>>> Bang for Your Buck
By staff writer David Nelson

April 30, 2007

Essential New Word of the Week: Scotch underwear (definition hint: keepin' it breezy)

Last week, I attended a local bluegrass show, and the opening act was a goddamn mind reader. Not in the sense of a great musician who knows just what the audience wants to hear, but a schmuck who guesses your birthday and crap like that. The audience sat down anticipating some soulful twang, and instead got Dr. Mysterion, the PhD. in ESP.

In the hierarchy of crap, mentalism fits somewhere between magic and mime, and if you don’t know how I feel about mime, feel free to approach me while struggling against an imaginary gust of wind. I’ll punch you so hard, I’ll be cleaning white makeup out of my knuckle crevices for days. And mentalists are just as annoying, only they’re liars as well.

That’s right, I’m a skeptic. I don’t believe anyone has the power to read minds, no matter how sexy his assistant looks in hot pants. I also don’t have time for aliens, sasquatches, and leprechauns who aren’t secretly midgets painted green. There are no mystical forces governing the universe. Praise be to Xenu, that’s just the way it is.

When I was 10, I asked a Ouija Board to channel my dead ancestors, and it replied “scrotal pastramification.” Ever since, I’ve doubted the occult. So I knew this mentalism act was a careful blend of gimmicked props and cold reading, with a terrifying dose of black lycra thrown in. Even so, the folks around me genuinely bought into his occult powers. It bothered me that I couldn’t change their minds.

“If you can’t strike up a conversation with a girl holding a puppy, it’s time to buy a bunch of track pants and just give up.”

I decided to write an article debunking some aspect of the supernatural. And the best place to start would be astrology. Lots of people read their horoscopes, but how many actually follow the advice given? Life decisions are too important to be entrusted to some hack who probably flunked out of journalism school.

Think about what happens when you read a horoscope. You take in a little blurb about how you need to be more assertive today, because Jupiter is teabagging Mars or something. This information registers for about 5 seconds, then you forget all about it and go on with your day, because you’re not a complete retard. But for this experiment, I needed to embrace that inner retard.

I’d read my online horoscope every day, and ultimately choose 6 days in which I was given specific advice. I would do exactly what the stars demanded of me. Then we’d see if life got better or worse. It was kind of scary to give up my free will, even temporarily. This must be what slavery felt like, minus the whippings. The universe was going to owe me reparations by the time I got done.

Obviously, I don’t want a bunch of arrogant constellations telling me what do, but for 6 days, I would be at their mercy. And, in case you’re interested, I’m a Sagittarius. (To any female readers for whom astrological compatibility is important, let me remind you: This means I’m spontaneous, reliable, and hung like a centaur.)

Day 1

It's spring-cleaning time, and today is a good day to make a clean sweep. So if you've been in an argument with someone, get in touch and suggest that the two of you let bygones be bygones. And if your home could use a literal spring cleaning, get to it! If you get busy with cleaning, laundry or other chores around the house early today, you're sure to get a lot done and feel a lot better about the level of organization in your life.

I’d be starting my experiment with some good old-fashioned forgiveness and organization, two qualities that Jesus had in abundance, or so I’m told. And if this experiment can make me more like Jesus, I’m all for it. Particularly if I wind up with his swimmer’s physique and rad superpowers.

Cleaning my place was easy enough. I learned that with enough cleanser, you can scrub away all the sordid evidence of your lifestyle. In other words, whether you kill hookers or just miss the toilet sometimes, no one has to know. Not only was I gaining wisdom, I was also beginning to smell lemony-fresh. Astrology was off to a decent start.

I hadn’t been in any arguments recently, but it occurred to me that I didn’t exactly end things well with my last roommate. Undoubtedly, he was mad at me for being a degenerate slob, and I was mad at him for being a demented fruitcake. We used to be friends; now we hadn’t talked in months. God only knows what happened to my spatulas.

When the stars demand reconciliation, you better listen. Otherwise, you might end up like Van Halen. I didn’t even know where to find this guy. But thanks to the miracle of Facebook, I still had a chance to bury the hatchet. I added him as a friend, and hoped for the best. It may have been a meaningless gesture on a purposeless site in a soulless medium, but hell… this was only day one.

Day 2

Someone who has been wasting your time needs to be told to move along today! This person has been all talk and no action for some time now — and you know that empty promises are not going to bring you satisfaction. Don't be afraid to cut losers like this loose from your life. You may fear that you'll have some awkward social situations ahead, but you won't. Moving on will cause only good things in your life.

Come to think of it, there are a few people at work who’ve been wasting my precious time. My work day is mostly spent trying to scavenge free food, write articles, draw up blueprints for Mega-Fort 3000, and master the big version of Minesweeper. I don’t have time to deal with customers, or fire drills, or complaints about the weird smell coming from my cubicle.

My horoscope was right about one thing: I do fear creating awkward social situations. That’s why I try not to giggle whenever someone says the word “duty.” But it also says that if I dismiss the time-wasters, it will cause only good things in my life. Sounds like a fine trade. Since I’m all about efficiency, I decided to call a meeting with the three worst offenders.

Me: I suppose you’re wondering why I called this meeting…
Room: (Petrified silence)
Me: I just wanted to say, it’s been a pleasure working with you, but I’m going to have to cut the three of you loose.
Co-worker #1: I don’t think you have the authority to do that.
Co-worker #2: And technically, I’m your supervisor.
Me: No, no, I don’t mean like that. I mean in a social sense. I’m serving notice that I will no longer stand idly by while you cut into my idle time. Wait, that didn’t come out right.
Co-worker #3: Dave, what the goddamn hell are you talking about?
Co-worker #1: Are you saying we waste your time?
Me: Look, it’s not a personal thing. I’m just not interested in hearing about your hockey pools, or hernia operations. It prevents me from operating at maximum efficiency. Besides, my horoscope said that if I did this, I might win the lottery and bang Natalie Portman.
Co-worker #2: Are we done here? Can I get back to work?
Co-worker #1: She’s not that hot anymore, you know.
Co-worker #3: How did you know about the hernia?

Is my life demonstrably better for having done this? Well, there’s no Natalie Portman. But I am getting better at Minesweeper. Also, I found a quarter under my desk when I might otherwise have been yammering about photocopiers or something. That, my friends, is progress.

Day 3

Despite some recent negative events, you should not indulge in any “stinking thinking” today — there's no sense in it. Now more than ever, your positive thinking has the power to get things back on track for you and your people. Family situations are one specific area where your input and sunny attitude can brighten things up considerably. Send a family member a note or a little gift, to let her or him know that things are getting better all the time.

This horoscope was a little perplexing. What, exactly, is “stinking thinking”? I mean, it’s a cute rhyme and all, but I cleaned my bathroom exactly 2 days ago, and I’m already thinking about the odor that’s regrouping. But, as the stars commanded, I put that out of my mind. Also, “you and your people?” Does that mean Jews? Canadians? PIC Columnists? Be more specific, horoscope!

Since my family was in need of my sunny disposition, I decided to grace them with a dinner visit. Saying goodbye to my dreams of not being humiliated in front of a seething waiter, I joined my parents and siblings for dinner. As instructed, I bought little gifts for everyone. I planned to hand them out when the bill came, all the better to avoid contributing. All right, score one more for astrology.

I swear to god, we’d been to this same place a hundred times. Every time, my dad asks if there’s Diet Sprite on the menu, then gets indignant when there’s not. He’ll hold the waitress personally responsible for this, too. So I changed the timing of my plan. Just as he was about to launch into a familiar soda injustice tirade, I presented everyone at the table with the gift of a miniature stapler. For the rest of the night, everyone was too weirded out to complain about anything. It was heaven.

In other news, my ex-roommate added me as a Facebook friend and sent a nice message. Also, co-workers have been avoiding me wherever possible, leaving me free to daydream about what theme music I’d have if I were a pro wrestler. I’m starting to think there’s something to astrology after all….

Day 4

Your upcoming travel plans will go fairly smoothly, although one small snag could leave you feeling rushed. If you're hoping to get upgraded, you should definitely not hesitate to ask. Your optimism is your best asset, so when you approach an uncertain situation, expect the best possible outcome. Things are likely to go in your favor. It's time to start asking for what you want more often — if you do, you might start getting what you want more often.

What brilliant luck! As it happens, I am indeed in the middle of making plans to visit some friends in England, and maybe make a detour to Germany in time for Oktoberfest. My horoscope is correct; so far plans have gone smoothly. And the small snag it refers to could be my brief attempt to fabricate my own lederhosen out of beef jerky. That didn’t turn out well at all.

I was specifically instructed to seek an upgrade, so I called the airline right away. Since unbridled optimism was going to be my best asset, I decided to highball the negotiations. Trust me, my people have a knack for this.

Me: Hello. I’ve got a reserved coach ticket on a flight to London next month. I’d like to be upgraded at no cost. Also, can I fly the plane for about a half an hour?
Attendant: No, I don’t think that would be allowed under federal regulations, sir.
Me: Okay, then. Just the upgrade.

It didn’t work. Maybe I wasn’t optimistic enough. My horoscope did say to expect the best possible outcome. But I didn’t think I could realistically ask for the airline to provide twin strippers for me to bang on top of a pile of vintage Transformer toys. It seemed my fortune was leveling out.

Day 5

Strangers have the potential to be very inspiring right now — but you need to interact with them in order to uncover what they have to offer. Interactions and conversations don't have to be deep to be illuminating, so feel free to say things in passing to people you've never seen before (and may never see again). Do try to get more creative than simply commenting on the weather — but you may be amazed at the rewards a simple smile can bring today.

I encounter strangers every day, and I’ve always thought of them as the unpaid non-SAG extras that populate the epic movie of my life. Now, the director was telling me to give them speaking roles. At least I still controlled the merchandising rights. This may sound like a half-literate syllogism, but strangers are strangers because you don’t want to talk to them. I wasn’t looking forward to this.

But when a reasonably cute girl got on the elevator with me that morning, I knew I had to kick destiny’s ass. She had an adorable cocker spaniel. If you can’t strike up a conversation with a girl holding a puppy, it’s time to buy a bunch of track pants and just give up. But not me; my karma was about to run over her dogma:

Me: Your puppy is cute.
Cute girl: Thanks. He really acts up sometimes, though.
Me: Yeah, I bet he does.
Cute girl: He thinks everything’s a game.
Me: Well, to him, it is. Ha ha. Yeah, I’m definitely a dog lover. Well, not literally.

Okay, so this exchange wasn’t exactly stellar, but it’s still better than 90% of the things you’ll hear on Blind Date. Besides, she got on at the fifth floor. That’s under fifteen seconds of flirt time, plus the added distraction of Gowan playing in the background. I don’t think it went too badly. If she was really impressed, at least she knows where I live.

I didn’t think I had engaged in enough stranger-talk to satisfy my horoscope, so I decided to try it outside of a flirting context. I approached an older guy sitting in the park. Remember, I was instructed to be creative without being deep. Also, for this to work, he had to be a stranger, so I was hoping this elderly Chinese man wouldn’t recognize me from Points in Case. Because that would ruin everything.

Me: Good afternoon.
Elderly Chinese Man: (nods)
Me: Enjoying a good sit, huh?

Elderly Chinese Man: (clears throat)
Me: Say, have you ever tried one of those “Pizza Pocket” things? Are they any
Elderly Chinese Man: (unintelligible noise)

If I’m being objective, I can’t say that this interaction improved my life in any tangible way. It would have been different if he offered to sell me a Mogwai or something, but no such luck. I had only one more day to test the astrological waters.

Day 6

Personal growth requires self-expression. Today, before the sun sets, you need to share your feelings with a close partner or friend — no matter what they are. Utilize your creativity and express yourself in the best way you know how. Singing, dancing, cooking or even just goofing around are all great ways to display how you're feeling. If you keep your emotions inside or mask them, your relationships could stagnate.

The final day of my experiment brought me some good advice, but I was also suffering the effects of a king-size hangover, an ironic reminder of my last experiment. With sunset as my deadline, I trudged over to a friend’s house to spend the day playing video games and eating greasy food. Dancing and cooking were out of the question, but I felt as though I could sing him a little song.

On the way over, I thought up a little ditty, as sung by my best impression of rock icon Meat Loaf. I realize how stupid this sounds, but I was under direct orders to utilize my creativity the best way I knew how. And I’ll be damned if that’s not an homage to the corny rock-operatic style of The Loaf TM. Sure, it was tempting to just stay in bed… but I won’t do that. No, I won’t do that.

The song itself was all about how Meat Loaf had become too fat to rock & roll. In fact, that last half-sentence was the chorus. I can’t even remember whether this song was an original creation, or the remnants of a long-forgotten parody I once heard. Either way, I padded it out with some choice lyrics. On an unrelated note, you’d be amazed how few rhymes there are for “taco.”

After performing my little song, I tried to gauge my friend’s reaction. I’d describe it as a blend of appreciation and polite bewilderment. More importantly, I had done as the horoscope said and expressed my feelings, namely that Meat should go easy at the buffet. All in all, it turned out to be a good day. Our relationship didn’t stagnate one bit, not even when we were kicking the crap out of each other in Virtua Fighter.

With the experiment over, it was time to tally the results. Sure I made some gains over the course of the 6 days. My apartment was cleaner. I made amends with my old roommate. And I laid the groundwork for a future booty-call, maybe. On the other hand, my friends, family, co-workers, and nice Mr. Ping are all convinced I’ve gone insane.

If I made some kind of chart displaying the net gain/loss of zodiacal obedience, it would surely demonstrate a happiness deficit. Also, this chart would be a pie chart, because pie is delicious. I guess what I’m trying to say is, astrology may get it right some of the time, but if you embrace it, you’re essentially denying your free will. And that’s what’s really insane.

Essential New Word of the Week:

Scotch underwear n [ska? ‘Under ware]

Many things in life are better when you add the word “Scotch” in front. A lowly egg, for example, becomes a deep-fried, sausage-wrapped delight. And plain old tape becomes a remarkably durable and versatile adhesive. Scotch goes great before beer as well. But underwear… that’s a different story.

Years ago, I made the switch from briefs to boxers. My breaking point was when a friend dropped by unannounced, and literally every surface of my place was covered in tighty-whities. It was a good decision; boxers are more comfortable, and I don’t have to worry about low sperm counts. But now, I’m seeing a downside.

Guys are notorious for never throwing away underwear until it’s just a loose collection of fabric molecules, and I’m no different. A few pairs that I’ve owned for a while have worn right through the crotch. If that sounds sexy, trust me, it ain’t. Now, I have a collection of crotchless boxers which are basically just tubes at this point. They’re not plaid, and I wouldn’t go piping in them, but if you saw them, you might think they were kilts. Hence the term “Scotch Underwear.” If you own Scotch underwear, stay the course. As long as there’s some kind of barrier between your junk and your jeans, all will be well.