Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Sincere Apology to our European Friends

It has been brought to our attention that our previous post, “How to Correctly Negotiate a Roundabout,” with its clear and narrow focus on distinctly American right-side driving, may inadvertently insult our vast European readership, many of whom are described provincially1 over here as driving on the “wrong side of the road.”

We meant no offense, and sincerely apologize if any was taken. We here at Bowling in the Dark are big fans of Europe—“where the history comes from”2—and certainly don’t want to alienate some 830 million potential readers, even if most of them probably speak some sort of funny foreign language instead of American.3

To make things right with our potential European readers, and also to the kind of Americans who insist on being easily offended on behalf of complete strangers, we have rewritten “How to Correctly Negotiate a Roundabout” to be more inclusive and international, not only redesigning the graphics from the ground up—a staggeringly expensive process, we might add—but also carefully translating the text into a tongue more familiar to a Continental audience. It is with pride, then, that we present to you

How to Correctly Negotiate a Roundabout: European Version

Wir können uns nur ein paar Deutsches Wörter von unseren Sekundärschulenklassen erinnern. Heutzutage sprechen wir nur einen begrenzten aber nützlichen Dialekt bekannt als Amerikanischer Film Deutsch, der besteht hauptsächlich von Phrasen wie—zum Beispiel—“Ruhe, bitte! Wir sind in einen Unterseeboot,” “Autsch! Kugeln von Amerikanische Gewehre!” und “Warum sieht dieser Archäologe wie Han Solo aus?”

Vielleicht sind Sie auch bewusst, dass Deutsch auf der richtigen Seite von der Straße, anstatt der linken Seite, und treiben, dass unsere Übersetzung dieser Spalte in Deutsch besonders nutzlos ist. Wir hoffen, dass Sie finden dieses lustige; wir sicher gemacht hat, aber unser Humor ist berüchtigt verdächtig.

Sowieso hier ist die Bilder, die wir Ihnen früher versprochen haben. Sie würden nicht glauben, wie hart es war, diese zu schaffen. Für alle Sie nicht-boshaft unfähig dadraußen, das Kegeln im Dunkeln Grafikdesign Abteilung überreicht stolz den Folgenden zwei-Teil, detailliertes Anweisungshandbuch auf wie richtig, ein Verkehr umständlich zu verhandeln:



Das ist alles.

1. But, of course, accurately.
2. 2002, Eddie Izzard, Dress To Kill. How about that—after eleven months, finally a legitimate footnote. I’ll be damned.
3. Our friends from the United Kingdom, of course, speak a somewhat comprehensible version of American. Philologists believe their dialect descends from the style of American spoken by migrants to England from Australia, which is, of course, the Forty-Eighth State, just southwest of California.

Monday, September 20, 2010

How to Correctly Negotiate a Roundabout

 If This is Actually Informative, How Did You Get Your License in the First Place?

One of the main benefits of the traffic roundabout—also known in some places as the traffic circle, rotary, or those goddamned things they have in France—is that it often replaces a four-way stop intersection, thus decreasing congestion by allowing drivers to maintain speed through the intersection when safe, and calling for slowing or stopping only when traffic dictates.

The roundabout is a relatively new concept in some parts of the United States, dating back only to 1990, so I suppose I should allow for the possibility that after barely more than 175,000 hours’ worth of practice, perhaps American drivers just haven’t quite gotten the hang of it.

The other option, of course, is that the kind of folks who don’t work their way through the roundabout properly do so because they’re self-important assholes who find that the five to six seconds they save far outweigh (1) endangering other drivers’ lives in a head-on collision and (2) ensuring that every other driver on the road realizes that you’re a self-important asshole. I’m inclined to bet on this particular possibility, but Napoleon Bonaparte (unless it was somebody totally different) once advised us to “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence,” and that seems like good healthy advice.

So for all you non-malicious incompetents out there, the Bowling in the Dark Graphic Design Department proudly presents the following two-part, in-depth  instruction manual on how to correctly negotiate a traffic roundabout:



That is all.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Next Time I Would Rather Break Than Bend

Warren Zevon, 1947–2003

The seventh anniversary of the death of Warren Zevon (January 24, 1947–September 7, 2003) passed with little more public attention than he received during most of his lifetime. Zevon had only one American Top 40 hit—1978’s “Werewolves of London”—and while to this day it receives rare but consistent airplay, the only other Zevon song I can recall hearing more than once on the radio in almost thirty-six years of listening is “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.”

At this point, your best bet at finding Warren Zevon on the radio is to wait—not very long—to hear Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long,” a song best described as either a clumsy tribute to or a cruel and unholy bastardization of “Werewolves of London” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”

And that’s just not right. Even a thoroughly crappy artist like Kid Rock doesn’t deserve the ignominy of being forever identified with a Kid Rock song, for God’s sake. Warren Zevon’s own music—as opposed to a crappy, mutated mash-up of one of his notable riffs—deserves to be remembered, and I’d like to do what I can to help with that.

This will not be easy. I know almost nothing about Zevon that I didn’t learn just now on Wikipedia,1 and of the thirty-two Warren Zevon songs in my music collection; five are duplicates2 and another three are cover tunes. So you shouldn’t consider this an expert’s comprehensive list of a great artist’s greatest songs, it’s just a humble list of cool tunes that you’re guaranteed to like,3 courtesy of a buddy who just discovered a bunch of thirty-year-old music and wants to pretend he’s better informed than you are. And also, he smells better than you, because he’s me.4

Werewolves of London: I’m not going to go into this song in any particular detail because you’ve almost certainly heard it. I will mention, however, that the mascot of the Werewolves, a short-lived minor-league baseball team based in London, Ontario, was named Warren Z. Vaughn. And that’s cool.

Mr. Bad Example: Complete with horn section, this is probably the bounciest song you’ll ever hear about an amoral misanthrope who steals, swindles, and whores his way through a charmed life. “Mr. Bad Example” is a great example of Zevon’s deft way with words and an off-kilter sense of humor:
I got a part-time job at my father’s carpet store
Laying tackless stripping, and housewives by the score
I loaded up their furniture, and took it to Spokane
And auctioned off every last naugahyde divan

I’m very well aquainted with the seven deadly sins
I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in
I’m proud to be a glutton, and I don’t have time for sloth
I'm greedy, and I'm angry, and I don't care who I cross.
My Shit’s Fucked Up: From his 2000 album Life’ll Kill Ya, “My Shit’s Fucked Up” is a wry (and obviously vulgar) complaint about the unstoppable march of aging. Except for the fact that it includes a brilliant cover of “Back in the High Life Again”—which, if you ask me, runs slow, sad circles around Steve Winwood’s version—I know nothing else about Life’ll Kill Ya. If you own it, tell me what you think.

Boom Boom Mancini: I’ve long held a half-baked theory that a songwriter’s talent can be measured by what proportion of his or her songs aren’t about love, sex, partying, or getting out on the dance floor and working it.5 This is why I tend to avoid pop and R&B music, and “Boom Boom Mancini” is evidence that my dumb theory may hold water. I wouldn’t have guessed that a song about a boxer would interest me at all, but the driving rhythm and straight-ahead, stripped-down rock sound of “Boom Boom Mancini” changed my mind after the first measure. Plus, there’s not a word in it about love.6

Hit Somebody (The Hockey Song): It’s about hockey—the best sport in the world—and it includes a spoken performance from David Letterman. What more can you ask for?7

Renegade: The character Zevon creates in “Renegade” displays a desperate and perhaps misplaced pride, a fruitless defiance against a power that he knows will break him. Or at least that’s how I’m reading it; Zevon’s use of post-Civil War and modern-era Southern imagery makes it hard to see his being a renegade as a positive thing, despite some well-crafted verses:
I don’t want to grow old gracefully
I don’t want to go ’til it’s too late
I’ll be some old man in the road somewhere
Kneeling down in the dust by the side of the Interstate

I am a renegade
I've been a rebel all my days
Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead: I was disappointed to find that this song lists few if any things that can be done in Denver, regardless of your body temperature, but it’s a fun little song anyway. The movie Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, a critical and box-office disappointment starring Andy Garcia and Christopher Walken, takes its name from the song, rather than the other way around. And except that the song is played over the movie’s end credits, the two aren’t even remotely related. This, frankly, is a good news for the song.

This doesn’t quite exhaust my knowledge of Warren Zevon, but it comes fairly close, and I figure I ought to save the other three songs for next year’s tribute. If you’re willing to drop $6.93 on digital downloads of the songs above, then I’m proud of you and I’ve done my job. Please let me know what you think. On the other hand, if you’ve spent any money on Kid Rock, I don’t want to hear about it.

1. Which, of course, means I may well no nothing about him at all.
2. “Werewolves of London,” “Werewolves of London,” “Lawyers, Guns, and Money,” “Lawyers, Guns, and Money,” and “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.”
3. This is not a guarantee at all. Why on Earth would I make a guarantee like that? What the hell do I know about your taste in music? Have we even met?
4. I’m on a horse!
5. Or whatever it is the kids are doing on dance floors these days.
6. You could probably make the case that “the name of the game is be hit and hit back” is about love, but it’d make you a bit of a sicko.
7. This is a rhetorical question. If you have an actual answer to it, please keep it to yourself.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

To the Airport Baggage Handler I Accused of Stealing My Flash Drive

Sorry, dude, my mistake.

The Monkey of Shame.1
I found my flash drive just the other day, a good month and a half after I thought you’d stolen it out of my suitcase. I feel really bad about the false accusation I made, and am ashamed that I broadcast it so widely around the internet—the kind of damage I could have done to your reputation among Bowling in the Dark’s three or four current and potential future readers is inexcusable.

I am still trying to figure out, of course, why you broke into my suitcase to hide the memory card in my shoe. You must have known I hardly ever wear those shoes, but, regardless, your motivations for hiding my flash drive and making me look like an idiot are neither here nor there, given that nothing was actually lost and no permanent damage was done. To me, anyway, and that’s the important part.

Anyway, my apologies also for stealing your identity in a totally awesome but petty fit of revenge. I hope the credit-card payment for that three-hundred-dollar hooker—or the bills for the three hundred one-dollar hookers—didn’t get you into too much trouble with your wife or your girlfriend.

They’re both lovely people, by the way.

I’d offer to return the Ferrari that I bought with your kids’ college funds, but I’m afraid it’s run into some problems.2 I’d be more than happy, though, to send you a baggie filled with what’s left of it. The speedometer needle and about two-thirds of the oil dipstick are in really good shape.

I took this picture right before the really big accident.

I was also able to soak up a good couple quarts’ worth of oil and antifreeze with an old gym towel that had been in the trunk; it’s now in a mop bucket in my basement. Let me know where you live and I’ll have it sent right back to you in a very nice sponge. I want to make this right.

Most Sincerely,

Some Guy

1. We’re well aware, incidentally, that the Monkey of Shame is in fact an ape. But monkey is an intrinsically funny word, and ape is not (much like underpants is naturally far funnier than the more prosaic underwear). So get as technical and annoying as you want; the Monkey of Shame will remain the Monkey of Shame.
2. “Problem” being, of course, an old-fashioned word meaning “fire hydrant.”

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Indestructible Plastic Car

At around 5:00 on the afternoon of September 9, 2010, the odometer on my shitbox 1996 Saturn SC2 reached 290,000 miles. Where I live, there’s a law against sending or reading text messages while driving, but to my knowledge there’s no law against taking cell-phone pictures, so I took a picture of it.1

When I bought the car it had been driven 36,000 miles, and usually got around 41 to 42 miles per gallon. Now, a dozen years, 254,000 miles, and some 6 to 8 oil changes later, this little car, battered and bruised by the equivalent of almost twelve trips around the Earth,2 struggles to get more than about 38 mpg. For a bit of perspective, the average fuel efficiency for a mid-sized car, for the mix of highway and city driving I do, would probably be around 24 mpg.

With the exception of one very expensive accident that occurred before I’d even made a payment on the damned thing, the most significant repairs this car has needed are (1) a new driver’s-side chair, (2) a jury-rigged trunk latch,3 (3) a new clutch cable, the loss of which apparently limits you to 10 mph in first gear on the interstate, and (4) several new headlight bulbs, which apparently burn out abnormally often in cars that have been mangled and then not-quite-totally straightened out, and thus tend to rattle a lot at high (and sometimes low) speeds.

If you don’t count gas, oil, seat covers, or the mild-to-moderate repairs listed above—or the rather hefty price tag of straightening out a car almost all the way after t-boning a Chevy Malibu at around 45 miles per hour—I’ve gotten about 22 miles per dollar out of this car so far. To put that in perspective, you’d need to get around 2.7 million miles out of your 2007 Porsche 911 to get the same value out of it.4 That’s not a typo: 2.7 million miles.6

For more than two decades, the brain trust at General Motors (Saturn’s parent company) couldn’t figure out a way to sell a fuel-efficient, dirt-cheap, incredibly durable, low-maintenance, consumer-friendly American car to the millions of Americans7 who were looking to buy fuel-efficient, durable, inexpensive American cars.

This is, as you may know, the same General Motors that, after spending much of the last hundred years as a hugely successful company, recently took the biggest, stinkiest, steamingest financial shit in the history of the auto industry, eventually needing $57.6 billion dollars’ worth of U.S. government intervention merely to continue to exist.

Granted, the Saturn is not without its problems. They might have sold better if they didn’t look like they were made of plastic—which they are—and it’s possible that some potential customers were turned off by the notion that Saturn dealerships were honest enough to sell the cars for the price listed on the sticker rather than some arbitrary number that you’d have to beat out of them. But I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t some connection between GM’s inability to make money off of well-made, well-priced little plastic workhorse cars and the fact that the company now owes you and me just shy of sixty billion dollars.

1. And just in case there is, I pulled over to the side of the road and took the picture while revving my engine up to 60 miles per hour. Honest.
2. That’s twelve trips around the Earth at the equator, of course. It’d be just under 46,179 trips around the Earth if I were circling the South Pole from a mile away.
3. Fixed at home by Dr. Brainsmart for the lofty price of one (1) six-pack of tasty beer.
4. Not counting, of course, how many times that Porsche would get you laid, which probably adds something to its value. I don’t have any way of calculating this number, but I’m sure it’s a lot higher than the number of times a Saturn will get you laid.5
5. Zero.
6. That’s 430,542 trips around the Earth!
7. Or Canadians. We can’t forget about our lovely and loyal Canadian readers, with their beady little eyes and flapping heads.

Monday, September 6, 2010

How Crazy Are You?: A Guideline for Motorists

First published on September 6, 2010

“I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds . . . but at least the
cigarette makes me look cool.” —Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer

Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, known in some circles for some kind of esoteric and irrelevant fiddling with atoms—which most people can’t even see, for God’s sake—is perhaps best known to the general public for his groundbreaking work studying the proliferation and significance of bumper stickers on American roadways.

It’s almost certain that the technical details of his work would not be of interest, but the gist of it is that Dr. Oppenheimer—with the help of a two-billion-dollar budget and more than one hundred thousand government scientists and mathematicians—proved the direct correlation between the number of bumper stickers on any given car and the likelihood that the driver of said car is either an asshole, a lunatic, or both.

Unfortunately, because of a disastrous paperwork mixup, the precise results of the good doctor’s bumper-sticker study were accidentally vaporized at the White Sands Proving Ground on July 16, 1945.

The loss to science was devastating, and since then no one has been able to replicate Dr. Oppenheimer’s work, and he himself was too busy becoming Death to give much thought to starting over again. Thus, despite nearly seventy years of our best efforts, we remain unable to identify the precise point at which a driver’s bumper-sticker accumulation indicates guaranteed insanity. The best we can do, with our tiny nonscientific brains, is apply his basic principles and make our best guesses as to which categories a particular driver belongs.

Compare your bumper sticker situation to the following examples to find out just how severe your problem is:

One single bumper sticker doesn’t make you crazy.
But pride IS still a sin, isn’t it?

Sane, But with Some Assholic Tendencies
Eight bumper stickers puts this car in a grey area, but they refer to
more than one subject and only one of them is of the
Bush-is-a-big-fat-idiot variety, so this car falls precariously on
the asshole side of the sanity line.

Slightly Nutty, Mostly Harmless
A bit surprisingly, the blue Subaru above—rather than
the tree-hugging reality-questioner right here—is the
one from Boulder, Colorado.

Crazy and Messy

Crazy but Refreshingly Organized
If I were to add three hundred stickers to my car—and the
thought has crossed my mind—this just how I’d do it.

We Don't Even Have a Category for This

Double-Toilet-Flush, Tinfoil-Helmet, Paul-is-Dead Crazy


I’m sorry, but thanks to the guy above, this just isn’t fun anymore. It’s one thing to make fun of the harmlessly weird, slightly goofy everyday assholes that make up the bulk of our society. This angry, hateful fucker, on the other hand, with his genuine and probably dangerous no-bullshit madness and casual bigoted inhumanity, pretty much torpedoes the light mood I was in and replaces it with a hollow worry for the future of the human race.

If you can’t read what his stickers say, you’re not missing out on anything insightful and I’m not even going to type it out because, frankly, I think it’s too goddamned disgusting to repeat. If you have to know, though, you should be able to find a list here.