Archive for August, 2011

The magic of Mennen

August 31, 2011

About two months ago, I noticed that my Mennen’s Speed Stick deodorant seemed to be running low.

I use one of those roll-on applicators, the kind with the knob at the bottom. You turn the dial and a waxy amalgam peeks out the top. You roll this stuff into your pit and, in return for the effort, your underarms become largely inoffensive for most of the day.

I bought another one the next time I was at the grocery store, and sat it on the bathroom counter next to the nearly depleted one.

I continued to use the old dispenser, with the anticipation that soon I’d be completely out. But as the days wore on, a startling fact began to emerge along with the green, scented goo.

The old deodorant was not going away. I had stumbled onto the legendary Everlasting Speed Stick.

Prophets for centuries have told of the eventual coming of a deodorant that would never run out. Man — and Woman, and Teens For That Matter — had struggled since time immemorial to suppress the odor that seeped from the tiny sweat glands under their arms.

Once an agrarian economy was in place, the evolutionary adaptation that used perspiration to cool the hollows on either side of our chest had outlived its benefit. (Woolly mammoths and giant sloths were in no position to complain about the smell of the hunter-gatherers who preceded modern humans). Homo sapiens needed inert pits if they were to build an industrial society.

Most historians trace the invention of underarm deodorants to a 9th-century Persian named Ziryab. Little is known about the specifics of his device. Ziryab was a “polymath,” or one who dabbled in many subjects, and served as poet, musician, designer, astronomer and botanist in the court of Cordoba. Considering these interests, it is speculated that the first roll-on was either a collection of herbs, or wads of discarded rubaiyats.

In modern times, the first commercial deodorant came on the market in 1888 under the name “Mum.” By the 1950s, it had evolved into what we know today as Ban Roll-On.

Within ten years, however, the first aerosol antiperspirant was released by Gillette under the name “Right Guard,” which led spray deodorants to an 82% market share by 1970. When scientists discovered that the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in aerosols were depleting the ozone layer, the federal government weighed the benefits of smelly citizens versus widespread death from cosmic radiation and banned CFC propellants.

Today, stick deodorants are by far the most popular type of antiperspirant. They are sold in stores around the world, allowing civilized societies everywhere to thrive without people constantly threatening to beat up their fellow citizens for having BO.

Though cheap and readily available, the modern products that prevent attacks of “not-so-freshness” eventually run out and have to be replaced. This happens with both frequency and startling unpredictability. One morning, you’re slathering on product from what feels like a fully loaded bottle, and the next morning, you’re out. Toothpastes, mouthwashes and hair gels are then pressed into emergency action to serve as inadequate substitutes.

The Biblical Prophet Elijah, in 1 Kings 18:22, wrote of a day that would eventually come where “the pits of the many shall be fragranced by the unguents of the few,” in what many interpret as a prediction that deodorant will one day flow freely throughout the land. The mystic Nostradamus wrote obliquely that “humors and ethers that tend to offend/Will one day be cured by a stick without end.”

So is the magical Mennen’s sitting in my bathroom right now the One We Have Waited For, the salvation for a people weary of paying convenience-store prices for emergency odor suppressant?

The packaging reveals few clues. It claims to offer “powerful odor protection that lasts all day,” a “clean masculine scent” and a “patented comfort guard applicator for comfort and control.” It warns “DO NOT APPLY TO BROKEN SKIN” and “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.” Ingredients include the innocuous-sounding propylene glycol and sodium stearate. There is an 800-number so you can call manufacturer Colgate-Palmolive with questions, but I hesitate to ask a call center employee in India if my deodorant might be magical.

I think I should let the people decide. Like those witnesses to miracles who see Jesus in the rust on their back door, or the Virgin Mary in the smeared ink of their Walmart receipt, I should spread word of my finding. If pilgrims come from near and far to see Everlasting Speed Stick, perhaps that will prove its sanctity.

So I invite both my readers, and those who end up hearing only hints about the existence of such a paranormal phenomenon, to come to my home and witness the stick. See if you can figure out how I can continue to use it morning after morning without it ever running out. Examine the vessel for any trickery or tampering. Help me figure out: Could this be grooming breakthrough that we’ve awaited for centuries?

All I ask is that you don’t apply my deodorant to your underarms. That would be gross.

Deodorant surges provocatively from its vessel, prompting questions from the supernatural

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Memories of my baseball career

August 30, 2011

Did anybody else watch the Little League World Series over the weekend? Anybody with a life, that is?

Watching children play baseball is not something you’d expect to be my cup of tea. Usually, I’d regard it as several degrees of wholesomeness beyond what my cynical, misanthropic mind can handle.

True, there were several scary beanball incidents that normally would appeal to my dark side. And there was the pitcher who almost had his head taken off by a hard-hit comebacker, and the kid heading for home who had a throw from the outfield bounce wildly off his helmet. And, of course, the threat of a hurricane.

What appealed to me most, however, was the game of baseball itself, and the way these 12- and 13-year-olds played it with such joy. I defy anyone, even the most black-hearted among us, to not be moved by the sight of the winning U.S. team bouncing for joy, and the losing Japanese boys weeping in defeat.

It may be said that “there’s no crying in baseball,” but certainly that doesn’t apply to kids. (There’s also no touchdowns, dunking or exciting action in baseball, and yet still we watch it.)

Broadcasters went out of their way to humanize the youngsters. Along with stats like height and weight, the graphics revealed personal details such as favorite food, favorite TV show and favorite musical group. As surprising as it was to learn that one boy weighed in at only 74 pounds was the news that kids from Pennsylvania had heard of the Black Eyed Peas, and that the right-fielder from the Montana squad had access to chicken nuggets.

And I’m still trying to understand how a preteen pitcher from Aruba could possibly see the value of watching “Two and a Half Men.”

(Tip to Major League Baseball: How about letting us know big-leaguers’ favorites? What is Derek Jeter’s most-desired sex act? Tim Lincecum’s preferred conditioner? Big Papi’s favorite oil-exporting nation?)

I hope that the crushing defeat experienced by most participants doesn’t sour them on what should have been the event of a young lifetime. Organizing baseball, rather than letting it happen naturally in the playground, is risky business.

I remember my own years as a young baseballer with fondness, primarily I think because we played in an unorganized fashion. There was a little league, organized by the local Optimists Club, but I only participated long enough to learn I didn’t have the proper skill level (or, in the jargon of the times, that I “stunk”).

So instead of donning a uniform and pimping for sponsors/overlords like a local moving company, my friends and I took to the street in front our homes and made up our own version of America’s pastime.

There was me, there was my best friend Larry, there was the slightly older Lloyd, and there was chubby Ricky. We played barefoot on the asphalt of Miami’s lightly traveled N.W. 197th Terrace, using tennis balls instead of baseballs and a broomstick instead of a bat. Calling balls and strikes was replaced by the occasional call of “CAR!”, which would be our signal to step aside so traffic could pass.

Our diamond wasn’t diamond-shaped at all, but squeezed tight in the middle by the need to use mailboxes for first and third base. Home plate was a wad of gum baked dry and permanent in the tropical sun. Second base was a mound of rocks we had to reassemble every time a car passed over them. The outfield wall that defined a home run was the light pole in front of Ricky’s house.

Larry and Lloyd were the most skilled players and, as such, always tried to be on the same two-person team. Ricky and I were not bad; we just weren’t as good as the “L Boys” and would inevitably be defeated by something like 112-7 if we ended up on the same side.

The team playing the field would be comprised of a pitcher (who, our chatter insisted, couldn’t be an underwear stitcher) and an outfielder. The team on offense would have a batter up, while the other player served as catcher, unless one of us could round up a spare sister to play that thankless role.

Pitching was underhand when we started playing as 7-year-olds but later became overhand. Most hits were either singles or home runs. We didn’t have enough people to allow base-runners, so instead we relied on “Invisible Men” to occupy the base paths. There was no stealing (the Invisibles could be banned for trying), no balls, and no set number of innings to be played. When someone’s mom called them in for dinner, it was game over.

Occasionally, we’d expand our rosters to three players per team, but only when Larry’s friend Ernie was visiting from an adjacent neighborhood. Then, we’d stoop to allowing Larry’s older sister Donna to play, at least till our early teen years when she developed a mysterious lump in her abdomen which turned out to be an illegitimate baby.

We had favorite players and favorite teams, and showed our allegiance to these by “being” them.

“I’m Mickey Mantle,” Larry would invariably call, while Lloyd would transform from lanky Jewish kid to “Willie Mays” in an instant. As a Dodger fan, I’d anoint myself base-stealing king Maury Wills, despite the fact I was neither fast nor African-American. Ricky, a less imaginative kid, dubbed himself “Ricky.”

We played like this for years, never keeping any records or standings, consuming huge swaths of the summer like we’d consume hose water after hours of play rendered us nearly dehydrated.

I don’t remember an exact day when the games ended. The “L Boys” were both good enough to play organized sports, and gradually moved into these as we got into junior high. The athletic, good-looking Larry developed an interest in something called “girls” and, since I was not one of these, we gradually grew apart. I made up a dice version of baseball which I’d play in my room, or head into the backyard to play catch with the wall.

None of us ended up as professional athletes. I understand that Lloyd is a retired fireman in St. Pete. I heard that Ricky ended up as some kind of music executive. Larry became successful selling Texas real estate, and came closest to the majors through his son, a reserve outfielder for the Rays.

I tried a little intramural softball in college, then hung up the glove when I left Florida State. I tried playing some with my son, since having a catch with Dad has become an almost-mythic bonding experience. But the sport didn’t appeal to him as much as his beloved video games, and I eventually relented that yes, he could go back inside now.

As for the Invisible Men, I hear they’re enjoying successful lives as jet-pack salesmen, Sasquatch trainers, explorers of Mars and moderate Republicans.

All because of the positive influence of baseball.

From left: Larry, some kid, Ricky, some other kid, me, Lloyd and Ernie (not pictured: Invisible Men)

Weathermen brave the storm, get the story

August 29, 2011

To the disappointment of many, the Eastern elite bastions of New York, Washington and Boston remain standing this morning after Hurricane Irene’s march up the East Coast over the weekend.

Most of the TV meteorologists who risked their lives to bring us “special team coverage” of the storm also appear to have survived, despite their best efforts to get themselves killed.

Viewers benefitted from brave weatherpeople who didn’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain, as reporters on TV went to extraordinary lengths to keep the public informed.

“You see them standing out there in torrents, oblivious to the dangers,” said media analyst Harold Johnson. “They remind me of overbred farm turkeys, too pea-brained to get themselves out of the elements.

“Turkeys will look up at the falling rain with their beaks open and eventually drown,” Johnson added. “TV reporters, though their mouths are open, at least have the good sense not to look up. Usually.”

Up and down the Atlantic seaboard, meteorologists attempted to out-do each other going to extreme lengths to report on the storm from inside its gale-force winds and driving rains.

Reporter Melissa Toomey of New York’s WABC rented a helicopter to fly down the New Jersey coast so she could be the first to report from inside the hurricane. The pilot lowered a rescue ladder, allowing her to swing freely several hundred feet above the crashing waves, as they flew into 90 m.p.h. winds just off-shore.

“This one’s really winding up for a major landfall,” she shouted up to the cameraman who dangled on a sled of the chopper. “Don’t let the way my hair stays in place fool you.”

Other New York meteorologists resisted the lure of almost-certain death pursued by Toomey, and instead posted themselves at local landmarks to film their segments.

WPIX’s Chuck Haigler rode the Coney Island roller coaster to file his report as the storm came ashore there. Tom Roebuck from WNYW had himself lashed to the torch of the Statue of Liberty. Bill Chadwick of WCBS spent Sunday inside the flooded Holland Tunnel, wearing scuba gear to survive the inundation and using hand signals to give viewers the latest updates.

WNBC’s Ed Wylie had perhaps the most difficult challenge of all. He chose to swim New York Harbor from Battery Park to Staten Island, pulling the island ferry through the choppy seas with a rope he gripped in his teeth.

“Nnngh mmuum hnhn mingaah,” he warned his audience at one point, which officials now believe may have saved countless lives.

Foolish bravado was not limited to the New York media. In Boston, weathermen Bill Nanny of WBZ and Ed Lavin of WCVB engaged in a shootout with each other at the height of the storm.

“I’m not sure that did anything to lend more insight into the deteriorating conditions,” said WBZ station manager Don Montgomery. “But it sure did grab the eyeballs among our target demographic of 18-to-24-year-old males.”

Out on the beaches of Cape Cod, WHDH’s Joanne Jones had herself buried in sand up to her neck to lend more color to her reports of a six-foot storm surge expected to overwash seaside roads.

“I can see the waves breaking closer and closer,” Jones told her viewers during a mid-afternoon insert Sunday. “This next one could be the biggest yet.”

Then, silence.

In the nation’s capital, reporters more familiar with covering a whirlwind of political activity rather than a monster storm struggled to lend a proper perspective to the hurricane’s advance.

“This wind is really something,” noted WUSA’s Wade Dameron as he was shot out of a cannon not far from the Jefferson Memorial. “I’m about to find out how far it’ll take me.”

Meanwhile, rival meteorologist Larry Groen of WTTG had a 30-foot-tall sail attached to his back as he hopped on a skateboard for a rousing trip down wind-swept Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Wheeee!” he reported before being struck by a Red Cross disaster van.

With the storm now past, and most TV weatherpeople safely recuperating in local hospitals, it seems in retrospect that Terry Cobb of New York’s Z100 radio may have had the best idea for coverage of the tropical storm.

“I wasn’t about to go outside in that mess,” the Zoo Crew veteran said. “I just used the SleepMachine app on my iPad to simulate the sounds of a storm. I started with ‘Distant Thunder,’ then switched to ‘Rain and Thunder 2’ as Irene got closer. I’m not sure what happened after that. I fell asleep.”

"There's Irene," reports the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore. "Right over there."

Updates from around the region

August 26, 2011

Blue dog Democrat? Not exactly

Wally the Dog, who gained fame in Waxhaw, N.C., by running for mayor, has died.

His owner, Mike Holliday, said the dog-about-town collapsed earlier this week while out for a walk.

“He tripped a little and just laid down,” Holliday told a radio morning host who spearheaded the dog’s run for mayor in 2003. “My daughter who is 7 said, ‘I think he’s dying.’

“And then he just did.”

Holliday said he wasn’t sure of Wally’s age, but when he ran for mayor, he was listed as 5. So that would make his age about 13.

Wally was a mixed-breed dog who once escaped from a dog shelter and came into Holliday’s possession from a friend who couldn’t care for him any more. The dog drew the ire of some town officials by walking the streets, and the radio deejay, who lives in Waxhaw, decided to push the canine’s candidacy.

Supporters started selling T-shirts with the slogan: “Wally worries about Waxhaw’s future.”

He ran against Thomas Hall and Gary Underwood and, even though the Union County Board of Elections ruled he was ineligible, Wally managed to get three votes. Underwood won the election with 440, and Hall got 271 votes.

Holliday said that Wally didn’t seem to be in pain recently but clearly wasn’t feeling well.

Somebody actually buying peanut brittle

Deputies are investigating claims that a Fort Mill man is soliciting donations for sick children, but pocketing the cash.

A 20-year-old woman reported she started working for a man selling peanut brittle to help kids in need, according to a sheriff’s office report.

The man has business cards and “official T-shirts” for his employees to wear while selling the peanut brittle at various locations around the county.

The woman learned that the man is operating a scam. Instead of giving the money to charity, he was pocketing the money from the sales, the report states.

He was, however, letting his employees keep any donations they received from the scam, according to the report.

The woman said she stopped working for the man when she learned of the scam.

Deputies are investigating, and no one has been arrested.

Wing King loses equipment; chicken parts untouched

Thieves took cash registers and TVs from a Rock Hill restaurant during a break-in last weekend, police say.

Someone destroyed the door on the side of Wing King Cafe on Oakland Avenue sometime Sunday morning, according to a police report.

The unknown suspect took two cash registers, valued at $1,000 each, and two TVs from the bar and dining room areas of the restaurant. The burglar also rummaged through the kitchen, bar and storage areas.

The break-in happened between 12:30 and 9 a.m. Sunday. The alarm was set during that time, the owner told police.

No suspect information is available.

At least his pacemaker was left behind

A Rock Hill man was ordered to the ground at gunpoint during a robbery, police say, and was forced to give up his insulin pump.

The victim, 20, reported being robbed around 1:40 a.m. Wednesday on Riverview Road, according to a police report.

He said he was walking down the road when two men jumped out of a Ford Expedition and ordered him to the ground.

One of the men had a black shirt over his face and carried a silver gun.

The men stole his debit card, Reebok shoes and insulin pump.

The victim called police about 20 minutes after the incident because the robbers threatened to kill him if he called police, the report states.

Police were unable to locate the suspects.

Fake ID yields fake lemonade, arrest

A York teen told police he used a homemade ID to buy the alcohol that he and another teen were drinking before police found them in a Manchester Village parking area.

The boy, 17, and a Lake Wylie girl, 15, were both sitting in the front passenger seat of a Ford Mustang parked on Cinema Drive behind a vacant restaurant around 10:15 p.m. Monday, according to a police report. Police were patrolling the area because of recent vandalism and criminal activity.

When asked if he had anything illegal in the vehicle, the 17-year-old told police he only had some old beer cans in the backseat. The officer found a plastic bag with two empty Mike’s Hard Lemonade cans, and two alcohol-added energy drinks. One of those was half-full with condensation on the can. The other was unopened.

Both teens initially denied drinking the alcohol, but then took a test that registered alcohol in their systems. After registering .04 and .06 blood-alcohol levels, the teens admitted to drinking before pulling behind the building.

Both teens were charged with possession of beer under 21.

While searching the 17-year-old, officers found an identification card with a birth date old enough to purchase beer. He admitted to buying the alcohol himself using the fake ID he made, the report states.

He also faces a possession of fake/altered identification charge.

Governor visits, hugs local schoolchildren

Days after refusing federal education funding on the Tea Party principle that South Carolina children aren't yet stupid enough, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley meets with schoolchildren in Rock Hill. Her "Hugs Not Funds" campaign emphasizes that embraces from Republican politicians are more valuable than federal monies.

Jobs opening gives teens hope

August 25, 2011

Fresh off their second attempt at the GED — which both said they were “really really close” to passing — Brandon Stewart and Bryan Munroe excitedly began making plans today to apply for the newly vacated position running Apple Computers.

“I been lookin’ for somethin’ ever since I dropped out the ‘leventh grade,” said Stewart, a rangy boy with a scraggly mullet peeking out from under his backwards baseball cap. “I thought that clerkin’ job at the BP was gonna work out til I got robbed that night. I ain’t puttin’ up with that shit.”

“I’m pretty good with computers, so I think I might have a chance with this one,” said Munroe, wiping his face with his soiled Def Leppard t-shirt. “I got a smartphone. Look-a here.”

The 19-year-old resident of York, S.C., held up his Vonage cell phone. His forearm still glistened from the sweaty morning spent at his job dressed as an ice cream cone and waving at cars from the front of the new Dairy Queen.

Both young men, proud products of a South Carolina education system that let them meet girls and borrow Brandon’s stepdad’s truck to “attend” remedial classes twice a week, have been looking for work since late 2009. News Wednesday that Steve Jobs was resigning as head of Apple gave the two self-described rednecks hope they’d land a position they could hold onto longer than six months.

“I read it online — ‘Apple’s Jobs Leaving’,” said Stewart. “They said ‘jobs’ — plural — so it sounds like there’s at least two openings. One guy that quit was founder and chief executive officer, so maybe I could be founder and Bryan here could be CEO.”

“We each have unique skill sets that would allow us to work closely together,” Munroe added. “I’m the smart one and Brandon’s the strong one. I could do the thinkin’ parts and he could do the parts that required beatin’ people up.”

“What I really want to do is get into Ultimate Fighting,” admitted Stewart. “Workin’ a couple years as founder of Apple would look good on my resume. I know a guy who knows a guy who knows (mixed martial arts champion) Kimbo Slice, and he said Kimbo would be impressed by that.”

The two teens spent lunch together at McDonald’s Thursday, planning how they might get their applications submitted to the Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant. Munroe swiped a laptop from a diner who had gone to collect a second order of fries, and the pair scoured the Internet for information on the openings.

“It says here the guy who quit had pancreatic cancer, so they’re probably looking for someone who won’t call in sick all the time,” Munroe said.

“Hell, I hardly missed a day even after I got shot at the convenience store,” Stewart said. “I might not know what I’m doin’ most of the time, but half the job is showin’ up, right?”

“Damn straight,” confirmed Munroe.

Both men admitted that their failure so far to achieve high-school equivalency certificates could be a roadblock to their consideration. But Stewart said “if they (Apple’s board of directors) really want to make a big deal out of school-learnin’, we could try the GED one more time.”

“I bet I could get my brother to take it for me,” guessed Munroe. “He made it all the way to his senior year in Special Ed at York High before he dropped out.”

By the end of their mid-day planning session, Stewart had already drafted his resume, and Munroe was working his cell to line up half-cousins and baby mama’s who would agree to serve as personal references.

“Check it out,” Stewart said, handing the laptop to this reporter. “This here’s my resume, all ready to print out.”

“Did I spell ‘resume’ correctly?” he asked of the all-caps head reading “REZ-U-MAY” at the top of the page. “Think I’ll mail ’em maybe a dozen extras. That’s gotta help my chances.”

Munroe wondered if the two might improve their odds of getting the jobs by personally delivering their CVs to the northern California campus.

“Road trip!” shouted Stewart, followed by a rebel yell. Then, on further reflection, he noted that he really wanted to “go huntin’ and fishin'” this weekend and that “hell, we ain’t even got a car.”

As the duo wrapped up their lunchtime session, each reflected on the career change they hoped would lift them from the life they shared in a rusted mobile home.

“I’m not sure what the pay is gonna be, but I won’t settle for less than $9.50 an hour,” Stewart said. “I made $8.50 at the BP but that doesn’t count all the free Slushees I got after the manager went home.”

“I just don’t wanna wear any more ice-cream suits standin’ out in the hot sun,” said Munroe. “I’ll settle for $9 if they don’t make me wear a CEO costume and if they let me work indoors.”

Stewart (left) and Munroe relax in their pool while awaiting word from Apple

Earthquake was God’s will

August 24, 2011

An angry God shrugged off criticism of His aim following yesterday’s earthquake in central Virginia, saying He missed His intended target of Washington, D.C. by only 90 miles and “that’s pretty good when you consider how big the universe is.”

Taking His own name in vein, the Almighty then acknowledged that He “might head out to the practice range” before launching His next attack on the nation’s capital.

“I had the right distance on the shot,” He said. “I just hooked it a little to the left.”

God said He was aiming to destroy Washington because of Congress’s failure during last month’s debt debate to “realistically address America’s long-term financial health.” He said that He, like many Americans, had been disgusted by both legislators and the president playing politics with such a critical issue.

“You can’t continue to have spending outstrip revenue to the tune of over $14 trillion,” the Lord said. “That’s just crazy. Even I have trouble wrapping My Head around a figure like that.”

God cited the average family as an example of how the government should manage its finances.

“You don’t see regular people borrowing large sums of money,” God said. “They have to live within their means.”

When told that car loans, home mortgages and credit card debt were actually pretty common examples of people using borrowed funds to make investments in their future, the Almighty scoffed.

“Okay, maybe that’s not the best example,” God told the group of reporters who had gathered outside His home for His reaction to the quake. “Still, look at what S&P did to your credit rating. That shows the markets don’t have faith in your plan.”

“The markets are only one small part of the global economy,” countered AP economics reporter Paul Donaldson. “Don’t You think increased government spending would have a positive impact on jobless numbers?”

“That’s a ‘gotcha’ question,” the Almighty answered. “I’m not going to answer those.”

God said He chose the earthquake, measured at 5.9 on the Richter scale and felt from Canada to South Carolina, because He felt like America “needed a good shaking to knock some sense into its head.”

He dismissed claims that He may have done His own cause more harm than good, considering that the only major damage reported in Washington was to the National Cathedral.

“I had good intelligence that Eric Cantor would be walking by the cathedral at 1:51 in the afternoon,” He said. “I meant for those stones from the corner spires to fall on his head. God damn him for being on vacation.”

Jehovah said He decided on the earthquake after considering several other catastrophes that He could unleash on America.

“I vaguely remembered the ten Biblical plagues, and how well they worked getting the ancient Israelites freed from Egypt,” He said. “I had to look it up on Wikipedia to remember them all.”

He said the plagues of locusts, frogs, lice and boils would not translate well to the modern world. Animal pests are easily dealt with by exterminators, and over-the-counter cures for lice and boils are available at most leading drug stores.

“And pestilence,” He added, “I don’t even know what that is.”

The Lord said He briefly considered some contemporary calamity to rain judgment down on the sinful, but opted in the end to simply vibrate people’s knick-knacks and cause their overhead lighting fixtures to sway gently.

“Believe Me, I thought about something much worse,” He said. “I considered making that 16-year-old girl who married that 51-year-old man your next president. But, in the end, I figured that was too cruel, and that an earthquake would be more typical of what Man might expect of a Vengeful God.”

The Almighty said He’s already lining up His next attempt on Washington, which will come in the form of Hurricane Irene slamming into the Potomac basin this weekend. However, the latest forecasts from the National Hurricane Center now show the storm will just graze North Carolina’s Outer Banks before veering back out to sea and missing the populated Northeast corridor entirely.

“Curving off to the right, is it?” Jehovah asked reporters. “Great. Now I have a slice.”

"This is mildly annoying," noted workers evacuated from Washington buildings. "We really do need to get our financial house in order."

Gadhafi is found! (maybe)

August 23, 2011

I think I found Gadhafi! I think he’s working in our warehouse!

Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who ruled his nation with an iron fist for over four decades, was nowhere to be found as rebel troops swept into the capital over the weekend.

The months-long revolt against his oppressive regime appeared to be reaching a climax this week as jubilant crowds took to the streets to mark the madman’s apparent overthrow.

But the people’s celebration was muted by the fact that the swarthy strongman had not yet been captured and brought to justice.

I think I know why. I think he somehow made it to the United States, registered with a temp agency near Charlotte, N.C., and showed up in our warehouse Monday morning ready to do some picking and packing.

My company runs a fulfillment operation in the warehouse adjacent to my office. We store materials on ceiling-high shelves, then retrieve and ship them in small quantities at our clients’ request. Some days there’s a lot of this work and some days there’s not, so we rely on unskilled temporary employees to do the labor.

There’s a big project going on this week, and I think one member of the work force is Moammar Gadhafi. I’ve seen him several times, once driving a forklift and once again at the end of a production line taping packages closed.

I know that as all-powerful tyrant of his North African nation, he was a megalomaniac responsible for the deaths of thousands and the oppression of millions. But as an all-purpose warehouseman, charged with everything from stuffing envelopes to applying mailing labels, he’s actually a pretty good worker.

He shows up on time. He follows instructions. He works well with others. He’s even careful to stay between the painted yellow lines when walking through the area near the shipping dock. We regard safety as “Job One” around here, and he could go far (maybe even getting hired to a full-time stock clerk position) if he follows through on this first impression.

I think he’s Moammar Gadhafi. He’s older than the other workers, though his dark, stringy hair doesn’t reveal his age. His command of English is limited. I suppose he could be Mexican, like many of those he’s working with, but the complexion could just as easily be the vaguely Afro-Indo-Latino-Arabic look that most of our temp staff sports.

If it is him, he wisely left the turban and robes at home and showed up here in shorts, a t-shirt and comfortable athletic shoes. And, might I point out, his shorts do not sag, unlike those of many of his coworkers.

We don’t typically refer to the temps by their names, since we know they’re often here today and gone tomorrow. The floor boss that the possible Moammar works under calls him “you with the ‘I ♥ THE KORAN’ shirt”. I checked the printed roster of names they put on the wall to tell people the next day’s schedule, and I’m guessing he’s the “Morris Q. Dafi” on the list.

There are other clues too. I heard someone in the restroom trying to talk with him about the Lockerbie bombing (the 1988 Libyan attack on a Pan American jet that killed 270 people over Scotland), and he kept changing the subject to pre-season football. Later, in the canteen, he was heating up a lunch in the microwave that smelled a lot like camel casserole.

And when he’s asked to retrieve a box from one of the higher shelves in the warehouse, he looks up at it with this steely-yet-faraway gaze, like you might see on one of those heroic billboard renditions in Tripoli.

I don’t know what I should do. I was reading in this morning’s news that uncertainty about his capture has kept the house-to-house street-fighting in the Libyan capital active, and that the rebels won’t be able to declare complete victory until the despot is captured. Both NATO forces and the U.S. State Department are eager for the civil war to end.

But he seems so good at his job, and this GenCo project we’re working on this week is on a really tight deadline. If we impress them with this project, there could be a lot more work coming our way.

I think for now, I won’t say anything to the authorities. I’m probably wrong anyway. Surely he couldn’t get past the E-Verify screening where he’s asked if he ever brutally jailed or murdered any of his own people.

I think I’ll say “hi” to him next time I have to cut through the warehouse to get to Human Resources. Maybe I’ll show him that little electrical room we have way in the back that everybody’s afraid to go in because of the “high voltage” signs.

It’d make a great spider-hole, like the one that hid Saddam Hussein for months, if “Mo” sees Immigration coming and he needs a place to gather himself.

"Mo" is tired (but it's a good kind of tired) after a long day working in the warehouse

The dilemmas of highway construction

August 22, 2011

My first impression is disbelief, even denial.

The overhead informational sign on northbound I-77 reads “CONGESTION EIGHT MILES AHEAD” as I pass under it Saturday morning on my way to work. Eight miles happens to be about the distance I have to travel on this highway.

I’m faced with the dilemma that commuters all over the country encounter on a daily basis. Do I stick with my standard route, and hope that the warning is either wrong or over-stated? Or do I start plotting an alternate course on back roads that could be even worse?

According to the National Highway Administration, Americans spend a total of 7 billion hours annually cooling their heels in traffic. And though that’s a number I completely made up, it still represents a shocking waste of fuel, maintenance costs and, most importantly, time spent by workers that could otherwise be wasted in the office.

I decide to continue on my normal route. These road signs in general tend to have a low credibility, and I’m fairly confident this is yet another one offering misguided information.

As I continue my drive, this belief is borne out by other signs I’m passing along the way. “FOOD — NEXT EXIT” reads one posting, and soon I see that it’s not food at all, but a Taco Bell. Another sign says “SPEED LIMIT — 60 m.p.h.”, and I look no further than my own speedometer, indicating 78, to see that couldn’t possibly be right. Other tiny green signs whiz by each mile or so reading simply “84,” “85,” etc.; 84-what or 85-who is never disclosed.

For six or seven miles, my commute is continuing at its normal pace. If anything, cars are going faster than normal, this being a Saturday when most people with any sense are off. I’m riding in the second lane from the right on this four-lane highway, and faster motorists to my left are passing at rates that must approach 90.

Now I see another sign looming in the distance, this one orange and temporary and thus more likely to be accurate. It reads “LEFT THREE LANES CLOSED — MERGE RIGHT”.

A driver just ahead of me veers sharply to the right, making a guess that he’d fare better taking the exit ramp. Then another swerves off. I have only milliseconds to decide if I too should opt for the unknown challenges of an unfamiliar one-lane state road, or stick with the high-speed modern interstate.

These inevitably seem to become no-win decisions. If you get off and hit the back roads, it only takes the slightest slowdown there to convince you that you made the wrong choice, and should’ve stayed where you were. But regrets can be had with the other option as well, as I soon find out by deciding to stay on the highway.

At the top of the next incline, I see the tableau laid out before me. The two lanes farthest on the right are already bumper-to-bumper just a quarter-mile or so ahead. The left two lanes, meanwhile, are much more sparsely populated but still contain dozens of drivers looking to maintain their high speeds as long as possible before pulling in front of some hapless individual farther up the road.

Now I have another decision to make. Do I cut left, out of the queue of civilized, law-abiding people who understand that traffic rules are made in the interest of benefitting society as a whole? Or do I slow down, keep my place and wait my turn, all the while cursing those speed demons who jet past me?

There was a time when I’d opt to be the accelerating asshole. I always figured that the choice here boiled down to either being the hated, or doing the hating, and the former seemed easier on the blood pressure. You high-tail along, looking straight ahead so as not to make eye contact with those on the right you are passing. When the cones appear requiring your move to the through lane, then you look for a truck or clunker or other slower-moving vehicle to cut in front of.

These days, I’m more mature, and realize that staying in line is the right-if-frustrating thing to do. Soon, I’ve slowed to a crawl. I try not to watch as the drivers fly by on my left. Yes, they’ll make their destination a little ahead of me, but at what price? They’ll have to live with a slight feeling of remorse for up to five minutes, while my conscience will be clean. Except for the fiery collision I’m hoping they’ll encounter some day.

I creep along slowly, careful to keep in close contact with the car in front of me. The only thing more infuriating than watching the speeders pass is accidentally allowing one to merge immediately in front of me. With every start and stop, I snuggle up to that bumper ahead like it was Anne Hathaway.

I can make out some flashing lights in the distance, and soon see where the road is actually narrowing. We’ve not been given any clue as to the cause of the slowdown. I suspect it’s road construction of some sort, since it seems likely they’d choose a Saturday rather than snarl a weekday commute. I hope it’s work on the giant pothole I’ve hit several times in the area, or perhaps much-needed bridge maintenance.

Actually, what I really hope is something more exotic, something that might transport me away from my hum-drum commute into a bit of excitement. I’m not so callous as to wish for the multi-car pileup that results in various cool body parts being strewn about the median. But an Airbus 380 making an emergency landing on the highway would be very interesting, as would a giant sinkhole that sucks up all those people who’ve spent the last five minutes speeding past me.

We’re now past the chokepoint of the merge, and I can see a large crane set up near another of the interstate’s overhead signs. A blue panel is dangling from the crane. As it swings in the breeze, it turns enough so that I can tell what it is — a new sign being installed above the road.

This one reads:

“REST AREA/WELCOME CENTER 1 MILE AHEAD”

That’s it? That’s the reason the state has chosen to inconvenience hundreds of drivers on their way to work, or shopping, or a day at the water park? To tell us, in shiny reflective type, that there are some brochures and picnic areas just off the road up ahead?

All around us, our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling. We continue to burn fossil fuels at outrageous rates while ignoring public transit and carpooling opportunities. Highway safety is at a critical juncture — we still need to figure a way to keep over 30,000 Americans from dying each year on the nation’s roadways.

And yet we can rest assured, as we sit idling in our cars, that signage directing the weary to a cup of coffee and the full-bladdered to a restroom will remain fresh and shiny.

Even if we can’t necessarily believe what the sign says.

Briefs from around the region

August 19, 2011

Faces booked on disorderly conduct charges

People apparently “disliked” a Facebook post so much that it caused a massive brawl.

Fort Mill Police blame the Facebook post and subsequent posts for sparking a street fight involving about 40 individuals, according to a police report.

Police responded to the fight just after 8:30 p.m. Aug. 9. They found the roadway filled with about 40 people, arguing, fighting and causing a large disturbance, the report states.

Police urged people to return to their homes and cars. Police determined postings on Facebook, a social networking site, started the arguments, which boiled over into the street.

Officers arrested two men for continuing to make threats while police were diffusing the situation.

Cecil Moore, 22, of Fort Mill, and Antonio Moore, 28, of York, were both charged with public disorderly conduct.

Amateur air marshal not appreciated

Authorities say a 36-year-old Greenville County man faces a $270 fine for having a gun and ammunition in his carry-on bag.

A police report says Christopher McCall of Simpsonville told authorities at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport that he forgot he had a pistol in his bag.

Transportation Security Administration spokesman John Allen says the gun and ammunition were discovered about 5:45 a.m. Tuesday as McCall passed through a security checkpoint, and airport police were notified.

Police issued him a $270 ticket for violating airport rules.

Car 54, where are you?

Authorities are looking for an inmate who escaped from a police officer and stole his cruiser in Colleton County.

Investigators say a deputy from Stephens County, Ga., was driving 37-year-old Perry Sullivan to the county in northeast Georgia on Thursday when the prisoner said he felt ill. The officer pulled over, and the inmate slipped out of his handcuffs and overpowered the officer, taking his patrol car and gun.

The officer was not hurt, and the police car was found a few hours later in Allendale County. But Sullivan has not been recaptured.

Pit bull caught playing head games

A dog found a human skull in Lancaster County, deputies say.

Maj. Matt Shaw said deputies were called around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday after a dog found a human skull in a wooded area off Old Lynwood Circle. A homeowner on the 1700 block of Lynwood Drive told deputies they found the skull in the backyard.

It was determined that the homeowner’s pit-bull had carried the skull into the backyard. She noticed there was something that looked like a skull in the backyard when she was chaining her dog back up.

The Lancaster County STAR Team and the South Carolina Foothills Search and Rescue searched the wooded area nearby for about five hours before finding the remains of a human.

The remains located did not include the skull, which had already been recovered in the backyard.

Pastor only rapes 3

Authorities now say former pastor Dale Richardson kidnapped four women and raped three of them between January 2010 and July of this year.

Dorchester County sheriff’s investigators say they will serve Richardson Thursday with warrants charging him with two counts each of criminal sexual conduct and kidnapping. He is already in jail without bail in connection with a July 27 kidnapping and rape incident and a June 21 incident in Summerville.

Investigators have been planning to charge Richardson with an Aug. 12, 2010, rape and kidnapping since last week. Maj. John Garrison said they recently found a third victim who was raped Jan. 5, 2010.

The woman told deputies she was hitchhiking on Rivers Avenue, trying to get a ride to a friend’s house. A man in a Chevrolet S-10 who called himself “Don” took her to a location on Mallard Road in Summerville and sexually assaulted her, Garrison said.

The January incident falls into a similar pattern as the later cases, in which the women were picked up and sexually assaulted on the grounds of Richardson’s Ladson church.

Summerville police say Richardson kidnapped a fourth woman but she was not sexually assaulted.

Really … cocaine makes great laxative

A Rock Hill woman wound up behind bars after reporting a break-in at her house, police say.

Tiffany Walls, 40, of Summit Street was charged with trafficking cocaine after more than 22 grams of the powdery substance was found wrapped in aluminum foil in her house, according to a police report.

Walls initially told officers she didn’t know what was in the packaging, and it wasn’t hers. She later told officers it was a laxative, the report states.

Field tests determined it was 22 grams of cocaine.

Walls called Rock Hill police to her home Sunday afternoon to report someone had broken into her house.

She told officers the break-in occurred between Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon, and about $100 in change was stolen from a bedroom closet.

She suspected the burglar broke in through a broken window in the back of the house.

While officers were investigating and searching for fingerprints they found the foil with the powder-like substance inside.

Romance is up and down

A Virginia couple plans to get married this weekend on Carowinds’ newest roller coaster, the Intimidator.

Wendy Delp and Glen Swearengin of Christiansburg, Va., got engaged on the Intimidator in 2010 when Swearengin popped the question at the top of the lift hill, according to a press release from Carowinds, an amusement park that straddles the North and South Carolina state line.

Swearengin got the ring on her finger before the first drop, and together the couple decided the ideal place to host their one-of-a-kind wedding was the exact same spot.

“We aren’t the typical couple. We wanted to do something fun and something people will remember,” said Delp. “We called the park because getting married at Carowinds would suit us perfectly. Plus, getting married on the Intimidator is something no one will forget.”

The couple will say “I do” at 9 a.m. Saturday on the steps of Intimidator, surrounded by family and friends.

Following the ceremony, the group will ride the 232-foot-tall coaster in celebration of the nuptials.

Pilot is flying low

A York County jury convicted a pilot from Lake Wylie of driving under the influence after he nearly side-swiped a sheriff’s office patrol car.

Samuel Hannan was charged with his second offense of DUI on Oct. 9. He was convicted on Thursday, according to a press release from the solicitor’s office.

Hannan was also observed driving erratically and at a high rate of speed, the release states. He refused to submit to field sobriety testing and refused to provide a breath sample to determine his blood alcohol concentration.

According to the release, Hannan told the officer he was on his way to his “crash pad” in Lake Wylie that night after spending the day on the lake followed by a stop in at a bar. He admitted to drinking three beers but later confessed that he had consumed more.

Hannan was sentenced to one year in prison and fined $2,100, followed by five years of probation. His prior conviction for DUI was for “Extreme DUI” out of Arizona in 2006.

Asteroid, aliens headed our way; what shall we do?

August 18, 2011

News that giant aliens are riding aboard an asteroid headed straight for the Earth caught most of Washington by surprise yesterday, but the White House was quick to offer a comprehensive plan to deal with the grave threat to humanity.

“There are two separate issues here — the cataclysmic collision expected to happen later this week, and the fact that the aliens appear poised to jump off the asteroid once it lands and invade our planet,” a grim President Obama told the nation. “Either way, we won’t stand still in the face of this mortal threat.”

Obama announced that he is mobilizing the military to fight off the aliens if they successfully land and any humans are left after the explosion. In addition, he has asked NASA and the Air Force to prepare an expedition into space that would intercept and destroy the asteroid before it arrives.

Republicans were quick to condemn the President’s plan.

“That’s the typical response we’d expect from those who believe in big government,” said GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney. “I think we should turn to the private sector, and encourage small business owners to use our free enterprise system to counter this threat.”

Newly minted candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry also opposed the President’s proposal.

“We should deal with those varmints like we deal with varmints in Texas,” the colorful evangelical said. “Let’s have everybody in America get a shotgun and shoot it into the sky. And be sure to have everyone yell ‘yee-haw.’ It won’t work without the ‘yee-haw.'”

Rep. Michele Bachmann, winner of last weekend’s Iowa straw poll, worried that Obama wasn’t concerned enough about the faith and morals of the invaders.

“I doubt those aliens are from the Judeo-Christian tradition, considering their very existence discredits thousands of years of belief in the God of Abraham,” Bachmann said. “America needs to know if they are possibly gay or Muslim or something.”

She said that if it were determined the aliens were Christian, then she would recommend a dialogue with them, assuming we can communicate in their language.

“There has been enough persecution of Christians already,” Bachmann said. “Christians are the last group that it’s okay to discriminate against. Just thought I’d mention that because it’d been several days since I last brought it up.”

Tea-party godfather and Libertarian Rep. Ron Paul suggested that a return to the gold standard, and abolition of the Federal Reserve, should be key components of any plan to defeat a race of super-creatures with powers far greater than anything imagined by Earthlings.

“I realize that doesn’t seem to make sense,” Paul admitted. “But if they see us doing something totally bizarre like that in the face of their invasion, maybe they’ll think we’re not worthy of being conquered.”

House Speaker John Boehner noted that the Obama plan did little to create jobs in this time of high unemployment.

“Maybe these extraterrestrials would offer to create jobs to help with their invasion,” Boehner said. “They’re probably going to need a lot of help in understanding our earthly ways, which could easily translate into opportunities for work. We certainly don’t want to see illegal immigrants getting these jobs. Aliens might naturally want to hire other aliens, unless we make it clear they can’t.”

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said he was concerned the imminent destruction of life as we know it would divert focus away from fixing problems with the debt and deficit.

“Once again, President Obama is ready to sell us down the road, putting this tremendous debt burden on our children and grandchildren,” the Kentucky Republican said. “We need a more far-sighted approach from the White House. There can’t be this focus on a ‘problem-of-the-week’ while harm that will be done 40 and 50 years down the road goes unattended.”

Obama later appeared chastened by the speed and certainty with which his opponents objected to his plan.

“I’m just trying to protect and save our planet. Geez,” the president told a reporter. “This knee-jerk reaction to anything and everything I propose is just ridiculous. If I would’ve said the sky is blue, they’d say it was something else.”

“Actually,” noted House Majority Whip Eric Cantor, “the sky is black. It’s the reflection of water off the air molecules that make it appear blue.”