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Bad Housekeeping

By "Guido Veloce"
Illustration by Gilbert Ford

It's spring cleaning time.

It isn't spring, and I haven't done this kind of cleaning in years. Technicalities aside, it's once again time to dump fragments of columns that went nowhere, ones I couldn't finish but hate to abandon. Some never even made it into a complete sentence, including the mystifying "If cats had opposable thumbs . . ." Here are three more substantial, if not more intelligible, fragments, set out on the curb for recycling if anyone can figure out what to do with them.*


The success of the "Geek Squad" computer service business should inspire more entrepreneurs to embrace the negative. Make pejorative pay, or just be brutally honest in naming companies. Ever in search of a retirement that doesn't involve Wal-Mart customers, I have franchise suggestions for potential investors, complete with corporate mottoes (readers may have patronized similar businesses, as have we):

Dopey Dentists: "Drugged from drilling to billing."

Car Mess: "Pre-trashed vehicles for pre-trashed budgets. Free duct tape with every purchase." [Inspired by a used car dealer who explained that a bargain-priced vehicle didn't come with an engine.]

Care Less Cleaners: "Experience the thrill of wearing someone else's clothes!" "Starch where you least expect it." [But we like the owners.]

Cloggers: "No stomach unfilled; no artery unclogged." "A half pound of hormone-fed beef, topped with American 'cheese' and fried eggs from hens with short, tragic lives." [Tried a similar chain recently — the onion rings are great.]

Ill Maid "Cleaning" Service: "Live in squalor? Give a holler." "We don't do windows or much else." [Or our house ever again.]


Our neighborhood has lots of churches, and they tend to be cheerful establishments. A recent walk revealed the following messages on church billboards: "Sometimes you have to go out on a limb because that's where the fruit is"; "Work for God: Retirement plan is out of this world"; "Gratefulness overcomes selfishness"; "Peace be with you, Hon!"

Cheery, optimistic, and nice are OK in their place (although I'm not sure about the gratefulness and selfishness thing), but these messages would have appalled those largely forgotten Founding Fathers, Mothers, Quaker hangers, and witch hunters, the Puritans. Their hell-fire-and-damnation religion was skeptical of salvation and anything smacking of a happy ending.

If our gloomy, Calvinistic forebears had church billboards, what would they have said? It wouldn't have been "Peace be with you, Hon!" Maybe something more like, "When you hear Rev. Mather preach, eternal misery's in reach." Or "Here today, Hell tomorrow."


While using the Internet for its most valuable function — wasting time, or, in technical language, "work abatement" — I came across the worst English ever.

I was searching for reviews of a cordless drill. Here is what I found: "auto operative tools guaranteed to acquire the book of job through right-hand." Grateful that it wasn't the left hand or the Book of Revelation, I learned that the drill's "impressive big dawdle bolts rich into natalie wood." If that were not selling point enough, it was adept at "auguring big holes in telephony poles." For good measure, there was an "all-metal face living accommodations to oppose jolty job-site shout" and this "hireling is likewise passing easy to habituate." Lest you take the author's endorsement alone, "users testament regain that they put up consummate legion tasks previous to requiring a reload." That's customer satisfaction.

I will never again complain about undergraduate essays. And I really want this drill.

*If you want to take Guido up on his offer and try your hand at one of these essays, send your submission to Guido Veloce, Johns Hopkins Magazine, 901 S. Bond Street, Suite 540, Baltimore, MD 21231. Essays will be considered for publication.

"Guido Veloce" is a Johns Hopkins University professor.

Return to November 2008 Table of Contents

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