Archive for August, 2010

What’s the deal with ketchup?

August 31, 2010

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (August 30) — Condiment psychologists yesterday announced the results of a three-year-long study that finally reveals what’s the deal with ketchup.    

Long speculated about by observational comedians and stoned college students, a Penn State University team led by Dr. Martin Regis showed that America’s favorite kitchen seasoning has been diagnosed with a fairly common mental disorder. The tomato-based sauce loved by generations suffers from Acquired Situational Narcissism (ASN) with a side of Schizotypal Histrionic Syndrome (SHS).    

“At its root, it’s a pathologically seated craving for attention,” said Regis. “Ketchup has always wanted to be the most revered of the condiments, and so has made many behavioral and other changes over the years to maintain that supremacy.”    

Part of its yearning to be noticed is seen in the various spellings of its name — ketchup, catsup, ketsup and catchup are all considered acceptable.    

“It’s not unlike what we see in certain celebrities who suffer from a similar malady,” said Regis. “You have your The Rock, who becomes Duane “The Rock” Johnson, who becomes Duane Johnson. You have your Sean Combs, or Puff Daddy, or P. Diddy, or Puffy, or Diddy. It’s all just a way to say ‘look at me, look at me.'”    

Ironically, ketchup is believed to have been invented in the modest setting of late 17th century China, where a blend of pickled fish and spices was called “ke-tsiap.” It was brought to the west by British explorers and, by 1801, a recipe for the concoction had made it into an American cookbook.  

As the century progressed, its ascent in popularity continued and in 1876, Heinz advertised tomato ketchup as a “blessed relief for mother and the other women in the household!” With the sauce now in mass production, “mother and the other women” were not only freed from the arduous task of creating their own ketchup, but they could bungle all kinds of entrees and cover the awful taste with vinegary pulverized tomatoes.    

Modern ketchup began being sold in the 1900s in tall glass bottles with thin necks. When they FDA ruled in 1906 that the poison benzoate could no longer be used as a preservative, producers turned from watery green tomatoes to pickled ripe tomatoes, rendering the topping much thicker. As what Wikipedia describes as a “pseudoplastic substance, a type of non-Newtonian fluid,” ketchup became more difficult to pour from a bottle.    

It was then that advertising executives were charged with making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and then pouring ketchup on it. The sluggish nature of the pour was transformed from a waste of five good minutes into a confirmation of the quality of the product. Various ad campaigns followed to convince American diners that they better start pouring now if they wanted superior ketchup on their hamburgers some time later in the day. “The best things come to those who wait,” went one slogan. Another commercial featured Carly Simon singing “Anticipation” for the entire 60-second segment, at the end of which a bare hint of the paste had begun to appear below the inverted mouth of the bottle. It was the “s-l-o-w” ketchup.    

It’s the only time in advertising history that a negative feature was so successfully turned into a positive. (Tylenol came close when it promised “there are no headaches in heaven” following an incident in 1982 where seven people were killed by the tainted pain reliever).    

When the go-go Nineties began, Heinz realized that people needed to get on with their lives, and introduced squeezable plastic bottles. Though the ketchup erupted more quickly, it did so with an unappetizing “ppfftt” that created a three-foot-diameter spatter pattern that drew CSI crews from miles around. Finally, just after the turn of the millennium, the dispensing part of the bottle was moved to the bottom. Ketchup makers had finally gotten it right.    

“Usually, it’s a two- or three-year-old that engages in this magnitude of ‘acting out,'” said Regis. “To see it in a product that’s been widely available for over a hundred years is very unusual. The way to stop such anti-social behavior is generally to ignore it. Don’t encourage it. Try using more salsa, relish and mustard.”    

So THAT'S the deal with ketchup

“Help” on the way to Chilean miners

August 30, 2010

The first images from the mine entrapment in Chile were almost ghostly. Cameras lowered over 2,000 feet beneath the surface showed a face peering into the lens, a man who was glad to be found and glad to be alive, though not too thrilled about being entombed.

Then, workers managed to get a video camera down to the 33 men and a surprisingly more vital scene began to emerge. They danced exuberantly, they played cards, they sang. Their accommodations were sparse to be sure, but they had transformed their 600 square feet of space into something quite livable. There was a table and chairs. There was a first aid kit on the wall. And, back in the corner, standing next to the shirtless guy in the miner’s helmet, was that Kim Kardashian?

No, it turned out instead to be a rather shapely wall of shale. (Honestly, though, we wouldn’t have been too surprised to see the omnipresent reality star making yet another compensated appearance somewhere.)

After word emerged from the site of the explosion in the Atacama Desert that the men had already survived for 17 days, there came the discouraging news that it might take months to free the miners. The small tube that was now transporting food and medicine to the victims would probably not be replaced by a larger hole until Christmas.

The compelling story began to draw offers of help from around the world. NASA said it would lend its experience in launching people in rockets to assist in bringing survivors from almost half a mile below the earth’s surface. (Officials in Chile weren’t sure how that aerospace expertise would be transferred to this situation, but did accept a nice autographed picture of moonwalker Neil Armstrong.) Oil giant BP had learned a lot about successfully handling crises of the deep during the recent spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and said they’d be glad to shoot golf balls and shredded tires at the miners. And everyday citizens from virtually every country on the planet sent donations and prayers.

Now comes news that the focus for the next several weeks will be on keeping the miners mentally stable while work slowly continues on the rescue. If they have a regular schedule, suitable diversions and communications from loved ones, they stand a better chance of not being permanently traumatized by the isolation.

They also may benefit from an idea that came from a small manufacturing concern in eastern Missouri. A firm called Tight-Right has advanced shrink-wrap technology to levels previously unheard-of. The vice president of public relations said his company’s equipment can encase an average-sized human in flexible plastic that is squeezed so tight that the person’s diameter is reduced to four inches. That’s precisely the size of the first drill hole to make it through to the miners.

“Why send them DVDs and books and newspapers when we could transport a virtual USO show down there?” asked Andrew Cash. “That would surely lift their spirits, if not their actual bodies.”

And so, the entertainment industry is putting aside its petty concerns about success and fame to volunteer to make the trip underground and revive the fortitude of these brave men. Well, not the entire entertainment industry. I mean, there was the Emmy Awards show last night, and those statuettes weren’t just going to give themselves away. Then there’s the fall TV season, and media coverage of the mid-term elections, and I think there’s a fashion week going on somewhere in September.

Still, a cast of less-than-A-list celebrities are gathering now in the hot Chilean desert, eager to find out if shrink-wrap and daytime highs nearing 120° could be an economical substitute for expensive cosmetic surgery, and to get themselves a little positive publicity. Oh yeah, and to help nearly three dozen desperate individuals find a thread of hope.

Within days, the stars will be whooshing toward the site faster than a drive-through bank deposit via the pneumatic tube from lane three.

Though neither the aforementioned Kim Kardashian nor sisters Khloe and Kourtney will be able to make it down to South America, there are several lesser Kardashians eager to jump into the spotlight. Third cousins Khadafy, Kibosh and Khrushchev Kardashian, a singing and posing trio from Nevada, will be squished to within inches of their lives and sent down the tube, where the trapped men will unwrap the starlets and enjoy a first-rate Las Vegas-style show.

Also slated to make the journey to the center of the earth is Flo, the Progressive Insurance TV pitchwoman. She will discuss the insurance needs of the mostly peasant-class workers in a chatty conversational style that’s considered insufferable on the planet’s outer crust but could actually be engaging in complete darkness where ear-splitting machinery is pumping in fresh air to overcome the sulfurous fumes of a working copper mine.

Music video director Spike Jonze, who was said to be impressed by the camerawork of that first film clip last week, wants to help the men use their talents to produce a chart-topping hit.

“I liked their treatment of the Chilean national anthem,” Jonze said. “If I can help them add just the right musical hook, and throw in a little pyrotechnics during the chorus on the video, we could be looking at a smash. Or another explosion. But you have to take risks in show business.”

Chuting down the tube right behind the highly compressed Jonze will be Sony Music record executive Timothy Lewis, who will be handling A&R, publicity and eventual tour arrangements for the buried band.

“They’ve already got a great name for a pop music group in Trapped Chilean Miners, though we may eventually go with the shortened ‘TCM,'” said Lewis.

From the world of journalism, it looks like the first cable newsman on the scene will be CNN’s Anderson Cooper. He will be bringing his evening news program “AC360” down for a week of on-location segments, allowing critics and a largely disinterested viewing public to see that it is indeed possible for his ratings to slip even deeper into a yawning chasm.

“I’ve put on a little weight during my summer vacation, so I just hope I can fit,” Cooper reported. “If necessary, we’ll take only 240 or 250 of the full ‘AC360’ down with us.”

Reactions to all this attention from the trapped mineworkers seemed generally positive, in the sense that they were still alive enough to speak.

“We’d probably prefer beer, cigarettes and some dirty magazines,” said Carlos Puenti, who has served as a translator for the men. “I’m sure if we understood English, we’d be horrified by this onslaught.”

Revisited: Walking my way to better health

August 29, 2010

We recently completed a get-healthy initiative at my work that encouraged employees to exercise by walking. My truly lame team finished way down in the final standings but, in a larger sense, we were all winners because we had spent eight weeks striding vigorously toward fitness. Not really. I probably weigh more now than when I started, and I know for a fact that I smell worse.

When the winning teams were announced, it was noted that as a company we had walked over 7 million miles during the previous two months. That’s equivalent to 280 circumnavigations of the globe. It’s as if we had walked to the moon and back 14 times. It’s like walking from New York to Los Angeles, turning left and heading to Peru, then boring into the Earth’s mantle and going halfway to the core, and then re-emerging to hike halfway to Venus. Any way you put it, it doesn’t make any sense.

As a runner for the last 30-some years, I’ve never had a lot of respect for walking. I guess I viewed it as the exercise of the weak and infirm, a great way to get to the men’s room perhaps but hardly a challenging physical regimen. Any sport that could be done by the elderly ladies around the retirement complex near my house was not for me.

Though I did spend numerous coffee breaks in recent weeks pacing up and down the road in front of my office like an expectant father, the only deliveries I saw were tractor-trailers backing up to the warehouse (less messy than the typical Caesarean but still smelling of diesel). I won’t say that I’ve gained a new appreciation for walking as exercise; I will admit, however, that my aging knees had better realize pretty soon that there’s a reason you don’t see many 220-pound sixty-year-olds sprinting down the street. We’re either dead or have adopted another workout habit.

Part of my problem with public walking is that, as a method of transportation and an exercise, it’s subject to misinterpretation by onlookers. Friends who drive past you in their cars will stop and ask if you need a ride. Other motorists look at you as a mobile information source, as if you’re circling the neighborhood in case they need directions, can’t find their lost cat or need an explanation of the local zoning codes.

Trying to make it look more like an exercise and less like a leisurely stroll does deter some of this. I’ve learned, for example, that moving your arms in a particular fashion will keep questioners at bay. If you adopt the motion of the race-walker, elbows bent and forearms punching the oncoming air, many observers will realize that you’re disturbed, and therefore best left undisturbed. If this doesn’t work, I try the stiff-armed march of the North Korean infantryman, lifting my rigid limbs high above my head as if about to cross the demilitarized zone. The next subdivision down from me remains on high alert.

Another deterrent to interruption is the iPod. Crank up your Who playlist to maximum volume and you won’t be able to hear the questions and taunts that are otherwise sent in your direction. Of course, you can’t hear oncoming vehicles either, but that’s their problem, not yours. If you get caught up in the song and start singing along — “Love! Reign o’er me!” — chances are good they’ll notice you one way or the other.

My wife used to belong to a martial arts group that occasionally practiced tai-chi in a public park. Most of the time, they remained under a sheltered picnic area but if the weather was nice, they’d sometimes break out this so-called “meditation walk,” where they’d pike around the lake at a slow, measured pace that was half-walking, half-Step-Forward-to-Repulse-Monkey. The kids playing basketball on a nearby court would tease them mercilessly while they practiced their forms in a fixed location, but as soon as the martial artists started marching methodically in a single file toward them, the fast breaks got really fast and tended to head in the direction of the park exit.

I’d be more than a little embarrassed to try this strategy (in fact, I’m generally humiliated to be seen in public at all). One of the biggest concerns with walking is what to do when you’ve reached the halfway point. Unless you’ve plotted out a circular route for yourself, there comes a time when you have to reverse your course. I’m always afraid someone is going to see me doing this.

There’s something inherently unnatural about suddenly turning on your heels and heading off into the opposite direction. It might be fine for exercise purposes, but it exhibits a certain indecisiveness in the real world, causing witnesses to wonder what you forgot. I try to get it over as quickly as possible, or otherwise make the most of it. I once took a stroll with two other family members and we agreed all turn at once, on cue, just as a school bus was passing. The sheer precision of the move left those kids dumbfounded.

I think, though, I’m going to continue walking as a physical activity. With fall right around the corner, it should be quite pleasant. It does clear your head and give you time to think. If I keep it up into the winter months, I’m going to have to consider some alternate venues. Some people from our office had taken to hiking around a nearby grocery store when the heat or rain got too bad during the summer, and that might be fun. Again, it seems like there might be concerns among store employees about what the hell you’re doing. I think if I circle the outer edge, cutting through the produce department and alternately picking up and putting back various melons and cabbages each time I pass, it might not look too weird.

Revisited: Wolves on the prowl

August 28, 2010

BOISE, Idaho (Aug. 27) — An Idaho real estate agent became the first hunter to legally kill a gray wolf yesterday, bagging an adult female in the mountains of the northern Rockies.

What a man.

Robert Millage, 34, received one of over 10,000 permits issued after the formerly endangered species was removed from its protected status earlier this year. He wasted little time in using it, experiencing what he called “an adrenaline rush to have those wolves howling and milling about after I fired the shot.”

“I’m a real estate agent in Idaho. What else am I going to do?” Millage told reporters following his brave act to protect local elk and deer so they could be shot by other hunters instead of killed by wolves. “It’s hard to sell a house right now. This was a cathartic exercise for me, and I think the wolves enjoyed it too.”

An estimated 1,650 of the animals (whoops — make that 1,649) now live in the Rockies thanks to a controversial reintroduction program begun in 1995. Idaho set a quota of 220 wolves for this hunting season as part of its plan to manage the wolf population.

A representative of the wolves said his group was not going to take the renewal of the hunt lying down. Well, actually, they will take it lying down but not before walking in circles to tramp down the grass.

“They criticize us for preying on weaker species, but neglect to offer a constructive solution as to what we’re supposed to eat for dinner,” said a full-grown male speaking at news conference at a suburban Pocatello Holiday Inn. “I can’t walk into a store and buy a hot dog. I don’t have any money and, even if I did, I don’t have any pockets to carry it in.”

Many of those who purchased the hunting permits said they would simply frame the historic documents as keepsakes. Others said they wanted to “be legal” in case a wolf leaped from between the floorboards of their homes and attacked their families. One man told National Public Radio “I simply don’t like wolves, and I wanted to send them a message.”

“I don’t need a message blasted out the end of a shotgun,” said the 160-pound carnivore who met with then ate local reporters. “I’m on Facebook.”

The growing conflict threatened relations between wolves and humans in the intermountain west. The animals had been hunted to near extinction early last century, after they reneged on an agreement not to wear sheep’s clothing. The state supreme court later ruled that arrangement invalid as part of a sweeping legalization of transvestism in the Gem State.

Reports emerged late yesterday that the nation’s best-known Lupine-American, CNN news reporter Wolf Blitzer, might be called in to negotiate a settlement in the dispute. Blitzer’s father was a respected wildlife management specialist in Buffalo, N.Y., and his mother was a Canadian timber wolf.

In a related story, I had an exterminator come to my house Tuesday after members of my family saw several large roaches on our deck. It was feared by some that the two-inch-long palmetto bugs could make their way inside our home, but I’m from Miami and am not afraid of creepy intruders. We used to have Giant Poison African Toads in our backyard. We killed ’em by pounding ’em with the back sides of shovels. Didn’t need no stinkin’ permit.

The readers speak!

August 27, 2010

Thanks to everyone who was kind enough to comment on yesterday’s post. Getting on the “Freshly Pressed” front page of WordPress is the best thing that’s happened to me this year, which should give you some indication about what a horrible year it’s been.

I think I deserve a day off to relish the honor. So I’m turning today’s edition over to you, the readers, with this collection of comments you’ve made in recent months, offered without any context whatsoever.

  • I am constantly on the lookout for new and interesting sports sites and posts… which is what led me here. I certainly plan on visiting again!
  • I actually do read the obits frequently…mostly a throw back from my nursing days and also probably due to my chronic health issues and the fact that I almost died a few years ago…it has piqued my interest in death
  • I can’t remember the last time I drank water for another purpose besides swallowing a pill
  • Interesting read. Thanks – from an antique phone enthusiast
  • Now I realize I’m peeing in a run-of-the-mill bleach scented men’s room
  • I hear that dentists are protesting the elimination of foil containers — as oral injuries associated with the packets were a reliable source of revenue
  • I thought I was the ONLY ONE IN THE UNIVERSE that hated the Van Allen Belt! Now I don’t feel so all alone
  • I’m a noisy sneezer: I can’t help it. If I tried to “suppress” a sneeze, my head would explode.
  • I don’t mind a nose picker when I work with kids, but the picker/eater makes me cringe a bit
  • Thankfully, I have an abnormally stretchy bladder
  • I was with you all the way through the word “stiff” which always has such a positive meaning but parted company when we got to “informative”. I would have substituted “obscurational”, which I know is a word because I Googled it
  • It’s always nice to have a number to phone
  • Why can’t all fruit be as easy to open as a banana? Now there’s a fruit with customer service instincts
  • You left out that he was so good they buried him twice
  • My “things” won’t be as creative as yours
  • When I feel I MUST have one…I just cut it into sections without peeling it..then peel the edible part out of the wedge…but even that can be a pain
  • And you are so right about jacks. And don’t get me started on mini spare tires
  • Any system of communication that references the Fonz and killer asteroids has GOT to be good
  • Loved the saw on the head dream….wonder what the analysts would think of that one? The feet on the wall is totally bizarre
  • We had a dummy we called Overboard Ollie. Whenever we did a man overboard drill someone would grab him, toss him over the side, and yell “man overboard”. When not being submerged in salt water he would find himself is some of the strangest places
  • Just choose one already. Whether it be Pokemon or Digimon a hobby is for the better
  • ‘Hogging’ is also a term meant to describe the driving of a train.
  • As a teen, I sang along to a lot of songs, though I couldn’t understand the lyrics
  • Also I’d like to correct a scientific misconception regarding dead frogs. [They] don’t bloat, at least if you poke holes in them
  • Um, but surely the acids and alkalis would all cancel each other out, leading to bland “neutral” judgements… you need to introduce a justice made of potassium to really get the sparks flying
  • I like “Blogging”
  • Amazingly… what you have said definitely made me happier!
  • Hi, I just found this blog/post by coincidence… I think anyway, at the very least I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what I was clicking
  • Last week I made an appointment for my annual mammogram
  • I cannot imagine any other system that could possibly explain the tremendous and tumultuous volume of words published on your blog.
  • If you can stick pieces of glass or Saran wrap onto your eyeball … Men are such wimps
  • In my opinion your article is very nice and very helpful
  • Blind Jack also took a number of film classes, usually off to the side of the auditorium with Ruth Stone describing to him whatever was appearing on screen. He might even have been a mass comm major
  • 5 minutes? How is that enough time to take a nap in the waiting room?
  • Perhaps it happening out of sight and therefore out of mind is the best thing about toilet flushes
  • My human had a similar experience with a ruptured tranny line. Thank goodness for small town farm boy mechanics who stay open ’til six on Saturday
  • I remember waking up in the middle of the night once in Spain, after having drunk far too much, I admit, and I thought there was an intruder in the front room. I went to investigate, armed with the first weapon to hand, my wife’s hairbrush!
  • I love tattoos and don’t for a second regret having any of them. I’m currently getting a koi tattoo sleeve done down my right arm — can’t wait to get it finished! My local tattoo artist is extremely experienced and also very expensive but, he’s worth it!
  • Hope you try our creamy concoction…I’m sure you’ll go GaGa
  • Yep…we have those stores too….you have to bag or box up your own purchases there
  • None of this rules out the possibility that I am subconsciously trying to get back at you for ALL THE TIMES you put your damn used underwear on top of my stereo so long ago
  • And speaking of dead raccoons, that reminds me that week before last, I found a freshly dead mouse in the house. I respectfully picked it up by the tail and respectfully threw it into the ferns beside the driveway.
  • I HATE THOSE THINGS! …fire ants that is… I rather enjoy apples
  • Your squirrels are too busy having sex with exotic Argentinian squirrels to whom they are not married.
  • I feel, number 1, that even the president himself could have found humor in the post…most self-assured people can laugh at themselves. Number 2, I believe I am allowed to think it was funny, and not disrespectful. And number 3…you are exactly right that cussing is not socially appropriate
  • The Hall and Oates reference caught me completely by surprise straight from left field
  • I have frequently found myself walking through the drive-through
  • Could you check out my blog? I really want to hear your opinion on my thoughts
  • I once read about a man who had cancer. He went to a cabin by himself
  • I went to school with an Elijah Oliver…his parents were way into the PTA
  • I want to wear those paper outfits I hear you get at hospitals.
  • Yesterday, the “L” word brought 28 visitors to the post that has it. It is the reason that post retains its #1 ranking despite being very old. I can tell you that “Guatemalan porn” was #2, but that topic is no longer popular.
  • Thinking about vampires and the difficulty of maintaining a relationship for as long as 24 hours gave me a headache
  • We arrived the other day to my husband’s mom’s property. He says to me, what’s that sitting in the middle of the property? As we walked closer we found a mother sheep and a little baby. We both just looked at each other. As we walked closer the sheep got up and ran off, along side traffic. I hope their fate ended well. Strange moment.

From one old bag to another

August 26, 2010

Anyone who’s ever met me in person could probably understand why I sympathize with old bags.

Recently, I was strongly urged to upgrade the lunch bag I had used for years to a newer model. I’ve packed and brought my own lunch to work for decades, beginning long before the recessionista fashionistas made it trendy. Somewhere during that time, I acquired a simple yellow cloth sack with the then-innovative feature of a Velcro strip. The shapeless design allowed me to cram it full of sandwiches, cookies, fruit and cereal bars, then stuff that into my equally decrepit “briefcase”.

The sack looks like this …

… and the briefcase looks like this …

I would’ve been perfectly happy using neither of these accessories if I could’ve figured a better way to carry around my stuff. A good friend from my college days was famous for toting many of his worldly possessions around in a crisp, brown grocery bag. He and I were reporters together on the student newspaper. He would hike off across the Quad for an interview with the executive vice president carrying his notebook, pens, pocket dictionary and who knows what else in a fully packed sack, hoisted high on his chest. It looked like he’d stopped off on his way home from Albertson’s to grill the dean about unfair treatment of certain campus organizations, then offer him a stalk of celery to show there were no hard feelings.

I’ve considered simply using my pockets. Crushing a peanut butter sandwich in your pants for half the day actually changes the texture in a favorable way, infusing the bread with jelly and rendering the otherwise pedestrian meal panini-like. You just have to be prepared to explain to your coworkers the occasional presence of what looked like a blood stain in your right buttock.

But I opted for the above-pictured yellow and black ensemble, and they served me well for many years. Then, about a month ago, my wife noticed an irresistible offer at the local organic food store. With any $5 purchase, you could get a free Eco-Guardian Enviro-Sak. It had three strips of Velcro, two of which attached to each other and the third one running along the base in case you cared to collect burrs.

“Look, it’s really nice,” my wife said, and she was right. As you can see in the picture below, it has enough structure to allow it to stand unsupported, and a bright blue design with a splash of yellow and the word “Yum!” scrawled across that.

She was even kind enough to write my name on the top flap, just in case it or I got lost. All I had to do now was fill it full of lunch-style goodies, and I’d be ready for my first day of second grade.

Reluctantly, I tossed my trusty Old Yeller into the garbage and joined the 21st century. That first morning, I tried to cram the new bag into the briefcase, as I had done with the old one, but it just wouldn’t fit. I folded and twisted and shoved to the best of my ability, and yet the recyclable plastic frame was not flexible enough. I had to dangle it along side my briefcase as I walked into the office.

“Cool sack,” commented the production coordinator. “Hey, I’ll trade you my baloney sandwich if your mom gave you Lunchables today.”

I suffered through the derision and mockery for several more mornings until I realized it was curbside garbage pickup day and I was about to say goodbye to my old yellow bag forever. Early that morning, while it was still dark, I rummaged through the rollout bin and rescued the old bag. I haven’t begun to use it again; it’s just nice to know it’s stashed safely in my underwear drawer should I ever decide to return to a simpler time.

Then, just about a week ago, the office park where I work had its annual tenant appreciation day. In addition to plying us with hamburgers and potato salad, they offered a souvenir giveaway. It looked like this …

I think it’s supposed to be the 5G of lunch bags, though it could just as easily serve as luggage for a five-week business trip to The Hague. It has zippers, it has mesh netting, it has an insulated interior and it has what looks like shoelaces strapped across the top, where I guess you can cram anything that couldn’t fit on the inside. It even has our company logo emblazoned on a nylon strip across the front.

A lot of my coworkers are crazy about the thing, but I just can’t stand the thought of yet another giant leap forward in technology so soon after I’m barely comfortable with my Enviro-Sak. I feel like I’m living in one of those rapidly emerging cultures of Asia, where half a generation ago nobody even had a landline phone, and now everyone’s walking the streets with the latest in wireless.

I’m keeping the insulated super bag handy, since Thanksgiving is just around the corner and — who knows? — maybe I’ll want to prepare turkey and all the fixin’s at my desk if I have to work that day. I could even bring a few family members along, secured safely in the side pockets.

I’ll catch a glimpse of my old yellow bag in the dresser as I’m getting ready for work each morning, and think of the good times we shared together. I don’t want to be so old-fashioned as to revert to those fond memories for everyday use. Still, it’s nice just knowing it’s there if I ever want to relive the glory days.

Maybe I can fashion them into a pair of “memory” socks, like some people do with quilts, if I can figure a way to keep the Velcro off my heel.

Fake News: Little League World Series has big league problems

August 25, 2010

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (Aug. 24) — Scandal has rocked the Little League World Series being played here following reports that several players have been chewing performance-enhancing gum.

What was thought at first to be the crack of the bat turned out instead to be the crack of cinnamon, apple and spearmint flavored gums laced with steroids and human growth hormones (HGH).

“Considering they use aluminum bats which make a ping instead of a crack, we should’ve realized what was going on,” said series organizer John Carey. “Actually, those aren’t bats at all, but Festivus poles.”

At least three players from the international squads and two players from the American teams have tested positive for the tainted gum. One of them, third baseman James Henderson of the Western Region all-stars (favorite food: pizza), attempted to deny the reports in a meeting with the press before Tuesday’s round of games.

“Do you have enough for everyone?” demanded one reporter.

“No,” James answered sheepishly.

“Well, that’s not very considerate of the feelings of others, is it?” the reporter continued.

“No, sir,” James said. His mother moved in to hug the boy’s waist — that’s as high as she could reach since young James’ height soared past 7 feet earlier this summer — and escorted him away from the media scrum.

Another of the accused players was confronted as he entered the stadium, but it appeared the side effects from the drugs had made him largely incoherent.

“Hey, batter, batter,” babbled Levi Arthur of the Southeastern team (favorite actor: Will Smith) repeatedly. “Swing, batter, swing.”

Though only five players have been named in the unfolding story, it’s believed the gum may have spread to a large percentage of the participants. Some of those suspected have vehemently proclaimed their innocence.

“There was some gum on the floor that got on my shoe,” said Jerry Walters of the Midwest region (favorite disease: liver cancer). “I suppose the drugs could’ve got into my system that way. But I swear I did not chew any of the illicit gum intentionally.”

One of the international players, Juan Belone of Mexico (favorite piece of furniture: chair), said he’d heard rumors of gum-chewing among the 11-to-13-year-old participants. However, he used his limited English to deny that any of his teammates had been involved.

“No guns,” said Juan. “Too many guns in Mexico.”

The doping scandal is one of several distractions the young baseball players have had to face since arriving here for the ten-day tournament. Apparently, some of the teams from overseas are not who they claim to be. The Little League team from Saudi Arabia is not made up of Saudis at all, but instead is comprised of the children of Americans working in the oil industry there. The Little League team from Chinese Taipei is not “little” at all, as demonstrated in their 23-0 dismantling of Canada during which their 300-pound catcher repeatedly sat on batters who were subsequently declared “out.”

In one of the early round-robin games, a player from California (favorite anarchist: presidential assassin Leon Czolgosz) stood up to the plate carrying a Wii controller instead of a bat, thinking he was playing a baseball video game. The contest of Panama vs. Costa Rica was thought to be a border war rather than a baseball game, and had to be cancelled when players using rifles as bats kept firing into the air.

“This is supposed to be the highlight of these kids’ young lives, and organizers have let it become a sham,” said critic and sports columnist Charles Stern.

“Ah, you’re just a big baby who couldn’t get his way,” countered Little League president Carey.

“I know you are,” answered Stern, “but what am I?”

Obama’s Gulf vacation had historical precedent

August 24, 2010

I’ve taken a vacation on the “Redneck Riviera,” the nickname for that stretch of Gulf Coast from Texas to the Florida Panhandle. I know for a fact that President Obama didn’t take a brief family trip there earlier this month simply because it was a great place to holiday.

I spent a week at a beachfront hotel in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1986. More precisely, I spent a week hunched over the toilet in my hotel room after acquiring the worst case of food poisoning I’ve ever had. I can’t blame an oil spill or a hurricane or any other of the regularly scheduled calamities that occur in that part of the country. I think it’s just a cursed region, and I was lucky to get away with most of my colon intact.

I understand, though, why the president felt compelled to stop there before heading off for his real vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. It was a sincere if symbolic gesture to show the country that the region was once again a safe place to visit. During their 27-hour visit to Panama City, the First Family went for a boat ride, looked at a porpoise (“Look,” said daughter Sasha, “A porpoise!”), took a dip in the salad dressing known as the Gulf of Mexico, and played a round of miniature golf.

Obama wasn’t the first president to use the power of his office to bring publicity to a stricken area of the country. There are numerous other occasions throughout U.S. history that a sitting chief executive took a vacation meant more to send a message to the American people than to actually have a relaxing good time.

In fact, did you know? …

In 1814, President James Madison rushed back inside the burning White House, set ablaze by the British during the War of 1812, to rescue his wife Dolly and her irreplaceable collection of cream-filled snack cakes. President Madison would later comment to the press that tourists coming to Washington should “fear not to visit what’s left of the Executive Mansion” because the fire had burned itself out within a few days when the building was completely consumed.

In 1841, President William Henry Harrison, who holds the record for shortest-serving president by dying only 31 days after his inauguration, had to have an equally brief vacation. He spent 36 minutes grilling a hamburger in the backyard on April 2 of that year, and urged Americans to heed the slogan “the redder the better” for any meat they might enjoy over the upcoming Easter holiday. He died two days later of pleurisy, pneumonia, jaundice and what medical historians call “overwhelming septicemia” remarkably unrelated to the ingestion of nearly raw beef.

In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln had the weight of the world on his gaunt shoulders. The Union had dissolved three years earlier, and the Confederacy still threatened to invade the North. Lincoln’s wife Mary, known for not exactly being all there, suggested he spend a weekend golfing at the Gettysburg battlefield he had consecrated in his famous Gettysburg Address only a year before. Rather than argue with the First Harpie, Lincoln played 36 holes on Saturday and another 18 on Sunday, shooting a respectable cumulative score of 217, or one over par, before returning to Washington. “It was a little hard to tell the sandtraps from the freshly dug graves,” Lincoln complained to his caddie, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. “Still, I would recommend a stop to anyone passing through southeastern Pennsylvania. Amish country is nice too. Be sure to have a whoopie pie.”

In 1887, President Grover Cleveland made the first of two vacation stops to Cleveland, Ohio. Though the then-thriving city on the shores of Lake Erie was not named after him, he thought it’d be cool to visit a place that had the same name he did. The prescient president may have sensed that within a century the city would become a festering shithole when he told reporters covering his holiday that visitors would “never want to leave the land of Cleve.” He returned to the so-called “Metropolis of the Western Reserve” (not exactly the “Big Apple” or “Frisco” but actually a pretty catchy nickname by 19th-century standards) when he became the only man to serve two non-consecutive terms as president in 1895, as part of his effort to exactly repeat everything he had done in his first term four years earlier.

In 1901, President William McKinley took time out from waging the Spanish-American War to be shot by a disgruntled anarchist (the worst kind). He convalesced near the site of his shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., for nearly eight days, publicizing the value of bed rest in what historians later labeled the “first staycation”. Glum over the prospects of returning to work after such a refreshing interlude, he instead died on Sept. 14.

In 1931, at the height of the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover got a bad case of depression himself, spending almost a week hiding under a blanket. He emerged to tell the nation “depression — it’s not so bad,” and encouraged the mostly unemployed citizenry to think of their long, unproductive days as a “leisurely retreat from the cares of the world.”

In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt was witness to a precipitous fall-off in vacation travel to America’s allies in Europe. World War II and the occupation of virtually the entire continent by Nazis and Fascists meant fewer U.S. tourists contributing precious dollars to the local economies. To publicize the assertion that the war-torn region was still a great place to visit, Roosevelt made a surprise visit to the British seaside village of Dover from where he began his now-famous swim of the English Channel. Despite having almost no use of his legs due to a childhood bout with polio, Roosevelt traversed the frigid waters in what was then a record six days and 13 hours. Within three years of what critics had labeled a publicity stunt, millions of Americans visited the birthplace of Western Civilization, many of them returning alive.

In 1966, fighting an unpopular war overseas and dealing with racial unrest at home, President Lyndon Johnson signed up with the folks at “Vocation Vacations” for a week at Motown Studios in Detroit. There, he sat in on recording sessions for what would become the Supremes’ 1966 hit “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Though mostly relegated to the role of back-up singer and tambourinist, he received a co-lyricist credit on the album version of the song for contributing the lines “I need love, love, to ease my mind” and “Now I can’t bear to live my life alone, I’ve grown impatient for a love to call my own.”

Taking a shot at joke-writing

August 23, 2010

I like to think of myself as a humorist (somebody has to do it). I deal in the long form, incessantly bemoaning an obscure point until hopefully I think of some type of amusing payoff.

Humor writing is far different from joke writing, which is the short form. Because of its emphasis on brevity, I think joke writing is much harder, and have never felt very comfortable tackling it.

But today, I thought I’d give it a shot. I don’t necessarily promise quality here, so be forewarned. Please proceed with caution.


So a preacher, a rabbi and a priest die, and find themselves at the Heavenly Gates to meet St. Peter.

“I appreciate the diversity you’re showing me,” St. Peter tells them. “But I think these days, there should also be an imam here.”

“But we thought that was a separate heaven,” said the preacher.

“All three of us are of the Judeo-Christian ethic, and didn’t think we’d need to be accompanied by someone of the Muslim faith,” said the rabbi.

“No,” said St. Peter. “The heaven of Islam is the same as the heaven for you.”

“So, remind me,” said the priest. “How many virgins is that again?’


A dog walks into a bar and orders a gin and tonic.

“I’m not sure I can serve you,” says the bartender. “Are you 21?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” says the dog. “Dogs rarely live to be that age.”

“Are you at least 21 in dog years?” the bartender asks.

“It’s not as easy to calculate as you’ve heard,” the dog responds. “I was born two years ago but after just one year of maturation, we’re able to reproduce. So I’d say I’m well past legal age.”

“I’m sorry,” says the bartender. “I’ve always heard it was one dog year equals seven human years, so that makes you only 14. I can’t give you a gin and tonic.”

“But I’m really thirsty,” says the dog. “Can you at least show me the way to the toilet?”


Why did the chicken cross the road?

The question implies that the chicken had a reason for crossing the road, and that’s an irrational application of anthropomorphism, the attribution of human characteristics to non-human entities. Either the chicken passed over the roadway for the merely random reason that if he was to walk at all, he had to walk in some direction. Or, more likely, he spotted a grain of corn or other seed on the opposite shoulder and was headed that way so he could provide himself a measure of sustenance.

As members of the bird family, chickens have very good vision, and could easily spot a kernel of corn across the street.

Most people don’t realize that.


A traveling salesman shows up at a farmer’s house and asks if he can’t rent a room for the night. The farmer responds that the only spare bed is in his daughter’s room. She’s home from college, where she’s majoring in etymology, the study of words. But as long as the salesman promises there’s no hanky-panky, the farmer will let him share the room with her.

In the middle of the night, the salesman awakes to find the daughter hovering above him, about to give him a kiss.

“What’s the meaning of this?” stammers the salesman.

“‘This’ is a grammatical word used to indicate somebody or something already mentioned or identified or something understood by both the speaker and the hearer,” responds the daughter.


Me: I have a knock-knock joke, but you have to start it.

You: Ok, knock-knock.

Me: Who’s there?

You: ?!?!?!?!?!?


The little moron shows up at his middle school guidance counselor’s office, and says he’s concerned he won’t be able to go to high school next year because he doesn’t have a ladder.

“Don’t call yourself a ‘moron,'” the counselor chides the young man. “You have learning and other developmental disabilities, possibly related to an attention deficit disorder and/or a chemical imbalance in your brain that predisposes you to hyperactivity.”

“Huh?” asks the little moron. “I have no idea what any of that means.”


What do you get when you cross Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich?

A creative and compelling argument about how homosexuality represents a hallowed feature of the American experience.


A lawyer appears in court completely disheveled. His pants leg is torn, he’s missing a shoe, and there’s a large bruise on his right cheek.

“What happened to you?” the judge demanded.

“I tripped on a banana skin out in the hallway and fell,” the attorney responded.

“That’s no excuse for showing up in my courtroom is such an awful state,” the judge answers. “I’m throwing out your case.”

“That’s too bad,” the lawyer says. “I hate to lose on appeal.”


How many husbands does it take to screw in a lightbulb?


One to select a bulb with the wrong wattage.

One to improperly unscrew the bowl from the ceiling.

One to pick an energy-efficient light when it’s obvious that brighter lumination is needed for reading at that particular location.

One to stand on a chair instead of using a perfectly good stepladder.

And one to suggest “why don’t I just blow a hole in the damn ceiling with my shotgun and we’ll call it a skylight?”


Your momma is so old, so fat and so ugly that it would be a disgrace to make fun of her condition.

Revisited: Ride, Captain, Ride

August 22, 2010
Funny story: Over the weekend, I got the bright idea I could contribute something both serious and unique to the national healthcare debate. I had, I thought, an interesting take on how we’re using so much of our money for such a small return when millions with more legitimate needs were going without basic care. I would offer my modest proposal as a healthy but aging philanthrope (don’t laugh) in a national publication (preferably The New York Times) thereby spurring discussion of a long-ignored solution and, not incidentally, awareness of my website (
I wrote out my proposal. Then I read it. Bad move — both the writing and the reading. It was supposed to be serious, but I kept feeling compelled to add wisecracks at very inappropriate points during my argument. By the end it was neither a serious think piece nor a snarky blog post. It was instead some hideous hybrid that would neither acquire me national publicity nor entertain my core base on WordPress. I might be fortunate enough to get an angry mob of seniors in my front yard but, unless they felt well enough to rake, that wasn’t going to do me much good.
So I’m not submitting the piece to The Times, and I’m not running it here on my blog.


I’m a 55-year-old who has lived a good life in contemporary America. I was born into an era when prosperity was pretty much a given for me and my cohorts. I was middle-class and male and white (still am). I’ve enjoyed all the modern conveniences and social conventions made possible by decades of innovation, creativity and a certain social cohesion. Having spent most of my years in the American Century, it’s hard to imagine having lucked into a better era of world history.

But as I’ve watched the health care debate unfold this summer, I’ve felt increasingly guilty about the resources I’ve used and, more importantly, will use in my final thirty or forty or, God forbid, fifty years. We’ve heard how end-of-life care is eating up a tremendous percentage of our national health budget, and yielding very little quality in return. Those of us in our final trimester are going to cost a fortune to maintain and, personally, I don’t think I’m worth it.

That’s why I’m promising publicly to ending my own life no later than my seventieth birthday on November 6, 2023.

As I look at that previous paragraph sitting starkly in front of me, I must admit it’s a little scary. Knowing the exact day of your death is not the most soothing feeling. Few of us contemplate when and where the end will come, but we like to carry a vague notion that it’s way out there in the distance, certainly nothing to worry about any time soon.

In another sense, though, it’s very comforting. I don’t want to spend my last weeks connected to life-sustaining machinery, toxic drugs flowing through my veins and visions of terror flowing through my mind, no matter how many loved ones are compelled to surround me. I plan to live life to its fullest up to and including that final moment, when I plunge from a cliff over a rocky Pacific shore and get swept out to sea.

Don’t want to inconvenience anyone by making them clean up after me.

By foregoing the expenses of heavily assisted living, and getting just a relatively few of my fellow Baby Boomers to join me, we should be able to free up enough funding in the national treasury to sustain those who follow us. My generation has done a number of things to improve the human condition — supporting civil rights, fostering greater tolerance, going to Woodstock — but it’s not like won a world war or anything. On balance, I’m pretty sure we’re taking more out of society than we’re putting in.

When we lament issues like the national debt and the tremendous repayment burden we’re laying on our children and grandchildren, we rarely consider that’s there something concrete we can do about it. If enough of my fellow fifty- and sixty-somethings can commit here and now to a promise that we’ll make a graceful exit when our most productive years are through, the savings could be enough give today’s young people a reasonable hope that they’ll enjoy a prosperity equivalent to ours.

The initiative I’m proposing is completely voluntary. There will be no death panels. There will be no government sponsorship or endorsement. There may be a perceived obligation to do right by our kids, but what’s wrong with that? We can even “sweeten the pot,” as it were, finding a way to incentivize enrollment by offering to make that final year one to remember. A free Mediterranean cruise, DVDs of those movies we always meant to watch, and a stash of recreational drugs would ease the pangs of early exit, and cost a whole lot less than aggressive cancer treatments.

Even more appealing to me is reducing the burden on all those vital young lives that haven’t had the chance to grow into fullness. I’m writing this piece in a grocery store café not far from my house, and watching with a smile as I see young children scurrying underfoot, college students stocking up for a Saturday night party, and young couples selecting the ingredients for a romantic dinner. It’s not a pleasant thought that they look across the aisle at this grey head of mine and see the husk of a productive member of the nation. I’d feel so much less guilty if instead they were looking at someone willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for them.

There’s nothing magic, incidentally, about the age of 70. For me, it’s just a nice round number that seems far enough in the distance so that it’s not a pressing deadline. If others want to choose a different number, that’s fine with me as long as they make the commitment to follow through.

As for the pall that could be cast as those last days approach, I think it’s just a matter of adjusting our too-unrealistic attitudes toward death. We think life is preferable just because it’s all we’ve known, not unlike growing up in rural South Carolina in the belief that that’s the best it can get. I can be convinced that the Great Beyond is simply a nothingness that’s impossible for us to comprehend; boring perhaps but far from unbearable.

I strongly urge others in my position who may read this to strongly consider joining with me in this brave and selfless enterprise. Mark yourself as among the select few who have the generosity of spirit to think about someone other than themselves for a change. If you’ve ever anguished over what’s the right birthday present to give your grandchildren, not knowing a Wii from a Webkin, consider this the perfect gift.

And comfort yourself, as I’ve done, with a song from our beloved Sixties that just played on the overhead Muzak here at the store:

I’m calling everyone to ride along/To another shore/Where we can laugh our lives away/And be free once more.

Ride Captain Ride/Upon your mystery ship/Sail away to a world/That others might have missed.