Dreamy States of Mind


I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, per se, but one of my goals for 2009 has been to downsize the towering pile of unread books in my office. This formation is caused by the simple fact that it’s so much easier and faster to acquire books than it is to read them. Why can’t anyone do something about this? Where are the books in pill form we’ve all been waiting for?

More or less at random, I began this program by cracking open the irresistably titled The Mystery of the Mind, by the equally well-named Wilder Penfield. I don’t remember exactly when I added this to the collection, but it was some years ago. I’ve always been interested in the brain as a subject, and a blurb on this back of this book promised that Penfield’s “lucid writing and depth can be appreciated by the lay public.”

Slightly Like a Resurrection (A Treatise on the Art of the Hangover)

I recently had occasion to read Charles McCabe’s brilliant The Good Man’s Weakness, an authoritative treatment of the many aspects of a single topic: alcohol, which another noted authority, Homer J. Simpson, called “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” It concludes with a section on hangovers which inspired me to set down all I’ve learned on the subject in my years of study, in the hopes it may be of use to some of you young people out there in Cyberville.

Handled properly, a hangover need not be terribly unpleasant, and can even be somewhat enjoyable. Ideally, hangover management begins the night before. There are several things you can do when drinking heavily to minimize the next day’s suffering, though most of the time you’re not going to do them, because the whole point of boozing is to forget about things like being prudent and planning ahead. Still, I’m going to list them here, just so I can say I didn’t leave anything out:


Thinking Outside the Bong


Over the last week many pixels have been devoted to reproductions and discussions of this picture of Michael Phelps. The wide dissemination of this image — to which I have now contributed — compelled Phelps and his anointed press representatives to issue a fawning, overblown apology that made it sound as if he had done something really terrible, like publicly plucking the eyes out of puppies with a fork. This whole affair demonstrates a couple of things.

One is the continued stunning hypocrisy of a society where one intoxicant is not just tolerated, but celebrated — where a famous person can be well paid for endorsing a particular beer or vodka — but where being photographed indulging in a different intoxicant, arguably less harmful and certainly less physically damaging, has the potential to end an illustrious career.

Another thing it proves, though, is that highly paid flacks often have little or no imagination. I look at this photo and I don’t see a smoking gun (as it were); I see an image that can be interpreted in a number of ways, even if you concede its authenticity, which is always in doubt in the age of Photoshop. Here are three possible explanations:

  • What Phelps is actually holding is a decorative but poorly designed candle holder where the flame has consumed all of the oxygen inside, creating a vacuum that caused it to attach itself to Phelps when he leaned over to smell it. What we are seeing here is Phelps struggling valiantly to remove the offending object from his face.
  • Rather than sucking something out of the bong, he is in fact filling it with air from the freakish lungs that helped him win eight gold medals in last year’s Olympics. This air has magical healing powers and is intended for a 9-year-old leukemia patient.
  • In order to impress a girl he met at the party, Phelps in trying to suck himself inside the bong and swim in the bongwater.

That’s just off the top of my head, and I’m not even a professional spinmeister.

As I was writing this, I learned that Kellogg’s had dropped their endorsement deal with Phelps, which seems cowardly. If they had any guts they’d put the picture on a Wheaties box, but replace “News of the World” with the words “Breakfast of Champions.”