Friday, December 21, 2007

Celebrity Death Match: A. Maslow v. S. Claus

There has often been a great disparity between what a person needs and what a person wants. Since I went to school to work in a school I spent time with Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs.” This world renowned smart guy put forth the idea that human beings have certain needs and he showed them in a progression from basic to more complex. He also said one can not focus on fulfilling the next need until the more basic need is at least partially met. The main purpose of this in how-to-be-a-teacher-school was if a student is hungry and cold he is not very likely to care about the chief exports of Ecuador. In case you are fully fed and your temperature is properly regulated: oil, bananas, flowers and shrimp.
Since this is not my educational philosophy final I will not go into a bunch of detail but I will say Mr. Maslow does not mention getting an iPhone anywhere in his treatise. He does discuss when explaining the top of the pyramid section of self-actualization that opportunities for creativity, spontaneity and problem solving are important. Hmmm, creativity, spontaneity, and problem solving…I don’t know about you but that just screams “The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.” Do you think I could get a prescription from my healthcare provider for a Wii and therefore get insurance to pay for it because it is a health NEED.
Okay, if we are going to put Mr. Maslow out there as the champion of “need” who better to step up to represent “want” than the most famous bearded fat man in history, Raymond Burr. Mr. Burr represents the wants because of his long career on television including the great made-for-TV Perry Mason movies of the early 1990’s. Okay, that is truly lame. Santa Claus is the bearded fat man who should be the personification of “want”. Mr. Claus has been answering want lists for hundreds of years. If he only brought what was needed he would have a sleigh full of socks, underwear, warm coats, bran flakes, and Bowflexes. Would that stink, or what? If the poem read “children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of lima beans danced in their heads” it just wouldn’t ring true.
How about we look at some Christmas lists from around the world and then focus on the needs?
George W. Bush: Wants a legacy which would place him in a modern day Mount Rushmore of presidential greats. Needs someone to explain to him that WMD does not stand for “Wasteland, Mostly Desert” which Iraq actually does have plenty of.
Britney and Jamie Lynn Spears’ mother: Wants to publish a book on how to parent. Needs to read a book on how to parent. (I think if Dr. Benjamin Spock saw what she was doing in the name of parenthood he would have no choice but to knock her up side the head.)
Duncan Hunter: Wants to be president of the United States of America. Needs to have more than seventy-five people in his home state of California know who the heck he is.
Wal-Mart: Wants to have a net income larger than the number of grains of sand on the world’s beaches plus the number of stars in the heavens plus the number of fish in the sea plus the number of times Elizabeth Taylor got married. Needs to realize getting a rich man into heaven is like getting a camel through the checkout line in under fifteen minutes on a Saturday afternoon when there are forty-seven cash registers but only six of them open.
Bill Belichick: Wants to win every football game he coaches. Needs to take a charm course. He is about as appealing as a having Dr. Benjamin Spock hit you upside the head.
The People in Favor of Why Not Dodge?: Want to have a visit from the Special Events Fairy who magically sets a fully functioning, well placed, tastefully designed reasonably priced building somewhere in Dodge City. Need to realize this building will not fix all the cities woes and create a boon of tourist dollars akin to Branson, Missouri when that Japanese violinist opened his theater
The People Against Why Not Dodge?: Want to have a freak accident involving a heretofore unknown tectonic fault rupture beneath the newly placed Special Events Center causing a stream of molten lava to bubble forth and melt the building to a sparking slag heap. Need to realize the building will not be built on 666 Mephistopheles Avenue taking the city straight to the place which gets even fewer snow days than we do.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Striking a Blow for Workers Everywhere

The writers have been on strike for over a month now. Wait a minute, I’m a writer and I am writing this very moment. There I go again. I just wrote that sentence, too. I can’t seem to stop myself. Does this make me some sort of strike breaker, scab?
Oh, now I remember. It’s not Hutchinson News Community Columnists who are on strike, but rather television and movie writers who are walking the picket lines. Many scripted TV shows have already gone on hiatus. (The big question is: How will wrestling continue to air shows?) Will television networks throughout the land go dark? Unfortunately they will not. We will have a plethora of unscripted shows. Shows like “Survivor”, “The Amazing Race”, “The Bachelor”, “Wife Swap”, and “We Turned Over Another Rock to Find the Worst Aspects of Humanity and Now We Will Point a Camera at it to Prove Some People Will Watch Anything” will multiple like rabbits on Viagra.
This strike will not cause much consternation for me. I don’t really watch much television any more. This is not a way of setting myself up as some aloof person for whom television is not aesthetically challenging enough for my superior brain. I used to claim the sentence “I only watch public television” was the mating cry of the pseudo-intellectual. I like TV. I watched quite a bit during many different stages of my life. But, at the moment, I have a wife, three children, a mortgage, a job, and a strange desire to sleep so sitting in front of screen is not a frequent option. I do watch the Chiefs (the previous statement is akin to admitting one purposefully runs one’s fingernails over a chalkboard), and KU basketball whenever possible and I got hooked on “Heroes”, but I watched that on my computer. Television is not very important to me any more.
In preparing for this column I did my usual exhaustive four and half minutes of extensive research. It seems there have not been a whole lot of strikes in the entertainment industry. There was an actors strike in 1952. It seems Ronald Reagan was the president of the Screen Actors Guild. He was lucky there wasn’t an air traffic controller in the White House at the time or all actors might have had to look for a new profession. There was another actors strike in 1960. Then things settled down for twenty years. A three month actors strike in 1980 was followed by a three month writers strike in 1981. There was a short-lived (two weeks) writers strike in 1985. The one and only directors strike was in 1987 and it lasted three hours and five minutes, roughly the time it takes to watch Warren Beatty’s movie “Reds”. I’m sure that was a ploy by the producers. “If you don’t come back to work we will only have movies like this to watch over and over again.” The most recent writers strike lasted five months in 1988.
I remember no effects from any of those strikes. This leads me to wonder what repercussions other strikes would have on the world. A trash collectors strike would be noticed much more quickly than a strike by the people who put those colorful cellophane decorations on deli toothpicks. Oh, sure the ham on rye with sauerkraut and pickles would not be nearly as festive, but sandwich eaters throughout the land could make the sacrifice.
Living in a world without teachers would mean wholesale home schooling. Since the vast majority of people cannot stop working every day due to financial reasons many home schoolers would be left to self-teach. This would create a generation of people very adept at computer chatting, cell phone text messaging, leaving the lights on throughout the house, and sleeping until noon. I have yet to see a want ad listing that skill set as prerequisite to employment, and if I had seen one I would have driven my daughter there post haste.
I am sure everyone can suggest the job least likely to be missed if the people doing it went on a permanent strike. Jobs like: dust ruffle manufacturers, anyone helping Kevin Trudeau be on television twenty-four hours a day and campaign managers for Mike Gravel, the former senator from Alaska currently running for the Democratic presidential nomination. No really, he is. I read it on CNN. At the moment he garners only one percentage point more in the polls than either I or Ernie the Keebler Elf does.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Whoso removeth this clog is the rightful king

There is a great desire in many people to be heroes. The popularity of everything from comic books to John Wayne movies to video games testifies to this fact. Seeking heroic satisfaction by pretending to do undertakings of epic proportion also shows that people don’t think they can reach the level of Champion of the Human Race in real life. I beg to differ. Just two weeks ago I lived the hero quest story and still got to watch most of the Kansas – Missouri game on television.
The story of the hero quest is ancient and there are very specific steps which describe the process. Step One: The Call to Adventure. In the great stories this is often represented by a terrifying herald of doom. In my case it was simply my wife. No, that is not some cheap wife joke. She was simply the person to call my attention to the quest at hand. She told me the sink was clogged. Scoff if you want to, but with a true dearth of minotaurs and women sporting garter snake hairdos in the world, a clogged sink is about as good as I get.
Step Two: Refusal of the Call. Often the hero is so set in his ways he does not heed the call or refuses to step up to the challenge. I was no different. I ignored the problem. This is the typical man’s first action whenever there is a problem. The baby is crying. The man: she’ll go back to sleep. The wife is mad. The man: she’ll get over it. A man’s body is covered with weeping sores and his left arm has fallen off. The man: Who needs a doctor? I’ll be okay.
When I finally answered the call I went to simple answers. I plungered, which just moved water around, much of which ended up on the floor. Next I used highly caustic will-eat-the-through-anything-even-molecular-bonds fluid. You think I’m joking. Well, it proceeded to eat through the basket in the drain of the sink. This got the water to drain out of the basin, but it went into the cabinet underneath and then flowed out onto the floor of the kitchen.
The real adventure begins when the hero crosses over the first threshold. For me this was when I let a stream of less than happy words flow out of my mouth like the water flowing onto the floor. This was the point of no return. The hero is forced to face the problem and wade into battle. I was forced to face the problem and wade into the kitchen. Sorry, too many fluid puns.
Every great hero has his mentor who gives him special knowledge or tools to meet the challenge. Perseus was given a special shield by Athena. King Arthur had Merlin. Glooscap was given a magical bag by Grandmother Woodchuck. (I did not make that up…look it up.) I was no different. Like Luke Skywalker I had a teacher. Mine was Obi-War-Ren.
Okay, his name is actually just Warren. He is a friend who knows all those things which make someone actually useful. As opposed to someone who can tell you about the great Wabanaki hero Glooscap and how Grandmother Woodchuck plucked the hairs from her belly to make a magical bag. I know it is hard to believe that understanding plumbing would be more useful than that, but just look at the bill for a plumber and then think about how much you paid to read this.
Warren was my guide through the Road of Trials encountered by heroes. He knew how to navigate the vast Terra Incognito of the hardware store. He showed me such arcane weapons as plumber’s putty, traps, and drain baskets. He explained the mysteries of water pressure. He let me do actual labor instead of just having me hold tools and barking at me to point the flashlight in the right spot.
Next in the hero quest is the apotheosis. This is when the hero’s ego is disintegrated in a breakthrough of consciousness. He then takes his “ultimate boon” back to his home. After all this the hero is now a master of two worlds, both the divine and the human.
With Warren’s help on my hero quest I am now the master of two worlds. I can write a column containing such words as apotheosis, woodchuck and weeping sores as well as get the potato skins out of the u-bend using a drain auger and a screw driver. I am no longer impressed by Hercules.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Just Because CNN Says it, Should We Care

At the risk of biting the hand that feeds me (truthfully the News doesn’t pay that well) I have to take exception to what the media decides I should know. Actually, the News does not cause me the consternation that larger, nationwide entities do. Let’s take a look at CNN.
CNN is a pioneer in its field. It is a gigantic world-wide enterprise with reporters in every corner of the globe (which makes no sense because a globe is round and has no corners). It even has Darth Vader doing the voice-over for its commercial. This (scuba tank regulator intake of breath and exhale) is CNN and I am your father. It is supposed to be a highly reputable news organization. As I write this it is nine o’clock Monday evening and if I go to their website three of the main headlines are: “Bride was an insurgent in disguise”, “Iraqis help ‘crush’ al Qaeda in Iraq”, and “‘I just lost it’ Ivy League prof admits killing his wife”. So, explain this to me. Do I need to know any of this stuff?
Headline number 1: Bride was an insurgent in disguise. This was a story about a wedding convoy getting stopped by soldiers north of Baghdad. Upon closer inspection they found the groom was wanted on terror related charges, the wedding gown was tea length which is so not done anymore, and the bride had a five o’clock shadow and was a chased man not a chaste woman.
Whether you are in favor of the way the government is handling things in Iraq or not you have to admit war is a nasty proposition. This news report sounds like the plot for the next comedy hit of the summer. A wanted terrorist decides to go on the lam disguised as a newlywed bride. Just watch the wackiness that ensues as Adam Sandler and Kevin James star in “I Now Pronounce you Haider and Abbas”. I don’t want to bring the room down, but reporting the ‘lighter side’ of terrorists and war seems at the very least in bad taste.
Headline number 2: Iraqis help ‘crush’ al Qaeda in Iraq. The story itself about how citizens of Iraq are contributing to the increased security of a section of Iraq is worthwhile and shows a modicum of progress can be found from time to time. The overstatement journalism is found in the headline. They say this line of defense is “crushing” al Qaeda in Iraq. If success in one sector of Baghdad is crushing al Qaeda than when the Miami Dolphins play the New England Patriots on December 23rd and they block the living daylights out of the Patriots kicker than they can say they crushed New England.
Headline number 3: ‘I just lost it’ Ivy League prof admits killing wife. I do not wish to denigrate the awfulness of the act or say that it should not be made public, but why does a national news service feel it needs to be a major story? Unfortunately, awful things happen everyday in most every sector of society. Would it be okay if all news organizations made a pact to stop trading in sordid acts of people murdering one another and simply placed an article in every paper saying: People do awful things to each other with a frequency that is quite frankly depressing and we need to remind you of it so you all take a moment to appreciate what you have and to remember to be careful out there. However, we are not going to tell you about this one guy who killed this other guy because that implies his death is more important than the other people who met a similar fate but were not famous enough or remarkable enough to get mentioned in the paper.
I do not want a Pollyanna approach to the news which only reports “good” stuff. What I would like is information about what our governments are doing which directly affect our lives. Information about the world’s economy and environment which impact me and my children is useful. Information about the candidates running for office which goes beyond sound bites and spin make for an informed electorate. All of these things would make me feel like an intelligent citizen of the planet while still not breaking with the mission statement of most news organizations promising to depress its readership like reciting Sylvia Plath at a birthday party.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Being Thankful: Good and Good for You

The day after Thanksgiving is the kick off for the big holiday shopping season. At least it used to be. The greed mongers also known as giant retail chains have been pushing us to start our great dance into irretrievable debt even earlier than usual. The weekend before Thanksgiving KOLS Magic 95 started playing Christmas music. Not just here and there interspersed amongst the usual play list, but all the time. This is just wrong! Not only was Christmas more than a month away, but global warming was in full bloom pushing the temperatures well above anything Frosty, Rudolph, and all the Whos down in Whoville would think indicated St. Nick was even contemplating pulling the sleigh out of storage. If I am driving to the store wearing shorts and sandals I want Surfin’ USA not Winter Wonderland.
You can call me a Scrooge if you want, but I will not believe the purpose of pushing the Christmas season up earlier and earlier on the calendar is motivated by people looking for peace on earth and good will towards men. It is motivated by people who want a piece of the action and are unconcerned if the general public spends their nest egg and needs the help of Goodwill Industries to eat next holiday season. Actually, when you stop to look at it the people who are trying to skip Thanksgiving and go right into Moneygiving resemble the Scrooge at the beginning of the Dickens classic rather than the altruistic one at the end.
In my own mini-form of protest I would like to elongate Thanksgiving rather than go right into Christmas. Let’s make Thanksgiving a full weekend, not just a day. We eat leftovers past Thursday. Many of us have Friday off from work already. Football games are on television Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If we think about it the great majority of us have enough going right in our lives to be thinking thankful thoughts beyond one day, a day we spend a great chunk of the afternoon sleeping through because we have unbuttoned the sans-a-belts, stretched out on the couch, and settled in to watch a game featuring the Detroit Lions which easily allows the tryptophan to kick in sending us to Sleepytown.
Giving thanks is not only a good reason for a day off, but it has been shown to improve one’s health. Martin Seligman holds a Ph.D. and has written books meant to help people raise the level of happiness in their lives. One prescription he offers for a jump on the happy meter is to take time to be grateful. He sites a psychological study which had people spend just a few minutes each night writing short notes on what they were grateful to have. It did not have to be anything all that momentous, just stuff you are glad pops up during the day. The people who did this actually showed growth in their general feelings of contentedness.
Mr. Seligman goes on to explain that the act of being grateful amplifies the good memories from the past. This increases the number of times good things simply pass through your mind, and if you are thinking happy thoughts you will be happier (add Tinkerbell dandruff and you can fly). If you stop to think about it, this seems pretty obvious and the next thought has to be, “Is this all it takes to get a Ph.D?”
Here is my own way of teaching people the process Mr. Seligman suggested. I cannot say what you personally should be grateful for, but if I apply it to people we all know it becomes more concrete.
Alex Rodriguez: I am thankful the priorities of the planet are so far out of whack that I get over 27 million dollars a year to lead my team somewhere near the World Series.
Keith Richards: Even though I died ten years ago and that is why I look the way I do, I am grateful no one has actually checked my pulse and blown it for me.
Bill Gates: I am grateful survival of the fittest has changed from being fast enough to outrun a tiger and strong enough to skin a mammoth to smart enough to create software which confounds and frustrates, but people will spend good money to have.
Mark Mangino: I am thankful my team follows me each and every Saturday. I realize part of the reason is I have reached a mass which creates its own gravitational pull and much of the team functions as moons and satellites.

Christopher Pyle is thankful for many of the little things in life: cookies, giggling children, music, and the fact he is not required to do algebra.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Glass is Half Full of Sour Milk

I am having a minor crisis of my conviction. For years I have tried very hard to believe in the intrinsic goodness of people. This assumption is getting harder and harder to find corroborating evidence of support. It is not that I have crossed over to the dark side and think everyone is a deceitful, selfish, mean-spirited purveyor of degradation and boom-de-boom devil worshipping music making me want to stockpile bottled water, batteries, and Pop-Tarts in my basement, duct-tape plastic over my windows and buy a Rottweiler with a disposition making Dick Cheney look like Mr. Rogers. Nope, I just think too many people are horribly unhappy.
A theory was proposed by my wife stating babies are born knowing how to express unhappiness. (Crying happens before they do anything else.) On the other hand it takes weeks and focused effort by the parents to get the little beggars to smile. (Of course, when they do it would even melt the heart of the above mentioned Rottweiler.) Many babies don’t smile until they are two months old. That means eight weeks of going from overtly cranky to merely placid before genuine signs of happiness appear.
I have read a variety of books by philosophers, psychologists, gurus, and comedians (carefully omitting Dr. Phil) in search of what happiness is and how to make it more prevalent. In “Authentic Happiness” Martin Seligman discusses the evolution of different emotions. He makes it clear that both negative emotions and positive ones have very real benefits. The negative ones (fear, sadness and anger) are the first line of defense against external threats. Of course our ancestors with well honed fight or flight instincts were better equipped to survive and create descendents.
Picture this Caveman A, let’s call him Carl, is a depressed wheel-maker. He is constantly scared and hasn’t smiled since the early Pleistocene. Caveman B, known as Mel, is a happy cave painter best known for the very life-like mammoths he creates. He is cheery and laughs frequently. One day the two of them are sitting by the bank of the river. Mel is cultivating his positive feelings observing small mammals cavorting in the short grass. Carl is cultivating his negative feelings by frequently jerking his head from side to side looking for signs the ice age is coming back. When Mel turns to point out a particularly cute Crusafontia (prehistoric squirrel) to Carl he does not see Carl. He sees an Arctodus, a.k.a short-faced bear (the face may have been short but the bear was six foot). Thus the pessimist, running away Carl, was alive and the optimist, sitting and smiling Mel, was a prehistoric version of Purina Bear Chow.
Mr. Seligman and his Ph.D. go on to say that our positive emotions also have an important purpose in evolution. They broaden intellectual, physical and social resources. Happy people appeal more to other people. Happy people are more open to new thoughts and ideas. Happy people are more tolerant. Happy people are more altruistic. Happy people have fewer health problems like issues with the heart. There is another Dick Cheney joke in here somewhere, but I have already used up my one per column allotment.
The general mood of a person can make a big difference in the levels of success he finds in certain tasks. Seligman says critical thinking is best done in a less happy mood. So doing your income tax while depressed is actually more likely to mean you’ll do it right. That’s convenient. But deciding who to marry should be done whilst one is in a good mood. That’s easy to understand. Happy Guy, being an optimist, gleefully thinks the gorgeous blonde in accounting is just right for him. Depressed Man, being a pessimist, looks at the cute red-head in human resources and thinks she would never be interested in him so he might as well quit his job, move to a cabin in Alaska and write his manifesto on how mankind is doomed due to the mass consumption of carbonated beverages and the fact that Jimmy Kimmel has his own television show.
It seems to me both pessimism and optimism come in handy. Therefore, I have designed a new philosophy. I call it Pezoptimism. The theory here is happiness needs to be doled out on a regular basis in small easy to digest portions preferably by swinging back the plastic head of a cartoon character and having the piece of happiness drop into our hands.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Some Things We Just Don't Need to Know

Not long ago J.K. Rowling made a statement which sent some shockwaves through the world of popular literature. While making an appearance at Carnegie Hall the author was answering questions about her wildly popular series of books detailing the adventures of boy wizard Harry Potter. One member of the audience asked what appeared to be a most innocuous question. While answering the question, Ms. Rowling revealed something most unexpected. A fact that might have been hinted at if one read most carefully through the more than four thousand two hundred pages of the seven books. Yet a fact many of the most obsessive fans may have blithely let slip right past them. Dumbledore is fictitious. She made him up. He is as real as Mr. T’s acting talent, as real as my chance to be the starting point guard for the Celtics, as real as Salina secretly stockpiling WMDs in case of an invasion from those belligerent Swedes over in Lindsborg. He does not exist.
Okay, so stating he was fictitious is not what started a new controversy in the press. She said he was gay. The sexual orientation of a character who can transport himself anywhere on the planet in a split second, a character whose pet is a mythological bird who bursts into flames, on purpose, a character who uses a stick as his chief weapon against evil is as relevant as whether or not Clark Kent is a Republican. It just doesn’t matter.
While it may not matter it does beg the question: What else don’t we know about some of literature’s most famous characters?
Sam Spade is one of the most well-known hard boiled detectives ever. He wore a snap-brimmed fedora, carried a gun and had no trouble at all sending his girlfriend up the river. After all when a guy’s partner is killed you’re supposed to do something about it. Little did we know as we read Dashiell Hammet’s book or watched Humphrey Bogart that Sam Spade collected Precious Moments figurines and raised teacup Chihuahuas.
George Orwell wrote the book “Animal Farm,” a satirical allegory on the totalitarian state of Soviet Russia. The chief characters were animals. Snowball was a pig. He was a good pig. He worked for the greater good of all animals on the farm. He cared about making a society where all shared equally in the work and in the benefits. Something Mr. Orwell did not share with the readers was Snowball was truly conflicted. He was Jewish. Not only did communism denigrate the importance of religion, which made openly practicing his faith very risky, but he himself was not kosher.
The Laura Ingalls Wilder books have been childhood favorites for more than one generation of little girls. Well, one thing Ms. Wilder never stated outright for the audience was that Pa was dumb as a bag of hammers. This one is not a joke. Have you read those books recently? Pa was constantly leaving his family just as a blizzard was about to hit or dragging them into barely habitable parts of the country just because he felt closed in. This guy was a dim bulb of epic proportion.
The legend of Faust has been told in every generation. The main character sells his soul to the devil. In most incarnations the motivation of the transaction was Faust wanted great power and unlimited knowledge. What few people realize is he really just sold his soul for a really great pastry. Not just any old doughnut, we’re talking something with fruit and cream cheese.
In Hemingway’s novella, “The Old Man and the Sea” the old man catches the biggest fish he ever caught. He is thrilled with his success. He thinks about all the positive things which will befall him due to his skill and triumph. The secret that few ever knew was that he caught this huge marlin with Popeil’s Pocket Fisherman, otherwise known as the “biggest fishing invention since the hook” and he got it for just $19.95.
Maybe one of the biggest shockers is Hester Prynne was actually just a big fan of the Crimson Tide. That letter “A” was simply pledging her allegiance to the spirit of Bear Bryant and the great Alabama football teams of years past. It turns out Rev. Dimmesdale was an Auburn fan who couldn’t handle falling for a girl from Tuscaloosa.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Creature from the Porcelain Lagoon

Sometimes the planets align just perfectly, all things fall into place and the gods smile upon us. Like when the hometown team goes undefeated. Or if you put your money in the candy machine, it gives you your Snickers bar and then the coin return clinks and gives you your money back. Those good karma paybacks are sweet.
This past weekend, for the entire Dodge City Pyle family, was nothing like that. The stomach flu came to visit and this house guest came in like Clint Eastwood with a toothache. My family has been visited by illness before, but never have all five of us fallen at the same time, this hard.
As is often the case with something this insidious it started with the smallest target. Nine-year-old George was enjoying a Friday off from school at a friend’s house being rambunctious and child-like. One minute the scene is something Norman Rockwell would have painted for the Saturday Evening Post and the next minute George is running for the bathroom looking like something from one of those Alien movies. From bucolic to bubonic in nothing flat.
George was one sick little guy. Actually, he was creating enough (ahem) output to be three or four sick little guys. Claudia, my wife, commented that there was no way the rest of us would escape the same fate. To her it was like a bad horror movie. You know the kind, where it is not a question of if, but, when each character will be struck down by the masked psychopath (who was just mistreated in his childhood otherwise he would have grown up just fine, maybe even run a major corporation, but since his mother was a little picky about his behavior and locked him in a closet with seven or eight feral cats every time he would do just the slightest little thing, like set the mailman on fire, he grew up with a short temper and an affinity for the Husqvarna 450 chainsaw with its reduced exhaust engine meaning he could terrorize small towns yet still be environmentally friendly). I tried to think positive.
I was still thinking positively as I sat on the edge of the bed staring at the luminous numbers flip from 2:21 AM to 2:22 AM. I was concentrating so very hard on thinking positively because if I did anything other than think positively I was positively going to throw up. Before the clock could go to 2:23 AM I was gone to the bathroom.
Daughter number 1, Emilyjane was victim number 3 and daughter number 2, Alice was victim number 4. Other than the obvious symptoms aching heads, aching muscles and running to the bathroom every fifteen or twenty minutes we knew they we genuinely sick because they were sharing the same bed (in order to watch videos) for more than twenty minutes without any cries of “She took my pillow.” “Hey, get your foot off my side.” Or the ever popular, “She’s touching me!”
Sidebar: today’s entertainment technology makes the diversions whilst being sick much better. When I was sick as a kid I was stuck with soap operas, game shows, and The Mike Douglas Show. Now with DVDs my kids can watch things of their own choosing. If I wasn’t still weak I’d say, “No fair!”
Claudia was the quintessential caring mother. She felt unwell, but she kept going. She went to the store and lay in supplies: chicken noodle soup and gelatin snacks. (Things you only eat after a stomach illness or insulting guys named Snake.) She made sure everyone was warm enough, paying no attention to the fact the room seemed to lurch from time to time. She fetched anything desired for the convalescing foursome, disregarding personal discomfort. Then when the worst of it seemed to have passed for us, she went down and she went down hard, eleven hours of bathroom visits for the worst possible reason.
Even at the risk of being indelicate I wish to share something I learned during this experience. Everyone has their own personal style when it comes to the reverse peristalsis process. George was the best if one was measuring for distance or force. Emilyjane utilized some of her singing talents to give good vocalization. Alice was the most polite, but residual effects had her burping like a longshoreman after Oktoberfest. Claudia made pathetic sounds and apologized a lot. What about me you ask? I maintained my usual dignity and savoir faire during the actual act, but afterwards I could be found in a fetal position whimpering like a puppy during a thunderstorm.

Friday, October 19, 2007

One Man's Pain is Another Man's Punch Line

I have worked in the education field for the past fifteen years so forgive me if I use this space for a vocabulary lesson.
Today’s word is schadenfreude. It is a German word. If we do some etymological dissection we find two components. The first chunk is schaden which loosely translates to “damage or harm.” The second chunk is freude which translates to a Viennese doctor who interprets dreams as symbols of repressed sexuality causing people to write check after check to their therapists. So, when we put the two parts together we have a word with the following definition: n. a person who wants to beat up the doctor responsible for pointing out his id and ego are so out of balance even Super Ego (whose mild-mannered secret identity is a cigar salesman – sometimes a cigar salesman is just a cigar salesman) can’t save the day.
Okay, I made that definition up, but the word is real. Schaden is damage or harm but freude is joy. The meaning is taking delight in another person’s misfortune.
Schadenfreude is sweeping the nation. It is bigger than pet rocks, CB radios and Texas Hold ‘em, combined and it will outlast any of the aforementioned fads. Today’s media is awash in it and if you believe that the media is simply giving the people what they want than lots of people want it.
Some examples of schadenfreude are harmless enough. “America’s Funniest Home Videos” has been running on television for seventeen years. That means the baby from the first episode who was seen pushing his birthday cake onto the floor causing his mother to slip on the icing and do a triple Salchow past the microwave followed by a double Lutz against the side of the refrigerator inflicting a grade two concussion is now old enough to drive his motor scooter over a ramp making him airborne longer than Oliver and Wilbur’s contraption and then execute a landing as graceful as a drunk man crossing an icy street which raises the premiums for every single customer of his health insurance carrier. (The previous sentence was ninety-nine words long, a new personal best!)
I admit I do giggle at clips of guys walking into patio doors they thought were open. Projectiles of all sorts making impact with various men’s vulnerable bits is not all that funny to me, but it makes scores of people laugh and is a staple of blooper shows throughout the world. (I apologize to all the men in the audience who just subconsciously shifted uncomfortably in their chairs due to the proximity of the words “vulnerable bits” and “staple.”)
Actually, much of comedy is trading on the misfortune of others. From slipping on a banana peel in silent movies to Daffy Duck readjusting his beak which Elmer Fudd has just blasted with a shotgun to Jim Carey fooling everyone into thinking he’s talented, humor is often laughing at another person’s bad luck. Even the famed philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “What does not kill him makes me laugh.” Okay, he didn’t say that, but he did say, “Humor is schadenfreude with a clear conscience.”
Pratfalls, pies in the face, and a ball peen hammer applied with gusto to someone’s pinky toe (maybe that last one crosses a line) are all just good old-fashioned slapstick comedy. The problem is the news media is pandering to a meaner version of schadenfreude. I cannot see the fascination with brainless Hollywood starlets getting into trouble being anything but taking an absurd pleasure in someone else’s misfortune. Is there any other reason to be spending so much time with cameras pointed at Lindsay Lohan? Well, for some young men there are a couple of prominent reasons they want cameras pointed at her.
Whether you are a fan of Al Gore or not you have to admit a news program exploring the facts about global warming should take priority over whether or not Britney Spears is a good mother. Many people may consider Britney one hot number, but she isn’t melting any glaciers (she isn’t even spelling glaciers anytime soon).
I have a vision that one day everyone will stop taking pleasure in watching others suffer. They will instead see another’s pain as an opportunity to step up and help, making the world a better place. To those of you who think I am an idealist I say nyuck nyuck nyuck as I poke you in the eye. (cue laughtrack)

Christopher Pyle has a new favorite Nietzsche quote (not made up) “Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent.” I didn’t know he wrote for Henny Youngman. Contact Chris at

Thursday, October 11, 2007

To Dante and Back (sorry Eric)

Reading has become less and less popular. Okay, I know lots of people read everyday but many of them are not reading entire words much less entire books. Modern communication often requires people to talk in a language which had been exclusively reserved for personalized license plates. For example: “I would really appreciate it if you could send me a message on my cellular phone at a time other than right now.” becomes “plz txt l8r.” This is the human race’s alpha-numeric version of the clicks and whirrs dolphins use to communicate.
I appreciate the efficiency of this new version of the language, but I am too square to see any artistry in it. Crafting words is not just getting the most information into the fewest number of characters typed. Texting may be the modern day hi-tech version of the haiku. What is a haiku? It is a Japanese form of poetry which follows a strict set of rules requiring the poet to get the optimum amount of information into the fewest number of words. It is most commonly used as a tool to torture grade school students when it is assigned as homework to describe a spring rain.
Anyway, back to the reading habits of Americans. An AP poll published in August stated one in four people surveyed had not read a whole book in an entire year. The results were broken down into all sorts of sub-groups. Midwesterners read more than Southerners. Joke from the Midwestern point-of-view: It just takes longer to read a book when you have to move your lips. Joke from the Southern point-of-view: Reading is a great alternative to watching the paint dry on the barn.
Married men read more than single men. Well duh. A single man’s alternative to reading a book: hit the dance floor with a Jennifer Lopez look-alike and trip the light fantastic into the wee hours of the morning. A married man’s alternative to reading a book: re-grout the shower.
Women read more than men. Well, duh, again. A single woman’s alternative to reading: watch a man with severe delusions that he looks like Brad Pitt do odd arrhythmic gyrations at a garish discotheque. A married woman’s alternative to reading: watch a man with more thumbs than a hitch-hikers convention re-grout the shower.
I have readers in my family. I often have to take books from my kid’s sleeping hands after they try to read just one more chapter. My wife goes through spells of disappearing for hours or days when she becomes absorbed in a new literary discovery. My mother reads the classics and does not bat an eye if the page count of a book approaches a number akin to the blades of grass in Central Park. However, I have to say my brother, Eric, is the winner. Not only does he read more books than the entire population of many third world countries he reads books with titles too confusing for me to fully fathom.
Eric’s favorite book may by Dante’s Divine Comedy. I haven’t read it. I have a hard time dealing with the archaic language and situations. Maybe if someone updated it for the short-attention spanned 21st century man who will not get the Greek literature allusions any more than he can solve quadratic equations underwater, I’d read it.
I’ll get the ball rolling. Instead of Virgil as Dante’s tour guide through Hell, make it Geraldo. Just spending an extended amount of time with Geraldo is hellish in my mind. Also, for every level of Hell the punishments shouldn’t be so old school. Who can really empathize with sinners who are immersed in a lake of boiling pitch? That is so 14th century.
There are nine circles of Hell for Dante. Here are my suggestions. Circle One has sinners perpetually in the express lane at Dillon’s behind people with more than twelve items. Circle Two is a box of chocolates, all of which are coconut. Circle Three consists of riding in an elevator accompanied by three sumo wrestlers with 1,001 Strings playing the Paul Anka hit “You’re Having My Baby” on the little music speaker. Circle Four has you on a transcontinental flight seated between Anne Coulter and Keith Olbermann. Circle Five - karaoke. Circle Six is spent on the phone dealing with an automated directory trying to get connected to Heaven (“If you feel you have been cursed to eternal damnation in error please press 666 now.) Circle Seven - the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland. Circle Eight is talking to your insurance company about money they owe you. Circle Nine…computers…enough said.

Christopher Pyle was read to most every night by his mother as he grew up. She read everything from “Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars” to “Mr. Clutch”, Jerry West’s autobiography. She will have a special place in heaven for that patience.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Vast Wasteland or Pixels of Pleasure

It is that time of year again. The time of year when every once in a while there is a little nip in the air? The time of year when the leaves on the trees start to take on the tinge of the brilliant colors soon to come? The only time of the year when the Royals are not mathematically eliminated from the 2008 playoffs? Nope (well actually that Royals thing may be true). It is the time of year when the new television season starts.
I have always liked watching television. Most experts on children and youth would say I watched a mind-numbing amount of television growing up. Before anyone gets the wrong idea about the quality of my upbringing (after all, my mother reads this paper) I have to differ with those so-called experts. With apologies to Charlton Heston and company let me say, television doesn’t make people stupid, people make people stupid.
I learned a lot from television. I learned how to use the word “prehensile” in a sentence. Thank you Mr. Green Jeans. I learned a little about Wagnerian opera. Thanks to Elmer Fudd singing Kill the Wabbit. (It ain’t over until the transvestite rabbit sings.) I learned being a comedy writer for Alan Brady was the job I really wanted when I grew up. Thanks to Dick Van Dyke. I also learned forty-three minutes into each and every episode of the A-Team Mr. T would construct an amazing contraption capable of disabling an army of three thousand using only the parts of a 1959 Edsel Corsair.
A few years back my family gave up cable so for me the new season revolves around ABC, CBS, and NBC. It’s is kind of like my childhood all over again. We don’t even get PBS. Fox does come in on the television in the basement but that is my children’s turf.
I only venture down there around ten o’clock every night because none of my kids seem to understand that light switches can move in two directions. One direction means the light bulbs are given the power to make light which burns energy supplied by the electric company which in turn creates small pieces of paper which are mailed to my house causing my bank account to shrink. The other direction causes darkness. This means the electric company does not have to send energy into all those light bulbs for a full twenty-four seven which causes those little pieces of paper to suck less of the funds from my checking account. Is that so hard to understand?! Can you use one one hundredth of the energy it takes to text message those six letters which, in their own cryptic manner, impart more information than eighty-five pounds of Guttenberg type, and just flip the stupid switch!? (Sorry…lost control there for a second…I’m okay now.)
What was I talking about? Oh yeah, the new television season is upon us. Here are some of my first impressions of the networks new offerings.
I watched The Big Bang Theory, or as I like to call it Two and a Half Minds. It is the story of two genius guys who are about as likely to attract gorgeous blonde paramours as it is likely to find the word paramour somewhere else in this newspaper. So, of course, a gorgeous blonde moves in across the hall. Now here comes the fantasy part of the show, she talks to them, willingly walks into their apartment and takes a shower in their bathroom. This only happens in television shows or those letters written to certain men’s magazines.
My favorite part of the show is the two main characters are named Sheldon and Leonard. This absolutely has to be an homage (for fifty bonus points find homage elsewhere in the paper) to Sheldon Leonard the producer of such classic sitcoms as The Danny Thomas Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. He made great shows, but he should have outsourced the task of devising the titles.
The only other show I’ve seen is Chuck. This show is about a computer nerd who is suddenly thrust into a world of espionage and intrigue. He also has a gorgeous blonde become a major part of his life. Do you see a trend here?
The people creating television shows must have been the guys in high school who couldn’t get a date but had active imaginations. I smell a new career path…

Friday, September 28, 2007

It's Mime I Tell You, All Mime

As the world spins more and more rapidly (that is an analogy to describe how quickly aspects of our lives change, because if the world was really speeding up stuff would start falling off my desk) there are more and more things fading into history. The following is a phrase which may never be used by major news agencies again: world-renowned mime.
It was in the press recently though. Marcel Marceau, probably the last person to have that phrase attached to his name, passed away last week. Strangely enough, he had no last words.
When I told that joke at the dinner table my oldest daughter was aghast. She said it was tasteless. If any of the readers out there agree with her feel free to jam up the Globe Exchange phone lines with your complaints, but I still maintain it was funny.
I actually had great respect for Monsieur Marceau. I did see him perform on television and appreciated his ability to tell such complete stories with so little. He used body movements and facial expressions only to elicit in his audience understanding of complex situations and emotions.
However, as an art form, mime has more opportunities for ridicule than most. Admit it, if someone asked you to go to the Civic Center to see this “really cool mime” you would claim anything from relatives visiting from out of town to suddenly remembering you had a big presentation at work or even having to go to the emergency room to have a family of Emperor Gum Moth Caterpillars removed from your Eustachian tubes. Who would blame you? After you’ve seen one guy walk against the wind and find himself trapped in an invisible box you’d almost rather have to go to the hospital to get moth larvae removed from your inner ear.
The word mime itself is just funny.
Do you think Lorene Yarnell walked up to Robert Shields in a bar and asked “If you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the mime”? (Give yourself 50 bonus points if you remember the mime team of Shields and Yarnell from the late 70’s.)
In 1937 a gigantic tent was set up outside of the town of Alabaster, Alabama in which hundreds of pilgrims of a little known sect of Baptists, who believed talking to God was best done silently, held a three day revival meeting. To this very day there are folks in that part of the country who long for that old mime religion.
Since I pride myself on the exhaustive research I use to make this column educational I spent innumerable hours (okay, it was seven and half minutes on the internet) getting information on the state of mime in the 21st century.
First I found the School for Mime Theatre. As you can probably guess this place of higher learning is in one of the artistic centers of the United States, Gambier Ohio. Their website talks of a summer seminar which offered “opportunities for local community youth to interact with professional mimes” as well as participate in a live performance during the Fourth of July Parade. I am a pacifist by nature, but even I would have been sorely tempted to lob a few Black Cats at a group of local community youth playing tug-of-war with an invisible rope down Main Street.
I then found a message board for mimes, really, I did, promise. Here is the first message to catch my eye (I swear I did not make this up): “Do I really need to put a lot of thought into what my eyebrows look like?” But this is my favorite entry (I am still not making this up and even better it seems to be from the same guy who wrote the other question): “I was wondering if anyone had any mime music they could recommend. I want to practice at home, but I don't know what music to use.” I do hope someone helps this guy out. It would be so sad if he was stuck in his parents’ basement practicing his mime sporting Leonid Brezhnev eyebrows performing to Creeping Death by Metallica.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Using Wikipedia to self-diagnose

I’m tired. The preceding statement is not meant as a complaint, just a simple statement of fact. I used to think as an energy-challenged person I was in the minority, but as I look around it becomes more and more obvious there are a lot of people in the same boat (a boat which is not going anywhere anytime soon because no one has the gumption to pick up an oar and propel the dinghy onward).
Not being a card carrying hypochondriac I did not immediately go to medical professionals to see if I had a deeply entrenched malady causing my consistent sense of weariness. Besides, that would require too much effort. Finally, I went where it is easiest to access information, the internet. The first self-diagnosis was chronic fatigue syndrome, just because the name fit.
I quickly abandoned the idea that chronic fatigue syndrome was my difficulty. That problem is described as debilitating. I am not debilitated. I just prefer not to move around much. While reading the description of CFS I came across another medical issue which may have been more fitting.
My new discovery was called orthostatic intolerance. Here is the four years in med school (or at least dedicated viewer of ER) definition of orthostatic intolerance: the development of symptoms during upright standing relieved by recumbency. If you do not recognize the term recumbency don’t feel bad, neither does the spell check on my computer. (Have you ever thought how useless spell check is to people in highly specialized scientific fields? Every paper they write must look like Dean Martin’s eyes – enough red wavy lines to draw a roadmap from Boston to Los Angeles via Juneau. For those of you under 40 simply take out Dean Martin’s name and replace it with Lindsay Lohan’s, it’ll make more sense.)
Let’s take a moment to examine the definition. The development (process of something becoming larger, stronger, or more advanced) of symptoms (indications of a disease or other disorder) during upright (standing vertically) standing (being upright…seems somewhat redundant doesn’t it?) relieved (to end, lessen, or provide a temporary break from something unpleasant) by recumbency (sitting back down). This means when you stand up you really just want to sit back down. Talk about an “AHA!” moment.
I decided to read on. Symptoms (see previous paragraph for the definition of this arcane medical term) of OI are triggered by several things. Trigger number one is being in an upright posture for long periods of time. The hazy point is the real definition of “long” periods of time. Standing in line for a burger and fires I have stamina. Standing in line for tickets to the new Broadway version of Xanadu, an abysmal Olivia Newton-John movie from 1980 which was sadly Gene Kelly’s last turn on the big screen, makes me require an intravenous drip of caffeine. Trigger number two is a warm environment after exercise. Come on, any environment after exercise makes me want to lie down. The third trigger is an emotionally stressful event. I guess this translates to “When the going gets tough the OI folks need a cold compress and to elevate their feet.” The final trigger is an inadequate intake of fluids and salt. Can you say Medicinal Margaritas?
I admit it. I have no real medical problem. I’m just a lazy man trapped in a busy person’s body. Judging from the huge growth of energy drinks I must not be the only one fighting this.
The first one I heard of was Red Bull. Upon further investigation Red Bull may be akin to hot dogs. It is better not to know how it is made. Towards the bottom of the can it touts it is made with Taurine. Do you know what Taurine is? It is also known as 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid, which is an organic acid and a major component of bile. Taurine is found in the tissues of many animals, as well as plants, fungi and some species of bacteria. (Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm, just like Grandma used to make.) It is called Taurine from the Latin word taurus meaning a defunct line of Ford cars. Sorry, it is called Taurine from the Latin word taurus meaning bull, because it was first isolated from ox bile.
To me this all means someone at some point actually said these words. “I know just what this needs, a shot of ox bile!”

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Commerce over Art in a TKO

In 1974 there was a big hit movie in which Charles Bronson suffered through an atrocious crime committed against his family. He then picked up a gun, or seven, and began shooting the bad guys on the streets of New York City. The craggy faced tough guy exemplified old-fashioned American justice. Bronson was a mean dude.
America has come a long way since the “Death Wish” movie. We are kinder. We are gentler. Even our movies have softened up over the years. For example, a movie is coming out this month in which Jodie Foster suffers through an atrocious crime committed against her family. She then picks up a gun, or seven, and begins shooting bad guys on the streets of New York City. See what I mean. We have come a long way. Now the vigilante is pretty.
The following is a bit of trivia which may only be interesting to me. In the “Death Wish” movie one of the crazed criminals who started Mr. Bronson on his reign of revenge was played by Jeff Goldblum. Mr. Goldblum has gone on to have a very successful movie career. His character in the credits was Jeff Goldblum as Freak #1. How would you like to make that phone call home?
“Hey, mom, I just got a part in a big time movie starring Charles Bronson.”
“That is so exciting, son. I always knew you’d make it in Hollywood, even if your father tried to get you to go to DeVry and learn a proper trade.”
“Gee, thanks ma.”
“So, tell me. What is your part?
“Oh, that isn’t important. I get a good paycheck and my agent says it is a wonderful opportunity.”
“That’s so exciting, but I need to tell Aunt Bernice about this. What part are you playing?”
“Gosh, ma, do you really have to tell Aunt Bernice?”
“Of course I have to tell Bernice. She is always bragging about her Simon, the top salesman at the Florsheim store for four months running.”
“Well, okay. The script lists me as Freak #1.”
“Jeffrey, my son.”
“Yeah, ma.”
“Your father tells me there is a DeVry in Sherman Oaks right next to that big mall where you used to work in the food court. Let me get you the number.”
We will now return to the main thesis of this column. I fear there is a general slippage into a meaner, less empathetic, sort of society. One of the reasons for this is the fact that the arts are getting their backsides kicked by commerce. Art is something which shows people what it means to be human. Whether it be Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, or even little Billy’s portrait of his father showing him with the head of a wooly mammoth and the torso of an amoeba drawn entirely with carnation pink and burnt sienna Crayolas, art holds up an example of what man is capable of creating and most often aims to show what man should strive for.
On the other hand commerce shows what man is capable of doing in order to get more money than the other guy and therefore have a better car. Really, who would you rather spend a day with? Yo-Yo Ma playing Prelude from Suite No. 1 in G Major for Cello and discussing the intricacies of J.S. Bach, or that Jim Cramer guy from CNBC screaming at you about mortgage rates? (Okay, I know neither one would be at the top of my list either, but Mr. Ma would be easier to ignore while watching the football game, besides, just saying his name makes me giggle.)
My brother, who is a deeper thinker than most people I know, quoted Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau on his blog. The quote was the following: In a social system animated by competition for property, the human personality was metamorphosed into a form of capital. Here it was rational to invest only in properties that would produce the highest return. Personal feeling was a handicap since it distracted the individual from calculating his best interest and might pull him along economically counterproductive paths.
My translation (which may be entirely wrong): In a world which only values money, a person becomes nothing more than walking and talking nickels and dimes. All anyone cares about is making a buck. We all have to concern ourselves with getting our share of the pie. This means caring about each other and reaching for artistic growth leaves you poor.
Do you think Mr. Rousseau knew about Donald Trump?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

This Column is Really, Really, Important!

There is probably no newspaper headline in history more famous than the Chicago paper stating “Dewey Defeats Truman.” It seems odd to me the best known headline happens to be one of the least accurate. Not only was it the other way around, but this was well before anyone had heard of a “hanging chad” and the only time the words “bush” and “gore” would be used in the same sentence was if the author wished to describe a person hiding in a bit of shrubbery from a blood thirsty longhorn.
A newspaper headline serves more than one purpose. One is to alert the reader to the basic content of the story below it. Another is to entice the reader to read the story, or in the case of the front page headline buy the paper. Newspapers have this dumb rule about having truth be the basis for headlines. Otherwise the rule about enticing people to buy the paper would be the only rule and headlines would be much more fun. Can you imagine an issue of the News saying this? “Buy This Paper or DIE!” Circulation would go through the roof.
The world champion of fabulous headlines is far and away the World Weekly News. With such winners as “Tiny Terrorists Disguised as Garden Gnomes”, “Bible’s Four Horsemen Ask Directions in Paris”, “Ventriloquist Dead – But His Dummy’s Still Talking” and “Hotcakes No Longer Selling Well” this paper was the best. I use the past tense correctly. The World Weekly News is gone. I was shocked to find out this bastion of journalistic integrity was no more. No more would I get uncontrollable giggles while standing in line at the supermarket to sign over my mortgage in order to buy two gallons of milk. No more would I see the gleaming eyes (and teeth) of Bat Boy looking up at me. But worst of all, no more could I harbor my secret wish, my one true goal in life. No more could I dream of working for a newspaper which lets you make things up. Not just make things up but pull things from the depths of some wild imaginary trip which would make Timothy Leary check into rehab.
So, with the reigning champion of headlines going into retirement I decided to just cruise the internet and look for headlines which caught my interest.
On Time magazine’s website I read this: “Study: Estrogen May Fight Dementia.” For a man who writes a humor column, this headline screams for comment. Estrogen may fight dementia, but did the study say it won? Women with their recommended levels of estrogen may not have dementia but that doesn’t mean they aren’t carriers. Okay, now the other side. Since men do not have proper levels of estrogen they may have dementia. The problem is how can you tell? A man may have dementia but since he is never in touch with his true emotions he doesn’t really care.
The next headline I looked at was on Yahoo News: “Doctor Warns Consumers of Popcorn Fumes.” Since I worked at movie theaters all through my high school years I was worried. Not only did I pop popcorn and serve popcorn, but unfortunately, I cannot truthfully say I did not inhale.
I was relieved to find out the danger was in microwave popcorn. It seems the butter flavoring does not have pure butter (gasp) but something called diacetyl which can cause lung problems. Of course the greedy big business people have their response. The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association issued this statement: “We all know how hard it is to believe, but we can swear on any stack of Bibles you wish to produce, that there actually is a Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association.” I know. I was shocked too.
The last headline was on It read: “Men Want Hot Women, Study Confirms.” I have a new dream. Since the World Weekly News will never be hiring again I want to work for whatever organization bankrolled that study. What a great job. Water quenches thirst, study confirms…Getting hit in the head with a Nolan Ryan fastball hurts like crazy, study confirms…Voting for a Democratic presidential candidate in the state of Kansas makes no sense as long as the Electoral College is still in place, study confirms.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

On a mission

I don’t know when it became a requirement but it seems every organization nowadays has to have a mission statement. The definition offered by an entity called Business Directions says a mission statement describes the purpose for which your organization exists. Following this description I would hope people within the organization would not need to consult the mission statement frequently.
“Hey, Bob, I’ve forgotten what we’re doing here at Microsoft. Am I researching new and better ways to create software which will maximize personal and business productivity or does it have something to do with otters?”
“Well, Dave, let’s just whip out our handy dandy mission statement. Hmmm, nope, no otters, it must be that software thing.”
Referring to the mission statement on the wall throughout the day would be like checking the name tag your mom sewed into your underwear in order to remember your name. Useful, yet pathetic.
“Why is it so important to have a mission statement?” you ask. Even if you did not ask I am going to tell you. Otherwise this column will be entirely too short. Once again according to Business Directions the chief benefits are it will focus the energy and clarify the purpose of your group. This I understand. Keeping one clear purpose and making sure all of your energies go to that purpose would make most any group unbelievably productive.
Let’s use an imaginary mission statement for an imaginary company to prove this point. Our company is Paint Chips Inc. and its mission statement is “To create the most arcane names for all the paint colors in every hardware store in America in order to appeal to all the women and confuse all the men.” (You know what I’m talking about. A couple wants to paint the kitchen the man wants blue the woman can’t decide between ‘undercool’ and ‘cloudless’. I did not make up those color names, but they are both just blue as far as I’m concerned.) This mission statement is used to guide every decision made by the company. Let’s listen in to a staff meeting.
“Mr. Argyle, sir the synonym department needs to buy a new thesaurus. Will you authorize that expenditure?”
“Certainly, Mr. Grape, that fits right into our mission statement.”
“Mr. Argyle, the visualizer department wants to take a trip to Hawaii to look at flowers, sunsets, and volcanic activity.”
“Buy them the tickets, Grape. That fits our mission statement as well.”
“Sir, the fire marshal called this morning. He says we can’t chain the typists to their desks anymore. It impedes their egress if there is an emergency.”
“Sorry, Grape, that does not fit the mission statement.”
“Sir, I have to agree with the fire marshal.”
“Where in the mission statement does it say Paint Chips Inc. will concern itself with keeping our employees safe in case of a fire? I need them typing those names. Do you think those little cards are going to write ‘Sands of Time’ and ‘Relentless Olive’ on themselves? I don’t think so. Next item.”
Okay, maybe only focusing on the mission statement wouldn’t be a good idea after all.
This is the mission statement I found for Exxon: To provide our shareholders a secure investment with a superior return. That sounds great if you are investing a chunk of the trust fund Granddad left you. If there were truth in mission statements laws like there are truth in advertising laws it might go more like this: To provide our shareholders a secure investment with a superior return without regard to the environment, and being sure to jack up gas prices for no discernible reason other than that superior return part we mentioned earlier.
Actually, I think individuals need truthful mission statements more than companies. In addition, it should be required people share these mission statements with each other before entering into any kind of relationship.
A person applying for a job foregoes the resume and hands over his accurate mission statement: John Smith, To get a job in order to take home a paycheck while doing the very minimum to avoid getting fired.
An even more important situation would be before going on a first date. Bill Johnson: To have a meaningless physical relationship for no more than twelve hours while attempting to stick my date with the dinner check.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Race from the White House 2007

The well-worn path being created as more and more folks scamper out of the Rose Garden has to make the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue feel a little abandoned. If all my friends were devising weak reasons to stop hanging out with me I know I’d become worried. Nobody has resigned from the Bush White House because she had to wash her hair, but I expect Condoleezza to announce that any day now.
In an article published in the Hutchinson News Saturday, August 18th the Associated Press reported eight different high level advisors had resigned over the past few months. I knew most of the polls were showing only 30 to 40% of those polled approved of the way he was doing his job. However, I never guessed the people responding did not have A.C.L.U. cards in their wallets but rather employee parking passes for the White House.
One of the most recent to report his impending departure was Tony Snow, the Press Secretary. He said it was a decision based on financial concerns. The quote was: “I will not be able to make it to the end of this administration, just financially.” When you find out he only makes a lousy $168,000 dollars a year you understand. Really, he is a married man with three children. It must be hard to make ends meet supporting a family on that income. Hold it a minute, I’m a married man with three children. I make much less than the $3,230.77 a week he grosses and I get by. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t question what he says. As the President’s Press Secretary, he is the spokesman for the most powerful man in the free world (don’t tell Rupert Murdoch, we’ll just let him go on living the fantasy), so of course Mr. Snow has never uttered a false statement. (I’ve got to be careful because Alberto Gonzales hasn’t quit yet.)
Also, one of the most powerful men behind the man is going to leave the White House. Karl Rove has been one of the most, long-standing, influential confidantes (or co-conspirators depending upon your political leanings) for George W. Bush. He has announced he will be leaving his job soon. One of his chief reasons was he wanted to spend more time with his family. Hmmm, he has an ex-wife, a current wife and an 18 year old son. It sure takes a lot of time to fulfill those obligations.
My guess is the ex-wife would not be real thrilled to come home and find Mr. Rove parked on her couch eating chips, sipping a Bud, and watching the Braves game. She had a reason to divorce him so spending a Sunday afternoon discussing John Smoltz’s Hall of Fame credentials with her ex-husband (a.k.a. the ex-chief advisor to the commander-in-chief) cannot be on the top of her “to do” list.
As far as his current family is concerned if his eighteen year-old son is like most eighteen year-old sons he is enjoying the carefree days of college life. Having the old man show up at the frat house when you’re putting the moves on the highly cute and slightly inebriated girl from your comparative religions class is totally not cool. On the other hand since he can arrange to have the chief rival for her affection suddenly find himself sunning on the pale sands of exotic Guantanamo Bay, good ol’ Dad might come in handy.
But, the unkindest cut of all has to be his own daughter. Jenna announced her engagement. In order to distance herself from Dad she is willing to marry Henry Hager, some politico Padawan (that’s Jedi talk for apprentice) to the aforementioned Lord of the Sith, Darth Rovious. (I admit I have crossed a nerd line here, but it works, he got his start as an intern for Rove.) Henry’s father was Virginia’s first director of homeland security, so at least George knows their mail will be read and phone conversations listened to, making it easy to keep tabs on his little girl.
I bet the Georges Bush (Dad and Grandfather) are disappointed their little girl has stepped so far out of the circle to marry. Oh sure, he comes from a solid family, a rich family, he is politically motivated, he’s a Republican, but he didn’t go to Yale. I can just hear them at the dinner table: “Can you believe she’s marrying a Wake Forest man? Oh, the shame...”

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Going to Cell in a Hand Cart

Earlier this week I was part of a very large group of people placed in a contained space for over two hours. When we were released I was one of the few who did not feel the need to move as quickly as rats leaving the Bush White Hou…oops, I mean a sinking ship. Since I was taking a leisurely stroll to my car I was able to observe the other folks. This is my conclusion from that experience. Cigarettes have been replaced by cell phones.
I realize on first glance this seems like a dumb thing to say. Saying dumb things is something at which I excel. However, the more I think about this the more I think I’m bloody well brilliant for postulating this theory.
The first supporting detail was what I noticed Monday. Upon leaving the building a huge number of folks reached immediately for their phones. It was truly amazing to me how many people needed to talk to someone RIGHT NOW. It couldn’t wait until lunch time. It couldn’t wait until they drove to their next destination. It couldn’t even wait until the sun fully cooked away the residual air conditioning off their clothes. They had to call that very second.
That is an addiction my friends as insidious as nicotine, as hard to shake as a Lucky Strike habit, and as malicious as Marlboro mania. To put it simply… it just isn’t really a good thing for people to be that dependent on an electronic device for their happiness. Okay, so that wasn’t put simply. You get what I mean though.
The cell phone habit can do many of the same things that smoking does. The user may suddenly find himself facing a deficit in his cash flow. A two pack a day habit costs something like $40 to $50 a month. Cell phone bills can make that look like coins in sofa cushions.
As I extrapolate this theory further the parallels between cigarettes and cell phones are amazing. Cigarette packages fit perfectly into a man’s shirt pocket, so do cell phones. Cigarettes require you to use your mouth and your hands, so do cell phones. Cigarettes smolder for several minutes after you light them, so do cell phones.
A really cool cigarette smoker would keep a cigarette behind his ear as he walked around in public. A really cool cell phone user has a “hands-free” device attached to his ear as he walks around in public. Actually, both of these affectations makes me want to approach the person and very politely kick him in the shin and run away.
Back before they were outlawed throughout the land, cigarettes annoyed people in public places. Now cell phones do that. You’re sitting in a movie theater and just when the hero is deciding which wire to cut on the incendiary device planted in the basement of an orphanage filled with puppies the entire audience is treated to a tinny electronic rendition of Wild Cherry’s 1976 hit “Play That Funky Music, White Boy.” After the refrain and two choruses the yutz finally answers the incoming call. He proceeds to have a conversation, loudly. This makes everyone else in the audience want to strap an incendiary device to his Motorola, putting him out of their misery.
If you or a loved one are struggling with a cell phone addiction there may be help available. Lessons learned from watching people kick the smoking addiction could be applied to this newest scourge. Going cold turkey and flushing your cell phone down the toilet may not work for many people and it can be hard on the pipes. If a cigarette smoker can switch to a nicotine patch a cell phoner can get one which only texts. Some of the buzz without all the harsh health risks. A support group could help, but an 800 number hot line seems counter-productive.
If simpler methods fail one could turn to aversion therapy. For a smoker every time he took a puff a trained physician would administer an electric shock making the process of smoking much less pleasurable. Doing this for a cell phone addict would be much easier. They would not have to sit in a clinic. The cell phone could be wired so instead of playing an insipid song or vibrating when a call was coming in it could send 20 volts (not a commonly lethal level) into the person answering. After experiencing a few jolts like that talking to one’s BFF might be less attractive. The keypad could also be booby trapped with high voltage shocks so texting would require thumbs of asbestos.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Some things go together, some things don't

The old saying has always been, “politics makes strange bedfellows.” Well it appears business may create even odder ones. It was announced a few weeks ago the Energizer Company was going to purchase the Playtex Company. Just bringing this to your attention may be sufficient for a humor column. I am sure most people reading this have already come up with their own jokes about the Energizer Bunny and any one of many Playtex products. My work here is done…
Big companies have been buying big companies for ages. Here are some of note from the last decade or so. Exxon bought Mobile Oil and became Exxon/Mobile. Time Corporation bought Warner Communications and became Time-Warner. Then America Online bought them creating Time-Warner/AOL. These people may be stinking rich, but they are not very imaginative when it comes to naming their new companies.
This trend of just sticking the two names of the formerly separate companies together makes it easier for the general public to recognize the brands but it should not always be done. For example, if a certain diversified manufacturer purchased a particular heavy equipment manufacturer it would become Eaton-Caterpillar, which is down right unappetizing to say the least. However, if that same diversified manufacturer purchased a particular Pennsylvania company and then bought a certain insurance group it would be Eaton-Hershey-Chubb. This tells a simple story of cause and effect. If one major retailer purchased a retailer of home improvement materials it would be Target-Lowe’s, sounds like Robin Hood is trying to hit the Sheriff of Nottingham’s ankles.
There are some companies which should be able to do the hostile takeover thing simply because of their names. Pep Boys would have no trouble with La-Z-Boy, but neither of them have a chance against Manpower. Everyone who has ever used a quick hand game to decide who gets the last slice of pizza knows International Paper beats Rockwell International.
Another recent example of one company buying another is IHOP restaurants purchasing the chain of Applebee’s restaurants. These are two companies which do basically the same thing, feed hungry patrons. Yet they each bring something of benefit to the other. Applebee’s offers car side service, a wide variety of appetizers, menu items friendly to vegetarians and people trying to eat healthy. IHOP offers a dirt load of syrup.
The merger of two restaurant chains makes sense. Anyone can see them living together harmoniously, but some companies just do not go together. Can you imagine a merger of Smith and Wesson and Wesson Oil? The combined name flows off the tongue quite easily, Smith and Wesson Oil. Even though you can shoot the chicken and fry it up in one fell swoop, it is most difficult to load the bullets with your fingers covered with 100% pure vegetable oil.
Okay, maybe that example is a bit far-fetched. How about this? Phil Knight at Nike decides to buy L’Oreal. Athletic shoes and hair coloring products do not at first glance go together. However, I have seen women with such a bad dye job running away seemed like a good idea at the time. Upon closer inspection it is the snappy slogans associated with the companies which make them natural allies. Just Do It Because You’re Worth It. It even makes a complete sentence.
Slogans are very important to corporations trying to make sure they stay at the forefront of the public’s awareness. Think back. You can probably remember slogans from your early days. “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is,” is instantly recognizable to more than one generation of television watchers. As powerful as slogans are getting them mixed up can cause some real damage. So, merging companies must exercise caution.
Think of the disaster if the slogan Sonic is using to point out their restaurants are open deep into the night (Even sweeter after dark) became associated in the consumer’s mind with a different product. A product like maybe, Coppertone? People would be very confused. Or if the slogan Colgate toothpaste is using at the moment (So clean you can feel it) got mixed up with a company which sold kitty litter.
Now let’s take a moment to pick out some companies which really should merge. Taco Bell and Tums make a natural partnership. Without the existence of the one the other would take a real hit to his bottom line. Anheuser-Busch and Bayer are a match made in hang-over heaven. It may be a vicious circle but Jenny Craig being purchased by Russell Stover makes sense on many levels. Finally, for all you parents of diaper wearing children Huggies buying large chunks (no pun intended) of stock in Renuzit is a no-brainer.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Supermarketing does not always make sense

I used to believe the advertising and marketing of products was a well thought out process undertaken by intelligent and highly trained individuals. I mean look at Darren on “Bewitched”, both of them, he (they) worked hard to come up with just the right imagery. Lately, not all of the decisions of the Madison Avenue brain trust make a lot of sense to me.
The other day I took a leisurely stroll through the local supermarket. Usually, I run into the store, get the few things I have been sent for (plus something with nougat or caramel), rush to the self checkout (grumble as the guy in front of me pays using a penny jar the size of a shop vac), and then scamper out (being sure to eat the contraband candy before I get home). This time I looked around and saw many puzzling things.
I came across a selection of very healthy cereals. I read the boxes simply to pass the time. I have no interest in eating healthy cereals. This prejudice was validated the more I learned about them.
The first brand I saw was called Perky-O’s. In big letters it proudly proclaimed it was gluten free. I have no idea what gluten is so I was willing to believe I would prefer not to have it as part of any well-balanced breakfast. Then I noticed another large label saying it had thirty percent less sugar. How can something called Perky-O’s have less sugar? Perky equals sugar.
It got worse. Next I saw a cereal called Good Friends. The package featured two very happy people with their heads together smiling out at me. They were way too happy for early morning. It said it was very high fiber. I suppose if you are going to share high fiber cereal with a friend it had better be a good friend.
In order to make the ingredients sound attractive the makers of Good Friends gave them a lyrical quality. One variety said it was made of a quartet of flakes, blossoms, granola, and raisins. Blossoms? Then I remembered the lyrics to that San Francisco song from the sixties. “If you’re going to San Francisco. Be sure to wear some flowers in your teeth.”
The other variety touted a trio of flakes, twigs, and granola. It actually said twigs! Who would spend nearly five dollars to buy cereal which boasts of twigs? I can buy a knock-off brand of Froot Loops for a buck fifty and then go into my backyard and add all the twigs my little heart desires, for free. I suppose it comes in handy when the main dish supplies its own toothpicks in every spoonful. I preferred it when my breakfast featured a prize of a decoder ring or little plastic “Freakies” characters, not bits of dead tree. Somehow I think I could make several more jokes abut having twigs in cereal, but I’ll let you all play the home version while I move on.
Wait, one more. “Don’t worry, honey, the new cereal I got is fine. Its bark is worse than its bite.”
I had to get back to something I understood so I went to the regular cereal aisle. My old friends were all there: Toucan Sam, Tony the Tiger, and those elf guys with the onomatopoeia names. But, wait a minute, something is not quite right. There is a new version of Rice Krispies. The box has big letters saying it is an “organic” version. This begs the question if one of the elf guys should change his name. I mean if the cereal is organic and helps your digestive system stay regular maybe the last guy should add another “O” to his name.
Every big corporation wants a piece of the action in supermarkets now. Disney has all sorts of food products. Breakfast cereals, ice cream and even Mickey Mouse lunch meat. You have to admit with the questions surrounding the manufacture of certain kinds of meat products it takes real courage to put a picture of a rodent on your package.
Disney has a lot of marketing experience but this last product has to be a mistake, Old Yeller dog food. Didn’t anybody in the pet food division see the movie? “Our dog food is specially formulated for the family pet that contracts rabies after fighting off an infected wolf to protect the children. Included in every bag - a box of tissue and a bullet!”

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Where oh, where...

I didn’t grow up a dog person. We had gerbils. We had a fish tank. A fish tank with snails and fish until the snail to fish ratio got so out of hand looking into the tank was not possible due to the number of snails sliming their way across the glass. They might move slowly, but they multiply faster than a Hewlett Packard 9100B.
My wife grew up a dog person. I cannot remember all the names and breeds her family had, but she can. She had a dog when we got married. Her dog didn’t like me moving into his house.
His favorite way of punishing me was to ask to go out right when I was going to bed. He particularly liked it with wind chills hovering around Tenzing Norgay levels. He was a Shih Tzu so his ancestors were from the Himalayas. This meant he was better prepared for the cold than I. It also meant he was around ten pounds so he couldn’t take me in a fair fight. He had to rely on trickery. He would get me outside then stand stock still with his muzzle pointing directly into the frigid wind. Occasionally, he would peek at me to enjoy seeing the grown man shivering in flannel pants and slippers. If I hurried him and came in from the cold sooner than he wanted to I would be rewarded with a very warm spot on my carpet.
At the moment the senior dog in the house was a pet sitting episode gone horribly wrong. When we lived in Cimarron the kids ran a pet sitting service. We would take other people’s dogs into our house and all too frequently onto my bed. Anyway, a lady asked us to watch her dog while she was out of town. That was eight years ago. The lady was not placed in the federal witness protection plan, nor did she choose the same career path as Shelley Long. She is fine and living in Cimarron. By my calculations her pet sitting bill is now $16,790 (including the 15% gratuity); leap year days are on me.
The junior dog in the house caused quite a stir recently. Alice, the middle of our three kids, has always wanted a pug or something similar. My wife told this to a friend who works with the local humane society. That is what brought Rosie into our lives about a month ago.
On the 4th of July we had friends over for dinner and didn’t want the dogs under foot while we ate. Both dogs were placed in the backyard. The backyard which Dad (a.k.a. Me) had not properly fixed to hold a small dog. So, we now have a small dog and a fence with imperfections large enough for a small dog to fit through if properly motivated. Then came the perfect motivation: fireworks.
Once we discovered her escape we all scattered in impromptu search parties. Finding a small lost dog is hard enough, but on this night it was impossible. All the explosions made it sound like Bruce Willis was filming a re-make of a Sam Peckinpah movie directed by Quentin Tarantino in Chilton Park.
The next day we marshaled the troops. Flyers were made. Phone calls were made. We visited the Animal Shelter. We wandered the streets. I went to the radio station and asked the Steves (Brown and Deno) and Keith to announce the A.P.P.B. (all points puppy bulletin). We talked to the Humane Society people. Alice called her sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Teran, and had her translate our flyer so we could have it in Spanish. The Globe will place lost dog ads for free. Everyone was great.
I don’t write suspense thrillers so I will let you know we now have the dog back. After a week of being missing Rosie and Alice are reunited and there was great rejoicing. A nice person found Rosie on the evening of July 4th and took good care of her. She eventually saw a flyer and brought her to our house.
So many people were so helpful I cannot thank them enough. Not only people I count as friends, but people who were simply empathetic to a girl and her lost pet. Shona, Barb, and Jane from the Humane Society, the radio guys, Mrs. Teran, my wife’s walking buddies (Janie and Susan), strangers we talked to as we looked, friends who walked with us to look, kind-hearted mail carriers, and even the guy on the bicycle who took the flyer offered to him as he whizzed past my wife shouting back that he would keep an eye out.

Potter, Potter everywhere, nor any drop to drink

It happened quite by accident. A friend of my wife’s recommended a book to read aloud to our girls (Emilyjane was five and Alice was three, this pre-dated our third child, George). Little did we know the impact it would have on us, much less the world. Of course, I am referring to “The Sickness Unto Death” by Soren Kierkegaard. Our 3 year old had a very interesting take on the philosopher’s assertion that people often seek to disprove the existence of a supreme being because of their own shortcomings in avoiding sin. Naaaah, only kidding. The book I’m talking about was actually “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. The book which started it all for so many people sucked my family in completely (even George as soon as he crossed from the blob-like existence of an infant into a more sentient creature).
Today marks the one-week-left point before the final book hits the shelves. My family will be at the local bookseller for the midnight release to get our copies, yes, plural. In order to avoid dissention in the ranks three children and one wife will get his or her own copy. If I had to make book (so to speak) I’d give 3 to 1 odds the oldest daughter will finish the 784 pages first. Foregoing sleep and sustenance from the moment she gets hold of it, she will read until the end. I, on the other hand, will definitely be the last one finished. I like sleep and sustenance way too much. This is why I don’t rate a copy of my own. I take too long.
I take too long, partially because, unlike the children, I have a job. Being the slowest also means I will require something of the family which is hard for them to do, silence. “Don’t tell me anything that happens! If you do I may have to drop the book, which is roughly the size of a microwave oven, on your toes…twice.” A few days after the book is released, if someone peeks into the window as my family eats dinner, it is likely they will see four people eating and having an animated conversation. The fifth person (me) will be staring longingly at his spaghetti, sitting with each index finger planted deeply into each ear whilst humming “Stars and Stripes Forever” with great enthusiasm. Who needs the South Beach Diet? I have the I-Don’t-Want-To-Find-Out-If-Snape-Is-A-Good-Guy-Or-A-Bad-Guy-Until-I-Read-It-Myself Diet.
Truth be told, I haven’t read the last three books in the series. I listened to them. I love being read to. My mother did for the majority of my youth and I always placed myself in the proper spot so I could hear her read to my little sister when I was officially to cool to have my mother read to me at bedtime.
The Potter series is available in audio formats read by Jim Dale. Jim Dale is not a well-known actor. After you star in “Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World” it is hard to find just the right movie to follow up. He does a fantastic job. He is even listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the greatest number of distinct characters voiced in an audio book – 134 in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” The former record holder was Rich Little reading “Pilgrim’s Progress” using the voices of every guest invited to the 1977 after Oscars party thrown by Swifty Lazar.
Mr. Dale also accomplished something a great number of fathers could not do. He kept three children still and quiet as our minivan traveled the width of two full states. I would much rather hear, “Can you turn it up a little?” as opposed to “Daaaaddd, Alice wiped her hands on me and I’m covered with cheese doodle dust!”
Something as big as the Potter phenomenon means everyone wants a piece of the action. A big chain of video stores advertised the book. Video stores are the haven of people who avoid reading. Students rent “Of Mice and Men” in order to write their book report, but show their ignorance when they keep referring to Lenny and his best friend Squiggy. Grocery stores have cardboard cut-outs of the boy wizard counting down the days to release. Pick up some milk, a loaf of bread and a pound and a half of Harry. Actually, the book may weigh more than that. This is why I feel sorry for the car hops at Sonic because with the purchase of every Potter book you receive a free side of french fries (or potato wands).

Christopher Pyle predicts Harry will survive the final book but will discover that Darth Vader is his father. If you wish to argue this point Christopher can be contacted at The headline proves he occasionally listened in Mr. Knauer’s class.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Okay, it has been over a week and I haven’t seen one red cent increase in my bank account. The good people of this fair city voted for a casino. There was supposed to be this wonderful windfall of cash. I don’t know about you, but I’m a little peeved because I don’t have any money coming my way. I bet some multi-national corporation is in cahoots with the government to funnel all the money into an off-shore account to fund secret research in an attempt to develop an automobile which runs on grass clippings in order to hide it from the consumers thus lining the pockets of Exxon and Lee Iacocca.
What’s that? They haven’t even started building the casino yet?
I have been handed an article from a previous issue of the Daily Globe. Talk amongst yourselves while I catch myself up on the facts…
It seems it may be a while before anyone starts building the Las Vegas of the plains. According to the article by Mark Vierthaler (who seems to be very bright young man – probably due to the fact he had a certain newspaper columnist as his sixth grade teacher) there is an ongoing legal action which could make it a year before the Lottery people can even go ahead and make plans to build casinos. So, if we are waiting for the swift machinations of the court system and government bureaucracy, there may be casinos on Mars before there is one in Dodge City, America.
Even though it could be a year or two before the one armed bandits start eating dollars, I bet there are a lot of folks who think we got trouble right here in Its-Been-Like-Thirty-Years-Since-We-Had-Water-In-Our-River City and that starts with T and that rhymes with C and that stands for Casino. (I offer my sincerest apologies to Meredith Wilson.) Before people start calling evangelists, exorcists, and Buford Pusser to save us let’s look more closely at what a casino is.
My trusty paperback dictionary says a casino is a barrel, especially one containing alcohol. What? Sorry, I skipped a line, that’s a cask. A casino is a gambling establishment. That is seems pretty straight forward. Actually, the confusing part is the fact people keep calling it a “destination” casino. Isn’t anyplace you go your destination? But, you don’t hear McDonald’s calling itself a destination drive-thru. At the end of most days I head for my destination La-Z-Boy.
I don’t need to dissect the words. When I want to know about something I look to Hollywood. The way things are shown in the movies must be how it will be in real life. There are three different movies I know with casinos. “Ocean’s Eleven,” not the George Clooney one, I’m talking the real cool cat one with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. That was fun. Good looking guys and beautiful women laughing and having a great time. Nothing wrong with that, except our heroes are all thieves and Dean only had one song. The second one is “Dr. No” with Sean Connery. I think I’d look pretty good in a white dinner jacket playing baccarat impressing women and men alike with my savoire faire. Then there’s “Casino” with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci. Joe Pesci, oh, my goodness, if Joe Pesci will be in the casino I am not going. He is the most annoying thing to appear on screen since Pia Zadora starred in “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” If our casino follws this movie there will be more planted in the fields of southwest Kansas than wheat, if you get my meaning.
I’ve been to Las Vegas. It was years ago. I saw Sinatra perform. (Unfortunatley, it was Frank Sinatra Jr. and he had the talent and charisma of my ninth grade civics teacher.) I stayed at a hotel which was later blown up in order to make room for new hotels and casinos built to resemble famous landmarks from around the world.
Maybe Dodge should do that. Vegas already has a pyramid and the Eiffel Tower. We could build the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Nope, people already think gambling is crooked. Let’s try the Great Wall of China. It would look historic and keep the Oklahomans from attacking. That’s not flashy enough to attract tourists. We need something more American. I’ve got it. Create a casino built to look like Mount Rushmore. Who wouldn’t want to spend time in a building you entered by walking through Teddy Roosevelt’s mouth?
The initiative on the ballot passed handily. But I have two words for the supporters of the casino in Dodge. These two words often accompany the lifestyle surrounding a house of gambling. They are two words which should strike fear into the heart of every right thinking person in this town. What are those two words? I hope you are sitting down…Elvis impersonators.