Friday, December 31, 2010

The Bears Say, "Don't Shoot!"

If you're like me, you've probably been asking yourself, "Where the hell have all the grizzly bears disappeared to?"  Think about it for a minute: when is the last time you've actually seen a grizzly bear functioning in society?  I'll bet it's been at least a couple months, if not longer.

There's a good reason for this.

According to an Associated Press article written by Matthew Brown, grizzly bear deaths around Yellowstone National Park approached record levels in 2010, with an astonishing total of 75 grizzlies being killed or removed from the wild.  As is usually the case in situations like this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken a "blame the victim" approach to explaining the carnage.  According to the article, most of the bears were killed by wildlife agents or hunters after they (the bears) attacked livestock, acted aggressively toward humans, or damaged property.  Although hunting grizzlies is illegal, at least fifteen were killed this year by hunters who mistook them for black bears.  Advocates for the black bears call this excuse "just another pathetic example of racial profiling."

In an isolated incident, two bears (Jocko and Phil) were found dead after hi-jacking a Chevy Tahoe and going for a joyride in the Cheyenne area.  You're probably thinking, well of course, they must've been killed in a horrific accident because there's no way a grizzly bear could operate a motor vehicle.  But that's not what happened at all.  As it turns out, Jocko was an excellent driver who diligently obeyed all traffic laws and practiced DMV-approved defensive driving techniques; however, when the bears stopped at an AM-PM mini-mart to get gas and buy snacks, they were shot dead by the store manager who completely misread the situation.

"I saw two bears rummaging through the Tastykake display and I just panicked," admits Jeb Schifley, the manager in question.  "I felt awful when I realized they were just regular paying customers.  The big one even had a coupon in his wallet for a free package of butterscotch Krimpets.  I'm really sorry that this happened."

Of the 75 deaths this year, only three were listed as "natural deaths" and one (the sad case of Billy Bear) was ruled a suicide.

"In general, if you were going to make a bet on whether a bear died because of people versus natural causes, it would be people," said Chuck Schwartz, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist and compulsive gambler.  "When you're talking about deaths in the Yellowstone area specifically, the smart money says to take the deaths caused by people and give seven points.  Hunters almost always cover the spread."

The estimate of 75 dead or removed bears comes from extrapolations (from the Latin extra meaning "random" and polations meaning "guess") by researchers who assume not all deaths are recorded.  Only forty-seven deaths were listed as "known and probable" meaning there was specific evidence of a dead bear such as a carcass, grave marker, or grieving widow.

The rise in bear deaths in 2010 coincided with a decline in the dietary staples for Yellowstone bears -- cutthroat trout and nuts from whitebark pine cones.  Government scientists argue that grizzly bears can adapt by eating more elk.  Naturally, leaders in the elk community are none too happy with the government scientists.

"Why the hell do they have to drag us into this?" asked Roland P. Whitehorn-Jones, alpha male of the Yellowstone Order of Elks.  "Just because the bears can't seem to locate their nuts or their trout, that doesn't mean they should come after us.  What, like we don't have our own problems with hunters?"

One grizzly bear, whose name is being withheld at his request, has a solution to the entire problem.  "Just stop shooting at us," he said.  "We bears don't want to hurt people.  We're just hungry.  If humans would be willing to share their pick-a-nick baskets with us, there would be no problems whatsoever.  A sandwich here, a couple deviled eggs there, we'd all get along just fine."


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Monday, December 27, 2010

Why Couldn't He Be a Drug Addict Like the Other Kids?

By the time my son Ryan was ten years old, he'd already been playing baseball for a few years. He knew the game, was a decent player, and had developed an interest in what was going on in the Major Leagues.

I've been a Yankees fan since I was about five. My grandfather went out to Yankee Stadium during the Ruth-Gehrig days, my dad grew up in the era of Mantle and Maris, and I enjoyed the Munson-Jackson "Bronx Zoo" period of the 70's. In short, our family DNA was encoded with pinstripes. It wasn't until I was 14, in fact, that I found out that "we'll root, root, root for the YAN-KEES!" weren't the original "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" lyrics.

So when my son dropped the bomb on me, right in the middle of the game we were watching on ESPN, I was completely caught off guard.

"Dad, I don't think I'm gonna be a Yankees fan. I don't really like them that much. I have another favorite team."

Not a Yankees fan? Excuse me?

Once the initial shock wore off, I decided I'd be better off staying calm and trying to understand. I mean, Ryan was a Southern California kid, after all. He didn't have the same hometown loyalty that I'd had growing up in New Jersey. I'd just approach the situation lightly.


I didn't actually say that. I thought it, but I didn't say it. What I said was, "Okay, this favorite team of yours, is it the Dodgers?"

I felt like a suspicious husband questioning his philandering wife. "Is it that Italian-looking guy that you work with?"

"Nah, not the Dodgers."

"The Angels then?" We didn't live that far from Anaheim, and they'd just won the World Series the year before. Maybe he'd gotten caught up in the hoopla at school or something, hanging out with the wrong crowd.

"No, I hate the Angels. My favorite team is the Red Sox."

It knocked the wind out of me like a clenched Fisk to the solar plexus.

My son, my very own flesh and blood, the child I looked upon adoringly the day he was born and swore to raise and protect to the ends of the earth. The kid who peed in my ear the very first time I tried to change his diaper.

A friggin' Boston Red Sox fan.

The betrayal to the family alone was unforgivable. Imagine a Kennedy not wanting to go into politics or a Corleone treating a snitch with forgiveness and a smile.

At first, I blamed myself. I hadn't schooled him in Yankee history early enough. I assumed too much, thought that the bloodline alone would be enough to make a Yankees fan of the boy. Instead of Green Eggs and Ham, I should've been reading him Bucky Dent: The Little Shortstop that Could. Or maybe The Story of Reggie's Three Dingers.

I talked to my dad about it. He was disappointed, as you would imagine, and he also laid the blame squarely on my shoulders. "How could you let this happen?" he asked.

"Well, it could be worse, right? Ryan could hate baseball entirely."

"That wouldn't be worse."

"What do you mean?"

"Let me put it this way, would you rather your kid hate politics or be a member of the Nazi Party?"

As always, Dad had a point.So now I had to deal with the fact that Ryan was our family's version of Fredo.

"Ryan, you're my son and I love you. But don't EVER take sides with anyone against the Yankees again."

I was distraught. I noticed myself working through the stages of grief.

Denial: "There's no way he actually likes the Red Sox. He's just trying to get my attention."

Anger: "Take off that David Ortiz t-shirt this instant, or you're grounded for a month!"

Bargaining: "Look, Ryan, let me get you a cool Yankees jacket and we'll go see them when they're in town. I'll even throw in an authentic Mariano Rivera jersey."

Depression: "I'm a failure as a father. I've broken the family tradition by allowing my son to root for Team Anti-Christ."

Acceptance: Focus on my other child, Ryan's little sister. "Hey, Lindsay! Let me tell you a story about a cute shortstop named Bucky Dent!"

So now Linds has her very own Derek Jeter t-shirt and Yankees cap.

And someday, Ryan is going to have a son of his own. I'm not going to make the same mistake twice. This time I'm going to nurture the Yankee blood that I know is still in there, and bring true Bronx Bomber spirit back to the family name. I'm gonna babysit my little grandson every chance I get and tell him all the old stories about Mr. October, Louisiana Lightning, Goose and Sparky.

I don't know what my grandson's name will be. Ryan might give him a name like Steven or Michael, Seth or Kyle, Jason or Patrick.

But no matter what his name might be, I'm callin' the kid "Bucky".


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Monday, December 20, 2010

Magellan Has Nothing on Mom

Now I've done it.  I've gone and alienated my own mother.

Over the weekend, I wrote an article about my ongoing battle with Tele-Nag, my Verizon navigation system.  In that article, I implied that my mother has a tendency to be inaccurate when providing driving directions and in some cases has caused family members to get hopelessly lost.

Within hours of that article hitting the Internet, I received the following e-mail:


Now you've gone too far.  Criticize my parenting skills?  OK.  Make fun of my misinterpretation of Christmas gift requests?  Fine.  But this?  Accuse me of having  a less-than-impeccable ability to provide driving directions?  I'm totally insulted.

I hope your new GPS system takes you to Needles and loses you in the desert.

Happy Holidays and Love Always,

So I guess an apology is in order.

My use of the phrase "While [my GPS] is pretty accurate with the directions, which is more than I can say for some humans I know (lookin' at YOU, Mom)" was a comedic device without any real basis in fact.  Over the past forty years, my mother has been our family's own Ferdinand Magellan, guiding us on trips to Nova Scotia, Utah, the Grand Canyon, and an Atlas-ful of other wonderful vacations with nary a wrong turn or missed exit.

Well, hold on a minute.  I'm having a flashback here.

It was the mid-70's, and our family was driving from New Jersey to Florida.  That is, Dad was driving while Mom did needlepoint in the passenger seat and my brothers and I were in the back fighting because someone, who shall remain nameless, punched Bobby too hard during a game of "Slug Bug."  We were making a side trip to Washington D.C. to visit our Aunt Judy when we got hopelessly lost.  I mean, we were still within the District of Columbia, but we were just going around in an endless circle with Dad somehow unable to find the proper turn-off.  With each lap around the city our father got angrier and angrier, Mom got more and more frustrated, and from the back seat we spotted more and more VW Beetles allowing someone, who shall again remain anonymous, to inflict more and more damage on Bobby's left arm.  After several hours of circling the city, and my brothers and I learning a colorful new vocabulary, we finally made it to our Aunt's house.

Now, I'm not saying this was Mom's fault.  Maybe she had indeed called upon her "impeccable ability to provide driving directions" and gave Dad a clear and unmistakable route to Aunt Judy's.  Maybe Dad just chose to ignore Mom's navigational advice and "wing-it" to see where the road took us.  Hell, it wouldn't have been the first time (or the last).  So I'm going to give my mother the benefit of the doubt on that one.

On another trip, though, Dad must be held completely harmless as he was not with us.  It was another trip to Florida.  Mom and I, along with Bobby and a friend of the family who spent the entire twenty-one hour trip whistling the theme from "Bridge Over the River Kwai" made the journey via 1971 AMC Hornet Sportabout.  Dad and Eric flew down a few days later.  As far as I can remember, this was the only major trip we ever took where Mom did the driving so maybe she just wanted to take the opportunity to show me, Bobby, and the Mad Whistler a more scenic route to Orlando.  All I know is that when Dad was driving, we never made pit stops in Indianapolis or Nashville.

Nah, I made that last part up.  We didn't get that far off course.

At least I don't think we did, but then again, maybe I was distracted playing "Slug Bug."

So, to set the record straight, Mom, I know you're not nearly as inaccurate with your directions as I may have implied.  I was merely making a bit of a joke at your expense, and for that I apologize.

You can put the Hot Wheels tracks away now.


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Saturday, December 18, 2010

My GPS is Trying to Kill Me

I'm so glad we've finally found a way to put an end to all the complaining about "men never asking for directions" that we guys have had to live with ever since Adam made a wrong turn on the Garden of Eden Parkway.  With the invention of GPS navigation, we'll never again have to hear our significant others whine, "See, you idiot, now we're lost again."  While the current technology seems more than adequate, I'd like to see a few upgrades for, if nothing else, entertainment purposes.

I think it would be awesome if the voice on your GPS automatically picked up the dialect and accent from wherever you happened to be driving.  For example in New York you might hear your device tell you, "Okay, ya friggin' mook, youse gonna make a right up here on Toity-Fit Street.  And don't slow down, unless youse wanna get car-jacked."

In the south: "Honey-chile, y'all gonna head on down to Peach Blossom Hah-way and make a li'l ol' raht hay-und turn."

And of course in Southern California:  "Dude, we are like totally lost.  You got any more weed?" 

But I think the GPS program on my Blackberry has a learning disability.  Either that, or it's a sinister electronic bitch, possibly a distant relative of HAL 9000, hell-bent on orchestrating my bloody demise.  I subscribe to the Verizon navigation system known as Telenav, or as I lovingly refer to her, "Tele-Nag."  While she's pretty accurate with her directions, which is more than I can say for some humans I know (lookin' at YOU, Mom), she's not as responsible with her timing.  For example, last week I was cruising down Apple Valley Road when Tele-Nag informed me that my turn was coming up.


I didn't know for sure where Seneca Avenue was, but I figured Tele-Nag would let me know when it was time to make the turn.  I maintained a relatively safe speed, waiting for her cue.


When I was twenty yards passed it.  Friggin' idiot.

"RECALCULATING ROUTE," she said, with not even a hint of an apology.


Legal, my ass.  I flipped a U immediately, and headed back toward Seneca Avenue.  Not trusting Tele-Bitch to warn me this time, I made what was now a left turn toward my destination.  Eight seconds later, she finally got a clue.


I'm a step ahead of you, moron.


Kwat the hell?  I'd never heard of this street, and Tele-Mumbles wasn't helping at all.  What did that even start with?  K?  C?  I drove very slowly, looking for anything that might be close.

Sitting Bull Road?  Nope.

Pocahontas Drive?  Not even close.


Cherokee Canyon Lane.  Close enough.  I hung a left.

"RECALCULATING ROUTE."  I think I heard her let out a sarcastic chuckle.


I made the next available U-turn.  Legal, once again, was someone else's problem.  I retraced my steps, and turned back on to Seneca.  That's when I noticed the police flashers in my rear-view.  Shit.


Turns out this is a pretty sophisticated navigation system Verizon's come up with.  I exited out of the program so she didn't screw things up with the cop who was approaching from behind.  I rolled down the window.

"Do you know why I pulled you over?"

About ten witty replies came to mind, but since I didn't think blaming my Blackberry would get me very far and the other responses would've resulted in either prison time or a beating, I played it by the book.

"The U-turn?"

"Exactly.  License and registration please."

Fifteen minutes later, I turned Tele-Nag back on and continued on my route.


Shut up, bitch.  And hey, weren't you turned off?


I looked at the sign.  Quetzalcoatl Lane.  This must be the place.

Eventually I reached my destination, which was the Verizon store.  I'm trading Tele-Nag in for a Droid and whatever navigation program it comes with.

It better not be named HAL.


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Monday, December 13, 2010

A Different Kind of "Dear Santa" Letter

For the last month or so, Santa Claus has been receiving letters from children around the globe, asking for everything from Play-Station systems to Justin Bieber's phone number.  But according to an employee at the  North Pole Post Office whose name has been withheld at his request, Mr. Claus recently received, via registered mail, a letter of a different sort.

It reads as follows: 

Dear Santa,

Although you probably won't notice this until a day or two after Christmas since you're busy filling the sleigh, micro-managing the elves, and doing God-knows-what with the ho-ho-hos in the secretarial pool, I've packed my things and have moved out of the cottage.  Shortly after the holidays, you'll be hearing from my attorney about division of property and what-not, but in the meantime I'll be staying with my mother in Tampa.  I've had more than enough crappy North Pole weather as it is.

This is not a decision I've arrived at lightly.  For years, I've put up with you sitting on your fat ass for eleven months eating Hostess cupcakes and watching the Food Network followed by a one-month period of work-related stress and hostility.  I find it ironic, and morbidly amusing, that kids all over the world view you as the very picture of kindness and generosity when we both know that it's all an act.  Sure, you're all smiles and merriment for them, but take off the red coat and phony beard and you're nothing but a cynical, grouchy old bastard.  Why is it, for example, that you'll eat any stale cookie the kids' grubby hands leave for you on Christmas Eve, but if I so much as burn one Snickerdoodle you practically have an aneurysm?  You've built an entire career around knowing who's been naughty and who's been nice but take a look at yourself.  You're about ten percent "jolly old elf" and ninety percent "bitter old drunk."  It's a good thing children aren't privy to Santa's Dark Side.  "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night" plays a lot better than "Get me another beer, bitch, or you're getting the reindeer whip again."  I'd love to tell the world what a cranky SOB you are, but I wouldn't want to destroy their delusions.  Between you and me, you're nothing but a holly, jolly asshole.

I'll tell you, mister, I'm sick of your condescension, treating me like I'm the hired help.  Just because the elves' union won't allow them to clean up reindeer shit doesn't mean I should do it instead.  I don't have the time or the inclination to be a stable maid.  You keep me busy enough baking gingerbread, decorating the cottage, and altering your suit to accommodate your ever-expanding gut.  I'm done shoveling Donner muffins.

The next couple things might sound petty, but they've been bothering me for a long time.  Why is it that you can remember the names of every single boy and girl in the world and know if they've been bad or good, yet you can't remember to put the toilet seat down after you take a whiz?  And really, you give millions of kids wonderful presents each year, fulfilling their every Christmas wish, but remember what you gave ME last year?  A fucking vacuum cleaner.

I didn't want to stoop to this, but as long as I'm laying it out there, I may as well get it off my chest.  Our sex life is pathetic.  I don't know where you got the idea that you're the man of every woman's dreams, but that "Hey, baby, how'd you like to see my North Pole" line wasn't charming in 1843 and it's not charming now.  I also don't appreciate your repeated hounding me to try something called "Reverse Sleigh Ride."  I have no idea what that means, but it sounds far too kinky for my taste.  Truth be told, I haven't enjoyed the physical part of our relationship for decades, not just because of your chauvinistic attitude, but also because that "belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly" isn't so festive when it's bouncing on top of me.  That moaning sound you hear isn't ecstasy, it's pain.  And not the good kind.  Oh, one more thing, and I hope this doesn't insult your manhood.  You're not the only one who "comes just once a year."  'Nuff said.

I've already filed for divorce, so you should be receiving notice in the near future.  Please do not attempt to contact me directly, as I have no interest in discussing this further.  I do, however, wish you a safe journey this Christmas Eve, and please send my best regards to Rudolph.  I always kinda liked that little guy.


Bernice Huffstetter-Claus

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Warning: Grandma Will Get You What You Ask For

When we were young, my brother Eric was our family's Eeyore -- pessimistic, rather gloomy.  Experience taught him early on that if something bad was going to happen, it was going to happen to him.  Most of the time it wasn't even his fault, he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, fall victim to a misunderstanding, or suffer some other stroke of random misfortune like putting his arm through a window or sliding down a wooden bench and getting a foot long splinter embedded in his thigh. 

One Saturday afternoon when I was thirteen and Eric was nine, our dad came home with two bikes that were given to him by a friend whose kids had outgrown them.  One was a sleek metallic blue five-speed with a banana seat and hand brakes, the other was a small turtle-shit green K-mart model with coaster brakes and a basket on the handlebars.  In retrospect, Dad should've decided beforehand which of us was going to get which bike.  Maybe he was hoping it would work out naturally, but whatever the case, Dad committed one of the Cardinal Sins of Fatherhood -- he asked both of us which bike we wanted.  The result was not a surprise.

"I want the blue one," I said.

"No, I want the blue one," said Eric.

After several minutes of arguing back and forth, firing phrases like "I'm older, I should get it," and "No fair, you always get your way," at each other, Dad decided to flip a coin.

"Chris, you call it," he said.

"Why doe HE get to call it?" asked Eric.

"Fine, you call it then," I said.

"Heads," said Eric.

Dad tossed the coin, caught it, and flipped it over on the back of his hand.

"It's tails.  Chris, you get to pick your bike."

I'd like to say that I took this golden opportunity to be the bigger person, to set aside my own selfish desires and accept the turtle-shit green K-Mart clunker so my little brother could have the bike of his dreams, to be a thoughtful and caring big brother who Eric would look up to for the rest of his life.

But I think we all know what really happened.

"I'll take the blue one."

Eric, predictably, pitched a hissy fit and ran upstairs to our bedroom.  I felt guilty for about eight seconds, then I hopped on my bike and rode to my friend Paul's house, shifting gears the whole way.

A similar incident had occurred a few years prior only instead of bicycles, the subject was Halloween costumes.  Most years, our Aunt Patti took me, Eric, and our youngest brother Bobby to FAO Schwarz in New York to pick out really cool outfits to wear for Trick or Treat.  One year I was an astronaut, another time Eric was a snazzy-looking Canadian Mountie, and Bobby spent Halloween 1975 gathering Tootsie Pops and Milky Ways decked out as a four-foot tall Spiderman.

One year, though, all we had to choose from was the family's Costumes of Halloweens Past, those that were recycled year to year and passed along as hand-me-downs.  Bobby was a tiger, I was Batman, and Eric was a clown.

Eric, however, had absolutely no interest in being a clown.  He griped, he grumbled, he pouted.  To this day, no one is sure why he was so against the idea, but it may have had something to do with the time we were all kidnapped by Giggles McYukyuk at one of our mom's Cub Scout leaders' meetings.

It gets worse.

Not only did Eric have to don the clown suit, Mom insisted on stuffing the front of the costume with balloons so he resembled one of those inflatable punching bags.  As a result, Eric is the only child in Halloween history to sulk his way through Trick or Treating.

It also led to the most hilarious picture in our family's scrapbook:

So yeah, Eric always seemed to be the one getting the bum deal, which makes what happened on Christmas 1979 all the more pitiful.

Every Christmas, we'd wake up at the crack of dawn, roust our parents out of bed and storm downstairs to unwrap our presents.  Once the gifts were opened, Mom would whip up a batch of Pillsbury orange danish and we'd spend the rest of the morning playing with our new toys.  In the early afternoon, we'd drive across town to our grandmother's house for round two.

Traditionally, Grandma would give us each a stocking full of candy and small toys, a couple mid-level gifts (clothes were the most common in this category), and finally, our one "big" present.  Grandma had a fairly close relationship with Santa Claus, so we always knew that the main gift was going to be something really cool.  One year I got a complete set of barbells, another time it was a guitar, and when I got a bit older, I received a top-of-the-line Texas Instruments digital watch.

The 70's were a much simpler time.

So anyway, on the Christmas That Will Live in Infamy, we'd plowed through the preliminary presents and were ready for the main event.  Family policy required us to open our presents one at a time, so we all got to see what the others had received.  Also, it made the process last longer than twelve seconds.

"Okay, who wants to open their big gift first?" asked Dad, clearly forgetting about the bicycle incident of a year earlier.

"I do!" said Bobby.

"Me!" I shouted.

"Here we go again," muttered Eric.

Since there were three of us involved in this decision coin-flipping wasn't an option, so Dad wrote down the numbers 1, 2, and 3 on slips of paper and put them into a bowl.  Eric drew first and pulled out the number 3.

"What a surprise, I'm last," he said.

Bobby had drawn the number 1, so he retrieved his gift from under the tree and ripped off the red and gold wrapping paper.

"Cool!  A Johnny Lightning racing set!  Thanks, Grandma!"  He reluctantly set the box aside so he could watch me unwrap my present.

Mine was wrapped in green paper with snowmen all over it.  I tore it open, to reveal the gift I'd been asking for since August.

"An Atari video game set with five game cartridges!" I said.  "Pacman, Adventure, Kaboom, bowling, and Tank Battle!  This is great, thanks, Grandma!"

By this point, Eric was practically bursting with anticipation.  Seeing Bobby and I hit the jackpot with Johnny Lightning and Atari, he just knew his present was going to be something spectacular.  Taking his time, he removed the silver paper from the box, revealing his special gift.  It was exactly what he'd asked for . . .

A few months earlier, Eric and Mom were watching television when a commercial came on advertising an innovative new product.  It was an item that Eric did indeed have a particular need for, even if it wasn't something most ten year olds would have any interest in.  As kind of a joke, he said to Mom, "Hey, look at that, maybe Santa can bring me one of those for Christmas."  Mom, however, didn't realize he was kidding, so she passed this information along to Grandma who went out and bought Eric the gift he was now looking at with a puzzled and somewhat somber expression on his face.

The Foot Fixer, by Clairol.

Think about this for a minute.  Here's a ten-year-old kid who's just seen his brothers open a brand-new video game system and a racing set where you can actually juice up the cars and they rip around the track on their own.  It's Christmas, the highlight of every kid's year, and what does he have to show for it?

A flippin' Foot Fixer.

All things considered, the kid handled it pretty damn well.  He didn't burst into tears, he didn't throw the thing across the living room, he didn't look at Grandma and ask, "What the hell is THIS?"  He just let out a pathetic sigh and said, "A Foot Fixer.  Thanks, Grandma."

He wanted to cry, though, you could tell.

Here's the rest of the story.

Eric had flat feet.  He was always quick to point this out, and he often used it as an excuse to get out of doing household chores, kind of like a ten-year-old on disability.

"Eric, it's your turn to bring in the trash cans."

"I can't, my feet hurt.  I have flat feet, you know."

"Eric, it's time to set the dinner table."

"My feet hurt, I'll do it later.  I have flat feet, you know."

Truthfully, he did suffer through bouts with foot pain from time to time, especially at night while trying to get to sleep.  So when he and Mom saw the Foot Fixer commercial on TV, he thought it might be something that would help.

But not as his Christmas present.

The real victim here, though, is our grandmother.  She genuinely believed that Eric wanted The Foot Fixer, and once she realized how disappointed the poor kid was, that it was all a big mistake, she felt terrible.  I don't recall what happened in the aftermath, but I'm sure it involved taking Eric to Toys R Us and letting him pick out whatever he wanted.

But to be honest about it, The Foot Fixer wasn't a total loss.  If you filled it up with water and plugged it in, the resulting vibrations caused a tsunami that was great for capsizing our toy battleships.

Note: In no way is Grandma at fault for this.  She was absolutely the kindest, most thoughtful, and most wonderful human being to ever grace the planet.  Her role in the Foot Fixer Incident of 1979 was simply to provide her grandsons with whatever they asked for.  The misunderstanding was absolutely not on her.  No, the blame lies somewhere else entirely.

I'm looking at YOU, Mom. 


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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Disney Buys Out Santa Claus

The Walt Disney Company announced Monday that it has agreed to purchase Santa Claus Inc. (a subdivision of Kringle Enterprises) for an estimated 247 million dollars.  Disney CEO Robert Iger immediately outlined several changes that the new company, known as Disney Claus, will be implementing effective Christmas, 2011.

First, on December 26, 2010, the existing collective bargaining agreements with the International Federation of Elves (IFE) and the Global Reindeer Association (GRA) will expire and all current Santa Claus employees will be officially laid off.  According to Iger, "Santa Claus's current system of accepting gift lists by mail and delivering presents to every home on the planet completely free of charge is a concept that goes against everything Disney stands for.  The home-delivery policy will be eliminated, making Santa's flying reindeer unnecessary.  And since Disney already has a well-developed product development division, we certainly don't need elves to build toys for us.  Even if we did, we have seven of our own already under contract."  When gently reminded that elves are not the same as dwarves, Iger replied, "Whatever.  They're all short and funny-looking."

Instead of writing letters directly to Santa, children will request presents by logging on to the website and filling out an on-line order form.  All gifts will be available for their regular retail price plus a $12 per item processing fee.

Every year, on December 20, all gifts will be delivered to regional "Disney Claus Gift Depots" where they can be picked up by parents in time for distribution on Christmas morning.  While Iger admits that lines at the depots will be quite long, for a very reasonable price of $500 parents will be able to purchase a Depot Fast Pass allowing them to wait in an express line with a guaranteed wait time of twelve hours or less.

In January 2011, the current Santa Claus Inc. facility located in Christmastown, North Pole will be packed up and moved to Orlando, Florida.

In addition to purchasing all of Santa's current holdings, Disney has also obtained the rights to the name and image of "Santa Claus," forcing the jolly old elf to resume using his given name, Kristopher Kringle.

"Really, they just came in and bought up everything," Kringle said.  "My name, my factory, all of it.  I'm not thrilled about this, but given the depressing state of the global economy, it was just a matter of time before I would've had to scale back my operation anyway.  Instead of breaking millions of little hearts, I thought it best to turn over the operation to the Disney Company.  And what the hell, 247 million bucks does wonders for alleviating guilt."

Iger went on to say that while Disney will obviously play a crucial role in the "toys and goodies" component of Christmas, the company has no plans to obtain the other elements of the holiday season.  "We have no interest in buying the rights to Christmas trees, winter, holiday songs, or the image of Jesus Christ.  We plan to focus on what Disney has always done best, that is, providing customers with high-quality toys, games, and other forms of entertainment."

When a reporter suggested that this might be because Disney has recently been far more concerned with their bottom line than customer satisfaction, ethics, or human decency, Iger responded, "Well yeah, what else?"


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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The McRib Experiment: McRansom!

Okay, no more Mr. McNice Guy.

First, I tried to get Theresa to eat a McRib by offering her ten bucks.  She turned it down without a second's hesitation.  Undeterred, I moved on to Plan B, which involved a certificate for a half-hour massage and some really, really fine print.  The plan actually worked like a charm, as she accepted the offered massage.  However, displaying a shameful disregard of the established contract, Theresa refused to honor the microscopic "Neener-Neener-Now-You-Gotta-Eat-a-McRib" clause.

So, left with no other choice, I had her dog Newton kidnapped.

Theresa was sitting in the living room, probably thinking about what a great deal she could get on Halloween decorations for next year.  She's kind of obsessive like that.  I heard her son Doug and his girlfriend Obie come in through the front door.  I intercepted them before they could get to the living room.

"I need one of you guys to take Newton for a drive.  Just fifteen minutes or so," I said.

They knew what I was up to, so Obie volunteered.  She took Newt out to her car while Doug went upstairs and I placed a phone call to a third accomplice, my brother Bobby.

"Dude, I need your help with something," I said.  I explained my McQuest, and gave him his instructions.  This is the brother who, when he was seven, rigged a booby trap for our babysitter and then hit her in the face with a bucket of water.  He was absolutely the right guy for this assignment.

I went back upstairs and sat on the couch, waiting.  A couple minutes later, Theresa's cell phone rang.


"Do you know where your dog is?"

"Excuse me?"

"Doooo . . . yoooooo . . . knowwwww . . . where your dog is?"

"Who is this?"

"It's Ronald McDonald.  Have you seen your dog lately?"

Theresa covered the phone and asked me and Doug, "Have you guys seen Newton?"

"He's not here?"  We pretended to look for the dog, calling his name over and over, trying not to chuckle.  Of course, he didn't respond.  He was on a pleasant drive with Obie.  Meanwhile, Theresa's panic level was rising.

"Do you have my dog? . . . WHO IS THIS!  YOU'RE NOT RONALD MCDONALD!"  Finally, she hung up on him, and helped us look for Newton.

That's when I texted her this picture:

The text was clearly sent by "CHRIS CELL".  Why this didn't clue her in to the prank, I have no idea.

"Oh my God!  Someone just texted me a picture of Newton!  He's blindfolded!  Who took this picture?!"

She ran out into the back yard, frantically calling out, "NEWTON!  NEWTON!" while Doug and I watched from the back deck.

"Think we should tell her?" he asked.

"Not just yet.  Let her sweat it out just a little longer."

She came back inside.  "He's not out here!  The gate's still locked so he couldn't have gotten out, where the hell is he?"  She went to look downstairs.

When she was out of earshot, Doug looked at me and said, "You know she's gonna be pissed, right?"

"I told her she should've just eaten the McRib when I offered her ten bucks.  This is her own fault."

"Yeah, I'm sure she's gonna see it like that."

"Okay, okay, I'll let her in on it."  I took out my phone and texted her this:

From downstairs, I heard her phone beep, followed by an ominous silence.

And then the yelling started.

"YOU KIDNAPPED NEWTON TO GET ME TO EAT A FUCKING MCRIB?!  WHERE THE HELL IS HE?!"  She stormed back upstairs and gave me a look that would cause ravenous wolves to flee in terror and woodchucks to burst into flame.

"If I tell you, will you eat one?"  I asked.


"Fine, then I don't know where he is.  He probably ran away and got hit by a truck."

"You're a jerk.  Where is he?"

"Eat the McRib?"

"Yeah, okay, fine, where's my dog?"

Doug called Obie who returned moments later with Newton who, as usual, hadn't the foggiest clue what was going on.

Theresa eventually calmed down, and she started putting it all together.  "Who was it that called me?" she asked.

"That was Bobby."

She grabbed her phone, and called his number.  Suffice it to say, someone's going to be short one Christmas present this year.

Victorious, I drove to McDonald's to get a McRib.  As a minor concession, I agreed to let Theresa special order it, no pickles or onions.  By the time I got home, though, she had reconsidered the whole thing.

"Forget it, I'm not eating one."

A rather boisterous argument ensued, Doug and I taking the "you gotta eat one, you promised" point of view, Theresa adamantly in the "oh no I don't, either" camp.  Obie was keeping out of it, as she was already in enough trouble with Theresa and our other dog Munson, who was pissed off that she didn't take him for a ride in the car.

"Okay, okay," Theresa finally agreed.  "I'll take ONE bite, and then you have to eat some seaweed."

"That wasn't part of the deal," I said.  Seaweed is friggin' disgusting.  Theresa eats it all the time, wrapped around rice and fish into a "moosabee" or something like that.  Truly, they're gross.

"Do you want me to eat the McRib or not?"

Remembering the original goal, I said, "Fine.  But you're eating the McRib first."

She was a bit reluctant at first:

She tried to get away with a couple microscopic nibbles, but Doug and I weren't about to let her get away with it.  "You gotta at least take a full bite, meat and bun," I said.  So she did.

I kept my end of the bargain by choking down a bit of seaweed.  In case you're wondering, it tastes just like fish food smells, if that makes any sense. 

Of course, we still had about 90% of a McRib left uneaten.  Theresa sure wasn't going to finish it off, Doug and I both passed, and Obie was still sitting silently on the couch waiting for the whole ordeal to blow over.  In the end, there was only one reasonable thing to do . . .

It was only fair.  Newton had gone through a pretty traumatic experience.

It may have taken a few weeks of playing Sam-I-Am -- offering bribes, giving a massage, and finally stooping to doggie abduction -- but as promised, I got Theresa to eat (or at least take a bite of ) a McRib sandwich.

Mission McComplished.


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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Satchmo, Please Forgive Us

Ken Gorelick (aka "Kenny G") is probably the most well-known saxophonist in America, as far as the general public is concerned.  Not that the American public knows all that much about jazz (or, for that matter, saxophones), but to be honest, what Kenny G plays isn't really jazz anyway.  Kenny plays "jazz" like Weird Al Yankovic performs contemporary music, which is to say, it's a joke.  Only Kenny isn't kidding.

Without going into a detailed analysis of Gorelick's simplistic, repetitive improvisational style or his out-of-tune, chainsaw-like tone quality, suffice it to say that there are literally hundreds of sax players who no one other than hard-core jazz aficionados has ever heard of (Eric Marienthal, Gerald Albright, and Jay Beckenstein, are a few quick examples) that could play rings around Kenny G.

Sure, Gorelick found a niche in the mainstream pop instrumental genre, and that's fine. It's not jazz, of course, but aside from that, I wouldn't feel compelled to comment on him at all if it weren't for a recording I heard not too long ago.

I was doing some browsing on iTunes, looking for Louis Armstrong's classic recording of "What a Wonderful World". You may be familiar with this tune from the movie "Good Morning, Vietnam." Anyway, while searching for that song, I came across the following:

What a Wonderful World (Kenny G and Louis Armstrong).

"What the bloody hell?" I said to myself.

Since Louis Armstrong died in 1971, not to mention that during his legendary career as one of the pioneers of jazz he never displayed any particular desire to collaborate with schlocky, curly-haired, white bread soprano sax players,  I thought it highly unlikely that he'd ever made a recording with Kenny G.  Against my better judgment, I went ahead and listened to the sample of the song, and then did a little research. It turns out that Kenny Fucking Gorelick had taken it upon himself to overdub his mindless noodling on top of Armstrong's classic master tapes, and then release the results on an album.

He may as well have pissed on the Mona Lisa.

It's not like Kenny was the first to do this, though. Natalie Cole released a very popular version of "Unforgettable", on which she'd dubbed her vocals over her father's original recording. I'm willing to cut Natalie some slack, because it was her father and there is a certain sentimentality to it.

But for Kenny G, of all people, to presume that HE had the right to defile Armstrong is simply absurd. It's one thing if, say, Wynton Marsalis did it. Wynton is a student of jazz history, and has complete respect for those who came before him. But Wynton has more class than to do such a thing.

Let me put it another way. Suppose you took your family on a vacation to London for the sole purpose of attending the Leeds Shakespeare Festival. You're very excited about this, a British theatre group performing the Shakespearean masterpiece, Romeo and Juliet. You get all dressed up, give your tickets to the pompous yet dignified doorman and take your seats. The curtain rises. During Act I, Scene I, Montague says, "Could we but learn from whence his sorrows grow. We would as willingly give cure as know." Enter Romeo . . .

. . . played by Carrot Top.

What Kenny G did, in essence, was commit artistic necrophilia. He abducted Armstrong's classic recording of "What a Wonderful World", bent it over a table, and sodomized it with a soprano saxophone.

Gorelick, just go back to spewing your half-assed, bland-as-mayonnaise hits like "Songbird" and whatever else you've conned the public into listening to.

Leave the real musicians alone.


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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Best and the Worst: Movie Villains

 A couple weeks ago, I was watching the movie Seven for the twentieth or so time, and I came to the conclusion that the serial killer John Doe (played magnificently by Kevin Spacey) has to be the most intelligent, meticulous, and downright sinister villain in the history of motion pictures.  I'll elaborate more on this momentarily, but after giving it some thought, I tried to come up with some other great movie villains and in contrast, some of their inept and shallow peers.  I'm only going to discuss "main" villains here so you won't be reading about flying monkeys, Mr. Smee, or other less-noteworthy bad guys.

I guess it would help to set up a few guidelines as to what makes a great movie villain.  First of all, it must be someone purely evil, but in his own mind he's the good guy whose quirks and psychological malfunctions are perfectly normal.  He's got a clear agenda, and the focus and determination to make his dastardly dreams come true.  He also has to be someone who the audience almost can't help rooting for.  Sure, we KNOW he's the bad guy but dog-gone-it, we find ourselves on his side some of the time, and we can't wait to see him on-screen again.

Those who made my "worst" list are just the opposite.  They're shallow, easily thwarted by the "hero", and as viewers, we just can't WAIT to see them get their comeuppance.  The kind of guy that you find yourself thinking, mid-movie, man, that guy is gonna die one grisly-ass death (or, in less violent flicks, get really, really humiliated.  I'm looking at YOU, Biff).

So here we go, a look at the best and the worst of cinematic scumbags.


 1. John Doe (Seven)

While there's no doubt whatsoever that this guy was a complete psychopath, you have to give him credit.  Unlike so many other villains, John saw his plan through to the end, and when the game was over he was the winner.  Sure, "winning" required him to be, you know, dead, but we're not going to be nit-picky about things.  And there's no question about his dedication to his craft.  He sliced off his fingerprints, compiled hundreds of meticulous notebooks, and actually spent time in a public library.  How many twisted whack jobs can say that?  He's also one of the few villains who, if we're going to look at it objectively, didn't get caught.  As he tells Detective Mills, "let me remind you, Detective, the only reason I'm here right now is because I wanted to be."  It was all part of his master plan.

A plan, by the way, that included a variety of murder techniques that would make Charles Manson look like an Eagle Scout.  Doe killed a guy with canned spaghetti, for crying out loud.  He made a defense attorney hack off his own flesh (and who doesn't enjoy seeing a lawyer get killed?  I know I sure do.).  And for his coup de gras, he cut off Mills's wife's head, packaged it up, and sent it to him via speedy courier.

What's in the box, indeed.

2. Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal)

Even when he was eating people, you couldn't completely hate the charismatic Dr. Lecter.  He was so intelligent, so completely calm, and had just enough of a sense of humor to make him sort of likable, in his own demented way.

Enter Clarisse Starling.   Lecter was eager to assist the rookie FBI agent in her pursuit of Buffalo Bill, but he had his own agenda in mind.  Quid pro quo, if you will.  While Starling was trying to get Hannibal to give her some insight into the mind of Buffalo Bill, the evil Dr. Lecter was busy foraging around in Starling's own psyche.  Poor Clarisse knew the guy was a psychotic killer, but she just couldn't help herself.  After a while, even she started to like the guy.

While Silence of the Lambs gave us our first look at the good doctor, it was the sequel where we really got to gaze into the depths of his depravity.  I mean, really.  The guy fed one of his enemies to an army of killer pigs, and made another one eat his own brain.  With melted butter.

That, my friends, is called "style".

3. The Joker (The Dark Knight)

There have been many cinematic interpretations of Batman's zany arch-nemesis, from Cesar Romero's jocular interpretation on the TV series, to Nicholson's somewhat campy turn in the 1988 film.  But Heath Ledger showed us a Joker that was far more deranged than he was humorous.

First and foremost, the Joker was obsessed with Batman and wanted nothing more than to find out what made him tick (and learn his true identity).  Beyond that, though, the Joker didn't seem to have a particular objective in mind when creating citywide chaos.  Stir the pot and scare the hell out of people, that was basically the gist of it.  As he himself said (to a facially bereft Harvey Dent), "Do I look like a guy with a plan?  No.  I just do things.  I'm like a dog chasing cars, I wouldn't know what to do if I caught one."

Of all the bedlam he brought to Gotham City, I was particularly impressed with his "give the people on two different boats the opportunity and motivation to destroy the other one."  Creative, sure, but it was also a sociological experiment.

How about that, the Joker was a scientist.

4. Darth Vader (Star Wars Series)

Lord Vader (nee: Anakin Skywalker) could read minds, hurl objects across the room without actually picking them up, and choke a guy out from across the room.  If that doesn't intimidate the shit out of you, I don't know what will.  He was also a hands-on leader and one hell of a fighter pilot, willing to lead his troops into the belly of the beast (or the metallic canyons of the Death Star, if we're going to be historically accurate here).

Technically, Vader was an apprentice of sorts, playing Otis to Emperor Palpatine's Lex Luthor.  But there was no questioning Vader's ultimate authority over his stormtroopers or Imperial officers.  Just ask the late Admiral Ozzel, who made the fatal mistake of bringing his cruiser out of hyperspace too soon.  When you're one of Darth Vader's employees, failure is, unquestionably, not an option.

Despite his nefarious military career, there was a tender heart beating within the Sith Lord's chest.  It was a technologically enhanced heart, crackling with electrical wires and microchips, but a heart nonetheless.  When light saber came to lightning bolts, Vader shunned the dark side, hurling Emperor Palpatine to his death in order to save his estranged son Luke Skywalker.

In that galaxy far, far away, apparently, blood is thicker than evil.

5. Dr. Evil (Austin Powers Trilogy)

Okay, from a purely objective standpoint, Dr. Evil can't really be thought of as a criminal mastermind, but damn it, the dude's entertaining.  He's a villain from the old school, seeking to bilk the world out of one million dollars and dispose of his enemies (specifically Austin Powers) by such inventive methods as sharks with laser beams on their heads.

Dr. Evil has a Daffy Duck-like quality to him, in that he always knows what it would take to come out on top, but he can't quite seem to pull it off.  He was great at concocting his devilish schemes, but something always got in the way, not unlike when Bugs would pull the ol' verbal switcheroo on Daffy, tricking the duck into shouting "DUCK SEASON, FIRE!" which of course resulted in having his beak blown all to hell.

The main problem with Dr. Evil, though, is that he's a walking cliche.  He engages in the time-honored "villain's monologue" where he lays out exactly what he's going to do to outwit the hero.  After telling Powers what was up, he then left the room and as he explained to his son Scotty, "no, we're not going to watch, we're going to leave and assume everything will go according to plan."

The Riddler would've been proud. 


1. Harry and Marv (Home Alone)

When Macaulay Culkin can make you his bitch, it's time to abandon your life of crime and take up something a little less risky, like selling Girl Scout cookies or attending Sunday night bingo games.  Harry and Marv were so inept they made the Three Stooges look like the Three Musketeers.

First off, they violated the cardinal rule of home invasion burglary which states, "If someone is in the home, seek a different target."  Even if we're willing to forgive them for their initial break-in, once they took the paint cans to the face, it was clearly time to move on.

And really, "The Wet Bandits"?  It sounds like a team of incontinent old men wearing Depends.

2. Ivan Drago (Rocky IV)

Also known by the chilling moniker "Death From Above," Ivan Drago was a finely-tuned, perfectly trained Russian assault cyborg disguised as a professional boxer.  All he did was beat people up while his exceptionally hot wife and politically-controlled manager did his talking for him.  Drago himself had very little to say, so little in fact that he makes the Terminator sound like Jesse Jackson.  Here's a few of Drago's famous quips:

"I must break you."

"You will lose."

"If he dies, he dies."

And for God's sake, the bastard killed Apollo Creed.  That was completely uncalled for.

From a boxing standpoint, though, Drago seemed invincible.  He stood about six-five, weighed in at 260 pounds of rock-solid muscle, trained like a beast, and if all that wasn't enough, his training staff fueled him with a daily supply of anabolic steroids.  But Rocky Balboa possessed three qualities that allowed him to defeat his seemingly superior opponent.  First off, Rocky packed a mean body punch which is the key to taking down a taller fighter.  Secondly, he had an indomitable spirit and was willing to endure tremendous pain and adversity to accomplish his goals.  Finally, and this is perhaps the most important of all, he wrote the screenplay.

Drago never had a chance.

3. John Creese (The Karate Kid)

This asshole got his jollies by intimidating punk-ass teenagers and turning them into class A douchebags.  And then, when Miyagi and Daniel-san systematically brought a couple Samsonite bags full of whoop-ass to the All-Valley Karate Tournament, Creese had one of his Cobras resort to cheating in an effort to stave off embarrassment.  It didn't work, though, thanks to Daniel's "crane technique."

After the match, even Creese's star pupil Johnny Lawrence saw the light and congratulated Daniel, in a show of sportsmanship unprecedented in Cobra Kai history.  You know what happened next?  Creese smacked Johnny around in the parking lot and broke his second place trophy in half.

What a dick.

Of course, Mr. Miyagi intervened and without even laying a hand on Creese, served the evil sensei a heaping helping of humiliation in the form of a couple bloody fists and a nose-tweak.  As a result, Creese has spent the last couple decades doing one thing, and one thing only.

I'll give you a hint.  It isn't "wax on".

4. Biff Tannen (Back to the Future Trilogy)

Biff, Biff, Biff.  The tandem of Marty McFly and Doc Brown gave it to this loser in three different centuries.  This is not to say that Tannen didn't have his moments, in fact, in one alternate reality he became a multi-millionaire after swiping Marty's copy of Gray's Sports Almanac and using it to make a series of successful bets.  He used his newfound wealth to build a sleazy empire of gambling and prostitution (why do bad guys never use their wealth to, say, support public education or feed the homeless?) and after killing Marty's father George, marry the girl of his dreams, Lorraine Baines-McFly.  But that reality would eventually change.

At the end of the day (or the year, or the century, or whatever), Biff was far too predictable and his resources were far too limited for him to have any long-term success as a bully or thug.  His inept trio of henchman wasn't much help, either (for example, 3D glasses really screw up your depth perception).  When all was said and done, the Tannens got everything that they deserved.

Usually in the form of a truckload of manure.

5. Shooter McGavin (Happy Gilmore)

Even among incompetent bad guys, Shooter McGavin was fairly tame.  He wasn't looking to take over the world, he didn't want to pull off a brilliant bank heist, and he certainly wasn't about to chop off Gwyneth Paltrow's head and ship it to Brad Pitt.  He just wanted to win a gold jacket and thwart Happy Gilmore's meteoric rise to golf stardom.  That sounds like a reasonably harmless master plan, but McGavin went about it completely the wrong way.

He messed with Happy's grandma.

I'll give villains a lot of leeway in their methods, especially if they're clever or entertaining.  As I mentioned earlier, Hannibal's scheme to feed Ray Liotta his own brain was off-the-charts brilliant and uniquely twisted.  John Doe letting a pedophile rot over the course of an entire year, that's just breath-taking.  But I don't think any of those guys would stoop to messing with somebody's grandmother.  It's just not done.

Thankfully, Shooter's poorly thought-out plan backfired on him and Granny got her house back.

He never did get his yellow jacket.


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Sunday, November 21, 2010

The McRib Experiment: The Fine Print

In my continuing quest to persuade my fiance Theresa to eat a McRib, I've now had to resort to, in the words of former President George W. Bush, some trickeration.  Previously, Theresa turned down my offer of ten dollars (eighty-seven cents Canadian) to partake of the tasty McSandwich so I was forced to develop Plan B, which went something like this:

Completely out of the blue, I presented Theresa with a certificate for a free "expectation free" massage, and when I say "expectation free," I trust that all of you in committed relationships will know precisely what I'm talking about.  It was just going to be a massage.  That's all. 

So a few nights ago, after a long day's work, Theresa decided to redeem her certificate.  "This is really nice," she said.  "What did I do to deserve this?"

"What did you do?  Nothing.  I just know you've been working hard, so I thought I'd help you relax," I said, stifling a sinister chuckle.  "Just lie down and let me take it from there."

So she received her half-hour massage.  All humility aside, I think I did a pretty good job.

"That was nice," said Theresa.  "I feel so spoiled."

"Well, you know, you did have the certificate.  When something's written out like that, you're kind of obligated to follow through, right?"

"That's right, and I appreciate it."

The trap, my friends, had been set.

The next day, she called me at work.  "I just wanted to thank you again for pampering me last night.  It was very thoughtful of you."

"Yeah, well, you did read the fine print, right?"

Blurry I know, but you get the idea.
I forgot to tell you earlier, at the very bottom of the certificate, I included a line of very small print, and I do mean very small.  I think I set the point size at six.  Five, perhaps.  Also, I changed the font color from standard black to a pale gray, not too much different than the color of the paper the certificate was printed on.

 But it was there so it counts, right?  Who's with me on this?

"The fine print?  What are you talking about?"

"The fine print on the certificate.  Wanna know what it said?"

"I'm not eating a fucking McRib."

"Au contraire," I said, because whenever possible I like to work a little French into the conversation.  "According to the certificate, which is now valid because you accepted the promised massage, the bearer must consume one McRib sandwich."

"Dammit," said Theresa, "I should've known there was a catch.  And here I've been thinking how wonderful you are for taking care of me just because you wanted to.  But you didn't really want to, did you?  It was all part of your plan to make me eat a stupid McRib."

"Uh, well, no," I said, trying desperately to dig myself out of this one, "I wanted to give you a massage because, like I said, you've been working hard.  But then I thought I'd, you know, throw in the thing about the McRib."

"You're mean."

So once again, my dog Munson enjoyed a McRib dinner.  And when I went out in our back yard the next day, I learned something kind of interesting.  Without putting too fine a point on it, it seems that the canine digestive system does not adequately process chopped onions.

Now it's on to Plan C.  I don't know what that is yet, exactly, but I'll come up with something.



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Friday, November 19, 2010

Planes, Shuttles, and Busted Air Conditioners

The classic John Hughes film "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" details the travel nightmares of Neil Page and Del Griffith, who suffer a series of mishaps while trying to get from New York to Chicago. Their situation was at times frustrating, infuriating, desperate, and after all was said and done, hilarious. Maybe you've had a few such excursions yourself. And although I did not end up with my ass looking "like a big Whopper" or have to hitch a ride to Stubbville in one degree weather with a hick named Owen, my trip to New York in the summer of 2008 would nonetheless qualify, to put it politely, as "obstacle-ridden".

Theresa and I had been planning our NYC vacation for several months. I grew up in Jersey, so I'd obviously been to New York on many occasions, but it was to be T's first visit to the City that Never Sleeps But Frequently Takes a Dump. And since I'm a die-hard Yankee fan and it was the last season for Yankee Stadium, the timing was perfect.

We organized our trip well in advance, deciding to fly out of Las Vegas rather than Los Angeles to save a few bucks, booked our hotel and double checked our reservations, bought our Yankee tickets and planned other activities to enjoy. We had our itinerary all set, no detail overlooked, and we were ready to go.

"What could possibly go wrong?" he asks foreshadowingly.

Our flight was scheduled to leave McCarran Airport in Vegas at 7:25 in the morning. I like to give myself plenty of time when I travel, so we arrived at check-in at 6:00. We checked the "Departing Flights" board and, lo and behold, there was the first sign of trouble. Our flight was listed as "delayed". Okay, no biggie, we were scheduled to arrive at JFK at about 3:00, flying non-stop, so another hour or two wouldn't be that big a deal. When we went to check our luggage, though, we saw a sign taped to the roped-off check-in line that said "Flight 261 passengers only".

Yeah, that was our flight number.

I'm not going to reveal the airline so as not to besmirch their stellar reputation, but let's just say it rhymes with "Schlamerican".

As we got closer to the front of the line, we overheard the lady at the counter tell a passenger, "We've booked you on a 10:00 flight that stops over in Atlanta, and it'll get you to JFK by 10PM."

Booked him on a flight?  This was sounding less like "delayed" and more like "cancelled".

When it was our turn, we learned that yes indeed, Flight 261 was cancelled due to "routine maintenance." Okay, I'm no airplane mechanic so I could easily be wrong on this, but wouldn't it make more sense to schedule "routine maintenance" for a time when, I don't know, the plane wasn't supposed to be taking passengers somewhere?"  We'd been re-booked on a different flight so now instead of leaving McCarran at 7:25 and flying non-stop to JFK and arriving at 3:00, we were now leaving at 11:00, stopping over in Dallas, and arriving at JFK at 9:30. That killed our dinner plans in the city, but we'd still have a little time to get settled.

We had breakfast (I had a McCarran McMuffin, which wouldn't be worth mentioning except for the fact that this turned out to be my last meal for about 16 hours), found our gate, and relaxed with a couple magazines. All right. At least we got the travel snafu out of the way early.

Little did Theresa and I know, this was only the beginning.

We arrived in Dallas without incident, and had about 45 minutes to kill before our connecting flight was scheduled to leave. T picked up a couple cheeseburgers at the airport McDonalds, but I wasn't that hungry so I decided to wait till we got to New York. This was not a great decision.  Five minutes before we were supposed to board, the gate attendant announced that our flight was being delayed about an hour. But wait, that's not all. Since they needed the gate for another flight, we were going to board the plane, taxi out to the tarmac, and wait there until it was time to take off.

So now we were sitting in a metal tube in 104 degree Texas heat with the engines (and therefore, the air conditioning) shut off to conserve fuel. Being wrapped in a blanket and rammed up the ass of a feverish llama would've been only slightly less comfortable.

I'm assuming.

We finally arrived at JFK at about 11:00 PM. We went down to baggage claim frustrated, exhausted, and in my case starving. I said to T, "You know that our luggage is somewhere in Manitoba right now, don't you?" Well, our luggage wasn't in Manitoba, actually our bags were the first ones down the chute, (What? Something went right? There must be some mistake!) so now all we had to do was catch our shuttle to the hotel and this day from hell would be over.

Ninety minutes and three phone calls later, the van from Steaming Pile o' Shuttle arrived.

Traffic leaving JFK was pretty much a fustercluck, so we arrived at our hotel at about 2:00 AM. I was absolutely famished, so we went up to the room to put our luggage away so we could go eat. When we got to the room, the thermostat read 92 degrees. Okay, we figured, the room had probably been vacant for a few days so if we crank up the AC and go grab something to eat, when we get back it'll be all nice and cool.

We walked across the street to the Carnegie Deli, and I had a roast beef sandwich that, I kid you not, was the size of a bowling ball. It was T's first experience in New York, so the atmosphere was perfect, if not our dispositions. We boxed up the substantial leftovers and headed back to the hotel. When we got back to the room, the thermostat now read 93 degrees. Beautiful.

I called the front desk, and asked if, you know, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, could they maybe send up a guy to keep the bed linens from bursting into flame.  I mean, the room wasn't merely hot, it was equatorial. About ten minutes later there was a knock on our door, and we welcomed Gustav the Repairman, he of limited English skills. After taking apart the unit, he managed to form the sentence "Ees broken, get new part in zee mornink."

After about four hours of sweat-soaked semi-sleep (Theresa told me she actually had a dream that she was melting), I went back to the front desk and said to the hotel manager, "Look. We had a miserable night. We're going out for a while today, and when we get back at about four o'clock, we'll need for the air to be fixed or to have our room changed. Will that work?"

The nice lady assured me that, yes, that would be fine. We went sight-seeing, had a nice lunch (is there anything better than New York pizza? I submit that there is NOT!), and when we returned to the hotel, it was nice and cool.  Three cheers for Gustav.

Thankfully, that was the last of the problems. The Yanks thoroughly abused the Twins on both nights we were there, we saw Wicked on Broadway, had dinner at the famous Elaine's (where they seemed to be hosting the Corleone family reunion) and in general had a wonderful time. Once we got that first day behind us, it was smooth sailing.

Until the trip home, when our flight was delayed three hours.

But I did use that extra time to buy a really nice set of shower curtain rings from a chatty fat guy.


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Monday, November 15, 2010

The McRib Experiment: The Bribe

Several days ago, my fiance Theresa assured me that there was, and I quote, "No way you can get me to eat a McRib."  Of course, I took this as a challenge, so now I'm going to do everything in my power to get her to partake of the McDonald's "Limited Time Only" delicacy.  We're calling it, "The McRib Experiment".

My first attempt took place on the evening of November 9th.  I stopped by the local Mickey D's on my way home from work and ordered the McRib combo.  Immediately, there was a problem.

"I'm sorry, but we're out of McRib buns," said the drive-through McPloyee.

"You've gotta be freakin' kiddin' me.  You've got these things for six weeks and you're already out of buns?"

"We're expecting some more in about fifteen minutes if you want to wait.  Or we could put it on one of our honey baked rolls."

"Yeah, fine, do that." I said.  It's mystery meat slathered in fake barbecue sauce.  How much worse could a substitute bun make it?

When I got home, Theresa was sitting in the living room.  "Hi, Honey," I said.  "I got you something to eat.  Take a look."  I held up the McDonald's bag.

"I'm not eating a McRib," she said.

"Okay, here's the deal.  I'll give you ten bucks right now to eat it."  Suddenly I started to feel a little bit like Sam-I-Am.  If she turned down the money, maybe I could get her to eat one in a box.  Or with a fox.  Or in a house.  Or with a mouse.

I took a ten dollar bill from my wallet and set it along side the McRib.

"No way," said Theresa.  "Look at that crap, it's disgusting."

Her son Doug came over.  "Can I have the ten bucks if I eat it?"

"No.  It's for your mom.  Besides, for ten bucks, you'd eat your own shoe."

"What's your point?" asked Doug.

"Yeah, well, forget it."  I turned to Theresa.  "Well, there it is, all yours."

"I told you I'm not eating that," said Theresa.

"You sure?  Ten dollars . . . Meal, or No Meal?" I asked, dramatically.

"Uh, no meal."

Since I'm not going to go above a ten-spot for the bribery phase, I guess it's time to move on to Plan B.  And don't worry, there is most definitely a Plan B.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the McRib didn't go to waste . . .

Of course, the fact that Munson went out in the back yard and immediately yakked all over the place is only going to make my mission more difficult.



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Thursday, November 11, 2010

What Ever Happened To . . . Thing One and Thing Two?

Mike and Mark Fitzmulligan were identical twins, born in Springfield, Illinois in 1952.  For the most part, the boys' childhood was unremarkable.  They were friendly young men and excellent students, adored by their teachers as well as their peers.  After school, the boys worked part time at the market owned by their parents Henry and Connie, where they stocked shelves, swept the floor, and bagged groceries.  The Fitzmulligan Twins were among the most popular and well-liked kids in all of Springfield, which makes what happened to them even more tragic.

One afternoon in April of 1967,  Mark was manning the checkstand when a suspicious-looking customer entered the market.

"Good morning, sir, welcome to Fitzmulligan's," said Mark.  "Can I help you find anything?"

"Why yes," answered  a six-foot three-inch black and white cat wearing only a red and white hat and bow tie.  "Where do you keep your tuna?"

"Here, let me show you," said Mark, stepping out from behind the counter.  "The canned fish are right over . . ."

That's as far as he got.  Without warning, the cat clubbed the unsuspecting twin over the head with an umbrella, dragged him out to the street, and tossed him into a large wooden box in the bed of a 1962 Ford pickup.  The cat closed the latch on the box trapping Mark inside.  That's when Mike came out of the store, trying to figure out why his brother was no longer working the cash register.

"Excuse me, sir," he said to the cat.  "Did you happen to see my brother?  He's about four-foot two and looks, well, exactly like me."

"Why yes, he's standing right there behind you.  I don't know how you missed him."

Mike fell for it -- hook, line and sinker.  When he turned around, the cat whacked him with the umbrella and loaded him in the box with his twin brother.  The cat climbed into the driver's seat and sped away.

For the next month, the felonious feline subjected the Fitzmulligan twins to various types of physical and mental torture.  He dressed them in identical red jumpsuits, dyed their hair a hideous shade of blue, and fed them nothing but brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts and Jim Beam whiskey.  To dehumanize the twins, the cat referred to them only as Thing One and Thing Two; if the boys dared to call each other by their given names, the umbrella came out and the beatings commenced.  The two Things spent most of their time drunk out of their minds, and the cat only let them out of their box when he wanted to vent his anger, which often included playing a game he called "Hit That Thing".

In addition to being a violent psychopath, the cat was a petty thief and he often took Thing One and Thing Two with him on jobs, one of which has been well documented.

It was a rainy Saturday morning.  Sally and Tommy McCrumm were left at home, just the two of them, while their mother Josie went to the store to do the weekly grocery shopping.  Mrs. McCrumm was a single mother, and while she would have preferred to hire a sitter to look after her children (Tommy, the older of the two, was only eleven), her budget didn't allow for such luxuries.  Most Saturdays this wasn't a problem, as the kids were fairly responsible, but on this particular afternoon some adult supervision would've saved an awful lot of heartache and paperwork later.

As Tommy would explain to the investigating officers, at around 1:25 PM something went "bump", and that bump made them jump.  They looked to see what caused the noise, and that's when they saw him.  They saw him step in on the mat.  They looked, and they saw him, the cat in the hat.  Tommy immediately told the furry intruder to leave the premises, as they weren't allowed to have visitors while their mother was out.  The cat, however, ignored the boy's pleas and began to destroy the family's possessions.  He started with a book, a teapot, a cake, a rake, and most troublesome of all, a glass bowl containing the family goldfish, Mr. Krinklebine.  The cat later claimed that he was merely trying to juggle these items to entertain the children, but Sally insisted, "the cat wasn't juggling at all, he just tossed everything up in the air.  The cake splattered, the coffee cup shattered, and if Tommy hadn't caught the fishbowl, Mr. K was a goner."

As the kids scrambled to clean up the mess, Mr. Krinklebine screamed at the cat, "Get out of here!  You should not be here when their mother is not!"  The cat did, in fact, leave the house at this point, only to return moments later carrying the wooden box containing two things formerly known as Mark and Mike Fitzmulligan.  As usual, the Things were completely hammered, and as a new twist, the cat had laced their morning Pop Tarts with a healthy dose of PCP.  When the cat opened the latch, Thing One and Thing Two shot out of the box like a couple of hyperactive weasels zapped with a cattle prod.  For the next hour and a half, Sally and Tommy McCrumm (and Mr. Krinklebine) experienced a level of chaos unmatched in the entire history of poorly-supervised pre-adolescents.  The cat and the Things flew kites in the house, played tennis, and caused a variety of damage to the floors, walls, and the overall structural integrity of the McCrumm house.  After the drugs wore off and the Things slowed down a bit, Tommy was able to capture them in a net and secure them back inside their box.

By this time, Mrs. McCrumm had finished her shopping and was about to return home.  In a rush, the cat haphazardly straightened up some of the wreckage (though the plumbing and electrical work would require extensive repairs by certified professionals which created a financial hardship for Mrs. McCrumm, since her homeowner's insurance did not cover damage caused by psychotic cats and drug-crazed teenage Things) and fled the scene.

Mrs. McCrumm asked Tommy, "What the hell was going on here?  This place looks like a bomb went off!"  Tommy was an honest kid, so he told his mom an accurate, if watered-down, version of the day's events.  Mrs. McCrumm immediately contacted the authorities, who questioned the children.  Mr. Krinklebine refused to talk to the officers without his attorney present.

Meanwhile, the cat drove away at a breakneck speed and when he turned the corner, the box containing the Things fell off the truck and smashed on the pavement.  Confused and injured, One and Two sat down on the curb where they were soon picked up by the police.  Using information the Things provided, Officer Marvin K. Mooney and his partner were able to track down the cat at his home and launch an investigation.

As it turns out, the hat-wearing cat was much more than a petty thief and vandal.  His real name was Skitch Morris, and the ransacking of the McCrumm home was but the latest (and least disturbing) of the cat's criminal activities.  An extensive search of Morris's home revealed drug paraphernalia, unregistered hand guns, and an extensive collection of underground kitty porn on his computer.  To top it off, buried in the backyard, crime scene investigators found the bodies of three Sneetches who had been brutally murdered a few months earlier.  Apparently, two of the Sneetches had been tortured prior to their deaths because while one Sneetch's belly had not been mutilated, the others had scars upon thars.

Skitch "The Cat in the Hat" Morris was convicted on all charges and sentenced to death.  His execution was carried out on February 7, 1978.

After six months in a drug rehabilitation facility and three more in a mental hospital, Mark and Mike Fitzmulligan returned home to their parents in the summer of 1969.  Though not quite the same as they were before their abduction, both boys were able to return to Geisel High School that September and graduated the following June.  Neither of the twins discussed the details of their ordeal ever again.

After high school, Mike went on to the University of Northern Michigan where he majored in criminal justice.  He served thirty-five years with the Lansing Police Department, and retired in 2009.  He currently lives in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan with his wife Mitzi.  They have three grown children and seven grandkids.

Mark, on the other hand, spent his time redefining the word "lazy".  Uninterested in attending college and unwilling to look for work, the disturbed twin never moved out of his parents' house.  He sat around all day in his underwear, eating potato chips, drinking root beer, Coca Cola, Dr. Pepper, and any other soft drinks he could find in the refrigerator.  One afternoon in early '71, while completely hopped on pop, Mark stole the keys to his father's '69 Chevy Impala and went for a drive.  He didn't make it very far.  While speeding on the Interstate, Mark lost control of the vehicle and collided with an eighteen-wheeler transporting a shipment of Spaghetti-os to Pittsburgh.  In a gruesome avalanche of twisted steel, burning rubber and neat round spaghetti you can eat with a spoon, the Chevy tumbled down an embankment killing Mark instantly.  The driver of the truck was uninjured, although he could never quite get the smell of tomato sauce out of his trailer.

At the funeral, Mike Fitzmulligan spoke fondly of his twin brother.

"I loved him, man, we were two brothers sharing one soul.  We looked out for each other, we took care of each other, we shared each other's secrets.  As most of you know, we went through a terrible time together, but we were able to put that behind us and move on with our lives.  At least, I thought we had, but it seems now like Marky needed me more than I thought.  I wish I'd been there for him at the end.  That's one Thing I'll never forgive myself for."


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