Thursday, August 11, 2005


I had a brilliant idea recently. Well, several actually. Good ideas are not such a rare thing for me, or anyone else for that matter. Good ideas are really a dime a dozen and not as important to success as some people think.

Look at Hollywood, for example. Many films come out, of which cannot even be said, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Hollywood doesn't run on good ideas. The good ideas all got consigned to development purgatory or slush pile oblivion because the originators thereof thought that having a good idea was enough to succeed, and they wouldn't have to stab any backs, kiss any butts, or warm any beds.

The world has a way of destroying most good ideas, along with the people who came up with them.

But this brilliant idea of mine is a little different. It could get something done - not in Hollywood I think, but it might just help me and whoever else works on it achieve a measure of internet immortality - that is, we could create something that people will email to their friends endlessly.

The problem is, it is thoroughly aberrant and offensive.

Have you ever been in a conversation where someone said something and you thought of the most perfect, wonderful, hilarious riposte - except it was off-color or somehow offensive. Oh, the temptation. It is the perfect line at the perfect moment in the "Lord of the Rings" saga that is your life - only it will earn the saga an R rating.

That's how I feel now.

It would be a car commercial akin to the infamous Volkswagon Suicide Bomber ad:

...and it would involve my 2003 Honda Element, a buck-toothed sniper hick in overalls scanning for a target near a gas station, a stupid-looking track suit guy getting out of a HUmmer, and me pumping gas into my Element. The sniper would be awestruck by the delightfully confusing mold-breaking lines of the Element, and would not break out of his reverie until I finish pumping gas, hop into the car, and drive away. The sniper will then look for another target, and see the twit still pumping gas into his midlife-crisis-mobile. He smiles, sights in and squeezes the trigger...

The ad's tag line would be: "Honda Element. It gets the right kind of attention."

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Recently I went to Wal-Mart. Some of my least-delightful waits have been in the house that Sam Walton built. Perhaps there is a sort of unofficial waiting period required for the purchase of hamburger buns in Las Vegas, I know not. I ended up waiting second in a line while the cashier tried unsuccessfully to enter a gift card into the computer (the key: scan it, don’t drag it through the card machine). The line in the register next to me was short, but I had already piled all my groceries on the counter, so I waited. The cashier had flipped on the “manager assistance requested” light, but apparently this wasn’t a strong enough entreaty, for no management aid was forthcoming. Finally the cashier walked away in search of help. In frustration, I threw my items back into the cart and went over to the other register, only to be told that that register was closed. So I retook my place in line. I would not be putting my items on the counter this time, oh no. Thus I exacted a narrow moral victory out of a broad, demoralizing defeat of the soul.

The long and the short of it was I waited maybe a half hour (in the “20 items or less” lane) and ended up forgetting one of my bags and having to go back for it. All the while I indulged a thoroughly ridiculous sense of righteous outrage by thinking about lodging some sort of complaint, or writing a snarky letter to some newspaper or authority, full of pique and dark pronouncements about the unlikelihood of future patronage at their retail establishment, but I realized, “What should I have expected?” I wasn't there for superior service or a commitment to quality. I was drawn by the siren’s song of buying paper towels $0.06 cheaper than at Albertsons.

And we achieve the parallel realization, without overmuch surprise, that people are willing to sell their souls for six pennies.

Sunday, August 07, 2005


Allow me to share a story of harrowing conflict, another brief chapter in the ages-old struggle between man and bug. Like most desert places in the American West, Las Vegas is lousy with crickets that chirp and hum all night during the summer months.

My house is better insulated than the one in which I grew up, and the noise is scarcely noticeable - scarcely, that is, unless there is a cricket right outside my window. Then I can hear it and it only quite plainly. Indeed, if I could speak crickitese, I would know what it was saying and probably what mood it was in.

It turns out that a single cricket is far more annoying than many. If you think about it a bit, this will make sense. With a hundred crickets giving a moonlight serenade, the separate voices blend together into a rather pleasing, even cadence. But with just one voice, a prima donna soloist, it is terribly uneven. It will go louder and softer, and stop for a few seconds every time the breeze shifts or a spider walks by. I believe the same principle is at work with snorers, though I have never tested it.

So anyway, you may have already guessed that I have been tormented by a single cricket with a curious insistence in laying forth its evening ministrations in the same place every day, about fifteen feet from where I lay. The noise would crowd out any thought, relaxed attitude, or sleepy sensation I might have held otherwise, and at that moment I would despise crickets - that cricket - above most anything else. At least the black widows are quiet! I think my annoyance has more to do with the fact that I am bothered by such a simple, small thing that nobody else hardly notices. Bothered by being bothered, as it were.

Not content to sleep with ear plugs all summer, I needed to do something about the troublesome thing. Our yard is one enormous garden of rock and gravel, and it is nigh-impossible to find an insect among the scree even though I could pinpoint its location. I poured a quart of water over it, and then tried stomping on top of the rocks, hoping to hit it with a lucky strike. Every time I did this the cricket would stop and I would wonder if I had finally taken it out, only to hear it start up again a few minutes later. I think that after a while the poor thing became rather terrorized by my attacks - before it would stop only if something was moving right next to it, but it took to stopping anytime I came within ten feet, and would not start again for some time. I wonder if some miniature Cricket News Network (CNN?) was reporting on the daily terror attacks in Las Vegas. Perhaps some far-away cricket governments were debating over what they were doing in Las Vegas anyway, and shouldn't they withdraw their forces for more worthy pursuits.

But enough about cricket culture. In despair of any other solution, I upped the technological ante by purchasing a spray can of bug killer at Wal-Mart. That evening I went out and sprayed the area the little noisemaker occupied. We must credit crickets for knowing quite well what is bad for them, for before I could do anything it hopped away from the spot in great haste, and disappeared again into the rocks a few feet away.

Hoping I had dealt it a fatal blow, I withdrew to the cool air of my house. Sadly, upon retiring I heard it again from a new spot. For all my efforts I had succeeded in moving it perhaps five feet further away.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Fall Guy

The question comes to mind – when falling to one’s death from a very great height, what should one do? Not to survive, for nothing short of divine providence could do anything about that. But how should one spend that handful of seconds between the realization of one’s lamentable situation and the actual wet, sickening “thud”? There’d be a life-flashing-before-the-eyes moment, I suppose, along with a few brief but extremely heartfelt words of prayer. Some may not rise above dumbfounded horror the entire time.

But what about one’s actual comportment? The situation of free fall is not just untenable but exceedingly awkward. There’s the whole question of landing. Do you go with a belly flop? Feet first? Or do a ten-thousand-foot header? In movies the faller is always looking at earth’s inexorable approach, but I suppose one could always look up, or even do some flips and loops as they await the end.

Spreading one’s self out to generate air resistance seems like a reasonable plan. Slowing your speed could extend your time remaining by ten percent or more.

All of this is of course completely pointless as far as the final outcome and so you’d think why bother. But consider: when one is cast into the unfriendly hands of gravity, would one not cherish the few options left to them, however irrelevant? Perhaps so.

You are probably thinking, “how macabre,” and I should caution that I normally don’t indulge such issues with very much attention. The question arose in my mind as I imagined up a cool idea for a movie scene or episode in a book, where someone is cast out of an airplane, but still has the presence of mind to pull out their cell phone to make a final, desperate call – perhaps to tell the protagonist (since obviously the protagonist isn’t going to be caught in such a situation, it’s more the fate of the unlikable ally, chauvinistic bad boy friend, or forgettable extra) who it was that betrayed them to their deaths. That would be some high drama, the fumbling for the phone, trying to dial, hoping to get a signal and say something in time. Imagine the horror: “Voicemail! Noooooooooooo…”

Maybe it would be better as one of those cell phone commercials – you know, where some people are in a situation where a cell phone would be extremely useful, and even though one of them has one he won’t use it because it’s peak time or he’s out of minutes or whatever:

Diver 1: Did you try the emergency cord?
Diver 2: (holding a cell phone): Yep. Nothing. You too, huh?
Diver 1: Why don’t you say goodbye to your mother, or talk to your kids?
Diver 2: Nope, nope. It’s end of the month.
Diver 1: We could call parachute tech support. Or even order a net or big cushion or something.
Diver 2: Sorry.

(Cut to Catherine Zeta Jones, who hands a new phone to two newly accordion-shaped skydivers, cooing in condescending sympathy.)

Copyright 2005 Garrett Pace. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Boss

Yesterday I was sitting in a meeting when the president of the company burst into the room. I had never met the gentleman before for his office is in another state. He came in, exuding the sort of carefree, enthusiastic sociability perhaps stemming from his knowledge that he could fire everyone in the room if it suited him. No cautious probing or rhetorical smokescreens needed here! He, maniacally almost, shook everyone’s hand and gave his name. I bumbled out my own name in return but almost too late, he was already passing on to the next person. He then asked us what was on the schedule, and someone said, “Windows.”

“Uh oh!” he said in mock horror as he rapidly retreated to the decidedly overenthusiastic laughter of everyone in the room.

After he blew out as quickly as he had blown in, I spent a full half hour pondering the many things I could have asked or said rather than just a sheepish recitation of my name. Example: I could have asked him why he had just cashed out eighty million in company stock from his personal account, a fact I had learned but that morning.

I actually did think to ask that at the moment, but it may have been somewhat adversarial. I think you get the idea what I wanted to say. Something to set me apart, make me a little bit memorable. I realized that I could have handed him some spreadsheets of devastating effectiveness, sure-fire new things and processes that could help the company a great deal. He would have been impressed, and probably remembered who I, a lowly summer intern, was. I even happened to have a copy with me, ready for the giving.

So in an instant of wide-eyed hesitation I had clearly dropped the ball, but it is hard to wallow in self recriminations. How could one anticipate this sort of opportunity? I am not in a habit of spending time each day strategizing what I will do if our company president decides to fly hundreds of miles and waltz into a meeting I am attending. They told us in business school to prepare for this sort of thing, and that a good businessman is never flummoxed. But such heightened vigilance is too often the province of corporate whores who get an ulcer, two divorces, and a bunch of kids who hate them.

I guess I’m not that good a corporate whore and will have to practice. Or I will try to love my neighbor instead.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Through the Death Valley of the shadow of death.

Woody Allen once said something like, "as I walk through the valley of...make that, as I RUN through the valley of the shadow of death..."

Saturday I went to Death Valley for the first time. This despite well-meaning admonitions to the contrary from nearly everyone to whom I revealed my plans. Apparently Death Valley suffers from intensely bad publicity, but what should we expect from having names like Death Valley, Furnace Creek, Last Chance Mountains, Badwater Spring, and Mormon Point? (that last is not as stigmatized now as it once was)

Indeed, I wondered if this were a spectacular hoax, and the valley a veritable paradise with scary names intended to frighten off the timorous and keep the place safe for those who know how good it is.

Anyway, some said I should make my trip during the winter months, but to do so would render eventual ill grace in conversation: should I ever mention in passing that I visited Death Valley, the inevitable response would be, “Was it hot?” To be able to say, “Yes, about 120” has much more cachet than a bashful, disappointing admission that it was chilly and windy, does it not?

I saw one group taking a picture of two adolescents who had wrapped up their arms and were shivering vigorously, as if it were quite cold. That was pretty funny.

In truth I was quite comfortable. The desert was as miserable as could be expected, but I avoided it entirely. I never spent longer than five minutes in the heat, preferring instead to admire the scenery from the bridge of the USS Short Bus (my 2003 Honda Element).

And the scenery was really something. Being almost devoid of plant life, all a visitor can really see of Death Valley are the shapes and hues of the very rocks themselves. One becomes quite enchanted at how many different shades of brown there are in this world. All the eye sees is brown, and yet it is still quite striking.

The place is a miner’s paradise. From the valley floor you can see the different layers of rocks all over, twisting and winding, now reddish brown, now beige brown, now chartreuish brown. The mouths of many mines have vomited out wide swaths of underlying strata, adding strange patterns and colors to the mountainsides. There is even a thick seam of good, black coal at the side of a highway. Some cubic feet of it have been taken away by passing motorists, no doubt intending it for the Christmas stockings of their offspring.

Two main attractions of Death Valley are the Devil’s Golf Course and Badwater Spring. The Devil’s Golf Course is an area where salt collected from countless gallons of now-evaporated runoff lifts itself from the desert floor and builds up into crystalline shapes. Visitors are permitted to walk among and atop the shapes for they are already doomed; they dissolve with every flood only to rebuild in a few weeks.

The action of heat, salt, water flow and evaporation somehow moves the salt ever up. In some areas gigantic mounds of salty earth rise up above the roadway. It is rotten and fragile, eroding back and collapsing, only to build up again. I think the very earth and minerals have had it with Death Valley and are trying to leave.

Badwater Spring is an otherwise unremarkable statistical extreme. It is the lowest continental point in the Western Hemisphere. There is a groundwater seep that means the low point is always covered in salty water (hence the name “Badwater”). There is a boardwalk over the pool, and one is not allowed to actually stand ON the lowest point in America, just over it. I did, however, stick my finger into the pool (it was much cooler than I thought it would be). So, as far as I know, my right index finger has gone lower than any of you ever have – 282 feet and one inch below sea level.

I took the opportunity to watch the movie “Amadeus” this week. I had seen it when much younger and less inclined to appreciate the music or be critical of the story’s flaws. What a mad, amazing, beautiful disaster that film is. Mozart and his wife jarringly act (and talk!) like petulant American teenagers, whilst everyone else more truly displays traditional European courtly behavior that one would expect in such a production.

The heart of the story is Antonio Salieri, the court composer who feels he is cursed with the love of music and the desire to make beautiful tunes, without the actual ability to produce it. Portrayed by F. Murray Abraham, Salieri is probably the evilest character in any film ever that the audience cannot help loving. With murder and hatred of God and man in his heart, he is still an intensely sympathetic character, and one hopes it ends well for him.

The film is also suffused with the love of grand music. Some of the scenes where Mozart’s character (Tom Hulce, famous for his portrayal of a drunken frat boy in “Animal House”) directs his wonderful operas with such passion and emotion, and to such a tepid response, that it is by turns enchanting and heart-breaking, and the viewer scarcely cares whether the particulars of the story were made up or not.

I also went to the Capital Grille this past week. My favorite restaurant, and the most expensive one to which I would ever willingly go, I am never disappointed by the experience. They make these things called “cottage fries,” salt-seasoned potatoes covered with spiced, fat-fried onions. To allow ketchup or mayonnaise to touch them would diminish their deliciousness.

After dinner I paid a bill of over a hundred dollars (while I was in the washroom our server asked my date if we wanted water, and she said yes. Water: seven dollars). I also realized that the bill was half of an iPod. Such is the irrationality of consumers. An iPod is an unreasonable expense, though its effects long-lasting and the good itself can be resold for a substantial amount. But an expensive dinner that ends up pretty much the same as homemade mac-and-cheese is perfectly reasonable.

(co-opted from an email to a friend)


I have put this off for far too long, and there is much that the world needs to hear. Now it begins.