Remember When There Weren’t All These Crasher Shows?

The other night I was hoping to catch Civil Servants From Outer Space on the Science Channel, but instead my wife had already asserted dominion over the television with a program called Yard Crashers.  Have you ever seen this show?  The host of the show, Ahmed Hassan, is a licensed contractor, who loiters, along with a camera crew, at a giant home improvement megastore in search of someone with a pathetic yard.  Usually there is a multitude of customers begging Ahmed to crash their yards, and he chooses a winner by selecting the yard with the most unreturned propane tanks.

The first time I saw Ahmed accost a potential yard crashee, I thought that he was just going to mow their lawn for them, perhaps mowing it in a cool checkerboard design instead of the swirling splotches that have become my voice in the neighborhood landscape.  But I was wrong, as I spent the next half-hour of my life watching Ahmed and his crew help these poor homeowners turn their dump with a swing set into Six Flags Great Adventure, complete with turnstiles and rotating racks of signs that say things like “Jennifer’s Room.”

I soon learned that Yard Crashers was only one of several members of the crasher genre of home improvement shows.  House Crashers, where Josh Temple shows homeowners that the secret to having the house of your dreams is a liberal use of the sledgehammer.  Bath Crashers, where Matt Muenster trains homeowners to hang up wet towels instead of leaving them crumpled up on the bathroom floor.  And, of course, Kitchen Crashers, where Alison Victoria proves that there is a God, and that His name is Granite Countertops.

The current slate of crasher shows might only be the beginning.  There could be crasher crossovers, the Yard Crashers and the House Crashers unwittingly crash the same house, and everyone’s embarrassed because there’s not enough pizza to go around.

Or a reverse crash, where the crew chooses a home with a perfect, modern kitchen and after three days the kitchen has warped cabinets with peeling paint, a cracked white sink, and the same gold-flecked Formica countertops that belonged to the homeowner’s mother.

There could even be a crasher show where someone literally crashes a truck through the front of a house, as a way of demonstrating that a home improvement project can always be found.

But why limit ourselves to home improvement?  There are other areas of human endeavor that could use some crashing.  For example, there could be a show on the Learning Channel called Book Crashers, where people who are behind on their Chaucer are invaded by a literature professor who stays with them for three days, and then sends them a bill for $40,000.

A personal favorite of mine would be a show called Crasher Crashers, were a husband who doesn’t like his wife’s crasher shows is visited by a home channel producer executive who teaches the husband to appreciate crasher shows, and to form an independent opinion of proper home décor that just happens to be identical to his wife’s tastes.  And the show would air on ESPN.

The ultimate crasher show, however, would be called Human Crashers.  A house inhabited with humans with antiquated ideas, habits, and looks, is crashed by a crew of other houses who help to renovate the humans, giving them new ears and mouths, updating them on the latest trends in fashion and music, and getting them to stop saying things like “a knock is a boost” and “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and from refusing to see the Christopher Nolan Batman movies because “nothing compares” to the 1989 Tim Burton film.

Remember When There Weren’t a Million Types of Water Bottles?

When I was a kid the only water bottles were simple white plastic with a ribbed bendy-straw that came out like the proboscis of a giant insect.  And the only people who used these water bottles were the other kindergartners who were also forced to play soccer, and needed something to wash down the orange slices and cracker jacks.  These water bottles—more cylindrical containers than bottles—beared the emblem of our soccer club, were not airtight, and most definitely were not brought to school, where things that made students more likely to need to go to the restroom were not welcomed.

The other night I was in the supermarket, and while looking for the most up-to-date version of the Oreo cookie, I came upon the water bottle aisle.  Water bottles have their own aisle now.  The bottles were in many different colors, and showed a history of technological innovation.  Adjustable nozzles.  Rubber grips.  Filters in case the bottled water that gets poured into the water bottle has too much—I don’t know—water in it.

And no longer is the basic white plastic of my soccer-playing youth the only choice.  In fact, it’s probably not a choice at all.  Today’s water bottles come in stainless steel, aluminum, high-density polyethylene, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene, and something called “copolyester,” which I had thought went out with the 1970s.  If this seems as clear as polypropylene, below is a bottle comparison chart that I pulled, for your convenience, showing the different water bottles that are sold by a company named REI so that you can tailor your purchase decision to your plastic-resistance preferences.  A 5-star rating means that the material offers the greatest resistance.

Bottle Material

Impact Resistance

Odor Resistance

Visual Clarity

Bottle Feel

Resin Code

Tritan copolyester

 ***  ****




Polyethylene (HDPE)

 ****  ***




Polyethylene (LDPE)

 ****  ***





 ****  ***




Stainless steel

 ****  *****





 **  *****




As you can see from the table above, all of the plastic bottles come with a resin code.  I don’t know the resin code for the water bottle I used back when I was standing out on a soccer field and pretending to care where the ball was kicked.  I’m sure it was chock-full of the dreaded bisphenol A (BPA), something equaled in terror by only the bubonic plague.

But selecting a material with the perfect opacity and resistance is barely half the work!  Now you must settle on a design for the mouth opening.  Here are your choices: wide mouth, narrow mouth, push-pull valve, and bite valve.  And if anyone wants my opinion, I think there should be a “fountain valve” that looks just like the spouts on the metal water fountains we all remember from school, one that you have to hunch over and really press so that your back is left vulnerable to attacks from bears or kick-me signs.

As I stood in the aisle, I thought about the kind of water bottle I would choose.  Was I a polyethylene person or more of a stainless steel person?  Did I like a water bottle that dented easily or not so easily?  What were my thoughts on resin?  Did I even know what resin was?  The Existentialists thought that free will and the purpose of life were the most difficult questions and the ones most worthy of extended study.  They would have been surprised to learn that choosing a water bottle requires far more introspection.

But if choosing a water bottle requires more work, it is because the water bottle delivers more meaning to our lives.  Our bodies are roughly 60% water—or, if you’re like me, 40% water and 20% hazelnut creamer.  And if the body is indeed a temple, then it needs a proper chalice—a chalice made of stainless steel.  Or aluminum.  Or low-density polyethylene.

Remember When You Had Never Heard of Austerity Measures?

Last Sunday night, or Monday morning if you use the metric system, it was announced that François Hollande had defeated Nicolas Sarkozy in the runoff election for President of France.  The voters, by a crushing 51.62 majority, rejected the austerity measures being pushed by Mr. Sarkozy, and embraced the 15-minute work week being promised by Mr. Hollande.

I used to hear the word “austere” used only in connection with the 17th Century Puritans, who observed strict fiscal discipline by tightening the buckles on their shoes and hats.  But after “austerity” was anointed the Merriam-Webster Word of the Year for 2010, I started paying attention to this newer usage, and what it meant for my Pez habit.

The term “austerity” when used in connection with economics means, in a very general, non-nation-specific, Wikipedia kind of way, “a policy of deficit-cutting, lower spending, and a reduction in the amount of benefits and public services provided.”  The more I’ve heard this word on the radio as I search for the latest Katy Perry hit, I’ve started to introduce some austerity measures into my own life as a way of reducing my debt obligations to foreign markets.

The first area in which I tried to impose some fiscal conservatism was in garbage collection.  In my home, we typically throw garbage out.  But this requires paying for someone to come and pick our garbage every week.  So to save on this bloated budget item, instead of throwing out our trash, I started taking it to work and using it as weight to keep books open flat on my desk.  On occasion the weight still contains some food, yielding double austerity points for saving me from having to buy lunch that day.

Another area that was really adding to our households expenses was eating out at restaurants.  So to save money I decided to start cooking.  But first I had to learn how.

“Honey,” I asked my wife, “where do we keep all the ingredients and recipes?”

After an hour of searching through the kitchen, and getting bogged down in the drawer that holds all the pens, tape measures, and keys that don’t go to any locks, I was ready to make chateaubriand, a dish that has fallen out of favor in America but which I’ve always liked pronouncing.

Searing the meat was easy enough; in my youth I was a Boy Scout for several weeks and so was familiar with fire.  But I really got hung up on the shallot.  Like, what was a shallot?  I searched on the Internet, and found that a shallot is “a botanical variety of the species Allium cepa.”  Still puzzled, I looked at a picture of shallots.  “Ah, they look like onions!” I said, and located an onion that had been rolling around in the vegetable drawer of our refrigerator, a drawer I hadn’t opened since the Prussians sealed off the city and attempted to starve us.  After serving the chateaubriand, however, I think my wife would have preferred starving.

My last austerity measure was designed to save money on gasoline.  I started hitchhiking to work once a week.  The thumbing-signal I mastered pretty quickly, but I could never get the red polka dot cloth tied properly to the end of the stick.  There was a seminar being offered at the local community college on “Introduction to Running Away From Home,” but, thanks to the austerity measures, my education budget had been slashed, and I had to hold my polka dot cloth with my lunch and work in my hand.

No one wants to pick up a hitchhiker who can’t master the polka dot cloth on the end of a stick.  I learned this the hard way.  But maybe that’s what austerity measures are all about—learning how to learn for free.