn whether the demon spirit had found a way back to the natural world. Their information was always the same. Though they could sense the soul of Shahpikhart striving to find a portal to this mortal dimension, nothing on earth existed which was evil enough to embody his wicked spirit.

Now, hundreds of millennia later, Shahpikhart has at last found a host vile enough to house his soul. And, true to his ancient threat, he has returned to torment me. He is raging at me with a new ferocity and a new name. He is now called Shopping Cart, and his crimes against me are not few.

He has pulled me sharply to the right and to the left, wobbled incessantly, flattened his wheels to induce an annoying thumping effect, squeaked at me, and sometimes even refused to move at all. He is able to possess any shopping cart at will, and jumps quickly from cart to cart as I try helplessly to avoid his wrath. When I see others using problem-free carts, I often wait for them to finish and then quickly grab their carts. Alas, as soon as my fingers touch the thing, Shahpikhart immediately inhabits the new cart and resumes his assaults. In his new form, Shahpikhart is more agile and protected than he has ever been.

This is not the lament of one defeated, but rather a rallying call to arms. An eon ago, I bested the beast alone, but I cannot repeat the deed. If Shahpikhart is to fall again, all the brave and stout hearted need to act together with a pointed and sure offense. I fear the only path to success is through the utter destruction of every earthly thing that has the capacity of housing his pernicious essence. If each of us can just bring to ruin one shopping cart each time we find ourselves in a market, the world will soon be free, once again, of the demon reborn.