Category Archives: Fascinations

Occasions, people, places, factoids, fictionoids, and how-about-that items

A David Sedaris Sampler From His 2012 Durham Performance

David Sedaris Delights Durham – Oct 26, 2012

Last night’s An Evening With David Sedaris was delectable, earning paroxysms of laughter from Duke of Derm, Princess of Peds, Duchess of Durham, me, and, indeed, the entire audience that filled the Durham Performing Arts Center. Consequently, I thought it only right to share a few lines from the show with readers.

I intended to start with something from the introduction by Paul Sedaris, David’s brother who is better known to Sedaris fans as The Rooster, but I find myself unable to find words that even approximate an accurate description.  Suffice it to say that the point at which The Rooster began hurling tighty-whities, allegedly belonging to his brother, into the audience was not the most outrageous part of his contribution to the show.

The David Sedaris joke most favored by Duke of Derm was, happily, featured when Sedaris appeared on The Daily Show so it is available on video:

Sedaris reported telling the following joke to a ticket agent who was unresponsive, forcing him to resort to an explanation that was, of course, no more successful in evoking the desired laughter:

What’s the worst thing you can hear while blowing Willie Nelson?
I’m not Willie Nelson.

The title Sedaris himself favored for his book that was published as “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary,” was Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls.

David Sedaris has traditionally included something offered as a gift (condoms were big during one tour) or a recommendation. Last night, his suggestion was Sweden, largely because “In Sweden, they decided they needed to come up with a better word for little girls to call their vaginas. ‘Vagina’ is too adult.”

He also traditionally recommends a book by another author. In this case, the book was “The Bill From My Father: A Memoir” by Bernard Cooper.  Sedaris explained the choice and read a selection from the book.  While I found no video of Sedaris reading from Cooper’s book, I did find a reading by Bernard Cooper himself, which includes the same portion we heard David Sedaris read last night.

Droll In Durham – An Evening With David Sedaris

Duke of Derm, Princess of Peds, Duchess, & I are over the moon in anticipation of attending tonight’s performance by the extraordinary David Sedaris.1 If you don’t know why we’re excited, I suggest watching the following video. If you do know why we”re excited, you’ve probably already skipped ahead to the video.

David Sedaris At The Village Voice

Credit Due Department: The image atop this post was found at the official Durham Performing Arts Center web site.

  1. A not-really-amazing but kinda sorta interesting coincidence follows: David Sedaris, who grew up in nearby Raleigh, North Carolina, once wrote an excruciatingly funny essay that included his account of his school field trips to the tobacco warehouses in Durham, some of which have been converted into apartments, one of which is the current home of Duchess and me. []

How To Be Popular Online: Ketchup & Kink

How To Be Popular: Flaunt Mastery Of Ketchup Science

For the past several days, the most frequently visited Heck Of A Guy post – by a wide margin – has had nothing to do with Leonard Cohen. Nor did it center on Allison Crowe (or any other musician),  family members, friends, photography, or any of the topics regularly featured on this site.

The most popular piece on this site has instead been a June 30th, 2006 posting, Ketchup Decantation – The Definitive Report, which was then and is still the go-to online article for information about dispensing ketchup from glass bottles.


It turns out that batches of folks who read 5 Scientific Explanations Behind Everyday Nuisances at Cracked.com felt it worth their while to also click on the link in the final paragraph:

While there is no shortage of tips and how-tos on the subject, they tend to range from useless common sense stuff (“Do it carefully”) to mad scientist levels of lunacy that involve bendy straws, manual dexterity and an uncanny immunity to the public scorn of fellow diners.

Yep, a  link on a Cracked.com post referring to the use of bendy straws as a solution to overcome thixotropic1 forces operating on bottled ketchup triggered enough unique page-views to nearly double the cumulative hits of all other Heck Of A Guy entries.

There may be a message in that, albeit one I am unable – or unwilling – to articulate.

How To Be Perpetually Popular: Flaunt Mastery Of Kinky Sex

The second most popular single post over the same few days (and perhaps the most reliably popular post ever published at Heck Of A Guy)  has been  13 Mistakes To Avoid When Selecting A Safeword For BDSM Play, a satiric piece subtitled Subs Say The Funniest Things.

I am  pretty sure what the message is in this case.

Two examples from A Sub’s Suboptimal Safe Words follow:

8. ” ” It didn’t work for Prince and it won’t work for you.

12. Some words and terms just don’t fit the context. For example,
• “Hamiltonian-Federalist Jeffersonian-Republican Alignment”
• “Willing suspension of disbelief”
• “Bernoulli’s Principle”
• Any phrase which includes the words “butterfly” or “unicorn.”
• Anything in the form of a rhyming couplet
• Almost all scripture from the New Testament (yes, even the modern translations)

13 Mistakes To Avoid When Selecting A Safeword For BDSM Play does, by the way, share one trait with Heck Of A Guy Leonard Cohen pieces – the safeword piece and Heck Of A Guy Cohen posts are regularly ripped off without attribution. 2

  1. Thixotropy is The property exhibited by certain gels (in this case, ketchup, of becoming fluid when stirred or shaken and returning to the semisolid state upon standing. []
  2. For example,  13 Mistakes To Avoid When Selecting A Safeword For BDSM Play was cut and pasted into Melting Honey two months ago, garnering 144 responses while avoiding the hassles of performing any original work or crediting the the author (which would be me). []

Nellie Showalter Flashes Ankle, Defeats World Chess Champ; Jackson Whipps Showalter Guffaws

The First Jackson Whipps Showalter Post

Originally posted March 11, 2009, Jackson Whipps Showalter – Chess Champion, Curve Ball Proponent, Cigar Aficionado was a story into which I blundered because of genealogical coincidence while looking for something else.  The post’s introduction, which follows, indicates why I first became interested in Jackson Whipps Showalter and Nellie Showalter:

jacksonwhipsshowalter

Another Showalter1 You Should Know

The devilishly handsome, dramatically mustachioed gent pictured above is one Jackson Whipps Showalter.

The family resemblance fairly leaps out at one, doesn’t it?

And, he’s not just another pretty face of the sort that is, after all, standard among the males who populate clan Showalter.2 Jackson Whipps Showalter cut quite a figure in the upper ranks of the international hierarchy of chess, ran a successful tobacco business, was alleged to have thrown the first curve ball, favored a good cigar, and married a smart, beautiful woman.

The Update

I did track down some new data about Jackson Whipps Showalter, including the fact that JW was inducted into the Chess Hall Of Fame August 7, 2010, and a couple of new images.

Nellie Showalter – Queen Of Chess

Even better, there have been significant additions to knowledge about  Nellie Showalter, Jackson’s talented and provocatively attractive wife.  My favorite new tidbit follows:

Nellie herself commented on [her defeat of the chess giant, Emmanuel Lasker] in an 1894 interview:

When I first came to New York I played with Mr. Lasker a match of five games up. He gave the odds of a knight and I beat him five to two. Lasker had beaten everybody in Germany and England, then he came and beat my husband, and his astonishment, he said, was great that I could whip him with the odds he gave me.

Lasker offered another perspective on Nellie’s strategy in their games:

At the critical juncture in the games, Mrs. Showalter would smile coyly, and then flash a bit of ankle. I was extremely flustered by such antics. When I complained to Mr. Showalter, he just guffawed and said, ‘My Nellie is such a card! Have a cigar.’3

The Stories Of Nellie  & Jackson Whipps

All this and more is now online at the updated version of the original post: Jackson Whipps Showalter – Chess Champion, Curve Ball Proponent, Cigar Aficionado.

  1. “Showalter” is the meatspace alias used by DrHGuy. []
  2. My genealogically astute brethren have informed me that almost all of the Showalters in this country are descendants of Christan Showalter or Jacob Showalter, Swiss Mennonite brothers who immigrated to Pennsylvania as adults with their families in 1740 and 1750, respectively. I have fastidiously avoided investigating this claim, thus eliminating hours of tedious and possibly counterproductive research to establish my family ties to another Showalter. If you’re willing to admit your name is “Showalter” or “Schowalter,” I’m willing to allege that you are kin – whether you like it or not. []
  3. Source: SBC/batgirl September 24, 2010 at Chess.com []

Secrets Of Popularity Minimization Tutorial Offered In DrHGuy’s Absence

DrHGuy will be unavailable for one or two days.  During this absence, Heck Of A Guy offers an encore presentation (yep, it’s a rerun) of a February 22, 2007 post, How To Prevent A Well-written Blog From Being Well-read.

fedoradivider

Seek not the favor of the multitude; it is seldom got by honest and lawful means. But seek the testimony of the few; and number not voices, but weigh them.
~Immanuel Kant

Avoid popularity; it has many snares, and no real benefit.
~William Penn

How To Prevent A Well-written Blog From Being Well-read

The most significant blogological observation resulting from my Heck Of A Guy 2006 reviews can be summarized as follows:

Despite posting content that, in comparison to that of many other, far more heavily visited sites, is better written, more informative, and funnier,1 I have managed to minimize this blog’s popularity.

Note that I am not whining about this discrepancy; heck, I can’t even bring myself to call it unfair. Short of voting fraud, what kind of complaint can one legitimately mount against the outcome of a popularity contest? “It’s not fair that she won; she’s more popular than me?” “This is supposed to be a popularity contest, but it’s turned into nothing but a popularity contest?”

I don’t think so.

So the good content-low readership phenomenon isn’t a rip-off (except in the most cosmically karmic of perspectives), but it is kinda interesting.2

Successfully minimizing the popularity of a blog that is well-written, informative, and funny doesn’t happen accidentally. It requires a strategy. As a service to bloggers everywhere, I’ve identified and listed a dozen methods I’ve used effectively to protect some outstanding content from readers.3

Erect A Defensive Perimeter To Deflect Potential Viewers

1. Divert readers with a clichéd, irrelevant, and, above all, dull opening before they become invested in your blog’s content

Try, for example, opening the post with an obscure, moralistic quote from someone like Immanuel Kant or William Penn.

2. Be a high roller at the Technology Casino

For example, spice up your trial and error code-writing self-education with a tinge of terror by making changes in your only copy of your blog stylesheet and template.

Use the cheapest host sites; how different could they be?

Experiment with every blogging tool, toy, and gizmo available, especially if (1) it’s new and untested4 and (2) you’re not certain of its benefits or potential problems.5

The technical problems thus created, however transient, can convince viewers your site is unreliable and can continue to diminish your audience long after those flaws have been repaired.

If viewers can’t view your site, you don’t have to worry about them as readers – or the links to you they might have placed on their own sites if they had liked what they would have seen – or their viewers who might have visited after the original readers (justifiably, of course) praised your talents. Every snafu that takes your site out of service (or just extends the time it takes for your site to load beyond a few seconds) has the potential to cause your very own [ choose one] vicious cycle or domino effect.

And, if Joe Bob’s browser can’t see your site, there’s a good chance Googlebot can’t see it either. Say goodbye to the search engine index.

Make The Blog A Challenge – Who Wants 3.2 Million Readers
If They Aren’t Willing To Jump Through A Few Hoops?

3. Always keep ‘em guessing

Shun straightforward news, advice, story-telling, or humor. Waver ambiguously between serious content, pathos, complex parody, and pretentious metaphysics, always maintaining sufficiently sardonic tone to cast doubt on the intention, let alone the accuracy, of even the simplest statement.

4. Exorcise all hobgoblins of consistency, foolish or otherwise

Follow your own bliss within each posting. There is no consistency police to prevent you writing a single post that includes a critique of a movie you saw a decade ago, a review of an unrelated book you once read, a description of the best web sites for flash games involving gambling, Visigoths, and shellfish, the third cutest thing your kid said last week, a recap of Sunday’s sermon, and a paragraph on that armadillo dildo featured yesterday on the Discovery Channel. It’s a big world; there has to be somebody who will love that mix.

And remember, segues and transitions are for wusses.

As for your blog in general, stay true to the theme that you are far too special to be limited to a single theme. Resist and refute pleas to focus your efforts.

It is, by the way, inadequate to be merely inconsistent. There is the danger that some readers might enjoy reading a series of randomly chosen topics. To reliably discourage readers, one must be inconsistently inconsistent.

The writer sincerely desirous of thinning out the readership would be wise to affirmatively mislead the viewer into the conviction that a pattern exists, then expand and enhance that expectation, and finally, crush that hope. Imagine the disappointment and frustration, for example, generated when a viewer reads a couple of posts written on a single topic, notices an indication that another is in the offing (e.g., “There’s more to this story.”), becomes increasingly enchanted by the promise of the promised sequel (e.g., “You won’t believe which presidential candidate showed up at the orgy.”), but then never finds another mention of the issue at hand. (Note how this ploy efficiently aggravates the reader and amuses the author.)

5. Employ your writing style as a weapon of mass obfuscation

Be warned that a sesquipedalian vocabulary is advantageous but insufficient for the accomplishment of this goal. Eager beaver readers, for example, can simply look up the definitions of even the most impressively polysyllabic words.

Many of these individuals, however, can be flummoxed by adding a few obsolete words, preferably obsolete words that became obsolete because they were abstruse even when they were in common use.

Using an archaic definition of a frequently used word can also be effective. Using an archaic meaning of an obsolete word is, of course, blogging’s equivalent of Scrabble’s triple word score.

The clever writer, however, will recognize that the potential for befuddlement is greater still if one intersperses technical jargon, cultural or regional slang, professional argot, and the like indiscriminately throughout the composition. This tactic is most effective if these terms are stripped of any clues as to their origins; in such a pure synsemantic or KWOC format, these literary land mines are nearly impossible for the reader to defuse.

While depositing a foreign phrase (without translation of course), in the midst of an exposition has nearly become its own parody, one should not overlook this strategy, given that it not only contributes to the general mystification of those foolhardy enough to peruse that posting but is also the writer’s classic instrument of intellectual one-upmanship, n’est-ce pas?

Like a foreign phrase, figurative language, implemented carefully, can supersede and impede comprehension. No less an authority on confusion than Bugs Bunny provides an example worthy of emulation in the episode, “Baseball Bugs,” when he speaks directly to the audience prior to his final pitch of the game:

Watch me paste this pathetic palooka with a powerful paralyzing perfect pachydermous percussion pitch.

Similarly, allusions can be confounding – if handled correctly. Anyone can invoke and recognize Greek, Roman, and, all too often, even Norse myths. On the other hand, mix in a few Iranian, Oceana, or Mesoamerican deities (without explanation, natch), and you, my friend, have got yourself an allusion to disillusion – one that will drive the hardiest reader to despair.

Another good bet is a throwaway line linked to some scholastic trifle just familiar enough that most readers have probably seen it before but obscure enough that most won’t recall the specific meaning,6 thus inducing in your erstwhile reader an element of embarrassment and, with luck, some shame, effective deterrents to further reading. I have found, for instance, that references to the formal names of logical fallacies can be forced into almost any context and are thus invaluable in this respect:

That is a case of dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter.
You, sir, have fallen prey to the Fallacy of Undistributed Middle.

Rather than surrender to the use of a short, simple word if a difficult, arcane term cannot be found to fit the context, draw up your courage and invent an expression; this kind of neologisticity not only delights the writer but also bewilders the reader.

Finally, keep in mind that authoritative and conclusive reader-daunting requires simultaneously stocking ones posts with these impediments to comprehension while subtly sustaining the implicit value judgment that any competently educated eighth-grader would recognize these terms and their meanings in context.

6. Use complexity to transform each post into an obstacle course to deplete the reader’s energy and motivation

As assuredly as the unexpected appearance of the philanderer’s wife during his assignation with his secretary causes him, however ardent he may have been previously, to detumesce, a proliferation of subordinate and embedded clauses, compound sentences, prepositional and participial phrases, coordinating, subordinating, and correlative conjunctions, and especially correlative adverbs, along with their entourage of commas, colons, and semicolons leads to an analogous deflation of interest by the initially steadfast reader. A well designed post can demoralize the reader to the point of swearing off the perusal of blogs altogether.

7. Even if you can’t make it entertaining, informative, amusing, or touching, you can certainly make it long

Get your money’s worth from each post. It isn’t worth booting up that computer to write a two or three paragraph post someone can conveniently read in less than five minutes.

Besides those ne’er-do-wells who read your blog obviously don’t have anything important to do.

Don’t Make It Easy For Google And The Other Search Engines
– It’s None Of Their Business What Your Post Is Really About

8. A clever headline that amuses its creator, misdirects the reader, and, most importantly, obscures the content from the search engines is invariably preferable to one that simply and accurately describes the subject of the post

So what if search engines, which account for 90% of your readership, depend on the first few words of a heading to provide an indication of the content – they’re so smart, let them figure out that pun or your idiosyncratic tertiary references. With just this one tactic, you can both discourage those who have already landed on your blog and prevent many, many more from finding it at all.

9. Do whatever necessary to discourage links to your site

Just because Google and some other search engines use links going to your blog as the most important determinant in ranking your site in their listings doesn’t mean you need stoop to ask for a link, especially from a high-ranking site. And, you certainly abstain from writing a post about anything that might get another blogger or webmaster to link to your blog.

Just be patient and wait for those connections to come naturally. God – and here I’m thinking of one of those Mesoamerican or Iranian gods – will take care of those links for you when he/she/it is good and ready.

10. Don’t check your site’s statistics more often than every 3 or 4 months – and even then keep it superficial

First, if you don’t know which content is popular, you won’t be tempted to focus on that area.

And, by sporadically skimming stats erratically rather than carefully analyzing them on a regular basis, you reduce the risk of making the site more accessible. If you start thinking about the 65% of your readers with dial up access, for instance, you might decide to reduce the number and size of those images you habitually stick in every post. You might even begin including only graphics that are somehow relevant. And then you’re stuck with more readers. Besides, if they really want to read your post about the economics of the Asian trade deficit, they’ll wait the 45 minutes needed to load your logo featuring a life-size photo of Dick Cheney in a Wonder Woman costume.


Example of large, intriguing, and absolutely irrelevant graphic
gratuitously inserted into an already overblown post7

Best of all, without those pesky stats, you can continue to ignore that never-been-here-before segment of visitors who make up 96% of your audience and to pretend that one of your friends or family, i.e., someone who feels obligated to read and praise your blog every day, is your prototypical visitor. Writing posts for that elite target audience, who have already memorized all those clever pseudonyms you’ve assigned and learned the key words that are coded shortcuts to your blog’s inside jokes and who are predisposed to appreciate you, is, trust me, much easier than writing those clear, high quality, interesting posts all those strangers are likely to demand.

Create A Persistently Dissatisfying
Experience For The Reader

11. Don’t discount the capacity of the little things to make your blog irritating, annoying, and generally off-putting

I advise, for example, publishing lengthy essays in tiny, light-colored fonts on a barely contrasting off-white background.

12.8

Update September 7, 2011: 13. Re-run posts from 4 years ago.

  1. While “better written, more informative, and funnier” is an assessment so broad and subjective as to be both irrefutable and indefensible, I believe I can present side-by-side comparisons that are convincing. More to the point, the remainder of this essay would equally valid if this initial conditional phrase began “Even were I posting content that is … better written, more informative, and funnier.” In any case, I’ll switch back to my more characteristic false modesty once I’m finished arguing this point. []
  2. And yes, the fact that I think this sort of thing is interesting – and then write about it – may itself have something to do with why Heck Of A Guy has not reached its peak popularity potential. []
  3. I started with “Top Ten Ways To Minimize The Popularity Of A Well-written Blog,” but expanded to 12 upon recognizing the importance of prolixity and over-explaining in discouraging readers. []
  4. If it were unsafe, would they let you download it? []
  5. You can significantly increase the chances of botching your blog’s mechanics by the simple expedient of simultaneously experimenting with several new add-ons, plug-ins, and tools (a minimum of a half-dozen with no limits on the maximum sounds about right); not only do you improve your odds of happening onto faulty software but even if each program is well constructed, there is still the potential for two or more to prove mutually incompatible. It’s also a nice touch to schedule these trial runs to take place just before publishing a time-sensitive post; this tactic not demonstrates your flare for the dramatic but also broadcasts that death wish aura that only the hardiest and most mordant viewers can tolerate. And, don’t bother reading the installation instructions, warnings, or requirements; how are you going to add eight new plug-ins 15 minutes before your sports blog’s Super Bowl post is published if you have to read about every one of them? []
  6. Cinema fans will recognize this tactic as the “Woody Allen Gambit” []
  7. The otherwise fascinating image is “Amphitheater of Eternal Wisdom,” painted by Hans Vredeman de Vries, c. 1595 []
  8. Use footnotes (and parentheses) whether they are needed or not []

Return To Mountain View Ozark Folk Festival

Survivors Of 1973 Great Ozark Folk Festival Relive Event

Last week, Lord Of Leisure and Hippie With Tiara reprised the journey to Mountain View, Arkansas, site of the adventure known at Heck Of A Guy as The Great Ozark Folk Festival Flood of 1973, a tale told in three parts: Introduction, Bluegrass, The Courthouse, The Campgrounds, & Hungry Hungry Hippies, and The Flood.

The following excerpt is from the Introduction:

Comprising events that took place 34 years ago within a period of less than 72 hours, the story of The Great Ozark Folk Festival Flood of 1973 [is] part travelogue, part drama, and part farce …

The Ozark Folk Festival, which, since its origin in the early 1960s, has annually featured a weekend of unalloyed, down-home bluegrass music played as God intended it, by overalls-clad fellows, red of neck and wizened of visage, each with a hefty wad of Red Man twixt cheek and gum and a can at the ready for use as a spittoon – well, by those guys and by the hippies, of course.

As a bonus, the Festival took place in a beautiful wilderness area in Arkansas. …

As it turned out, my romantic companion of that era, the then eventually-to-become-first-Mrs-DrHGuy, also decided to sign up for the trip as did two of my high school buddies, PolySciGuy and Flame, who had married each other and were living nearby.

Thus it was that on Good Friday, 20 April 1973, I and the still-later-to-become-ex-Mrs-DrHGuy were ensconced in the back seat of a metallic blue 1968 Pontiac Tempest5 driven by Lord of Leisure with Hippie With Tiara by his side and followed by PolySciGuy and Flame in a newish Fiat as we departed civilization as it then existed in the university town of Columbia, Missouri to journey across 265 miles and a time-space vortex into the Kingdom of Mountain View, Arkansas.

Lamentably, few photos resulted from the first trip; on this return visit, however, our intrepid travelers have brought back a feast of images.

Especially striking are the scenes from the town’s central square:

Courthouse & Stone County Seat

The pertinent passage from  Bluegrass, The Courthouse, The Campgrounds, & Hungry Hungry Hippies follows:

The Ozark Folk Festival activities, including a Saturday morning parade featuring Governor Dale Bumpers, took place on or near the Courthouse square that is the political and social center of the Mountain View metroplex. …

When we visited the Courthouse, its electrical wiring was conveniently located on the hallway walls. Portions of that wiring ran to the ceilings of those hallways and then dropped a short distance, suspending the naked, dangling bulbs that provided lighting for the area.

And, it was after a memorable visit to the Courthouse restroom that I embraced the conviction that, the tenets of medical science notwithstanding, one could, indeed, become infected with a venereal disease from a toilet seat. Indeed, I believed that transmission of disease might well take place without physical contact with the toilet seat.

The Jail

In 1973, the county jail was also on the town square. It remains there today but now sports the addition seen below on the reader’s right.

Again, The pertinent passage from  Bluegrass, The Courthouse, The Campgrounds, & Hungry Hungry Hippies follows:

One of the sights on the square early Saturday afternoon had been the hippie contingent openly quaffing wine. One of the sights on the square later that afternoon was the remainder of the hippie contingent begging for spare change to raise bail for their recently arrested comrades who were then residing in the local jail, an ancient stone blockhouse located behind the courthouse, having been educated, though the didactic device of undergoing arrest, that Stone County Arkansas was, as it still is, a dry county.

The view below shows that the addition to the jail building is the office of the Prosecuting Attorney.

The Parade

While this year’s parade did not include, as it did in 1973, the Governor of Arkansas, it did feature a lead unit destined to trigger excitement.

More Shots Of Parade

Click on images to enlarge to full size

Bonus

Happily, this business, located on the route to Mountain View, has survived the economic downturn to continue to provide the basis of many, many bad jokes. Readers are invited to create their own variations.

Future Attractions

More Mountain View photos coming soon.