Yeah, it really has been 20 years — 20 years of you Alicelanders bugging us with pointless questions; 20 years of Grandma Alice bugging us to separate the lights from the darks and not eat pie in the living room; and two decades of the research elves just bugging us in general. But, hey! This calls for a party! Noisemakers, door prizes, embarrassing games, hokey anniversary speeches, dumb hats with those cheap elastic chin straps that break right away — the whole deal! A celebration of the fact that we've endured this gig for so long and that most of you don't seem to have suffered too badly as a result. You haven't wandered into traffic or drowned in your soup from sheer amazement at the relentless brilliance of Team Matthew Alice. When we presented the party idea, naturally, Grandma wanted none of it. Would not fall for sweet talk or an offer of new aprons. The elves took off on their skateboards to the electronics store to watch CSI: Miami on a bank of 103-inch plasma screens. Something about David Caruso peering over his glasses, with a head the size of a monster truck tire, cracks them up. With such a universal lack of interest, we had to come up with another plan. For this to work, we'll need some cooperation from you, the inquiring public. We provide the entertainment: a survey of some of the most memorable, ridiculous, astounding questions we've ever received. And you supply everything else. Food, drink, music, a very large carrot cake with cream-cheese frosting inscribed, "Matthew, You're a God." So before you read any further, please assemble a roomful of your strangest pals, hang streamers and a disco ball, bring out the karaoke machine and Twister. To save money, Grandma recommends you don't rent one of those inflatable moonwalk things; simply turn the kids loose on your king-size bed. They'll have just as much fun. And remember, while we can't be there in person, we are with you in spirit. Which means we can't even drink your beer. What a deal.
Dear Matthew Alice:
How many bathrooms are there in the White House? In second grade, somebody told me there were 365.
-- Silviano, Harborside School, downtown
Here's a tip. Don't look at that kid's test paper for answers. The White House has 32 bathrooms. When the place opened in 1797, there were no bathrooms. Indoors, anyway. Thomas Jefferson added two wood-and-tin indoor commodes in 1813.... White porcelain toilets weren't even invented until the 1890s.... When the White House was renovated in 1948, President Truman's bathroom got a new seven-foot bathtub. Truman himself was only five foot eight, perhaps requiring a Secret Service lifeguard on standby. And even though we learn that the U.S. is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the people can't pee at the White House. So if you plan to visit George and Laura, better go before you leave home.
Mighty Morphin' Matt:
Being that next year is an election year, I ponder this question to you: Can convicts vote?
-- N. Carcerated, Vista
When was the last time you saw a candidate detour the campaign bus to Folsom or Chino to stump for that all-important felon vote? On election day, nobody in a federal or state lockup in California will be fretting about what time the polls close.... Until 1966, if you robbed a bank, let's say, or rustled some cattle (were convicted of an "infamous crime," according to the state constitution), California told you to take your ballot and stuff it.... A court challenge in '66 set off a decade of judicial decisions, legislative paper-shuffling, and ballot propositions. A very confusing time for the civic-minded ex-burglar. Finally, in 1976, we decided that only convicted felons still imprisoned or on parole could be barred from voting.
But let's say our friend N. Carcerated, legally registered to vote and unsullied by a felony record, is late to English class one day. He spots a nice little Mustang in a parking lot and figures that's the solution to his problem. But the cops pull him to the curb and take him downtown for booking. Soon enough he's sitting in the fish tank with the rest of the day's catch, eating dinner off a plastic tray and calling collect to all his relatives to snivel about raising bail. If none of the Carcerateds can come up with the dough, can N. legally cast a ballot? If on election day he's not yet been convicted of appropriating the Mustang, he certainly can. Being charged with a crime isn't a crime. Innocent until proved guilty and all that. So certain county jail residents would be eligible to vote. But it's not a high priority. One M.A. pal, a former sheriff's deputy, says that in six years of duty in county lockups, he never had anyone ask for an absentee ballot.
I read somewhere that California has an official state dance, the Western Swing. Huh?
-- Wondering, San Diego
Right off the top, to fend off any mail with an attitude, the official state dance of California is the West Coast Swing. Western Swing is something else entirely. Requires cowboy boots and old Bob Wills records, I think.
Whatever else ailed us in 1988, California's elected reps quickly solved the crisis of our being one of the few danceless states. A senator sponsored a bill proposing West Coast Swing to fill the void. The bill passed 21 to 9 with a minimum of smart remarks. But in the state assembly, the square-dance lobby bought a few key legislators (lifetime bolo tie discounts?), who held out for an amendment making square dancing California's official folk dance. A brief floor revolt by salsa radicals came to nothing.
West Coast Swing is a Hollywood adaptation of the East Coast's Lindy Hop (aka jive, shag, bop, jitterbug). The story goes that early movie directors, lacking wide-angle lenses, couldn't film a dance floor full of fast-moving, athletic Lindy Hoppers. So choreographers developed a version in which the man remains more or less in one spot and moves his partner back and forth in a linear pattern. It's less athletic, and the beat's a little slower than the Lindy, but the footwork and other moves are fancier. For Hollywood's purposes, it kept everybody in the frame and in focus.
Now that you've been alerted to the underground square-dance lobby, you might keep an eye on them. Consider that half our states claim square dancing as their official dance, and you can see their influence. They've lost only a few skirmishes with polka brigades in the upper Midwest and some well-entrenched cloggers in North Carolina.
Saw Bill Clinton on TV signing his name to a stack of documents. There were at least a dozen pens lined up on his desk, and he used a different pen for each signature. Why?
-- Deputy Director of Intelligence, Oceanside
Is the prez pilfering from the White House supply cabinet? Or maybe after a particularly satisfying bout of document signing, he sits in his prez chair with the First Feet up on the big prez desk and tries to get Bics to stick in the ceiling. Maybe he draws fake tattoos on his hand or throws pens at the First Cat, Socks. Or how about this: behind every piece of legislation are dozens of worker bees who've seen to its passage. As thanks for a job well done, the prez hands out gifts after the ceremony. So rather than throwing one pen on the floor and chuckling as everybody bites and kicks and pulls hair to get the prize, the prez uses as many pens as there are worker bees, then hands them out ceremoniously with a big grinny handshake.
Dear Matthew Alice:
Do convicts still make our license plates, or was that all a big story told to us by our mothers?
-- Charlie Bingbang, San Diego
Ma Alice made a point of setting each of us kids on her knee and telling us about the birds and the bees and the cons and the plates.... In fact, she wrote a song for the occasion. Ma always claimed Johnny Cash got the tune for his big prison hit the night he heard her sing this at an eight-ball tournament in Waco.
I see the cars a-comin'
Rollin' 'round the bend,
And each one has a license plate
Attached to either end.
Oh, they're struck in Folsom prison
Three million-plus a year.
They make them in the slammer
Just like we always hear....
And since they're made at Folsom,
Where time keeps draggin' on,
They get away with paying
Criminal wages to each con....
Oh, they're struck in Folsom prison
By crooks and scalawags,
So the guy who ripped your car off most likely made your brand-new tags.
THE WONDERFUL WORLD
Dear M.A. Dude:
Where are all the Reader T-shirts people win for solving the Reader Puzzle? Me and my friends have never seen anyone wearing one.
-- Mark Rossi and Paul Woodburn, Ocean Beach; John Bidleman, Encinitas
This is the question that launched our quest for the Reader T, asking lucky owners to tell us what happened to them....
If your faxes and letters could speak, they'd sound like a flock of Easter chicks. "Cheap, cheap, cheap" was a popular theme, supplemented with the occasional "flimsy" and "cheesy." More than one miffed winner washed his or her prize only to have it transformed into a shriveled, twisted, unwearable ball of poly-cotton.... One winner said he wouldn't wear his Reader T to the proverbial dog fight but offered no hint about what is proper attire for a dog fight....
Lots of winners admitted they wear theirs hoping people will recognize how smart they are for having solved the puzzle, though apparently people rarely do.... Lots of people were bright enough to realize that if they'd saved all the postage money they've spent over the years just to win one lousy T-shirt, they could have solved the family's cash-flow problems or replaced their wardrobes several times over....
Random interesting observations: Dave Hightower from Encinitas wins the prize for acquiring his shirt in the most interesting way. He was rock climbing in Mission Gorge and found an old engine block wrapped in a Reader T. He took the shirt home, washed it about 15 times, but only got it clean enough to wear while repairing his car....
And from DKA of Lakeside: "My son came to visit me from Auburn, Washington, wearing a Reader T-shirt. He got it from his cousin, who lives in Port Orchard. He got it from his cousin, who lives in Tacoma. This cousin had gotten it from their grandma, who lives in Port Angeles. She had gotten it from her sister, who lives in San Diego. She bought it at a garage sale about a year ago."
Once in jail, one receives issued clothing, to include underwear. What is the average life of that underwear? If I were ever to be arrested and compelled to slip on a pair, can I assume that many previous inmates have passed their legs through those two holes?
-- Innocent until proven guilty, Lemon Grove
For an answer to this one, we went directly to them that wears 'em. Ma Alice's pedigree has more felons per square inch than San Quentin. Anyway, if they slap the cuffs on you in San Diego, here's how the underwear situation plays out. In county jail you're issued one pair of light green briefs. No boxers allowed, since they're considered a fashion statement on the street, and they try to avoid that kind of 'hood thang. The county's laundry schedule is a little confusing, but in general, you'll wear your tighty greenies for three or four days before they issue you another pair and collect the dirty ones. And yes, of course, you will be wearing a pair previously worn by some random perp who turned them in three days ago. When the briefs are so shredded you can't tell a leg hole from a scratch hole, they're discarded....
Dear Matthew Alice:
Wandering through department stores this weekend, I saw hundreds of ugly articles of clothing on sale that no one would ever buy, no matter how low the price was. What happens to all these clothes?
-- Sonny G, Downtown
Don't get out much, do you, Sonny. If you did, you'd realize that most of those vicious garments will be snatched off the rack and worn in public. Fashion scientists call the phenomenon "shopper's coma," a momentary taste blackout caused by the sight of a REDUCED FOR CLEARANCE! sign. It's like a lost-time experience. One minute you're idly strolling into a store, the next thing you know, you're at home, removing from your shopping bag a half-price orange Spandex jumpsuit with a large black eagle embroidered on the back, though you have no memory of actually having bought it.
Fashion designers and retailers aren't in the business of offering us things they're sure we won't buy. Little of what you see on those racks will go unsold. But if it can't be moved there, the clothing will be bought by a jobber, who will resell it to discount stores, where they offer it to us again at even more delightful prices.... Once we get it home, if it has no good Halloween costume potential, it will next end up hanging from a bush in our front yard at a garage sale. And here we'll eagerly, even proudly point out to browsers that it has never been worn. ("See? The price tag's still on it!") Who could pass up a $100 orange Spandex jumpsuit for only 75 cents? But in case they do, the suit will either (1) find its way to a charity, which means you might one day see it on TV, worn by a starving teenager in Bangladesh; or (2) it goes to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, where someone else buys it, later tries to sell it at a yard sale, then donates it back to Goodwill again, and on and on. This yard sale/Goodwill cycle is a vortex from which the jumpsuit might never be rescued. But think of all the people who've made a living off the ugly thing in the meantime.
Who makes those funky-looking Terminator-style shades that make everybody look like Ah-nold? Is it an odd coincidence that only senior citizens seem to be wearing them?
-- Salvatore Filippone, San Diego
So you're bugged when you see Gramps stylin' down the avenue in those big, bad, bad shades. Better turn this over to Grandma Alice. She'll set you straight.
"Thank you, Matthew. As for you, young man, Mr. Filippone, wait till you get to be our age and you want to make a fashion statement. Think it's a coincidence that there's a Baby Gap but no Grandpa Gap? No Extremely Old Navy? Does Jimmy Choo make orthopedic shoes? We're just handed a muumuu and a copy of Modern Maturity and shoved into a corner with a bunch of cats and a bag of knitting and an afghan. Why does everybody think old people are crazy about fuzzy things?"
Uh, take it easy, Grandma. So what's with those glasses he asked about?
"If some granny wants to look like the Terminator, well, I say it beats Driving Miss Daisy."
The glasses, Grandma --
"If Mr. Filippone wants his own pair, he can pick them up in sunglass stores or maybe have eye surgery -- cataract surgery, for instance -- and get them from his doctor. The oversized, dark shades are designed to block direct and reflected light that could creep around the side of the frames. They're also designed so you can wear them over your regular glasses."
I'm inspired to go full drag this Halloween. As a straight male who's never dressed up in drag before, I have zero fashion sense. What outfits should I avoid because they make my butt look big? Where do I find shoes for guy-sized feet?
Hillcrest at Halloween. What better playground for the aspiring gender illusionist. Well, Hillcrest in the middle of May, too, I guess. The clothes, shoes, makeup, etc., is the easy part. Plenty of outrageous shops around Fifth Avenue will rent you just the right outfit and give you makeup tips too. But there's more to this than meets the eye, so the elves skated over to Lips, the wiggy drag-and-dine at Fifth and Nutmeg. A gracious and accommodating Tootie (who does a dynamite Cher) condensed her nine years of experience for you.
A drag queen's best friends? Sez Tootie, "Big hair and duct tape, honey." Big hair slims the appearance of a man's larger face, neck, and shoulders. And it's sexy. Ditto big eyelashes. Warns Tootie, "Leave the skin-tight dresses to the professionals." Got a beer gut? A skirt and loose top is your best fashion choice. A plunging neckline also enhances the illusion of a slim face and neck and offers a chance for some naughty cleavage, achieved with the aforementioned duct tape. Yank your "back fat" (Tootie's words) around to the front and tape it all in place. "The higher the heels, the closer to God," Tootie croons. Sexy spikes lengthen the appearance of your legs.
Of course, you can wear all the glam rags you want, but if you don't stand and move like a woman, then you're just a nose tackle in a ball gown. Tootie advises that you hold your chin in, a bit closer to your neck and chest than usual. Keep your elbows close to your body to give you graceful arm and hand gestures. And most important, walk by placing one foot in front of the other, not with a man's typical wider gait. Think "matador," not "stevedore." That also makes your butt look cute walking away, adds Tootie coyly. "Oh, wait!" she says as we're leaving. "How could I forget? And shave everything! Immediately!"
MOTHER NATURE, WHAT A GAL!
Dear Matt and Alice:
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
-- Kelly Gleeson-Duff, San Diego
Lots. So, Kelly, how much ground would a groundhog hog if a groundhog could hog ground? (Before you answer, remember that the woodchuck and the groundhog are the same animal.) And how much sap would a sapsucker suck if a sapsucker could suck sap? (Hey, wait a minute. A sapsucker can suck sap. On a good day, maybe two or three ounces.) And how many nuts would a nuthatch hatch if....
Baby animals are so cute I am sad when I eat them. It's fun to watch them play. Do hatchling insects, ornithoids, and reptilians play?
-- Fireball, Hathaway Pines, CA
(a PB escapee)
We've sent the elves out to see if they can find a butterfly with an Xbox or a June bug with a pool cue. But we couldn't scare up any info on playing bugs. The science guys would say this is because of their tiny life expectancies and even tinier brains. And they say this with some certainty, because play behavior is a hot biological topic.... There's a whole academic association for the study of play (called, uh, the Association for the Study of Play), but they're in Florida and probably specialize in primate behavior during spring break.
Unfortunately, Fireball, a lot of questions still exist about the definition, evolution, and purpose of play. But at least we can give you examples of the animals that science has annoyed in pursuit of the answers.... The octopus is the only invertebrate that has been studied for what the science guys defined as "play" behavior. The experiment involved six octopuses, an empty plastic water bottle tethered to a rock so it bobbed under the surface, and a Lego piece that was buoyant but didn't actually float. After the octopuses were through manipulating the toys and trying to open them as they would a tasty clam, they began to "play" with them. Push-pull games with the water bottle, towing it around in circles, passing the Lego piece from arm to arm to arm to arm....
Driving by the Dolly Parton Memorial (San Onofre), I noticed the seagulls and other flying things clustered on the north dome and it's nearly covered with guano, while the south dome has none, nothing, not one bird, not one drop of the white stuff. Why?
-- R. Hendrickson, the Net
SoCal Edison's staff biologist is definitely aware of this guano situation. Once upon a time, he says, all the birds congregated on reactor 1, a small, flat-topped building north of reactor 2. When workmen began dismantling number 1, the noise and activity forced the birds to move. But they only moved next door, to reactor 2. No one knows why. Perhaps they're nostalgic for their old home and want to stay as close as possible. Perhaps reactor 3 is in a bad neighborhood.
Do insects sleep? Any mammals, birds, reptiles that don't sleep?
-- Carolyn Kurtz, Valley Center
Personally, I haven't gotten a solid eight hours since Rush Limbaugh hit the airwaves, but then neither has a bug. They space out, go sort of limp and listless, but don't really catch Zs the way we do.... When the lights go down and the temp drops, the metabolism of bugs with day jobs slows way down, and they hide out until it warms up. Birds, reptiles, and most fish lapse into a semicomatose doze when it gets dark. Whales "surface sleep," moving their flukes slowly, bobbing up and down to breathe. When a dolphin dozes, half its brain takes a break while the other half keeps it from drowning.... Sheep and cows catnap, while cats themselves spend half their lives out cold, in dreamland. Go figure.
SILVER SCREEN, PLASMA SCREEN
What happens to all the copies of films after they've run their course? Take for instance the just-released Star Wars.
-- Bbhud007, the Net
We nipped at the heels of the Fox folks to see what will happen to Star Wars when it goes out of general distribution. Well, you'd think we'd asked to snoop through the studio's accounting files or borrow the CEO's credit card. You could hear sirens going off and steel doors clanging shut the minute the question was asked. We finally got the info by swearing our operative to absolute anonymity, since they had to lie to the Fox source in order to get it. I'm not kidding. I wish I were. Hollywood is so full of paranoid babies.
For a mainstream movie, Fox will make anywhere from 1500 to 3000 copies during its life in general distribution. A single copy can last through eight to ten weeks of showings. Once the studio's squeezed out the last American moviegoer dollar, the copies go back to the studio; three are stored in a vault along with the master copy, and the rest are junked....
One copy of Star Wars contains about 20,000 feet of film, so that's 80,000 feet that end up in a warehouse. If this is typical of the industry, 32,960,000 feet (6242 miles) of film went into storage in 1996 from 412 domestic releases. And I trust these disclosures will not bring the entire industry crashing down around Holly-wood's paranoid-baby ears.
RE: Hollywood Walk of Fame
We never even got an invitation. We were ignored. Snubbed! We, who invested more than ten years of our pathetic lives in this project! In case you missed the news, our pal Harrison Ford finally got his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Team Matthew Alice OGs should remember our biennial phone calls to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce demanding to know how they planned to make "Indiana" Harrison's star unique, since there has been a star for a silent-film actor named Harrison Ford in front of Musso & Frank's Hollywood Boulevard restaurant since the mid-1950s. Confusion would reign in fanland. You might also recall the Tinseltown brush-off we got each time we called them to check on their plans. The weasels once even tried to trick us into believing that old Harrison's star was new Harrison's, but we set them straight, pronto.
So anyway, late in May, Harrison, his cadaverous squeeze Calista Flockhart, and the usual crowd of hangers-on gathered to dedicate his star in front of the Kodak Theater. It looks exactly like the 50-year-old star in front of Musso & Frank's, just a little shinier and with fewer pastrami stains. We didn't miss much of a party, though. Harrison hyped his new movie, hinted that Indiana Jones 4 was just a lunch away from being a done deal, squeezed Calista, and went home.
Crime-solving reality shows use actors in the recreations who look a lot like the real criminals. Have you heard any stories in which those actors were spotted on the street and turned in, thinking they were the real perps?
-- Langston, Spring Valley
Apparently, arrest is an occupational hazard for actors on America's Most Wanted. One poor schmo was arrested twice in one week. She played a particularly evil nanny-housekeeper who forged employers' checks and burned down their houses. According to the actress, two teenagers recognized her on the street and called the fuzz. An angry crowd gathered around her before she was hustled to the cop shop and the whole mess was straightened out. A few days later she was confronted and detained in a restaurant.... AMW casts look-alikes and does its shooting at the crime scene. They contact talent agents in the area to find local actors who match the specs. When you go for the audition, better bring head shots, your AFTRA card, and a bail bondsman.
Dear Matthew Alice:
A friend of mine swears that Sylvester Stallone was in a movie with Ingrid Bergman, before he became "Rocky." Can this possibly be true?
-- Idon'tthinkso, San Diego
A perfect question. It contains all our favorite elements: rumor, innuendo, pie-faced gullibility, and Hollywood stars. One of those queries that inspires people to fire off nasty letters claiming I make up these questions. No. Sly and Ingrid do not appear together in any film. But it shouldn't be a total loss. Let's play "Six Degrees of Ingrid Bergman." Stallone was in Capone with Harry Guardino, who was in Sorocco with Humphrey Bogart, who was in Casablanca with, ta-da, Ingrid Bergman. Too easy. How about PeeWee Herman and Ingrid Bergman. Herman was in Mystery Men with Louise Lasser, who was in Bananas with Sylvester Stallone, who was...etc. Howard Cosell and Ingrid Bergman? He was also in Bananas, so patch together your own list.
But wait. How about Pauly Shore and Ingrid Bergman and Ingmar Bergman. Impossible, you say? Ha. Child's play. Pauly Shore was in Bio-Dome with Patty Hearst, who was in Serial Mom with Sam Waterston, who was in Mindwalk with Liv Ullmann, who was in Autumn Sonata with Ingrid Bergman, directed by Ingmar Bergman.
My boyfriend says the Jerry Springer show is fake, that the guests are really actors, not insane trailer trash dating their sisters. Is he right? Is it fake?
-- Farah Daye, the Net
Not really, Farah. Though there likely have been fakes, it's mostly just exaggerated and fakeish. But it is hard to believe anyone would voluntarily make a network TV spectacle of him/herself, family, neighbors; or proudly demonstrate a complete lack of common sense/morals/taste/judgment; or appear so publicly mean/sleazy/stupid.... The producers think up the ugliest show titles they can think of, let the public know they're looking for real folks who've done that particular ugly thing, then sit back and let the phone calls pour in.
Grandma doesn't want me to tell you this, but one of the Alice clan actually appeared on The Maury Povich Show some years ago. Cousin Alice. Alice Alice. Chronologically an adult. At the time, her life was classic trash. A big Maury fan. One day she sees Maury is looking for Teen Daughters Out of Control! Hey, she thinks, I've got two of those. Besides, guests of the Maury show stay at some swank midtown Manhattan hotel. Alice has never been to New York. Teen Daughters Out of Control! are up for it, so they call the Maury producers and run down their family situation. The details must be sordid and promising, because a few weeks later a Maury flunky shows up at Alice's house in San Diego to chat with her and TDOC! and take pictures. Before you can say "exploitation," Alice and the girls are booked for the show.
The day before the taping, they hop a plane at Lindbergh, are met in New York by the Maury limo, and glide to the luxurious hotel that until now has only been a dream in the closing credits. The production staff gives them $400 walking-around money.
The production staff makes it clear that the general effect they're going for is hideous children vs. helpless mother. Poor, suffering Mom, heartbroken at the horrible truth she's about to learn -- live, on camera -- from the results of lie detector tests previously administered to Teen Daughters Out of Control! Tears, whining, collapsing into a pitiful pile of Momness -- that's what the producers want. TDOC, on the other hand, should be veritable porcupines of attitude. Curse the audience, screech unthinkable things at gasping, blubbering Mom....
At the taping the next day, it's obvious the Alices have paid little attention to the production briefing. Younger Daughter lies her way through the lie detector test and is appropriately loud and insolent when she's called a liar. So far so good. Older Daughter, only there to see New York, tells the truth on the test, freely admitting what's going on in her hair-raising life. No on-camera shocking secrets, no snotty attitude. Worse yet, Mom didn't scream, cry, faint, throw up, or act the victim. Show prep flies out the window, and she reacts as she would at home. Daughter gives you lip? Give her plenty in return. Daughter screaming at you? Scream back louder.... Immediately after the taping, they're whisked into the limo and returned to the airport. Total elapsed in-city time: 24 hours, max.
BIG THINKERS: PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION, 'N' STUFF
We can use bug sprays or exterminators. What do Buddhists do when they have a house full of bugs?
-- Ant Buster, San Diego
The Buddhist priest on Team Matthew Alice has been waiting for his chance to contribute. He is nothing if not patient.... When placed in such a situation, or any other in which human life or health is at stake, one must ask, which sentient being stands the greatest chance of reaching Enlightenment and leading others there? Our answer, of course, is not the cockroach or the ant but the human being. "But," notes our source, "all creatures have been, countless times, our mother, protecting and loving us, and we naturally wish them not to suffer. One respectfully makes this painful choice and prays that the creatures that are killed may quickly achieve conditions in which they can take on human form and respond to the Buddha-dharma. There are prayers to advance these unfortunate creatures on their journey and by which we do not take on negative karma for the act.... It is best to pray before, during, and after the killing." So, grasshopper, your answer seems to be, they pray, they squish, they pray.
Dear Matthew Alice:
Is there a black hole that rebellious socks escape to when you're not looking? Is there someplace in this world where an enormous pile of $20 bills collects to discuss the benefits of freedom? Or do I alone have invisible holes in my pockets?
-- Brian Rainey, San Diego
That $20-bill problem sounds quite serious, Brian, and I'm sending over one of the elves to follow you around for a week or two. Just to pick up -- well, let's say, some clues. And hey, we can definitely make more progress if you could start carrying around fifties and hundreds. We'll have your answer in a flash. As for the less interesting sock dilemma, single socks vanish to the same place the other shoe has gone to when you see its mate at the side of the road. But since nobody would want to go to a place filled with other people's old shoes and socks, we won't worry about where that is.
Heard there is a Catholic saint that will help sell your home quicker and for a better price if you bury his image in the front yard, facing the house. Any more info?
-- Cy, O'side
Great news! According to enthusiastic testimonials, you don't have to be Catholic to have this holy sales aid work for you. The St. Joseph Home Sale Kit is available on the Internet, or pick one up in a religious supplies shop. For $6.98 you get a 3 1/2-inch plastic statue of Joseph, instructions on how to bury him, and a nicely worded prayer to the saint to intercede on your behalf so your house sells fast and for lots of dough. The box has a drawing of St. Joseph standing next to a realtor's sign with a big "Sold" banner across it. The house in the background looks as if it might sell in the high 5s in our market. Home seller testimonials read a little like the blurbs in chain letters.... St. Joseph is the patron to carpenters and guardian of the family and household, which explains why he might be inclined to intercede in the first place....
Dear Matthew Alice:
I listen to a lot of blues music, and the word "mojo" comes up frequently, e.g., "I got my mojo workin' " or "Going to New Orleans and get me a mojo hand." I'm not up on jive talk. Any idea what "mojo" means?
-- Dennis Brule, El Cajon
And once you get to New Orleans, where do you find one? House of Mojos? Muddy's Mojos 'n' Things? And if your mojo ain't workin', can you have it fixed, or do you just throw it away and get a new one? Will the Chinese flood the market with cheap plastic mojos, threatening our dominance as the premier mojo-exporting country in the world? Clearly, the subject hasn't gotten the attention it deserves.
The mojo of Delta song and story is a reference to magic or the ability to cast spells on people. When you got your mojo workin', you've got the power, and you hope the ladies will find it irresistible. A mojo hand is an amulet embodying the power of the mojo.
How many facts of life are there, and what are they?
-- Philosopher, the Net
There are three facts of life: There will always be death. There will always be taxes. There will never be enough parking space. There used to be five, but recent state and federal cutbacks eliminated two of them.
TIME-WASTERS AND RANDOM BITS
What's the deal with fast-food pricing and combos? Say you're looking at a breakfast combo at Carl's Jr., but you don't want their shitty coffee. So you say, "I'll have the radioactive egg sandwich and one of those potato pucks." They always say, "You want the combo?" I reply in the negative and then get charged more than if I took their damn wimpy brown water. Why don't they punch it up as a combo and then keep the effing cup?
-- Mark Brawner, the Net
Why don't you order the combo and then throw away the effing cup? You won't drink the coffee anyway; who cares where it is when you don't drink it? Yeah, I know. That would be a waste and a cave-in to the corporate goons.... We ran this past one of Carl's Juniorettes up in Anaheim, who admitted the question had never come up before. She was amazed that you did not know a good deal when you saw one...but dutifully scoured Carl Karcher's empire for someone willing to take you seriously....
It's sort of an inventory thing, but mostly a marketing thing, natch. (But not just a Carl's Jr. thing.) First of all, you didn't order a combo, so according to the order-taker's loyalty oath, they can't ring it up as a combo. And they offer combos not so you'll drink their swill but so you'll buy their swill. They really don't care what you do with the swill once you get it out of their store. The big industrial secret to any combo deal is that it sells more food. Any slight loss of profit per item apparently is more than made up for in volume. If we have a hankering for a disk of ground cow with corporate sauce and dead lettuce, we'll probably need a drink to wash it down. If we see that they'll throw in a side of fries and discount the package, then we'll take the deal, even if we weren't longing for floppy potato wands. If we had to pay for each item individually, we might weigh the cost of the fries against the enjoyment gained from the fries and decide to pass and save the money.
Every time I see those full-page color ads in Parade magazine for "collectors' plates" and "collectors' dolls" and "collectors' porcelain dogs," I wonder, who are these collectors? Why do people buy this stuff? A lot of it seems to be put out by the Franklin Mint, which sounds pretty official but probably doesn't have anything to do with Benjamin or the federal government.
-- A. Grovestead, San Diego
Oooooooh, all those impossibly cute unicorns and gold-dipped War of the Roses commemorative coins and Elvis-better-than-he-ever-looked plates do fly out of the warehouse. These Sunday-supplement goods fall into what auctioneers and collecting professionals call a "created market." Until they started advertising them, you didn't know you wanted to collect the 30-piece, limited (ha!) edition Sad-Eyed Porcelain Puppy series (each piece, six easy payments of $91.36, plus $25 shipping and handling). People collect them because they're "cute," with the hope that someday they'll be worth more dough than they paid for them. Maybe they will, but probably not. They have no serious artistic value, materials value, or historical value. They're of interest only to another collector of adorable or patriotic or historic dust-catchers, should you be able to find one. They're worth whatever that buyer is willing to pay. And the federal government is to the Franklin Mint as the World Bank is to the dinner mint.
Dear Matthew Alice:
How long and how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll lollipop? (Preferably grape.)
-- David Carano, University City HS
After lick number 1850, you're mostly through the grape part, down to the Tootsie Roll. Somewhere around number 1975, reality becomes a little fuzzy, and you have to concentrate so you don't lose count. At 2120 the paper handle turns soggy and floppy, and you have to break it off. At 2291 the remaining gob of candy falls off what's left of the stick, you stop counting, and chew the thing. The whole process takes 37 minutes.
Matthew, Guru of All Worth Knowing:
Why do clowns scare the hell out of people?
-- Dickie, downtown
From personal experience, the closest the Alices have come was a run-in with a grouchy Balboa Park face-painter with a bad case of hemorrhoids or something. Scared the wits out of the elves and actually got a clown-etiquette lecture from Grandma Alice. She ignored Grandma and spent her time fishing through the tip jar making sure we hadn't stiffed her. This is a true story....
When people hear the whap-whap-whap of those big, floppy shoes, it gives them the willies because they imagine inside those shoes are big floppy feet. The pasty white face, the red glob of a nose, black-ringed eyes blown like a tweaker on a two-week run, lipsticked mouth from ear to ear, hair like a cheap shag rug. Human characteristics exaggerated into something eerily nonhuman. And what's the baggy-pantsed being thinking? You can't read a clown's facial expression behind the painted-on friendliness. Worse yet, some of them are silent, like big polkadotted mimes. All our usual people-reading cues are useless. Some people interpret this as fun. Others get the screaming meemies. Little kids, who have only a shaky notion of what's reality and what's fantasy anyway, can be particularly vulnerable. More than one tot visiting the Happiest Place on Earth has been accosted by a five-foot Mickey Mouse and thrown up on his shoes.
To: Heymatt, From: Foxman: Re: FW: Interesting Trivia!
- Leonardo da Vinci invented the scissors. 2. Our eyes never grow from birth, but our noses and ears never stop growing. 3. A duck's quack doesn't echo and no one knows why. 4. The winter of 1932 was so cold Niagara Falls froze solid. 5. If the population of China walked past you in single file, the line would never end because of the rate of reproduction....
- Wrong. Egyptians, 3000 years ago. 2. Wrong. Eyeballs do grow. Slightly. 3. Maybe they're baffled because -- it's not true. 4. Make that 1936, and even then it's not true. 5. Doubtful, given the difficulty of reproducing while walking single file.
HIGH JINKS OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS
Dear Matthew Alice:
Was Olivia Newton-John ever kissed by Albert Einstein?
-- Milton F., Normal Heights
Usually I don't care which way the facts fall. True, false; you're right, you're wrong -- as long as my paycheck doesn't bounce, it's all the same to me. But this time I really hoped I'd dig up some stories about Einstein and the Newton-Johns picnicking by the Thames, Uncle Albert giving giggly Olivia horsie rides and noogies and a friendly smooch.... Instead, nuts, I came up with nothing. Albert Einstein never kissed Olivia Newton-John. He never even met her. Personally, I'm bummed. It should have happened. It could have happened.
Olivia, born in Cambridge, England, in 1948, is the...granddaughter of Max Born, a German physicist who won a Nobel Prize in 1954. Fellow Nobelist (1921) Einstein was a friend of Max and his family. According to Einstein biographies, Max visited the Einsteins in Berlin and entertained them with his fiddle playing; Albert took some of Max's scientific papers with him on his honeymoon. So it's not so crazy that Einstein just maybe, somehow, might have met Max's granddaughter and given her a friendly peck on her little toddler cheek. (Olivia was only seven when Einstein died.) But the president of Hopelessly Devoted, the ON-J fan club, says she only met her grandpa Max once and never met Einstein at all. But I'd like to believe she was thinking of them when she sang her hit "Let's Get Physicists."
I was digging through some old books from junior high school and came across A Star Trek Catalog, and I noticed a listing of Star Trek fan clubs. One was Star Fleet Club of La Jolla with a Paul Jacobs [with a La Jolla street address] as the point of contact. Is this the same Paul Jacobs that now runs Qualcomm?
-- JM, San Diego
Jeez, where's a mole when you need one? We tried all our insider tricks to get at the source for this answer, but I guess we're not insider enough. Which suits me fine, actually. There are other ways to crack this nut. So in the late '70s, when this book was published, exactly where was the Jacobs family? According to a brief published bio, Dad (Irwin M.) had just finished a stint as a professor at UCSD. So where, precisely, did they live? Zap to the always-helpful public library. Look through the really old San Diego phone books. And there he is, Irwin M., at the same La Jolla address given in the Star Trek book. So, by the excruciatingly exacting standards of the Matthew Alice Center for More or Less Correct Information, we declare Dr. Paul Jacobs, CEO, Qualcomm, to be the former lead Trekkie of the Star Fleet Club of La Jolla. We don't have firsthand confirmation of this, mind you. I might get a flurry of outraged memos from some suits at the big Q. If so, I'll pass them along. But when you think about it, it's unlikely that Paul Jacobs is the only tech exec who, as an inquiring tad, was fascinated by the Star Fleet. He was just unlucky enough to get caught at it.
Why all the goofy names for racehorses? They've got names like Harlan's Holiday, Essence of Dubai, Itsallinthechase, etc. Why not Blacky or Mr. Ed?
-- Pete Collins, San Diego
Rich people make them up. It's one of the fun things you get to do when you have a lot of money. Examples of the madcap imagination of your average millionaire. Thoroughbreds are usually named by their owners, according to a spokesfilly from the Jockey Club, where all thoroughbreds must be registered before they can race in California. There are only three rules to follow; after that, the sky's the limit. (1) Names can contain a maximum of 18 characters, including the spaces between names and any punctuation. As a result, Hillaryscircuspony, a recent entry at Hollywood Park, has no room for the possessive apostrophe. (2) You can't name your horse Amalgamated Coat Hangers to get free publicity. One lady tried to register her horse as Snickers. She just thought the name was cute. No, said the Jockey Club. It's a candy bar. (3) If you want to name your horse after a person, you have to get that person's permission. Some names are a combination of the names of the horse's parents or perhaps relatives of the owner. You have plenty of time to think these things up when you're rich enough to own racehorses.
NONE OF YOUR BEESWAX
Dear Matthew Alice:
Let's get the straightest straight from the hip. Who are you? I find no Matthew Alice in the staff listing. An alias? Are we more than one person: Matthew and Alice? I am plagued with doubt. And don't tell me it's none of my business. After all, we know who Ann Landers really is. We don't care, but we know.
-- A Concerned San Diegan
And about Matthew Alice, I guess we'll just have to say that we don't know, but we care. Thanks. I'm touched.
Are the Keebler elves related to your elves?
-- Skitch, Solana Beach
The Alice elves actually tried out for that Keebler gig. Practiced for weeks, went to the audition, sang and tap danced their little hearts out, only to lose the job to cousins in the Midwest branch of the family, true snobs who love to talk about how their ancestors came to America on a very tiny replica of the Mayflower. It's a sore subject around here.
Dear Matthew Alice:
I'd like to photograph you. Please entertain this request.
-- A.S., San Diego
Well, I'd probably open with a little juggling -- a calculator, a nectarine, and a flaming volume of Encyclopedia Americana. Then some impressions -- Plato? Aretha? Then some clog dancing. Then a big finish: maybe "I Gotta Be Me."
WE SALUTE GRANDMA ALICE
Why do people cry when they're sad? Crying when you're sad doesn't seem to have any biological purpose.
-- Boo-hoo, the Net
Why do people cry when they're happy?
Nobody boo-hoos like Grandma Alice, and there's nothing like a field trip to bring science to life. C'mon. I think she's in the kitchen.
Hi, Grandma. You've got company.
"Oh, Matthew, who are all these people? We don't have enough chairs. I hope you're not expecting me to make coffee. Oh, Matthew...."
Hey, no problem, Grandma. Okay, move forward, people. Can everybody see? Short people can stand on the counter. Maybe it'll help if Grandma sits on the dishwasher. Up you go, Grandma.
"Matthew! What --"
Squeeze in, people. Plenty of room. Uh-oh. What crashed? Well, we'll clean it up later.
"That was spaghetti sauce. For dinner tonight. Oh, Matthew!"
Okay, people. There are three kinds of tears, and chemically they're all a little different. About 20 tear glands contribute different chemicals to the mix. The first kind of tears constantly washes over your eyeballs to keep them clean and moist. The second type is what you get when you get poked in the eye, chop an onion, break your arm, or have your ears pierced. Here, Grandma, let me demonstrate.
"What? You're not going to poke me in the eye, are you? My ears are already pierced! Matthew!"
Naw, Grandma. I'll just pinch you real hard on the back of your arm a few times.
"Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Boo-hoo!"
See, people? See how we're starting to get a few tears? Show everybody, Grandma. These will be higher in bacteria-fighting proteins.
"Ow! Ow! Matthew, who's that man snooping through the freezer? He's eating ice cream and hiding a pizza under his jacket!"
Sure, Grandma. I'll take care of it. So, people, the third type of tears are emotional tears. The Steel Magnolias, Brian's Song, my-girlfriend-dumped-me kind. You saw Steel Magnolias, didn't you, Grandma?
"Oh, Matthew, you know what happens when I think of that movie. Matthew! I think that lady's stealing my good salad plates. Would you please get these people out of my kitchen!"
The really, really sad part, where everybody's crying?
"Oh, Matthew! Oooooh! Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo!"
All right. Here we go, people. If I collected some of Grandma's tears right now and analyzed them chemically, we'd find high levels of hormones that build up in your body in times of stress, ACTH and prolactin. Grandma, can you hold the sobbing down a little bit so they can hear me in the back?
So anyway, lachrymal glands can filter these things out of our blood, which leads some scientists to believe that crying is a physiological adaptation to stress. Some of these chemicals are only excreted in tears. And stress can be caused by any major life change, good or bad. Here, Grandma. Blow your nose on this dish towel.
"Matthew, get out of my kitchen and take these people with you!"
That prolactin stuff is a hormone that's related to physical maturation of girls and to lactation, so here's one key to the speculation about why women cry about four times more frequently than men do.... Naturally high prolactin levels make a person more prone to weeping at the drop of a hat.
"And you're going to be crying four times harder than I did if you don't get out of here. Now!"
Just a sec, Grandma. So --
"Eek! What's that smell? Smoke! Something's on fire! Oh, Matthew! Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo...."