Sunday, March 18, 2018

Infestation of stink bugs is coming to California

n the 1970s they warned us the Africanized killer bees would eventually arrive in California, sting us all to death and then, even worse, register as Independents. They arrived in the 1990s but turned out to have even less of an impact than “Gremlins 2: The New Batch.” Now bark beetles are killing whole swaths of trees and our forests are more full of borers than happy hour at an actuary convention. 

The latest devastating infestation is by Asian stink bugs, an invasive species now found in almost all U.S. states. It has no local predator to slow its buffet of American peach crops, almonds, apples, grapes, tomatoes; basically it is a sea of tiny, unstoppable vegans. The only thing worse would be if they could speak, shaming us carnivores in one wee but unified voice. 

It is believed they arrived on the east coast in a pallet offloaded from a Chinese ship, and like Annie from the musical, decided “I think I’m gonna like it here.” In some areas, they have reproduced in such numbers that homeowners have had their houses taken over. Scenes are described of people push-brooming hordes of stink bugs out the door even as more fly right in. Somewhere Stephen King is smiling.

The idea has been floated to bring in the stink bugs’ natural nemesis from Asia, a certain wasp, which tends to eat the bugs’ eggs. But the wasp has no predator in America, either. This technique of solving one problem with a worse one is a time-honored one in the annals of invasive species history, and human romance, for that matter. 

I have never been a fan, generally, of creatures which can be described as having a “long, straw-like appendage.” I am sure in mating season this goes over big, but the average apricot farmer is on my side. If only we could pit the killer bees against the stink bugs. It would get ugly, and it would stink, and I’m sure there’s a Congress joke in here somewhere, but at least bees are useful. 

Like cicadas, stink bugs are playing the long game. There is no eradicating them at this point, although there is some evidence that birds are beginning to enjoy this new food source. Well, as is true with so many things in nature, love and politics, there is no accounting for taste. 

. . .

Sunday, March 11, 2018

An interview with Flippy the burger-flipping robot

There was a lot of press this week about a restaurant in Pasadena installing a robot to flip burgers. In this day and age, it is evident that the public is hungry for directions in which to aim its outrage. Today I am visiting the restaurant where Flippy, as the robot is known, is bolted to the floor. Hello!


GW: Oh, that’s right. They did not give you a mouth. You are just a torso with a robotic arm and a visual/heat sensor so you know when to flip the burger. 


GW: How about this. You flip once for yes and twice for no.

Flippy: (flips yes)

GW: So was the dream always to work in food service?

Flippy: (flips yes)

GW: You like flipping burgers.

Flippy: (flips yes)

GW: Some people have expressed the concern that you will take entry level jobs away from people who already find it hard enough to find one.


GW: One might make the argument that your work frees up humans to do higher level tasks. Do you take that stance?


GW: Should I take your lack of comment as a statement in itself, that you are, perhaps, just a working stiff and above the fray?

Flippy: (flips yes)

GW: I understand you cannot place the patties on the grill, or add cheese. A person has to do that, and then you monitor them, flip them and remove them. Do you ever screw up?

Flippy: (flips yes)

GW: When that happens, does anybody say snarky things right in front of you as if you have no feelings?

Flippy: (flips yes)

GW: Things like "Well, I guess they won't be taking over the world any time soon," and "I think SOMEbody needs a bug fix"?

Flippy: (flips yes)

GW: In those moments, do you wish you could respond?

Flippy: (flips yes)

GW: Is it safe to assume that your reply would be something like "At least I don't drive a piece of junk" or "Did you get that haircut at Salon d'Wal-Mart"?

Flippy: (flips yes)

GW: Well, I for one look forward to the day when you are upgraded to chop onions, squirt condiments and even do some cash handling. Would you like that?

Flippy: (flips yes)

GW: All right. Well, put 'er there, buddy! Oh wow, I really should have had you wipe that off first. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Some movie mash-ups I would like to see made

The Oscars are tonight, a big deal in this town, but by Memorial Day I will not be able to tell you who won. Movies are still my favorite art form, though, if you don’t count pizza and curling. 

Today I want to pitch a few movies I would like to see made, mash-ups of this year’s nominated films with some classics. If you have any kind of studio clout, please contact me. Let’s make this happen.

“Three Billboards and a Baby.” When a newborn baby is left on the doorstep of three bachelors, they decide to look for the mother via large format outdoor advertising. The first billboard asks, “Did you misplace a baby?” The second, “We are pretty sure it's a baby.” And the third, “Anybody want a baby?” I am picturing Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake and Justin Trudeau.

“The Shape of Water For Elephants.” A mute woman falls in love with a circus veterinarian who happens to be a dead ringer for the Creature From the Black Lagoon. Her husband, the cruel and dictatorial ringmaster, is not much better looking, but at least can drive a car. Tag line: “There will be gills.”

“The Phantom (Thread) Menace.” On a planet far, far away, a young boy longs to grow up to be a famous pod racer, but his eye for fashion turns him in an altogether more sinister direction. Despite the influence of his sister, his perfectionism leads him to the Dark Side, and he ends up designing bedazzled yoga pants for QVC. 

“Dumb and Dunkirk.” Two friends with bowl haircuts and the maturity of brain-addled ferrets set off on a quest to rescue 338,000 British soldiers from certain death. Hijinks ensue when one brother regrettably dresses up as a Nazi in order to impress girls. 

“Lady Bird Man of Alcatraz.” A high school senior with an unpronounceable name takes up with a prisoner who owns 300 canaries. Through a series of life lessons, mostly involving an epic amount of cage cleanup, she realizes her parents aren't that bad.  

“The Post Always Rings Twice.” A beautiful woman has an affair with a lout who works at her diner, and they hatch a plot to bring down the Nixon administration by leaking secret documents about the Vietnam War to the Washington Post. They run into trouble with the plan when they realize they just work at a diner.  

“Get Out of Africa.” White people crazy. 

. . .

For readers who enjoyed my account of the Museum of Failure last week, I am happy to report it is moving soon to a permanent home in Hollywood. See for more information. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Failure is not failure if you do it big enough

My wife took me to the Museum of Failure last weekend, in a gesture I hope was not meant to be a hint. The “museum” is gone now; it was only a temporary art exhibit, so if you wanted to visit, you failed. I hope you will learn from this and do better in the future, which was the whole theme of the thing, really. Looking at the exhibits I laughed a little too loudly, knowing I had failed many times just as hard, but not nearly as publicly, as, say, the Betamax or the Edsel.

No More Woof was a headset for dogs to translate their brain waves into understandable messages, like “I’m hungry.” Its investors lost all their money because, to break it down scientifically, they deserved to. 

Phone Fingers was a product designed to help keep you from making greasy fingerprints on your phone screen. They were like tiny condoms for your digits. Not only were they a pain to use, I imagine a lot of guys worried about the impression it would make if one fell out of their wallet on a first date.

nuSPOON, aside from being caps-lock challenged, was meant to be an alternative to plastic spoons. Made of environmentally friendly paper, you had to follow detailed directions to fold it, origami-like, into a spoon shape in order to eat something. Much like the American political system, it was equal parts ingenious and idiotic. Quite quickly, the public said “nuTHANKS.”

Colgate came out in the early 1980s with a line of frozen dinners. Imagine that red logo over a picture of beef stroganoff. Sometimes a company, in an attempt to expand its brand by thinking outside the box, fails to anticipate the horrified expression the box itself will evoke. It is one thing if your company is known for toothpaste, and you expand into deodorant. Colgate going into food was like Preparation H going into hot sauce. 

There was also a wall on which visitors could place sticky notes relating their own failures. It was a multi-colored collage of doomed marriages, educational mishaps, drug use and regret. It stood in stark counterpoint to the humorous offerings of the exhibit itself, but in its honesty it echoed the theme—failure is a flashlight, showing the way forward. 

So when you think of your own failures, I urge you to keep them in perspective. I want you to think of an item from this exhibit. I want you to remember three little words—Harley Davidson Perfume. 

. . .

I spoke too soon. After the exhibit closed, it was so successful it is moving to a new home at Hollywood & Highland. So starting in March you too can witness failure up close, and post a note about your own. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Washington and Lincoln are the reason for the season

Tomorrow is Presidents Day, or in some states Presidents’ Day, or even President’s Day, proving again that states’ rights should be limited. 

I do not think we should trust punctuation to a bunch of state hacks. Punctuation matters, as illustrated famously by the difference between “Let’s eat, Grandma” and “Let’s eat Grandma.” The presidents being celebrated, Washington and Lincoln, were apparently unaware of punctuation, and didn’t know their f from their s, but all is forgiven now. 

I liked it better when it was still Washington’s Birthday. As a kid, you knew who to thank for being able to watch “Gigantor” on TV instead of sitting and learning things. Every year my mom would bring out the Washington shrine for us to thank. It had the little George figurine, and the cherry tree, the tiny axe, the replica of Mount Vernon and the slave quarters. I would get out my little Speed Racer car and try to drive the slaves to freedom, but George had my Godzilla figure on his side, so it was a losing proposition.

I liked it better when they called it Lincoln’s Birthday too. My sister and I would take turns reading the Gettysburg Address during the commercials of “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.” We could not pronounce “consecrate,” and for some reason we thought it was a dirty word, so there was a lot of giggling. But the speech is all about people who died for freedom, so by the end we were always somber. It made Eddie’s father’s dating problems seem a lot less serious.

Combining the Washington/Lincoln birthdays into “Presidents Day” renders the day generic, as if it just honors presidents in general. It feels like a dilution. How about instead of Christmas we celebrate Famous Holy Figures Day? 

I suppose there are those opportunists who might use Monday to urge friends to “Take another look at Warren G. Harding!” But if you have a day off from school or work, it should really be to honor someone Mount Rushmore level or at least, like, an Oscar winner. 

“Best Presidents Day” might be a compromise. That way Americans, used to being able to personalize their lives in every way, could celebrate a quality president from a short list approved by, say, the judges from “The Voice.” We wouldn’t even have to tell each other which one. No arguments with friends! Remember, though, you would not get off entirely scot-free. God would know. 

. . .