Archive for May, 2010

A Memorial Day labor day

May 31, 2010

It was going to be a natural tie-in. A photo essay of the typical chores I tackle on a Sunday, even a Sunday that’s part of the Labor Day holiday weekend.

It wasn’t till I was just about finished that I realized — oops, this isn’t Labor Day, it’s Memorial Day.

I always get these two mixed up. I know one is the unofficial start of summer, one is the unofficial end of summer, and they both have something to do with the propriety of wearing white shoes. I thought they fell in alphabetical order, which would make sense in a truly logical universe. (My proposal: Arbor Day replaces New Year’s Day on Jan. 1, Christmas comes in February, Halloween around May, and Zeus’ Birthday ushers in the end-of-year holiday season).

Memorial Day is the day we honor the nation’s war dead by racing the Indianapolis 500 and staging Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial golf tournament on the beautiful Muirfield Village Golf Course, where Tiger Woods will face a stiff field of challengers including up-and-comers like Jason Bohn and Matt Kuchar. Labor Day is when we pay tribute to America’s mothers who endured hours of unimaginable pain birthing this nation’s grateful work force. Why can’t I keep that straight?

Regardless of my error, you’re getting the photo essay.

Sunday has always felt right to me as the proper day to undertake household chores. Maybe it has something to do with my Lutheran guilt that I no longer attend church. If I can’t sit through another interminable sermon about how Zachariah slew Obidiah after Jebediah stole his Uriah Heep album, perhaps I should endure the equivalent anguish of running the vacuum cleaner. Though I didn’t quite get to the carpet on this particular Sunday (unless you count the part where I fell down while dusting the fireplace), I did accomplish the following:

The Laundry

Yes, I am the rare enlightened married man who does his own washing and drying. I keep trying to tell my wife what a "catch" she has here though, even after almost 29 years of marriage, she's yet to be convinced that's quite the right word for it. I also make my own breakfast, pack my own lunch, wash my own face and brush my own teeth, because I'm a big boy. Note the care with which I have balanced the shirts around the bin, indicating an expertise far beyond my years.

The Billing

I'm the unofficial accountant for my wife's free-lance proofreading business, and every week or so I'm in charge of invoicing her clients. It's a tedious, afternoon-long chore still inexplicably done on paper instead of electronically. Occasionally, just for fun, I'll mistakenly write "thousand" instead of "hundred" on one of the bills, in the hope that her clients' inability to find errors extends beyond their proofs and into their accounts payable department.

The Catbox

With three cats under our roof, this is more than a weekly chore, or at least that's how Harriet, Taylor and Tom explain it to me. Strange how my role as lord and master over their dominion includes me cleaning up their waste products. I doubt that's how ancient Egyptian pharoahs interacted with their slaves. Though I actually can imagine King Tutankhamun having to take a few minutes away from ruling virtually the entire known world to comb through the sandbox of his royal felines Boots, Hosni and Mr. Hatshepsut.

The Mowing

I would absolutely LOVE to trade my stuffy office job for a position as a professional grass-cutter. I find the fresh air, the physical labor, the thrill of possibly losing an eye to be positively exhilarating. And the sense of accomplishment after seeing your hard work transform a weedy mess into a manicured landscape can't compare with the successful downloading of a spreadsheet, even though the spreadsheet (usually) leaves me less dehydrated.

Revisited: World’s smallest economies meet

May 30, 2010

TRENTON, New Jersey – Representatives of nations in the B-20 met this weekend in Conference Room Number 2 of the East Brunswick Township Fairmont Suites to talk about the challenges they face as the smallest countries in the world.

The summit of the world’s tiniest states comes in the wake of the recent meeting of the G-20 in London, where President Obama joined other leaders of the largest economies to discuss global financial matters, the banking crisis, and environmental and security issues. The B-20 group, on the other hand, met to address concerns that they alone share, including where everybody in the country was supposed to sit, and what to do about citizens who can’t seem to keep their hands to themselves.

The B-20 (the “B” stands for “bottom”) group finished their three-day conference late Saturday, and issued a joint communiqué on the results of their discussions.

“We come away from this meeting with many mutual understandings,” said Uday Maranathan, prime minister of the Seychelles (area: 107 sq. mi.; pop.: 69,000; you probably thought it was: French for “seashells”). “We have a fresh resolve to work together to solve our many unique problems.”

Conferees addressed a number of concerns that they face back home, including the issue of rising sea levels among the island nations, the need for a more diverse economic base, and the lack of awareness among much of the world that they even exist.

“I think just the publicity we got from having this meeting will go a long way toward helping us,” said Nelson Johnson, premier of Turks and Caicos (area: 166 sq. mi.; pop.: 30,000; you probably thought it was: a sandwich). “If we can just get more tourism dollars into our economies, that would make a big difference in our gross domestic product.”

The leaders were also looking for ideas on how to improve agricultural techniques among their native farmers so that the nations could move closer to self-sustenance, rather than relying on their larger neighbors for take-out.

“Most of the member states have a severe shortage of dirt,” said Heinrich Schwess, foreign minister of Liechtenstein (area: 62 sq. mi.; pop.: 29,000; you probably thought it was: a Hebrew sausage). “That makes it very hard to grow things. We’re going to be working together as a group to see where we might find some common ground. I hear they might have some at Lowe’s so I’ll be stopping by their lawn and garden center before heading back to my country to pick up several bags.”

Countries that have found a way to maintain at least a small agricultural base are hoping to move away from traditional cultivation of bonsai trees, baby corn and frosted mini-wheats to the kind of plants that can more easily be converted into other products. This would not only aid farmers but also allow a food-processing industry to emerge that could employ those who are unable to work in the fields.

“Tourism and agriculture seem like natural fits for relatively underdeveloped states such as ours,” said Dominic Arazanno, prime minister of San Marino (area: 24 sq. mi.; pop.: 25,000; you probably thought it was: former quarterback of the Miami Dolphins). “But I also think there’s a chance we can support at least a small amount of manufacturing or perhaps even some high-tech research facilities.”

Though most of the B-20 members have populations that are uneducated, there are a few that have a relatively large percentage of their people with a college-level education.

“We’re very proud of the skills that exist in our work force,” said cultural affairs attaché Philippe Ponduro of Malta (area: 122 sq. mi.; pop.: 362,000; you probably thought it was: a kind of milkshake). “Those two kids can really ramp up the production when they have the right incentives.”

Peaceful cooperation among the member states could continue to be a challenge if the league wants to work together to solve all the problems they share. Though they lack any kind of standing army, that didn’t prevent two governments from engaging in a recent skirmish in the south Pacific. Palau (area: 191 sq. mi.; pop.: 16,000; you probably thought it was: rice) and Tuvalu (area: 9 sq. mi.; pop.: 9,700; you probably thought it was: 2007 Ultimate Fighting Champion) fought a bitter battle over rights to large stone located halfway between them. Palau’s rowboat eventually defeated Tuvalu’s three guys in life preservers but not before both sides spent large portions of their national treasuries on the campaign.

“We must make peaceful coexistence our number-one priority,” said B-20 chairman Manaloa Huvanaram, a parliamentarian from Tonga (area: 289 sq. mi.; pop.: 112,000; you probably thought it was: a toy truck). “We shouldn’t even pick on someone our own size.”

One option raised in the communiqué was the possibility that several of the tiny lands could merge to form larger entities. A few that have already tried this option – Antigua and Barbuda (area: 171 sq. mi.; pop.: 83,000; you probably thought it was: two separate countries), and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (area: 150 sq. mi.; pop.: 109,000; you probably thought it was: a doo-wop group from the fifties) – held a convocation Saturday to give tips to the other members. One leader said he’s already made a tentative agreement along these lines to increase the profile of his minuscule nation.

“We had a very promising discussion with (Canadian rock icon) Neil Young, and I think we laid out enough economic incentives for him to consider joining us,” said president Herman Lodgeworth of St. Kitts and Nevis. “If we can rebrand ourselves as ‘St. Kitts, Nevis and Young,’ I think a lot of business leaders will sit up and take notice.”

Revisited: Not feeling too good myself

May 29, 2010

I’m not feeling very well today so I’m going to make this post short and sweet and probably not that funny.

What I’ve come down with, I assume, is the common cold, but this one is so much worse than anything you’ve ever experienced because it’s happening to me. It started as a tickle at the back of my throat, then progressed into listlessness, then a sore throat so bad I had to clench my teeth to swallow, then a cough and the beginning of nasal drainage today. At this pace, I’ll be minus a lung by the Monday.

I don’t make it a habit to get head colds very often. The last one I can remember started the day before I left Manila at the end of a five-week business trip in 2006, and reached its roaring worst during the 18-hour flight back to the States. I remember thrashing about (or as much as you can thrash about in coach, anyway), awake and dehydrated in the middle of the night somewhere over the Pacific, trying desperately to flag down a flight attendant who would give me more than a small cup of water. When the cold hadn’t significantly receded a full week after I was back home, I went to the doctor, thinking perhaps I had some rare tropical affliction that would sound really cool. Unfortunately, the doctor told me, neither dracunculiasis nor river blindness was to be on my medical resume.

This current affliction hasn’t kept me out of work yet. We don’t have “sick days” per se, or per anything else. All time off is PTO (paid time off), and a cruise to the Dutch Antilles is considered no different than a face transplant. I’ve already used five of my 16 days for the year and wanted to save something on the off chance we can afford a summer vacation. I am missing my second consecutive day of running on the Y treadmill, which is how my family knows I’m really, really sick.

I’ve held off going to the doctor so far because I don’t want to be weighed and I don’t like strangers pawing at my lymph nodes. WebMD has told me it’s not strep throat, I don’t have a fever so it’s not pneumonia, and I’m wagering I can survive anything else. I’m treating myself with fluids, sleep and lying on the couch watching TV. I’m too weak to operate the remote control so my wife has kindly agreed to zap the commercials. I’m too dizzy to take out the garbage so my son has been nice enough to say he doesn’t mind the smell of leaving it in the kitchen.

I did take advantage of the free advice that my pharmacist was willing to offer. I croaked my complaints to her and she led me to the over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. Having laryngitis as one of my symptoms negates the need to explain all that much to people who routinely ask how I am. It’s obvious to the grocery cashier, the coffee shop guy and my boss that I’m not “fine, thanks.” I like having a sickness with such obvious attributes, though my bout with chicken pox about ten years ago, which rendered me unable to shave for a week, made me a little more physically frightening than I had in mind.

Anyway, the pharmacist selected one of about two dozen variations on cough syrup and some hard-candy drops that are supposed to treat the sore throat, and sent me on my way. The only cold medicine I’ve ever had that worked in the slightest way is nasal spray, and now they say you’re not supposed to use that to excess. (What other way is there?) I have never, ever had any coughing reduced by cough syrup, and have never had a sore throat made better by any cough drop. You do get some brief relief from those throat sprays that you apply directly to your larynx, but the taste is so off-putting that it’s not worth it. All the NyQuils and DayQuils and AfternoonQuils out there may reduce a headache if I have one. If their alcohol content is high enough I might get a slight sleepy buzz. If the pseudoephedrine is sufficient I might lose my teeth and open a meth lab in my lawnmower shed. Other than that, I get no benefits.

So I guess I’ll just suffer along for the next few days and hope for the best. These things usually run their course over about a week, so I figure I’m almost halfway there. I’m starting to get a little woozy sitting here at the Earth Fare coffee shop so I think I’ll buy a quart of their chicken noodle soup and head on home to moan and groan at my family. In sickness or in health, they’re pretty used to it.

Fake News: BP facing crisis in nomenclature

May 28, 2010

NEW ORLEANS (May 28) — With nearly 8,000 ideas collected from the public on how to stop the ongoing oil spill, BP announced yesterday that it will also be accepting suggestions on ways to deal with other aspects of the disaster.

Early signs yesterday that the so-called “top kill” attempt is working to halt the release of crude from a broken pipe a mile below the surface of the gulf encouraged company officials to solicit more input from observers.

“One of the earliest suggestions we received was to ‘shove it’ or ‘stick it’, and that’s exactly what we’re trying now,” said BP’s vice president for public relations Alfred Jones. “Non-experts are often the source of some very creative solutions.”

A key priority for the company at this stage in the 37-day-long catastrophe is describing how much oil has erupted into the waters off Louisiana so far. If they can’t stop the flow, at least they can put its impact in more colorful terms. Initial estimates that the spill totaled 5,000 barrels a day were revised to upwards of 19,000 barrels, but this still left many wondering how the hell much is barrel.

“We need a more descriptive unit of measure,” Jones said. “The public thinks of a barrel as something worn by a naked cartoon character, and that doesn’t accurately portray the volumes we’re talking about. If we say ‘gallon,’ people get hungry for ice cream.”

Attempts by the government to describe the slick as “containing as much oil as 2,000 gymnasiums” or “as if we filled 40,000 swimming pools and laid them end to end all the way to the sun” did little to clear the air, much less the water.

“How are we supposed to get that many pools into space?” asked Coast Guard Lt. Linda Raimer. “Remember that we’re ending the shuttle program.”

Some of the ideas received so far are putting the disaster in more personal terms. One writer, Robert Evans of Oakbrook, Ill., suggested using the unit of “cubic Bobs”.

“It’s the amount of liquid there’d be if my body were melted down,” Evans said. “That’s something we can all relate to, especially my wife whose been encouraging me to get more exercise, even though it’s too hot out.”

The public is also offering names for the various procedures BP is trying to stem the leak. Terms like “top kill,” “top hat” and “junk shot” sound cool enough, but if they’re not working, they rapidly lose their appeal.

Among the new phrases submitted so far are “tube lube,” “glug plug,” “punk rock,” “hand job,” “blast shot” and “kill boss.”

“Many of these are very good,” said BP chief executive Tony Hayward, “except maybe for that last one.”

Hayward is also hopeful someone will offer assistance in describing how much his company regrets the accident that left 11 dead and miles of fragile beaches and wetlands in danger of becoming extremely yucky.

“How many times can you say you’re sorry?” Hayward asked. “After about the fifth or sixth time, it just sounds like we’re going through the motions. It’s fine if we do that in the repair process, but we can do better when something really important happens like having a camera and microphone stuck in our face.”

Early front-runners for innovative apologies include “my bad,” “oops,” “oh crap,” “we’re so very very very to infinity regretful” and “jeez al-freaking-mighty of course we’re sorry, this thing is costing us millions of dollars a day.”

An embarrassment of Sarahs

May 27, 2010

To paraphrase the Doris Day hit song from the 1950s, “Que Sarah Sarah.”

Whatever will be, will be … as long as that destiny includes a trio of lovely ladies with that most lovely of first names.

This week’s entertainment news saw three Sarah-licious figures hopping from coast to coast to coast, offering up their sassy take on why the world owes them its attention.

First off, it was Britain’s roly-poly royal, Lady Sarah Ferguson, further cementing her position as Tea Party icon with a rambling defense of a fellow babe running for governor of South Carolina. Ferguson, former Alaska honcho and GOP vice-presidential nominee in 2008, used her Facebook page to condemn allegations that the Palmetto State’s Nikki Haley had an extra-marital relationship in apparent contradiction of her strong pro-family values.

“Well, whaddya know? South Carolina’s conservative candidate recently zipped to the front in her state’s race for governor and, lo and behold, now accusations of an affair surface,” Ferguson wrote in her folksy style. “Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the beast in politics today — especially for conservative underdog candidates who threaten to shake things up so government can be put back on the side of the people. I’ve been there. Any lies told about you will strengthen your resolve to clean up lamestream media corruption.”

Then, a few days later, Lady Sarah was back on the front pages again, this time calling out a writer who moved in next door to her Wasilla home. Joe McGinnis, author of “The Selling of the President,” a classic of political journalism, is working on a book about the princess governor. He recently took up residence nearby to keep a look-out on the hot neighbor lady.

Ferguson wrote: “I finally got the chance to tackle my garden and lawn this evening! So, puttin’ on the shorts and tank top to catch that too-brief northern summer sun and placing Trig in his toddler backpack for a lawn-mowing adventure, I looked up in surprise to see a ‘new neighbor’. Todd went to introduce himself to the stranger who was peering in. He moved up from Massachusetts to write a book about me. We’re sure to have a doozey to look forward to with this treasure. Wonder what kind of material he’ll gather while overlooking Piper’s bedroom.”

Not to be outdone in the “no such thing as bad publicity” department, next up was actress Sarah Jessica Parker caught on hidden camera taking a bribe to gain access to her husband and to offer certain other favors.

Parker was captured on videotape receiving a suitcase packed with $40,000 by an undercover reporter conducting a sting operation. The film has since been released to the media.

“I hope this is enough to get me access to Matthew,” said the reporter’s voice, referring to Parker’s husband, Broadway actor Matthew Broderick.

“It should be plenty,” Parker is heard to say. “You probably could’a just walked right up to him on the street — he’s not as big a star as I am, ya know. But this’ll make things smoother.”

“Well, there’s more where that came from, if you care to play along,” says the reporter. “I’m authorized to offer another $700,000 if you’ll agree to have a bagoplasty and grant us exclusive coverage.”

“Bagoplasty?” asks an uncertain Parker.

“Yes, it’s the surgical implantation of a paper sack onto your neck and upper shoulders, completing encasing your hideous head,” the reporter continues.

“Gee, I don’t know,” says a tentative Parker. “I do need the money …”

Finally, the end of the week saw the debut of Sarah Louise Palin in her big-budget follow-up to last year’s monster movie hit. “Sex and the City 2,” which shows America’s favorite cougars prowling the deserts of the Middle East, may not have been a favorite of critics given an early preview —

“Some of these people make my skin crawl,” wrote film reviewer Roger Ebert. “The characters are flyweight bubbleheads living in a world which rarely requires three sentences in a row.”

“One wrong-headed jaw-dropper follows the next,” said another critic. “The climax has the ladies escaping an angry male mob by wearing hijabs given to them by like-minded Muslim women. An affront to Islam.”

“By the time they ride camels, it’s ‘Ishtar’ in designer gowns,” wrote a third.

But it’s sure to resonate with that segment of the audience that loves shopping, glamour, designer duds and poofy hair.

Palin, making the rounds of late-night talk shows in a high-energy promotion blitz, defended the movie, which opens this weekend.

“Those gotcha guys never have anything positive to say about strong women in strong roles,” Palin told Jay Leno.

Leno then pressed Palin to name other films that drew a similar prejudice.

“Well, let’s see. There’s — of course in the great history of America there have been movies that there’s never going to be absolute consensus by every American,” Palin said. “And there are those issues, again, like ‘Monsters vs. Aliens’, which I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So, you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but –”

Meanwhile, actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, singer Sarah McLachlan and comedian Sarah Silverman, held a joint press conference to say “hey, don’t forget about us.”

Sorry, gals, but you can’t compete with the holy trinity of Sarahs making us joyfully hum another ancient ditty — Hall and Oates’ classic “Sarah Smile” — all this week.

Bringing the neighborhood to account

May 26, 2010

Today’s post is dedicated to some recent commenters who are under the mistaken impression that this blog contains factual accounts.

While in Dunkin Donuts the other day, I encountered an official U.S. census worker. She had the complementary tote bag and everything. I didn’t realize commercial establishments like Dunkin were included in the once-a-decade tally of the American populace, but I guess it does make sense. It’s the only way to guarantee that crullers and long johns and reduced-fat blueberry muffins get their proper representation in Congress.

I’d probably make a good census worker. I’m really good at counting stuff. When I was a kid back in the 1960s, it was one of my major hobbies, right up there with being lonely and having pimples. I’d count oncoming cars during the annual vacation drive from Florida to Pennsylvania. I’d spend entire afternoons rolling dice with alternate hands, tabulating which one could come up with the highest cumulative numbers (one memorable match from August of 1966 saw the right hand edge the left by a score of 3,468 to 3,462 in a legendary contest the old-timers still recall today).

I guess it’s too late now to make myself available to the federal government, as I understand the census will be complete within a few weeks. Maybe, however, I could make some kind of free-lance contribution. Everyone’s bitching these days about the budget deficit and out-of-control spending, and people are rightly asking whatever happened to volunteerism. I don’t need remuneration for my enumeration; I’m curious about the private lives of my neighbors anyway, and if I don’t take any federal funding, I can ask whatever questions I want.

I imagine there’s probably some copyright infringement reason that I can’t call myself a “census worker.” Actually, I’m more interested in the subjective aspects of people’s lives anyway. While counting is admittedly a thrill, there’s not much room for variation from the standard whole numbers unless the home you’re visiting contains residents with sizeable fractions of their bodies amputated. I want to know more about what people think, how they feel, how they view and interpret their world.

I’ve got it! I’ll call myself a “senses worker” and quiz the folks on my block with unconventional questions. Most of them aren’t good at spelling anyway, if the person who recently held a “garaje sale” is any indication.

First I visit the elderly retired couple next door. The husband, a former anthropology professor, answers the door, and it’s obvious from his stooped posture and confused expression that he’s had more lucid days. I tell him I’m here to check his senses.

“I’ve only got a couple left,” he says slowly. “I can hear a little, and I can see enough of your outline to recognize you as a primate. My taste went years ago. Nowadays, it’s all like bread to me. What else is there?”

“Can you feel?” I ask. “Can you smell?”

“Remember that old song from the Who? ‘See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me’ was it?” he asks. “That was a good song.”

“Right,” I say, trying to get the interview back on track. “Can I get you to feel these new slacks I bought? The label said they’re only 55% polyester but they feel pretty stiff. I washed them once hoping it was just the sizing and they’d soften up a little. They’re just not as comfortable as I’d like.”

The old man reaches down to stroke my hip. (See — this is something you could never get away with if this were official government business).

“I’d give ’em another wash or two,” he says at last. “You should be fine.”

“Thanks,” I say brightly, and head off to the next house. It’s the home of a young family with two or three children. Even though they’re right across the cul-du-sac from my house, all I know is that they had a dog that barked a lot so they let it run away, and their last name starts with a “B”. It’s the wife/mom who answers the door.

“What did you hear about that teenager down the street they called the police on?” I ask her. “You know, the other night.”

“Wasn’t that just awful?” she whispers. “I heard he was smoking marijuana by the streetlight.”

“What is this neighborhood coming to?” I ask, lifting my clipboard. “Would you say ‘A – Kids today,’ ‘B – He got caught up in the wrong crowd,’ ‘C – You just never know,’ or ‘D – What’re you gonna do?'”

“I think I’ll go with ‘D’,” she says.

“Thanks for your time, and keep that ear to the ground,” I say, turning toward the next residence on the street. It’s the home of a guy about my age, maybe a mailman or a UPS driver, or maybe just a pressed shorts enthusiast. In case he’s a “fed,” I’m careful how I present myself, lest he think I’m on the same gravy train he is and invites me to spend the afternoon sipping tea on his deck.

“Just wonder if I could ask you a quick question or two,” I begin. “Have you seen those hawks circling the neighborhood? What kind do you think they are?”

“Hawks?” he asks, a bit hesitant to answer. He’s definitely with the government.

“Yeah, I think that’s what they are. Have you seen ’em? I’m trying to tell what kind they are. I went online to They had a sound clip of how they chirped and I played it, but it just freaked out my cat. You should’ve seen him, it was so funny — Tom was pawing at the speaker on my laptop, trying to get at the bird.”

“I’ve seen no hawks,” came the curt reply. “Are you selling something?”

“Nothing but that idea that an average citizen can give Washington a little help in its time of need,” I say. “Thanks for your time.”

Next up is a twenty-something guy I’m guessing is house-sitting for friends of his parents.

“Did you notice that dead squirrel at the end of your driveway?” I ask. “The smell is getting pretty bad. You know, it’s your responsibility to dispose of that kind of thing if it’s in front of your house.”

“What?” he asks, obviously unfamiliar with Brookshadow Hills’ carcass covenant.

“Tell you what I’ll do. I’ll deputize you right here to be authorized to scoop up that poor bastard and take him to the dump.”

“What?” he asks again, but I’m already off to my final stop of the day.

My enthusiasm is waning a bit as I approach the home of someone I actually know, a friend of my wife’s from college. She invites me in, something you’re not supposed to do, by the way, with an actual census worker because they might have a second job as a sex offender. Being as inoffensive as I am, she offers me a cup of coffee and a seat in the foyer.

“This tastes great,” I say. “It feels good to take a load off.”

We chat a bit: her daughter is doing great in college, her son is still looking for a job, do I know anyone who’s hiring? The weather’s been nice, we hope someone fixes the sign at the subdivision entrance, her son is starting to get on her nerves, am I sure I don’t know anyone who is hiring? Finally, it’s down to business.

“I’m so sorry we forgot to send in that form,” she says. “So aren’t you going to count me?”

“Oh, OK,” I answer. “One. There.”

Having done my part to maintain our great democracy the way our founding fathers envisioned over two centuries ago (I added the part about dead squirrels myself; hope that doesn’t hurt my cred as a strict constructionist), I’m headed out the door as Sue has one final question for me.

“Can I get you something to eat?” she asks. “I’ve got some fresh donuts.”

“Count me in,” I say. “Can I have a cruller?”

Fake News: South Carolina considers immigration

May 25, 2010

COLUMBIA, S.C. (May 24) — A legislature that can’t figure how out to impeach a governor who used state funding to philander with an Argentinean babe appears ready to take on an issue that even the federal government can’t solve — illegal immigration.

It probably doesn’t help matters that the South Carolina Senate has gutted school funding for years, cementing that state’s position near the bottom of the national rankings for education. Now, those poorly instructed citizens are running a legislative body that is considering a bill similar to one recently passed in Arizona, requiring police to demand citizenship papers from its beige and taupe residents.

What the representatives lack in smarts is more than made up for with cojones.

“With that BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico making everybody brown, it’s going to be harder than ever to figure who is merely an oil-soaked-but-naturalized American citizen and who is an illegal immigrant trying to swim across the gulf,” said Sen. Harvey Peeler of Cherokee. “Just look at the governor of Louisiana, that Bobby Jindal. He looks Mexican but that can’t be, because he’s a Republican.”

“To tell who’s Hispanic and who isn’t, we should require everyone to take the TB test,” said Sen. Mick Mulvaney, Lancaster. “It’s the Taco Bell test. Law enforcement officials would be required to carry a seven-layer burrito with them, and anyone who’s stopped will be asked to take a bite. If they eat it, we’ll know they’re true Americans; if they refuse, we’ll know they’re Mexicans.”

“I’d like to see the same technology used in those breathalyzer ignition locks that keeps drunks from driving,” said Sen. Lee Bright, Spartanburg. “Make one that tests for Hispanic breath, and attach it to all gas-powered leaf blowers. Landscape workers who are illegals won’t be able to work here.”

State representatives tried to use the Arizona law as a model for the new legislation they’re crafting, but appeared to be misinterpreting key provisions.

“I don’t see what good it’s going to do to demand papers,” said Sen. Raymond Cleary, Georgetown. “You can pick up a USA Today or just about any other paper for less than a dollar at a newsstand. What does that prove?”

“You ask somebody if they have any papers, and it turns out they’re a marijuana user,” said Sen. Michael Fair, Greenville. “I want to see a green card and here they’re whipping out a pack of Zig Zags.”

“The whole notion of ‘papers’ and written documentation is offensive to the many South Carolinians who can’t read,” said Sen. Jake Knotts, Lexington. “It’s an elitist form of communication. I think we should just tattoo checkmarks on the foreheads of legal citizens and X’s on non-citizens.”

Sen. Danny Verdin of Laurens defended the proposal against critics who said the measure would lead to racial profiling.

“Police aren’t going to be asking anybody to look sideways so they can see the profile of their face,” Verdin said. “We need to look ’em straight in the eye to tell if they’re Mexican.”

Sen. Phillip Shoopman of Greer said a simple identification by name could make it easier to distinguish who is legally in this country and who is not.

“If they got a ‘z’ in their name, they’re probably not supposed to be here,” he said. “Lopez, Hernandez, Sanchez, Zorro. It’s as simple as that.”

Some legislators also liked Arizona’s abolition of ethnic studies in its state-supported schools.

“Ethnic studies are just plain un-American,” said Sen. Larry Martin, Pickens. “The only proper instruction of this type would be how to make decent Chinese food. And you don’t need to know Mandarin to understand ‘number 47’.”

“Our citizens should be learning their moral codes, their principles and their ethnics at home, from their parents,” said Sen. Greg Rybert, Aiken. “Not from the state.”

A Lost Monday

May 24, 2010

Feeling lost in the office

Busy season is winding down at work, and people are naturally feeling burned out, demoralized, and somewhat lost. So you can imagine our relief the other day when three motivational posters were mounted on the wall.

You’ve probably seen these around, though I think they were much more popular a few years ago before the entire American work force basically gave up. They feature a colorful photograph of some inspirational scene (towering mountains, scenic seashores, kittens hanging in there, etc.), with one word across the top and a pithy quote across the bottom. Even the most casual glimpse of the composition encourages workers to pause reflectively for a moment, then shrug, the wonder how management can afford these if they can’t afford to buy us coffee. (Perhaps because they don’t sell coffee in the bargain bin at Staples).

The first poster reads “Teamwork” and shows a group kayaking down a raging river, something I’ll admit we do too rarely in financial document processing. The quote is “People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy after” and is attributed to an individual named “Gold Smith,” though a quick check on-line reveals it’s actually 18th-century Irish poet Oliver Goldsmith. I think the message here is that they’re getting ready to reorganize our department into teams.

The second poster is titled “Imagination” and features a stunning image of Yosemite’s El Capitan granite cliff at dawn. Quoted is Robert F. Kennedy, who said “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why … I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” I think this is meant to convey the message that you can request vacation days around the July Fourth holiday weekend if you want, but you have as much chance of getting them approved as you do of scaling a 4,800-foot rock face.

The third wall hanging is called “Vision” and portrays Utah’s Monument Valley, with a saying from Eleanor Roosevelt that “The future belongs to those who behold the beauty of their dreams.” The theme here is that it’s a good thing to be able to see well if you’re going to be a proofreader.

I’ve contemplated these passages for several days now (they’re located right beneath the timeclock) and find myself inspired, renewed and refreshed. Of course, a good stiff cup of coffee might accomplish the same thing but, as I said, I believe it’s more expensive than discount posters.

Loser on the racetrack

Auto racing’s favorite loser is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Following last weekend’s National Rifle Association convention here in Charlotte, this week we’re hosting the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, with the big Coca-Cola 600 car race next weekend. (I think the week after that, we’re set for some kind of Hitler Youth reunion.) “Junior,” as he’s affectionately known, finished twelfth in the Sprint Race.

Earnhardt’s fame is derived less from any great skill as a driver and more from the fact that his father, Dale Sr., was one of the sport’s most successful drivers ever, except maybe for those few seconds in 2001 when he fatally crashed into a wall. The father’s huge fan base gravitated to the son, who has proceeded to spend the last ten years finishing among the also-rans in just about every event he enters.

But the fans remain intensely loyal, and he can still be accurately promoted as a “five-time winner,” even though the competition is for NASCAR’s most popular driver. In recognition of that honor, the Bradford Exchange — makers of quality doo-dads and gee-gaws since Way Back When — ran a large ad in the Charlotte Observer Saturday for the official Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Cuckoo Clock.

“Now you can show your loyalty to this hard-charging NASCAR driver with an officially licensed, custom-designed cuckoo clock,” reads the half-page promo. “A stylized image of Dale’s ride is the centerpiece of this timekeeping treasure crafted with a real wood case and richly accented with gleaming chrome and asphalt. A swinging pendulum embossed with Dale’s number 88 add to the winning style. And here’s the best part: Every hour, Junior’s car comes out the door on top to race around the track accompanied by the sounds of the speedway.”

No word on whether or not the clock runs chronically slow.

Not just lost dogs …

I often see “lost dog” signs while jogging through my neighborhood. They’re both amateurish and touching, and never removed once the dog is found. They’re left to fade in the sun and eventually crumble to dust.

Also decomposing in a similar fashion by the highway last week was a dead raccoon. Within a day, however, some enterprising would-be comedy writer had erected a sign next to the body which read “Free Coonskin Cap — some assembly required.”

That’s some pretty clever stuff as far as roadside literary efforts go. It gives me hope that one day, when this whole internet/blogging/digital revolution thing has faded into history, there will still be at least one medium available for me to publish my humor columns.

I can write them in longhand and nail them to a telephone pole. My style might have to become a little more concise, so as to convey my point to readers whizzing by at 45 m.p.h., but I’ve always felt I’m a little long-winded anyway.

Not sure how I might tally the number of views without the help of WordPress’s stats feature, though.

Lost on an island

With last night’s shocking revelation in the finale of “Lost” that TV’s favorite castaways could’ve gotten off the island any time they wanted if they’d used Gilligan’s fillings as a radio transmitter, we’ve seen the end of the most challenging drama of the new century. The one thing I always missed about “Lost,” though, was its lack of a theme song.

So allow me to propose one, even though I know it’s a little late.

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale
A tale of a fateful flight
That started down Australia way
And ended just last night
The star was the mighty doctor Jack
The female lead was Kate
They flew into a fearsome storm
It looked like it was fate
You knew those two would mate
The plotline it was getting rough
The logic it was tossed
If not for the recaps and the highlights shows
The viewers would be lost
For they were watching “Lost”
The show took place on the shore of this uncharted desert isle
With Benjamin
And Sawyer too
The Korean guy and his wife
There’s Locke, Sayid,
Hurley and the Smoke Monster
On Mysterious Isle
So this is the tale of an unknown cast
They’ve been here six long years
(Except for occasional trips through time)
At least they have careers
The Dharmas and the Others too
They did their best to seek
New ways to kill main characters
And bring them back next week
No theme, no laughs, no spin-off shows,
Not a single luxury
Like Richard on “Survivor”
They’re sweaty as they can be
You joined them every week, you fools
It took you quite a while
To see that there was nothing here
On Mysterious Isle

Revisited: Hot enough for you? It is for me

May 23, 2010
The heat is on
The heat is on
The heat is on
Oh, it’s on the street
The heat is…
– Either Glenn Frey or Don Henley, I forget which, and seriously doubt there’s really all that much difference anyway

Today’s forecast in my area of the country calls for a high temperature around 85 degrees. Tomorrow is projected to be 88, with the following day topping out in the low 90s. For me, it’s too damn hot already, and it’s only the end of May.

I’m not a big fan of warm weather, probably because I was born and raised in Florida. When I was a child growing up in Miami, we’d have very little variety between wonderful weather and fabulous weather (except for the occasional cataclysmic hurricane) and it got to be very boring. To this day, I remember the excitement one morning during my 17 years there when we awoke to find a clog of ice in the garden hose and a thin frost on the lawn. It was as close to a snow day as we’d ever get.

While people in northern climes were yearning for retirement to the Sunshine State, we had to endure a boring sameness throughout our environment. With no real autumn, we never knew what it meant to see the leaves changing. My grandmother had to mail me an oak leaf from Pennsylvania so I would get some basic idea. We had no mountains and no hills, just an unending flatness. Stairs were exciting. When Dick and Jane cavorted in the fictional snow of our first-grade readers, we thought they were dead and in heaven, frolicking among the clouds.

All heat and no cold made Christmas especially problematic. How would Santa ever be able to come visit us? Sleighs don’t lend themselves well to travel on the high-speed Florida Turnpike. Reindeer will end up run off the road and flailing in the canals, a tasty holiday treat for the alligators. Santa’s going to get a god-awful chafe wearing that wool suit in our heat. How will his swollen legs fit in our chimney, even if we had a chimney or knew what one was? My parents reassured us that he’d make a special trip to south Florida in a helicopter and that he’d wear seersucker golf pants for his trip down through our air conditioning ducts and into our living room. Not quite the picture painted in TV’s Christmas specials.

When I moved to Tallahassee in the northern corner of the state to attend college, it didn’t get much better. I did finally see my very first snow flurry but still had to endure my entire freshman year on the top floor of an un-air-conditioned dorm. Fortunately, we were all so cool that it didn’t matter. My only outdoor camping experience to this day came during a worse-than-normal heat wave when we hauled our mattress out on the grass to sleep. The washer women who handled our bed linens loved us for that one.

Now, of course, I’m a mature adult, living far enough north to at least experience some seasonal changes, and I still say I hate the heat – I hate it, I hate it, I hate it! It’s stupid and it’s gross. You get all sweaty and stinky and, worst of all, extremely irritable.

Fortunately, just about all of the interior world is air-conditioned these days, so I do have the option of adopting a hermit-like existence for the next four months. Right now, for example, I have a wonderful view of this balmy late spring day by looking out the floor-to-ceiling window from my icy perch inside a frigid cafe, complete with working fireplace. It looks beautiful out there – the trees are green and swaying in the breeze, the clouds are wispy, the sun is bright – but I know it’s really a hellish inferno.

The cold comfort of conditioned air serves me well in most spots, though not in my workplace. My business operates in a converted warehouse that wasn’t really designed for a cubicle-farm office. I’ve had my desk positioned in several different locations throughout this large room, yet no matter where I sit I’m always too warm. When I arrive in the morning, the two women from the night shift who sit on either side of me are huddled in their sweaters, portable heaters glowing at their feet. I turn on a small fan aimed at my legs under the desk and a large one that I aim just over my head. (I’d have it blowing right on me if I could figure out how to proofread financial documents while they’re flying through a whirlwind.) The loud roar of the two announces that a man has arrived, and he’s not comfortable.

My coworkers are about 75% female, and I think this is part of the dilemma. We once called a repairman to the office to fix what seemed to be chronic AC problems. He fiddled away with the thermostat for some time before scanning the room and reporting that he had discovered our problem. “Most of your people are women,” he told my boss. “They give off more heat than men.” This seemed to me to be one of the lamest excuses for not doing your job I had ever heard, though it’s something the U.S. Senate might want to keep in mind as they consider the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. (Those judicial robes make the Snuggie look well-ventilated.)

In the years since, I’ve occasionally battled with the women in my office on this subject. One argument I thought should be convincing was that we should keep it cooler because, while they can always put more clothes on, I can’t be taking more clothes off. Well, I can, but I’m sure it would mean a rather unpleasant visit with the human resources guy. One lady showed up on a July morning last year wearing a sleeveless sundress to work, and immediately began complaining how cold the air-conditioning was. “Have you considered wearing something that covered the upper half of your torso?” I countered.

Maybe I’m noticing the heat more in recent years because I’m getting older. My wife tells me that men don’t get hot flashes associated “the change,” and she knows about such things (I’m just saying she’s a very knowledgeable person, not implying anything more.) I’ve thought about buying one of those “cooler collars” I’ve seen in the SkyMall catalog, though I suspect that would work about as well as would lugging around an icepack in my pants. Or I could contract one of those tropical diseases that give you the chills.

Maybe I’ll suggest another training trip for myself to India. Their heat makes ours feel bush league by comparison. And there’s a good chance I could come down with Dengue Fever.

Revisited: A great deal for the detainees

May 22, 2010

There’s been a lot of discussion 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.