Thursday, July 31, 2014

Don't die.

I haven't aged into the colonoscopy demo yet, but it'll be here soon enough. As it is, a few years back I reached that age where your annual physical involves the doctor putting things into places from which things usually only come out.

And the time for my physical came again, so I girded my loins and clenched my duodenum and off I went.

At my advanced age and hard-won wisdom I know how to deal with unpleasant things---you lie and say you had a work emergency and promise to reschedule.

But that wasn't what I did, not this time. I've written about my friend who died suddenly late last year, no warning, natural causes. I was thinking of him as the day of my physical approached. I don't think he was good about preventive care. I suspect his death could have been prevented, or at least postponed.

So I went.

The doc was happy enough with my health, at least pending the results of the blood and urine test. I guess I won't die of natural causes right away. Although I've done a lot of work with medical copy and I know all kinds of things can sneak up on you and kill you while you feel perfectly fine. Of course, the problem with working on medical copy is that you come down with everything you study.

No one put it finer than Jerome K. Jerome in his classic Three Men in a Boat, describing the condition my wife and I have come to know as Real Housemaid's Knee:
It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its most virulent form.  The diagnosis seems in every case to correspond exactly with all the sensations that I have ever felt.
I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch—hay fever, I fancy it was.  I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally.  I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into—some fearful, devastating scourge, I know—and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it. 
I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages.  I came to typhoid fever—read the symptoms—discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it—wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance—found, as I expected, that I had that too,—began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically—read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight.  Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years.  Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with.  I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.
I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn’t I got housemaid’s knee?  Why this invidious reservation?  After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed.  I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid’s knee.  Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood.  There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there was nothing else the matter with me. 
I sat and pondered.  I thought what an interesting case I must be from a medical point of view, what an acquisition I should be to a class!  Students would have no need to “walk the hospitals,” if they had me.  I was a hospital in myself.  All they need do would be to walk round me, and, after that, take their diploma.
Then I wondered how long I had to live.  I tried to examine myself.  I felt my pulse.  I could not at first feel any pulse at all.  Then, all of a sudden, it seemed to start off.  I pulled out my watch and timed it.  I made it a hundred and forty-seven to the minute.  I tried to feel my heart.  I could not feel my heart.  It had stopped beating.  I have since been induced to come to the opinion that it must have been there all the time, and must have been beating, but I cannot account for it.  I patted myself all over my front, from what I call my waist up to my head, and I went a bit round each side, and a little way up the back.  But I could not feel or hear anything.  I tried to look at my tongue.  I stuck it out as far as ever it would go, and I shut one eye, and tried to examine it with the other.  I could only see the tip, and the only thing that I could gain from that was to feel more certain than before that I had scarlet fever.
 I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man.  I crawled out a decrepit wreck. 
WebMD has a brilliant niche, convincing the healthy they have tumors.

At least you can get your annual physical, which provides some level of comfort despite its huge level of discomfort while it endures. But so many people would rather follow my own instinct and bail on it.

One of the great myths of modern policy is that preventive care saves everybody money. As one doctor put it in the Wall Street Journal some years ago:
Prevention is a good thing to do, but why equate it with saving money when it won’t? Think about this: discovering high cholesterol in a person who is feeling well, is really just discovering a risk factor and not a disease; it predicts that you have a greater chance of having a heart attack than someone with a normal cholesterol. Now you can reduce the probability of a heart attack by swallowing a statin, and it will make good sense for you personally, especially if you have other risk factors (male sex, smoking etc.). But if you are treating a population, keep in mind that you may have to treat several hundred people to prevent one heart attack. Using a statin costs about $150,000 for every year of life it saves in men, and even more in women (since their heart-attack risk is lower)—I don’t see the savings there.
The problem comes in turning medicine into a policy rather than a personal responsibility. I want you to go get yourself checked out not because I think it will save me tax dollars, but because it will save you money and may save you from an early death.

You are obviously a reader with discerning taste, being on this blog, and we need more of you around. Take care of yourself and enjoy your life. And don't check every little symptom on WebMD; that housemaid's knee is not a malignant knee tumor, trust me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Little tiny wishbone.

The wishbone on a Cornish game hen is extremely small, so only little tiny wishes can be made on it. With a turkey wishbone you could wish to win the lottery; with a chicken wishbone, maybe a scratch-off; with a Cornish game hen wishbone, maybe that you'll find a sawbuck on the street.

What little tiny wishes are appropriate for a game hen wishbone?
  • sick enough for day off, not sick enough to ruin it
  • spontaneous resolution of cable box problems 
  • tires hold out for another year
  • daughter will make Girl Scout Cookie sales quota
  • death to crabgrass!
  • boss will take an extra week of vacation
  • no Spice Girls reunion
  • hangnail remedy
  • movie you picked for family movie night will not bore you, embarrass children, give grandma coronary
  • lustrous hair for prom
  • discovery of lost file cabinet key 
  • son will stop putting baseball cap on backward
  • really cute pair of shoes for prom too (better eat another hen)
  • Kardashians shuffle off to well-deserved obscurity (all right, that's chicken-size, but worth a try)
  • Jets won't 100% suck this year
Good stuff from a game hen wishbone, but small stuff. Now an ostrich wishbone---now you're talking stuff.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Murder and mayhem -- candy edition.

This is an atrocity for two major reasons.

1. IT IS JULY 26, or it was when I took this picture. COME ON, PEOPLE. If you can't wait until at least Labor Day for your stupid Halloween-themed chocolate, how the hell are you going to teach your children to wait until Christmas to open presents, until 21 to start drinking, until marriage to have babies? It may seem like no big deal, but these are the symptoms of our national return to infancy. Patience is a hallmark of maturity.

2. Not that this looks like it's worth waiting for, anyway. Candy-corn flavored white chocolate M&M's? I'm a seeker of sugar and a knockover for novelty, but this is just stupid. Still, Mrs. Key likes candy corn in small doses (she has unusual taste, as my presence in the home confirms). But then, she doesn't like white chocolate. I like white chocolate, but dislike candy corn. You lose on both counts, Red!

I've actually gotten into it with this supermarket chain for being first out with the Halloween crap in the past. Late July is three months! before Halloween. A quarter of the year! They apologized and continued to do it anyway. They wouldn't if we didn't buy it.

I don't know if manufacturers embargo this stuff until---oh, maybe August 1? But I was in Walmart that same day and I didn't see any Halloween stuff. Halloween is almost a hundred days from now!

The Back-To-School stuff has been out for a week or so, sure, but for some students that is less than a month away.

Well, maybe that's a backdoor way to teach children patience. Rushing to Halloween means no more summer. Happy now, kids?

Monday, July 28, 2014

God's vengeful Charley Horse.

Yesterday I expected to be awakened from slumber by the dog whining to go out, as often happens, but it didn't happen. Instead I woke up a good deal later, realized the lovely Mrs. Key was gone, peeked out the bedroom door, and found that she was up and had taken care of the dog and all. I'd been allowed to sleep in!

"Great!" I said. "Well, back to bed."

"NO WAY," said God, or I assume He did, since no sooner did my face hit the pillow when the Vengeful Charley Horse of God smited me.

Smitey smite smite!

It felt like a mighty hand (hoof?) had nailed my calf and dragged me onto the floor. It's been many years since I had one of those, and I had forgotten how crippling they are. Such pain! And even if they didn't hurt like a mother, they render the affected leg motionless as your muscle bunches up as tight as sailors' knots.

What a doggone mean trick for a muscle to play. After all I've done to let them have a life of ease.

Now, I know there were entirely mundane reasons for me to have one of these out of the blue. Not drinking enough water in my active Saturday; not getting proper electrolytes.

Still, the timing, and the way I was essentially thrown out of bed, reminded me of C. S. Lewis's admonition about praying and dishes from Mere Christianity:
Now, the moment you realise ‘Here I am, dressing up as Christ,’ it is extremely likely that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretence could be made less of a pretence and more of a reality. You will find several things going on in your mind which would not be going there if you were really a son of God. Well, stop them. Or you may realise that, instead of saying your prayers, you ought to be downstairs writing a letter, or helping your wife to wash-up. Well, go and do it.
Not that I was praying, but the point is taken: Sleeping is good, but helping is gooder. And it may keep St. Charley the Horse from pounding you.

(Thanks to the blog Mere C. S. Lewis for helping me find the quote I was thinking about!)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Condiment shaming.

Cleaning the fridge is scary. You never know exactly what you're going to find in there.

It wasn't so bad this time, even though it's been over a year since the last Kolossal Kenmore Klean. (Shh---don't tell anyone, K?) Not that there are not spot cleanings of milk carton grundge or inadvertently released au jus. But the whole pull-everything-out-and-scrub-each-part-including-lightbulbs cleaning is more rare and much more time consuming.

Some cleanings of the past have yielded mystery leftovers, expired Pizza Rolls, and a dozen crusty bottles of unloved marinades, salad dressings, mustards, and other condiments.

It's the expired condiments that bring the most shame. I think of meals that ranged from vague disappointment to massive gustatory bust. This time it wasn't so bad---just one bottle of rice vinegar that hit the wall in 2013. I can't even remember what I bought it for. I guess it wasn't that awesome.

There was a bottle of wine that seemed to have mystically turned into vinegar, and to be fair I did pitch an old honey mustard a week or so before the job. I think I'm over honey mustard. Not sure how that happened. There was a honey mustard pork loin that was less than inspired; could have been that.

I hate to waste food, but I hate vomiting and diarrhea, so expired food has to go. Usually it is only condiments, which are not really food in that you can't just eat them and call it a meal, unless you're adrift in a lifeboat and that's all you have, and being a devil-may-care type you make a big production number out of your bottle of barbecue sauce for the other survivors, hoping to distract them from measuring one another up to figure who should be eaten first.

Anyway, the fridge is clean now. And don't worry about the little green mold guy. I put him in the fridge of a bachelor pal, where he will never have to worry about it being cleaned.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Skyyyyyyybaarrrrr Piiiilot!

My continuing effort to eat everything that is bad for me reeled in this little beauty---a Sky Bar, by Necco (the New England Confectionery Company). In this neck of the woods it's easy to find Necco wafers, Canada mints, and Sweethearts, and you might find Candy Buttons, a Clark Bar, some Mary Janes, and even a carton of Mighty Malts, but the Sky Bar is very hard to find. 

And this one is mine! Mine, you hear? 

Well, it was. 

The gimmick of the Sky Bar is that each bar has four pockets with distinct flavors---caramel, vanilla (kind of like marshmallow), peanut (not peanut butter, but a peanut-flavored cream), and fudge. The perfect candy bar for the indecisive. 

I liked it, although the individual components are not extraordinary. Necco's chocolate is no gourmet delicacy; neither are the fillings. Individually the sections could go head-to-head against other cheap confections: chocolate-covered Peeps, Reese's, Rolos, etc. But the treat of the Sky Bar is that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. It's the Fantastic Four of candy. No one would read Mr. Fantastic Comics, but you put him in with the Thing, the Human Torch, and the Invisible Woman, and he's an indispensable member of the squad. 

But the Sky Bar is but a poor version of the Seven Up Candy Bar---no relation to the soft drink---which had seven distinct flavors in one bar. Wikipedia explains: "Flavors changed with the availability and popularity of ingredients, which included, among others, brazil nutbuttercreambutterscotch, caramel, cherrycoconut, fudge, mint, nougat and orange." Sadly, the Seven Up went away in 1979. 

Thanks for the pic, Old Time Candy!

My advice: Get two Sky Bars, eat one section off one of them, and pretend you have a single (albeit repetitive) Seven Up bar remaining. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


A young man climbed the mountain upon which lived the Wise One. Everyone knew that the Wise One was indeed the wisest man ever known, and willing to share his wisdom, but few were willing to make the dangerous climb necessary to consult him.

Jim was one who did want to go. He did not know anything about mountaineering, and his first attempt almost ended in disaster. Jim learned a lot from his trips up the mountain, including how much pain could hurt, but finally, one bright morning, he cheered with gasping breaths as he drew himself over a ledge and found a cave, and outside the cave an old man with a shaggy beard chewing a piece of yak jerky.

“Oh, great Wise One,” said Jim, “I have come to seek your direction.”

The wise one called the Wise One nodded, swallowed, and said, “Speak your question.”

Jim flopped down and, once he caught his breath, said, “I have been assailed as a directionless fool. What should I do with my life?”

The Wise One looked at Jim, gaze meeting gaze, mind meeting mind. Then the Wise One nodded. He closed his eyes and sat motionless, so long that Jim thought the man had fallen asleep, so long that Jim began to fear he had died.

Suddenly the eyes snapped open, the head and came up, and the creaky old voice spoke: “You…must sing!” he said.

“Sing?” said Jim, astonished.

“You must,” said the Wise One. “Sing,” he added.

“Like, actually sing musical songs?” said Jim. “Because I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. I forget words; every song would be called ‘The One That Goes Dee Dee Dee’ if I wrote it. I know nothing of music. I don’t know which end of a trombone the music comes out of. I have the natural rhythm of a drunken earthworm. How can you tell me to sing?”

The old man simply shook his head and said, “You must…sing.”

Jim could get nothing more from the old man, so he took the treacherous journey down and went home, wondering what to do. Exhausted, he collapsed into bed, thinking. No one would believe Jim if he told them that the Wise One said singing was his destiny… and yet, that’s what had happened. Somehow, this was his purpose.

The next morning he arose, determined to follow this path.

He thought that destiny would carry him---after all, he had never tried singing publicly, and maybe some mighty force would cling to his boldness as like is pulled to like. Jim set up a box in the square and climbed on top, and began to sing every song to which he knew some of the words. He did this for a week. In that period he had more old shoes and empty cans flung at him than any five stray cats in town.

Jim realized that he’d been waiting for magic, but destiny was not magic. It was a destination.

He started taking music lessons that day. He took singing lessons. He took music theory. He took music history. He sold his little home to pay for it. He got a job selling sheet music, singing to make sales, then shutting up because it worked better. He kept learning. He went to open-mike nights. He worked harder. He sang all the time. In his phrase, Jim had singing “out the bazooty” for decades.

Then he went to see the Wise One once more.

Jim was a good deal older now, of course, but he was patient, and slowly made his way up the mountain, stopping as needed to rest and acclimate himself in the cold breeze. After all these years he'd come to wonder if he had hallucinated the old man while stumbling around in the thin mountain air. He did not think so, though, and expected to find the man's remains, and maybe some fossilized yak jerky. 

The Wise One was still at the cave where Jim had left him. He was not a frozen corpse, as Jim thought initially; just the incredibly old man, still breathing. His eyes opened slowly and regarded Jim. 

"You have returned," the Wise One croaked, his voice unused in countless months. 

"You remember me," Jim gasped.

"Of course."

"Then you know you told me I must sing."


"All right," said Jim, when he had recovered his breath, "I thought I'd tell you how it worked out. I have spent decades learning about singing. I have spent decades learning about music. I could draw the Circle of Fifths in my sleep. If you give me a note I can give you its harmonic pitches in a second. I have transcribed music and sold it. I learned to play the trumpet, harmonica, guitar, ukulele, clarinet, and seven other instruments, albeit all poorly. I can give you biographical sketches of every important musician in the last century, every important composer in the last millennium. I have eked out a living on the periphery of the music business, or barely so, spending my entire life on the outside, looking in. Because in the opinion of dozens of music teachers and vocal coaches, hundreds of professional colleagues, and thousands of listeners, I have no talent for singing. I am a failure by every measure." Jim sat back in the snow with a grunt. "I thought you should know," he said at last.

A long time passed. The sun crept lower in the cold, vacant sky. Stars began to twinkle in the east, as lights far below began to twinkle in the town. The breeze quieted. All was still.

Then the Wise One turned his head toward Jim. With an effort, he opened his ancient mouth, and spoke at last. 

"Well," he said, "it was worth a shot."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bond. Title Bond.

Looks like they have not released the name of the next James Bond movie---it seems likely that they have not yet chosen the title. Or have a script.

I haven't seen one of them in over a decade, and the one I saw starred Pierce Brosnan. He was fine, but I'm down on the whole franchise.

Everyone loves Goldfinger, but a lot of things in that movie make no sense. For a guy with a major operation in the works, Auric spends a lot of time and resources on stupid crap. Like explaining his evil plot to a bunch of people he's going to kill anyway, and turning handsome Felix Leiter from Dr. No into shoe-faced Felix Leiter two years later was sad.

Still, I want to do my bit to keep the British end up, so I thought I'd come up with a title for the next film. I looked over the Bond books and movies (refusing to get involved in Moneypenny series or short story titles or radio plays or---God have mercy---fan fiction). Bond titles, I discovered, fall into several categories, as do most modern books and films: Play on Words, Proverbs, Exoticism, Huh? (i.e. What the Hell Is That?), Ominous-Sounding Dudes, and Job-Related (that is, spy stuff germane to Jimmy B.). For book titles I've added names/initials of the non-Ian Fleming authors for reference.

Play on words
A View to a Kill
Diamonds Are Forever (a play on De Beers’s 1947 slogan “A Diamond Is Forever”)
Double or Die (Charlie Higson/Young Bond series)
From Russia, with Love 
High Time to Kill (Raymond Benson)
Live and Let Die
The Facts of Death (RB)
The Living Daylights
The Man with the Golden Gun (a play on the Nelson Algren book/movie title The Man with the Golden Arm)
The World Is Not Enough
Win, Lose or Die (John Gardner)
You Only Live Twice 

Death Is Forever (JG)
Die Another Day
Never Dream of Dying (RB)
Never Say Never Again
Never Send Flowers (JG)
Nobody Lives for Ever (JG)
Tomorrow Never Dies 

Carte Blanche (Jeffrey Deaver)
Casino Royale
Devil May Care (Sebastian Faulks)
Hurricane Gold (CH/YB) 

Blood Fever (CH/YB)
Brokenclaw (JG)
C.O.L.D. (JG)
DoubleShot (RB)

Icebreaker (JG)
Quantum of Solace
SeaFire (JG)
SilverFin (CH/YB)
Zero Minus Ten (RB)

Ominous-sounding dudes
Colonel Sun (Kingsley Amis)
Dr. No
Scorpius (JG)
The Man from Barbarossa (JG)
The Man with the Red Tattoo (RB) 

By Royal Command (CH/YB)
For Special Services (JG)
For Your Eyes Only
Licence Renewed (JG)
Licence to Kill
No Deals, Mr. Bond (JG)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Role of Honour (JG)
Solo (William Boyd)
The Spy Who Loved Me 

Here are the ideas I had for great Bond titles. Anyone with a passing familiarity with the films knows that the title doesn’t have to be germane to the plot, so Bond people, feel free to stick any old story with them As long as the title is cool, that’s all that matters.

Play on words
All Is Not Death That Glitters
A Game of Kill
One Death at a Time
Easy Does It In

Death Does Not Punch a Clock
Keep Your Feet on the Ground but Keep Reaching for the Stars

Blessed Is the Peacemaker
Zip Up Your Jacket

Palisades Park

Caviar Twinkie
Rich Corinthian Leather

Kill Van Kull
Ominous-sounding dudes
Mr. Homunculus
Dr. Ouchy
Crazy Guggenheim
The Man from Shreveport
The Man with One Nostril
Hungadunga, Hungadunga, Hungadunga, Hungadunga & McCormick
Madame Yes

Been there.

Check Your 401(k), Mr. Bond
Wash-and-Wear Tuxedo

Drive Spy-y
M Said Oh and P'd, PDQ
A Shot in the Dark (of Ceftriaxone)

Just wire the royalties through my agent. See you in Monte Carlo! Mine’s a vanilla milk shake. Shaken, not stirred. Otherwise it would be a vanilla milk stir. And that’s silly.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Creepiest thing I've seen so far this year.

Trendwatching's announcement of one of the major trends to, uh, watch had every goose bump I own honking. "The Internet of Caring Things" is what the April briefing is called, or "Why consumers will embrace connected objects with a clear mission: to actively care for them."

"A network of connected objects brought to life by a clear mission: to actively care for consumers – their physical and mental wellbeing, homes, loved ones, and more" it goes on to say, and is accompanied by a crushingly sad photo of an elderly woman in some kind of home clutching a stuffed animal.

There is something about people seeking love from something completely non-sentient that just lights up every creep warning on my board. Even a hamster will show you more genuine affection than a vacuum cleaner that's been programmed to simulate love. You may love Teddy Ruxpin, but Teddy Ruxpin cannot love you back.

Although he is fond of Grubby.
Not that I don't show affection toward or otherwise anthropomorphize objects I come across. Of course I do. I am quite fond of my car, and have been known to pat the hood after a long and successful trip. I've loved my home since it was studs and floorboard. I don't sit around and talk with these things, but I can imagine what they're like. I'll bet you could come up with a character description for every car you've owned: burly and lazy, snarky and unreliable, peppy and cheerful. And when some chair leaps in my way and stubs my toe, you'd better believe I attribute malice to it.

But it seems like the trendwatchers are expecting us to be so addled, so love-starved, so pathetic, that we're going to go nuts for a toaster that can make cooing sounds. We don't even know if it's going to be possible to create artificial intelligence, real consciousness in a man-made object, and we certainly don't know if it's going to be a good thing if we do. (If it is a device capable of making its own choices, why on earth would it choose anything good regarding us time-limited meatbags? A period like this in which the scientific community is cynical about the origin of ethics is a bad time for the creation of a monster.)

Some people get very excited over AI research, but it seems like planned human obsolescence to me at best.

These kinds of things never bothered me much when I was a kid. Hymie was just another pal of Maxwell Smart's. Rosie on The Jetsons was just a member of the household. (Yes, I know what Futurama did to her, thanks.) Now I'm less certain that A.I. creatures can be our buddies.

Isaac Asimov wrote more fiction about robots than anyone, and yet even he seemed to be overwhelmed by the question of artificial consciousness. If you know what became of the murder-solving robot sidekick in Caves of Steel, or the answer the "The Last Question," you'll know what I mean.

And I refuse to watch the apocalyptic movie with the robot kid and Teddy Ruxpin schlepping around after human extinction.

So with all this on my mind, I have to ask: Can't we all agree that the Uncanny Valley may be fun to visit, but nobody wants to live there?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What hath God wrought.

Some Sundays ago at Mass, we celebrated the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul---Peter the axle of the early church, Paul the far rim of the wheel.

Our pastor is a fellow who has the heart of a lion and the hide of a lamb. He also has a wicked sense of humor. He can do a fiery homily about the need for evangelizing and building up of the faith and make the congregation laugh like a good after-dinner speaker can. He has the gift.

During the prayers I wondered what I can to build up the faith. It's not a natural urge or talent. I came to the church in middle age (early middle age, thank you) and it's still like speaking a second language to me much of the time. I have the instincts of a totemic barbarian, I think, inclined to burn effigies or run to the pagan temple and burn oxen, asking my gods to smite my enemies for me. That's behind me now, but the old trodden paths are still in my mind. I wish my conversion could have wiped it all out, paved those paths and bent them toward new and better destinations, but while that may be the case for other converts, including St. Paul, it was not for me. The kind of ground that the seed fell on in my case is yet uncertain.

The thought came to me during prayers, though: Tell them what God has done for you.

But I'm still a loser and possibly the biggest sinner I know, I said; I get depressed and full of self-pity and I still sin like a well-oiled sinning machine, and I put off writing this blog entry for weeks.

Today is the day, though.

All right. Brief version.

God created me although He didn't have to, although in my dark moments I think He used resources better spent on other things.

God tried to put me on right paths many times, but I chose to escape from reality by every means available to me. It made me a book lover and a writer, for better or worse, but it led to other paths that were unquestionably worse.

God did not strike me sober, but He led me to sobriety and it was made clear that I would have to embrace it if I wanted it. Most of my life I have waffled my way into things, and by falling this way and that I have made terrible decisions. But sometimes two opposing directions are obvious. I have made two stark choices in my life, and both times I'm glad to say I made the right choice. One was asking to marry the lovely Mrs. Key. The other was taking God up on His offer.

I have flailed and failed at faith over the years, but it sustains me, and I pray every day. On two occasions of great stress I have been praying and suddenly felt uplifted in a way I have never known and don't understand. Both times it was like I'd gone dying of thirst to a water fountain and someone turned on a fire hose. I had to turn away because it was too much for me. Too exceptional for me. More recently I was in mental and spiritual agony when a friend of mine died suddenly, so I went into a chapel to pray. The agony left me suddenly, in a speed I didn't think was possible---I'd always heard it took twenty minutes at least for the body to recover from a state of agitation, but this was instantaneous. The pain and grief that remained was hard, but manageable. I'm not sure these things can be explained, but they could certainly be explained away.

Anyway, these are some of the things God has done for me, and I wanted to focus on things that did not lend themselves easily to responses of "And why you and not Joe X?" Because I don't know why. But I do know that even though I remain a miserable sinner, God has been kind to me, and there's no reason to think He would not be kind to you, too, if you're willing to make the right choice and seek the right paths.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wish I could fly like Superman.

So now that Thor is a girl and Captain America is black, DC is aiming to get in on the icon-ruining bandwagon. Yep, the new Superman is an undocumented Tibetan living in Piscataway.

He's also left-handed, lactose-intolerant, and all his enemies are white guys.

Yep, totally badass.

Friday, July 18, 2014

More thoughts from the Guinea Pig.

Came back for more, eh? Didn't get enough last time?

I enjoy the pet store. All of you safely behind glass---quite calming.

If you're going to hang about, would you mind putting some vodka in my water bottle? Spasibo.

These wood shavings are adequate, but I prefer giant sequoia. Ring for the boy.

Sure, pick me up. It's piddle time.

Don't bother me while Property Brothers is on.

In fact, don't bother me while anything I watch is on. Like CNN.

Your kind would never appreciate me. What kind are you, you ask? Human.

Before you consider the purchase of a so-called pocket pet, you should get his home set up. I recommend the Habitrail Malibu Dream House.

You know why we're called pocket pets? Guess where our favorite place to poop is?

By the way, the noun pet comes from a back formation of petty, as in small, like petit. It just means we're smaller than you. It does not mean you should stroke, muss, rub, or otherwise attempt to show affection in your typical ham-handed way. The verb form came later and should not be taken seriously.

Did you enjoy the new Transformers film? You would.

Were you aware that Mozart was composing at the age of five? And how old are you now?

They say people and their pets tend to look more alike over time. As much as it would benefit you, please, for the love of God, do not purchase me.

Gerbil? You called me a gerbil? Go over to the grooming aisle, select some powerful soap, and wash your filthy mouth out NOW.

From the heart of hell I nibble at thee!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Star-crossed lovers.

You hate when a friend has a terrible breakup. Your heart aches for him.

So will mine, if he ever finds out about it.

When Tralfaz came to live with us not quite five months ago, he was a fuzzy little fellow, twenty pounds of boisterous puppy. The girl next door fell madly in love. He parents had had a bad experience with an angry little mutt once and were unwilling to get a dog. Never mind -- she didn't want just any dog. "I want him!" she said. She patiently---even heroically---endured his nipping and jumping. As for Tralfaz, he fell for her like a sack of fire hydrants. Every time we went to the yard, night or day, that dog would gaze longingly at the house next door, pining, mooning, hoping his girlfriend would appear. 

Well, things have changed. 

Tralfaz has put on fifty pounds since then, all muscle and bone and fuzz; he was always destined to be a big boy. His daddy weighs 120 or so. It's unbelievable how fast our dog grew. You feel like you could see it happen before your eyes. I'm amazed there's anything left of his food to poop; he seems to convert it all into dog as quickly as he eats it.

So all of a sudden he is heavier than the girl, and if you get him up on his hind legs, taller too. While the nipping and jumping and mouthing has toned down, he is still a puppy---a great, big, huge puppy---so we have not been able to train the behavior out of him entirely. When he gets excited, his brain is like an Etch A Sketch---bonk!---everything gone. 

Now she's scared of him. And I don't blame her. 

So the great romance is over. 

She'll look at him sadly from behind the fence. He'll moon in her direction once in a while. But for the most part he's gotten distracted with all the many people out there to love and jump on. Yesterday she got out of the car and wouldn't even turn her face his way. If he could understand why she won't come see him anymore, he'd be brokenhearted. 
Ah, Tralfaz! Ah, humanity!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Parts and their roles.

I was thinking the other day about how certain verbs are associated with certain parts of the body. Nerves are racked, hair stands on end, and so on. Of course, something stupid had to come of it, and I'm pleased to share it with you. 

Verbal Bodies (Scored for Organs)

Some bodily bits are stuck in a rut.
See how your spine always tingles?
It could jingle or jangle or mingle or mangle,
But sure as the break of your back,
The nerve will conform and become the nerve racked,
Ever neat, always sweet and compact.

The gut likes to wrench in a similar way.
It surely could demonstrate torque,
But no, the gut wrenches, at terrors and stenches,
At things you should flick off your fork.
You can kvetch and complain and go call the cops,
But it’s only a belly that flops.

Your eyes only bug and your ears only burn
And your hair never lifts, but it raises,
Your kidneys and spleen are never so keen
On such terrible public displayses.
Your teeth clench and rattle; your tongue likes to twist.
Your Islets of Langerhans never do thist.

But the heart has a number of tricks it can try. 
It aches or it stops or it pounds.
It bursts out in stages, it batters rib cages
And thunders incredible sounds,
I can't quite explain the heart's large repertoire;
Such drama just seems to thrive down in the core.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Crap track.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority likes to announce helpful things over the public address system, using the robovoice that they use now to alert riders to incoming trains (which actually is hugely helpful). One of the announcements we've heard a lot of down in the subway is that last year there were 563 track fires and 7,200 subsequent delays caused by littering. As you can see from the picture taken Monday morning, people are taking the message to heart.

I've seen grown-up folks chuck soda cups and things onto the tracks. I've also seen rats down there on the tracks. Coinkidink? I think not, sir!

The track fire announcement is an attempt to show idiots the direct damage their own perfidy has to their schedules. Not sure if it works. No asswipe ever hears an announcement over the PA, then slaps his forehead and yells, "I've been such a foooool!!" He's got earbuds in, anyhow.

It's not who you might think, either. I always pictured the litterbug as being a Louie De Palma type, only bigger and fatter, but some of the most nicely dressed people just throw garbage around without a thought. A few weeks ago I'm at a bus stop in outer suburbia and a woman executive type yakking away with a young man chucked a banana peel into a bush. Didn't miss a beat. "Blah blah blah" Fling! "blah blah blah..." Yes, it's natural and it's biodegradable, but it's still garbage and it feeds vermin.

There are firefighters who work for the MTA specifically to combat these trash fires. Can you imagine charging into a burning garbage tunnel? I hope it doesn't involve that.

I couldn't do that job. Christian though I am, I think after the fiftieth time I had to put out a smoking pile of litterbug droppings, I would look at the people on the platform and think, Let 'em fry.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Tender Trappist.

The best fruit preserves I have ever had come from a bunch of monks in Massachusetts. 

These are the monks of St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, which they've been selling to support the abbey for decades. They use simple ingredients---yes, corn syrup is a simple ingredient; don't get ugly---and they make a delicious product.

You can buy they in Stop and Shop supermarkets, among others, mostly in the New England area, or online.

Just look at these berries!

Why do I bring this up? Besides my enthusiasm for anything with sugar in it? Because I also have a great enthusiasm for things that are done well, especially when done for a good purpose. In "Good Works and Good Work" in The World's Last Night and Other Essays, C.S. Lewis writes:
Good works are chiefly alms-giving or "helping" in the parish. They are quite separate from one's "work." And good works need not be good work, as anyone can see by inspecting some of the objects made to be sold at bazaars for charitable purposes. This is not according to our example. When our Lord provided a poor wedding party with an extra glass of wine all round, he was doing good works. But also good work; it was a wine really worth drinking. Nor is the neglect of goodness in our "work," our job, according to precept. The apostle says every one must not only work but work to produce what is "good."
And therefore, Trappists of the abbey of St. Joseph, I tip my hat to you. You have not only done good works, but done good work. Let's eat!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dawg of the dead.

Dogs and jackals are both members of the order Canis, and sometimes the scavenger really comes out in your little mutt. Tralfaz recently expressed a great deal of interest in a dead bird that popped up (or plopped down) on the lawn. 

As you know, I've tried to explain to the dog that the only birds he's likely to catch will be really sick or really most sincerely dead, and that doesn't make for a healthy snack. But he doesn't listen. 

We know dogs enjoy chewing bones---one stereotype that holds absolutely true---and those bones are not acquired through outpatient surgery. They have a fascination with remains, even if there's no meat on it. I don't know if other species of scavenger are like that. Probably. I'm sure the hyenas are. And I've seen people wearing necklaces of claws and teeth.

We give the hairball pieces of elk antler, which the elk shed and which are very bonelike. They're expensive, but he chews them a lot and for a long, long, long time. It's the dog version of Call of Duty to a teenage boy. 

My first job outside the house was lawn and garden service for a neighbor with a big spread. They had a sweet little black dog who had the run of the joint. One day he turned up with a largely intact skeleton of something that had died in the woods---I think it may have been a raccoon. I don't know why the bones stuck together so well. Still some skin on it, I guess. I can still remember the look of the thing, the surprisingly light weight, the leathery feel of it, the joy on the dog's face.

I flung it into the woods. The dog was back with it within ten minutes. I flung it farther away while he was inside. Half an hour later he had it again. It was the most wonderful thing ever, and however many times and however far I chucked it, he was going to go find it. 

That's one reason why we bury the dead. I hope six feet is deep enough.

Our dog doesn't go running around without a leash, so I didn't have to bury or burn the bird. When Tralfaz was busy elsewhere I picked up the bird with a shovel and took it to the wooded area nearby and flung it toward the trees.

It hit one of the evergreens and stuck there.

Now it's an ornament.

Well, that's one way to keep the dogs off, but I don't think it will catch on as an alternative to cemeteries.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pull the trigger warning.

An online writing group recently debated the merits of trigger warnings in literature. For the most part the writers were against the idea, as being craven and foolish, dangerous and disturbing. A few were more sympathetic to the triggerbes, saying that movies are rated according to their content in the U.S., so you know what you're getting when you go to see one -- why not books?

Personally, I think the whole thing is a bright blue box of foolishness in a big brilliant bow of stupidity.

The latter argument comes from a place of niceness and a desire to protect children, but seems to come from a place too where no one has seen a book in a hundred years. If I flinch at violence or am looking for a book for my second grader, and I am offered a book with a bloody hatchet and an eyeball and a human spleen on the cover and a title like Kill Them Slowly and Eat Them, should I be surprised if it's not what I'm looking for?

I've heard it argued that trigger warnings show respect for victims of terrible things. Conversely, that this is political correctness run wild. I think it's censorship in the most insidious form I have ever encountered, and I look to the American Library Association to slap down this ridiculous idea, champions as they are of banned books and the First Amendment.

[insert crickets]

Most of this talk is on college campuses, where we're supposedly trusting adults to become educated. These young men and women would love to tell you that they're strong enough and mature enough to make all the choices they need to, without interference from Mom and Dad or faculty advisers or chaperones or anyone... and they can't face Huck Finn or The Merchant of Venice?

How many of these students have been traumatized, really?

I guess PTSD makes people shy away from the things that traumatized them, huh? That's why veterans refuse to join the American Legion or the VFW.

Look, I dislike meaningless violence in literature and movies, so I avoid those books and movies as a matter of taste, but when I was a student I had to read books that offended me in every possible way. So what? Maybe I even learned something.

I don't want to be mean, but come on. If you're unable to function because you have to read Mrs. Dalloway, you need more therapy.

Sorry, cupcakes: Life is hard and hiding from certain books won't change that. Stop whining. If you can't face the books, change your major to accounting. Much better chance of finding work that way after you graduate, anyhow.

Monday, July 7, 2014

New and white.

The deck I painted looks a lot better now. Here it is after the first coat. Unfortunately, you can't see it in person because it reflects the sun so strongly you need your shades. 

The problem is that white structures are lovely and fresh and delightful when new, but nothing looks dingier and older and dirtier about, oh, two weeks later. 

Lincoln Center and the surrounding buildings are very nice at night, all lit up. During the day, a little dingy, old, and dirty.

Future home of the ballet version of Larry and the Mascots

People are aware of this when they buy cars---that if you buy a white car the dirt will show more than any other color. But not when they build massive cultural institutions (or, paint decks). It's all right if you're an ancient Greek or Roman and you're using marble. Then it's not dirt---it's patina.

Maybe I made a mistake with the deck. Maybe I should have stained it a dark brown. That never shows dirt.

Is it too late to make Lincoln Center brown?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Live and let dive.

We got a little wading pool for our extra-large puppy, Tralfaz. He's a cold-weather fellow, and summer has come as something of a shock to him. So we got this nice plastic pool. It's a cooling spot and a chew toy all in one!

It's about eight inches deep, as you can see by my scientificy measurement. So it can hold about six inches' depth of water.

I was surprised by some of the instructions:

See that? No diving! No jumping! "Do not dive into this pool. Diving into shallow water can result in a broken neck, paralysis, or death."

I can understand the warnings about watching children and emptying the pool; toddlers can drown in very little water. And electrocution, yes, that can happen with the kinds of things people keep outside during a pool party or barbecue, like boom boxes. But diving?

Most of us have no temptation to become the next Professor Splash, the amazing fellow who can fall 36 feet into 12 inches of water. If you watch the video at the link you'll see he actually does a belly flop, not a dive, so he's landing flat on the surface of the water rather than piercing it. But don't try that either.

Here I should write about how idiots and their obliging lawyers are ruining the country by doing moronic things, getting hurt, and suing everything in sight, turning us into petrified wusses instead of grown men and women who know better than to pull a David Boudia into an eight-inch-deep pool. So we wind up with instructions on the handles of chef's knives that say DO NOT PUT IN EYEBALL. (Not yet, no, but give it time.)

Anyway, don't worry about Tralfaz. He is absolutely terrified of the pool and won't go near it, full or empty. Another ten bucks down the toilet. Dogs are the second craziest species I know.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Snacks are weird.

It's true---people will try to explain away differences in cultures for many things, including such minor considerations as politics, religion, and class distinctions, but when it comes to snack food, we're appalled at what the other guy eats. I think we're even willing to cut entrees some slack, since you have to eat something and maybe locusts were all there was (for example). But you eat snacks when you're not starving. You eat that stuff on purpose. Therein lies the horror.

When Americans go someplace truly foreign, they will either reel with horror from what the people snack on or will pretend that they've not only come to like it, they're something of an expert. Yeah, even the locals defer to my taste in fried tortoise testicles. I've got a rep, I guess.

Even within our own nation, other foods surprise me. I've never warmed to grits, or even a single grit. And I'd only heard whispers of things like this: 

Although the product has been around for fifty years, and is known internationally, you could not find these up north until recently, or at least I couldn't. Never ate a thing "in a biskit." Chicken-flavored snacks are like something you'd use to train the dachshund. But no, these are crackers for human consumption, flavored with dehydrated chicken, and things like this are popular in various places. I bought them and ate them... and I liked them myself. They tasted like chicken broth. What could be wrong with that? Crumbled crackers are used to top all sorts of casseroles; I'll bet these are great for that.

The Wikipedia page says that in Australia, Nabisco makes a Vegemite-in-a-Biskit cracker. That's taking things too far.

Another foreign snack that has a chicken variety is Twisties, made by Smith's Snackfood (owned by Pepsi). In Italy they are sold under the name Fonzies.


I wondered if they were actually named for the internationally popular character Arthur Fonzarelli, the Fonz, portrayed memorably by Henry Winkler. Longwhitekid, who runs an amazing blog on New Zealand stuff (and a lot on food), believes so:

Interestingly, Twisties are produced in Italy under the brand name “Fonzies”. In the mid 1970s, General Foods and Bluebird, on the back of the success of the T.V. series “Happy Days” and the resulting 1950′s retro/ Greaser style revival that resulted – did a licensing deal with Paramount Pictures and marketed a cheesy snack product named “Fonzies”, for actor Henry Winkler’s character “The Fonz”, which was the epitome of cool to boys at that time and much impersonated.

My question, though, is this: Since Henry Winkler is Jewish (which came as a crushing blow to the Italian kids in my school -- not that the Fonz was Jewish but that he was not Italian), are Fonzies kosher? Hmm....

Here's something to ponder: Winker is 68 now; when he started playing the Fonz he was 28. The show Happy Days was originally set in the mid-50's (a second-season episode centered around Eisenhower's reelection campaign). Assuming Fonzie was the same age as the actor playing him, the Fonz would now be about 85. Which means Winkler could kick Fonzarelli's butt. 

Here's another: The great Al Molinaro played the character Al Delvecchio on Happy Days, but he was well known before that for playing Murray Greshler, a Jewish cop on The Odd Couple TV show. So while the Jewish Mr. Winker was playing the Italian Mr. Fonzerelli, the proprietor of the diner had once been an Italian actor playing a Jewish cop. Somehow I don't think that would have comforted the Italian kids in my school, though.

And a third: I thought Nabisco had been taken over by some bizarre Spanish firm, as all the product boxes say "Mondelēz" on them. But no: They decided to change the parent name from Kraft Foods, and while the company is still American, they chose a stupid name in a stupid way: "The Mondelēz name, adopted in 2012, came from the input of Kraft Foods employees at the time, Monde being French for world and delez an alternative to delicious." Mrs. Key thinks this a team-builder and a boost for employee morale. I call it maize. Which is in keeping with many of the fine corn-based Mondelēz products.