The Ask Master

Why is it that commercial success and media attention only happen to people after (and exactly to the extent that) they begin to suck?

Jim Carrey was funnier and less annoying on In Living Color then he's been at any time since. Green, REM's first commercially viable album, was also the first one that blew pretty much from start to finish. And don't even get me started on the adoring masses that dutifully queue up to see the latest masturbatory whine-fest from the once-relevant Woody Allen. You see it time and again—as soon as someone comes into the limelight, their talent goes right into the dumper.

So, is mediocrity truly the inevitable handmaiden of success? Is passionate virtuosity inherently a quality only of the obscure?

I aim to find out. Being old and fat- witted enough to make John Tesh appear positively edgy by comparison, I no longer present an even mildly credible threat to the status quo. Thus, the Weekly has grudgingly offered this opportunity to deliver you answers to questions that you, the reader, shall provide. Each week, I shall arrogate to myself a position of absolute Cartesian certainty from which to evaluate any and all questions, be they factual queries, philosophical unanswerables, requests for opinion, solicitations of advice, or calls for divination. Ask me anything. I know all.

On the West Coast, the butter comes in short, fat sticks, but in the Midwest, the butter comes in long, thin sticks. I want to know why.

Intrigued Iowan

This is an excellent question. Are you paying attention, readers? This is the kind of thought-provoking query we're going to be needing more of around here. Way to go, Iowa.

I recall noticing the change you mention when I moved West from Illinois, but I assumed at the time that my arrival had coincided with a nationwide butter-packaging paradigm shift. Upon learning that the slender, elegant sticks I recalled from childhood were still in production, I put in a call to the Land O' Lakes company, which sells butter and related products nationwide.

"There are actually three forms that butter has been packed in," Land O' Lakes spokesperson Lydia Botham informed me, with the eagerness of one who too seldom gets to strut her stuff. "One is the Western Stubby, which is the shorter, fatter sticks, like you have on the West Coast. Another is the Elgin style, which is the style that Land O' Lakes packs their butter in—kind of a cube shape. Then there's an Eastern style, which is four longer sticks in a row." (The latter make up the flat, square package Iowa and I remember.)

While this was riveting information, Ms. Botham was forced to admit that she did not know why Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington eat their butter chunky style, only that they do, and had for "oh, just a long, long time." She offered to put in a few calls to various members of the butter cognoscenti on my behalf. I got the impression that this was the most exciting thing that had happened around there in a while, so I poured a tall one and let her go at it. No sense in depriving the lady of her fun.

A few days later, Ms. Botham called back to inform me that, after speaking to representatives from the American Butter Institute, several manufacturers of butter-packing machines, and a number of retired butter-industry employees, she had drawn a blank. No one, it seemed, knew the answer to my question. Her personal theory had something to do with the fact that butter dishes used to be round, and the shorter stick would fit better on this type of dish. When I pointed out that, when butter dishes were round, they were round all over the country, she hastily changed the subject.

I suppose I could have kept digging, but if Lydia Botham, a dairy-industry veteran with access to the nation's finest butter minds, could not find the answer in two days of trying (and I suspect that for those two days she did little else—I mean, how often do journalists call her up to hear the butter trade's position on the burning issues of the day?), I didn't see how I was going to manage it. (Yes, yes, I know I said I could answer anything. Stop reveling in my failure.)

That said, the Ask Master is not one to roll over and say die. We will not rest until this question has been answered. That's why I am personally offering (though not personally paying for) DINNER FOR TWO at some establishment run by one of our advertisers to the reader who comes up with the best answer to this question. If the truth is out there, the truth will win. If not, the prize will go to the guy or gal with the most convincing-sounding line of bullshit, just like in real life.

Wondering why soccer balls have hexagons? Write askmaster@seattleweekly.com or Ask Master, Seattle Weekly, 1008 Western Ave., Suite 300, Seattle, WA, 98104.

 
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