Archive for July, 2009

Obama’s Friday morning ‘Hangover’

July 31, 2009


President Obama, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley emerged from a Las Vegas hotel elevator early this morning, looking dazed and confused following an all-night binge of beer drinking.

“How the hell did we end up in Vegas?” asked a visibly shaken Obama at a brief meeting with the press. “The last thing I remember, we were reconciling 400 years of animosity between blacks and whites in America. Now I feel like my tongue was stepped on by Harry Reid.”

“Man, I was really messed up,” said Crowley.

“Quite frankly,” added Gates, “I was ’faced.”

The three had met Thursday evening for what was described in the press as a “beer summit” to discuss the much-publicized arrest of Gates by Sgt. Crowley earlier this month. Gates was originally suspected of breaking and entering when seen trying to open his jammed front door. Crowley arrested Gates on disorderly conduct charges in what the professor labeled a case of racial profiling.

It was hoped the two men could join the President to amicably resolve the misunderstanding while downing a few brews at the White House. After sharing their first two drinks at a table near the Rose Garden, the trio adjourned to the Blue Room for what the President called “a little game we like to call beer pong.” They emerged several hours later stumbling toward a Marine helicopter, then apparently flew on Air Force One to Nevada.

Obama lurched out of the elevator at the Bellagio hotel early this morning and headed into the nearby casino. He was reportedly pumping quarters into a slot machine and muttering “c’mon healthcare reform, c’mon healthcare reform” before Secret Service agents led him back to the lobby.

Gates was seen wading in the elaborate fountain in front of the hotel after witnesses said they heard him comment he was going to the shore at Martha’s Vineyard. When security guards escorted him from the water, he complained about being wet and noted that he “wouldn’t be so damn soaked if I were a white man.”

Crowley was observed leaving the amusement park atop the Stratosphere Hotel after being told he couldn’t board the roller coaster with a baby strapped to his chest. A spokesperson for the Chicken Ranch, a legal brothel outside of Las Vegas, said he was also denied service there, again because of the whole baby-on-his-chest thing.

Moments ago, the three men reunited at McCarren International Airport, boarding the presidential jet for a return flight to Washington. Notably absent was Vice President Joe Biden, who had been a last-minute addition to the Rose Garden photo op but was apparently ditched during the evening because he was drinking non-alcoholic beer and not “acting stupidly” enough. The trio boarded Air Force One with Obama pulling a white tiger on a leash behind him.

Robert Gibbs, the exasperated White House Press Secretary, was overheard lamenting to aides that “great, it had to be a white tiger.”

Fake News Briefs

July 30, 2009

911 caller gets her day

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (July 28) – The woman who reported what she saw as a possible break-in at the home of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates has inked a three-book deal with publisher HarperCollins to tell her story of the incident.

Lucia Whalen met with the press yesterday after the $3.5 million publishing agreement was announced in New York. She said she has been unfairly targeted by some for her role in what has become a nationwide discussion about racial profiling. Gates, a widely respected African-American scholar, was arrested by local police July 16 on charges of disorderly conduct when he was suspected of breaking and entering at his own home.

“If you’re a concerned citizen, you should do the right thing if you see something,” she said. “I did the right thing, and now I’m rolling in dough.”

The first installment of the series, due out on Sept. 1, chronicles the moments before Whalen placed the 911 call to local police. Professor Gates had just returned from a trip out of the country and was wrestling with his jammed front door when Whalen saw him and became suspicious. She’ll describe how she stepped across the street and stood next to a large tree while she made the call on her cell phone.

The second book, scheduled for a Christmas season release, will discuss how she spoke briefly to Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley before he confronted Gates on the porch. The final part of the trilogy will detail how she went on to the grocery store after the incident, stopping later to pick up a prescription at CVS and then some dry cleaning.

The deal includes a film option as well as North American TV broadcast rights. It’s expected that worldwide rights to Whalen’s story will be negotiated in a separate deal.

Solution to settlements issue?

JERUSALEM (July 27) – Middle East envoy George Mitchell announced a breakthrough in discussions with Israeli officials yesterday that will result in the dismantling of Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank. The rapidly constructed housing has been a sticking point in efforts to enact a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Mitchell said an agreement has been reached with U.S.-based mortgage brokers to finance the homes being built mostly by ultra-Orthodox settlers. Under the plan, the Israeli citizens will receive loans from government agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Shortly after the housing is completed, it will be foreclosed on by American banks holding the mortgages, and then demolished.

“We’ve had great success in the States with this model in the last year or two,” Mitchell said. “There’s really no logical reason why we can’t engage in predatory lending practices over here.”

Mitchell said that families displaced by the so-called Subprimes for Samarians program will be re-settled in a desolate region of the Midwest that’s similar to the Mideast. Abandoned homes in Detroit, Cleveland and Gary, Indiana, will be made available for occupation by the Israelis, who will also receive a complementary small appliance for the inconvenience.

You can count on me

July 29, 2009

Today I am 55 years, 265 days old. (Hold the renditions of “Happy Birthday,” please). If I live to be what is generally considered the maximum human age of 113 years, my life is not even half over; if instead I live to reach the typical American white male life expectancy of 74 years, I’m about three-quarters done. To look at it even more pessimistically, of all the good times I’ve lived – my wedding, the birth of my son, a cruise to Alaska, that time I got a free cookie – probably 90% of these are in the past. Of all the bad times still to be endured, a similarly high percentage is yet to come.

For someone who was never that interested in mathematics during my formal education, I sure can obsess about numbers. My wife used to get on me when I’d make a casual comment during the eleventh day of our two-week vacation that our holiday together was already 78.5% over. “Why can’t you just enjoy it instead of trying to quantify how much of it is left?” she’d ask, and I’d think “but calculating is half the fun.” Even though she had her undergraduate degree in math, she failed to appreciate how my observation was at least as joyous to me as the Napa Valley winery tour was to her.

The farthest I advanced in high school math was a course in intermediate algebra. I never had calculus nor trigonometry nor pertussis nor trychinosis nor any of those higher arithmetics. My love of numbers was more innate than anything that could be taught in a classroom. In the days before calculators, video games and cable television, I would be entertained for hours with self-invented dice games, keeping reams of paper records on how seven was a slightly more likely roll than six or eight. I even made up a baseball game that took as much as an hour to play, then another hour to calculate each imaginary player’s hitting and earned run averages. And I did this in the days before performance-enhancing steroids.

By the time I went off to college, I was finally beginning to entertain some other interests, particularly in individuals who had twice as many X chromosomes as I did. I wasn’t especially successful with the ladies in these days, though I did attempt to numerically prove the opposite. I kept a log of my dates with one woman I was pursuing in the belief that when I reached a certain quantity of hours-per-week that we’d officially be a couple. We hit something like 4.72 before it dawned on me that I had a car and she didn’t, that most of our “dates” were trips to the grocery store, and that the guy on the Bounty paper towel package had a better chance of getting to second base than I. (A double, by the way, is equivalent to rolling a ten in the baseball dice game).

The mathing of my life now continued into adulthood. I kept track on a daily basis of how many hours I logged at my first two part-time jobs, celebrating my entrance into the middle class when I finally broke through to $300 a week. When I took up jogging for health and relaxation in my thirties, I’d measure the route on my car’s odometer before running it, then record each day’s distance and translate that into a graph of weekly averages (fortunately, I had learned Excel by now). When I took my first business trip to India and saw that what I’d thought would be three weeks of adventure were instead going to be 516 hours of hellish heat and overcrowding, I’d figure updates each morning of how much time was left before my return home.

Reducing my life experience to so many digits might seem like a hollow exercise to some, though I’d actually consider my personal circumstances to be quite happy. I recognize that I’ve had my chance to “have fun,” and now it’s time for more mature satisfactions like contentment, a sense of accomplishment, and the continued ability to pee. Like anyone who’s facing down his late fifties while watching the transition of power and fortune pass to a new generation, I do have some regrets about what I didn’t get to do. I can count three things in particular.

One, I’ve never gotten to ride a motorcycle. I’ve enjoyed a lot of cycling in my time but the power generated by my admittedly well-toned thighs can’t approach what a Harley could produce. Perhaps it was the low-rent culture I associated with bikers that kept me away, or maybe it was the odds that I’d end up splattered against a tree that bothered me. In any case, I don’t own a black t-shirt anyway so it’s not going to happen at this late date.

Second, I regret that I’ve never been to Paris. I once spent a week in London and later enjoyed a beautiful morning in Frankfurt, yet these two European destinations can’t compare with romantic France. I was reminded of this once again Sunday as I watched the final stage of the Tour de France, marveling at the tree-lined beauty of the wide boulevards and realizing I could’ve blown the silly helmet off of every one of those guys if I only had a motorcycle.

Finally, I’m really sorry I never got a chance to take heroin. I know this is probably more self-destructive than it is recreational, but it seems like such a great way to relax. And think of the opportunities for charting weight loss! I’m a little queasy about the whole injection prospect, and snorting or smoking don’t strike me as especially sane alternatives. Maybe there are other ingestion options that would appeal to someone trying to keep up a professional appearance: applying black tar as a hair gel, or brushing my teeth with powdered moonrocks. I think I can handle the stupor, as it would fit right in with the glazed looks of others near my cubicle.

I know my odds of reaching these last three life goals are pretty long, and it’s probably best that they are. I had my chances as a younger man to live life on the edge, and it’s because I did such a poor job of it that I’m still here today, relatively enjoying what just became my twenty-eight million, nine hundred and twenty-seven thousand, eight hundred and fifth minute. When my number is finally up, I believe I’ll be able to count myself among the lucky.

Fake News: Obama not there at all?

July 28, 2009

TOPEKA, Kansas (July 27) – Doubters of President Obama’s U.S. citizenship have continued to splinter into various sub-groups over the past week even as it appears their overall numbers may be expanding.

Despite repeated debunking with certified documents as well as newspaper clippings and hospital papers, conspiracy theorists on the fringes of the right wing are saying that Obama was not born on American soil or, perhaps, doesn’t even exist at all.

“What first African-American president are you talking about?” asked Steven Adams of the blog Nobama. “I don’t see any first African-American president around here.”

Adams is among a growing group on the Internet who deny the corporeal being of Obama, even though others have criticized him as all too visible on TV and elsewhere in the public eye.

“Maybe you’re thinking of Colin Powell, or perhaps Tiger Woods,” Adams said in response to a reporter’s questions yesterday. “Or that one guy on Saturday Night Live. You know Armisston or Armistrong or whatever the hell his name is.”

Another cynic who goes only by the screen name Voidoid said the “O” in the “Obama” name was misleading “because ‘O’ or zero is technically different from the null set, which is what I’d consider him if it were possible to consider the ether.”

Others in the so-called “birthers” movement admit the existence of an Obama-like creature while still disputing various details about his life that could call the legitimacy of his presidency into question.

“I not only doubt that he was born in the United States, I don’t even think he was born on this planet,” wrote Mike Louis at “His Betelgeusean name is actually Bar-Ak, and those big ears of his are really receptor dishes that pick up signals from his home sun. You can tell when he’s getting an incoming message because that mole to the left of his nose starts blinking.”

Another vocal skeptic who has been heard most often on social networking sites claims that Obama was not born in Hawaii but instead in Ireland. Ken Wright has been reporting on his Facebook page that a feint of punctuation has removed the apostrophe from the original O’Bama family name and transplanted to the recently modernized spelling of “Hawai’i.”

“It’s all part of the same plot,” said Wright, who lists “Obama sucks” as his Facebook status. “Apostrophes have a long history in Marxist/Leninist circles.”

Richard Andrews of a group that calls itself the Anagram Truthers claims that the president’s true identity lies in the rearrangement of the letters in his name. The phrase “karma cab boa” could indicate he’s of Indian, Somalian or South American origins while “a kabob car, ma” suggests Middle Eastern roots.

“I think you have to look at his full name: Barrack Hussein Obama,” Andrews told a gathering of his followers last month. “Change it around and you have ‘A cabana bush smoker I.’ This confirms his status as a lazy beachcomber, an Australian aboriginal and a nicotine addict. I also have reason to believe he doesn’t floss every day.”

Monday musings

July 27, 2009

At least they have a job

While it might be hard to feel sorry for anybody who still has a job these days, I can’t resist pitying the poor individuals whose duty it is to promote a business by holding a sign or wearing a costume while standing by the side of the road.

Both variations come with intrinsic humiliations. If you’re only holding a placard – usually on the corner near a store that’s going out of business – it may not be as stifling hot, but you’re open to the taunts of anyone you’ve ever known who happens to be driving by. If you’re wearing a cow costume outside a Chick-fil-A or a Little Caesar’s suit at the pizza shop, at least no one will be able to identify you, or the lifeless heap you leave behind after the heatstroke. You can’t even pass the time by checking your text messages without betraying your role (whoever heard of a first century Roman tyrant carrying a cell phone, much less a cow?).

I saw the worst example yet the other day outside a bedding store near my home. Someone had cut three holes into a mattress and then paid an innocent teenager to stick his head and two forearms through the holes so he could wave and smile at oncoming traffic. He had become a profusely sweating Mr. Mattress, eager to publicize up to 40% off select bed sets. Store owners had provided a barstool to give him some measure of comfort, and to convince motorists he wasn’t being pilloried.

I stopped by later to take a picture of the unfortunate kid (don’t worry, I would’ve shot it from behind; I’m not that insensitive), but all that was left was the stool. Still photography wouldn’t have done the barbaric scene justice anyway. Only video could’ve shown how the urgent arm-waving made it appear less like he was a welcoming mascot, and more like he was being consumed by a pillow-top inner spring.

Probably not what he had in mind when he considered a career in advertising.

New Olympic event?

I’d like to propose a new track-and-field event for the 2012 Olympics: a 100-yard race in which you’re not allowed to move your arms. Tests would need to be conducted to determine whether rules should require runners to willfully hold their own upper limbs in check tight by their sides, or whether strong elastic strapping was permitted. I’m flexible on the subject, as long as they don’t move their arms.

Needling the wife

Jogging on the edge of a rough neighborhood recently, I looked down to see a discarded hypodermic needle lying in the road. Feeling like I needed to do something about it, I poked at it with my shoe. It seemed, though, that this wasn’t enough, that I needed also to inform an authority. But who?

When I arrived home a few minutes later, I told me wife about the hazard. We both agreed that calling 911 or even the police office was a bit of an over-reaction. She contended that the same city officials who cart off animal carcasses could deal with used drug paraphernalia, while I thought it would require somebody wearing a hazmat suit. This led to a spirited discussion of which would be worse – touching a dead possum or risking exposure to hepatitis.

We’ve been married for almost 27 years now, and I’m proud to say we still haven’t run out of things to talk about.

When roaming free may not be good

The health food supermarket where I occasionally do my blogging has a very nice specialty meat section, complete with signs pointing out the advantages of eating humanely-raised animals. One of the items they sell is “free-roaming lamb.” While I’ve heard of free-range chicken and pasture-raised cattle, I have a little trouble imagining how allowing young sheep to wander the countryside would improve their flavor. Seems like a lot of them would just end up tasting like whatever kind of pickup truck they were hit by.

Robotic gratitude

I drove my Honda Civic through the automated car wash not too long ago and was pleased to discover that they had improved the instructions for drivers using the service. After you enter your number on a keypad, you pull forward into the bay, positioning your vehicle precisely so that the pipes and spray hoses can work properly.

There’s a large digital sign containing four phrases, each with a bright red light bulb next to them. The top one says “pull forward,” the middle one reads “stop” and the third one says “back up.” Sensors detect if you’re in the right spot, and then you can inch forward or back to make the proper adjustment. Skilled driver that I am, I hit it right on the nose, then sat back and enjoyed the soothing pelt of water on the windows.

When I was done, the light next to the fourth phrase lit up. “Thank you,” it said. This was apparently my cue to leave, as well as the robot’s way of showing its gratitude for my patronage. I thought we hit a new low in business transactions when the dot-matrix “THANK YOU” at the bottom of your receipt served as your appreciation. I should’ve known that American enterprise could always go lower.

It takes a genius

Readers of the “Ask Marilyn” column in yesterday’s Parade Magazine witnessed further evidence that American’s general level of intelligence has sunk even further.

For those unfamiliar with the piece (typically, I wouldn’t admit reading Parade Magazine either), Marilyn Vos Savant parlayed her fame as holder of the world record for highest IQ into a weekly column answering readers’ most difficult question. Common queries are along the lines of “what is truth?” or “could the sun burn out tomorrow?”

Yesterday’s question was a little less challenging: “What makes islands float?”

Abusing the kindness of others

Anybody familiar with the Panera bakery chain knows how generous they are with their facilities. The free wi-fi, roomy tables and intense air-conditioning are a magnet to both people looking to conduct informal business meetings and those just interested in checking their Facebook pages.

Some of the business people, however, seem to be getting a little out of control. Hooking up your laptop for hours is one thing, but conducting job interviews, offering sales presentations and bringing a portable printer to set up at the adjoining table are simply taking unfair advantage. The shop nearest my work recently had their entire back room taken over for a sales meeting, complete with projection equipment and loud, annoying pep talks.

I fear it won’t be long before we encounter the human resources manager who chooses to take his downsizing announcement offsite. “I’m sorry to inform everyone that your positions have been eliminated effective this coming Friday,” he might announce. “Please accept this cinnamon crunch bagel as a sign of my condolence.”

Math 101 — no, make that 165

Spent $165 this weekend for two introductory mathematics books my son will be using during his freshman year at college this fall. While I’m confident he’ll do well in the course, I can’t help but have the feeling that I just failed some kind of basic math.

My advice: Take advantage of friends’ kindness

July 26, 2009

“You Want My Advice?” is a weekend summer rerun feature of I look at questions of ethics, propriety, faith, technology, geopolitics, health, etc., and offer completely inappropriate, irresponsible and possibly even life-threatening advice. Today, we hear from readers looking for a more open and honest relationship with their friends.

Q. Our best friends, “Bill and Melinda,” are financially well off. My husband and I make just enough to get by. We have been friends for a long time and always have a good time together. “Bill and Melinda” are always inviting us to go with them on expensive trips. When we say we can’t afford it, they insist on paying. They even offered to buy us a membership in their country club. When we explain we’re uncomfortable with them paying for everything, they tell us the money is no big deal. How can we make them understand that we appreciate their generosity but are uncomfortable accepting their charity? – Not Only Poor But Really, Really Stupid

A. I think that if you’re truly best friends with these folks, you should be able to have an honest conversation about your concerns. I suspect they don’t even realize your discomfort, and would try to be more understanding if they did. I also would bet that they consider your friendship far more valuable than anything they could buy, and that’s why they want to be so generous.

No – forget that. It’s entirely too reasonable.

I would make a point of entertaining them the best way you can afford, in the coziness of your own home. The fanciest restaurant in the world can’t compare with a home-cooked meal of spam-and-dog-food lasagna around the small bench you call a dining room table. Go all out for this event, setting a trash fire in the corner of the room to provide the right ambience and putting a block of cheese on the back porch to draw out all the rats. After your friends have had a few glasses of malt liquor, all class differences will be forgotten.

Then, when they return the favor by inviting you into their home, be prepared to thoroughly ransack the place looking for jewelry, cash and expensive electronics to be loaded into your pick-up truck and hauled away while they’re preparing the canapés. If they happened to surprise you during your looting spree, just laugh it off – in as threatening and maniacal a laugh as you can summon.

By the way, you say these people are named “Bill and Melinda.” That wouldn’t be Bill and Melinda Gates, would it? If so, make sure you also steal the Microsoft stock certificates.

My advice: Get right with God

July 25, 2009

“You Want My Advice?” is a weekend summer rerun feature of I look at questions of ethics, propriety, faith, technology, geopolitics, health, etc., and offer completely inappropriate, irresponsible and possibly even life-threatening advice. Today, we hear from a reader in the midst of a spiritual crisis.

Q. Why should I believe in Jesus and give up my lifestyle right now, if God will forgive me anyway whenever I ask him? Why not wait until I’m about ready to die? I like the way I’m living. – Tweet from the Floor (And I Do Mean the Floor) of the S’Uptown Dance Club

     A. Is that right? God will forgive you a lifetime of sins even on the day you die? Hang on a second while I check

     Wow, you’re right! I did not know that. Right there in Revelations 13:35-36, it says: “For ye shall be able to do all kinds of unrighteousness — up to and including sins of the flesh, sins of the spirit, and sins upon thy brother and thy father – as long as ye shall call upon the Lord during your last days and ask that He give unto you a break.”

     So what’s the point of living a proper and sin-free life? If you can lie and steal and murder and work for the Bush Administration during your days here on Earth, and you can still get into heaven with a deathbed confession of your wrongdoing and a new-found faith in God, why wouldn’t you want to do as much harm as possible in the time you have? Because even the “God-less” can have some sense of propriety and a recognition of what’s right and what’s wrong? That can’t be true.

     In my role as a leading theologian and an Authorized Vessel through which the Lord speaks unto all the world, I would still advise that you not to be so callous and calculating in the timing of your final confession. What if you’re walking down the street and suddenly struck by a truck? By a meteor? By a runaway train? I have connections and can make it happen, just like that if I want to. You might survive for a second or two plastered on the grill of that speeding Freightliner but I wouldn’t count on having your wits about you. They’ll probably be lying in the road about a hundred feet back.

     Get right with the Lord now, I say unto you. I’m not kidding around.

Website Review: WARNING – Post contains scrapple references

July 24, 2009

Sitting in traffic at a red light the other day, I found myself surrounded by large trucks, which is where I often turn for reading material when I’m bored. One towering panel urged me to be an owner/operator who could have weekends at home. Another wanted me to be aware he was carrying caustic, radioactive explosives while a third suggested I call an 800-number if I wanted to eat shit.

Then I saw a smaller truck directly in front of me that encouraged something only slightly more palatable for my breakfast: “Neese’s low carbs,” it read. “Scrapple 7 grams, liver pudding 8 grams, liver mush 9 grams.”

The light changed and I made my left turn while my stomach turned right and rolled over. Having grown up in the kitchen of a Pennsylvania Dutch mother, I actually enjoyed scrapple as a naïve youth. Sort of like sausage yet pan-fried to a flat and crispy slab, I knew it had pork in it somewhere along with cornmeal and spices and a lot of other constituents I didn’t want to know about. To objectively describe it, though, I’d have to go online. I found a site called with several comments on the subject, and what I thought would be an excellent description for those whose only familiarity with rural mid-Atlantic cuisine was chewing tobacco.

“I’m sure I’ll offend someone with this, but Scrapple has to be one of the worst-tasting things I’ve ever put in my mouth,” said one poster. “We were duped into trying it by a waitress in Pennsylvania. After a polite bite of what looked like grayish Spam I wanted to scrub my tongue with a brillo pad. I’ve tried blood sausage, ostrich jerky and wild antelope, but Scrapple beats them all.”

Farther down, another commentator was only a little more kind: it has “pork stock, pork, pork skins, pork hearts, pork livers, pork tongues, cornmeal, flour, salt and spices,” read this entry. “My Yiddish grandmother and five millennia worth of ancestors are turning over in their respective graves and, after that ingredient list, I may join them.”

To get a kinder portrayal from someone who actually makes their living producing this stuff, I turn not to the mud-slathered hog ready for a complicated afternoon at the butcher, but instead to, owner of the truck I was stuck behind, and the subject of this week’s Website Review.

The home page of this relatively simple site appropriate to a small regional firm shows a picture of an antique delivery van (possibly used to dispatch the pigs in more than one sense of the word) and proudly proclaims its products have been “DELIVERED FRESH DAILY SINCE 1917.” There’s even a click-through on the word “freshness” that takes you to a page explaining they were the first North Carolina company to use sell-by dates on their packaging. They show a sample label reading “12 Sep 19,” which means the product is best used by September 19. The “12” is simply an “internal control number,” not the number of different glands in that particular pack.

One could easily contend that freshness is not necessarily the issue for those eating offal, but I do see the point that e. coli is probably less appetizing than even their most hard-core pork product. What that product might be could come from just about any of the items listed in the “Our Products” pulldown. There’s the liver pudding, with the modest claim that “believe it or not,” it’s a favorite of kids and “by the way, it doesn’t taste like pudding and it doesn’t look like liver.” There’s liver mush, a regional variation on liver pudding with no discernable difference other than the word “mush” being even more disgusting. There’s souse, which “has a flavor some swear you can’t find anywhere else in the world,” assuming that’s a good thing. There’s extra-sage sausage, a very wise and judicious pork derivative. And there’s C-Loaf.

Not happy with their caption that “there are lots of folks who don’t know what C-Loaf is, but if you grew up on a farm you know it,” I turned to a popular search engine for help. At first, I was shocked to see that it’s made from the remains of members of the Construction Licensing Officials Association of Florida (CLOAF), then only slightly less appalled to read other descriptions of “grey ghostly pork brick,” “square hot dog,” “parts not good enough for sausage” and “head and scraps.”

I turned next to the Company History section of the Neese’s website to learn more about the business itself. The first Neeses immigrated to America in the 1700s and became farmers, blacksmiths and livestock traders. “They harvested almost everything they ate,” and apparently ate everything they harvested. By 1917, J.T. Neese was selling sausage from a covered wagon that was made from his wife’s secret recipe (the sausage, not the wagon). In the late 1920s, sons Tom and Homer took over the family business, which now is run by Tom III.

Today’s chief executive showed an early interest in molded entrails, as the story is told of the very small child helping out at the State Fair and challenging the adult kin who preferred cutting sample slabs into six pieces to opt instead for the more bottom-line-friendly eight-cut. “That would make Tom III wrong except for one thing: his name is Neese.”

Similarly folksy but pointless stories are littered throughout the website margins, designed to portray an old-timey image rather than any coherent corporate philosophy. The first Mr. Neese once bought a cup of coffee while dressed in his overalls, which made the waitress think that he was a vagrant. To prove he wasn’t, he paid for the coffee with a hundred-dollar bill. Another time, someone stole his pipe when he left it on the hood of his pickup. Discovering the theft, he “thought for a moment, pulled out his tobacco, placed it on the hood and said ‘whoever got my pipe is going to need this tobacco.’” Truly, a great man.

There’s the requisite section offering recipes that use Neese’s products, and these are mostly predictable: sausage balls, sausage dip, sausage stew, sausage and penne pasta dinner, liver-cheese ball and the “Best Ever Liver Pudding Sandwich.” You can even go online to submit your own recipe, though I’m not sure they’d publish my idea for putting scrapple, C-loaf and liver mush through a high-powered juicer, then misting it lightly from a Predator drone over the Taliban-held Swat Valley.

The last part I’ll mention, in the Neese’s News pulldown, brings me full circle back to that intersection where I encountered one of their trucks. It seems the company now collects and restores historic delivery vehicles with the same kind of exquisite detail they put into their processed innards. They have a covered Conestoga wagon used to deliver sausage as early as 1905. There’s a completely restored 1927 Dodge that “found its way to Neese from its original owner in Plattsburg, NY, and then on to another owner in Flemington, NJ and finally purchased from a Mr. Buckley in Rural Retreat, Virginia.” There’s a 1929 Ford sedan found in a barn, bought by a Greensboro family, traded for a van, then sold to a meat market manager who then sold it to Neese.

If this liver thing doesn’t work out, sounds like they could give Carfax a run for its money. I bet the mold-encrusted original title on a Katrina-flooded Pontiac Aztek could serve as another fine filler in the Neese’s line of mysterious breakfast meats.

Country scrapple, next to some kind of twig

Country scrapple, next to some kind of twig

America looks hard for health care

July 23, 2009

Gopp Medical Group, this is Jenny. How may I direct your call?

Yes, my name is America, and I was a patient with your practice a while back. I haven’t been in for some time now but my back is starting to hurt again and I just wanted to see if the medicine I was taking before …

One moment, please, I’ll transfer you.

Recorded voice: We want you to know how much your call means to us and we’re working to give you the personal attention you deserve.

Hold music (Janis Joplin): Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, nothing …

Appointments desk, this is Erin.

Uh, yes, I’m not sure if I need an appointment or not. My lower back is stiffening up on me like it was last year, and I wondered if Dr. Gopp could give me the same prescription that …

Who put you through to this extension?

I think her name was … Jenny, maybe?

We need to stop her on this. If I’m able to keep her from transferring these calls back here, it will lead to her humiliating devastation. It will break her. Break her, I tell you.

Excuse me?

Just a minute, sir. I’ll transfer you.

Recorded voice: Your call is starting to mean a little bit less to us. In fact, it’s starting to cost us money. Remember, the primary way we can help reduce health care costs is to not use them. Thank you.

Hold music (Abba): Waterloo, couldn’t escape if you wanted to. Waterloo, knowing your fate is to be with you. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa … Waterloo, finally facing your …

Nurse’s station, how can I help you?

Yes. This is America calling and I was trying to get some help for my back. I’ve been putting a lot of strain on my spine recently and it’s starting to bother me.

Sir, you’re conducting a dangerous experiment with your health care. It’s a reckless experiment. You want to ram some relief through in the next two weeks, but this is an ill-conceived attempt to experiment and all of us should be scared to death. Slow down.

What? Two weeks? I just thought maybe Dr. Gopp could call in a prescription for me.

Mr. America, do you have health insurance? What sort of plan do you have?

Uh, I’m on Medicare, and it’s never been a problem before with your office. I really just wanted to ask a question about …

Medicare, huh? That’s socialism! Next question.

Next question? Well, I guess maybe I better come in and talk to the doctor himself.

Just a second, I’ll transfer you.

Recorded voice: Okay, now you’re really starting to get on our nerves. You’ve made it past the first two barriers, and now we’re scrambling to cover the phones. In the future, please consider chants and poultices as alternatives to modern health care. Thank you.

(Hold music) Rage Against the Machine: I got nothin’ to lose ‘cause I’m goin’ for the steel. Black steel in the hour of chaos…

Appointments desk, how can I help you?

Yeah, what’s with your ‘hold’ music? I thought it was supposed to soothe people while they waited. That was some pretty aggressive rap on that last segment.

Well if you think that’s bad, just wait until the country sees what Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy are planning to do with your healthcare. Let me fax you this flowchart that shows the web of bureaucracy.

I … I don’t need any flowchart. I just wanted a doctor to help me with this pain. Who are those new doctors you mentioned? Dr. Kennedy? Would he be able to see me this afternoon?

Sure, you can see Kennedy. He’s working hard to make health care worse for the millions who already have insurance.

I’m sure he’s working very hard but I’ve been a patient with your practice for a long time. Could I just come down to the office and wait to be squeezed in?

Sir, I’m going to put you on hold again and you might want to sit down this time, because it’s going be quite a while before we can get to you.

But I …

Please hold, sir.

Recorded message: Alright, that’s it. Now you’ve definitely made us not only angry, but vengeful as well. Should you actually make it in to see a doctor, we will be misdiagnosing your condition. Thank you for your understanding.

(Hold music) Chicago: I’ve been searching so long, to find an answer …

A taskmaster I’m not

July 22, 2009

I recently received an email from a higher-up at my company that seemed to suggest I’d be taking on an assignment. I don’t mind doing everyday work at the office but something akin to a project was alarming news, or could be if I found a way to make sense of the communication.

I was being “tasked” to act as a “resource” charged with producing a “deliverable” in an effort at improving our “validation.” As I waded through the dense corporate prose, I gradually got a vague idea of what I was to do.

The “validation” was designed to audit a process we have in place to audit our auditors, ridiculous perhaps to those not familiar with all the cross-checks we do in my field yet something I actually understood. Because I’m well past my reproductive peak, I knew the “deliverable” didn’t require me to bear live young but instead to return a written report. I guessed it was me who was being called the “resource,” which is one of the nicer complements I’d received at work in some time.

As for the “tasking,” I finally figured out that it meant I had to do something. I was okay with that, as I do a lot of things every day. I was just glad that it didn’t involve multi-tasking which, like many men of my generation, I’m not very good at. defines multi-tasking as “free background checks on tutors, online video tutoring, live learning.” No, wait, that’s the advertisement on Multi-tasking is the “concurrent or interleaved execution of two or more jobs by a single CPU,” though it’s also frequently applied to individuals who can do more than one thing at once, individuals who are typically young people or women people.

The example we’ve seen cited most often in the media over the last few months is the breast-pump/Blackberry scenario, in which high-powered female managers are able to successfully balance their family responsibilities with their careers. I think this situation is more symbolic than real, since even the sharpest executive can occasionally confuse a send button with an on-switch, which dismays the heck out of the customer service representative at your wireless provider who tries to help un-stick your keypad.

I realized a few days ago just how inept I was at multi-tasking when my wife called my cell phone while I was driving to a local fast-food restaurant. I answered the call just as I was pulling in to Wendy’s to order a 5-piece nuggets (no sauce), and listened intently as she asked if I needed anything at the grocery store. It took every last bit of concentration I could summon to avoid running over the speaker box and/or placing a takeout order for roll-on deodorant, a can of jungle-strength Off! and a refill on my Lipitor (no sauce).

I didn’t do much better the next day when she called me again while I was hiking along a busy highway from my workplace to a nearby diner. I needed to confirm an upcoming dental appointment, continue walking in a straight line, and avoid being hit by an oncoming tractor-trailer all at the same time. (And I’m not even counting relatively autonomic exercises like respiration, digestion and brain-stem activity.) I was careful, I was successful, and I was proud of myself.

Typically I do a better and more thorough job when I can line up a set of chores in sequential order. Take my morning routine, for example. I start the coffee brewing, remove the lunchmeat from the refrigerator, lay the bread out on a paper towel, remove the cat from the counter, rinse off some grapes, retrieve my briefcase from the hallway, pick out a couple of Oreos, dislodge the cat again, assemble the sandwich, select a breakfast bar from the cupboard, yell “no” at the cat, pour the coffee into a mug, brush the crumbs into the garbage, and put everything into the briefcase. My arms are flying about and the end-result might take a little longer to achieve than if I was able to combine some of my efforts, but at least I don’t open my satchel four hours later and have Tom jump out.

Maybe it’s the involvement of modern communications equipment that contributes to my befuddlement. Considering that I can barely look for the correct expressway off-ramp and listen to a radio at the same time, it’s not surprising that I have these difficulties. I like to say my brain is hard-wired differently, as if that high-tech analogy will deflect any perception that I’m simply an aging idiot. I think I’m pretty adept with computers and electronics for someone in their mid-50s, however I need to focus on the function at hand if I’m to avoid accidentally taking down the Southeast power grid when I only meant to send my son an instant message.

Fortunately, the validation project I was roped into was something I could complete on my own timetable and terms. I took two days “off-line,” as we call it when we head to the conference room for a mixture of spreadsheet compilation and laptop Scrabble, and assembled an impressive list of suggested revisions to our standard operating procedure. I redefined glossary terms, offered a few new practice exercises and assembled a nice choice of additional words into a professional-sounding collection.

I just hope the recipient of my deliverable reads the words in the order I submitted them. Otherwise, she’ll be as confused as I usually am.