Posts Tagged ‘advice’

Revisited: A bunch of small editorials

July 2, 2011

Just about every newspaper, from the monolithic New York Times to the local small-town shopper, seems to have an opinion page. Much of the space in that section is taken up with editorials, in which various news events are dissected, and the writer eventually comes out in favor of or opposed to something. Most of these are longer than they need to be, in a sad attempt to justify whatever opinion is being espoused.

In today’s fast-paced society, we have to get to the point more quickly than ever. Glaciers are melting, people are starving and celebrities are finding themselves in trouble. Editorialists need to wrap it up faster. Tell everybody what to do and how to feel, and move on already.

Today I’d like to introduce the concept of what I call the “mini-torial.” What follows represents my sentiments on a variety of topics, all of which you’d typically skip right past if they were long and boring. Since instead they’re short and snappy, you will read and heed my word.

  • There’s too much variety in the world. Have you been to the grocery store lately? There must be hundreds of different cereals to choose from. This is simply too many. Everything should be the same.
  • Bristol, Bristol, Bristol. You’re such a young girl. Do you realize what you’re doing? You’re not pregnant again, are you? Bristol?
  • Farewell, Clarence Clemmons. It’s such a shame that people eventually have to die. We call for a moratorium on mortality.
  • Chinese characters are unnecessarily difficult to read. It looks like a typewriter got stuck in one place and all the letters just typed one on top of the other. Come on, China. Enter the twenty-first century. Start writing and speaking in English.
  • Professional car racing for sport represents such a huge waste of gasoline. Stop it.
  • BP should be ashamed of itself for allowing the gulf oil spill to go on this long. Wildlife is dying. Clean-up crews are getting hot and dirty and smelly. This is not how we’re supposed to spend a summer at the beach.
  • Apple announces it will have a major announcement about the iPhone 4. Just tell us already.
  • We’re looking forward to Tiger’s return to St. Andrews for this week’s British Open. We hope there’s a lot of exciting golf and not so much distracting chatter about his personal life. Isn’t it about time that we all started acting like grown-ups?
  • There’s no need for phone books anymore.
  • Those Hitler shenanigans got completely out of control. Someone should have stopped him back in the 1930s.
  • Things are looking increasingly bleak for our war effort in Afghanistan. Soon it will be winter and the Taliban will retreat even further into their caves. People are going to be catching some awful head colds.
  • It’s so easy to take oxygen for granted. It’s all around us, in the very air that we breathe. We call on Congress to establish a National Oxygen Appreciation Day, to honor this most precious of gases.
  • We need to jump start economic growth. This recession has gone on for far too long. There are people out there looking for jobs, and there just aren’t that many to choose from. If you know anyone who is hiring, could you mention my name?
  • The so-called obesity epidemic just means that a lot of people are fat. Since when is that news?
  • Congratulations, South Africa, on the success of the recently completed World Cup soccer tournament. Job well done. Let’s do it again some time.
  • Muslims in New York are planning to build a mosque right down the street from Ground Zero. If they have the traditional call to prayer five times a day, it’s going to be difficult to hear, what with the traffic noise and such.
  • Even though we didn’t usually agree with Dick Cheney’s politics, we wish him well as he recovers from major heart surgery. That can take a toll on anybody, especially someone his age.
  • It’s been months since the terrible earthquake in Haiti, and there’s so little progress in that poorest of Caribbean nations. And now hurricane season has arrived. It’s just one thing after another with those people.
  • Twitter is enabling people to keep up with their friends like never before. This is a good thing in our increasingly hectic lives. We need to stay in touch. Let’s have lunch together some time.
  • LeBron James has forsaken his hometown of Cleveland for the bright lights and excitement of Miami. Let’s hope he realizes how hot it gets there in the summertime.
  • The Tea Party movement needs to stop being against things and start proposing some stuff. Nobody likes too much negativism. Couldn’t they at least say something nice about President Obama’s posture?
  • Happy Bastille Day to all the French! We’ll make no snide comments here about how they’re effete, weak, foul-smelling and cowardly. Instead, it’s a day to celebrate all things French – not just kisses, toast, fries and dressing, but the people too.

Revisited: An editorial — Shhh!

April 24, 2011

People of America, hear me: You need to be quiet.

There’s entirely too much idle chatter going on here. You have to simmer down and get back to work. You’re never going to make anything of yourself if you spend all day yacking with your friends.

What was good advice from our third-grade teacher is good advice today. People blather on incessantly about the most pointless topics, diverting much-needed attention from the advancement of Western Civilization. It’s no wonder we’re falling behind the rest of the world in so many areas. Being number one in telling stories about our dogs is not going to cut it when it comes to global competitiveness.

“How are you?”/”I’m fine, how are you?”

“How’s it going?”/”Oh, it’s going.”

“What’s happening?”/”Same ol’ same ol’.”

“How’s it hangin’?”/”Oh, it’s quite comfortably packaged in a cotton-blend brief.”

Will you please shut the hell up?

The editorial board here at DavisW’s Blog is anticipating a summer-long extravaganza of incessant yammering, and goes on record with this editorial as saying it doesn’t like the prospect one bit. We will not stand for endless stories about the cute blouse you almost bought, that back-handed catch in last night’s Mariners’ game, and those allergies that are going around right now. Anything short of you being hit by a meteor, spare us the details.

We’re proposing alternate forms of communication for some of the big events likely to be the most irritating in the months ahead.

At the Senate confirmation hearings for new Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, we’d like to see all parties agree to use exaggerated facial expressions rather than words to debate the merits of her qualifications. Supporters will be limited to broad smiles and wide-eyed nods. Those still on the fence can furrow their brows, narrow their eyes and peer over the rims of their glasses. Republicans can do like they always do, shake their heads no.

Nominee Kagan can make her case by the clothes she wears, the jewelry she rocks and the makeup she carefully applies. Regardless of what she does, she’ll still not compare to the woman we’d like to have appointed (see yesterday’s editorial, “Our Pick for High Court: Lost‘s Hottie Evangeline Lilly”). If Kagan wants to jump up and down or wave her arms wildly in the air to prove to the Judiciary Committee that she’ll be a strict constructionist, that’s fine.

In the entertainment world, let’s have a half-baked limited-run TV reality series in which contestants are locked in a house and not allowed to talk to each other. Only menacing stares, threatening glances, heavy sighs and chimp-like grunts are permitted. In the season finale, all participants will be allowed to file restraining orders against each other and lawsuits against the producers. Ensuing trials will be conducted using semaphore flags.

Sports analysts will not be allowed to discuss what’s the latest news on Tiger Woods. Instead, they can only employ the pantomime conventions of the parlor game “Charades.” Viewers will tweet in their guesses until the entire commentary is revealed. “Bulging something, right? Bulging dick. Bulging disc. BULGING DISC!”

And of course, it goes without saying that our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends and our associates will keep their heads down, mind their own business, and clam up, for Christ’s sake. Use your mouth for eating hot dogs and catching fireflies on your tongue, just as our ancestors did in summers gone by. Otherwise, keep your yap shut.

This is our decree. Heed our word.

An Open Letter to the Guy in the Next Stall

March 9, 2011

It’s rare in the course of a man’s day to have such intimate proximity to another man. We pal around, we joke around, but when it comes time to take care of certain biological necessities, we don’t really want to be around each other.

The thin metallic wall that separates toilet stalls in the men’s room provides only minimal privacy as we do our business. Two males — perhaps similar in background and status and standards for civilized behavior, perhaps as different as two humans can be — find themselves sharing a nexus of time and space. They barely see each other, and what they do see is little more than a pair of shoes draped by a dropped pair of slacks. Yet they are hyper-aware of each other’s presence. You can’t squat on a commode less than a yard away from someone else without pondering what kind of limited acknowledgements are appropriate.

Either ponder, or pick up that 2008 Reader’s Digest that’s been in here for months and read again the profile of presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.

I was in a pensive mood the other day as I sat in a stall at work and considered the anonymous man next to me one stall over. I’ve never been comfortable moving my bowels so close to another person, and it occurred to me there was really no way to explain my discomfort. I resented this poor fellow whose needs were no doubt as urgent as my own, but I couldn’t explain why. He had as much right to these facilities as I did. He was a Child of the Universe. He had a right to be here. Then why did I wish that when he flushed, he’d disappear into the sewage system along with his waste?

The awkwardness, I finally figured out, was due to the fact that we had no ground rules for how we should share this space in a polite and mutually beneficial manner. That’s when it came to me that what was needed was more open communication between us.

It was there that my idea for this Open Letter to the Guy in the Next Stall crystallized. I grabbed a scrap of paper and a pen out of my pocket, and immediately started scribbling notes. Before long, I had a list of major points I wanted to make. I briefly considered passing them under the stall wall, then thought better of the wisdom of such a petition. Better, I realized, to seek a wider audience by publishing my reflections on the Internet.

Such was the genesis of this open letter.

Dear Sir,

Hey. How’s it going?

I know this is a little awkward for both of us, but I wanted to communicate some ideas I’ve had on how we can make this a more comfortable experience for both of us. You’re probably feeling the same low-level anxiety I am, and I thought if we could agree on some general rules, we could make this whole thing even more gratifying than it already is.

Allow me to pass on a few of these reflections.

(First, let me say right off that you shouldn’t be alarmed by this overture. I have no intention of soliciting a gay tryst from you, and I trust that your intentions are equally honorable. I just wanted to make that clear.)

We both know each other are here, but let’s pretend that we don’t. I’d rather believe that this wall separating us went all the way to the floor and was made of reinforced concrete topped by razor wire instead of thin sheet metal. However, since it isn’t, let’s keep our awareness in check as best we can.

One thing you can do to help with this is to not make any sounds. I know that the “Humor in Uniform” section of the RD can be riotously funny, but I’d prefer not to hear any laughter coming from your stall. Also, if you could stifle any sighs, moans or sounds of straining, that would be most appreciated.

Obviously, this would also apply to any cellphone conversations you might be tempted to have while you’re in here. If you blurt out a “what’s happenin’?” to your good buddy on the other end of the phone line, remember that I have no way of knowing whether you’re talking to him or me. And, trust me, you don’t want to know the specifics of what’s happening with me.

Now, I realize that some sounds are going to be inevitable. The human body does not expel its by-products, nor does the bowl of water accept these, without a certain amount of noise. What I try to do, and what I might suggest for you as well, is to launch a flush at the exact moment that these sounds are anticipated, setting up a sonic wall that blocks my perception of exactly what just occurred. Such a “courtesy flush” will also head off any accumulation of foul odors.

If you drop anything onto the floor during your visit in here, you can pick it up as long as it stays squarely in your stall. Anything approaching the dividing line between our two realms should be left where it lays, since this could lead to an exchange of words between us, something neither of us want. If you drop money, and the coins roll from your stall into mine, know that I will report you to both Human Resources and the local police.

If you’re wearing a company-issued ID badge attached to your belt, please turn the face of the badge away from my direction. I don’t want to know who you are. If you’re my boss, I might find myself performing my duties as if I were being evaluated, which can lead to a certain stricture of functions. If you’re my underling, I don’t want to believe you’ll think lesser of me as your manager just because I have an all-too-human alimentary canal. And please be aware that the laminate facing of the badge exhibits just enough reflectivity that it might cause me to see things I wish I hadn’t.

If you’ve largely completed your mission here, but feel the need to linger a few minutes longer before officially calling it quits, realize that I’d prefer you move along. I will signal my impatience with a wadded-up ball of tissue paper that I’ll toss over the wall at you. This will be your signal to leave.

If you’ve already completed your final flush, I will be listening for the jingle of your belt buckle as an indication that you’re re-dressing yourself and are about to exit. If you’re not wearing a belt, please jingle your keys in a simulation of this move. This will allow us both to time our egress from the stalls so that it doesn’t happen simultaneously.

If you have business to attend to at the sink, as I hope you do, see to it quickly and efficiently. Wash your hands and, if you must, check your image in the mirror. A brief swipe at your hair with a comb is generally permissible but other types of grooming and ablutions are frowned upon by those of us waiting for you to leave the room before we exit our toilet. I will take the roar of the hand-drying machine as the sign that you’re all but finished, which will allow me to begin gathering myself to leave as well.

And, one final point. Don’t turn off the light as you leave the restroom. It’s not funny. It’s very, very scary.

Thank you for hearing me out. I don’t mean to be forward, but I am interested in doing whatever I can to make this workplace a more comfortable environment for us all. I think you’ll agree that these simple rules represent a common-sense approach that we can all agree on.

If you have any questions, please keep them to yourself. And thanks again for your time.

Sincerely,

The Guy Next Door Wearing the Adidas Running Shoes

Ask Mr. Ethiquette: Several questions today

December 17, 2010

Dear Mr. Ethiquette,

I’m a working-class white Southern male, except that I’m not technically working because I’ve been unemployed for over a year. My job in the textile industry was eliminated when the company moved production to China, and I can’t find anything new, especially with just a high-school education.

My wife lost her job in state government last month, just as my unemployment benefits were running out. Our 19-year-old son can only find work at McDonald’s and is thinking about joining the Army instead, except he’s a little concerned about the whole dying-in-Afghanistan thing. My 11-year-old daughter was doing well in school until funding was cut and her teacher was replaced with a mannequin.

Meanwhile, all around us, roads and bridges are crumbling, families are losing their homes and average Americans have given up all hope that the future is going to be any better.

Can you explain to me why I continue to support Republican policies that give more money to the wealthy and have virtually no regard for my situation? Why would I vote so consistently against my own self-interests? What is wrong with me?

— L.P., Columbia S.C.

Dear L.P.,

Gays are going to be allowed to marry each other!

Democrats want to take away your guns!

There’s a war against Christmas being waged by liberals who aren’t as God-loving as you!

Muslims are building a mosque near Ground Zero in New York!

African-Americans and Hispanics continue to walk among us!

Have you forgotten about all this?

— Mr. Ethiquette

Dear Mr. Ethiquette,

You’re right! I forgot all about that. Sorry, I guess I was distracted by trying to figure out how I was going to feed my family.

— L.P., Columbia, S.C.

Dear L.P.,

And don’t forget Congressional earmarks! And Nancy Pelosi! And the lamestream media!

— Mr. Ethiquette

Dear Mr. Ethiquette,

Right, right. So sorry to waste your time.

— L.P., Columbia, S.C.

Dear L.P.,

That’s OK. In stressful times like these, it’s easy to forget what’s important for America.

— Mr. Ethiquette

+++

Dear Mr. Ethiquette,

What is considered proper these days when holding open a door for someone? Is this only something a man does for a woman, or is it a common courtesy that should be extended to all?

What do you do when they’re coming up behind you, but they’re far enough away that you have to hold the door for a few additional seconds? They often break into a trot to keep you from waiting, which seems to defeat the whole purpose of why you’re trying to be nice to them. Especially when old people are involved — I hate to make grandma jog across the parking lot because she doesn’t want to inconvenience me by waiting for her.

And what about automatically opening doors? Should I stand in front of the sensor to keep the doors open for a straggler, or can I count on their own physical bulk to take care of this for them?

Modern life is so confusing for a person like me who wants to do right by their fellow human beings.

— H.R., Denver, Col.

Dear H.R.,

Truly you are a dying breed, but I’m glad there are some of you still out there who want to be nice to strangers.

If there is someone immediately behind you as you enter a door, it is proper to hold the door for them, regardless of their gender. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if it’s a man or a woman anyway, what with all the trans-sexuals and trans-gendered and transvestites out there. And don’t even get me started on the gays.

If the straggler is more than a couple of feet behind you, do not hold the door. The whole idea of this exercise is to be polite, so you kind of defeat the purpose by making them sprint forward so you’re not holding the door so long. At that distance, you can’t really be sure they’re coming in the same door as you anyway. Maybe they plan instead to scale the wall to a second-floor window and enter that way. Maybe they have superhuman strength and prefer to bash a new entryway into the building. Maybe they’ve mastered teleportation and plan on reassembling their atoms inside, without ever even using a door. You don’t know.

As for automatic doors, I believe these are a scourge upon the land. They encourage weakness in our population, and have contributed immeasurably to the decline of Western Civilization. What’s next to be automated? Zippers? Car doors? Will we soon require attendants to bring a glass of water to our lips so that we may drink without effort? No wonder we have an obesity problem in this country.

I think I’ve answered your question in there somewhere. Thanks for asking.

— Mr. Ethiquette

+++

Dear Mr. Ethiquette,

So what exactly is the point of this advice column anyway? You’re trying to address that area where ethics and etiquette intersect? I can appreciate the need to apologize to a neighbor that you almost ran over with your car, or the prison inmate you’re about to execute. And you covered those two topics nicely in your first two installments.

I’m not sure what else is left. How are you going to make this a regular feature of this blog with such a shortage of issues?

— D.L., Toronto, Canada

Dear T.L.,

You know what? I hate to admit it, but you’re right. It was a stupid idea to begin with.

Today’s post therefore marks the end of the “Ask Mr. Ethiquette” feature. Like Larry King, I’ve enjoyed my tenure entertaining and informing America, even if he did it for 60 years and I just started earlier this month. But there comes a time for all things to end, so I’ll take my cue from Larry and Oprah and Barbara Walters and all the other retiring titans of infotainment, and I’ll say goodbye.

Thanks for reading.

— The Late Mr. Ethiquette

Ask Mr. Ethiquette: Dealing with the condemned

December 10, 2010

This is the second installment of my new advice series, “Ask Mr. Ethiquette.” I’ll offer guidance on that uncomfortable nexus of ethics and etiquette, the place where we’re conflicted about how to do the right thing or, if we can’t, at least how to do the wrong thing with grace. Polite society is important to maintain even as you go about your daily routine of stepping all over people. Mr. Ethiquette will tell you how to do it.

Dear Mr. Ethiquette,
I am the executioner for the Texas state prison system. (Hey — it’s a job). My state leads the nation in capital punishment so you’d think I’d be a busy man, tying people down, putting hoods on heads, closing curtains, etc. Actually, most of the time it’s pretty boring.

I’ve executed 17 different prisoners this year, which might sound like a lot, until you consider this is the 344th day of 2010, which means there were 327 days where I didn’t kill anyone. Sure, there are some weekends and holidays in there, plus I’m up to three weeks vacation now that I’ve completed my tenth year on the job (had a great time in Branson last July, and would recommend it to anyone, by the way). I usually don’t execute people on my days off — just that liquor store clerk in Missouri and a couple of freelance jobs in Florida — so that leaves many days where I mostly sit around.

Yes, I can practice. But hooking roaches and spiders and other household pests up to a lethal IV can hone your skills only so much. We have an official training manual that I review periodically. There are lots of standard procedures you have to know and, of course, this being state government, we have a ton of checklists to go through. I’ve read the manual cover-to-cover twice now but didn’t learn anything new. (I did find a few typos, though — yay me!) I’ve done all the mandatory safety training and diversity training and sexual harassment training, and now I mostly just sit around playing online Scrabble.

It gives me a lot of time to think about what I’m doing, and there’s something that’s starting to weigh heavy on my conscience: What is the proper etiquette for dealing with an individual that you’re getting ready to put to death?

The guards bring these poor suckers to my office, and it’s my job not only to execute them, but to make them fill out some forms first. We have a customer satisfaction survey that lets the prison system know if we’re meeting and (hopefully) exceeding their requirements. There’s an exit interview. There are questions about organ donation and which family member gets what’s left of the body. They have to sign about a dozen places and initial probably 30 or 40 others, so we’re spending a fair amount of time together.

How friendly should I be to these guys? Is casual conversation and everyday banter a good way to go (I always like to keep things as light as possible around here) or should I be more serious? Sometimes, they’re looking for someone to give them comfort that a better place awaits them in the afterlife, and other times it’s all I can do to keep them chained to the chair. I’ve tried saying as little as possible, to reflect the severity of their situation, but the silences are usually too awkward.

What is my responsibility to make these heinous criminals as socially comfortable as possible during their final moments of life? — K.L., San Antonio.

Dear K.L.,
First of all, let me say this: wow — what a cool job!

That being said, I have to admit you’re in a tough position there. Your only true obligation is to the criminal justice system, to carry out your duties in a professional manner. You want to concentrate on your work, so you don’t want to be distracted by needless chitchat. What if you accidentally administered an intravenous Sierra Mist instead of potassium chloride? What if you made them lie face-down on the gurney instead of face up? You’d be a laughingstock in the eyes of your coworkers, and probably a candidate for official reprimand.

Still, I understand how awkward such a situation could be, and there’s nothing wrong with breaking the ice with a little “gallows humor.” Make some comment about how you’re not going to bother sterilizing the needle. Get in a dig at the warden. Tell the press you’re available for part-time work, and that you’d be glad to handle the next round of layoffs at their newspapers.

Casual conversation directly with the condemned is probably not prudent. Even a simple “how’s it goin’?” is likely to be a sensitive topic, packed with unintended overtones. I’d keep your words brief and to the point, though you can certainly soften the harsh message you’re delivering in small ways. Adding a simple “if you please” to the command “extend your forearm” can be enough to change the whole experience into a more positive one for the prisoner.

As the lethal injection solution is making its way into their veins, I would refrain from asking too many questions, like “feel anything yet?” or “how about now?” If there are relatives of the convict present, a solemn nod in their direction is probably more appropriate than the vigorous wave and wide grin you’ll be offering the family of the convict’s victim. When you’ve detected that breathing has ceased and the condemned is likely dead, ask the doctor to make the official determination rather than trying to do so yourself by poking them with a stick.

When the execution is complete, I’d refrain from any elaborate goodbyes. “I’m outta here” or “see ya later” can come off as insensitive, as can observations like “sucks to be you.” Bow your head respectfully as the man is wheeled out of the room, then hit the timeclock and head outside for a well-deserved smoke break.

Introducing “Ask Mr. Ethiquette”

December 3, 2010

I was pulling into a parking spot at Panera’s Cafe the other day when I encountered a moral dilemma. And it had nothing to do with the poaching of free wi-fi.

Rather, it involved a businesswoman loading her car with what looked to be just-purchased bags full of sandwiches, probably for a lunch meeting back at her office. She accidentally left one large parcel on the curb as she got in to drive away.

I faced a choice that would say a lot about the kind of person I am: I could either toot my horn at her and point to the bag, or I could let her drive cluelessly away and have myself a dozen free ham-and-cheese sandwiches. I suppose there was also a third choice which involved running over the bag just to see what kind of squishy mess I could make, but that seemed like a grey area on the spectrum of right versus wrong.

I’m proud to say that I was getting ready to do the right thing when she happened to notice her own mistake and pulled back into the parking space to retrieve the bag. I was so glad I hadn’t decided to snatch the thing up for myself just as she returned. I’d have some fancy explaining to do.

What this incident showed me is that I have the gift of understanding moral nuance, and ought to share my gift with others. What is the proper way for one to act when placed in a situation where you have to combine the desire to assist a fellow human with knowing how to react when you inevitably fail? What do you say to your neighbor when you meant to wave “hi” but instead almost run him over? Should you hold the door open for a coworker who has to jog across the parking lot to keep you from waiting for them? If you’re an executioner in Iran, do you apologize to your prisoner for the inconvenience of beheading him?

This is the intersection of ethics and etiquette, and it can be a dangerous crossroads to negotiate, even when I’m not chasing down neighbors with my car. Most people want to adhere to a system of moral principles governing appropriate conduct, and at the same time don’t want to embarrass themselves by behaving foolishly. Etiquette — the rules and conventions governing correct or polite behavior in society — should also be proper. And I can tell you how to accomplish both.

This is the premiere of a season of Friday blog installments where I take questions on ethics and etiquette and try to give an answer appropriate for both dimensions. If you want to do the right thing but choose to do the wrong thing, how do you handle the whole situation with grace when you’re exposed for the animal you are?

Ask the man they rather awkwardly call “Mr. Ethiquette.”

Dear Mr. Ethiquette,
It is okay to pick your nose while driving even if you don’t have tinted windows? Do I have to care if someone sees me? Where else am I supposed to do it — during a staff meeting? What are the proper venues for the manual extraction of bodily fluids, other than locked in the handicapped stall? Or am I supposed to just let the obstructions build up in there until I get a massive infection and the whole center of my face has to be surgically removed? — P.F., in Dallas

Dear P.F.,
Let me guess — P.F. stands for “pinky finger,” right?

Studies quoted by Dr. Oz on Tuesday’s Oprah indicate that the average person “picks or touches” their nose about five times an hour. Of course, there’s a big difference between picking and touching, as coke addicts, I Dream of Jeannie and Santa headed up the chimney can attest.

The human olfactory organ is incredibly effective in most regards. It allowed our primitive ancestors to sense the presence of danger in the form of foul-breathed predators. Later predecessors may have encountered beauty for the first time through the smell of a flower. When our pioneer forefathers got into an Old West barroom brawl, the nose provided something convenient to punch.

The internal workings of the nasal passages are efficient and repulsive at the same time. Mucus combines with tiny hairs (at least they’re tiny until you reach your fifties, when they begin to grow luxuriant) to form a sticky surface that captures dust and dirt, keeping foreign matter out of the lungs. As air rushes over these coagulated particulates with every breath, they dry out and become what are technically known as “boogers”.

In its smaller form, the booger is harmless, but as it becomes larger, a certain discomfort grows within the nose that will eventually culminate in suffocation if you don’t get those disgusting things out of there. Fortunately, evolution saw fit not only to give us fingers with the exact same diameter as our nose holes, but also with fingernails attached at the end to help with the occasional need for nasal excavation. Natural selection weeded out the thick-fingered until only the modern nose-picker survived.

Where this unearthing exercise takes place depends on your culture. Among certain tribes of the western Pacific, there’s a whole ritual involved where the village elders gather around and chant celebratory songs as the booger is removed, then held high for all to see. In more civilized societies, the extraction is done in private.

Being in your car counts as privacy in my book. Just as most motorists feel free to apply makeup, sing along with Lady Gaga and engage in sexual relations with their front-seat passenger while paused at a traffic light, so too should you feel free to go elbow-deep if necessary to do what needs to be done. If any onlookers object, it’s their problem, not yours.

I would advise you to take care and be conscientious about your disposal methods while working out in the car. Most people keep a small pack of tissues or the underside of their seat handy to serve as a repository for their prize. What you do in the privacy of your car may be your own business, but when you start flicking stuff out the window and onto the windshield of the guy pulled up behind you, then you’ve stepped over the bounds of propriety.

I say, continue to go for it as you wish. A blocked-up nose “snot” other people’s problem; it’s yours.

Always wash your hands after any facial maintenance -- you never know who you're going to meet

Fake Sports: Yankees directed to third straight win

September 10, 2010

NEW YORK — The New York Yankees completed a three-game sweep of the rival Tampa Bay Rays yesterday, encouraged on to a 3-2 victory by a fan near the left-field foul line who held up a small placard urging “GO YANKEES”.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” commented Yankee manager Joe Girardi after the dramatic come-from-behind win. “We sometimes get bogged down in the details of how to play a baseball game, and forget that the main idea is to move forward, to progress, to emerge victorious, to — as that fan so eloquently put it — to ‘go’.”

The Yankees had trailed the Rays by one run going into the bottom of the ninth, but rallied on a solo home run by Alex Rodriguez, a double by Derek Jeter, and an RBI single by Robinson Cano.

“That sign not only inspired me to find the strength to drive the ball deep to right. It reminded me that I should ‘go’ and run around the bases, rather than stop and chat with the second baseman,” Rodriguez told reporters after the game. “I know there is a proper time for base-runners to stop, and I think it’s shortly after they cross home plate. It just helped me to get that confirmation from the crowd.”

The fan, identified as Andy Scott of suburban Long Island, said he had become concerned about the Yankees’ recent four-game losing streak, and decided to hand-letter the encouraging words on the back of an old MapQuest printout he had abandoned in the back seat of his car.

“It may not have been a professional sign, like some other people were holding, but it did speak from the heart,” Scott said. “I’m just glad they didn’t notice I had to squeeze in the second ‘E’ of ‘YANKEES’ after initially misspelling it.”

“No, I didn’t notice that at all,” said Jeter, whose double paved the way for Cano’s game-winning line drive. “I guess I was focused more on the ‘GO’ part anyway. I knew the second word began with a ‘Y’ and I just assumed it said ‘YANKEES’, though I supposed it could’ve said ‘YOUSIF’ or ‘YEUNGLING’ from where I was standing. It was the context that made me think it was probably addressed toward our team.”

Cano said he also appreciated both the general encouragement of the message, as well as the specificity of the directions.

“When I hit one in the gap and can tell it’s in there for extra bases, I sometimes get caught up in the moment as I’m streaking toward first base, and forget whether I’m supposed to turn left or right at that point,” Cano said. “If more fans would hold up signs reminding us of the importance of fundamentals — be it ‘TURN LEFT’ or ‘KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL’ or even ‘JUMP UP WHEN A BALL IS HIT OVER YOUR HEAD’ — I think it would keep us grounded in reality.”

Many of the other Yankees agreed that plain-spoken, concise advice from fans was helpful.

“I wish I could get guidance on some of my financial investments,” noted designated hitter Mark Teixeira. “This being New York, you know there have to be some Wall Street types in the crowd. I’m constantly on the lookout for the banner that says ‘BONDS ARE SAFER IN THIS ENVIRONMENT’ or the guy who’s painted something like ‘STOCKS ROCK’ on his bare chest.”

“I’d appreciate some child-rearing counsel myself, since I have two young children,” said pitcher Andy Pettite. “We’re on the road a lot, and frankly it’s easy to forget whether to put the diapers on the bottoms or on the heads. I think of myself as a father who’s closely involved with his children, and little reminders like that from the crowd would be so thoughtful.”

“The only down side I’d note about fan involvement involves some of their clothing choices,” said center-fielder Curtis Granderson. “If I see a guy in Section C, Row 8 wearing a ‘Yankees’ jersey, I sometimes think I’m supposed to throw the ball to him after I make a catch. Maybe if they could hand-write the word ‘SUPPORTER’ or ‘FAN’ underneath, it’d be a little more clear to me that he’s not actually an active member of our roster.”

“I can see where there might be some confusion on an issue like that,” manager Girardi confirmed. “On balance, though, it’s that supportive attitude from the home crowd that frequently gives us such an advantage.”

First-baseman Lance Berkman began to chime in on the subject, but stopped in mid-sentence when he noticed the sign above the locker room door that said ‘EXIT’.

“Guys, guys, look at that,” Berkman called out to his teammates.

At that point, the entire Yankees squad headed for the players’ parking lot, even though many of them had not yet dressed after their post-game showers.

An editorial: Actually a bunch of really small ones

July 15, 2010

Just about every newspaper, from the monolithic New York Times to the local small-town shopper, seems to have an opinion page. Much of the space in that section is taken up with editorials, in which various news events are dissected, and the writer eventually comes out in favor of or opposed to something. Most of these are longer than they need to be, in a sad attempt to justify whatever opinion is being espoused.

In today’s fast-paced society, we have to get to the point more quickly than ever. Glaciers are melting, people are starving and celebrities are finding themselves in trouble. Editorialists need to wrap it up faster. Tell everybody what to do and how to feel, and move on already.

Today I’d like to introduce the concept of what I call the “mini-torial.” What follows represents my sentiments on a variety of topics, all of which you’d typically skip right past if they were long and boring. Since instead they’re short and snappy, you will read and heed my word.

  • There’s too much variety in the world. Have you been to the grocery store lately? There must be hundreds of different cereals to choose from. This is simply too many. Everything should be the same.
  • Bristol, Bristol, Bristol. You’re such a young girl. Do you realize what you’re doing? You’re not pregnant again, are you? Bristol?
  • Farewell, George Steinbrenner. It’s such a shame that people eventually have to die. We call for a moratorium on mortality.
  • Chinese characters are unnecessarily difficult to read. It looks like a typewriter got stuck in one place and all the letters just typed one on top of the other. Come on, China. Enter the twenty-first century. Start writing and speaking in English.
  • Professional car racing for sport represents such a huge waste of gasoline. Stop it.
  • BP should be ashamed of itself for allowing the gulf oil spill to go on this long. Wildlife is dying. Clean-up crews are getting hot and dirty and smelly. This is not how we’re supposed to spend a summer at the beach.
  • Apple announces it will have a major announcement about the iPhone 4. Just tell us already.
  • We’re looking forward to Tiger’s return to St. Andrews for this week’s British Open. We hope there’s a lot of exciting golf and not so much distracting chatter about his personal life. Isn’t it about time that we all started acting like grown-ups?
  • There’s no need for phone books anymore.
  • Those Hitler shenanigans got completely out of control. Someone should have stopped him back in the 1930s.
  • Things are looking increasingly bleak for our war effort in Afghanistan. Soon it will be winter and the Taliban will retreat even further into their caves. People are going to be catching some awful head colds.
  • It’s so easy to take oxygen for granted. It’s all around us, in the very air that we breathe. We call on Congress to establish a National Oxygen Appreciation Day, to honor this most precious of gases.
  • We need to jump start economic growth. This recession has gone on for far too long. There are people out there looking for jobs, and there just aren’t that many to choose from. If you know anyone who is hiring, could you mention my name?
  • The so-called obesity epidemic just means that a lot of people are fat. Since when is that news?
  • Congratulations, South Africa, on the success of the recently completed World Cup soccer tournament. Job well done. Let’s do it again some time.
  • Muslims in New York are planning to build a mosque right down the street from Ground Zero. If they have the traditional call to prayer five times a day, it’s going to be difficult to hear, what with the traffic noise and such.
  • Even though we didn’t usually agree with Dick Cheney’s politics, we wish him well as he recovers from major heart surgery. That can take a toll on anybody, especially someone his age.
  • It’s been six months since the terrible earthquake in Haiti, and there’s so little progress in that poorest of Caribbean nations. And now hurricane season has arrived. It’s just one thing after another with those people.
  • Twitter is enabling people to keep up with their friends like never before. This is a good thing in our increasingly hectic lives. We need to stay in touch. Let’s have lunch together some time.
  • LeBron James has forsaken his hometown of Cleveland for the bright lights and excitement of Miami. Let’s hope he realizes how hot it gets there in the summertime.
  • The Tea Party movement needs to stop being against things and start proposing some stuff. Nobody likes too much negativism. Couldn’t they at least say something nice about President Obama’s posture?
  • Happy Bastille Day to all the French! We’ll make no snide comments here about how they’re effete, weak, foul-smelling and cowardly. Instead, it’s a day to celebrate all things French — not just kisses, toast, fries and dressing, but the people too.

Revisited: Recipes for squirrel (garnish with tail)

February 13, 2010

Recently, in my guise as an advice columnist, I answered a question from a reader who was having trouble with squirrels trying to break into his house. More frightening than your typical 2 a.m. drug-inspired home invasion, this situation involved the furry yard-beasts chewing through various parts of the siding in an attempt to find shelter, food, girl squirrels or some paradisiacal combination of all three. The writer wanted to know what he could do to solve this problem. I gave a lame, tentative answer, but today I’ll elaborate.

Eat the squirrels.

How? For that answer, we turn to the outdoors columnist of my local newspaper. Keep two facts in mind as you read the following: (1) “dressing” the squirrel does not involve putting on cute little outfits but rather involves dismembering him; and (2) if you think removing the grey glands from behind the legs is really going to make a difference in how palatable the meal is, you better think again. Also, when the columnist says the broth “can” be used to make a delicious gravy, he is speaking in theory.

You must acknowledge that some of the names commonly used for squirrels aren’t exactly appealing when it comes to looking at them as table fare. Consuming critters known as bushytails or tree rats doesn’t put one’s salivary glands into overdrive. Then again, neither does goose liver, the basic ingredient in the gourmet delicacy pate de foie gras.

Yet as a reader recently noted, and as fond memories regularly remind me, properly prepared squirrel makes wonderful eating. Moreover, this is the time of year when squirrel hunting is one of only a handful of sporting activities which can be pursued with expectations of a high likelihood of success. So, with those thoughts in mind, why not take to the woods, bring home a mess of squirrels, and get ready for some mighty fine moments at the table?

I’ll leave obtaining the basic ingredients for the recipes which follow up to readers’ gumption, but drawing on a lifetime of dining on squirrel meat, along with the experience gained through writing a number of game cookbooks with my wife, I can offer some guidance when it comes to preparing this game delicacy.

As with any successful game cooking, the key first step involves dressing and handling the meat. Look at it any way you wish – squirrels are difficult to clean. The best way is to make a slit around the tail and a bit of a cut along the back hams and then shuck off the whole hide, following that with removal of the entrails. Alternatively, you can start in the middle and peel away toward both ends.

The keys are to get every bit of hair, along with any fat, off the carcass. Also, probe in under the animal’s front legs and remove the gray-colored glands found there (this is often overlooked). Once you have the carcass clean, and cut into pieces if desired, soak in a pan of cold water to which a bit of salt has been added for a half hour or so. Once you remove the meat, rinse it, and pat-dry, it’s ready for preparation. What follows are a few recipes suggesting ways to turn squirrel into scrumptious feasts.

ANNA LOU’S SQUIRREL

Place dressed squirrel in a large saucepan, cover with cold water, add soda, and heat to boiling. Remove from heat and rinse squirrel well under running water, rubbing to remove soda. Return to pan and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender. Place squirrel in a baking dish, dot with butter, and bake at 350 degrees until browned and crusty. The broth left from cooking the squirrel can be used to make a delicious gravy.

SMOTHERED SQUIRREL

Saute flour-coated squirrel in butter until browned. Then cover squirrel with onion slices and sprinkle with salt and paprika. Pour sour cream over squirrel. Cover and simmer for an hour or until tender.

FRIED SQUIRREL

Mix flour, salt and pepper and place in a paper or plastic bag. Beat egg well and place in a shallow dish. Drop squirrel in flour bag, shake to coat, remove, and then dip in egg mixture. Return to flour bag and shake to coat well. Heat canola oil in large skillet and quickly brown squirrel. Then place browned squirrel in a roasting pan at 250 degrees for approximately 90 minutes or until tender.

SQUIRREL BOG

Sprinkle squirrel pieces with salt and place in a Dutch oven with enough cold water to cover completely. Add onion, celery and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until squirrel is tender and readily separates from the bones. Remove squirrel, saving broth. Let meat cool and then remove from bones. Measure broth back into pot. Add water if needed to make four cups of liquid. Return squirrel to pot. Cut kielbasa into quarter-inch slices and add to pot along with rice, and then stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until most of broth is absorbed into rice or until rice grains are fluffy and tender.

Eat me

Website Review: LaughterYoga.org

February 12, 2010

The road to enlightenment and inner peace isn’t typically paved with chuckles. When you think of the great philosopher-prophets of New Age theology like Gandhi, Yanni, Deepak Chopra and Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi, you don’t usually find yourself doubled over in laughter.  

Okay, maybe with Yogi, but that’s only because of his name.  

The pursuit of a more perfect soul is serious business. Yoga enthusiasts grimace with what we’d call pain (and they’d call something like “unblocked chakras”) as they contort themselves through their daily routine. Tai-chi-ers make everybody who watches them bust out chortling, yet they remain inwardly calm and completely unamused by their dance of pointlessness. Practitioners of transcendental meditation won’t even look you in the eye, much less offer a twinkle. You might be able to get away with putting whipped cream on their hair or marking up their faces with a Sharpie for your own amusement, though they won’t be particularly impressed.  

But there is one organization late to arrive on the mysticism scene who turns this self-serious attitude on its head, then hoots derisively as its shirt bunches around its neck revealing a paunchy underbelly. Laughter Yoga International was founded in 1995 by Dr. Madan Kataria to combine the relaxing invigoration of yoga with the joyous release of glee via chuckling and chortling. I visited his website at laughteryoga.org to do this week’s Website Review.  

Dr. Kataria’s tittering bald head is all over the home page of this site: in the banner logo where he’s laughing at a black guy, an Asian guy and a white woman, in the opening of a creepy video clip about quietly laughing alone while the rest of his temple sleeps, and all over the training DVDs and CDs he offers for sale. (Most of these are pretty expensive, but an audio titled “Ho Ho Ha Ha Grounding Dance” can be had for as little as $19.95).  

A segment of the home page called “Laughter Yoga News” cycles through about ten late-breaking updates of how virtually the entire world is now giggling its way through twists and bends and restorative inversions. At the Jamia Milia Islamia University in New Delhi, young Muslims take time out from their military drills to yoga and laugh. In Iran, the city government of Tehran has sponsored so many “laughing clubs” that they now claim 17,000 members. A huge crowd of segregated men and women in Mumbai form a hooting chorus of derision that circles the camera as if staging a scene from a Bollywood production of “Alice in Wonderland.”  

But it’s not just America’s sworn enemies in the worldwide war on terror who are laughing their way to sunnier dispositions and improved blood flow. Laughing clubs have sprouted up in places as diverse as Bulgaria, Boston and even Singapore, where Dr. Kataria recently attended the World Toilet Organization (WTO) summit and doubtless had convention-goers doubled over with all the obvious opportunities for bathroom humor. Even Staunton, Va., is making preparations for World Laughter Day later this spring. The annual holiday, set for the first Sunday each May, will make an awkward complement to the more-established Mother’s Day; I can’t imagine most moms appreciating being honored by their children with gales of laughter instead of cards and a buffet brunch.  

A recounting of the history of Laughter Yoga traces its origins to a gathering Dr. Kataria had in a park 15 years ago. It was a simple idea, combining yogic breathing (traditionally called “Pranayama”) with unconditional laughter (known for centuries as “Hahahaha”) into an exercise routine that became a complete well-being workout. The doctor documented this merger in a book titled “Laugh for No Reason” and soon there were over 6,000 social laughter clubs in about 60 countries. The “Laughter Movement” was now on the march, a dedicated army that could launch a show of force anywhere in the world to baffle and bemuse the unconverted.  

Dr. Kataria uses his medical background to discuss the biology of laughter. “Clapping in rhythm, chanting ‘ho ho ha ha’ in unison, and positive affirmations like ‘very good very good yaay’ helps the brain to develop new neuronal connections to produce happy neuropeptides,” he writes. Even if what you’re laughing at isn’t really funny (say, Jay Leno), the body doesn’t recognize the insincerity and still triggers positive chemical reactions. When you add yogic breathing to the equation — Kataria notes that it’s “difficult to survive if we stop breathing for even a few minutes” — you can achieve a “Life Energy Force that flows into the body from cosmic energy fields.”  

Laughter yoga is now spreading its reach through a variety of avenues supported by this website. Readers are told how to set up a local club: “Make sure it has adequate ventilation and toilet facilities … be careful you won’t disturb your neighbors as clubs can get very noisy … is the floor suitable for falling down?” There are online laughter clubs available through blogtalkradio.com, with the two most popular shows hosted by “Miss Lafalot” and “Laughing Lady Amy.” (For some reason, I’d love to see those two wrestle). There are telephone laughter clubs where you can join into conference calls and snigger along with dozens of fellow chuckleheads. There’s even a Skype Laughter Club that allows you hoot and cackle right into someone’s virtual face.  

In the “Ask Dr. K” pulldown, one reader addresses what would appear to be a fundamental conundrum of the movement. Its headquarters is located in Mumbai, India, one of the world’s poorest and most over-populated cities. I’ve been to Mumbai on business several times and — believe me — it’s no laughing matter.  

“What do you say to those who criticize you for not focusing on serious issues? How can you laugh when you see so much poverty? When so many people are hungry and sleeping in the road, how can laughter yoga solve this problem?”  

Dr. Kataria basically dodges the question, agreeing “we cannot ask poor people who have no food to laugh” while speculating that “if we make rich people laugh they will definitely look after poor people,” and hopefully not just as a source of jokes.  

Another humorless writer asks “what does your philosophy say about how we should respond to the horrific terrorist attacks on Mumbai where you lived?” The doctor says that even then he didn’t stop the laughter clubs from meeting, though “we did not feel like laughing when hundreds of people had lost their lives” so instead they simply gathered in a park to breathe and stretch (hopefully after the last gunman was finally hunted down, since breathing and stretching people make such an easy target). Terrorists and non-terrorists “all breathe in the same environment, so in a way we’re connected through breathing. I appealed to laughter lovers around the world to close their eyes and breathe for those who have lost their lives during these attacks.” True, the victims won’t be able to do much breathing for themselves, but that mystically projected assistance can’t really do much practical help.  

Regardless of the many troubles we face these days in such a cruel and complicated world, I think there’s definitely something to be said for the merits of this “global movement for health, joy and world peace.” I love a good laugh as much as the next person, and there are plenty of these (though most are unintentional) to be found on this website. The video images of Dr. Kataria staring into his laptop and demonstrating how he’s learned to quietly laugh by himself for his early-morning constitutional is pretty hilarious, though I would contend that his muffled guffaws sound more like asthmatic wheezing than anything else. Still, he makes a compelling case for optimism and community, and I would urge others to join in this movement by visiting this website and laughing heartily at Dr. Kataria and his whacky philosophy.  

What's so funny? Why it's you, my good doctor.