Wednesday, October 22, 2014

World Serious.

So the World Series is finally under way, expected to end sometime after Santa arrives in front of Macy's.

Since my beloved Mets were eliminated during spring training, the playoffs just haven't had much of a zing for me this year. I'm happy for the Royals---been a hard luck franchise for decades. As for the Giants, I would have been perfectly happy if they had not ever won a championship after abandoning New York. And after employing Barry Bonds, with the most blatant steroid abuse case in baseball history. That becomes a more disgusting display in retrospect.

I might also be down on the Series because of all the naked greed. Mine. Major League Baseball refused to use my Fred branded baseballs, which I was going to donate free of charge, to promote my novels.

Yes, I admit they were made in China, and maybe they were a little off regulation. An inch of diameter isn't much, is it? It's a game of inches, not a game of inch. Come on. And instead of whining about the old socks used for filler, MLB could have been celebrating its commitment to the environment for reusing materials.

You know what it is? It's sad, that's what. That's the real reason baseball is losing fans. Not the franchises that are allowed to decay, not the substance abuse, not the preposterous salaries and naked greed (not related to mine). No, it's the lack of vision. I say, Fred's got the balls; let's use 'em!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hack, cough, blarg.

I recently got the cold from hell. This was a common cold with uncommon ambitions. It severely wanted to be influenza. Maybe even Ebola.

It came on extremely fast; within the space of two hours I went from feeling fine to feeling kind of crappy. By the next morning I was starting to hit the cold meds. The morning after that I was calling in sick.

Now that it's autumn, we're starting to see the ads on TV for cold medicines again, and they all lie, lie, lie, lie, lie.

[SCENE: Beautiful woman in a white coat striding down the hall of a hospital, but a much cleaner hospital than any you've ever been in.]

Woman: I'm a brain surgeon... and a busy mom! I don't have time to be sick with the common cold!

[SCENE: Same woman coming out of a car at a house, three adorable children and a fluffy dog bounding down the stairs toward her.]

Woman: (clutching children and dog) I can't reschedule my kids, or my patients' aneurysms! I need to be able to function, not lay around feeling like a beached whale!

[PICTURE: Box of Snotulax on a picnic table next to glass of water, blue skies and sunshine evident]

Voice over: New Snotulax fights all your cold symptoms and beats the crap out of them. Stuffy nose, cough, sinus pain, red eyes, sore throat, ringing ears, phlegm, swollen lymph nodes, aches, flat hair, grippe, fatigue, throbbing pancreas, tickled fancies, feeling like a beached whale---Snotulax knocks them dead.

[SCENE: Woman in scrubs standing over patient on operating table; leave mask off so we can see her face.]

Woman: Thanks to Snotulax I can go about my busy day!

Voice over: Snotulax, for symptoms of the common cold. So you can go to work and share the virus. Take only as directed. 


The fact is, no cold medicine I have ever taken has done more than take the edge off. Which is no small thing, I'll admit; a pounding head from impacted sinus congestion is miserable, so even if you can only break through that one symptom you are doing pretty well. Still, the cold med commercials are promising you a reasonable semblance of normalcy, and they cannot deliver. At best I've felt maybe at 40% power.

The only advice I ever got that was at least not an overpromise was "Drink lots and lots of bourbon. You won't feel better, but you won't care." I hear Jack Daniel's is considering that for a new slogan.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Bless me, librarians, for I have sinned.

I have long reached the age where my courage has failed, my awareness of mortality become more acute, and my patience shortened---in other words, when I turned 35---and decided I was not going to finish every book I started. There, I've admitted it.

For years it was a point of honor for me that if I picked up a book voluntarily I would see it through to the end. I took it quite seriously. Now, not so much.

It's not that some books start off dragging. I know that not every book begins with the hero being thrown out of an airplane; some take quite a while to get going, and that's how they should be. They reward patience. I know that some books are going to have unique styles or odd word usage or other methods of storytelling that make it rough sledding until you get into the lingo, and they too are as they should be, and usually reward persistence. So I don't just chuck a book to the side if no one's bleeding or naked by page 5, as I fear many of our modern readers do. Some books, like some works of music, unfold in their own time and their own way, and must be seen through.

And some just stink on ice.

Sometimes books are just not to one's taste. Nothing wrong with that. Mrs. Key had a college English professor who stressed the difference between appreciation and opinion, which was very wise; you can appreciate a book and the author's achievement without necessarily enjoying it. The ability to discern that is one of the things that distinguishes the casual reader from the book lover.

Here are some classics I started but could not get through*, and probably never will unless I am stranded with them on the proverbial desert island:

Crime and Punishment
Doctor Zhivago**
Pilgrim's Progress
Memento Mori
This Side of Paradise
Unfinished Tales (Tolkien---remained unfinished here)
Varieties of Religious Experience
The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb
At the Back of the North Wind
Le Morte D'Arthur
Don Quixote

It's not that I don't think they're worth another shot; it's just that there are so many other books I want to read. I can only hope you, fair librarians, will forgive my sins of omission in lights of the thousands of books I have read and enjoyed.*** Thank you for your mercy.

*I'm not counting assigned reading for school, like Fenimore Cooper's The Pioneers, which I would have been unlikely to start on my own anyhow.

**I'm not anti-Russian; I loved The Brothers Karamazov, but my edition may have had a superior translator.

***Of course, there were many books I got through only by the skin of my teeth, like The Turn of the Screw, but that's another confession. Anyway, I made it. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Princess Interviews: Part III.

As you undoubtedly know, in our spirit of fellowship we at FredCo. wish to make life easier for our pals at Disney, who are desperately searching for the next princess franchise for their successful princess film and packaging deals. We think there are resources yet untapped in the Brothers Grimm. To this end we've interviewed Lily of "Lily and the Lion" and Goose Girl of "The Goose Girl," both stories out of the Grimms's book. Sadly, we have had little success so far, but we are hoping to strike gold with the princess in the charming story "The Golden Bird."


Interviewer: Good day, Your Highness. Thank you for coming in to see us.

Princess: Yeah, whatever.

Int.: Uh... is everything all right? 

Princess: Are you kidding? The answer to that would be... let's see... how's NO grab you?

Int.: Terribly sorry! What is the matter?

Princess: Let's start with the fact that it's MY story and those Grimm idiots didn't even bother to write down my name.

Int.: Really? Let's see here, it's... Uh, you're right.

Princess: Jane.

Int.: Jane? That's your name?

Princess: Yeah.

Int.: Thank you for clearing that up. Now, Princess Jane, as you know we are looking for a new Disney Princess. How do you feel your story fits with the Disney panoply of princesses?

Princess: It doesn't. It's stupid.

Int.: The panoply?

Princess: My story. You know the real hero is the fox? And he's psychotic.

Int.: But the title is "The Golden Bird," not "The Psychotic Fox." Aren't you the titular bird?

Princess: Hey, watch the language!

Int.: But---

Princess: No, I'm not the bird. The bird is just a dumb yellow bird that these three brothers throw their lives away chasing. I'm just part of the fabulous cash and prizes one of the idiots manages to get, thanks to the fox. Who was my brother, under an enchantment.

Int.: So you don't have a lot of lines in the script. 

Princess: Not the way the Grimms wrote it! I get squat! I told my agent, this has got to change or I'm walking. The whole thing is about the youngest brother, the dumbbell I get to marry in the end, by the way.

Int.: What's his name?

Princess: Jim. It's not in the story, either. The Grimms didn't write down anyone's name. You think they were mailing it in at this point? Plus the story is way too gross for the kids.

Int.: PG-13 gross? 

Princess: After the fox helps the one brother, who is slightly less moronic than his older brothers, he asks in return that the brother cut off his head and feet.

Int.: Kind of R-ish. Operatic.

Princess: Of course, then he turns back into my stupid cursed brother. You know how he got turned into a fox? It's not in the story. I'll tell you how: by sticking his nose into other peoples' business, that's how. And his advice is always confusing, inexplicable, and annoying. "When you come to the castle where the bird is, I will stay with the princess at the door, and you will ride in and speak to the king; and when he sees that it is the right horse, he will bring out the bird; but you must sit still, and say that you want to look at it, to see whether it is the true golden bird; and when you get it into your hand, ride away." Uh, 'scuse me, Fox Boy, but you want to write all that crap down? And write small because I only have five pages left in my book. Know-it-all jerkface.

Int.: I get the feeling that you're not keen on the possibility of a film adaptation. 

Princess: Not without some serious rewrite, buster. Astenazagur is all over this project.

Int.: Who's Astuwhatagur?

Princess: My brother.

Int.: I think we'll have to file this as "in turnaround" for now. Thanks for coming in. 


Keep your set tuned to this channel for future installments of the Princess Interviews!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

More evil from Dunkin Donuts.

I have had cause to complain in the past about the evil of Dunkin Donuts' seasonal doughnuts, which have an uncanny pull on me. I think somewhere inside I have this yearning, this feeling that one day I shall eat the perfect doughnut, and I will be at peace with doughnuts forevermore, and never have to eat another doughnut again. But that has not happened yet, so the hunt continues.

It certainly didn't come to an end here. I have to tell you, this spooooooooky pumpkin doughnut has got to be the sweetest thing I ever put in my mouth, and all 32 of my adult teeth and all 20 of my baby teeth are and were sweet tooths. How sweet was it?

It was sweeter than the Peeps doughnut I got from Dunkin in the spring.

It was sweeter than spooning sugar out of the bowl directly into your mouth.

It was so sweet my dentist could feel it.

It was too sweet for me.

I'm telling you, unless you're the kind of person who adds sugar to a milk shake, this doughnut is going to be too much for you, too.

We've all heard of the Scoville scale of heat, which measures the heat of chili peppers and other hot foods, ranging from 0 (bell peppers) to the Caroline Reaper, which can measure over two million. We need a scale of sweetness for things like this. I know they say that saccharine and other artificial sweeteners are a pabillion times sweeter than sugar or whatever, so there must be some extant sweetness scale, but the fact is no one eats saccharine like they do sugar on a doughnut, so that scale is not helpful here. I want to look at the menu and see something helpful like:

Candy corn: 8
Kraft caramel: 20
Krispy Kreme regular: 1,520
Dunkin pumpkin-shaped spooky doughnut: 8,000,000

I think that would be much more useful than calorie counts. If you're counting calories you're never going to eat this blasted thing, anyway.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Funeral for a fine feathered friend.

Every now and then you hear someone in New York wondering where all the dead pigeons are. Or, as it might be rendered, "Wit all da f--- pigeons in dis f--- town you'd tink we'd be up to our f--- necks in 'em." 

Well, here's one I spotted, although you'll note it was not a pigeon. I think it hit the glass on one of the buildings. 

I recall the question of the whereabouts of Columbidae mortis first being addressed seriously in the Straight Dope column. The answer was that pigeons are A) quick work for scavengers when dead; B) routinely removed by sanitation workers when spotted (as this little bird was); and C) likely to hole up somewhere when sick or elderly, so as not to be killed by enemies, and in the secret place they take their last breath. A correspondent later noted that there was a pigeon graveyard in Dallas, where the birdies had gone to end their days---kind of like Florida for the fletched.

Jesus said that "birds of the skies have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head." Birds of the skies also apparently have places they go when they die, which the Son of Man also did not have until Joseph of Arimathea gave him his. I don't know why I bring that all up, exactly. I just know that it's a tough world, but mercy goes a long way in it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tralfaz goes one round with The Great White Stripe.

Tralfaz had been doing pretty well off the leash. We only stay in the yard, of course. This way he could run around like a maniac on 20 cans of Red Bull while our old bones could sit in the rocking chair on the porch. Nice!

I was not sitting on the porch the night he suddenly sat down and growled. I was about three feet away from him. But there was no leash.

Tralfaz is not a growler or a gratuitous barker. When he does things like this, he means business. I followed his gaze and saw, diagonally across the lawn, fifty feet away---the white stripe.

A half-dozen sitcoms flashed before my eyes.

He barked a couple of times and rose slowly to his feet. I started to calm him while I inched over to grab his collar.

I took off after him, and thank God I'm slow off the blocks. Had I been faster, we both would have gotten it. Before I could go five steps the dog was barreling back in my direction, the skunk waddling off in another.

So the skunk was gone, but the memory (and other things) lingered on.

We immediately went into emergency procedures; I attached the dog to the leash and yelled for Mrs. Key. While she got rubber gloves and dog shampoo I started to hose the dog down.

This was much harder than it sounds. The dog is terrified of water. When he got a blessing from the priest on St. Francis's feast day, the sprinkling with holy water alarmed him terribly. Now he was getting a full, cold blast in the chest. This is a big, strong dog. I was holding the hose in one hand and the leash in the other. How well do you think it went?

When my wife returned we wrestled him down and soaped him up, then it was hosin' time again. Fun! And of course he still stank to high heaven.

The dog had to spend the night in the cellar, in his old crate, which he barely uses anymore. It is really too small for him now. The problem is the cellar is not dog-proofed or finished (there's sharp and dangerous crap everywhere) and the dog is---you guessed it!---terrified of it. To keep him down there and out of harm's way we had to stick him in the crate. Having used up all his courage chasing a nasty predator, Tralfaz was scared stoopid of being isolated and alone in the cellar. Well, tough; shoulda listened to me, sport.

Showers were taken; clothes were thrown away. The next day, while I was looking for odor-killing shampoos in the pet section of Walmart, Mrs. Key spoke to the dog groomer, who was willing to destink the boy. O frabjous day! We put an old sheet on the backseat of the car and hauled him off; he got three baths and still had a little skunk stink. But he was definitely better and able to rejoin the family upstairs.

Tralfaz is an excellent dog and I love him to death. I felt like I let him down by not training him better to heed my call. But, as the vet told my wife the next day, it's very very hard for a dog to fight those attack instincts, and despite his hugeness this fellow is not even a year old yet. Also, many friends with dogs, people who live up here in the Hudson Valley and have a lot more experience at dog rearing, report the same thing happening to their pups. So I suppose no one is really to blame. I wish I had been more alert to the presence of the skunk, yes, but while I've smelled them around I've never seen one on the property before. Also, Tralfaz has barked at deer, but he's never chased them, and he's totally ignored squirrels and rabbits, so I had no reason to think he'd go tearing after anything like that.

As a buddy of mine says, you have to forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn't know before you learned it.

Which I guess we can all do. I hope Tralfaz learned his lesson. I sure learned mine. There are a lot of skunks out there. Maybe I should hire Yosemite Sam.