This is the archived text of a weblog I did to promote my book "Mr. Irresponsible's Bad Advice: How To Rip The Lid Off Your Id and Live Happily Ever After" (Volt Press: 2005). I had the idea that if I continued to essentially add to the book every day on the Web, and GIVE THAT WORK AWAY FOR FREE, people would be so charmed that they'd feel compelled to buy the original work.

Not so much, as it turns out. But I had fun anyway.


Big Crazy

Today's manners lesson comes to us from very far to the east, or maybe it's the west. Mr. Irresponsible was never big on geography. The point is, it's very far. And a good thing too, because these guys make our homegrown nutbars look like Sunday at the Jaycees. Yes, it's the democratically-elected government of the Islamic Republic of Iran! Specifically, the sixth president of same, former Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who told an audience in the Iranian city of Zahedan on December 14 that the Holocaust is a myth perpetrated by European Jews to justify the creation of Israel. The lesson: When you're gonna go crazy, go BIG crazy. There's no point in delicate, performance-art-like little cameos of eccentricity, not if you're going to draw the really big press. No, for that you need to hang it all out there, as I think we can agree Mr. Ahmadinejad has done. Want proof?  Even the Germans are outraged. This seems a conclusive indication that history may not have a sense of humor, but it sure does get a kick out of irony.  So the next time you're considering an act of public looniness, remember that its impact is sure to be lessened if you take anything off the pitch. Lean back and smoke that baby.


Can't He Just Buy a TiVo Like Everybody Else?

Join us now, won't you, as the Mr. Irresponsible Players attempt to answer the question: Is a movie star really the guy you want behind the wheel of an unlicensed sonogram machine?

Okay, honey, just one more.


Mmmno, I don't like the angle on that one. Hang on.


There we go... Lemme see. Mmmmno, his chin's down, it makes his neck look stumpy. One more.


Nope, I can do it better. One more time.


Well, that one's just ugly.


Sorry, got a boom shadow there. Let's go again. Right away, please.


Okay, three quick ones.


Well, if you're not gonna get into it a little...

I'm sorry, honey, it's just that my eyes are starting to bleed and I'm pretty sure all my internal organs are, like, liquefying.

Okay, fine, we'll come back after lunch. (Screams at a puzzled Labrador trying to snooze in the corner) THAT'S LUNCH, PEOPLE!

Tonight's playlet brought to you by the Tom Cruise CrazyWatch.


The Role of The Hissy Fit in Geopolitics, And How To Make It Work For You

Just back from an extended round of strategy meetings with my attorneys. They were fairly productive, and I think I can say this with a high degree of confidence: If you have ever crossed me, and you have any plans to do anything requiring extensive use of two functioning knees, I'd suggest you pencil 'em in before mid-January. And beyond that my lawyers have urged me not to go.

And that's really the trouble with lawyers, isn't it? -- the instinct toward weaselly, word-parsing self-protection. It's the kind of instinct that says, for example, that if you've come up with a beautiful plan for revenge against your many enemies, a plan involving split-second timing, a truckload of ball bearings and the services of a highly-trained cadre of ex-military paralegals, why, you should hide that beautiful, vengeful light under a basket. Mr. Irresponsible just can't see the wisdom in this. Which is why the news on this morning's wires was so bracing. It described a client brave and resourceful enough to defy his own lawyers' advice, and demonstrated that with enough conviction one can throw a highly-public hissy fit and get away clean. I'm talking, of course, about defendant Saddam Hussein, whose screechy histrionics about his jailers' "terroristic" tactics were only the beginning. (These apparently involved denying him access to a Rainfall Showerhead and the Tighty Whities he so famously favors.) At the end of yesterday's session in Baghdad the deposed president told the court to "go to hell" and swore he wouldn't return until the new central government returned the CDs it had borrowed and wiped his number from its mobile phones "like, forever." (I may be a little sketchy on the details here.) Showing an iron will and a refusal to be cowed, the judge gaveled the trial back into session for about twenty minutes this morning before shutting the whole thing down for a two-week break. The lesson seems obvious: Bad behavior works.

Keep in mind, however, that there is a question of scale. If you become hysterical when your boss asks you to stop bringing your xBox to work and playing Dance Dance Revolution during staff meetings, and you stomp from the room swearing never to return, you will likely be fired. If you can arrange to get your tantrum covered on CNN International, though, you will immediately become a figure of stature. (Your co-workers will probably continue to refer to you under their breaths as a jackass, but what did those hacks and grumblers ever do for you?) So remember: When life hands you lemons, stomp them into lemonade!


This Holiday Season, Do Exactly As I Tell You And Nobody Gets Hurt

Mr. Irresponsible's taking a week or so off to meet with his lawyers and plot a few fresh ways to brutalize his many enemies. But I didn't want to leave you without some food for thought as we head into the holiday season. So please enjoy, won't you...


Let’s begin by clearing some etymological underbrush.

The Holidays: What Are They? (And Aren’t They?)

The holidays are no longer a ritual celebration of the winter solstice, and they haven’t been that for many generations. They’re also not the modern creation that’s been abstracted from that ancient observance -- a time of gauzy good feeling in the warm embrace of your family. And the truth is, you know that. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa or Wiccan Yule, you know in your heart that the things the holidays really ritualize are more profound than Hallmark images of home and hearth. And what are they? Anger, frustration, and the soul-scorching cruelty that only your closest loved ones can deliver.

I haven’t had time to check this statistic, because I only made it up a minute ago, but social scientists report that a staggering 87% of mid-winter suicide attempts are a direct result of “that terrible thing my mother (father/sister/brother/husband/wife) said to me over the holidays.”  No one is really sure why so many family resentments burst to the surface during the holiday season -- some feel it has to do with the enforced air of jollity that paradoxically spawns thoughts of hatred and misery, while others believe it’s the metaphoric presence of absent family members with whom one has unresolved business. There are those who believe that it is related to the unusually high intake of sugars and fats, and the concomitant loosening of inhibitions. I have a simpler theory: I believe that families spend all their energy trying to separate, and when forced back together they simply go nuts.

Fortunately, Mr. Irresponsible is here to do what Mr. Irresponsible does -- reduce intractable behavioral problems to easy bromides and tut-tut them away. Just follow these few simple rules and you too can live through the holidays.

1) DON’T Make Eye Contact

This is a first principle, and not some sort of half-baked metaphor. What I mean is, when the holidays bring you together with family members, don’t look them in the eye. Eye contact triggers a physiological phenomenon called “Prester’s Invitation,” in which a neurochemical is released that temporarily anaesthetizes the shame centers of the brain, and also serves to induce short-term amnesia with regard to past arguments and recriminations. Eye contact, no matter how fleeting or accidental, is like waving the Green Flag at a Formula One racer. It says, in effect: “Come on in, the screaming’s fine!” Do not, do not, do not offer this opening to family members at the holidays. Avert your gaze at all times, even if it means stumbling into furniture or other obstacles. (There’s a seasonal expectation that one has had a drink or two, so no one will notice anything amiss.) Wear sunglasses or a welder’s helmet if you have to. (I like this one.)

2) DO Bring a Book

Or a crafts project, or maybe those “Learn French in Two Weeks” flash cards you’ve been meaning to study. Maybe you’ll be able to get a jump on next year’s taxes. The point is, find some way to make the time go by in a useful fashion. Why sit numbly, staring into space and ignoring your cousins’ attempts at small talk when you could be alphabetizing newspaper clippings or sorting stray buttons and ignoring your cousins’ attempts at small talk? This year I plan to read through the enormous stack of handwritten letters I’ve received from the Guatemalan orphan child I sponsor, Eusebio. At least I think his name is Eusebio. It might be “Eugenio” or possibly “Guillermo.” I’m not sure, as I’ve never been able to make it through one of his hand-scrawled missives in toto. To be honest, his penmanship is atrocious, and his diction and syntax are worse. And he’s so repetitive -- it’s “Que Dios te bendiga, Sr. Irresponsible” this and “No tengo ningún zapatos” that until you just want to scream. I’m not sure what it is they’re teaching these kids on my dime, but it sure doesn’t seem to be the rudiments of written expression. I mean it, they better straighten up. It’s not like I can’t come up with another way to tax-shelter twenty-eight bucks a month.

3) DON’T Take The Bait

Proximity with family members who are for the rest of the year sequestered at safe distances creates danger. Sometimes it is this closeness alone which serves as the trigger for the release of some long-simmering grudge or grievance. Add a surplus of liquor, a deficit of comfortable seats and the stultifying effects of forced-air heat and you have a environment in which there is an overwhelming probability that things will be said that can never be taken back. What to do? I suppose one could, if one were so inclined, “work on one’s emotions” and “show personal growth” and “become more mature” and “rise above it all.” But these things take time and effort, and our immediate problem is getting to New Year’s alive. 

With this in mind, let me suggest two items which will help enormously: a cheap longhair wig and a pair of wireless in-the-ear stage monitors like those employed by professional musicians. (Mr. Irresponsible likes the Shure P4TRE3 system, which is flexible and reasonably affordable at just under $1200 MSRP.) Place the ear buds in your ears and obscure the equipment with the wig. You may, if you choose, employ a confederate to hide nearby and, Cyrano-like, whisper encouraging thoughts into a connected microphone. I prefer to connect a sound source such as an MP3 player, hide the rig in a closet, and go on about my holiday business. Now what do I hear? Invitations to re-open ancient slights? Cutting criticisms of my life choices? The puzzled words “Hey, what’s with the hair? You look like that guy from Twisted Sister”? No sir. All I hear is a pleasant wash of carefully-chosen music. I’ve been listening to a lot of Bossa Nova lately, so any challenges sent my way simply waft past on a cushion of calming acoustic guitars and the comical sight of my relatives’ mouths twisting into hateful accusations I’ll never have to listen to.

4) DO Have An Exit Strategy

One of the unfortunate facts about the holidays is that they have, for the last couple of generations, morphed into an open-ended festival of pain that may last as long as six weeks. The modest amount of actual office work that gets done between Thanksgiving and, say, the second week in January only makes it easier for slackers and layabouts to impose a sort of general period of sleepy unreality on those around them. Anybody who’s ever been on the receiving end of one of those gut wrenching “Oh, you don’t have to head back just yet, do you?” invitations has witnessed the phenomenon for themselves. So it’s critically important to have an unalterable date and time at which to make one’s escape. Note that it’s not good enough to have ticketed reservations for a given flight or train -- the host or hostess in the grip of this feverish attempt to extend their hospitality is unlikely to be swayed by the possibility of added expense and trouble (i.e., your added expense and trouble). And then where will you be? Stuffed like a Chicken Roulade into some niece or nephew’s cruelly undersized, cartoon-branded bed, suffering through an extra God knows how many nights of fitful, miserable sleep, stumbling to the bathroom at 2 AM, tripping over toys the tots have already forgotten they ever wanted and wondering in icy torment why some people bother to have home heating at all if they’re going to turn it down to 62 overnight. No, the trick here is to have hard, firm plans for the immediate post-holiday period. These should be the kinds of things that can’t conceivably be postponed or rescheduled. Some suggestions:

Gall-bladder surgery (No one knows quite what this is, so you’re on safe ground if they ask)

Some “work I have to do for the Government” (Adopt an air of mystery when you say this, and smile enigmatically)

Plans to compete in the Grand Prix at LeMans (Negligible domestic interest and no stateside TV coverage, so you’re not likely to be caught out)

A long-scheduled reunion of your insurance-agent licensing exam prep class (Believe me, nobody’s going to ask you to elaborate on this)


Narcotize, Narcotize, Narcotize

Let’s talk now about a last-resort, scorched-earth sort of solution. With proper attention to hydration and a strategically-placed infrastructure of chairs, cushions and crash pads (these may be rented from any theatrical supply house which ordinarily caters to stuntmen), it is possible to stay under the influence of a good central nervous system depressant from just before Thanksgiving until just after New Year’s. An RN or home health-care aide may be employed to monitor vital signs and do a little light cleaning, and also impart the appearance of medical necessity to the proceedings. Health insurance, it should be noted, will not generally cover this.


Timmy's in the Sandbox, Checking Bloomberg News

The AP is reporting that "A cheap laptop boasting wireless network access and a hand-crank to provide electricity is expected to start shipping in February or March to help extend technology to school-aged children worldwide." In other words, we're about to start enabling in our young kids the same sullen, narcissistic self-absorption our teenagers currently enjoy. To which Mr. Irresponsible can only say: Good job! Bring it on!

A teenager who's jacked into an iPod or staring relentlessly into the face of a PSP is a teenager who isn't mooching around for money or whining unattractively about his lowly status in life. Similarly, an eight-year-old who's busy navigating the Nicktoons site on his own crank-powered lime-green laptop is one who isn't... well, I don't actually know what it is eight-year-olds do. They're not allowed past the entrance of the PGA Tour golf course on which I have my lavish yet tasteful home, and the guards have standing orders to escort any strays to the gatehouse. (I also have certain security measures in place.) Whatever it is, though, the world will be a better place with less of it going on. Quieter, certainly, and a good deal less sticky. So here's to the forward-thinking guys and gals of the MIT Media Lab, and a tip of Mr. Irresponsible's battered brown fedora. You geeks are okay with me.


Just One Second, I'm Putting Some Things Away

Sometimes an advice columnist has to look below the surface of human behavior. (Not too far below, though, because that's where all the dark and scary stuff lives. And who wants to buy themselves a piece of that? The trick is to skim along the surface like a speedboat, only occasionally, and only as necessary, dipping a toe into the turbulent sea foam. Dip more than a toe and you create drag, which slows you down and makes it harder to zip away when things get knotty.) Sometimes you have to look at the messages our behavior sends. Like the message being delivered in New Mexico, which apparently has a new "Commit a Sex Crime, Meet a Movie Star" program. They're not describing it exactly that way, of course. The wire story simply describes a ride-along by actor Richard Gere with Bernalillo County deputies as they check in on sex offenders in the Albuquerque area. But come on, imagine you're a convicted pedophile answering the knock at the door for one more grim home inspection by burly deputies who hate your guts. Now imagine opening the door and seeing instead the twinkly blue eyes of the world's dreamiest practicing Buddhist. Would that or would that not qualify as the best day of your sad, desperate life?

Gere, it should be noted, is researching an upcoming role as a federal agent investigating a possible sex crime.  But hell, isn't every actor out joyriding in dune buggies or flying with the Blue Angels "researching" something? The members of SAG do more research than the Rand Corporation. Strictly speaking, it shouldn't even be called "research" at all -- I'm personally hesitant to equate what they do at, say, CDC to something Heath Ledger spends a spare weekend charging to his loan-out corporation's credit card. So at least let's call this what it is: An incentive program for sex criminals. And I'm willing to go on the record right here, right now: Mr. Irresponsible stands foursquare against incentivizing sex crimes. That's my position and I'm sticking to it, at least until somebody challenges it. (Remember: Like a speedboat.)


The New Nots... Not

Long ago, in a previous life, Mr. Irresponsible was a feature writer for one of the big newsweeklies. (Note: When I say "a previous life" I'm talking about an earlier time in my actual current life. It's not a reference to some patchouli-soaked hallucination of a long-past existence in which I was a woman named Shahara or a small sunburned boy tilling the fields of Mesopotamia. I feel the need to clarify this because the mail this weblog gets is already quite weird enough, thank you.) In that capacity I learned to fear Tuesday mornings, for the following reasons: Monday was the day when sleepy, hacky wire-service reporters would rouse themselves from the torpor of the weekend to file their second-laziest stories of the week (the laziest appearing late on Friday or over the weekend). And Tuesday was the day when feature editors would wake up realizing they had two hours to cook up a slate of suggestions for that morning's editorial meetings, and would in a panic comb the wires looking for trends. A word about trends: As defined by the mainstream press, a trend is any set of two or more vaguely similar stories moving on the AP or Reuters wire in one 24-hour period, regardless of whether they are moored in observable reality or, much more likely, filed offhand as a sort of limbering-up for the actual work to come, the way ballplayers play pepper in the infield before the game. (See above.) So as a magazine writer on a Tuesday morning your job is clear: Sink the trend story you are inevitably about to be assigned. Bad-mouth it, start a whispering campaign against it, undermine it in ways both big and small. Then go out to lunch. Then spend the rest of the week avoiding your editor's eye.

All this is by way of saying: Man, am I glad I'm not a newsweekly feature writer today, because if I were, I'd be hunkered down trying to avoid writing a three-column meditation on what somebody up the food chain would probably have dubbed "The New Nots." The second I saw these three non-starters lined up on the AP entertainment wire like Manny, Moe and Jack, grinning their idiot grins and beckoning with their empty eyes, I knew some editor somewhere was ginning up a trend story:

Klein Doesn't Blame Cruise For Breakup
Chesney Doesn't Regret Zellwegger Marriage
Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson Not Dating

Stories like these raise questions in the normal mind, chief among them: Hey, who cares? But in the mind of the magazine editor, trained to troll for thready connections in the vastness of the Zeitgeist the way a Great White circles lazily, patiently, waiting for the tip of a flipper in the waters above, the mere fact of proximity renders these three dumbass non-stories something somehow larger than themselves: A trend. If I were still working those fields (and had been unable to plant the requisite seeds of doubt in my editor's mind) I'd be drafting something like this right about now:

Across Hollywood last week, from The Ivy to The Grill, the cream of young show business was exhibiting the latest in PR fashion: The artfully-crafted denial, the story that says "No" and yet "Yes" at the same time. Call them "The New Nots"...

I could go on. Once upon a time, I did. But I've been lifted up and borne away from all that, and you can be too. The next time you open a magazine and spot a story that you know in your heart has been cobbled together from the odd breakaway pieces of a pop culture that's ever more disposable, the next time you see in the opening paragraph the words Call it...  or Observers have dubbed it... or They are not alone... -- Do yourself a favor. Do as Mr. Irresponsible did all those years ago. Say to yourself, as I did to my editors on so many Tuesday mornings like this one: "You don't really want to do that, do you?" Then take yourself to lunch.


No Publicity, Please, We're British

If you broke into my lavish yet tasteful home and held a gun to my head, I would have to confess that I've only been dimly aware of the visit of Prince Charles and the former Camilla Parker Bowles to America. The good news is, dim awareness seems to be what the couple and their handlers are going for -- a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found that only six percent of Americans are "very interested" in the royal walkabout, with a three percent margin of error. This means, statistically speaking, that you could drive around your neighborhood playing your car radio too loud and you'd impact a broader swath of US public opinion than the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. It isn't all the prince's fault, either. The wife, poor thing, is still fighting something of an image problem. When The Daily Mirror's man in New York showed her picture to people in Times Square, some of them took her for Barbara Cartland. Ms. Cartland, it should be noted, passed away six years ago. So if wowing the States with the glamour of the monarchy is the goal, well, these two may not have the stuff. The only "Wows" they seem to be drawing are the kind contained in sentences like "Wow, could those people we don't care about be any dowdier?" or "Wow, Barbara Cartland came back from the dead!" Even an apparent strategy to light the couple up in the reflected glow of "a good cross-section of interesting and influential New Yorkers" seems ill-conceived when you consider that one of them is Kim Cattrall. ("I see. You acted in a terrible program on the telly and now you foist your fading sexuality on people in Barnes & Noble. How terribly interesting.")

Mr. Irresponsible yields to no one in his admiration for Britain, which has managed to sustain a relatively civilized culture even as its standing in the world has dwindled from titan of the seas to last-kid-picked-for-the-softball-team. But you know what? The next time the Brits want to make a splash on the American stage, they should send us Eddie Izzard. He's witty and he looks good in pearls.


Im aiming at you, buddy

Mr. Irresponsible's been on something of a science jag lately. First came the report that ill-mannered louts behave more or less the same in deep space as they do in the street below your window at midnight. Now, right on the bleeding edge that separates coolness from creepiness, we have the news that human behavior may soon be controllable via a small handheld device. That's right: it's remote control for people. At the moment the technology is only sophisticated enough to impel a test subject to reel a few tentative steps to the right or left, like a league bowler on $6.00 Bucket Night. But my goodness, think about the implications. Imagine being able to abandon moral suasion as a tool to get your way. (Moral suasion only works on people with a shred of conscience, and really, how often are those the people you're trying to keep from urinating in your doorway?) Imagine a compact battery-powered device with a snappy brand name like "MAKE-EM-DUIT" or "GuyZap 2000." (Trademarks applied for, just in case.) Now imagine the small, discrete thrill of aiming it at the idiot who's chattering away in the row behind you at the movies.* And just imagine the satisfaction you'll feel as he suddenly zips his yapper, a look of befuddlement clouding his features. Heave a delighted sigh with me now, won't you? Aaaaaah.

Admittedly, it will take some adjustment to make the product broadly useful. I suggest a few pre-programmed settings: "SHUT UP," "DRIVE FASTER," "REACH FOR THE CHECK." It might also be worthwhile to market age-specific models -- one for teenagers, for example, which might have pre-sets for "STOP SAYING 'LIKE' AND 'SHE WAS ALL...'" or "QUIT SCUFFING YOUR GIANT CHUNKY SHOES ON THE SIDEWALK." These are finishing touches, though. The important thing is that the ability to regulate anti-social behavior is about to land exactly where it belongs -- with the victims of that behavior. Isn't this precisely what science ought to do? Empower the powerless, give voice to the voiceless, and make people quit acting the fool? And if that requires a debilitating jolt of electricity to the brain, who's Mr. Irresponsible to stand in the way of science?

*A lower-tech means of handling this situation is detailed in Chapter 1 of my current book, "Mr. Irresponsible's Bad Advice," which is -- hey, what do you know! -- available now.


Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight, But That Russian Guy Is Getting On My Nerves

Mr. Irresponsible always has one eye aimed at the far frontiers of interpersonal relationships. And what's farther than space, or more interpersonal than sex? So this dispatch from the invaluable just about made my day. Not because it was "useful" or "informative" or "timely" or even "well-written," but because it shed light on a little-known incident in the recent history of what might be called Manners in Space. (Try to imagine the phrase read in a booming, echo-y voice, the syllables elongated for dramatic effect. It'll help you get into the spirit of the thing.)

Apparently a Russian cosmonaut got a little frisky during an eight-month terrestrial space-station simulation in 2000, and (NewScientist picks up the narrative)...

...twice tried to kiss a Canadian woman researcher just after two other Russians had gotten into a bloody brawl. As a result, locks were installed between the Russian and international crews' compartments.

What's delightful about this is the news that even highly-trained scientific professionals behave like the shirtless yahoos on "Cops" after a little indoor time and a few flash-frozen vodkas. Oh, to have been a fly on the shiny titanium wall that day -- the slurred recriminations, the sidebar fistfight, the angry shouts that "The stocky woman in the flannels loves only me, Mikhail Mikhailovich!" This is a deeply encouraging picture for those among us who occasionally enjoy a cocktail and occasionally find our judgment impaired, resulting in the occasional slap in the face or hurried, friend-assisted trip to a waiting car. It gives the lie to the muzzy notion of space as a final outpost of hands-across-the-water comity, a sort of 4H Club national convention hurtling through the cold skies at 17,000 miles per hour. I believe that it is this which has always made Americans skeptical of space exploration, even in the halcyon days of Apollo -- the suspicion that we were going to end up living in giant moonbases with travelers of every nationality, clasping hands and singing some ghastly synth-pop version of "Kumbaya" by earthlight. Now we know better. Space, if we ever do succeed in colonizing it, won't be a bastion of scientific fellowship and good feeling. It'll be Jacksonville on the night of the first Friday of the month, when the disability checks arrive. That I can handle. And Ivan, you can have my interstellar space Stroh's when you pry it from my cold, dead hand.

Page 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7 ... 9 Next 10 Entries »