Wednesday, August 26, 2009

BBC News: Hedgehog joke wins comedy prize

EDINBURGH, Scotland (BBC) — Comedian Dan Antopolski has won a prize for the funniest joke of this year's Edinburgh Fringe.

The Top 10 jokes were judged to be:

• 1) Dan Antopolski - "Hedgehogs - why can't they just share the hedge?"

• 2) Paddy Lennox - "I was watching the London Marathon and saw one runner dressed as a chicken and another runner dressed as an egg. I thought: 'This could be interesting'."

• 3) Sarah Millican - "I had my boobs measured and bought a new bra. Now I call them Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes because they're up where they belong."

• 4) Zoe Lyons - "I went on a girls' night out recently. The invitation said 'dress to kill'. I went as Rose West."

• 5) Jack Whitehall - "I'm sure wherever my dad is; he's looking down on us. He's not dead, just very condescending."

• 6) Adam Hills - "Going to Starbucks for coffee is like going to prison for sex. You know you're going to get it, but it's going to be rough."

• 7) Marcus Brigstocke - "To the people who've got iPhones: you just bought one, you didn't invent it!"

• 8) Rhod Gilbert - "A spa hotel? It's like a normal hotel, only in reception there's a picture of a pebble."

• 9) Dan Antopolski - "I've been reading the news about there being a civil war in Madagascar. Well, I've seen it six times and there isn't."

• 10) Simon Brodkin (as Lee Nelson) - "I started so many fights at my school - I had that attention-deficit disorder. So I didn't finish a lot of them."

The judges also listed some of the worst jokes at this year's Fringe.

Carey Marx - "I'm not doing any Michael Jackson jokes, because they always involve puns about his songs. And that's bad."

Frank Woodley - "I phoned the swine flu hotline and all I got was crackling."

Alex Maple - "Michael Jackson only invented the moonwalk so he could sneak up on children."

Phil Nichol - "She's got a face like a rare Chinese vase - minging."

Alistair McGowan - "I've just split up from my girlfriend, which is a shame, because it was a long-standing arrangement. Perhaps if we'd sat down a bit more..."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Skin-Deep Beauty

I am going to die a brown, lined, raccoon-eyed and wrinkled husk of a woman. At least, that's what beauty and fitness magazines are telling me will happen if I fail to buy into their solutions.

And, boy, are the solutions eye-popping.

First of all, you don't have to apply sunscreen if you wash with it. Yes, apparently there are cleansers that leave behind a layer of SPF 15 sunscreen. The magazine suggested we use it for our faces, but I imagine we could use it anywhere on which the sun shines. There was no brand of price for this item, but the sticker shock I received for the rest of the "sun-friendly" suggestions was sufficient to make me wary.

Frankly, I hate sunscreen and wear appropriately covering garb or stay in the shade (or under my very large hat) to avoid the sun, so I don't think I will be shopping for this item. Additionally, I spend about an hour exposed to the sun every morning when I run, and doctors now are telling patients to spend about 20 sunscreen-free minutes in the sun. My fair friends are horrified after experiencing skin cancer and spending years slathering sunscreen on themselves and their children, and I imagine they're rather skeptical. However, I think this development is only sensible: moderate sun exposure is not the same as dousing a bikini-clad body in baby oil and laying by the pool for hours, as so many of us did in our teen years.

The second helpful suggestion for beauty under the sun was a new mascara that will not melt or rub off in any amount of sun. This mascara bonds to the eyelash and will last three days, thanks to its carbon-black pigments and special polymers. Three days? That's a hefty mascara. (There's no mention of how it is removed, but I would imagine hand-tools are involved.) The price tag alone caused me a double-take: $18.50. Maybe I'm just cheap, but that's about three times what I pay for mascara on my extravagant days.

Then I was invited to "wear [my] vitamins" — and who wouldn't be intrigued by such a suggestion? My vitamins are solid and lumpy, totally unattractive and quite similar in appearance to wasp bites. Apparently someone has developed a gloss full of antioxidants that will plump lips while protecting them from the dangerous rays of the sun (and the resulting unattractive lines that appear when one doesn't use it). It's full of such goodness I wish to eat it, with nuts, berries and other deliciousness (though experience suggests that it won't be as tasty as its ingredients). The price for this skin-protecting treat? Only $45.

Frankly, I can live with my fun and functional hat. I like my colorful shirts. Rumor has it that there are sunscreens out there that don't smell awful, and I might see if that proves to be true. In the long run, I might be the ancient-looking tanned middle-aged chick — but I'll be the one with the big smile, cash in my pocket and a healthy amount of vitamin D coursing through my system.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Landscape of Twitter

As I was sorting through my Google news feed the other day, I came across an article about Neil Gaiman's recent win of a Hugo Award. I was thrilled — but what thrilled me more than his win (but of course The Graveyard Book won!) was the fact that the writer was on Twitter.

So, I leaped over to Twitter and checked out his Tweets. (I learned that Tori Amos has written about him in some of her songs. And that someone in Russia was keeping him up past his bedtime right about the time he won his Hugo. Oh, and that he used salty language when he won his Hugo.)

I couldn't resist. I began following Neil Gaiman.

But wait — there's more.

I also started following a whole bunch of new cool people, too, including John Cleese, Stephen Colbert, Penn Jilette and Stephen Gould (the latter of whom was advertising for the adoption of a rooster who is "very sweet" when "not assaulting the chickens"). Oh, and God the Father as well as God the Mother. (Hey, I follow Sockington, a cat, so why not a couple of deities?)

I don't expect to learn the deep, dark secrets of what makes them brilliant (though if any wish to offer a clue, I wouldn't turn it down). I may not find much more than "Coffee and freshly shampood hair" (Emmy Rossum). I might laugh aloud at "Granny crashes into Walmart. You say that like it's a BAD thing" (Stephen Gould) or anything by Kevin Smith (which I can't quote here and keep my "most everyone" rating). I might blush at PostSecret's re-Tweet of Kama Sutra cookies. I don't care of they Tweet for themselves — I will enjoy the Tweets no matter who gets the credit.

So, from time to time, I will receive a brief note from someone I don't know but find interesting because of their line of work. They might make me laugh, or merely chuckle. Or I may just read about the everyday world of someone else on Planet Earth.

I won't always understand what they write; I'm still learning what "@" and "#" really mean in this brave new world, and I'm sure I've improperly re-Tweeted (though I have direct replies down to a science). Who knows.

Someone will have a salad, someone will get lost, someone will try to adopt out a rooster — and I will be bumped back into reality by a New York Times or BBC headline that reminds me that life goes on.

But I'm following Neil Gaiman. And that's a start.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Using Your Tongue to Make the Shoe Fit

Whenever I speak to someone in Spanish, I feel for them — and not just because they have to suffer through my halting and grammatically creative attempts at their native tongue. English is a difficult language to learn and speak, and I don't blame them for preferring to speak in a language in which they are more comfortable.

Recently, a man told me how much he despised people who came to this country and didn't "learn the language." He was somewhere near a hundred years old, and he lived only a couple of houses down the street from where he was born. Chances are he didn't leave the country unless it was on Uncle Sam's dime, and I can bet he was sent to a country that had policies in political opposition to his homeland (which doesn't make for warm fuzzy thoughts about "foreigners").

I was not in a position to either change his mind or voice my opinion, so I did neither.

I did not mention to him that I grew up in a bilingual household, where my mom spoke Spanish as often as she spoke English. She and my grandmother spoke both languages in Panama, the country of their birth.

Alas, I was of the lazy generation: we could, as I put it, "eavesdrop like the dickens, but couldn't spit out a sentence to save our lives." I didn't have to speak Spanish while Mom or Mimi were around — and with their lovely Castilian Spanish and perfect English, and the ease with which they slid between the languages, who would?

As I grew older and more observant, I noticed how English-only speakers showed prejudice toward my grandmother. I watched how people who heard her speaking Spanish would lower the estimation of her IQ. They would speak unkindly in front of her in English then be shocked and embarrassed when she easily switched to English to converse with them. Even when she spoke only English in their presence, some people supposed much about her because she spoke with an accent.

What they supposed was wrong. She and many of her 12 siblings left their marks on their country — including one brother who engineered skyscrapers that still stand today. When my family visited Panama when I was a child, the president of the country gave us a private tour of the presidential palace — and greeted my grandmother as a dear friend and professional equal. And yet cashiers at Pic 'n Save would look at her as if she was just a "dumb wetback." Even if she could not count these achievements to her credit, she certainly did not deserve the derision of these people. No one does.

When I visited Panama, the English-speaking side of the family was greeted with kindness by people who knew we didn't speak the language. My father was never underestimated, nor was he ignored, dismissed or snubbed. People showed patience as they ascertained what he needed or was trying to say to them. Despite the language barrier, he was always shown respect.

I wish I could say the same about my North American English-only counterparts toward non-native speakers.

In the United States, we are fortunate. We live in a big country in which most people speak the same language. A person can drive from Modesto, Calif. to Sioux City, Iowa and still communicate in the same language. In Europe, or even Canada, that wouldn't be the case: you'd hit different provinces or entire countries and chances are that you'd need to be conversant in another language. You'd need to know the words for gasoline, bathroom, map, gum, right, left.

For fun, write down 10 words you would need while traveling. (No, you can't use any of the same ones I did.) I'll bet you don't know how to speak them in French, the language of the Olympics and the diplomatic language until about a century ago. It's likely you don't know them in German, considered by the international community as the language of mathematics. And odds are you couldn't begin to pick them out in Chinese, a country whose inhabitants outnumber the U.S. population by 3 to 1.

Before casting aspersions on those who don't speak your language (something all of us have done from time to time), think about how hard it is to communicate in your own language — then be patient with the next person who struggles to be understood. Next time, it could be you, and wouldn't it be nice to have that courtesy extended in return.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Poetry Has Jumped the Shark!

Here is the most recent e-mail I received from the Academy of American Poets:

In honor of Shark Week, the Discovery Channel's annual weeklong series of television programs devoted to sharks, has compiled 35 Poems about Sharks, and examined how the animals have been represented in classic and contemporary poetry.

Described by poets as "death-scenting," with "lipless jaws" and "eyes that stare at nothing, like the dead," sharks have long served as a cultural symbol of mortality and looming danger. Despite the fact that sharks kill fewer than 20 people a year, their reputation as the ocean's most allusive and deadly predator continues to inspire fear and fascination in audiences throughout the world.

Included are poems by Carl Sandburg, Robert Graves, Martín Espada, Denise Levertov, Joel Brouwer, Walt Whitman, Tomasz Rózycki, Herman Melville, Alan Dugan, James Dickey, Vivian Shipley, Jamey Dunham, Nancy Willard, and many others.

On the web at:

Well, what are you waiting for?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Beauty and Tragedy, Hand in Hand

Sometimes you just need a poem.

Miracle of Bubbles

A woman drives to the video store
to rent a movie. It is Saturday night,
she is thinking of nothing in particular,
perhaps of how later she will pop popcorn
or hold hands with her husband and pretend
they are still in high school. On the way home
a plane drops from the sky, the wing shearing
her roof of her car, killing her instantly.
Here is a death, it could happen to any of us.
Her husband will struggle the rest of his days
to give shape to an event that does not mean
to be understood. Since memory cannot operate
without plot, he chooses the romantic — how young
she was, her lovely waist, or the ironic — if only
she had lost her keys, stopped for pizza.

At the precise moment the plane spiraled
out of control, he was lathering shampoo
into his daughter's hair, blond and fine
as cornsilk, in love with his life, his
daughter, the earth (for "cornsilk" is how
he thought of her hair), in love with the miracle
of bubbles, how they rise in a slow dance,
swell and shimmer in the steamy air, then
dissolve as though they never were.

by Barbara Goldberg
From Cautionary Tales. © Dryad Press, 1990.
With thanks to The Writer’s Almanac.