I suppose somebody might find it useful. Maybe.

Yesterday was time for another of my multiple weekly visits to our new Super Target, and while indulging my 20-month-old daughter’s penchant for banging on keyboards, I perused the USB computer peripheral section.

Of course there was the full array of USB thumb drives. Very useful, but I already have one and don’t need another at the moment. Then there are the more… uh… fanciful USB accessories. Some of them are kind of cool, like the little lamp and the fan. If I were frequently using my computer in total darkness, or if winter weren’t approaching, I might consider picking one of them up, especially at a mere $10.

But then, there was another USB-powered accessory next to the lamp and the fan, one that seemed, to me at least, decidedly less worth $10. A USB pencil sharpener. Yes, you read that right.

Let’s see, how stupid art thee, let me count the ways:

  • Isn’t the whole point of using a computer that you don’t need pencils anymore?
  • How about some nasty, graphite-y pencil shavings spilled on your computer? (You know it’s going to happen eventually.)
  • I know you’ve always really wanted a way to hone your pencils to a fine point, but until now, the means to power such a fantastical device simply did not exist.
  • Need I go on?

Fortunately for my sanity, a Google search once again reassures me that I am not alone.

1980: Nadir of rock star style

Often I have pondered, when watching bands like Styx, Boston or Queen, just when rock musicians were at their ugliest. Certainly there was a moment when hair (both atop the head and facial) and clothes hit their simultaneous nadir, and rock stars looked as bad as they ever possibly could.

Chances were always good, I felt, that that point had occurred in the 1970s. MTV hadn’t launched yet, and use of hair products was limited to, at best, an occasional shampoo.

Well I’ve always felt that the 1980s really didn’t start until about 1982, or at least not until that fateful moment on August 1, 1981, when MTV launched with the Buggles’ (who were none too telegenic themselves) “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Therefore, according to my logic (plus the logic of math, if you happen to be one of those who celebrated the millennium a year later than everyone else), 1980 was, technically, still a part of the era known as “the ’70s.”

And now, with the recent release of some 1980 concert footage in a special CD/DVD repackaging of the Genesis classic, Duke, I have photographic proof that the fateful year that signified the dawn of a new and perhaps even more frightening decade (what with the election of one Ronald Wilson Reagan) was also the year at which rock star fashion truly reached its lowest imaginable point. Continue if you dare…

Phil Collins suddenly realizes he's been wandering in the woods for a monthExhibit A is one Phil Collins. As you can tell by his demeanor, he realizes how bad he looks. He’s not actually singing here; he’s desperately pleading with the audience for someone to, for the love of God, call a barber.

Daryl Stuermer is not actually related to Violet BeauregardeHere we have Exhibit B, the band’s touring guitarist, Daryl Stuermer. Judging by his ‘stache-n-‘fro combo, blinding yellow shirt, pleated white pants and the obligatory suspenders, he would fit in equally well as a sub with Kansas, Boston, Chicago, Asia, or any other band named after a place.

No, it's not a hat; it's a sad, tortured tambourineExhibit C actually has nothing to do with my case for 1980 as the worst year in rock fashion, although I guess now that I stop to look at it, Phil’s Hawaiian shirt is rather loud. Mainly I just wanted to post this photo because I was in utter disbelief when I saw the mutilated head of his tambourine. How do you do that?!

Learn How to Use Your Chopsticks

Now, before we get started, I just want to say, China has a rich cultural heritage and is full of intelligent, creative people. China had gunpowder when Europeans were still hitting each other over the heads with sticks. China had paper when the Greeks were still drawing geometric shapes in the sand… with sticks. But long after Europeans started eating with forks and knives, the Chinese were… well, still using sticks.

But I’m not even here to make fun of chopsticks. I like eating Chinese and Japanese food with chopsticks. It makes the experience more authentic, and it is humbling to see how incompetent I am with these, while someone like Daniel LaRusso can catch a fly with them.

Anyway, as I said, I like to try my “nice Chinese food with chopsticks.” I think you see where I’m going with this.

For years, one of the delights of going to a Chinese restaurant has been that unmistakable red chopsticks pack with the incomprehensibly mangled English instructions. This perennial favorite is dying off, sadly. Most of the time now, you either get chopsticks wrapped in plastic, or in the updated, white-paper version of this, with (mostly) proper spelling and grammar.

So it was with much delight last December that I asked for a set of chopsticks at a Chinese restaurant in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and received the classic red wrapper. I saved it, and here it is…

Now let’s have a look at the details:

I have no idea what the Chinese characters on the front of the package say, but if they are in fact a pictographic depiction of something, it appears that in the first frame, a man is gingerly approaching some kind of dragon/serpent creature. Next, he leans in for a kiss. The two get into a tussle (is the dragon giving him a spanking?), and in the end the dragon has donned a sombrero and is patting the guy on the bum as he walks away.

I like how this starts off. It seems to suggest that every Chinese restaurant is simply called “Chinese Restaurant.” And then the misspellings begin. “Glonous”? Well, it’s fairly obvious what’s happened here: Someone apparently gave the typesetter some handwritten text, and the typesetter, unfamiliar with the Roman alphabet, sometimes mistook letter combinations for other letters. Either that, or they were just relying on some early OCR software.

OK… now where did I leave my thurnb? And how do I tuk and hcld something under it?

This is the definitive step… these words are so deeply ingrained in my subconscious that I almost call these devices “chcosticks” when I ask for them in a restaurant.

Yes indeed, with the tirst and second chopsticks in place, now you can pick up anything… used Kleenex, condoms, Michael Jackson’s prosthetic nose… what is that, anyway?

By the way, the restaurant in Stevens Point is called Chef Chu’s. It’s attached to the Best Western Royale hotel, and I give it very high marks! I didn’t have much hope for quality at a Chinese restaurant in central Wisconsin, attached to a Best Western and newly opened in a former Country Kitchen-esque restaurant space, but the food was actually quite good… a very nice hot-and-sour soup, excellent potstickers, and a very tasty moo goo gai pan with big pieces of fresh vegetables and tender chicken.

Oh yeah, and vintage chopsticks!