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Fry Away Home
I often sit around wondering what I would do if NASA were to come to my apartment and ask me if I'd like to be on the first manned spaceflight to Mars. I can imagine these three men in nice gray suits with buttons on their lapels that say "Get High, With NASA!" coming into my living room, making themselves at home on the couch, and asking me if I wanted to be the first representative of the human race to brave the unknown and set forth on what would probably be the most awe-inspiring, frightening, and wonderful adventure that man has ever known.
First, I would tell them to get their feet off my coffee table. NASA people are very rude and arrogant. Then I would calmly and respectfully decline their offer.
"What?!" they'll retort. "You have this unbelievable opportunity to become rich and famous and go somewhere where nobody has gone before (and we say it like that mainly to avoid any copyright infringement), and you're turning it down?! You, a man with absolutely no qualifications for this assignment at all, and whom this would never in a billion years actually happen to except in your outlandish daydreams and your weekly humor column, are refusing us?"
"Stop wiping boogers on my couch," I'd respond. NASA people also have questionable hygienic habits and severe colds. Then I would ask them to leave, and when they wouldn't, I would start throwing our kittens at them. The kittens are now at the age where you can reliably use them to dispose of sensitive, classified documents if your paper-shredder is not working. They're like Koosh-balls, except with little spikes on the ends of all the rubber tines. I bet you didn't even know that's what the things on a Koosh-ball were called. Well, neither did I, until I made it up.
But once again, I'm getting away from the point, which was that I really, honestly, would not go to Mars if I were asked. If you're shaking your head right now in bewilderment, or maybe because a swarm of gnats is attacking you, I'll explain my decision. The reason I would not go is because I am not a total, complete, irrepressable moron.
You see, I like my life. I have a good time at home, grilling up chicken to the point where they look like little black asteroids, playing with the cats, ordering chinese food, watching morning kid's television shows like "Bananas in Pajamas" (which is an amazing show simply for the fact that they came up with the idea in the first place. The end credits should state something like, "The producers of this show would like to thank 'Philly Phil' for keeping us in constant supply of mind-altering drugs."), and generally being your average suburbanite slob with boogers on his couch. Now, I might be willing to give that up for the long, arduous flight to Mars and back, just because it would be pretty cool to go there and talk to those little amoeba thingies that they found on that meteor.
"Hey, little amoeba thingies! How's it going? Nice planet you have here! I love what you've done with the place," I'd charmingly quip.
"Get your feet off our coffee table," they'd angrily reply. Then they would transform into a giant seventy-foot monster with nine heads and fifteen kittens on each arm, and then scratch me to death and eat my spaceship. Mars is scary.
So it's not the time away from home that would bother me. It's the part where the spaceship malfunctions three days into the flight and shuts off my entire supply of synthetic Pringles, which was my only source of food, because back on the launch pad, the whole crate full of "Swordfish Filet in a creamy white wine sauce" was accidentally confused with a crate full of adult undergarments. The only good part would be that I could eat all the Pringles I wanted, and would never have to hit the head.
For in this glorious process of discovery and courage, all these problems arise because humans are involved. I do not trust humans in matters such as these. I do not trust humans in matters such as filling up my gas tank, even.
Now you're asking me, how did you get so cynical? With all the wonderful things humans have accomplished, how have you gained such a dim view of their abilities? What have they done to make you treat them so disrespectfully?
Well, it all goes back to one sunny, windy day in Manassas, Virginia ("Sure, it's ugly, but at least the traffic is backed up"), where for a time I was participating in flight training. The reason for this was that like many young boys, I once had a dream of taking to the air and soaring above the clouds like some glorious, mentally-deranged eagle.
The first day I went out to the airport to get a "demo ride" (which got its name from the phrase, "demo you ride, demo you wanna puke"), I was totally hooked. I didn't want to leave the airport afterwards. This was mainly because every time I tried to stand up, a wave of nausea overcame me which would even make a bottle of Pepto-Bismol wanna toss its lunch.
But for some reason, probably because the flight training center puts drugs in the coffee, I decided to undergo the entire pilot education procedure, so that one day, my instructor would hand over my license, shake my hand proudly, and say, "You no longer have to feel obligated to come out here every week and get into one of these flying death traps." This was the proudest moment of my life. I think I broke 100 MPH driving away from the airport.
For those of you who might be considering learning to fly, let me describe it. Imagine a really long, boring car trip, where the road stays straight for hundreds of miles, and the hot sun is filling the car with stale, burning air, and fumes from the engine are seeping through the vents so that everything smells vaguely of a car mechanic's armpit. OK, now add to that the fact that if anything goes wrong, you'll be hitting the ground so hard that even the starving vultures overhead won't eat you because the sight of you makes them so sick that they all instantly turn vegetarian and start going to PETA rallies and throwing fake blood on rich people with nice coats.
Ah, but let me not dwell on the downside. There are good points. For instance, any time you go to the airport, you'll probably be lucky enough to spot some old flyboy who'll be willing to tell you any number of long, boring, ridiculous, obviously fake stories about their many uninteresting experiences in the world of aviation, if you get within so much as a fifty-foot radius of them. And if that's not good enough, remember that all these people have horrendously bad breath from sitting around the flight shop drinking rancid coffee all day.
Yes, flying is truly the most stimulating, inspirational thing one can do. Unless there's a hockey game on or something.
But back to my story. One of the first things we were taught was that in order to be an effective pilot, one must maintain a consistent, healthy diet, so as not to inadvertently collapse of a heart attack at three thousand feet. As if to "drive the point home," the only place to eat within about fifteen miles was a McDonald's at the airport entrance. Now as any red-blooded, high-cholesteroled American knows, when you're thinking health-conscious, high-nutritional diet, you're thinking McDonald's. Nothing stimulates the body and sharpens the mind before a strenous task like flying more than three pounds of greasy, fatty cheeseburgers and lard-based french fries. The instructors kept Big Macs in the glove compartments of all the planes just to make sure all the students got their recommended daily allowance of pure garbage. Planes were plummeting to the ground all over the place, their bloated, unconscious pilots slumped over the yoke (which is the aviation term for "yolk".) It was a grand sight.
Anyway, during one memorable trip to the airport, I decided to stop in and fill up with crap before I so much as showed my face in the flight school. Nothing can match the embarassment of walking into that place and hearing the stern admonishing of your primary instructor, "Where are your ketchup stains?!"
I sauntered on into the fast-food establishment. I probably don't have to describe to you what a McDonald's is like, but just in case, it usually consists of the "transaction room" and the "dining room". The transaction room is made up of eighteen cash registers and two cashiers, who stand beneath large pictures of food which look nothing like anything you can order there. One of the cashiers is busy explaining to a ninety-three year old man that they don't serve "blintzes" there. The dining room consists of three exceedingly overweight families with about seven screaming children each, several of which are busy either throwing large handfuls of beef at the people in the transaction room, or urinating on the floor.
I was in the transaction room, waiting in the "non-blintz" line. There was one person ahead of me, who had just completed ordering a fairly standard, uncomplicated meal. The total came to about three dollars. The happy customer, eagerly awaiting the mesmerizing aroma of fat drippings, handed over a ten dollar bill. The cashier professionally took the payment, and opened the cash register in order to make the correct change and complete the transaction.
Unfortunately, there was an unforeseen complication. There were no five dollar bills in the register. Could this problem interfere in the successful completion of this heretofore smooth business deal? "I need fives," the shaken cashier nervously shouted to the manager in the back room.
The manager is always in the back. The manager is in charge of making sure that this well-oiled (and greased) fast-food machine stay in prime working order. This usually consists of frowning at the wall in anger while pondering the fact that they have the only "managerial" job in the world that pays less than panhandling.
A couple minutes passed. The grin on the customer's face started to wilt into a mildly perturbed sneer. The old man in the next line had been served a Filet-O-Fish and been convinced that, "Yeah, it's a blintz, whatever that is." The overweight families in the dining room had spontaneously generated a few more children.
"Um, I need fives!" the cashier pleaded to the uncaring back room. The manager acknowledges the request and responds, "Wait a minute," and then goes off to the other side of the kitchen to stare at the other wall for a while. Several more minutes pass. The customer's sneer has developed into a determined frown, such that you might only see on a humor column reader's face after they've once again had to wade through pages of unrelated stuff to get to the point of the column. The families in the dining room have now multiplied to the point where children are stacked two and three deep, and are getting much better ballistic action on their beef wads.
"I NEED FIVES!" in desperation, the cashier bellows.
"OK!" the manager furiously fires back, while stomping forth to finally unlock the register. Like a knight weilding his prized sword, the manager thrusts the register key into the slot, while grasping a stack of five dollar bills in the other hand. Hope glimmers in the faces of the remaining customers, several of whom are by this time delirious with hunger and shouting incoherent things about monkeys.
The cash register opens.
The manager glares, disbelieving, into the register tray.
The moment when I heard what the manager said next, to this day, I still consider the defining moment of my life.
"You couldn't have used ones?"
The room froze in shock. Beef wads stopped in midair. The entire legion of customers succumbed to group paralysis.
"I didn't know I could do that," the cashier, whose brain had obviously been vaporized in the heat of the preceding events, pitifully rebutted in the silence.
The walls started to shake. Dust began to fall from the ceiling. Frozen burger patties were falling out of the freezer like CD's out of a garage sale bin. I sensed that now would be my only chance for escape.
I ran for the door, tiles and large pieces of wood crashing down around me. In a last, desperate attempt to survive, I lunged out of the glass doors, which shattered like the hopes and dreams of a fast-food manager.
As I ran away, I could see the entire structure begin to fold in upon itself, like at the end of "Poltergeist". Within minutes, the place was gone.
Well, at least, that was my artistic interpretation of what happened.
But my point was that the people who would have built my Mars spaceship are of the same species as that cashier, and I'll be damned if I'm stepping into some futuristic contraption put together by the likes of them. I can just see the whole thing falling to pieces as I got out of Earth orbit, and one engineer turning to the other saying, "Well, we were all out of three-inch bolts!" and the other one saying, "You couldn't have used the four-inch ones?" Yeah, I don't think so.
So, the mean, nasty, booger-filled NASA people will have to wait. Let 'em find some other sucker to trick into their devious plans. I, for one, will be perfectly happy to just sit at home, basking in my den of normalcy, and wait for the kittens to chew my eyes out.
And if you have learned nothing else from this column, I want you to remember this one last thing...
Airplanes don't really have glove compartments.
We recieved an extremely angry letter regarding the April 15, 1997 edition ("Over and Under and Through"). This obviously ulcer-ridden reader writes:
It's DUCT tape! Not DUCK tape! Dope!I feel compelled to respond, as the happiness and comfort of my readers is of prime importance to me. Here is my response:
Hey, jackass! I'll use the kind of tape I goddamn WANT to use, alright? I think duck tape is great. I get duck tape through mail-order all the time. The only problem with that is when I get the bill.Thank you.