Friday, October 31, 2014

The true meaning of Halloween.

Let's take a moment from all the hustle and bustle of the holiday to contemplate the true meaning of Halloween. 

Ha. We all know it's


For some of us adults, Halloween will be an opportunity to exercise our abilities at zombie makeup, giant puppet creation, or attempting to get next to the Naughty Ebola Nurse at the office party. But for most of us, it will mean: free excuse to wolf down chocolate. 

The Christian Science Monitor reports that U.S. Halloween candy spending is $2.2 billion this year. Clearly we have lost our minds. But we've retained our sweet tooth, so that's okay. 

Just so we're all clear on the rules: 

1) Stock up with lots of classic candy like NECCO wafers, Dots, Dum-Dums, Mary Janes, Star Brites, Lemon Drops, Bazooka gum, and chocolate. 

2) Fend off the trick-or-treaters with NECCO wafers, Dots, Dum-Dums, Mary Janes, Star Brites, Lemon Drops, and Bazooka gum, and eat the good stuff yourself.

I don't do scary things for the kids anymore on Halloween. One year I had a rubber scare mask and I flung open the door to find a four-year-old Batman on the porch by himself. I almost made him wet his utility belt. 

Now I usually answer the door in my Groucho glasses and mustache, and that's just so none of the kids will recognize the dude who fobbed off the Dum-Dums and Star Brites while his shirt was covered in chocolate. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

No pumpkin cookie!

One of the clients I do freelance work for was doing a potluck Halloween get-together and I was on the e-mail list. The idea was that everyone who wants brings something homemade, and a panel of judges gives awards for the best dishes. I have a butt-kicking recipe for pumpkin cookies, and I went as far as holding a can of pumpkin in my hand, ready to roll.

Then I decided: No pumpkin cookie for you.

Why? Am I just a party pooper? Am I the kind of punk who goes to a party and brings nothing and eats everything? Am I just a rotten, no-fun weenie?

Yes, but that's beside the point. Here are the reasons that rushed up on me while I held that can of pumpkin:

1) Freelancers never win competitions. You're always an alien in a party like that if you're not a full-timer. Even those who are part of the Obama 29-Hour Army are just endured, never welcomed into the bosom of the family. Everyone will know what you brought, even if the competition claims to be a blind taste test, and you will automatically if subtly be disqualified.

2) It's tiresome to bring sweets to an office, even for a party. You wind up having to hear from everyone who went to the gym that morning, and everyone who hasn't had a sweet thing since Valentine's Day, tee hee. Which brings me to the latest revelation:

3) The last time I was at that office I heard a tedious one-upmanship conversation about who was better at giving up gluten. This was the worst excuse for a pissing contest I have ever heard, and I've been in lots of battles that were not even worth being won. Why would I waste cookies on people like that? I use gluteny flour with extra gluten: so there!

4) And of course, when I make my fine, fine cookies, who winds up eating most of them? Fat Freddy Key, that's who. Got to taste them, make sure they're okay, then make sure they didn't get hard the next day, then one more to see how the icing took... I'm fat enough now, thanks.

And 5) As King of Suburbia, I'd have to bring these cookies into the city. They're a crisp cookie. One bonk on the bus and I've got a bag full of crumbs. Which I would then have to eat myself.

So, the hell with it. I'll slip a box of Twinkies into the mix and eat nothing myself. I may be a party pooper, but this party is probably pre-pooped for the sake of convenience.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dial up the terror!

Oooooh! Scaaaaaaaaaary!

Okay, maybe not too scary. This is Dial's Halloween hand soap, in non-Halloween scent. It has a very nice scent, I should say, but it's just a foaming hand soap, not, say, a pumpkin-scented or burning-leaf-scented or candy-corn-scented soap. This doesn't quite make the cut for the Great Lileks's "Pumpkinification of Everything" that he's been running through October, as there's no pumpkin flavor; also, he's focusing mostly on candy and snacks.

The Dial bottle is disappointing enough. It's certainly got nice art, and the standard Dial foaming soap bottle shape gives it a more pumpkiny look than many other seasonal pumpkin-themed products. The problem is, it is supposed to be glow-in-the-dark. Twenty minutes of light supposedly fires up the glow-in-the-dark outline of the spooky face. Look out! Could scare the kids!

Well, here's my artist's impression of what it looked like in the dark:

And it thereby fulfilled a longstanding tradition of non-glowing glow-in-the-dark products for Halloween.

It's important to keep these holiday traditions going from one generation to the next. In November we'll focus on your aunt's dry turkey and watching your school lose on Homecoming Day.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

“Black Widow” Confesses to Serial Killing.

Elizabeth Noone, 53, of Bow Road, Cheapside, was arrested this morning and charged with the murder of seven men, all of whom had been married to her. Her current husband, Henry Noone, still lives, currently under police protection.

Police Superintendent Antony Murst issued a statement shortly after the arrest: “The suspect, Mrs. Noone, 'oo's full name is Elizabeth Ann Regall Leckenby Murray Bim Weston O’Toole Murgatroyd Pung Noone, is charged wif 'aving 'anged, poisoned, stabbed, shot, pushed off a railway platform, smothered, and bludgeoned 'er seven previous 'usbands to death, and attempting to gas 'er current 'usband, Mr. 'enery Noone.”
The case has excited all of London not only because of the viciousness of the crimes and the deviousness of the killer, but also because of the bizarre link that each of the murderess’s husbands, including the current one, shared the same first name.
Ev’ry one was a 'enery,” said Superintendent Murst. “Wouldn’t 'ave a Willie or a Sam.”
The suspect, Elizabeth Ann Regall Leckenby Murray Bim Weston O’Toole Murgatroyd Pung Noone,
shown with officers, would have neither Willies nor Sams.
Mr. Noone, speaking by telephone with police permission, confirmed that his wife made an attempt on his life.
“She says ‘I fink somefing’s wrong wif th’ oven, an’ would I 'ave a peek inside,” Mr. Noone told reporters. “Soon as I’m in she turns on th’ gas and rams me 'indquarters in firm. She’s a strong woman, is my wife, stronger'n she looks, an’ I was lucky to escape. I runs to the coppers and when they investigate they find out 'er previous 'enerys 'ave all hexpired under other mysterious circumstances.”
According to reports, Mrs. Noone has maintained her innocence, but has yet to attempt to explain how all seven of her deceased husbands happened to come to violent and premature ends, as exhumation has confirmed.
The London coroner's office has come under fire for failing to realize the connections during the killer’s spree, signing reports with causes of death listed variously such as “accidental poisoning,” “suicide by hanging,” “accidental stabbing in the back seven times,” “accidental smothering with big embroidered pillow,” and “forgot to check body; got planted; too late now.”
As for the remarkable coincidence of all her victims being named Henry, Harley Street brain specialist Dr. William Thropwicke Jerkins suspects there is no coincidence at all.
“Mrs. Noone’s late father was named Henry,” he told reporters, citing police reports. “Obviously she wanted to kill someone, and I would hazard a guess that she wasn’t too fond of the old man, so she married and murdered surrogates. If I were this Murst chap I would dig her father up, too.”
“Glad I’m not named Henry, by the way,” he added.
Mr. Henry Noone was asked by reporters why he never thought something was odd about his wife having seven dead husbands and all of them named Henry, he said, “I dunno. She called it 'The Importance of Bein' 'Enery.' As for all of 'em dyin', I guess I just thought she was unlucky. Somethin’ to think about, though, ain’t it?”

Monday, October 27, 2014

Amazing weight loss plan!

Trees! Do you want to lose 10, 20, even 30 pounds? Are you tired of being called "full-figured"? Do you wish you had the bony look associated with Hollywood stars and fitness celebrities?

It's easier than you think! Just use Autumnal Equinox, the new weight-loss plan that's sweeping the northern parts of the nation!

Look at the amazing results of Autumnal Equinox in just three weeks*!

BEFORE                                                                                                   AFTER
And it's so easy! Just expose yourself to strong winds and diminished temperatures and light, and Autumnal Equinox does the rest! The excess weight just disappears**!

"Nothing worked until I tried Autumnal Equinox. I couldn't believe how easy it was! It's incredible!"

Order your Autumnal Equinox today and we'll throw in some green bark mold absolutely free! Operators are standing by! Call NOW!


*Results completely typical.

**Autumnal Equinox is not recommended for fir trees and other evergreens, palm trees, or small houseplants. May cause seasonal affective disorder. Foliage may not return if you die over the next six months in the dead miserable cold. Autumnal Equinox must be taken with Winter Solstice whether you like it or not. Use only as directed. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Don't wear that.

I don't want to be mean about it---Lord knows I've been inappropriately dressed many times. I once got scolded (nicely) by a priest for wearing a hat into church. That was decades ago and I still feel bad about it.

And I do wear plaid, at least when Mrs. Key is not looking and I can sneak out the door.

But this is just not right for a nice restaurant.

The guy seemed to be uncomfortable about it, which leads me to believe he was tricked into taking his lady to a nicer restaurant than he expected. Management didn't care; with the margins in the restaurant business these days they're just relieved everyone shows up with pants. But there are ways to dress to go out to dinner and ways not to dress to go out to dinner, and this is part of category 2. 

Still, I do give anyone high marks for at least being aware of being underdressed. These days everyone slumps around like dumb oafs everywhere---TGI Friday's, the mall, Disneyland, work, interviews, childbirth, church, weddings, funerals, surgery, it's all the same to the lumpen proletariat. This was not the way the world looked just twenty years ago. What the hell is happening to us? Where will it all end? 

My guess: No pants in the restaurant. 

As for me and mine, we will stand by our trousers. Call me a reactionary if you like. That's how we roll.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Secrets of history.

World War II: Although feared, and renowned for its ability to deliver 206 troops in a single C-53 Skytrooper, the United States Army's 113th Airborne Comedy Division ("The Fightin' Paraclowns") was not particularly effective and was tragically wiped out in Operation Market Garden.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Never watch anything being made.

They say people who like sausage and respect the law should never watch either being made. I'm here to tell you should never watch anything being made.

For example, if you're familiar with the Children's Place, you know it as the friendly store for sweeeeet huggy lovey kids' clothes like this:

But the headquarters in New Jersey looks like THIS:


You don't even want to know what the factories look like.

Nah, I don't know. Even though this onesie is said to be "imported," I don't imagine dark satanic mills cranking out the duckies and bears. I just thought it was funny that the big CHILDREN'S PLACE sign is on a glass building that looks like the kind of place that would make a kid faint from boredom just standing in the lobby.

But you get the idea. The creative process for anything is ugly, dull, and very, very often fruitless. Even, or maybe especially, writing. P.G. Wodehouse was known to make himself laugh, but most comic writers are more like Dave Barry, engaged in strenuous toenail maintenance. S.J. Perelman was known to crank out one slow word at a time, while Thurber just tossed off draft after draft. Either way it would be dull viewing.

There's a reason that there's no Authors Channel, where you watch authors composing at their laptops. You'd enjoy programming from the Emergency Broadcast System more.

You see it at your own job. You know how much crap goes on behind the scenes of every shiny new car, every freshly washed child, every lovely painted wall, every rock-solid contract. It's sausage all the way down. But that's part of the wonder of humanity---we take scattered stuff 'n nonsense and turn it into something grand. (Of course we do the reverse as well, but that's another story.)

Thursday, October 23, 2014


So old Fred is thinking about what costume I should wear this Halloween. Last year I really cleaned up at trick-or-treating. I got a curly-hair wig and big glasses and a rumpled suit and went as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. People gave me candy to make me go away. I was really happy until I found out that Kissinger went as me and got twice as much candy. Bastard!

Still, I have to count it as a success, but you can't wear the same costume on consecutive Halloweens. I thought about cutting a hundred holes in a sheet so I could go as Charlie Brown, but I didn't want to get a sack of rocks.

I got to thinking of some of my favorite costumes as a kid---Superman, Robot, Cinderella---and I remembered when I used some old clothes and some makeup to do the classic Hobo. That's pretty hard to do as a grown-up, though; a ten-year-old dressed as a bum is a cute kid; an adult dressed as a bum is... a bum. And you don't get candy; at best, just a bowl of stew if you promise to clear out the stable.

But I thought I could come pretty close if I went as Jonathan Scott of HGTV's Property Brothers. He's tall, like me; he wears plaid, as I sometimes do; he's handy, as I tell everyone I am. And yet he still has permanent stubble, like a bum. All I'd need would be a wig and a tool belt.

See? Piece of cake. The only thing is, since we're practically twinsies, people might think I'm him, and not give me candy because of my awesome disguise. Or they'll think I'm his twin brother Drew, and tell me my costume sucks because I just raided my brother's closet.

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.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

You had one job.

You know the jar guy and the label guy at Aunt Nellie's blamed each other. Mrs. Key said she would believe the jar guy. Someone put something in a machine ass backward, and the label is the same shape upside down as it is right-side up, but the jar isn't. Were it the jar, the beets would go shooting off the bottom. And the cap would try and fail to be twisted onto the bottom. Nope, label guy all the way.

Hey, I've made plenty of mistakes in my professional career. About twenty years ago I approved a book cover to print that was missing the title; I assumed it was just part of the separation that didn't make it on the blues. Surprise! Thousands of books arrived a few weeks later with no title. We had to send them back to get the title embossed. At high cost. Somehow I kept my job, at least until we all got laid off. (I wasn't the only one making expensive mistakes at that company.)

So I understand that everyone makes mistakes, and most of us with jobs can get away with one or two. Brain surgeons, policemen---they have to be perfect every time. It's a lot easier to be an editor.

Anyway, I imagine the foreman at Aunt Nellie's looking at the many jars with upside-down labels:
Manager: "How many we got?"
Label Guy: "Uh... ten thousand."
Manager (pauses, thinks; then): "Send 'em to Walmart. People will buy anything at Walmart."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Can't be too careful.

"Not here, comrade. That fellow's giving me funny looks."

Monday, October 13, 2014

Rally the Italians.

A couple of years back I wrote about Columbus Day, and how the sickly disease of political correctness---that pale, miserable monster that creeps up in the old guise of fellowship and fairness and respect, but its black heart is bent on hatred and destruction---is ruining it.

As I noted, someone from Europe would have eventually made it to the New World. Columbus was the one who had the smarts and the bravery to do it. I think those dummies in Seattle who have turned this into Indigenous Peoples' Day think there should have been some gigantic ocean barrier keeping Europeans out. It must be nice to live in their world.

Anyway, as I wrote, the European man who made it to this hemisphere
have had to have been someone as clever at navigation as he was at promotion, someone as brave as a barrel of sharks, someone with enough charisma to keep a small fleet intact on a voyage that could be straight to hell for all anyone knew, a voyage that by anyone’s estimation was not exactly a Carnival cruise, then go back, and then do the round-trip again, three more times in all. For most of my life people have been down on Christopher Columbus, but by God the man had more guts than any next thousand guys you meet. 
And that's a fact. The Seattle City Council did not create this holiday, nor did any other government; it was created by proud Italians who came to our shores to seek a better life. No lickspittle government highbinder has the right to take this day away from our proud Italian citizens.

I call on Italian Americans to rally in defense of Christopher Columbus today. Demand recognition of his courage, his brilliance. Insist that European civilization was not the endless horror show that its foes like to portray. Threaten to go on strike if this PC garbage continues to insult you and your ancestors. You don't have to obey this academic nonsense. Get some respect!

No justice, no pizza!
UPDATE: The Great Harvey of IMAO sez: 
I’ll ask, since no one else will: if indigenous people are so awesome, how come they didn’t discover Europe?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Autumn in the valley.

Isn't that lovely? We'd been having heavy weather all day, but shortly before I reached the crest of the hill it had begun to move off. You can tell that I was in the shadow, but the sun was bathing the valley and drifting our way.

The dog was not impressed.

This is Warwick Valley in New York's Orange County. I didn't go there to impress the dog. He just happened to be in the backseat. I can tell you exactly where the spot is: right next to the ice cream store for Bellevale Farms Creamery in Warwick, which sells ice cream that is rich and delicious. And as a bonus, they get leaf-peeking lunatics who want to see the view while they eat their Black Dirt Blast. Or, people just come for the view and skip the ice cream.

I came for the ice cream. The dog was not impressed by that, either. Why would he be? He didn't get any.

Still, we'd been in the car for over an hour, and I thought that he'd be happy to come out and stretch his legs. Nope. Tralfaz gets spooked sometimes and will not get out of the car. Actually, sometimes he gets spooked going into the car. I know he'd get spooked being strapped to the roof. The fact is, this dog is scared of weird and incomprehensible things. However, at times he is extremely brave, and that doesn't work out so well either. I will have a story to tell in future.

Anyway, as I noted earlier in the month, fall is here and it is lovely. The creamery is open until the end of the month, and God knows how long the leaves will hang on, so hurry on over to the Warwick Valley and enjoy them both. We still know how to do a few things right in New York.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Butchery and s'mores.

One of the great things about camping, as viewed from the sporting goods section of Walmart at least, is the confluence of (A) the sheer man-vs.-nature kill-or-be-killed tooth-and-claw struggle for survival and (B) s'mores.

On the right you have a machete and a giant Bear Grylls murder knife; on the left, a s'mores grill and a long BBQ fork for your wienie roast. Because God forbid you should use a stick.

That's the thing about camping: it means totally different things to different people. For some it means parachuting into the deepest wilderness with only a Swiss Army knife and a roll of floss; for others, it means packing up an RV larger than their home and parking in a spot with every conceivable hookup, including WiFi and cable. For me, it means staying home and watching National Geographic network until I have to lie down.

(Actually, for Eddie "Bear" Grylls it also may mean that, at least according to one controversy.)

I've never watched Discovery's Naked and Afraid, but I'm told that people who sign on for the show frequently have to be evacuated for medical attention following exposure, illness, or eating things that have been dead a bit too long.

All of which is why, despite its many flaws, I'm a big fan of civilization. (In your FACE, Rousseau.) I'm voting we keep civilization going for a while. I don't think many of us would last long without it. As for the preppers awaiting doomsday, should that fateful day arrive I doubt they'll be able to kill enough of the rest of us to hold on to all their stores until---well, whatever their endgame is. Until civilization arises anew? Until everyone else is dead? Until they die of natural causes?

I'm going to have a little faith in civilization and lean toward the s'mores side rather than the machete side. Although you never know when a machete could come in handy. You might have to fight off Bear Grylls when he's trying to use all the ice in the ice machine to fill his cooler. Back, you heathen bastard! Don't you see the sign? No filling of coolers!

Friday, October 10, 2014

The last Big City cartoon.

(NB: These cartoons were from a series I did back when God was a boy, that wound up not getting published. To which you say, "I know why." This is the last one. Have pity.)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Monday's child is full of face.

We all know that poem, usually called "Monday's Child":

Monday's child is fair of face
Tuesday's child is full of grace

And on like that. Ultimately a child born on each day of the week gets some trait prophesied:

Monday: fair face
Tuesday: packed with grace
Wednesday: chock full o' woe
Thursday: long schlep
Friday: loving, giving
Saturday: works hard
Sunday: bonny, blithe, good, gay

So unfair to Wednesday. Thursday kids are not much better; "far to go" could mean "will go far," or it may mean "will run all over the place like Billy from Family Circus and take eight times as long to go half the distance." Saturday's kid working hard for a living might mean he is industrious, or it could be that he devotes his life to working harder, not smarter.

Some people will automatically spout that stuff when you have a baby; they want to tell you what to expect based on the day of the week the kid arrived. Like it's an accurate predictor. Compared to this poem, astrology is Newtonian physics.

I thought about the people in my circle whose birth dates I know, wondering whether their lives had played out as the poem predicts. In a word: No. In fact, based on the anecdotal experience of my acquaintances, I'd say:

Monday’s child is goofy and weird
Tuesday’s child has a big hairy beard
Wednesday’s child pays a great cost
Thursday’s child always gets lost
Friday’s child works hard for a goal
Saturday’s child goes on the dole
Sunday’s child could be worse
And unlike others, not under a curse

But, as they say, your mileage may vary. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Rating the drawers.

A necessary component to any kitchen, and yet, a bit dull. An uninspired collection of day-to-day flatware in the five main sections---butter knives, dinner and dessert forks, serving spoons and forks, tablespoons, teaspoons. (No silver, which is locked up someplace and reserved for special occasions that have yet to arrive.) The drawer shows some signs of life in the optional sections, which include cheap paring knives, measuring spoons detached from their brethren, iced-tea spoons, children’s flatware, and other odds and ends. Varies wildly from dutiful adequacy to twee frivolousness and marred by poor presentation. Grade: B-

An appearance by an accomplished costar like this bamboo tray might have raised the bar,
Truly a treasure, but one must approach it in a spirit of fellowship and bonhomie. Every kitchen should have a good junk drawer, and this one shines. Little flashlights complemented by little batteries---oh, one should hope they come together if the power goes out! Rubber bands and twist ties, small screwdrivers (Phillips and flat), a microwave oven tester, a padlock with key… truly a drawer of wonders. With all such, its secrets are not clear at one glace. But aficionados will explain that this is the nature of the beast. It will always require digging, but always reward same. Grade: A

Another odd collection, eclectic but in an entirely predictable way. Towels are stacked (one might say stuffed) into the deepest drawer in the collection, but with little sense of appropriateness. Very worn towels with cartoon bunnies vie with white high-faulting chef towels adorned mainly with coffee stains. Buried are fluffy towels that retain their original colors, reserved for kitchen use when guests worthy of the silverware arrive, one imagines. Still, they’re all clean, and that’s worth something. Grade: B

Cooking Utensils
A good grouping, kind of fun and quite democratic, with smaller whisks, peelers, and cheese slicers rubbing metaphoric elbows with more plebeian measuring spoons, extra knives, and wooden spoons. A lack of organization keeps this drawer from being, well, top drawer, but its usefulness is undeniable. Grade: A-

Cooking Utensils II
An insane hodgepodge of seldom-used tools, this drawer offers something for everyone, but with no logical thread. Ice cream scoops and bamboo skewers, meat thermometers and candy thermometers, a partly melted plastic spoon and a silicone-coated whisk that works poorly are all jumbled together. Yields some rewards, as with Cooking Utensils I, but sequels are seldom as good as the original. Grade: C+

Coffee Accessories
Unusual to find an entire drawer devoted to coffee things, but this one is, almost entirely. Many lids from reusable travel mugs are in evidence. A smattering of scoops of the type that come with coffeemakers join them. On the whole, amusing in its single-mindedness but quickly tiresome. Someone's drinking a lot of coffee. Makes you wonder if these people ever sleep. Grade: C

Bad idea, bad execution. Using a kitchen drawer for credit card receipts is boneheaded, especially a small drawer that gets filled up fast. Receipts fall out the back and into the cupboard below. There’s no order or direction at all, and it usually takes a full-blown paper crisis to get it cleaned out. This drawer should never have been made, but having been made, should be kept shut. Grade: F

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I need Comics Anonymous.

I am sorry to hear that Typhoon Vongfong is heading to Japan, right on the heels of Typhoon Phanfone. Phanfone had been downgraded before it got there at least, but Vongfong is strengthening.

Sorry to say it's been impossible for me to follow these storms without thinking of this guy:

Yep, good old Fin Fang Foom of Marvel fame; Phanfone Typhoon could be his brother. Vongfong Typhoon, a cousin. (You'd hate to introduce them. "Fin Fang Foom, meet Phanfone and Vongfong, Typhoons. Foom, 'Fone. Foom, 'Fong. 'Fong, Foom. 'Fone, Foom.")

You learn a lot about yourself by what pops in your mind when you hear something. As the old saying has it, the definition of a sophisticate is someone who hears "The William Tell Overture" without thinking of the Lone Ranger.*

Anyway, your average idiot might hear names like Phanfone and Vongfong** and think of stupid or culturally insensitive remarks. Me, I think of comic book characters. That makes me a particular subset of the average idiot.

Fin Fang Foom was not named for typhoons or other natural phenomena; Stan Lee said the dragon's name came from Chu Chin Chow, a China-based 1934 film. No dragons in the movie, I think. He just liked the rhythm and alliteration. And I don't think I even need to mention that Jack Kirby did the art.

When I was a youth, Fin Fang Foom was something of a running joke at Marvel. The character was and has been used in any number of ways, as a monster, a good dragon, a dumb brute, a genius with mental powers, Godzilla Junior, a proprietor of a Chinese restaurant, and a guy who plays cards with Howard the Duck. It's complicated. I think he also gave his name to Marvel's short-lived fan mag FOOM, although there's scant evidence. But above all, he was the guy with the awesome name of Fin Fang Foom.***

Really, they could do worse than name a storm after Finny. He was a force with which to be reckoned, at least sometimes.

* Maybe kids today are too far removed from old TV and radio to know about the William Tell/Lone Ranger connection. That does not makes them sophisticated. 

** Pacific storms are not necessarily given human names but rather names of "animals, flowers, astrological signs, and a few personal names" according to the font of human knowledge

*** When you think about it, even our words for storms are pretty cool. Typhoon, cyclone, hurricane, thunderstorm, lightning storm, tornado, tempest, blizzard, monsoon... all cool, and all probably used for superheroes or villains. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

iBig news.

All day long people come up to me on the street and say, "Fred, why aren't your fantastic books available on iBooks, the new book software that Apple is cramming down our throats?" And I tell them, "Please, people, you may be imaginary but you're still obstructing my reflection in this shop window. As for your silly question, the answer is: Pretty durn soon!"

And they say, "Why are you out on the street all day? Don't you have a home to go to?" And I say, "Beat it! The pink elephants are getting annoyed."

Most people know that movies open on Fridays, except that they sometimes come out on Wednesdays, unless they open on holidays. But no one not in the book business is aware that new book releases come out on Tuesdays. This is another thing that ePublishing has monkeyed with. While paper books still come out on Tuesdays, eBooks can be posted anytime. Between that and the much lower labor costs and much, much lower materials costs involved, there's no restriction on when eBooks can be published, and consequently no set dates on which they must be released. In other words, I have not yet been given an exact date for the arrival of my books on Apple's iBooks. You'll know when I know.

Anyway, I am happy that they'll be available on another platform, and I hope it's useful to you. Also, note that the publisher says he is planning to jack up the price in the next few months. My advice is to buy them all now and read them fast, just in case ISIS uses a nuke to cause a massive EMP over your house and destroy all your electronics. At least you'll have your memories.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Ned Land! Ho!

Those of us who were first introduced to Jules Verne's classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea via the 1954 Disney film will have formed a positive impression of harpooner Ned Land, a sailor on the ship Abraham Lincoln, as played by Kirk Douglas. I believe I heard that it was the only part Douglas ever sang for. And sing he did.

He makes it look easy.

He sang probably the best remembered number from this or any other live-action Disney film (prior to Enchanted, anyway). In "A Whale of a Tale," Canadian Ned---yes, Ned was Canadian, according to the Verne book---tells the musical song of his star-crossed love life. And we know that he's telling the truth, inasmuch as he swears his oath upon his tattoo. The three verses each describe a problematic relationship, such as:
There was Mermaid Minnie 
Met her down in Madagascar
She would kiss me
Anytime that I would ask her
Then one evening
Her flame of love blew out
Blow me down and pick me up, 
She swapped me for a trout!
The thing is, Ned is a sailor, and even a Canadian sailor is going to have more than three gals in his past. We did some research, and as it turned out Ned had more of a checkered past than he let on---in fact, there were twenty other girls, and twenty other verses to the song!

Copyright issues prevent us from reprinting the entire song, but we are able to present a spreadsheet showing Ned Land's various romances, including the initial attraction, the snag, and the resolution:

Friday, October 3, 2014

It's coming....

Picture taken in my local Walmart garden center, last Saturday, the 27th of September:

When I worked in magazines, we were pretty much done with Christmas by September. Our December issues had to be out the door by Labor Day. We'd had holiday cheer out the bazooty. "Enough with the Christmas!" was our collective cry/whine. But that's the way it goes.

I remember one coworker suddenly singing Christmas carols at an inappropriate time of year because of this. Another woman said, "I can't believe you're singing holiday songs!" She replied, "Christmas isn't just once a year! It lives in your heart all the time!"

It was one of your more amusing office spats.

Anyway, There's no reason Christmas has to be in the stores three months early. Christmas was on us six months early because it was part of the job. Walmart just wants to be first off the blocks. It gets old fast, man.

Up at the North Pole, they never stop. They're probably working on Christmas 2015 now. Those elves are monsters for work.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

California Ban on All Food Containers Takes Effect.

By Staff Reporters

No containers of any kind for anything will be permitted under California's new law, as signed by Governor Jerry Brown last March. From today forward, everything must be sold in bulk; consumers may take products home by bringing their own reusable jars, boxes, cans, and other containers.

"It's a stupendous day for freedom," said Brown. "Freedom from pollution!"

"This is great for the environment of California, and a great means to set an example for the entire nation," says Alice Koklamara, 49, president of Californians Against Noxious Trash, a grassroots organization that lobbied hard for the new law. "Millions of tons of trash that would have clogged California's landfills and rivers will now never exist. It's just splendid!"

But consumer Peter Freid, 53, of San Bernardino, expresses reservations. Speaking to reporters in the parking lot of his local Stater Brothers supermarket, while cupping sliced pickled beets in his hands, Fried says, "This is the stupidest thing I ever heard of. There's people in there with dirty old jars getting filled up, people walking around holding raw meat. Someone's going to get sick. We're all using the same spoon to ladle things. Can this possibly be sanitary?" Sighing, he adds, "How am I supposed to drive home like this?"

In the store, many people were confused, trying to figure out the application of the law, and lines were long as cashiers tried to deduce how much to charge consumers for products in cereal bowls, Tupperware, plastic tumblers, pockets, and whatever else people had around the house. "We're resorting to dickering," says cashier Terri Skyu, 18, of Redlands. "It's taking longer, but I think most folks still feel like they're getting more for less, as our slogan says. I hear at Safeway there are fistfights in the aisles, but not here! Yet, anyway."

"It's just another example of what Californians can do when we pull together," says Koklamara. "We've always been very forward-thinking in this state. When people ask me, 'What will it take until you lunatics are satisfied?' I just laugh and say, 'What else you got?'"

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Blog for great Justice.

I was a huge fan of the Justice League of America in the old days.

Okay, not that old---that issue of The Brave and the Bold, which was the first comic to feature the Justice League, goes back to 1960; your man Fred was not born yet. Although when I got to collecting later in life I did buy a lot of the 1960s JLAs. Interesting to note that DC's two big powerhouses, Batman and Superman, were seldom seen on the covers in the early years of the book, even though they were members of the club. The editors of the Batman and Superman titles didn't want to lose sales to JLA, so they asked that their guys be kept off or kept small on the JLA cover.

Anyway, when I got the iBooks app I got a free download, and being a retired dork who sold his comics years ago, I almost resisted the temptation to see the new iteration of the JL (no more A---they'll justice you wherever you go). But I gave in.

A lot of comics readers like to make fun of the old Silver Age DC books, and it's true that they were written for children, and also that under the Comics Code Authority rules there was a lot of dopiness in the comics. And, obviously, comic art style was less concerned with anatomical correctness in those days, and the authors less concerned with character development. But most of the time the comics were non-goofy. The Justice League of America faced serious threats. Starro, pictured above, was a big starfish, yes, but he was a perfect 1950's-era movie monster of the type Jack Kirby was cranking out for Marvel at the time, threatening on his own as a big bastard but also capable of spawning gazillions of starfish that would latch on to humans and control their minds.

The new Justice League book I downloaded, part of DC's 2011 "New 52" reboot, was in some regards better than I thought it would be. The characters are interesting. Wonder Woman, newly arrived from Paradise Island, is an alien to the human world, charming and lethal as a Greek mythological hero would be. Green Lantern's as cocky as a test pilot; the Flash (Barry Allen not dead anymore!) is a law-and-order guy at heart. Batman, of course, kicks butt, even though the others can't believe he does it without superpowers. And Superman is still the baddest boy in town.

But the irony is that the 1960 book, which was aimed at children, had some grown-ups in it; the new book does not. Comics today are supposedly aimed at adults, but the characters in them all seem to act more like surly fifteen-year-olds. In this first installment, the heroes spend a lot of time posing and physically assaulting one another. The military is after these new vigilantes, and has decided to shoot first and not bother with questions ever. The only people destroying more property than the military are the heroes. The villains are barely evident in this issue. Batman is the closest thing to a mature individual here---maybe he's seventeen.

My experience with policemen and our military is that those who actually work in dangerous situations do not spend their time in pissing contests, flexing their muscles, treating civilians like dirt. That's what movie cops and movie soldiers do. The real ones behave more like the original JLA, making personal issues invisible to deal with threats.

I developed some of these themes in my book Cobalt Agonistes, but I wrote with great affection. I spent an awful lot of my formative years and beyond reading comic books, and not because I was doing sociological research. It was because they were fun, they were escapism, and probably because I wanted to smash something. If I had discovered modern comics as a teen, I would have loved them, even with all the sex and soap opera stuff that goes on. Maybe especially the sex.