Monday, December 11, 2006

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Hollywood

I finally accomplished writing a column two weeks in row. This should appear in the Globe December 13th.

Driving down the street the other night I saw one of those inflatable snowmen in someone’s yard. These things are all over the country this time of year. However, the image in front of me was one which made it clear I was in southwestern Kansas. The snowman was bent so low to the ground he looked like he was tossing his icicles all over the grass. Inflatable snowmen are not tougher than the December Kansas wind. It’s good to be home.
As a young man I spent one Christmas season living in Santa Monica, California. Even with the name Santa in my mailing address the Christmas spirit was hard to muster. I worked in a mall, the repository of all that is tacky and sentimental for any holiday season, yet I still didn’t feel like the geese were getting fat. (It didn’t help that instead of hearing Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole’s mellifluous tones for some reason a pair of street performers were constantly dancing to Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time” in front of the bookstore which employed me.) Living six blocks from the beach is great in June and July, but after Thanksgiving the only tide I want to be concerned with is one of the Yule variety.
The Midwesterner out of Kansas feeling was brought home with stark realism one afternoon in mid-December. I had driven into Hollywood to do some Christmas shopping. (Tacky touristy items have an allure as stocking stuffers.) I came out of a store and looked to my left and saw Santa Claus ringing a bell standing next to a black pot. That’s not odd. The problem was he was wearing short pants! They were red with white fur trim, but Santa was wearing short pants! That is like Perry Como singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” That’s like Currier and Ives painting a picture of the Arabian Desert complete with camels and Bedouins. That’s like Rudolph having rhinoplasty which rivals Michael Jackson’s. That is like Santa Claus wearing short pants! Oh, sorry that’s what started this whole thing. I lost track. See how completely wrong it is?
Bermuda Santa wasn’t all. Soon after that shock I heard the convivial ringing of sleigh bells. Ahh, this is more like it. I looked onto Hollywood Boulevard and saw a pair of exhausted donkeys with bits of wood tied to their heads as antlers. While pathetic, I could live with it. You’d think in the very heart of make-believe and special effects someone could have come up something better than chair legs haphazardly attached to hooved critters to create fake reindeer. What made me want to hop the next sleigh to Kansas happened next. The donkeys were pulling a wagon with a dozen or so little kids sitting in it, southern California’s version of a hayrack ride, I guess. These little ones were not all bundled up singing Jingle Bells at the top of their lungs. Nope, they were riding along in silence. I noticed one little boy with a glint in his eyes. Maybe this guy had visions of sugar plums dancing in his head. Maybe he was dreaming of the Red Ryder BB gun he hoped Santa would deliver. Maybe a Lionel train set was steaming around the Christmas tree in his imagination. Then again, maybe not. I looked behind me to see what had his attention. He was staring at a window display, not a Macy’s window display from “Miracle on 34th Street.” Nope, it was a window display from “Sleazy on Hollywood and Vine.” It was the Frederick’s of Hollywood holiday panorama of unmentionables. I don’t remember anything else about the wagon. I was distracted for a while.
Growing up in a part of the world where Christmas is cold and even occasionally white allows me to buy into the images used in most all media versions of the holiday. What if I had grown up in southern California? All my memories would be of Santa in short pants and underwear mannequins. That would be sad. A kid I knew out there was eighteen years old and had never seen snow fall from the sky. She had seen it in movies and on television, but she had to take other people’s word for it. Snow falling from the sky is as mythical to a Santa Monica High School student as intellectual lyrics in a rap song is to anyone over forty. A southern California kid dreaming of a white Christmas is as likely as Snoop Dogg alluding to Jean-Paul Sartre’s seminal work “Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology” in his most recent release, “Kickin’ it with Kierkegaard.”

Christopher Pyle wishes everyone a wonderful holiday season, and points out the Grinch is pure existential myth. One Christmas he pushes the huge sack of Whoville Christmas trappings up the mountain only to find the next Christmas he must push it up the mountain again.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sometimes we just need the Snickers to work

“Make the Snickers work” was scrawled on a piece of paper posted next to the candy machine in the lounge at work. The pain and suffering expressed by those four simple words was palpable. Novelists spend years of their lives trying to convey such emotion. They use thousands of words crafted, edited, and re-written with painstaking care in order to give the reader a sense of human longing, desire for the unattainable, striving for perfection. Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, even Danielle Steele, come up short compared to this anonymous author’s reaching out to powers greater than himself to make life worth living. Maybe I am overstating things just a bit. Dante was successful a couple of times.
When the candy machine keeps your sixty cents and does not dispense the chocolate confection there is a sense of loss and frustration, and you see the struggle against the powers that be as something fruitless, or at least candy bar-less. Your will to continue is called into question. You are a poorer individual, at least sixty cents poorer. The reason you forced yourself out of your chair, trudged up two flights of stairs and poked through a fistful of loose change is taken from you. The goal is now unreachable because all you have left is pennies. The coin return of life just springs back into place without the friendly clink of coins dropping into the tray for retrieval.
The metaphor illustrated by this experience is downright stark. The act of rising up from your chair represents the energy exerted to pull yourself up from the simple and mundane and move towards something greater than oneself, something of nougat sweetness. Trudging up the stairs is emblematic of man’s continual climb towards perfection, something akin to the Eight-Fold Path described by the Enlightened One, also known as Buddha. (Have you seen pictures of Buddha? It appears that dude had access to a whole bunch of candy machines.) The loose change symbolizes the cultural and economic tokens of achievement which are tools to an end, but should not be the goal in and of themselves. Picking through the coins is like pulling the greater achievements out from amongst the lesser ones, the quarters from the pennies, so to speak. Then our “Everyman” takes those great achievements (the coins) and uses them in trade (deposits them into the slot and pushes button 22) in order to reach his ultimate goal (the Snickers bar). He stands there waiting for the corkscrew shaped holder of his heart’s desire to rotate and gently drop it a mere six inches. Then all he needs is the energy to push aside the door and grasp what he has been working for his entire life. But no, the mechanism is still, the Snickers bar does not move. The goal is visible through the Plexiglas. It hangs there, mocking him, so close yet unattainable.
Now some people would not do what our friend did. A person of lesser character would grab hold of the machine and shake it in a craven attempt to aggressively take what was being kept from him. Others might pound on the glass protesting loudly the unfair and heartless treatment he was receiving like those earliest humans calling out to the moon as if it was a caring deity. The basest among us might have taken the nearest blunt object and burst through the boundary of glass and greedily grabbed not only the Snickers bar but also the mini chocolate donuts, the spicy barbeque chips…all the treasures in the machine without a single thought towards others. Others who, at this very moment, might be sitting in their office chairs dreaming of the time when their break will come and they can use their coins to purchase a little slice of heaven simply known as Funyuns.
Our hero did not care about his own achievements and dreams. He performed a selfless act. The call to powers greater than himself (the Candy Machine Guy) was not demanding repayment of his own lost coins. Nay, he used his energy to make a plea that the unsympathetic machine of life be repaired so others following in his footsteps would not suffer the ignoble pain of such horrible loss. This person did not place himself above others. He did not let his loss scar him and cause him to behave is a way which was beneath him. He simply and artfully wrote the words “Make the Snickers work” and left them for others to see. A sign of the danger one must face whenever one places too much worth upon a single goal.
Then again maybe he just hit button number eleven, got a bag of Skittles, and went back to work.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The quickest route from joke to joke is a straight line

A man is walking down a crowded hallway in a public building. He is talking loudly and enthusiastically. He is moving both of his hands in gestures which give added emotion and emphasis to what he is saying. There is no one near enough to be an obvious receiver of his very important monologue. All of this used to mean the guy was not the most emotionally balanced individual in the vicinity. It was also quite likely he would be wearing an elaborate hat made with voluminous amounts of tin foil and a rusty spaghetti strainer in order to block the brain infiltration rays being beamed from the alien mother ship in geosynchronous orbit over these particular longitudinal coordinates. In today’s airports this behavior is seen every few minutes. However, the man doing it is not wearing any Reynolds’s Wrap. He is wearing a Brooks Brothers suit and a Rolex watch. He drives a luxury vehicle and works for a Fortune 500 company. The conversation he is so generously sharing with the general public is being transmitted hundreds of miles through the stratosphere using technology Gene Roddenberry never thought of. The man has a small blinking electronic contraption clipped over his right ear allowing him to have this discussion using something called Bluetooth technology through his cellular phone. This device not only lets him talk to his executive assistant back in San Francisco about the intricate merger financing which needs to be completed by close of business today but it also makes the beaming of brain infiltration rays from the alien mother ship in geosynchronous orbit over the particular longitudinal coordinates of Dulles International Airport much more effective.
Recently I took a trip to the Washington D.C. area because of my real job. (Believe it or not I am not able to support my family writing a semi-weekly column for the local newspaper.) It had been a while since I had traveled any way other than in a car with my kids in the back and my wife riding shotgun. (She actually has a shotgun encouraging the children to refrain from bickering as we roll through the Kansas terrain.) The businessmen carrying on wireless conversations oblivious to the dozens of people around them was just one of the things I found odd upon my return to travel.
Since I taught literature to middle school age students I always thought I had lived the role of the “Least-paid-attention-to-speaker” in the world. Have you ever tried to point out the humor of the verbal repartee between Benedick and Beatrice in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to seventh graders? Every pair of eyes in the room goes into screen saver mode. Well, I found someone who is ignored even more: the flight attendant as s/he explains the safety information before take-off. As valuable as I think Shakespeare is the information given by the flight attendant may be more important. Granted it is only important if things go horribly wrong, but it is stuff you will want to know under particular circumstances.
If there was an emergency landing on water and the bozo in seat 22B, fumbling for the safety instructions card in the seat back pocket, called out to ask: “What am I supposed to use for a floatation device again?” I wouldn’t blame the flight attendant if s/he replied: “You, sir, will just have to use the carry on bag which you did not properly stow in the overhead compartment. By the way that plastic bag and yellow cup which just dropped from the ceiling is just to keep the little bag of peanuts you stole from the guy sleeping in seat 22A nice and fresh.”
One of the biggest things I noticed on this trip had to do with the difference between fancy hotels and cheap, but not sleazy, hotels. Most of my previous travels involved staying at hotels with a number as a part of their name. This time I was put up at a spot with a much higher standard of living. It is better to stay at the cheaper ones.
Each little service had some sort of fee. I was surprised the shampoo wasn’t included in the minibar fridge amongst the five dollar cans of pop. I had the distinct idea that if I asked the desk clerk where the free continental breakfast was served she would have had an attack of vertigo looking down her nose at me. The Aryan beauty at the desk spoke with some sort of impossible to identify European accent. This helped her maintain superiority over the hick wearing his University of Kansas hoodie asking directions to the nearest McDonald’s. I bet if you ran into her away from work she’d sound like Ellie Mae Clampett.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Greatest Hit

This was on my blog in January of 2005. I just seemed to be fitting to re-post it with the elections happening where this stuff just keeps popping up.

It is a letter to the editor:

Dear Sir,
I want to express my displeasure about an issue in the Kansas State Legislature. I can't believe these people are spending so much time talking about s-e-x. They should be ashamed of the themselves. I don't think s-e-x should be talked about in public places. However, I am going to have to make an exemption.The people in Topeka want to outlaw same sex marriage. This is awful! I only know one way to have sex. I have the same sex all the time. If they make this illegal I don't think I can handle it. I can't come up with a new way to do it each time my wife and I want to have relations. Granted it only happens whenever we change the clocks (and the batteries in the smoke detectors) but after we spring forward I will not be able to figure out a new way to fall back. Those yahoos in Topeka had better come up with some kind of manual if they expect everyone in the state to stop having the same sex. I for one would allow my tax dollars to make some sort of Kansas Sutra to help the less imaginative of us.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Parenthood and boot camp not as different as you’d think

At 1500 hours rendezvous with Offspring Bravo at the coordinates of 1st and Comanche. Transport “package” to home base in order to coordinate combination of forces with Offspring Charlie. If watches are properly synchronized Offspring Alpha will require support at precisely 1700 hours for basketball drills. At 1830 all units will report to the mess hall for nourishment of the battalion. Offspring Charlie will have “domestic assignments” completed and will properly apply an approved dentifrice in preparations for lights out at 2100 hours. Offspring Alpha and Bravo will follow the same regimen for lights out at 2130.
The preceding paragraph does not describe a little known offensive during World War II. Parents will recognize the actions as a regular day in the life of any family with children. The sheer volume of things enumerated on the average family of five’s “To Do List” would make the social secretary for Laura Bush consider applying for a transfer to Undersecretary of Defense in Charge of Making Rumsfeld Appear Less Like a Dyspeptic Cactus.
I do not remember life being so packed with activity when I was a kid. During my grade school years I walked home after school and had a snack while I watched a guy standing on a cheap spaceship set wearing a goldfish bowl on his head in an attempt to look like John Glenn introduce cartoons starring Yakky Doodle Duck or Snagglepuss. I did not have ceramics class followed by Cub Scouts followed by thirty minutes of homework followed by twenty minutes of answering e-mail. Of course e-mail in the middle seventies was as likely as the video watches Dick Tracy and the culturally insensitive Joe Jitsu wore on some of those Major Astro cartoons. (Anybody else remember “Hold everything please.”?) Actually, if you remove the ads I get for shrinking the size of my debt and increasing the size of something else I do not, as an adult, get the volume of e-mail the majority of kids get.
My kids have more going on in their lives than I do. I go to work. Towards the end of the day I call my wife to find out what is required of me in order to make sure each child is properly transported and no one is left unsupervised for an extended period of time. I take care of my assignments with the children and then I go to sleep. That is what my days have become. We have referred to it as “Tag Team Parenting” ever since we first had children. It used to be one parent would hand off to the other parent as we pursued our own jobs, hobbies, and activities. Now our jobs, hobbies and activities are pretty much eaten up with chasing children. To be fair my wife does the vast majority of the transportation and the entire calendar keeping work. I prefer to come home after work, have a snack and watch cartoons.
Earlier I likened family activities to military endeavors. When one enlists in the armed forces one never really knows what it will be like. Oh, they have an idea. They have seen it in the movies. They have talked to other people who have experienced it. They may have even spent some time in quasi-military organizations like R.O.T.C. However, they do not KNOW what it will be until they get there.
It is the same for starting a family. I had seen it in the movies. I had talked to many people who had kids. Heck, I was a kid in a family with three other kids. I even babysat for the neighbors with frequency as a youth. In every one of those instances I was only briefly in charge of a child or I was able to hand it off when things got truly unpleasant.
Talking to other young adults with children about children is not going to give any kind of accurate picture. These people talk about how the unconditional love which emanates from the baby and child gives such a sense of fulfillment they truly do not know how they ever felt like fully rounded people before they had their children. What they fail to tell you is lack of sleep and inhaling the fumes of Desitin ointment causes this Pollyanna outlook on parenthood. Once the person gets a full night’s sleep and a breath of clean air this impression leaves. Unfortunately, that doesn’t occur until the children are about to leave for college and it is way too late.
Running a family of five is quite like a large military exercise. It costs an exorbitant amount of money and there is no viable exit strategy.

Christopher Pyle may not have been as busy as his kids, but at least his after school cartoons featured mice and cats hitting each other with frying pans and not an oceanic invertebrate wearing short pants.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Signs of Intelligent Life

The other day I was driving into the city of Great Bend. There was a sign at the side of the road which read: “Jack Kilby Nobel Prize Winner 2000 Physics”. Now, I assume the sign was there because Great Bend was claiming one of its own. The brainy Mr. Kilby must have been born in town or at least spent some of his formative years there. There was no explanation whatsoever, so this is all conjecture on my part. As it stands it could simply be a wonderful little tidbit of information kindly placed on a sign as a public service to individuals who are traveling the highways and byways of the great state of Kansas.
This may be something the Commissioner of Education should discuss with the Highway Commissioner. (They both work in Topeka. It shouldn’t be that hard to find each other. I’m sure the education guy has the alphabetizing skills to look up the highway guy in the directory and the highway guy ought to have the map skills necessary to navigate to the education guy’s office.) The government could place signs all over the state which would offer a vehicular curriculum.
Many people think driving through Kansas ranks on the exciting meter somewhere between watching paint dry and watching paint dry on the Regis and That-Girl-Who-Isn’t-Kathie-Lee television show. Placing thought provoking and intellectually stimulating material every few yards would fight that stereotype, as well as some other preconceived notions about the intelligence level of your run of the mill Kansan. Face it; Kansas hasn’t exactly gotten the best press over the past few…decades. I was watching a television show the other day and one character made reference to something which he considered obscure news. The response by the hip young executive woman was, “People in Kansas know about it.” This is verbal shorthand for even people who are horribly backward and out of touch know about it. Ouch! I do not subscribe to this school of thought. If I did I would have to contemplate going into the nearest biker bar and calling the largest and hairiest person available a showtune loving nancy boy. (At least it is a creative suicide.)
Pardon the digression please; I will get back to the idea of a “Road to Enlightenment.” Every other state in the country will continue to use the same old numbering system for their highways. You know, “Take 40 for about fifty miles then jump on 25 going south.” Boring! Kansas will have all these great educational signs on our roads and we can name them after the subjects they teach. So if a person wants to go to Salina from Dodge City the directions would sound more like this: “Head east on highway Introduction to Psychology, then you can turn left onto state highway English Literature…” Doesn’t that sound interesting as well as educational?
The highways that go the length of the state could have an entire course of study. The American History highway starting at the Colorado border would begin with the Asian migration to Northern America via the Bering Straits land bridge. At about Colby Leif Erickson and his Viking buddies are discussed on those green and white reflective textbooks. At Hays we start colonization and by the time we get to Missouri we have completed the Civil War. If people want to get up to present day they need to make a u-turn and go back to Colorado. This helps with economic development as well. People who need that sense of completion, or the college credit, have to keep eating at our restaurants and staying in our hotels.
Experts often say the best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in it by going to another country. The idea is there is greater motivation to speak the unfamiliar tongue. If Kansas makes the highway system surrounding Wichita all in French learning it would become a priority. If the only way to get out of the construction zones on Kellog was to translate the following phrase: “L'allée gauche est le seul moyen pour échapper ce purgatoire de baril orange” people would parler le français.
Some subjects could be tailored to fit in specific locations in the state. Existential archetypes found in the collected works of the Harlequin Romance series would just about fit between Hutchinson and South Hutchinson. Hugoton to Elkhart is a stretch of road people might actually be willing to do algebra as they traveled it. This idea just might work.

P.S. I love the fact the internet can be used to quickly find the French words for: The left lane is the only way to escape this orange barrel purgatory. Cool huh?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The loss of one Buck has made us poor

I know this is supposed to be a humor column, but I am going to ask everyone to bear with me for a while.

Buck O’Neil died Friday October 6, 2006. He was a ninety-four year old man so the fact he passed away cannot be a big shock. Ninety-four year old men die on a daily basis. It is what Buck O’Neil did on a daily basis during his life that makes it necessary to mark his passing. Everyday of his life he spread joy, knowledge and compassion. Everyday of his life he embraced not only his own life, but every life he came in contact with, and he made it a point to come in contact with as many lives as he could. Buck O’Neil was something which is not talked about nearly enough in today’s news media and even our culture. He was a good man.

If you do not know who Buck was I suggest you spend some time finding out. Let me give a brief historical look.

John “Buck” O’Neil was born in 1911 in Florida. This of course meant his life was restricted. He was a black man long before Martin Luther King Jr. and people of his sort caused great change in our country. Martin Luther King Jr. actually followed the trail blazed by Buck and others of his courage.

Buck loved baseball. He hung out around the spring training parks in Florida and saw the greats of that generation. He played baseball in the Negro Leagues. He managed baseball in the Negro Leagues. He saw all the greats of that generation, black and white. He was the first black man hired by a major league team as a coach. He scouted for teams for decades. He saw all the greats of a few more generations. He loved what he did.

In 1994, Ken Burns made a long form documentary about the history of baseball. Buck O’Neil became a star. His easy-going story-telling made him a joy to watch. Even when he told of the horrible treatment of black players in his athletic heyday he did so without malice and with an air of humanity which showed his strength of character.

Now for a funny story:

Buck was friends with Satchel Paige. Paige is considered by many people to be the greatest pitcher ever. Satchel was a character and lived a full life. Satchel called Buck by the name of Nancy. Here is my attempt to tell the story of how Buck O’Neil was christened Nancy.

Satchel Paige was a bit of a ladies man, actually more than a bit. On one road trip Satchel struck up an acquaintance with a lovely young lady named Nancy. Unfortunately Satchel’s fiancée showed up in town. So Satchel has his fiancée in his hotel room and his new friend is in another hotel room quite nearby. Buck is also staying on the same floor. Once Satchel believes his fiancée is asleep he sneaks out of his room to find Nancy. Since he is being sneaky he is quietly knocking on her door and whispering “Nancy, Nancy.” That is when Buck hears Satchel’s fiancée get up and come to her door. Being the quick-thinking good friend that he is Buck rushed out his door and says to Satchel, “Here I am, Satchel.” Satchel, being no dummy himself simply responds, “Oh, Nancy, there you are. I’ve been looking for you.” Satchel and Buck stuck to their story for years. Satchel Paige called Buck “Nancy” for the rest of his life.

I did have the pleasure of being in the same room with him once years ago. They were having a big fundraiser party for his pet project the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City. For some completely unknown reason I got an invitation. I couldn’t afford to go, but I did it anyway. There were hundreds of people there, many of them very famous individuals. I was able to step up to the man at his table and hand him a baseball. He signed the ball and handed it back to me. I said to him something he had heard thousands of times before, “It is an honor to meet you, sir.” He simply gave me a big grin and said, “Thank you.” There were a couple dozen people standing behind me to get his autograph so I moved on. The smile was genuine. The thank you was genuine. The man was genuine.

Buck O’Neil lived life with a smile. He didn't complained, and heaven knows he had valid reasons to. He sang whenever he had the chance. He had a policy of never walking by a woman who was wearing a red dress without stopping to talk to her. Just think about the improvement to our lives if what this “Buck” exemplified was the actually currency of the land.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Being taller and older doesn't mean you are grown-up

I turned 44 years old last week. If there is a more unremarkable age to turn I can’t think of it.
At 16 a person can drive a car. Well, a person can legally operate a vehicle if he or she passed the proper tests and received a license. There are people you run across on a regular basis who seem not to have actually mastered such things as turn signals.
When you turn 18 a person is allowed to vote. This means P. Diddy, or whatever name he is going by now, advocates you pay attention to politics and vote your mind. Some generation’s voices of political conscience are people like John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. This generation has a hip hop music mogul. We may be in deep trouble.
When a person turns 21 he is allowed to buy alcoholic beverages. In a way this makes sense. It is three years after the person has been allowed to vote and he has lived with the choices he made for three years and could use a stiff drink.
At thirty years old a person has made the final crossover to being an adult. Remember a person over thirty is not to be trusted. That is what the folks at Woodstock believed. Now all those people are well over thirty and have probably even voted Republican.
However, when you turn 44 there is no rite of passage. It isn’t even an age which people would understand if you were depressed. Guy #1: “What’s the matter, Tom? You look a little down in the dumps.” Guy #2: “Well, Jim I’ll tell you. I turned 44 yesterday and I’m feeling a little bummed out.” Guy #1: “Gee, Tom I didn’t realize. Boy, 44, that’s pretty tough.” Guy #2: “I didn’t think it would hit me so hard.” Guy #1: “I see where you’re coming from. I mean, wow, 44. This means you’re…you’re…oh, get over yourself! 44 is nothing. Ooooo, it’s 23 years until I retire. I still have my health. My kids are old enough to take care of themselves. Some of my hair is gray. Waaahhhh.” Guy #1 walks away in disgust after lambasting Guy #2 with sarcasm and disdain.
Guy #1 is right. There really isn’t anything to be concerned about; except for the possibility that you may have gotten so unremarkable you may cease to be interesting. There is an old Monty Python sketch in which a man is asked a question and he responds, “I am an accountant and consequently too boring to be of interest.” That is probably my fear. (I do not fear becoming an accountant. I have friends who are accountants and they are not completely uninteresting.) I fear becoming boring.
This fear is not unfounded. Recently I have found myself discussing, at some length, our household budget. If we pay off this bill and then roll that monthly payment into that bill we can…arrgghhh. It is important and it can make a huge difference in my children’s lives if I am able to get out of debt and pay for their college educations, but that doesn’t mean it is fun.
I have said for years, “I hate doing grown-up junk.” This usually meant bills, car maintenance, insurance policies and anything involving the word prostate. The issue here is obviously proof I haven’t grown up. A true grown-up doesn’t whine about doing the day-to-day business of taking care of himself and his family. A true grown-up identifies the important things in life and deals with them in a mature manner. A true grown-up doesn’t shirk the unpleasant tasks. A true grown-up wakes up each morning and dutifully goes to work, pays the bills, cleans the house, does the dishes, and then sneaks into his bedroom, fires up the PlayStation and plays four and half solid hours of Madden NFL ’07.
Being a grown-up means I stand in the stiff Kansas wind on a Saturday morning and watch my son play soccer, or more accurately, run wildly from one end of the field to the other with several other eight-year-olds doing the same partially organized endeavor. Being a grown-up means being amazed when my eleven-year-old daughter comes up with the perfect witty retort which makes the entire room break-up laughing. Being a grown-up means watching my oldest daughter make caring and positive decisions which show she is much brighter than her old man. Being a grown-up means sitting down exhausted after a crummy day at work and having my wife give me a look and smile which lets me know I’m not doing it for nothing. Being a grown-up can mean you have a darned fine life…I still refuse to do anything involving the word prostate.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Is something wrong?

I went to check my blog today and things seemed awry. I am publishing this little note in an attempt to get things right again.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Things aren't always what you expectorate

I always thought imagination was one of the best parts of being a human being. I suppose it is possible cats daydream about having opposable thumbs and taking their rightful place at the top of the food chain. Maybe penguins have fantasies about Bermuda or gerbils imagine themselves in some sort of rodent NASCAR event as they run in those pointless wheel thingies. However, until I am shown some sort of compelling evidence to the contrary I will believe people are the only critters on the planet with the ability to make stuff up.
Evidence that mankind is the only species with brains designed for such an activity can be the sublime (Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel), the ridiculous (every script for Charlie’s Angels), and even the frightening (the Houston Astros uniforms of 1975). Most things created by imagination are intended to inform, entertain, and even enlighten. Those are the positive aspects of imagination. Imagination is not always positive though (see the reference to the Astros above).
The ability of people to imagine is often used to predict. “How will things be in the future?” is the most common use of imagination. Some people’s imaginations work differently than others. If I go to the top of this very steep mountain, which is covered with hard packed snow, making it somewhat akin to a sheet of glass covered with Wesson oil, and place my feet into two very long, very slick planks of wood and then, intentionally, throw all my weight downwards towards dozens and dozens of boulders and trees with a molecular density much greater than my own this will be: A. Fun B. Invigorating C. Slightly Risky or D. Suicide. My imagination tends towards the “D” answer. Luckily for the entire skiing industry not everyone shares my particular style of predicting.
Recently I was reading a book which discussed how this can lead to unhappiness or even depression. The author posits that people are very adept at making up what they believe the world will be in the future. They are equally adept at being disappointed when it doesn’t turn out that way. The more serious disappointment comes when things do happen as predicted, but their lives still stink.
Many of us have pinned all our hopes on a particular happening. “If I get this new job I am after everything will be great.” Then the person gets the job and learns carrying the lights for the top Playboy photographer is back-breaking work and the models are not only not very pretty in person, they shoot you down when you hit on them just like every other girl you ever approached since junior high. Another problem which revolves around predicting the future is people often think they have more control over what will happen than they really do. Sports are the best examples of this misapprehension. Has anyone you know (yourself included) ever recorded a sporting event? He will then spend the time between the game actually being played and the time he can watch it doing everything humanly possible to avoid learning anything about the outcome. This will include putting a finger in each ear and singing “It’s a Small World” at the top of his lungs to drown out family and friends. Is this because he will not be able to enjoy the athletic abilities of the players? Nope. Is it because the sense of suspense is what makes the event enjoyable? Nope. Is it because this poor misguided soul actually believes wearing his lucky hat, eating his special cheese dip, and turning around three times and spitting over his left shoulder whenever his quarterback is sacked will cause his team to win? You betcha!
I admit to suffering from this malady. I refuse to wear anything with the mascot of my favorite team on game days. I adopted this belief (it is not a superstition if scientifically proven) several years ago. It was proven to be the absolute truth one seemingly normal day. I got dressed in a hurry and without thinking I put on my Kansas Jayhawk tie. I realized some time in the afternoon the Jayhawks were scheduled to play the Colorado team in basketball that very evening. I thought about taking the tie off then and there. I decided not to. After all the Jayhawks had beaten the Buffaloes like ten or twelve times in a row so it probably wasn’t a big deal. That night the Jayhawks lost. I felt awful. Those poor guys had worked so hard and I had made it impossible for them to win with one thoughtless act of wardrobe.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Pluto we hardly knew ya

Okay, what else are they going to change their minds about? It appears the International Astronomical Union (I bet the hotel doesn’t have to hire extra security when this convention comes to town) has decided to strip Pluto of its status as a planet. I wouldn’t worry about the little fella getting his feelings hurt. It is 2.66 billion miles from the Earth to Pluto. The scientists aren’t willing to pay the extra postage for next day delivery, so by the time he finds out we will all have been reincarnated so many times it won’t matter.
It seems this group of telescope nerds has decided Pluto does not fit into the new definition of what a planet is. The definition, as quoted by CNN on their website, goes like this: “a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit." This can either be a planet or that overweight bully you had to contend with in sixth grade.
I bet these scientists had no idea how far reaching the ramifications of this decision would be. First of all people of all ages will have to expunge from their minds that handy little mnemonic device: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizza pies. This taught us the order of the planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto). Now all of us who learned this so many years ago will be left hanging. My very educated mother just served us nine…nine…nine what?!? The sentence doesn’t end! My wife suggested a new sentence: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles. I guess this will work. It puts the planets in the right order and it is also much easier to fit into the household budget. Nine pizzas would cost around fifty dollars, even with a coupon. But you can feed the entire population of Roswell, New Mexico (little green men included) Ramen noodles for about six dollars and fifty-seven cents.
Someone else who will have extra work is the highway department of Kansas. There are signs placed outside Burdett touting itself as the boyhood home of Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of the planet Pluto. The state is now going to have to remove those signs. They could update them but having a sign which says “Burdett, Kansas – The boyhood home of Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of a great big rock which used to be called a planet but isn’t any more” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Plus it would cost too much to make a sign big enough to say all that. The conspiracy theorists in Kansas will probably say if the guy who discovered the planet came from California or New York they would have left it a planet. But, since it was puny Kansas they just don’t care. I guess we don’t have a strong enough Famous Kansan Lobby in the ol’ International Astronomical Union.
Come to think it of these space guys keep changing their minds on things. A few years back we had to change how we pronounced the names of things. Halley’s Comet went from a “long a” sound to “short a” sound. The seventh planet from the Sun was pronounced “your anus” and now we are supposed to say “urine us.” Both pronunciations invoke large amounts of tittering in fifth grade classrooms, but then again so does the word “tittering.”
I’m not sure this is a precedent we should be happy about. The names of the planets were things we learned early in our educational lives. There was even a “School House Rock” song. Kids will now question so many other things. Maybe conjunctions don’t function to link words and phrases. Maybe laws are not made from cute little scrolls of paper laboriously climbing the steps of Congress.
What we all need to learn from Pluto’s demotion is nothing is beyond question. Will the medical profession figure out sitting in a tiny room for an hour wearing only a paper robe is not a good idea? Will politicians realize they are in office to make life better for others, not just themselves? Will the people of France finally realize Jerry Lewis isn’t funny? I don’t think we will suddenly find out the world is flat or Pamela Anderson is a better novelist than William Faulkner (it would be more of a shock to find out Pamela Anderson is flat), but we may be surprised one day to learn when a tree falls in the woods and there is no one around to listen it makes the sound of one hand clapping.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Portent of Doom or Tasty Treat

The other day I came across something which I thought was a completely unnecessary product. It was a box of miniature Tootsie Rolls. I like Tootsie Rolls so I didn’t see the reason for them to be made in a very small form. Maybe it was to make people feel less guilty for eating seventy-five of them at one sitting. Actually, the size was not what made me see them as odd. These miniature Tootsie Rolls were chocolate covered! (Covering Tootsie Rolls in chocolate is like getting a big pot of cheese fondue and dipping hunks of Velveeta into it.) Needless to say I bought a box. Just because it seems pointless doesn’t mean it won’t be good.
America is known for its conspicuous consumption. Back in the old days of the Cold War the “Communists” referred to us as decadent. Decadent means excessive self-indulgence, which chocolate covered Tootsie Rolls are good examples of, to the point of moral decay. Now, I do not want to be an alarmist but we are spending so much time pointing to the unrest in the Middle East and the mess in Mesopotamia as signs of the apocalypse it may just be less belligerent than that.
It could be Nostradamus and other prognosticators only pointed out the signs of doom they felt everyone could easily see. You have to admit if you live in the 16th century and want to make a name for yourself as a seer of the distant future predicting violence in a portion of the world where there has been violence as long as there have been people capable of throwing sticks at each other makes for better copy than predicting a sign of moral decay consisting of small hunks of chewy chocolate covered by a thin layer of milk chocolate. Also, I do not believe Nostradamus’s predictions ever revolved around anything that can in any way be construed as pleasant. His best work revolved around famines, floods, droughts, invasions, and the occasional individual murder.
Here is an example of a Nostradamus quatrain:

The two armies will be unable to unite at the walls,In that instant Milan and Pavia to tremble:Hunger, thirst, doubt will come to plague them very stronglyThey will not have a single morsel of meat, bread or victuals.

This guy had to be a kick at parties. You have to wonder if he ever wanted to go off his usual material and try a little more light-hearted stuff. Maybe deep down he wasn’t all doom and gloom. He probably had a fun side. Let’s try a quatrain of a more upbeat nature:

The two poultry will be unable to meet at the street,
In that instant Colonel Sanders and Popeye’s to tremble:
Uncertainty, confusion, bewilderment will come to plague them
They will not have a clue why the chicken crossed the road.

Okay, so overly chocolatized candy is probably not a sign the culture is dropping into an irretrievable abyss of moral decay. It is a sign that shows people have a tendency to see the world as a pretty bitter place. When there is so much in the world that is pretty awful, people need everything candy coated, even candy.
This disguising of the crummy-ness of the world explains something which is soon to happen. Katie Couric is going to anchor the six o’clock news on CBS. If Edward R. Murrow hadn’t smoked and drank himself to death already he would be starting his car in a closed garage at the thought of the Queen of Perky being chosen to illuminate the world on the important occurrences of the time. Really, imagine it.
Murrow was the voice, the man who brought the palpable fear of the London blitz into homes throughout the world over the radio. Radio had no imagery other than words. Yet he did it. He said things like: “We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.” Now flash forward to present day. Katie is more famous for saying things like: “So how can a girl tell if he’s just not that into you?” or “What’s the weather going to be like at the Annual Rutabaga Festival in Cumberland, Wisconsin, Al.” Not the same is it?
I say even if the world has things in it which cause distress we do not have to candy coat everything. The “Mary Poppins” attitude advocating a spoonful of sugar for every dose of medicine is not always correct for fully grown men and women who need to see the world for what it is. We need to save it for the big things. Things like Paris Hilton’s new album.

Christopher Pyle makes no claim of clairvoyance, but he did have a very strong feeling Kansas would go Republican in the last presidential election. Spooky, huh?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Returning to School

It is just a week away. A date that every kid and parent knows is coming. The kids and parents have very different reasons to anticipate this date. We all remember similar times in our childhoods. Of course I am talking about Fess Parker’s birthday. It is hard to believe that ‘Daniel Boone’ is 82 years old. (Remember how the only person on that show who spoke proper English grammar was a guy named Mingo.)
Okay, so Fess Parker’s birthday is not what every one is thinking about. It’s really Kathie Lee Gifford’s birthday. Sorry, I’ll get back on task. It is the beginning of a new school year.
The sense of anticipation has been mounting. Kids looking at the slow, inexorable lessening of summer days like a honey covered man watching the march of fire ants towards his feet. While, on the other hand, the parents countdown the days like a solitary confinement prisoner counting the days until his new issue of Redbook arrives in the mail. Maybe that’s a bad example, but you get the idea.
Thinking back to my own experiences as a kid it seemed there was less lead-in time. Nowadays, as soon as the Fourth of July has passed the stores start putting up their back-to-school advertisements. Since everything is now bottom line driven I guess it makes sense. The retail world limps from one minor annual event to the next hoping to make it to Christmas, the ultimate everyone-max-out-your-credit-card-making-Sam-Walton’s-family-just-that-much-richer occurrence. As a parent of three school age children I am pretty sure this is the second most check book exhaustive time of year.
School supplies have gotten much more complicated over the years. From the days of a Big Chief notebook (which consisted of seventy-five cents worth of newsprint bound together and topped off with cover art depicting a racially insensitive portrait of a Native American wearing a many feathered headdress) to a notebook personal computer (which consists of a thousand dollars of technology making it possible to surf the internet and find racially insensitive material that would make Archie Bunker cringe).
At the risk of sounding older than I wish to, when I was a kid I carried my books home, loose. I just made a stack with the three ring binder at the bottom, tucked them under my arm and carried them. Now kids need an ergonomically designed backpack made from a space age polymer equipped with special compartments for a cell phone, an I-pod, and with a built-in GPS device making it possible for parents to track them as they go to the mall instead of the library which is where they told their mother they were going in order to finish their report entitled “How Bovine Flatulence Effects Global Warming.” But, I was the guy who through the majority of his high school career carried his lunch to school in a black Ralph Kramden-like metal lunchbox, complete with a thermos in the lid, which my wife gleefully points out marked me as a nerd extraordinaire. So, I guess I am not the person to go to when it comes to figuring out the “right way” to outfit a student.
There are pleasant memories attached to the return to school. There is nothing quite so aesthetically pleasing as a brand new box of crayons. The pointy, but not sharp, pigment sticks standing in their perfect rows in the box with that distinctive smell. The smell which takes most everyone back to the time in their lives when art was best appreciated hung with magnets on a refrigerator and the birds and horses looked remarkably similar. I’m not talking about the boxes numbering into the hundreds, but just the ones whose color names are understood by anyone. Colors like: red and green and blue. Not colors with names too arcane for a five year old. How many kindergarteners remark they really wish their box had a periwinkle in order to capture the proper shade of their cat’s eyes? (There is “raw sienna” and “burnt sienna”. Is there “properly cooked so it reaches its optimum level of doneness” sienna?) As wonderful as a new crayon is the truly remarkable thing about crayons is you can break them cleanly in two and they still do their intended use as well as when they were pristine, just out of the box. What else can make such a claim? Try it with that multi-function calculator capable of figuring the square root of pi as well as the statistical likelihood Suri Cruise actually exists, or at least what chance she has to grow up without needing years of intensive psychotherapy. It won’t work.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

I'm Mad

I yelled at people this past week. Yelling is not my usual style. My kids might disagree, but I do not really yell at them. It is just there are times I need to be loudly emphatic to get my point driven into their less than receptive heads. I mean, no one would blame me for getting a little loud when for the nine millionth time I have to ask the kids to turn off at least a couple of lights in the basement. Great Cesar’s Ghost, does it really cause too much strain in one’s life to get his or her lazy behind off the couch just long enough to flip a switch? Is it truly that difficult to think about the little things that make Dad happy and do them once in a while?!? (Huff, puff, pant, pant….sorry)
Most people would probably characterize me as a calm person and I have always prided myself on possessing a good amount of self-control. Self-control is what differentiates the outward manifestations of people who are angry. Everyone has their point of no return, their straw that broke the camel’s back, their line in the sand, their threshold when they become so annoyed that they finally blow their top, lose their cool, blow a gasket, or flip their lid. It may be caused by something as minor as a person using too many clichés to make a point. Others have to be pushed quite hard to elicit a display of out of control anger.
It is all a matter of priorities. Some value the image they project as one of calm control. They maintain this level of decorum even in the face of frustration and if they do lose control they feel bad about it afterwards. There are others who do not. The examples I think of come from my experience with the United States Basketball League. The head coach for the Dodge City Legend is Dale Osbourne. He is very calm and doesn’t even curse very often. When he gets mad he stomps a foot or claps his hands together. There was the time he slapped the water cooler at the Salina Bicentennial Center like it was a West Nile carrying mosquito, but he apologized for that over and over again. The other side of the coin is Bryan Gates, the head coach of the Oklahoma Storm. He has two assistant coaches. Does he have two assistant coaches to work more complicated offenses and more stifling defenses? Nope. Does he have two assistant coaches to work with the big guys and the smaller guys? Nope. He has two assistant coaches because then he has an assistant coach for each arm, so then can grab him and stop him from getting not only ejected from the game but also to avoid the assault charges as he “takes exception” to a call made by a referee.
Some people are quite entertaining when they get mad. When Bobby Knight has an anger fit it is shown on every sports network nearly as often as the Zapruder film was screened by Oliver Stone. Every one of us had a teacher in school we liked to torture to the point of entertaining anger displays. I’m not talking about the ones who got all quiet like they were about to cry. That wasn’t any fun. I’m talking about the guy who got the veins in his forehead throbbing so fast he was actually spelling out curse words in Morse code. Or the lady who would threaten with outlandish impractical punishments, like: “If you students do not settle down right this instant you will stay in your seats until the Moon spins off of its axis and plummets to Earth destroying all human life, allowing the cockroach to become the highest life form on the planet.”
Actually, there are times I wish I could really cut loose and get out of control angry. It has to feel good on some primordial level. Look at a two year old. When he gets mad about something he can really let loose. He yells. He stomps his feet. He drops to the floor and pounds his fists on the ground. All of this is because the pudding is butterscotch and not chocolate. Then three minutes later his is totally gleeful as he finger paints with the butterscotch pudding on the dog. Transfer that behavior to the adult world. Admit it; you would love to yell, stomp your feet, drop to the floor and pound the ground with your fists when the boss comes in and tells you the report you thought was due next Thursday was actually due last Thursday. It won’t make the report any less overdue, but you might get some pudding.

Christopher Pyle has promised himself that the next time he feels like yelling at someone he will stop, count to ten, and then poke them in the eyes like Shemp and Curly.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

To TV or not to TV, That is the Question

My television is dying. There was a time in my life going without a television would have been akin to going without food. Okay, that may be overstating things just a bit, but I craved TV just like people crave sweets. As a young unmarried adult I watched a lot of television. I was even one of those individuals who set his VCR to tape shows I would miss if I had to work or was out on a date. (The work thing happened a whole lot more than the date thing.) As much as it pains me to admit it I even watched thirtysomething every week. I have changed a lot over the years. The desire to save the expense of replacing the television may actually out weigh the desire to have a television. (If my children read this there will be a groan of displeasure similar to the one uttered by the John Wayne fan when he figured out what kind of western Brokeback Mountain actually was.)
Shopping for a television sounds like a rather daunting task nowadays. I have had my TV for quite a while. When I bought it the choices were color or black and white, cable ready or not, what kind of remote (a remote is as necessary as food, especially for the male of the species) and how big the screen was to be. Now there are more choices than the early bird buffet at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. There are flat screen TVs which you can hang on the wall like a painting. The problem is for the price you might as well buy a Van Gogh. Granted there is less variety of images but the re-sale value is much greater. There are high definition televisions. These high tech marvels make it possible for the viewer to see the individual trails of sweat as they travel down Shaquille O’Neal’s forehead as he clanks yet another free throw. That is actually kind of gross. Then there are plasma screen televisions. What the heck is a plasma screen? Plasma is something you donate to the Red Cross not something used to watch reruns of The Love Boat.
Since I am officially a cheapskate and also somewhat overwhelmed by the choices involved in shopping for a TV, buying a replacement may not happen. I inadvertently have already gone through a sort of twelve step program to overcome my unhealthy addiction to television. It started with the birth of my children. They became more and more in charge of the channels the TV would be tuned to. Before kids, if I had the choice of watching Jeopardy or reading a book I would watch Jeopardy. I could at least rationalize to myself I was doing something of an intellectual nature as I tried to beat the contestants to the proper response. Where else can my fabulous knowledge of comic books of the late seventies come into play? Then we had children. Now the choice became do I want to watch Teletubbies or have a ten penny nail forced through my ear lobe. I choose the nail.
The next step was getting rid of cable. We have been without cable or satellite channel options for over five years. With only three or four channels to choose from television loses some of its allure. Channel surfing is a misnomer. There is no “cowabunga” as I use the remote to flip up and down three channels. It takes about thirteen seconds to see each station five times and decide watching NASCAR, golf or golf does not interest me on a Sunday afternoon.
The final step actually happened quite recently. I was given the opportunity to watch television all afternoon on a set which did have cable. This seemed like a great idea to me at the time. What I found out was there are about twenty-seven different shows with fake judges telling people completely devoid of common sense how to solve their problems and eleven or twelve talk shows hosted be mid-range used-to-be stars like Tyra Banks or Tony Danza. Next there will be an entire network of talk shows hosted by the likes of former stars of the Facts of Life and, from the minimum security prisons of southern California, the stars of Different Strokes. I then decided I would go to the safe home land for men all over the country – the all sports network. What did I find there? Championship dominoes. Actual commentary from the guys covering this: Play-by-play guy “Oh! He cut the trey. Why did he cut the trey?” Expert color commentator, “Sometimes Brown’s out to lunch.”
I rest my case.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Land of the Free and Home of the Third Degree Burn

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” – Thomas Jefferson, Statesman, Inventor, President
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” – Emma Lazarus, Poet
“You’d see ‘em wearing their baggies, Huarachi sandals too, a bushy, bushy blonde hairdo, surfin’ USA…” Brian Wilson, Beach Boy
The preceeding words were quotes meant to bring to mind the high values, the sense of freedom, the spirit of the American dream. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
Just yesterday the United States of America celebrated its 230th birthday (it doesn’t look a day over 215). How do Americans choose to commemorate the birth of a nation built by such brilliant minds as Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison? What do they do to honor a nation created to give its citizenry freedom unmatched around the globe? What is the celebration for a nation where every little boy and girl can dream of becoming whatever they want to be? There is only one natural choice. We blow stuff up.
I have to admit I have never truly understood the attraction to fireworks so many people have. The big, up-in-the-sky glittery ones are pretty, but the ones people light themselves which make loud noises with destructive force puzzle me. The phrase “playing with fire” usually means someone is doing something unwise. Yet during early July people all over the country intentionally play with fire.
There are certain memories of July Fourths past which always come to mind. There was a man I saw who only had one hand. He was not letting that stop him from participating in the celebration. He had a cigarette in his mouth and he was using the good hand to light small firecrackers on the smoldering tobacco and would then toss them away just before they exploded. This may explain why he only had the one hand.
I know the state of Kansas has taken some guff from the national press about the theory of evolution recently. But it was right here in the Sunflower State I witnessed Darwin’s concept of natural selection at work. There were two young men lighting firecrackers. That by itself is not the scary part. They were lighting their Black Cats as they held them in their hands. Problematic, but not as bad as it got. They would then hold the tube of gunpowder and watch the fuse get shorter and shorter and at the last possible moment they would throw the miniature explosive. Dangerous? Yes, but they were getting it away from their person before it blew up. However, they were throwing them at each other. I averted my eyes and went away from what appeared to me to be impending carnage. Now these young men have probably grown up to be fine upstanding individuals, but part of me hopes since they seem to have missed out on the DNA strand reflecting the sense God gave a goose they did not become parents and pass on that character trait.
Actually, when you stop and think about it fireworks probably do epitomize our country. This is the country of Rock and Roll, so it is obvious we like to be loud. Fireworks are loud. We are a country of ingenuity. What other country would desire the creation of a small disk of an unknown compound that when brought to a certain temperature with the help of a match grows long black snake-like things which leave stains on the driveway able to withstand the elements longer than any paint or siding one puts on one’s house? (Do they still make those things?)
The big fireworks extravaganzas which light up the skies for miles around with their colorful explosions exemplify our nation better than anything. Next year, do not look at the sky, but rather watch the people who are watching the man-made comets. You will see individuals with slack jaws making unintelligible noises, simply vowel sounds which indicate amazement. The powers that be on Madison Avenue know this quite well. Spend big money on something that only lasts a short time yet causes people watching it to become slack-jawed and mesmerized. This concept has caused everything from people buying tickets to yet another movie starring Ben Affleck, products like plastic razors with four blades when three blades were the ultimate just weeks ago and various individuals being put into elected office who many of us would not hire to feed the guinea pig and water the plants while we were gone on vacation.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Cool Eye for the Square Guy

First of all let me make it clear, I am not having a mid-life crisis. There will be no sports car purchased, nor any running away to a tropical island to paint lovely native girls in varying stages of undress. The reason for my special tutoring on how to be cool revolves around the sheer volume of time I spend around young people. I have a teenage girl living in my house as well as a will-be-a-teenager-entirely-too-soon girl and an eight year old boy. My job has me surrounded by 600 or so fifth and sixth graders. Working for the Legend basketball team also has me with guys (choke, gasp) twenty years younger than I. Because of all this I decided to enlist the help of one of those Legend players to give me a make-over enabling me to infiltrate the ranks of the young and cool. Framecio Little was kind enough to mentor me.
The khaki Dockers and polo shirt had to go. I needed “fresh gear” if I was to cross-over to the cool side. First I needed a bright white t-shirt. The shirt is not supposed to have any printing on it and it should be quite large on the person. The depressing part was the size of shirt required to hang down low over the decidedly middle-aged paunch I had accumulated over my forty some years of existence. Framecio said I should wear denim shorts with the white shirt. Holy cow, I had those in my closet already. I’m cooler than I thought I was. The final touch for looking the part was to get my “feetwork right.” That means shoes. The problem was I would have to sell my car in order to afford the “J’s” or “Ones” required. For the uninitiated in the audience those are styles of shoes endorsed by Michael Jordan. If you make Jordan paychecks than Jordan shoes are not a problem. However, most of us do not make Michael Jordan money. We fall more into the tax bracket of the guys who put Michael Jordan’s actual shoes back into his locker at the country club after giving them a good shine.
Young and cool also means gadgets need to be a part of my day-to-day life. However, the latest video games are more complex than the United States tax code written in Aramaic. I do have a cell phone, but I do not know how to use it other than the basics. “Texting” is beyond me. I have a friend (who constantly reminds me he is a full decade younger than I) capable of texting faster than I can talk. He flips open his latest version phone, which is as thick as a slice of lunch meat, and his thumbs fly over the keys like the feet of that Riverdance guy.
One gadget I have is an iPod. I have the simplest version possible, but I do have one. I asked Framecio which musicians I needed to load to be considered up to date. He proceeded to list four rappers with names as familiar to a middle aged white guy from western Kansas as list of existential philosophers of the late 19th century would be to, well, would be to anyone. The fact that I have some Ray Charles on my iPod gave me a glimmer of coolness. My mentor said older rhythm and blues is termed “getting your grown man on” and I am nothing if not a grown man.
The slang of today seems to have been developed by the same people who write the advertising copy for detergent. “Fresh” and “clean” are current terms. A phrase used to compliment someone on something would be: “Them clean right there.” (with apologies to the grammarians in the audience) A great car has been sweet, cool, even cherry. Now you would be driving a “clean whip” if you had the best car in the neighborhood. The car I drive would not only not be sweet, cool, or cherry, the term “clean” would not be used in any sense of the word. The French fries on the floor of the back seat would require carbon dating to figure out how long they have been there.
Okay, I am now ready. I have on my “fresh gear.” I’m carrying a cell phone and my iPod is playing some Young Jezzy. My “feetwork” are “clean.” My “pockets are right” (which means I have money to spend). Also, my “clean whip” is gassed and ready to roll. The problem is I am just going to the grocery store to replenish my supply of antacids.

Christopher Pyle is now so “clean” and “fresh” his wife has him hanging from the rearview mirror in the minivan instead of one of those cardboard evergreen trees.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

For some fifteen minutes of fame is too much

Maybe I am missing something. Are famous people really that much more special than the rest of us? I have met a few big time famous people. Maybe ‘met’ is too strong a term. I worked at a bookstore in Santa Monica and sold stuff to some big time famous people. George Carlin, Goldie Hawn, Rick Springfield (well he was famous at the time), and Dick Van Dyke were customers of mine. I didn’t really talk to them, beyond “That will be fifteen dollars and seventy-eight cents, please.” Each was polite. They didn’t expect special treatment because they were stars. Each person was quite normal. There was no ethereal glow emanating from their eyes and extremities. I did not hear music playing as they approached the cash register. They behaved like normal folks so I treated them like normal people.
I bring this up because there was a major ripple of excitement in Dodge City. A star of epic proportion was sighted in the area. This person has had a major impact on movies, on literature, on television. This person has cast a massive shadow (I am resisting a fat joke at this moment) over the entire nation and its culture. Am I talking about a person who has written a novel of such humanity and depth it has touched a generation? Am I talking about a person who invented a new format for television which revolutionized the art form? Nope. Oprah was in southwest Kansas!
The visit was reported in this very paper. What did they report? They reported what she ate. Her first visit was to Clark Pharmacy in Cimarron where she had a root beer float and shared an orange smoothie with her friend. Do I really need to know what she had? On the other hand, by reporting what she had it proved she had not done her homework. I lived in Cimarron for ten years. I loved going to Clark’s. The thing to order is a “black and white.” This concoction of ice cream, chocolate syrup and marshmallow stuff is actually good enough to cause the one consuming it to attain a beatific state akin to a Buddhist getting to end of the Eight Fold Path and becoming one with the universe. Okay, I exaggerate just a bit. However, I do believe one hot day in July I ate a large “black and white” and heard an astral choir as I slipped into a blissful sugar stupor.
Being famous seems to guarantee people will care what happens to you, but it does not guarantee what a famous person does should be made public. For example, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s every breath must be photographed and sent to every media outlet in the world. I have nothing against either of these people. They do seem to have a greater amount of social consciousness than many movie star types. Can you picture Jessica Simpson trying to help fight hunger in third world countries? Actually, Jessica Simpson identifying third world countries on a globe is difficult to envision. Back to Jolie and Pitt, they recently had a baby. Lots of people have babies, heck, my wife and I have had three of them. But then we are not rich and famous. I know if I was a filthy rich individual with resources and opportunities galore I would choose to have my baby in Namibia. Everyone knows if Johns Hopkins University Hospital and Beth Israel Medical Center is not handy flying to a small West African country sandwiched between the Namib and Kalahari Deserts is the next best thing. After being sure they had their child in the most reasonable environment they could arrange they proceeded to name the little helpless girl Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt.
It may be necessary to get Congress involved in order to stop the senseless brutality that is celebrities naming their own children. We have Courtney Cox and David Arquette naming their daughter Coco. Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband named their first child Apple and the most recent one Moses. Geri Halliwell, who barely counts as a famous person since she is a former Spice Girl, named her daughter Bluebell. I’m sorry but that is the name for the milk cow in a Little House on the Prairie story not a baby girl who has to live with it for the rest of her life. The scariest thing about this concept may revolve around the most reasonable name given by a pop culture icon. A baby boy was named Sean, a strong name without connotations which bring to mind fruit, cows, or breakfast cereal. This name was given by Britney Spears. It may be a sign of the apocalypse when she is the voice of reason.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Everything may be for sale

I didn't write a column last week and I am placing this one on the blog late. This one appeared May 31st in the Dodge Globe.

Money makes the world go around. I hate to rain on the parade of the more optimistic readers out there who may think love makes the world go around, but I have yet to find a store clerk who would allow me to have a soda and a candy bar in exchange for a hug. (You should see some of the reactions I have gotten attempting to find the clerk who would let me.) Affection may give one a warm feeling in one’s heart, but it takes a buck fifty to buy the Tums to cure that warm feeling so one can get to sleep.
Since I have worked in the education field for many years I have at times tried to get students to put forth more effort by pointing out that an education can lead to more money. There are many extensively researched studies showing the more education a person has the more earning power he has over the course of his life. This has backfired on me. After I have given my powerful speech outlining how the level of education allows one to have a career which gives a person the wherewithal to live a life with choices and luxury a student asks me what my educational background is. I proudly tell him I have three college degrees, two undergraduate and one master’s degree. The student then points out the window to the staff parking lot and asks why I am driving a 16 year old two door Escort with a tire that requires airing up every third day.
Everybody seems to desire more money than they have at the moment. Individuals usually have to do pretty normal stuff to earn extra money, getting a second job, having a garage sale, or offering a kidney on E-bay. I have a new idea. Big time corporations spend millions if not billions of dollars each year to advertise their products. A commercial during the Super Bowl costs more than the gross national product for most third world countries. If the people who make Snickers bars would be willing to pay me a hundred dollars a month I would gladly tell everyone I meet on the street that “Snickers really satisfies.” Granted it would not reach as many people as a commercial during Will and Grace but it might reach more than a commercial during Jake in Progress and it would cost the company a heck of a lot less.
Whenever a sports team moves into a new stadium they sell the naming rights for the stadium to a corporation for huge sums of money. I prefer things the old way. It was much more macho for a football team to play in Soldier Field. Just how manly can Lance Berkman feel playing baseball in Minute Maid Park? I still think the field in Heinz Stadium should have a 57 yard line. But I digress. Individuals should have this opportunity to augment their income. When a young couple is expecting their first child it is not only an exciting time in their lives but it can also put a huge strain on their finances. Here is my idea. When the stork delivers the little bundle of joy she is not named after Grandma or the favorite aunt but the birth announcement would read like this: Mr. and Mrs. John Smith wish to announce the birth of their daughter Mazda Smith – an infant with the soul of a sports car.
It is not only individuals who are feeling the crunch of financial shortfalls. Governments are not getting the revenue they need and raising taxes only ticks people off. Let’s have Kansas fund the education needs for the state in creative ways, by selling out to corporate America. It could very well work. Take the state seal off of the flag and replace it with a Nike swoosh. Ditch “Ad Astra Per Aspera” and make “Think Outside the Bun” the state motto. The Meadowlark is replaced by the AFLAC duck as the state bird. The state amphibian is the GEICO gecko (I can’t believe we have a state amphibian anyway). I like “Home on the Range” but Bob Seger singing “Like a Rock” would sell a few more trucks and pay for the highways they drive on. I may be ahead of my time here. But, you’ll be sorry when Missouri becomes the Great state of Microsoft and stops having property tax, income tax, and sales tax. The Arch in St. Louis is called the Bill Gatesway to the West and the football team in Columbia becomes the Fighting Search Engines.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Happy versus Unhappy (Rebuttal to Rob)

Here is the column as it appeared in the May 17th Dodge City Daily Globe.

A while back I wrote a column about being happy. I was for it. I received an e-mail from an old friend of mine. He was against it. He said being happy was over-rated and actually works against mankind. Part of his theory stated happiness leads to complacency and complacency leads to a kind of stagnation. He said Thomas Edison was angry about stubbing his toes on the furniture in the dark and that was why he invented the light bulb. According to my friend negativity, not necessity is the mother of invention.
I see his point of view. I am quite happy when I am sitting in my chair listening to good music and doing almost nothing else. At those points of my life I may be happy but I am not doing my part to end world hunger, promote a greater sense of understanding amongst people of different races and religions, or develop a clean renewable power source to save the environment. Then again, on my most productive days I might get the grass cut, some dishes washed and the laundry folded. None of which is exactly Nobel Prize winner material.
Negativity probably is a wonderful motivator. This great nation of ours was founded by a group of rabble rousers set on tossing out the king. We should thank them for being negative. If not we would have to drink tea everyday of our lives (yuck), even more of our friends and neighbors would think Benny Hill was actually funny (ack), and Wimbledon would be more important than the Super Bowl (gasp).
When you really think about it unhappy people probably have done more good for mankind. Susan B. Anthony wasn’t happy with the way things were. Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t happy with the way things were. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t happy with the way things were. George de Mestral wasn’t happy with the way things were. Who is George de Mestral you ask. George de Mestral was an amateur mountaineer from Switzerland who was not happy with the way things opened and closed so he invented Velcro, and now the world is a better place.
It is not just in the grand scheme of things that unhappy people effect the most change. It happens in the homes of normal everyday people all the time. If you are a parent of almost any age child this will be familiar to you. A grown person with logic and intellect calmly and politely explains to a young person the benefits all parties involved in the situation would enjoy if the young person would turn the music down and remove the dirty gym clothes from the dining room table so the family can enjoy a meal together. That style of approach elicits a blank stare akin to the one Alan Greenspan would get explaining how the Nikkei average affects the price of gas in Boise to Paris Hilton. (Heck, Alan Greenspan explaining Nikkei averages to almost anyone would cause blank stares.) The parent who has absolutely had it with the child’s slovenly manner and has resolved to create a Norman Rockwell moment around the dinner table even if it kills them, will yell at the kid to “get his junk off the table this very minute or he will be grounded until Chicago Cubs win the World Series.” This causes the child to move her/his lazy behind and do what s/he is told. Happy, calm parents may be what Dr. Spock and T. Berry Brazelton recommends, but frazzled and annoyed parents get results.
I will not go completely over to my friend’s way of thinking. I still think it is better to spend extended periods of time with people who are happy. Getting stuck in a room with people who believe (as Woody Allen once stated) that life is divided into two categories, the horrible and the miserable and one should be thankful if they are simply miserable is not my idea of a great Saturday afternoon. I do not want to go too far the other way either. I want to spend time with folks who are reasonable in their happiness, not so gleeful they make Kelly Ripa look like a character from an Ibsen play. If I am on a transatlantic flight I do not want to be sealed into the cabin of a 747 with a youth group singing camp songs and trying to talk the stewardess into making s’mores. Moderation is the key to all things.

Christopher Pyle once flew to London on the same plane with a youth group. There were no camp songs but the level of “cute happy” in the cabin caused him to contemplate using his seat cushion not as a floatation device but rather a suffocation device.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Reading the fine print can be fun

“For medical emergencies seek professional help” is actually printed on the side of a box of band-aids. This brings to mind a rather unpleasant image. Someone has suffered an accident while juggling chainsaws. A variety of body parts have been marred, if not actually severed, and the person crawls to the bathroom to get a band-aid. Only when he sees the precaution printed on the box does it occur to him that calling an ambulance might be a good idea. When interviewed by the local press the hospital patient says, “I owe my life to the manufacturers of band-aids. If they didn’t have that warning on the box I probably would have just taken a couple of those little circle shaped thingies and placed them on my arteries.”
There are so often terribly obvious things stated. I don’t know if they are stated because people are actually not intelligent enough to know them or if companies have to tell us to avoid being sued. There was the famous case where a lady successfully sued a fast food chain because she was burned when she spilled coffee on herself. I tried coffee a few times twenty years ago and hated it. So, I have not put a cup of coffee to my lips in quite a long time. But I do know that coffee is HOT. You can ask most any sentient being if coffee is something they would like poured into their laps and they will most all answer, “No.” Heck, dolphins would probably tell you, “If we had laps we would not want to pour coffee on them.” Well, due to the lawsuit the aforementioned fast food chain now has to have printed on all their coffee cups a warning about the contents being hot. Something comes to mind along the lines of “No kidding, Mr. Holmes.”
The tiny print at the bottom of television commercials is often entertaining to read (if the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading course paid off and your glasses are powerful enough). The ones that state the obvious are always the car commercials. They show a truck being landed upon by a flaming meteorite with a force akin to a small atomic weapon and at the bottom of the screen it says: professional driver on a closed course and dramatization. Darn it. I wanted to get a car which was proven to withstand the impact of a burning hunk of the original big bang.
Medicine commercials do similar things. There is the usual list of possible side effects read so fast people pick up every other word. Most of them discuss things so horrific I think I’d rather have the illness. “If you take this medicine for occasional heartburn possible side effects could include diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, headache, irritable bowel syndrome, heart palpitation, temporary blindness, rhinorrhea, scurvy, rickets, and an uncontrollable urge to sing Toby Keith songs.” I don’t know about you, but I would simply rather burp repeatedly.
I noticed the small print on a commercial plugging a medicine for colds and allergies. The large print which was also spoken by the authoritative-announcer-voice-guy read “Feel Better Faster.” The tiny little print not spoken at all said “versus no treatment at all.” So, what they are saying is, it is clinically proven you will get better faster if you take this medicine than if you do not treat the symptoms at all. Thank you for that little tidbit of information, Jonas Salk. You would probably get better faster if you ate a fifty cent can of chicken noodle soup and took a nap than if you did nothing at all.
Television commercials will probably keep trying to give misleading information and then make the government and their lawyers happy by putting tiny print on the screen to disavow any responsibility. Beer companies would have the most fun. Here is the advertisement I can envision.
A very homely man and woman are sitting in a bar. They both have a beer and then look across at each other. They are both slightly more attractive. They order several more beers. There are now a bunch of beer bottles in front of each of them and their eyes lock in a feverish moment of passion. The man is now the hunky doctor guy from the TV show Lost and the girl makes Angelina Jolie look like Granny Clampett. They clasp hands and leave the bar together. The tiny print at the bottom of the screen reads: This is what it feels like, but the next morning you may find yourself to married to a woman nicknamed The Diesel. We are not responsible for any legal fees or tattoo removal expenses.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A car by any other name...

The other day I was blithely driving along in my tiny little two door car. My sound system, otherwise known as a factory issue AM/FM radio, was tuned to a local music station. Then all of a sudden the world went dark. I don’t get a chance to watch the news very often, but I was pretty sure there had been no mention of a total eclipse of the sun happening around 5:00 PM on Thursday. I looked to my left and learned the sun had not been blocked by a celestial body, but rather the sky had been blotted out by a vehicle large enough to apply for statehood. (“We recognize the fifty-first state in the union: The Jones Family’s SUV.”) The car, car is such an inadequate word; the gasoline powered pachyderm passed and merged in front of me. That is when I was able to read the model name, the Armada. I had to look up to see the chrome plate affixed to the rear of the car. It was a like driving a car built for Hobbits behind a vehicle with Paul Bunyan legroom.
The name makes sense. The Spanish Armada was, in its day, the largest group of fighting ships ever assembled. The gargantuan vehicle in front of me could have been assembled using twenty or thirty 1990 Ford Escort hatchbacks similar to the one I was driving. Then it occurred to me, maybe it had been made from unsuspecting compact cars, maybe I was in danger, maybe I had better start evasive maneuvers. That was when I started laughing. Evasive maneuvers in a sixteen year old Escort were as likely as Dick Cheney being named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive.
Naming cars sounds like a great job. I am sure there is tons of research done by market analysts to best target just the right audience. I am not sure they are always sending the message they intended. For example, there is a car called an Aspire. It is a little car, so little it looks like the consumer needs to buy two, one for each foot, to be a useful mode of transportation. The name fits. It appears to be something which hopes to be a car one day. It aspires to be a real car like Pinocchio hopes to be a real boy.
There are quite a few that just do not make sense to me. The Hummer is someone who doesn’t know the words. There was a car called a Citation. Isn’t that what police call it when they give you a little slip of paper requiring the payment of a fine or an appearance in court? Tundra? Yep, I want to drive a car named after a frigid nearly lifeless part of the frozen north. If we follow that logic we might as well name a car after a dangerous region of the world. Ladies and gentlemen introducing the Chevy Beirut. There is an Expedition. How about the Ford Donner Party, with a built in barbeque for those gridlock traffic jams in Los Angeles?
The next step in the evolution of car names will probably go along the lines of food and cigarettes. The government will require truth in advertising. Instead of the Chevette the government would have required it be called “The Boxy Car which Guarantees Never Attracting Girls.” When a person goes to his local dealership to purchase one of those giant SUV’s he wouldn’t ask for an Escalade but rather, “Do you have a ‘To Heck with the Environment’?” One of those flashy little two-seater sports cars would be called the “Mid-Life Crisis.”
The majority of car names are rugged and macho: Magnum, Viper, Mustang, and Explorer. This only made sense. For years men were the chief consumers for cars. It was a true rite of passage for a man to buy his first car. It usually entailed things like looking under the hood and kicking the tires. Both of which I can do. The problem lies in the fact that as long as there is an engine in plain sight and the tire doesn’t explode when my Chuck Taylor high top makes contact with the radial I have no further insight.
With more and more attention being paid to equal treatment for the sexes I fully expect Detroit to start targeting the female demographic. I can hear Queen Latifah doing the voiceover for a new commercial: “For Mother’s Day the Mazda Bouquet – That new car smell beats sniffing a dozen roses any day.” Maybe a television commercial featuring Julia Louis-Dreyfus introduces a new car: “the Nissan Lifemate – more dependable than any man. It takes you shopping, waits patiently in the parking lot, and even carries all your packages home without complaint.”

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fate is still in charge

I realized I missed putting this column on last week.

All of us look at our lives as very complex things. Blood, sweat, and tears have all been expended to get us where we are. There is planning, worrying, re-arranging and more planning. We all have goals, hopes, and dreams. Goals, hopes, and dreams change as we age. When I was ten years old I wanted to be the next Ed Podolak. (If you know who Ed Podolak is give yourself twenty-five bonus points.) When I was twenty I wanted to be the next Steven Spielberg. Now that I am forty-three I want to be the next in line at Dairy Queen, some goals are more achievable than others.
I had no idea five years ago I would be writing a humor column once a week for an honest to goodness newspaper (how many readers just looked over the top of the newspaper and commented to their spouse “Oh, he’s trying to be funny.”). I had no idea ten years ago I would be an assistant principal at an intermediate center (heck, ten years ago I had never heard of an intermediate center). Fifteen years ago I would not have guessed I would have three children (there are times each week I look into the back of the minivan with mild shock). Twenty years ago I would not have thought I would be a happily married man (most every woman I knew twenty years ago would have gotten a good giggle out of the idea as well). Every one of those things may never have come to pass if my father hadn’t shaved off his mustache on a fateful night in 1967. More on that later.
We first get our educations. Some have a diploma from an institution of higher learning. Some people earned that diploma with hard work and tireless intellectual curiosity. Some people earned that diploma by writing the tuition checks, showing up in class on a semi-regular basis and consuming large amounts of cereal malt beverages with friends. (Since my mother reads this column I would like to go on record and say I was somewhere in the middle of this work/play college student continuum.)
Sometimes it is not what you know, but rather who you know that makes the biggest difference. If I knew George Clooney I would be more likely to get my screenplay made into a multi-Oscar winning motion picture. I don’t know George Clooney. I do know the morning disc jockey on KSSH so I can get an Elvis at Eight song dedicated to my daughter. Which is more important, really, the excited face of my nine year old girl hearing her name on the radio or the fame of writing a smash hit movie? It’s a no brainer. I want the fame. I’ll buy her her own stupid radio station after I cash the checks.
Actually, we put too much stock into what we do on purpose to make our lives what we want. Things just happen. Back to my father and his mustache. He was the city manager in McCook, Nebraska. The town was celebrating some sort of centennial and many of the men in town had grown facial hair to look more pioneer-like as they drove their cars around town wearing suits. (I didn’t say it made sense I just said they were doing it.) He had a job interview with the Hutchinson, Kansas city commission. He drove into town a day early, that night in the hotel he decided he’d shave off his mustache. It turned out the commission was a little split on who to hire. They chose my father on a three to two vote. Later he had a discussion with the lone woman on the commission. She had voted for hiring him. He told her he had had a mustache. Her response was she wouldn’t have voted for him if he had shown up with a mustache, after all it was 1967 and hippies had mustaches.If my father had not gotten the job in Hutchinson I would not have met the friends who were so influential in my youth. My sister wouldn’t have worked for the museum in town and fixed me up with the cute assistant curator. I would not have married her. I would not have moved to Dodge City. I probably would not have become a teacher. If I was never a teacher there is no way I would have become a principal. If I wasn’t a principal I wouldn’t have given a certain young man an entire week of recess detention. So there is at least one person who wishes my dad had lost the stupid razor.

That's not sick, that's funny

Everybody at my house is sick. Usually what happens in a family of any size is people take turns. The five year old drags some malicious germ home from the playground jungle gym. He rubs his nose on a variety of household surfaces before his symptoms become obvious enough to warrant quarantine in his room. Just as he starts bouncing around, the nine year old sister is the next to fall. She covers her mouth every fourth sneeze. On the other sneezes she sends a scatter pattern of bacteria like a shotgun loaded with ten million pellets of poison. When she starts feeling up to pestering her little brother again, the teenager succumbs to the insidious microbes. Since he whines as often as he talks no one has any sympathy for him until he has thrown up more than an entire fraternity on St. Patrick’s Day.
The mother, by now, has spent so much time medicating, soothing, feeding, cleaning, calming, and tucking in all the victims she starts to feel a little queasy. Before you can say, insurance co-pay, she has a fever and the energy of a three-toed sloth on Quaaludes. This is when the father puts on his jacket to head to work making some crack about he wishes he could stay home all day in bed watching television. At this moment the only reason he isn’t spending the weekend in a hospital bed watching his heartbeat represented on a tiny screen is his wife cannot get out of bed.
It is just one of the many injustices in life. After about the age of two a person is not allowed to stay in bed all day without being accused of being a lazy no good bum. The only way one can get away with it is if he or she has symptoms including, or even combining, pain, violent gastro-intestinal episodes, and/or coughing fits requiring the wearing of a truss to avoid permanent injury.
Different people have very different styles of being sick. When I am sick I pretty much want to be left alone. Occasional words of pity are welcome, but otherwise other people in the vicinity just annoy me. It may be true that other people in the vicinity annoy me when I am not sick, but in my weakened condition I don’t have the restraint to avoid telling them to buzz off when I am unwell.
Being a stoic person has come to mean someone who does not show emotion. There is a sort of continuum of stoicism for people dealing with being sick or any kind of pain. This range has to do with what it takes to elicit emotion.
Category #1 – Very Stoic: These people can step on a LEGO left on the floor at two o’clock in the morning and not only avoid yelling loud enough to wake the neighborhood but they don’t even dance about like a hyperactive Pip. They go to work with a high fever, stomach cramps, and a migraine. While showing admirable toughness without complaining these people need to be dragged back home and tied to their beds before they can spread germs to innocent bystanders. Just because you’re so tough doesn’t give you the right to transport your virulent body into my personal space.
Category #2 – Rather Stoic: These people cuss when hitting their thumb with the hammer, but only use words permissible in PG-13 movies. When sick they admit it but do not advertise it to anyone and everyone. They are capable of whining, but only to their spouse in hopes of getting a foot massage.
Category #3 – Stoic, Schmoic, I want some Sympathy: These people limp like Zola Budd running on a bed of broken glass if they so much as have a grain of sand in their shoe. An indication that they may have a predisposition to one day get mildly unwell causes them to whimper like a puppy. A hangnail elicits a trip to the emergency room because cutting it off with no anesthetic whatsoever would amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
Category #4 – Mock Stoic: These people may be the most annoying. They make sure you know they have something wrong with them, like a strained muscle. Then every time they move they make little noises. When bystanders ask, “Are you okay?” The Mock Stoic carefully places a half grin half grimace on his face and says, “Oh, I’m fine really. It only hurts when I sit down, or stand up, or lie down, but I’m okay.” It is my opinion these people are fair game for a poke in the eye so they can experience real pain.