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. 

. . .

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Winter Olympics might be even better in the buff

I don't know of a winter Olympic sport which could not be improved by putting the word “naked” in front of it. 

Naked two-man bobsleigh. What a visual! The sprinting to get up to speed, the jumping into the sleigh, the whooshing down the course, the posing for the Wheaties box.

And when did a bobsled become a bobsleigh? Last I checked, a sleigh involves a horse, some bells, singing, some laughing. I suspect Russian linguistic doping. 

Naked skeleton. Just the name would inspire a generation of children. Kid watching TV:

“Dad, that’s what I want to do when I grow up.” 

“What’s that, son?” 

“Naked skeleton.” 

“You...want to strip down, jump naked on a sled and fly face-first down an ice chute 75 miles an hour?”


“Why not just go into politics?”

Some people only watch car racing to see a crash. I feel safe in asserting that the same would definitely be said for naked ski jumping. 

I think if I were going to be a Winter Olympics athlete, I would choose the biathlon. Any sport that lets you to strap a gun to your back like John McClane in “Die Hard” is my kind of sport. The cross-country skiing would suck, but every sport has a down side. 

I wish they let you choose what shape of target you shoot at. You ski up, drop to your belly and take out a Smurf. Who needs a medal?

Did you know horses once took part in the winter games? As an exhibition sport in 1928, skiers raced each other while being pulled behind horses. Which is to say, horses raced each other in the Olympics. This is called "skijoring," which is a Norwegian word meaning "cheating creatively." Olympic skijoring was never repeated again, but the figure of a riderless horse dragging a guy behind does live on, coincidentally, in my own family crest. 

There are four entirely new events this year, including "mass start" speed skating. Skaters line up six-abreast in four rows and after the first lap it's a free-for-all for position. All while wearing 19 inch razor blades on their feet. In the middle of the race there are four sprints to gain points. So finishing the race in first does not mean you won; you could still lose on points. 

It's like the Olympic version of the electoral college. Well, it's nice to see that a little bit of America is finally rubbing off on the world. 

. . .

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Winter Olympics can’t compete with the Super Bowl

“Winter Olympics can’t hold a torch to the Super Bowl”

The Winter Olympics begin Friday, with all the usual pomp which attends the ceremonial (and legally required) peeing into a cup by 200 Russians. In December, because of systematic doping, the whole Russian team was banned by the International Olympic Committee from competing as a team from Russia. The IOC left open the possibility that it could compete as a team from Las Vegas, Orlando or North Korea. 

Reversing its hard line this week, the IOC is allowing roughly 170 Russians to compete, as long as they do not tell anybody they are from Russia, wear a Russian uniform, wave a Russian flag, or express an affinity for bears. They must wear an unidentifiable uniform, maybe coveralls with their name stitched on the breast, except the name has to be Manny. If they win a medal, the IOC insists that the national anthem to be played will be “something neutral, like ABBA.”

It is hard to express the sheer level of excitement Americans have about these Olympics, because today is the Super Bowl. I expect most Americans know the name Tom Brady. Ask them who Apolo Ohno is, and they are likely to say “That judge from the O.J. trial?” Tom Brady has won five Super Bowls, but Ohno has eight Olympic medals to his credit, and appeared on "Dancing With The Stars" twice. (O.K. I know. I never heard of him either. Hang on while I stir this Queso Dip.)

The hotshot of these Winter Olympics should be snowboarder Shaun White, "The Flying Tomato," named presumably for his red hair and airborne prowess. You probably didn't know, but White is the first boarder ever to land back to back "double corks," the only skateboarder ever to stick the 540 degree “Armadillo," and the first to ever pull off the elusive "Cab 7 Melon Grab." I really have to come up with a cooler name for the way I refill the stapler at work. 

Team USA may not win the most medals, because the sports involved do not require bloodshed. But we are golden when it comes to names. There’s Breezy, Wiley, Kikkan. We have no fewer than three Madisons. Dudes named Mick, Red and Chase. I admit it is hard to get excited about skiing when the Patriots are playing the Eagles, as if the country’s political turmoil has caused its very symbols themselves to start beefing. Will we ever reunite? Sure. Next weekend. When tomatoes fly.