Archive for May, 2009

Fake News: Late-night comedians agree on what’s funny

May 21, 2009

NEW YORK (May 20) – Hosts of late-night talk shows met at their annual convention this week to select who would be the butt of their jokes on a variety of human frailties in the year ahead.

After experimenting with a number of new faces during 2008, the consensus of the assembled comedians seemed to point toward a return to the classics. In an overall “beauty contest” to name the funniest celebrity regardless of which physical or personality flaw they displayed, former vice president Dick Cheney scored a narrow victory over Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey.

The hosts come together once every year to decide who is perceived as the oldest, dumbest, fattest, etc. among people currently in the public eye. With that protocol in place, they can then proceed to tell basically the same joke as each other on any given night.

In two examples where a return to veteran buffoons was evident, Angelina Jolie displaced the Octomom as the subject of any jokes about someone who has too many children, while Donald Trump and the beloved “thing on his head” pushed aside disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich on the topic of hair jokes. Larry King was voted to take the spot previously held by John McCain on the theme of someone who is “so old that [fill in the blank]”.

Madonna continued her 19-year domination in the category of who was the female best-known for dating entire sports teams, though both Brittney Spears and Cher received enough support in the general category of sluttiness to deserve mention on any given night. Amy Winehouse was again the runaway winner to be the subject of jokes about drug use and drunkenness, and Kirstie Alley squashed challenges from Rosie O’Donnell and Oprah Winfrey on the question of who was comically fat. Sarah Palin and Miss California finished in a dead-heat for the title of ditziest.

In the male class, John Edwards bested Eliot Spitzer for the husband who most humorously cheated on his wife. Joe Biden won in a rout for the category of most talkative, and Bernie Madoff scored an equally impressive victory of who was the most-crooked personality. Former president George W. Bush was awarded a lifetime achievement honor for being dumb.

In the fast-changing landscape of steroid use in baseball, Barry Bonds led after the first ballot but could not achieve the majority necessary to be endlessly mentioned during monologues. Roger Clemens overcame Bonds on the second ballot but also failed to put his rivals away. Alex Rodriguez almost took the title on the third ballot before Manny Ramirez landed the victory just before the convention’s closing ceremonies.

Former Idaho Senator Larry Craig, infamous for his arrest on sex-related charges in a Minneapolis airport men’s room, was eliminated in early voting by singer Clay Aiken on the subject of funniest homosexual. But Aiken fell in the end, topped by whichever male finishes highest in the previous year’s “American Idol”.

Dick Cheney took the honor for top mention in the “who shot a guy in the face” class. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh was the biggest multiple winner at the convention, racking up mentions in the fattest, baldest, craziest, most drug-addled (male) and ugliest categories.

 

It’s great to be alive (not)

May 20, 2009

When we dragged ourselves into the office Monday morning, most of us were not particularly refreshed by the weekend. In fact, most of us had spent Sunday “working,” which at my location generally means waiting for work that never comes. (I know that sounds like an easy job, but doing nothing can actually be quite arduous).

Nobody was in a good mood, and it only got worse when one of our resident optimists arrived with cheer for all. Kathy is never sad and rarely quiet, though a recent bout of laryngitis had given us a brief respite for a few days. “Good morning,” she cried out to no one in particular. “How are you? Good to see you. Did you have a nice weekend? Good, good.”

The outgoing personality, or “extrovert,” is generally regarded as someone who’s fun to be around, who reinforces feelings of goodwill in a group, who comes into a room like a breath of fresh air. I don’t like these people. Their enforcement of positivity when all common sense dictates that a different perspective is more appropriate flies in the face of reality. The economy sucks, the environment stinks, and we’re all going to die – get used to it.

I call this segment of the population “the chipper”. Like the mute, the infirm and the Canadian, this is a group very much deserving of basic human rights and equal treatment under the law. We should not disrespect them and we should not run over them with our cars. They are to be accommodated, even occasionally welcomed for the richness they add to our world.

But unlike those other groups, the chipper are very much responsible for their own situation, yet choose to do little or nothing to lift themselves above their disability. In fact, they see themselves as generally superior to others, and try earnestly to rope the rest of us into their perky enclaves. You don’t see the blind going around trying to poke the rest of us in the eye (at least not on purpose); similarly, we shouldn’t expect to have to be cheerful just because our coworkers are.

The dictionary defines the chipper as “a machine that grinds up logs, tree trunks, and other wood products into wood chips.” Though that might be a little harsh, it’s generally a spot-on description of these folks. Any semblance I might have of a good mood is quickly dissipated when someone who’s happier than I could ever hope to be takes over a room by sheer force of personality. I feel like I’ve been chopped into a thousand tiny pieces by their rapid fire of laughter, then disgorged into a compost heap. Okay, maybe not that bad, but bad enough.

Being chipper is not the same thing as being nice. It means being a busybody, pressing your character into every available niche like some kind of social caulk. On this particular morning, for example, Kathy has noticed a coworker is missing and so gives her a call at home to check up on her. “Are you all right?” she shrieks into the phone. “I was worried about you.” The colleague is fine, she’s assured, or at least she was before the sleep that had provided fleeting relief to her nausea was shattered by a phone call. “You take care now, you here?” she’s instructed. “I’ll be thinking about you.”

This overly intense personality style also tends to manifest itself in an excessive politeness that I’d characterize as grating – a good thing for cheese but not for an associate. We actually have at least two of the chipper in my particular office, and they occasionally find themselves in this conversational mobius strip that confounds even them. I call it the “TYNTY loop” because it starts with one saying “thank you” and the other responding “no, thank you.” This may actually continue for several rounds in jest before a concerned friend steps in with the threat of physical harm. There’s usually a “sir” or a “ma’am” thrown in for good measure, and profuse apologies at the slightest sign of any shortcomings by either party. “Oh, I am so sorry,” Kathy says when she’s slightly misunderstood. “No, no, you’re fine, you’re fine,” assures Jerry, her partner in joy. Don’t debate this endlessly, I want to interject. You’re both sorry.

After being around these folks for a while, you begin to wonder if there might be a pathology at the root of such an annoying condition. Since I’m not a clinically trained mental health professional, I turned instead to a website called psychiatricdisorders.com to see if a diagnosis might be possible. Sure enough, I found a condition called Histrionic Personality Disorder. In an entry subtitled “Look at Me!” I learned more about HPD.

“Histrionic personality disorder is defined by a constant need for approval, which reveals itself as constant attention seeking and a need to be the center of events,” reads the article. “In order to stay in the spotlight, people with HPD may resort to emotional dramatics and a ‘theatrical’ self-presentation.”

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present Kathy and Jerry. Let’s give a big round of applause.

Deep down, I probably harbor a secret desire to be as free of cynicism as these carefree sprites. I know I can come across as a misanthropic curmudgeon at times, but it’s only because I despise people so intensely. I too have a deep desire for the approval of others; however, if I tried so obviously to get it, I’m afraid I’d be too humiliated by any perceived rejection to ever recover. They seem to be so satisfied with their place in the world and so happy to be alive. I may be glad I’m not dead, yet that’s about as far as I’ll go.

Maybe I can summon a more modest aspiration. I’ve occasionally stumbled across crusty old Regis Philbin while flipping around the TV dial and he seems to get along well enough with that Chairwoman of the Chipper, Kelly Ripa. I understand they pay him about $21 million a year to do this. For that kind of money, I think I could overcome my petty skepticism, share in the smiley-faced bliss of this wonderful life and fully embrace the Kelly Ripa’s of the world. Well, one Kelly Ripa, anyway.

Fake News Briefs: Pelosi and Obama

May 19, 2009

Pelosi claim raises eyebrows

WASHINGTON (May 17) – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated her denial yesterday that CIA officials informed her in early 2002 that they were going to hold her down, shave off her eyebrows and replace them with rootbeer-flavored gummy worms.

Pelosi said that her records of the briefing showed only that she was to be taken to a playground not far from her Capitol Hill office and strapped to a see-saw, which was then to be inverted while sand was kicked into her face and eyes.

“I can specifically remember that there was no discussion of my eyebrows being removed,” Pelosi told reporters in a hastily called news conference. “Forced removal of any of my facial hair is something I would recall. Nor do my notes from that meeting indicate that any brow-work was to be done.”

Meanwhile, CIA director Leon Panetta continued to insist that agency documents indicated that Pelosi, who was then minority leader of the House, knew of the plan and agreed to have the sugary gelatin novelty candies implanted in the ridges above her eyes. Panetta said agents told her they thought it would soften her look and nicely complement the pert bob she has sported since her days in the California legislature.

“We conduct these assessments of leading public figures on a regular basis, and if we think we can make them a more appealing presence, we’ll approach them and suggest a procedure,” Panetta said of the long-standing national security policy. “She heard our people state their case and agreed to be admitted to a top-secret cosmetic surgery facility in suburban Washington. That’s where the four-hour procedure was performed.”

Pelosi denied approving such a move, and said she agreed only to the kicking of sand while she assumed a simulated waterboard position. She did acknowledge that she was briefly blinded during the incident, and that when she was returned to her office later in the day, she noticed “a distinct rootbeer or perhaps cola smell.”

“I would never willingly accept eyebrows that look this ridiculous,” Pelosi said, pointing at her face. “It’s apparent to me that the CIA has altered their records to show that I was complicit in this, when that’s simply not true.”

 

Obama tackles abortion at ND

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (March 16) – President Obama declared during a commencement address at the University of Notre Dame Saturday that he supported the school’s right to choose whether or not to abort its failing football program.

“I’m not saying you should; I’m not saying you shouldn’t,” Obama told 1,800 graduates and their families gathered at the on-campus ceremony. “I’m just saying that anyone could understand why you would terminate this half-formed being and get on with the rest of your life.”

The once-storied football team has fallen on hard times in recent years, due to several coaching changes as well as defections of top prospects to the NFL. Current coach Charlie Weis began his stint with the school in 2005 with an impressive 9-3 record, following that up with a 10-2 showing in 2006. But the Fighting Irish were routed by LSU in that year’s Sugar Bowl, then stumbled to a 3-9 finish in 2007.

Last year’s mild recovery to a 7-6 mark was seen by some as further evidence that the school could no longer attract the talent necessary to sustain a nationally ranked program. However, school officials continue to stand by Weis and his ten-year contract extension, despite the fact that his belly looks so pregnant he might want to consider an abortion himself.

Some protesters at the commencement briefly heckled the president – shouting “schedule killer!” and “Syracuse has rights too!” – while others wore caps imprinted with a plus sign and a pair of baby footprints, apparently symbolizing the belief it would take tiny steps before the team could again finish above .500.

 “You and your school have the right to choose between a West Coast offense, more reliance on the run, or perhaps no football at all,” the president said. “We can agree to disagree, and be respectful of all sides of the debate.”

Life in the fast (food) lane

May 18, 2009

I do most of my blogging away from my home. Not only can I escape the lure of attractive nuisances like breaking up cat fights, but I can also watch the comings and goings of the general public while drawing inspiration from their activity. Just as J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series in an Edinburgh coffeehouse and Mark Twain penned his masterpiece Mark Twain from the Super Bi-Lo near his Missouri birthplace, I’m currently visiting a nearby commercial establishment.

Today’s location is different from my usual hangout because of the topic I’ve chosen. I can normally be found writing in the local Panera – where they’ve mysteriously stopped the free samples since I wrote about how generous they were – or in the Earth Fare organic grocery store, watching Rock Hill’s alternative community (all three of them) buying their whole-grain biomass. Instead, this afternoon I’ve got my laptop sitting precipitously on a greasy plastic tabletop in the local Burger King.

I’ve chosen this spot to do on-site research for today’s topic, the purchase of fast food. To witness the experience up close, I should actually be typing away out in the parking lot near the drive-through, because that’s the part of the transaction I find most fascinating. But the smell of run-over Whopper Juniors baked flat in the mid-May sun is a little more inspiration than I wanted.

Drive-through restaurants in America date back to the 1948 opening in California of the first In-n-Out Burger. McDonald’s surprisingly didn’t open its first drive-through until 1975, and all the other fast-food restaurants quickly followed in line behind them. Today, more food is sold at these outlets through the window than is sold over the counter inside.

The typical experience for most diners begins several blocks away when they find themselves stuck behind a slow car with only three hubcaps and half a dozen of what we politely call “country folk.” Inevitably, you can’t pass these bumpkins until you’re at the entrance to the drive-through, and then they pull in ahead of you and up to the menu board. You’re now fully engaged in the fast-food experience, also known as “waiting.”

When you’re finally at the speaker box, you’re likely to be faced with one of two possibilities: you’re given no time to consider the options before someone asks for your order, or you’re met with an eerie silence. If it’s the latter, you should lean in as close to the mike as possible and shout “IS ANYBODY IN THERE?” If it’s the former, you begin considering a perplexing array of three or four different foods prepared in a huge variety of styles and combinations. It doesn’t help when the pre-recorded professional announcer asks “would you like to try our new Badger Bits?”, and you’re regretting how sad is it that Ed McMahon has been reduced to working at a burger joint to pay for his mortgage and neck brace.

Soon enough, the announcer is followed by the actual employee, who sounds like one of those throat cancer victims with the artificial larynx, only with more static and less gusto. Even if you know the item you want, you still have to negotiate whether or not it should be part of a combo, and how many of the items in question you want.

I recently was at the drive-through of the disturbingly named Jack-In-The-Box and for some reason found myself wanting to order hash browns. The following is the actual exchange that took place:

“I’d like to order the hash browns, please.”

“How many do you want?”

“How many do you have?” I responded.

I wasn’t trying to be sarcastic nor was I trying to take inventory of their entire supply room. I wanted to know how many items came in the $1.29 order shown on the menu.

“What I mean is, how many in an order?”

“Three,” I was told.

“OK, then I want three,” I said.

“Three orders?”

“No, three individual, separate and distinct browns. One order, three hash browns.”

“OK, that’s one order plus three hash browns,” came the response. I had to admire the attempt to upsell, then thought of abandoning the entire hash brown experience in favor of French fries. Surely they wouldn’t ask you how many fries you want.

Once your order is complete, you’re told to pull ahead to the window even though you’re impossibly grid-locked in your current position by cars to the front and cars to the back. Those folks just ahead of you are now randomly passing cash and food bags amongst themselves, while an indecipherable conversation takes place between the driver and the clerk. As the pitch and tempo of the talk rises, you sense things are not going well. When food is no longer being passed from window to car and instead the flow has reversed, you can be certain you’re in for a long wait. Finally, the brake lights go off and the car creeps away. Now it’s your turn.

First, a word of warning. Do not, under any circumstances, pay an amount different from the figure shown on the display screen. If you are asked to pay a different amount, call the corporate headquarters immediately. This sign first appeared a few years ago as a way of letting customers know how much the restaurateur trusts that its employees won’t be skimming dimes and quarters from the take. It doesn’t do a whole lot for your confidence that the people who hired these workers have so little faith in their integrity. Just to be on the safe side, I check not only the price on the screen, but also for signs of spittle on my grilled chicken sandwich.

On the window are a number of stickers advising me of the restaurant hours, the credit cards accepted and other information that barely allows you to see inside the facility (I guess that’s the idea.) One of these signs warns that pedestrians are not allowed at the drive-through. I checked this out on Wikipedia and sure enough, under a heading that read “Non-car Usage,” it says “pedestrians sometimes attempt to walk through the drive-through to order food.” Is this really something that sober people do?

Finally, the order is ready and it’s time to pay. You begin a tentative exchange of cash for food – first you hand over the coins, then she gives you the drink, then you give her the bills, then she gives you the bag. You half expect her to continue clutching the grease-soaked sack until all the money is accounted for. The surrender of a quantity of ketchups is agreed upon, and the transaction is officially complete.

Watching all this transpire from my position inside the Burger King gives me a very different perspective. Employees scurry about in their headsets like so many flight controllers, hard-working and honest. There’s little traffic at the indoor counter, with all the focus on getting cars through the queue outside. The yahoos on the other side of speaker system sound almost comical as they stagger through their list of demands, sounding about as organized as the Republican Party.

“Uhhhh… I’ll have the Sarah Palin … no, wait … make that the Rush Limbaugh … what? Wait a minute … uhhh … Are you still serving breakfast? Then I’ll have a pizza … what, no pizza at Chick-fil-A? Uhhh…”

So now I have some sympathy for both the workers who toil at these establishments as well as their customers. And yes, I would like fries with that.

The liquid soap will get you every time

May 17, 2009

I think I sat next to this person on a flight to India one time:

(AP) — United Airlines diverted a flight bound to London after an incoherent and disruptive passenger, apparently woozy from a combination of pills, alcohol and lavatory hand soap, allegedly tried to bite a flight attendant in the leg.

Galina Rusanova, a British citizen, was charged with interference with a flight crew and assault for disrupting United flight 934 from Los Angeles to London Heathrow Airport on April 29, forcing the plane to land in Maine. She could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Fearful of flying, Rusanova had taken four sleeping pills and consumed two or three bottles of red wine to calm her nerves, according to a statement she made to FBI special agent James McCarty.

About three hours into the flight, a United flight attendant said she found Rusanova with her feet on her in-flight food tray, kicking the seat in front of her. Rusanova, who appeared to be very intoxicated according to a court filing, requested more wine and then fell asleep.

A short time later, the same United crew member was told by passengers that Rusanova was incoherent and bothering fellow travelers.

As she approached, she saw Rusanova “drink a bottle of liquid soap that she had apparently removed from the bathroom,” according to the court document.

A melee ensued as flight attendants tried to subdue Rusanova and move her to a flight crew member’s seat at the rear of the cabin, where she was eventually handcuffed.

During that process Rusanova allegedly threw punches, kicked and pushed crew members. At one point, she fell to the floor of the galley in the rear of the aircraft and began “snapping like a dog,” trying to bite a flight attendant’s leg, according to the filing.

In a Monday hearing before a U.S. District Court in Bangor, Maine, Rusanova waived her right to a detention hearing and agreed to be detained pending trial.

Rusanova is described by the British press as a Russian-born artist, actress and author who rubs elbows with the rich and famous. She was returning home to the United Kingdom after traveling to California to visit a man she had met over the Internet, according to court documents.

“Obviously, it’s a case that’s gathered some attention,” said Matthew Erickson, her attorney. “What wasn’t disclosed through the affidavit is that Ms. Rusanova is a very intelligent, charming woman. This comes as a shock to her.”

The outrageous behavior that Rusanova apparently exhibited during the flight is completely out of character, added Erickson. “Her mistake was to mix prescription drugs with alcohol. After that, all bets were off.”

Drunken and unruly passengers have been an unpleasant fact of life for flight attendants for as long as airlines have served alcohol. But today’s crews are better equipped to deal with poor behavior than their predecessors, and far less likely to tolerate it, said aviation consultant Robert Mann.

Airline crews are equipped with tools like plastic handcuffs to restrain out-of-control passengers and trained to quickly land a plane if that person becomes violent.

“Whenever there’s an incident that involves physical abuse or threats to anyone on board, it’s taken very seriously,” said Robin Urbanski, spokeswoman for Chicago-based United. She added that such incidents are rare.

Rusanova told McCarty, the FBI agent, that she remembered little about the flight, aside from fighting with a flight attendant over seating and the quality of United’s red wine.

“She added that what she did was terrible and she feels embarrassed,” McCarty said in an affidavit to the court. While Rusanova potentially faces a lengthy incarceration, sentencing guidelines for cases like hers suggest jail terms ranging from time served to six months, Erickson said.

Case of the awful waffle

May 16, 2009

Once again, I am able to be proud of my home state of South Carolina and its many fine dining establishments.

Yakeisha Ward, a 29-year-old waitress at a Manning, S.C., Waffle House, has been charged with assault and battery with intent to kill after turning a gun on customer Crystal Samuel, who ordered an all-star breakfast but wasn’t treated like an all-star.

Clarendon County sheriff’s deputies said Ward was involved in a fight about 4:30 a.m. Sunday. Lt. Tommy Burgess says the fight started when Samuel complained about the quality of service in the crowded restaurant.

Samuel’s friends got served first and started eating from carryout trays – a Waffle House no-no – and that’s when the trouble started.

Burgess says Ward went to her van to get a gun.

“I said ‘what is your fuss about?’,” Samuel told a local TV station. “I said we haven’t paid for our food. She (Ward) said ‘well, y’all got to leave’. How you want us to leave and we ain’t paid for the food yet?”

Samuel admits to throwing a waffle, but it “didn’t hit her,” and that’s when the waitress jumped across the counter and fired at the diner.

A bullet fragment was lodged in Samuel’s arm. Ward was unharmed by the thrown waffle.

Website Review: VegasWedding.com

May 15, 2009

The flighty young woman in our graphics department sent out an intriguing email last week. Candi, who improbably mixes post-punk fashion sense and an extremely conservative political philosophy, is “gettin’ married!!!” In that traditional home of family values known as Las Vegas, no less.

“If you want to watch, you can go online and see me get married on the web feed. Crazazy!” she writes.

We’re instructed to go to www.702wedding.com, click on “view live weddings,” then navigate to the “Wedding Chapel”.

“That’s it! Hooray!” she concludes. I can almost see her angular face grinning from skull earring to skull earring. “Hooray again!!!”

I visited the site, known more conventionally as Vegas Weddings, to mercilessly mock the joining of man and woman in holy matri-za-mony for my weekly Website Review.

The home page is a busy place, showing a variety of packages designed to make your special day as memorable as that drunken weekend where you lost $3500 on slot machines, if only you could remember it. Vegas Weddings describes itself as a “5-star wedding planning service and full-service Las Vegas wedding chapel.”

“But don’t feel limited by our walls. We are able to plan weddings just about anywhere in or surrounding Las Vegas, including the Grand Canyon.” I wonder if “anywhere” would include such Western landmarks as Death Valley and Hoover Dam, and if the Hoover might be too obvious a request from most grooms. I want to ask, can you get hitched at the Four Corners of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, with the husband standing in two states and the wife in two? How about the Shady Lady Ranch, one of Nevada’s legalized brothels? We’ll get to my questions later.

Featured wedding packages come in four budget tiers – the Ignite, which unabashedly also calls itself a “cheap Vegas wedding”; the Dream, a slightly pricier option; the Intrigue, as in “I wonder how we’re going to afford this one”; and the Valley of Fire, which is an outdoor ceremony in the Mojave Desert, or maybe the bride’s STD.

Included in the cheap option is a limousine ride, traditional wedding music, a bouquet for the bride, internet broadcast of the ceremony, and use of a bridal suite, so you don’t have to slip into your gown in the gas station bathroom next door.

The Valley of Fire wedding has all of the above, plus that extra bit of excitement that comes from being joined together in nuptial bliss in one of the most hostile environments on earth. If it makes things any more comfortable, you can throw in Native American traditions like the Apache Wedding Prayer (“hunga hoona atwa watha” goes the best part) or a rain stick, not widely available since the Discovery Stores went out of business.

Another very popular option is the Elvis wedding. You don’t actually marry the King – some say he’s dead anyway – but instead you can have him do things like sing, swivel his hips, and pick you up in his pink Cadillac, then come to your honeymoon suite after the service and collapse next to your toilet with his spangly silver suit bunched around his ankles. “The charge for Elvis may vary,” warns the website, though the going rate is generally about $250.

If you want a little less drama than an oily impersonator with identity issues, there’s also the “Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding/Vow Renewal.” This package somehow incorporates your sacred rite into an interactive, hilarious Off-Broadway show about a wild Italian wedding. It’s not clear whether you simply sit in an audience or actually have to mingle with these rowdy Latins; to me, either sounds incredibly painful.

For the hard-core skinflints and those who think tacky is ironically cool, you can also choose from a drive-through or walk-up wedding. The Love in the Fast Lane choice for $199 is a limousine-based offering that comes with a souvenir wedding scroll. The Lover’s Lane is similar but you have to provide your own vehicle. The Express Lane wedding is probably performed over a speaker box and offers numbered combos, including the “I do” and the “I do with curly fries.”

Speaking of transportation, the high end of the spectrum has a private ceremony performed on a helicopter flying high “over the glitz of Las Vegas’ neon lights from the best vantage point available – the sky!” You’re provided with flowers, a bride’s garter and glass champagne flutes that you can throw out the window at all the waddling losers below. There’s nothing that beats the ambience of vows shouted above the mechanical whirr of a Pratt & Whitney Twin Pac engine. The flight is limited to a party of two and one of them can’t be Elvis because of FAA weight limitations.

Finally, I thought I’d mention what are called the add-ons, an a la carte menu of selections. Two of the most intriguing are a singing harpist and a white dove release. The harpist is referred to only as Ms. Blanc, and the “vibration of her strings and her elegant poise behind the harp creates enchantment not easily forgotten.” She plays standards, ballads, jazz (on the harp?), show tunes and classical music, and has performed for many notables in the New York area. The actual list of these includes Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Donald Trump, Margaret Thatcher, Elizabeth Taylor and Ralph Macchio. Which of these is not like the other?

The white dove release represents love, peace, fidelity, prosperity and a trip to the dry cleaner’s for most of the attendees. “These amazing creatures are expected to circle overhead a few times allowing everybody to fully admire their beauty,” directs the promo. “The doves are treated well and return home safely.” You can also contract for a monarch butterfly release, but any other animals involved in your marriage will be strictly confined, including the groom.

Though this very informative and jam-packed website did contain a lot of helpful information, I did have a few questions, and took advantage of the live chat offered on the home page. I was greeted by “wedding coordinator Stephanie,” whose name was Rhonda. “How can I help you?” she asked.

“Just wanted to get some basic info before getting too far with plans,” I wrote. “You do any events other than weddings?”

“No, just weddings,” said Rhonda. “But we can help arrange facilities.”

“My friend wanted me to ask about same-sex weddings,” I lied.

“We don’t do same-sex,” she wrote after a significant pause, perhaps starting to suspect a prankster.

“What if I wanted to marry my dishwasher?” I asked.

I got no response except for a “chat session closed” message.

Hey, maybe I’m a rich guy with an extensive household staff, and I’ve fallen head over heels in love with the unassuming young kitchen worker who against all odds captured my attention and affection. Don’t judge me by thinking I’m just a wise guy looking to spice up his web post a little. After all, this is supposed to be a Vegas wedding, where fantasies come true.

Fake News: More cereals under scrutiny

May 14, 2009

WASHINGTON (May 13) – The Food and Drug Administration is continuing its crusade against inaccurate claims made by the makers of popular breakfast cereals. Most, it appears, are neither food nor drugs.

In April, Kellogg was slapped on the wrist for asserting in national advertising that Frosted Mini-Wheats are “clinically shown to improve kids’ attention spans by nearly 20 percent.” The study compared children who ate Mini-Wheats against a test group who ate nothing at all for breakfast. “Compared to a kid who’s on the verge of fainting,” noted the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, “anybody seems attentive.”

This week, General Mills was told to remove wording from its Cheerios packaging suggesting that the cereal “can lower your cholesterol four percent in six weeks,” which is roughly equivalent to a blood-letting.

Now it appears other cereals will be under the scrutiny of the feds for false or misleading portrayals in their names, advertising or packages. Among those expected to be cited:

  • Grape Nuts, which does not in fact make you crazy
  • Frosted Flakes, which does nothing to add highlighting to your hair
  • Cap’n Crunch, which does nothing to provide you with the rank or benefits of a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy
  • Apple Jacks, which don’t in fact contain any apples or apple-shaped byproducts
  • Mueslix, which despite its name contains no phlegm
  • Sugar Smacks, shown in laboratory tests to be almost 100% lacking in heroin
  • Trix, which have never been shown to be offered during the commission of prostitution
  • Lucky Charms, which contain neither small metal trinkets nor leprechaun fragments
  • Cocoa Puffs, which cannot be rolled in cigarette papers and smoked
  • Corn Chex, which are not the product of any known Slavic peoples
  • Fruit ‘n’ Fibre, which contains no apostrophes nor other small punctuation marks, though some of the specks may reflect equally troubling waste matter
  • Honey Bunches of Oaks, which contain no trees
  • Shredded Wheat, which are completely deficient in mangled limbs
  • Special K, which contains no nutrition that can be directly linked to Kaye Ballard, Danny Kaye, or Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

 

Those three magic words

May 13, 2009

We had just come back from a pleasant Mother’s Day afternoon spent at an Indian restaurant and a matinee showing of “Star Trek.” My wife and son and I were settling in for a relaxing Sunday evening of domestic tranquility, lounging in the living room, sipping soft drinks and enjoying each other’s company. Suddenly, from across the room I hear that phrase I’ve heard so many times in the past.

“I told you…”

Oh, I should also mention that I had put my Pepsi on the bookshelf right above our expensive loveseat, and one of the cats knocked it over onto me and the upholstery.

Sure enough, I had been told for the thousandth time that this was a bad place to put a carbonated beverage. But I had not listened to past warnings from my beloved spouse – or if I was listening, I wasn’t paying attention – and once again I was correctly being chastised like so many husbands deserve every day.

Those three little words form more of a foundation for many modern marriages than the more endearing combination that substitutes “love” for “told.” I do indeed love my wife and can show you the Mother’s Day card that says so. If I hadn’t met her over 30 years ago and somehow convinced her to spend her life with me, I hesitate to think what I would’ve become. I suspect I’d be pursuing a social pathology that would eventually land me on television, and not the good kind like the evening news but the bad kind like a reality show. She’s made me a happy man.

However, I don’t make things easy for her with my poor listening. I’m not sure why me and so many of my fellow men have such a difficult time with this most critical of marital skills. (Well, one of the most critical anyway.) Husbands and wives seem to have evolved in slightly different directions from the ancestors who relied on their acute sense of hearing to survive predators and hunt our own food. Men apparently think listening became unnecessary as civilization advanced, sort of like the vestigial tail or Duane “The Rock” Johnson.

Recorded history never would’ve been recorded if our ancient spouses hadn’t encouraged us to write things down if we were going to be so damn forgetful. The annals of time would not be documented so that later generations could learn from previous ones. All the science and mathematics and philosophy of our forbearers, the predecessors to today’s grocery lists and appointment calendars, would be lost. And then we can’t even remember to put orange juice and toaster strudel on there.

I’ve tried several defenses of my thick-headedness yet they always seem so inadequate. Still, I thought I’d pass these on to other husbands who might be out there looking to somehow justify their inexcusable thoughtlessness.

Let me start with one that you’d think might work but actually tends to backfire disastrously. I’ve tried contending that it’s because I’m so relaxed and comfortable in my wife’s presence that I tend to “veg out” and allow entire sentences to float in one ear and out the other. Everywhere else I have to be on constant guard to make sure my surroundings aren’t trying to harm me – be they oncoming 18-wheelers or supervisors looking for a volunteer for the safety committee. In my home, however, I can rest at ease.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that this can also be called taking someone for granted. And this is not somewhere you want to take anybody you care for.

I’ve also tried citing a technique I learned in my days as a corporate trainer that’s known as “just-in-time.” Under this manufacturing philosophy, materials and other inputs are not brought forward to the production line until they’re needed. Applied to verbal interactions, this means that information necessary to do something – remembering to pick up your child after school or changing the air conditioner filter – is not tapped into until the action is ready to be performed. So if “I told you” to stop leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor, this instruction has to be conveyed while you’re still dripping, not at dozens of other times since at least 1980.

This one also doesn’t work very well.

Two other arguments related to each other can have some effectiveness as you approach your senior years. These are the hearing-loss justification and the Alzheimer’s cover. Blaming your poor listening on the deterioration of your cochlea is a risky maneuver, considering a quick exam by a medical professional can cost you not only what seems like a good excuse but a $35 co-pay as well. Alzheimer’s is much harder to prove, and all but the most insistent spouses will stop short of demanding a post-mortem brain autopsy to prove your inattention is disease-related. Raising the specter of potentially debilitating conditions is a pretty cynical card to play just to maintain your reputation, so I’d use it sparingly.

Finally, I’ll mention the Dave Bedingfield rationalization. Dave was a close friend of mine back in college and we spent many long hours together alternating between coma and watching Atlanta Braves baseball (not really all that different when you think about it). He is now a respected legal scholar and barrister in England, but in the seventies even he would describe himself as a worthless, no-good, irresponsible excuse for humanity. If he missed an appointment, lost the mix tape he borrowed or otherwise failed to act in good faith on agreements you had made with him earlier, it was understandable because it was widely known he couldn’t be counted on. “I know,” he’d say before you could make the suggestion yourself. “I’m an idiot.”

Unfortunately, most women recognize passive-aggressiveness on this grand scale and simply won’t stand for it. If you make too strong an argument about what a jerk you are, there’s the risk that you’ll call into doubt her judgment in choosing you for a lifemate, or that she’ll simply agree about your depravity and start separation proceedings.

In the end, I’d have to say that the best way to parry the “I told you” accusation is, unfortunately, to actually start listening. Watch her lips and hear her words. Write notes on your forearm. Carry a PDA. Repeat the message over and over to yourself until the mumbling resonates in your brain like the euro-beat classic “Come On Eileen”. Realize that you’re always going to be the insensitive oaf and your wife is going to be the patient but stern adult.

(Thanks, Dave, and if you’re out there somewhere, send me an email. I might need some advice.)

 

Fake News Briefs: Media distortions

May 12, 2009

Liberal mainstream media assailed

Conservative watchdog groups stepped up their criticism of the so-called mainstream media yesterday, following a weekend they said was filled with “distortions and misrepresentations.”

Pointing specifically at the coverage of certain long-running armed conflicts, a spokesman complained that portrayals were “skewed to favorably show the socialist belief that government intervention is the answer to every problem.”

“I found the way our servicemen and women were being shown in their fight against evil to be very prejudicial,” said Bennie Jones of the Media Fairness Project. “Those merciless Romulans aren’t just holding a different opinion than ours. They’re unrepentantly bad creatures.”

Jones claimed that viewers all over the country were subjected to assertions that America could not hold its own against intergalactic terrorists, and needed instead to rely on a federation – “probably the United Nations,” he said – to counter the threat posed by pinecone-shaped spaceships. He also claimed that injecting a giant fiery drill into the earth’s core, filling it with red matter and creating a black hole that would swallow San Francisco, was “not that bad an idea, and shouldn’t be so readily dismissed by the liberal elite.”

“The Hollywood crowd would have us believe the gay agenda, coming largely out of California, is merely a different lifestyle,” Jones said. “My group would counter that creatures from Deep Space rightly see this as an aberrant life form that needs to be destroyed.”

Jones also questioned media portrayals shown this weekend which indicated that waterboarding could be considered torture rather than merely an enhanced interrogation technique. Scenes shown over and over again since late Thursday depict a “Captain Pike” lying in a tub while being tormented by his captor. When Jones was told that Pike was actually an American, he commented “oh” and tentatively withdrew that criticism.

“Well then, there was that scene where the commander appears before the group who is supposed to be holding him accountable, and instead he’s cheered and commended,” Jones said. “How can he be held responsible for his actions by people who think he should be hailed as a hero?”

“Actually, Bennie probably has a point with that one,” said James Hendrick of the liberal People for the American Way. “That White House Press Corps dinner really was way over the top.”

Miss California status still uncertain

Officials with the Miss USA California organization declined yesterday to issue an order that would remove Miss California’s crown, choosing instead to leave the decision up to pageant owner Donald Trump. Meanwhile, a seven-judge panel at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house of Florida State University did vote for the removal of the beauty queen’s evening gown, swimsuit, and any other attire she might be wearing.

Carrie Prejean has been under intense scrutiny from pageant executives because of photos taken of her while she was a 17-year-old model. She has also been widely criticized for comments made during the recent Miss USA pageant, where she finished second, that were perceived to be against gay marriage. She’s also risking disqualification for agreeing to serve as a spokesperson for the National Association for Marriage.

“Oh, man, I would so like to tap that,” said Aaron Boskin, president of the FSU fraternity. “She’s way hotter than the winner and, since she’s not the official representative of the pageant anyway, I think she should feel free to stop by the house here and take off all her clothes. Not just the stupid crown – who cares about that?”

In a related story, other representatives of the wiseacre community are speculating that Prejean may have an even more checkered past than already revealed. Some are claiming that her name – which in French means “used to be John” – is a clue to even  more extensive surgery than she has already admitted.

One report has surfaced on the notoriously unreliable blog “hottiemax” that the 22-year-old college student suffered from a botched sex-change surgery in 2003. Allegedly, John’s testes were absorbed into the body instead of being removed, then traveled through her bloodstream until they lodged near her sternum, becoming inflamed. Every other reliable source familiar with the beauty queen says this story is a complete fabrication; however, that doesn’t matter because the false claim is so much more interesting and plus, as was already mentioned, it appeared on a blog.