Archive for May, 2009

More advice about urinary catheters

May 31, 2009

This is another installment in my free but dreadful advice service. As I mentioned previously, my philosophy uses the concept of making things up as you go along, with little or no regard for the consequences – a methodology I call “selfish preposterism”. Today’s topic again addresses a health matter, but I’ll also be tackling interpersonal relationships, spiritual concerns, computer problems, do-it-yourself issues, travel, and virtually anything else I care to. IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER, TODAY IN BOLD CAPITALS, IN HONOR OF THE FROZEN CAPITAL MARKETS: REMEMBER, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT.

Q. My 82-year-old father was recently hospitalized with complications from a blood disorder. Medical staff assessed the need for a urinary catheter. The insertion was done with a dry tube surface. When asked if they could “put something on it,” the female nurse just told him to “take a deep breath”. The insertion was done twice, both times without lubricant. When he told his regular doctor, she just about came unglued. My father is now unable to urinate on his own because of a blockage, which his urologist said may have been caused by the dry insertions. He now has to live with a catheter. I cringe whenever I think about his experience and wonder if others have been subjected to this.


On a more sane and sober note, I agree with your father’s regular doctor who suggested using glue as a lubricant. Wait, that’s not what you said. Jeez, I’m really unhinged here.

I’m guessing that the female nurse who did the unlubricated insertion misconstrued your father’s request to “put something on it” as an improper sexual advance, which it may well have been. Is your father currently getting “any”? Was “it” in an engorged state when the request was made? It may be that his eagerness for admittedly pleasurable but inappropriate touching by the nurse could have caused him a more painful procedure than was necessary.

As for the blockage he’s now experiencing, I would suggest limiting his intake of fluids to zero. If he still has to urinate, you might try the homeopathic version of a catheter: a Burger King straw (the big ones they give out for milk shakes). Instead of the tube, try lubricating your father instead with a tall glass of Bacardi 151 rum. While he’s unconscious, his limp appendage should be far more user-friendly.

And please, PLEASE, never write to me about urinary catheters again. I’m serious.

My advice: Look elsewhere for advice

May 30, 2009

On December 15 of last year, I changed the motto on my masthead to read “Now Being Funny on a Daily Basis.” I’m sure the “being funny” part is debatable, but the “daily basis” has been absolutely true – weekends included – for the last 165 days, or almost half a year. The closest I came to missing a daily post was one day in late February when my 17-year-old son had abdominal surgery. I managed to get a couple of sentences up while anxiously cooling my heels in the waiting room, so I officially made it that day but only on a technicality.

Now that summer is here and virtually everybody else is into reruns, I’m going to do the same thing with this blog ON WEEKENDS ONLY. Monday through Friday I’ll continue to post (thoroughly) original material; however, on Saturday and Sunday I’ll be reposting some of the “fake advice” columns I wrote on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the winter.

Throughout the summer and on into eternity, I’ll continue doing new humorous essays on Mondays and Wednesdays, fake news stories on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the riotously popular Website Reviews on Fridays. Please keep the views and comments coming.

* * *

Welcome to my free but awful advice service. My counseling philosophy values the concept of making things up as you go along, with little or no regard for the consequences – a methodology I call “selfish preposterism”. Today’s topic addresses a health matter, but I’ll also be tackling interpersonal relationships, spiritual concerns, computer problems, do-it-yourself issues, travel, and virtually anything else I care to. Important Disclaimer in Bold Italic: Remember, I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Q. My 77-year-old husband has a bizarre skin problem. On his left arm he has red blotches that appear and then disappear every several days. He’s seen several dermatologists but none can give him a diagnosis. Now it’s showing up on the other arm. The spots are not itchy or painful, just unsightly. Please help us figure out what is happening.

A. There are several bizarre things going on here: your husband apparently has some skin without red blotches and, at age 77, if this is the best he can do for a health complaint, he’s better off than my sorry 55-year-old body.

 When you say the blotches appear and then disappear every several days, do you mean that they flash on and off like Christmas lights over the course of those days, or do they change more slowly? If they’re flashing, this could be very amusing to circus folk, and you should consider renting a tent for him and charging admission. If it’s more gradual than this, your profit-making options are limited. When it shows up on the other arm, does it disappear from the original arm? Does he ever have both arms in this disgusting condition? And are you sure those are dermatologists you’re seeing, or might they be herpetologists, who would be less surprised by unusual skin features in the snakes and alligators they treat.

My advice would be that, if the spots are just repulsive, not itchy or painful, your best bet would be to cover him in a full-body burqa and move to the tribal regions of northeast Pakistan, which is about as far away from me as you can get.

Website Review:

May 29, 2009

Regular readers of this blog know that I don’t like to traffic in bathroom humor. However, that may be unavoidable today, so I’ll beg your indulgence in advance. I noticed recently that there is a website for Charmin bathroom tissue, and I couldn’t resist the urge to make it the subject of this week’s Website Review.

Bathroom tissue, also sometimes called toilet paper, is distinctly different from facial tissue, in that it is designed to decompose in sewage and septic systems. Also, without putting too fine a point on it, TP is meant to be used on an area that’s at the opposite end of your face (on most people). The earliest recorded use of toilet paper occurred in medieval China, where a traveler from the West noted in 851 A.D. that the locals “are not careful about cleanliness and do not wash themselves with water when they have done their necessities but only wipe themselves with paper.” By the time of the Ming Dynasty, almost a million 2-foot-by-3-foot sheets of toilet paper were manufactured in one year for use in the Imperial Court. Outside of China, however, people were known to use wool, lace, wood shavings, leaves, sand, moss, snow, maize, ferns, fruit skins, seashells, seaweed, sticks, animal furs … okay, that’s enough history.

We’ve come a long way since those ancient and loathsome habits. The products sold by Charmin, a subsidiary of Procter & Gamble, represent the highest evolution of woodpulp-based personal ablutions. The home page at encourages viewers to “rediscover Charmin” through two of its premium products: Charmin Ultra Strong, for those who prefer strength, and Charmin Ultra Soft, for those who prefer softness.

It’s the Ultra Strong variety that first caught my attention, in part because it distinguishes itself with what the company calls a “diamond weave texture”. Considering that the diamond is the hardest substance known to man and can be used to cut everything from glass to titanium, it’s not a substance I’d want associated with such a sensitive area of the body. But I’m not the marketing expert.

There are three other products in the Charmin line. Charmin Basic is a “great balance of softness and strength affordably priced to suit most budgets,” Charmin Plus is “the only bath tissue that contains soothing lotion,” and Charmin Fresh Mates are “adult flushable wipes that give you a shower fresh feeling any time of day.” The last of these comes in four different designer series tubs or in a convenient, resealable package for freshness “on the go.” Get it? “On the go.”

Under the Offers and Events pulldown, you can sign up for a free “extender,” whatever that is, or you can read about the efforts Charmin made during the 2008 holiday season to render New York City a more clean and comfortable place. Apparently, the company built a custom-designed portable restroom in Times Square to help visitors deal with certain necessities that most visitors to the Big Apple will admit are too often unaccommodated. Somehow, they were able to record that these facilities were visited 300,104 times through December 31, though the actual number of patrons may be significantly less if they counted flushes rather than individual hinds. There’s an interactive “flush-o-meter” map of the world that will even tell you which states and countries were best represented. (I guess people filled out a dossier during the visit; either that, or there was some kind of funky DNA analysis going on). Of particular interest, I thought, were the 66 visitors from Iceland, the 27 from Cuba, the four from Madagascar, and the lack of any patronage whatsoever from Kyrgyzstan. Also, note that there were five customers from Papua New Guinea and how funny the word “papua” is in this context.

Part of this promotion also included a photo download, from which you could retrieve the pictures you had taken during the event. (Don’t worry about privacy concerns; you have to enter a password to gain access to your bathroom pix.) There was also an official celebrity endorser associated with this effort. The unfortunately named Joey Fatone (the “fat one”), formerly of NSYNC, served as King of the Throne and conducted the ceremonial first flush. And there was an opportunity to sign Charmin’s Plush Potties for the People petition, part of the brand’s efforts to make public johns the “luxurious, dignified lavatories they should be.” If you didn’t sign on to this worthy cause in New York – where tuxedoed attendants escorted guests into bathrooms featuring soothing music, flat-screen TVs and, of course, Charmin tissue – you can do it online.

The site includes an FAQ page, offering advice on some of the dilemmas facing the modern crapper. “The plies on my Charmin Ultra are not lined up, and it’s not tearing in the right place,” writes one troubled user trying to make his way in our complex, modern world. He is told to “hold the roll in front of you with the paper winding over the top, pull the top ply up and drop it back behind the roll, tear away excess and you’re good to go.” (Get it again? “To go.”) This is also where I learn that the previously mentioned “extender” is an extra-large roll holder, and is not meant to attach to your person.

The History of Charmin section starts in the 1920s, when the product got its name from an employee who thought the design was “charming.” Not much happened in the intervening two decades, though 1940 saw a modern typestyle introduced on the product label, a prelude to the great world war that was looming. In the early sixties, Charmin became the first tissue to add perfume (ouch), and soon thereafter brought Mr. Whipple and his classic “please don’t squeeze the Charmin” slogan to international prominence. By 1978, Whipple was the third best-known American, behind only Richard Nixon and Billy Graham. He was replaced (though some claim “eaten by”) by two animated bears who brought the product’s profile into the twenty-first century.

Finally, I have to mention one external link that cannot go without note. This sends you to, an online find-a-toilet service. Once here, you simply enter your location and a detailed mapping system pops up showing you all the public facilities in your neighborhood. You can zoom out or in – though hopefully not too far in – and can select from a roadmap version, a satellite version, a hybrid of these two, or a terrain version, complete with elevation listings in case you need a certain height above sea level in order to do your business. Of course, it goes without saying you can also download iPhone or Twitter applications (“What are you doing?” “None of your beeswax.”) This site also has a Humor section featuring posts with highly questionable titles: “Women’s Public Bathroom Toilet Prank/Hidden Camera”, “So You Think You Can PP Dance,” and the obligatory videos of cats interacting hilariously with various plumbing fixtures.

All in all, is an informative and entertaining site and I can highly recommend it. Still, this is definitely one arena where the virtual world will never be able to replace the paper copy.

The latest on “Kim and Kate Plus Eight”

May 28, 2009

Controversy continued to swirl this week around one of TV’s top-rated reality shows. Following Sunday’s season premiere of TLC’s Kim and Kate Plus Eight Plus Rogue State, the show’s featured mom publicly took her husband to task for neglecting his family.

Kate Gosselin, the mother of television’s favorite sextuplets, said husband Kim Jong Il’s recent behavior fomenting instability on the Korean peninsula represent his attempts to “act out” in response to the pressures of family life.

“He knows he’s not living up to his responsibilities,” Kate told Christian Woman Today magazine. “We’re supposed to be in this together, acting for the good of our family, and all he seems interested in is rattling the nuclear saber.”

Kim has cemented his reputation as an international pariah in recent days with two mid-range missile firings as well as an underground nuclear test in North Korea. Neighboring countries throughout northeast Asia have expressed growing concern that the Communist leader could launch an unprovoked attack against South Korea or Japan.

“At this point in our relationship, I wouldn’t put it past him,” Kate said. “He has eight children here in Pennsylvania constantly asking ‘where’s daddy?’, and all I can say is that he’s more likely to be in the Situation Room than in the family room.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have warned Kim that his reckless actions will be met with the strongest response possible. Even his traditional allies, China and Russia, seem to view events of the past week with alarm.

“He needs to be back on the show with his heart fully engaged in the project as well as the welfare of his family,” said Soviet President Vladimir Putin. “We don’t need more tensions on the Asian mainland; we need wholesome entertainment that showcases a big, happy family. Did you see how that one kid lost his balloon in Sunday’s episode? That was heart-wrenching.”

For her part, Kate says she will go on with her travels around the country promoting the show as well as her book, and hopes that her husband “comes to his freakin’ senses.” She said the show will continue as planned into its fifth season, with next week’s episode featuring the construction of a uranium-enrichment plant in the back yard of the couple’s rural home.

“It’s really Kim’s idea,” Kate said. “He says we’ll save a ton of money on our utility bills, but I’m worried about the effects radiation leakage might have on the kids. We’re freaky enough already, you know?”

The couple’s current rough patch stems from tabloid reports that Kim was seen partying with a college-aged woman, and drinking at local bars with his friends. Kim was reportedly holed up in his parents’ home in Pyongyang and was unavailable for comment.

Smile for your semi-annual dentist appointment

May 27, 2009

I don’t have a very good record of maintaining good dental health, so when it came time last week for my semi-annual checkup, I was a little nervous. I’ve had enough experience now in the lean-back chair that I usually know what to expect, so the fears borne of uncertainty aren’t an issue. I’m not one of those people who need to visit a sedation dentist to have my blood drained and spinal chord frozen so I can get a good flossing. I can take the “discomfort” and the “pressure” as long as they don’t call it “pain.”

But it had been over a year since I last visited for a cleaning, and my regular maintenance needed to be done. I called Dr. Anderson’s office and made an appointment for “the usual,” which in my case could easily mean a couple of root canals. I showed up last Wednesday for what I hoped would be a quick in-and-out.

Before I go into any detail about this visit, a little history is in order. When I was a child growing up in Miami, we were compelled to patronize the dentist who went to our church. Unfortunately, Dr. Beyer was a student of Ephesians-style dentistry, and tended to take the part about “suffer the little children” too literally. He was as stingy with the Novocain as he was completely unfamiliar with laughing gas, so even the most minor work involved agony I remember to this day.

When I went off to college and became more responsible for my own dental care, I let it lapse completely. I was too busy enjoying the social upheavals of the seventies to be concerned about proper brushing techniques. Besides, a pretty smile seemed so bourgeois in this climate that I could justify my poor oral hygiene as a political statement. When one particularly bad cavity became large enough that a sesame seed lodged in it, I figured, great – a homeopathic filling.

When the pain finally got the better of me, I went to an excellent dentist who got me into serviceable shape. After a few temporary crowns and a couple of extractions, I was ready to leave Florida and seek my fortune in my current hometown. I’d be able to make it through a job interview without having to avoid the half of the alphabet I couldn’t pronounce without fully-formed front teeth.

My current dentist of almost thirty years continued the extensive effort I needed throughout the 1980s. I proudly built a thick folder of paperwork documenting my bridges and implants that showed at a glance what a loyal and profitable customer I had been. So I was a little miffed when I arrived last week and the receptionist asked me to sign a touchscreen to capture my signature electronically. “We’ve gone paperless,” she said excitedly, and my heart fell when I glanced at my screen and saw I had been reduced to just a few computer files.

Once my insurance information is recorded with the front desk – “they’re a good company,” the insurance specialist said ominously of my new insurer – I headed back to meet with my hygienist. After a few words of greeting, during which she eyed my mouth suspiciously (trying I guess to size up how difficult a case I was going to be), we got down to work. I was moved to a reclining position and she pulled up the armrest on my right to get a better angle on my maw. With no support for my elbow, I had to grab my belt buckle and hang on, lest my forearm flop into her lap in what would be the most awkward advance in periodontal history.

After a series of x-ray pictures in that darling anti-radiation apron, she began the three-part cleaning process. First, she moves all along the top, then the bottom, with that sharp metal prod, scraping away tartar in the most primitive medical technique this side of high deductibles. This is the part of the visit I dread the most, not only because it sounds and feels so barbaric, but because I’m being tested on suspicious areas that may need the attention of the drill. Not only do I have to feel the occasional stabs of pain; I have to act like I didn’t feel them to avoid having it cost me money. “Oh, does that hurt?” she asks as I noticeably stiffen at one point. “No, no,” I reassure her, “it’s just a seizure.”

Once the prodding is done, she uses that minty buffer thing that smoothly scrubs the tooth surface. Finally, she brings out the floss to remove any remnants of filth that remain, and asks the question I chronically lie to: “Do you floss regularly?” “Yes,” I answer, figuring that doing it once a week on a religious basis can technically count as “regularly.”

Before the actual dentist stops by for his quick exam, she offers me the optional fluoride treatment, which I agree to so I don’t look like a cheapskate. She paints this sudsy mixture on as I try to remember if fluoride is in that part of the periodic table that’s radioactive or not. She rinses me out with water and that neat oral vacuum cleaner that gives you runway-model-quality sunken cheeks.

Dr. Anderson now appears and does the part of the exam I always forget to worry about – the oral cancer check. While I’ve spent the past few days obsessing about pointy metal prods, the possibility that I may have malignant salivary glands or a tongue tumor has completely escaped me. When the groping of nodes is complete and I seem to have passed, he begins closely examining my two lower canines, technically called “numbers 22 and 27.”

“We’ll probably need to do something about these,” he says.

“Let’s take another picture,” I wanted to suggest. “This time with my cellphone camera. You lean in close so we can get you in there too.”

Instead, he proceeds to show me I need a pair of the following: endodontics, 1 canal; crown buildup, inc. pins; and crown porc.-fused to high nobl. At first I’m concerned that the “porc.-fused” part means I’m going to have a bacon implant and, while I love the taste of bacon, I don’t think I’d want it as the default taste in my mouth. He deciphers the lingo to tell me it’s instead a porcelain fusion, with root canal and crown, and now I’m really concerned, as it seems it is he who is bringing home the bacon, to the tune of almost $3,000 out of my pocket and into his piggy bank.

“You might not need the root canals. We won’t be able to tell until we get in there,” he tells me.

At last, we discuss sedation – I’d like some now, please, but he insists on waiting until the procedure, to be scheduled in about two weeks. I can have an IV drip, where I’m knocked out completely, for $265, or I can opt for the “value menu” nitrous oxide for the low, low price of $51. Considering I want to be awake when the decision is made to canal or not, and that nitrous is more fun than unconsciousness, and that it’s over $200 cheaper, I’m going with the gas. Could I buy one dose and get one free, so my wife can roll with laughter when I mention the $3,000?

I’m ready to check out and set my next cleaning appointment for six months out. My schedule is typically not that tight, so I shrug when they ask if December 3 at 1 p.m. will work for me. I think I have a thing some time in the fall, but my winter is wide open, so I take whatever they’ll give me. Just don’t expect me to remember that far in the future – I may need to take my rocket car into the shop that day. They’ll call to help me remember.

That reminds me: it’s been a week now since the appointment, so it’s probably time to floss.

Fake News: Graduates get their marching papers

May 26, 2009

Commencement speakers continued dispensing their valuable advice to graduating seniors across the country this past weekend.

Addressing graduates at the U.S. Naval Academy, President Obama urged newly commissioned second lieutenants to “avoid being wounded if at all possible” and to aim for the highest goals they can achieve, whether in the military or in private life.

“I would urge you to either become an admiral and assign yourself to cruise the Caribbean or, if you leave the Navy, you can do as I did and seek to serve the public,” Obama told a large crowd in Annapolis, Maryland. “I would strongly encourage anybody who thinks they might be interested in the job to get elected president. The perks are incredible.”

Meanwhile, in an address to graduates at San Diego State University, the Octomom suggested students could best serve mankind by getting lip enhancements and giving birth to a litter of children.

“Don’t strive merely to achieve the fleeting satisfaction of fame and fortune,” Nadya Suleman told the assembled class of ’09. “Make a difference in someone’s life. Or in my case, the life of 14 very small yet very annoying, demanding and childish people.”

Fox News commentator Glenn Beck suggested graduates at Atlanta’s Emory University forsake some of the privileges and honors they’ve received in the interest of pursuing a greater good.

“When you march across this stage in a few minutes to receive your diploma, I challenge you to take that piece of paper and rip it to shreds,” the conservative pundit recommended. “A liberal arts education is, by very definition, liberal. If you live by your instincts rather than by your intellect, you’ll be a much happier individual. And, I can get you a job at Fox.”

Two American heroes in the news this year delivered commencement addresses with two very different themes. Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, the USAir pilot who successfully landed his disabled airliner in the Hudson River in January, urged graduates at the University of Illinois “not to fly a jet into a flock of geese thereby disabling both engines and causing you to ditch in the water.” Just a few dozen miles to the north at the University of Chicago, Capt. Richard Phillips of the Somali-hijacked Maersk container ship, told his audience to “not be boarded by pirates, taken hostage in a lifeboat and then nearly get shot while being rescued.”

Appearing at Nova University in Boca Raton, Florida, actor Ashton Kutcher declined to speak directly to the audience of 1,400 seniors. Instead, he stood at the lectern with his Blackberry and “tweeted” his commencement address.

“Just keep trying,” Kutcher wrote. “Never, ever give up, because the only person that can stop u is u.”

“OMG, that is so true,” messaged the crowd in response. “We rock.”

Detainees: Have I got a deal for you

May 25, 2009

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent weeks on what to do about the Guantanamo detainees. We have a pretty good consensus that the prison housing hundreds of suspected jihadists needs to be closed, yet we’re not exactly sure what to do with these guys. A few have been formally charged in U.S. courts and appear ready to go through the judicial process. As for the rest, I think the government is pretty much open to suggestions.

Attempts to foist them off on other countries seem to be going nowhere. State governments and Congressional leaders are steadfast in their refusal to accept them into American prisons. The idea that I floated in a post last February – that the detainees be put on a plane that “accidentally” crashes (see – seems to be gaining little traction.

Well, I’ve since had a similar brainstorm that I’d like to put forward. Rather than add yet another voice to the near-unison chorus of “not in my back yard,” I’d like to propose moving the 240 prisoners to my back yard.  Literally.

Actually, what I’m offering is a great deal on a rental house my wife and I own that we’ve been having trouble finding tenants for. This nicely landscaped brick ranch-style home is situated on an acre and a half in a quiet northeast Rock Hill neighborhood, with quick access to Interstate 77 leading north to Charlotte. It has three bedrooms, one-and-a-half baths, central air and heat, a large shed in the back yard and a covered carport. There’s a refrigerator and a water heater; no washing machine or dryer is included, but hook-ups do exist in a utility room off the carport. We’re asking $885 a month, and are willing to include two weeks free rent if they move in by the first of the month.

I understand that this 1,140-square-foot residence may be seen by some as rather tight quarters for 240 people, but it can’t be much worse than the conditions they’re enduring now. I mentioned the big shed, right? There’s also an attic, a crawlspace under the house and a covered patio.

I don’t know the neighbors all that well. Most of them are also tenants rather than owners, so I don’t think they’d care that much about so-called “undesirables.” The Guatemalan family down the street already has at least a dozen people living in a similar-sized house, so they can’t complain. And the people next door have had police called at least twice in the last six months for domestic disturbances; if my tenants start causing trouble (loud music, unauthorized yard sales, international hijacking plots, etc.), the authorities already know the area.

The suspected terrorists would be expected to keep the lawn in reasonably good shape. I doubt that any of them have a mower, but I imagine the Defense Department would offer a small release package similar to what freed convicts get when they’re furloughed from prison. Instead of a fresh suit of clothes and $50, might I suggest each man be allocated a government-issued goat that could provide milk, wool, meat and the ability to keep the grass at a city-mandated maximum two-inch height.

I know a lot of these criminals come from agrarian societies, so I’ll point out that the very large back yard has only a few trees on the edge of the property and plenty of room for a substantial garden. Most people in this part of the South plant primarily tomatoes, squash and watermelons, though I have no reason to doubt that opium poppies might also thrive in our summer heat. I would think that locally grown narcotics would be quite an attractive product in the organic farmer’s market held every other Saturday in the next town over from ours.

We don’t really have a viable public transportation system in Rock Hill, and I acknowledge that getting around could be a bit difficult for the Islamist fanatics. There are, however, several reasonably priced private cab companies and, for any individuals who suffered injuries during their stay at the naval base (I remember hearing something about torture), the county provides special-needs buses that go to the hospital area and to state benefits offices. Or maybe the several hundred men could pool their funds and buy a junker car that they could share. There’s a used-car lot within walking distance of the house, and their sign claims that not only do they “habla Espanol” but they also offer on-the-lot financing. And if the whole car-bombing image presents a credit problem, many similarly restricted drivers with DWI convictions find a moped to be quite adequate.

Speaking of businesses in the neighborhood, there’s a major highway (state road 161) only two blocks away — just close enough to be convenient but not bother any of the renters with road noise. Within walking distance is the Mayflower seafood restaurant (a “fish camp”-style eatery that offers both sit-down service as well as a great takeout menu), a Sonic drive-in complete with roller-skating waitresses, and a Subway. I’m not sure if any of these places are familiar with Halal, the Muslim dietary restrictions similar to kosher laws, but check with Chrissy at the Mayflower – she’s always so friendly to everyone. There’s also a new Food Lion grocery store under construction a half-mile down the road, due to open in August.

So, if anybody is interested in helping make the dream of living in a suburban home into a reality for these unfortunate individuals, please contact my property manager, Hartline Realty, at 803-367-6828. (The management services they offer are well worth the 10% cut they take, since I’m not especially handy at dealing with middle-of-the-night plumbing or dirty-bomb accidents). We can have these ruthless killers moved in by this time next week.

When bowling was king

May 24, 2009

Bowling has made something of a comeback in recent years from the decline it had been suffering since its heyday back in the 1950s and 1960s. With the simultaneous rise of “disco bowling” and irony-as-lifestyle, more people than ever – both the cool and the uncool – are taking to the lanes of America’s alleys (recently re-dubbed “fun centers”).

I hadn’t realized it, but when I was flipping through some of the second-tier sports channels the other day, I discovered there’s still such a thing as the Professional Bowlers Association and they still have what can loosely be described as a TV contract. I watched only a few minutes, and this is some of what I saw.

The "king" on his "throne"

The "king" on his "throne"

There’s this “King of Bowling” title or, more accurately, “the King of Bowling Powered by Amp Energy series.” The reigning king sits on a lane-side throne, wearing a goofy crown and holding a scepter, while pretenders battle before him for a chance to challenge the sovereign one-on-one. In the episode I saw, a chunky guy named Wes Malott from Pflugerville, Texas, sat regally above the fray while Walter Ray Williams won a “thrilling” opening match over Bill O’Neill. The two were tied after regulation and were forced to engage in a five-ball sudden-death “roll-off”. Williams emerged as the eventual winner.

When Williams took on Malott for the $10,000 first prize, he found himself the victim of a royal whirlwind. Malott bowled a perfect 300 for the victory.

“When it was over, I was kinda thinking to myself, what else could you ask for after the season I’ve had?” Malott said. “I’ve accomplished every goal I had except a major. Shooting 300 on TV? You never think about it.”

You can say that again.

“There was definitely some excitement,” Malott continued in a slight over-statement. “I just tried to focus and do the job. I’ve seen some guys fall on the ground and cry after bowling a 300 on TV. Some guys jump in the other guy’s arms. I’m not going to jump into someone’s arms.”

The PBA will award over $4.3 million in prize money this year during its Lumber Liquidators PBA National Tour. In addition to that pathetic excuse for a title sponsor, other predictable brands contributing to the tour include Flomax (the prostate medicine that improves urine flow), Motel 6, Bayer Aspirin, Denny’s and Go RVing.

Watch this space for a future review of the sport’s website,

Banana robbers and black hairy tongues

May 23, 2009

“Is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just trying to rob me?”

Once again, my beloved South is in the news for the poor quality of its criminal population.

Last weekend, I related the story of the Waffle House waitress who became so incensed at a customer that she went to her car, got a gun and shot the patron for complaining about inadequate service. Apparently, the twin assault of stale waffles and runny eggs weren’t punishment enough.

This week comes the story of man who attempted the hold-up of a North Carolina café using a banana that he led his victim to believe was a gun. Bobby Ray Mabe (always with the two first names) said he encountered a man holding something under his clothing who asked for a Mountain Dew and then demanded cash.

The Winston-Salem café owner said he and another one of his customers decided to resist by grabbing the man and holding him down on a chair.

“If he had a gun he would’ve shot me,” Mabe told UPI. “But he had a banana.”

Forsyth County sheriff’s officers were summoned to arrest the perpetrator, but while the trio waited for them to arrive, the would-be robber ate the banana. By the time police arrived, all that was left was the banana peel. However, Mabe realized that the peel could serve as valuable evidence, so he photographed and then secured it before anybody could suffer a fall.

Charged with attempted robbery was 17-year-old John Steven Szwalla (pronounced “swallow,” which is what he should’ve done with the banana peel). On his next attempt, perhaps he’ll be smart enough to claim that an apple is actually a hand grenade, and he’ll be able to consume all the evidence.


Open wide and disgust us all

Open wide and disgust us all

In unrelated news, there’s actually a disease that goes by the name of Black Hairy Tongue.

BHT refers to a number of conditions in humans and animals that cause the tongue to become unusually dark and/or hairy in appearance. In humans, it’s a harmless condition caused by a fungus which grows on the top surface of the tongue. It’s most commonly associated with the elderly, those using antibiotics, and smokers. While black is the most common color associated with the condition, other colors are possible, including brown, white and green. The hairy areas are usually on the back of the tongue.

Though generally due to overall poor oral hygiene, Black Hairy Tongue can also be caused by Pepto-Bismol.

Website Review:

May 22, 2009

Have you or a loved one been injured on the job? Are you unable to work because the pain of your injury makes your life a living hell? Would you like to be?

If you want to spend the rest of your life sitting on your couch and watching the disability checks roll in, then call the attorneys at the law firm you just saw talking earnestly on late-night TV. Or now, you can even contact them on-line. You can rest assured that they have only your interests, plus a 25% settlement fee of any award you might receive, in mind.

For this week’s Website Review, I thought I’d take on one of those self-advertising law firms that will show you how wealth, justice and a permanent indentation on your couch are just an 800-number away. A cowboy-hatted lawyer from the firm of Binder & Binder, which bills itself as America’s most successful social security disability advocates, suggested these might be the folks I could study.

I went to their site,, and started to learn more about the legal services they offer and their long history – exemplified by their motto “do what you do, better and nicer” – of helping people get the respect they deserve (and, oh yeah, the cash). I started milling around their pulldowns and making notes about all the features I could make fun of. Soon, however, I realized that these were well-intentioned professionals who were only in business to bring fairness to wronged and injured individuals. Also, I realized they’d probably be in a great position to sue the bejesus out of anybody who slandered them.

So I’ll be taking a rather gentle look at Messrs. Harry J. and Charles E. Binder and the nationwide network of offices they’ve built since starting in the business over 30 years ago. Binder & Binder helps you and your broken, pathetic body take advantage of the Social Security Disability program, what they call “one of our government’s best-kept secrets,” second to the nuclear launch codes, I’d guess, but not by much.

The firm’s history actually dates from 1975 when an injured, almost-penniless New York firefighter walked into Harry Binder’s tiny office with a challenge: his application for disability benefits had been turned down by the Social Security Administration and he needed a “genuine expert” to help in his fight. According to the company’s history page, Harry has always liked challenges, and fire-fighters. “They do stuff I’d be scared to do,” Harry said, so he sidestepped that nasty expertise question and hit the law books to teach himself how to help.

I never saw how that particular case turned out, though I’d assume it went well because Harry’s brother Charles showed up, and together they formed Binder & Binder, since “Harry & Charlie” sounded a little too much like a good-time ice cream emporium. By then it was 1979, described in the company newsletter Disability Digest (subscriptions available through the website – check out the back-breaking sudokus) as tumultuous times.

“President Jimmy Carter was attacked by a swamp rabbit while fishing. Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in Iran. The Three Mile Island nuclear plant had a partial meltdown. The Soviet Union seized control of Afghanistan. The population of China hit one billion people. Billy Joel’s ‘Just The Way You Are’ won the Grammy for best song.” It’s not clear how the Binders were able to help with any of these calamities. I think they’re just trying to give us a little historical perspective.

From that small beginning, the firm grew to the point where it now has offices in major cities from coast to coast and tens of thousands of new clients added each year. They have a sophisticated website that includes a number of helpful features. There’s a social security application form where you can leave a detailed description regarding your disability – “I have carpal tunnel syndrome. Why must my description be so detailed?” is one suggestion – and a representative will contact you within two business days. There are some disability tax tips told in folksy but perplexing similes: “A tax return is like a blood test. Your bad cholesterol should be low and your good cholesterol should be high.” There’s even a fun multiple-choice quiz to see how well you comprehended the newsletter. Some answers: their national department serves “all over America,” not “steak for breakfast,” and President Carter was attacked by “a rabbit,” not by the “Democratic caucus.”

There’s a frequently-asked-questions section that’s so thorough you may wonder why you even need a flesh-and-blood lawyer. “Do I have to be completely incapacitated to get disability?” My predicted answer: You just need to able to reach your wallet. “I have informally adopted a child. Will she be able to receive benefits?” If what you really mean is that you’re living with your teenage girlfriend, no. “You must receive a lot of compliments. What’s the highest compliment you’ve received?” That I seem too human to be an attorney. “I understand there are special rules for the blind.” That’s not a question.

There are also profiles of each individual Binder. Charles believes in a goal-oriented office atmosphere, he’s a big fan of the Lone Ranger and says “just put together some people who are really interested in hearing about social security disability, don’t forget the donuts, and I’ll be there.” He enjoys the improbable trio of Yankee baseball, keeping promises, and teaching his nephews about playing fair. Harry’s hobbies include reforming corrupt nursing homes, New York Rangers hockey and “never looking back,” so be careful if you’re ever driving behind him. He and his wife have five children and he was at Madison Square Garden on June 14, 1994 at 10:58 p.m. (I guess the legal mind tends to remember such details). Both Charles and Harry are pictured in their trademark cowboy hats but Charles, as the managing partner, gets to sling his suit jacket over his shoulder while Harry, the more sober senior partner, is fully dressed.

Finally, I’ll mention a few quotes from testimonials that Binder & Binder has received. “I’m sorry I’m so late getting back to you,” writes one, “but I’ve been busy spending the money you guys helped me get.” Another notes darkly that “people act like they’re jealous but they don’t want my disease.” A third offers a somewhat less-stirring endorsement: “just waiting for the benefits and back pay to get here.”

Before I sign off, I wanted to come back to the company slogan. Actually, there appears to be two of these. The one that appears at the top of the home page is the slightly menacing “we’ll deal with the government; you have enough to worry about.” But the one I like best, the one that personifies to me all that’s beautiful and compelling and humane about the fabulous Binders, is the one I mentioned earlier: “do what you do, better and nicer.” It’s marvelously non-judgmental, it references two traits not normally associated with the legal profession and is just vague enough to cover anything this side of the commission of war crimes. If only all of us – I’m looking at you, Social Security Administration – would try harder to do what we do, the world would be a better place. And nicer too.