Monday, January 31, 2011

I Hate to Sing-a, About the Moon-a or the June-a or the Spring-a

I was a music major in college, jazz studies, if we're going to be specific about it.  My primary (okay, only) instrument was trumpet, but as is the case with all music majors, I had to take methods classes in woodwinds, strings and percussion.  This presented all sorts of problems because as it turns out, the skills required to play the trumpet don't transfer so well to the contra-bassoon, the glockenspiel or the eight-string banjamagoggin[1].  The instrumental method classes were tolerable, though, because even though we sounded like crap when trying to play unfamiliar instruments, everyone was in the same musical predicament.  Trumpet players sounded crappy on clarinet, flute players sounded crappy on violin, and everyone sounded crappy on oboe, because it's impossible NOT to sound crappy on oboe.  Even if you're an oboe player.

There was one class, though, that all the instrumental majors hated with a passion usually reserved for serial killers and game show hosts.  The voice class.  We were instrumentalists, for crying out loud.  Real musicians!  We can't sing, nor do we want to.  But to get a degree in music, everyone has to pass a voice class, no way around it.  Thankfully, and probably so the voice majors wouldn't have to listen to us, there was a class called "Vocal Methods for Instrumental Majors".  A more accurate title might have been, "You Don't Want to Be Here, We Don't Want You Here, But it's a Requirement So Let's Make the Best of It 101".

In a voice class full of nothing but instrumental majors, there's no pressure at all.  Since everyone sucks to the same degree, there's no need to feel ashamed of your lack of vocal prowess.  If anything, stepping out of one's comfort zone creates a certain camaraderie, and going through this experience together helps forge a common bond, which makes the whole process a hell of a lot of fun.

But I wouldn't know anything about that, because I didn't enroll in "Vocal Methods for Instrumental Majors."  You see, due to a scheduling conflict, I had to take an English Composition course that met at the exact same time as the voice class.  To meet the voice requirement for my major, the dean of the music department allowed me to take a different class.

Vocal Methods for Voice Majors.

So the first day of class, there I was, a jazz trumpet player who hadn't sung in public since my first grade Christmas performance (Twelve Days of Christmas, I was a French hen) in a classroom full of collegiate-level opera divas, Madrigal singers, and up-and-coming Broadway stars.  I didn't want to draw attention to myself, so I resisted the urge to stand up and say something like "Okay, listen up, songbirds!  I'm not a singer, I just need to meet the course requirement.  Just bear with me, let me get my C-minus, and I'll be out of your lives forever!"  Instead, I tried to keep a low profile.

But the truth was bound to come out eventually.

The class met three times a week.  On Monday, we'd select our song and work on it individually.  On Wednesday, the pianist would be available to coach us and provide accompaniment.  Friday, of course, was "recital day," the highlight of the week when we'd all go over to the Harriet and Charles Luckman Fine Arts Center and perform our song for the class and other guests.

I knew I was in trouble the very first Friday.

The students, all thirty of us, entered the palatial music hall and took our seats in the first couple rows.  Much to my horror, about fifty other students had also stopped by to check out the recital.  It was the instrumental majors, who were just dying to see me make a complete and utter mezzo-idiot of myself in public.

The pianist took her seat at the Steinway baby grand and Dr. LaFontaine, the instructor, welcomed the audience and got the performance underway.  "Okay, would anyone like to volunteer to open the show?" she asked.

"I'll go first," said one of the tenors.  I think his name was Luciano.  Or Placido.  Something Italian and snooty-sounding.  He was wearing slacks, a tuxedo shirt, and a black blazer.  With a bow tie.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for attending tonight's performance," he said, even though it was 1:00 in the afternoon.  "I'll be performing Puccini's Che Gelida Manina, from La Boheme."

It was beautiful.  Fluid melodic passages, crisp arpeggios, sustained delicate high notes that resonated in the deepest corners of the concert hall.  When he stopped singing, his voice bounced around for an extra two minutes.

Next up was a soprano named Suzanna Van Horne who, in addition to being a talented opera singer attending college on a full music scholarship, spent her evenings rehearsing with a Los Angeles theater company.  She had recently been cast in the role of Maria in their production of West Side Story.

The chick had pipes, is what I'm saying.

She took the stage wearing a gorgeous black dress.  Floor length.  Spaghetti straps.  Cleavage.

"I'll be performing Un Bel Di Vedremo, from Madame Butterfly," she announced.

If anything, Suzanna's performance was even better than Luciano's.  Her upper register was perfectly in tune, her phrasing was precise and natural, quite simply, she was magnificent.  At the conclusion of her performance, the audience gave her a standing ovation, as they should have.  Clearly, no one in the class had talent remotely resembling that displayed by the lovely Miss Suzanna Van Horne.

But wait.  The next singer was taking the stage.

 It was a guy named Chris, a trumpet player who clearly had no business being at this recital.

I took the stage in my classy performance attire.  Jeans by Levi.  Shoes by Reebok.  Sweatshirt by Laundry Basket.

The instrumental majors gave me an enthusiastic welcome as I dragged my ass to center stage.

"Hi.  I'm Chris.  I'll, uh, be performing a song entitled You Are My Sunshine.  You might remember it from a French's mustard commercial in the 1970's."

Snickers from the audience.

The pianist played the introduction, and we were off.

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.  You make me happeeeee, when skies are gray . . . "

My voice crackled like bacon, frying in the pan.  Most of the notes came within a half-step or so of what was written on the page.  I remembered most of the words.  When the song mercifully ended, the crowd gave me a heart-felt sitting ovation.  "Smattering applause" is the phrase that comes to mind.

As the semester progressed, to the surprise of everyone, my vocal talent gradually improved.  In sixteen short weeks, I went from "completely sucks" to "not entirely unlistenable".  And to be honest, the vocal majors were very understanding of my situation and encouraged me to do the best I could.  No one booed, anyway.

Besides, sooner or later Suzanna Van Horne and Luciano the Tenor were going to have to take the brass methods class.  And playing the tuba is much harder than it looks.

[1] Thanks to Homemaker Man for the term "banjamagoggin".


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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Knucklehead's Blog-Off Semi-Finals: In the Style of Dr. Seuss

It's time for the semi-final round to commence,
In the Knucklehead Blog-Off, oh, isn't this tense?
It started with nine bloggers, now it's just three,
Who remain in the contest, oh whoopity-dee.

The topic this time will let them cut loose,
As they write in the style of ol' Dr. Seuss.
Perhaps they'll be funny, or maybe insightful,
Whatever the case, they'll no doubt be delightful.

Three semi-finalists have fought their way through,
We have Cardio, Mike, and Homemaker Man, too.
Go visit their sites and decide which is best,
Then come back to my place and vote, be my guest.

The voting starts now, and it ends Wednesday night,
The blogger with the fewest votes will fade out of sight.
So check out the entries, and see what you think,
Then come back and vote, oh yes, here are the links:

Musings From the Big Pink
Too Many Mornings


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Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Best and the Worst: Breakfast Cereals

From the time I was a little kid, breakfast cereal was a major staple of my daily nutritional routine.  I'm not just talking breakfast, either, I'd have Cap'n Crunch for an after-school snack, Lucky Charms for dinner, whatever was available, and as long as Mom kept the fridge stocked with milk, it was all good.

Well, maybe not ALL good.  Because, let's face it, some cereals are flat-out terrible.

So let's take a look at the best and the worst, shall we?  Grab a spoon, 'cause here we go!


1. Cap'n Crunch

The Cap'n is the winner, hands down.  Sweet, crunchy, and delicious, there has simply never been a better cereal in the entire history of Kellogg's.  Or General Mills, whoever the hell makes it.  Anyway, I know some of you will complain about the texture of Cap'n Crunch, and I will admit that I've suffered some early morning, roof-of-the-mouth abrasions from time to time, but in the end it's worth it.  Besides, I've learned that if you let the cereal sit for a few minutes, not to the point of sogginess, mind you, but just a little while . . . it takes the raspy edge off.  I should also mention that I'm only talking about the original Cap'n Crunch cereal here, not the version with Crunch Berries (though they're okay), and I'm certainly not going to include the mutant Peanut Butter Crunch.  That stuff is just disgusting.

2. Lucky Charms

Raise your hand if you've ever picked out all the oat pieces and had a bowl of nothing but the marshmallows.  Me too.  But let's be honest, how disappointing was it a few days later when you had to throw away a three-quarters full box of Lucky Oats and then have your mother ask, "What the heck happened to the box of Lucky Charms I bought a few days ago?"  The key, of course, was to keep each bowl balanced so you could get a marshmallow or three in every lovin' spoonful.

While we're on the subject of Lucky Charms marshmallows, though, I do have a complaint.  They've taken the whole thing way too far.  When I was a kid, we had yellow moons, orange stars, pink hearts, and green clovers.  That was it.  Then the blue diamonds came along, and they were fine, nothing worth getting in a snit over.  But now?  Lucky the Leprechaun has just gone friggin' berzerk!  Rainbows, purple horseshoes, pots of gold, red balloons . . . enough is enough already!

But they're still yummy.

3. Frosted Flakes

As Tony says, "They're GRRRRRR-EAT!"  As long as you don't let them get too soggy, Kellogg's Frosted Flakes definitely make the top five.  They're not fancy, but they get the job done.  I'm generally not big on adding fruit to a cereal, the thought being if a bowl of cereal can't stand on its own, it's not worth the trouble.  However, I'll make an exception when it comes to Frosted Flakes and sliced bananas.  Simply divine.

Frosted Flakes are also quite versatile.  The next time you're at the grocery store, pick up a quart of vanilla ice cream and a box of Frosted Flakes.  When you get home, dish out a heaping bowl of the ice cream and smother it with the cereal, and you'll have a cold, creamy, crunchy dessert fit for a king.  Or a tiger, even.

4. Super Sugar Crisp

I know, I know, you're thinking, "What's the difference between Super Sugar Crisp and Sugar Smacks?  Aren't they exactly the same?"

No, they are not.

Sure, they're both puffed rice covered with some sort of sweet glaze and sugar, and they look kind of like miniature sea shells, but there's one huge difference.  The mascot.  The Sugar Smacks representative is a weird frog that says, "Dig 'em," a phrase that was barely cool in the 70's and is woefully out-dated now.  On the other hand, Super Sugar Crisp's spokesman is the ultra-hip Sugar Bear, who has been preaching the virtues of his cereal for decades without losing any of his cultural relevance.

Perhaps I'm over-stating it just a touch.

But it's great cereral, no question about it.  And I'll admit it, the stuff that Dig 'Em the frog sells isn't bad either.

5. Apple Jacks

"A is for apple, J is for jacks, cinnamon, toasty Apple Jacks!  You need a good breakfast, that's a fact, start it off with Apple Jacks.  Apple Jacks!  Apple Jacks!  Vitamins and minerals, that's what it packs . . . "

Okay, I may have gotten carried away.

Basically, you can never go wrong by making something out of apples and cinnamon.  Strudel, pie, ice cream, you name it, if it's apple-cinnamon, it's delicious.

Apple Jacks are also the best of the "loop-type" cereals.  Froot Loops, Cheerios, Honey Bunches of Crap, none of them are fit to carry Apple Jacks's milk pitcher. 


1. Quangaroos

What's that?  You've never heard of them?

I'm not surprised, actually.  I believe Quangaroos were only available in certain parts of the country and for a limited time.  They were a "spin-off" cereal from the more popular (but still relatively obscure) Quisp and Quake.  Remember those guys?  Quisp was the weird-looking spaceman dude with a propeller on his head, and Quake was first a miner, but then somehow transformed into a cowboy-like character from the Australian outback.  I swear, I'm not making this up.  And that's where Quangaroo comes in.  He was Quake's buddy, or pet, or something.

Anyway, Quangaroos cereal consisted of bright orange balls. kind of like radioactive Cocoa Puffs, if you can imagine that.  They tasted weird, and had a very disturbing side effect.


I was about ten years old.  One Saturday morning I went to make myself breakfast and was disappointed to discover that my brother Eric had eaten the last of the chocolate frosted Pop Tarts.  Not wanting to go hungry, I rummaged through the kitchen cabinets and all I could find was a brand new box of Quangaroos.  I ate about four bowls of the stuff, weird taste be damned.  Flash forward about three hours, and I'm sitting on the toilet.  I do my business, and when I look into the bowl (toilet, not cereal) I discover that I've just pinched out a giant carrot.  I kid you not, it was that orange.

Quangaroos.  Not for those with weak stomachs.

2. Grape Nuts

Grape Nuts are the most inaccurately-named product ever invented.  They aren't grape-flavored, and there's not a single nut in the entire box.  But I think I understand why the powers-that-be at Post decided to go with it anyway.  It's because no one would buy a cereal called Oaty-Tasting Bits O' Gravel.

Seriously, while Cocoa Pebbles and Fruity Pebbles aren't made from real pebbles, I think that Grape Nuts actually are.  Unless you let them sit in the milk for two days, you're liable to break a tooth on the first spoonful.  I don't even want to think what this stuff does to the digestive tract.

No grapes.  No nuts.  No thanks.

3. Reese's Puffs

Here we have two pictures:

One of these pictures is Reese's Puffs, the other is dry dog food.  Can you tell which is which?  Probably not, unless you tasted them.  At which point you'd find you had one bowl of disgusting-tasting gristle not fit for human consumption, and another bowl that contained dog food.

I'm not a fan of peanut butter cereal in general.  Don't get me wrong, peanut butter is great for many, many things.  Sandwiches.  Toast.  Apple slices.  Hell, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are among my all-time favorite candies.

But cereal?  Bleh.

4. Special K

Here's what I'm picturing.

Somewhere along the line, a well-meaning Kellogg's employee looked at a box of Wheaties and saw a picture of a famous gold medal-winning Olympian.  Maybe it was Michael Phelps, Mary Lou Retton, or perhaps even Bruce Jenner.  Doesn't matter.  Seeing an opportunity, the Kellogg's guy probably thought, "Hey, what would happen if the Special Olympics were sponsored by a different breakfast cereal?"

Enter Special K.

Before we spin completely off the rails here, I'm just going to say that Special K cereal is about as bland a food item as you could possibly come up with.  My grandmother used to keep her kitchen well-stocked with the stuff (along with Product 19, which is no better), so whenever my brothers and I spent the night, we were treated to a breakfast of Special K and half a grapefruit.

Good thing we liked grapefruit.

Now go donate fifty bucks to the Special Olympics.  Ease my guilt a little.

5. Cocoa Puffs

Honestly, I could have chosen a lot of cereals for this spot.  Cocoa Pebbles, Count Chocula, Cocoa Krispies.  Basically, chocolate cereal sucks.  Of course you're all thinking, "But Chris!  When you finish eating a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, you've got a bowl of chocolate milk!"

To which I say, big friggin' deal.  I'd rather have a bowl of Cap'n Crunch and a tall glass of Nestle's Quik.  The best of both worlds.

With so many crappy chocolate cereals to choose from, why, you might ask, did I single out Cocoa Puffs?

Here's the reason.

It's because of that God-awful, annoying, teeth-gnashingly obnoxious bird they have in the commercials.  "I'm cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!  Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!"

I'd love for someone to snap, crackle, and pop that bastard's spinal column.


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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Knucklehead's Blog-Off: Round 3 Results

We're getting right down to the ol' nitty-gritty,
And at times, as we've seen, it just ain't always pretty.
Round three saw five bloggers jump into the fray,
But as Blog-Off rules state, two must now go away.

The first to depart is a fellow named Fred,
His dog wrote his entry, or so the dog said.
"Was it a satire?" pondered some readers,
Well no, it was not, as the dog had conceded.

The other to go is a lady named Eva,
Which might rhyme with "shave ya" or maybe with "leave ya."
Her post about dress codes in Swiss banks was great,
I covered my tattoos and piercings, post haste.

Coming up Sunday, we move to round four,
With three bloggers left, that's two less than before.
The finalists include dear sweet Cardiogirl,
If you haven't yet read her stuff, give her a whirl.

You'll also be hearing from a scoundrel named Mike,
A rule-bender, maybe, but one that we like.
The last of our entrants is Homemaker Man,
Who wrote his last post while he sat on the can.

The topic for the semis, you may have deduced,
Is a story in the style of the great Dr. Seuss.
Homemaker, Cardio, and Mike will get writin',
So come by on Sunday, it'll be quite excitin'.


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Monday, January 24, 2011

Sit By Me (A Parody)

One of my favorite Stephen King stories is "The Body", which was originally published in "Different Seasons" -- a collection of four novellas.  This story of four boys coming of age in the early 1960's was the source for the outstanding motion picture "Stand By Me".  I have to wonder, though, how this story might have been different had it taken place in 2011 . . . 

We had a garage that my father converted into a really nice game room.  My friends came over all the time, a group of about four or five steady guys and a handful of other douchebags who just hung around from time to time.  We'd let them come over when we were having a kick-ass Halo tournament or something.  Most of the time, though, it'd be a few of us chilling after school and on weekends playing Madden, Call of Duty, or Guitar Hero on my X-Box 360.

The set up in the garage was awesome.  Two comfortable-but-beat-up couches, a recliner, and eight or so throw pillows where we could flop down in front of the Sony 47-inch flat screen.  There was a fridge in the corner that mom always kept stocked with Dr. Pepper and Coke, and even a few bottles of Arrowhead water in case Billy Greer showed up.  We never knew why, but Billy hated soda.  Some dudes are just weird.

Teddy and Chris and I were in the garage on that Friday morning, bitching about school starting up soon and playing a two-on-one game of Madden '10.  I was the Jets, Teddy and Chris joined forces as the friggin' New England Patriots.  Mom had just brought in a fresh bowl of popcorn, and we'd helped ourselves to another round of sodas.  On the screen, my Jets had a first and goal at the Pats' three, ready to tie the game before halftime.  I called a safe running play up the middle, Sanchez handing off to Greene.

"FUMBLE!" shouted Chris.

"Our ball, our ball!  Gordie's Jets just screwed the pooch and drug their sorry asses to the sideline," Teddy howled and then gave out with his patented Teddy Duchamp laugh -- Eeeee-eee-eee, like the sirens in True Crime: Streets of L.A.  Teddy was a strange kid, no question.  He was almost thirteen like the rest of us, but his thick glasses and the ridiculous plaid shirts he always wore made him look like someone's grandfather.  Teddy lived with his mom and a seemingly endless parade of "step-dads" although no one could remember him talking about his mom actually getting remarried.  Every now and then she'd hook up with some asshole who'd try to "teach that punk Teddy some manners" and smack him around a bit.  Teddy would take off and spend the night at my house, or maybe over at Chris's, until things cooled down or, more likely, his mom sent the bastard packing.

He was the dumbest guy we hung around with, I guess, and crazy.  He'd do the craziest things you could think of without even thinking twice about it.  Like when everyone and their brother thought it was cool to put Mentos in a bottle of soda and watch it erupt all over the place, Teddy had to take it a step further.  We were in his living room watching Jackass: The Movie and without any warning he went to the kitchen and got a two-liter of Coke and a pack of Mentos.  He brought it all into the living room and told us he was going to drop in the candy and chug the soda like you'd shotgun a beer.  Sure enough, he wrapped his lips around the bottle opening, and before anyone really knew what was happening, Coke was spurting out of Teddy's nose and the corners of his mouth, basically spraying everywhere.  And you know what Numb-nuts did?  He gripped the bottle tighter and kept gagging and leaking all over the place. Damn fool nearly drowned himself.  When his step-dad-of-the-month got home and saw the living room carpet, Teddy got an ass-whipping for his trouble.  This time, his mother was fine with it.

"First down, Patriots, eeee-eee-eee!"

"Shit," I said, as my defense took the field.  There was only about a minute left in the first half, so Teddy and Chris didn't have much of a chance to capitalize on the Greene fumble.  They tried a couple of desperation passes without any success and the half ended with me still down by seven.  My cell phone beeped with a text message.


I hit the button to open the garage door and as it rumbled up, Vern Tessio, one of the other regulars, bounced in.  He was sweating like a pig, his Green Day t-shirt completely soaked and his hair matted down like he'd just stepped out of the shower.

"Holy crap, guys, wait'll you hear this."

"Hear what?" I asked.

"Lemme get my breath.  I ran all the way from my house."

"I ran, I ran so far a-waaaaaaay," Teddy sang out.  We looked at him like he was nuts.

"What the hell song is that?" asked Chris.

"I Ran.  Flock of Seagulls?"  said Teddy.

"Who are the Flock of Seagulls?" I asked.

"Eighties band, lead singer had a weird hair-do that looked like a bird."

"Never heard of them."

"My mom loves that shit," said Teddy.

"Uh, excuse me, guys," said Vern.  "You wanna hear this or what?"

"Sorry Vern," said Chris.  "Go ahead."

"Can you guys camp out tonight?"  Vern was looking at us with anticipation.  See, Vern was kind of new to the neighborhood, he'd only lived here about a year or so.  His family moved to Castle Rock from somewhere in the mid-west, Illinois or Indiana, I think.  Vern's family didn't have much money, so he didn't grow up with video games or electronic gadgets.  In fact, the rest of us thought it was a damn miracle that his folks broke down and bought him his piece of crap Nokia cell phone.  He was always making lame suggestions like "Let's go out and play some Wiffle Ball," whatever that is, or "What do you guys think about riding bikes down to the river and doing a little fishing?"  Right.  When we've got X-Box 360 and all the snacks we can eat, right here in my garage?  I don't think so, pal.

"Camp out?" said Chris.  "You mean like in an RV or something?"

"No, dumbass, we'll get some sleeping bags and camp out under the stars."

"I'm gonna have to pass," said Teddy.  "I can't sleep without my memory foam mattress and pillow."

"Yeah, Vern, I don't think so either," I said.  "I'm allergic to bug bites."

Seriously, if I asked my folks if I could take a sleeping bag, which I don't even own in the first place, and sleep outside all night, they'd probably have a collective brain aneurysm.  My father's idea of roughing it is staying in a hotel that doesn't offer 24-hour room service.  Vern looked disappointed, but what are you gonna do?

"Okay, time for the second half kickoff," said Chris.

Vern stood behind us and watched as I guided Jets' kick returner Brad Smith through the Patriots' coverage team, scoring an amazing 97-yard touchdown to tie the game.

Right in the middle of my celebratory touchdown dance, Vern Tessio said: "You guys want to go see a dead body?"

Everybody stopped.  Chris, Teddy and I all looked at each other, absorbing the impact of what Vern had just said.


We handed Vern a controller, he shrugged his shoulders and joined in the game.

Round three of Knucklehead's Blog-Off 2011 continues through Wednesday this week.  For links to the contestants' entries and the voting ballot, see the sidebar to your right.


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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Knucklehead's Blog-Off Round 3: Satire

And we're back for round three of Knucklehead's Blog-Off 2011!  The field is down to five, and this week we'll be saying goodbye to two more contestants.  Next week we'll have the semi-finals, where we determine who'll make it through to the much-anticipated finale.

But first things first.

This week's topic is "Satire on a Current Event."  Our Final Five will choose a recent news story, celebrity, or other item of interest and skewer it in their own inimitable fashions.  Click on the links below to read their entries, and then journey back here to Knucklehead! and cast your vote over in the sidebar.  Voting ends at 6:00 Pacific on Wednesday the 26th.

Here's the linkage:

The Fred Effect
Musings From the Big Pink
Too Many Mornings
Wrestling With Retirement

Good luck, contestants!


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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Saving Private Raggedy Andy

"Okay, runts, get off the field. We got a buncha guys comin' to play ball," said Dave Brooks, a 16 year-old baseball star at the local high school. A big kid.

"Why don't you make us?" threatened Mike the Whip. Mike was fearless. Unfortunately, he was also ten.

"Yeah, okay, right." said Dave. He was pretty cool, and more tolerant of little kids than most of his peers. He had seven younger brothers and sisters, so that helped. "You can watch if you want, but it's gonna be mostly guys from the high school team. You'd just strike out anyway, right?"

"That sucks," said Robbie. "We were here first."

"I'll pitch to you guys tomorrow, how 'bout that?" offered Dave.

"I guess," I said.

Robbie, Mike the Whip and I headed off the field. Sweaty, pissed off, and now bored.

"Hey, let's go check out the factory," said Robbie.

Back in the 50's, the Knickerbocker Toy Factory was the center of the doll-and-stuffed-animal universe. Located in my hometown, right behind the ball field, Knickerbocker was the birthplace of teddy bears, cuddly stuffed dogs, and of course, their trademark Raggedy Anns and Andys. So beloved were the dolls that kids in the neighborhood would periodically check the trash dumpsters behind the factory, hoping to adopt a “factory-second” reject with a crooked eye or a slightly torn belly. Knickerbocker would never send out a defective doll, of course, but Second Hand Andy could surely find a home somewhere.

Joy was joy, it didn't have to be fancy or expensive.

For twenty years, the Knickerbocker Toy Factory served as a modern-day North Pole, with its 200 or so employees functioning as hard-working elves, providing hand-stitched companions for children of that generation. To my parents, my aunts and uncles, Raggedy Ann and Andy were cultural icons.

But times changed.

Along came the 70's and with this new decade came the invasion of the video games. My generation ditched our dolls in favor of Atari systems, parked our Tonka Trucks and clicked on our spiffy hand-held Coleco football games.

The Knickerbocker factory closed down. The building remained, but the only inhabitants were the cloth-and-yarn ghosts of Christmases that never came. All that was left was an empty shell, abandoned and alone, left to gather dust.

Until that summer morning when Robbie, Mike the Whip and I declared war on it.

We snuck in through the delivery bay, and invaded the abandoned Knickerbocker warehouse. Illuminated only by indirect sunlight and smelling vaguely of mildew and wet cardboard, the room was a battleground, ours to conquer. We surveyed the terrain. Bare light bulbs in sockets on the ceiling. Boxes with the faded Knickerbocker logo, half full of dusty buttons and faded yarn. A stack of rotting wooden pallets. Broken cinder blocks piled in the corner.

We’d stumbled upon a makeshift ammunition bunker.

It was Mike the Whip who thought of it first.

"Ya dare me to take out one of the light bulbs with a cinder block?"

Of course we dared him.

Mike picked up a softball-sized hunk of rock, pulled the imaginary pin, and hurled the block-grenade upward, shattering a bulb and thunking down on the floor.

"Awright, I'm next," I said. I picked up a chunk. Reared back. Missed. Dammit.

"Hey, maybe if we stack some pallets and stand on 'em, it'll be easier," suggested Robbie.

"You guys are pussies. I threw mine from the ground."

"Just shut up and help us, Mike."

For the next ten minutes, it was "bombs away".

Pop! Light bulb.

Bam! Floor.

Flash Pop! Light bulb.

Ka-thunk! Floor.

When our arsenal started running low, I hopped down to retrieve the rocks for another round while Robbie and Mike continued their assault upon the light brigade.

As I walked toward the stones scattered in the "landing zone", I remember thinking, Ya know, this might be a little dangerous. I turned around, intending to yell, "Hey, you guys, stop for a minute! I'm getting more rocks!"

I made it to "Hey, you g -"


I was on the ground, head throbbing, my face, shirt, and the floor around me covered in blood.

"Shit, Robbie! You hit him!"

"I dint mean it! I dint even see him over there!"

Panicked by the bloody carnage, they each took an arm and stood me up, and headed toward my house. We got the attention of the high school guys on the baseball field.

"Holy crap, guys, hold up! That kid's bleeding to death!"

A couple of the teenagers came running over to help. Dave Brooks scooped me up and carried me to my house. In the distance, I saw my mom sitting on our front porch. I'd imagine her thoughts were something along the line of, "Poor idiot kid, cracked his head open."

As we got closer, and she saw that it was HER idiot kid, she flipped out.


"Calm down, ma'am, we got him. Why don't you go get a rag or something?" said Dave, as he set me down on the porch steps.

Mom, however, had already bolted into the house, and practically tore the screen door off when she returned with a wet towel. She was completely falling apart. Amazing how four years of nursing school seems to vanish when your kid is the patient. The cut was only a half-inch or so long, but it was deep. I kept the towel on my head as Mom flung me into the car and burned rubber, off to Somerset Hospital. Along the way, she debriefed me on the cause of my battle wound.

There's nothing quite like the look on a mother's face at that precise moment when she realizes she's raised a dipshit.

Mom hustled me into the emergency room, checked in, and we waited for my turn with the doctor. I noticed a girl, about five years old, who had obviously been crying. She was sitting in a wheelchair with her leg elevated and packed in ice. A broken leg, perhaps, or maybe a badly sprained ankle. She was being comforted by a well-traveled Raggedy Ann.

One of the last hand-me-down refugees from the Knickerbocker Toy Factory.

Still somewhat in a daze, and my vision blurry, I looked Raggedy Ann squarely in the buttonish eyes.

I swear, she winked at me.



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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Knucklehead's Blog-Off: Round 2 Results

The voting for Knucklehead's Blog-Off 2011 is now complete, and we must say goodbye to two more contestants.  Despite their solid entries in the "Observational Humor" category, Glitter Frog and If I Were God failed to accumulate enough votes to remain in the competition.  It's a sad day indeed.

Well, for those two.  For the other five, this is nothing but great news.  But before you start gloating about it, you'll want to get to work on your posts for Round Three, which are going to be "Satire on a Current Event."  Our Final Five will choose a recent news story, celebrity, or event and give it a humorous spin.  I'll tell you right now that any posts involving the word "Bieber" will be automatically disqualified (not really, but it's worth thinking about).

Round Three entries will be posted on the contestants' blogs (and linked to from here) on Sunday, January 23rd at 10:00 AM Pacific Time.  The remaining bloggers are:

The Fred Effect
Musings From the Big Pink
Too Many Mornings
Wrestling With Retirement

Good luck!


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Monday, January 17, 2011

Feet of Strength

In case you don't have access to ESPN, or aren't a football fan, I'm here to inform you that the trash-talkin' New York Jets gave Tom "Marcia" Brady and the New England Patriots a good ol' fashioned beat down in the playoffs on Sunday.  I could go on at length about this, but I won't.  Instead, here are a few action shots for you to enjoy.  Well, not YOU, Sully and Candy, but other people.

LT scores the game's first TD

"Here, take the stupid ball, just don't hurt me!"

"If I catches him, I's gonna eats him," says number 75.

Santonio Holmes's amazing catch gives the Jets a 10-point lead

"If they keep tackling me, I'm gonna take my ball and go home."

"You can take that 45-3 and shove it!"

"Lord Vader, you will find the young Skywalker and bring him to me."

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Knucklehead's Blog-Off Round 2: Observational Humor

And we're back for round two of Knucklehead's Blog-Off 2011!  This week's topic is observational humor, where each of the remaining bloggers will write about a bit of absurdity that exists in the world around us.  Maybe they'll have an explanation for why it says "Do Not Eat" on a packet that comes in a pair of shoes, or perhaps they'll pose a theory on why Wednesday is called "Hump Day" when most people don't get around to it until the weekend.

Anyway, click the links below to read the contestants' entries and then return here to vote over in my side bar.  Voting ends at 6:00PM, Wednesday, January 19th.  Once again, the bottom two will be eliminated.

Here's the links:

The Fred Effect
Glitter Frog
If I Were God
Musings From the Big Pink
Too Many Mornings
Wrestling With Retirement

Interestingly, two of this week's entries involve public restrooms.  I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but it's probably not good.

Anyway, good luck, bloggers!


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Thursday, January 13, 2011

How Much Does a Bat Cost?

Good news for all of you out there on death row, it seems that America's execution rate is dropping due to a shortage of sodium thiopental, one of the drugs administered during lethal injections.  According to the Death Penalty Information Center ("Hello, this is the Grim Reaper, how may we kill you today?"), executions decreased twelve percent in 2010.  Texas of course led the nation with seventeen state-sanctioned whackings, followed by Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and a first time member of the Execution Club, Alaska who sentenced two whale poachers to death-by-freezing.

According to Richard Dieter, the DPIC's executive director, "Whether it's concerns about the high costs of the death penalty at a time when budgets are being slashed, the risks of executing the innocent, unfairness, or other reasons, the nation continued to move away from the death penalty."

Executions were postponed or canceled in five states due to the sodium thiopental shortage, leading disgruntled inmates to complain about the inconvenience of having to adjust their personal calendars accordingly.  Convicted murderer/rapist William Michael "The Richmond Ripper" McFarland said, "Ya just can't count on the prison system for anything these days.  First, they go and drop the Discovery Channel from the cable programming, then they change from Coke to Pepsi in the cafeteria, and now my Goddamn execution gets canceled?  I'd already sent out the invitations and hired a DJ.  Someone better reimburse me for the tuxedo rental, or I'm liable to lose my temper.  And who knows what that could lead to, ya know?"

Since everyone seems to be overlooking the obvious here, I may as well ask the question myself.  If sodium thipental is so dang expensive, why don't we come up with a cheaper way of executing these scumbags?  Murderers don't seem to have a problem financing their operation, even those who don't have a huge sum of money left over from their career in the NFL, royalties from Hertz Rental Car commercials, and from appearing in the movie The Naked Gun.  If serial killers can finance their brutality on the cheap, why shouldn't the government?  Even if we still want to use lethal injections, who says it has to be sodium thipental in the syringe?  Why not use plain ol' gasoline?  I'm sure a healthy dose of Chevron super unleaded in the bloodstream would do the trick. 

Here's another idea.  What about arranging an execution so the killer dies by whatever method he used to murder his victims?  Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, fifty-seven stab wounds and defiling of the corpse for fifty-seven stab wounds, etc., etc.  Knives are cheap, you can get a complete set for $29.95 by calling 1-800-44-GINSU and if you act now, you'll get a second set absolutely free.  That's much cheaper than sodium whatever-it-is and twice the fun.

Whatever it takes, we need to reverse this downward trend and get the execution rate back up where it belongs.

The folks in Texas are getting antsy.


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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Knucklehead's Blog-Off: Round 1 Results

The results are in, and it looks like CardiogirlToo Many Mornings, and Musings From the Big Pink have established themselves as the early favorites.  Sadly, though, we must say goodbye to our bottom two (the rules require it, otherwise this thing would go on forever).  It is with a heavy heart and a soggy box of Kleenex that we bid a fond adieu to Quirkyloon and Candy's Daily Dandy.  It's nothing personal, ladies (at least I don't think it is, but then again, you'd probably have to ask the voting public).  I, for one, still find your blogs entertaining and I hope you've picked up a couple new readers through our Blog-Off here.

Moving right along, Round Two will commence on Sunday, January 16th.  The next category will be "Observational Humor" so you'll want to stop by to check out our remaining bloggers' interpretation of what exactly that means.  The survivors are:

The Fred Effect
Glitter Frog
If I Were God
Musings From the Big Pink
Too Many Mornings
Wrestling With Retirement

Good luck!


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Monday, January 10, 2011

What Ever Happened To . . . Speed Racer?

By the time Speed Racer was five years old, he was already an accomplished go-kart racer.  He also had quite the knack for making exquisite pottery, however, that was a skill that was looked upon with disdain by his father Pops Racer.  When Speed turned fourteen, to appease his dad, he sold his potter's wheel and kiln in order to purchase a kit for a kick-ass Ferrari 250 Testarossa.

Speed joined the Ameri-National Racing Circuit in 1988 at the age of eighteen.  Over the next fifteen years, under the guidance of his crew chief Sparky and with the able assistance of pit crew members Spritle and his chimpanzee Chim-Chim, Speed won twelve circuit championships and became known as one of the great racers of all time.  His Ferrari, also known as the Mach Five, was equipped with all sorts of special gadgets, including auto jacks, cutter blades, belt tires, and the much-admired "frogger mode" which allowed the Mach Five to leap over obstacles and opposing drivers.  These modifications, while not specifically banned by the ANRC, fell within a certain "gray area" and as a result, the other race teams had little respect for Speed and often made a point of trying to take him out of races with aggressive driving or by kidnapping his girlfriend Trixie.  Whatever worked.

By 2003, Speed had become bored with the ANRC, and was quoted in Auto Racing Digest saying, "I think I've achieved all I can at this level.  I mean, I've won twelve straight titles, set seventeen track records, what else is there to prove?  I think Sparky and I, and the rest of the Racer Motors team, need to find out what we can do on a bigger stage."

So in 2004, Speed Racer joined the NASCAR circuit, taking over the Hendrick Motorsports #5 car.  Owner Rick Hendrick said at the time,  "We're thrilled to have Speed Racer aboard.  We've been aware of his career for several years now, and having a kid with this kind of talent is something we're all excited about.  We're going to let him stick with Sparky as his crew chief and we look forward to seeing what both of them can do in the Nextel Cup (now Sprint Cup) Series."

Speed takes out the field at Daytona
As it turned out, Speed wasn't quite as talented as everyone at Hendrick had been led to believe.  Since the Mach Five did not meet any of the specifications required by NASCAR, Speed had to drive one of Hendrick's Chevys and this presented some problems.  Speed had come to depend on the Mach Five's special features to get out of trouble on the race track, and as a result, his driving skills weren't up to par with the other drivers.  No longer able to press a button and vault over the opposition, Speed caused numerous wrecks, and gained a reputation as a dangerously aggressive driver.

According to NASCAR veteran Mark Martin, "This guy is gonna kill somebody if he doesn't get his act together.  Don't misunderstand, I like the kid, but where did he learn to drive a race car?  He's hitting everything out there -- other cars, the wall, heck, at Dover he took out two concession stands and an RV.  He's gonna have to figure this out pretty quick or there's gonna be some problems."

Speed crashes at Talladega, 2004
During the 2004 Nextel Cup season, Speed did not finish 33 of the 36 races.  Twenty of his DNF's were due to wrecks, twelve were caused by engine failure, and in one race Speed fell thirty laps behind and simply drove the #5 car off the track mid-race and went to Burger King.

Losing wasn't a concept that Speed and Sparky were familiar with, nor was it something they were willing to accept.  Their frustration came to a head at the 2005 Daytona 500, when Sparky decided to modify Speed's #5 car with all the old Mach Five accoutrements.  Cutter blades, frogger mode, and as a new touch, twin rocket launchers mounted under the splitter on the front end.  Speed kept the Kellogg's car in the top ten for most of the afternoon, and late in the race he vaulted over Tony Stewart's Home Depot Chevrolet and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s #8 Budweiser car to take over second place.  Late in the race, he made his move.

Johnson escapes after Speed's missile hits the 48 car.
With ten laps to go in the race, Speed's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson had the lead but Speed closed the gap quickly.  The two drivers battled it out with Speed threatening but unable to get by the savvy Johnson.  When the white flag came out signaling the final lap, Speed dropped back about six car lengths and activated the rocket launcher.  As Johnson entered turn two, his #48 Lowe's Chevrolet was struck by a rocket, causing the rear end of the vehicle to burst into flame.  Johnson managed to escape the vehicle without injury, but his chance of victory had gone up in smoke.  Speed Racer took the checkered flag but was immediately disqualified and permanently banned from NASCAR.  Not only that, when Speed pulled into his pit stall after the race, he was met by Jimmie Johnson's entire pit crew who beat the shit out of him with an assortment of lug wrenches and power tools, removed both of Speed's nipples via air-powered impact wrench, and Johnson himself cracked Speed in the jaw with a rubber mallet normally used to repair dented fenders.  Later, in the emergency room, doctors removed eight lug nuts from Speed's rectal cavity.

He was blackballed by the entire racing community.

In 2010, ESPN featured Speed Racer on an installment of their investigative series "Outside the Lines".  Here is a partial transcript of Bob Ley's interview with the beleaguered driver: 

Bob Ley: Speed, what events led to the unfortunate incident at the 2005 Daytona 500?

Speed Racer: It was a lot of things, but mostly an inability to cope with failure.  I grew up in the shadow of my brother Rex, but in spite of that I had a lot of success early on.  NASCAR was supposed to be a chance for me to blossom, and really make a name for myself.  But I lost, I lost a lot.  Without the Mach Five, I was nothing.  It was hard to handle.

Bob Ley:  NASCAR is a big step for any driver, no one has success immediately.  Most young drivers take time to get acclimated to the higher level of competition.  It seemed like you and your team expected to win right away, and when you didn't, you resorted to -- for lack of a better word -- cheating.

Speed Racer: What, like Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus never cheated?  Knaus got suspended for four races not too long ago for illegal modifications to the 48 car.  Everybody tries to get an edge.

Bob Ley:  Knaus was suspended because the 48 car didn't meet the specs in a post-race inspection.  That's a little bit different than having rocket launchers installed, wouldn't you say?[1]

Speed Racer: You say tomato . . .

In July 2010, Speed Racer moved to Houston and opened a car dealership called Racer Hyundai.  His wife Trixie works in sales, and Sparky manages the parts department.

[1] For the record, Chad Knaus himself never complained about Speed's tactics.  In fact, not too long after the 2005 Daytona incident, Knaus was seen trying to attach similar rocket launchers to the 48 car.  Owner Rick Hendrick talked him out of it.

Knucklehead's Blog-Off 2011 Round One voting continues through Wednesday, January 12th.  Click here for details, and cast your vote over in my sidebar.  Thanks!


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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Knucklehead's Blog-Off Round 1: Childhood Stories

Just for a bit of fun, and to shine a light on some of the best humor blogs out there right now, I'll be hosting a five-week Blog-Off competition.  Every Sunday, from January 9th through February 6th, our contestants will post their entry and you, the readers, will be asked to vote for your favorite (the ballot is displayed on my sidebar here at Knucklehead!).  Posts go up on Sundays, and the voting each week ends Wednesday mornings.  Each round will feature a different writing genre, to recognize cleverness and versatility.  Please take some time to read our entries and vote for your favorite!

The topic for Round One is Childhood Stories, where each blogger will write a semi-true tale from their childhood.  Here are the contestants, and the link to their entries:

Candy's Daily Dandy
The Fred Effect
Glitter Frog
If I Were God
Musings From the Big Pink
Too Many Mornings
Wrestling With Retirement

After you've checked out their work, come back to Knucklehead! and vote over in my sidebar, no later than 6:00PM Pacific Time, Wednesday, January 12th.  The bottom TWO vote-getters will be eliminated, and results will be posted Wednesday evening.

Good luck, contestants!


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Thursday, January 6, 2011

I've Got a Name

Pregnancy causes all sorts of problems for expectant fathers.  A constantly complaining wife, late-night errands to the 7-Eleven in search of dill pickles and rocky road ice cream, sitting though Lamaze (French for "breathe, dammit, breathe!")  classes just to name a few.  The future mom also experiences some minor inconveniences, too insignificant to bother with here.  Suffice it to say that bringing a child into the world is a team effort requiring the active participation of both parents and in some unfortunate instances, a nagging mother-in-law.

Among the most important decisions a couple must make during the nine-month interval between passionate sweaty romance and a goopy bundle of joy is selecting a name to bestow upon their young one.  As proven by Frank and Mrs. Zappa, who named two of their kids "Moon Unit" and "Dweezil", this is not a responsibility you should take lightly.

One option is to purchase a book of baby names.  You should definitely go this route if you are, among other things, very stupid.  This is because baby name books cost anywhere from eight to fifteen dollars and consist of names that you are familiar with already such as "Jason" and "Jennifer" just to name two.  If you wish to give your child a less common name, say, "Erassmuss" or "Strychnine", you are better off putting him up for adoption to save him from a lifetime of ridicule and schoolyard beatings. 

If for some reason you have difficulty developing your own list of potential kid monikers, you might want to consult a cheaper reference source: your phone book.  This is also basically a list of names, and it is delivered to your home completely free of charge.  When choosing a name from the phone book make sure to use the white pages only.  Otherwise, years down the road, a detailed psychologist's report may be submitted as a defense exhibit in the murder trial of your son, Pizza Hut Wilson.

If you happen to have a last name that is also an actual word, you will have to exercise extreme caution when naming your baby.  For example, during my lifetime I've met folks with names like -- and I'm not making these up -- Candy Barrs, Crystal Shanda Lear, and Bill Folds.  Name your kid something like that, and you should not be surprised if one night he stabs you in your sleep.

My friend Mike would hurt himself if he tried this.
Common last names can also cause problems if you're not careful.  A young man named Paul Washington will have no trouble getting through life without being teased.  Name that same kid George, though, and it's a different story altogether.  I work with a guy whose actual name is Michael Jordan.  If he had a dime for every time he's heard, "You're much shorter than I thought you'd be" or "do you play basketball?" we could both retire quite comfortably.  Some idiots even ask him if his parents named him Michael because they were Chicago Bulls fans.  My friend Mike was born in 1961.  Jordan the basketball star was born in 1963 and the Chicago Bulls franchise was founded in '66.  So Mike's parents can't be faulted for sticking him with that name, as there's no way they could've known it would be a source of frustration for him later.  Besides that, they're both Lakers fans.  Just keep this in mind:  Last names like Edison, Einstein, Lincoln and Jefferson come with certain restrictions when naming your child.

Another thing, if you're not sure about the spelling of a common name, don't guess.  I've known kids named "Micheal" and "Danial", and I'm sure this was due to ignorance, not creativity.

And please, people, resist the temptation to give your child a normal name with a ridiculous alternate spelling.  Your daughter Steffanny and your son Phrederrik will not only spend their entire lives spelling out those ridiculous handles for everyone, there's no chance in hell they'll be able to find a license plate for their bicycles.  Keep it simple.

Stephanie and Frederick will thank you for it later.


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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Knucklehead's Blog-Off 2011!

Welcome to Knucklehead's Blog-Off 2011, where humor bloggers from across cyberspace compete to determine this year's Blog-Off champion!

The competition begins on Sunday, January 9th, when the contestants will post their entries according to official Knucklehead guidelines.  I'll link to their blogs from this site so you can check out their work, and then come back here to vote in the Knucklehead sidebar.  Voting will run from Sunday through Wednesday, with the results posted each Thursday.

We'll start with eight nine contestants (more on these folks later), and the competition will consist of five rounds.  After each of the first two three rounds, the two lowest vote-getters will be eliminated.  From that point on, only the single lowest vote-getter will get the boot until we reach the finals.  If you've ever watched American Idol (and who hasn't?) you'll pick up the idea pretty quickly.

Here are the bloggers who will be vying for the coveted title of Knucklehead's Blog-Off 2011 Champion: 

Our defending champ, Mike W-J, author of the blog Too Many Mornings  

The Fred Effect, written by a guy named (duh) Fred

The lovely and talented Quirkyloon 

If I Were God, written by someone who is admittedly NOT God (but aspires to be)

Candy, from Candy's Daily Dandy . . . the "hot chick" of the competition 

Eva Gallant, author of Wrestling With Retirement 

Glitter Frog, with our good friend Vicki 

Last year's surprise Honorable Mention (surprising because he wasn't even entered in the contest), Homemaker Man and his wonder-blog entitled Musings From the Big Pink

And we have a late entry!  Give it up for Cardio Girl!

For Round One, they'll all be writing about a story from their childhood.  On Sunday, I'll link to them from here and as I mentioned before, you'll be asked to visit their sites and then come back here to vote.

Good luck to everyone!


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