Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Once Again, I Am Hoping That Having Memorized Vast Amounts Of Useless Trivia Will Not Have Been In Vain

[Portions of this appeared elsewhere, in three separate past entries. Those bits are pertinent to the overall subject matter today, though, so I'm weaving them into this narrative. If you think you've read some of this before, you aren't necessarily going insane.]

It is 7:37pm on Tuesday. I am waiting to take the on-line test to qualify for Jeopardy. It is supposed to start at 8 o'clock. I logged in to the test site at 7:32, and since I have nothing better to do while waiting, I'm writing.

This will be my third attempt to become a Jeopardy contestant.

Usually, in order to be picked for a regional qualifier, you go to their website and enter your name into a lottery of sorts. They only have so many spots and they usually get way more applications for those spots than they have room for. I had registered a number of times before, but had never been lucky enough to be chosen. This particular time, perhaps eight years ago, I got a call telling me that I was invited.

I was stoked! I really am quite good at the game; better than most anyone I'm acquainted with. I know that if I get onto the show, I won't embarrass myself. I may not win, but I won't self-destruct in front of a national audience. I have some holes in my game, but I also have specialized knowledge of some fairly arcane trivia. I think I might have a better than average shot at winning a game or two.

I know that the pressure won't get to me for two very good reasons:

1) Unlike the great majority of human beings, I actually like speaking in public. My job is, to some degree, made up of spoken performance. I don't fear a microphone.

2) I was on a game show once before and I did OK. I didn't win, but it was because of a lack of knowledge concerning one particular category, not because of overall dumbness or stage fright. The name of the show was Think Twice and it was a production of PBS. Yes, a PBS game show. I actually found a picture of it on-line (fortunately for you, not one with me in it) and it is below.

I have a tape of that show, but I can't bear to watch it. I don't like watching myself on film. I never look as good as I think I look in my mind.

The show ran for thirteen weeks, so you probably never heard of it. Most people didn't hear of it; that's why it ran only thirteen weeks. It aired about twelve years ago.

The premise, and thus the title, was that every part of the show either took two answers or had to be completed by two people in tandem. I had a partner (a former losing Jeopardy contestant, by the way) and she was about on the same level as myself. She was assigned to me on the date of taping.

I'll give you an example of the format. The host, Monteria Ivey, would ask a question like "What two federal holidays occur during the month of January?", and then the first person to ring in would say, perhaps, "Martin Luther King Day". Then, it would be up to that person's partner to supply the second half of the answer, New Years Day. If the partner could not supply the answer, the other team had a chance to steal the points by answering it.

Now, that was pretty straightforward and fun, and I think if the show had ONLY done that, it might have been a success. However, for some ungodly reason, the producers decided to have three different types of rounds in the show, and the other two rounds were much harder for the audience to grasp. I won't go into them here. Suffice to say that my team led throughout the show, until the final question on the final round, which concerned country music.

I knew dick about country music. I still don't know much. However, I know who Kitty Wells was. I had never heard of her then. I'll never forget her now.

(MY WIFE was in the studio audience. When they announced the category as country music, she turned to her friend, with a crestfallen look, and said, "Jim doesn't know anything about country music...", and she was right.)

So, we finished second. I received a whole bunch of neat gift certificates, most of which we used to do our Christmas shopping that year.

Getting back to the other show...

I took that Jeopardy test and it was hard but not overwhelming. They give you 50 questions and you need (if memory serves) 38 correct to qualify for the "personality" interview. That's where they make sure you aren't a psycho, have a face that won't traumatize little children, and you will be able to talk in more than a mumble when Alex Trebek asks you to tell him why you were married on February 29th.

By my best estimate, I had either 37 or 38 correct. They don't tell you your score, by the way. They just tell you whether you passed or failed. I failed, but I'm almost positive I missed it by one damned answer. And it was a fairly easy answer, too. I thought about this particular question afterward and I realized that I probably out-thought myself on it. I thought the obvious answer was too obvious, you know? So I put down something else that sounded reasonable, but looking back I'm sure the obvious answer was the right one.


Fast forward to about two years ago now. I registered for, and took, the on-line version of the test. If you pass (again, they don't tell you if you passed or failed) then you might get called up to take part in a live version of the test. I never got called, so I don't know if I passed or failed. I think I was on the borderline again.

Now, I'm taking the test again - in about 5 minutes, if the clock here is correct. It should take about 10 minutes, after which I'll let you know how I think I did. Wish me luck.


While you're waiting, I can tell you that I passed the test for another game show altogether, but never got on the show. That was Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

The audition itself was a simple process. We were checked in by staff and then handed a sealed envelope containing the written test. After being seated, we were given some simple instructions concerning the filling out of the answers on a separate form and then we were allowed to open the envelopes and begin the test.

The test consisted of thirty questions, multiple choice, and we were given ten minutes to complete it. In the interest of fairness to ABC, as well as future contestants, I won’t give you any of the actual questions. However, they were mostly of this caliber:

Which of the following states was the last to join the union?

A – North Carolina
B – Vermont
C – Alaska
D – Utah

I don’t think it was a tremendously hard test. There were a couple of questions I had to take a wild stab at, but I knew for sure, by the time we had to turn in the papers, that I had at least 25 out of 30 correct. Of course, I assume the tests change from day to day, so perhaps I lucked into one that matched my strengths.

The tests were very quickly graded and then we were told which of us should stay for an interview and which should go home. We had been given numbers with our tests. I was number 12. They called out the numbers of those who passed the test:

“193... 137... 126... 12...”

Yes! I passed the written test!

Now it was on to the personality interview, wherein someone would decide if I was pleasingly personable enough to make a national television audience root for me. Or perhaps decide that I was a blowhard psychopath.

Turns out they thought I might have been a blowhard psychopath. I received this postcard from the production staff about two weeks after my trip to New York.

I don’t know for sure what happened. Here's some conjecture.

I dressed nicely. The instructions I received from ABC, concerning the testing, called for casual dress. So, I wore a nice pink taffeta – nothing too fancy. No, I wore a navy polo, off-white chinos, black belt – casual, but not I'm-a-meth-freak-in-my-spare-time casual. I got a haircut about a week before the test, so I’d be neat but not look like I just came from the barbershop. I shaved that morning and trimmed my beard and sideburns. I cleaned my fingernails. I brushed my teeth and used mouthwash and checked my nose for hanging boogers just before going to the test site. In other words, I know I was presentable. That wasn’t the problem.

As I said, I passed the written exam. It was thirty questions, multiple choice, with a ten-minute time limit. Nothing too hard. The general tenor of the questions was as follows:

What do you use to drain your spaghetti after cooking?

A – A Colander

B – A Calendar

C – A Tennis Racket

D – Your Hands

Well, OK, it wasn’t quite that stupid, but it wasn’t MENSA stuff, either. A particularly bright ten-year-old would have had a decent shot at it. And – getting back to the personality thing - I didn’t stand up in the middle of the test and shout, “I came all the way to New York to take this fucking idiotic test? Why didn’t you just grab all the people off of the first short bus you saw passing by and save me the trouble?” I filled out the test paper as instructed and, in the approximately six minutes I had remaining after doing so, I re-checked my answers, making sure I hadn’t drooled on the form or anything else which might have been off-putting to the judges.

After being informed that I'd passed – I’d estimate that 1 in 8 of those tested did so – I had my picture taken. I smiled nicely. I was very pleased with the photo, too. I don’t think I photograph particularly well, but this one came out nicely. I looked reasonably intelligent, somewhat friendly, and I still had no hanging boogers. So, the picture wasn’t the problem.

Then it was on to the personality interview. From the results, you might think I had answered the interviewer’s questions in the following manner:

Interviewer: Hi, Jim! I’m Debbie.

Me: Debbie? Hah! Are you the one who did Dallas? Hah-hah!

Interviewer: What do you do for a living, Jim?

Me: I disembowel rabid weasels.

Interviewer: That must be interesting.

Me: Not if you’re the rabid weasel.

Interviewer: What’s the first thing you’ll do if you win a million dollars?

Me: Give it to Al-Qeada. Either that or I’ll rent out a roomful of whores and snort massive amounts of cocaine off of their asses until I die.

Interviewer: What sorts of hobbies do you enjoy, Jim?

Me: I thought I made that clear with my previous answer. Wow, you’re really thick!

Interviewer: Well, it’s been nice talking to you, Jim. We’ll let you know in a few weeks whether or not you’ll be placed in the contestant pool.

Me: Like I give a shit, sister. Hey, what are you doing later tonight? Would you mind if I snorted some cocaine off of your ass?

The interviewer’s questions really were like those above, but I didn’t give hideously inappropriate answers. I was nice. I was unthreatening. I thought I was at least fairly interesting.

Apparently, the producers thought otherwise. I don’t know. Maybe the swastika I painted on my forehead was a bit too much. I thought it was a nice homey touch, but you never can tell what’s going to turn some people off these days.

I’ve talked to a few other people who passed the written exam and who also were not invited to appear on the show. They are all nice people and they are all possessed of a higher-than-average intelligence. And I hope this isn’t too self-serving, but I think that’s the problem. I think the producers aren’t looking for the highly intelligent. I have a feeling that what they’re looking for are the reasonably intelligent – those who know how much two plus two is, but not necessarily what someone might do with that information - combined with the type of perky which I, unfortunately, am not.

Hey, it’s a TV show. I know that what they’re trying to do is appeal to the widest possible audience and just because they decided not to use me, I don’t need to feel like it’s some sort of personal insult. Luckily for me, as a voice-over talent, I work in a subjective business, so I know what it’s like to be rejected for no reason having to do with intelligence or talent or personality. Sometimes what you’ve got just isn’t what someone else is looking for. I’ve had ample opportunity to get used to being passed over and I know how to deal with it like an adult.

Stupid Poopy-Heads.


I think I did well on this latest go-round at qualifying for Jeopardy. I'd estimate I got 41 or 42 correct out of 50, and that should be good enough to qualify. We'll see if they call me for a live test. Until then, say a quiz-show-related prayer for me, please.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Suldog The Magnificent

I asked for it. You gave me the answers, to which I had to supply the questions. Without any further ado (or farther ado, or mother ado) here goes nothing (and I do mean nothing.)

Well, actually, just a bit of ado.

First, some of you aren't very good at telling time. Because I knew this wouldn't be tremendously easy to pull off, I set a deadline of 5pm eastern time. A few of you submitted your answers after that. I still love you, but you get no questions.

Second, in the spirit of full disclosure, I need it to be known that Suldog The Magnificent was ably assisted in this exercise by MY WIFE THE WONDROUS. While reading her the questions I invented, she immediately gave me two that were much better. Feel free to guess which are hers, but no prizes if you do.

Finally, one of your answers completely stymied both of us. Not that we didn't come up with something for that answer; it's just that none of what we came up with was even remotely good. More on that at the end.

And here we go. Your answers are given, and were questioned, in the order received (excluding the one that was a total stumper.)

A: Calfrope

Q: What do you get when you braid a whole bunch of young cows together?

A: Andouille

Q: What do the French call pig guts in a tube so that you don't start barfing the minute it's set on your plate?

(Alternate: Give the next phrase in the progression beginning with "And I", "And You", "And He"...)

A: Mozzarella

Q: What was the name of Barbarella's smelly sister?

A: Girdle

Q: What do you cook falpjacks on?

A: Double D-Cups

Q: Name the medical condition characterized by continuing spasmodic contractions of the diaphragm, and violent expulsions of air accompanied by "Hic!", that repeats several times per minute upon seeing an abundantly endowed woman.

A: Relativity

Q: What do you call a Christmas display that features little figurines of your own family?

A: Hypocrite

Q: What answer should you expect if you ask someone with a stereotypical Japanese accent about the part of a female hippo's anatomy that gives her great pleasure?

A: Obama

Q: What does Mississippi say when it's being excited by it's eastern neighbor?

A: My pink tutu.

Q: What will I try next if it turns out that my pink one-one is broken?

A: A-Rod, Joe Torre, The Arizona Cardinals, The City of Boston, and Annoyingly Boring.

Q: Name a baseball fraud, a baseball god, a football champ, a place currently damp, and a descriptive phrase for this entire exercise.

A: Flowerbed.

Q: Where do pansies sleep?

A: Wattle.

Q: How do tucks walk?

A: Fogey

Q: What comes after threegey?

A: Race City USA

Q: Where do a whole bunch of guys named Ray live?

A: Crematorium

Q: What do you call it when the government puts a temporary halt to the production of stuff to put in your coffee?

A: Dry red wine

Q: What does the farmer zinfandel drink?

A: Artsy-fartsy

Q: What did Mona Lisa and Whistler's Mother do after the baked bean supper?

A: Speed limit

Q: What's 55 if you see a cop, but non-existent otherwise?

A: Teapot

Q: If I was Orange Pekoe, what would I smoke before going to a Jimmy Buffett concert?

A: Feline

Q: Where do you have to stand in order to pay for your new cat?

And now, the stumper.

A: 42 Squared.

I'm not illiterate. I've read The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. So, sure, I could have said something having to do with 42 being the ultimate answer. However, this was an exercise in writing comedy, NOT an exercise in re-writing somebody else's comedy. Therefore, I didn't want to say...

Q: What is the ultimate answer to absolutely nothing?

I played with this...

Q: What is Jackie Robinson multiplied by Bill Clinton?

... but rejected it on the grounds of being too esoteric.

Meanwhile, MY WIFE struggled with the concept of a rather chesty woman getting her boobs stuck in a saltine box, but she couldn't quite get at the physics of the thing.

Puns were equally unwieldy.

Q: What does 42 become when you jump out at it and say "Boo!"?

In the end, I decided that I might just as well admit defeat. I'm used to it and it suits me well. If you can come up with something better, more power to you. By all means, leave your best in the comments. If it truly is better than any of the foregoing, you shall be anointed Gunga Din (or Gunga Dinness) For The Day.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Question Man

One of my favorite comedians was Steve Allen. Extremely quick-witted, with a wonderful sense of the absurd, he was the first host of “The Tonight Show”, and had his own starring vehicles on the networks and in syndication.

One of the bits he performed on a regular basis was called “The Question Man”. Patterned after the type of show wherein an expert on a subject would be given questions to answer, Allen reversed the formula to great comic effect. Instead of being given a question and supplying the answer, Allen would be given an answer and then supply the question. For instance, this:

A: Windowpane.

Q: What do you get if someone hits you over the head with a window?

Some of you will recognize that the routine was later re-worked by Johnny Carson. As Carnac The Magnificent, he would come on stage dressed as a mystic seer. Ed McMahon would hand Carnac a sealed envelope containing a question. Carnac would hold the envelope to his forehead, divine the answer to the question inside, and then announce it to the audience.


Carnac would then rip the envelope open with a flourish and read the question inside.

"What are you likely to become if you’re corn and you forget to wear a condom while having sex?"

(To be clear, I made up the foregoing examples. I think they’re pretty good, but I don’t want the estates of Carson and Allen suing me for defamation if they don’t think so.)

What is this leading up to? Simple. I’d like to give myself a writing challenge, and I want you to help me. Tomorrow, I’ll be The Question Man (or, if you wish, Suldog The Magnificent) and I’ll provide you with questions to fit your answers. Your job is to give me some answers.

In the comments section, please leave me one answer each. I will be back tomorrow with the best questions I can come up with to match your answers. All answers given by 5pm Eastern in the United States will receive a question. I ask only that you limit your answers to the English language and no more than three or four words. For instance...

A: A Shoe

Q: To what article of clothing might you say "Gesundheit!"


A: A Pair Of Shoes

Q: What do you call a person who babysits shoes?

But not...

A: Soon, with more better stuff.

Q: Considering every question is likely to be a very bad pun, what is just about the stupidest promise I could make?

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Lime Interview

A couple of days ago, my lovely internet buddy, Lime, was interviewed over at her place. At the end of the interview, she said...

"If any of you want to be interviewed you can either steal this list of questions or I will generate 5 original questions. Just let me know your preference."

To which I replied...

"Oh, Lime! You have to be aware of the fact that I can't pass up such a self-aggrandizing opportunity. Yes, please interview me. I'll do my best to answer your questions in a way that will make you immediately regret being so kind."

She sent me the questions, as promised, and here are my answers, as threatened.

1 - All sports as we know it have been banned. All sports equipment and factories for their manufacture have been destroyed. All the rulebooks have been burned. All professional, amateur, and children's leagues have been disbanded. Invent a new sport to capture the hearts of a nation. You cannot pay any professionals more than the average factory worker makes, men and women have to be able to compete in the same league, and children have to be the coaches and officials.

Thanks for tossing me a softball on the first question. It’s always nice to be able to ease into these sorts of things.

Well, as every child knows, the funniest thing in the world are farts. So, since children will be the coaches and officials, I'm inventing the NFL - the National Fartball League.

There isn't actually a "fartball", but it sounds funnier that way, so that's what I'm calling it. The rules are simple. The object of the game will be to advance from your end of the playing field to the opponent's goal. However, you can only run while you're farting. And it has to be a big blatting fart, too; no silent-but-deadlies. If, at any time, you move without emitting an audible blast of gas, then your opponents get to try to score.

Training regimens for the athletes will consist of eating huge buckets full of baked beans, cabbage, radishes, broccoli, and beer.

Before every game, the crowd will stand at attention and sing the league's theme song:

Beans, beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot
The more you toot, the better you feel
Let's eat beans at every meal!

You win a game of fartball by scoring more goals than your opponent, of course, but you can also get a TKO if they pass out from your stench. Most of the kids won't care who wins; they'll be laughing so hard they won't be able to keep score anyway. Oh, and you can ONLY fart. You get thrown out of the game if you actually poop yourself.

I know some people don't find farting to be hilariously funny, and they will not be amused. That's OK, though, because the folks who don't find farting to be hilariously funny usually don't much care for sports to begin with, so it doesn't matter if they like it or not.

Well, this is off to a ripping start! What's the next question?

2 - What is the most fun you've ever had with your clothes on?

I don't understand the question. Fun? Clothes on?

Actually, it was probably in a parking lot in Connecticut. MY WIFE and I were in Hartford, on a short vacation built around a visit to Mark Twain's house. We had to go to a store for a few items. There was this place called Waldbaum's, a sort of combination supermarket and pharmacy.

Well, they had this system for delivering groceries to the parking lot for their customers. Basically, shopping carts loaded with food and drugs came rolling out of the store and into the parking lot. Nobody was pushing them; they just appeared from some sort of aperture in the store wall.

This struck both of us as absurdly funny. We lived in Dorchester (a neighborhood in Boston) at the time, and Dorchester was a fairly high crime area. We imagined what would happen in Dorchester if shopping carts full of food and drugs came rolling out into a parking lot at regular intervals, unguarded and fairly much free for the taking. As successive shopping carts appeared, we were reduced to paroxysms of braying laughter, tears literally running down our faces, as we pictured our neighbors of the time hiding behind the parked cars, waiting to scoot out and make off with a cart or two each.

As with most things of this nature, you probably had to be there to truly appreciate it. One thing I do know for sure is that if I ever find myself homeless, I'm going to make every effort to get back to that Waldbaum's parking lot and I hope they'll still be using the same system.

3 - An evil mastermind is going to destroy the world unless you can stop him. You are armed with a spoon, a rubber chicken, a can of Aquanet, and a bucket of peanuts. What is your plan?

OK, here’s what I’d do. I’d invite him over for dinner. I’d grind up the peanuts and put them into everything, and hope he has a severe allergy. If that doesn’t work, after dinner I’ll ask him if he wants to have sex with me.

(I’m as hetero as they come [no pun intended] but if the fate of the world is at stake, I’m willing to make some sacrifices.)

If the shock of me asking him for sex doesn’t kill him, I have another plan. Before he arrives for dinner, I will have cut a hole in the rubber chicken and sprayed the carcass full of the Aquanet, then patched it up. When he strips naked, I’ll jam the rubber chicken up his ass, light a match, and throw it at him. That ought to do the trick. Now, you're probably wondering how I would survive the resultant blast. I'll be hiding behind the spoon. You might say that's ridiculous, but you didn't specify how big the spoon had to be.

If he doesn't have a peanut allergy, or isn't interested in gay sex, I'll just whack him over the head with the really big spoon. As a matter of fact, I should probably do that first. I might not feel like cooking that night (although missing out on the chance to shove a rubber chicken up someone's butt might leave me sad. It's not often you get that sort of an opportunity.)

4 - What is the worst job you've ever had, who do you think deserves to have to do it for the rest of their natural life, and why?

Dishwasher. For the why, here's the story. For the who, go here.

That wasn't very funny, even by my minimal standards. I wouldn't be much of a Christian if I wished that job on anyone, but if I have to give you an answer, I guess I'll go with the person who invented how they package CDs.

5 - When I get myself back up to Boston where are we going for that drink?

After the answers I’ve given you thus far, I’m grateful that you still think being seen in public with me is something you’d like.

I’ll take you to one of my favorite places in the entire world, The Pleasant CafĂ©.

It’s a real old-time restaurant/bar, in the Roslindale neighborhood of Boston, and they serve (in my very humble opinion) the best pizza in Boston. If you don’t like pizza, then I’d recommend the spaghetti with meat sauce. I’ve heard they have other good things on the menu, but in all my time going there, which is over 45 years now, I’ve never ordered anything but the pizza and the spaghetti with meat sauce. Since I’ve ordered nothing else for over 45 years, either those things are very good or I’m insane. It could be both. MY WIFE says that the shish-kebob is almost as good to wear as it is to eat.

I said I wanted to have a drink with you, though, right? I guess neither pizza nor spaghetti with meat sauce qualifies (unless you dump the spaghetti out of the bowl and pour the meat sauce into a mug, and I certainly qualify as one of those) but the joint is a bar, too, so you can grab a shot of Old Granddad (which I’m not, so far as I know) and slug it down. I know they have Pabst Blue Ribbon, if you like beer or aren't particular about your water. Coming from Pennsylvania, you might like to stick with Rolling Rock. If you order something frou-frou, like an apple martini, I'll have to pretend I don't know you. Of course, by the time we get there, you might be pretending that you don't know me, which I can understand, and, as long as I have my pizza and spaghetti with meat sauce, I don't care.

And that's that. This has certainly been a pleasure, but I won't go out on a limb and say for who. I expect it was at least one of us.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

He liked you just the way you are.

Some of you already know how I feel concerning the late childrens television host, Fred Rogers, a.k.a. Mister Rogers. If not, please see this piece.

I believe that another story about Fred Rogers is instructive concerning how great an impact he might have on a child. From my dear blogging friend, John-Michael, came this, in response to my piece:

I was shaving one morning, in preparation for the commencement of the day's 'stuff', and heard Matt (my son who has cerebral palsy) talking with someone. Now, Jim, you should understand that I had run the gauntlet of specialists, therapists, teachers, and doctors in an attempt to discover a way to open Matt to expression of himself so that I could 'plug in' to him 'where he was' in mental ability and cognitive awareness. No luck!

So, on this occasion, I was intrigued as to what or who was evoking such deliberate and direct conversation from Matt (inasmuch as it was just him and me at home.) So, around the corner I peeked. And there Matt sat ... inches away from the TV ... listening to Mister Rogers' questions (in that slow, patient, deliberate, gentle way of his) ... and having been given the time to process each question ... and being looked directly at with eyes that bespoke respect and interest in just him out of all of the whole wide world ... Matt responded.

From that moment on, I was the only person in Matt's world with whom he was comfortable communicating on an intimate, vulnerable and sensitive level.

I have loved Fred Rogers since (and am adding his image to my blog's "Gallery of Significants.)

A few months back, my local PBS station stopped running episodes of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. I wrote to them, asking that they resume airing the show. They did not.

At that time, I thought that the decision was strictly local. Now, I have learned - perhaps a bit late - that PBS (the Public Broadcasting Service in America) had decided to take the show completely off of it's national syndication schedule. It is still offered to local stations, for airing in open local time slots, but these are often available during times when children will not be likely to see it. Many stations that DO still air the show have reduced the show's place on the schedule to once a week, usually very early on a Saturday or Sunday morning; perhaps 5 or 6 AM.

I learned all of this at a website, begun by a Pittsburgh native (hometown of WQED, where Fred first worked in public television), that gives me (and you?) an outlet for my (our?) dissatisfaction concerning PBS's decision to not offer the show on national syndication.

Save Mister Rogers Neighborhood!

If Mister Rogers was a positive force in your life, as he was in mine - or if he is a trusted television friend to your children - would you please visit that website? And would you please do me a personal favor, by doing one of the things suggested there? If you do, you'll have my karmic I.O.U., and I'll gladly return the favor someday for a cause you care about deeply.

Thank you, neighbor.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

American Jesus

I’ve been trying to sort through my thoughts concerning the inauguration of Barack Obama. I find the event itself – the installing into office of America’s first not-entirely-white president – both fascinating and inspiring.

The comparisons to John F. Kennedy are easy to make. Kennedy was the first Catholic president. I was three years old when he was elected. Coming from a background of Irish Catholicism, and having been born and raised in Massachusetts, I saw almost as many portraits of Kennedy hanging in houses as I did of Jesus Christ. Having never experienced any outright prejudice concerning either my Catholicism or my Irish blood, I found some of the stories I heard bizarre.

The reality of the situation was that some people honestly believed Kennedy would construct a secret tunnel between Washington, DC, and The Vatican, and he would turn the running of the government of the United States over to The Pope. Compare and contrast to the expectation, by some, that Obama is some sort of secret double agent for an Arab state. The reality of the situation, concerning Kennedy, was that less than 100 years before, Irish people were being denied employment and housing because of their ethnicity, and were subject to public ridicule in the entertainments of the day. Compare and contrast to the even more hideous treatment of blacks in this country, up to and including slavery. The reality of the Kennedy election was that there had been, at one time, political parties set up explicitly to keep Catholics from political power. Compare and contrast to the policies of Lester Maddox and a thousand others.

Many in my family saw the election of Kennedy as a culmination of their own total acceptance as Americans. I can understand the temptation to look at Obama’s election in a similar light. Kennedy was, in my neighborhood, a secular saint. Obama is the same for many.

As with Kennedy, many people are expecting things that just won’t happen. Obama may or may not turn out to be an effective president, but he will most certainly not hand the country over to foreign powers, nor will he cure every societal ill with a wave of his hand. He is a politician. Neither his name or his skin color will make a whit of difference to those hell-bent on destroying America, nor will his lovely smile and great oratorical skills miraculously turn around an economy that is tanking.

Come back four or eight years from now. We will generally be in better or worse shape on the whole, but we will not have morphed into a suburb of heaven, nor will Arabic be our official language. The country will more-or-less be the same. The good stuff will still be good stuff, and most folks will still grouse about the stuff that’s beyond their control.

No matter how bad or good a job Obama does (and that is almost always an opinion, not an objective analysis) we will, at the end of his run, still be afflicted with the morons who feel that the be-all and end-all of any argument is something entirely irrelevant. White dopes and black dopes will still vote for candidates based on race. Male dopes and female dopes will still vote for someone because of the sexual equipment a person has, while gay dopes and straight dopes will vote based on what those people DO with that equipment.

People of small minds will still worry more about a candidate’s name than they will about the content of his or her heart. That’s just the way it is. People, in general, will always be more tribal than global.

This inauguration is inspiring because, somehow, we sort-of got past that stuff, at least for a little while. I say “sort-of” because I submit that if Obama had been 70, bald, and not quite as glib, and John McCain had been young, fit, and a better off-the-cuff speaker, we still would have elected the white guy, despite whatever else they brought to the table. That’s just speculation, of course. What we DID, as a nation, was somewhat remarkable. Even if you didn’t vote for Obama (and, to be sure, I didn’t) today is a day for some pride. Here’s why.

Today we will, as we have for more than 200 years, pass the reins of power in peace. That single act, which we pull off every few years and which we consider unremarkable, is a thing of amazement for much of the world. Military coups, dictatorships, bloody revolts and civil wars, are the norm in some places. The fact that we can do what we do, in such a calm manner, is the major reason why we are what we are, and why there is always hope we can be much, much more.

Some folks, mostly those with an agenda, will try to convince you that today is about skin color. Don’t let them get away with such perfidious nonsense. It is not about the color of one man’s skin. It is about the content of our national character.

I am always hopeful. I’m an optimist by nature, and I always imagine, at least initially, things working out for the best. I would like to believe that Obama can be a great president, and that we can become something better as a result. But, things are (despite the protestations of the permanently malcontent) pretty damned good already. Most of us have a standard of living that even kings only dreamed of as recently as a couple of hundred years back, and it is only in comparison to our more well-off fellows that many of us suffer. Obama will not be able to alleviate true soul-depth suffering any more than any other president has. That’s up to you and me, not the government.

Obviously, this is a (thus far) unique event in American history. But, the more I think about it, the more I am reminded of a song lyric I wrote back in 1981. It was about Reagan, but it could just as easily be about Kennedy or the current situation.

You think that you are free
But you're really in captivity
They maintain your cage and diffuse your rage
In the best of times, they’ve committed their crimes
On you
And they don’t give a damn about truth
They just keep on lying; you just do as you’re told
You don’t even know, and I wonder if you care
You’ve been bought and sold

No American Jesus will save us
He would, if he could, but he can’t, so he won’t
No American Jesus will save us
From ourselves

Liberal or Conservative; Republican or Democrat; Black or White; The less time we spend looking for others to help us, and the more time we invest in honest introspection and self-improvement, the better off we’ll be, both individually and as a nation.


There is a self-congratulatory nature about this whole thing that I find slightly distasteful. Look at us! We elected a black man! Aren't we wonderful?

Well, at the risk of sounding as jingoistic as some of the folks I'm putting down, yes, we are wonderful. However, our electing this one man isn't what makes us so. It is the fact that we have the ability to do so that matters. It's a somewhat subtle distinction, but one I feel needs to be pointed out.

There are a lot of folks running around saying that this is the culmination of Reverend Martin Luther King's dream. No, it isn't. It's some part of it, to be sure, but until we get completely past the point where we feel the need to point out that Obama is the first black president, or that Frank Robinson was the first black manager in baseball, or that Bill Russell was the first black head coach in basketball, or whatever other distinction we've made, Dr. King's dream is still in abeyance. The truest test, yet to come, will be when a black candidate LOSES a presidential election. Then we’ll see just how much of the bad stuff we’re really past. If he or she loses, and the country goes about its business normally, with no grumbling about prejudice, then we'll be there.

If nothing else, I am grateful to see so many people with genuine smiles today. I fear that more of them will be disappointed, in the end, than will be gratified.

I hope I’m dead wrong.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Re: Incarnation

Well, I was out sick again yesterday. I had a very high fever and spent the better part of the day in bed, having nightmares. The fever broke at about 6pm, and I now feel as well as I have in ages.

Just before coming out of my fever-induced dreams, however, I had a singular vision concerning an angel descending from Heaven. He hovered over my bed, and seemed to be examining both me and my surroundings. While he was thus situated, he intermittently looked intently at a sheet of paper, occasionally nodding his head (apparently in agreement with what he was reading), and sometimes shaking his head from side to side (apparently not quite believing what he was reading.) As I began to awake, he disappeared suddenly. I’m not sure, but I could almost swear that I heard him say, "Oh, shit!" as he vanished from my sight.

Of course, I assumed that my vision of this being was only a result of my being feverish and perhaps having taken one too many pseudoephedrine antihistamine tablets. However, when I went to get out of my bed, I felt something under my right foot. I looked down and saw what appeared to be the paper from which the angel had been reading.

I will reproduce it here.

"It’s Where You Want To End... Up!"

To: Soul #126,748,055,129

From: Gabriel, Archangel, Senior Traffic Manager, Births Division

Date: 3/1/1957 (Anno Domini)


It is my pleasure to inform you that your request to be born has been granted. You will be delivered tomorrow, March 2nd.

We realize that this doesn’t give you much time to prepare, but your paperwork was significantly delayed due to the extraordinary (some might go so far as to say bizarre) requests you made in conjunction with your application. Details concerning the approval or rejection of said requests appear below.

You requested:

1 – That you be born into a family of great wealth.

2 – That you be granted a physical constitution able to withstand unbounded debauchery.

3 – That you be given good looks. Specifically, you requested a full head of flowing blond hair; a square jaw; sparklingly white teeth; a 52-inch chest accompanied by a 32-inch waist; rock-solid muscles; and a sexual tool magically able to change length and width in order to conform precisely with whatever female partner you might currently be bedding.

4 – That you be allotted the eyesight of an eagle; the hearing of a bat; the sense of smell of a bloodhound; and the speed and agility of a cheetah.

5 – That you be allowed to requisition from this office, on demand, further blessings which you may have forgotten during the application process.

This office, in response, has granted the following:

1 – You will be born.

2 – You will have free will with which to debauch to your heart’s content.

3 – You will not be severely misshapen or grotesque.

4 – You will have five senses. You will be able to run, after a fashion.

5 – You will be allowed to request further blessings, but they will most certainly not be guaranteed, nor will they be given according to your schedule.

Explanations Concerning Those Things Granted Or Denied:

1 – It is the considered opinion of this office that putting great wealth into your hands would be akin to granting a meteor the ability to tap dance. It would serve no useful purpose whatsoever and, in addition, would cause great concern among the general populace.

We do understand your request. You have discerned, quite correctly, that your mercurial temper and general tendency towards sloth will not give you a very good chance at anything more than a subsistence level existence, but you certainly must realize that these same qualities would undoubtedly result in you inadvertently killing yourself if we gave you anything more than that which you require to be comfortable. Therefore, we will never let you starve, and you will always have a bed to sleep in, but extreme wealth is entirely out of the question.

2 – Since you will not be given the means with which to debauch to your heart’s content, we see no reason to give you a body able to withstand such rigors. However, since we also know that you WILL debauch up to the limit of your available cash - as well as whatever credit you can scam from the unsuspecting - we ARE willing to outfit you with a body that heals relatively quickly (although, we must stress, NOT instantaneously, so you’ll probably be able to smoke cigarettes for 40 years or so before permanent deleterious effects set in, but we would suggest that you refrain completely from juggling chainsaws or having sex with any women named Bobbitt.)

3 – This one did give us a good chuckle, and we thank you for that.

Your hair will be red, not blond, and if you don’t like it, we can arrange for it to fall out beginning somewhere around your 21st birthday. Your jaw will not be square, but will instead be somewhat pointy. In order to make up for this, we WILL give you the sparklingly white teeth you’ve requested, but you will have to wait until you reach your fifties to receive them and they will be made out of porcelain. You will have the 32-inch waist, but only until 1981. The largest chest we could requisition for you was 42 inches, but we will attempt to deliver a 52-inch stomach by the time you reach age 60 (IF you reach age 60.) We are unable at this time to supply you with a full complement of rock-solid muscles, but we pulled some strings and you will be given them in the following locations: right thumb, left fingers, and ass. This will allow you to become either a relatively unknown bass guitarist or a renowned and gifted gay prostitute - your choice.

Speaking of prostitution, we found it rather presumptuous of you to assume that you would be born a male. As it turns out, you will, but your request for the magical shift-changing sexual appendage is flatly (even laughingly) denied. Yours will be strictly standard issue. On the bright side, it will work very well and never be subject to erectile dysfunction. However, opportunities for use will be far fewer than you’d prefer, unless you choose the previously mentioned male prostitution option.

4 – You will be happy to know that we are granting the great eyesight and hearing. We expect, however, that you will choose to not see what is in front of your face and to not listen to what you need to hear. You will have the speed and agility of a bloodhound, and you will smell like a cheetah.

5 – This office will do all in its power to grant additional requests made through the proper channels, but we have little reason to believe that, in most instances, you’ll understand what the proper channels are until it’s too late. Nevertheless, we have seen fit to supply you with some items that you didn’t request, but which we expect you would wish you HAD requested, once born.

You will be equipped with:

A – Two loving parents, and a near endless supply of caring relatives and friends.

B – The ability to rationalize almost anything.

C – An above average set of vocal cords, as well as an ample supply of blarney.

D - The ability to be very easily amused.

E – A sincere belief in the fact that you are blessed.

F – A WIFE (sense of humor and patience included.)

You may not realize it, as you embark upon your journey, but all of the above are invaluable gifts and much more important than any of those things you requested.

If you have any comments or concerns regarding this letter, we are unable to answer them at present due to time constraints. Also, as you know, none of these particulars will be remembered by you, or be available for your inspection, during your time incarnate. Your guardian angel will, at regular intervals, check to make sure that all of the particulars mentioned herein have occurred, are occurring, will occur, or will never occur, depending upon which one of the items we’re discussing. Upon your return to this realm, we will make every attempt to satisfactorily answer whatever questions you may still have concerning your sojourn. In the meantime, you have been equipped with a fully functioning conscience. If it should fail at any time, you will be automatically directed to your owner’s manual (known in the native parlance of your new home planet as “The Bible”) and instructions for repair and re-start of your conscience will be made apparent.

Please report to the birth canal by midnight to begin processing. You need not pack anything; all promised supplies will be provided upon your arrival, and any attempt to smuggle contraband will only result in unnecessary delays.

Oh, one last thing: Your name will be "Jim." Your request to be christened "Rocky Thunderballs, Supreme Lord Of All Men And Extremely Potent Satisfier Of All Women” is not only denied, but would be entirely blasphemous if we didn’t consider it completely ridiculous. Consider yourself lucky to get "Jim." We could have easily gone with "Needledick Lipschitz."

We truly wish you nothing but the best. Whether or not you realize it at the moment, that’s what you'll receive.

GABRIEL, a.a., s.t.m., births

So, that’s what I found on my floor after the angel disappeared. I’d appreciate your thoughts concerning it. In the meantime, I've set a trap in my bedroom just in case he returns, and I’ll be re-reading the document carefully, looking for loopholes.


(My sincerest thanks to Shrinky for the inspiration.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Cold Isn't Enough; I Have To Have A Side Of Guilt, Too

(This is me when I'm at work, which I am today but wasn't yesterday.)

Do you ever watch the wonderful television show CBS Sunday Morning? Charles Osgood is the host, and the format is sort of 60 Minutes light. Each show includes four or five segments devoted to fare such as an interview with a popular star; an exploration of an art form or an artist; commentary by someone like Mo Rocca or Ben Stein on some issue of the day; a visit (usually by Bill Geist) to some weird little festival or happening (usually in rural America, but this past Sunday to the world championships in Elephant Polo); and so forth. It’s a pleasant and unstressed way to spend 90 minutes.

This past Sunday, there was a feature piece exploring the emotion of guilt. There were interviews with a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi, among others, and some person said that the difference between Catholic guilt and Jewish guilt is that Catholics feel guilty for things they’ve done, while Jews feel guilty for things they’ve failed to do.

I feel guilty today, but even though I was raised as a Catholic, it seems to be Jewish guilt I’m feeling. What did I fail to do, for which I’m feeling guilty? I didn’t go to work.

I don’t know why I’m feeling guilty about this. I was sick on Friday night, coughing and with a runny nose. I was similarly incapacitated on Saturday and Sunday. I popped decongestants and anti-histamines every four hours, slept about twelve hours each day, and felt generally lousy all weekend. Come Monday morning, I was still coughing and my nose was still running and I had a tickle in my throat and I knew there was no way I could go to work and not feel even more miserable. So I called in and told them I wasn’t going to be there.

And I've felt guilty about it all day.


It’s not like I've spent the day at the beach. I didn’t lie to anyone. I've mostly stayed wrapped up in a blanket on the couch, drinking juice and swallowing more pills. Sure, I watched an Abbott & Costello movie, followed by a Three Stooges movie, but what was I supposed to do? Flagellate myself?

Every twenty minutes or so I’d cough my fool head off, bring up a goodly-sized glob of brownish phlegm, and either feel too hot or too cold. When I tried to take a nap, I couldn’t sleep because I was sweating under the covers. I got out of bed, drank some more juice, and then started feeling cold, so I took a hot shower. And the entire day, at least intermittently, I thought about whether the folks at work believed that I was really sick or if they may have thought that I was just taking the day off because I felt like goofing around instead of working.

Why? Why do I have to have a guilt trip along with a cold?

I mean, if I went into work, I would not only have felt crummy all day, but I would also have exposed my co-workers to this cold or flu or whatever it is. I should feel good about that part of it; about not making them sick, shouldn’t I?

And why do I feel the need to tell you this? I’m even trying to justify my day off by writing about how miserable it is. What the hell do YOU care?

(OK, I know some of you actually do care, but that’s not the point. Why do I feel the need to tell you about it?)

I am allotted 21 various days off aside from holidays (they’re supposed to be 15 vacation days and 6 sick days, but my boss is very flexible.) Whenever I use one of the sick days, I feel as though I’m cheating him. I’m sure he doesn’t feel that I’m a louse of an employee, goldbricking on his dime. I've been employed by him for 18 years now. If he thought I was a liar and a cheat, I'm sure he would have fired me by now. And I know damn well I’m not. Still, I feel guilt.


What part of my heritage has screwed me up so royally? Perhaps there’s a nasty bit of DNA that makes me feel as though I’m not worthy to take time off from work. Maybe my parents instilled an ethic in me that makes it near impossible to just stop working and take time off to heal. Whatever it is, it sucks.

I mean, I should just be sitting on the couch right now, drinking my juice and swallowing more pills while enjoying another Three Stooges movie, but here I am trying to make my day not seem like a total slugfest via typing this crap. Not only am I feeling guilty, but I’m boring the shit of you, too.

If I stay home again tomorrow, I think flagellating myself would be best. Then I won’t feel so bad. I do have some Laurel & Hardy to watch, though. Tough call.

(You’re reading this on Tuesday, so that means I didn't stay home again. I have no stripes. Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy will be their usual funny selves some other day. I do thank you for wading through the above and receiving little or nothing for your efforts. I feel so guilty for subjecting you to it. But, probably the only reason you did read the whole thing is because you would have felt guilty if you hadn't. I know that’s how I would have felt.

Aaaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh! Stop it, brain! Leave me alone! What have I ever done to you? I mean, aside from sending you on fully-paid very expensive vacations via the illegal use of...

No, best not to go into that here. If the FBI got hold of this, I might have to plead NOT guilty, and we all know that would be a lie.)

Soon, but I'm not promising anything.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Kreativ? Me? Aw, Shucks!

This is moo goo gai pan. You won't know why this picture is here until you get to the end, at which point you'll wish it wasn't.

This will, at first blush, appear to be a re-run of some sort. I assure you, however, that it isn’t.

I have been given an award.

See what I mean? I get one of these things every two or three weeks now, it seems. I usually respond with a combination of rudeness and humility. I’m rude when talking about the award itself (although sometimes I direct my disparaging remarks toward the person who gave me the award) and I'm humble concerning my worthiness to be receiving any sort of honor. It's a tough combination to pull off, but I give it my best shot.

Well, there are only so many self-deprecating things I can say and I’ve pretty much said them all before. I can be as demure and self-effacing as anyone (well, maybe not the Dalai Lama or Mister Rogers) but that gets tiring, especially when the protestations glaringly surpass the level of any actual talent I possess. At that point, humility becomes an even more vile form of bragging. And it's easy enough to bluster on concerning the idiocy of the person doing the awarding, telling you that he/she should be let out of his/her straitjacket only long enough to take care of rudimentary hygiene, the reason being they haven't the brains of a slug or otherwise they wouldn't be so easily deceived concerning my relative intelligence, talent, niceness, and/or generosity, but I’m unwilling to cross the line wherein I actually make someone cry, and that limits the opportunities for gut-busting laughter.

So, I guess I’ll just say golly gee-whilikers I’m proud to have been given the "Kreativ Blogger Award"! I’ll now follow the rules regarding the awarding of the, um, award to other bloggers, and...

No. I’m sorry. I can’t allow this easy a pitch to pass by without taking a swing. The "Kreativ Blogger Award"? Judas on a tricycle! Who came up with that spelling? And why? Is it purposely cutesy-wootsy or just willingly ignorant? I mean, if you change the "C" to a "K" that’s one thing, and if you lop off the final silent "E" that’s another thing, but to do both, at the same time, isn’t so much creative as it is wonton. No, wait, that’s a deep-fried Chinese food. Wanton, is what it is. Wanton attention!

Oh, somebody! Please hit me over the head with a blunt object before I make more of these jokes! If you can’t find anything immediately suitable, use the wit of the person who invented this award. "Kreativ"? I suppose it is creative, in the same way that a vicious dog leaving a cat only three legs to hobble around on is creative, but that does little to swell the dog’s reputation and leaves you with somewhat less of a cat. In certain circles that might qualify as art...

You know the sad part of this whole thing? I’ll proudly be displaying this illoterate piece of trosh... excuse me, illiterate piece of trish... alliterative piece of plush... not-so-good-talking garbage in the same place as all of the other ridiculous awards I’ve received. You could give me the "Smelly Like A Big Pile Of Pig Shit Award" and I’d still give it a place of honor. You can’t possibly flatter me enough. Feel free to try. My ego is insatiable.

CatPants gave me this honor. She is no doubt regretting her decision even as we speak, except you aren’t speaking and I’m typing, so maybe she’s still OK with it, but I doubt that.

In order to qualify for the award, I’m supposed to list six characteristics that I love, then six characteristics that I hate, and then make up six categories of award in which I will pass on the, um, award to other bloggers.

Surprisingly, I think I’ll actually follow those rules. Listing things I love and hate is far too strong a temptation for a blowhard like me. And, while I usually don’t award these things to anyone else since I don't want to hurt the feelings of those I don't choose, the conceit of making up my own categories is very tempting.

Yeah, I’m going to do it.


1 – Wanton Lust

I think most guys admire this trait. Women fantasize about romance. Men dream of having their pants ripped off and someone saying a hearty hello to Mister Happy. Or maybe we dream of deep-fried Chinese food. I’m not at all sure about the spelling anymore.

2 – Sense Of Humor

While with this piece I've shown little in the way of one myself, I admire one greatly in others. If you can make me laugh, I can tolerate almost anything else you do.

3 - Honesty, But With Discernment

I appreciate someone who will tell me the truth, but only those truths I want to hear.

No joke; I mean that. Telling someone the truth when it hurts their feelings or otherwise causes them discomfort does nobody a favor but yourself. A lie told to spare someone's feelings is holy.

4 - Loyalty

Very important trait. If you abandon people at the first sign of trouble, then I don't want you near me. And if I abandon you in a similar situation, then I should go to hell.

5 - The Ability To Enjoy Absurdity

This life is full of all kinds of strange and tragic stuff. We should do what we can to ease the suffering of others, but if you're one of those people who mopes around, bemoaning the tragedies of life, and you fret about those things you can't possibly change, then please get away from me. Sometimes you just have to laugh and move on.

6 - Humility

Not to the extent that you believe you're worthless, but being able to realize the ways in which others might exceed your own abilities.

(Then, of course, you'll want to figure out how to get them to do your bidding, but that goes beyond the scope of this piece.)

Taken together, the above traits encompass all that is pure and noble in humanity, especially if you bring Chinese food and want to have sex.


I'll save some space and say the opposites of the six above.

And now, I get to give this poorly-spelled award to others!


That would be Michelle, over at The Surly Writer. She's an absolute sweetheart. She writes some nice stuff, too, but I just really like her, as a person, and it would do my heart good to see her achieve her goals.


Crystal, from Boobs, Injuries & Dr. Pepper. She has a phenomenal way with words and some amazing stories to tell of her past. If this woman doesn't somehow end up with published works, and if those published works don't sell kazillions of copies, then there is no hope for American literature. One of the funniest, most truthful, and original writers I have ever had the pleasure of reading.


This one is a tie. I'd love to belly up to the bar with both Buck, at Exile In Portales, and Lime, from House Of Lime. I think both of them are interesting, humorous, loyal, have a sense of the absurd, and... Hey! They embody those six traits I love! Well, maybe not the wonton lust. Or the wanton lust. Or... Oh, hell. If they like Chinese food, I'm OK with that, but I don't want either of them humping my leg.

Well, at least not Buck.


Hilary, at The Smitten Image. Her photography is extraordinary. She takes the commonplace and makes it look heavenly. I have no doubt she could take me (snaggle-toothed, red-faced, bald-headed, scraggly-bearded, overweight) and make me look like that guy from Twilight.

Oh, alright. She's not a miracle worker. But she's very, very good. Check her out.


That would be David McMahon, from Authorblog. A wonderful Australian bloke, by way of India, he is both an accomplished photographer and a published novelist. What he does that is most endearing, though, is to collect blog posts he finds entertaining and then share them with everyone. Getting a mention in David's "Post Of The Day" brings many new readers to your place. He's done me that favor quite a few times, and I thank him from the bottom of my heart.


Magazine Man. As I say on my sidebar, he is The Best Writer On The Internet. He has an incredible storytelling gift. I've sung his praises before, and something I've said about him before still applies. He is my generation's Mark Twain. Someday, he will be showered with gold coin.

If you've never read anything by him before, start with this: In Which My Secret Origin As A Super-Villain Is Revealed. If it doesn't grip you dramatically and make you laugh like a loon, then I've utterly misjudged my own audience.

(By the way, I think I'm at least the third person to have named Magazine Man as one of the people to get the award. That should give you a clue as to how good he is - or how bereft of original ideas I am.)


That's about it. Now we can dig into the Chinese food and have sex!

Oh! But first the folks I gave the award to have to decide if they want to give the award to other folks. If so, I think you're supposed to link to me and tell people you got the award here. I wouldn't advise your doing so, as being associated with me is no way to fame or fortune. At best, it is like having a hangnail removed. It might feel good, but you'd certainly be better off in the first place without it.

Before I leave you, I'll put a picture in your head that you'll want to get rid of, but will never be able to. I was just thinking that maybe I could cut out the middleman (so to speak) and just have sex with the Chinese food.

Oh! Moo Goo Gai Pan! You turn me on, baby!

Soon, with more better stuff.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Little Christmas Stories

As I’ve mentioned here before, MY WIFE and I celebrate Little Christmas. That is, while we have our allotment of the standard Christmas merriment, seeing relatives and giving gifts during the traditional December holidays, we wait until January 6th to exchange presents with each other.

Some of you may wonder why we do this. That’s certainly understandable, given that January 6th receives little play from the merchants and media. As far as they’re concerned, come midnight on December 25th, the Christmas holiday is over. It’s time to push Valentine’s candy and President’s Day car sales down people’s throats.

(Someday, in the not-too-distant future, you can expect to hear an announcer saying something like the following:

“Free at last! Thank God almighty, free at last! Well, OK, we’re not giving away our cars, but it’s as close as we can get! Come on down to our Martin Luther King Day sale! Our sales staff has a dream – of putting YOU in the driver’s seat of a brand new Toyota! You won’t have to march from Selma to Montgomery for Crazy Ed to notice you! Just come on down between now and January 15th, and he’ll ensure your civil right to a deal based on the color of your cash and not the content of your credit report!”

Financial experts might even take into account the failure of some merchants to break even over the Christmas season and start calling it Black Monday.

You might not think that anyone would have the balls, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Give it a hundred years. The folks back in 1905 would never have foreseen Abraham Lincoln as co-star with a talking beaver in an ad for sleeping pills.)

January 6th is, on the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, The Feast of the Epiphany. In secular terms, it is sometimes known as The Feast of the Magi, the “Three Kings” of Christmas carol fame. It is the date some suppose as that when the wise men visited the infant Jesus and bestowed upon him the gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.

The day is also remembered, although obliquely, in the song “The Twelve Days Of Christmas”. Are you one of those people who wondered why there were twelve days of over-the-top gift giving in that song? Well, the actual Christmas season, at least in some Western European civilizations, runs from December 25th until January 6th.

In any case, it can reasonably be argued that the 6th of January is a more correct time to exchange gifts in honor of The Lord’s nativity.

MY WIFE and I decided years ago that it made eminent sense to delay our own exchange of presents until the 12th day of Christmas. In that way, we would eliminate much of the stress associated with what should be a joy-filled celebration with friends and family. We would concentrate on others, during the more traditional Thanksgiving through December 25th time period, and then devote our efforts to each other during the 11 days following.

(This is, of course, another one of the reasons why I get so amazingly pissed off at the folks who want to start the Christmas season some time in October. Not only does it do a disservice to the wonderful American holiday of Thanksgiving [which occurs on the fourth Thursday of November]; it also utterly ignores the rightful 12 days of celebration that occur in December and January. My Christmas runs through January 6th, so if I acquiesce to their greedy mercantile demands, I’ll be singing a stretched out and thinned-to-absurdity Hallelujah over perhaps a 75 day period. That’s far too much water in anybody’s holiday soup.)

Since we celebrate on the 6th, I won’t be at work then, or on the 7th. And, since my only internet connection is at work, there will be nothing new in this space. I won't be spending any of my time during the holiday writing. I'd consider it slightly sacrilegious to do so, thus nothing new here on the 8th, either. You might get something on the 9th, but only if I've got something inside of me itching to burst through my fingers much as the alien burst through John Hurt's stomach. In other words, this may be the last new entry you'll see until the 12th.

I know, I know. I see the river of tears coursing down your collective faces. Just so you truly know that I do care about you, here’s a story that is not about Little Christmas specifically, but IS about Christmas and is also little.


First things first: This is a story about an Irish family. While my name is Jim, and I’m an uncle, I also have an Uncle Jim of my own. There is an Uncle Jim mentioned in this story, but he’s not that Uncle Jim. He is Uncle Jim’s Uncle Jim, making him my granduncle (although some folks prefer the title "great uncle", but let’s not open that can of worms.) It’s all very confusing to the uninitiated. If it will keep you from getting a headache, feel free to think of him as Uncle Aloysius.

When my father was very young – let’s say six - his Uncle Jim taught him a very valuable lesson.

My father had hung his stocking on Christmas Eve, as did all of the family. This included the older relatives, too. And that group included Uncle Jim. Come Christmas morning, everybody took down their stockings and looked inside to see what Santa Claus had brought them.

The usual things were found inside the stockings - little toys, tasty candies, and so forth. Nice, but nothing unusual. That is, until Uncle Jim inspected the contents of his stocking. He turned it upside down, and out rolled a lump of coal and an onion.

While good little boys and girls receive the toys and candies, a lump of coal and an onion are, by tradition, what bad boys and girls receive. Seeing those things come from Uncle Jim’s stocking, my father laughed and laughed. Uncle Jim was a bad boy! He got a lump of coal and an onion!

While my father was laughing, Uncle Jim said, "Oh! This is wonderful! A lump of coal and an onion? These are just what I needed!"

My father thought his Uncle Jim had gone round the bend. How could someone be happy to have received a lump of coal and an onion in his Christmas stocking?

Uncle Jim took the lump of coal, took my father’s hand, and led him to the basement. They stopped at the furnace. Uncle Jim said, "It’s so cold today! This lump of coal is the perfect gift! I can put it in the furnace and we’ll be nice and warm all day!"

Uncle Jim then led my amazed father back upstairs. Uncle Jim took the onion, and my father, into the kitchen. He then chopped the onion, mixed it with celery and some bread and spices, and went on rapturously about how his stuffing for the turkey would have been no good without the onion.

Later on, as my father sat in a warm house eating delicious stuffing with his Christmas dinner, the lesson became permanently burned in his memory. The lesson was this: It doesn’t matter what you’re given. What matters is what you do with it.


Before I leave you, I’d like to share another little story about Christmas. No title on this one; it’s just a general update about someone some of you care about.

My cousin, Dorothy, a.k.a. The Mad Cat Lady Of Franklin (self-described) is doing OK. She still has her many maladies to deal with, but she’s taking care of the homeless cats and the homeless cats are taking care of her.

On Christmas Eve, she found a package on her doorstep. It contained, among other things, a nice book about feral cats. There was also a handwritten note. Well, not "HANDwritten". Perhaps "PAWwritten" would be more appropriate.

The note was in white ink on blue paper, very pretty. I got the story from Dorothy over the telephone, so I’m paraphrasing, but here, in general, is what the note said:

Dear Dorothy:

For many years, you have cared about us when nobody else has.

When we were hungry, you fed us. When we thirsted, you gave us something to drink. When others considered us only a nuisance, you fought for us.

In the cold weather, you try to keep us warm, and in the hot weather, you give us someplace cool to lie down. You gave us names when others just called us names.

Whatever else happens to us, we know that there’s one human being we can always count on to be loving and caring. And, in return, we love you, too.

Merry Christmas!

Your Friends,

The Feral Cats

Now, as much as Dorothy and I might like to believe that the cats somehow developed opposable thumbs and penmanship skills, we think someone went out of his/her way to be really, really nice. Dorothy has a suspicion about who it might have been, but I just wanted to put the story out here and say, "Thank You!" to whoever it was, and let you know that it was appreciated.

Let’s see... What’s the best blessing I could proffer upon you? Maybe this.

May God bless your life with at least as much love and kindness as that which Dorothy shows to her cats.

Yeah, that’ll do it.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Friday, January 02, 2009

A Christmas Quiz

Got this in the e-mail from My Mom. You know the deal (you will once you see it, in any case.) It's one of those quizzes that you send to people and then they tell you all sorts of stuff about themselves. I wasn't planning on writing anything today, but then this fell into my lap, so...

If you wish, copy and paste it into your own blog. Of course, change the answers from mine to your own. Did I actually need to say that? No, I suppose not.

If you wish to say where you got it, fine. If not, that's cool, too.

Well, that's enough useless blather. Here goes:

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?

Definitely wrapping paper. MY WIFE has a theme each year. Sometimes we're the only people who know about it. Still, she incorporates the theme into the wrapping paper. This year's theme was "Snow", I think, so the paper had snowmen and snowflakes.

2. Real Tree Or Artificial?

Fake, but 5 of them. Last year, we actually used Pointy The Poinsettia as our tree. He is real.

3. When do you put up the tree?

Trees. Two weeks before Christmas.

4. When do you take it down?

Them. First weekend following January 6th (Feast of the Epiphany, or The Magi.)

5. Do you like eggnog?

Yes, but just a couple of glasses a year is plenty. The stuff is overly viscous and contains enough sugar to send a platoon of diabetics to the emergency room.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?

I like all gifts. I can't say that I had a favorite.

7. Hardest person to buy for?

Nobody, really. All the people I buy for seem to like whatever I give them. I guess I'm lucky to have very nice friends and relatives.

8. Easiest person to buy for?

See above.

9. Do you have a nativity scene?


10. Mail or e-mail Christmas cards?


11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?

Never got one that I didn't like.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie?

It's A Wonderful Life, for drama, and A Christmas Story, for laughs.

13. When do you start shopping?

Generally, shortly after Thanksgiving.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?

Sure, but I'm not going to say what it was. It wasn't yours, if that helps.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?

Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, Turnip, Squash - basically, another Thanksgiving dinner a month later!

16. Lights on the tree?

Big colored lights one year, white lights the next. MY WIFE and I alternate preferences.

17. Favorite Christmas song?

Silver Bells (secular), O Holy Night (religious).

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home?

Go to my Grandma's and also to my sister-in-law's. Love both, and wish I had more time to spend with each one.

(I got this with no #19 on it, so I'm making one up.)

19. Latest you ever exchange presents with anyone?

One year, it was May before I got together with my buddy, Sean. It's often at least February or March because of our differing schedules.

20. Angel on the tree top or a star?


21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?

Both, usually, as sometimes we go to relatives (or relatives come to our place) on Christmas Eve. Also, MY WIFE and I exchange gifts on January 6th (Little Christmas, or Epiphany, or Wise Men.)

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year?

How early they start decorating stores and playing carols. Next year, I might go postal on any Santas I see in a mall before Veterans Day.

23. Favorite ornament theme or color?

I like lots of bright colors. MY WIFE tends to like white lights. We compromise by alternating the theme each year (although I might get more colored years, since I do the decorating.)

24. Favorite for Christmas dinner?

Didn't we answer this one already? Turkey, etc.

25. What do you want for Christmas next year?

Good health (for me and my friends and relatives) and just the joy of knowing peace through my belief in Jesus Christ as my savior. Oh, and a million bucks would be nice, too.

26. Who is most likely to respond to this?

When I sent this out via e-mail, I said "Probably Tara; Maybe Luann." That wouldn't apply here, of course. There are many of you who might grab this and do it, so I won't name anyone in particular.

27. Who is least likely to respond to this?

Once again, via e-mail: "Probably John; Maybe Uncle Jim." Since we're talking about Teh Interwebs, though, I'll say the least likely to respond would be Anyone Who Doesn't Read My Blog. How's that for inane? Told you so.

Soon, with more better stuff.