Commander Rapaport needs our help…

Ever since I was forcibly booted into the 21st century world of the Internet last December, I’ve been amazed by the volume and nature of the e-mail I receive daily from people who want me to have a better love life, a better mortgage rate or a better religion.

Most of these unexpected missives, to the cyber-savvy, are nothing more than spam – a necessary evil in our increasingly computer-dependent civilization. Every now and then, though, I get a message that demands immediate action, a cry for justice that cannot be ignored.

Like the communication I recently received from, er, Commander Rapaport, formerly of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Judging by his most recent message, Commander Rapaport has been treated rather shabbily by everyone from Bill Clinton to Forrest Gump and has yet to be properly compensated for his contributions to everything from karate tournaments to rock concerts.

“Yes, I am formerly Commander Rapaport of the CIA,” began his plea for justice. “The Central Intelligence Agency fired me so that they could get away with bank frauding me for money I made writing parts of Microsoft’s product line and for money I made writing various movies, without being prosecuted. The agency also stole 4-5 Congressional Medals of Honor from me…”

Damn that CIA – when are they going to learn?

And bank fraud is just the tip of the ol’ iceberg, according to former Commander Rapaport.

“During part of the time I was assigned to the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency would conduct mass burnings of their theft victims and witnesses in the Pentagon’s incinerators in order to avoid prosecution for bank fraud and real estate fraud.”

Like I said, damn that CIA – when are they going to learn?

And it gets worse, amigos – much, much worse.

A former celebrity bodyguard in Beverly Hills, Commander Rapaport also may have been the victim of amnesia-causing drugs which caused him to misplace several cars and homes he forgot he owned.

“From 1994 through 1997 I made a lot of money writing parts of national software packages, scripts for movies, adviser positions, having roles in monster suits and playing concerts. People even willed me money I don’t remember getting paid for.

“In response to this, someone slipped me some extremely powerful drugs that caused selective amnesia and stole a lot of money out of my bank accounts. I even spotted some houses recently that I think I own.”

And Commander Rapaport has yet to be compensated for dozens of entertainment projects in which he participated, including:

” ‘Men In Black’: (In addition to writing most of the main plot to this movie, I also was two of the aliens and I wrote a little of the computer graphics at the very end) … Will Smith did not write this, in spite¬†of what the credits say. I did.”

” ‘Ronin’: Main plot written by Robert DeNiro and I – 400K stolen – speak up, Mr. DeNiro.”

In addition, “The man who was Barney the Dinosaur most of the time willed me $400K, which was later stolen.”

The time has come for all right-thinking citizens to demand justice for Commander Rapaport, so get started today. I’ll join you just as soon as I change my e-mail address…

Originally published May 11, 2003

Curiouser and curiouser, puzzlinger and puzzlinger …

The holiday catalog deluge has begun, and the variety of catalogs I receive for no apparent reason never ceases to amaze me.

Come Nov. 1, my mailbox invariably becomes home to catalogs advertising everything from collectible thimbles to leopard-print thongs (or was that collectible leopards and thimble thongs?).

Most everyone expects a few off-the-wall catalogs when the Christmas season draws nigh. They come and go, usually disappearing after a year or so if you don’t make an order.

But there are a few glossy, elaborate and relatively obscure catalogs that just seem to keep coming back despite the fact that you didn’t ask for them, never ordered from them and have absolutely no interest in the products they contain.

The most puzzling holiday catalog I receive is, curiously enough, a puzzle catalog.

Anyone who knows me is abundantly aware of the fact that puzzles make me twitch. I steer clear of anything that looks like it might take more than a cursory glance to put together, take apart, open or close.

Determining the correct way to operate the average keychain is about as much puzzlement as I can handle on a regular basis. Anything that has more than three moving parts constitutes a major mystery.

Replacing an automobile taillight, for example, is a project for which I usually set aside at least two days.

Despite my aversion to puzzles and the fact that I’d never consider paying for such aggravation by mail order, the catalogs continue to arrive, offering lots and lots of “clever puzzles and intriguing gifts.”

These are not your average three-piece Barney the Dinosaur puzzles, nor are they the somewhat more complicated six-piece map of California puzzles we all learned to assemble in elementary school.

No, these diabolical puzzles are for clever people who should have better things to do – and probably will, once they’ve been taken into custody …

Items include round, 500-piece jigsaw puzzles created from the famed Rose Window of St. John the Divine in New York City.

Great. For $10.95, I can get hundreds of tiny, apparently unrelated bits of colorful cardboard with which to drive myself to the brink of unutterable madness.

Then there’s “The Great Pagoda … this 51-piece interlocking puzzle is a time-honored Japanese challenge that has stumped numerous generations.”

Why, I ask you, would I want to pay $12.95 for something that has annoyed generations and generations of people? How many more generations have to be aggravated before some wise individual takes a ball-peen hammer to The Great Pagoda?

Unfortunately, these are among the simpler diversions provided by the puzzle catalog that won’t die.

I’m not even going to tell you about the illuminated, three-dimensional, 836-piece Neuschwanstein Castle puzzle. Suffice it to say that there is, in fact, an 836-piece, illuminated, three-dimensional Neus-whatever puzzle.

If I ever do break down and tackle a real puzzle, I doubt that I’ll find what I’m looking for in a holiday catalog (or, for that matter, in a miniature, three-dimensional Bavarian castle).

I’ll need a real challenge, something that will stretch my intellectual and problem-solving capabilities to the utmost.

Maybe I’ll try voting in Florida next year …

Originally published November 19, 2000

Yes, less is more, and then some…

Trendsetters in American home design are crossing new frontiers, thinking outside the box and boldly going where no architect has gone before.

According to a recent Associated Press report, the latest look is less – the “unexpected, unfinished, uncommon” look one achieves by going back to basics and eliminating such unnecessary amenities as, er, ceilings…

By getting rid of that dull, old-fashioned ceiling, innovative builders are giving new homes an unexpectedly open look, revealing previously unexposed beams, pipes and wiring right to the roof top.

De rigueur, design dudes – sort of like living in a fashionably drafty, $500,000 South-of-Market warehouse loft without all the discarded wine bottles and dismantled drug lab debris.

Not only is today’s no-ceiling look stylish, but it says you’re wildlife friendly.

No longer will you have to put up with the muffled scuffling of unidentified rodents overhead. Lose the ceiling and you gain and number of pointy-tailed, beady-eyed buddies who’ll be glad to entertain you with their amusing antics right in your living room.

Roof rats – they’re not just for the attic anymore…

The only problem with this trendy concept is that it simply doesn’t go far enough. Within a year or two, just about everyone will be ceilingless and the newest look in home design will be as ho-hum as avocado-colored appliance accents in the kitchen.

Now is the time for boldness, American homeowners.

If eliminating your ceiling is hot today, removing an exterior wall will be cutting edge tomorrow.

Unexpected, unfinished, uncommon? You betcha!

Not only does this provide great flow-through ventilation all year round, but it gives you an unprecedented sense of freedom and openness not to be found in more conventional homes, or even federal prisons.

Suddenly, you are at one with your environment and the great outdoors is practically indoors.

Plus, it’s neighborly. You can see out and your neighbors can see in. It’s a bold statement that tells everyone “I’ve got nothing to hide!”

Losing that restrictive wall gives real meaning to the greeting, “Hi, neighbor!” as you trundle through the living room in your Barney the Dinosaur boxer shorts.

Opening up a wall or two will also eliminate the need for elaborate security systems. No burglar with a lick of sense is going to rip off someplace where the entire block can witness him practicing his felonious art.

And there’s the added protection of the cross-eyed neighborhood pit bull, who’ll be able to provide you with an added sense of security as he wanders through your non-wall on his daily rounds – just be sure to keep plenty of fresh pork chops on hand.

The next logical step is, of course, getting rid of that old-fashioned roof over your non-existent ceiling – greet the morning sun with a smile and frolic in the evening moonbeams!

It won’t be long before your neighbors recognize you for the uncommon, uncompromising innovator that you really are – particularly when you’re enjoying your morning shower in the breakfast nook..

Originally published September 10, 2000