What's life without a few little tokens to pamper yourself?
Those might come in the form of something respectably hedonistic — like a really nice pair of earrings. Or it might come in the form of something, shall we say, a bit more esoteric.
From teen detective books to digital diversions, we've compiled a list of small pleasures that help keep us amused through the day.
Maxim on airplanes
I am scared of flying. There, I admit it. But last year, for four months I flew most every weekend. Sunday’s routine was to board the plane for home with the New York Times and a tall decaf with soy milk. But on Thursdays, as I headed out, instead of biting my nails, it was Maxim. I’m not even going to try to convince you that I read it for the articles — even though that’s true. I mean, you’ve seen one topless-from-the-back shot of Eva Longoria, you’ve seen ‘em all, right? Maybe.
The fart-joke-quality captions and authoritative articles on “How to score with the female cop trying to write you a ticket,” or “How to score with your friend’s sister,” or “How to score with a female suicide bomber” took my mind off the fact that I was miles above the earth in an aluminum tube maintained by someone who likely just got his pay cut in half and his pension thrown away. I don’t know why it helps. I never read it otherwise. In fact, I sort of silently tsk-tsk others when I see them reading it in other circumstances. But on board, it’s cheaper than another two tiny bottles from the flight attendant. -Rob Neill
She’s rich, she’s painfully popular, and she’s often a total witch with a capital B. No, not Paris Hilton. It’s Nancy Drew, and though she is 75 years old she can still captivate as she races around River Heights in her roadster. You don’t need the last name Freud to figure out Nancy’s raw attraction. Just try to tear your eyes from Rudy Nappi’s cover art to “The Mystery of the Tolling Bell”: dishevelled Nancy casts her best come-hither look, a hooded figure looms over the threatening rowboat gliding into a dark passage and in the center of it all, the tolling bell glows. Indeed! Sure, she turned Ned Nickerson into the literary equivalent of a blubbering Ken doll, but as you get older you learn to appreciate that skill. Wait, you ask: Shouldn’t guys read “male” adventure fiction like The Hardy Boys? Bah! Frank and Joe are ham-fisted buffoons who couldn’t solve a mystery in 178 pages unless the solution slugged them in the head on page 175. (Sadly, it always did.) No, if you need me this summer I’ll be curled up in the hammock, roaring down country lanes with my Titian-haired sleuthing goddess. Swarthy ne’er-do-wells beware! -Ian Ferrell
Denise Richards’ divorce declaration
This summer’s absolute must beach read isn’t on the New York Times Bestsellers list — it’s The Smoking Gun’s “Charlie Sheen Divorce Bombshell.” The public records Web site, which promises “Paper to the People,” totally delivers with 17 pages of possibly the juiciest scandal in the history of ill-advised celebrity unions. (And if you print it at work, it’s free!) In a sworn April declaration filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Denise Richards details all matter of perversions by estranged husband Charlie Sheen. Alleged physical abuse aside, the mind reels at the description of Sheen taking a chainsaw to the couple’s 4-by-6-foot wedding portrait, or his online “dating” profile which Richards says included a photo of the Sheen family jewels. Also featured: prostitutes, drugs, and porn and gambling addictions (all Sheen’s, allegedly). Six expletive-filled phone transcripts showcase Sheen’s improv abilities, recording epithets and paranoid accusations so incomprehensibly bizarre that I for one had to put my head between my knees. The epilogue? Don’t marry Charlie Sheen. Ever. –Helen A.S. Popkin
Cute stuff online It’s easy to find dismal, depressing news online. War, death, and sadness sometimes seem to fill every Web site, MSNBC.com included. But thankfully, there also exist numerous online resources filled with the perfect antidotes for a day of bad news. How about a baby panda sliding down a slide? A bucket full of puppies? A baby bunny nuzzling the mama cat that adopted it?
From Cute Overload to panda cams, if you’re in the mood for fluffy and funny, for adorable animals and bubbly babies, there are plenty of sites out there ready to force you to say “Awwww.” -Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
Gawker’s ‘Blue States Lose’
Why waste sleep, electrolytes and drink tickets hanging with the in crowd when you can make fun of them from the comfort of your day job? Thanks to media gossip blog Gawker (and your employer’s DSL), ridiculing the cool kids has never been easier. Every Friday afternoon, just when the workday is at its dullest, Gawker posts “Blue States Lose,” a hilariously vicious fashion commentary about the photos that appear on New York and Los Angeles party photo Web sites. A pale goth guy, too old for his black mesh mini and red eyeliner, is introduced as The Other Dude from “Beetlejuice.” A scruffy indie rock boy is Jesus Christ Supertard. Unkempt hipster style has become a recurring “BSL” game: “Hipster or homeless?” (It’s often hard to tell.) Just like high school, most of us still ain’t cool enough for the guest list. But laughing at “BSL” party regulars like Princess Coldstare and Blackface Jesus (a guy who attends parties dressed exactly how he sounds) almost convinces us we don’t care. And it’s nice to have photographic proof that even the hottest parties have vomit on the bathroom floor. –Helen A.S. Popkin
Hotel soaps and shampoos
The most exciting thing about staying in a hotel is discovering what soaps and shampoos await. Each hotel brings a new experience. I'm currently fond of the tall, narrow, square bottles Hampton Inn uses to package their Purity Basics products. They're fun to look at, hold and keep, although the contents don’t quite match the appearance. At Terrible's Casino in Las Vegas, the shampoo had a delightful fragrance that a sommelier would have a hard time unraveling. All Disney hotels use the same relatively inferior products, but I smile because the bar has a mold of Mickey Mouse's face. Nearly all of the fun of hotel soaps and shampoos comes not from seeing them in the bathroom and taking them home, but from falling in love with one so much that it necessitates an accidental drive-by swiping from the housekeeper’s cart in the hallway. When I'm sneaking around the hallway of a hotel that’s cost more than $150 a night, grabbing tiny bottles of mediocre shampoo I'll never use, I've found bliss. -Andy Dehnart
MIDI files on the Web
In my listening habits, the MP3 revolution has overshadowed, but not buried, a distant digital-music cousin: the MIDI file. MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) documents, originally designed as the synthesizer equivalent of a piano roll, activate sampled musical instruments hidden in most Web browsers.
Earnest would-be Wendy Carloses and Tomitas use them to replicate their favorite songs — musical "fan-art," if you will. Resemblance to the originals depends on the arrangers' skill. Their efforts are often hampered by the sounds, a standardized collection of 128 "instruments," including pianos, drums, and guitars, many far from the target timbres, varying wildly by software.
Why listen to these mutations when the originals sit a few clicks away? Somehow these kludgy renderings of human artistry entertain me endlessly, falling in a region bounded by player pianos, Muzak, and karaoke accompaniments — an aural landscape where few willingly tread. These weird transmogrifications give my played-out favorites a new, Frankensteinish life, either amusing with their awkwardness or occasionally impressive if the interpreter manages to capture a subtle nuance. Most people would relegate these to ringtones. Me, I just can't get enough. Which, come to think of it, is right here. -Tom X. Chao
If necessity is the mother of invention, the SkyMall catalog is its bastard son. No one, for instance, needs an extra appliance solely to roast garlic. But trapped at 30,000 feet, suddenly even the most savvy consumer may wonder how they ever got along without a way to roast garlic — in only 27 minutes. I assume this is why the SkyMall catalog exists; there can’t really be a natural market for three different types of specialty hot dog cookers, right? On one page there’s a statue of a sumo wrestler for your garden, on the next, a digital wine cooler. The sheer ridiculousness of its products makes it the first thing I turn to when I board a plane. Some people gripe about air travel, but I can do without meal service or sufficient legroom. Just don’t take away the SkyMall. –Hannah Meehan Spector
Novelizations of comic-book movies
It started as a joke: A friend dropped off a copy of “Daredevil” he had “found” on my desk one day. Not the movie or the comic book, mind you, but the novel based on the movie based on the comic book. One rainy spring day, I actually sat down and read the thing in all its contrived glory. Since then, I can’t seem to pass up the opportunity to dive into a novelized “Hulk” or “X-Men 2.” Understand, I am not a comic-book reader. With the exception of graphic novels like “The Watchmen,” I haven’t purchased a comic since the Reagan administration. I do love most comic-book movies, but only those with great plots in addition to great action scenes. (Sorry, “Fantastic Four.”) Though I’m positive my fascination with these meta-novels places me pretty low on the geek hierarchy, I can’t help myself. The writing is horrific, the plotlines more bizarre than the movies, and finishing one is inevitably accompanied by a feeling of absolute shame. Yet like a moth to a flame, or a radioactive spider to a glasses-clad geek, I’m inexplicably drawn in. -Jim Ray