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Mona Lisa's 1,000 Words

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We asked the author of Insert Stupid Catchphrase Here to explain what the heck it is. His response:

I need no deep inner meaning, no groundbreaking truth, no contractual clause, no promise of profit, to set down this collection of essays for all time. I have collected these works into one volume because I am sick of them all floating around the office in random directions. Sometimes I actually have to find one of these things, and this makes it a whole lot easier.

But what are these things? This book is a collection of my essays, columns, and editorials from 1992 to 1997. It comprises about half of my body of work while at college; the other half, consisting of short fiction, poetry, hard research, and miscellaneous ramblings, is covered in Hodge Podge.

ISBN 1-932295-03-8
Brian F. Schreurs
Front and back cover art by Todd Harry Lane
I chose to combine essays and columns into one volume because there really wasn't enough of either to stand alone. They tend to be similarly written and approximately the same length, so it turns out it was a good idea. Now you can switch off between reading about the ecology of vending machines and the politics behind the B-2 bomber. If this book doesn't make your head spin, you need more caffeine.

Speaking of the material, it is organized more or less chronologically. Let's face it, over these five years I've grown a lot as a writer, so the book tends to get better as it goes along. The ratio of essays to columns also fluctuates wildly, especially because of a couple stints I had as a columnist for The Daily Athenaeum, the college newspaper.

As for the content, some is silly and some is serious. In the name of capturing the moment, I've chosen not to edit myself, so it is important to understand that not everything written here is the way I feel right now; it is just the way I saw it at one time. Maybe I still think that way and maybe I don't. If it's keeping you up at night, ask.

Annotated Table of Contents

"Mudpies 1992"
The 1992 presidential race was a bizarre three-way spectacle, almost too easy to satirize really, but I went for it anyway. This piece, written a couple of months before the election, takes a look at the options available to voters.
"The Legend of Brian F. Schreurs"
The purpose of this essay was to write about myself. And so I did. Please don't judge too harshly.
"May I Have Your Attendance Please..."
One thing that really irritated me in the early college years was the way the University would, on the one hand, demand that we act like responsible adults, and on the other, treat us like children. The attendance policy was my focal point for this ire, and I wrote an essay blasting its hypocrisy.
"Even Though You Know Better"
There are many factors to consider before skipping school or work, and these factors are critical to maximize the limited hooky time available to most of us. This essay analyzes the best times for skipping out, and provides tips on how to escape largely unnoticed -- or at least dramatically. EXCERPT
"An Essay Mostly About Drunk Driving"
What do you write about when you are stuck with a very serious but very played-out topic? If you can't change the topic, you can go for giving up on being serious. This essay takes a crack at explaining the advantages and disadvantages of drunk driving. EXCERPT
"The Ecology of Vending Machines"
It's a little known fact that vending machines are living creatures with their own complex ecology. This essay examines the life-cycle of the more common vending machines, and attempts to explain their behavior.
"One Good Cultural Center Deserves Another"
In this opinion piece, I attempted to explain -- to no avail -- the hypocrisy of setting aside a special University-funded cultural center for one minority group while utterly ignoring all others. It was taxpayer money spent on special interest groups, and dang if it wasn't really annoying.
"Lighten Up, America!"
1993 was a strange year. Clinton was trying to find his presidential legs (which later turned out to be a bit more literal than we first imagined), the government murdered dozens of people in Texas because they hadn't paid their gun licensing fees, and some loon tried to bring down the World Trade Center -- then 39 other loons tried to take credit for it! A year like that calls for a bitter column summarizing the highlights.
"Get a Grip, America!"
So the preceding essay garnered a lot of hateful phone calls at strange hours of the night. I wrote another one, targeted at those wankers. This was before I started getting really mean.
"Clear Your Plate (And His)"
This little article is the result of a sociology experiment I was required to execute.
"Walking the Middle Ground"
I wrote this column in an attempt to view moderates in a new light, to perhaps help extreme lefties and extreme righties understand them better. Instead, I got a lot of phone calls where people tried to edjamakate me on the basics of politics.
"Nice Guy Syndrome"
A classic, this essay seems to tug the heartstrings of every man who has ever been told "You're a nice guy but..."
"The Boring Conspiracy"
Sometimes, seasoned journalists have difficulty finding something interesting to write about. So, what do they do? Write a column about how other journalists are having a hard time finding anything worth writing about. Merriment ensues. Ha ha!
"Ain't Dead Yet"
Working in the entertainment section of the newspaper, and finding a big honking hole that needed to be filled, I wrote a piece on how great rock 'n' roll is. Can you believe I got paid for this stuff?!
"Crash Helmets Are A Pain"
I've long opposed government meddling in the affairs of citizens, and silly helmet laws are one of the most visible examples. Bicycle helmet laws are the silliest of all, as they seldom have any real teeth, and accomplish nothing except create a new class of supremely geeky criminals. This column took my town's new law to task. EXCERPT
"What I Did Over Winter Break"
I couldn't believe I'd been asked to write an essay about my winter break. So, I wrote an essay they wouldn't believe. EXCERPT
"Friendship Rules"
The first of the "rules" semi-series, this essay examined the concept and purpose of friendship among guys, in particular how it differs from our relationships with women.
"Why I Hate Star Trek"
Someone had to say it. I mean really, elves in space? Well, one weird overbearing elf anyway. A classic rant, this essay tore without mercy through all variants of Trek that existed to that date.
"Gun Control Rules"
Probably the single most misleading title of all my shorts. Without going into too much detail here, this piece presents the results of the American Magniloquent Muckrakers Organization, Inc., Firearms Regulation and Overall Gumption Survey, which among other things, determined that people who liked Elmer Fudd tended to favor Jay Leno over David Letterman.
"Chalk Rules"
Can you write an entire essay about the benefits of chalk? ...I dunno if you can, but I can.
"The Fascinating and Advanced Neptunian Space Bears"
Stay with me here. The idea was to comment on modern authors. I did this through the mechanism of a 19th Century adventure/travel writer on an inter-solar journey to Neptune. It actually came out much better than it deserved. EXCERPT
"Of Coupons, Contacts, and Chokings"
As a sociology experiment I attempted to gauge people's willingness to help a stranger, through progressively more severe scenarios.
"Decentralize, America!"
Back before the present war started on September 11, it was still possible to decry the bloated state of the federal government without having to simultaneously fending off antipatriot attacks. This column takes a hard look at some of the ways our central government has become far too overbearing for the people and the states.
"New Federalists, Old Conspiracies"
The New Federalists passed through town, and I couldn't resist doing a column on those wacky people. How can you not love a political group who stump on such planks as "Why the British Kill American Presidents"?
"Terms and Laws of Firearms"
Tired of listening to people unable to tell the difference between automatic and semiautomatic, and who are unaware that criminals aren't allowed to own guns, I prepared a column that simply laid out common firearms terms and summarized major gun control laws.
"Bomber or Bombshell?"
Even I can't resist commenting on the ridiculousness of the federal budget sometimes. In this case, the question is of whether to buy airplanes that the Air Force explicitly doesn't want.
"Michael New vs. The World"
Spc. Michael New made headlines during the height of the militia movement because he refused to serve under the command of the United Nations. Much as I sympathized with the distaste for putting U.S. troops under foreign command, New's objections were groundless, a point I beat home in this column.
"The Media's Militia Monster"
I never did understand why the militia movement was demonized by the press, when most militias had never been tied to any kind of illegal activity. Rolling Stone really went out of their way to be jerks, and I took them to task for it.
"Relax a Little"
Airing out a few hot buttons loosely tied by other people overreacting to them.
"Explaining Valentine's Day to a Jovian"
So you have to explain the purpose and meaning of Valentine's Day to someone from another culture -- in this case, someone from Jupiter. Man I wrote some crazy stuff.
"Garbage In, Garbage Out"
My first real experience with local justice. Such as it is.
"Grant Avenue Is Still Dead"
Morgantown had a legendary party called the Grant Avenue Block Party. Then, one year, the University decided to put an end to it, substituting the regulated and vanilla Fall Festival after using every cop in the region to lock down Grant Avenue like it was Alcatraz. Consider this its final obit.
"Militias In America"
A somewhat sarcastic look at militias and the government's ability to protect us from all bad things.
"Agonizing Over Agnew"
Spiro Agnew died. I wrote about it.
"Little Red Riding Hood or Big Bad Wolf?"
Sometimes column titles get fanciful. This piece is actually about Corridor H and its environmental impact.
"Josh's Cars"
A column about cars, written in the style of Mike Royko, just 'coz it's fun.
"On the Road"
Musings about car- and travel-related subjects, such as insurance, auto safety, emissions testing, and radar detectors.
"Cat and... Gerbil?"
I observe the lesser species interacting. Merriment ensues. EXCERPT
"Welfare Reform and the States"
Chalk one up to straightforward essay titles. This piece examines the benefits of turning the execution of welfare over to the states, rather than maintainting the then-extant giant federal bureaucracy.
"The Ethics of Contracting"
When to complete a project versus when to hire contractors is a question that will haunt almost everyone sooner or later, but it is all the more acute in the modern business environment. This essay examines some potential ethical pitfalls that may greet the contracts administrator.
"East Coast vs. West Coast"
No, not some gang thing, just a column examining the problems with voting when, because of time zone differences, an election can be decided before the west coast's polls have even closed.
"The Last Time"
I used to work on a wildlife preserve. Here's an essay about my final visit to my former sanctuary.
"Tolkien, Dead and Alive"
I did a critique of a biography about JRR Tolkien, well before the recent movies made him cool.
"The Trek-O-Matic Star Trek Storyline Generator"
After watching whichever Star Trek movie was playing at the time, I had a bit of fun at the expense of the series. EXCERPT
"Adopting the Creative"
This is a creative writing exercise.