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…