Wednesday, December 09, 2009

What's So Special About Christmas?

Growing up I watched a lot of television. Frequently various Ph.D. types are trotted out to explain that prolonged viewing of television can have detrimental effects on children. For one thing it can cause damage to a person’s ability to focus attention on just one thing for extended periods of time. I disagree. I am perfectly capable of staying on task for protracted…oh, look, a squirrel! (OK, so that joke was telegraphed from the home office in Scranton, Pennsylvania, but that doesn’t mean I…oooo, shiny)

Anyway, this time of year for a child of 60’s and 70’s television was rife with “specials”. We had Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Perry Como and later Glenn Campbell, John Denver and The Carpenters. These were happy little hours of singing and jokes, no bitterness, no anger, no duplicitous actions in order to advance selfish goals. In other words they wouldn’t make it past the first executive meeting at television networks today.

I really liked those shows, because they were special – meaning different. It was a Christmas television special which brought Bing Crosby and David Bowie together to sing a duet. Bing Crosby, a crooner from the days of big bands, and David Bowie, a slightly androgynous glam rocker, standing side by side singing about peace on Earth and a little drummer boy (and they weren’t talking about Ringo).

There were also the great animated kids programs. We were very careful to know when they were going to be broadcast. It was a real bummer (that word was appropriate then) if Charlie Brown was going to be on when you had to be gone doing the school program. We all remember those elementary school extravaganzas complete with a ten-year-old Santa Claus who wasn’t allowed to wear the beard because it might muffle the voice which was yet to be affected by puberty so he really just looked and sounded like an overgrown elf. (This is true. I was that overgrown elf at Roosevelt Elementary School, December 1972.) There was no VCR, DVR, or TiVo so if you missed it you missed it until next year.

That was another thing which made them special. They were only available one night, once a year. Now my children have on demand entertainment. They can watch the Grinch any month of the year, any time, day or night. The sheer availability of it makes it less special.

As a disclaimer I have to say I watched Chuck Jones’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” recently on one of them new fangled DVD contraptions and it is still really good. When the Grinch is bothered by his dog Max’s behavior and he looks straight out of the television at us it is funnier than anything Jim Carrey has done or ever will do. In addition, not only does Thurl Ravenscroft have one of the all-time great names, he also has one of the all-time great performances when he sings “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”. (“Your heart is full of unwashed socks. Your soul is full of gunk.” Now those are lyrics.)

Some of the classics don’t hold up as well. Every Christmas season my family, which has three girls in it, watches the Rankin/Bass “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. While we do enjoy Burl Ives and I personally love Yukon Cornelius’s way of checking for silver and gold there is one point which has started a new holiday tradition in our household. When the big blizzard hits towards the end there is a line about how it was important to “get the women folk back to Christmastown.” This always gets a boisterous Bronx cheer from the Pyle women folk. Not only does the show give a message that anyone who is different from the group should be shunned and ridiculed, at least until the powers that be find a way to exploit that abnormality for personal gain, it’s sexist to boot.

For those us who grew up in this part of Kansas Christmas also meant “Santa’s Workshop” with Santa and KAKEman (or Toy Boy when they jumped networks). This was free form, stream of consciousness conversation done by a guy and a puppet with a budget of about seven dollars and fifty cents, but I loved it. Actually, my sister gave me a DVD featuring snippets from the show a while back and I still get a huge kick out of it. I can’t wait to go zooming around the big wide world, zooming and zooming…

Monday, November 30, 2009

Speed of Light vs. Speed of Lint

Black Friday! The day people look to celebrate peace on Earth and good will towards men by elbowing their way past grandmothers and nuns in order to get their mitts on a big screen television. Actually, the last few years I was one of those people rousting myself out of bed at a time roosters scorn to witness in order to get my hands on something one of my children didn’t really need at a price I believed I couldn’t pass up. I was a lemming running towards the consumer cliff with credit card abandon.

This year I am going to sleep until the sale junkies have already cleared the aisles and maxed out their Mastercards. The foremost reason for this is last year wasn’t any fun. The previous years there was a sense of camaraderie. People laughed. People poked fun at themselves for standing in a discount store at five in the morning. People gave each other directions on where the various cool things were stashed in the store. Last year there was blood in the water and the sharks thought Robert Shaw was somewhere nearby singing about ladies of Spain. (That is a reach as an analogy but if Richard Dreyfuss happens across my blog he’ll enjoy it.)

Another reason for my non-participation in the feeding frenzy of electronics and Cabbage Patch Kids (okay, I am that old) is I no longer feel the need to hurry up. I’ll be more leisurely in my approach to shopping. As I get more mature (mature = gray hair, expanding waistline and attention to things having to do with IRAs and prostates) I find I value calmness more and more. Multi-tasking and speed seem much less necessary. I am perfectly willing to be the tortoise except even though slow and steady wins the race I don’t even care about winning. I just want to finish well and avoid the need for ace bandages and Ben Gay.

Recently I was reading a book called “In Praise of Slowness.” In this book there is discussion of the term time-sickness, the obsessive belief that time is getting away and we must go faster and faster to use it all. The author mentions in other cultures they see time as always coming as well as going. Time goes away, but it also keeps showing up. Time waits for no man is the modern day way of thinking about it, but it might be healthier if we all realized that just like the manufacturers of Doritos chips, they’ll make more.

This demand for fully utilizing every minute causes people to the believe time is so precious it is deemed horribly imprudent to waste it. This leads to road rage (the bozo in front of me allowed a full three seconds to elapse after the light turned green before he hit the gas), shopping rage (the bozo in front of me has 12 items in the 10 items or less express lane), airport rage (the bozo in front of me is taking forever to remove his shoes and now he has walked through the metal detector with his stupid car keys still in his pocket), drive-thru rage (the bozo in front of me has ordered enough food to sate the appetite of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir after a week long fast), and newspaper columnist rage (this bozo has written 117 words already and he still hasn’t finished this stupid sentence). There may be a dearth of time in our lives but there is an abundance of bozos.

There was a reference in this book about a novel written in the 19th century (when the industrial revolution was first starting to make time the master and man the servant) in which a civilization develops where time is the currency of the realm. Think about that. We pay each other for things with time. You fix my car and I owe you a couple hours. The problem for the guy who fixed my car is my list of skill sets doesn’t lend itself to a fair exchange. I could write 800 words about why machines are turning into people and people are turning into machines or I could answer any question he had about “The Dick Van Dyke Show”. On the other hand this could be the only way he ever gets anyone to watch his home movies of the family trip to Niagara Falls.

A Stranger in a Strange Land

It has often been described that people of my generation are immigrants to the world of technology and members of my children’s generation are the natives. This makes sense because their world has always had technologies which we, as children, only saw in science fiction movies shown on one of the three fuzzy television channels the black and white Magnavox could tune in after the sun went down.

Like many people my age it was not the Statue of Liberty welcoming me to the new land but rather the VCR. Instead of a blazing torch held high in the sky lighting my way to freedom and prosperity the video player had a digital clock bravely blinking “12:00” into the darkness of technological ignorance. The problem was getting the darn clock to stop that.

I soon mastered the VCR. I was able to command it do irrational, possibly even unnatural, acts. Such as taping one show while I watched another. I could also be a timeshifter. This meant I could watch “Miami Vice” at eleven in the morning on a Sunday instead of all those poor folks in my technologically backward homeland who had no choice but to watch it at nine on Friday nights. I was no longer a slave to the whims of network programmers. I could watch “Cosby” AND “Magnum P.I.” even though they were opposite each other. Talk about your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to watch “Misfits of Science” any time we darn well pleased, this was the promised land.

Next I became a guide for the newcomers. I worked at a video store (known at the time as Popingo, later as Popinwent). There were many, many times I fielded a phone call from a techno immigrant who was struggling to program his VCR to do its magic for him as well. If I was unable to talk him through the process the last resort was to ask a single question. “Is there a twelve year old kid in the house? Put him on the phone.”

In the ensuing years I learned about DVD players, universal remotes, cordless phones, video games (beyond Atari), and the ultimate benchmark of a true techno devotee, the home computer. I mastered e-mail, surfing the internet and googling – a verb that sounds at once childish yet vaguely dirty. I have graduated to a point that I write blogs, watch YouTube, listen to podcasts and have even been known to occasionally wiki.

Having achieved something akin to resident alien status there are two basic phrases I use when dealing with my new homeland. The first one is used when I come across something really amazing to me, like when I got my first iPod. Even though it resembled a piece of Juicy Fruit and had no moving parts it was able to store and play, with crystal clear sound, dozens and dozens of songs. This prompted me to say, “This shouldn’t work.”

The other phrase is used when struggling to get the infernal computer to function correctly. Often I have been called to fix a problem and as the tension and blood pressure mounts the phrase my family hears shouted from the deepest recesses of the basement as I stare determinedly at the completely unsympathetic, nay, tauntingly brazen cathode ray tube is “Do what you are designed to do!” This is sometimes followed by terms best not published in a respectable newspaper.

My latest evolution as a citizen of Technovania was the purchase of an iPod Touch. This is something about the size of cassette tape (for the technology natives you’ll have to ask one of your elders what that was) which does a myriad of impossible things. I can connect to the internet via WiFi. I can download apps. It may even have Bluetooth capabilities.

Okay, I have to admit I am still an immigrant because I just used a bunch of words from a foreign tongue. I have an idea what I was saying but I could be totally wrong. Kind of like that guy who goes to France and using his high school French class from fifteen years ago as his template attempts to order roast chicken with rice and actually boasts to the waiter that his aunt’s pen in on his uncle’s chest of drawers.

I am learning how to use it even if I do not understand how it could possibly work. Of course the chief thing I use it for at the moment is playing solitaire which I could do with technology from the 9th century, playing cards.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Child's Garden of Worses

I usually don’t write about things connected to my real job because I do not want to run the risk of it becoming my former real job. However, if I approach it in a purely Jane Goodall scientific mode maybe I won’t annoy my superiors. Since the topic of my column is an animal unlike any other this objective point of view makes sense. I am talking about that unique aspect of humanity known to the layman as “Kindergartener” or to the pure scientist as Absoluteeous Impulseeous.

When I first ventured into the natural habitat of the Kindergartener I became acutely aware of one thing. I am a creature of language and logic and kindergarteners are not. This became patently obvious as I tried to explain to a five-year-old why it is a good idea to use both hands while carrying a breakfast tray containing pancakes and syrup. Obviously the person who decided syrup was a good thing to give to 64 individuals who have only been adept at walking upright for the most recent third of their lives is now giggling uncontrollably miles away from the school cafeteria which now resembles the La Brea Tar Pits but instead of an exhausted wooly mammoth sinking into the muck and mire it is an exasperated principal prying shoe leather from the linoleum. If I try to explain why it is a good idea to use two hands the child’s eyes glaze over after the third word if none of those three words include candy, recess or candy.

It has taken me a long time and it goes against my natural default settings which require me to tell people why something is important, but I am getting better at just telling kindergarteners things. Kindergarteners have neither the patience nor the attention span for all the explaining. If I explain to a six year old that kicking a fellow student on the playground because you were mad at him is not an appropriate expression of anger, even though anger is a natural emotion and it is okay to be angry but not okay to follow through with that anger by inflicting pain on another human being, I’ve lost him. If I tell the kicker that he wouldn’t like it if somebody kicked him so he shouldn’t kick other people, he has started looking over my shoulder at the cool clock on the wall. If I just lean down close to the Jackie Chan of the jungle gym and say, “don’t kick or you’re in trouble” I have a chance of saving other children’s shins from minor bruising.

It became obvious after only a short time amongst them that a kindergarten student will not respond if the adult does not use the magic word. I am not talking about the magic words of manners: please and thank you. I am referring to the specific name of the child you wish to address. Let’s say a kindergartener is running down the hall, an unsafe act for most humans made even more dangerous by the fact these particular runners are as aware of their surroundings as a deaf bat, a deaf bat which has been dead for a week, a deaf bat which has been dead for a week and buried in the Mariana Trench.

If a grown up does not know the particular child’s name he will be ignored. I’ve tried. It usually goes something like this: “Uh, excuse me, hey, uh, kid, umm, little boy, uh, dude, kid in the red shirt, hey…” By now the Usain Bolt of the hallway has already startled two custodians, frightened three fourth graders and blown several crayon renditions of Wilbur and Charlotte right off the wall. However, if I know the kid’s name and call it out he’ll hit the brakes like Claudette Colbert just exposed her ankle and calf to a passing motorist. (Give yourself 65 bonus points if you followed that allusion.)

Just like Ms. Goodall I have also discovered many fabulous things. Most kindergarteners still have wonder and awe. They are excited by so many things that the rest of us take for granted. They also wish to share with you their excitement. This is why they are always trying to show you things and tell you about their lives. The only downside to this is: if a kindergartener beckons for you to lean down so they can talk to you and the first words out of his mouth are “there was this one time” you need to clear your calendar for approximately the next four hours.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Fully Functioning Family - The Downside

My upbringing scarred me for life. I won’t write a lurid biography which will land me on Oprah, or even worse, Jerry Springer. Nonetheless my youth has made many parts of my adult life unmanageable.

What horrors have I lived through? None. That’s the problem. My formative years were spent almost completely in a state of contentment and well-being. Ergo my thresholds for putting up with mean spirited people, dealing with anger and aggression, and my ability to fly off the handle and fully engage all my organs of suspicion are severely diminished. Yet, more and more, it seems those are the skill sets which would best serve me in the world we inhabit today.
I remember my father commenting when a person accuses you of having a certain trait it is often a trait that person himself has in spades. If someone thinks you are a liar it often means they are good at lying themselves. They assume others are doing it just as often as they do, thus they accuse people, truthful or otherwise, of also possessing that tendency.

The opposite is also the case. It doesn’t occur to me to lie. I am not saying that in some sort of “aren’t I pure as the driven snow” egotistical manner. It just doesn’t occur to me to lie. There are times I did lie because I screwed up so monumentally lying seemed the only recourse available to me, but it is not the default setting for my software. Because of all that, it is also not my default setting for interpreting what others are telling me. It does not occur to me that people are lying to me even when most other people, including the majority of toddlers and people who actually look up when told the word gullible is written on the ceiling, can tell Pinocchio’s nose just grew longer than Durante and de Bergerac combined. I am easier to fleece than a flock of sheep in May. (I probably shouldn’t have said that in such a public venue. My voicemail will be chock full of wonderful opportunities for aluminum siding and credit cards with the low, low interest rate of a pound of flesh compounded annually.)

My family liked each other. We chose to spend time together, on purpose. Don’t get the wrong idea. We weren’t the Waltons. Oh, we were that supportive and we had the strong highly principled father and the stalwart caring mother it is just we didn’t have wacky strangers show up on our doorstep every week in order to teach us meaningful lessons about life. (Although having a traveling band of circus performers live in our garage for a while would have totally rocked.)

Come to think of it maybe we were the Walton’s. My oldest brother was named after my father so we could have called him George Boy, and that was well before there was such a thing as a Boy George. Just like John Boy, George Boy wanted to be a writer when he grew up. He didn’t sit at a tiny window in an attic bedroom scribbling stories into a big chief notebook, but he did sit at a desk in his room with a circa 1950s typewriter creating the Great American Novel, yet to be published.

Like so many damaged adults living out the residual after effects of a youth gone horribly, horribly right, I fear I may be passing on the traumas to my own children. Just the other day I witnessed my eldest daughter walk right up to her younger sister and give her a hug. Right there in broad daylight, like it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of both girls showed sisterly affection for each other without being blackmailed into it with promises of iPods and cell phone upgrades if they would just get along with each other for ten minutes.

My fear is it may be too late. My three children may grow up thinking the best of others. They may believe marriage is a supportive partnership between two people based on respect and love as opposed to a sentence of punishment to be endured until the kids are out of the house and then the lawyers divide up the assets and the mental health of the two exhausted combatants of the matrimonial skirmishes. They may have an over-developed sense of fairness and become addicted to the rush one gets from injecting a hit of unadulterated altruism.

All I have to do to save them from a doomed life of contentment with an appreciable lack of angst is expose them to the most effective antidote: talk radio.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Truth Fairy May Be Dead

I have been studying the media for a while and decided that if I am going to make the leap from newspaper columnist to nationally known commentator I will need to change my ways. Instead of simply talking about the world in which I live and relaying the facts in my life I will need to hone different skills so I can convince people to believe things which are patently false and even detrimental to their own well-being. I will do all this in the name of making a buck and fighting with people for the mere sake of being contrary. If you will allow me to use this column for practice I will be forever in your debt.

Can you believe the impudence!?! (I’ll need to use lots of exclamation points) Not only does the government tax us to the point that we can’t afford a supersize Mint Mocha Chip Frappuccino with extra Chocolate Whipped Cream a day so they can pay for aspects of something as trivial as public education! Not only does the government expect me to get a license, which is like asking for permission, to drive a car – a car I paid for out of my own pocket with the help of a 15 year loan from a bank who didn’t care I couldn’t afford the payments! Now the government has gone too far! The jack-booted fascists are pumping directly into my house…water! They built an elaborate system of pipes throughout the entire city, proving there was a conspiracy of gigantic proportions, for the sole purpose of injecting into my home the very essence of life itself. How dare they?! Then they have the temerity to send me a bill each and every month to defray the cost of this communistic fluid. Sure I need it to cook and drink and bathe and wash my clothes and flush away waste, but the despotic government still has no right to force it on me like some bush league Kim Jong-il imposing its will and its colorless odorless liquid on me as if I was some sort of faceless proletariat to be exploited.

I say it is time to stand up to this socialist Big Brother (the Big Brother from the Orwell novel, not the Big Brother from that crummy reality show hosted by erstwhile journalist Julie Chen)! Refuse to turn on your taps! Dig your own well! Collect rain water! Drink only the grain alcohol you can create in your garage with no help from government hand-outs! So what if you lose your job because co-workers refuse to let you into the building due to the stench which follows you around like paparazzi following George Clooney! So what if you’re down to three healthy teeth in your head and you don’t need to cut your hair because you can snap it off at the length you want due to its stiffness. At least we will be free!

Oh, boy…that was exhausting. Thirteen exclamation points can really take it out of a guy. On the other hand it was kind of fun. It is freeing to make an argument which does not have to rely on logic or even facts. It sounds like a genuine argument but all it is really is a great big “You mother wears army boots.”

Maybe I don’t need to be so bombastic. That would be less exhausting. Maybe I can become a more subtle spinmaster.

The other day it came to my attention that many people are unemployed. The people discussing it on the television seemed to think it was a bad thing. What’s the big deal? Having lots of people looking for a job has many benefits.

One of the only laws of economics most people have even the slightest grasp of is supply and demand. If the supply is low and the demand is high the price goes up. That must mean if there are fewer jobs and a high demand for them then wages the workers earn must go up raising the standard of living for us all.

Also, if there are more people looking for work then the pool of possible employees must have a greater variety. This could mean fast food workers who have master’s degrees in Romantic Poetry. So, instead of hearing “Do you want fries with that?” the guy behind the counter might say “water, water, everywhere you wanna supersize that drink.”

Christopher Pyle wishes to apologize to Samuel Taylor Coleridge for messing with his poem. Also, he realizes he implied many wild things in this column. The craziest thing may be that people who majored in Romantic poetry aren’t already working at McDonald’s. He can be reached at

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Two Score and Seven Years Ago Sounds Way Old

When I turned the page on my calendar it showed we had entered September. That means my birthday is coming up. I will turn forty-seven years old. The number forty-seven holds no magical properties and that particular age does not signal any great change is my status as person. I have long since passed the magical ages: 16 years old (I can drive without benefit of having a grown up in the car), 18 years old (I can vote, often a disheartening proposition at best), 21 years old (I can buy booze, something I stopped caring about not too long after turning 21), and 30 years old (I can no longer be trusted by the younger generation). The only thing turning 47 years old really means is I am now in shouting distance of 50.

When I say shouting distance I truly mean shouting distance because I am making very loud remonstrations “Whoa there, Sea Biscuit! What’s your hurry? We don’t need to make that turn to the final furlongs with such intensity.”

Even approaching a half a century I don’t really feel all the way grown up. However, there are many times I feel old. When I have been sitting for a prolonged period of time standing up requires making a noise. When I look at my children and realize they are smarter than me. When I tell people I do not have television in my house and they look at me like I just told them I cook over an open hearth and believe the world is flat. When I listen to top forty radio stations the words are unintelligible and the singing sounds like the noise I make when I stand up after sitting for a prolonged period of time.

Inside I still think of myself pretty much the same way I did when I turned 21. Just this past weekend I was in Wichita and I was taking a stroll across a college campus. Very little in the world makes me feel like I feel when I am on a college campus. I truly value learning. I truly value teaching. I adore the bohemian attitude of being a college student. Stepping into the student union there was a very large young man fast asleep on an even larger sofa with his backpack between his knees. Two other guys were playing ping-pong. A boy and a girl were sitting at a table deep in discussion. I prefer to think they were discussing the merits of empiricism versus rationalism because that completes the circuit of a college experience and if they were discussing who would be next to leave the Big Brother house it cheapens the whole thing. All this enhanced my inner concept that I am still a young person exploring the world with wide eyes.

Then I left the union and walked towards some of the other buildings. As I crossed one street a girl-next-door-beauty walked by me, smiled and said hello. That is when I realized I might feel young on the inside but it wasn’t the case on the outside. When I was a young man walking on a college campus, as a fully matriculated student, girl-next-door-beauties did not look at me, smile and say hello. As an overweight, gray-haired middle-aged man the comely co-ed said hello, not because I was even remotely attractive but rather because I was…cute. Not cute in the Jonas Brother way, but cute in the “isn’t it cute how this old guy is walking around campus remembering his salad days” way. Deep sigh.

I simply have to reconcile my inner image of myself (eager explorer of the intellectual world) with the real-world me (middle-aged curmudgeon in training) in order to truly follow the advice of ancient Greece and “know thyself”.

Eager explorer = reader of blogs and internet news services for the latest information

Middle-aged curmudgeon = reading blogs and internet news services and having my blood pressure rise because there are so many idiots out there

Eager explorer = believer that spending time alone allows one to understand oneself on a much deeper level

Middle-aged curmudgeon = believer that spending time alone allows one to get away from all the idiots out there

Eager explorer = gets excited by new ideas and when the creative process is allowed to flourish

Middle-aged curmudgeon = thinks new ideas are just old ideas wearing a bad mustache and sees how the creative process is thwarted at every turn…and something about all the idiots out there

Christopher Pyle clings to the eager explorer but feels the curmudgeon is more cunning and will eventually win out. He can be contacted at

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lower Expectations for Higher Education

My oldest daughter is starting her junior year of high school. This means she has homework which may as well be a nuclear physics textbook translated into ancient Greek for all the help I can be. It means any would-be suitors are now able to beat me up removing any threat capacity I might have had. It means she has a calendar of events which would make Gloria Vanderbilt’s schedule look like Ted Kaczynski’s. It also means she gets anywhere between five to twenty-five pieces of mail a week from various colleges and universities trying to entice her to attend their esteemed institutions. This makes me feel old and gives me a sense of impending poverty, but it also makes me more than a little bit wistful.

It was twenty-eight years ago this month that I first packed up the ol’ Chevette hatchback with my most important possessions (record player, black-and-white portable television, twenty pairs of white socks, and my single setting of flatware) and drove off to begin my scholarly career as I matriculated at the University of Kansas. I was only slightly excited and more than just a little bit scared. This was because I was unusual compared to most recent high school graduates. I really liked my family. I had no problem envisioning myself living with them for the rest of my life without it seeming Norman Bates pathetic/psychotic.

Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to go to college. I just wasn’t gung ho about the whole thing. My older brother filled out the majority of my application paperwork and took me to orientation helping me do all the registration stuff and even found the apartment I was going to occupy. So, if it wasn’t for him it truly is possible I would still be sleeping in my single bunk bed while my mother does my laundry fixes my supper and pays all my bills. Hmmm…curses.

I was not a social college student. There was no desire to join a fraternity. I didn’t even live in a dorm. My freshman year I lived in an apartment slightly smaller than the backseat of your average SUV. It was in the thick of what we called the student slums, an older house chopped up into single sleeping rooms with a shared bathroom and miniscule kitchen. It was close enough I could roll out of bed, put on a semi-less dirty shirt and pair of jeans, jam a hat on my head and be in class after a ten minute walk. Here’s the kicker, it cost ninety bucks a month. Nowadays ninety bucks a month wouldn’t buy a college student a place to park his car, much less a place to park his carcass.

As hermit-like as the description of that apartment sounds it was not the most socially removed place I lived during my college career. There was the basement apartment at the bottom of a hill on a dead end street. Really, by that time I should have had a better eye for the stark symbolism of my living arrangement. I was a film studies major at a university in one of the least Hollywood-esque states in the country. Such a degree just screamed career prospects akin to a basement apartment at the bottom of a hill on a dead end street or at least a life spent trying to convince the customer at the video store (at which I am the assistant manager working for an hourly wage only slightly more impressive than the chief French fry salter at McDonald’s) out of renting the Sylvester Stallone movie in his hand and convince him he really ought to rent Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion because of its brilliant humanistic portrayal of men held prisoner in a World War I prison camp used as a lens through which to examine the rising tide of fascism in Germany in 1937. It never worked, but I tried.

Looking at my daughter’s mail many colleges today advertise themselves as offering a personal touch, a place where you are a full-fledged person and not just a faceless number at an institution of thousands of faceless numbers. This would not have been an inducement for me to rush to enroll. I wanted to be a faceless number amongst thousands of faceless numbers. Life is easier if you are camouflaged. Just ask the nudibranch (a sea slug very adept at hiding itself within sea plants and a very fun thing to say).

Friday, August 07, 2009

Dogs and Cats and Guinea Pigs, Oh, My

Many of you out there have probably heard of Dave Ramsey. He’s the guy who helps people become more independent, financially. When people successfully crawl out from under their burdens they call his radio show and gleefully scream, “I’m debt free!”
I have a different goal in mind. One day I hope to call a talk radio show and announce to the world in a voice indicative of my overwhelming joy and sense of liberation the following paraphrase of Mr. Ramsey’s sentence: “I’m pet free!”

Now, before I am inundated by angry readers labeling me an evil person and calling for my firing or public lynching or death by hamster nibbling, I want to make it very clear I am not an animal hater. Animals significantly enhance the value of life for all mankind. Animals add beauty, wonder, humor, affection, and can be delicious as well (sorry, that took an ugly turn). I would have you know I cried like a menopausal woman watching a marathon of Lifetime network Delta Burke movies when we had to put down the family dog. I truly believe cruelty to animals is in many ways much worse than meanness to human beings. Think about it. Would you be more bothered by watching somebody tease a koala bear or by watching someone poke Adam Sandler with a stick? Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind being the guy with the stick.
Disclaimer now in place, I can safely proceed. My household currently contains two dogs, two cats and an immortal guinea pig. Due to the sheer number of pets some of you will understand my desire, but others need more convincing.

First let me address the cats. I am not a cat person. Some of my favorite people are cat people, not in the Malcolm McDowell, Nastassja Kinski kind of way (give yourself 35 bonus points, and my condolences, if you actually saw that movie), but in the way that they really adore cats. I do not get this. Cats are aloof. Cats obviously feel they should be the species given opposable thumbs. Cats feel the only reason humans were given opposable thumbs was to make it possible for them to operate the can opener necessary to access the food cats require.
Currently our primary cat has decided to shed fur at a rate which makes visitors think there may be an alpaca living in our basement who frequently visits our couch. The secondary cat seems to always require the door she is next to should be opened to allow her inside or outside the house whichever place she currently is not, and this exercise must be repeated at an interval approximating the number of times your average middle-aged man pushes a button on his remote control.

Now, I do admit I am a little bit of a dog person. Dogs do not look upon you like cats do, as staff. Dogs seem to freely give you unremitting affection based on a minimum amount of effort on your part. As pleasant as that may seem it is really just another indication they have the intellect of a spatula.

Our younger, smaller dog is very endearing. She does many cute and amusing things. Her favorite maneuver is to pretend she is invisible when we find her lying on our bed, because she does not want to be moved. She is not successful, but she is adorable as she lies there stock still except for her eyes which follow you with predatory intensity. Her biggest drawback is her prodigious talent at creating (insert your own personal euphemism for digestive by-product here). Who would ever have guessed a twelve pound dog could produce enough (repeat euphemism here) requiring a constant policing of the basement floor, her favorite place to (euphemism).

The older dog seems to believe he has never been fed and may never be fed again. Anything remotely suggesting the presence of food demands his undivided and immediate attention. This includes, but is not exclusive to, bags which at one time contained food, napkins which at one time touched a mouth which ingested food, anytime anybody enters or leaves the kitchen, the sound of cellophane crinkling, and the sound of cabinets opening, even the cabinet in the hallway which only contains light bulbs and the ironing board. Whenever any of these are perceived he rapidly appears and jumps about trying to look cute and adorable (which is really the other dog’s job) so you will feed him, even if he just finished consuming something unspeakable from the trash can.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Skirmish of the Sexes

Ever since Adam gave up a rib there have been disagreements between the genders. I wish to address the some of the more subtle salvos pitched at men over the years.

First there is the dust ruffle. This had to be a woman’s idea. A man can’t feel masculine saying the words “dust ruffle” much less selecting one to match the color scheme. Women claim it hides what is stored under the bed, but we know this is just a way to misdirect men from the real purpose: to declare the bedroom woman’s turf. The hiding things explanation just doesn’t fly. Women don’t put things under the bed which need to be hidden. Actually, men do not purposefully place things under the bed at all. The problem arises organically in a single man’s bedroom. It simply never occurs to us to clean under the bed which is why men often have dust bunnies with actual teeth because they survive on the French fries kicked under there during the Clinton administration. Anyway, if a man wanted to design something to cover up the gap between the bed and the floor there would be no pastel flowers and lace. It would involve duct tape, two-by-fours and some barbed wire thrown in for that touch of whimsy.

A woman also had to create those fuzzy covers that slip over toilet lids. The official story is one of décor and beauty. When in reality it had to be in response to the eternal battle of seat up versus seat down. I will admit it took some time for me to get into the habit, but now I share a house with three women so the seat is down. This probably delayed the manly development of my son, but his two sisters and mother are happier, ergo, we are safer.

A while back our bathroom was spruced up. A throw rug in front of the sink and another rug at the base of the toilet was added. This was fine with me, tile floors can be cold. The offending addition was the shag carpet slip cover on the toilet lid. Whereas women want the seat down at all times, there are times men prefer to have it up. The shag cover on the lid makes keeping the seat up a balancing act requiring more than a little skill. The guy who spun thirty plates on sticks for “The Ed Sullivan Show” would have a devil of a time getting the seat to stay perpendicular.

The chief casualty of this skirmish is hygiene. A man believes he has the seat securely resting in an upright position and haltingly takes his hand away from it. Invariably it wavers and he instinctively lunges to stop it from slamming down. Aim is compromised.

Pantyhose is where the debate gets a little murky. Women say a man invented it because they are a pain to put on and uncomfortable to wear. I beg to differ. A woman invented pantyhose because it facilitates sending men on errands they would rather not do. Really, they’d rather watch every Sandra Bullock every made than run out to buy pantyhose.

Hose is the most temporary form of clothing ever created. It seems every time we are going to get dressed up for any occasion my wife doesn’t have a hole-free pair in the house. (If I needed to buy a new pair of pants every single time I wanted to go out I’d just stop going out.) Of course, when these emergency replacement hose are required I am dispatched to get them.
On the embarrassment scale this product is higher than a bottle of Midol but a darned sight lower than many other items in the vast range of feminine accoutrements. The problem is there are just too many size variables. If you read the height and weight chart on the display and make the wrong (or even the medically accurate) choice it might be best just to open the bedroom door, toss the package in, and head right back to the car to wait. If she doesn’t show up in twenty minutes you can just sneak back into the house, make up your bed on the couch, and turn on Sportscenter.

There is also the story about when I went to buy my wife some panty hose while I still had make-up on from a theatrical production in which I was acting. I venture to guess the young lady who waited on me never truly believed I wasn’t buying them for myself.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and the Simply Nice

“Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative” are words to live by offered up by Mr. Johnny Mercer from his 1944 song (actually titled “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” but we'll let him get away with that - it was well before spell check) recorded by such luminaries as Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and even Aretha Franklin.

This sentiment is something I often strive for but can fall very short of achieving. It really is easier to dwell on the negative; partially because the grand majority of the media spends most of its time behaving like the world is nothing but a vast collection of bitter medicine spread on a large bowl of cauliflower and then covered with a thin layer of chocolate just to entice you to take a gigantic bite out of it before you have a chance to truly see what it is you are getting yourself in for.
All the news outlets discuss financial wreck and ruin, horrible human rights violations by despotic leaders, and unthinkable crimes committed in seemingly safe locations and that is just the arts and leisure section describing an episode of Real Housewives of New Jersey.

People always seem to assume the worst of others, especially others who are different in even the most superficial ways. Remember that episode of Star Trek, the first Star Trek, not one of the seventy-five spin-offs like Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Now Caffeine Free, but I digress. Remember that episode of Star Trek where two guys are dead set on killing each other and even Spock isn’t smart enough to figure out why they hate each other so much. It turns out Frank Gorshin, who is white on the left side and black on the right side, really hates Lou Antonio because he is white on the right side and black on the left side. No wonder everyone thought Gene Roddenberry was such a genius at subtly pointing out the weaknesses of mankind.

Actually, upon further investigation it turned out Frank Gorshin hated Lou Antonio because Frank Gorshin’s career would only consist of guest shots on Hawaii Five-O, Get Christy Love, and doing the voice of the Reverend Jack Cheese on an episode of Ren and Stimpy and Mr. Antonio would go on to be the director of episodes of The Rockford Files, The West Wing, and Boston Legal. If I were Mr. Gorshin I’d be pretty ticked off too. But I digress even farther.

This assuming the worst of everyone does not accentuate the positive. A great example of this can be found in the bitter partisanship of today’s politics. There was a time a Republican and a Democrat would argue loudly in the Senate chamber about whether a bill was worthy to become law and then they’d go to dinner together and tell each other jokes and have a grand time while agreeing to disagree but still valuing each other as men working for the betterment of the nation. Now a Republican and a Democrat will argue loudly in the Senate chamber about the worthiness of a bill and then go to their individual offices to do phone interviews with talk radio hosts in order to portray the opposition as mother hating, flag desecrating, apple pie burning, communist loving doodoo heads. How’s that for raising the bar of political discourse in the country?

Strangely enough the best place to go in order to wash away the negativity of the news media and politicians is my refrigerator. Not because it contains ice cream, even though that would help, but because it is currently covered with positive stuff.

Alice (middle Pyle child) and one of her friends (Lydia, who I understand is quite fly) spent a couple of hours writing list after list and taping them to the front of the fridge under the heading “Things Which Make You Go Yea!” Alice reported it was quite fun and downright therapeutic so everyone else started contributing lists for the Happy Frigidaire, and darned if it wasn’t a source of fun and lingering good feelings.

Here are some of my favorites chosen at random: good hair days, play-doh, breakfast for lunch, food, hitting every green light, anything shiny, penguins, food, duct tape, Orlando Bloom, anything cow shaped, laughter, snorting when you laugh, laughing until you start to cry, food, Samoa Girl Scout cookies, doughnuts, Dean Martin, lightsabers, the first cup of coffee in the morning, sleep, food, the Indiana Jones Guy, non-smelly markers, prom hair, air conditioning, memory foam, wearing new outfits, blowing bubbles, food, toast, ninjas, and stick figures.

Now grab a pad of post it notes and cover your own refrigerator with things that make you go YEA! It is totally worth it.

Christopher Pyle is happy to have made his wife’s list. Feel free to share your lists with him at

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Not Quite What We Had in Mind

Last Friday the United States of America celebrated the 233rd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. This document and the Constitution of the United States which followed were the crowning achievements of a group of brilliant men created from a remarkable confluence of events and utilizing the collective intellectual resources of the time. These men, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and company, even after many personal foibles have been unearthed by historians, are looked upon with reverence as the Founding Fathers of this great nation. I can’t help but think if these men of intellect and innovation were to be fetched from the late 18th century and brought to the early 21st century they would be re-named the Dumbfounded Fathers.

You know they really didn’t mean that “all men are created equal” stuff when they wrote it. There’s no way Benjamin Franklin, the inventor of the lightning rod, bifocals, a carriage odometer (you need to rotate horses every ten thousand leagues) and the glass armonica, thought the guy who wrote the Treaty of Worms (1743) was his equal. I mean really, the Treaty of Worms? They couldn’t come up with a snappier title than that?

The Dumbfounded Fathers would shake their heads in confusion whenever hearing people rattle on about all men are equal. Even if they had just gotten to Philadelphia, 2009, from Philadelphia, 1787, it would only take them ten minutes of channel surfing in their hotel rooms to illustrate the mistake of equality by pointing to Bill Moyers Journal and then to I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. Hmmm, Dr. Cornel West discussing the concept of social justice or Lou Diamond Phillips eating bugs, you decide.

Watching television might also make them re-think this freedom of speech idea. Back in their day giving everyone the freedom to speak their minds was less problematic. The village zealot standing in the corner of the town square telling everyone that Beelzebub had been seen licking all the licorice whips in Johnson’s Store meaning all the children were now possessed was easy to ignore. Also, the town know-it-all could bloviate all he wanted and everyone in the vicinity knew he was a dolt and just let his words fly off into the, what was then a much healthier, ozone layer never to be taken seriously.

In today’s high tech world the village zealots can blog, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and use cell phones equipped with cameras (both still and video) in order to get out the irrefutable proof that Beelzebub and Ben Bernanke are the same person and all money printed since 2006 is cursed and the bail-out is a massive plot by old Scratch himself to pull us all into the clay pits of Hades. Because this information is now rampant on the internet and millions of people all over the world are just gullible enough to think “if it’s on the internet it must be true” there will be an immense hit taken on the stock market and the grocery stores will all run out of garlic because these people are always confusing how to ward off vampires and how to avoid being dragged into the underworld.

Also, in today’s world of 150 television channels and 24-hour a day talk radio the guy who was ignored by the locals because he was a known thickheaded blowhard is given four hours of radio airtime in 75 major markets and a prime time television show five nights a week where he can successfully agitate and energize others of his ilk who believe they are the true knowers of what is right and true and everyone else in the world are pansy, tofu-eating, tree-hugging, socialistic, pacifists who should either be shot or sent to go live in New Zealand with all the other Hobbit lovers.

I am sure the Dumbfounded Fathers would not think that just because someone can distribute their ideas to a vast audience doesn’t mean his or her thoughts are wise, useful, or even remotely coherent. The idea that some people’s thoughts have more weight and greater value should not be lost in the freedom of speech maelstrom in which we now live.

I am sure it is very likely many readers are currently thinking I should apply these notions to myself. I know full well my ideas are not necessarily any more important or meaningful than some of the people I am currently mocking and the column inches dedicated to my words could easily be dedicated to better and more cogent thought. To those of you thinking that…nyaaah, nyaaah, nyaaah, I got here first.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Two Years and Counting

I don’t how many of you realize this but we are celebrating an anniversary. I hope the time has gone by pleasantly and this will be looked upon as passing a milestone and not like passing a kidney stone. I am referring to the fact that my stint as a community columnist for the venerable Hutchinson News has now made it to its second birthday. My first column was published in June, 2007 and some 40,000 words later (I’m sure I used some of them more than once) our relationship is still stronger than Jon and Kate’s or Governor Sanford’s (at least with his wife) or the relationship between Amy Winehouse and reality.

I was not sure how to celebrate this occasion. I thought about asking for gifts, but realized that would be tacky. Maybe I could throw a party for my biggest fan, but my mother doesn’t really like parties. Then I remembered how Johnny Carson celebrated an anniversary on the Tonight Show. He would display vignettes from previous shows which were particularly entertaining.

I went through all my old columns and couldn’t find anything as interesting as Ed Ames performing a tomahawk vasectomy on a plywood cowboy or having a marmoset nest in my hair. Asking Joan Rivers to do a guest column was not an option worth considering and Jay Leno only works at ten, nine central, from now on so that wouldn’t work either. So, rather than recycle old material I thought I’d just throw out some material which I was not able to work into any of the previous columns but might be diverting none the less.

A couple of months ago there was a headline on the CNN website which read (I am not making this up, as soon as I saw it I wrote it down) “Beauty Queen Stumped by Confucius.” There’s a stop the presses newsflash if I ever saw one. A contestant in a beauty pageant has to confess she doesn’t understand the deep thoughts of an Asian philosopher from five hundred years before Christ. Truthfully, it would have been more of a paradigm shift if there had been an article describing how Miss Virgin Islands published her doctoral thesis on Cartesian dualism and how it is definitively shown in the collected works of obscure Japanese author Yukio Yamaha-Kawasaki.

At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, did you ever notice how some words just aren’t used except in particular phrases. “Disgruntled” is a perfectly good word to describe someone who is irritated but you never see it except in conjunction with a former employee who decides the severance package wasn’t good enough and returns to his cubicle with a Rambo-esque outfit including a headband using fabric ripped from the interior of his boss’s Lexus to get an extended COBRA plan. This reminds me that the word “spree” is only used with killing or shopping. You never hear of anyone going on an eating one’s vegetables spree or a working for the release of political prisoners spree or a preserving the ozone layer spree.

Not long ago I learned there is version of Supernanny on German television. This is how I imagine a commercial for this show would sound (except it would be in German). On this week’s episode of Der Uber Nanny we see Frau Bestrafen put little Heinrich and his sister Brunhilda in the naughty corner for trying, yet again, to invade Poland without permission.

A couple of years ago I was driving across town on the first truly cold day of the winter. I was stopped at a red light when a pick-up truck drove in front of me on the cross street. In the bed of the truck, standing upright, was large refrigerator. The freezer door was open and waving in the breeze as the truck headed down the road. It truly looked like this guy was out distributing the cold with his freezer-on-the-go like those trucks the city uses in the summer to drive around spraying for mosquitoes. I have no joke. I just really like that image.

Finally, I may have found my new favorite TV commercial. There is firm offering to pay you for your old jewelry. Do they simply offer top dollar or describe how this is a good way to get easy money during an economic downturn? Nope. This business is called They are serving the gold-digger with cash flow problems demographic. “You broke up with him. It’s time to break up with his jewelry, too.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

T-ball or not T-ball, that is the question

The other day I was heading home from work and I passed a park. I noticed there were several adults sitting on lawn chairs and bleachers. It was as American as a Norman Rockwell painting of a mother eating apple pie, a baseball diamond basking in the summer sun. A place for the national pastime to be played by, oh my goodness, who is playing? The coach looked like Godzilla attempting to stomp out Tokyo. He was not a giant, but the people wearing the matching jerseys and hats were tiny. These kids were so young they still had ink on the soles of their feet from getting foot printed at the hospital. These kids were so young if they won the game they’d pour Enfamil over each others’ heads in celebration. These kids were so young Barney is too sophisticated for them.

I do not understand the need to enlist children still eligible to have a lunch comprised of Gerber products in organized sports. They should at least be able to spell T-ball before they play it. I doubt even Albert Pujols showed much talent when he was small enough to take a nap inside a standard issue major league catcher’s mitt.

Kids that little are meant to bounce about in free form. Not exist in some fascist stand here, now run, now stand here, now run paradigm. It’s like taking potato chips which should be free to randomly mix and mingle in their oversized bags and forcing them to follow some Stalin-esque regime and fit together in the goose-stepping conformity of a Pringles can. Did you ever notice the original “crush proof container” for Pringles was red? I bet if you ate too many of them you would suddenly be stricken with a bad case of the Trotsky’s.

I waited until past the toddler stage before I succumbed to the parental pressures and signed my second daughter up for T-ball. She wasn’t terribly excited about it but was willing to join in, at first. Practices were fine because there were usually popsicles at the end. The actual games proved too ridiculous even for her.

The image I will take to my grave of Alice playing T-ball was put on display every time somebody hit the ball out of the infield while her team was on defense. The miniature Manny Ramirez (who not only hasn’t injected synthetic testosterone, but has barely experienced any of his own testosterone moving through his blood stream) puts a real charge into the ball and it rolls between the locked in place infielders who are much more interested in waving at Grandma, who is wearing a hat capable of blotting out the sun causing the extinction of the dinosaurs, than in the trajectory of the ball. It is only when the official coach and the twenty or thirty unofficial coaches start screaming that the entire squad kicks into high gear. Each and every kid spins and looks where all the spectators are pointing and start sprinting after the errant Spalding.

This is when it became obvious my daughter was not a highly competitive or motivated T-ball player. The players had evacuated the infield like it was a European soccer field after the tear gas and high pressure hoses had been turned on the crowd. All of them except Alice. She is standing at second base, where she was assigned to stand, gazing after her teammates with her hands on her hips and an exasperated expression on her face. After the first three players on the scene of the now at rest baseball wrestle each other for possession of the horsehide, the winner turns to throw it into the infield.

There’s Alice standing at second base. The base runner is just now rounding first base because the coach had to remind him to run and then had to remind him which direction to run and then had to remind him he could keep running after he made it to first base and then had to remind him where second base was and then had to remind him to pull up his shorts which had become entangled around his knees. Alice was in perfect position to receive the throw from the outfield and tag the runner out.

The third baseman turned centerfielder uncorks a throw of unimaginable force, for someone shorter than a barefoot Billy Barty. The ball is sent on “frozen rope” deep into the neighboring diamond’s left field and all the next generation Yankees are released again like the bovine residents of Pamplona.

Christopher Pyle simply bought a huge box of popsicles and didn’t make his kid do T-ball anymore. He can be contacted at

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There are, occasionally, silver linings

I have been looking over many of my old columns. I’ve spent too much time being negative. Sure there is plenty of stuff in the world to be less than happy about. The economy may be as lively as frog in a sophomore biology class. The vitriolic language thrown back and forth between the two major political parties makes one long for the return of the Know-Nothing Party (at least they understood the idea of truth in advertising). For more things in the world which can make one gnash one’s teeth simply look elsewhere in this newspaper. (Please do not gnash your teeth, four out of five dentists surveyed recommend against it.)

In the past I have whined about technology and the ways it can infringe upon the more pastoral ways of living which I prefer. The ubiquitous cell phone with its annoying ring tones, the frequently rude cell phone user carrying on a conversation at such a volume you think the person he’s talking to could hear him without the phone, and the fact that when I carry one it is much harder to hide from people makes me cringe.

On the other hand, I truly love my computer and the internet. Since my chief hobby is writing I cannot imagine getting anything accomplished without my trusty laptop. Shakespeare and Cervantes created amazing works of literary art using crude writing instruments and simple pieces of paper. Not only do I not have the creativity or talent of those gentlemen, I do not have the patience. My quill would be plunged deep into my thigh as I shouted with frustration because I had misspelled fardels, again, and we all know how hard it is to bear fardels misspelled (that may be my most literary joke). Eventually, my legs would look like an Ann-Margaret in Vegas costume because of all the feathers sticking out of them.

With a computer I can write and delete all I want. The little red lines politely suggest I might want to fix something. I just learned spell check doesn’t help with my fardels problem. The red lines show up even when I spell it right. The reason I know I spelled it right is I simply Googled (another word the spell check gremlins dislike) the “to be or not to be” soliloquy and confirmed that fardels is indeed spelled “-el” and not “-le”.

Researchers who lived in the pre-Google world went blind searching and reading book after book in dim musty libraries to find out where Ferdinand Magellan received his basic schooling. I found out in less than a minute the great explorer attended Queen Leonora’s School of Pages in Lisbon. (What a great fight song they must have had.)

It pains me to say this, but I have also become a big fan of YouTube. At first I thought it was just a place to see adolescent boys fall off skateboards in new and creative ways, homemade movies posted by people who have too much free time on their hands and once you see what they think is worthwhile you immediately understand why nobody has hired them for gainful employment, or clips from television shows showing frumpy woman singing startlingly well. I have found it to be treasure trove of stuff.

This stuff is just as nerdy as the stuff I made fun of other people for watching, but it is nerdy in a manner which I appreciate. I have spent many an hour watching Stephen Fry (Q.I.), Hugh Dennis (Mock the Week) and Marcus Brigstoke (I’ve Never Seen Star Wars). These are television shows from England which one can pretend one is being highly intellectual whilst watching but in reality one is simply being highly amused by people who are smarter than one is.

Finally, the top of my list of technologically wonderful stuff is iTunes. Once again before I truly investigated it I thought it would simply be aimed at the younger generation who think music consists of bass guitars pounding out rhythms which register on seismographs in China and lyrics which make K.C. and the Sunshine Band seem like John Keats and Lord Byron rolled into one.

Wrong again. I have found Dean Martin, The Lonesome Strangers and Joey Scarbury (75 bonus points if you know what the one hit was for Mr. Scarbury, my sister is not eligible to win). Just this week I paid my cyber money and got Mozart’s Requiem and the new Steve Martin record of banjo music.

Christopher Pyle hopes to stay in a good mood. It might be attributed to the Steve Martin album. One just cannot be unhappy listening to banjo music. He can be reached at

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Happily Ever After? Not Likely...

As a kid I loved stories and books. My mother read bedtime stories to me for years and when I was too old for such baby-ish things I made sure I strategically placed myself in such a way as to be able to hear my mother read stories to my little sister while still maintaining enough distance to create deniability should anyone wander by and wonder what I was doing. The only problem being a grown-up having exposed to such a large amount of the 20th century canon of children’s literature is: they lied.

OK, I know (and knew) the stories were works of fiction, but so many of them painted life in terms we really liked and hoped to experience when we got older. No such luck.

Example number one: bad guys were easy to identify. Step-mothers who talked to mirrors, pirates with at least one appendage replaced with a metal hook, lupine creatures with big eyes, ears and teeth as well as individuals with severely out of whack pituitary glands hollering catch phrases discussing blood of Englishmen were such giveaways.

In the real world bad guys are seldom so easy to spot. He could look like a high school civics teacher (Mr. Cheney, when is the chapter test? We don’t have tests in this class. We have pop enhanced interrogations.) A bad guy could look like a banker, when in reality he is a short-selling, derivative manipulating, unscrupulous lender of other people’s money. Oh, wait, that is a banker, sorry.

Probably one of the most insidious hoaxes played upon all of us unsuspecting, bright-eyed readers was the concept of romantic love. The chaste and beautiful princess (and, if you are an aficionado of Disney movies, one with a great singing voice) meets the brave and stalwart handsome prince. After about three and half minutes (about the time it takes to sing a duet whilst dancing with woodland creatures and less time than it takes to make microwave popcorn) their love is unrelenting, unwavering and, unfortunately in the non-animated world the rest of us live in, unrealistic.

In the real world such immediate love is usually preceded by one or both of the relationship participants consuming large amounts of cereal malt beverages or fermented by-products from smashed grapes. It never involves singing a duet in the clearing of a forest with sweet smelling skunks, big-eyed bunnies and kind-hearted owls who have taken the oath against skewering big-eyed bunnies with their razor sharp talons, devouring them whole and regurgitating bits of hair and bone after digestion. Even Mr. Disney with a platoon of animators couldn’t make that appealing, gross.

If I remove a little of my jaded pessimism and allow myself to believe love can begin like it does in storybooks it is hard to believe it can stay that unrelentingly warm and fuzzy. It seems more likely after a few years the wife will start referring to her mate as “the husband formerly known as prince” (charming). The husband will long for the days when she was bewitched and slept twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. At least then he could watch Sportscenter in peace and didn’t have to worry about all the gold Rumpelstiltskin was spinning down in the basement going to the Castle Shopping Network for yet another pair of glass slippers. I mean really, how many pairs of glass slippers does one woman need?

When a person goes out into the real world looking for a mate and with good and true intentions hopes to live up to the standard laid down by all the bedtime stories it is hard. Speaking as a man, maintaining a high level of charm wears you out really fast. We just aren’t innately that attentive. Sure when we start dating we will open the doors for you and pretend to like your girl friends, but we just don’t have the stamina to do it after the courtship is over. It is hard enough to put the seat down and pick up the wet towels you truly can’t expect us to be nice to your mother too. Let’s face it frogs stay frogs and princesses become disillusioned and vengeful.

Instead of riding off into the sunset in a carriage drawn by four white steeds trailed by a battalion of twittering bluebirds of happiness my own personal story will probably end with me driving into my sunset years in a twenty-three year old Ford Escort, trailing fast food trash and working at a megastore saying “Welcome to my own personal hell. You want a sticker?”

Friday, May 29, 2009

Be Wary of Happiness

You know how there are times when your life seems in perfect sync. The traffic lights all turn green in front of you while driving with the windows down and a perfect breeze (both temperature and strength of gust wise) blows through your hair and the sky is a particularly beautiful shade of blue you really don’t think you’ve ever seen before and the radio starts playing your all-time favorite song. The world seems to be a perfect place where only happiness and joy reside so you find yourself grinning so big the corners of your mouth are meeting somewhere on the back of your head. You know those kinds of moments? Be very careful what you do in those kinds of moments.

I had a moment like that once. Then I did it. I made the fatal mistake. I said something out loud. I remember it very well. Things were all top of the morning and the devil doesn’t know you’re dead until you’ve already been in heaven for an hour. I felt like I was in a sugar-coated Norman Rockwell painting when I said, to no one in particular because I was alone in my car, “Life is good.” A quarter of a mile later I was standing next to my car which had just made horrible noises and decided the only way it would ever move again was either with a tow cable or an earthquake whichever came first. True story.

In my family we refer to this phenomenon as the Cosmic Equalizer. If you are a sports fan you’ve heard coaches say things like, “we have to make sure the highs don’t get too high and the lows don’t get too low.” This sounds like hokey cliché number 759 for sports guys to say, but there is some advice we can glean from this which can keep the cosmic equalizer at bay. Don’t get too happy or the powers that be will have no choice but to bring you back to a certain level of dismalness which most people dwell in the majority of the time.

I tell you all of this so I can make a confession. I am currently in a state of panic and terror only rivaled by the fear felt by pretty young girls in movies featuring guys wearing hockey masks wielding weaponry Genghis Khan would think was overkill (pun was unintentional, but keenly accepted). Things are going entirely too well for the cosmic equalizer not to step in and balance my glee with misery.

Through dogged determination and clear attention to the task at hand my wife has guided this Pyle family into a state of financial health not before known. She jumped on the Dave Ramsey bandwagon and after 32 months has rid us of debt. I feel I can say this without the cosmic equalizer getting too vengeful because we timed this right when the rest of the world has gone into the financial garbage disposal so investing the money we no longer have to send to credit card companies in anything other than a mason jar buried in the backyard makes as much sense as hiring Hannibal Lector to plan the menu for the vegan convention. Timing is still everything.

Living in a state akin to financial stability is a contributing factor to my ever growing fear of the cosmic equalizer. Another nail in the coffin is I got a promotion at work, with a raise in pay. Oh, man, what are my bosses trying to do to me, get me killed or something.

Due to the various positive things currently popping up in my life I feel very strongly I have to temper this with less happy things in order to divert the attention of the cosmic equalizer. To that end I have to self-inflict some discomfort or strife in my life. In the olden days people would wear a hairshirt to cause pain for repentance and atonement. Some would even go so far as to whip themselves causing great pain and leaving behind some truly nasty looking marks. Okay, I don’t think I will use Arthur Dimmesdale or any other self-flagellating guilt-monger as my guide on how to avoid karmic backlash (once again, pun not intended but gladly welcomed).

I think I’ll just watch reality television instead. That should be painful enough to dull the happiness without leaving physical scars, just emotional ones. Scars which linger like when Kris beat out Adam on American Idol…oh, the humanity.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A World of Opportunity, or Not

On May 16th I was witness to the graduation ceremonies for the Dodge City High School class of 2009. For some reason passing understanding I was not invited to give a speech at the commencement exercises. (Hard to believe, huh?) So, I will take this opportunity to hand out my words of wisdom to the youth of Dodge City as they gird their loins for the adventure which we call adulthood. Stop, for the love of everything good and true in the world, stop, turn around and return to where you came from. Adulthood bites.

Okay, I may be overstating things just a bit. Let me put it this way. When you are in high school the requirements are pretty well spelled out. The classes for a diploma are prescribed by the state. The ways to pass the classes are delineated by the administration and faculty of the school. The expectations for levels of success are laid down by one’s family. Sure there are problems, heartaches and traumas, but out here in the real world they change the rules a heck of a lot more often. Expert type people who are paid money to explain to the rest of us how to get ahead in the world can’t make up their minds.

Last summer I was given a book by my bosses entitled “A Whole New Mind” written by Daniel Pink. This book was purported to be the harbinger of what was to come in regards to which skill sets were going to rule the next great age of humanity.

Mr. Pink tells us the “right-brained” skills are going to be what makes individuals successful. These skills include inventiveness, empathy, creating narratives, and play. He also says the right hemisphere of the brain controls one’s ability to see the big picture and function more intuitively. The left brain is logical and sequential. It recognizes and understands the components of something. It is less creative while doing great with details and plodding along with the individual steps of a process.

I enjoyed the message because it said things I wanted to believe were true. It would be nice for me if the world started revolving in a way which valued right-brain people because I tend that way myself.

I distinctly remember when I was in college (the first time around) the general media rabbiting on about how people who had achieved liberal arts degrees were going to be in high demand throughout the employment world. This was because liberal arts majors were well-rounded individuals who had skills beyond the narrow scope of folks who had gotten very specific degrees in business or the sciences.

You will note that I said this information was being touted the first time I was in college. It turned out the first time I went to college wasn’t going to do the trick. I got one of those highly valuable liberal arts degrees and promptly became entrenched in middle management retail sales. Thank you, Mr. University of Kansas Chancellor for the diploma which states that you have conferred upon me a Bachelor of Arts Degree with “all the rights, privileges and responsibilities given under the seal” of your institution of higher learning.

The sad part was the chief “right” was to tell people I owned a degree in theater and media arts. The “privilege” was I was eminently qualified to get a job renting movies to people who had no idea how mis en scene editing was different from montage editing nor who Truffaut, Eisenstein or D.W. Griffith were but really loved it when Jackie Gleason told Burt Reynolds right where he could stick his CB radio or Arnold Schwarzenegger used a hand gun capable of holding six bullets to shoot fifty-seven bad guys in the head. The “responsibility” was to go back to college and get a degree in something which led to a non-hourly wage.

This time it had to be different. Mr. Pink would be right. My skill set was now going to be the gold standard for what a man should be able to do. How did I know it was true this time? The answer is a single word…Oprah. Oprah, the one true arbiter of all that is worthy and valuable in the world said it. It had to be true. Hallelujah!

This week I read in the New York Times there is a new study describing the skills required to be a true success in today’s economy. The traits listed are attention to detail and analytic thoroughness. Blast, those plodding left-brainers, they win again.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Hey, let's put on a show

It is often said that everyone should have a hobby. I guess the reasoning behind this idea is individuals who only do the things they have to do would not be very happy people. As Jack Nicholson wrote “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Of course he wrote that about nine hundred thousand times before he went stark raving bonkers and started chasing various people around with an ax whilst doing Ed McMahon impressions. (For the more literal among you that all happened in a movie. Mr. Nicholson is not genuinely a menace to society beyond the unfortunate rut he has fallen into of simple parodying himself in every movie he does.)

Some people have calm, thoughtful hobbies with names which are at once intellectual yet have a double entendre air to them. Philately is the collection and study of stamps. Numismatics is the collection and study of currency. Both of these do not require strenuous activity but they do require the highest threshold for boredom I can imagine. Coin collector conundrum: Can the coin in my hand be graded at a level 4 (Good) or does it only rate a 3 (About Good)? Can’t you just feel the tension? This is not to say these hobbyists don’t have a sense of humor. The guaranteed laugh line at a stamp collector convention: If you can’t lick ‘em, collect ‘em.

Here in Dodge City there is an opportunity for a different kind of hobby. The Depot Theater uses strictly local talent to put together big time shows at an impressive facility. Nearly 20 years ago my wife introduced me to this group, back when they still worked and performed at the Boot Hill Museum complex on a stage about the size of a Lincoln Continental. Since then I have done a variety of things with the group as they have evolved into a few different forms.

From that first show I saw, right up to today, I have always been very impressed with the talent level of people who have regular day jobs and give up a month of weeknights rehearsing and month of weekends performing these shows. Many of them do get paid but when you do the math it works out to just under $2.50 an hour and that is not counting the time away from the theater memorizing lines and longing for lost sleep while working the aforementioned day job.

So the inquiring mind is now asking: Why would one want to do that for a hobby? The answer I give is simple: It’s fun.

At least it always has been for me before. I am about to take on the biggest challenge of my theatrical career. I know that sounds pretentious as all get out since I have acted in a whole eleven productions and directed four over the last seventeen years but us theater types are prone to hyperbole. Next fall the Depot Theater Company will be presenting Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical and I am directing.

This is well out of my comfort zone. I do funny. I love working on comedies and getting the instant gratification of hearing the audience laugh. Jekyll and Hyde ain’t funny. I don’t sing. The last time I sang in the shower the “Soap on a Rope” hung itself. Jekyll and Hyde is a musical. When you take those two facts into consideration you have to ask why am I doing this. The answer I give is simple: It’s fun.

Working with a group of talented individuals to create something artistic gives great satisfaction and joy. The rehearsal process has always supplied laughter and I mean laughter which starts at your toes and turns your diaphragm into a trampoline at a Cirque du Soleil performance. I am sure this guffaw-fest will still happen even if Dr. Jekyll and his hedonistic alter ego are not a barrel of monkeys themselves.

Where else can you dress up in 19th century style clothing, sing pretty songs, pretend to be someone else, and maybe even fake your own death ten evenings, and one matinee, in October? At least where else can you do it and not have people call the authorities to report your need for psychiatric intervention.

Auditions for this show are Tuesday, May 12th and Wednesday, May 13th at 7:00 PM in the Depot Theater. Interested parties need only come one of these evenings. So if you want to join Patty Ahern (musical director), Sarah Schaeffer (set designer and co-stage manager), Lee Griffith (co-stage manager), Connie Penick (does more things than I have room to list here) and me having more fun than mere humans should be allowed to have, see you there.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

With age comes other stuff

I knew many things would change as I got older. I do not gasp in shock when I reach the top of a long flight of stairs and find that my knees creak a bit and there is discomfort. It is expected that a person whose dedication to physical well-being is easily over-powered and bludgeoned into submission by his desire for a comfortable chair and a half a dozen cookies. I do, however, gasp when I reach the top of a long flight of stairs because there suddenly seems to be severe lack of oxygen in my lungs.

There are times I am surprised when I look in the mirror. The surprise is not the amount of gray hair on my head. It is the split second of thinking I am looking at my father in the mirror that causes the short-lived sense of astonishment. It does not bother me in the slightest that I look my dad. Truthfully, it is much better to look like my dad when he was pushing fifty than to look like Christopher when he was fifteen, really bad hair (even though none of it was gray), a gawkiness which would make a baby giraffe taking his first steps look like Nureyev dancing in a brand new pair of Keds, and the single persistent zit, approximately the size of the Hope diamond, which established permanent residence on the left side of my nose. It is definitely preferable to look portly and distinguished rather than skinny and geekier than the entire Stephen Hawking fan club.

One thing I particularly like about the middle aged me as opposed to the younger me is the calm demeanor. It would shock most people who know me that a nickname my mother had for me at one stage of my life was Tigger, because I was so rambunctious. Nowadays the word rambunctious is about as likely to be used to describe me as the word contemplative is to be used in reference to Terrell Owens.

I prefer the even keeled life. It bothers my family sometimes. When something really cool happens they get put out I do not skip about the room belting out Irving Berlin tunes and hugging the cat. What they fail to realize is this lifestyle also means when the power bill comes and it is astronomically high because the children still refuse to turn off lights or televisions or computers I do not operatically bust out in Wagner’s Ride of Valkryies as I napalm their bedrooms.

One aspect of being a boring old guy which I am just now getting used to is having a little bit of money at the end of the month instead of the other way around. From the time I was a freshman at the University of Kansas to about eight months ago I, and later my wife and I, and still later my wife and three children and I, lived like freshmen in college. Ramen Noodles, macaroni and cheese, store brand peanut butter (which may not have salmonella but really kind of tastes like it does) and never buying so-called luxury items from a store which does not also sell milk, fertilizer, shoes made from petroleum by-products and gerbil food.

My wife has worked very hard to properly handle our finances so we are out of credit card debt and very soon we will pay off the last of our car debt. Before heretofore unknown relatives start calling for loans, I need to make it perfectly clear we do not have wealth to manage. (Have you noticed most all of the commercials for those firms which promise to help you with volumes of money have been replaced by commercials showing nervous people choosing between a serious and circumspect financial advisor and placing their life savings in a mayonnaise jar and burying it in the backyard which is home to a family of angry Dobermans.) We are simply in a position where it’s possible to imagine our kids going to college without having to sell various vital organs on eBay.

Another benefit to having an income without debt is we can patronize locations which genuinely benefit the people of our area. When you are living paycheck to paycheck you do not have the luxury of choice when it comes to stores to go to. You have to go to the cheapest place in town. I have a friend who calls that single choice “the store which must not be named” so my family now calls it Voldemart.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Passing a test is not just for ten year olds

My real job is in the field of education. So I know a little something about tests. I know how to grade them. I know how to write them. I know how to prepare students to take them. I know the government requires schools to reach a certain level of success when their students take them. I know how to read and create fancy graphs to show people all the disaggregated data pointing out how each sub-group performed, which curriculum indicators are mastered by which demographic groups and which need remediation in order to have children performing at proper grade level and age-appropriate development. (The previous sentence is meant to prove they do not give out Educational Administration Master’s Degrees in boxes of Cracker Jacks.) I also know the stress they can induce on individuals taking them and schools watching students take the big scary ones. Even though I have that aforementioned Master’s Degree, it only recently dawned on me that we are giving the wrong people all the tests.

I am not saying we should stop giving students tests. We need to assess all the little darlings and see that they are learning the necessary knowledge and skill sets for successful academic careers and so they can be well-rounded human beings when they reach the age to vote and work at the nursing home in which I will one day reside. My newly arrived upon theory is there needs to be more testing for grown ups.

The issue is we stop giving tests after everyone stops going to school. Someone out there is saying we have to take a test to re-new our driver’s licenses. That doesn’t count. It is an open book test. You can look up each answer as you take the thing. If you fail it they should not only deny you a license they should also check to make sure your shoes are properly labeled with a big L and R.

At the risk of being accused of intellectual elitism I have a few suggestions for tests which should be routinely administered to individuals in order for them to be allowed to participate in many different daily activities. They would not be long and they would not require any all night study sessions to get the information crammed into one’s cranium. We know that knowledge only stays put long enough for the next day’s test and then it floats away like an errant feather in a springtime Kansas zephyr (which moves faster than most top fuel drag racers).

Suggestion Number One:
You have a shopping cart filled with enough food to feed the entire 172nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the United States Army headquartered in Grafenwoehr, Germany. You should…
A. Step into the express lane and hope nobody notices you are over the 12 item limit.
B. Go to the self-service check out lane and keep it occupied until Rush Limbaugh applauds a decision made by President Obama or hell freezes over, whichever comes first.
C. Bite the bullet and get in line behind the guy with the cart supplying the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment headquartered in Fort Irwin, California and pass the time reading about Brangelina’s latest relationship issues.
D. Reevaluate your needs and pare down your purchase to the things you really need (Dr. Pepper, cookies, and that magazine about Brangelina…I just love those crazy kids).

Suggestion Number Two:
You are sitting in a crowded movie theater watching the latest romantic comedy with Kate Hudson or Katherine Heigl or Reese Witherspoon (I can’t really tell one from the other). You should…
A. Have your cell phone fully charged and the ring tone set to a level sure to be heard by all the patrons in the theater because everyone truly loves to listen to “Get Down Tonight” by KC and the Sunshine Band right at the denouement of a love story.
B. Take out a second mortgage on your home so you can buy a tub of popcorn the size of a Ford Festiva, a soft drink served in a cup large enough to house a family of badgers and some candy which could be used to caulk your shower they are so chewy.
C. Sit quietly and watch the movie
D. Question just how sad your life has become that you are going to romantic comedies starring faceless starlets all by yourself as a forty-six year old man (maybe that’s just me).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Veni, Vidi, Volvo

The other day I saw a commercial for a car which stops itself. I don’t really need a car that can self apply brakes. I have been perfectly capable of stopping my car. Other than the time I ran over a speaker pole at the Airport Drive-In Theater and another time I hit a house (very gently) I have been able to avoid having my automobile come into unintentional contact with other objects. What I need is a car which can clean itself.

It cannot be a surprise that the first company to create a car with this kind of feature is Volvo. No, I am not piling on the American car companies by implying that only a foreign company would have the smarts to do this. I know that is not true. I mean American car companies are more concerned with things which actually sell cars to the general public. Things like voluminous amounts of cup holders strategically placed throughout the vehicle or television screens imbedded in the backs of seats to keep children neurally numb (a fun and alliterative way of saying brain dead) by allowing them to watch the Hannah Montana Battles the Tranformers while My Little Pony Kicks the Living Daylights out of Barney Sing-A-Long Songs DVD as the family motors along.

I guess when you stop to think about it many, many cup holders are a safety feature for the reason that before such things existed many an accident occurred because a man was distracted from watching the road due to the fact the ice cold soft drink he just purchased at the convenience store, the one which is so large it has an undertow and virtually the same volume as your average lobster tank at Trader Vic’s, was placed between his legs, due to the lack of proper cup holder availability, and the frigid temperature of the cup worked its way through the fabric of his jeans and he suddenly was more concerned with the fear of frostbite to a certain zone of his person than about the bicycle rider who really did have the right of way but failed to yield to the Camaro piloted by the distressed man with the frosty…thighs. (Apologies to Ms. Lisman, my high school English teacher, but I am more than a little proud that I was able to create the preceding 153 word sentence, a new personal best. Boo-yah!)

We now return to the Volvo Company. Of course they were the ones to develop such a safety feature. Volvo is the company which decided long ago to pin all their hopes and business plan on the reputation that they are safe. We got the first 3-Point Safety Belt. We got the first padded dashboards. We got the sex appeal of Larry King in a Speedo. They have no trouble cashing in the cool, hipness that is intrinsic to so many car models and going with the unstated motto: You look like a geek driving a Volvo, but you get to become a very old geek.

Actually, in some circles a Volvo is cool. Granted you will never see a rap star pull up to a Grammy after-party with his blinged-out entourage and spill onto the red carpet from the doors of a Volvo Laplander (maybe if they changed the name to a Volvo Lapdancer you might). But, you will see a veritable wagon train of Volvos lining up to pick up blazer wearing eight year olds in front of private schools with names like Westminster Uppingham Prep and croquet teams called the Fighting Monocles.

Upon closer inspection I have found another reason to believe there is a super secret coolness wrapped up in the Volvo brand for people in the ultra-snobby, esoteric intellectually-based culture residing in certain regions of the planet. Latin is a dead language. Right? If you become fluent in Latin you can only use the language to communicate with biologists swapping genus species jokes around the centrifuge in the entomology lab at Cal State – Berkeley (I have no idea if a centrifuge has any place in an entomology lab but it was the only high tech device which came to mind, because I am not a biologist at Cal State – Berkeley) or talking to high brow aesthetes at cocktail parties in Cambridge, Massachusetts. So those are the only demographics who would know that Volvo is the last word in the ultra-cool Latin phrase: Illud est quemadmodum volvo. Which translates for that rap star in the Volvo Lapdancer to say: That is how I roll.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

You May Be Write

Of the 46 years I have been on this planet I have spent 35 of them in school. Before you assume I have the intellect of a push pin I need to point out a little less than half that time I was a paid employee at a school. I did not flunk over and over like that one distant cousin in everyone’s family who is never given sharp implements at the Thanksgiving get-togethers.

Other than being a student and an educator I also have spent large chunks of my time trying to be a writer. This means I have a notebook handy most of the time, one next to my official Dad Chair (the recliner in most homes that by state statute must be relinquished by whomever is sitting in it, be the sitter spouse, child or even hundred and ten pound Rottweiler when the father enters the room), one next to my bed, one in my shirt pocket at school, one in my jacket pocket and two in my backpack. I have them stashed all over the place in case I have a good idea. Note: I do not indicate these notebooks are used with any frequency I simply state they exist for that purpose.

OK, I told you all this as background for this statement: I love writing utensils. I buy pens for fun. I specifically asked for a particular kind of pen for Christmas. I have one pen I use for everyday run of the mill jotting down stuff at work. I have another pen which writes really well that I use for those times I am communicating with colleagues and friends or signing my name on things. I have another pen which is used for writing notes, ideas and short passages on my various writing projects. I can spend more time at the pen and pencil aisle at Office Depot than most men spend at the big screen television aisle at Best Buy. I am a pen/pencil geek. (Many would say I am a geek in a variety of ways, but we won’t go into that at this juncture.)

Just yesterday I learned something new about the history of the pencil. I already knew the word pencil came for the Latin word “pencillus” which means little tail. This really makes you wonder where those ancient Romans carried their pencils. I already knew pencils were made from graphite and the largest deposit of graphite in solid form was first discovered in 1565 at Seathwaite, England. I already knew that Nicholas Conte, an officer in Napoleon’s army, discovered a method of mixing powdered graphite, easier to find than solid graphite, with clay and firing it in a kiln to make a graphite rod suitable for pencil making. The new bit of information I learned is it was 150 years ago this very week (March 30th to be exact) the first ever patent of a pencil which had an eraser attached to it was granted.

Hymen Lipman not only had a name which was guaranteed to be made fun of by adults, kids and particularly verbal parrots but he is also the inventor of the pencil/eraser combo. My source on this is so tenuous that I am embarrassed to site it, but it was stated this outside the box thinker created the first dual use item in the history of human invention. His foresight made it possible for others to follow in his wake and give us clock/radios, keychain/flashlights, and Prince.

I know what you’re thinking. The pencil/eraser combo was not the first dual use thing. Granted Homo habilis used rocks for a variety of purposes, as bludgeons on small animals in order to eat them, as projectiles against larger animals to avoid being eaten by them and as hand puppets for telling simple stories about caveboy meets cavegirl, caveboy drags cavegirl by her hair to his cave and therefore gets dumped by cavegirl and caveboy gets cavegirl back by saving her from a rampaging mastodon. How do I know about this last use? There is a little known cave painting found near the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania showing the oldest known ancestor of Jim Henson doing Bert and Ernie routines with hunks of basalt and feldspar. This does not disprove the special place in history for the pencil/eraser combo. You have to remember rocks were not invented by man. We just perfected them in the mid-70’s when me made them pets.