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?”