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How to impress your friends by pretending to can vegetables

Note: I’m a columnist for the Reader Weekly, an alt-weekly newspaper in Duluth, MN. Every Tuesday I post a new column.

When I’m at the supermarket, I shop as if I were living through the Great Depression. Chef Boyardee for 99 cents? Never! The generic brand is 94 cents! Diet Coke? Never! I’ll get Diet RC Cola – which has the slightest taste of dental filling paste – for 30 cents less per case.

I purchase my breakfast cereal in gigantic horsefeeder-sized bags. If there was an illegal immigrant sitting at a card table outside the supermarket, selling even cheaper bags of cereal that were obviously pulled out of a dumpster, I’d probably buy those instead.

I blame my parents for this. From a young age, they planted this idea in my head that buying inferior products is worth the miniscule amount of savings. Didn’t I go to college so I wouldn’t have to eat generic cheese? “It all adds up!” my parents always say. Never mind that it only adds up to 30 cents each shopping trip. Since it all adds up, why don’t I start working nights and weekends in a Chinese sweatshop?

The generic brand of spaghetti sauce I bought the other day was so cheap that the label fell off during the drive home from the supermarket. Now it’s literally as generic as can be: Just a glass jar full of sauce. I actually like it better this way. It looks nicer and also gives the false impression that I made it myself. I’m going to remove the labels from all my food products, so everything in my kitchen will appear to be homemade.

E. coli sounds like an ice cream flavor

Note: I’m a columnist for the Reader Weekly, an alt-weekly newspaper in Duluth, MN. Every Tuesday I post a new column.

Is there anything left for me to eat that doesn’t have E. coli in it? Anything at all? Can I eat Werther’s Originals? How about ketchup? Can I use Listerine breath strips, or did somebody dip those in animal poop too? Should I eat Thanksgiving dinner this year, or just enjoy the aroma and then toss it in the garbage?

Every month something different is infected with E. coli: Hamburgers, spinach, apple juice, dead rats, Lucky Charms, condoms. Now five million Totino’s and Jeno’s frozen pizzas are being recalled. I’m pretty sure I ate that many over the course of my childhood. Why does it have to be Totino’s? Isn’t it bad enough that I’m too poor to buy a real frozen pizza, now I have to get sick too?

What kind of a world do we live in where I can’t trust companies to kill things and feed them to me? And Totino’s doesn’t even involve farms or animals. There’s not a natural ingredient in a Totino’s pizza. It’s just cardboard with fake cheese on it. The pepperoni is rubber from discarded shoes. It’s all engineered in a lab, like Viagra and Courtney Love’s face.

An awkward letter to my former lover

Note: I’m a columnist for the Reader Weekly, an alt-weekly newspaper in Duluth, MN. Every Tuesday I post a new column.

Dearest AT&T,

I hope this letter finds you well. I’ve been keeping busy, working at an office in the city. I started in September and it’s okay.

I don’t know how to tell you this, but it’s something you need to know. I met this really nice cellphone carrier at the mall a few months ago. They have great phones and treat their customers really well. They make me feel like a gentleman. I’ve fallen madly in love with them, and it’s only fair that I return your cellphone and contract.

Please don’t hate me, Cingy (I know you prefer to be called AT&T now, not Cingular, but I still think of you as my little Cingy). It’s awkward breaking up with you, partly because I paid you to go out with me, and partly because you’re a corporation in lieu of an actual person. Regardless, our relationship is over. I figured you’d get the message when I ported my phone number to my new carrier, but I also sent this letter just in case.

I’ve thought a lot about what I want out of a relationship, and the two of us are just too different in both personality and our desired lifestyles. You love the iPhone, and I don’t. You like the RAZR, and I think you’re a worthless twat. But let’s not get nasty. This is not about either of us “winning or losing”. We’re both winners in this decision. It’s just that I’m a lot more of a winner than you.

I want to be like Bruce Kasden

Note: I’m a columnist for the Reader Weekly, an alt-weekly newspaper in Duluth, MN. Every Tuesday I post a new column.

“Make this thing good. I don’t want any of this Paul Ryan shit.”

That’s what professor Bruce Kasden was once rumored to have said about the Promethean, the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s student newspaper. I was ending my sophomore year, the newspaper was pathetic and tabloidish, and my column was the trashiest part of it.

Kasden graciously agreed to be advisor for the paper, despite being warned by every professor on campus that it would ruin his reputation. Kasden didn’t care. He saw kids who needed help. We needed an advisor to remain an official campus group and keep our funding, and Kasden was our last hope.

After a year under his guidance, the paper won second place in the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s college division. The professors who told Kasden he was an idiot for helping us were now praising him. Kasden especially liked that part. There was nothing he loved more than watching mean people feel stupid. “You should’ve seen them,” he told the newspaper staff, chuckling and shaking his head. “You made them all look like fools.”

Real men go rollerskating

Note: I’m a columnist for the Reader Weekly, an alt-weekly newspaper in Duluth, MN. Every Tuesday I post a new column.

It’s amazing that roller skating rinks still exist. Who the hell roller skates anymore? Kids can use rollerblades or Heely shoes to skate anywhere for free, so I’m not sure why they’d pay $8 to skate in a circle at a dark, creepy 1970s-style rink. Yet all over the country, the roller skating rinks still exist.

I went to one the other night. My friend Mike is a referee for an all-girls roller derby league (let’s be nice and pretend his intentions aren’t obvious), and he wanted to practice his skating. Mike’s girlfriend was supposed to come, but bailed out at the last minute. So now it was just two dudes spending a Saturday night rollerskating together. Great.

The rink is located on Venice Boulevard, near the southern neighborhoods of Los Angeles. We were the only white people there. I usually don’t pay attention to race, but it’s hard not to notice when you’re a white person rollerskating with 40 black people. But our minority status wasn’t our main concern. We were also the only adults at the rink. We unknowingly arrived during the all-ages skate at 8pm. The adult skate wasn’t until 10pm. Aside from parents, the closest people to our age were a group of 14-year-old girls.