Rant-Man’s Notebook: Torment of Roses

It all started a little while before New Year’s Day. My brother-in-law is in the screen-printing industry, and he decided to try and pick up a little extra money by making and selling t-shirts at the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade®. He had somebody do a design for him, but it looked bad and was a blatant violation of trademark, so I did a new design for him. I told him that he had to avoid trademark infringement; he couldn’t use the words “Rose Bowl®,” “Tournament of Roses®,” or either of the team names. He had to use generic wording to avoid trademark infringement. We came up with a very nice design that said “2002 Pasadena Rose Parade” with an illustration of a rose, based on an old woodcut design. He’s done all the paperwork, got the seller’s permit and the Peddler’s license (two different things), and everything is on the up-and-up.

What follows is a blow-by-blow account of the whole adventure in the Downtown Oz that is American jurisprudence. So you can see what I’m talking about, the first design is the Official Tournament of Roses® logo*; the second one is my t-shirt design.

*NOTE: This logo is a registered trademark of the Tournament of Roses Association, and is used here without permission for journalistic purposes only. Its appearance here in no way indicates association with or endorsement by the Pasadena Tournament of Roses. The logo on the right is my personal creation and is © 2002 by James MacQuarrie. Fat lot of good that does me.

Jan. 1, 2002: New Year’s in jail
Well, that was a treat. My family and I kept our New Year’s tradition: we stayed up all night watching movies. The last movie ended at about 6:15 this morning, and we crawled off to bed. At least that was the plan. Along about the time I got to the upstairs bathroom, my bride’s brother was heading out to the Rose Parade to sell his t-shirts. He’s been staying with us while getting his finances back in order after a long bout of unemployment. The night before, he was out walking the parade route, selling shirts, and he found a seller’s permit that somebody had lost. These cost $60 each, and there wasn’t much chance of finding the owner, and the office that issues them was closed. It seemed a shame to let it go to waste. So I’m feeling marginally awake, and I offer to go with him to help sell the shirts.

We putter on down, park the car, and hit the street with duffel bags full of t-shirts, heading off in opposite directions. Within five minutes, I sell a shirt. Within another ten minutes, I’m in police custody. Turns out that as of 1994 “Rose Parade” is now a registered trademark. Never mind that there are at least 10 other “Rose Parades” across this great land of ours, not to mention products ranging from rock bands to salt shakers, all completely unaffiliated with the Pasadena Tournament of Roses®.

In any case, I got picked up. They have a representative of the licensing agency ride around with undercover officers. When they see a vendor, they look at the merchandise, pretending to be customers. If they determine that it’s an infrigement, they make an arrest. In this case, I was charged with violation of California Penal Code Section 350, Possession and/or Sale of Counterfeit Merchandise. My “crime” falls more properly under the Business and Professions Code Section 14320, which is civil law. The Penal Code statute covers willfull, knowing and deliberate manufacture of counterfeit merchandise with intent to defraud, the latter covers trademark infringement. But they want to play hardball. They apparently want to make an example of me.

The undercover police officers who stopped me were pleasant enough as they took me to my pickup truck, seized all the shirts (along with the duffel bags they were in), and $23 in my pocket, only $10 of which was from selling t-shirts. Then they handcuffed me, left me standing on the street for 15 minutes while one of the officers chatted with a friend who wandered by so that I could really enjoy the humiliation of standing on a public street in handcuffs. Eventually they drove me to the police station and took me through the entire booking process before writing me a citation and tossing me out the door to walk back to my car. The whole process took about two hours.

The odd part is, I cooperated with them in every way possible, was pleasant and obedient, and they even got a laugh out of the “get out of jail free” card I keep in my wallet. Still, they hauled me in and subjected me to the whole show–fingerprints, mugshot, the works. My wife’s brother was also picked up. He was pretty uncooperative, yet they wrote him his ticket on the street and left him there to enjoy the parade while I sat in a holding tank watching drunks sleep it off in the next cell. Go figure.

After I get home, my snotnose kid (the oldest, the one I get to throw out in three years) starts making jokes about me being a jailbird. She keeps playing the soundtrack to “O Brother Where Art Thou?” and skipping ahead to “He’s in the Jailhouse now.” Cute kid. Anybody want to adopt?

A brief examination of trademark law.
In some ways, a trademark is almost the opposite of a copyright. Copyrights are enforced for a limited period of time, but while in force, they protect the work from any and all uses, except for the few provisions set forth as “fair use” (journalistic, parodic, educational, etc.) In contrast, trademarks are enforced by use. The more well-known a mark is, the more protected it is. However, a trademark is only protected within the scope of the “trade” which it represents. For example, “Apple” is a trademark of the Apple Computer company, but it is also the trademark of the Apple Record company, and the two do not infringe upon each other. (Interesting aside: there was a concern that such a conflict would occur when they added music-making and recording abilities to the Apple computers, i.e. MIDI. That’s why one of the system sounds is called “Sosumi.” It’s a challenge to Apple Records: “So sue me.”) Of course, if “Apple” someday became a synonym for computers in general, they would lose their trademark. Xerox has been fighting like hell to keep theirs. They put out ads explaining that “Xerox is not a verb.”

There are two symbols used to identify a trademark in the US: “TM” and “R” inside a circle. “TM” is functionally meaningless; it’s a bluff to scare off the unknowing. The circle-R is the real deal, it means they have received federal registration and acknowledgement of their mark. Of course, one can still challenge the validity of the mark, if it can be demonstrated that the mark has, through usage and non-enforcement, become a synonym for a class of goods or services, or if the mark was obtained by fraud.

Now, megalithic corporations like Disney that slap their trademarks on every available surface are another story. Mickey Mouse is both the product and its trademark, so he’s covered under both trademark and copyright law. On the other hand, MAD’s Alfred E. Neuman has been in the public domain for over 150 years, and yet became a trademark in the late 1950s, a hundred years after he first appeared. He remains a trademark to this day.

Thank God for the Internet
On January 2, I e-mailed some reporters with the local paper, my city councilman and somebody from the Rose Parade committee about it. That afternoon I was interviewed and photographed by the paper for a story.

Jan. 3, 2002 EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it!
I’m in the paper. I made page 3. The reporter did a good job, exactly what I was hoping for. I was worried that he would make me sound belligerent or combative, but he didn’t. I used my favorite quote from the interview: “they’re killing sparrows with a bazooka.”

Several hours of searching the web for information about trademark law as it applies to my case has yielded a good defense. It looks like they have no basis for the criminal charges that were filed, but could press a civil suit if they want to, and the burden of proof is much higher for them in that case, so it’s very doubtful that they could get much of anything in the way of damages. They also would have to show that they sought to halt the infringement (a “cease and desist” notice), which they didn’t do. And if it comes to a civil suit, I can argue quite convincingly that “Rose Parade” is not enforceable as a trademark. At least nine other cities in the US (there’s also one in the Balkans, go figure) have Rose Parades, and the phrase is used generically in reference to all of them. There are “Rose Parades” in Santa Rosa CA (since 1894), Portland OR (1907), Tyler TX (1933), Thomasville GA, Newark NY, Jackson MI, Tombstone AZ (home of the world’s largest rose bush), Roseville MN, Maplewood NY, and Valley of the Roses in Karlovo, Balkan Republic. In addition to all that, the Los Angeles Rose Society, which is headquartered a few miles north of Pasadena, publishes a newsletter called The Rose Parade.

So where does that leave us? Under the penal code violation that I was cited for, they have to prove (a) criminal intent to defraud and (b) that my shirt was counterfeit merchandise. I will argue that this is a simple case of alleged trademark infringement, which is a civil matter, not criminal. If there’s any justice in the world, the case will be dismissed, preferably before it gets to court at all. If it goes to civil court, they have to prove that (a) I willfully and deliberately violated their trademark and (b) that they attempted to halt the infringement. They can’t support either claim. On the other hand, I can argue that the trademark isn’t any more enforceable than the trademarks for “aspirin” and “nylon,” and I therefore didn’t infringe on anything. It’s nice to be so clearly right, especially when dealing with somebody so clearly abusive.

Just to be on the safe side, I spoke to an attorney. He’s not “my” attorney; if I could afford an attorney, I wouldn’t be hustling t-shirts on a street-corner at 7 am, now would I? At any rate, this fellow has considerable experience in both criminal law and trademark defense law, so he’s fully qualified to handle the case, and he says it may only cost a couple of grand, and that I’ll probably get off with a small fine. I have a suspicion that the lawyer was trying to scare me into seeing how much I need him to represent me. Of course, I have no intention of paying a couple of thousand dollars to avoid a fine that most likely would be a couple of hundred.

I had an idea. I could exploit another Pasadena institution, the famous Doo Dah Parade. If you’re not familiar with it, where the heck have you been? The Doo Dah Parade is an “anything goes” celebration of irreverence, created to mock the other Pasadena parade. It was born in a pub about 25 years ago, the product of inebriated minds. The parade is open to anybody who signs up. Previous marchers have included a precision lawnmower drill team, the Dull Men’s Club (guys in gray suits with leaf-blowers), a drum and bagel corps, drum and beagle corps, a mob of paparazzi (they attack people in the crowd and subject them to the celebrity experience), and various crossdressing would-be prom queens. It’s everything the Rose Parade® isn’t. My idea is to put together a group this year, the Torment of Roses™ goon squad. We’ll have a dozen or so guys, wearing the traditional white suits, with rose logo armbands and knee-high boots, goose-stepping down the parade route and beating up t-shirt vendors.

Or not.

Feb. 1, 2002: Here come de judge
My arraignment day. I go before the judge, which involves waiting for an hour or so for him to weed through the drunks and hookers to get to the ordinary criminals. While I’m waiting, I try to talk to the prosecutor about the case, but she’s not having any. She’s going to trial. I fill out the form to get a public defender, but it’s no go. I don’t qualify. I own an house and have a 401k; if I want a lawyer, I have to come up with the money myself. No matter what happens, I’m going to be out some money.

I enter a plea of “not guilty” and the judge sets a date, March 26. He makes a remark about needing a jury, but I tell him I don’t need a jury trial; I’m willing to have the case decided by him. (Face it: do you want your fate in the hands of a dozen people too stupid to get out of jury duty?)

Feb. 20, 2002: My brother-in-law’s keeper
My brother-in-law has to enter a plea today. He qualifies for a public defender, so we meet in the hall with him and I explain the case and the things I’ve found out about trademark law. This fella spends his days negotiating plea bargains for crack whores; he doesn’t know much about trademark law. After a few minutes of conversation, he agrees that there’s a basis to fight it. That’s good news, since a public defender’s job is simply to get cases off the calendar as quickly as possible. If he thinks fighting it is more expedient than copping a plea, we must be in pretty good shape.

A few minutes later, he’s up in the front of the courtroom with all the other attorneys, discussing the case, and I hear a couple of them saying “isn’t that a civil case?” and “sounds like a civil matter to me.” I’m feeling good now.

The plan is to have the brother-in-law’s case put off for a while so the P.D. can seek to have it dismissed. Then, whatever papers he files for that, I’ll duplicate and file for my case. The case is set for March 26, my trial date.

March 26, 2002: The showdown
I’ve spent the last few weeks, researching the law, sending e-mails to lawyer friends, lawyer friends-of-friends, law students and innocent bystanders. I’ve immersed myself in law websites. A couple of people have offered helpful insights, and some of them, when run through a Google search, turn up some interesting leads.

Here’s the biggie: I finally found a working definition for the difference between trademark infringement and counterfeit goods. The key is in which trademark is misused, and for what purpose. “Counterfeit goods” is the term used when a trademark is improperly used to misrepresent the manufacturer or source of a product. I read that a bunch of times, and the implications never set in.

Finally, I found a “Fundamentals of Trademark” site that contained this sentence: “The print on the front of a t-shirt is ‘ornamentation.’ the trademark is the name on the tag.” BOOM! Lightning strikes! Suddenly my eyes are opened. I’ve been charged under the wrong law.

My t-shirts were not fake Rose Parade® t-shirts; they were genuine Hanes shirts with a Rose Parade design!

My brother-in-law’s case is supposed to come up at 8:30, and mine is at 1:30. I ask the P.D. what he’s going to do, and he tells me that the judge is on vacation, so he’s going to get a continuance for my brother-in-law. Then he’ll just watch my trial and take notes. If I get off, he’ll use my arguments in his trial. Terrific.

He then recommends that I go up to the law library and look up the jury instructions for this kind of case, while he gets my brother-in-law’s case put off until May.

In the law library, it’s not going so well at first. The jury instructions don’t exist. Turns out there is no case law on the books for Penal Code 350. But once I figure out how to find things in West’s Annotated Case Law, it goes very well. I find a number of precedents. By the time I go downstairs, I’m loaded for bear. I have all the facts and citations to utterly demolish the prosecutor.

I take my seat in the courtroom at 1:30 when the doors open after lunch break. The substitute judge has been dragged into another courtroom, and we have to wait.

Eventually, the city prosecutor calls me out to the hallway to discuss my case. You’d be surprised at how much of the American legal system’s business is actually conducted in the halls outside courtrooms. That must be why they call it the Halls of Justice. The prosecutor lets me know in no uncertain terms that he’s going for the conviction. The city wants to prosecute these cases, and she’s going to nail me. She’s a bit nasty about it.

I begin explaining what the law says, and about the precedents I’ve found. I tell her that if it comes to that, I’m ready and willing to go into civil court and have the trademark completely overturned. I enjoy watching her go pale as the facts begin to sink in. She changes tacks and tells me that I “didn’t go through channels.” I didn’t have a valid seller’s permit. I shrug and tell her that’s irrelevant; I wasn’t charged with that, I’m facing a counterfeiting charge.

When next I see her, she’s got a law book in hand, and she’s talking to her boss. Then she’s talking to the guy from the licensing agency who’s flown in from Atlanta for the trial. Very shortly, she’s back to offer me a deal. She’s not nearly so nasty. She suddenly wants to make a deal. She wants it very badly.

She tells me they’ve decided to add a second charge, the seller’s permit thing. If I plead to that, they’ll dismiss the other charge. Pleading guilty to the municipal code violation will result in the following punishment: one year of probation and the day in jail that I already served. On top of that, the court tacks on a $100 assessment for the “Victims of Crime” fund. Ironically, a few years ago, I actually got money from that fund when I was nailed by a hit-and-run driver. I got about $100. So we’re even. I take the deal.

She remarks that she’s just a paid employee and does what she’s told. I mention that it would have been nice if we could have made this deal back on February 1 and avoided all this wasted time. She sounds a little surprised, asking if in fact nobody offered such a settlement. I look her in the eye and say, “no, YOU didn’t. I tried to talk to you about the case, but you didn’t want to hear anything about it.” She looks a bit embarrassed and hustles back into the courtroom. Hee!

Now we have to wait for the judge to show up so we can finish this up. Looking around the courtroom, I’m stunned by how many people are dressed so completely wrong. Here’s a tip: if you’re on trial for gang-related activities, don’t show up at court in your gang costume. I’m sitting in a room full of young males wearing beanies and gigantic jackets, pants with the crotch at knee-level, looking like extras from an NYPD Blue episode. Maybe it’s me, but I would think the judge isn’t going to be very sympathetic toward somebody who looks exactly like the stereotype of a criminal.

We sit in the courtroom for about an hour and a half. The prosecutor, public defender, court reporter and bailiff are all laughing and joking, talking about the movies they saw recently. The court reporter thinks Denzel is good, but nobody does it for her like Robert DeNiro, MMM-Hmmm. Across the aisle from me is a woman who was supposed to be in court this morning on a drinking-related charge, but didn’t show up, so there’s been a warrant issued for her. She’s with an arrogant jerk who’s trying to look like a lawyer. After a little while, they get up and walk to the front of the courtroom. Arrogant Jerk says “we have to get going; are we gonna see a judge today or what?” The courtroom goes silent and all heads turn to look at him. At that point, the woman blurts out “yeah, what is this, a social club? Where’s the judge?”

The bailiff, a tough-looking little African-American woman, steps up to them and says “you wanna leave, go ahead and leave; we’ll just come and pick you up and you can sit here in handcuffs. We got a warrant out on you, so you best just sit back down and be humble!” Tip: If there’s a bench warrant out on you, don’t smart off to the bailiff.

The court staff then amuses themselves for a considerable while by doing impressions of these two. Suddenly a voice cuts through the laughter. “Hello? Hello! Is Duane there?” Again the courtroom goes silent, and all heads turn. Another woman, a pal of the first one, who’s also here on a drunk charge, is shouting into a cell phone. She looks up and sees everybody in the place staring at her incredulously. “What? I figured if y’all was going to be talking, I could too.” The bailiff tells her that the court staff can laugh and be noisy; the defendants can’t. She has to put away the phone or leave the room.

She takes the phone out into the hall, and the court staff has great fun at her expense while she’s out there. Tip: When in court, shut up. Even if the judge isn’t there.

Finally they find somebody who can put on a black robe and fill a chair. The judge takes her seat and works quickly through the dirtbags ahead of me, and finally, at 3:45, I step in front of the judge, she accepts the deal, and I’m free to go. Total time: 3 minutes.

Part of my probation is that I have to stay away from the next Rose Parade®. Too bad. I was thinking about selling “Torment of Roses” shirts.

Here’s the design:

I like the big thorns myself.

UPDATE: Here’s the rest of the story.

The Fourth Wall: Superman’s Day Off

Kemper & MacQuarrie’s

The Fourth Wall © 2002, 2015 by Craig Kemper & Jim MacQuarrie.

All characters are TM & © their respective owners. All Rights Reserved.

The Fourth Wall is a satire published by Monkey Spit, and is not intended maliciously. All names and situations, except in cases when public figures or existing fictional characters are being satirized, are invented by the writer and artist. Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental, or used as a fictional depiction or personality parody (permitted under Hustler Magazine v. Fallwell, 485 US 46, 108 S.Ct 876, 99 L.Ed.2d 41 (1988)). Monkey Spit makes no representation as to the truth or accuracy of the preceding information.

Please don’t sue us; we don’t have any money anyway.


Rant-Man’s Notebook: Deconstructing Oscar

The Oscars have become almost irrelevant to me in the past few years. I’m not sure why I still watch them, but I do, even though the last time I saw more than three of the nominated movies, people were still wearing knit ties. I’m a parent, and that means one thing: if a movie doesn’t have a Happy Meal associated with it, I probably didn’t see it. Once a year, on New Year’s Eve, we rent a pile of videos and watch movies all night, but we never seem to get the ones from the current year. We’ll see a couple of fairly recent ones, two or three classics, and some oddball thing we never heard of before, but somehow the Oscar winners seldom make it to my house.

Take this year, for example. I saw four of the nominees: Harry Potter, Monsters Inc., Shrek, and Lord of the Rings. Not a grownup movie in the lot. Sad, idnit?

The upside of this situation is that I’m not rooting for anybody to win, so that leaves me free to mock everybody. At my house, talking to the television is expected during awards shows. It’s fun. Sometimes we make our own speeches for them, other times we just add commentary, and on occasion, we translate what the winners say into what they mean.

Highlights from this year’s Oscar awards:

Tom Cruise suggested that Hollywood’s annual attempt to pat itself on the back has somehow taken on more importance in light of the events of September 11. Thousands of Americans gave their lives so that celebrities can get together and tell each other how special they are. Isn’t that nice?

Jennifer Connelly demonstrated that even with notes in hand, it’s possible to sound like a ditz. Now, I’ve liked Connelly since she was a kid in Labyrinth, but if she actually had that speech written out on paper, and it sounded like that, then she should thank God she’s good-looking, ’cause she ain’t going anywhere on her smarts. “By some beautiful twist of fate I’ve landed in this vocation that demands that I feel and helps me to learn.” Uh, hon, it wasn’t really a twist of fate. It’s called good genetics. “I believe in love, that there is nothing more important. Alicia Nash is a true champion of love. So thank you to her for her example. My son Kai is for me the greatest messenger. And so thank you to him for all of our days. Thank you very much.” Did you find that in a fortune cookie?

The producers of this year’s show, concerned that it might clock in at something less than a fortnight, have padded out the show with clips of celebrities talking about their favorite films. Of the ones I recognized, Britney Spears prattled on about how important Pretty Woman is to her. So that’s why she dresses like a hooker!

The Oscar for Best Documentary goes to a film about racial profiling in Florida, setting up tonight’s theme: letting Hollywood feel good about themselves by giving a lot of awards and attention to African-American performers so they can continue to avoid giving them any decent roles.

Speaking of which, here comes Halle Berry to give out the Sound Editor award. She reads from the teleprompter, as if she’s never seen it before, a poem that requires her to make a lot of odd noises and sound effects. Later, she’ll make a speech about dignity and respect. She will not appreciate the irony here.

Poor Ian McKellen doesn’t get the Supporting Actor award. I feel bad for the guy, after what they put him through in Lord of the Rings. When I was watching the film, all I could think while watching the battle between Saruman and Gandalf was “what kind of sadistic bastard would do that to guys in their 70s?”

Circue du Soliel shows up to do some tricks. They bear some tangential relationship to the special-effects clips on the big screen behind them. This leads into the award for Visual Effects. Amazingly enough, it doesn’t go to the people who built the lifelike Mariah Carey robot that was featured in Glitter.

Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw present the Jean Hersholt award to Arthur Hiller. (Who the heck is Jean Hersholt?) Even though Ryan O’Neal is battling a very serious illness, it’s McGraw who looks like there’s something wrong with her. She’s starting to take on that crazy cat-lady look. You know the type; trying to look like she did 25 years ago, but it comes off as scary rather than sexy, like back in high school when your friend’s mom would flirt with you, but she wasn’t attractive at all, and it kind of creeped you out. Like that.

Okay, what the hell was McCartney smoking when he wrote that ghastly song? Paul, buddy… Live and Let Die was Beethoven compared to this thing. Are you even trying anymore?

Gwyneth Paltrow wears the ugliest dress in the world as she and Ethan Hawke present the award for Best Adapted Screenplay to Akiva Goldsman for A Beautiful Mind. Goldsman asks if this means he’s forgiven for Batman & Robin. No. You’re not. And you still have Lost in Space to answer for, pal.

Kevin Spacey does the “In Memoriam” segment, starting with a moment of silence for the dead of September 11, reminding us all again how trivial this award show is. Then Spacey rings a bell and shouts “bring out yer dead!” and there’s the film clip of this year’s harvest: Bob Hope, Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, Bob Barker, Keith Richards….

Halle Berry doesn’t look so good when there’s snot running all over her face. She carries on for a long time about how important the award is for black actors, without ever noticing that they gave her the award for her performance, not for being black. Or maybe it wasn’t for her performance, but for her naughty bits. I know that’s all I’ve heard from anybody who’s seen it; “Billy Bob is the luckiest man on Earth,” they say.

After Denzel Washington gets the Best Actor award, and thanks everyone up to and including his dog’s vet, the remaining awards go to Opie and his movie. The producer thanks “the profound Russell Crowe” (“profound” means “moody as hell and a complete pain in the ass), “the sublime Jennifer Connelly” (“sublime” means “she has big ones”), and then thanks Akiva Goldsman for “creating this difficult and heartrending script” (“creating” means “taking out all the icky stuff”).

At this point, most of the audience members are trying to restore the circulation in their legs after sitting for nearly four and a half hours. Whoopi hasn’t made much of an effort to keep things hopping. She concludes with a pointless remark about having New York’s back, then turns around to show “FDNY,” “NYPD,” and “PAPD” on the back of her jacket. I’m sure the brave rescue workers of New York are just pleased as punch to know that they got their initials on Whoopi’s jacket. Yeah, that’ll help.

And so to bed.

NEXT: The Torment of Roses.

The Fourth Wall: ’80s Nostalgia

Kemper & MacQuarrie’s

The Fourth Wall © 2002, 2015 by Craig Kemper & Jim MacQuarrie.

All characters are TM & © their respective owners. All Rights Reserved.

The Fourth Wall is a satire published by Monkey Spit, and is not intended maliciously. All names and situations, except in cases when public figures or existing fictional characters are being satirized, are invented by the writer and artist. Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental, or used as a fictional depiction or personality parody (permitted under Hustler Magazine v. Fallwell, 485 US 46, 108 S.Ct 876, 99 L.Ed.2d 41 (1988)). Monkey Spit makes no representation as to the truth or accuracy of the preceding information.

Please don’t sue us; we don’t have any money anyway.


Rant-Man’s Notebook: Haiku? You’re Soaking in Them!

A long time ago (in web terms that is–about six years ago), one of my favorite sites on the internet was “The Wonderful World of Clean Underwear and a Sensible Pair of Shoes.” I originally found it listed in an issue of a long-defunct magazine called “The Net” and had to check it out. It was a revelation, and some shards of its goodness permeate Monkey Spit. “The Wonderful World of Clean Underwear and a Sensible Pair of Shoes” featured such oddities as haiku. Not just any haiku; haiku about Spam. Haiku about Bill Bixby. Haiku about cows. How cool is that?

Here’s one from memory:

Man visits doctor.
“I eat spam every day.”

The site also featured obscure alternative Christian musicians like One Bad Pig. Here was a guy who did his own thing and did it with style. Certainly this man was a force to reckon with.

Sadly, that site is long gone. However, don’t despair. Richard Vance, the creator of “The Wonderful World of Clean Underwear and a Sensible Pair of Shoes,” has surfaced with a new site, “The Adventures of Richie Millennium in the Thirteenth Dimension,” and it is a very worthy successor. Here you can find an audio file of Richie Millennium singing in the shower. He sings an REO Speedwagon song. You’ll also find the Super Elastic Combustion Rodeo, the world’s oddest postcards, plenty of Haiku, and the Richie Millennium Variety Show.

The best thing about the new site is that it retains one of my favorite elements of the old one, the Archive of Endangered, Special or Fun Words. This is a great resource for punching up your vocabulary. It’s where I learned the great term “defenestration,” the act of throwing someone or something out a window. There’s also “enfenestration,” throwing someone or something IN a window, and “transfenestration,” throwing someone or something through a closed window. Certainly no vocabulary is complete without sesquipedalian terms like these!

Here, for your edification and amusement, are some of my favorite Endangered, Special and Fun words, lifted without apology from the Thirteenth Dimension:

Apotheosis— the act of becoming a god.

Apotemnophiliac— one who derives sexual gratification from the amputation of limbs, either their own or somebody else’s.

Eructation— a belch.

Infundibulum— a funnel or funnel-shaped object.

Omphaloskepsis— the act of examining or contemplating one’s navel.

Oont— another name for a camel.

Somniloquoy— talking in your sleep.

Syzygy— when everything comes into alignment.

If you get a chance, you should pop over to the Thirteenth Dimension and look around. I’ll just sit here and engage in omphaloskepsis while you’re gone.

The Fourth Wall: Personal Hygiene

Kemper & MacQuarrie’s

The Fourth Wall © 2002, 2015 by Craig Kemper & Jim MacQuarrie.

All characters are TM & © their respective owners. All Rights Reserved.

The Fourth Wall is a satire published by Monkey Spit, and is not intended maliciously. All names and situations, except in cases when public figures or existing fictional characters are being satirized, are invented by the writer and artist. Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental, or used as a fictional depiction or personality parody (permitted under Hustler Magazine v. Fallwell, 485 US 46, 108 S.Ct 876, 99 L.Ed.2d 41 (1988)). Monkey Spit makes no representation as to the truth or accuracy of the preceding information.

Please don’t sue us; we don’t have any money anyway.


Rant-Man’s Notebook: Britney Spears Nude!

This phrase turns up a lot on the internet. It seems that no matter what you search for, one of the results will invariably be “Britney Spears Nude!” When I was looking for pictures to doctor for the Sites of the Week, I frequently saw this phrase turn up in the search results. Not a week goes by that I don’t get at least one e-mail announcing “Britney Spears Nude.”

Recently, I saw a banner ad for a comic book store. In big bold letters, it proclaimed
You won’t see BRITNEY SPEARS NUDE on our site.” I thought that was cheap and deceptive. What ever happened to Truth in Advertising?

I understand the motivation. Britney is very popular, and mentioning her seems to be a good way to gain an audience. If we were to run a page titled “Britney Spears Nude,” we would probably turn up a lot more often in the search results on services like Google and Yahoo. Like everybody else, we can exploit the popularity of this young lady for the sake of our own publicity. Of course, writing a column about “Britney Spears Nude” as a cheap gimmick to drive up our stats is unethical if we don’t really follow through on it. It’s misleading and manipulative. We wouldn’t ever do that. We depend upon the credibility we’ve built up with our readers (both of them; hi mom!). This of course means that we can’t possibly do an article entitled “Britney Spears Nude” without actually delivering on that promise.

Never let it be said that Monkey Spit and Rant-Man are deceivers. If we promise “Britney Spears Nude” then that’s exactly what you are going to get. We deliver on our promises. No bait-and-switch stunts from us, nosiree bob. If “Britney Spears Nude” is the sort of thing you’re looking for, well, you came to the right place.

Here then, without further ado…

Britney Spears Nude!

Get it?

See, it’s Britney and she’s spearing a nude! Britney spears nude! Ha! I slay me!

Made you look, didn’t I?

The Fourth Wall: When Nobody’s Looking…

Kemper & MacQuarrie’s

The Fourth Wall © 2002, 2015 by Craig Kemper & Jim MacQuarrie.

All characters are TM & © their respective owners. All Rights Reserved.

The Fourth Wall is a satire published by Monkey Spit, and is not intended maliciously. All names and situations, except in cases when public figures or existing fictional characters are being satirized, are invented by the writer and artist. Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental, or used as a fictional depiction or personality parody (permitted under Hustler Magazine v. Fallwell, 485 US 46, 108 S.Ct 876, 99 L.Ed.2d 41 (1988)). Monkey Spit makes no representation as to the truth or accuracy of the preceding information.

Please don’t sue us; we don’t have any money anyway.


Rant-Man’s Notebook: I Come By It Honestly

By now you’ve probably discovered that I’m something of a goofball. There’s a reason for that. Insanity runs in my family. It actually runs marathons. Let me tell you what I mean…

Massachusetts, somewhere around 1930. My grandfather, Ernie, is courting a young lady named Bertha. (Yes, Bert & Ernie.) Ernie has asked Bertha to marry him a number of times, and she has turned him down the same number of times. She has a million excuses; we’re too young, we don’t have any money, there’s a depression, and so on. But Ernie is persistent. One fine afternoon, Ernie and Bertha are out for a picnic in his old car. They’re driving down the road, having yet another conversation about marriage. Ernie sees that he’s not getting anywhere with this conversation, so he stops the car. He gets out. Bertha follows. Ernie says “are you gonna marry me, Bertha?”

Bertha says no. Ernie climbs a nearby telegraph pole. From the top, he calls out again, “are you gonna marry me?” Again Bertha refuses. Ernie stands on his head on top of the pole.


“You gonna marry me, Bertha?”


“Then I’m staying up here!”

“Come down from there!”

“You gonna marry me?”

“Will you stop this foolishness and get down from there!”

“Not ’till you say you’re gonna marry me.”

“Oh for God’s sake!” She mutters under her breath a bit about the damn fool standing on his head on top of the telegraph pole. Finally she relents. “Okay, Ernie, I’ll marry you. Now come down from there!”

They were married for over 67 years and passed away within about a year of each other. They had four children, the third of which was my mother. I think she inherited the gene from Ernie.

My mother could never resist going for the laugh, no matter what lengths she had to go to to get it. One year, she cooked a cornish game hen inside the Thanksgiving turkey. At the dinner table, she “delivered” the small bird, crying out, “oh my god, it was pregnant!” My older brother almost threw up, until one of the younger ones reminded him that turkeys lay eggs. I’m fairly certain he didn’t eat Thanksgiving dinner that year.

She also started some traditions that have continued to my own kids, such as dying all the food green on St. Patrick’s Day. The look on the kids’ faces at school when I brought out my green sandwich was priceless. Green bread, green peanut butter, green jelly, a green apple, green cookies, green milk. It was a beautiful thing. I still do it.

When I was about 12 or so, Mom had divorced my dad (with good reason), and had a boyfriend named Eddie. Eddie was a bartender, and my mom worked evenings, so they got off work at about the same time. Their habit was for mom to meet Eddie at the lounge where he worked, and then they would go out for breakfast before she went home. On one occasion, they were sitting in the coffee shop, waiting for their food, when Eddie notices that the restaurant has had one of those fancy new pushbutton payphones installed. (It was the early 1970’s, and pushbutton phones were still new. The pushbutton telephone songbook hadn’t even come out yet.) Eddie decided he had to try out this marvelous new device. The two of them leapt to their feet and ran to the phone. Eddie flipped open the phone book, choosing a name at random. “Frank! Yeah, good ol’ Frank! Let’s give Frank a call!” He punches up the number, enjoying the pleasant tune it produces. It’s about 2:30 in the morning.

A groggy voice answers the phone. Eddie says “Hey Frank, it’s Eddie. I’m down at the coffee shop with a couple of hot chicks and they want to meet you! Come on down!”

“I don’t think my wife will let me.”

“Okay, Frank. Talk to you later. Bye.” Eddie hangs up the phone.

“Good ol’ Frank.”

My mother took down Frank’s name, address and phone number from the book. For the next several years, Mom and Eddie mailed Frank Christmas cards, birthday cards (“happy birthday, whenever it was!”), and postcards from their vacations. They called him occasionally and chatted. Frank never let on that he had no idea who they were. He was an older gent, retired for years, and I think he enjoyed the contact, though Mom said she could always tell that he was a little confused by these two old friends that he couldn’t remember.

About the same time that they were playing with Frank’s mind, we moved into an apartment complex with about 150 units. Lots of kids (good thing, because my mom had five boys ranging from 7 to 13 at the time), and also lots of singles. In particular, lots of single parents. The day we moved in, mom got a tour of the complex from a group of the kids. She climbed into an abandoned shopping cart and let the kids push her all over the place, pointing out who lived where. We were instantly famous in that place.

In a relatively short time, Mom had become part of a group that hung out by the pool on the weekends. There were about 6 or 7 of them who got together for socializing at least a few times a week. One was a nice lady who was Bill Bixby’s secretary; another was a funny little irishman named O’Brien, who was the kind of guy who would spontaneously decide to jump into the pool from the third floor balcony. Fortunately he made it.

One fine Saturday morning, my mom and some of the others were out by the pool, and somebody noticed that O’Brien wasn’t there. Another person mentioned that O’Brien never got up early; he was a night-owl. Mom allowed as how that was slothful, and he should get up with the sun; early to bed and early to rise and all that. She decided to do something about it.

That night, my mom and two of my brothers ventured out into one of the rural areas nearby, looking for a farm. They crept in, scouted around and found what they were looking for. As they were making their way back to the car, their prize decided on a different course of action and began crowing for all he was worth. The farmer ran out of his home, shotgun in hand and began shooting at anything that moved. They somehow managed to keep the rooster quiet, hid behind the trees until the farmer went back to bed, and then got back to the car, rooster in hand and headed home.

They tied a length of twine to the rooster’s leg and tied the other end to O’Brien’s doorknob. He was the unsuspecting new owner of a guaranteed alarm clock. When the sun rose, so did everybody in the complex. Most were quite curious about the sudden presence of a rooster in their community. Apparently somebody ratted us out as the perpetrators. How do I know that?

The next morning, there was a duck in our bathroom.

Like I said, I come by it honestly.

Rant-Man’s Notebook: The Glue Wars

I was 19 and needed to move. My room-mate was crazy. Not crazy in the “such a nut, what wacky thing will he do next” sense; more like crazy in the “is he going to kill me in my sleep” sense. So I put the word out to my friends that I was looking for a place. Not long after, I found myself sharing a furnished apartment with a guy named Roy.

Roy had come out from Texas for a mutual friend’s wedding and decided he liked California, so he rented an apartment and found a job; doorman at the nearest strip-joint, the Shangri-La, an absolute dive if ever there was one. He had rented a two-bedroom place with the intention of finding a room-mate to share the cost. I was designing patches for outlaw biker gangs at the time, not making a lot of money, so the rent was a little high for me, but I could manage it.

Two weeks after I moved in, Roy decided to go back to Texas to get some more of his stuff and take care of a few things.

When the rent came due, Roy decided to stay in Texas. He was decent enough to wire me the money for that month’s rent, but now I was, as they say, scrod. No way could I afford this place on my own. Again I put the word out to my friends.

As it happened, two of my old pals from high school days were looking to get a place, so we ended up putting the three of us into this apartment, and turned it into the ultimate nerd paradise.

My new housemates were Bill and Dave. Like most of the guys that I hung out with, we had met in the drama department, and most of us had fairly rotten family lives, but Bill’s was probably the worst. When he was but a lad, Bill’s mother passed away. Around the age of 14, his dad decided that he really couldn’t be bothered to be a full-time dad any more, so he decided not to. Bill’s dad owned two houses, one in our town and another about 40 miles away at the beach. He decided one day that he was going to pack up and move to the beach house and leave Bill and his younger brother to raise themselves. He came by about once a month to drop off grocery money and pay the utility bills, and it was up to Bill and his brother to get themselves through school. That’s right, two boys aged 14 and 12 were living completely unsupervised in this suburban home. Needless to say, Bill’s house quickly became the refuge for a group of his friends. They called themselves the MUGGS.

What’s a MUGG, you ask? A MUGG is a MisUnderstood Good Guy. Today we call them geeks, dorks, nerds. MUGGS are those guys in high school who are basically good-hearted but sort of rebellious; they want to do things their own way. They don’t care what’s popular or “cool,” they do what they want. They listened to ’40s music, watched old cartoons, drove ancient Chryslers, and haunted thrift stores and swap meets. Most of them were the kind of guy that girls referred to as “a big brother” or “a teddy bear;” decent guys who would listen to your troubles and let you cry on their shoulder. The kind of guy that high school girls depend on but won’t go out with at gunpoint. There were exceptions of course, but I can’t tell you about them without risking a libel suit. At least one of them had the ethics of a weasel and the morals of an alley cat, but we’ll get to him another time.

Anyway, Bill’s house became known as MUGG Manor, and so it remained for about four years, until Bill reached 18 and his dad rematerialized long enough to round up the younger son and move him off to San Diego with him now that he was nearly grown and not so much trouble to handle.

I didn’t know Bill then. I moved into the area shortly after he graduated (he’s a couple of years older than me), but I’ve heard all the stories of the legendary place. Immediately, our apartment was christened “MUGG Manor 2” and became the de facto residence for a large and ever-changing contingent of malcontents and ne’er-do-wells. About once a week, the manager of the complex would be at my door, fire extinguisher in hand, in a panic about the smoke he saw coming from our windows. We’d tell him we’d burnt the french fries or something, never letting on that we had actually been setting off explosives in the DeSoto hubcap that served as an ashtray. We threw loud parties where we served Ng Ka Py, a foul rice whiskey the exact color of gasoline that gave you bad breath for a week and a hell of a hangover. We threw darts at Miss December, a very blond nordic-looking woman. We drew with grease-pencils on the screen of our broken television.

Bill slept on the couch and stuffed his empty pizza boxes behind it. Dave stacked up dirty dishes until they grew blue fur, refused to flush the toilet, and just generally was the most disgusting slob I’ve ever known, and I’m no Martha Stewart myself. Once I walked into the kitchen and stuck to the floor. As payback, I dyed all his food weird colors. Blue food coloring turns orange juice a hideous shade of olive green, but the turquoise mayonnaise was really unsettling.

We fought over the heater. Bill liked it cold. One January night, I was awakened by a howling noise coming from the living room. When I went to investigate, I found Bill lying in front of the air conditioner, which was cranked up so high it had icicles forming under it. The curtains were hanging at a 45° angle, due to the wind blasting through the house. It was raining outside. Bill was wearing only a sheet. Nanook of the North.

I contributed my own touches to the cheap art prints that hung in the apartment, adding a sea serpent to the ocean scene, UFOs flying over the cow pasture, and Superman soaring over a landscape. Did I mention this was a furnished apartment?

We also had a Glue War.

The Glue War began innocently enough at the Foothill Swap Meet, where we found somebody hawking the Clover Electro-Bellows. This is a device about the size of a flashlight that produces a steady stream of air to make it easier to get your fire going. They were going for 25 cents each, so we bought four to them each and took them home. Bill explained to me that they could be used as “electric cigar smokers.” Of course we needed an electric cigar smoker; doesn’t everyone?

It actually worked. Bill removed the exhaust nozzle and taped it in place over the intake
(using duct tape, of course), then jammed a cheap cigar into the nozzle, lit the cigar and turned on the Electro-Bellows. A steady stream of smoke poured from the machine, filling the living room. I should mention that these cigars were the absolute cheapest things available anywhere. They were called Bud’s Smokers, and they sold at the Thrifty drug store in boxes of 50 for $3.00. Really rank.

Not long after, I did something really jerky. Don’t remember what it was; there were so many incidents. I think I said something rude in front of Bill’s girlfriend or something. Anyway, he slipped into my room with a bottle of Elmer’s Glue-All, which he used in permanently securing everything on top of the dresser to the surface. He also wrote the word “Dipshit” on the mirror in glue. Nice. Real nice.

I waited until he left, then glued three alarm clocks to the underside of his nightstand, and set them all for 3:00 A.M.

He glued all my dresser drawers shut, painted over the face of my alarm clock, and wrote another couple of phrases on the mirror, this time in india ink. (Did I mention that this was a furnished apartment?)

I covered the front of his closet with sheets of newspaper glued across the doorway, then closed the door. When he came home, he opened his closet and found himself facing a wall.

He committed random acts of vandalism in my room.

I put the electric cigar smoker in his closet, stoked it up and closed the door.

45 minutes later, Bill came home and opened the closet. A cloud of smoke enveloped him. All of his clothing reeked of cheap cigars for months afterward.

About a week or two later, he announced his engagement. I like to think I drove him to it.

Eventually, we both directed our efforts against Dave, who had become quite the pain.

We’re all older now. Our kids are the age we were when most of us met. The next round of Glue Wars are coming. It’s inevitable. I hope they’re prepared.

I’ve figured out how to build an electric cigar smoker using a computer fan. Unfortunately, Bud’s Smokers are no longer available. Pity. But should I share this terrible knowledge with my children? Will they use it wisely?