Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Fast away the old year passes.

Last day of the old, stale year, and time to look back on how we did with our new year's resolutions from New Year's Day 2014.


Fall la la la la, la la la la.
Okay, I didn't do so well, but I have a lot of company. Forbes reports that "Most studies show resolutions begin to drop off after a week and only about 40% of those who made resolutions actually stick to their goals." Which actually is a lot higher than I would have thought.

Tell you the truth, I didn't really make formal resolutions this past year. At the end of 2013 I had stationary-biked myself into a knee injury; my oldest friend had passed away unexpectedly; work was going poorly; I was happy just to get through Christmas. New Year's Eve we were watching movies on TCM, I think; I know that we didn't realize midnight had gone by until several minutes past midnight. And I was thrilled, because now I could slink off to bed.

This year I'm not quite so wiped out. I am resolving to build up my editing business (few of us writers can survive on writing alone); I am resolving to get more non-knee-destroying exercise; I am resolving to cut down on the sugar before I get a type 2 surprise from my doctor; I am resolving to work harder to train Tralfaz before he turns into a fully grown varmint dog; I am resolving to finish my middle-grade book and my sequel to MacFinster (more on those projects to come); and I am resolved to de-clutter the house. But I'm not expecting to get it all done on January 2; I'm aiming to ease into good habits and ease out of bad ones, one week or day at a time.

And if I fail, I'll just change the 4 on the illustration to a 5, and we'll give it a try again in 2016.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

No thanks, I'm molting.

Many people don't drink, and for a wide variety of reasons. Myself included. Not that I have anything against anyone who does drink; go knock yourself out.

But New Year's is barreling toward us, one of two nights of the year when the amateurs come out to play (the other being St. Patrick's). And booze noobs and hard-core drunks have this in common: They want everyone else to get loaded along with them.

It's amazing how people in middle age or older suddenly turn into 14-year-old dopes when it comes to holidays. The peer pressure can be tough, and take several forms. The overwhelming tray of martinis in your face as you enter the party. The constantly repeated squeals over how wonderful this wine is---life-changing, even! (For some of us it would more life-changing than others.) The question every five minutes as to what you will have to drink and why are you not drinking.

It's no one's business why you don't drink, of course, but sometimes you don't want to share it because it's embarrassing or you just resent being asked.

Fortunately, Fred has some suggested answers for you, guaranteed to shut the questioners up. Or not; drunk people have poor memories, and you may need to repeat yourself.

"Hey, wanna drink?"
  • Oh, sorry; just drank fifty and might heave at any second.
  • My new religion prevents me from partaking. Speaking of which, do you have twenty minutes to talk?
  • Can’t drink tonight. On call at the emergency brain surgery unit.
  • I suffer from overflow incontinence. One drink and I’m peeing all over the floor.
  • Say, didn’t I see your picture in the newspaper? The police blotter, wasn’t it?
  • Sorry. Ebola.
  • One more drink and my liver will explode out of my abdomen like in Alien.
  • I’ve got this allergy to all organic compounds in which the hydroxyl functional group is bound to a saturated carbon atom.
  • [Wavering side to side] Frankly, haven’t you had enoupp mcglorplatz figgle stan?
  • That is not the way of my people.
  • Back to your old roofie game, are you? Hey, this bozo’s trying to slip me a mickey!
  • Sorry; drinking alcohol reminds me of my late cat, poor Mrs. Fluffypaws. [Bawls hysterically]
  • Only if I can get it with marshmallows and a splash of absinthe and a little umbrella and a cherry. And on fire.
  • No thanks, I’m lactating. [Best used by guys]

Monday, December 29, 2014

Fiiiiivvve Goooooooolllllld(en) Riiiiiiiinnnnngs!

Mr. Philbin took issue with my item last week about "The Little Drummer Boy" being the stupidest Christmas song ever. Not that he disagrees with my assessment of the song, but he notes that "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is even stupider. He adds that I took it to task a bit last year on Epiphany, so clearly I'm not a fan. He concedes that "Twelve Days" is fun to sing, easy for kids, and easy to parody, which makes it popular, but does not make it any less stupid.

He has a point, as he always does, and as today is the Fifth Day of Christmas I thought I would address it. There are multiple problems with "The Twelve Days of Christmas," not the least of which is that one must wonder who this true love is and what's with all this loot. And, as I wrote last year: "Does the person get all the things listed once, or everything listed on each day? If the latter, then she’d wind up with 12 drummers drumming, 22 pipers piping, 30 lords a-leaping, 36 ladies dancing, 40 maids a-milking, 42 swans a-swimming, 42 geese a-laying, 40 golden rings, 36 calling birds, 30 French hens, 22 turtle doves, and 12 partridges in 12 pear trees, if my math is right."

And who wants all this crap? What are you supposed to do with it? Start a musical act? Feed poultry to the homeless? The only thing anyone really wants is the five gold (or golden, depending on who you ask) rings, which are the only thing that can be readily converted into cold hard cash.

Short a couple.
At least that song has the excuse of being a folk song, and as Tom Lehrer famously said, "the reason most folk songs are so atrocious is that they were written by the people." "Drummer Boy," on the other hand, was written by an educated and accomplished classical music expert. One's expectations must be higher. Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum indeed!

So while I concede that Mr. Philbin has cause for complaint in his e-mail, I stick to my original assessment. I hope you enjoy your fifth day of Christmas, and if you ever find a good use for the calling birds and whatnot, let me know. I'm just keeping away from pear trees at the moment. Got a new cap for Christmas.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Fight Snow Miser.

Don't get me wrong; Snow Miser is a nice enough guy. As elemental forces of nature go, he is more cheerful than some others I could name.

Of course, you have to put up with his little musical number when you see him, that's true, and his flock of dancing mini-mes is pretty damn creepy. He's a little too big to get chummy with. He eats Hungry Man frozen dinners while they're frozen. The power to actually transmute things into snow at will is kind of scary. (Don't shake hands, BTW.) He's become obsessed with Elsa from Frozen; he thinks she's a talentless dumbbell and an upstart. He's been known to freeze people "just for the fun of it," according to my sources. He can be temperamental, which you don't want in a weather-related minor deity. And it's pretty weird when his pupils spin in opposing directions.

Like his brother, though, he's okay in small doses. Unfortunately, today is just the seventh day of winter, so here in the north we have a long haul ahead of us. We're going to get this guy in large club-size doses.

I find a humongous pot of my wife's pea soup goes a long way to keeping your sanity when Snow Miser is hanging around. He doesn't care for hot soup that you can stand the spoon up in. Makes him vaguely ill at ease; not so much that he'll openly try to give it the snow touch, but just enough that he'll excuse himself from the room.

Oh, yeah.

Anyway, that's my recommendation. If you like in the south, carry on with your Popsicles, iced tea, and cold Dixie beer. You have to deal with the even creepier brother.

Friday, December 26, 2014

I am death, destroyer of toys.

The dog got a present yesterday. Of course he didn't know it was Christmas; don't get all Band Aidy on me. But everyone else was getting stuff; why not him?

He got one of those indestructible dog toys. If you have a dog, you may be familiar with the claims. "SUPERHARD PLASTIC!" "FIRE HOSE MATERIAL!" "ASTRONAUT-QUALITY!" "TOUGH AS NAILS!" "ACTUALLY MADE OUT OF IRON!"


One hour.

I'm told smaller dogs than Tralfaz annihilate dog toys with similar grim efficiency. It's just the way they play. If children played with toys the way dogs do, they would immediately start trying to ruin them the moment they got the wrapping paper off.

"Bobby, why are you trying to drive nails into your new soccer ball?"

"I must destroy this thing!"

"Oh, good, I'm glad you're enjoying it."

If we actually do get something for Tralfaz that he cannot rip to pieces, like the Goughnut, or an anvil, he's kind of indifferent to it.

I've heard that dogs like squeaky toys because they sound like the tortured cries of their wounded prey. Could be something like that, I guess, but that seems rather catlike for a dog. It's not just squeaky toys that get the treatment, of course, or plush "play must be supervised" toys, but anything. He likes to go after Frisbees, but when he catches one he usually wants to sit down and start munching on it like it's his last meal. A stick of any size requires endless chewing.

I guess I don't really know what, if anything, goes through my dog's head. It's not hard to tell when he likes something. Unfortunately those are often the same things that must be removed from him quickly so he doesn't kill himself on the pieces. Maybe I should sign up for canine Heimlich classes.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Chesterton on Christmas.

There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes, as I am doing in this article. It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great day is. Up to a certain specific instant you are feeling ordinary and sad; for it is only Wednesday. At the next moment your heart leaps up and your soul and body dance together like lovers; for in one burst and blaze it has become Thursday. I am assuming (of course) that you are a worshipper of Thor, and that you celebrate his day once a week, possibly with human sacrifice. If, on the other hand, you are a modern Christian Englishman, you hail (of course) with the same explosion of gaiety the appearance of the English Sunday. But I say that whatever the day is that is to you festive or symbolic, it is essential that there should be a quite clear black line between it and the time going before. And all the old wholesome customs in connection with Christmas were to the effect that one should not touch or see or know or speak of something before the actual coming of Christmas Day. Thus, for instance, children were never given their presents until the actual coming of the appointed hour. The presents were kept tied up in brown-paper parcels, out of which an arm of a doll or the leg of a donkey sometimes accidentally stuck. I wish this principle were adopted in respect of modern Christmas ceremonies and publications. Especially it ought to be observed in connection with what are called the Christmas numbers of magazines. The editors of the magazines bring out their Christmas numbers so long before the time that the reader is more likely to be still lamenting for the turkey of last year than to have seriously settled down to a solid anticipation of the turkey which is to come. Christmas numbers of magazines ought to be tied up in brown paper and kept for Christmas Day. On consideration, I should favour the editors being tied up in brown paper. Whether the leg or arm of an editor should ever be allowed to protrude I leave to individual choice.

--from All Things Considered (1915), with thanks to Project Gutenberg

Hmm... Nah, no resemblance whatever.

Happy Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Dumbest Christmas song.

As we come to port on this Christmas Eve Day, I thought we might reflect on the stupidest Christmas song ever.

Sure, there are a million nominees. "I Believe in Father Christmas" by ELP is pretentious and dumb. "Father Christmas" (the Kinks) is cheerful and dumb. "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" is the second-wrongest song Lennon ever wrote ("Imagine" is of course a monstrosity of epic proportions). "Wonderful Christmas Time" may be the dumbest song McCartney ever wrote, but the competition is stiff.

James Lileks's podcast "The Diner" has reliably found horrible Christmas songs you never heard of, like "Icky the Icicle," "Boogaloo Around the Aluminum Christmas Tree," "Santa Come Up to See Me" (by 73-year-old Mae West), and "Rufus the Goofus/Christmastime Elf," among others, any one of which would make your socks curl with horror. If we go down the rabbit hole---or I guess up the chimney---on really obscure stuff, I guess we could find things so stupid they barely communicate in any language. Let's stick to the dopey crap we get assaulted with year after year.

And as for that: Of popular Christmas songs, I think we all need to agree that "The Little Drummer Boy" is the stupidest one ever written, and could possibly be the stupidest song ever written. Sure, it's good to have songs that celebrate the birth of Christ rather than just snow or miscellaneous reindeer or presents or Santa or something, and but you don't get a pass because of that. In fact, that's what makes this song so dadgum dumb.

A baby was just born, so you want to go honor him by barging in banging a frigging DRUM? What the hell is the matter with you?

You're lucky Joseph didn't whup your ass for you, kid. And I don't mean your pet donkey.
Dave Barry was on top of this one years ago, when he noted: "If I were taking care of a newborn baby, and somebody came around whacking on a drum, that person would find himself at the emergency room having his drumsticks surgically removed from his rum-pa-pa-pum, if you know what I mean."

Dave was also skeptical that the ox and lamb could keep time. But I'd sooner believe that the ox and lamb ticked like a metronome before I'd believe Mary and baby Jesus were thrilled to have this little nut come in slamming on a drum like the first act of Stomp. And if the baby just smiled at him after that, I think we'd have to reconsider Cana as the site of Jesus's first miracle.

Wikipedia tells us that the composer, Katherine Kennicott Davis (who never had children -- hmm), claimed to have based it on a Czech carol, but no such carol has ever been found. The Czechs aren't that stupid. They should be insulted. I would be.

Couldn't he have been the Little Flute Boy? That might have been all right. You can play flutes quietly. Or the Little Harp Girl? The Harmonica Kid? Anything but a DRUM, for Pete's sake. But no, the Holy Family had to get the Timpani Tot.

At this joyous season of love, I should be kinder to the late Ms. Davis and her song, which has brought joy to millions who never thought about it very hard. Maybe I'll focus more on "Imagine." That always makes other songs seem better by comparison.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


One super way to get children to hate their ancestors is to try to get them to appreciate the latter's deprivations. Take a kid who wants an Xbox for Christmas more than he's ever wanted anything since his first breath. Tell him that his forebears in England considered themselves blessed on Christmas morning if they got an orange and an apple in their sock. If they got a pear they would do the Happy Urchin Dance on the cobblestones in their bare feet. Today's kid can put his hand on an orange or apple or even a pear anytime he wants, but is always trying to get potato chips or chocolate. Does he say, "Well, Grandfather, I understand that I have been acting spoiled, and will be happy with anything I may get on Christmas morn"? Oh, probably not.

Then there's the bizarre traditions.

"Back in Gzrdsk we used to gather around and play games on Christmas afternoon. Like Drop the Pickle. That was an old traditional Gzrdski Christmas game, Drop the Pickle. It took a lot of skill. You couldn't just drop it. You had to drop it right. That is, if you wanted onions and cream after."

"I hate tradition!"

"Onions and cream like we used to have in old Gzrdsk..."


"...brined peppermint...cabbage stuffed with hay...elk knuckles..."

"I'm glad you moved to the United States! We have CANDY now, Grandpa! CANDY!"

"And then we'd all gather around, and Uncle Plsk would tell us how Gnarled Witch Yaga would sneak in on Christmas Night to bring presents to the good children and take a bite out of the bad ones."


Drop the Pickle is harder than you'd think.
Life was tougher in the old country, whichever old country it was, and we probably could benefit by toning down some of the insanity and materialism and commercialism in the modern American Christmas. On the other hand, nobody likes a party pooper. 

Or onions and cream, for that matter. 

Monday, December 22, 2014


I feel like every year I set out my plans for the journey from Thanksgiving to Christmas like a fellow planning to go downriver in a small boat. I know what stops I need to make, and anticipate a nice, easy ride.

Some of the ports of call along the way are:

  • The Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8 -- a day of obligation, you know)
  • Outdoor lights
  • Cookie baking
  • Decorating indoors
  • Confession (not a requirement as it is at Lent as part of Easter duty, but a good idea nonetheless)
  • Charitable contributions (cash, food kitchen donations, all that stuff)
  • Parties
  • Lunches
  • Christmas cards (you'll get one eventually, Aunt Ethel)
  • Shopping, shopping, shopping
  • Arrangements for presents for editing clients
  • Packages of presents for loved ones far away
  • Dinner plans for the Big Day
  • Wrapping presents

As you can see, there's a lot of stops on this river, actually more than I've listed. And the current runs faster the farther you go. At this point in the month of December, I've lost control of the little boat, which is dangerously overloaded and impossible to steer; it's being spun around in eddies and squeezed through rapids, and I keep thinking the whole thing is about to capsize or shatter. Even if I do make it to port at last, I'll likely be slammed into the pier and sunk in the harbor.

And yet, at the end, the delta appears, the river broadens and calms, and I ease into the port gently and gratefully.

Then I'm sad because the journey is over. I guess getting there is at least half the fun.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sweet eyes.

A friend of mine recently noted that when you see something that you used to see constantly but have not seen in a long time, it's like a puzzle piece snaps into place in your eyes.

Where I grew up in the city there used to be wooded areas, which are now mostly gone; those wooded areas in the fall were layered with millions of these:

I never knew what these were, aside from missiles to fling at one another; I have it on good authority that they make great snowman eyeballs. Where I live now, less than fifty miles away, I have never seen one, but these seed pods (which indeed is what they are) come from the Sweetgum tree, which is all over New York City.

Liquidambar styraciflua is a lovely tree, with a distinctive gator-skin bark. I never realized how common it is in the city, nor how less-common it is even close by. They are distinctive enough that a grove of these trees was donated by September 11 Memorial organizers in New York for use in the memorial of Flight 93 in Shanksville. From our heart to yours.

I was in the city recently, in a park, and realized a billion of these pods were all over the path, and had that puzzle-eye moment. I never cared enough about nature as a kid to know anything about plants, but I could hum you the theme of every cartoon and game show on TV. Now, though, I was curious. I'm surprised I even remembered these enough to be so struck. Took some Googling to find out what they were.

Sometimes I feel like I've had a much deeper, richer life than I know, if I'd only paid more attention to it. I'm glad my memory managed to catch things that didn't seem important at the time, though. If it's true that our life flashes before our eyes when we die, I may be in for a hell of a surprise by what I see. I just hope I can be thoughtful enough when I see it to appreciate the Director's work.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

All of the other reindeer.

  • Bruiser
  • Slyder
  • Zipper
  • Conga Lou
  • Gaston
  • Asher
  • Spike
  • Breezy
  • Pokey
  • Nimbus 2000
  • Gaspipe Annie
  • Zinger
  • Sneezy
  • Garmin
  • Gadzooks
  • Hairball
  • Lancer
  • Bergdorf
  • Wango Tango
Saskatoon Sammy

  • Hoth_Pappa_21
  • Bob
  • Ding Dong Merrily on High Christmas Bells Are Ringing
  • Mr. Pointy
  • Popinjay
  • Wi Too Lo
  • Smasher
  • Flyboy
  • Smith
  • Bob's kid
  • Sledmaster
  • McFeely
  • Snorgle
  • Gabby Johnson
  • Frank
  • Babycakes
  • Lardbucket
  • The Happy Hoofer
  • Rudolph Jr.: Red’s Revenge

Friday, December 19, 2014

Just a reminder.

Look, I know it's the last Friday before Christmas, and that means lots of parties at the office and whatnot. Lots of get-togethers, lots of people exchanging presents, lots of toasts and merriment.

I just wanted to take a moment to remind you that Christmas is a special time of year, and no one wants their holiday and their memory of it ruined because someone pulled a stupid, thoughtless stunt. For the sake of your friends and family, I ask, please:

No cans of Danish butter cookies.

Oh, sure, it's easy to get carried away at this indulgent time of year, to say, "There'll be so many things to eat at this party; no one will notice that I brought canned cookies." But they will. Oh, yes, they will.

People know better than to bring crummy fruitcake, or a cheap box of candy canes, but they still think nothing of dropping a box of canned cookies on you. The box from the cheap candy canes would taste better than these cookies.

Please, people: Don't go to parties with these. You want people to invite you over for New Year's, don't you?

This has been a public service announcement.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

One for the bats!

A few weeks ago I reported that here in the Hudson Valley, specifically in the wealthy area known as Tuxedo, residents were beating back plans for a casino, and using bats to do the beating---that is, the endangered Indiana Bat, whose bailiwick includes the Tuxedo area. Frankly, I don't know if the Tuxedoans give a hoot (to bring in other nocturnalia) about the Indiana bat, but whatever.

The update is, Orange County---in which Tuxedo proudly sits at the southern tip---has been denied any of the new casinos that the state ballot initiative permitted. According to the Times, three proposals were accepted, in Schenectady, the borscht belt, and the Finger Lakes. The story notes, and a friend of mine who is a local reporter confirmed, that because Orange County is close to the city, it was seen as a threat the existing and proposed gambling parlors of Yonkers and Sullivan County.

I think the state made the right call, and the Indiana bat didn't have much to do with the decision, although the threat of lawsuits over the little fellow likely made the prospect of a casino here more expensive.

As I wrote in that earlier entry, I dislike casinos and find they do nothing for the areas in which they are dumped; further, industry experts describe the Northeast as "saturated" (according to the Times story) with gambling already.

Hasn't proven great in Atlantic City lately.

The whole casino thing is a big stupid mistake, all ginned up to try to extract money from losers at the tables and slots, funnel it through the casinos by taxes, and give more money to the government of New York State, which, when it comes to money, cannot spend it slowly or wisely.

Whenever the state government does make a decent decision I have to assume it was pure luck. And luck is what we have had here in New York, for a long time. But that luck is running out. We've eaten the seed corn; we're licking the husks. Gambling does not bring in a single dollar to the community; it just expropriates it from one part and moves it to another (with a cut for the out-of-state casino operator, by the way) (in fact, I believe the main winner in the casino stakes in New York is an out-of-the-country operator).

In other news, New York just voted to outlaw fracking, meaning there's no chance we'll get in on all the petrodollars that are making other states the envy of the nation.

Good job, New York! Good-bye, wealth!

(Anyone know a good Realtor in North Dakota?)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Get your Fred while he's cheap!

Hey, kids! The publisher has announced that the price of my ebooks is going up in the new year. So far they've been a pretty doggone awesome bargain, but that's all about to change. Alert the media!

I say, buy now and save! How much will you save? How about...

And such excellent books, too! The comedy of MacFinster! The adventure of Cobalt Agonistes! The comedy adventure of Larry and the Mascots! And the heartfelt drama of Faster & Closer! All the literary goods you could want, yours at discount prices!

And that's not all! Order today and you'll get -- well, okay, that's all you'll get. But isn't that plenty?

Here's an idea: Get a Kindle for your loved one for Christmas. Load it with Fred books. What better way to say "Merry Christmas, Herschel!" than a Kindle full of Fred novels? If your loved one is named Herschel, anyway.

Don't delay! Order today! Let nothing get in your way! And here's a few extra exclamation points if you didn't get enough yet: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Miniony Little Christmas.

These were in the store, in with the seasonal foods:

I was a little baffled, I confess. First, I didn't know Peeps was making Minions products. It's amazing how they've spread out; just a few years ago you only ever saw Peeps at Easter, and only as chicks and bunnies. Now movie tie-ins? And why now? The Minions movie doesn't open until July, and yet the Peeps site says that this product is only available "for a limited time only".

A few days later, though, it became a little more clear as I saw the first of what would prove to be a series of Minions-packaged Christmas Peeps: the others don't look like Minions, but they have the little yellow dudes on the packaging. Here's one:

Which I, being a hard-boiled reporter, felt obliged to try, in fulfillment of my mission to inform the public.

The Hot Cocoa & Cream Peep was weird, but all Peeps are kind of weird. If you don't like the taste of sugar, you shouldn't be eating a Peep, is my first note. You may have had other chocolate-flavored Peeps, and that's what the chicks are, but their little chicky butts have been dipped in a kind of white-chocolate intended to simulate cream. They could have called it Hot Cocoa & Marshmallow, but all Peeps are marshmallow, and the cream part is not; it is a pedestrian-quality white chocolate.

Still, Dave the Minion, who as you see by the label is now an Official Peeps Taste Tester, appears to approve, and I'll give it a thumbs-up. If Peeps are the kind of thing you like, you will likely like this kind of Peep.

Interesting that Just Born, the company that makes Peeps, now has Minions working for it. According to the IMDB description of the upcoming movie, "Minions evolve through the ages, perpetually serving the most despicable of masters." Can the manufacturers of Peeps be vile and despicable? Yipe!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Commandments for ornaments.

Decorating trees is hard. Little kids think it's easy, but then, they have no taste, no sense of composition. They just stuff everything where they can reach, and then leave when they get bored. If the Bumble had been a toddler, the star would have been stuck on a low branch, then he'd have gone off for cookie break.

I admit I like the look of a Christmas tree with theme ornaments, like all red balls or all angels or something. Very striking. But for the home I like all the sentimental ornaments, like kids' homemade stuff and family legacy ornaments, mixed in with some classic glass balls in a variety of colors, Hallmark gift ornaments, oddball items found here and there, you name it. I like a melange, an olio, a potpourri, a hodgepodge of ornaments on my tree.

Even so, there are rules to what you can have and how you can hang it. These ornament commandments are instinctively known to people with taste and discernment, but for the sake of others, I am compelled to spell them out. They are pretty simple.

1. No Mao ornaments. Anyone who did or would have killed people who celebrated Christmas should probably not be included on the tree.

2. Don't clump the ornaments in one place and ignore the rest of the tree. Silly toddler.

3. Yes, you have to decorate the back of the tree. Shouldn't be squashed up against a wall anyway. But yes, you can put the ugly, dull, or otherwise unappealing ornaments back there.

4. Keep clashing colors away from each other.

5. Avoid clutches of similar colors. A large mob of red ornaments in one spot, for example, draws the eye. You're not decorating Jupiter here.

6. If toddlers are going to be allowed to approach the tree, nothing breakable on lower branches; better yet, nothing breakable anywhere. It doesn't take a lot of yanking to dislodge ornaments farther up. Probably better to put a cage around the tree. Or around the toddler.

7. If Grandma is coming over, no ornaments that would be offensive to Grandma. What's the matter with you?

8. As with rule 5, avoid clumping a lot of very similar ornaments. Like having one spot with a lot of snowmen. Better to spread them around so they don't cause trouble. I think they may be drunk, anyway.

"I'm *hic* gonna kick Olaf's ass!"
9. For any electrical ornaments, follow the same safety tips would for the lights. And no ornaments that involve actual fire, please.

10. Put up all the kids' handmade ornaments. Adults love to see that stuff. When the kids get to be teenagers and are embarrassed by them, put them in more prominent places. We all need a little humility at this time of year.

You won't be arrested or cast into the outer darkness if you defy these rules; you'll just show a lack of taste and discernment, and maybe injure yourself or others. Hey, if these things are unimportant to you, knock yourself out.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pond scum.

Many times we have heard of people referred to as pond scum. Maybe we've referred to someone as pond scum, in fact. But what exactly is this pond scum? Let's have a look. 


Merriam-Webster defines pond scum as:
1. any of various algae (especially spirogyra) or cyanobacteria 2. a mass of tangled filaments of algae or cyanobacteria in stagnant waters
Sounds even worse than it looks, actually.

So if you're going to hit someone with a name like pond scum, they'd better be pretty bad, right? But not bad in a violent, vicious way; bad in a low way, like sneaky, or gross, or tangled in themselves like filaments of cyanobacteria in stagnant water.* Who could possibly be this disgusting?

I have some suggestions!

  • Guys who play the radio at the beach---loudly
  • Guys who drop a brick in the can and won't wash their hands
  • Guys who shoot up the shoulder to avoid traffic, or blast straight through the turning lane to avoid a busy intersection, and think they're smarter than everyone else
  • Guys who think every interaction with any female is an opportunity to hit on them**
  • Perfectly healthy guys who think they're entitled to freeload in their parents' basement until they're, like, fifty
  • Bosses who like to make arbitrary rules or even fire people to make themselves feel powerful
  • Most teenagers, to some degree***
  • Former politicians who become massively wealthy lobbyists
  • Present politicians
  • Anyone who works in the movie industry

That's just a warm-up, I'm sure. Feel free to add suggestions to the Pond Scum list. It will help idenify more characteristics of the genus.


*Pond scum are not actively evil, like people who set fire to bums; such people are more like cancer than merely gross bacteria. 

**NB: Special level of hell for creeps who engage in Thirteenth Stepping; you know who you are.

***Fortunately, this proves to be a temporary condition. Usually.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


The whole town is lighting up in that festive way that says, "We have lots of lightbulbs!" And "It's Christmas!" And, "If you're at our tiny downtown, do your Christmas shopping at the barbershop! Or the pizza place! Or the cell phone place! Or one of 15 beauty salons!"

I say, bring it on. The more the merrier. I love Christmas, and I especially love Christmas lighting, coming as it does at a time of year when we get so little sun that adults are starting to get rickets. I'm definitely one to prefer lighting a single candle to cursing the darkness, although some do disagree.

Of course, there are challenges to dealing with Christmas lights, and I'm not even mentioning the horrible wiring problems or carelessness that causes house fires, injuries, or worse. (If you are decorating, do yourself a favor and check the Consumer Product Safety Commission's holiday decoration safety tips.) No, I'm just dealing with the impossibility of reusing lights from year to year. Fresh out of the box: Lovely, uniform, exciting.

Wrap them up as carefully as you like---come the day after Thanksgiving, they're the snarl from hell. (Pro tip for mad bombers: Using tangled Christmas lights for bomb wiring will completely prevent the hero from stopping the bomb with 007 seconds left; he'll never find the right cord to cut.)

Mrs. Key is of the opinion that the smart thing to do is throw out the old strings of lights after Christmas and buy new next year---or better yet, pick up some new ones immediately at post-Christmas sales. I missed the sales last year, though, so I saved the old ones. This year they were as snarled and tangled and mangled as the Affordable Care Act. But unlike the ACA, they did eventually get untangled and they actually worked.

And I do hate to throw out lights that still work. I come from a time where Christmas meant big, fat, hot bulbs with meaty wires that got used year in, year out, until they burned down the house. And we liked it that way!

Friday, December 12, 2014

The poet persisted.

My joy over my ode to the ibex the other day has led me into a composing frenzy. Just try to get me to stop! We poets are made of sterner stuff than that. We're known for it. If it were up to the doubting Thomases, Billy Shakespeare would have quit at seven or eight sonnets. But he persisted! Now he has 154, and who knows? His career might really take off.

I was inspired by a brief couplet from another writer that incidentally combined rhyming words in an incidental singsong. You don't want that in your prose unless you have a darn good reason, so I had to take him to the woodshed. But for my poetic muse it was pure inspiration. So here comes another one!

The Unsuitable Suitor

Proposal consisted
Of favors enlisted
Morality twisted
Exotic place vistaed
Beyond her the world was so wide

The sister resisted
The mister persisted
And leering, insisted
Proclivities listed
Were what all celebrities tried

She'd hardly existed
If she were tightfisted
With love, and unlisted
But he said he'd trysted
Her type with his masculine wile

His nose she then fisted
The mister, delisted
By she, unassisted
At last he desisted
A bloody, insensible pile

In life it is better to have coexisted
Than wind up all battered and royally pisted.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

O Mighty Ibex.

I came across the ibex in a crossword puzzle recently. I knew it was some kind of creature, but thanks to the clue I discovered that it was A) a long-horned Alpine goat that B) had four letters, second letter B. I immediately decided: the ibex is awesome.

Ibex photo courtesy of NASA. Why NASA is running around with photos of a real ibex in its wallet is more than I can say.
Why is the ibex so awesome? Because he has the awesomest name in the animal kingdom. Even awesomer than the springbok, which is the most awesome antelope name, is the ibex. Ibex is badass. Ibex sounds fast and strong. Ibex should be a comic book character, one really good at headbutting, I think. Alfred Ibex would be a master spy. The Ibex Protocol would be a scary cure that might just kick cancer's kiester. NASA's IBEX is a dull solar wind project; IBEX ought to be a space rocket that headbutts Mercury. Everything is cooler with ibex on it. You can't say that about other goats like the Boer goat, the Nigerian dwarf, or the New Zealand "Fainting" Kiko.

Finally I decided to write an ode to the ibex, so impressed was I. It was tough. All the good animal poems seemed to have been done. Ybex Ybex Burning Bright, In the Forests of the Night... Bah!

I worked my antlers to the bone, so to speak, but I finally came up with an ode of which I---and the ibex---could be proud.

O Ibex, I admire you
Your hoofies to your horns
And best of all the rockin' name
Upon you fate adorns

They might have called you horny goat
Or Lancelot or Tex
But some bright chap looked up and said
"He looks like... an ibex!"

Your name comes from a Latin word
(And this may bring you closure)
You get the thumbs-up from on high
'Cause God says that you're kosher

Your name may not mean squat to you
As on your Alp you scurry
Perhaps your pals just call you Joe
Or Jefferson or Murray

You may in fact be unaware
"Ibex" is what we call you
Were you to hear our other names
For critters, 'twould appall you

DC or Marvel could conceive
A might Ibex hero
(But after seeing Squirrel Girl
I'd put those odds at zero)

Indeed, so few the gifts of Man
Can aid your lot in life
An ibex run in Central Park?
GoatMatch to find a wife?

We cannot give you hats with holes
Or helpful mountain socks
All we do is hand out names
But check it---IBEX ROCKS.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Nor'east ugh.

Not much to write today; had plans for wondrous entries of celestial delights, but the nor'easter held me up and ate all my time not allotted to work. Started up in the Hudson Valley, where Suburbia was hit by invisible ice. It was fun to watch the dog go sliding down the driveway, but that was where the fun ended; there was a serious pileup just outside of town.

We are getting absolutely hammered so far this winter, which sucks because it's fall. Winter doesn't start for weeks and we've had blizzards, black ice, freezing rain, and now flooding. No, it's not typhoons or cyclones or hurricanes or other cool-sounding storms, but it's all been quite messy.

Which leads me to a theme I'll probably be revisiting a lot as we go forward: Which Miser Brother is worse? Everyone knows Heat Miser is a bigger jerk, and his volcanic home looks like Hell's outlet store, but is he really worse than Snow Miser? Or does Snow Miser cause more misery? Either way, you can't spell misery without Miser.

I'll be happy to hear your thoughts, via comments or e-mail. Now, if you'll pardon me, I'm going to go wring out my laptop now. Be safe out there!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Amazing true Christmas story!

We had one of those Secret Santa things at the church (they don't call it that, but that's what most people call them) where you get a description of a present desired by a child who's been signed up and you buy it and wrap it in time for the big Christmas party. We had a five-year-old girl who wanted a toy. And since the party is early this year, we had no time to order something online. This was going to require a personal visit to the store to personally buy a toy.

We split our forces to tackle this mission: Mrs. Key, being a former girl, was strategy, I was tactics. But of course no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

She chose the Hello Kitty Dream Lite as an excellent present for a girl of that age. Late Saturday night we confirmed the presence of the present at the local Walmart through the company Web site. I was to procure same early Sunday morning, along with the necessary AAA batteries, because nothing sucks like getting a great toy without the necessary batteries. It would be wrapped and delivered at Sunday afternoon Mass. Sunday I got up, dressed, raced out the door without breakfast or even coffee. IT. IS. ON.

Well, sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning, the last Hello Kitty Dream Lite was sold. When I got to the store and couldn't find it, I used my phone to check the Web site again. Now it said the nearest one was at a Walmart twenty miles away.

Agh agh agh agh agh!

Okay, don't panic; it was just after eight now, and that meant the nearby Target would be open. Did they have it? Target Web site says... YES! To the Fredmobile! Na na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na na...

But NO! Target was out too! In fact, this toy seems to be a hot seller this year. I had hit the wall; it was time to text Mission Control.

Garcia, Walmart was sold out--Target claims
to have but cannot find--going to look in bedding

Nuts! Okay, thanks. Don't leave Target;
if you can't find it I'll find another toy.

There were some Minnie Mouse Dream Lites, but Hello Kitty was needed for Dream Lite goodness of fit. Hello Kitty is soothing in a way Minnie is not. 

Gah--found Minnie @#&$! Mouse Dream Lite...

Gimme a momento to find something else, por favor...

Hello Kitty Neon Fairy Glitter Doll?

I sent this picture. Why did they stop there with the adjectives? Why not Hello Kitty Neon Fairy Sparkle Rainbow Angel Glitter Doll?

No; hang on...

Ok, how about Barbie Holiday doll or the
ballerina dolls (there are three of them:
pink, blue, and purple)?

On it

Barbie Holiday Surprise or
Barbie in the Nutcracker? You pick

(Time passes, Jeopardy! theme runs through head, grown man standing around in Barbie aisle not weird at all) coffee...

Holiday Surprise and another
Barbie outfit for her?


So our adventure had a happy ending. Some little girl is going to have a fun gift from Santa, and we once again proved that we were a great team when it comes to dealing with these little crises. 

Still don't know what was wrong with the Hello Kitty Neon Fairy Unicorn Sparkle Rainbow Angel Glitter Jewelry Stardust Princess Lollipop Kisses Doll. But you have to trust the women to pick things out. They know what girls will like. If it had been a boy there's no question I'd have gotten something that simulated destructive ability on a harmless scale, which is what boys' toys are all about. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014


One of the Key traditions at Christmas is me baking cookies. Why? Because I'm an idiot, that's why.

I've been doing this for more than 15 years and every year it's the same thing. Shortly before Thanksgiving, I start planning out my Christmas prep. Presents, decorations, budget. So, what cookies to make? When will I make them? What will I use them for? Can I get anyone to eat any of them? If someone says something cruel about them will I have to employ fisticuffs? Lots of things to consider.

Going into it my thoughts run along these lines:

1) Well, I'm not going to do anything big this year.

2) I'll have to do the chocolate ones or the wife will get sore; Mr. Philbin will be disappointed without the pfefferneuse; Aunt Mary will disown me without sugar cookies, even if I burn them again. So, before you know it there's at least five different cookies that will have to be made on the first available Saturday.

3) The plan is made for how this will be accomplished; everything is purchased but maybe one crucial ingredient, which will be remembered when there are things in the oven and boiling on the stove.

4) About half a recipe into the big day the whole thing seems to look like a bad idea.

5) About one and a half recipes in, it's obvious that it is. Is it too late to back out? Yes.

6) Emergency substitutions are made; prayers of thanks for the invention of the dishwasher are said; slowly the table begins to fill with finished cookies. And they taste pretty good.

And when someone eats a cookie and tells you it's delicious, and you sit back and sigh and know that a tradition has been fulfilled for another year, like some little piece of civilization being brought forward on your cookie tray, then you know it was all worthwhile.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

For a worry-free experience.

The other day I was, uh, straightening up in a restroom when I noticed that there was writing on the stall lock. I always read writing wherever it may be, in the hope of finding bad spelling or grammar. It did not happen in this case, but I did see this:

"Scranton Products: Designed to Be Worry-Free"

At first I thought that was rather silly. The latch on a toilet stall hardly seems to be the thing that keeps people awake at night. "Oh, God, what if the locks that we put on the toilet fail? What if some clever thief defeats our toilet security? We'll be ruined!"

But the more I thought about it, the more I started to worry. Probably everyone has had the humiliating experience of using a can they thought was locked, only to find out in a catastrophic manner---perhaps involving a vindictive sibling or classmate---that it was not. Now I'm starting to worry.

Scranton Products uses this slogan for all the things it provides, like lockers and vanities. If their lockers had been in the New York public schools of my youth, and had indeed been worry-free, they would have been eligible for a Nobel Prize of some sort. We had no lockers. They would not have stayed locked. They'd have just been -ers. We had gym lockers, but only a fool left anything there overnight. In fact, most of us had the experience of having our lockers broken into during gym, which takes some doing. The thugs in my schools were nothing if not dedicated.

So I don't think Scranton could have achieved worryless status in my schools, but in the office or other workplace, I think they can. Their Hiny Hiders (really!) line of bathroom stalls (and locks) seems quite well-made and certain to inspire confidence.

I salute you, Scranton Products, and your fine toilet stalls. Now, if you could come up with some means to force guys to wash their hands after using the Hiny Hiders, we would all feel even less worried.

Friday, December 5, 2014


I was thinking about the old joke with the two hikers, one in good sturdy boots and one in running shoes. The boots guy makes fun of his pal's inappropriate attire. His pal says it's in case they meet a grizzly.

"You can't outrun a grizzly," laughs the boots guy.

"I don't have to outrun the grizzly. I just have to outrun you."

I used to work in consumer magazines. The pay was better than in book publishing. But magazines are dying. Several of my old friends have left the field.

One shocker was when Ladies' Home Journal packed it in after 131 years in print last April. In 1999 LHJ crowed about having its biggest issue ever, which (since only half the pages of a consumer magazine sold by mail are allowed by law to be ads--but economic sense dictates that no more than half will be content) meant they had sold more advertising for that issue than any other single issue. Yes, they partied like it was 1999. Fifteen years later, dead.

Was it run by boneheads? Probably. Other similar magazines have remained afloat. Boneheadedness is one great way to make sure the bear gets you instead of someone else.

It all comes down to the ads. For a hundred years magazines have been sold at less than cost, paid for by advertising, but now those ads have gone elsewhere. Readers' eyes have gone elsewhere. In the 1990s it seemed like it would be a wash at worst, maybe even a boon---so readers will go to the magazine Web site instead, which costs less to produce, and see the ads there. Win! But it didn't work out that way. You couldn't charge enough for Internet ads. People read online magazines differently than paper magazines. You would sit down with a paper magazine and could spend an hour or so going cover to cover. Who does that with an online publication? The experience is a lesser thing online, and so the money is too. Meanwhile, people's eyes are on the Internet, or watching TV shows on their phones or tablets, and they're not on magazines, and you can't charge the same money for fewer eyeballs.

That bear is a hungry fellow.

There are several stages in most businesses that are new or severely changed by technology:

No Bear - Everything is new and everybody wants in; the field is flooded with money; people are getting rich left and right even if they produce crap.

Small Bear - Early money dries up; weak competitors show their flaws and are eaten.

Bear - Companies are folding. Everyone has to own a niche or keep out in front of the others in some way. The tighter the race or the lower the margins, the quicker the bear dispatches the foolish.

Very Hungry Bear - New technology or markets are taking customers from the industry away in droves. Some look for government handouts. Feels like only a matter of time before the bear catches up.

Bear Feeding Frenzy - The field is dead as a commercial enterprise. Some look for government takeover. Cannot be run at a profit at any cost. No one survives.

Magazines are in Bear territory; probably at least halfway into Very Hungry Bear. Newspapers are definitely in Very Hungry Bear.

Whatever your industry, things can go to hell faster than you probably expect. Even when you don't see him, there's always a bear.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Even when it's all about others, it's all about me.

Lena Dunham's / Larry David's / Bill De Blasio's New York:

(Language alert! Rant coming in 3... 2... 1...)


This cute little ad is the most disgraceful thing I have ever seen on a bus stop of any kind or in any place, and brother, I have seen a few.

"Ego-friendly." "Volunteering doesn't just help those around you, it helps you stand a better chance of being healthier and happier." This is what we are reduced to in a city full of the most selfish pricks in the world, I gather---that you cannot ever expect them to do something decent unless their own reward is front and center.

I guess this is what happens when you have a pack of dopes who believe in nothing. Congratulations, NYC Service; you have managed to take the most appealing thing about volunteering---getting out of yourself---and turned it back to yourself. You've performed a spirit-ectomy. You've blackened the heart of helping. You've taken the broad and noble sweep of citizenship and turned it back on the twisted little homunculus that lives inside. You've failed to use the semicolon (or em dash) where it would be appropriate. And you've even taken the fun out of the idea.

Verily I say unto you, they have had their reward.

And what kind of divas, hipsters, neo-beatniks, cupcake queens, handbag collectors, Hamptons runners, trust-fund dingdongs, and addlepated liberal arts majors do they expect to get? The ones who will tear ass out of there when they find that the bad neighborhoods they'll have to work in are ickier, tackier, and full of people less appreciative than movies would have led them to believe? Does these municipal morons expect to find people of character and determination with an ad that says "Doing good for others! It's all about YOU!"

The government of New York has put the "self" back in "selflessness." Dummies.

UPDATE: Mr. Philbin notes that this is exactly the kind of thinking that justifies doing disastrous things in the name of doing good. Results don't count; intentions---meaning the reward to the deed-doer---is all that matters.

UPDATE II: Joey Peeps writes, "This campaign will never work. Ironically, you will go through more for others than you will for yourself. You will get up at 4 for a hungry baby but very few will get up at 4 to go jogging."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dog? What dog?

We're constantly impressed by how friendly Tralfaz is. I know a dog that gets hysterical whenever he sees another dog, any other dog; Tralfaz has never met a dog he didn't like. He's never met a human being he didn't want to play with. He's got only a small set of creatures he does not like. You may recall that one of them, sadly, was a skunk.

Tralfaz has been instructed that he is to sink his sharp teeth with his powerful jaws into whatever target Mommy directs him to. We'll see if this works if, God forbid, we get a burglar. I have a five spot that says he licks the burglar's feet and waits for a Milk-Bone.

But he might just do what it takes to defend Mrs. Key. He mostly obeys her, and he's a loyal member of the pack, and if she says "Bite that guy's face off!" that may be all for him.

I am not going to train the dog to attack on my command, however. It's the same reason why I am glad I did not get zapped in a lab and develop superpowers. At some point, it would be abused.

Take the lawn product salesman making the rounds last spring. Nothing against salesmen, who do a job I do not envy, and this guy was very good. But man, he was persistent. He almost had me sold on a lawn-treatment plan, but ultimately I turned him down because A) I would have to water the grass consistently, and that was not going to happen, and B) the new dog was going to pee and crap holes in the lawn anyhow. And the salesman still wouldn't stop! I'd be outside letting Tralfaz have his way with the grass and a car would screech to a halt and---Hi! It's the lawn products guy again! Howdy do! What a surprise! Again!

I told Tralfaz he could bite him, but he'd have to kill and then consume him entirely to hide the evidence.

So I'll leave the deadly force thing to the wife. Safer. Fewer lawyers, in the long run.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Nosy McParkers at the Census Bureau.

I was cordially invited, under penalty of law, to join the United States Census Bureau's American Community Survey. This is a celebration of privacy invasion distinct from their Decennial Census of Population and Housing, the only one that they were instructed originally to carry out (for purposes of taxation and representation), which itself has become a bloated questionfest on all manner of stuff that a truly free society would never endure. Be that as it may, they assure us that all information on all their surveys are strictly for the benefit of the citizens of the United States. Just like everything the government does.

Nosy McParker HQ
And I'm sure all that personal information will be kept under lock and key, and never stolen or used for political purposes.

It's just great to answer the Census at Christmastime. So I was happy to do my bit to help out, and in fact am willing to share my information on some important questions with you. This, I hope, will inspire you to comply when the Census goons come knocking at your door.

What is Frederick Key’s sex?
What the hell business is it of yours if I---oh, wait, never mind.

Did Frederick Key receive any wages, salary, commissions, bonuses, or tips during the PAST 12 MONTHS?
You think I do all this stuff I do for laughs?

At any time IN THE LAST 3 MONTHS, has Frederick Key attended school or college? Include only nursery or preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, home school, and schooling which leads to a high school diploma or a college degree.
Yes, following my successful completion of kindergarten (dreams can come true!) I enrolled in a shepherding course at the local vocational school. It’s coming along very nicely, thanks, and the sheep have almost stopped biting me.

Does Frederick Key speak a language other than English at home?

What is this person’s ancestry or ethnic origin?
Frederick Key was born on the Russian Steppes of Slavic/Aztec parents, although his maternal great-grandfather was one-third Cherokee, as witnessed by his awesome high cheekbones.

Is Frederick Key deaf or does he have serious difficulty hearing?

Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does Frederick Key have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions?
Yes, I have a lot of problems making decisions. My wife asks me what I want for dinner and I am stymied for hours. This has led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Are you selling some kind of brain-restoring supplement like an infomercial? Because I sure could use something.

Does Frederick Key have difficulty dressing or bathing?
Lots of trouble dressing. Can never decide what to wear. See previous answer.

How many times has this person been married?
Nineteen. Going for the record.

Is there a business (such as a store or barber shop) or a medical office on this property?
As a matter of fact there is a small slaughterhouse in the cellar laundry room, which is used to provide fine artisan mutton and mutton sausage to the local community. Is that all right?

Which FUEL is used MOST for heating this house, apartment, or mobile home?

Does this house have a flush toilet?
No; we need the dung.