Wednesday, January 28, 2004

AS I WATCHED yet another irate passenger yell at a Southwest Airlines baggage-claim staffer on A&E's "Airline," yet another reality TV show that has me hooked, I thought (a) I used to be that passenger, and (b) I'm currently that baggage-claim staffer.

You know you're in trouble when you're identifying with the enemy, and when you're pursuing strained analogies. But a copy chief, if you'll forgive the on-topic digression, is in a similar position. The customer/reporter/assignment editor is usually right, the customer sometimes yells, and it's understandable that the customer just doesn't understand how something so seemingly easy can get screwed up so often. How hard is it to move a suitcase from one ramp to another one? How hard is it to type "Vermont," and not "New Hampshire," when you know damn well you mean Vermont? Not very, but, well, you wouldn't understand. The sum is more than its parts.

Strained analogy No. 2: Doing a copy-chief job is like having 1,000 baseballs simultaneously dropped on you -- and then being asked why in the world you didn't knock ball No. 778 (which, after all, was right in your strike zone) out of the park.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

WHEN A COMMERCIAL for eHarmony.com comes on, do you find yourself filling in the names of the husbands and fiances?

Of course not. You're not as nuts as I am.

But if you take up this pursuit, here's a hint: If the woman is Jennifer, the man is Jack. Otherwise, the man is Tom.

NICK AND JESSICA hit close to home. From the Oktoberfest beer-drinking scene in the second-season debut of "Newlyweds":

J: "Is that the lightest one?"
N: "Yeah. I'll drink it if you don't."

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

"BANDS REUNITED" on VH1.com: Compelling for so many reasons, as it turns out, but then again I'd like it even if it ended up being the schlock it sounds like. If you were ever in a band (I wasn't), it's probably all the more compelling.

A kiss-assy VH1 host tracks down members of an '80s band one by one in hopes of not only getting the members back together but also getting them to play a one-night gig. The debut featured Berlin, which hit it big with "Sex (I'm a ...)" but is probably best known for "Take My Breath Away."

Tonight, the episode I'm most excited about: Romeo Void. I didn't know that anybody outside the band and my immediate family cared about Romeo Void. In typical true-fan fashion, I once would have told you that the band's hit, "Never Say Never," was one of its worst songs. I'm a little more realistic now.

Also coming up: A Flock of Seagulls, Klymaxx, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Kajagoogoo, Extreme, Dramarama, the Alarm and ... Squeeze.

Thursday, January 15, 2004


Pernice Brothers, Yours Mine & Ours. Over and over and over.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

SORRY for the recent lack of posts, but I'm busy finishing my new book. The final project: the index. One of the many oddities of book publishing is that the author's royalties get docked to pay the "professional indexer." You'd think the index, like the editing and the publicity and the printing and the packaging and the distribution, would be a cost of doing business, but tradition is tradition, and money saved is money saved.

Any normal author would shrug and accept this reality, but for both "Lapsing Into a Comma" and "The Elephants of Style" I have chosen to do the indexes myself. It's tedious as all hell, but it's better than giving up my first $500 to $600 in royalties.

Royalties, if you don't know, are payments made to authors who have "earned back" their advances. Say you were paid a $500,000 advance for your memoirs (my advances thus far have been, uh, less). Your contract would stipulate a per-book royalty (typically 10 percent of the cover price for hardcover books or 7 percent for paperbacks), but all royalties up to that $500,000 would go toward "earning back" your advance. You don't have to reimburse the publisher if sales fall short of that, but you don't get paid actual royalties until they exceed the advance.

Before "Lapsing" came out, the publisher essentially said I shouldn't worry about the indexing fee, because it was unlikely I'd get to the royalty stage. I'm no Lynne Truss, but this time nobody expressed any doubt that I'd eventually owe that fee.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

THE PROBLEM WITH using cell phones while driving has little to do with the driver's hands.

The problem is with the driver's mind. Have the hands-free advocates -- or those who pooh-pooh the whole idea that this is a problem at all -- ever had a telephone conversation? The mind focuses on that conversation, to the detriment of focus elsewhere.

Ever looked at the elaborate doodles you made while on the phone and had no recollection of making them? Ever been shocked at the pile of empties that had formed by the end of the conversation? (Or maybe that's just me.)

Maybe the anecdotal evidence is faulty. Drivers who do stupid things these days are always on the phone, but so are most other drivers. But I don't think you need to see a pile of research to know that drivers should be focusing on the road and not on a distant conversation partner. And while the distraction of having to pick up a phone and answer it or dial it is also a bad thing about these devices, it's not the bad thing.

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