Monday, December 26, 2011

The Year Without Orange Danish

When I was a child, like most kids, I looked forward to Christmas morning with all the wide-eyed anticipation of a hungry lion stalking out a semi-arthritic gazelle as it hobbled its way across the Serengeti.  My brothers and I simply couldn't wait to jump out of bed at the crack of dark, bug our parents until they woke up, and storm downstairs to open our gifts. 

We were just like every other kid in the world, is what I'm saying.

Kids who celebrate Christmas, that is. 

And like most families, we had a few time-honored traditions that made the holiday season even more special.  For example, after opening our presents and enjoying them for at least a couple hours, Mom and Dad would take us across town to our grandma's house where the routine would start all over again.  Another round of spectacular games and toys -- and one Foot Fixer by Clairol, on that Christmas That Will Live in Infamy -- followed by a nice dinner of turkey or ham with all the trimmings.  Most Christmases, we would then head down to Florida for a week or so to visit my mom's family.

In addition to these fine traditions, there has always been one other small-but-significant detail that has made every Christmas complete.  I am of course referring to the Pillsbury Orange Sweet Rolls. 

For as long as I can remember, Mom would diligently prepare a pan of those scrumptious danish with the orange frosting, and we'd munch away as we opened our presents.  It just wasn't Christmas without them.  In fact, for the past several years, my wife Theresa has whipped up a batch for us to enjoy on Christmas morning, before heading down to my parents' house. 

Pillsbury Orange Sweet Rolls are to Christmas morning what turkey is to Thanksgiving, trick-or-treating is to Halloween, and getting totally rip-roaring drunk is to New Years' Eve.  The orange-flavored icing on the cake, so to speak.

Until this year.

Before I continue with the story, I have to share with you my mother's opinion that in many of my stories, I tend to make her look like "the bad guy," that I'm unfairly harsh in my retelling of events.  Personally, I call this "responsible and accurate reporting," but in the interest of fairness, I thought it best if I make you aware of an opposing viewpoint.  Of course, this "opposing viewpoint" is held by a grown woman who would, on more than one occasion, chase her pre-adolescent sons down the upstairs hallway, wielding a stretch of plastic track from a Hot Wheels set yelling, "Come back here right this minute, or you're getting this across your butt!"

So I leave it to you to judge her credibility as we proceed.

Since our kids are older and therefore do not pounce on us anymore, Theresa and I woke up this Christmas morning at around ten o'clock.  At least that's when I woke up.  Theresa was already up and around at this point, so to be honest, she could've risen at dawn for all I know.  Since we had planned on heading to my parents' at noon, there was no urgent need for breakfast.  Theresa hadn't prepared the orange danish, but I didn't figure this would be a problem since my mother was sure to have taken care of it.

Little did I know.

So we arrived at my folks' where Mom was busily preparing dinner for the houseload of people that would arrive shortly.  Turkey, ham, three different kinds of stuffing, various pies, almost everything one could hope for on Christmas day.


I do not mean to sound ungrateful here, but somehow my mother had forgotten all about the traditional Pillsbury orange danish.  To make matters worse, if that is even possible, when I politely brought this egregious oversight to her attention, she didn't seem to know what I was talking about.

"What do you mean, where are the orange danish?" she asked.

"You know, the Pillsbury orange danish that we've had every single Christmas since I was a little kid."

She seemed incredulous.  I guess overwhelming pangs of guilt can cause one to feign surprise.  "I haven't made those in years."

"You're joking, right?  Where are they?"

"Chris, why would I make orange danish?"

"Why WOULDN'T you?"

We went back and forth like that for several minutes, so to bolster my argument (which really shouldn't have been necessary when you stop to think about it) I turned to my brother Eric and asked, "You remember the orange danish don't you?  That we have every year?"

I guess he didn't want to hurt Mom's feelings or something, because he said, "I remember having them, but not that it was some kind of tradition."


So then I asked our other brother Bobby.  His reply?

"I don't know what you're talking about."

At this point I must have been carrying on a bit, maybe acting like a baby about all this, because Theresa said, "You know, you're acting like a baby about all this."

Easy for her to say.  She hadn't been looking forward to orange danish for 364 days.

Aside from that (which is sort of like the old question "Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"), our Christmas was very nice and dinner was outstanding.  Mom did a wonderful job as always, which is why we all love her so much.  One of the reasons, anyway.

But next year, Mom?

Don't forget the danish, please.


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Monday, December 19, 2011

Dumbed-Down Classics: Of Mice and Men

According to a recent study which I am just now making up, 83% of American high school seniors are reading at the sixth grade level or below. Therefore it's not surprising that when asked to name a few great works of literature, today's teens typically give responses such as "Wikipedia," "Twilight," and "What the hell is literature?"

Not to worry, I'm here to help.

In an effort to make classic novels accessible to a new generation of whacked-out, Facebook-addicted nimrods, I'm taking it upon myself to translate them (the novels) into language that is easily understood by everyone, even your teenage daughter who thinks "OMG U R SO STOOPID LOL" is a complete sentence.

So here we go. We'll start off with one of my favorites.

John Steinbeck's OF MICE AND MEN

Here's a tale of two men, who set out on their own
To earn honest wages, and perhaps find a home.
George was the smart one, stern but kind-hearted
His pal Lennie was, to be blunt, retarded.

Lennie was enormous, but wouldn't hurt a fly
At least not on purpose, as we'll learn by and by.
For a mouse he could pet, that's all he was wishin'
But what Lennie calls "pettin'" most people call "squishin'"

When he made George mad, to make light of the fuss
Lennie would beg, "Tell about guys like us."
It was a ritual they had, a mantra, you'd say
And they had to run through it almost every day.

"Other guys," George began, "ain't got no one else,
The things that they do, they gotta do by their self.
But not us, because we both got each other
We walk side by side, we're loyal like brothers."

"Go on," Lennie pleaded, "tell about our own place,"
And he listened to George with a smile on his face.
"We'll have our own house," at least so they'd planned,
"And we'll work hard and live off the fat of the land."

"We'll sell off our crops, and we'll share all the money,"
Then Lennie burst out, "Tell me about the bunnies!"
George let out a sigh, as became force of habit
"Yes, Lennie," he said, "you'll tend to the rabbits."

But to make this dream real, they'd have to build up a stash
Not drugs, you dumb asshole, it means save up cash.
They were hired as farmhands, and they labored each day
Feeding the livestock and baling the hay.

"Aloha, Mr. Spicoli."
They met many ranchers, tough guys with grit
Who had western-type names like Slim and like Whit.
A stablebuck Crooks, and Candy the oldie.
In the movie, the same guy who taught Jeff Spicoli.

The villain of the story is a punkass named Curley
The son of the boss, he was hostile and surly.
Simply put, he was a prick that nobody could stand,
But they put up with his crap so they didn't get canned.

Curley's wife, let me tell you, she was quite a hottie
She didn't mind showing off her sensational body.
Making passes at Carlson, flirting with Whit,
Yeah, the bitch had a knack for stirring up shit.

One day after lunch, Curley seemed even meaner,
He'd misplaced his wife, asked if anyone seen her.
Which, for some reason, Lennie thought was quite funny
And Curley got pissed, "What you laughin' at, dummy?"

He swung at the big guy, whacked him right in the chops,
And Lennie cried out, "George, please make him stop!"
When Curley saw that Lennie wasn't going to fight,
He tagged him again with a left and a right.

George then decided it was one punch too many,
And turned his pal loose yelling, "Go get 'im, Lennie!"
The next punch, Lennie caught in the palm of his hand,
And he crushed Curley's fist, ground his bones into sand.

Blood spurted everywhere, it was really quite gory,
To save Lennie's job, they came up with a story.
The farmhands discussed it, and all that they'd seen
Was Curley getting his hand caught in a machine.

With things back to normal, George continued to plan
For the day when they'd live "off the fat of the land."
Candy overheard and asked, "Is that really true?
I've got some spare cash if you'll let me come too."

George worked the numbers, and much to his delight,
He realized it could work, you know, it just might!
So the three men worked together and saved up more money,
And assured Lennie that he could still tend the bunnies.

But just when their dream was there to be had
Lennie screwed it all up, and he screwed it up bad.
See, Carlson gave Lennie a pup to take care of
A mistake, of course, he should've been quite aware of.

As I said once before, Lennie liked to pet things
But because he was "slow" he would tend to forget things.
Like when you grab puppies to stop them from yapping
If you grab them too hard, it's their neck you'll be snapping.

So he killed the poor puppy, and he knew it was trouble,
But when Curley's wife wandered in, well, the trouble was double.
She sat down next to Lennie, in the barn where it's dirty
And Lennie said, "Gee, ma'am, you hair sure smells purty."

Curley's wife let him touch it, which wasn't real bright,
And before very long, she was shaking with fright.
Lennie, as usual, started getting too rough
When the woman cried out, Lennie said, "That's enough!"

"You gotta be quiet, please lady, don't yell,
If George hears you hollerin' he'll come give me hell."
But she kept right on screaming, the terror had filled her,
And before Lennie knew it, it seemed that he'd killed her.

He knew that he'd done it, dog gone and dag-nabbit.
There was no way in hell he'd be tending them rabbits.
So he hid by the river, waited there for his friend
He knew that ol' George would come save him again.

Back at the barn, Candy got the shock of his life
As he was the one who found Curley's dead wife.
He went and got George, and the two men felt sick
They knew Lennie'd hang for this, and it wouldn't be quick.

George made up his mind that he'd find Lennie first
And make sure that bad didn't end up as worst.
So he went to the river, where he knew Lennie'd be
And he found his friend crying, sitting under a tree.

"You gonna give me hell?" he asked softly, while wiping a tear.
"No," said George, "We'll just sit quietly here."
"Tell me again," Lennie said, "About the fat of the land,"
And George stood behind him, with trembling hands.

"Some guys got no one gives a hoot in hell about 'em
In fact, the world might be better without 'em.
But not us, that's not how our life will be
Because I got you, and because you got me.

One day we'll have a place of our own
A farm, and some livestock, and even a home.
It's right out there, Lennie, just reach out and grab it."
And Lennie called out, "I get to tend the rabbits!"

Just then George heard Curley's mob coming to get 'em.
But no way in hell was he going to let 'em.
They'd torture poor Lennie, beat him till he was dead,
So George took out a gun and he shot him instead.


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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Crumbling Economy Forces Santa to Downsize

In breaking news from the North Pole, Kris Kringle has announced that beginning in January 2012 his company, Santa Claus Enterprises, will be implementing massive budget cuts to deal with the current global economic crisis.

"This has been coming for some time now," Kringle told reporters at a recent press conference. "We've always been a non-profit organization, but unless we make drastic changes, we'll no longer be able to provide children with the service they've come to expect."

The biggest change will be the discontinuing of Christmas Eve delivery of presents and goodies. This will allow Santa to sell his Icemaster Turbo SL-500 Sleigh and also terminate the employment contracts of his reindeer staff.

"This was a tough decision," said Kringle. "But the reality is, no one is allowed to see me making the deliveries anyway, so if we just ship gifts all around the planet, the impact on our customers will be minimal. FedEx has agreed to give us a substantial discount on shipping costs, so when you balance that against the expense of sleigh maintenance and the housing, feeding, and upkeep of our reindeer, we'll come out ahead."

When asked what will become of Santa's legendary sleigh, Kringle replied, "We're putting it up for auction right after the holidays. The Icemaster is a one-of-a-kind vehicle, equipped for both land and air travel. The ultra-super-sonic engines allow it to cruise at Mach 7, and its stealth mode feature renders it invisible to enemy radar. Slap a few missile launchers and a bomb bay on that sucker and it will undoubtedly become the linchpin of some lucky nation's air force. We're starting the bidding at fifty million dollars."

The revelation that the sleigh is powered by engines, not reindeer, came as a shock to members of the media. When asked to explain, Santa said, "The reindeer are purely cosmetic, used mainly to support our company's image. What magic would there be in Santa Claus soaring through the sky in a supersonic sleigh? No, Donner, Comet, Vixen and the crew are simply along for the ride."

Santa's elves have not escaped the proverbial head-rolling either. Currently, Santa Claus Enterprises maintains a staff of over five thousand "vertically challenged" employees who work year-round to build toys for children all over the world. However, with today's kids becoming more and more sophisticated, the demand for generic, hand-made gifts has decreased to practically nil.

"Look, what kid wants an airplane carved out of wood or a skillfully-crafted red wagon when they can have a laptop computer or an iPad?" said Santa. "We're going to keep five hundred or so elves to work in our I.T. department, where they'll be ordering products from Nintendo, Sony, Apple, and other manufacturers for us to send off to the good boys and girls. Everyone else is being let go. Even at minimum wage, the savings will be significant."

Santa went on to say that he was going to have to make some changes in his own day-to-day activities as CEO. "I'm still going to be making a list, but now I'll only be checking it once. I figure, if one or two naughty kids slip through the cracks, it's not that big of a deal. And no more 'seeing you when you're sleeping.' I've got better things to do, if you want to know the truth."

Kringle and Salaben, in happier times.
Badhron Salaben, shop steward for the International Federation of Elves (Local 241), did not share Kringle's enthusiasm about the diminished work force.

"This is total frickin' elk dung," said Salaben. "Laying off ninety percent of your entire manufacturing staff is just insane. Most of these guys have been working at the North Pole since they were teenagers. Their fathers were toy-makers, their grandfathers were toy-makers . . . it's a legacy around here. And now Kringle is just gonna put forty-five hundred elves out in the cold? It's not like there are a lot of other employment opportunities for them up here above the Arctic frickin' Circle. You ever see a homeless elf? Break your heart, man."

The Global Reindeer Association (GRA) had no such concerns about their laid-off members.

"Not a problem at all," said Dasher. "It's not like the fat tub of figgy pudding ever paid us anyway. He kept us locked in a stable all year, feeding us hay and oats. Like we were HORSES or something! Firing us? More like liberating us, if you ask me."

Asked if the timing of Kringle's announcement might negatively impact the upcoming Christmas, Dasher replied, "Nah, fat boy timed it perfectly. The elves can't do squat because the toys are already packed up in the warehouse, and we reindeer are just decoration to begin with. What are we gonna do, strike?"

Comet, though, has other ideas. "Oh, it's gonna have an impact, all right. Starting a week or so ago, I've had a couple disgruntled elves bring me nothing but burritos and prune juice for every meal. Come Christmas Eve, I'm gonna be packed to the antlers with turd bombs. Let's just say I'm gonna make an impact on most of North America."

In related news, the Wall Street Journal reports that stock in Santa Claus Enterprises (SNTA) has dropped 35% in the wake of recent events, trading at $28.03 per share at the close of business on December 14.


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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Jesus X

You want to tick off a bunch of people this Christmas season?  Of course, who doesn't?  All you have to do is send out your Christmas cards with the message, "Wishing you and yours a very Merry X-mas."  Most of your friends and family probably won't say a word about it, at least not to your face, but certainly a couple hyper-sensitive folks with nothing better to do will take exception to the "X-mas" part.

The assumption is, when you use "X-mas," you're "taking Christ out of Christmas," and by doing so you expose yourself as a pagan nimrod, destined to spend eternity burning to a crisp in the company of Satan, Osama bin Laden, Adolf Hitler, and whoever invented beat-boxing.  How dare you "cross out Jesus's name" from the holiday where we celebrate his birth?

I did some research (believe it or not) to determine when this illicit yuletide abbreviation was introduced.  Turns out that in Greek, X is the first letter in the word "Christ," and was used as early as the 1600's to abbreviate words like Xian (Christian), Xianity (Christianity), and Xanthemum (Chrysanthemum).  It wasn't done out of disrespect, it was done because when your only writing instruments are chisels, or perhaps the Gutenberg Printing Press (invented by Johannes Gutenberg, the great-great-great-great grandfather of Police Academy star Steve Guttenberg), you want to shorten as many words as possible.

So basically, referring to Christmas as "X-mas" is just like calling Alex Rodriguez "A-rod."  Not that I'm comparing the Yankee third baseman to the yuletide season, but you have to admit, there are some similarities.  For example, they're both good for one month of excitement per year, neither one shows up in October, and when all is said and done, you have to admit you spent way too much money.  Also, X-mas features artificial trees, A-rod displays artificial muscles.

But I digress.

I realize, of course, that certain devout types will still object to "X-mas," so in an effort to bring peace and joy to all mankind (and womankind, back off ladies), I am offering a solution.  A way to "level the playing field," if you will.

We're going to start replacing the letter X with the word "Christ" wherever it makes sense to do so.  For example, the game Tic-Tac-Toe will require one person to be "O's" and his opponent to be "Christs."  Sure, they'll be harder to draw, but we're talking about equality not convenience.

Other changes:

When burying treasure, pirates will "mark the spot" with a Christ.

Hospitals' radiology departments will stock up on Christ-ray machines.

David Duchovny will star in the next Christ-Files movie.

Wolverine and his buddies will be known as the Christ-Men.

Women will spend weekend after weekend searching for a hot guy with the Christ-factor.[1]

And of course, the 1960's civil rights leader will henceforth be referred to as Malcolm Christ.  I'm sure that won't cause a ruckus, right?

Now if you'll Christ-cuse me, I'm off to do some X-mas shopping.

[1] Thanks to Olivia for this one.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Gift from Grandma

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

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

"I want the blue one," I said.

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

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

"Chris, you call it," he said.

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

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

"Heads," said Eric.

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

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

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

But I think we all know what really happened.

"I'll take the blue one."

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

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

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

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

It gets worse.

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

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

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

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

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

The 70's were a much simpler time.

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

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

"I do!" said Bobby.

"Me!" I shouted.

"Here we go again," muttered Eric.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Foot Fixer, by Clairol.

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

A frickin' Foot Fixer.

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

He wanted to cry, though, you could tell.

Here's the rest of the story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But not as his Christmas present.

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

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

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

I'm looking at YOU, Mom. 

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

What Ever Happened To . . . Schroeder?

Dear Readers:

Time is short right now, and I haven't been as attentive to Blogland as I have been in the past.  So, until things slow down a bit, enjoy this re-run of one of my favorites.

In his childhood circle of friends, Schroeder was "the quiet one". Never caused any trouble, didn't want to be the center of attention, he preferred to spend his time practicing the piano and listening to his beloved Beethoven. His only pet peeve was a girl named Lucy Van Pelt, whose unwanted attention and infatuation with Schroeder drove him to distraction.

Lucy's affection blossomed into full-fledged stalking by the time they got to high school, and during his junior year, Schroeder and his parents were forced to file a restraining order against her. That was also the year that Schroeder gave up the piano.

"My love of music never left, but I found out pretty quickly that piano players don't get chicks," Schroeder told Rolling Stone magazine. "At least, not NORMAL chicks. And Beethoven's cool, but after you've played Fur Elise a thousand times, it gets kinda boring. When I was sixteen, I heard my first Hendrix album, and I knew right away that my future was as a guitarist."

With his perfect pitch and natural talent for music, Schroeder took to the guitar immediately, and formed a band called Lucy's Obsession. The band had a distinct sound, blending hard core punk rock with the neo-classical and Romantic elements of European music. During the late '70's, Lucy's Obsession climbed to the top of the charts with their eponymous debut album, featuring the top ten single I Gotta Rock. Schroeder talked about their first bona fide hit in a 1979 interview with Circus Magazine.

"That song (I Gotta Rock) came from my childhood. Every Halloween, a bunch of us would go trick-or-treating and we'd talk about what kind of candy we got at each house. 'I got a candy bar, I got a caramel apple,' stuff like that. Well, there was this one kid with a huge head, I can't remember his name, but he was a total loser. For whatever reason, at every house we went to, all of us got treats except him. He kept getting rocks. So when we showed each other what we'd gotten, he kept saying, 'I got a rock . . . I got a rock.' The phrase just stuck in my head, and it ended up being our biggest hit."

Between 1979 and 1993, Lucy's Obsession recorded seven albums, including the Platinum Psychiatric Help, Five Cents, which was released in 1984. Although the band never really caught on with the mainstream music world, they did receive a lot of attention in 1986, when Schroeder filed a lawsuit against an up-and-coming alternative band called Jane's Addiction.

"Yeah, Jane's Addiction hit the scene right about the same time that the Five Cents album came out," Schroeder recalls. "It was such an obvious rip-off that our lawyers suggested we do something, so we filed the suit. We let them keep the name, but let's just say that some money changed hands."

Jane's Addiction lead singer Perry Farrell could not be reached for comment.

When asked about Lucy Van Pelt, stalker and inspiration for his band's moniker, Schroeder became agitated. "She really made my life difficult in high school," he said. "When we were little, she was just annoying, but as we got older, she pretty much freaked out. She'd send me articles of clothing in the mail, follow me home from school, peek in my bedroom window at night. My parents eventually went to court and put an end to it. She still shows up at our concerts sometimes, though. I think she's got a thing for [the band's drummer] Steve now."

Confusion still remains as to whether "Schroeder" is the guitarist's first or last name. Rumors have surfaced claiming that his real name is Heinz von Schroeder and he is actually descended from Nazi war criminals. Other sources claim that his name is Schroeder Reinhardt, and that he is a relative of jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. There has been no clear evidence either way, and Schroeder himself refuses to tell. "I've heard the rumors, of course, and they're all wrong. And now that the band and I are famous, I kinda like the mystery. There are lots of one-named musicians. Sting. Bono. Slash. So that's just who I am. Schroeder."

Lucy's Obsession reunited in 2008 after a fifteen-year sabbatical, and is currently touring the U.S. opening for Lady Gaga.


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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thanksgiving: The 90-Pound Weakling of Holidays

Is he really saying, "Eat me?"
Recently, my swell pal Suldog wrote a lengthy rant about how the over-commercialization of Christmas has infringed upon the respect and attention that he feels should be given to Thanksgiving.  He's called this piece, and the resulting political movement, "Thanksgiving Comes First."  The basic premise is that we shouldn't begin the Christmas hoopla (in-store marketing displays, TV commercials, etc.) until after everyone's done their Thanksgiving dinner dishes and the Detroit Lions have lost their annual Turkey Day game.

I'll admit that I agree with Suldog's sentiments to a point.  I'm not crazy about hearing "Sleigh Ride" pumping through the speakers at my local supermarket in October.  Hell, I live in Southern California where it doesn't even feel like Christmas on Christmas, let alone Columbus Day.  But I don't think we can blame the supermarket management for this, nor can we pin the yearly Thanksgiving neglect on toy companies, advertising agencies, or whoever's in charge of when "A Charlie Brown Christmas" airs.  No, Thanksgiving is its own worst enemy, and there are several reasons why it has become the 90-pound weakling of holidays.

The simplest, of course, is that Thanksgiving is chronologically-disadvantaged, sandwiched between the two most popular and marketable days of the entire year -- Halloween and Christmas.  Even the lesser holidays like Valentine's Day, the Fourth of July, and Easter benefit from being somewhat isolated on the calendar, although Easter struggles a bit because no one is quite sure when it's coming.  April?  March?  The day before Memorial Day?  Who the hell knows?  But Thanksgiving has a better holiday four weeks ahead of it and a month or so behind it.  It's kind of like the Three Stooges, Christmas and Halloween are Moe and Curly, Thankgiving is Shemp.

The next problem Thanksgiving faces is that there's really not much to it.  Halloween is all about costumes, spookiness, parties and candy.  Christmas, of course, is full of presents, family gatherings, traditional songs, and endless merriment and good will.  What does Thanksgiving bring to the table?  Turkey, cranberry sauce, indigestion, and a couple football games.  Hell, Christmas has everything that Thanksgiving has.  Every year, my family gets together for a huge Christmas dinner of turkey (or sometimes ham), mashed potatoes, that casserole made from green beans and crispy noodles, and Grandma's lemon cheese pie, just like we do on Thanksgiving.  And on top of all that, we get to exchange gifts and listen to the Frank Sinatra Christmas Album.  Put another way, Thanksgiving is merely Christmas without the presents which, unless you live in Whoville, kind of sucks.

So the question becomes, how do we help Thanksgiving earn its proper respect?  I think the first thing we need to do is move it the hell out of November.  Pack up the horns o' plenty and the Indian corn in a huge U-Haul and relocate to the second Thursday in September.  Sure, that puts it a week after Labor Day, but who cares?  Using our Stooges analogy again, Labor Day isn't even Curly Joe, it's more like Moe's second cousin Phil who hated slapstick comedy so he became a plumber.  With Thanksgiving in September, it gets to lead off the fall-winter festivities, building up to Halloween and Christmas.

Next, we need to come up with a Thanksgiving representative, a character who is instantly recognizable and lovable.  Christmas has Santa Claus, Halloween has witches and goblins, Easter has the giant bunny, Valentine's Day has Cupid, even the Fourth of July invites Uncle Sam to the barbecue.  Thanksgiving, though, has absolutely no one banging its proverbial drum.  The closest you'll see is a turkey wearing a pilgrim's hat, but let's be honest here.  The turkey can't possibly be the Thanksgiving rep because by the end of the day he's DEAD!  Not exactly the most festive of all outcomes.  What do you think the reaction would be if every Easter, families got together and slow-roasted a rabbit?  "Say, Jimmy, would you like a leg or an ear?"
James O'Thankful says, "Have another drumstick!"

So the turkey is out.  But what if we named an official Thanksgiving Pilgrim, a suave, smooth-talking guy named James O'Thankful (he's part Irish, go with it) who shows up on Thanksgiving Night with extra gravy and a few seasonal trinkets, and reminds your family of everything it should be thankful for.  Love, health, happiness, the fact that Christmas is just a few months away (we've moved to September, remember?).

I think that would be a good start.

In the meantime, Thanksgiving will have to deal with Christmas and Halloween poking it in the eyes and cracking it over the head with baseball bats.

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.


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Monday, October 24, 2011

Subway Subterfuge

In case you've somehow missed it, October is "Anytober" at Subway, which means for the entire month you can get any foot-long sub for the low, low price of five bucks.  The commercials are everywhere, the annoying "Five Dollar Footlong" jingle being sung by a wide variety of even more annoying characters.  Cheerleaders, Asian guys playing video games, the list goes on.

"Five!  Five dollar!  Five dollar foot looooong.  Any, any, any! "

Let's start by examining their creation of the word "Anytober."  This, my friends, is what's called a "reach."  "Any" doesn't sound anything like "Oct."  It's a terrible attempt at wordplay.  Last time Subway introduced the "any footlong for five bucks" deal, it was February, which they transformed into "Februany."  While this still wasn't going to earn them the Clever Ad Pun of the Year award, you could tell what they were going for.  For lack of a better word, it worked.

But Anytober?  I'm not buying it.

On the bright side, though, five bucks is a pretty good deal for a foot-long sub sandwich, and since I love Subway, the last few weeks have been Anytoberfest at my house.  But today, Subway and their "Any-any-anyness" pissed me off big time.

I entered the store and decided to try a foot-long pastrami sub.  Never had one before, as I'm more of a Subway Club or Italian BMT guy, so I figured it was time for a change of pace.  I ordered it, gave the (ahem) "Sandwich Artist" my condiment preferences, and made my way to the cash register to hand over a five-spot.

"That'll be six seventy-five."

"Excuse me?  What happened to Anytober?"

"The pastrami doesn't count . . . it's a premium sandwich."

"Doesn't count?  I distinctly remember the cheerleaders singing ANY ANY ANY."

"Right, but that's just for our regular foot-longs."

"Well that's not any foot-long, is it?  It's ANYTOBER, Todd!  Technically, I should be able to come in here and order a foot-long Cold Cut Combo with triple meat, double cheese, and Grey Poupon mustard and have it cost five bucks.  Any means ANY."

Apparently it doesn't.  I paid $6.75.

"Thanks for visiting Subway," said Todd.  "Come again any time."

Which, if you're going to believe their "Almost Anytober" policy, really means, "Come again some of the time."


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Monday, October 10, 2011

iPhone Idleness

I was one of the last people on the planet to own a cell phone. It was 1999, and I just didn't feel the need to be all that accessible. I had reluctantly purchased a pager earlier in the year, and even that was more of a pain in the ass than I thought it would be. But eventually I broke down and got the cheapest Nokia phone I could find, basically a hunk of plastic with buttons that weighed about four pounds.

Ever since then, I've had a rare form of Attention Deficit Disorder, something I call Cell Phone Disaffection Syndrome (CPDS). Every six to eight months, I get bored with whatever phone I have, and end up getting a newer, better, glitzier model. After I got tired of the clunky slab o' plastic, I upgraded to a slimmer, lighter Nokia. But then the RAZR flip-phone hit the market, and I absolutely had to have one of those. All sorts of wonderful features, and it looked so 22nd century. It even had a camera. I couldn't imagine how you'd improve on something that high-tech.

And then someone invented "smart" phones.

So I got a Blackberry Curve, a phone that would actually let me access the Internet. Sure, it took three hours for the Google home page to download (or is it upload? I can never keep that straight.), but it was the INTERNET! ON MY PHONE! Of course, the original Blackberry Curve turned out to be a complete piece of crap, so a few months later I upgraded to the Blackberry Storm. How's that for brand loyalty? The Storm didn't even have buttons, you just tapped letters on the screen and voila! A text message! Of course, it was virtually impossible to type the letter you wanted because touchscreen technology was apparently too difficult for the Blackberry IT department to grasp, but the Storm was one fancy piece of equipment, if you didn't mind removing and then reinserting the battery every couple hours because the damn thing froze up again.

So I upgraded to the Blackberry Bold because who needs touchscreen, anyway?

Of course, after a year or so, the Bold became more trouble than it was worth. The little pad that you slide your finger across to scroll through your icons (there's probably a name for it, but you know what I'm saying) turned out to be one moody son of a bitch, and sometimes decided it didn't want to do anything. Plus, it browsed the web like Theresa browses Target which is to say, it takes forever and pretty much wastes your entire day. So a few days ago, I went and did something I swore I was never going to do.

I bought an iPhone.

Thankfully, I was eligible for an upgrade so it cost me next to nothing, and let me tell you, this is one absolutely ingenious little device. First of all, yes, it's touchscreen which had proven to be problematic with my now-obsolete Blackberry Storm. But apparently the Apple guys are way smarter than the Blackberry guys because I'm having no trouble typing what I want to type. And if I do happen to make a mistake, the iPhone magically corrects my spelling. Plus, I still have the camera feature, it has a GPS, e-mail, and in addition to all that technological goodness, it's also a telephone.

Random thought: If all this technology had been available in the 70's, we might have heard this Stevie Wonder classic:

I just texted to say I love you.
I changed my Facebook status because I care.
I just Skyped to say I love you.
And I Tweeted from the bottom of my heart.

Moving on.

You can also watch videos on the iPhone, with amazing clarity. But wait, there's even more. Over the weekend, I was introduced to the wonderful world of "apps" which is short for "apparently not having anything better to do with your time."

Some of these apps are quite useful, like Mobile Banking and my personal favorite, the In-N-Out Burger app that instantly points you to the nearest In-N-Out restaurant. What the hell will they think of next?

Slice, slice, Baby!
And game apps! I'm telling you, you have not lived until you've played a thrilling game of Fruit Ninja. You can keep your Angry Birds, the sheer joy of slicing up virtual kiwi, coconuts, and watermelons is beyond description.

Hmm. Maybe there's a "Get a Life" app.

Anyway, I'm very happy with my new iPhone, and I'm sure this will be the last cell phone I ever need to own. I mean, really, how could they possibly improve on this?


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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Just 'Chute Me

I'm not a particularly adventurous person.  My idea of "roughing it" is staying at a hotel where the room service menu doesn't include shrimp cocktail.  Vacations are for relaxing, not for pitching a tent and hanging bags of food in trees so the bears don't eat your Mallomars.

Not everyone shares my cautious attitude, however, so travel agents have discovered another great way to separate vacationers from their money -- provide them with unique and challenging ways to kill themselves.  Rock-climbing, skydiving, and ceremonial fart-lighting while chugging Budweiser from a beer bong (yes, Alabama has a Department of Tourism too) all attract and gloriously cripple thousands of tourists every year.  For thirty bucks, you can even buy a framed action shot to share with loved ones as they stand around your hospital bed.  But, like I said, such treacherous pastimes aren't for me.

Except once.

I was on a Mexican cruise, and the ship docked for the day in the beautiful resort/dump of Puerto Vallarta.  I spent the morning taking the official city tour, which consisted of a high-speed foray in a beat-up '72 Volkswagen Beetle driven by Paco the Tour Guide.  Paco quickly pointed out the carnicerias, which is Spanish for "store that sells fly-infested pig heads."  We saw many of Puerto Vallarta's other lovely attractions too.  I'd be happy to tell you about them, except I was too busy vomiting out the rear window to notice what they were.

The tour ended (perhaps by accident, but let's give Paco the benefit of the doubt) when the VW's right front tire blew out shortly after we'd run over a flock of wayward chickens.  I headed back to the dock with three hours left to kill, and since the ship's casino was closed while in port, I tried to find something "touristy" to do.  I bought a couple packs of Chiclets from the kids on the beach, and that's when I noticed a cardboard sign propped up against a sleeping "extra" from The Three Amigos.  The sign read "Parasailing: $20".

Parasailing is really quite simple.  A crew from the Mexican Navy straps you into a parachute, which is tethered to a speed boat.  The boat heads out to sea, and as it picks up speed, you run along the beach and gently rise into the air.  The captain pilots the boat in a large circle while you enjoy the breath-taking view from an altitude of about three miles.  After a while, the boat comes back to shore, and you return safely to the beach, your life forever changed.

I can give that a go, I thought.  Before fully committing, I decided to assess the risk by watching a few other tourists take their turns.  I popped open a Corona and took a seat at a nearby picnic table.  Over the next forty-five minutes or so, I saw a little kid, an old lady, and a morbidly obese gentleman in an unfortunate shirt and Bermuda shorts have the time of their lives.

If they could do it, I reasoned, so could I.

So I handed my twenty bucks to a guy named Jorge.  His two partners got in the boat as Jorge helped me strap on the parachute.  Jorge then gave the captain the high sign, and we were off.

According to The Official Mexican Parasailing Captain's Training Manual, the take-off procedure requires the boat to stay parallel to the shoreline to provide a sufficient "runway".  Once the parasailer is airborne, the captain then -- and only then -- heads out to sea.  That's how it's supposed to work, and that's exactly how it DID work with every single person I watched go up.

That's not, however, how it worked this time.

As the boat accelerated, I trotted along the beach, waiting to be lifted into the air.

And waiting.

And waiting.

I ran faster and faster trying to keep up with the speedboat, which was now approaching the speed of sound.  Before long I lost the race and gravity took over. I plunged face first into the sand and got dragged about fifty feet.  Fortunately, I came to a quick stop.  Unfortunately, it was because I slammed sideways into a pile of large boulders.  Jorge was yelling at the top of his lungs, "PARE EL BARCO!  PARE EL BARCO!" (in English: "Get your asses back here, this stupid gringo is about to die!").

The captain turned the boat around and returned to shore.  I picked myself up off the ground and assessed the damage.  Banged up hip.  Scraped up knees.  Bump on my forehead.  "Uh, I think I'd like my money back, Jorge.  I'm done."

"Sorry, amigo, no refunds."  At least, that's what I think he said.  It was hard to hear him clearly with my ears full of sand.

Since I didn't want to resort to fisticuffs over a matter of twenty dollars, I decided to give it one more shot.  We secured the parachute, backed up to the original starting point, and tried it again.  This time, the parachute filled with air and off I went, into the wild blue yonder.

It was not comfortable.  I wasn't simply hanging from the harness, I was also "sitting" on a rope "seat" that was digging and chafing its way into the "back of my thighs".  After about fifteen seconds, I was ready for the whole debacle to be over with.

They kept me up there for a good ten minutes, which seemed much longer and resulted in the rope "seat" finding its way into my butt crack.  Given my lack of confidence in Jorge's parachute maintenance skills, I was reluctant to shift around to try and remove the rope from my keester for fear of unhooking myself and plummeting to an embarrassing and watery death.  So I dealt with it.

Eventually, we headed back towards the beach, and I landed without further incident.  Jorge helped me out of the chute, shook my hand and said, "Amigo, chu want to go 'gain?  Only ten dollar dees tine."

"Hell no," I said, as politely as you can say "Hell, no", and I walked back toward the street to get something to drink.  I bought a Corona, and when I turned around I saw Paco's VW, complete with a repaired tire.  I said hello but I don't think he recognized me, which is understandable given my facial lacerations and swelling.

"Welcome to Puerta Vallarta, senor," he said.  "You want a tour of the city?"


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Friday, September 23, 2011

Category Five Hurricane

When I regained consciousness, I was curled up in the corner of an upward-bound elevator in the Orlando Sheraton.

The year was 1985. I was in college.

Our jazz ensemble traveled from Southern California to Orlando to participate in the Walt Disney World Jazz Festival. Now, you’ve all probably heard the stereotype that band members are geeks, dorks, and various types of goobers. This, of course, is a stereotype and as is the case with most stereotypes, it’s absolutely true. Most of us were nineteen or twenty years old, so we were still a year or so away from being of legal drinking age.

In California.

In the great state of Florida, however, the legal drinking age was twenty, a detail that did not escape our attention. The first night,we were sitting around in the hotel room, plotting the evening’s activities. When you’re underage, opportunities for obtaining alcohol are somewhat limited, and you get used to bumming booze off the older siblings of your party buds, or bribing someone of age to make a beer run. With our new found freedom, though, it was much simpler.

“Hey, let’s go down to the hotel bar and get hammered!” suggested Alex.

Alex Harrison was a trombone player, and I mean that in the nicest sense of the term. He was about six-two, and vaguely resembled Frankenstein. He was the kind of guy who would do anything for a laugh, even if he were the butt of the joke, which he often was. Alex owned a gold Volkswagen Beetle with a sunroof. Just for shits and giggles, he’d open the sunroof, pop his head out, and drive around like that. It was hilarious, as well as ridiculously stupid.

We hooked up with two more guys, Ralph and John, piled into the elevator and headed down to the Zanzibar Lounge. The hostess seated us at a table in the back, and we perused the drink menu. Gator Wizz. The Swamp Bomb. The Barracuda.

“Hey, check out this one,” said John, pointing at the drink menu. He was the lead trumpet player, incredibly arrogant, and among the four of us, had the most experience with alcohol. None of it good, but experience nonetheless. “The Category Five Hurricane. This looks pretty potent.”

The Category Five Hurricane, Zanzibar’s specialty, consisted of three kinds of fruit juice, rum, vodka, peach Schnapp’s, a shot of grenadine, and if I’m not mistaken, turpentine and nitroglycerin. The menu was not particularly specific.

Up to this point in our young, foolish lives, most of our drinking experience was with beer, and we all knew (more or less) what our personal limits were. For example, I knew that three beers gave me a nice buzz, while five had me doing the Technicolor yawn on someone’s carpet. Through an unforgivable oversight, the Zanzibar Lounge did not provide a beer-to-Category Five Hurricane conversion chart, but as it turns out, Budweiser and Hurricane do not have a one-to-one correspondence. It’s more like a one to a very tiny sip correspondence.

We did not know this at the time.

“You fellas gonna trah the Hurry-kine?” drawled the waitress. According to her gold name badge, she was Amanda. A bit on the pudgy side, not spectacular looking, but nothing you’d throw a bag over, either. Let’s call her a soft six on the one-to-ten scale.

“Yep,” said John. “A round of Category Five Hurricanes please, Amanda. We’re ready to party!”

A couple minutes later, Amanda brought out the hooch, and we were in absolute fucking awe. Though it wasn’t made clear by the picture on the menu, the Category Five Hurricane is served in a glass that’s approximately the size of the Stanley Cup.

Oh, were they tasty. Peach, orange, lime, just a hint of turpentine. We blew through the first round of Hurricanes like Anna Nicole at a Viagra convention.

“Okay, the next round’s on me,” said Ralph, although it came out more like, “Oh, kay. Zhuh neft rowd’s agh meh.” Ralph was a throwback to the 1950’s. Leather jacket, slicked back hair that he was always combing. He was a neo-Fonzie, if Fonzie played the tenor saxophone, wore an earring, and had an acne problem.

Amanda carted out the next round, and we dived back in.“Mebbe we orta get zub food zo we don’ get too wayshted,” suggested John, as he stared into his drink.

“Good thinkin’,” mumbled Alex. “Don’ wanna ged sick er shumfin.”

We ordered some hot wings, onion rings, potato skins, and the seafood platter. And, of course, another round of Hurricanes.

By this time, things were getting a little fuzzy. Okay, a lot fuzzy. We knew we had to get up early in the morning for our performance at the Tomorrowland Terrace, so we didn’t want to do something irresponsible like staying up too late.

“You boys ready fer one mo-ah round?” purred Amanda. Over the last half hour or so, she’d somehow gone from a six to a solid eight, and rising.

“Who’sh gudda buy duh nesht round?” asked Alex.

Ralph passed out face first in a plate of fried clams and cocktail sauce. We took that as a signal that the next round was on him.

By the time we polished off the last our Hurricanes, it was approaching one o’clock in the morning.

“Grf bulla frubba gut googa,” suggested John.

"Waff stroffa," replied Alex. "Bub dubba burble gorp."

“Merf,” I added, reluctantly. “Blubba gunk friff brap.”

Ralph said nothing. He was still asleep in his seafood platter.

We paid the check, which was astronomical, tipped the waitress, splashed some water on Ralph's face to revive him (somewhat) and stood up.

Have you ever been really, really hammered? Not tipsy, not buzzed, hell, not even merely drunk. I mean blurry vision, room spinning, jelly-legged, I-can’t-feel-my-fucking-face blasted. That kind of covers our state of being as we attempted to navigate our way out of the Zanzibar Lounge.

"Oh, Earl, look at those boys," said some blue-haired old bat. "That's just embarrassing."

"Forrrrk Yoooooou," mumbled John, drawing a shocked gasp from Gramma Moses.

We somehow made it to the elevator and headed up to our rooms. The sudden movement made me even dizzier than I already was, so I sat down in the corner and stared at the ceiling. It seemed to be melting.

The next thing I knew, I was in the elevator by myself. Nauseous. With a screaming headache. I stared at my watch and waited for it to come into focus.

Five o’clock AM. Those fuckers had abandoned me.

We were all supposed to be in the lobby at eight, so we could go over to Disney World and be ready to perform by eleven. I got off the elevator at the eleventh floor and stumbled to my room. When I opened the door, I noticed an unusual smell. Vomit, mixed with the unmistakable scent of fruit juice and cocktail sauce. I went into the bathroom, and there was Ralph, asleep with his head resting on the toilet seat.

Ralph had ralphed everywhere. The shower curtain. The bath tub. The sink. It looked like “The Exorcist Meets Psycho”.

I kicked him in the ribs to wake him up.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuucccckkkkkk,” he mumbled.

“Yeah, I know, me too. Let’s clean this shit up.”

We did the best we could. When the bathroom was passable (to us) we took turns showering and got about an hour of sleep. We got ready and barely made it to the lobby on time. John and Alex were asleep on one of the lobby couches. Everyone else was milling around, chipper as can be, ready for an exciting day in the Magic Kingdom.

As we dragged ourselves onto the bus, the band director noticed our condition.

“What the hell happened to you guys?” he asked. “You look like you’ve been hit by a tornado.”

He was pretty close. Actually, it was a series of Category Five Hurricanes.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Talk is Jeep

If anyone ever asks you for the price of stupidity, the answer is this:

$161.24 plus tax and labor.

I'll explain how I arrived at this figure in just a little while but to fully understand the situation, we must start at the beginning.

Not Theresa's truck, but it makes the point better.
About a year or so ago, Theresa's truck, a Ford F-150, decided that it no longer wanted to remain operational.  I would go into more detail about this, but after the McRib fiasco, I sort of promised Theresa that I'd stop writing things that she might find embarrassing, no matter how true or utterly hilarious they were.  So we're going to leave it at, "the truck broke."

Anyway, instead of rushing into a new vehicle, Theresa decided to save up for something really nice and in the meantime we'd just make do with the cars we had.

The plan worked perfectly, and just last weekend, we went out car shopping.

Smart Car, aka truck without the bed.
Theresa's first instinct was to buy a new truck.  She liked the look, and after all, trucks are rugged.  The problem is, we don't really need a truck.  For years, back when the F-150 was running, I thought that she had far more vehicle than she really needed.  The cab was a little crowded, and we hardly ever used the truckish features, which basically transformed the F-150 into a gas-guzzling Smart Car.

Ironically, right after her truck shuffled off the mortal coil, we moved into a new house.  How convenient it would've been to have a truck to help carry our belongings across town.  Also, for the past year, we've been landscaping our back yard with decorative rock.  We probably could've carried 20-30 bags at a time in a sturdy vehicle such as, I don't know, a Ford pickup, but we no longer had one.  Do you know how many bags of rock you can carry in the trunk of a 2008 Chrysler Sebring?


To sum up, when we had a truck we didn't need it, and when we needed it we didn't have it.  And now that we'd finished everything we could possibly need a truck for, Theresa decided to go a different direction.

So we looked at Jeeps.  Some with four doors, some with two.  Some were used and some were new.  Jeeps in red and tan and blue.  We think Jeeps are cool, do you?

Sorry about that, kind of got lost on Mulberry Street for a minute.

After a bit of Jeep-browsing, Theresa decided on a four-door silver Wrangler Sport with a removable roof, outstanding stereo system including XM radio, lots of bells and whistles.  In fact, it was only lacking in one feature.

This particular Jeep did not have automatic locks and windows.

To most people, this wouldn't be much of a sticking point.  Sure, it's a little inconvenient to actually use a key to unlock your doors, and manually rolling windows down is primitive to the point of absurdity, but still.  It was a pretty cool Jeep, so you'd think these minor details could be overlooked.

And you, my friend, would be very, very wrong.

Theresa wasn't having any of it.

Theresa: Is there any way we could get the automatic windows installed?

Salesman: Sure, it usually runs an extra fifteen hundred dollars.  We could build that into your deal.

Me: For five hundred, you can poke me on the shoulder and I'll roll the window down for you.

Theresa (ignoring me): Do you have any Jeeps with automatic windows and locks?

Salesman: Of course.

So we looked at some more Jeeps.  None of which were even remotely close to our price range.  But they did have automatic windows and locks.  And leather interior, GPS systems, stuff like that.

Back in the negotiating room, the salesman had met our requirement for the monthly payments on the original, prehistoric, non-automatic window Jeep.

Salesman: So we're back to the windows and locks.

Me: Theresa.  This is an awesome deal.  We can live with the windows and locks.

Theresa: Who's side are you on here, anyway?

Me: Yours.  I want you to have the car you want.

Theresa: I don't want to feel like I'm settling, though, this is still a lot of money.

Salesman: Okay, what if I could get your locks and windows installed for this same price?

Theresa (pauses . . . looks at me . . . then back at the salesman): Then we would have a deal.

And with that, Theresa got exactly what she wanted.  She deserved it.

All of which brings us back to the price of stupidity.

At our house, we have a two car garage which, up to this point, has been a one-car-and-a-whole-lot-of-other-crap garage.  Not wanting to park her new Jeep in the driveway, where it could be defiled by lawn sprinklers, low-flying birds, or neighbors who have limited control of what their lawnmowers run over and send flying all the hell over the neighborhood (I'm looking at YOU, Walt from Next Door), Theresa suggested that we organize the garage to make room for both of our vehicles.

So we did.

The next morning, I started backing ever-so-slowly out of the garage.  This was a dangerous task for two reasons:

1. I'm not real good at driving in reverse.
2. It was six in the morning and I was really Goddamn tired.

I carefully looked over my right shoulder, because the last thing I wanted to do was to scrape, bump, or smash the Jeep.  As I inched my way backward, out of the corner of my ear I heard a loud crunch, which sounded an awful lot like a driver's side mirror getting ripped off by the door frame of a garage.

Which, coincidentally, is precisely what it was.

$161.24 is what a side view mirror for a 2008 Chrysler Sebring costs.

As I said earlier, plus tax and labor.



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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cowardly Consumption

I was at the Outback Steakhouse the other night, enjoying a delicious filet of salmon when an interesting question occurred to me.

"How did mankind decide which animals we would use as our primary food sources?"

Why, for example, do we eat cows, but not horses?  Why pigs, but not raccoons?  Why chickens, but not yellow-billed cotinga?  Have you ever TRIED yellow-billed cotinga?  For all we know, they're absolutely scrumptious.

After giving the matter some thought, because I obviously have too much spare time, I've reached an iron-clad and irrefutable conclusion:

Human beings are lazy and stupid, so we'll only eat slow, ugly animals and birds that can't fly.

Before everyone starts screaming at me, I do realize that some people eat deer (cute and quick) and duck (they fly), but you're not going to be able to get McVenison or a Jumbo Quack down at the local fast food chain any time soon.  Our major staples are beef, pork, chicken, and turkey.  Animals we can easily catch and that won't put up much of a fight.  You don't "hunt" cows, you round 'em up and slaughter 'em.  You don't go on a turkey "hunt", you go on a turkey "shoot," as in, "There he is, Rufus, plug 'im!"

Speaking of hunting, where do we get off calling that a "sport," anyway?  Let's look at deer hunting.  Now, I've got nothing against hunting per se, if you want to take your rifle and blow Bambi's head off, that's your business.  But when your opponent's entire defensive arsenal is "run like hell," that's more or less a mismatch.  Oh, it might LOOK like a sport, but it's like entering sprinter Usain Bolt in the Special Olympics -- and I'm going to end the analogy right there before it gets completely out of hand.  

You want to make hunting a sport?  Try hunting tigers with a Swiss Army knife or going after mountain lions with a billy club.  Give the animals a fighting chance.  Hell, that's a sport I'd shell out a few bucks for on pay-per-view.

Which brings us back to why we eat the slow, ugly, and flightless.  We're wimps.  We're not going to try to mass produce lion meat, because there's a pretty decent chance that we'll be the ones that get consumed in the process.  Maybe barbecued lion ribs would be out of this world, but it's just not worth the risk.  So we go after cows and pigs.  They're slow, ugly, and non-threatening just like the Cincinnati Bengals.  

The Double-Double says "Moo."
Don't misunderstand, I'm not complaining about this.  I love steak and chicken, and I eat them as often as possible, just like the good Lord intended. I know the whackos at PETA get all out of joint with the "God's creatures are not food" argument, but as far as I'm concerned, if God didn't intend for us to chow down on chicken, He wouldn't have created Colonel Sanders.  I'm no theologian, but I've never heard scripture quoted to the effect of "thou shalt not partake of In-N-Out Double-Doubles."  In fact, the only clear statement God has ever made on what we should and shouldn't eat has to do with FRUIT.  The first time someone ate an apple, boom, humanity was screwed for all eternity.  And yet the produce section remains well-stocked.  Plus, I think the book of Timothy says that everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if you put catsup on it.  Or something like that.

So anyway, just out of morbid curiosity and the desire to see a rifle-totin' redneck get mauled to death, here's what I'm suggesting.  Let's expand our food choices.  For every deer that a hunter shoots, he must also attempt to bag three other "non-traditional" sources of meat.  Take out a ten-point buck, you gotta go after a tiger, a polar bear, and a pit-full of angry cobras.  If we're given a wider variety of food choices, we might finally be able to answer the one question that's been puzzling mankind for centuries:

Does yellow-billed continga really taste like chicken?


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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

As Subtle as a Love Gun

"Paul Stanley is sick of KISS." - Paul Rudd, Role Models

I was in fifth grade when the the rock supergroup KISS exploded upon the American music scene in 1975, amid smashing guitars and blistering pyrotechnics. KISS actually formed in '73, but it wasn't until the release of the album Alive! that they became the pop culture/glam rock Gods that they Gene Simmons believes they are to this very day.

Because of the timing, I went directly from being a fan of the Brady Bunch to a Love Gun-wielding soldier in the KISS Army. One would think that I could've transitioned through some sort of pop culture halfway house, say, the Partridge Family or the Bay City Rollers, but no. It was "Sunshine day, everybody's smilin'" one day, "It's cold gin time again" the next. It's probably a good thing the Bradys and KISS never overlapped in the public consciousness, because the Brady Bunch episode featuring Davy Jones would've had a whole different dynamic if the ex-Monkee had been replaced by circa 1975 Gene Simmons. I doubt Mrs. Brady would've been so enthusiastic about her daughter's "prom date."

After much begging and cajoling, my parents bought me the Alive! album for Christmas. I don't think my father had ever heard KISS's music at this point, he was more the Roger Miller "King of the Road" type, but KISS's Kabuki-makeup and blood-spitting, fire-breathing antics caused him to make some grossly unfair assumptions about the band's potential negative influence on his 10 year-old son.
The first sign of trouble came when he walked into my room with "Nothin' to Lose" blaring through the speakers.
Before I had a baby, didn't care anyway
Thought about the back door, didn't know what to say . . .
He entered my room, hands covering his ears. "What's that crap you're listening to?"
"Uh, the KISS album. Why?"
"Thought about the back door?" he quoted. "What do you think that means?"
"He's trying to get her attention and she's not answering the front door?"
Believe it or not, I was serious. I was a pretty naive kid, and it's not like I was analyzing the lyrical underpinnings of the Simmons-Stanley songbook anyway. That would come later, and boy, was I surprised when I found out what "Plaster Caster" was all about. But that one was still three albums away.
"Yes, exactly right, he's ringing her front doorbell. Enjoy the music," Dad muttered as he walked out, shutting the door behind him.
This was also about the time my dad heard the ridiculous rumor that the name KISS was actually an acronym for "Knights in Satan's Service", and that the band members were devil-worshipers. Come on, how could anyone believe such nonsense?
I patiently explained to Dad that, according to the February 1976 edition of the KISS Army Newsletter, Paul Stanley came up with the name "KISS" because it was a simple, one word moniker that everyone could identify with. Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter were definitely not Satanists.
But damn, Gene, you're really tough to defend sometimes.
By the time Alive II came out three years later, I was a full-fledged KISSmaniac. I dressed as Peter Criss for Halloween, owned the entire KISS-cography, and faithfully scooped up any issue of Circus, Rolling Stone, or People (yep, People) magazine that the boys appeared in. I dreamed of the day that my Dad would let me attend my first KISS concert. It was a tough sell. Love Gun tour, 1978? Not a chance. Dynasty tour, 1980? No way.
Eventually, however, I wore him down and he gave me the go-ahead.
In 1996. The Reunion Tour. I was 31.
By today's standards, KISS music is pretty tame. Double entendres abound, and no one's going to call Paul Stanley subtle ("You make me rock hard, baby all night. My love's a glove and you fit just right" is but one example), but compared to say, Eminem, even the most raunchy of KISS lyrics come off as fairly tepid.
And I'm still a fan, the entire KISS catalogue downloaded on my iPod (even Music from the Elder, which sold about eight copies when it came out in '81). When my son was about ten, I recruited him into the KISS Army as well. Took him to a concert and everything.
The boys are still touring, too. Sure, Peter and Ace have been given the boot (again), but Gene, Paul, and a couple other guys are still rockin' and rollin' all night and partyin' every day.
Dad's still convinced they're the minions of Satan.


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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Quelfian Quips

My family and I love to play board games.  Monopoly is a favorite among some of us, even though most of the time the game ends with everybody hating each other.  We also enjoy Apples to Apples, Wits and Wagers, and Scrabble.  But recently, we discovered a game that surpasses all others in terms of hilarity, humiliation, and outright lunacy.

It's called Quelf.

The object of the game is simple.  You roll the die, move your piece, draw a card from the deck that matches the color of the space you landed on, and do what the card says.  The fun comes from the fact that the cards tell you to do ridiculous things, such as:

Every time an opponent laughs, you must slap your knee and say "Waka, waka, waka."

Go fill a bowl with water.  Now, soak your left hand in the bowl until your next turn.

Every sentence you speak for the rest of the game must end with, " . . . hear me, for I have spoken!"

The last time my family played, Theresa's son Doug finished the game wearing a sweat sock as a necktie.  And also lipstick.

It's not really a game for people who are shy or self-conscious.

When we first brought Quelf home, we noticed the list of contents on the back of the box: 

440 cards in five different categories
1 awesome Quelf game board
1 pad of paper and player guide
1 die and 1 thirty-second timer
8 character game pieces
1 giant invisible harpoon - it's invisible for a reason, use it wisely.

That's right, a giant invisible harpoon.  My family being what it is, my dad immediately said, "You know Chris, you should write the company and tell them that our invisible harpoon was broken during shipping."

So of course, I did.  I looked up the company on-line (Wiggity Bang Games) and fired off an e-mail to company president Matt Rivaldi. 

Dear Mr. Rivaldi:

I recently purchased Quelf, and let me start by saying my family and I absolutely love it.  I can honestly say that prior to our Quelf experience, no one I know has ever worn a paper towel as a mask, simultaneously worn a sock for a necktie and pink lipstick (though my dear Uncle Charlie has been known to wear them separately), or pretended to be a singing prison guard.  So thanks for that.

Here's my problem.

On the box, it says that the game includes one invisible harpoon.  Now, we were able to locate the harpoon easily enough by lightly dusting baby powder over the game pieces.  It was at that point, however, that we noticed our harpoon was broken at one end.  This must've happened at some point during the shipping process.

If we could get a replacement harpoon, that would be wonderful.


We all had a good laugh, and didn't give our invisible harpoon situation another thought until a few weeks later when I received a response. 

Hi Chris,

Don't think we are ignoring your message.  Our CIHE's (Certified Invisible Harpoon Engineers) are looking into the problem.  These things are supposed to be indestructible . . . obviously they are not.  As soon as we get our report back, we'll let you know what we can do for you, but rest assured we'll make it right. 

Maybe it would help if you could take a picture of it to show our engineers.

Sincerely Wiggity,
Matthew Rivaldi
President, Wiggity Bang Games, LLC

"Take a picture of it," he says.  I want to work for this guy.

So I carefully placed the invisible harpoon (the shaft and the broken tip) on our dining room table and snapped a picture.

I attached the photo file to another email that read:

Dear Mr. Rivaldi,

Thank you for your prompt reply.  As you requested, I'm sending a photograph of our broken harpoon.  As you can clearly see, the business end is snapped right off.  I hope this will help your engineers devise a way to keep the invisible harpoons from breaking, as no one wants to play Quelf without them.

Looking forward to your response.

This whole invisible harpoon fiasco came to an end just the other day when I received a package via the United States Postal Service.  It was a tube about four feet long with a warning label: INVISIBLE HARPOON ENCLOSED.  BE CAREFUL WHEN OPENING MAILING TUBE.

I have to hand it to the Wiggity Bang people.  They are true to their word.

You can buy your own Quelf set at most department stores, and also through the Wiggity Bang website. 

Trust me, you'll have a blast.

But please.  Be careful with the invisible harpoon.


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