Archive for March, 2011

Revisited: There’s a party going on ’round here

March 20, 2011

It’s been a long time since I enjoyed myself at a party. The last one was probably decades ago, when I was dressed in little more than a diaper, propped in front of a few candles, drooling and babbling incoherently while my friends crawled on the floor and tried to lick the cat.

That was in college. Since then, I’ve never really been a big fan of the party scene, mainly because I’ve never been a big fan of socializing with people, and people always seem to be injecting themselves into parties, except the ones you see advertised on late-night TV that occur on the other end of a $1.95-a-minute telephone line. I hear they use GPS ladies for those (“Turn left in 500 feet. Ooh, that feels so good”).

The college parties really were the best, because they were back in the seventies, when free drugs and free love were all over the place, except in whatever room I happened to be inhabiting. In the dorm, a party was just a bunch of guys and a Friday night, and the success of the bash could only be judged the next day, as we recounted to each other what was the last thing we remembered. (After one event featuring the notorious MD 20/20, a fortified wine also known as “Mad Dog,” the last thing I remembered was a second-grade spelling bee). I wasn’t much for fraternity parties, though I did crash one undercover as “Ed Mims,” son of an astronaut training for his flight to Jupiter.

Once I left Tallahassee and moved to the Carolinas, most of the diminishing number of parties I was invited to involved co-workers, either mine or those of my wife. Both were awkward, though it actually turned out to be an advantage not knowing any of the people from Beth’s office. At least I could commiserate with the other spouses as we discussed what a great sound engineer Phil Tristam was on Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and admired the cover art over and over again.

It was at one of these events that a winsome young lady approached me and asked if wanted to “shag.” She was talking about a beach-music step that is the official State Dance of South Carolina. (We barely have a functioning State Education System but we do have a State Dance.) I thought she wanted me to accompany her to a nearby driving range to chase down golf balls.

Now, it’s 2010, I’m 56 years old, and the only people who want me to show up at their social engagement are either staging a reunion or recently passed away. I usually manage to avoid the funerals with the excuse that my suit is at the cleaners and my only other black clothing has a decal of Ozzy Osbourne on it. The reunions have been coming fast and furious lately, though since most require a flight out of town I can simply curse the unfairness of the terrorist watch list in my regrets RSVP. But one was staged within driving distance this past Sunday, and I found myself reluctantly going.

Again, it was a group of old friends from my wife’s newspaper days. These were people I had known for almost 30 years, even if that acquaintance had only comprised maybe four total hours together, unless you count the occasional random encounter at the grocery store where you slip behind the dairy case because you can’t remember their names. We were to gather at the townhouse home of the hostess, and the theme of the evening was to be soup. She’d stir up several pots of minestrone, chili and some kind of creamy green stuff, provide the wine and the salads, and we’d each bring our own soup spoons and bowls. How kicky! What fun!

We arrived a few minutes late and as I climbed the front steps, it occurred to me that I hadn’t thought through what my policy was to be on hugging. It was definitely inappropriate for the men I knew would be involved, but for the ladies, I sensed it was going to be required. Fortunately, we first met our hostess for the evening in her slightly cramped kitchen, and she was positioned on the other side of an island from me. It may not have been as large as Hispaniola, but it was big enough to keep us physically separated.

We chatted briefly in the kitchen while we collected our wine, complimented her on the fine uptown neighborhood, then admired the hardwood flooring of her living room and how many vaguely familiar people were standing on it. Gradually, we worked our way into this small group of maybe 15 people, exchanging squeals and cries of “how long has it been?” and reminders of who we are. Familiar old stories were recounted, and the laughter became more and more effortless as the alcohol took effect. We had to rein in the giggles a bit when talk inevitably turned to who had cancer and who had strokes, but otherwise I was soon so at ease that I almost fell down some stairs.

When another round of soup was introduced (“Woo-hoo! It’s chowder!”), the original groupings broke up and I found myself trapped on a couch next to a man I’ll call “Joe,” since that was his name. I knew Joe was a smoker and would soon have to excuse himself to the balcony, so I summoned my patience and listened intently as Joe told how he had just returned from a cruise in the Caribbean, and it was one of those unfortunate outings where the entire ship came down with a stomach norovirus. Joe told a lively story, right down to the watery sea spray he simulated with his sputum. I actually felt the same nausea he was describing by the time he was finished and back out on the deck, smoking like a smokestack.

During a lull in the soup, one of the basketball fans asked if anyone knew the outcome of that evening’s Duke-Baylor game. A younger crowd would’ve been able to track every dribble via their wireless devices and, though most everyone in this aging group had cell phones, most sadly used them as cell phones. So did I, as I called up my 18-year-old son and asked him to check for the score online. Within moments, I was proudly able to announce that Duke had won, according to Daniel’s internet connections, and everyone marveled at the technology that allowed a barren shell like me to have a son.

We had been advised in the invitation to ask the hostess about her ballroom dancing, and it was rapidly approaching the point in the evening (almost 8:30) where we’d soon be dozing off, so we were led downstairs to watch a video performance of Rhonda shaking her elderly thang. She had enrolled in one of those courses where fawning young male instructors taught you a few stiff steps, then gyrated madly about while you marched around smiling, occasionally raising your arms into the air and eventually being hoisted skyward by the bare-chested threesome. It was very entertaining for all the wrong reasons but the small audience that had gathered around the screen put on a good show and offered Rhonda enthusiastic congratulations.

By now, the soup was spent, the video was watched and the stories had all been told, so somebody yawned and virtually the entire room took the cue and started making their exits. I think everyone, including me, genuinely had a good time, though our definition of such had certainly changed since those days in the early eighties when we once gathered out by the dam to share several bottles of bourbon under the open sky.

Both times had earnest fellowship — something not easily come by these days — and both had alcohol, so they each qualified as parties in the technical sense. So what if this time, the dancing was all pre-recorded?

Revisited: Thoughts for a springtime Monday (even though it’s Saturday)

March 19, 2011

We recently completed a three-month long “waist reduction challenge” at my work, designed to encourage employees to lose weight and get healthy for the new year. I didn’t participate, but I’m hearing some good results reported by several of my coworkers: one of them lost a pound while another gained only two.    

I declined to be involved, primarily because I don’t care to have my weight reported on a bi-weekly basis to my supervisor. My upcoming performance review is going to be bad enough as it is without me having to hear “You’re not quite the team player we’d like you to be and, in addition, you’re a tubby.”    

The whole office celebrated the end of the challenge period on Friday with Peppermint Patty brownies and big boxes of donuts.     


I posted a piece a few months back about the variety of periodicals available on top of the commode tank in the men’s room at my office. (See if you give a crap). These are generally a mix of popular culture magazines with a few higher-brow offerings like National Geographic and Mental Floss thrown in, fairly reflective of what you might expect in the white-collar workplace.    

A week or so back, this bathroom was closed for cleaning, so I had to venture into the warehouse and use the blue-collar facilities. They’re equally clean, differing little from my usual haunt except for the curious framed sign next to the mirror warning associates not to put their feet on the wall. (Such a move would never even occur to me, so of course I had to try it. Wanted to get the full working-class experience during my visit).    

The magazine I found in this part of the building was something called Dirt Sports. At first, I thought it was about Extreme Gardening, but then read the subhead describing it as “the voice of off-road motorsports.” Apparently, driving car-like vehicles through the woods and swamps can be an intentional thing, and it’s been picked up by rural folk after the high-society crowd failed to show interest in Ted Kennedy’s seminal rally at Chappaquiddick in 1969.    

This holiday edition of the magazine featured a section on finding the “perfect holiday gift for your favorite member of the dirt sports nation.” I don’t have a favorite member of this group, unless you count the earthworm I declined to run over with my lawn mower last week, but I was still curious about some of the suggestions.    

At the top of the line was the Dunkel Ultimate Luxury Hauler, a modified Ford F750 truck with a 300 HP diesel engine and a remote-controlled tilting flatbed that can haul 8,000 pounds of “off-road exotica.” It sleeps six, seats 10, and could probably crush dozens. 

For the more economy-minded shopper, there was the Miller Arcstation, a blue metal worktable described as perfect for home welders. 

This last offering actually holds some appeal to me. I’m not exactly handy around the house, so when I have to fix a loose hinge or replace a hard-to-reach light bulb, I’d like the work to stay done for a while, and welding just might be the option for me. Maybe it’d also work on this lose crown I’ve been meaning to see the dentist about.    

Thank you, Dirt Sports magazine.    


Ever since coming off the Ambien a few weeks back, I’m able to remember my dreams again. I had a curious one the other night I thought was worth recounting.    

My mother and I were taking her car to a car wash, and planned to wait at a coffee shop while the work was done. We couldn’t find the cafe, so decided instead to go to Winn-Dixie, a now-bankrupt grocery store that used to be popular in the South. When we went for the car, the place had burned down, destroying our vehicle in the process. I don’t know how she planned to get home, but suddenly there was my father, atop a motorcycle and offering me a ride.    

“But I don’t have a helmet,” I said. He pointed out that equally effective for safety purposes was wearing a plain, old-fashioned hand-saw on your head. You simply bend the metallic part to the curvature of your skull and tape it to your cheeks.    

I wasn’t too sure about this but, since he was my father, I trusted him. We roared off down a beachfront road with me hanging on for dear life, the saw attached to my head.    

A few nights later, I also had a dream about boils.    


Someone in the lunchroom the other day said they’d finally learned how to get “screaming video” onto their desktop computer. Arrghh!    

I can’t believe they meant STREAMING video


The temps I trained a few months ago are still working on third shift. However, there seems to be a topic I forgot to cover: I neglected to tell them they aren’t supposed to sleep at their desks.    

I shudder to think of the other things I didn’t cover that they shouldn’t be doing — plotting insurrection against foreign governments, developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), painting their nails, using distributed denial-of-service attacks to bring down Pentagon computers, etc.    

I’ve gone back through all the training material I covered, as approved by our central office, and nowhere in the various processes and procedures so otherwise thoroughly documented could I find anything about staying awake while you’re collecting your paycheck. So since it wasn’t covered, the ladies are making up their own rules. One has even brought along a blanket and pillow, and seems thoroughly comfortable sprawled in the office chair in front of her terminal for several hours a night.    

I think, though, we’re going to draw the line when she pulls out the sleep mask.    


As I write this on a dreary Sunday afternoon, I’m starting to believe that the ancient Christians who made this day the weekly sabbath chose Sunday so they could fervently pray that the next day wouldn’t be Monday.    

They’d spent their one day of rest celebrating the glory of God, praising his righteous Kingdom to come here on earth, and thanking Him for sending His only son Jesus Christ to be our Savior and Lord. And they probably threw in occasional requests that, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could tomorrow possibly dawn as Saturday or even Friday? “We’d even take Judgment Day rather than going back to the fields and the mines on a Monday,” I imagine some of them implored. And yet it never happened.    

But these were people of supreme faith, so they’d try again every week, and now we have Sunday as our traditional day of prayer and worship.

Christ, I can’t believe it’s Monday already.

More stale leftovers from the mini-blog

March 18, 2011

The Bachelor is finally tapped out

TV’s “The Bachelor” finally came to its conclusion on ABC last night, not so much because Brad Womack had found the woman of his dreams, but because he had run out of words to say.

“I’ve talked and I’ve talked over the last few months, and I’ve said literally thousands of words, many of which I actually meant,” Womack told a TV audience estimated in the tens of millions. “Everyone who’s watched knows how much I hate to repeat myself, so I’ve decided this is the time to stop. I don’t know any more words.”

Womack told reporters at a press conference after the final episode had aired that his vocabulary is not terribly limited, but that in the course of various ruminations and lamentations and reflections and confessions offered since late last year, he’s said every word he knows.

“Some at least twice,” he noted. “Like ‘love’ and ‘special’ and ‘chemistry’ — boy, I bet I said them a lot.”

In last night’s finale, Womack told bride-to-be Emily Maynard that it was she who he’d selected to wed. Maybe. Eventually.

“You’re so much more to me than a leap of faith, you’re the one, Em, you’re it, you’re once in a lifetime,” Womack said. “Please let me be your best friend … please let me protect you and your beautiful daughter; please give me the opportunity to love you for the rest of your life.”

“Sure, why not?” Maynard, resplendent in a full-length white gown, responded. “Maybe it’ll finally shut you up.”

“I’m asking you to please give me your forever,” Womack pressed. “Make me happier than I have ever been in my life and marry me.”

“Alright, already,” a glowing Maynard answered. “Jeez.”

Cats mush toward Nome

The cat version of the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Race got off to a sloppy start in Anchorage, Alaska, yesterday, with teams of kitties attempting to pull their loads in dozens of different directions, none of which were anywhere near the finish line some 1,100 miles away in Nome.

Feline fanciers had long felt left out of the annual dog sled “mushing” competition, a grueling event that can last up to 15 days as teams pass through the rugged sub-Arctic wilderness. Organizers of the race, which began in 1973, argued that malamutes and huskies were much better equipped to traverse the snow pack than were common house cats. But a recent ruling by the Alaska Supreme Court required the race to create a special division in which cats could compete alongside dogs.

“But we’re drawing the line at hamsters and turtles,” said the court’s chief justice, Leonard Alexander. “Those creatures have no place in the snow.”

Once the kitty division race got underway, cats of all sizes and colors could be seen bounding through the two-foot deep snow where the trail begins just outside of Alaska’s largest city. Teams were made up of as many as 100 cats per sled, as opposed to the eight animals used in the dog division. It was hoped the larger number could provide more power to haul the 1,000-pound sleds containing a “musher” and supplies needed to set up camp along the icy trail.

Most entrants were animal hoarders, the notorious “cat ladies” who virtually turn their homes over to their beloved felines. A few teams tried to make do with far fewer animals, but these littered the trail in failure within several miles of the starting line, with the cats abandoning the effort in favor of sleep, cat treats, and more sleep.

“We hope to be in Nome by the end of the week,” said Mildred Hetherton, whose team had rushed to an early lead. “That is, if I can find a flight that doesn’t require me to check my cats as luggage.”

On Fluffy, on Puffy, on Muffy, etc., etc.

This Justin: There’s an intruder in my bedroom!

Somewhere not far from here this morning, a young girl awoke to either exquisite delight or bone-chilling horror.

I have a coworker who dotes lovingly, almost obsessively, on her daughter. I know this because she’s constantly telling us about it at the office.

“Jessica did this,” we hear, or “Jessica did that,” or occasionally, “Jessica did nothing at all — and that’s why I’m making a diorama out of a shoebox here at my desk, so she doesn’t get an ‘incomplete’ on her homework.”

For the girl’s eleventh birthday today, her mother bought her two gifts. One is a customized iPod being shipped all the way from where it was made in China. The mom has been devotedly tracking the progress of this shipment from Asia, announcing loudly on Thursday that “it’s in Hong Kong!”, then worrying Friday morning that the tsunami in Japan would waylay the delivery. By afternoon, however, her fellow employees had been assured that — disaster averted — it would arrive in the U.S. on time.

The second item is a life-sized cardboard cutout of teen singing sensation Justin Bieber. She saw it on display at a record store promoting his new album, and convinced the manager to let her buy it for her daughter, a big Bieber fan.

The plan for birthday morning was to sneak into the girl’s room while it’s still dark and set up the cardboard Justin next to her bed with the new iPod adhered to his corrugated paper body. When the daughter awoke, she’d spy the silhouette of a man-child in the shadowy light of her room and cry out either: “It’s Justin! And he has an iPod all for me!” or “Arrhhh! Mommy! Daddy! There’s an intruder in my room!”

Should it go well, I might try a similar move for my wife’s birthday in June. If only I can locate a cutout of Ralph Fiennes, her favorite actor, and figure out how to attach a selection of crocheting supplies to his two-dimensional form.

“Yikes! There’s a man in my room!” Or, “Hurray! There’s a boy in my room!”

I’m “going” — to get rich

March 17, 2011

At a time when many people are happy to have one job, I have two. My primary career is a typical 9-to-5 office job, consisting mostly of financial document analysis with a little online Scrabble and tardiness thrown in for laughs. My newer vocation began about two years ago, when boredom with the daily grind and a desire for a little extra cash spurred me to become a large lab animal.  

A local medical research outfit was looking for volunteers in a study it was doing. There was a vaccine already in widespread use among patients age 60 and older, and research was being done to see if it would be equally effective for a slightly younger population. At age 55, I was intrigued by the opportunity to be considered “slightly younger” at anything, and by the token payment that would be made to participants. I had to show up at their office in south Charlotte for a brief exam and interview, receive a next-to-painless injection, and for my effort I’d be compensated $120, and an additional $10 a month for answering a series of follow-up questions on the phone.  

I forget now what the disease was that I’d be vaccinated against. I think it was “Shingles” or “Pringles” or something like that. If I received the real medicine, which went to only half the participants in the double-blind study, I’d likely avoid developing either a painful skin rash, or breath that reaked of “pizzalicious” flavor and fingers stained with grease.  

During that first interview, I was careful to ask several probing questions, including whether I’d be probed, and whether ”double-blind” meant that I’d be losing sight in both eyes (I wouldn’t, which was good; that’d be worth way more than $180). In return, they quizzed me about my health history, whether I’d ever had any headaches and for how long I’ve been having them. I said I thought everybody had headaches at least occasionally, and I’ve been having them for as long as I could remember, which didn’t sound good, but they took me anyway.  

The rest of the test was pretty uneventful. I never experienced any negative side-effects, except one time when the automated phone-in system malfunctioned and called me a “loser”. I received a cool ten-spot every month for six months, which I unwisely invested in the subprime mortgage derivatives market, and never got any “ingle”-related symptoms.  

Then, a few days ago, I got an e-mail at my work asking if I might be interested in participating in a new study for the same research firm. “Dear Davis,” it read, ”we just wanted to let you know that we have a new study for nocturia, which is waking at least two times a night to go to the bathroom. If you’re interested in more information, please call.”  

Though the e-mail warned that this investigation would be more labor-intensive, requiring ten visits over three months and a long-term follow-up, I figured I’d easily qualify. I was indeed an over-50 non-smoker without diabetes and I did indeed sometimes need to “go” during the night, often to the bathroom though occasionally to a play.  

I sent a copy of the correspondence to the printer next to my desk which, to my horror, began spitting out obviously unrelated pages as soon as I pressed the “print” button. Two co-workers had picked this inopportune time to actually do some work, and now my shameful case of “nocturia” would be mixed in with the management compensation summaries they needed to read. It’s outrageous enough to learn that the CEO of Comcast pulled down $15 million in stock options alone in 2009, but to then learn that he also had to pee in his sleep would be simply too much information.  

I quickly jumped up and huddled menacingly over the printer, successfully screening off the ladies waiting to retrieve their report. I’m already widely regarded as the weird guy in the office, and I didn’t need any confirming documentation going into widespread release.  

A few days later I called the number to learn some of the details. I said I was a little concerned about having to make that many on-site visits considering that I’m working some long hours during our current busy season. When she heard that I worked at a real job, unlike most other 50-somethings who were long ago down-sized and now urinate for a living, she agreed that this might not be the test for me.  

“You’d have to collect all your urine for a 48-hour period to begin the study,” she said. “I’m not sure how that’d work in your office.”  

I, on the other hand, am quite sure how that would work, and it would be not well. I thanked her for her time and asked her to keep me in mind for future research, preferably any projects that didn’t involve the collection of secretions or emissions.  

After the call, though, I wondered if there might’ve been a way to make this work. Is it possible to collect all your liquid waste in a discreet vessel and, at the same time, effectively determine the opening price of an initial public offering? Or is urinating into a discarded two-liter Mountain Dew bottle while standing at your desk not what they mean by “public offering”?  

I consulted with a fellow middle-aged male who helped me bat around some ideas for how we could do our job and do our business at the same time. He suggested employing the little-used blue recycling bins that everyone has under their desks after a well-intended “green initiative” the company started a few years back. While it’s true that blue and yellow do combine to make green, I’m not sure that’s quite the kind of recycling our corporate masters had in mind. Though it might be possible to eliminate while remaining seated at your work station, the slightly distracted, blissed-out look on your face would reveal to any onlookers that you were enjoying a discussion of shareholder proposals way too much.  

I wondered about using a thermos. Andy said that’d be too small for 48 hours’ worth and, besides, I don’t think you’d really want to keep it warm. How about if you wore a non-descript backpack throughout the day, and filled it with balloons? “I figured for Casual Friday, I’d dress like I used to look back in high school,” you could say. Or maybe doing something blatantly obvious would be counter-intuitive — like one of those “beer hats” with jars attached to a construction helmet and tubes running down into your groin. I guess you’d need a pump, though, to get the liquid uphill. I’d have to run that plan by a fluid dynamics engineer.  

In the end, we agreed that none of these options were likely practical, and finally gave up hope of getting a vaccine that would guarantee we’d never pee again.  

(Wait — how about using a Pringles can?!)  

The sign says “Color Paper Only,” but surely a little urine won’t hurt

Fake News: Recent quakes may be related

March 16, 2011

LONDON (Mar. 15) — Fears that a rash of earthquakes around the world may signal an impending geological cataclysm were debunked by a British scientist yesterday. However, he made the startling announcement that there is a connection between the quakes that could be even more frightening.

The common cause of major seismic events in Haiti, Chile, New Zealand and Japan: fat guys falling down.

“Improbable as it may seem, we now believe that temblors of this magnitude have their origins with morbidly obese men losing their balance and toppling to the ground,” said Robert Holdsworth, an expert in tectonics at Durham University. “We’ve analyzed all the data and the results are very clear. Earthquakes are being caused by fat guys falling down.”

“It’s not some fundamental weakening of the earth’s crust like you might see in a disaster movie,” Holdsworth said. “Instead, it’s the far more widespread problem of overweight people rising from their specially reinforced beds only to stumble and fall. This could happen anywhere, even in areas previously thought to be free of seismic activity.”

Holdsworth said the falling fatties don’t directly cause the subsequent quake, but instead create a shock wave that destabilizes the earth’s plates, which absorb the blow for a few brief hours before undergoing a massive shift. It’s this delay that prevented a quicker connection being made between the shocks that have rocked the globe since last year.

“The final confirmation came with a compilation of security videos from the sites of this year’s biggest quakes,” Holdsworth said. “In every case, we’ve found that the faults gave way not long after a camera somewhere nearby captured images of a fat guy falling down.”

A recent pre-dawn quake in eastern Turkey, which measured 6.0 on the Richter scale, came after the previous evening’s huge Thanksgiving dinner tipped several revelers over the 600-pound mark. With “turkey day” celebrated daily in this part of Asia Minor, it was only a matter of time before someone became drowsy from all the carbohydrates and fell over.

The monster 8.8-magnitude temblor that rocked Chile last February followed closely on the heels of an empanada-eating contest in Santiago where part of the stage collapsed under the weight of the contestants.

“I think they were also eating chili rellenos in a preliminary event,” Holdsworth said, “but that might be the other kind of chili and possibly unrelated.”

“However, it’s no coincidence that Turkey and Chile — two countries with the same name as foods — were hard-hit. Based on this, we advise an immediate evacuation of Samoa, because of the Girl Scout cookie connection,” he added.

The most devastating earthquake of all in 2010 was the January disaster in Haiti. This event initially threw investigators off the trail, since so many people in that poor Caribbean nation are undernourished.

“But we found a video of what may have been the only fat guy in the entire country and, sure enough, he fell down only 90 minutes before the 7.0-magnitude shock,” Holdsworth said.

The geologist admitted that while his study showed a terrifying trend, there is something positive that people can do to prevent future events, short of hunting down the overly plump and physically dismantling them.

“A carefully planned system of municipal trusses, hammocks and trampolines, scattered throughout an endangered city, could catch some of falling fat guys, absorbing just enough of the jolt to prevent a major quake,” Holdsworth said. “It would take a monumental effort, but it’s got to be easier than improving the balance of the lard-bottomed.”

Ideas for a revamped NPR

March 15, 2011

NPR’s Robert Siegel is interviewing Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim cleric out to destroy America by building a mosque in downtown New York. Rather than reach across the table to strangle the Islamic extremist, Siegel is asking him a question.

“Was your choice to build your Islamic cultural center so close to Ground Zero designed to make a statement about religious freedom in America, or was it simply due to the propinquity of the Manhattan real estate market?” Siegel asks.

It’s just this type of attitude, and this type of vocabulary, that has all right-thinking Americans up in arms about federal funding for National Public Radio and its blatantly liberal bias. “Propinquity?” What kind of word is that? We’re proud to say that most people’s common-man, everyday speech patterns barely recognize the words “National,” “Public” and “Radio,” much less a word like “propinquity”.

Presuming that the listening public knows big words with a “q” in the middle of them is a large part of what has brought on the initiative in the Republican-controlled House to cut funding to NPR. An educated citizenry may well be the key to maintaining our democratic ideals, but that’s only true in the civics textbooks we’re currently in the process of banning from our public schools.

America can easily get by on several hundred words to engage in the political debate needed at this turning point in our nation’s history. Our Founding Fathers were perfectly comfortable using terms like “cat” and “Sally” and “Spot” to frame our constitutional principles, and we should be equally at ease using simple words in our public discourse today.

Proponents of public radio continue to claim that they present the news of the day in a straightforward manner, tilting neither right nor left. Then how come they have correspondents with names like Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, Ira Flatow and Lakshmi Singh? If they hired the occasional Bob Smith or Mary Jones, maybe they wouldn’t be facing the opposition they’re currently seeing.

Rather than slash funding completely and obliterate this elitist stream of progressive thought from the public airways, some have suggested reform may be the best solution.

“There may be a need for public radio. I guess somebody has to be there to broadcast the occasional farm report,” said Fox News vice president of communications Allen Cutter. “As an executive for a communications company that actually makes money, I might offer some suggestions on changes in programming that could lessen the leftist impact.”

Cutter said many current shows could be slightly re-branded in a way that would put them more in line with the opinions of conservative Americans.

“Why must it be ‘All Things Considered’?” Cutter asked. “Why can’t it be ‘Some Things Considered’? There’s a lot going on in the world today that’s not really worthy of our consideration. If we ignore foreign cultures and strange ideas, studies have shown that these tend to go away.”

Cutter also proposed other changes to some of the more popular shows on public radio. He suggests turning “Morning Edition” into “Morning Sedition,” and making it a time slot where anti-government fanatics can vent their rage against the federal system. He’d like to see the popular Saturday afternoon cooking show “Splendid Table” turned into “Splendid Cable,” and make it an outlet for those wanting to praise the efforts of networks such as Fox. The Friday feature of “Talk of the Nation” known as “Science Friday” could be moved earlier in the week and renamed “Voodoo Tuesday,” with guests discussing creationism, conspiracy theories and their experiences with alien probes.

“There’s at least one show I’d leave just like it is, though,” Cutter said. “I think ‘Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me’ accurately sums up our intellectual outlook, and should remain on the schedule. Besides, that Carl Kasell is an absolute hoot.”

Cutter had one more change in mind he’d make for a newly revamped NPR.

“We’d need to move its location from the far left end of the radio dial to well right of center,” he suggested. “Those lower-numbered channels could be returned to the Soviets, where they belong.”

I like being unhappy, but this is ridiculous

March 14, 2011

Let me warn you right up front, I am not in a funny mood today.

I’m right in the midst of a five-day span of trials and tribulations. Normally, I would like these things. As a lapsed-but-still-brainwashed Lutheran, I tend to thrive in the bad times and struggle in the good.

Usually, I find nothing more enjoyable than getting up at 4 a.m., slogging through a difficult day at work, running half a dozen pedestrian errands on the way home, then knocking myself out physically with a two-mile jog around the neighborhood. Only when I’m done with this self-imposed torture am I ready to sit back and relax for an hour or so before bed, confident in the knowledge that I’ve accomplished something.

I tend to be at my most uncomfortable when it would appear to the casual observer that I’m having fun. I still remember going for an early-morning stroll in downtown San Francisco during a 1988 vacation there, and despairing over my good fortune. My wife and I had just spent a glorious week in Napa Valley and were now preparing to see the sites in the City by the Bay. I faced a full day ahead of riding on cable cars, taking a boat ride out to Alcatraz, and wrapping it up with dinner and shopping at Fisherman’s Wharf, yet I was certifiably miserable. I longed to be one of those federal prisoners restricted forever to The Rock. I bet they could get a lot done during those long days of solitary confinement.

I’ve often wondered if I have a condition known in obscure psychiatric circles as “anhedonia.” This is a disorder characterized by the inability to experience pleasurable emotions from normally pleasurable life events such as eating, exercise, social interaction and sexual activities. I hope I do suffer from anhedonia; it would make me feel good to feel so bad.

Anyway, back to my current issues. It all began Friday, when I noticed an itching sensation on my left shoulder. When I checked in the mirror, I could see an irregularly shaped dark brown area, flaked on the surface and inflamed around the edges. It had all the hallmarks of a skin cancer. I made an appointment with the doctor, who was able to see me during my lunch break.

“That does look kind of funky,” said young Dr. Anapurna, offering a clinical diagnosis I don’t typically hear from my regular 50-something doctor.

After reassuring me it was “probably nothing to worry about,” he ran through the various scenarios of what we could and should do.

“I’d say ten-to-one it’s not a cancer, maybe even fifty-to-one,” he said. “These other moles you have, they’re probably more like a thousand-to-one.”

When he brought his thoughts back from Vegas, we discussed the two most likely options for treatment: cutting it out or freezing it off.

“I’ve got to tell you about the cutting option, mainly because of the lawyers,” he confided. “If it ends up being something worse, I’d need to be covered.”

He then launched into a story about what was probably the worst that could happen, which was that it could be left untreated and, even though benign, could spread to a larger area.

“I once treated a gay gentleman who had one of these on his butt and before it was done, it had spread to both cheeks,” he said. “He basically had no butt left.”

I asked if the freezing option could be done today and, when he said that it could, I went with that choice.

“Of course, you know we’ll lose the part that would be biopsied, and if it comes back, we’ll have lost time in treating it more aggressively,” he said. “Odds are, though, that freezing will do the trick.”

He left briefly, then returned with what looked like an aerosol can of deodorant. Containing liquid nitrogen, I supposed it would be pretty damn effective against underarm odor but, at $220 a pop, not especially affordable. He sprayed the spot on my upper arm for about a minute and we were done. So now I have shoulder cancer to worry about for the next month or so.

The next day was Saturday, and I’m sure it took place, but I’d have to take your word for it because I slept for virtually the entire day. It might’ve been a bright spring day outside, however I spent most of my time unconscious, recovering from a week of long hours at work.

Yesterday — Sunday — I spent most of the day preparing for my meeting this week with the tax accountant who would help me with this year’s filing. I go through the same anxiety-filled afternoon every year, certain that there’s some key bit of paperwork I won’t have or some critical deductible I’ll overlook. The floor of my home office was covered with different piles, as I sorted through a shoebox full of receipts and statements. This batch was phone bills, here were Form 1099s, these are proof of charitable deductions and these are business expenses. About halfway through the sort, two of our cats chased each other through the room, and where order had once been, there was now disarray. I wondered if the IRS would accept “my cats had the rips” as a legitimate reason why I had defrauded the federal government of thousands of dollars.

Around dinner time, I completed my preparations and was able to turn to a different kind of prep — the drinking of noxious fluids my young cousin had to do in advance of his colonoscopy this morning. Poor David has been struggling with a chronic GI disorder for several years now, and it was time once again for his doctor to take a peek and see exactly what’s going on inside. As he drank glass after glass of the vile yet fruity potion, David’s trips to the bathroom became more and more frequent. Each time, we had to ask for a report on the results.

“Clear yet?” my wife or I would inquire.

“Groan,” David would respond. “Isn’t that kind of personal?”

Finally, David reached a point of clarity that we figured would satisfy his doctor, and we were able to allow him some sleep, at least until 4:30 this morning when he had to be up and ready to leave for the drive downtown for his 6 a.m. appointment.

As I write this, I’m just about to leave my work to join him and my wife at the hospital. (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I was called in at 2 a.m. this morning to proofread an “emergency” proxy statement). We’ll spend several hours in the waiting room, eager to hear the doctor’s report, and then poor David will be transported to another area of the facility to have a painful adjustment of a permanent IV line that helps supplement his nutrition. This will make returning to the drudgery of my office seem like a treat.

Finally, tomorrow (Tuesday) will be the meeting with the CPA, where I’ll proudly lay out the fruits of my Sunday labors, and he’ll tell me I wasted my time collecting this, I need to gather more documentation for that, and why is there cat hair all over my W-2?

“The feds are cracking down on returns containing any trace of animal dander,” he’ll probably inform me. “Your kitties are just asking that you be audited.”

By Tuesday night, I’ll finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and can happily return from these depths of despair to a more sustainable level of gloom. I look forward to seeing you on the other side.

Revisited: When I at last rule Ireland

March 13, 2011

Family legend has it that, if the monarchy is ever restored to Ireland, it is I who shall be king. I’m not sure how historically accurate that tale is, or what the likelihood is that such a regressive political system would ever be re-adopted or, if it did, where I’d go to fill out the application and take the pre-employment drug screening.

And who would crown me? The most prominent Irishman I can think of today is Bono, and I see him more as a usurper than a kingmaker. I imagine I’d have him and everyone else in U2 imprisoned. And not just because of that last album.

I bring this up today because of the St. Patrick’s holiday we’re about to celebrate, and because I want people to know what kind of a ruler I’d be. I’d be wise, kind and beneficent, since I read somewhere that that’s what all the best kings are. (I’m not even sure what “beneficent” is, but I think it has something to do with soluble fiber). I’d be stern yet kindly, generous yet thrifty, regal but also a regular guy. (I already have “regal” on my resume, so no changes necessary there).

I’d sit around the castle all day working on my blog, through which my various decrees would be issued. Most of these imperial imperatives would be quite reasonable. Common sense would undergird my philosophy, and yet I’d reserve the right to keep the Irish people on their toes by crossing them up every now and then with the occasional bizarre request.

Here’s a first draft of some commands I’m already working on:

–Stop hitting your brother (or sister)
–Do not go gentle into that good night
–Have it your way
–Hand me that stapler
–Get a jump on your 2010 tax return by filing TODAY
–Eat more chikken
–All thee born of noble parentage, ye shall help me move into my new apartment this weekend
–No more monster trucks
–The new MSN is coming
–Look younger and slimmer in seconds
–Everybody, keep an eye out for my cell phone — I think I lost it
–You go, girl

Finally, while my rule may be enlightened by historic standards, I will be very strict about the necessity of wearing green to honor St. Patrick’s Day. Those who disobey will be pinched, then shot.


And now, a gift unto my people. The following is a reprint of the biography of our hallowed Irish saint written for last year’s holiday.

It’s easy to forget that St. Patrick was a living, breathing person before he became better known as a Day and a Parade. Few people know much about him as a regular guy, so this seems like a good opportunity to take a look back through the ancient mists of time at who exactly he was.

Born as the unpronounceable Patricius Daorbae – he didn’t acquire the nickname “Saint” until later in his life – he was the son of wealthy Briton parents. The exact year of his birth is unknown, with some speculation putting his lifespan from 340 to 460 A.D., though most now believe he couldn’t have survived to be 120 with the pre-socialized healthcare system of ancient Britain. Although his father was a Christian deacon, it has been suggested that he took on the role for tax reasons rather than because he believed in anything in particular. That is actually true.

After a relatively uneventful childhood knocking around Wales and doing all the things that other Welsh children did at the time (trying to sacrifice each other, etc.), Patrick was taken captive at age 16 by a group of Irish raiders who had attacked his family’s estate. In a process strikingly similar to today’s NFL draft, Patrick was selected and transported back to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity, eventually becoming a first-team all-pro herdsman.

Despite his skill in the position, he wasn’t particularly happy. He was constantly outdoors and away from people, lonely and afraid, and morbidly scared of sheep. It was at this time that he turned to religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian and dreaming of converting the Irish people to Christianity. Only later would he realize how convenient it would’ve been to actually learn the Irish language, which would come in handy in his eventual attempts at converting them.

Patrick escaped from his captors after a voice, which he believed to be God’s, spoke to him in a dream and told him it was time to leave Ireland (at least that’s what he thought “baa baa” meant in Irish). He walked more than 200 miles from where he was held in County Mayo – later scholars believe he may have taken a cab – to the Irish coast where he found a boat that was able to transport him back to Britain. Back in the land of his birth, he had a second revelation from an angel who told him in a dream to return to Ireland as a missionary. Longing to be through with the back and forth across the Irish Sea, he began a religious study that lasted 15 years before his ordination as a priest and his return to the Emerald Isle.

Already somewhat familiar with the Irish culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. Since the Irish were used to honoring their pagan gods with fire, Patrick introduced them to the concept of the Bunny. They also viewed the sun as a powerful symbol so he grafted it onto a cross. Purists back in Rome probably would’ve had a fit if they’d known about all this accommodation, which probably inspired Patrick to develop his theology of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Surprisingly little is known about the details of his ministry. No link can be made between Patrick and any specific church. The Irish monastery system evolved after his time, as did the model of the church that Patrick had tried to establish. It is known that he had a way with the ladies, converting many wealthy women to Christianity, including some who became nuns.

His position as a foreigner was not an easy one. His refusal to accept gifts and protection from the powerful left him outside the normal ties of kinship, fosterage and affinity, and without whatever that was, he was sometimes beaten, robbed and put in chains. The Druids offered their impression of how Patrick and other Christian missionaries were seen by those hostile to them:

Across the sea will come Adze-head, crazed in the head,

His cloak with hole for the head, his stick bent in the head.

He will chant impieties from a table in the front of his house;

All his people will answer: “so be it, so be it.”

(Sounds a little like a mashup between James Joyce and Bono.)

Patrick is believed to have died some time in the 460’s, coincidentally enough on March 17, which is now celebrated as his day.

Modern scholars debate whether in fact there may have been more than one individual who became tied into the legend that became St. Patrick. According to the so-called “Two Patricks Theory,” many of the traditions later attached to St. Patrick were originally ascribed to Palladius, a deacon from Gaul who was sent to Ireland by the Pope. Additional early missionary work was done by Auxilius, Secundius and Iserninus, so there may actually have been close to a six-pack of Patricks, which would somehow be appropriate.

That might explain how he was able to spend so much time not understanding the Irish language while still mixing in the job of driving the snakes from Ireland (talk about multi-tasking). The snake story, perhaps the best known of the Patrick legends, may have been symbolic, since post-glacial Ireland never had snakes. Because of the serpent symbolism of the Druids, it may in fact represent the expulsion of pagan beliefs. He was also known to carry an ashwood walking stick that he would thrust into the ground wherever he was evangelizing, and supposedly his message took so long to get through to the people that the stick had taken root by the time he was done. I’ve sat through enough Christian sermons in my time to believe this legend might actually be true.

Patrick is said to be buried at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down, which seems appropriate for such a downer of a guy. He shares a graveyard with St. Brigid of Kildare and St. Columba, who are also considered patron saints of Ireland. All will be covered by a thick carpet of green, green grass to celebrate today’s holiday.

Revisited: Aren’t you glad I didn’t say orange?

March 12, 2011

The orange and I go way back. I grew up in Miami, so I have many fond memories of this refreshing fruit — walking past the bakery that made orange cakes, the smell of the groves as my family drove up the Florida Turnpike, the carefully sectioned after-school snack prepared by my mother from the tree in our own backyard. Then there were all those barefoot summers when my skin turned a bright precancerous orange.  

Citrus was our tropical icon. It represented a primary reason my family and others had abandoned the north for a life among the fruits. It was the perfect symbol for being a Floridian, its thick, leathery skin so similar to those pioneers who cleared the swamps and built the railroad, those alligators that still thrived in the roadside canals, and that Gloria Estefan.  

Oranges were so cheap and plentiful in southern Florida that when they couldn’t be properly disassembled by a responsible adult, we kids would just cut a hole in the top, then suck out the juice and discard the rest. To this day, I drink OJ with my breakfast every morning without fail, except for the month I spent in India on business where they thought watermelon nectar was an adequate substitute. Silly Asians.  

The orange doesn’t give up its sweet sunny taste easily. I typically eat the flesh only when it’s been carefully extracted by a hired hand and put into a fruit salad. Some varieties have been bred to make it slightly easier to get inside, though that convenience is often traded for taste. Those bastards the tangerines come closest to attaining a proper balance, yet I feel like a traitor to my homeland to consort with such mutants.  

Recently at work, management has brought out various food pellets to encourage us to work longer and harder during our busy season without needing to leave the room for nourishment. (I half-expect a Porta-John to appear soon next to my cubicle, so other biological needs can also be taken care of with equal convenience). In addition to the candies, donuts and meth-infused lollipops, we’re also given fresh fruit to spur on our activity levels. Among these are several bags of oranges, so I thought I’d revisit my youth and try to eat one whole.  

The following photographs chronicle my attempt:  

The uncut orange stands proud and defiant. “Just try to get inside me,” it seems to say.
Removing the skin by hand is awkward and, if you have any open paper cuts, extremely painful.
Attempts to peel with a knife quickly deteriorate into a stabbing (insert OJ joke here).
If you succeed at all using conventional methods, you’re left with a tiny sphere of flesh and a lot of wasted orange juice.
GODDAM ORANGE! Running it over with a truck may prove to be the best option for reaching that sweet, tangy interior.

Finally, the interior is laid bare and I can pick the juicy morsels from among the gravel of the parking lot. Now all I have to deal with are the seeds, membranes reminiscent of discarded condoms, and stringy white hairs that serve as the fruit’s last defense. 

Orange, if you didn’t want to be eaten, why did you have to be so difficult to master?

Highlights from the mini-blog

March 11, 2011

Please enjoy the following highlights from my mini-blog,

Charlie Sheen’s last performance review

Charlie Sheen’s dismissal yesterday from the cast of “Two and a Half Men” caught members of the Warner Brothers’ human resources department by surprise.

“We just did his performance review last month,” said Jim Boggles, the local rep for the Hollywood office. “While his evaluation wasn’t off-the-charts great, it didn’t show the depth of negative issues we’ve seen in the last few weeks. Maybe he was keeping on his good behavior until after the review was completed, then just decided to let loose.”

Boggles released results of the evaluation to the press in response to a Freedom of Useless Information Act (FUIA) request. He noted that the five assessment categories ran from “unsatisfactory” at the negative end of the scale, then on to “developing,” “proficient” and “high performing,” with “role model” at the high end of the range.

“He was recommended for a 2% merit increase, which is standard for an evaluation of this type,” Boggles said. “However, because he was already at the high end of the pay range for his position, which we identify internally as ‘Actor 3,’ he would actually see only a 1.2% raise.”

Sets and exceeds goals in the workplace – Developing

Supports high performance through coaching and feedback – Proficient

Acts quickly in response to business needs – Unsatisfactory

Ensures internal and external customer expectations are met – Developing

Acts in accordance with all company policies – Unsatisfactory

Makes and keeps commitments to team members – Developing

Demonstrates teamwork across department boundaries –Proficient

Actively encourages and supports new ideas and change – High Performing

Develops and shares creative solutions to getting work done – Role Model

Adheres to all safety guidelines (including proper handling of hazardous waste) — Proficient

Supports safety committee and participates in safety initiatives – Developing

Completes work with quality in mind; minimal errors and waste – Unsatisfactory

Conveys information clearly, concisely, and in a timely manner – High Performing

Effectively expresses ideas/concepts verbally and in writing – Role Model

Punctual and has satisfactory attendance with existing attendance policy – Duh. Also, tardy a lot.

In the space for Associate Input, Sheen wrote “I have a different constitution. I have a different brain. I have a different heart. I got tiger blood, man.”

Print journalism continues its sad decline

As a former newspaper reporter, I’m as chagrined as anyone about the decline of print journalism.

Our once-great newspapers have shrunk in both size and coverage in the face of economic pressures and the migration of their readership to the Internet. Civil debate on the editorial pages has been replaced by right-wing screeds posing as letters to the editor, blaming President Obama for everything from the spike in gas prices to Charlie Sheen’s haircut. Investigative journalism is as hard to find as newspaper reporters themselves. Lucrative classified ad revenue has all but disappeared with the rise of Craigslist and the increasing number of telephone poles that lost-dog flyers can be nailed onto.

But there are other causes for the decline. As much as I hate the eye strain associated with reading my news online, at least the words are legible. That can’t be said for the print edition of Sunday’s Charlotte Observer, which arrived at the end of my driveway during a heavy rainstorm. By the time I retrieved it from its puddle when I got home from work, it looked like this …

The newsprint had collected so much water that it bulged through the plastic bag that was supposed to protect it. We sat it on the railing hoping it might dry out enough to at least retrieve a few coupons, but as the decomposed paper dripped in pieces to the deck below, a papier-mache project began to appear. My wife brought the sodden mass inside to sit on top of the dryer, though we eventually had to give up on it.

Earlier in the weekend, I brought home a copy of The New York Times from my trip to the coffeeshop. Fortunately, I had finished most of it by the time I had placed it on our kitchen counter. When I returned to finish off the sports section, I saw this …

It’s not just young readers who are using new media and methods to get their news. Our male tabby Tom was sitting squarely on the front page, absorbing details about the unrest in Libya, the surge in Afghanistan and more troubles for the housing market through his butt. Like the thermometer inserted rectally to get a truer reading of body temperature, Tom is doing his part to be sure he receives what’s left of the daily paper in as pure and accurate a form as possible.

Please, knock it off with the inside jokes

“That sounds like something Bob from Ontario would say to his favorite sweatshirt.”

(Audience laughs hysterically while viewers at home turn to fellow family members and ask, “Huh?”)

Let me make it clear at the outset that I’m a huge fan of David Letterman. We’re both grumpy. We’re both runners. We both have a dry, sarcastic sense of humor. Both our names start with “D-A-V-I” and end with “M-A-N”. I haven’t yet had a quintuple heart bypass operation or sexually harassed my staff, but I’m working on it.

So it hurts me to note that I’m terribly annoyed when Dave and others of his late-night ilk open their shows with inside jokes that everybody in the studio gets, but nobody at home does.

As I understand it, all these talk show hosts typically have a “warm-up” session with their audience before the cameras start rolling. It’s a chance to introduce themselves to the crowd in a casual setting, so that any murmurs of “he’s older than he looks on TV” can be dispensed with before they’re murmured in unison to millions watching at home across the nation.

Sometimes, as much as the first two to three minutes of the opening monologue are taken up with these jokes. Dave will say “… and his wife Marge thinks he’s signed up for the space shuttle” and they’ll cut to a grainy couple sitting in the third row whose delight at being mentioned can’t be contained without gales of laughter.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting on my couch waiting for some actual comedy to start happening.

Dave, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and any other Jimmy I might have omitted, I implore you: Please knock it off before those cows from the Philippines wearing scarves around their necks while shopping online at for a DVD of the second season of “Full House” because they’ve looked and looked and looked for it on eBay but can’t locate it anywhere find themselves drowning in the Mariana Trench.