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A friend emailed with a problem. Her gardening club loved her tales of digging in the dirt and her near-obsessive, homesteader-like canning and preserving activities that they asked her to write an article for their newsletter.

Then panic set in, so she asked me how write an article, which is funny for two reasons. One, that she asked me; I feel like I fumble through this. And two, her emails are already full of article-ready descriptions of her fruits and her labor, like this one:

I’ve been hanging out my bathroom window picking fresh figs. I’ve got a jar of figs in vodka. Will be doing another in bourbon later. Fig jam and chutney are on the list for this weekend. I guess there are worse problems to have.

But her question made me realize that we often want to know what steps to take for a specific endeavor. There is no lack of information out there but there is often too much and not the right information…for what we need. My brother, who is a great cook, once called to ask me how to fry an egg. See what I mean?

This is by no means comprehensive or in order of importance. But this is what I told her, and it’s a good place to start:

Trust your voice. Voice is important and one already exists in your emails to me. It’s too easy to sound stiff and awkwardly academic just because you have to write for publication. Don’t let that happen.

Read similar articles. Reread articles in your cooking magazines but with a new eye. Notice how they’re constructed and what devices are used. I just read one on butter, for example, and the author started with personal anecdotes and then went into history a few paragraphs in.

Write all the way through. Then go back and edit. Don’t rethink or fuss with the words as you go. It’ll stop ideas from coming. Really, DON’T.

Make it make sense. Hint at what you plan to cover in the first paragraph. If it’s a longer piece, add subheads. I find that adding subheads forces me to create a logical structure. Ideally, there should be an overall point; and not just be a rambling essay on your thoughts about growing and preserving food, mainly because there’s too much to say on that topic in one short article.

Add a quote or cite a reference. This adds credibility and texture to an article. (I looked back in one of her emails and she was one step ahead of me as she quoted Thomas Jefferson: “On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally’s cellar.” Note the brilliant metaphor!)

Be descriptive. As they say “Show, don’t tell.” Don’t just say fig. Instead, describe its texture and color, its squishiness. Like, “You’ll know a fig is ripe if it feels a bit like a woman’s breast.” Maybe not that, but you get the idea.

Think like the reader. What do you want when you read about the same subject? What makes you like an article? What tips do you find useful? It doesn’t hurt to ask the editor what their readership looks for.

I forgot to tell her two things. (Are you reading Eileen?)

Walk away. Then come back a day or two later. The same holds true for any creative endeavor (we’re both designers by vocation; picklers by avocation). You have to put aside your efforts and let the ideas marinate—not unlike figs in bourbon. Active thought, followed by incubation, followed by ah-ha moment…or so we hope on that last one.

Have fun.

There comes a time when it happens to the best of us, and it can happen for different reasons. A fumble in the client’s accounting department that takes weeks to sort out, a bankrupt organization or business, or you found the wrong client. It’s a hard pill to swallow. Worse is when you have to pay a subcontractor with your own money because the client didn’t pay.

This happened to a colleague recently. His situation falls into the third category, but my guess is, the wrong client doesn’t think of themselves as such. And for good reason. Problems in business relationships are rarely about business, but we have to pretend they are. In other words, the human condition is at work—fear, confusion, ambivalence, lack of clarity, insecurity, guilt, ignorance, shame, to name a few. As soon as one of these conditions sets in, it is hard to solve the problem by reviewing agreements—however clear and in writing they are. A creative person managing a project might have explained the entire process. But there can still be assumptions made on both sides that weren’t communicated. A project gone awry does not mean it wasn’t well planned. Stuff happens. Visit AIGA’s Design & Business section of their website for good information on business practice for creative professionals.

A challenging client might trigger a gut-level reaction early on. But we ignore it for the multitude of reasons we ignore signs and signals. Maybe the client suddenly became worried about spending money or they lacked a clear vision (and embarked on a project before having clarity). There’s nothing like getting any ball rolling to highlight uncertainties! Hope is a wonderful thing, but not if it prevents us—client or creative person—from speaking up. This is not to excuse bad behavior, only to explain it. There is no choice but to take responsibility.

This post is not about all the steps to take to avoid nonpayment (future posts). It’s about what to do next if a project is cancelled and/or the client just won’t pay. The course of action is not necessarily different from dealing with a flaky accounting department or a bankrupt company. But it does need a different kind of reflection. Note: this assumes you were clear about process, had an agreement, provided a written estimate with terms and developed a clear brief about the goals of the project.

Clarify the client’s position. You may not get paid but there might be useful information to carry into your next project. The client’s reasoning—whether you agree or not—will determine your next step. Ask if there was something specific they did not understand about the process. If they were confused, was there a reason they didn’t speak up earlier? This shows you are eager to understand, and, at the same time, the client reflects on their part in the process. You may find out if they lack funds (and are ashamed to admit it) or are choosing to withhold payment.

Own your part. A martyr is a person who takes more than 100 percent of their share of the responsibility. A victim is one who takes less than 100 percent of their share. Note the emphasis on their share. Taking 100 percent of your share may only mean 30 percent of the total shared between parties. Put your part into perspective. Review it objectively. Mistakes are golden opportunities (you’re laughing now) to improve. If you were clear verbally but didn’t put something crucial in writing, note that, and do it differently next time.

Send an invoice and follow up with a late one. It may not get paid but this is an important step because carrying out your normal business operations takes the personal edge off and gives you some confidence. Describe the work done. Attach the original agreement with terms, if one existed. Follow up, multiple times if necessary.

Clarify your intellectual property rights. If you have provided tangible solutions, explain that their use is a violation of your copyright. Even if it was your intention to allow the client use of or alteration of the design work, that right is understood to be transferred upon receipt of final payment. This is important, not as a threat, but as an education. You help pave the way for future creative consultants by having educated a client. You won’t get a “thank you,” but you’re saving the client embarrassment or a possible law suit. Perhaps you’re not feeling generous, but the good will come back to you another way.

Negotiate partial payment. Restate your case and appeal to the client’s sense of right and wrong. You might just settle on an amount you can both live with. It may happen that the amount is a reflection of each party’s responsibility for the situation going awry.

Surrender attachment to getting paid. I’m not certain what amount of money would cause me to sue for nonpayment but I know that the psychological cost of a law suit, however justified, would be too high. Bad psychic mojo would wreak havoc on me. Sometimes there is power in walking away, but not until after you’ve done due diligence, of course.

There are true creeps but they are few and far between. I have friends who live to tell it. It is little comfort, but a nonpaying client is most likely feeling shame or fear, or both. You can always find more money. It will be harder for the client to bounce back from their actions. If this kind of thing has happened more than a couple of times, your instincts may be in need of a tune up. If you’re sure you were professional throughout, you are better off walking away (after taking the above steps). Gather up the pieces quickly and put that otherwise wasted energy into your next project.

Google the phrase “Good Fast Cheap Pick Two” and you get over 78 million search results. There are only 1.7 million for “Fountain of Youth.” Apparently people desire good, fast and cheap more than they do the secret to staying young. At the risk of spilling more e-ink on this topic, it seems that there are more and more requests like this. Is it the economy? Is there a growing sense of entitlement? Or is it more benign than that—people don’t realize that a request for good, fast and cheap are not useful descriptors in seeking what they need?

Removing the yuck factor of entitlement, there is a real need behind this request. But it will be overlooked by the people most likely to help you…and do it right. Who would buy a car, build a bridge, hire an electrician or find a mate with these three criteria? Not many.

When you only get two:

Fast and Cheap. With this option, high-quality is likely to suffer in the form of creative output, research time, accuracy, and ability to test and consider options. Make sure you are comfortable accepting some or all of these. Ask questions. See below for defining good.

Good and Fast. To get these, extra time beyond the normal work hours is involved. For a designer, this means nights or weekends which usually carry a rush fee. For a printing company, it might mean paying a premium to bump another job.

Good and Cheap. A designer or printing company reduces a rate for a charity in need. Or it might be a pro bono project. But in order to do good work and keep costs down, this project can’t be made a high priority. It will most likely be done only after commitments to normal-fee jobs are met.

Be wary of those who jump to fulfill a request like good, fast and cheap. If you leave your criteria as open ended as this, you’ll be unhappy with the results. Only through communicating what good, fast and cheap means to you will you get the results you are looking for.

Here are better approaches:

Define good.
Develop the ability to evaluate or describe the good you need. This way, you don’t waste your time or that of another, or worse, find out that your visions of good don’t match after you’ve already invested time. Share printed samples or website links if you’re trying to express your idea of good to a designer. Similarly, request samples if you’re looking for a printing company. Use meaningful, unambiguous words most likely to paint the right picture for the other party. A good printer to one might mean flawless ink coverage, but to another, good means the pages are merely in the right order.

Plan.
This is so often overlooked it needs to be included, even if it is obvious. We need fast when we don’t plan or we are surprised by an opportunity that we want to seize. Transferring our lack of planning onto another party is uncool, but it does happen. Many designers and printers will bend over backwards. Cherish (and reward) that person who is willing to dig you out of your hole. This can be in the form of patience, money, loyalty, appreciation or creative freedom. Or all of the above!

Have a budget.
Second only to planning, budgets are often absent. What many don’t realize is that everyone wants affordable—no matter the actual available funds or the size and caliber of the company. Affordable is meaningless because one person’s affordable is another’s too expensive. The desire for cheap, without definition, leaves you too vulnerable to a mishap. Instead, strive for value—the specific benefit you receive at the specific price you pay.

The more well defined and specific these requirements, the more likely you will end up with a timely and cost-effective end product whose quality you are happy with.

Speaking to a friend, chef and creator of Lovejoy Food, about her first day back at the OHSU farmers market, I asked her how her day went, given the tremendous downpour we’d had. “Were there a lot of people you recognized from last year?” I asked her. There were, and she said it was a bit surreal, seeing all these familiar strangers.

The term was coined by Stanley Milgram in the 1972 paper The Familiar Stranger: An Aspect of Urban Anonymity. He is also credited with developing the concept of six degrees of separation.

The true definition of a familiar stranger is someone who is seen regularly (like a person on your morning bus commute) and one with whom you don’t interact. Intel did a study using mobile devices to connect strangers, not necessarily to be friends but, to explore how strangers interact. The concept of familiar strangers is that they are an important link that bridges the gap between friends/family and total strangers. They play an essential role in fixing us in a community and providing us context. We wouldn’t want everyone to be a friend, and nor could we tolerate only strangers and people we know. The familiar strangers act as a buffer.

In my friend’s case, her customers aren’t true familiar strangers. But one friend has been creative with her daily commute (fodder for another post—ways to make the mundane more interesting) by documenting via her iPhone, her fellow commuters’ tattoos, pets, fashion statements and books. She has a non-judgemental, endearing way about her daily documentary. There’s a richness about it because she’s bringing strangers to life and making us look at these people closely, whom none of us know!

An interesting aspect of familiar strangers is that we have an unspoken agreement to not communicate. But we are much more likely to interact if we find ourselves in an unfamiliar setting, like bumping into the person you see each week at the farmers market while on vacation in Rome.

Has this happened to you? Did you introduce yourself? How long should a familiar stranger remain a stranger? Do you ever want to acknowledge your shared presence, especially if your lives seem to overlap in more than a couple places?

In a city as small as Portland, there are people you see over and over in more than one place you frequent, even if there doesn’t seem to be a significant connection among the locations. Maybe this person should be part of your social or business circle.

Starting a project without a design brief is a bit like setting out on a long backpacking trip with no map or compass…only worse. There’s really no harm in wandering aimlessly in the wilderness, especially if you have no destination in mind and there’s no fear of getting lost. (This might be called fine art.)

But daily, designers go into the wilderness without a map or compass (some of their own volition), often pressured to begin work without a sense of direction. While no-parameter design might sound like every designer’s dream, this approach is a recipe for failure. (More benignly, a designer loses the satisfaction of doing effective work.) Even the most innovative, risk-taking client has specific goals to achieve and audiences to speak to. Many fear the delay caused by developing a good brief. The opposite is true: There is nothing like no brief, or an incomplete one, to stall a project. The stall is just later, when it’s more costly to start over.

Clear direction describes the project’s purpose, hoped-for results, audience, core message and any procedural requirements. The result is broad enough direction that leaves room for creativity, but unique and specific enough to paint a clear picture of who the client is (and isn’t). Together, these foster relevant solutions for that specific client.

As designers, our frustration working without client direction might be tempered if we consider that clients don’t knowingly want to sabotage the process. The client contact has bosses to satisfy, budgets to mind, deadlines to meet—and sometimes egos to satisfy, not to mention hiring and managing a designer.

Here are some possible reasons why it might be difficult to get a solid creative brief before starting work. By understanding what might be happening, you can direct questions and the conversation better.

It is easier to comment on what already exists than shape what does not. This is just basic human nature. Explain to the client that the information collected in a brief is what drives the design solutions. Without it, you wouldn’t be designing a solution that was unique to their needs.

Not understanding how the designer goes from point A to point B. Clients might wonder how exactly the designer will go from, We want to be the leader in widgets, being recognized for our exceptionally unusual customer service, to developing a cool-looking symbol. Sometimes we designers can’t say how we lept from one idea to the next, arriving at our final solution. Imagine how hard it might be for a client. If a client can’t fathom the leaps, they may not understand the value of taking time to create a meaningful brief. How we designers get there is why we’re in this business. But how is murky. And people don’t feel comfortable with murky.

This land between the logical business/marketing objectives and the tangible final design solution is the murky place. The designer had a good map, but wandered down side paths, looked up, looked down, looked around, sniffed the air, scribbled, turned over some rocks, took a good nap, and bingo, ideas emerged. Clients have to get comfortable with murky, which is possible if the client starts out making the right choices: designer, planning and budget (topics for future posts).

Eagerness to see ideas. The project might be a long time in coming. The client may love your work and trust you (This is great but dicey). The key people who should provide direction might be too busy to contribute. As humans, we are hopeful that things will turn out okay. Deep thinking requires thoughtful time set aside and that’s pretty hard to come by these days. Explain that you, too are eager and enthusiastic and want to produce the best possible work and to do that, you need the proper tools.

Self examination is hard. Settling on what you are also means settling on what you are not. Eliminating possible attributes and strengths from one’s business offerings might seem like shutting doors. This especially holds true for identity work, where the entire organization’s reason for being, and their values and attributes must be solidified and articulated. This is not an easy process. The result can be a conflicting or contradictory design brief, resulting in the wrong solutions. Explain to the client that trying to keep all doors open can lead to a confusing identity. And that it’s better to communicate clearly to the few important people rather than sort of communicate to the many.

Internal politics. Too often, personalities foil the potential of a good design process. There might be either no key decision maker or too many. The project “owner” doesn’t have the full authority they want or need, departments have conflicting goals, personal likes rather than business goals drive approvals, the unheard voices wait to be heard when it’s too late to change course…or to costly to.

Belief that good planning and staying within budget aren’t related. Good planning is too important to skip, especially where budgets are tight. Most designers’ estimates are tied specifically to a projected amount of time spent. When that time changes, so does the cost. As the designer, going over the risks and implications in person or on the phone can be especially useful, even if it’s in writing.

Not understanding the value of good design. It’s up to designers to articulate the difference between what they can deliver if a good plan is in place, versus what they cannot deliver without a plan. We all have a different way to describe what good design is. Now is your chance to put forth your philosophy.

David Airey has a great blog post about working with a design brief. Another excellent post on the subject in How magazine covers the importance of a creative brief and how it leads to success.

If you’re a client, how have you responded to a request for this information? Or have you found that designer’s didn’t ask? If you’re a designer, have you been asked to work without a clear plan? If so, how did you address it? Share your thoughts.

Sometimes saying no is a benefit to both parties.

A LinkedIn post lamenting requests for cheap work called to mind what many of us forget, especially in a bad economy, or else during a long dry spell of romance. We forget what we value, we forget our standards, we forget what we’re worth. Or maybe we forgot to consider those things in the first place.

A tight economy or even naysayers can conspire to make us operate on a scarcity model, one that dictates that we take what comes our way—in case nothing else does. We feel we have to say yes to work that we can’t afford to say yes to but believe we can’t afford not to. We have to put food on the table, but many of us panic or at least become cynical long before we really face starvation.

You have time to breathe and ask yourself some questions.

What are my strengths?

What do I offer that has real value?

What is that worth?

Is this client or project in line with my values and goals?

Will this challenge me in good ways?

A good exercise is to recall the bumpy roads you’ve been down that you swore you wouldn’t revisit. Perhaps it was the low-budget project you allowed yourself to get talked into, with the promise of exposure and more work. Recall how you felt after that, and what it confirmed about the type of work and client relationships you wanted.

If you find yourself being resentful at the assumptions people make, like a website should cost $500, then you’ve positioned yourself to be a contender for that work. If you didn’t see yourself as a contender, there would be no reason to even flinch as such a request. By giving ourselves time to evaluate before reacting (even if our reaction is only internal), we deepen our commitment to what we value.

Having then shifted that focus, we may even arrive at a solution that we hadn’t been able to consider at the beginning. Maybe that solution is passing on a name of a junior designer, offering up a simple service they can afford, or helping the client understand the work involved…all from an objective distance.

In this Zen Habits post, the author gives some tips for saying yes more slowly, for those who can’t stomach saying no. The person who posted the question on LinkedIn, as a result of repeated requests for low-cost work, lowered her rates. Prevailing logic says now is the best time to raise them. David C. Baker’s website Recourses has great position papers related to this, like Avoiding Marketing, Saying “No,” and Rethinking Rates.

We get locked into ways of thinking—that clients want cheap websites, for example. When instead, the real answer lies in what we draw to us. And why. This requires puzzling through issues we want to avoid—Why am I afraid to say no? If I find better projects, what if I fail? What do I owe to myself and my business, and what do I owe to others? And how can I make it work so both of us benefit?

This is why saying no sometimes works better for both parties. Saying yes for the wrong reasons can lead to working with a disengaged spirit, which serves neither party well. And more importantly, each time it happens, it’s a missed opportunity to learn something about ourselves.

We all work in haste these days, or at least without thinking. I even find myself laughing sometimes at the turns an e-mail conversation takes with a friend that begins with a subject “logo comps” and ends up as a recipe for what to do with tons of unripe green tomatoes, still with the title “logo comps” attached.

But worse are the e-mails you open because, if you don’t, you fear you might miss out on a business prospect. There may be something suspect about the subject title, but you take the time to open the e-mail only to find you’ve been had, intentionally or not.

Just today I opened an email oddly titled “RFQ’s”—odd, because there are few instances where RFQ needs to be a possessive. I get all sorts of RFPs and RFQs in my in-box that I dutifully open in case they lead to a potential project. Instead, I found that it was a company selling DVDs and CDs that wanted to know if I had an upcoming need. Which I guess translates into my requesting a quote from them? And they were offering me the opportunity to request a quote?

Given the amount of electronic communication these days—most of it done without thought or even capital letters or punctuation—we can, without realizing it, ask a lot of a person.

Make the subject title relevant to the content of the e-mail. I often find myself renaming the titles of replied e-mails to a client because the subject has changed. I want to make sure they (and I) can go back into their in-box to retrieve what I told them last week. But they can only do that if they’re searching for a meaningful title. This takes a little effort but it’s worth it.

Businesses that send e-emails entitled “The information you requested”—you know you didn’t request anything—are the worst offenders. It’s hard to imagine my business could survive if I sent e-mails like that to prospective clients.

It’s hard to cut through the clutter with the perfectly phrased subject title. But a little “first, do no harm” wisdom is a good place to start.

I admit I’m a Luddite, despite that, or maybe because, I sit at a computer all day. I even went without a cell phone for a staggering six years till I felt compelled to have one for travel. I’d abandoned my earlier cell phone when I realized it didn’t work where I most wanted it to…in the wilderness (in case I got lost while mushroom hunting).

I fully embrace my inner Luddite when it comes to written communication that, today, has gone awry, in my opinion. I was recycling an article I’d saved at the end of which was a series of comments from readers. One dense paragraph was written in all lowercase letters. Looking at this is the visual equivalent to fingernails on a blackboard. I lean towards more formal typography as espoused by the very clever Robert Bringhurst and his wonderful book The Elements of Typographic Style, excerpts of which I used to make design students read. They didn’t seem to delight in his descriptions like I did. Here’s one:

“In a badly designed book the letters mill and stand like starving horses in a field. In a book designed by rote, they sit like stale bread and mutton on the page. In a well-made book, where designer, compositor and printer have all done their jobs, no matter how many thousands of lines and pages, the letters are alive. They dance in their seats. Sometimes they rise and dance in the margins and aisles.”

I admit, there are parts that are too esoteric for anyone without a love affair with type. And blog comments are not books, informal as they are.

But recently, I posted some things to Craigslist. Among the many responses I received, most were practically unreadable. Little, if any, punctuation was used. Sentences ran into each other. Most were written in all lowercase. I’d seen this before and my conclusion was that these were from scam artists hoping you’d take a money order. Bad use of English was a dead give away. But one guy sounded sincere. I told him of my dilemma. He thought I was funny…and quaint, I’m sure.

“It’s just an email. I figure why be formal.” he replied.

True enough. But the writer does take a risk that people like me might not bother to read the email. Try this: Eliminate all the capital letters from a dense paragraph and see if your reading comprehension is the same. My guess is no. Cool as it may be to write in all lowercase and pretend you’re ee cummings, sentences that lack a capital letter do decrease comprehension.

I’m a fan of reading and responding to questions on LinkedIn. This being a professional forum, I’m surprised by the number of hard-to-comprehend posts. Many are filled with garbled language and spelling errors. Given that prospective employers or clients might read posts, it’s too big a risk to look that sloppy. An error here and there is one thing. It is, after all, an extemporary venue but graphic designers need to communicate well in writing. Facebook, on the other hand, might be the perfect place for your all-lowercase-lacking-in-punctuation communiques.

There’s a difference between a professional forum and text messaging. But while these lines are blurring, our ability to shift gears in comprehension isn’t keeping pace. Think about how long you’ve been accustomed to a period separating two complete thoughts. Technology is asking us to reverse something we’ve known since we were four or five years old. Another test: eliminate any spaces, periods or dashes in a phone number. Then try to read the number to yourself without doubling back. It’s very hard.

A friend recently asked if I’d look at a small website she designed. What jumped out was the jarring lack of capital letters at the beginning of sentences, most of which started with the company name (whose logo is all lowercase). I admitted I was pretty formal about such things but if I stumbled while reading, others would, too. There’s something to be said for brand consistency, but like most decisions, it’s about weighing solutions and picking the lesser of evils. First, the user is there to read, learn and understand. Not to care whether your company name in logo form starts with a lowercase letter.

Perhaps we will, and must, broaden our comprehension skills in the face of changing communication modes. But we know too much about our brain’s habits and its reliance on visual signposts like capital letters and, god forbid, a little punctuation.

Updated June 2010

It isn’t every day that calling the IRS to complain about tax-evading politicians turns out to be entertaining. I had a few minutes to spare, and my new method for letting things go that make me incensed is to take some action. Even a small fruitless action helps me to move on.

What had me incensed was the news of Tom Daschle’s little tax hiccup causing him to withdraw his cabinet nomination for Health and Human Services. Is he too good to lose? Opinions abound, but many of us would rather take a draconian view and get rid of him. Our goodwill towards people in high positions is threadbare these days. Let some political forest fires rage and they might leave fresh ground for new growth.

I had just witnessed Barack Obama’s inauguration in person. Two days later I see news of my city’s mayor facing questions about his teen sex scandal. Opposing factions are calling for him to stay or resign. Is it my civic duty to consider his governing abilities before casting my verdict? I used to think so but who has the energy anymore? My fear is that events like this are becoming quotidian. How does remain interested and involved in the face of looming cynicism—our own and theirs?

Having just written a check for a $90 underpayment on last year’s taxes (that’s $90, not $900, $9000, or $90,000), I couldn’t help but wonder how the IRS could miss $128,000 of Daschle’s unpaid taxes. Sure, his taxes are more complicated than mine are. But that’s not my problem.

So I called the IRS expecting not to get through or to be taken seriously. I was transferred to the Procedures and Rules department. I pictured the cubicled workers snickering at the whack job who called to ask why the IRS wasn’t doing their job. I hope I wasn’t the only one calling.

I waited on hold for long enough to hear Mozart’s Symphony No. in G minor, then his Eine Kleine Nactmusik, and finally Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker. It was all quite lovely. I can thank my sister’s long-ago ex-husband, who was a violin teacher, for why I know the titles of these pieces.

I couldn’t help but laugh listening to Tchaikovsky. Anyone who has seen the movie Top Secret is familar with the famous ballet scene in which the Nutcracker’s Waltz of the Flowers is performed. Nearly every scene is a parody, and here the male ballet dancers have enormous codpieces on which the female dancers eventually leap to and fro. There are so many ridiculous lines and scenes in this movie. And this, coming from someone who doesn’t like slapstick.

Just recently, my brother and I were inspired, while inside a Catholic cathedral, to recite the scene in which a prisoner is given last rites by a priest before being executed. He reads from a bible every Latin phrase having nothing to do with last rites—veni vidi vici, e pluribus unum, ipso facto, pro bono and so on. We never fail to collapse in laughter and see which of us can remember the most lines. Perhaps Mr. Daschle had a little lapsus memoriae

An IRS woman finally answered the phone and I was yanked out of my YouTube reverie. She assured me that “Mr. Dashle would have received notices from the IRS.” And that she “was also a taxpayer who pays her taxes and thinks the system should be fixed.” Oddly, it made me feel a little better. I say a little. This is either reassuring or disturbing to know that you can owe that much money to the IRS and not be thrown in jail.

At least the time I spent on hold and in YouTube meant no dollars earned and, thus, fewer taxes to pay.