Saturday, May 29, 2010

Okay, So It's Not a Pulitzer

 Before I get into today's post, we have a quick order of business to take care of.  Lest any of you dare to question my scientific genius, let me direct you to this post from a couple months ago:

Predicting This Year's American Idol

Suffice it to say, "neener, neener, neener."

Moving on.

After years of slogging away in literary obscurity, I've finally been given the recognition and accolades that I so richly deserve.  That's right, I've been named one of seven recipients of the coveted Lesa's Creative Writer Blogger Award as presented by the one and only Nonamedufus (that's "No Name Dufus" to those of you who prefer spaces between words).  The Dufus is a talented writer himself, as evidenced by the fact that he is a recent recipient of, well, the Lesa's Creative Writer Blogger Award as presented by somebody else.

You know how those things go.

Anyway, in the storied tradition of acoustic guitars and feminine hygiene products, this award comes with strings attached.  I'm supposed to write seven things about myself, one of which is true, the remaining six shall be outrageous lies.  I don't know if I'm supposed to tell you which is which, but since that wouldn't be any fun anyway, I'll leave it to you to figure out.  Feel free to make your guess in the comment section as to which of my seven tales is truthful.

1. When I was five years old I was addicted to Pixy Stix, those paper straws filled with flavored sugar.  This stuff was much closer to being a narcotic than it was candy, and I went through them like a ravenous wolf through a chicken ranch.  And when I discovered that they were also available in three-foot long plastic tubes ("Junkie-Sized" I think they were called), there was no stopping me.  I spent the second half of kindergarten in a self-induced sugar coma.

2. In the late 80's, I worked for Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus as a stunt double for the guy that got shot out of a cannon.  The guy, Boomer McSplosion, billed himself as a human cannonball, but due to a fear of heights and loud noises, he didn't want to do his own stunts.  Each night during the show, right after they loaded him into the cannon, the lights went down, Boomer crawled out through a secret door, and I replaced him.  The pyro crew then lit the fuse and I was blasted fifty yards into a net. 

After a few months, Mr. Ringling (or maybe it was his brother) discovered that I'd been diddling the female contortionist and decided to fire me, making me the only person to ever get fired from being fired.

3. I once owned a pet porcupine named Prick, and his name had nothing to do with his physical characteristics.  When I was fourteen I was a bit of a loner.  I spent almost all my free time sitting by myself in my bedroom eating Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (I'd moved on from Pixy Stix) and listening to the KISS solo albums.  In an effort to get me to come out of my shell (or more likely, because he got tired of hearing Peter Criss blaring from my speakers), my father decided to get me a pet.  Why he decided on a porcupine, I'll never know, but from the minute Dad turned Prick loose in my room, it was bad news.  First of all, the little bastard ate all the peanut butter cups.  Then, his chocolate binge complete, he plopped his spiky ass on my bed and refused to move.  And it's not like I could just pick him up, either.  I was forced to sleep on the floor for the next six months until Prick eventually died of natural causes (or maybe from listening to Peter Criss blaring from my speakers).

4. Bette Midler thinks I'm an asshole.  When I was in my early 20's, I worked as a movie theater manager in Pasadena, California.  Every so often, we would host a private screening of an upcoming film, where a test audience would fill out a survey to help the producers make changes before the film's eventual release.  Anyway, one evening we were screening Beaches and after it was over, some of the film's stars and production team came into my office to discuss the surveys.  I was sitting at my desk working on payroll, completely minding my own business, when all of a sudden Bette Midler says, "Are we just going to discuss this in front of the asshole over there?"  I looked up, and wouldn't you know it, the bitch was talking about ME!  Stunned, I walked out of the office.  A while later, though, the producer came up to me and apologized for "Miss Midler's rudeness."  Whatever.  When the film was released, I went through it frame by frame, drawing mustaches on her friggin' face.

5. I am the only living person who knows who shot JFK.  I was barely a year old in November of 1963, and my family was visiting relatives in the Dallas area.  On the morning of the 22nd, we all went to Dealey Plaza to wave to President Kennedy, who was my father's hero.  I was seated in my stroller, near the Grassy Knoll, and I overheard the following conversation between two Cuban thugs:

Carlos: Say, Jose, I think we should go over behind that fence and take a few shots at that Kennedy guy.

Jose: Great idea, Carlos.  After that whole Bay of Pigs thing, I'd say he has it coming.

Carlos: You got any guns?

Jose: Of course.  I have two rifles in my car.  Let's do it!

As the motorcade passed by in front of me, I heard two shots ring out from behind me, from the very spot Jose and Carlos were talking about earlier.  So there you have it, mystery solved.  Oswald was a patsy, Jose and Carlos from Havana were the real killers.

6. I once tried out for the Cleveland Browns as a placekicker.  It was 1988 and the Browns starting kicker, a diminutive Scandinavian guy by the name of Grlz Rbnkskn, was mired in a horrific slump.  He'd missed twelve field goals in a row, including one embarrassing attempt where he missed the ball entirely and buried his kicking cleat in the ribcage of holder Bernie Kosar.  The Browns scouting department went to great lengths to find a suitable replacement for Rbnkskn, and their search naturally led them to the Jazz Studies Department at Riverside Community College where they found me, an up-and-coming trumpet player.  The Browns paid my expenses to Cleveland for a tryout where I managed one field goal in ten tries, which was of course pathetic, but then again, it was better than ol' Grlz had been doing.  Coach Marty Schottenheimer bought me dinner, and broke the news to me that they'd decided to go with Matt Bahr instead.

7. Sometimes, when the mood strikes me, I dress up in an evening gown and perform My Fair Lady in front of the bathroom mirror.  It's really quite relaxing.  I take a hot shower, spray on some cologne, slip into one of Theresa's finest sequined dresses and burst into a rousing rendition of "Wouldn't it Be Loverly".

Don't judge me, the Bible says not to.

Again, take your guess in the comment section as to which of these seven tales is true.

Okay, next I'm supposed to list seven blogs for you to visit.  I've done this before, and I always end up pissing someone off for not mentioning them.  Last time, for example, I carelessly neglected the blog Mental Poo, and ever since then I've been getting boxes of bull testicles, incoherent hand-written letters from semi-literate parents of kindergartners, and piles of dog crap delivered to my house by the UPS guy.  At least, I'm assuming it's dog crap.  It's crap, anyway.  So, as not to incur the wrath of anyone else, I'm going to limit this to blogs I've selected completely at random.  Visit them anyway, you might be pleasantly surprised.

1. The first blog I randomly selected was an obscure yet very diverse and informative site called Google.  When you first go to the site it doesn't look like much, but if you type something into the box on this guy's home page, it takes you to thousands of related links.  It's kind of like a search engine.  Why other bloggers haven't jumped all over this concept is beyond me.

2. For those of you who are into wiggly dessert treats, you'll want to pop on over to Jello.  As one would guess, this is a blog devoted entirely to Kraft Foods' most famous gelatin-based snack food.  Here you'll find recipes, distributors, and detailed instructions on how to use this product to create a titillating wrestling venue.  "Bikinis, rasslin', and lots of hos, J-E-L-L-O!"

3. When it comes to really cold, mostly English-speaking countries that invent exciting and sometimes incredibly stupid sports (I'm looking at YOU, curling), Canada is right at the top of my list.  From the gritty shores of Prince Edward Island to the majestic beauty of B.C., our goofy-sounding northern neighbors provide a constant example of what the good life is all "aboot."  To get just a slice of what it's like to be Canadian, check out the great blog from the Medicine Hat (Alberta) School District.  Medicine Hat.  What a great name for a town.  It's right up there with Moose Jaw.

4. Does your Uncle Jim believe that he's Napoleon Bonaparte?  Do the voices inside your head argue with one another?  Have you ever wondered where Agoraphobics Anonymous holds its meetings?  If you answered yes to any of these, or if you're just an everyday, non-specific sort of nut job, Psych Central is just the blog for you.  Why pay an expensive pseudo-scientific bozo to figure out what's wrong with you when all your answers are right there online?  Go check it out today, and merge back on to the highway to normal.

5. If you sleep all night and work all day, if you cut down trees and eat your lunch and go to the lavat'ry, well then, take a visit to the great blog Lumberjacks.  Not only will they help you with all your woodworking needs, they can also set you up with high heels, suspenders and a bra.  Enjoy!

6. If your company or organization is looking for a great fundraising opportunity, why not set up a basketball game against a team of midgets?  Over at Tiny Trotters, pint-sized ballers like Micro Jordan, Minute Bol and Scotty Pipsqueak would love to go head-to-thigh with you and your co-workers.  Pay them a visit!

7.  Suldog.  Just because I know he hates awards.

So there you have it.  Thanks once again to Nonamedufus for honoring me with the whatever-it-was-called blogger award.  I'll cherish it always.


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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Revenge of the Babysat

"This is stupid, it isn't even dark outside yet," my brother Eric said as he caught the tennis ball that I'd tossed to him from my bed. He was on the top bunk, with our brother Bobby pouting down below.

I caught the return throw. "I know. Can she really send us to bed this early?"

We were being baby-sat by our 16 year-old neighbor, Nancy. In a fit of irrational, most likely hormonal rage, she'd banished us to our room without probable cause. We hadn't been fighting, weren't making excessive noise, nothing. Yet at the ridiculous hour of 8:00 pm, here we were. Our friends were still playing touch football in the street, for Chrissakes.

I tossed the ball back to Eric.The doorbell rang downstairs, and Nancy answered it. We heard unfamiliar voices, so we assumed that she had invited a couple of her friends over to our house. Bottles clanking, music playing, it sounded like they were getting a party started! Nancy was the Cat in the Hat, and Thing One and Thing Two had just showed up. Mom and Dad could not possibly have approved this. Teenage subterfuge, right here in our own living room. We had to do something.

If we'd been a few years older, we probably would've come up with a more diabolical plan. But at the ages of 11, 8, and 7, this is the best we could do:

I got my basketball from the closet and gave it to Eric, still on the top bunk. As I held the door to our room slightly ajar, he balanced the basketball top, resting it between the door and the frame.

The old "Booby Trap the Door" trick.

"How do we get her to come up here?" Bobby asked.

"Simple," I said. "You guys pretend you're fighting about something."

They played it to perfection.

"Get off me, you jerk!"

"That's mine! Give it back or I'll punch you again!"


"Quit crying, ya little baby!"

Jeez, isn't she coming yet?

"Quit it, you guys!" I yelled. "We're gonna get in trouble!"

"He's choking me, get him off!"

Finally, Nancy couldn't ignore us any longer. She stomped up the stairs. We heard her coming down the hall.

She was right outside the door.

"What the hell are you guys do-"


Holy crap, it worked to perfection. The ball conked her on top of her dome, knocking her glasses askew. Her face contorted in pissed off, Kathy-Bates-as-Annie-Wilkes-like rage.

And then Bobby doused her with the glass of water.

Nancy was ill-prepared for our pre-pubescent wiles. The combination of mild pain, crooked glasses, and freshly-soaked zitface left her momentarily speechless. Without comment, she stormed out of our room and went back downstairs.

That's what you get, you skanky wench! Send us to bed early? Have a party in our house? We think NOT. Victory was ours.

Temporarily. For two hours, to be precise.

At around ten o'clock, after Nancy had sent Thing One and Thing Two home, our parents returned. We heard angry-sounding murmurs from downstairs. The snitch was ratting us out. A whuppin' was coming our way, no doubt about it.

Bobby scurried over to the toy box and found my kneepads. He slipped them into the butt of his pajama pants, makeshift protection against the spanking-yet-to-come.

Let's pause here for a second so I can clarify something. Our parents never "beat" us, per se. We did, however, earn the occasional smack, thump, swat, spank, or backhand across the ass. Every once in a while, our mom would even find one of our Hot Wheels tracks to do the deed. Let me tell you, there's nothing worse than getting walloped with your own toys.

So anyway, we braced for the incoming wrath o' Dad. He pushed the door open.

"Nancy told us what you guys did. That is not acceptable." He didn't raise his voice at all. Somehow, that made it worse.

"But Dad! She was-"

"I don't want to hear it. She was very upset, and you broke her glasses. And who hit her with the water?"

Bobby giggled from under his blankets.

"Well, let's get this over with," said Dad. I was first up on Your Hit Parade.


Dad had a rule. We got spanked until we cried. Two swats, and I was blubbering like a colicky infant.

He walked across the room. Eric fired off a pre-emptive cry of anticipation, but it didn't help. Dad had apparently decided upon a two-swat minimum.


And then came Bobby's turn.


Bobby tried to stifle a chuckle.


"What's in your pants?" Dad asked.

Bobby was laughing uncontrollably now. Clearly, he lacked foresight.

Dad grabbed the back of Bobby's pajama bottoms, giving him a sort of "mini-wedgie". He reached in, grabbed the kneepads, and flung them into the corner.


Bobby cried.

Dad walked out, turned off our light as he went, and left us alone with our diminishing sobs and whimpers. Eventually, all was quiet on the bedroom front.

"You guys okay?" I asked.


"Uh huh."

"That was kinda worth it, though, right?"

"Did you see how her glasses were all crooked after she got hit with the ball?"

We laughed till we fell asleep.


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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Answering the Eternal Question...

Apparently this is the kind of story one writes when one is sleep-deprived.

Just last week, I was taking a stroll in the park when I stumbled upon a grumpy woodchuck.  When I say "stumbled upon," I don't mean that I noticed him sitting by a tree, or we crossed paths in front of the flower garden.  I mean that I literally stumbled over him as he was plopped down in the middle of the sidewalk.

"Hey, watch where you're going, dumbass," he said.  Like I said, grumpy.

"Oh, sorry," I replied.  "Didn't see you there.  You're a woodchuck, right?"

"No, I'm a friggin' water buffalo.  Yes, I'm a woodchuck.  Name's Carl."

"Hi Carl.  I'm Chris."

"I don't give a shit."

"Can I ask you a question, Carl?"

"Would it matter if I said no you can't?"

"Probably not.  Don't know if you know this, but we humans have always wondered something about you guys."

"No kidding.  What's that?  What we taste like if we're barbecued and slathered in A-1 sauce?"

"Uh, no.  Actually, we'd like to know how much wood you could chuck.  I mean, if you could chuck wood.  What's the story?"

"You can't be serious.  You're the most advanced species on the entire friggin' planet, and that's the sort of shit you spend time thinking about?"

"Yeah, pretty much."

"Pathetic.  But I'll see what I can do.  First, I guess it all depends what you mean by 'chuck,' man.  Do you mean 'to toss or throw with a quick motion,' 'pat or tap lightly, as in under the chin,' or to eject from a public place, like, 'Sully was being such an obnoxious asshole that he got chucked from Fenway Park without receiving a refund?'"

I thought about that for a minute.  This guy sure had a keen grasp of the English language, not to mention Bostonians.  After determining that wood would not attend Red Sox games at Fenway, nor did it have a chin to lightly tap, I said, "Throw with a quick motion.  How much wood do you think you could throw?"

"What kind of wood?  I'm sure that I could chuck pine farther than say, mahogany."   I could tell Carl was warming up to this.


"How big a piece?"

"Twelve inch lengths of two-by-four."

"What's the time frame?  Are we asking how much wood could I chuck in ten minutes?  An hour?  Or how much could I chuck until I simply collapse from exhaustion?"

"Let's say fifteen minutes."

Carl said, "Well, I guess there's only one way to find out, man.  Let's go get some wood!"

I helped my new rodent-like buddy into the bed of my Ford F-150 and we took a quick trip to Home Depot.  I bought 500 foot-long cuts of two-by-four and loaded them in the truck.  Carl rode shotgun as we headed back to the park.  Along the way we hit a McDonald's drive thru and I quickly found out how many fries a woodchuck could eat if a woodchuck could eat fries.  Answer: a lot.

We got back to the park where I unloaded the wood with no help whatsoever from Carl, who sat in the shade polishing off the last of his strawberry shake.  When I had all the two-by-fours arranged in a neat pile, I told him that it was showtime.  He did a few quick stretching exercises, picked up a piece of wood, and chucked it.

"Shit, Carl!  What the hell?"  He'd hit me right in the forehead.

"Sorry, man," he said, giggling.  "My bad."

He didn't look sorry.

"All right, let's do this," I said.  "You've got fifteen minutes, time to start chucking."

In a maelstrom of woodchuck fur and lumber, Carl sent the two-by-fours flying all over the park.  A Boy Scout on a Razor scooter took one off the left hip.  Another landed at the feet of a stray German shepherd, who picked it up in his mouth and bolted.  Several more boards ended up in the fountain, scattering a flock of pigeons who were mostly minding their own business.  Fifteen minutes later, it was all over.

"TIME!" I called.

As I counted the two-by-fours that remained on the original stack, Carl walked over to the lake, took a quick drink, scratched his personal area and crapped on the grass.

"Okay, Carl," I said, "we have the results.  There are 218 boards left, which means that you successfully chucked 282.  Not bad!"

"Whatever.  Now piss off, would ya?"

And with that, Carl and I parted ways.  But I'd learned two things that day.  First, a woodchuck would chuck 18.8 twelve-inch lengths of two-by-four per minute, if a woodchuck could chuck wood.  And I learned that Carl the Woodchuck is a furry little asshole.

Now where can I find that damn owl with the Tootsie Pop?


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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What Ever Happened To . . . Ferris Bueller?

Charming Illinois native Ferris Bueller graduated from Shermer High School in 1986, boasting a 3.65 GPA despite a less-than-stellar attendance record.  After high school, Ferris married his longtime girlfriend Sloane Peterson-Bueller, and the couple attended Purdue University where Sloane majored in art history while Ferris studied political science.  Ferris's college career came to an abrupt halt in 1988, when he was expelled by University President Steven C. Beering for "an attendance pattern that could best be described as apathetic."  When informed of his expulsion, a stunned Bueller said, "I was afraid this might happen.  Apparently the computer network at Purdue is a bit tougher to hack than the one at Shermer High."

Added President Beering:  "And I'm no Ed Rooney."

Always one to land on his feet, Bueller returned to his hometown of Shermer in 1990, where he was elected to the Shermer Unified School District's Board of Trustees.  Though inexperienced, Bueller's engaging personality and charm enabled him to manipulate the other four board members, and as their first order of business, terminated the contract of SHS Principal Rooney and added ten additional student holidays to the school calendar.  While this decision made him the hero of Shermer's teenage population, parents eventually saw him for the slacker he was.  He lost his bid for re-election in 1994 to a retired economics teacher[1].

Unemployed, and with a child on the way, Bueller became desperate.  In 1995, he located his estranged friend Cameron Frye, who had become a successful pediatrician in Chicago.

"What are you doing here, Ferris?" asked Dr. Frye.

"Just came to see how you're doing, buddy.  Let me help you with that throat culture."

"I don't think so, Ferris.  If you screw up I could lose my license.  Why don't you wait in the lobby and I'll take you to lunch?"

"C'mon, Cameron, let me see that blood pressure thing --"

"It's a sphygmomanometer, Ferris."

"Whatever.  Let me see it."


"Hey, I have an even better idea," said Ferris.  "How about you hire me to help out around here permanently?"

"This is a doctor's office, not Dairy Queen.  I can't just hire you as a medical assistant."

Bueller left in a huff, saying that he'd call Cameron the next day.

Later that night, sitting at the cherrywood desk in his home office, Dr. Frye began to have second thoughts.  "He'll keep calling me, telling me to give him a job.  He'll make me feel guilty. This is ridiculous.  I'll do it.  I'll do it.  Shit."

By the next afternoon, Dr. Frye had a partner.

Though completely unqualified, "Dr." Bueller developed a knack for working with children, and before long, Dr. Bueller and Dr. Frye's medical practice was booming.  According to Jennifer Anderson, "Dr. Bueller was wonderful with my son.  I remember one morning when Brandon woke up complaining of a variety of symptoms.  I just knew he was faking, trying to get out of the math test that he was supposed to take that day.  I figured I'd call his bluff, so I picked up the phone and gave Dr. Bueller a call.  He was almost psychic, rattling off Brandon's symptoms without me telling him.  Stomach cramps.  Clammy hands.  He recommended that I keep Brandon home from school, not just that day, but for the rest of the week."

Inspired, Ferris went back to school and earned a medical degree from Indiana University in 2003.

Ferris Bueller divorced Sloane in 2004, leaving her with their children Ferris Jr. and Ashley.  He remarried in 2007, and currently resides with his wife Carrie Bradshaw, a successful New York City writer.

He is a very successful pediatrician in Manhattan, and treats over 2,500 children per year.  Kids and parents adore him.

Dr. Cameron Frye is his receptionist.

[1] You know, the one played by Ben Stein.


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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Beethoven, Bugs, and the Terminator

If you've ever been to college, you have undoubtedly been forced to take courses that you had absolutely no interest in. They were required either as part of the general education core or as part of your major, so you signed up and gutted it out. I'm sure you noticed, as did I, that a startling number of these required classes are taught by professors who are: boring, long-winded, psychotic, foreign-born and have a difficult-to-understand accent, demanding, intolerant, sadistic, and/or hygienically-challenged.

Situations such as this are personality conflicts waiting to happen. The student needs the credits but doesn't want to be there. The professor is committed to teaching the material, yet frustrated by students who don't share this obsession, er, commitment. Do I have a particular example of this, you ask?

Indeed I do.

Welcome to Music 370 (History of Music in Western Civilization) and Dr. Helga von Terminbach. Dr. von Terminbach aka "The Terminator", was the Wicked Witch of the West minus the charm and compassion. She stood about 5'5", and weighed in at 73 pounds (give or take), the majority of which was accounted for by her nose. Most likely coming from a family lineage that included a few rabid wolverines and a Nazi torture expert, Dr. von Terminbach had a passion for music history that bordered on the unhealthy and possessed no patience whatsoever for students who did not genuflect before the musical masters such as Beethoven and Mozart.

And in the blue corner, a tuned-out jazz studies major who wasn't the least Francking bit interested in classical music . . . me.

Two factors contributed to the "irresistable force/immovable object" relationship between me and the good doctor. One was that she took everything very seriously and had absolutely no sense of humor, the other was that I can't stand being bored out of my mind. So, when she was pontificating about the works of Haydn, I was listening to a Coltrane tape on my Walkman (iPod? What's an iPod?). She'd elaborate on the Satanic implications of the diminished fifth, I'd catch up on my sleep. Helga would play excerpts from Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelung", my buddy Eric and I would try to determine the gender of the hairy opera student in the front row.

Let me tell you a little bit about Eric. He was my best friend and carpool partner, looked like a young Bill Cosby, and was extremely quiet. He did, however, possess a quick wit and perfect comic timing combined with the ability to maintain his ever-stoic expression in the process. These qualities got me into trouble (which HE of course always managed to avoid) on more than one occasion. With that in mind, we'll move on to Larry the string bass player.

Larry was a nice guy, with one distinguishing vocal quirk. He preceded every sentence with an "aaaaaaaaahhh".

"Vill sahm-body name zee composer of zee Jupiter Symphony? Larry?" asked The Terminator.

"Aaaaaaaahhh, that would be Mozart."

"Zehr gut. Und how many zymphonies did Mozart compose, Larry?"

"Aaaaaaahhh, 41, Dr. von Terminbach."

"Ya, das ist korrekt."

One day, Eric beat Larry to the punch.

"Vas is zee name of zee last movement of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique? Larry, do you know?"

Sotto voce, Eric let out an, "Aaaahhhhhh..." to the amusement of the back row.

And then came Larry's "Aaaaaaahhhh . . ." We cracked up.

The doctor shot me a glare.  "Ist sahm-zink fah-nee in zee back row?"

"No, nothing at all, Dr. von Terminbach," I said, battling a chuckle.

"I vould appreciate it if you vould concentrate on zee lesson at hand und stop vit zee foolishness, ya?"

"Ya, I mean, of course, Dr. von Terminbach. I apologize."

Thankfully, she let it go that time. We weren't always so fortunate.

Every few weeks, we would have a "listening exam". Basically, this was "Name That Tune" from hell. Did we get tunes like "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree"? Oh, no, not us. In eight bars or less, we'd have to identify such toe-tappers as Bela Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra or Debussy's Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun. Studying for a test like this was an exercise in futility. We'd stay up into the wee hours, playing album after album and trying to lock in to key themes or phrases. Our efforts were enhanced (or, in retrospect, perhaps impeded) by the consumption of large amounts of alcohol, which had the additional effect of leaving us groggy on exam day.Well, on one particular listening test, the Terminator dropped the record needle on Rossini's Largo al Factotum from The Barber of Seville.

You know the piece. The tenor busts out with, "Largo al factotum della cit TA - LAR GO. Fa la la, fa la la, fa la la LA" and culminates with the resounding "FEEEE-garo".

So about three measures in, Eric and I looked at each other and stifled a giggle. Have you ever been in a situation where something is funny, you know you can't laugh, and that makes you want to laugh even more? Of course, we all have. I tried desperately to hold it in, but the more the music played, the clearer the picture in my mind of Giovanni Jones, Bugs Bunny's targeted tenor in the classic "Long-Haired Hare" turning red, blue, purple, plaid, tuxedo coming undone, et cetera, et cetera. By the time the record got to "Feeeee-garo! Feeeee-garo! Feegaro-feegaro-feegaro!" I was in physical pain. Eric, of course, was sitting up straight, eyes on Fraulein Professor, not even cracking a smile. To my dismay, Dr. von Terminbach noticed me and stormed down the aisle, evoking the image of the "Surrender Dorothy" scene from the Wizard of Oz.

Again with the glare.  "Ist sahm-zink fahnee about ziss opp-hor-a?"

"No, (cough), Dr. Terminbach, (chuckle), nothing at all." I replied.

"Vatt aboot you, Meestair Williams? Do you find zee Bahr-bayr off Za-veel ist zee comedy?"

"No ma'am," mumbled Eric.

"Vell, you har laughink," she snarled at me, "obviously sahm-zink hast strucken zee fah-nee bone, no?"

"I don't think you'd see the humor in it, Dr. von Terminbach."

"Oh, ahf course I vill! I have zee great zence ahf humor. Vat ees zo fah-nee?"

"I'd rather not say, Dr. von Terminbach. Just go on with the test, please?"

She sighed, then turned back toward the record player. And just when I thought we were going to get through this unscathed, the androgenous front-row opera student had to give us away.

"What they're giggling about, Dr. von Terminbach," he (she?) said, "is that this piece was used in a Bugs Bunny cartoon."


Her outburst, combined with her enunciation of "Bogs Bah-nee", did us in. The back row erupted in hysterics. Eric might have cracked a smile.

Dr. von Terminbach, giving me a look best described as "withering", snarled through clenched teeth, "Zat ist it, get out ahf ziss closs room at vunce."

So the following semester I got to take History of Music in Western Civilization all over again.


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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

When in Doubt, Lie

As parents, we've seen it all.  Crayon scribbles on the living room wall.  Muddy footprints on the deep pile carpet.  Chocolaty smudges on the furniture proving that, despite claims to the contrary, MnM's do indeed melt in your hand.  Finding the perpetrator of such kiddie-crimes is usually pretty easy, especially if you only have one kid.  But I've always been somewhat amazed that, even in the face of irrefutable evidence, 98.3% of all children between the ages of two and eighteen will always give the lie a chance.

It was a Saturday morning, my son Ryan was not quite three.  I heard him tooling around in the living room, so I stumbled out of bed to see what he was up to and maybe fix us both a healthy breakfast of Cap'n Crunch and brown sugar cinnamon Poptarts.  When I got to the living room, I found him sitting on the coffee table, magic markers strewn about the carpet, looking like he was auditioning for Tatted Toddlers, inked to the elbows.

Okay, I'll admit it, I had to chuckle.  But then, putting on the "stern dad" face, I asked, "Ryan, how did your arms get like that?"

He looked me straight in the eye and said, "I didn't do it."

I'll say it again, the boy was TWO YEARS OLD.  So I have to wonder, at what age do children first realize that lying is an option?  Is it a survival instinct that they're born with?  Fight, flight, or lie your ass off?  Certainly they don't learn it from their parents.  We'd never lie to our children about anything, right?

Of course we would.  And the exact degree of bullshit varies depending upon the age of the child.  For example, up until the age of five, we lie to them like this:

"I know he might look a little different, but trust me, that's the same goldfish."

Not too long after the magic marker incident, Ryan and I were at a Fall Carnival at his preschool.  They had all sorts of games and activities for the kids.  Ryan wanted to try the traditional "throw the ping-pong ball into the bowl and win the goldfish."  Sure enough, on about his fifth try, he succeeded, making us the proud owners of "Mr. Krinklebine," the slightly unhealthy-looking feeder fish.  We stopped by the pet store on the way home, and spent about thirty bucks on a bigger bowl, fish food, gravel, and the requisite ceramic scuba diver.  Two nights later, Mr. Krinklebine was floating.  Like any good parent, I went to the pet store and bought a new fish, flushed Mr. K., substituted the impostor, and all was well.  Over the next seven years, there were about twelve different Mr. Krinklebines.  Finally, when Ryan was about ten, he was the one to discover the body.  I explained the circle of life, and we gave him a dignified burial at sea.

There's a pretty funny footnote to this story.  Ryan never caught on.  Not too long ago, when he was about sixteen, he was reminiscing about the pets we've had.  "Hey, Dad, remember Mr. Krinklebine?  Man, that fish lived a long time, what, about eight years?"

I laughed my ass off.

"What's so funny?" he asked.

"Um, I hate to break this to you now, but there were about a dozen of him."

"What?  You lied to me about my goldfish?"


As the kids get a bit older, we have to step up our game.  They're a little tougher to fool, but it can still be done.  Let's take a look at one of the classics: 

"Being a kid was a lot harder when I was your age."

Okay, sure, kids today have all sorts of conveniences that we never had.  Cell phones, the Internet, high-tech video games.  But let's be honest, it's not like our generation grew up in the 1850's, waking up at 4:30 in the morning to chop wood for the stove and slop the hogs.  We weren't shearing any sheep in 1977, that's for damn sure.  No, the fact is my childhood was pretty candyass.  I woke up at 7:30 in the morning, enjoyed a healthy breakfast of Lucky Charms and frosted strawberry Poptarts, and walked to school in seasonably-predictable weather wearing a sturdy pair of Keds.  If it was uphill at all, we didn't really notice.  On the rare occasions we were asked to do manual labor, like shoveling snow or raking leaves, we expected (and often received) a reasonable allowance.

And we sure as hell never had to worry about some cyber-bully taking a picture of us in the locker room and posting it on his Facebook page.  Our bullies were more traditional, goons like Danny Esposito who would wait for you after class just to give you a power wedgie that you were picking out of your butt crack all through fifth grade.  Not only that, the bastard would stalk you every day in the lunchroom, and swipe your Snack Pack chocolate pudding that your mom bought especially for you because she knew it was your favorite, but you never got to eat it, not once, because Esposito friggin' took it.  And then, in sixth grade, when you were giving your oral report on the Egyptian pyramids, he accidentally (but not really) dropped his social studies book on top of your Great Pyramid, the one that took you six hours and five hundred sugar cubes to make, and had to beg your mom to drive you to school that day so you didn't drop it while you walked.

That's all hypothetical, of course.

Once our kids hit the teenage years, successfully putting one over on them becomes darn near impossible.   Not only do our kids become insufferable lunatics, they also develop a healthy skepticism of our every word.  So their questions demand a much more sophisticated level of deception. 

"Of course not!  I never touched alcohol until I was 21."
"Of course not!  I never had sex with anyone until I was married to your mother/father."
"Of course not!  I have never tried any kind of drugs."

Answering our teenagers' questions about the things we did at their age always presents a dilemma.  On the one hand we want to be honest, in the hopes that they'll be honest in return, allowing us to have open dialogue about the dangers of alcohol, drug use, and sexual promiscuity.  But what if they use our history against us?  Maybe they'll think, "Well, my dad shot heroin, guzzled tequila and nailed an endless parade of disease-ridden hookers and he didn't turn out that screwed up," and see it as permission to experiment with those very things.  "You did those things, so why can't I?" they'll say, at least, that's what we're afraid of.

So we lie.  And try to fool our teenagers into thinking that we were tee-totaling virgins until the age of thirty.

Look, I'm not condoning dishonesty.  Sure, we have to take a few strategic liberties from time to time, but for the most part, as the cliche says, "honesty is the best policy."  We're better off teaching our kids to take responsibility for their actions and to be forthright when explaining their misbehavior.

I remember one time when I was about twelve, my brothers and I were goofing around in the backyard.  We set up a few tin cans on the porch, and tried to knock them over with rocks.  On my second or third shot, I winged one a bit too hard and shattered the kitchen window.  Naturally, I pointed the finger of guilt at my brother Eric, who adamantly declared his innocence.  In an effort to get to the truth, my dad put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, "If you just tell me the truth, you won't get in trouble."

Which was, of course, a lie.


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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Note From Me, Who Is Newton

Hello, kind humans who have no fur.  It is me, the dog who is Newton.  You may wonder how I am able to write on computer.  I will explain.

Theresa, who is mom, has taken care of me since I was a puppy.  She is nice.  She gives me food, lets me sleep under warm covers, and most of all does not talk scary to me or poke me with a metal stick if I happen to make minor mistake, like some big bald human I could mention.  Mom, who is Theresa, showed me how to hack into this website so I, who is Newton, can respond to a very mean letter.  My typing is slow because I have to use a pencil which I am chewing in my mouth and will probably get yelled at for later.

The bald human at my house, who is Chris, wrote to me telling me all the reasons he thinks that I, who is Newton, am a bad dog.  Let me first say that dogs, who are cute and friendly, have feelings that are hurt by words like "Flea-face" and "mutt" and "pathetic."  We much prefer humans to say things like "good dog" and "come here, boy" and "here is another yummy Tater Tot for you, Newton."  When Theresa, who is mom, read me all the mean words the bald human wrote, I went to my soft bed and curled up with Fuzzy Duck until I felt better.  Well, first I went into the bald human's closet which he carelessly left open and I made peepee on his shoes again, but then the soft bed and Fuzzy Duck and the feeling better.

In my house there is another dog, who is Munson and hogs all the toys (except Fuzzy Duck who I hide in secret spot).  Munson is the bald human's favorite dog, and gets more than his fair share of the Tater Tots, bacon, and Cheez-Its.  I only get a treat if one falls to the floor by mistake and I out-quick Munson to it.  I usually do, because Munson has wide butt and is sort of slow.  Otherwise, the bald human ignores me even when I shake pitifully and look cute, which is always.  Munson is favorite because he does whatever the bald human says.  Get off the bed, Munson.  Go outside, Munson.  Come here, Munson.  Human says, Munson does.

Munson is puppy-whipped.

So anyway, bald human is mad because I, who is Newton, sleep on his pillow, sometimes accidentally-on-purpose make peepee on his stuff, and go exploring the neighborhood because the yard is easy to escape.

First one is obvious, I sleep on pillow because it is next to Theresa while she sleeps and I have to protect her from bad things.  Also, pillow is warm and snuggly.  If someone would get Newton, who is me, a big fluffy pillow and put it by the human bed on the floor, problem will be solved.

Next, the peepee.  Making peepee on stuff is how dogs say, "That is mine."  That is why I make little bit of peepee on my soft bed, trees outside, and Fuzzy Duck who did not seem to mind.  The bald human's shoes are not mine, but I make peepee on them anyway because it is funny when he turns red and chases me into his room, where I hide under his bed.  Dogs do not laugh, but on the inside it makes me crack up.  Except when he uses the metal stick to poke me in the side, which hurts. So now I, who is Newton, have to wear a stupid-looking pair of shorts when I'm in the house, which is embarrassing.  But sooner or later I will figure out how to take off the shorts (maybe I can bribe Munson with a Tater Tot and he will help me).  And then I will find the fancy shoes and have a peepee party.

Also, sometimes I get bored of my back yard, which has stickers that hurt when they get in my paws.  The side gate is easy to get through (for me, but not for Munson, who has wide butt like I said before) so of course I escaped to go find stuff.  I wasn't running away, I just got lost when the mean and ugly cat chased me.  I was happy when the gray-haired man next door, who throws me treats over the wall when Theresa and bald human are at work, found me and took me home those three times.  But now there is some kind of wire on gate so I can't get out anymore. 

So now you know the truth.  I, who is Newton, am a good dog who is unfairly treated by bald human who skimps on the treats and talks scary to me.  But I will tell you this.  If some night a bad person sneaks into my house and tries to hurt the bald human, I will jump up and rip the bad person's face right off.

That is because even though the bald human is not perfect, he is one of my people family so Newton, who is me, loves him.  Even more than Tater Tots, which is a lot.


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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Samantha's Writing Homework

The other night I was visiting my brother when my nine-year old niece Samantha asked me if I'd help her with her writing homework.  Back when my own kids were in elementary school, I always enjoyed the opportunity to help with various assignments and projects.  Of course, sometimes my "help" wasn't so helpful, like the time my daughter Lindsay got a D- on a History Day project after I told her that the Battle of the Bulge was fought by Oprah Winfrey.  After that, she and her brother stopped asking for my input so often.  So when Sammi asked for my assistance with the writing assignment, I was happy to get back on the homework bandwagon.

This was her assignment:

After reading the following story, write an essay about the main theme showing your understanding of the story.  Support your ideas by referring to the story and your own experiences.

The Stone in the Road
by Judy Sierra

A certain country was ruled by a kind-hearted king who would do anything for his subjects.  But at last he noticed that they were growing lazy, and seldom did anything for themselves -- or for each other!  The king wondered if there was anyone left in his kingdom who would go out of his way to help his neighbors.  So he concocted a plan.

Late one night, the king went to the main road of the kingdom and rolled a huge stone right smack into the middle of it.  Then he secretly placed a bag of gold under the stone.  Next morning, he hid near the road to watch.

First, a woman came by on her way to the market.  Because of the stone, she had to walk in the mud at the side of the road.  "Someone should really move that stone," she snapped angrily.

Next, two students passed by on their way to school.  "What a nuisance!" they cried.  "Why doesn't the king move that rock out of our road?"

And so it continued all day long: some people blamed the king, some people blamed the stone, and some even hit the stone as they walked around it.  As the sun was about to set, a young girl passed by.  When she saw the stone, she stopped.  "I'd better get this out of the road," she said.  "Someone might pass by here after dark, and not see the stone, and bump into it."  The girl pushed and pushed at the stone.

A man walked by and said, "Let the king take care of that."

But the girl kept pushing until at last the stone began to roll, and rolled over the edge of the road and down the hill.

It was then that everyone saw the bag of gold the king had left there.  Everyone agreed that the girl deserved the gold.  And, everyone was more than a bit ashamed that they had not thought of moving the stone.  After that, they began helping each other instead of waiting for the king to do things for them.

Samantha and I discussed the story at length.  While it seemed like the author (and Sam's teacher) wanted us to think that it was a story about taking responsibility and helping other people, we picked up on a more obvious (and somewhat disillusioning) message.  Here's what we came up with:

The Passive-Aggressive King: An Analysis of The Stone in the Road
By Samantha, Mrs. McDonald's third grade class 
The obvious theme of The Stone in the Road is that passive-aggressive trickery is a pretty screwed up way to run a kingdom.  The king in this story is a total douchebag, the sort of leader who pussy-foots around a problem rather than confronting it head-on .  He should have inspired the citizens of his kingdom with a passionate speech about cooperation, or spear-headed a community outreach program to get everyone involved in the betterment of society.  But no, he tried to solve one problem by creating an even bigger one.

In a misguided attempt to teach his subjects a lesson, the king decided to place a large stone (the word "boulder" would be more accurate here) in the middle of a well-traveled road.  What a dill weed.  Inventing a problem that doesn't exist just to illustrate one's vague point about cooperation is Neanderthal in its inception.  The king was actually very lucky that the only consequences of his roadblock were a pair of muddy shoes and two ticked off kids.  Clearly, it could've been much worse.  What if an ambulance came whizzing down the road en route to the local hospital, carrying a battle-weary prince with an opponent's lance sticking out of his neck?  The boulder in the road would, at best, cause a great delay and lessen the chances for the prince's survival.  At worst, the ambulance would slam into the boulder, everyone inside perishing in a fiery explosion.  Did the king think about that, even for a moment?

The irony here is that the two students who used the road were right when they said, "The king should move this stone."  It is, after all, his job to make sure the kingdom is safe for travelers.  At the very least, the king should have delegated this responsibility to a Department of Public Safety.  At any rate, individual citizens can't be expected to maintain the streets themselves, they're not trained for it.  That became all too apparent when the little girl took it upon herself to move the rock, causing it to "roll down the hill."  The story doesn't say what happened next, but surely it wasn't good.  Did the rock flatten a schoolyard full of kindergartners?  Smash into someone's home?  It's a good thing the little girl found a bag of gold because she's probably going to get sued, and the king himself should be named as an accomplice!

Instead of sending his message in such a convoluted manner, the king should have developed a proactive plan to combat laziness or, better yet, started to lead by example.  If the people of the kingdom saw their leader going out of his way to do good deeds for others, they would probably do the same.  

Even though the assignment didn't ask for it, we printed out a picture to accompany the story, depicting what could've happened to the kingdom.

I can't wait to find out what grade she got.


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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Zen and the Art of Seat Selection

Bus 12 was, for all intents and purposes, a carbon monoxide-wheezing reform school on wheels.

Choosing a seat among the inmates was basically a game of mass transit Russian Roulette. Those of us at stop number one (Runyon and Grove), had it best because when we got on the bus, there were nothing but empty seats to choose from. But there was definitely a seat-selection strategy involved. First of all, you had to make sure that there was at least one kid (preferably two) in the seat behind you. This was important (we're talking "I'll-give-you-my-Twinkie-to-sit-there" important), because Danny Paluccio got on at the SECOND stop. Paluccio was making his second attempt at the fifth grade, was built like an oil drum and had all the charm and compassion of a flea-bitten wombat. There's no way in hell you wanted that goon behind you because the rest of your trip would be festooned with noogies, neck slaps, and wet willies.

After the Paluccio stop, the next order of business was making sure that the seat you were in was full. If you didn't partner up at the original stop, you definitely wanted to recruit a seatmate at stop number two (someone besides Paluccio, obviously), or else you ran the risk of having Patti Ramberg sit next to you when she boarded at stop number three. Patti was a cootie-infested elementary school version of Miss Almira Gulch and everyone from kindergarten to fifth grade knew it. If Ramberg sat next to you, well, you were that morning's cootie-by-association. Chants of "YOU HAD TO SIT BY RAMMMM-BERRRRG" followed you around the rest of the day.

One fateful morning in April, a second grader named Snot Bubble got the double-whammy.

Barry "Snot Bubble" Feldman was a pip-squeak, complete with a do-it-yourself haircut, perpetually runny nose, and a banged-up Flintstones lunchbox. On the morning that the School Bus Gods pointed their collective fingers of misfortune Barry's way, he got on the bus with the rest of us at stop number one and chose the front seat assuming, I suppose, that the bus driver would offer some form of security. Barry was young and a tad naive.

Barry enjoyed his solitude on the first leg of the journey, the only slight mishap occurring when the bus driver hit the Clay Avenue dip at too high a speed, causing Snot Bubble to levitate momentarily from his seat and bang his head against the window during the ensuing descent. He blinked a few times, and shook off the cobwebs just as the bus slammed to a halt at the corner of Bound Brook Road and South Lincoln Avenue.The door hissed open and Paluccio slithered aboard. He paused at the top of the bus steps and surveyed the hunting ground. His beady eyes focused on Snot Bubble, then on the empty seat behind him, and a smirk crept upon the bully's face. With his trusty sidekick Marco Stevens at his side, Paluccio plopped down behind Snot Bubble and opened the day's festivities with a slap to the back of the head.

"What's goin' on wit' you ta-day, Snot Bubble?"

"Weave me awone, Pawuccio."

"Yeah, Danny," mocked Marco, "weave him awone." The two thugs guffawed like a pair of doped-up hyenas.

For the next mile or so, in addition to enduring the usual bone-jarring and teeth-gnashing caused by diabolically placed potholes, Snot Bubble suffered though a litany of taunts, ear lobe-flicking, and other Paluccio-inflicted humiliation.

The bus chugged on to stop number three, where the final group of miscreants slunk aboard. Patti Ramberg was the last one on, and by that point the only choice she was left with was riding shotgun with Snot Bubble, whose morning was immediately downgraded from "miserable" to "tragic".

Paluccio made the official call. "AND THE WINNER OF TODAY'S 'SIT BY THE COOTIE' CONTEST IS . . . "

A rough stretch of road served as a makeshift drum roll . . .


Snot Bubble struggled to fight back the tears. In the seat across the aisle, two first graders were talking about a birthday celebration, complete with chocolate cake, Neapolitan ice cream and Amaze-o the Magician, but there was no party in Barry Feldman's eight year-old heart. Just a bunch of deflated balloons and a busted pinata.

"Hi Barry, are you okay?" asked Ramberg. Cootie rumors aside, Patti was really a very nice girl but her gawky appearance mitigated against any potential popularity. Fair? Of course not, but this was elementary school.

"I'm fine, Wamberg. Don't wowwy about it."

"You know that Danny's just a big ol' bully, right? He's nothing to be afraid of."

"I'm not afwaid of him, Wamberg, I just wish he'd stop fwicking my ears and stuff."

The bus squealed into a sharp left turn, centrifuging Snot Bubble and Ramberg into some unintentional body contact.

"Hey look, Danny," squealed Marco, "She's giving him a hug!"

"Yeah," said Paluccio. "I think they're gonna make out. Snot Bubble, aren't you a little young to have a girlfriend?"

"Quit it, Pawuccio! She's not my goolfwiend! Stop being a buwwy!"

Ramberg did her best to make Snot Bubble feel better, but it was difficult with Paluccio harassing them. Apparently, though, even cooties have their breaking point.

"Danny, knock it off right now!" Ramberg shouted in his face after witnessing the application of a nasty Indian burn to Snot Bubble's left forearm. "He's a little tiny kid, and you're nothing but a left-back, stupid animal! Does it make you feel all big and important to make a little kid cry? Just leave him and everyone else alone, or I'll go right to the principal and make sure that you don't ride another school bus for the rest of your pathetic life!"

This, of course, got the attention of every single passenger on Bus 12.

"OOOH! She got YOU, Paluccio!"

"You tell 'im, Ramberg!"

"Paluccio just got BURNED!"

Danny Paluccio, to the surprise of no one, disregarded the verbal cootie-slapping, and the bus ride home that same day featured the willful destruction of a third grader's eyeglasses. True to her word, Ramberg reported him to the principal the following morning. No fewer than twenty-two additional witnesses subsequently spoke up, detailing a sordid history of prepubescent terror. Paluccio was banished from Bus 12 for the rest of the year, and eventually dropped out of high school in the middle of grade ten. No one missed him, not even Marco.

As he grew older, perhaps Barry Feldman's "Paluccio Experience" helped him develop a knack for avoiding life's less desirable seating options. When he went to the doctor's office, did he choose a solitary chair in the waiting room corner to avoid a phlegm-honking septuagenarian? Was he careful to book the aisle seat on flights so as not to be sandwiched between six hundred pounds of Phoenix-bound Shriners? I'd like to think that he'd learned from his fateful second grade blunder.

Although, given the choice between the Shriners and Danny Paluccio, I might take my chances with the fez-wearing porkers. I've got this thing against wet willies.


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