Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Letter to Newton, My Mentally Challenged Stepdog

Dear Newton,

First of all, I need to make something clear to you.  You are not my dog.  You are Theresa's dog, which means that while she is forced to love you unconditionally, I'm am under no such obligation.  I happen to like Theresa, so I'm pretty much stuck with you.  But my love is VERY conditional, so I believe it's only sporting of me to make a few things clear so you can't plead ignorance when someday I beat you to death with my TaylorMade seven iron. 

Condition 1: Stay the Hell Off My Pillow

It's bad enough that Theresa lets you sleep under the covers, but apparently that's not good enough for you.  Every night, after I've gotten all ready for bed, there you are curled up on my pillow.  MY pillow, Flea-face, not yours.  When I give you "the look", that means you're supposed to move, not look the other way and pretend you don't see me.  When I say, "NEWTON MOVE YOUR ASS!" I know you can hear me because you can hear the sound of a Cheez-It hitting tile from three rooms away.  I've sacrificed part of the bed for you, buddy, leave my pillow alone.

Condition 2: Do Not Under Any Circumstances Piss in the House

Perhaps you've noticed that since we've moved to the new house you've been wearing a diaper.  That's to keep you from, as dog-lovers so adorably put it, "marking your territory" on the carpet, bookcases, furniture, and most recently, a 100-dollar pair of Giorgio Brutini snakeskin loafers.  And don't play innocent with me, my friend.  I know that you know you're not supposed to whiz on things.  Otherwise, when I catch you at it you'd just look all confused, not run the hell away and hide under the bed.  Which reminds me, when you're curled up under the bed and you feel a metal object poking you in the ribcage (it's called a seven-iron, make a note of it), that means you're supposed to get out from there.

Condition 3: You Are Not in Leavenworth, So Stop Trying to Escape

Look, between you and me, if you really want to run away I'll be more than happy to pack you a little backpack full of Snausages and tennis balls and bid you a fond adieu.  Hell, tell me where you want to go and I'll drive you there.  But that would break Theresa's heart and I'd somehow get blamed for it, so let me just explain this to you and be done with it.  If you have to squeeze your head and body through cast-iron bars, that means you're going someplace you're not supposed to.  Like the other day, when our kindly neighbor hunted you down on the next cul-de-sac and brought you home.  Three times.  It makes you seem ungrateful.  What, the Ginger Snaps aren't up to your standards?  The freaking fireplace isn't warming your scrawny backside efficiently enough?  Careful what you wish for, pal, someday no one's gonna come looking for you.

Condition 4: Quit Being Such a Candy Ass

Newt, you are a rat terrier, which means your ancestors took care of their masters (a term which you're obviously unfamiliar with, incidentally) by sniffing out and ridding the farm of rats and other vermin.  You, though, would be more appropriately called a Bacon Terrier or perhaps a Tater Tot Terrier.  If you recall, the only time you've encountered anything like a rat (it was a hamster), you immediately ran into the corner and pissed yourself.  I'm sure your relatives would be proud.  Also, when you're being scolded for one of your many transgressions, be a man about it.  Don't just flop over on your back like a little, well, bitch.  It's pathetic.

I don't mean this to sound like a threat Newt, but if you keep this up, someday Theresa's going to come home and find out that you've "run away and although I spent three hours driving around the neighborhood looking for him, I just couldn't find him anywhere."  I might even put up "Lost Dog" signs just to be more convincing, though there's no guarantee I'll include our real phone number.

Think I'm bluffing?  Piss on my shoes again and find out, buster.




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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fishing With Grandpap

For the gung-ho bass fisherman, there are few places in the U.S. better than Central Florida, specifically Orlando.  There are hundreds of lakes in the area, from the bucket-sized Lake Dot to the expansive Lake Jessup, many of which feature fish camps where anglers can go after an Eden of bass, perch, catfish, and an unmatched variety of panfish.

None of that meant a thing to me out on Lake Silver, however, as I sat in a banged-up aluminum motorboat with my 250-pound grandfather, lightning crackling across the sky and rain pounding down upon us.

"Whassa matter, there, Chris?" Grandpap asked, unlit cigar hanging from his mouth like a wet sponge.  "Yer not gonna let a little rain roon the day, are ya?"

If this was "a little rain" I'd hate to see what Grandpap would call a downpour, but the rain was the least of my worries.  First off, there was the lightning.  My third grade class had recently learned that objects made of metal, fishing boats for example, were excellent conductors of electricity.  I was a nervous kid with more than my share of mortal fears, and being struck by lightning was right up there with fire, roller coasters and, of course, clowns.

"No, Grandpap, I'm fine," I lied, looking down at him.  Grandpap's weight, combined with that of the outboard motor, created an imbalance that left me jacked way up in the air.  I was not "fine", wasn't even in "fine's" area code.  On a scale from one to ten, I was freaking petrified.  My pants were soaking wet, and I assure you it wasn't just from the rain.  I shivered in my bright orange poncho forgetting all about our pursuit of largemouth bass, picturing instead my body getting ravaged by lightning bolts, pitched into the water, and chomped to bits by a strike force of hungry alligators who were undoubtedly gathering off the starboard bow.  All the while Grandpap, I'm sure, would be chastising me because my blood-curdling screams and thrashing around were "skeerin' away all the fish."

We braved the elements, though, (and by "braved" I of course mean there was no way I was going to muster up the courage to ask to go home) and after about half an hour, the monsoon subsided.  We stayed out on the lake until sunset, Grandpap reeling in a string of monstrous bass while I caught six pounds of flotsam and pneumonia.

And that was but one of our many fishing expeditions.

Bill "Grandpap" Knight was my maternal grandfather and, as he was only too happy to tell anyone who would listen (or pretend to), he was the greatest fisherman to ever wield a Fenwick Trigger Stick fiberglass rod.  The only traveling the Knight family ever did was fishing trips, or weekend jaunts up to Suwanee River country north of Gainesville to visit Grandpap's mother (known as Grammy) where they'd all go, yes, fishing.  Everyone in the family fished, not just Grandpap.  The menfolk would fish the river all morning for red-bellies, stumpknocker, shellcracker, bream, and whatever else they could fry up in a cast-iron skillet.  Around noon, the rest of the family would meet them down at the riverbank for a fish fry.  They'd feast on fish, grits, hush puppies, and watermelon fresh from the garden.  As Mom says, true soul food is the food of people making do with whatever's on hand.

I was Grandpap's first grandchild and as such, I learned to fish before I learned to tie my shoes.  I picked up a lot of fishing lingo just by listening to Grandpap, terms like "back-trolling," "crankbait," and "quit throwing stuff into the water." If we're going to be honest about it, though, I never really got the hang of the actual "fishing" part.  While it's true that Grandpap spent many hours on the lake trying to teach me, whether or not I actually learned anything depends on your interpretation.

For example, he taught me to cast the line.  In theory, it was simple.  Pull the trigger on the Zebco 202 reel, bring the rod back over my right shoulder,  then whip it forward and at exactly the right moment release the trigger, sending the baited hook hurtling out into the lake.  Grandpap demonstrated this about ten times, and with a confident, "Awright, now'ts yer turn, give 'er a good fling," he handed me the rod.

I wound up and let it fly.

"Okay, now, next time yer gonna leggo the trigger jes' a little sooner," said Grandpap, calmly dislodging the hook from his left ear.

With practice, my casting skills rose to the level of "not horrible" but that was the extent of it.  And in the many trips we took over the years, I never caught a single thing.  Well, that's not entirely true.  One time, my hook embedded itself in the downy skull of an unlucky mallard and while I thought it should qualify as a legal catch, Grandpap and the Florida State Game Warden had a different opinion.

"Grandpap, look!  I caught a duck!"

"Ya shore did.  Ya usin' live bait or jus' the plain ol' hook?"

Always the sportsman, Grandpap guided the boat over to where the duck was flailing around in the water, unhooked him, and set him free.

"Better let 'im go," he said with a chuckle.  "That one's under the minimum size limit."

Over the years, my brothers went along on the fishing trips as well.  My youngest brother, Bobby, seemed to inherit some of Grandpap's skill.  He always caught a fish or two every time we went out, and Grandpap nicknamed him "Hot Rod."  I wasn't jealous, though.  Sure, my brother was a better fisherman than I was, but he never got to experience the "thrill" of lightning storms or the "prestige" of hooking our grandfather's ear.

Grandpap passed away about ten years ago, leaving a void in the lives of his family, Moose Lodge buddies, billiards rivals, and fishing companions.

But Central Florida became a much safer place for largemouth bass.


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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Careful What You Wish For

About ten years ago, my kids and I were spending a sunny Saturday at Knott's Berry Farm, an amusement park in Southern California.  Ryan was seven years old and Lindsay was four, and as we were enjoying our lunch of seven-dollar hamburgers and three-buck fries, Lindsay noticed a "wishing pond" nearby.

"Daddy, can I have money to throw in the water?" she asked.

"Haven't we thrown away enough money today, sweetie?"  I asked.  The sarcasm was lost on her.

"I want to make a wish.  Can I have a quarter?"

"How about a penny?"  After dropping a hundred and fifty bucks on park admission and about fifty more on food, it was time to start cutting corners.

"No, Dad, you don't get your wish for a penny.  They cost a quarter."  I must've missed the memo on that one.  Who says you can't put a price tag on your dreams?

"I wanna make a wish too!" said Ryan.

We emptied our lunch trays in the trash cans and walked over to the wishing pond.  I gave each kid a quarter, and watched as they closed their eyes, silently mouthed their wishes, and chucked the coins into the pond.

"What did you wish for?" I asked them.

"Daaa-aaad," said Ryan.  "If we tell you, they won't come true."

"That's just for birthday wishes.  It's okay to talk about coin wishes."

"I don't think so, Dad."

"If I made a wish, I'd tell you," I said.

"Well, then it wouldn't come true." said Lindsay, the resident expert on wish protocol.

"You're really not going to tell me?"

"Nope!" they answered in unison.

The following Monday night at the dinner table we were making the usual small talk.  How was your day, did you learn anything at school, that sort of thing.

"So, Lindsay, what's the best thing that happened today?" I asked.

"Oh!  I forgot to tell you!  My wish came true!"

"What wish?"

"The one I made at Knott's Berry Farm.  I wished that Daniel in my class would disappear." Daniel was the Tutor Time Preschool's resident bully.  I'd seen the kid a few times when I picked Lindsay up, smoking cigarettes he kept hidden in his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lunchbox.

"You wished that Daniel would disappear?" I asked, chuckling.


"And it came true?"

"Yeah!  When Miss Wendy called the rolls this morning she said that Daniel won't be here anymore 'cause he moved!  I got my wish!" 

Though I understood Lindsay's desire to get rid of the little punk, I didn't want her to think that she could just wish people away as nice a thought as that is.  I tried to explain to her that Daniel's family would've moved anyway, that they were probably making their plans long before we went to Knott's that day, but at age four she wasn't buying it.  This was no coincidence.  In her mind, she'd banished her nemesis to Siberia with the magic quarter of doom.

Across the table, I noticed Ryan blowing furiously on his mashed potatoes.  After a few huffs and puffs, he slammed his spoon down and stomped upstairs.  This was unusual, as Ryan's always been a fairly easy-going kid.  I went up to his room and found him lying on his bed, scowling at the ceiling.

"What's wrong, dude?" I asked.

"It's not fair.  Lindsay's wish came true but mine didn't."

"Well, Ry, I don't really think her wish came true, exactly."

"You heard her!  She wished for that kid to disappear and now he's gone!  She got her wish, but I didn't get mine!"

"What is it that you wished for, anyway?"

"To be able to breathe fire."



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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cupid vs. Wile E. Coyote

Fourteen year old boys are the most confused human beings on the planet, and my friend Paul and I were no exception. Back in 1979, we were trapped in hormonal purgatory. That is, we wanted to get involved with girls, but had absolutely no idea as to how we could make that happen.

It certainly didn't help that we were complete dorks.  How dorky, you ask? Let me put it this way. Paul and I were the sixth and seventh coolest guys in our Saturday morning bowling league. In high school, we were about mid-pack on the social food chain in the marching band. While we took shit from the tuba player, we did have enough status to pick on the guy that played clarinet.

But none of that stopped us from pursuing our goal of "making it" with the babe of our choice. At fourteen, I wasn't particularly picky. I'd have been happy with any girl who was interested and didn't have a major deformity. Paul, on the other hand, had delusions of sexual grandeur. His first target was a girl in our class named Julie Kroeger. Never mind that, although Julie was a freshman like us, she was dating Rick Mulgreavy - senior, star quarterback, guy with a mustache and a car. I'm not sure if Paul ever talked to Julie, let alone piqued her interest, but that didn't stop him from plotting his romantic strategy.

He struck out without taking the bat off his shoulder.

The closest we ever came to reaching the pubescent promised land was at the local roller skating rink. We'd hang out on Saturday nights, scouting out the local talent like starving lions patrolling the savanna. Every so often we'd spot a weakened gazelle and pounce, successfully pairing up for the traditional couples skate.

One evening, I had hooked up with an especially cute girl named Maria. We were holding hands, skating in circles, making small talk. The smell of "Babe" perfume mesmerized my senses. Mid-fantasy, Maria made what I'm sure she thought was a reasonable suggestion.

"How about if we skate backwards?"

Which would've been fine, if my skating skills were anywhere above "novice". Oh sure, I could go straight, and maybe pull off the occasional crossover turn, but that was about it. And I could only go to my left. During the "reverse direction" skate, that is, going clockwise, I had trouble making right turns without stumbling. So the idea of skating backwards left me with two options: I could beg off, miss out on the hand-holding, and look like a dork; or I could try to skate backwards, fall on my ass, and look like a dork. While I was stalling, hoping like hell that John Lennon's "Woman" would end so I could avoid public humiliation, Maria suddenly grabbed my other hand and spun me around. Without even thinking about it, we were skating backwards!

For about ten feet.

It was like that moment when Wile E. Coyote hangs in midair, defying the laws of nature. As long as he's not thinking about it, he's fine, but the second he realizes that he's not on solid ground . . . BOOM.

Maria was sweet about it. She helped me up, we took another quick lap, and the song ended. But hey, I'd held her hand for about three and a half minutes. In the traditional "first base, second base" measurement of boy-girl contact, I'd grounded out hard to short. A respectable at bat.

Of the two of us, Paul was the first to have an actual girlfriend, but there's a Barry Bondsian asterisk attached. We were fifteen or sixteen at the time, and there was a girl in our bowling league, Lorraine, who Paul had the hots for. Lorraine was cute and had a decent pair on her, by that I mean "noticeable". Paul spent a few Saturdays chatting her up, and when he finally asked her "out", she accepted. They were an actual couple, hanging out at the bowling alley, sharing soft drinks, a match made in Greenbrook Lanes, if not heaven.

Until we learned that Lorraine was twelve.

In fairness to Paul, she didn't LOOK twelve, but that didn't stop the rest of us from harassing the hell out of him. The relationship was doomed to failure. She ended up dumping him for a guy in her sixth grade math class, I believe.

About a year later, when I was sixteen, I got my first girlfriend. That relationship actually "took". I'll spare you the details, but it was pure, queasy stomach, sweaty palms romantic bliss. I was sure this was the girl I would someday marry.

And then my family moved to California.

Cupid is a bastard, ain't he?


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Thursday, April 15, 2010

There's No Need to Fear, Shakespeare is Here

Not too long ago I was browsing at my local Barnes and Noble looking to buy a copy of "Tax Evasion for Dummies"[1] when I happened across a book series entitled "No Fear Shakespeare."  As far as I could tell without actually picking the book up and reading it, the premise is to take the works of William Shakespeare and translate them into English so that the uneducated, semi-literate morons inhabiting the 21st century (which is to say, dopes like me) can understand them.  Personally, I think this endeavor is a stupid waste of time.  If William Shakespeare didn't have the foresight to write his plays using language that would be coherent four hundred years later, I say screw him.  Let his works vanish into literary oblivion like those of German playwright Henrich Von Weissenheimer (1733-1768), author of obscure classics like Helmut the XXVII, The Merchant of Ochsenhausen, and the unforgettable tragedy Hamburg.[2]

Seriously though, why bother dumbing down Shakespeare?  Are there actually people out there dying to read Romeo and Juliet, only to be linguistically thwarted by all the "forsooths" and "wherefore art thous"Would these folks really rush out to the bookstore to buy the simplified version?  And how artistic would Shakespeare for Dummies really be?  Since I didn't bother doing research, I'm just going to talk out of my ass here[3] and show you what I assume the revisions look like.

"To be, or not to be.  That is the question."  Hamlet, Act III, Scene I
"I should probably just friggin' kill myself.  Or not.  Damn, I'm screwed up."  Hamlet, No Fear Shakespeare

"What's in a name?  That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet."  Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II
"He can call himself metrosexual if he wants to, but to me he's a friggin' tulip."  Romeo and Juliet, No Fear Shakespeare

"We have seen better days."  Timon of Athens, Act IV, Scene II
"Well, this sucks."  Timon of Athens, No Fear Shakespeare

I guess my point here is that if you have to water something down that much in order to make it accessible to the masses, it's not worth the trouble.  Writing simpler versions of Shakespearean plays makes as much sense as having Keanu Reeves star in a movie version of Much Ado About Nothing.

He did?  Oh, well, see what I mean?

Speaking of marketing to the lowest common denominator, don't you think the "For Dummies" series has gotten a little bit out of hand?  It was one thing when they focused on topics that were confusing for everyone, like "Electrical Wiring For Dummies" or "Microsoft Windows For Dummies" but now they've come out with (and I'm not making this up) "Pregnancy For Dummies".[4]

First of all, I was surprised to find out this wasn't about Jim Bob and Michelle Dugger, but when I saw this book on the shelf I had to ask myself who the heck was it written for?  Is there anyone who actually doesn't understand how to get pregnant?[5]  As Cole Porter said, birds do it.  Bees do it.  Even educated fleas do it.  Hell, the other night I caught my dog Munson out in the back yard trying to hump an armadillo.  While his efforts were futile (not to mention frigging hilarious), he did seem to have the mechanics figured out.  It's really not that complicated.  Did the "For Dummies" people reduce the process to a song akin to the Hokey Pokey?  You put your whole self in, you put your whole self out, you put your whole self in and you shake it all about?  Perhaps.  More importantly, though, if someone needs to consult a handbook on how to get pregnant, should they really be reproducing in the first place?

Meanwhile, there are plenty of subjects that aren't covered in the Dummies series that I personally could benefit from.  "Watching the Ballgame On TV Without Someone (Who Shall Remain Nameless) Nagging You to Do Something Around the House Goddammit For Dummies" is one example, but "Keeping Your Stupid Mouth Shut When the Cop Pulls You Over For Dummies" and possibly "Determining the Correct Gender of the Overly-Aggressive Chick in the Bar For Dummies" would've served me well at various points of my life also.

Unlike the works of Shakespeare, there are some things that really should be made a bit simpler.

[1] Just kidding, Mr. Internal Revenue Service man.

[2] When he first read Hamlet in 1752, Weissenheimer was outraged, accusing Shakespeare of stealing his idea.  He attempted to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement, but when he was told that Shakespeare had, in fact, died over a century earlier he decided (wisely) to drop the whole thing.

[3] Raise your hand if you thought, "Yeah, what else is new?"

[4] They especially missed the boat by not having one for ventriloquists entitled "Dummies for Dummies".

[5] Knowing how is one thing, finding someone willing to participate in the process with you is something else entirely.


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Monday, April 12, 2010

Dear Mr. Sunshine, Issue 2: The School Drop-off Line

Julie D. from Kansas City writes: 

Dear Mr. Sunshine,

I have four kids who have all received Navy-SEAL-like training on how to exit a car quickly and efficiently at the carpool drop-off line at school. They know the time for hugs, kisses, second-guessing what's in their backpacks, and unbuckling their seat belts is NOT when the car is in park and the pressure is on them to move, move, MOVE!, but rather when we are in the ready position, next in the queue for the final dropping point.

Unfortunately there are a number of parents at their school who prefer to wipe noses, tie shoes, open car doors, and hold spelling bees for their kids in the car while in park at the final dropping point. As a result, everyone behind them is delayed beyond measurable reason for school while little Johnny and little Dolly get extra pats on the head and hand-blown kisses during their valet service.

Aside from posting "Keep The Line Moving, You Wussy Parent" signs along the drop-off line, what other helpful hints do you have for encouraging parents to limit their time at the final dropping point to the very attainable seven-second maximum?

Your fan from the Midwest who, in spite of the way it might have just sounded, loves children very much,


Dear Jules,

Unfortunately, you have come across one of the few problems in this world that simply does not have a solution.  As long as there are schools, there will be idiot parents who clog up the drop-off and pick-up lines.  That's because every time a school principal (God's favorite creatures, by the way) devises a way to idiot-proof the process, a more logic-resistant species of idiot seems to evolve.  The circle of life gone haywire, if you will.

The thing is, as a loving parent who genuinely thinks about other people once in a while, you are the exception rather than the rule.  Most parents of elementary school children care about nothing beyond their own immediate needs.  If Johnny needs to finish gluing 500 sugar cubes onto his Alamo project, well, he's going to do it right there in the back of the minivan while everyone waits.  If little Susie hasn't quite finished her strawberry Poptarts and Go-gurt, she's not getting out of the car till she's done.  If that sends the rest of the drop-off line into a tizzy, well, tough patootie.

So, Jules, it's up to you and your friends to take charge and bring about positive change in the drop-off line.

First, never underestimate the power of your vehicle's horn.  Pull up behind the offending parent, and let them have it.  And don't forget, if they turn around and flip you the bird, you can then report them to the school administration for obscene gestures in the presence of children.  Or, if you're even more daring, go out and get yourself an industrial grade bullhorn, walk up to the driver's window and yell, "TIME TO MOVE ALONG!  GET THE KIDS OUT OF THE CAR AND BE ON YOUR WAY!"

If you're not the assertive or aggressive type, though, you'll just have to figure out a way to make the most of the hours you're going to spend in the drop-off line.  You might try creating a "DROP-OFF LINE BINGO" card for you and your kids to play while you wait (no point sending your kids to class when everyone else is just sitting around, right?).  Some things to put on your Bingo card are:

A goofy kid with glasses

A kid crying because he forgot his homework

An overprotective parent

An overweight teacher

A fight between students

A fight between parents

Use your imagination. As an incentive, maybe the winner of your Bingo game would get to use the bullhorn.

Sorry I can't be more helpful here, Jules, but asinine parents are a breed apart from normal human beings.  Aside from just shooting them, there's not a lot that can be done.

Hey, now THERE'S a thought . . .


Mr. Sunshine


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Friday, April 9, 2010

The Fine Line Between Stupid and Clever: KISS vs. Spinal Tap

Okay, here's a quick test for you.  Which of the following rock lyrics is from a "real" rock band, and which is from a fictitious "parody" band?

A) "Let's put the X in sex.  Love's like a muscle and you make me want to flex."

B) "Big bottom, big bottom, talk about mud flaps, my girl's got 'em."

The correct answer of course is A.

Wait, that really doesn't answer the question.  What I meant was, choice A is from the somewhat obscure KISS song "Let's Put the X in Sex" and choice B is from the fictitious band Spinal Tap, stars of the hilarious Rockumentary This is Spinal Tap.

But, while KISS is real and Spinal Tap is fake, the similarities between the two groups are astounding.  We'll start with personnel.  Throughout their history, Spinal Tap has had an inordinate number of drummers.  Though either karma or coincidence, most of these drummers met an untimely (and usually very strange) death.  John "Stumpy" Pepys, for example, died in a bizarre gardening accident that police said was best left unsolved.  Eric "Stumpy Joe" Childs died choking on vomit.  According to guitarist Nigel Tufnel, it was someone else's vomit but police couldn't find the culprit because, and I quote, "you can't dust for vomit."  Two drummers, Peter "James" Bond and Mick Shrimpton, spontaneously combusted onstage.

While only one of their drummers (Eric Carr) died, KISS has employed five different lead guitarists -- Ace Frehley, Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John, Bruce Kulick and Tommy Thayer.  Also, in the late 70's, the band used studio guitarists on their albums on the occasions (and there were many) that Ace was unable to fulfill his musical responsibilities (often due to being drunk, wrecking his car on the way to the studio, or both).  Mark St. John (or as he's known by KISS fans, "The Pope John Paul I of KISS") held the job of lead guitarist for a mere six months before contracting Reiter's Syndrome.  This disease caused his hands and arms to swell which, while a mere annoyance for you and me, becomes somewhat problematic if you're, say, a professional guitar player.

Speaking of guitarists, let's take a look at the so-called "wisdom" of Ace Frehley and Nigel Tufnel.  Between the two of them, their intellectual wattage would be insufficient to power the lightbulb in your refrigerator.  The difference, though, is that Nigel's inane blathering was created by a team of brilliant comedy writers while Ace was just talking.  Here are some quotes:

"In ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, an ancient race of people.  The Druids.  No one knew who they were or what they were doing." - Nigel Tufnel 

"When you take a shower in space, you have to press the water onto your body to clean yourself and then you vacuum it off." - Ace Frehley

"You know, just simple lines intertwining, you know, very much like - I'm really influenced by Mozart and Bach, and it's sort of in between those, really. It's like a Mach piece, really. It's sort of, well, I call this one 'Lick My Love Pump'." - Nigel Tufnel

"I can't even read music.  But I can teach someone how to make a guitar smoke." - Ace Frehley

And finally, both bands have had their share of onstage humiliation.

One night, Tap is onstage, ready to start their show.  Three of their members, David St. Hubbins (guitar), Nigel Tufnel (guitar) and Derek Smalls (bass) are encased in plexiglass pods, and as they start their opening number, the pods open and they emerge to tumultuous applause.  That is, St. Hubbins and Tufnel emerge but Smalls's pod fails to open and he's thereby trapped inside.  As the song proceeds, stagehands try to pry, burn, and smash open the malfunctioning pod while Smalls looks on helplessly.  They finally get the pod open, just in time for the song to end.

It's March of 2000.  I'm at a KISS concert at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim (now Honda Center).  The band launches into the opening riff of their classic song "Love Gun".  Lead singer Paul Stanley is hooked up to a contraption designed to lift him twenty-five feet in the air and "fly" him to a smaller stage set up in the middle of the crowd.  Halfway through the journey, though, something goes awry and instead of landing on the stage Paul gets stuck and is left swinging back and forth over the audience.[1]  Not wanting to abort the song, Gene Simmons takes over the lead vocals but even after twenty years, Gene has somehow never memorized the lyrics to "Love Gun."  So now we have Paul swinging around helplessly, Gene butchering the vocal, and Peter Criss nearly falling off his drum stool he's laughing so hard.  Ace Frehley, as usual, is completely oblivious. 

In some ways, the mishaps suffered by KISS (Paul Stanley would probably call them "KISShaps") have been even more comical than those endured by Spinal Tap.  Gene Simmons has set his hair on fire more than once, and Ace electrocuted himself one night when his guitar wasn't properly grounded.  Even Peter Criss got into the act, losing his hearing temporarily when a "fan" threw a cherry bomb on stage.  Okay, maybe "comical" wasn't the right word.

At least none of them have ever choked someone else's vomit.

[1] I was particularly upset by the malfunction because my seat was about ten feet from the small stage where Paul was supposed to land.  But even so, it was hilarious.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Stitches, Concussions, and Other Great Moments in Parenting

Over the course of my lifetime, I've been afraid of many things.  When I was a kid, my list of mortal fears included clowns, fire, and coconut cakes.  In high school I added a few more, things like talking to hot cheerleaders, the cretins hanging out in the smoking area and, of course, clowns.  Then in college, I tacked on alcohol poisoning, STD's, and my evil Music History professor.  Oh, and clowns.  The point is, all of us have our innermost fears, and the list just keeps getting longer and longer.

But I'll tell you this.  Until you become a parent, you have no idea what pure, gut-wrenching terror really is.

From the moment the doctor yanks your goopy blue child screaming from your wife's hoo-hoo (or, if you're a woman, your very own personal hoo-hoo), all you can think about is, "How do I keep this wondrous creature safe until he graduates from high school?"

Personally, I was able to protect my son Ryan from harm up until the age of nine days, at which time I attempted to clip his fingernails.  I carefully laid him down on the changing table, making sure his diaper was secured so he didn't pee in my ear again.  I located the Black and Decker Infant Nail Clippers, tenderly placed his delicate little hand in mine and with the utmost caution proceeded to hack off his index finger.  Blood spurted everywhere, like that scene in Jaws when Quint gets bitten in half.  Ryan, meanwhile, was shrieking like a banshee, turning various shades of purple.

In retrospect, it probably wasn't quite that horrific, but that's how it will forever live in my memory.

Ryan is now almost eighteen and my daughter Lindsay is almost fifteen, and for the most part they've managed to avoid serious injury.  This is a definite departure from the family traditions set forth by me and my brothers who, during our childhood years, suffered from broken bones, gaping head wounds, foot-long splinters embedded in thigh muscle, scratched corneas, severed fingertips, chipped teeth, an assortment of gashes and cuts, and one case of mangled face suffered by my brother Bobby when he attempted to ride his bike down the apparently-not-obviously-enough-named "Suicide Hill."  This list, by the way, is not intended to be all-inclusive.

Now, while I did say that my kids have done a decent job of staying in one piece, this doesn't mean we've avoided the emergency room completely.  Our first trip took place a few years ago.  I was sitting in the bleachers on a sunny afternoon watching Ryan and the rest of the Norco Junior League Athletics shag fly balls in the outfield, preparing for their upcoming battle against the vaunted Giants.  I was chatting with my daughter when a collective "gasp" passed through the crowd.  I looked out onto the field and noticed a team of coaches surrounding a fallen player.  As any parent would, I surveyed the Athletics who were still upright, looking for Ryan.  When I didn't see him among the conscious, I used my Sherlock Holmesian powers of deductive reasoning to conclude that he was, in fact, the kid bleeding all over the freshly-mowed outfield grass.

As I got up to go check on him, I overheard a mom say, "Ah, who cares, it's not MY kid."  Before I could even turn around to tell this insensitive bitch to go screw herself, I heard my daughter Lindsay say, "Hey, lady, it's my brother so why don't you just shut up, okay?"

I've never been so proud.

I jogged to the outfield to check on Ry.  I was not prepared for what I was about to see, specifically, my son's face completely covered in his own blood.  It was the fingernail clipping incident all over again.  My initial fear was that the ball had knocked out a few teeth or popped his eyeball out of his head or something.  The gallon of spilled blood made it impossible to locate the actual wound, so I asked Ryan, "Hey buddy, where does it hurt?"  I'll never forget his reply:

"Where it's bleeding from, duh."

I looked at the coach and said, "Yeah, he's gonna be fine."

The Team Mom had arrived with the first aid kid by this point, and managed to stop the bleeding which as it turned out was coming from a nasty gash above Ryan's left eye.  I drove him to the hospital where they stitched him up.  When I went in to see him in recovery he was already hitting on the girl on the next table, who had suffered severe facial trauma trying to pierce her own lip.  A match made in Urgent Care.

More recently, just a couple weeks ago in fact, I paid another visit to our local emergency room, this time with my daughter Lindsay.  In a moment of questionable judgment, Linds signed up for a co-ed basketball league for kids aged 15-17.  On her high school team, she's actually one of the taller, sturdier girls standing about 5'8".  She's used to being one of the bigger players and uses her size to her advantage in the girls' league.  However, playing in a league that's eighty percent post-pubescent guys, she seems better equipped for a stint in the Lullaby League.

So last week, she was back on defense when an opponent roughly the size of Mount McKinley came driving down the lane.  For non-basketball fans, that means he was rumbling toward the basket fully prepared to trample anything and everything that got in his way.

Which turned out to be my poor innocent little girl.

The good news is that she stood in there and took the charge, just as she's been taught.  The bad news is that since Man-Mountain McGee had at least a hundred pound weight advantage, the resulting collision sent her flying through the air.  Gravity, as it tends to do, took it from there and when Linds re-entered the earth's atmosphere, it was the back of her skull that first contacted the wooden floor.  A nauseating "thunk" echoed throughout the gym.

As I raced the ambulance to the hospital, my body was possessed by St. Wimperly, the Patron Saint of Overprotective Parents.  "That's it, she's done with basketball," I thought.  "Tomorrow I'm signing her up for oboe lessons.  The only dangerous thing about an oboe is listening to somebody try to play one."

In a feat of driving skill that would put Jeff Gordon to shame, I beat the ambulance to the ER by about five minutes.  I followed Lindsay's gurney (my baby girl is on a GURNEY!) to the patient inspection room or whatever they call it, where they took her vital signs.

"Hi, Linds, how are you feeling?" I asked.

She looked at me and smiled.  "That ambulance driver was HOT!"

If she wasn't already in the hospital, I think I'd have knocked her out.


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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Jane Crowley is Stealing Money

I would like to share with you today the work of a little-known author by the name of Jane Crowley. Ms. Crowley has published over 100 books, which are read by thousands of people on a daily basis.

Why have you never heard of her, you ask?

Well, that would probably be because she writes books for beginning readers. Don't misunderstand, I certainly understand the need for such reading material. Kids need to interact with text along with engaging illustrations, blah, blah, blah. But from a writer's point of view, could there possibly be an easier gig on the entire planet?

I would love to know how much ol' Jane gets paid per book, because if it's more than, say, a buck then she's a friggin' thief. Let me explain what I'm talking about.

Story by Jane Crowley

Down, down, down.
Up, up, up.
Down, down, down.
Up, up, up.
Down, down, down.
Up, up, up.
I can fly!

What first caught my attention was the phrase "Story by".

Really? This "story" contains five different words.  If I Can Fly is a story, a bag of Flamin' Hot Cheetos is a family buffet.  It's barely a friggin' SENTENCE, Jane! Did you do extensive research for your backstory here, maybe interview a few good folks from the Audubon Society? What a great "story", Jane. I was on the edge of my seat.

Here, let me do a quick rewrite, whaddaya think of this?

Down, down, down.
Up, up, up.
Down, down, down.
Up, up, up.
A hunter blasts my freakin' head off with a shotgun.
Down, down, down.

NOW, dear Jane, we have a story. Action, conflict, death. I bet your illustrator Rodney McRae would've had a much more enjoyable time drawing my concluding scene rather than the seven watercolor robins that graced your masterpiece. And don't give me any of that crap about "kids would be traumatized by a bird getting murdered", either. Have you been in a first grade classroom lately, Jane?  These kids play Grand Theft Auto six hours a day. They can handle a shotgun and a few scorched feathers.

Moving right along, let me introduce you to another Crowley page-turner.

Story by Jane Crowley

The pants, the shirt, the petticoat, the dress, the socks, the shoes, the rain, the mess.

That's not a story, it's the inventory from Sunnybrook Nursing Home's lost and found.  And let's look at the content for a minute, shall we? A petticoat, Jane? Tell me, who under the age of 93 has ever heard of a petticoat? Certainly not the six- and seven-year olds plodding through your book, that's for sure. After stumbling over that for a minute, and ultimately needing their teacher to read it for them, they'll ask, "But Mrs. Jones, what's a petticoat?"

To which Mrs. Jones will reply, "Something grandmothers and crotchety old storybook writers used to wear a hundred years ago, Jimmy."

And let me direct your attention to the stunning twist at the end of "Baby Gets Dressed".

"The mess."

Oh, yeah, that's friggin' hilarious, Jane. The little baby got all dressed up, walked outside into a rainstorm, her whole outfit got soaked and she probably ended up with whooping cough. Did you think about that, Jane? Nice message. "Go out in the rain, kids, with nothing but a dress and a moth-eaten petticoat." You think you could've added "the umbrella" right before the end, maybe? "The poncho" perhaps? "Poncho" is a much simpler word than "petticoat" that's for damn sure. But no, you didn't think about that, did you?


Next up is a great work by one of Jane Crowley's literary peers. Her name is Lillian Cushing, and let me tell you, she's absolutely ground-breaking in her prose and subtext. Let's examine her classic piece entitled "Shopping".

Story by Lillian Cushing

The bread. The ice cream. The toothpaste. The peas. The apples. The eggs. The mess!

"The mess!"  You plagiarizing whore! That's a shameless ripoff of the surprise ending to Jane Crowley's "Baby Gets Dressed"! Lillian, did you not think people would notice? Your whole book is fifteen words long, and you stole two of them from Crowley? Good God, if there's anything worse than being a hack, it's being an unoriginal hack.

On the plus side, though, at least Cushing has progressed into using periods in her work. Not sentences, mind you, she's still residing in the valley of the verbless, but we're getting there.

And now for the piece de resistance.

Story by Jane Crowley and Lillian Cushing
Illustrations by Jan van der Voo

I am fast.
I am slow.
I am fast.
I am slow.
I am slow.
I am fast.
I am fast.

That's right, my friends, it took two authors and an illustrator to create a book that contains exactly two different sentences. That's like a team of eight engineers being assembled to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Honestly, what level of collaboration is really required for a book that contains four words?

Imagine the story development meeting.

Jane: "Lillian, look, we need to start with the rabbit being fast."

Lillian: "No, Jane, we have to show the turtle first so the reader will understand the contrast between our key themes of speed and lethargy."

Jane: "If we start with 'I am slow', Lillian, the reader will lose interest. We need to start with action!"

Lillian: "Look, you take care of the 'I am' part, and leave the adjectives to me. Is that all right with you, ya petticoat-wearing old fart?"

Jane: "Don't get snippy with me, Missy, I've been at this much longer than you have. And don't think I've forgiven you for stealing my ending from 'Baby Gets Dressed', either!"

Lillian: "Oh, I'm sorry, Miss 'I met Dr. Seuss at the New Zealand Children's Book Convention in 1957'! I'm telling you, we start with the turtle going slow, then the rabbit, then a snail, then the rabbit again . . . "

Jane: "Wait, we're going to keep using the same rabbit to demonstrate 'fast'? Why not bring in a cheetah or a greyhound?"

Lillian: "Because, you stupid twit, we need to let the readers bond with the rabbit so we can use him in the sequel, 'I Can Hop'. Don't you know anything about characterization?"

J.K. Rowling writes the entire Harry Potter series by herself, yet it takes the combined efforts of Jane Crowley and Lillian Cushing, along with a separate illustrator, to create "I Am Fast"? Explain that one to me, please.

All kidding aside, well, sort of, I'm sure that Jane Crowley is a wonderful person and that Lillian Cushing is on the cutting edge of early childhood reading strategies. But when the entire collection of your work contains about eighteen different words, well, sooner or later you're gonna have to answer for that.

You know where to find me.

Jane Crowley: Jane eats. Jane breathes. Jane writes. An author!
Lillian Cushing: Lillian is a mom. Lillian is a woman. Lillian is a writer. Lillian, Lillian, Lillian.

(Note: The books mentioned in this piece are real, and cited word for word. Hard to believe, but absolutely true. I have, however changed the names of the authors because the last thing I need is a letter from an attorney reading "Jane is mad. Jane filed a lawsuit. Lawsuit, lawsuit, lawsuit. You are bad. You are screwed. Screwed, screwed, screwed.")


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