Archive for July, 2011

Revisited: You can lead a cat to water…

July 31, 2011

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my responsibility to keep our three indoor cats fed. Today, I’m writing about how we keep them watered.

Obviously, I’m running out of topics.     

While watering cats might sound like a fun gardening game, it’s actually quite the real-life challenge to many pet owners. With no lips to speak of and a chronic inability to use a straw, cats rely instead on little nodules built into their tongues to capture drinking water. It’s an inefficient method that requires a prolonged lapping motion to access the same amount of liquid we humans can get in a single gulp.     

You try drinking with just your tongue nodules. It’s not easy.     

So, many cat owners face the unsettling site of their kitty standing front paws in the kitchen sink, back sides high in the air, tonguing desperately at the few drips falling out of the faucet. Conveniently forgetting that they’ve been domesticated for about 5,000 years, they’ve reverted to past primitive lives lived outdoors, where fresh-running streams provided a better-tasting source of refreshment than did stagnant pools of rainwater. They might have a dish full of liquid in the laundry room, crammed between their litter box and the noisy washing machine, but they recognize the superior ambience of the sink and do their drinking there.     

I know cats are supposed to be immaculately clean creatures, famous for spending days at a time doing nothing more than bathing themselves. Still, I’m not comfortable with their mouths slobbering all over the same spigot I use to get my water. And I know the company we’re having over for dinner is similarly uncomfortable.     

I’ve heard from friends about so-called drinking fountains for cats, so we decided to check them out. We went to the local PetSmart store to see about buying one.     

PetSmart is a wonderful pet supply franchise with locations throughout the country. It’s a big warehouse-style establishment whose most distinctive feature is that it allows customers to bring animals shopping with them. You’d have to be blind to get away with this in Sears — just as you probably have to be blind to even set foot inside a Sears — but at PetSmart all of God’s creatures are welcome, as long as they’re accompanied by a human with a credit card.     

My wife, son and I entered the store on a recent Saturday to be greeted by a live pig. (“What is this, Walmart?” my son joked). It was one of those fancy domesticated pigs owned by people so enlightened and so unique that not just any pet is good enough for them, it has to be both smarter than a dog and offer more bacon than a parakeet. Other customers gathered excitedly around the bow-bedecked swine to pet and admire him. Their dogs stood close by, drooling expectantly and wondering when the pig-pickin’ would start.     

Large signs hanging from the ceiling directed customers to individual pet categories — dogs, cats, birds, fish, etc. We headed toward the cat department, stepping around all kinds of canines at virtually every turn. Though PetSmart claims all pets are welcome, there was not a visiting cat to be seen anywhere. I’d be tempted to organize a sit-in to protest this discrimination if the store had a lunch counter and you could get cats to sit still at it. We swallowed hard to look past the blatant pro-dog, anti-cat bias, and found our way to the aisle containing what you’d normally call “tableware” (dishes, bowls, placemats, etc.) except that these would be placed on a floor in the utility room.     

There were several models of drinking fountain in three different price ranges. We read about the features of each, not really sure what was a plus and what was a minus. We’d hoped to find one that was battery-powered but all of them used electric cords. Some had reusable filters, some had visible water reservoirs, some allowed you to grow grass on the lid. We settled on the mid-range model because it promised “no assembly required” and took it home to what we anticipated would be an eager reception from Harriet, Taylor and Tom.

Well, it’s now almost three weeks later, and the Drinkwell Platinum fountain has received mixed reviews at best from its end-users. None of them had the slightest idea what the contraption was when we first set it up, so we proceeded with a makeshift training program designed to explain how fresh, flowing water would both taste good and improve their urinary tract function. Taylor, generally regarded as the brightest of the three, eventually caught on when we held his snoot near the stream and made a splashing sound with our fingers. He drinks from the fountain now about half the time. Harriet, far older and more set in her ways, never did much sink-drinking to begin with and continues to get her liquids however she’s managed all along (probably from the toilet). 

Tom is our feisty tabby, the cat most recently brought into domestication from the wild outdoors and, as by far the largest of the trio, the most intrusive in the sink. We gave him a demo similar to what Taylor received, but he didn’t seem to catch on. We gently pressed his face toward the small pond, trying to wet his lips without wetting his nose, which is no easy feat if you’ve ever studied the anatomy of the typical cat face. It could’ve been a small nuclear reactor as far as Tom was concerned — all he knew was that it made a slight hum and it was something we actually wanted him to use, so he wanted no part of it. 

I tried some more basic, remedial training. Maybe he’d get the idea by looking at the picture on the box. 

“See, Tom, here’s a cat, and here’s his tongue dipping into the water,” I pointed out. 

Tom said nothing. 

“Look, Tom, it’s a picture of the fountain just like we have in the other room, and this cat is drinking fresh, delicious water from it,” I continued. 

Still no response. 

“And if you’ll look closely at the price sticker on top of the box, you’ll see that we spent $79.99 on this device, and that’s not counting sales tax,” I persevered. 

Tom seemed temporarily intrigued, but all he really wanted to do was bite my pointing finger. Which he did. 

A thirsty and confused kitty

So we’re not sure we’re going to keep the drinking fountain after all. PetSmart promised a money-back guarantee on the purchase, and if there’s no improved participation from our cats by the weekend, we’ll probably be taking it back. Tom still prefers to get his water from the dripping faucet in the kitchen sink, and as long as he and the others are well-hydrated, I guess we’re going to have to accept that. 

But I’ll bet you anything that pig would know what to do.

Revisited: Three things I hate

July 30, 2011

A lot of people say there’s too much hate in the world today. I say it’s just directed at the wrong things. Instead of hating other races, other countries and other religions, we should focus on the particular entities that have done us wrong.

Here are a few that I vehemently oppose.

I hate watermelon

Maybe it’s a contempt for the familiar, considering I grew up in a melon-inundated south Florida. Maybe it’s the fact that few other fruits are as physically imposing, so dangerous if dropped that they can break your foot. Maybe it’s the rugged rind, the sticky juice or all those seeds.

Or maybe it’s that it tastes like a cucumber soaked overnight in a cocktail of artificial sweetener, Red Bull and urine.

I ate enough watermelon as a kid to know that I hate it as an adult. It’s supposed to be healthy, containing as much as 92% water, but so does the Gulf of Mexico and you don’t see people drinking that in. It has many hidden vitamins in its rind, which most people avoid eating due to its unappealing flavor (the rind is reputedly even worse than the flesh). It stimulates the body’s production of nitric oxide, thought to relax the blood vessels, much like Viagra does. Still, I’d rather be dehydrated, undernourished and flaccid than eat watermelon.

A suburban legend of my youth was that a kid once got a watermelon seed stuck in his nose, and it took root in the nutrient-rich “soil” of his nostrils. Because the melon can grow so fast, he woke up the next morning with a huge swelling in the center of his face. Doctors at first thought it was a brain tumor, then were even more horrified to learn it was a watermelon, growing right there in his sinuses. They conducted emergency surgery on the poor boy, then had a picnic right there in the operating room, literally enjoying the fruit of their labor.

On my first trip to India, I endured a 36-hour plane ride, off-the-chart jet lag, and the culture shock that comes from encountering unimaginable poverty, intense heat, overcrowding, card-carrying lepers, and the smell of a sewage river next door. But that was nothing compared to what I came upon at my first breakfast. I asked for my usual OJ, and was told that all they had was watermelon juice. There would be no mystical experience of the subcontinent for me. Hundreds of millions of people living in third world squalor is one thing; drinking a liquefied melon first thing in the morning is quite another.

Fun facts about the massive green orb — that it was declared the official state vegetable by a confused Oklahoma state senate, that it is hollowed out and used as a football helmet by fans of football’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, that it can now be grown in square and pyramid shapes — do little to mitigate its status on my list of the most loathsome things in the world.

Ever see David Letterman pitch a truckload of watermelons off the seventh floor of his New York studio? I’m with Dave.

I hate Black Oak Arkansas

I arrived back at the office after lunch Friday, and was honored to have my position as the King of Music Trivia once again confirmed. A debate had arisen in my absence about who recorded the seventies hit “Jim Dandy,” also known as “Jim Dandy to the Rescue.”

“I bet Davis will know,” said Donna and, regrettably, I did. It was the Southern rock band known as Black Oak Arkansas.

I then proceeded to internally hum the timeless chorus — Jim Dandy to the rescue/Jim Dandy to the rescue/Jim Dandy to the rescue/Go Jim Dandy, go — for the rest of the afternoon.

If you’ve never heard this band’s distinctive growling, whining, falsetto style, it may be simply enough to know a little about the group. They formed in 1965 in Black Oak, Ark., and promptly stole their first amplifier system from the local high school. Convicted of grand larceny and sentenced in absentia to 26 years in prison, they fled to the hills to “refine” their musical style, doubtless influenced by the baying hounds that continued searching for them.

By 1969, they had moved on to Memphis, Tenn., and signed a deal with Stax Records. Their debut album, which fortunately is almost impossible to find, is described as representative of their interests in psychedelia, Eastern spiritualism and the Southern Baptist church. They eventually ended up in Los Angeles and toured extensively, gaining a reputation as an impressive live act despite questionable grooming habits.

The year 1973 was a rough one for this country. The last American troops staggered out of Vietnam. The Watergate scandal began to unfold. Lon Cheney, Lyndon Johnson and “Dagwood and Blondie” creator Chic Young died. And a song so upbeat you’d think the singer was meth-addled reached number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Jim Dandy” had arrived, and he was urgently in need of someone to rescue.

Fortunately, less-than-stellar subsequent releases combined with the nation’s return to relative sobriety to rob “BOA” of its momentum. They faded into obscurity for the next ten years. For their obligatory eighties revival, they were kind enough to record a song called “I Want a Woman with Big Titties,” which quickly sent them back to their deserved place in the shadows.

I hate the immigration officials at Colombo airport in Sri Lanka

In 2007, I made my first visit to the beautiful nation of Sri Lanka (nickname: “India Lite”). I was to spend three weeks training employees of an outsourcing firm my company had hired. Except for a pesky civil war that required armed soldiers to be stationed everywhere except inside my hotel bathroom, it was a wonderful visit.

I should mention that the civil war was in the country, not at the outsourcing company. The workers there were wonderful people, at least the ones who weren’t out sick with Dengue Fever.

Anyway, I found out just before leaving the U.S. that I should’ve had a “working visa” if I intended to do business there. Instead, I had something cryptically called a “landing visa,” which meant they’d let you on the ground at the airport, but only long enough to determine if you were a tourist, who required no further documentation. If you were found to have come for work, I guess they’d make you spend the rest of your life in a small anteroom behind the luggage carousel, jumping up and down so that you were constantly “landing” on Sri Lankan soil.

After I landed in Colombo, I was directed to immigration and customs for “processing,” something I thought was done only to meat. I found the right line, and waited for what seemed like an eternity to learn my fate. Members of the military stood at the ready to dispatch anyone fooling with the rules including, I assumed, the law described on several signs warning that drug trafficking carried an automatic death penalty. I thought about the Ambien I had been prescribed for jet lag, and got even more nervous.

I sidled up to the pasty, shorts-wearing Germans in front of me on the chance I’d be mistaken for one of their group. I thought about my extremely limited German vocabulary, hoping someone would either sneeze (“Gezunheidt”) or invade the Netherlands (“blitzkrieg”) so I could prove myself.

When I got to the official who was to review my passport, he spoke not at all, choosing instead to quietly scroll through his ancient computer screen. He summoned an associate to show him something, and they chatted briefly in Tamil, either about how cool a YouTube video was, or that I might be an enemy insurgent or drug smuggler. More humorless glances in my direction eventually gave way to about a dozen stomps from his official stamper, and I appeared to survive admission to the island nation. But not after a suspenseful interlude that made me more scared than I’d ever been in my life.

Updates from the Upstate

July 29, 2011

Police stop couple over a barrel

Two people face charges after police saw them driving with two construction barrels in the bed of their pickup truck, police say.

James Faile, 26, of Summerville and his passenger Elizabeth Duncan, 26, were each charged with receiving stolen property after police saw them driving away from a construction zone with two big orange barrels in the back of their Dodge pickup, according to a police report.

Police pulled Faile over around 1:20 a.m. Sunday and asked where he got the barrels. He told officers the owner of an area restaurant gave them to him.

The barrels had the same markings as those being used in the construction zone.

Both were charged with receiving stolen property, and the construction barrels were returned to the area under construction.

Be on lookout for hot trash can

Burglars broke in to the Bear’s Den bar again this weekend, according to sheriff’s office report.

When an employee went to open the bar Sunday, he noticed a lock on the door was broken, the report states. He found items out of place and the coolers and machines tampered with. The thieves took nine cases of beer, various bottles of liquor, a Bear’s Den flask and a trash can, the report states.

Tea Party honcho liberates software

The president of the Grand Strand Tea Party and his son were arrested on charges of selling counterfeit software to a Loris man, according to a police report.

Anthony Trinca, 61, and Michael Trinca, 23, both of Myrtle Beach, spent about two hours at J. Reuben Long Detention Center Tuesday, each charged with trafficking in counterfeit trademarks by an individual, according to jail records. They were each released on $5,000 bail.

A Horry County police report showed that a 46-year-old man called police June 17 about six Rosetta Stone language software packages he purchased from Anthony Trinca and learned the items were counterfeit. The man said that at the end of May he bought the products for $125 each after seeing an ad on Craigslist.

The man said he picked up two of the software packages after meeting Trinca in a parking lot on May 29. The next day the man purchased the other packages from Trinca’s home, which is where Trinca operated a computer business known as “Computer Repair Dirt Cheap.”

The man told police he saw several other computer software products inside the home, which he also believed were counterfeit, according to the report. The man said he sold two of the software packages on Ebay and learned it was counterfeit.

The man said he tried 10 times to get his money back from Trinca, who refused to return it.

Huge burger eaten in 30 — no, 45 — minutes

Rock Hill’s Nick Mucciarone, a self-proclaimed “heavy eater,” became the first person to take on the McHale’s five-pound burger challenge Saturday.

The challenge? Eat an entire five-pound hamburger — topped with four eggs, eight slices of cheese, onions, lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise — and two pounds of french fries in 30 minutes or less.

The burger was prepared by kitchen manager Sam McKee, who said the giant meal would typically serve groups of four or more. McKee got the idea for the challenge from “Man vs. Food,” a reality television show on the Travel Channel.

As Mucciarone approached the 30-minute mark of the challenge, McHale’s offered another 15 minutes.

Patient takes patience too far

Candida Miller said she was just being patient as she waited in an examining room at a Rock Hill doctor’s office Wednesday afternoon. A nurse had checked her blood pressure and other vital signs. Then the door was shut.

But after more than two hours, when her son started knocking on the outside window, Miller realized the doctors and nurses had closed up the office and gone home.

“I heard knocking on the window,” Miller, 61, said Thursday through tears. “It scared me. He said, ‘Are you in there by yourself?’ I said, ‘I haven’t seen the doctor yet.’ Then I realized I’m here by myself.

“Oh my God, how am I going to get out? I don’t know what to do.”

Miller has been in a wheelchair since a hip replacement surgery in 2007. She is having problems with her hip again and had made a pre-surgery appointment with a surgical specialist at Novant Medical Group.

One of her sons, Michael Miller, drove her to the appointment. He wheeled her into the examining room at about 4:15 p.m. and waited with her until he left around 5:30 to pick up his son from summer camp. His mother would call when her appointment was over.

When Michael Miller returned to the doctor’s office around 6 p.m., the doors were locked.

“The building was closed,” he said. “I started calling everyone to see if anybody had picked her up.”

He checked his mother’s house and began to worry that something had happened and she’d been taken to the hospital.

He returned to the doctor’s office, walked to the back window, and started knocking. After he located his mother, Miller called his brother Gary and Gary’s wife, Karen Crockett.

Karen Crockett said her husband was so upset he could hardly tell her: “Mom is inside of the building and everybody’s gone.”

“I was about to knock the door down,” he said. “It really threw me. I was going out of my mind. I just knew my mom had been in there for a long time.”

He called the office’s after-hours number and 911 when he realized what was going on.

Inside, Candida Miller wasn’t worried until she realized she was alone.

“I had heard footsteps and been waiting a long time but didn’t know they had closed,” she said. “Then I panicked. I was really scared. It was awful.”

She said she was hesitant to wheel out of the room and try a door, fearful an alarm would go off and someone would think she was breaking in to the office. She was also scared to stand lest she fall out of her wheelchair.

Eventually, she wedged the room door open and pushed herself through. She reached the lobby. The front doors unlocked from the inside, and she was able go outside about 7:30 p.m.

“Oh Lord, I felt everything just lift to the Lord,” she said.

Crockett said her family doesn’t understand how something like that could happen. Crockett was concerned because Miller couldn’t eat before she went to the doctor’s appointment.

“She missed her medicine, and her blood pressure was high,” Crockett said. “She could have had a heart attack or stroke. Anything could have happened.”

Practice manager Brenda Madsen of Novant said the incident is a miscommunication with the staff.

On Thursday morning, she called a meeting and talked about what they can do to make sure nothing similar happens again. One of the options staff members discussed was walking through every room and bathroom at the end of the day to make sure no one is still there.

S.C. governor claims she’s white

What box should Gov. Nikki Haley check when it comes to her race?

The South Carolina Democratic Party pointed out Thursday that Haley checked “white” as her race on her 2001 Lexington County voter registration application.

But the application had no specific option for “Indian.” Her options were white, black/African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American or other.

Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, has never emphasized herself as South Carolina’s first female and minority governor and the country’s second Indian-American governor, but the fact has earned national notoriety.

Todd Shaw, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina and an expert on African-American studies, said deciding which box to fit a person in is a very Southern concept. To him, race is a matter of self-identification, or allowing a person to check the boxes that apply.

Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the State Election Commission, said he knows of no state election law or a definition by the agency for the term “white.”

U.S. might have to move in with ‘rents

July 28, 2011

The United States, facing a debt crisis that could cripple the nation economically for years to come, has decided to move back in with its parents.

And England has mixed feelings about the decision.

“That boy needs to learn to stand on his own two feet,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron. “He’ll never amount to anything if he keeps up this irresponsibility.”

“Oh, David, he’s had a difficult time lately. Don’t be so hard on him,” countered Queen Elizabeth II. “He’s our own flesh and blood. We can’t turn him away.”

The United States, or “Uni” as his parents call him, is looking at a default on its financial obligations as early as next Tuesday because it can’t agree to raise the debt ceiling. Should that default occur, the nation will be looking for any way it can to save money, and eliminating its monthly rental payment on the North American continent could be one option.

“It’d just be short term, I promise,” said Uni of the proposed move. “I could stay in their basement. The Tube (London’s underground subway system) would be ideal, and I could do any fix-up it needs. It might be a tight squeeze for 300 million people down there, but I really don’t have many choices.”

The U.S. is facing not only the much-publicized debt crisis. It’s also trying to recover from the Great Recession, which has kept unemployment figures near 10% for almost two years, as well as a growing budget deficit and unprecedented income disparities between rich and poor.

Uni faces revenue shortfalls that are being caused in part because of unreasonable demands by his roommates to keep income at historically low levels, and because his job as World Policeman recently changed from full-time to part-time.

“I still might be able to pick up some freelance work in security, like being a night watchman or something,” Uni said. “But what I really want is to do something creative. I’m thinking this is the right time to pursue my dreams of becoming a rock musician. There’s good money in that.”

But Britain’s prime minister said he felt like that was an “immature choice” for someone of Uni’s age.

“He’s 235 years old, for Christ’s sake. He needs to grow up,” Cameron said of the plan. “He needs to get a real job, like his brother Canada, who’s doing quite well as a pharmacy tech.”

Cameron proposed that Uni could live instead with his sibling to the north, who has vast amounts of uninhabited land in its Arctic regions. The U.S. countered that it’d never get a gig “way the hell up there” and even if it did, “I don’t think the Eskimos would get our particular blend of ska, hip-hop and R&B.”

The Queen, however, seemed much more willing to accept having the entire U.S. return to the land from which it won its independence in 1776.

“I can’t help it; I’m a mother and I still love all my former subjects, even if they’ve made bad choices about how they’d be governed,” Elizabeth said. “I’d take any of them back in a second. Except maybe for India. Try as I might, I don’t think we could find room for 1.3 billion people on our fair little island.”

Uni continues to blame part of his problems, though, on the people he invited to live with him in 2010. He says they gave him some bad advice that led to his current predicament.

“When I first met Sarah at a tea party back in 2008, I thought she and her friends were good people,” Uni said of his roommates. “But I had the hardest time getting them to pay their portion of the rent, electricity, cable, etc. We’d get all these nasty letters and phone calls from collection agencies, but they said I should just blow them off. That’s what I did, and now look at the trouble I’m in.”

“They said paying bills and living up to your obligations is for squares,” Uni added. “I should be in one of those commercials. I know my band would do it in a second.”

If the Leader of the Free World can convince his father to go along with the move, he said he’d eventually pay Britain back, with interest.

“My buds Moody and Standard and Poor will tell you I’m good for it,” the United States said. “Just be sure you ask them before next Tuesday.”

Uni said he thought he could be comfortable living in England until things turn in his favor, despite the lack of some amenities he’s grown accustomed to while living on his own.

“My folks don’t have internet, for example, so it’s going to be tough to keep up with all my social networking,” the U.S. said. “I think, though, that Ireland next door has unsecured wireless, so I’m hoping I can poach off of that.”

“That’s exactly the attitude that has to change,” countered PM Cameron. “If he’s going to continue to welsh like that, he can just live with his cousins the Welsh.”

Plenty of room on the platform for futon, beanbag chair and cement-block bookshelves

Fellow commuter not what he seems

July 27, 2011

So I get up this morning when the alarm clock goes off at 6 and stumble out to the kitchen. First matter of business, despite the swirl of hungry cats around my legs, is making coffee.

I take out a fresh pack of hazelnut blend. The mouth of the bag is hermetically sealed, and can usually be opened with a simple tug on the sides. Not this morning. I tug and I pull and I strain but nothing happens.

I grab a pair of scissors and make a cut along the edge. Still, I haven’t got past the seal. I make two more cuts before finally getting to the opening. Grounds litter the scene of the wrestling match.

It’s going to be one of those days.

I get the coffee brewing and move on to feeding the cats. Taylor and Harriet eat in the laundry room while the always-ravenous Tom dines al fresco locked in the sunroom. As I lower the measuring cup to Taylor’s bowl, he eagerly bumps it with his head, spilling cat crunchies all over the floor.

I move on to the still-darkened sunroom, and promptly pour Tom’s food into his water bowl. Even he won’t eat Friskies soup, and looks up at me as if to say “Waiter! I’m sending this back.”

Yep … one of those days.

I continue my morning routine with a growing cloud above my head. I take some solace in the fact that maybe I can get a blog topic out of these tribulations, yet a moment later, even that thought depresses me.

I think back over my recent posts and realize how pedestrian the topics of this blog and — by extension, the story lines of my life — have become.

I write about getting a haircut. About the power going out. About yardwork and about cucumbers. About playing Words With Friends on my iPad. I dream about going to Paris, hitting a major league home run and becoming addicted to heroin (not simultaneously, of course), but I never get around to turning these aspirations into reality. How boring.

Sure, yesterday I went “big-picture” with my ideas about how to fix the looming debt crisis. But it involved bringing al-Qaeda into the negotiations, and I don’t think any of the major players in Washington are taking my proposal seriously.

As I’m driving down the interstate toward work, bemoaning my sorry fate, I see one fellow motorist who obviously is listening to the beat of a different drummer. He’s riding a motorcycle, weaving amidst the commuters, helmet-less hair flying in the breeze. (This is South Carolina, where we cherish our freedom to suffer catastrophic brain injury in a bike crash).

He’s wearing a sleeveless jacket that once was a neon orange but is now faded. On the back of the jacket is a message for those on the highway around him. It reads “CAN YOU SEE ME NOW ASSHOLE?”

Now this looks like somebody who is grabbing life by the short hairs and making it exciting. Here’s a guy who is insulting everyone who sees him, just because he feels like it. He doesn’t care that he’s surrounded by 3,000-pound vehicles doing 75 m.p.h. that could turn him into road kill in seconds. He doesn’t even care that there should be a comma between “NOW” and “ASSHOLE”.

He’s a renegade. Period.

I’ll guess his name is Shep. Shep must be living the life of the adventurer. While the rest of us automatons are heading north into Charlotte for another day in the rat race, this guy is scooting through the maze of rush-hour traffic, oblivious to the despair around him.

I bet he’s on his way to the beach, or to a massive motorcycle rally out in the heartland, or maybe to California to kidnap a starlet. Wherever he’s going, it’s bound to be more exciting than the Westinghouse Boulevard off-ramp where I’m headed. (Even the Waffle House just around the corner can no longer bring a flutter to my heart).

Traffic slows to a stop as we approach the state line, giving Shep a moment to extend his legs to the ground, freeing up his hands. He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a pack of cigarettes, and lights one up. Motorcycle travel isn’t dangerous enough for this guy; he’s angling for debilitating lung disease as well.

I want to be Shep. I want to tell the rest of the world to go screw itself. I want a life on the edge. I want to see America from the speeding seat of a Harley flying down Route 66.

Traffic again begins to move and I’m approaching the off-ramp that will lead to my office. Shep is still slightly ahead of me but should be able to put the pedal to the metal (or however it is that motorcycles work) as soon as he gets past this clogged exit. Then, there’ll be no stopping him.

Suddenly, I see that Shep is veering to the right. He cuts across two lanes, barely avoiding collision with a pickup truck, and with practically the same motion hocks a loogie onto the pavement. Wow! So audacious!

He seems to now be heading to the same exit I am. He’s joining the long line of commuters trying to turn left toward the sea of office parks on the southwest side of town. How can this be?

We all inch along Westinghouse, Shep and me and dozens of others. We clear an intersection that’s caused most of this backup, and next thing I know, I’m seeing Shep turn into the parking lot of Greif Brothers, a manufacturer of industrial packaging systems. It’s the employee parking lot. Shep is going to work, just like the rest of us pitiful drones!

My last view of this rebel-without-a-pause was as he unstraddled his hog, took off his helmet, stubbed out his cig, and entered the “Employees Only” entrance at the side of the Greif building.

He’s just another working stiff. How discouraging. How depressing. I might think my life is dull, but at least I am what I am, not some drill press operator pretending to be Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider.”

I just hope his shift supervisor is an asshole.

Rebel decides to take his job and love it

Qaeda plans for U.S. destruction revealed

July 26, 2011

Intelligence officials who have reviewed the trove of documents captured with the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden have finished their analysis, and report a chilling vision the terrorist group had for America.

“They had a truly insidious plan to subvert all types of American institutions, by choking off resources rather than physically attacking locations,” said a source close to the studies. “Some of it sounds vaguely familiar, but I’m not sure where I’ve heard it before.”

“I’m just glad we stopped bin-Laden and his fanatical followers before they could carry out such a sinister plot,” the source continued.  “Had they succeeded with these forays, it could’ve meant the collapse of the nation.”

Most of the al-Qaeda leadership had reportedly signed on to a “pledge” that they would never stray from their commitment to destroy the American way of life.

“As my political views evolved, I saw that destruction of the West was not really the right course we should take,” said Sayed al-Masrah, one of bin-Laden underlings captured during the May 2 raid. “But I signed the pledge so there was no turning back. Death to America! What else can I say?”

Part of the pledge demanded that funding of government agencies be slashed or eliminated entirely, hobbling the nation’s institutions and infrastructure and throwing tens of thousand of people out of work.

“Teachers, policemen, firemen, the judicial system, all must be strangled off so that even the most basic services can no longer be provided,” read one part of the manifesto. “Once Americans lose trust that their government can help them, we move right in and take over.”

The documents saved some of their harshest language for the American educational system.

“Fat-cat teachers get off at 3 every day and have the whole summer off to sit around and live off their $30,000-a-year salaries,” read the document. “We propose cutting funding of schools by at least half. Girls don’t need to go to school anyway.”

The Islamists proposed that a state religion be established, and that such an institution could then be used to crack down on “what some call freedom and liberty, but what we know is cultural decay and ungodly behavior.”

“There will be no more revealing clothing, no more provocative writings, no violent movies nor sexy TV shows nor popular music that makes people want to shake their thangs,” said the manifesto. “We demand rigid adherence to our ultraconservative view of morality.”

Sleeper cells would produce politicians who were doctrinaire in their beliefs, unwilling to compromise with those who disagree with them. The ensuing gridlock would prevent legislatures at both the state and national level from addressing the country’s problems.

“We can clog up the process with all kinds of radical proposals that’ll never pass,” the document read. “We can press for constitutional amendments that have no chance of succeeding. For example, ‘Congress shall make no law’ would be a good one.”

With the death of bin-Laden, two lieutenants have emerged as potential successors to the man who inspired the worldwide fundamentalist movement. But a power struggle appears to be taking place between the two, both of whom have shortcomings the other side is trying to exploit.

Shaheed Azrah, former head of a northeast Afghan province, appears to be the front-runner. He is extremely well-funded, but carries the political baggage of having supported a law that provided affordable health care for his constituents.

“That kind of compassion is almost political suicide,” said Arthur Boyle, an analyst of Middle Eastern affairs from George Washington University. “He’s going to have to explain to his fellow terrorists why he thought there was the concept of a ‘common good’ that government could help support.”

The other leading contender, a parliamentarian from the upper Midwest of Pakistan, is garnering a lot of support among conservatives with her opposition to homosexuality and abortion, and her position advocating that all citizens have a gun, and should use it frequently to suppress the infidels.

“But she’s had these migraine headaches that can put her out of action for several days,” said Boyle. “She has to go lie down in a dark, quiet cave until the demons in her head stop yelling at her.”

A dark horse candidate appears to be emerging from the southern wastelands of Yemen. Misrik al-Peri grabbed attention among jihadists when he said America could see some of its states start seceding from the union. But he hasn’t yet made a formal declaration, and many are wary of the fact that the last al-Qaeda leader also came from southern Yemen.

Documents showed that some discussions were held among high-ranking officials in the terrorist group that an effort be made to get the U.S. to renege on its debt obligations, thus jeopardizing capitalism on a global scale. But this plan was scrapped when sleeper operatives thought such an attempt would be “going too far.”

“Even the lowly goatherd will return items he has borrowed from his neighbors,” said one paper. “We are a primitive but proud people, and we must honor our word.”

Out with the combover, in with the summer ‘do

July 25, 2011

The combover haircut I never asked for but got anyway (see was taking over my life.

My daily jog had become an exercise in awkwardness. I could pump my left arm as usual to help me power up the hills but the right hand had to hold my hair in place. While shampooing, I dealt with this big ungainly clump on one side that felt like something fished out of the drain trap.

It felt like the long sheaf of hair my previous stylist thought I’d use as a blanket to cover my bald spot had gone to seed. Maybe that would explain the patches of new hair growth I was seeing in my ears and nostrils.

So I spent my lunch break from work Friday back in the barber’s chair. This time, I wanted a true summer cut. Not the fully shaven look that’s become so common, what my son used to call “bald hair” when he was a child. Not the short stubble we named a “crew cut” back when The Three Stooges’ “Curly” was rocking the style.

It had to be long enough that I could still comb it and part it, but no longer. I wanted something that was easy maintenance, perfect — as the women’s magazines might point out — for that “casual, on-the-go, wash-and-wear look busy gals everywhere are turning to.”

I tried to explain my dream-cut to my Great Clips barber. Arturo, the forty-something Cuban-American I had worked with once before, didn’t seem to get what I was going for. He appeared confused and disoriented as I fingered the offending strands and laid out my plan for getting rid of them.

Just don’t give me what you’ve got, I wanted to say. He sported the oiled pompadour so popular in Miami’s exile community, a squared-off ‘do favored by many Cuban men that my childhood friends had called “The Cubic.”

“Just make it short all over, but not too short,” I finally suggested.

When I noticed perspiration starting to collect on his brow and upper lip, I finally realized his bewilderment might be due more to early signs of heat exhaustion than to my poor description. It was a little toasty in the salon, and when I saw that the back door was open and several fans were rotating nearby, I realized the air conditioning was out. On one of the hottest days of the summer.

I thought about up and leaving, especially when he draped the black plastic tarp over me to begin his work.

“Yeah, it was so bad last night, we had to close early,” another stylist was telling her client. “The sweat was getting in my eyes and burning. I was dripping on the customers.”

Arturo was a more quiet type than Amanda, and he began a slow, deliberate clipping that looked like it might take till the first cold snap of fall to finish. I told myself to be patient, that this short-term discomfort would soon be over and my scalp would be properly shorn.

I felt like someone sitting in one of those old-fashioned portable steam rooms, the kind you see in old movies where only the person’s head is sticking out of a box while their torso tosses off excessive water weight. Only I was even more uncomfortable, what with the prickly hairs sneaking down my neck and Arturo’s labored breathing in my ear.

I thought about making conversation to better pass the increasingly distressing time. On the last visit, I remember him mentioning that he was indeed from Miami, where I had lived until leaving for college in 1971.

“Your countrymen pretty much took over my home town,” I could say. “The Miami I knew before Castro came along was a nice, safe place to live. Sure, you gave us Gloria Estefan and 50 years of myopic foreign policy toward the island. But it would’ve been nice to have left at least a few English-speaking pockets in the county.”

Instead, I kept my mouth shut, and counted every snip-snip as another sign of progress that I’d be freed soon. (Much like the Cubans counted every head cold Fidel came down with since 1961 as a signal they’d soon be returning to their freed homeland).

Such was not the case, however, with the new client who had just been seated across the aisle from me. His name was Martin, and he couldn’t have been more than three years old. His mom accompanied him into Amanda’s chair, which I at first thought was a loving show of support but soon turned into a mechanism of constraint as the kid screamed his lungs out.

Now, despite my curmudgeonly outlook on life, I’m actually a big fan of kids. It’s one of the few things in life that cause me to break out in a big smile, right up there with nitrous oxide and the laughable politics of the current GOP presidential candidates. I believe that children are not only our future; I believe they are also our past and present.

The screaming continued unabated, raising the stress level in the room to almost unbearable heights. In normal situations, when you encounter a misbehaving child in public — hollering in a restaurant, scooting through your legs at Target, appearing on “America’s Got Talent” in a performance of Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You” — you can look daggers at the parents and get some satisfaction.

But a child’s first haircut is seen as a sentimental right of passage. You have to chuckle at how the blond baby locks cascade to the floor as a girlish toddler is transformed into a little boy. Seriously, you have to; it’s an unwritten law of modern society.

So Arturo and Amanda smiled through clenched teeth, Amanda offering the obvious observation that “I don’t think he likes me.” A collection of customers in the waiting area sweated and fidgeted, while simultaneously grinning at Martin’s antics. Even the AC repairman, working quietly in the back, resisted the temptation to throw a heavy wrench at the bawling youngster.

“I HATE YOU!” the little boy bellowed. “GET ME OUTTA HERE! WAHH! WAHH!”

Fortunately, Martin was getting a buzzcut, and almost before he could say “I WISH YOU WERE DEAD!! AHH!! AHH!!”, he was tumbling out of the chair, his mom all apologetic and the rest of us grinning our insincere smiles.

Back on my own personal head, Arturo finished up a few details. He did my brow work, he shaved the back of my neck, he proudly held up the mirror that displayed how expertly he had evened the hairline in places I’d never see.

“Looks good,” I said, though I would’ve accepted anything short of a mohawk at that point to escape the raucous, sultry hell that Great Clips #426 had become.

Revisited: Scouting photos for the office bulletin board

July 24, 2011

In an effort to improve team morale in the office, we’ve dedicated a corkboard to the display of pictures of employees and their families. Photos can be from home or in the workplace, current or from years past.

I want to contribute to the effort and burnish my reputation as something of a super-man at the same time. I’ve narrowed my selection down to five photographs from my Swashbuckling Era, roughly 1971 until 1982. I’ve included these below, with captions, and ask your help in deciding which of the group is most appropriate for my desire to maintain a professional reputation.

During my brief stint in the majors (37 AB, 4 hits, .108 batting average, perfect attendance), I was lucky enough to get a game-winning, walk-off HBP (hit-by-a-pitch) to lead my Dodgers to a 5-4 win in a late-season 1972 contest against the rival Giants. This game was known more for the introduction of pie-in-the-face-to-the-hero than for quality play (each team committed 6 errors, and a declining Don Drysdale pitched 5-2/3 innings with his left hand constantly holding his toupee in place), and the tradition lives on famously in post-game interviews today. As you’ll see in subsequent photos, this was my last encounter with shaving cream for a number of years.
In 1975, I turned inward to spirituality on a pilgrimage to Mecca, a small town in Georgia between Athens and Cairo. I used a converted glass-bottom boat to travel backwater swamps preaching my message of love, forgiveness and the value of pocket t-shirts (where you gonna keep a pen in a regular t-shirt, huh?). If you look closely, you’ll see two hoses replenishing my onboard stock of Propofol, the same sedative that killed Michael Jackson but which, when mixed with laughing gas, creates a surprisingly pliant congregation.
By 1977, I had abandoned God and instead sought the pleasures of the sensual. This scene from the soft-core classic I Have Your Pizza Right Here, Ma’am; In My Pants, lives on today as the only pornographic title to contain a semicolon.
After extracting myself from the flesh trade, I embarked on a voyage of real-life exploration. In the piney woods of remote southwest Venezuela, I was the first to encounter and describe a new species of capybara, a large type of South American rodent. Here, I’m seen pointing at it, where it sits just off-camera. My only picture of the actual animal was sadly destroyed by an earthquake.
Ready to settle down by the time I got married in 1982, this photo is from our honeymoon cruise to the Bahamas. While everyone else is happily enjoying the skiff excursion to a private “out island,” note the concern on my face. I’m worried that I don’t, at that one brief moment in my life, have anything to worry about. I also had a snoot-full of Bacardi 151 rum, but that’s beside the point. I was not asked to drive and, even if I were, I couldn’t have found my way back to the Royal Caribbean’s “Adequacy of the Seas.”

Revisited: YMCA goes MIA

July 23, 2011

CHICAGO (July 23) — In a rebranding move that stirred up its Christian faithful and simply confused everybody else, the YMCA has rolled out a new logo touting the organization as simply “the Y.”

Gone is the “MCA” that completed the full name of the Young Men’s Christian Association that had existed since its founding in 1844. The original charter of serving to develop a healthy spirit, mind and body remains, but the public relations experts who came up with the change hope to increase membership from a wider, more diverse community.

“We had narrowed ourselves into a pretty slender demographic,” said national spokesperson Tom Scribner. “There may be plenty of young, but only half of them are men, and then less than half of these are Christian. When we further require that they be a member of the 1960s soft-rock group The Association, we’ve just about eliminated everybody.”

“By just calling ourselves ‘the Y,’ we can accept almost anyone into our facilities,” Scribner said. “And if ‘Along Comes Mary,’ we’d be able to welcome her even if she were an old Jewish lady.”

Scribner described additional confusion that existed before the image update and name change. A competing group called the “SPCA” — believed to stand for the “Small Pets Christian Association” — was drawing off the existing membership of the Y, sometimes permanently.

“We had people who’d go to the SPCA for a workout and a schvitz in the steamroom, and they’d never be heard from again,” Scribner said. “Apparently, the SPCA workout consists of a 30-foot dog run where joggers are chained to a steel line, and their sauna uses fatal doses of carbon monoxide instead of steam. That’s not good.”

Scribner deflected criticism that came mostly from Southern branches of the organization, who complained that the move de-emphasized the Christian element. Also opposed to the change were roller rinks who feared they’d have to scrap one of their skaters’ favorite songs, “YMCA” by the Village People.

“We took the valuable input of these groups and considered it carefully,” Scribner said. “We told the National Roller Skating Association they could keep singing the song as it was written. But we had to be tougher on the Christians and make them promise never to mention or think about Jesus Christ while they’re in our facilities. Even if they drop a medicine ball on their foot, we’ll be requiring them to say something like ‘crap’ or ‘ouch’ instead of anything that invokes the name of the Lord.”

The shortening of corporate names to a catchy single letter has caught on among marketing experts looking to increase sales among young people. The United States of America, or as it was sometimes called “the U.S.A.,” recently requested fellow members of the United Nations to simply refer to it as “the U.” The Professional Society of Urologists, formerly the P.S.U., is now known as “the P.” A consulting firm brought in to update the image of the 101-year-old NAACP with a proposal to rename the civil rights organization “The N Word” had its suggestion rejected by the group’s membership.

Other firms that have tried this tactic have run into legal trouble with copyrights. The international jihadist terror organization known as al-Qaida was looking to transform itself into an edgy group that could draw young adventure-seekers into its ranks. The terrorists had already printed signage, T-shirts and promotional pens bearing the new name of “The Big Q,” when it was discovered that a radio station in Canton, Ohio, was already calling itself “The Big Q-96.” The station had won some preliminary legal battles but then was threatened with holy war, and decided to compromise by offering al-Qaida tickets in preferred seating for the upcoming Avenged Sevenfold concert featuring Five Finger Death Punch.

Wal-Mart’s new slogan: “Save money (and yourself)”

July 22, 2011

The people of South Carolina seem to have their own special consecrated Trinity. Sure, they like God and the Holy Spirit. But it’s Jesus who retains a special place in the evangelical heart.

Joining Jesus in the Palmetto State’s Transcendent Trio are two even more sacred concepts: shopping at Wal-Mart, and saving the receipt for whatever you bought there, because chances are it’ll eventually reveal itself to be a piece of crap that needs to be returned.

A young couple from the small town of Berea, S.C., must be in Heaven this week. The receipt they received in payment for the 11 photos they had developed at Wal-Mart in June appears to show the face of Jesus.

Sure, it’s a somewhat cubist rendition of the Lord and Savior, like something Picasso might have painted in his Blue Period if he only had small strips of paper to work with rather than full canvasses. Or, perhaps the distortion on the right side of the face was the result of a little-publicized ischemic stroke Christ suffered from eating too many fatty foods.

Whatever it is, the young Christians who now own a hallowed relic are beside themselves with ecstasy.

“There’s tons of people who will say, ‘Oh, they’re in the Bible Belt,’ but here’s my question to the doubters,” said Gentry Sutherland. “Who else has the power to put their face on a check-out receipt but Jesus?”

Sutherland and her boyfriend, Jacob Simmons, didn’t notice the image at first. It sat unworshipped on the kitchen counter for three days before they went to their regular Wednesday night church service at the College Park Worship Center. The theme that night: intimacy with God.

“The question they asked was ‘Would you know Jesus if you saw him?'” said Sutherland.

After the service, they returned home to watch a movie. During a break, Jacob suddenly became transfixed by an object on the counter.

“He said, ‘Look at this receipt.’ I just looked at it and it looked kind of brown. He said, ‘No, look at it,'” Sutherland reported. “So I took a second look and then I saw the face.”

Sutherland, 21, said she was initially scared of the receipt.

“I always wondered why in the Bible when someone saw an angel they were afraid, but now I know,” said the student of North Greenville University, a Southern Baptist college. “We’re human beings and we’re not used to seeing that kind of thing.”

Sutherland said she and Simmons weren’t sure yet what they were going to do with the Divine Proof of Payment.

“We’ll pray about it,” she said. “For now, we’ll just share the love and blessing with family and friends.”

As remarkable as the image is, the two young people may not yet have noticed another area of the slip that seems to contain a message from the Great Beyond. In the small bald spot just above Jesus’ left ear, there’s a distinct but upside-down message that reads simply “THANK YOU.”

“There’s not a lot in the Judeo-Christian tradition where we hear God or His Son showing appreciation for all the worship They receive and all the good things Their believers have to say about Them,” said religion professor Alan Linderman of Winthrop University. “If this Wal-Mart receipt is truly divine, it may represent the first time we’re seeing a blush of humility from Those Guys.”

Sutherland and Simmons have dismissed suggestions that they put the piece up for sale on eBay.

“A couple of the photos we had developed that day came out kind of grainy,” said Simmons. “Maybe we better hold onto the receipt for a while. We might be able to get a couple of dollars back.”