When I was in law school I wrote a regular humor column for the Daily Illini. Each week I wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote my columns, trying to get them as close to perfect as possible. This took a lot of time. You will note that I never got a job as a lawyer, and these things may not be unconnected.
Anyway, here is a sampling of about a dozen of them. Some were silly one-offs. Some were repeated formats. Some involved random acts of journalism. And two of them - "Happy Valentine's Day! Have this dead squirrel" and "How I engaged my favorite reader" - tell the story of how this column led me to the love of my life.
A brief word of caution: some of these columns are PG-13, but not, like, "thematic elements" PG-13. More like "sex and violence" PG-13. They're definitely not for children.
Law school Q&A
I knew almost nothing about law school when I was an undergrad. As a second-year law student (called a “2L” or “soulless worker drone”) I thought this would be a nice chance to teach a college crowd about the mysterious institution that produced such magnificent American specimens as Clarence Darrow, Johnnie Cochran, Lionel Hutz, Duke lacrosse prosecutor Mike Nifong, and Ally McBeal. I also wrote this because “educational” columns count toward my community service. (Stupid mailbox – why did you have to be on a public street when I peed on you?)
Q. How long does law school take?
A. Three years. The first year is spent on basic law topics like contracts, criminal procedure, ambulance chasing, and yelling “Objection!” really dramatically. After that, students pick their own curriculum. This semester, for example, I am taking Copyright Law, Advanced Criminal Procedure, Reasonable Bribe Amounts, and one other – I think it’s called Professional Ethics, but I’m not sure since I never go and have someone else sign the attendance sheet for me.
Q. Isn’t law school a lot of work?
A. This is a common misconception. Law students’ schedules aren’t really that bad. On average, we spend about 15 hours in the classroom each week, 50 hours reading and studying, six on a law journal, four on moot court, seven reading forwarded e-mail from classmates, professors and administrators, 12 at interviews and callbacks for summer work and post-school jobs, five for Tae-Bo and Pilates, and 25 undermining each other’s confidence under the pretense of friendship. This leaves 44 whole hours a week we have to ourselves for whatever we want: Sleeping, eating, napping, sleeping, and napping.
Q. Is it true that they cut off your hand if you break a rule?
A. I think you are thinking of 12th century Persia. That’s not the same thing as law school.
Q. So what does happen if you break a rule?
A. You have to disclose it to the dean, it goes in your permanent record, and an e-mail is sent to the entire student body with a vague description of your offense. Your name is omitted.
Q. So nobody knows who it was?
A. If there’s one thing law students do more than undermining each other’s confidence, it’s gossiping while undermining each other’s confidence. Also, the more embarrassing the violation, the quicker the offender’s identity spreads.
Q. How do grades work?
A. A+ is the best, A is next, then A-, B+, B, B-, and so on down to F.
Q. Very funny.
A. Thank you. In most classes there is just a final exam, and it counts for your entire semester grade. Scientific studies have shown this is the best way to make everybody really nervous and ruin Thanksgiving and Spring breaks, since there’s no time for anything but studying. It is also very practical for us, career-wise, because most firms regularly give their attorneys four months to prepare for five open-book, curve-graded essay exams.
Q. What is this “Socratic Method” thing I’ve heard about?
A. It’s the way most professors conduct classes. Instead of asking for volunteers, they randomly call on students to answer open-ended questions. So the professor explains a minor concept, rattles off a long hypothetical, asks a question, and then picks someone to answer it. This is particularly challenging because if, like most law students, you spent the last 20 minutes looking at your ex-girlfriend’s photos on Facebook, you did not hear the concept, the hypothetical or the question. You ask the professor to “please rephrase a little,” which is code for “You are less interesting than the internet.” After a couple of false starts by you, the professor says, “Did you mean” and then gives the answer he wanted. Congratulations, you have been publicly shamed.
Q. Did you just write this column so every girl on campus would know you are a law student?
A. OBJECTION! Irrelevant.
Q. Wow, that was very dramatic.
A. It should be. “Objections” was a four-credit class.
This column contains no nudity
One of the thrills of writing for a newspaper is covering what we in the business call “hard news,” by which I do not mean front-page type stories of great significance. I am always asking myself: As a columnist, how can I use my tiny amount of journalistic street cred to possibly see people naked?
An advertisement in the October 1 Daily Illini sought models for Playboy’s upcoming “Girls of the Big Ten” issue, so I called the number in the ad and spoke with Eden, a casting director. She was quick to invite me to an Urbana hotel to see how the process works.
I then asked her if I could come watch the actual photo shoot, with what I assure you were the purest of journalistic intentions. This is the kind of sacrifice we journalists sometimes have to make, in pursuit of journalistic-related journalism.
“This isn’t a spectator sport,” she said.
Eden told me one of the main things she looks for in applicants is diversity, as evidenced by the “Girls of the SEC” issue she showed me. That diverse bunch included blondes with D-cups, brunettes with D-cups, and – for true variety – blondes with D-cups who have COMPLETELY DIFFERENT HAIRCUTS than the other blondes with D-cups.
She fawned over the girls she cast for that issue, pointing out one who is a top notch soccer player, one who races lawn mowers, one who is not wearing any clothes, etc. I found it difficult to concentrate on what she was telling me because I was so distracted by all the fascinating articles.
I spent some time talking with Candace and Crystal, best friends and seniors who came in to see if they have “the right stuff,” as measured by gallons of bra capacity. (I am using pseudonyms because the girls’ real names, Kitty Love and Bunny Jo Pornington, sound too made up.)
Neither told her parents she was auditioning to pose nude. Candace actually said that, if her photo is published, her father will never find out because he is “too nerdy” to read the magazine. I’m not certain she has a grasp on Playboy’s core readership.
The girls were bubbly and excited, if a little nervous. A few months ago they both got breast implants, which were not obvious at all, unless you have better eyesight than Louis Braille. The result was not one but two of the absolutely smoking hot types of girl I sometimes pray to be stranded alone with on a desert island (and not just because, for buoyancy-related reasons, we would almost certainly make it back to shore).
Eventually I worked up the nerve to ask them whether they are into the overweight, Jewish, humor columnist type and they said (I swear I am not making this up): “No.”
They took turns going to an adjoining hotel room and letting David (the photographer) snap topless shots. I asked Eden if I could see one of these casting shoots, which I again emphasize was strictly in the name of journalism. I am just trying to make Edward R. Murrow proud here.
“What did I tell you yesterday?” Eden asked.
“It’s not a spectator sport,” I mumbled. Damn. She’s good.
During a break in the casting call, I asked David how long he worked for Playboy before the magic of seeing a never-ending parade of naked coeds wore off. He looked at me as though I had private parts dangling from my forehead.
“Uh, DID it wear off?” I prodded.
“No,” he said, then took a deep breath and continued softly: “Nooooooooo.”
Eden said that usually about 70 students from each of the 11 Big Ten schools show up to each casting session, and that of them only four or five usually are asked to shoot spreads for Playboy. From there, maybe two will make the magazine. This means over the next few months there will be 68 super hot girls on campus in need of consolation – consolation that might be provided by desperate males and alcohol, not that I am suggesting anything. I have to go find my lucky bar shirt.
Finally, a private, personal message for Candace and Crystal, whether or not they make the magazine: Call me! I can change.
Happy Valentine's Day! Have this dead squirrel
If the dating scene is a meat market, I feel like a box of fish sticks. My head knows girls say they want funny guys, but my heart knows they confuse “funny” with “muscular” and “guys” with “guys who are not me.” It would be easier if I could figure out what girls are thinking, but I have a genetic mutation that prevents this – namely, a Y chromosome.
Last December I went on a first date with a girl named Veronica. (I am using a pseudonym; this is not to protect her identity but because I forgot the cardinal rule of both journalism and dating: Always get the other person’s name.)
I considered the date a great success. This was largely due to the speed with which she turned our dinner conversation to one of my favorite first-date topics, bovine flatulence. (Really. She’s a veterinary medicine student and dove into the subject over her third alcoholic beverage.) But Veronica turned cold afterwards, not returning my calls and generally being evasive. Luckily I have a plan for such situations: Overanalyze everything and worry.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if women were as easy to read as men. There is a simple way for a woman to tell if a man is interested – looking at his eyes. Is he making steady, effortless, unbreaking eye contact that suggests he is comfortable and focused? Then he is not interested. What you women are looking for, ideally, is a guy having a hard time keeping his focus up to face level.
Because reading women is so tricky, I’ve always had a hard time behaving around the ones who interest me. When I was 13, I spent a lot of time going to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and slow-dancing with girls. I only knew one dance move, which consisted of holding my arms straight out in front of me, elbows unbent, my fingertips making slight molecular contact with the girl at about waist level, while awkwardly rocking side to side and staring into space to avoid eye contact. This was done to pretend I wasn’t interested in whomever I was dancing with, even though my 13-year-old caveman hormones were instructing me to club a squirrel and present it to her with my manliest grunt. I was adorable.
Most of my attempts to feign disinterest at that age were directed at Michelle Zimbler. I needed to keep her totally convinced I did not have a crush on her, because the only good that could have come from her finding out would have been a long-term relationship, marriage, a brood of healthy children, and the founding of a charitable organization to feed starving third-world children.
Luckily I dodged that bullet. At my own Bar Mitzvah, after the DJ threatened to make me slow dance with my mother if I didn’t find another classmate, I asked Michelle to dance with the classic line from “Romeo and Juliet”: “You’re better than my mom!” And I meant it.
So my background in dealing with girls is less than ideal. My only reliable indicator that a girl is interested is that I develop a cold sore. I’ve gotten one at the start of just about every relationship I’ve ever been in. On dates they’re like little chaperones. “You think you’re kissing that girl?” the cold sore says. “I think not.” Without the ability to kiss, my dates and I have to find other ways to demonstrate our mutual attraction, including – and this may shock readers of a newspaper of this caliber – having a conversation.
The big wisdom I can offer to men who are pursuing women is, you just have to be yourself and find someone who likes you for you, and stop worrying about trying to read their thoughts. There is no way to hide who you really are. In other words, I should have clubbed that squirrel for Michelle.
Ultimately things didn’t work out between me and Veronica the vet student, though this may not be such a bad thing. The whole time we were at dinner I was uncomfortably self-conscious. I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility that, a few days earlier, she may have attempted life-saving surgery on my veal parmesan.
Scott Green is a second-year law student. He is listed as “single” on Facebook.
Hockey for dummies
I’m a big Illini sports fan, and my passion has been rewarded this year by the Illini hockey team, ranked no. 1 in the American Collegiate Hockey Association polls and undefeated deep into the season at 32-0. It’s the most exciting thing to happen to University athletics since the football team went to the Rose Bowl in January and gave it some sort of effort.
The hockey team plays its final two home games of the season Friday and Saturday against Adrian College, both 7 p.m. faceoffs at the Ice Arena. Tickets are $5 for students and $7 for non-students, though if you mention this column, they will still make you pay full price.
My enthusiasm for hockey is dampened only slightly by the fact that I do not understand the rules. My friend Jason, who goes with me to games, can’t believe I don’t get how hockey works. He is always helpfully explaining easy-to-understand rules, such as the one for offsides, which has baffled me for years. Offsides is simple enough that everybody understands it, Jason informs me with the same incredulity he would express if I said I didn’t believe in gravity.
“So the players can’t cross the blue line until the puck crosses,” Jason says, “but they can cross the other blue line whenever they want, unless they’re defensemen, and if the puck gets passed across two lines the goalie gets a free kick, unless it’s opposite day, in which case everything is reversed.” Somehow this does not make me understand. Possibly because I am an idiot.
But it doesn’t matter that I can’t comprehend the game. I don’t watch hockey because of the blue lines; I watch because athletically fit, highly aggressive undergrads beat the tar out of each other for my amusement. The one thing I do know about the rules is that it’s completely legal for a player to slam someone from the opposing team against the boards at a ludicrous rate of speed.
This is called “checking,” and despite its violent nature, it is not grounds for a player to spend time in the penalty box. On the other hand, players get a two-minute penalty for “holding,” which sounds like a tender expression of affection, which of course is impermissible in a manly sport such as hockey.
Often checking leads to fighting, and fighting can lead to harsh exchanges of words. Even from the balcony you can sometimes hear the players exchanging a specific colloquialism that I cannot repeat here, though it involves many of the same letters as the phrase “Firetruck You.”
But if you really want to experience the fight up close, you can stand behind the plexiglass boards near the goals and let the aggression come to you. It’s also the best place to be if you want to distract the other team’s goalie by yelling his first name, though this is an unsportsmanlike method of taunting. I therefore do not endorse doing this to Adrian College’s goalie at the games this weekend, even though, thanks to me, you now know his name is Bryan.
The players need down time between random assaults, so games are split into three 20-minute “periods,” also called “quarters.” During the breaks between periods players go to their locker rooms, where they have 15 minutes to try to remove enough of their pads to go to the bathroom.
Meanwhile, the die-hard fans leave the ice arena to walk two blocks to the Illini Inn, where they quickly re-beer themselves before heading back. Less serious fans do not join them, of course. This is because less serious fans have snuck in flasks.
The resulting crowd behavior often leads to the following loudspeaker announcement: “Do not throw things at the Zamboni driver. Doing so is grounds for ejection.” This is an unreasonable request – there is a legitimate scientific question as to whether or not a cup of beer will freeze when it hits the ice, and it’s not your fault the Zamboni driver’s head was in the way. I am sure that if you explain it this way to the security guards, they will try not to punch you so hard in the kidneys.
So make time to head to the Ice Arena the next couple of nights to cheer on the Illini hockey team. It’s your last opportunity to see them play at home this year, and your only chance to yell things at Bryan.
Scott Green is a second-year student in the college of law.
Feline owners' mentality a catastrophe
It takes a special person to devote himself to the care of a cat. I say “special” because, for legal reasons, I like to avoid words like “psychotic.” Whatever might possess someone to pick a brooding, moody cat over an energetic, outgoing dog or a personable, smiley alligator is beyond my comprehension.
If cat people were sane, there wouldn’t be products like Cat Genie. According to the product’s web site, Cat Genie is “the world’s only self-flushing, self-washing cat box.” Cat Genie hooks up to your toilet and an electrical outlet and uses washable pellets in place of kitty litter to dispose of what the site refers to as “liquids” and “solids.”
Unfortunately, the product does not always work in precisely this manner. According to a real user review on Amazon.com entitled “An expensive way to smell poo,” Cat Genie regularly malfunctions. “Your cats will thank you by depositing their love bundles beside the machine that's half filled with water and beeping away forlornly if you happen to be away when it fails,” the reviewer writes.
Other users complained the rotating motion of the Cat Genie’s bowl would sometimes result in its contents escaping. Needless to say, it undercuts Cat Genie’s assertion that it simplifies cat hygiene when the thing fires cat doots across your home like an Olympic shot putter.
My point is not that cat people are nuts for wanting a product that takes care of their cat’s liquids and solids. They are nuts because, after the Cat Genie malfunctions, they get rid of the Cat Genie and keep their cats, who subsequently go back to their old system of pooping in boxes of sand that their owners must personally clean.
I spent a few days last year visiting my friends Dave and Katie, whose two cats produce an output of solids roughly equivalent to Ringling Brothers. Dave and Katie have had these cats long enough that they no longer notice the smell. But I noticed. Of course, because I was a guest in their home, it would have been impolite to point this out. The polite thing to do was wait four months, then publish the story in a newspaper using their real names. They can thank me later.
Dave and Katie are small potatoes compared to the world’s most famous cat owner, Pope Benedict XVI. I am not accusing His Holiness of being a crazy cat person; that would be unprofessional of me, in the sense that it is unprofessional to get beaten up by a mob of angry Catholics. All I will say is that, according to the London Daily Mail, the Pope does own a large number of porcelain cat figurines.
But he’s the Pope; it’s not like he’s personally bending over and sifting through a litter box. That’s what he has a team of Cardinals for.
The Pope has long been a lover of cats. In the years before he assumed the Papacy, he took such good care of local strays they congregated around his apartment. This impresses me. I wouldn’t have put as much effort into homeless animals, though nobody expects me to act like a saint.
To capitalize on this passion, last week Ignatius Press released “Joseph and Chico,” an authorized biography of Benedict told from the point of view of his cat. (I swear this is true.) The book is nothing but propaganda aimed at children, bent on strengthening an evil, cult-like group’s grip on our society. I am talking, of course, about cats. “Joseph and Chico” could well influence the youth of the world to become cat people, the exact sort of evil the Catholic Church should be trying to avoid.
As a society, we need to stop the cat people. So whatever you do, don’t buy the book and give it to innocent children. The time to eradicate this menace is now. We’ll get started as soon as I neuter my alligator.
Scott Green is a second-year law student. He poops in a sandbox.
Scott's mailbag: cats vs babies
My job as a columnist is to intellectually challenge readers. Just like William Safire or Robert Novak, I do this by taking on controversial topics including abortion, the role of religion in politics, and cat poop. I didn’t realize the last one was contentious until a few weeks ago, when I wrote a column suggesting, in a deliberately cautious tone so as not to offend anybody, that cat owners are idiots.
The cat people were not happy about this. They mainly aired their grievances on the Daily Illini’s comment boards (“I think I’ll keep the cat and get rid of you” was a typical response), but there was even a letter to the editor published the following Monday pointing out that my column included a logical fallacy. This upset me because, in the process of writing a serious and dignified piece about cat poop, I’d never intended to dishonor the legacies of Plato and Aristotle.
But my favorite response, in the sense that it was the only one that did not refer to me as a “scum-sucking scumwad,” was an e-mail from concerned reader Jessica Kubo. Jessica, a senior in Engineering, took issue with my complaint that cat-owning friends of mine have a smelly apartment. “I know a family with young kids whose house smells like diapers,” she wrote. “Should they get rid of their baby? I've come to the conclusion after reading this column that if cat owners are psycho, so are baby owners.”
My initial reaction, as I’m sure it was for many of you, was to wonder if Jessica Kubo was available. My second thought was that she might be onto something. Cats, unlike babies, don’t make their owners pay for four years of a state college for a degree in a made-up field like Rhetoric, Cultural Studies or Engineering. Cats also don’t move back in with you after realizing the best job openings in the political science field involve working a deep fryer.
Jessica also felt slighted by what I wrote about Cat Genie, a product that eliminates your feline’s various emissions without you having to touch anything. “I would like to point out a similar product, also on Amazon, called the Diaper Genie,” Jessica wrote. “Like the Cat Genie, this product (which is intended for the disposal of dirty diapers) appears to have its share of problems; reviews on Amazon describe it as ‘smelly’ and easily broken.”
According to Diaper Genie’s website, the garbage can-looking product is easy to use. You just remove your baby’s diaper, roll it into a ball and push it through the lid, where a magical elf spins it into gold.
Jessica couldn’t figure out why both the Cat Genie and Diaper Genie are designed to clean up waste. “I don’t speak French,” she wrote, “but I’m quite certain ‘Genie’ doesn’t translate to ‘cleans up crap.’”
So the great poop debate rages on, and will probably remain unsolved until somebody invents a product to clean up after both cats and babies. It can be called “Nettoie La Merde” (French, meaning “Cleans Up Crap”).
But life for cat and baby owners consists of more than just toilet-related cleaning. For example, there is the occasional luggage-packing mishap. This comes from the Associated Press, who reported in January that 24-year-old Kelly Levy’s cat accidentally got packed in her husband’s suitcase, which was accidentally picked up at the airport by someone else.
“I went to unpack and saw some of the clothes and saw it wasn’t my suitcase,” the AP article quotes Rob Carter, the man who wound up with the suitcase, as saying. “I was going to close it, and a kitten jumped out and ran under the bed. I screamed like a little girl.”
The cat, Gracie Mae, was returned to a tearful Levy, and everything turned out okay, with the exception that Levy still has to live with a cat. My point here is that babies never put their owners through this kind of distress. They are always trying to eat things they find on the ground and screaming their heads off at three in the morning, but they never, ever travel in suitcases. No, they fly in the plane’s cabin, for the same ticket price as a full-sized adult.
So I have to disagree with Jessica Kubo and declare baby people saner than cat people. It was a close call, but there are way more baby people in the world than cat people, and the Daily Illini only has so much space to publish letters to the editor.
Scott Green is a second-year law student. He is a goldfish person.
Dumps for dollars
The Democratic primary has turned extremely bitter, and with the presidency hanging in the balance and pundits trying to make sense of everything, it is more important than ever to have a serious discussion about something else.
Fortunately Monday’s Daily Illini featured an article by Paolo Cisneros entitled “‘Mad’ cow leads chase through campus streets.” The article was about a fraternity-run charity event called “Dumps For Dollars” that was so nauseating and distasteful that I naturally called the frat’s president, Matt McNamara, to confirm the details so I could share them with everybody.
According to Matt, Alpha Epsilon Pi rented Bessie the cow (cow’s name changed to protect anonymity) to amble around in a small pen on their lawn where the ground had been spray painted into twelve-inch squares. Whoever bought the $5 square on which the cow went number two would win $500; the losers, incidentally, were the people on whose squares nobody went to the bathroom.
So it was a really sound idea: A bunch of fraternity guys rented a cow to poop on their lawn, many of them drinking beverages that Matt assured me were not alcoholic. Surprisingly, things did not go as planned. First, Bessie refused to be a good sport and, in blatant defiance of the event’s rules, left her deposit on the line between two squares. “The dump fell in such a way that we split it,” Matt said. “They got $250 apiece.”
After the cow produced the sweet smell of victory (ha ha), she got restless and decided to escape. She leapt over the fence and ran into the parking lot for reasons that don’t make any sense, unless she was somehow unhappy about being penned in and yelled at by frat boys. After she was corralled, Bessie began charging the fence and escaped again, this time leading a procession down 2nd Street in Champaign. Luckily some residents of a nearby apartment building had a pickup truck with a lasso in the back, and they were able to help wrangle the cow and get her back to her owner. I swear this is true.
Naturally this is cause for alarm. “Dumps for Dollars” is obviously a gateway wager, one that can lead to problem gambling such as betting on where an elephant will poop. Imagine the financial drain on the university to put these students through Gamblers Anonymous. (“Hi, my name is Joshua F., and as of today I have gone twelve whole months without placing a bet on a farm animal.”)
In running the event, Alpha Epsilon Pi also abandoned the first rule of frat philanthropy: Use it as a thinly veiled attempt to attract women. I was in a fraternity when I was an undergrad, and we also did charity events. Most of these were organized by our philanthropy chair, Phil Kaufman. Phil took his job very seriously and organized a kickball tournament that, by his definition, was highly successful. “The Tri Delts participated,” Phil explained.
The tournament benefited the Champaign Humane Society because we all believed in the importance of protecting innocent animals. Also because, as Phil told me, sororities would think it was cute. “Ultimately it was just to get our name out there to the girls, that is correct,” Phil said.
That’s not to say “Dumps For Dollars” was without the fairer sex. For instance, the cow was female. Also Sarah Segal, a freshman in animal sciences, was in attendance, one of about 20 or 30 girls who showed up. “The cow peed near my square, but it was on the other side where it pooped,” Segal told me, expressing sincere feminine disappointment.
In the process of getting the whole story, I tried to get in touch with Alpha Epsilon Pi’s philanthropy chair, Marc Kovarsky. Before I was able to reach him, I accidentally wound up on the phone with his mother. “I think they learned something from the experience,” Ila Kovarsky said. “I kind of wish I was there.”
Overall, I have to give Alpha Epsilon Pi credit. They raised over $2,000 for charity, their lawn is now fertile enough for this year’s corn crop, and they’ve hit on a way to settle the Democratic primary. What we’ll do is, we’ll bring in a cow and assign each candidate half of its pen...
Scott Green is a second-year law student. He plans to bribe next year’s cow.
Holy moses! It's the story of Passover
Of all the Jewish holidays, Passover is definitely the only one that begins this Saturday night. It’s the Jewish equivalent of Easter, except you have to replace “Jesus” with “Moses,” “resurrected” with “not resurrected,” and “Cadbury Creme Eggs” with “guilt.” Passover commemorates the Jewish people’s escape from slavery in Egypt, followed by 40 years of wandering the desert that ended only when they found the place that is today their homeland: Miami Beach.
Actually, they wound up in Israel, referred to biblically as “The Land of Milk and Honey,” because nobody would ever visit if it were called “The Land of Ethnic Tension and Sand.”
Modern Jews observe the first two nights of Passover at dinners called “Seders.” The basic purpose of the Seder is to retell the story of Passover and have old people inform you of how disrespectful your hairstyle is. This is not why they are worth going to, however. They are worth going to because the Seder’s rules instruct attendees to drink four heaping glasses of wine.
Passover celebrates the exodus of the Jewish people. The Jews were slaves in Egypt for about 200 years before they realized they would rather do something else, such as not be slaves in Egypt. So Moses, a Hebrew played by Charlton Heston, angrily told Pharaoh to “Let my people go from my cold, dead hands.” This was the first historical instance of foreshadowing.
Pharaoh initially refused, but God brought ten plagues upon the Egyptians, including boils, frogs, dandruff, telemarketers, and Scientology. Eventually Pharaoh freed the Hebrews, but he changed his mind after seeing that, as a practical joke, the Hebrews built the Sphinx as a half-man half-lion, instead of Pharaoh’s original instruction of half-goat half-chipmunk.
At this point in the retelling, everybody at the Seder takes a bite of matzoh. Matzoh is a dry, flat, cracker-looking substance made of flour and water that is excellent for tasks such as tiling your bathroom floor, but not so good as food. But the matzoh itself is a part of the story: When Pharaoh agreed to free the Hebrews, they suspected he might renege, so they had to leave in a hurry. There wasn’t even enough time for their bread to rise before baking, leaving it flat and flavorless, so instead of eating it the Hebrews went to the store and bought matzoh.
Modern Jews eat matzoh during Passover even when they’re not in a rush, thanks to the holiday’s “no bread” rule. In Hebrew School they told me it was because we couldn’t eat anything with flour in it, though this makes no sense because flour is matzoh’s main ingredient. I’m sure there is an actual reason for the no bread rule; I’m also sure I will receive e-mails from Jews more religious than myself informing me of this reason, and also informing me that I have the brain functionality of a vapid trout.
Anyway, Pharaoh did renege and led his army on a chase, cornering the seemingly helpless Hebrews at the Red Sea. But Moses, with the help of God, was able to correctly answer the troll’s three questions, and the Hebrews were allowed to cross the bridge. Pharaoh missed the third question (“What is a cubit?”) and the Egyptian army drowned, and worse, they were ineligible for the bonus round, where they could have won his-and-hers snowmobiles.
Eventually Moses went up Mount Sinai to get the Ten Commandments, a collection of rules that include “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” “Thou Shalt Tip At Least 15%,” and “Thou Shalt Not Make Up Joke Commandments.”
So as you can see, things worked out well for everybody, except the Egyptians, who had to clean up after the plagues and die in the Red Sea, and the Hebrews, who spent 40 years wandering the desert. Of course, it didn’t have to be 40 years, but Moses’ literal interpretation of “The Land of Milk and Honey” made him pass the Promised Land dozens of times before he was set straight by a young Hebrew named Metaphoricus.
That’s the story of Passover as it will be told Saturday night at my house. It’s possible I didn’t get it exactly right, though in all fairness, the only times I’ve heard it were after four heaping glasses of wine.
Scott Green is a second-year law student. He totally knows what a cubit is.
The totally lame earthquake of 2008
If you’re reading this, congratulations! You survived the lamest earthquake I’ve ever heard of.
I don’t mean to disparage the hardy citizens who lived through Friday morning’s tremors, but as far as earthquakes go, this was not exactly the one you’ll tell your grandchildren about. It might be the one you tell your parents about, when you point out that you have endured a lot this year and could use some extra cash. I would do this over the phone, though, since it’s hard to keep a straight face talking about a harrowing ordeal that resulted in zero casualties, even if some woman did get trapped by her porch.
I’m not kidding about the porch lady. According to the Associated Press, a woman in Mount Carmel, Illinois, six miles from the epicenter, was briefly trapped inside her house after her porch collapsed. The woman “was quickly freed and wasn’t hurt,” the story said, but I can’t help but think of what would have happened if she had been trapped for, say, a full half hour. She might have resorted to cannibalism.
The AP also ran a photo of a man cleaning up his liquor store in Mount Carmel. Most of the store’s inventory appeared safe on the shelf, but the picture showed upwards of five broken bottles of booze on the floor. This is the sort of devastation you can’t put a price on, unless you have a higher resolution of the photo and can see which brands of liquor they were.
Earthquakes are unusual for Central Illinois. You always hear about them in places like San Francisco, but those are caused by a liberal attitude toward gay marriage. Or possibly because San Francisco is on the San Andreas fault line. Nobody knows for sure.
Anyway, Friday morning’s earthquake had a 5.2 magnitude, making it the area’s most serious since a 5.3 quake back in 1968. Despite its extreme mildness, everyone discussed it that day and into the weekend in conversations that followed two lines of thought:
1. People who were woken by the quake and couldn’t believe anybody slept through it.
2. People who slept through it and couldn’t believe it woke anybody.
So the earthquake elicited strong emotions from the heroes who braved it. But our best bet is to be more prepared in the future, in case the next earthquake causes more damage, by which I mean “any damage.” In honor of last week’s quake, here are 5.2 survival tips, similar to ones recommended by real earthquake experts in that they are, for the most part, written in English:
1. Stand in a doorway or lie down in a ceramic bathtub. This advice does not apply if you are too scared to remember this rule, in which case you should just scream a lot and fall down.
2. At the time of the earthquake, do not be in Mount Carmel, Illinois. This rule also applies when there is no earthquake. I cannot stress this enough.
3. Ninety five percent of the time it feels like there is an earthquake, the actual cause is your next door neighbors going at it like porn stars. Try not to wallow in jealousy.
4. The next day, tell people whether or not you slept through it as if this was the most interesting thing to happen since the moon landing.
5. As soon as the tremors have ended, start selling earthquake insurance to vulnerable survivors at over-inflated premiums.
5.2. To avoid death, always
That’s all there is to it. If we follow this simple advice, the survivors of last week’s earthquake will not have lived in vain.
Scott Green is a second-year law student. Please contact him for information about The Scott Green Insurance Co.’s earthquake policy.
The Sex Column Answer Man
If you want to succeed in journalism, you need to select topics carefully, research thoroughly, interview intelligently, and use adverbs sparingly. Or you can write about sex.
It doesn’t matter what you say about it. “The sex was a vapid, purple, pistachioed umbrella,” you can write, and yours will be the most-read story on your publication’s web site. You might even win a Pulitzer. If the Wall Street Journal followed Cosmopolitan Magazine’s lead and ran more stories like “50 tips to please Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke in bed,” they could finally afford real photographs instead of those silly doodles.
So to increase my marketability, today I become the Sex Column Answer Man, filling you in on details with all the nuance and accuracy you’d expect from someone whose acronym is “SCAM.”
Question: What does it mean to “hook up”?
Answer: Could mean sex, could mean nothing. When a girl you like tells you she’s “hooking up” with some guy from biology class, it’s sex. When your best friend tells you he “hooked up” with a cheerleader at a party last night, it means he held her beer for 30 minutes while she was hooking up in his bedroom with someone else.
Q: Speaking of “hooking up,” my mom recently asked me what it means, but I don’t want to tell her. How should I handle this?
A: Tell her to wash and hook up your laundry.
Q: Are women’s magazines good sources of information on what men are thinking?
A: No. Although their information can seem solid at first, they have a tendency to be dead wrong. Here’s a recent example that I saw online: An article in Cosmo encouraged women to win their man’s love by “blowing him off.” It turned out they meant to cancel plans at the last minute.
Q: Any other inaccuracies in Cosmo?
A: They wrote that the male g-spot is actually the prostate, a “walnut-shaped gland.” The only walnut-shaped gland on a man is his brain, and he does not use it during sex.
Q: What’s this I hear about a condom company offering an endorsement deal to a major celebrity?
A: The celebrity is 15-year-old Miley Cyrus, star of Disney’s “Hannah Montana” and avowed member of the waiting-for-marriage crowd.
Q: Is she going to do it?
A: Cyrus’s representatives said the starlet wouldn’t accept the deal, but the condom company offered her a lifetime supply when she turns 18. At that time she may be ready to shed the “Hannah Montana” moniker for something more adult-themed, such as Whoregon Oregon, Horny Californey, or Unplanned Pregnancy Nebraska.
Q: I’m having a hard time finding a partner. When will technology let me do it with a robot?
Q: The year 2050, according to artificial intelligence expert David Levy in his new book “Love and Sex With Robots.” Levy says that by then robots will be so lifelike they will be able to handle all the things a real lover would, including sex, cuddling, arguments over where to have dinner, and fart denial.
Q: What other amazing, futuristic talents will these sex robots have?
A: They will know more than 8,000 ways to please Ben Bernanke in bed.
Scott is a third-year law student. Sex sex sex sex sex sex sex.
Two conventions, two deep comas
It’s Barack Obama’s big night! Democratic National Convention organizers have moved the final evening of the week-long event from the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver to Invesco Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos. It will be there where Obama will be named the party’s candidate, provided he can make a 50-yard field goal to defeat the Bengals. Otherwise the nomination goes to Adam Vinatieri. Rules are rules.
Actually Obama will just come out and give a speech about the future of America and how we all have to blah blah together for blah blah unity or whatever. Unfortunately this is what’s happened to political conventions, which, over 100 years ago, were really exciting. In 1880, for example, the Republicans took 30 ballots to nominate James A. Garfield, and that was only after a compromise wherein, to appease his detractors, he agreed to be assassinated the following September.
But back then the delegates chose the nominee right on the convention floor. Now the candidates are popularly elected, and everyone knows ahead of time whom it’ll be. This year, for example, the Republicans will nominate John McCain, and the Democrats selected James A. Garfield. No, sorry, McCain hasn’t run against Garfield in 128 years. The Democrats instead nominated Barack Hussein Qadaffi Castro Mussolini Strawberry Shortcake Obama.
They did this very slowly. For those of you watching on TV – or for McCain, who followed via telegraph – the actual nomination sounded something like this: “Ladies and gentlemen, the great state of Wyoming, ‘The Gerund State,’ home of the world’s largest mustard seed, the state that totally does not owe Nebraska $50, is proud to cast our seven eighths of a vote to whatshisface, uh, the black one.”
At least I think that’s what happened. I’ve never watched these parts of past conventions, and there was no need to start now. I like to spend that time doing less boring things, like making sure my arm hairs are all the same length.
Things won’t be any better next week at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. The theme there will be “Country First,” to honor McCain’s decades and decades and decades and decades of national service, from now as a United States Senator all the way back to his days in the cavalry.
A veritable who’s-who of old white guys will take the podium in support of McCain. The speeches not about McCain will be for McCain, in the sense that he should be able to learn something from them. For example, on Wednesday night former EBay CEO Meg Whitman will give a speech explaining the existence of the internet; former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina will explain the existence of computers; and Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing CEO Nikola Tesla will explain the existence of electricity.
More notable than who speaks is who’s not going to attend. At least eight GOP Senators are skipping the convention, including Ted Stevens, who is preparing for his trial in Alaska on charges that he may be older than McCain, and Larry Craig, who is flying into Minneapolis for the convention but not expected to leave the airport.
But over 14 people are expected to actually show up for the convention, so for them and the viewing audience at home, here are some speakers to look forward to:
Rosario Marin: The California Secretary of State will spend her time at the podium being a Hispanic woman.
George W. Bush: His speech is about 20 seconds short, so convention organizers will fill the time with a video highlighting all his accomplishments as President.
Dick Cheney: The Vice President will give delegates a 30-second head start before he begins hunting them for sport.
Michael Steele: A black guy! Sure, Steele, the only African-American scheduled for a major speech at the convention, is a former one-term Lieutenant Governor of Maryland who currently holds no elected office. But still: A black guy! Just like Obama!
So get ready for week two of convention-mania, America! It’ll be a rip-roarin’ good time! Somebody wake me when it’s over.
Scott is a third-year law student. He’s voting for Vinatieri.
A floating question mark about the economy
You may be worried about the economy, what with the bankruptcy last week of Lehman Brothers, the buyout of Merrill Lynch, the bailout of AIG by the federal government, and the termination of McDonald’s $1 soft drink promotion. But there is absolutely nothing for the average American to worry about, provided he has diversified his assets and is a Canadian citizen.
“I know Americans are concerned about the adjustments that are taking place in our financial markets,” President Bush said last Monday, attempting to pacify the nation. Here is how you can tell he is lying through his teeth: There are 27 syllables in that sentence, and he did not botch a single one.
This means his handlers (Dick Cheney and Vorlok the Destroyer) made him practice the speech over and over until he had it perfect, which means they were especially worried the president might go off script. It would have been bad if, for example, he’d described a huge economic downturn as an “adjustment” but the Texas Rangers missing the playoffs as a “crisis.”
The financial sector didn’t have to implode. Lehman Brothers got greedy by giving away too many expensive home loans to people who couldn’t afford to repay them. This became the “Subprime Mortgage Crisis,” so called because jailed white collar executives will be forced to eat subprime rib and so-so lobster. The firm filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, wherein a judge appoints a trustee to help Lehman Brothers find ways to pay off creditors, such as a bikini carwash.
The financial giant can get out of bankruptcy and resume normal business operations if it shows the court it is responsible enough, at which point it can continue offering subprime mortgages. There is precedent for this. Another financial institution that filed for Chapter 11 and later got out of bankruptcy, Mario Brothers, was able to recoup losses with coins they collected from floating question marks.
The government decided not to help Lehman Brothers, but it did help AIG, the insurance giant whose stock fell 95% upon reports it didn’t have cavemen in its ads. The government jumped to action and, within minutes, decided to teach AIG a lesson it won’t soon forget: giving it an $85 billion loan. This is outrageous. When I wanted to find out the status of my $600 surplus check, I had to wait on hold with the IRS for an entire afternoon.
Money for AIG’s bailout is coming from American taxpayers, but don’t think this was the President’s first choice. His first choice was to take it from orphans and puppies. He also briefly considered taking it from military spending in Iraq until he realized $85 billion was enough to fund maybe 17 or 18 minutes of the war.
As for what this all means, some financial analysts worry this whole thing could send our economy into its darkest days since the Great Depression. What a bunch of Negative Nancies! The Great Depression wasn’t that bad. Apples and pencils were dirt-cheap, and many Americans didn’t have to gnaw off their limbs for sustenance!
But just in case this country isn’t tough enough for that, the President has a complicated plan you non-Harvard MBA types won’t understand: give his Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, control over $700 billion to distribute however he wants. Unlike the $85 billion used to bail out AIG, $700 billion is no piddling amount. It’s so much money that if you stacked it all, in pennies, from here to the moon, you would be really good at stacking pennies.
Anyway, for those of you who think this plan – letting Henry Paulson, an unelected official, personally manage more money than the net worth of me and Bill Gates combined – is too good to be true, there is a catch. The President’s proposed legislation would give Paulson immunity from prosecution or agency review.
This means he can literally do anything with the money, even give it all to me, which is why I will not make any jokes about how Henry Paulson’s bald, pocky head looks like a giant buttock. Though I admit it’s more likely he’d hand it over to John McCain, who already owns eight houses and could use the money to buy another 700,000 at $1 million apiece.
More, even, if he takes out subprime mortgages on them.
Scott is a third-year law student. His assets are diversified: Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario Brothers 2, Super Mario Brothers 3, and Super Mario Kart.
Make your nerdiness work for you on "Jeopardy!"
Barack Obama is president! Have you gotten your magical unicorn that’s going to make everything all better? Not yet? Me neither, but I’m gonna name mine Davey.
In the meantime, your best chance to improve your financial situation might come next Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, when “Jeopardy!,” the quiz show that makes unnecessary punctuation fun!, conducts online contestant tryouts.
Most people don’t know how people are selected to appear on the show, but as someone who has failed to get on “Jeopardy!” numerous times, I can give you a sense of how it doesn’t work: It doesn’t work by going to Alex Trebek’s house at three in the morning dressed as the killer from the “Saw” movies, reciting facts you learned from Stephen King novels.
Actually I have never gone to Alex Trebek’s house dressed as the killer from “Saw.” (I was the killer from “Scream.”) But my point is, I have long wanted to be on the show, to the point that I even subjected myself to years of high school and college quiz bowl teams, wherein roving bands of nerds travel the country to see who can be the first to correctly identify Levi P. Morton as Benjamin Harrison’s Vice President. It’s intense.
So every year, beginning about ten years ago, I registered on the “Jeopardy!” web site to try to get on the show. The online tryout only began a few years ago, and before that, you had to get your name randomly selected for an invitation to audition in person. The ones I went to were usually held at Navy Pier in Chicago, which probably weeded out a lot of the smartest potential contestants, because smart people don’t pay $3,000 for two hours of parking.
What you’d do was, you’d go to this conference room, and you’d take a 50-question test requiring really tough “Jeopardy!”-level knowledge. Usually about 10 percent would pass, and those people got to stay to play a mock version of the game while contestant coordinators wrote secret little comments to each other, probably important show-related analysis like “Number 14 has booger hanging from nose,” “Number 9 looks like a wiener” and “Do you like me? Yes/no.”
If you weren’t selected, you had to resubmit your name the next year; some contestants tried out a dozen or more times before getting on the program, but this is not recommended, because you would have to win 200 straight games just to make up your Navy Pier parking expenses.
These days the process works pretty much the same way, but the first step, the contestant exam, is handled online. Applicants get 15 seconds for each question, which is just barely too little time to look up answers on Wikipedia. Not that scamming “Jeopardy!” will get you anywhere; the people who pass the test and are invited to try out in person have to take another 50-question test to demonstrate they weren’t cheating on the online one.
But if you pass the tests, and don’t come across as too much of a derelict in the mock-game portion, you could wind up on the show! Then a 30-year-old computer programmer will promptly wipe the floor with your gray matter. At least that’s what happened to the 148 players who lost to human buzzsaw Ken Jennings in 2004, until he was called back to his home planet. Jennings racked up 74 victories, setting a “Jeopardy!” record and earning over $3 million before the carnage was over. A lot of fans of the show were upset because his streak kept other very smart people from winning even a single game. But I’m glad he won all that money. He seems like a really nice guy, you know? Like the kind of person who’d be willing to invest $75,000 in an exciting investment opportunity I’d like to talk with him about. Or at least half that amount, so I can park my car at Navy Pier.
So go to Jeopardy.com right now and sign up for the test – you have to register ahead of time – and get ready for a brain-busting challenge. And in case you don’t wind up getting on the show, maybe your unicorn can cheer you up.
Scott is a third-year law student. He was Benjamin Harrison’s Secretary of State.
Single guys, enjoy manly music while you can
Men, there’s an easy way to find out what kind of music you like: get a girlfriend.
Guys in relationships know what I’m talking about. You meet this wonderful, beautiful woman; you lose yourself in passion; and within months, you have three John Legend albums on your iPod.
I called a number of guys I know who are dating, engaged, married, married to the sea, etc. They all agreed this happened to them, though they couldn’t remember what kind of music they used to like. Also on most of the calls I heard a female voice in the background providing answers.
Too many single guys think dating is just about the perks, such as getting their mothers to stop nagging them about not having a girlfriend. But there are parts nobody warns you about, like music brainwashing, 90-minute phone calls, and having to put the toilet seat down.
I remember when my favorite song was “Wake Up Call” by Maroon Five, a tender love ballad that expresses the timeless romantic message of “I shot my girlfriend’s secret lover and need to hide the body.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with this song, and there is nothing wrong with playing it for my own girlfriend, Michelle, just to make sure she gets the message.
But now my favorite is Beyoncé Knowles’s “Single Ladies,” which includes the following lyrics, of which Grammy voters should take note:
All the single ladies, all the single ladies
All the single ladies, all the single ladies
All the single ladies, all the single ladies
All the single ladies
Now put your hands up, oh oh oh
Do I like “Single Ladies” because it speaks to me, a modern woman with 21st century needs? Yes, but also because it’s become Michelle’s favorite, which means she blasts it nonstop in the same manner federal agents use to drive cult members from their compounds.
So I didn’t like the song the first nine million times she played it, but now that’s not the case. Now I love “Single Ladies.” If I could marry “Single Ladies,” believe me, I would, though I imagine Michelle would frown on this.
There’s no way I’d have exposed myself to music like this when I was single. Back then I listened to manly songs with names like “Paralyzer” (Finger Eleven) and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” (AC/DC) and “Testosterone Death Metal Masculine Chest Hair Rock” (Elton John).
And music is only the beginning. My father, married more than 30 years, has to take my mom to see chick flicks, and Michelle’s dad, who has a wife and two grown daughters, knows the difference between various purse designers.
So we guys in relationships have to warn our single friends what’s at stake. We need to enlist a really manly musician – someone like Jay-Z, who’s recorded songs called “2 Many Hoes” and “There’s Been A Murder.” He has an album coming out soon; maybe he can include a song I wrote, “Single Men”:
All the single men, all the single men
All the single men, all the single men
All the single men, all the single men
All the single men
Now leave the seat up, oh oh oh
Though I doubt his wife would allow it, being as how he’s married to Beyoncé.
Scott is a third-year law student. He also has a Taylor Swift album.
Red hots! Get ya red hot newspapers heeeeeeyah!
Walk into the newsroom of any major paper and you’ll see, hard at work, hordes of gainfully employed Americans with no fear of losing their jobs.
These people are repo men. The journalists are the ones cowering under their desks, churning out article after article about how newspapers are dying.
Things used to be better. In the golden days of journalism (March 7-12, 1905) newspapers were advocates of the people. “Muckraking” reporters wrote stories about which factory violated safety codes or what conglomerate used slave labor or whose meatpacking plant put rat parts in hot dogs. “More disgusting hot dog stories,” golden era editors were always bellowing.
Reporters who covered these beats were the Michael Moores of their time, only skinnier, because they were terrified of hot dogs. They produced a product people wanted, and were so satisfied with their jobs that no one ever left to start a blog.
It’s not like that anymore. Today’s newspaper stories fall into two categories:
1. Op-ed pieces about how newspapers are dying because, for some unknown reason, people find the Internet more interesting.
2. Articles about the latest Internet fads and how interesting they are.
The problems started when every publication put its content online for free. At first it was just one paper, but they all followed because of a herd mentality in journalism that I wouldn’t have mentioned if I hadn’t read about it other places first.
At this point you are probably thinking: “Hey! Why not just stop giving their product away? Wouldn’t charging money fix everything?” Clearly you are not as savvy as the trained professionals in the journalism industry, who understand that the solution to this problem must be innovative enough to set the blogosphere on fire. (Otherwise nobody would find out about it.)
There actually are a handful of journalists who think charging for content is the way to go. A couple months ago Time published an article in which Walter Isaacson, a former managing editor at the magazine, suggested news organizations charge two or three cents per story viewed on their Web sites.
This is a brilliant plan that would succeed completely, at least in raising two or three cents per article, total. After the first guy paid he’d post it on his blog, where the rest of the world could read it for free.
No, in order for the pay-per-view system to work, publications would have to charge two or three hundred thousand dollars per article, and the only way to get that kind of money would be selling to Donald Trump stories that reflect very positively on Donald Trump. This is the concept behind my new $3 million-per-copy book, “Mark Cuban Kicks Ass: A Guide To America’s Most Awesome Person.”
Other methods I’ve seen advocated include switching to an online-only format, switching to a print-only format, switching to a print-and-online-only format, and publishing vicious gossip about anyone who cancels his subscription.
But really, journalists just need to return to our roots, to the stories that made American newspapers great in the first place: ads for indentured servants and reports of whose wife was burned for what kind of witchcraft.
Also we should remember the lessons learned from our muckraking days. Corporations are still doing bad things, and hot dogs are still bad for you. What I’m saying is, maybe unsold papers can be sold to meat plants as filler.
Scott is a third-year law student.
How I engaged my favorite reader
Graduating college columnists like to write about what the school paper meant to them, how much they love their readers, and a bunch of other nonsense. With the readers, for example, my main interaction has been the DailyIllini.com comment boards, where people post threads titled “You can’t be serious” after I suggest the president host pot parties.
Instead I’m writing a follow-up to my Feb. 14, 2008 column. That one was about how I’ve never been good at dealing with females I’m attracted to, dating back to when I was 13 and could barely ask my crush, Michelle Zimbler, to dance with me at my own Bar Mitzvah.
I’d never told Michelle I liked her. In the column I wrote: “I needed to keep her totally convinced I did not have a crush on her, because the only good that could have come from her finding out would have been a long-term relationship, marriage, a brood of healthy children, and the founding of a charitable organization to feed starving third-world children. Luckily, I dodged that bullet.”
Things have changed.
Michelle and I were friends from fifth grade through college, but had been out of touch since 2005. After reading the column, Michelle, who was by then a gainfully employed adult, e-mailed to say it was “charming and hilarious.” I signed a copy, put it in a cheap frame and mailed it to her in Chicago, in the hopes she would enjoy opening what became in transit a package of broken glass.
After a few weeks of correspondence, I finally found the courage – 12 years after I developed my original crush – to horribly bungle asking her out. “Would you like to go on a date with me?” That’s the exact sort of direct approach I should have taken. Instead I asked if, provided she weren’t busy or anything, she wouldn’t mind hanging out or whatever, you know, next week or some other time, if next week isn’t good. Or whatever.
Somehow she found this endearing, or at least not creepy, and we had our first date March 21, 2008, at a little restaurant in Lincoln Park. Two weeks later we went on another. We began seeing each other every weekend. By the end of June we’d exchanged “I Love You”s, though I think she only said it to get me to shut up about having said it first.
Clichés come to life when you’re in love. Air feels fresher. Traffic moves faster. Movies are less formulaic. Love songs stop annoying you so much. Food tastes better, which explains why I gained 20 pounds. I attended summer school in Champaign but drove two hours to Chicago most weekends to visit. Which was a huge pain, because gas was $90 a gallon.
We took a trip to Seattle, attended friends’ weddings as each other’s plus-ones, took long walks to nowhere and talked on the phone for hours at a time. I found new ways to tell her how beautiful she was and she found new ways to tell me to stop wearing my favorite shirt. By the start of the fall semester we knew this was the real thing – the relationship that never ends – and I started telling my friends I wasn’t going to be fun anymore.
There are a lot of things a guy has to do before proposing, but none more important than buying a diamond engagement ring. This is a piece of jewelry that tells your beloved, in a timeless and romantic way, that you are now broke.
It took a lot of effort to find the perfect diamond. I even bought three books, which basically said everyone in the industry was trying to scam me, with the exception of diamond book authors.
I saw this in action. At a chain jewelry store whose identity I will protect because I don’t want Zales to sue me, I approached a saleswoman standing in front of a “The Diamond Store” sign. “Can I look at some diamonds?” I asked.
“We don’t have any,” she said.
Eventually I learned enough about the process to get a great deal on a diamond that was 1) nice enough that people would compliment Michelle on the bus; but 2) not so nice they would try to steal it.
Which meant it was time for the other major hurdle: getting permission from her father.
I know this is a chauvinistic tradition that dates back to the days when women were considered property. But I was concerned that if I didn’t observe it, Michelle’s dad would follow the equally outdated tradition of whacking me over the head with a club.
This meant secretly having dinner with Michelle’s parents at their house, which meant Mr. and Mrs. Zimbler knew what was up, which meant a really awkward time sitting around talking about anything but Michelle. I thought of excusing myself to go to the bathroom so I could climb out the window, but the jewelry store had a strict no-returns policy.
Finally, after maybe an hour and a half, I got the nerve to ask the big question: “Mr. Zimbler, can I use your bathroom?”
But it didn’t have windows, so I came back and asked if I could have his daughter’s hand in marriage. He looked at me and – as has long been part of this manly tradition – began weeping openly.
When he regained his composure he granted permission, after I specified which of his girls I wanted to marry. (“The older one,” I said.)
I had a ring; I had permission; I had a girlfriend. Now all I needed was a proposal. There was no shortage of romantic ideas: scoreboard at an arena football game; mariachi band; ring hidden in a bowl of flan; me jumping naked from an oversized gift box; mariachi band jumping naked from an oversized bowl of flan at her place of employment; etc.
Each of these I suggested to Michelle, who eventually got that I was kidding, and after paramedics removed the scissors from my forehead she even started adding her own humorous ideas, like a private romantic dinner or moonlit beach.
So she laughed at dinner one night when I told her I was about to get on my chair to proclaim my love, then propose marriage while a hired musician fiddled and waiters brought in six vases of roses. Even her wacky humor columnist boyfriend wasn’t crazy enough to make that kind of scene at this fancy restaurant in downtown Chicago, where we were celebrating the one-year anniversary of our first date.
Then I stood on my chair. “Excuse me,” I bellowed. “Can I please have everyone’s attention?”
I told the dining room our story: meeting in fifth grade, my secret junior high crush, the column that brought us together, the year of falling head-over-heels, how she didn’t remind me too much of my mother. As the wait staff set the roses on the table and the violinist played, Michelle began to cry.
I stepped to the ground and took the ring box from my coat pocket. “Michelle,” I said, my voice cracking.
“You are the love of my life, my soul mate, and my best friend.
“Will you marry me?”
Two years ago, when I submitted my application to write a column for the Daily Illini, I figured it would be a fun way to get my picture in the newspaper every week. On occasions when I lost focus, I might even say something worthwhile.
But Michelle said “yes,” and so this column has transformed my life. Writing it is the best thing I’ve ever done.
Though according to Michelle, my best move was throwing away that shirt.
Scott was a third-year law student.