Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Monday, June 29, 2015

Ask the Supremes!

The Supreme Court of the United States doesn't just interpret the Constitution and decide case law for 319 million souls; now it answers YOUR questions on all kinds of topics! Let's see what the ol' mailbag has today for the Nine Wise Worthies and their army of clerks. 

Dear U.S. Supreme Court:

I've noticed blood in my stool lately. Should I seek medical help? I would normally go to my primary care physician, but my deductible recently was raised from five hundred dollars to one hundred billion kajillion dollars.

---Concerned in Kalamazoo

Dear Concerned: 

Blood is a natural fluid, and stool is a natural solid. Bloods and stools are therefore compatible on one hand, incompatible on the other. So it could easily be decided either way. We refer to Faex v. Cruor in our deliberation. Our take: sit on it for a while. And that's our ruling.


Dear U.S. Supreme Court:

Does it really matter if I use the entree fork on my salad? I hate salad forks with their little tines. But my girlfriend gets real mad when I take her to a nice place and use the wrong fork. She also doesn't like it when I use one to scratch my back.

---Rude in Riverton

Dear Rude:

Rules governing flatware, like those of the Constitution, need to be seen in the light of modern developments. We ask: What is the intent of the law? What do people from other countries think of forks, or even spoons? What makes us think our place settings are so special anyway? Having asked ourselves these questions, we've decided that your girlfriend is a busybody and should pound sand. And that's our ruling.


Dear U.S. Supreme Court:

Can I marry my 1998 Subaru Forester? I know it's only 17, but that's over 30 in car years. It is a consenting compact crossover.

---Bedazzled in Bal Harbour

Dear Bedazzled:

As is well known, we are above all experts in affaires de coeur. That said, you certainly bring a vivid meaning to the term crossoverWe all hope not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. No one has proved to us that automobiles have feelings, but then, no one has proven that they don't. A friend of the court mentioned My Mother the Car, the hilarious Jerry Van Dyke comedy, so there's that. Not to mention Herbie the Love Bug. And we have been informed that love is what makes a Subaru a Subaru. So what the hell, go for it. And that's our ruling.


Dear U.S. Supreme Court:

Is it okay if I eat these peas? You see that the sell-by date on the can was in 2005. But I've heard that some "life hacks" say those dates are just a guideline. What say you?

---Hungry in Haverstraw

Dear Hungry:

We think we can all be grateful that we've reached a point in our society when we no longer worry about the rights of the individual over the rights of the collective. And what is better for the collective than adequate supplies of nourishing food? So yes, Hungry, do your civic duty and enjoy those peas. Otherwise you'll just buy another can and deprive someone else of this finite supply. And if it kills you, well, that's one less mouth to feed. And that's our ruling. 


Dear U.S. Supreme Court:

My neighbor's dog is fine, but his cat meows a lot. What can I do?

---Annoyed in Anaheim

Dear Annoyed: 

As our college campuses (or campii) have so courageously shown, the right to never be annoyed, challenged, or bothered in the slightest way is as fundamental as the right to kill inconvenient things. Our take: Cat's in the bag, bag's in the river. 


Dear U.S. Supreme Court:

By what authority do you make laws? I'm looking through the Constitution but I can't see anyplace that says you are supposed to make laws. Or any other judges, for that matter. And say, while you're getting inspiration from foreign laws, have you heard of these Ten Commandments? They were very popular overseas a while ago.

---Grumpy in Grosse Pointe

Dear Grumpy:

Hidden in the emanating penumbras of the escutcheon of the Constitution are all kinds of things that you can find if you cover one eye and squint. Trust us, it's in there. You're in contempt. And that's our ruling. Bailiff! 


Dear U.S. Supreme Court:

My girlfriend got a restraining order on me, and her father said he would blow my (nasty adjectives) head off with a shotgun if he ever saw my face again. So I thought I'd stop by and say hello. Good idea?

---Wondering in Waco

Dear Wondering:

It sounds like a call for love to us. This may seem like a tricky situation, but remember, we all hope not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. Restraining order? Threats of violence? Feh. All you ask for is equal dignity in the eyes of the law. Go to her and share your message of love. And that's our ruling. 


Dear U.S. Supreme Court:

So which U.S. state will be the first to outlaw the Catholic church?

---Apprehensive in Undisclosed

Dear Apprehensive:

You're being a backward-looking, antidemocratic paranoid. We all know that the First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. So just because your neanderthal belief in Skyman makes you look at your fellow Americans with disgust doesn't mean any religions are going to be outlawed. And that's our ruling. 


Dear U.S. Supreme Court:

Come on, really.

---A in U

Dear A:

California. Maybe Oregon. Toss-up.


Got a question for the Supreme Court of the United States? Drop it in the comments and wait for dissatisfaction to set in!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Feng Guy.

I've been making a study of Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese art of developing harmony and peace through Chi in the home, office, minivan, dog house, etc., and my main discovery is: Women like this stuff more than men do. Although a great many practitioners and experts are male, women are the ones who buy the books, hire the consultants, and get men to move around the furniture.

I think there's an enormous untapped market here for men, but I just can't see men getting all worked up about it, even if the Five Elements (wood, earth, water, fire, and metal) in the home feature too much water, making them overemotional.

So I've worked up a new school of Feng Shui called Feng Guy, designed with guys in mind. (I am not the first to make a Feng Guy crack, but I didn't know that when I made it up, and I did it all by myself! Besides, I am a feng guy.) I expect I'll be hosting a show about it soon on HGTV, or one of the 600-level channels anyway. Here's a sneak preview of the kind of advice we'll be giving guys.


When you design your bachelor pad, you want to make sure you have a good flow of energy. That's what we Feng Shui efforts know as Chi, which is short for Cheez. I recommend getting that spray cheese, and lots of it. People call it Cheez Whiz, but we experts know that Cheez Whiz is the stuff that comes in the jar; you want Easy Cheese. That's the aerosol. If your Chi is still feeling a little low, order one of those stuffed-crust pizzas, the kind that have all the mozzarella in the crust. That'll get the Chi flowing. 


Guys, we all know that there are three Major Elements in Feng Guy: Rock, Paper, and Scissors. To achieve balance in your place, you need to get lots of rocks, lots of paper, and lots of scissors. The rocks are pretty easy to get, unless you live in the city, in which case you can substitute bricks. Paper should be a snap---in addition to the unpaid bills hanging around on the table, you might have paper towels, or even toilet paper. Come to think of it, you really should have toilet paper. As for scissors, remember, that's just a modern term for ancient cutlery. You know how cool guys with lots of dough like to have big swords over the fireplace? Bingo.


Your man cave can have excellent Chi, and all the elements, but you really need to think big. This is the MAN cave, not the LITTLE GIRL cave. You need to get some effort into it. I'm thinking...

Oh, yeah, baby. That'll Yin your Yang for ya.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Not much to report today; spent most of Friday trying to work, attending a long meeting, and wobbling through the day while feeling wonky. Last night it was all I could do to collapse, annoy the dog, and watch reruns of Mythbusters. Of course, I treated my illness with all proper medications, used only as directed.

I think this may have passed its "Best By" date though.
So I hope I will have something for you Sunday that will make it worth your while to stop by. I always want to have something amusing or interesting; it is, after all, supposed to be your Daily Dose of Vitamin Fred, not just your Dose When I Feel Up to It.

If someone has a mom or gramma they can spare who has a crackerjack chicken soup recipe or something, please let me borrow her? Thanks a lot.

"Now take some more Ex-Lax and
stop bitching and moaning, dearie."

Friday, June 26, 2015


Today is Peter Lorre's 111th birthday, or would be if he hadn't died at the age of 59 in 1964. As Don Imus says, you stop having birthdays when you're dead---and Imus being 74 years old, I guess he'll find out soon enough.

I actually like Imus, so don't get on me. One thing he and Peter Lorre (born László Löwenstein) have in common: anyone who's heard them can imitate them. Lorre was quoted as saying, "All that anyone needs to imitate me is two soft-boiled eggs and a bedroom voice."

Come on---look at Lorre's face. Aren't you just ready to start saying, with a crazed and shaky voice, "How can somebody be so stupid!"*

"Hm, what right do I have to think, huh?"**
Old-time movie actors, especially character actors like Lorre, but also many leading men, were not just actors but characters. Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart were great actors, but their personal characteristics were seen in every role. Character actors like Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, Eugene Pallette, Boris Karloff, and of course Lorre had set characters; they could be comedic, tragic, or even menacing, but they were essentially the same guys. That's why they're so imitable, while actors like Spencer Tracy, who always tried to inhabit their characters, are not. When was the last time you heard someone do a Spencer Tracy imitation?

Does that mean that these old characters were lousy actors? Hardly. Developing a showbiz persona was a feature, not a bug. Even in those days "working actor" was something of an oxymoron; and an actor who was typecast was an actor who was cast. The ability of these character actors to inhabit characters convincingly varied, of course; but the vividness of these actors on screen was always apparent.

So, let's hear your Mark Wahlberg impression. Or Channing Tatum?

Robert Pattinson?

Can you imagine anyof them, or any of the other guys working today, giving justice to a line like:

"You... you bungled it. You and your stupid attempt to buy it. Kemedov found out how valuable it was, no wonder we had such an easy time stealing it. You... you imbecile. You bloated idiot. You stupid fat-head you!"***

Happy birthday, Mr. Lorre---even if you've stopped having them, we're still enjoying your pictures.


*Arsenic and Old Lace


***The Maltese Falcon

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Candy Crush confession.

I gave up.

I had it. I couldn't take the pressure anymore.

I kept trying and trying but I couldn't beat it.

I started having nightmares about chocolate.


You see how evil it is?

I would try to get past The Level once in a while, but no luck. It was too much for me.

Level 361.

Apparently it has baffled others, because people have posted a lot of whines and frustrations over it, not to mention cheats and tips. And yet it doesn't even make various lists of the hardest levels.

But it got to be too much. I realized one day that I hadn't played Candy Crush in months because I was so sick of trying to beat that level. And it was worse than that. When I looked myself in the eye, I realized that I no longer wanted to bring all ingredients down to the bottom. I didn't care if I didn't clear all the jelly. It was over.

I shall erase the app and wipe out months of work, just like that.

What a relief.

What a colossal waste of time.

Crush on, O crushers of candy; I've made a separate piece (of candy). I've said a farewell to crushing. I'm a non-candy-batant. Peace out, Tiffi; later, Mr. Toffee. I will crush no more---

Hey, some of those tips look kind of helpful. And what's this with Sugar Drops? Something new?


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Eggs cruciating.

Come on, kid; time to leave the nest.

Or not.

I mentioned the robin who built a nest under my deck a couple of weeks ago. Well, I popped up to see what was in the nest while she was out getting breakfast. This was the best shot I could get with the phone. I think there was only the one egg, but I couldn't get up high enough to see---and I thought that if I hung around too long I'd have a psycho robin attacking my head.

I was surprised to see only the one egg, but there may have been another. Bad angle. But there may have been just the one egg---or just the one egg remaining.

It's hard to raise kids these days. I gather that the main enemy to eggs are other birds. It's tragic to see bird-on-bird violence like that, to see birds' inhumanity to bird. Inbirdanity. Whatever.

I found this one on the grass a couple of weeks back:

My first thought is that some bird laid the egg and it fell out of a nest and rolled onto the driveway. Which would have meant a roll of at least fifty feet. Hey, I'm not what you call a naturalist, all right?

Anyway, I thought I would coddle the egg, keep it warm, and hatch it, like Horton Hatches the Egg, you know? Maybe get a tiny bird that looked like me? Except that there was a little hole in the egg, as it happened, and it looked like something had sucked the insides out. All I had was this speckled shell.

So I hope Mrs. Robin's egg is doing better. But it's a hard world if you're an egg.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

One-hit wonders.

We tend to think of one-hit wonders as bands of the modern era, musical acts that had one moment of lightning in the bottle and then nothing. Wikipedia's article lists acts like Right Said Fred, Soft Cell, Carl Douglas, and Men Without Hats. Among many others.

They also list one-hit wonders in sports, which is a little trickier; no one comes off the bench, hits a grand slam, and totally disappears from the books. But they list some like David Tyree, maker of the helmet catch that saved Super Bowl XLII for the Giants, whose career was not particularly distinguished but for that one colossal moment. Odd that they did not include Charlie Robertson, whose 1922 perfect game was a supernova in a 49-80 career.

There are those in the world of books, too; Wikipedia's entry under Homo Unius Libri ("A Man of One Book") discusses writers known for... you guessed it: one book. But this is a less exact term, and one that has changed over time. As the article notes, it can mean writers whose success is limited to one book, but also writers who completely mastered a single topic, or writers whose learning was extremely narrow. It properly applies to writers of scholarship anyway, but to make the comparison to pop music, it ought to be narrowed to writers of popular fiction or nonfiction.

Herman Melville might be considered a one-hit wonder, but not for the book you're thinking of. Moby-Dick was a flop in its day; his earlier book Typee (no relation to David Tyree) was his breakout book and, in his lifetime, his one big hit. John Kennedy Toole wrote Confederacy of Dunces and killed himself 11 years before his mother convinced a publisher to go with it, and it became a huge best-seller. Suicide: a good reason to be a one-hit wonder. (Even so, a rough manuscript he wrote at age 16 was published a decade later, proving that publishers never leave money on the table.) Will Cuppy's The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, one of my favorites, was also published after the author's death by suicide; and though he had been publishing humorous essays and books for years, nothing matched the success of that one.

Like Cuppy, other writers feel like one-hit wonders, despite their continuing work, because the one hit was so monstrous. Robert Fulghum has written plenty since All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, but that book was on the Times best-seller list for more than two years. Peter S, Beagle has been quite busy with screenplays and magazines and much else, but will probably always be the guy who wrote The Last UnicornJay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City was such a monster hit that it seized up his subsequent career; people strongly identified him with the book's hero, and they wanted that hero in that book, and nothing else.

And then there's this:

Yep, a creation of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, who gave the world Superman. Funnyman was a TV comedian whom circumstances forced into heroics; using his gimmicks, wits, and apparently a boxing glove that could fit in a handkerchief-size pocket, Funnyman set forth to fight crime.


Six issues. Then nothing.

People who have read the books say Funnyman wasn't funny; Siegel and Shuster were not comedic writers, and it showed. But the whole concept was weird. Kids read Superman, wanted to be Superman; even the class clown didn't want to be Funnyman.

I note also that other comics characters like Funnyman---the Prankster, the Joker, Toyman, the Jester---are all bad guys. Interesting, eh? (There was another Jester, a Quality Comics hero from the 40's, and probably others by the name, but it's not like they were real successful.)

Shuster and Siegel never did capture lightning in a bottle again, and as someone who fancies himself a writer, it's easy to sympathize. Say you write a book, or a song, and it becomes a culture-changing smash hit. How do you replicate that? (You're especially keen if you are Shuster and Siegel, or a musician who signed away song rights because you were starving, and so you're not getting a nickel from your genius creation.) Do you do more of the same? Do you try to analyze why people like what you did the first time and use logic to create the next instead of inspiration? Do you just keep doing what you were doing? You dig in the well for inspiration but nothing comes, certainly nothing that the public is afire over. Now what?

I don't know. But I'll tell you what: If everyone agrees to buy one of my books, and it becomes a Fulghum-like smash with two years on the best-seller lists, I promise I won't complain. Deal?

Monday, June 22, 2015

...or less.

I think it was a furniture store.

Now, it doesn't appear to be much of anything.

On Thursdays, the Great Lileks has been using Google Maps pictures to document downtowns from small municipalities around the nation. Some are bustling and thriving; some are falling to pieces. The Hudson Valley town that hosts this former store seems to be doing just fine. But it just shows, even when others are able to carry on, some fall behind.

I'd like to think whoever owned the place just decided to retire, sell off the inventory, and take the big pile of money he or she saved to a Caribbean island to enjoy the golden years. I figure, though, that every closed store means a broken heart somewhere. And a large number of big-box stores opened within a couple of miles of this place within the last 15 years, which would have been a problem. Some larger furniture dealers also exist just a few exits up the highway; unlike eggs or socks, people don't mind driving half an hour to save money on furniture, or find the selection they want.

Once, when I was a kid in the city, I got a day job helping to clear inventory out of a furniture store that had gone belly-up. Some of the stuff was ghastly, but it was the very early 80's, and so a bunch of late-70's crap was not the reason for the store's demise. Everyone had crap like that. No, sometimes everyone picks up tents and the caravan moves on, and there you are. Or the neighborhood goes to hell, which was a factor in that store in the city.

It is sad when a shop fails despite everything the owners can do. Of course, when More opened, it may have driven a little local store called Just Enough out of business, for all I know, so maybe it was karma. I'd love to hear from anyone attached to this. I'm sure there's an interesting story in this store. More to be told, as it were.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

If it don't fit, get a bigger hammer.

"Don't force!" was the oft-repeated lesson of my wife's late father. 

Seems to defy the zeitgeist, doesn't it?

Good advice nonetheless. 

A couple of weeks ago I was trying to get enough of the hose off the porch to wash away some dog diarrhea from the yard. Trust me when I say there was no mechanical means of removing it. Well, I have the hose on the porch to water the big pots in which I have planted peppers, tomatoes, flowers---it usually sits coiled up like a well-behaved serpent in my wooden planked garden. So I don't normally have to pull it down the stairs. 

While pulling it down the stairs it got stuck, and before I gave it a good hard yank, I should have remembered two things:

1. Don't force!

2. Rubber hoses are good for 3 things: conveying fluids, roughing up suspects, and acting as drive belts.

Instead I remembered one thing:

1. Hulk smash!

The hose acted like a belt, rolling one of the super huge pots containing little pepper sprouts right off the porch and down the steps. 

Plant triage and emergency treatment was required. It was a messy job and it took so long my wife was wondering where I'd wandered off to. Ultimately I got every little plantling back in the dirt, and I think I saved them all. Why? Because I was very careful with them. I didn't force.

My father-in-law was a good man of good advice. My own father was a good man of no good advice. I don't know why, but my father was completely incapable of using his language skills to convey instruction. He could not teach anyone anything. Or maybe it was just his uninterested children that caused him to lose heart. Maybe in a work environment he was teaching people to do things left and right. But I doubt it---most people wouldn't have known it, but I think he was a shy man at heart.

My mom said when I was very small I would follow my father around, pulling up the ol' pants just the way he always did, probably just to be like him. So that was one thing I learned from him.

My father taught me many things by the way he did them himself. He taught me his strong work ethic, he taught me to shun debt, he taught me (as it said in the Bible he did not believe, Proverbs 22:29) that men skilled in their labor will stand before kings. I wish he'd taught me things like how to put on a new engine belt or install a new electrical outlet without killing myself, but I wouldn't have been listening anyway, probably. One thing he showed without putting into words: Don't force. Sometimes you need that little push of adrenaline for a heavy job, but even so, it's only in movies that we do things better when we're angry.

I miss my dad today, and my wife's dad. Sometimes I still feel like a boy in a man's body. But when I do behave like a man ought to, it's because I followed the example of those who came before me.

Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Terrible Trivium.

A Google News search yesterday made me think of a character from Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth.

The problem in a nutshell: there were 11,800,000 news stories about NAACP white person Rachel Dolezal, but just 1,910,000 news stories about the "cyber Pearl Harbor" hack on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management---despite the fact that the OPM attack may be horrific in scale and consequence and permitted by colossal government incompetence by the same jackholes who constantly assure us that they are smarter and wiser than the American people they rule. 

In other words, one deluded woman has garnered almost six times the news coverage of a massive threat to U.S. security and the exposure of the ineptitude of those who lead us. 

We are in the grip of the Terrible Trivium. 

Sure, he looks pleasant, despite having no face; everyone admires a good dresser. But if you've read the book, you may recall that the Trivium was one of the most difficult obstacles that Milo had to overcome in his quest to restore Rhyme and Reason:

"Because, my young friends," he muttered sourly, "what could be more important than doing unimportant things? If you stop to do enough of them, you'll never get to where you're going." He punctuated his last remark with a villainous laugh.
"Then you must---" gasped Milo.
"Quite correct!" he shrieked triumphantly. "I am the Terrible Trivium, demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit."
The Humbug dropped his needle and stared in disbelief while Milo and Tock began to back away slowly.
"Don't try to leave," he ordered, with a menacing sweep of his arm, "for there's so very much to do, and you still have over eight hundred years to go on the first job."
"But why do only unimportant things?" asked Milo, who suddenly remembered how much time he spent each day doing them.
"Think of all the trouble it saves," the man explained, and his face looked as if he'd be grinning an evil grin---if he could grin at all. "If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you'll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won't have the time. For there's always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing, and if it weren't for that dreadful magic staff, you'd never know how much time you were wasting."

We need a magic staff.

It's been 30 years since the late Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death was published, and it seems that our slide down this carnival ride has picked up speed in the Internet age. Our interest in the Jenner saga (15,800,000 news articles yesterday), our treating of movie openings as actual news (Pixar's Inside Out, 5,380,000), these things make Pope's Dunciad look like a scene of great insight and knowledge. The idiocracies that run our government and colleges are only allowed because we have no desire to demand better. And all this is coming from me, a guy who would like nothing more today than to sell a pile of novels.

Citizens of a democracy are free to do what they want, including opting out of anything to do with their actual governance, but if we do that we had better be prepared to accept the consequences. Otherwise we will wake up one day with everything in ruins, and all but a very few of us will wonder how it happened.

Religion, blushing, veils her sacred fires,
And unawares Morality expires. 
Nor public flame, nor private, dares to shine;
Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread empire, Chaos! is restored;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And universal darkness buries all.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Phone Books Are Here!

Remember when that was a big deal?

Yep, not so much now.

When we moved into our current house, the county phone book was almost three inches thick at the spine. We got the new one last week---maybe half an inch. Pull out the pizzeria and lawyer ads and you basically got a flyer.

Ripping a phone book in half used to make a very manly show of virility. Now it looks like something that could be done by an anemic Wally Cox with the flu.

"I got dis."
Everyone's using the Internet to find listings instead of the phone book now. No one gets excited when a new phone book gets dropped off in the driveway anymore. Seems that there are two kinds of people now: people who put the phone book right in the recycling bin, and people who check the coupons first.

Actually, there is a third kind. One guy who lives around here doesn't bother to take in the phone books or even throw them out. He just leaves them where they sit to rot, like hanged pirates in London, carcasses left on public display as a warning to the rest.

Pour encourager les autres. Keep moving, bub.
All I can tell you is that when the new ones came around last week, it didn't appear that one was left for him. So I guess it worked.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bad music.

The second MacFinster book is preceding apace, and we'll have an announcement on the release date soon. It doesn't help when the author has an immense change at the last minute.

Maybe it wasn't that immense, but I annoyed my own bad self with it.

If you were kind enough to read MacFinster, you may recall that, as a minor matter, the title hero is said to be a terrible songwriter. In his youth he wrote a song entitled "Wiener," lyrics for which appear in the text. I thought we might hear some more of Rex MacFinster's lyrical versatility in the sequel, so I included a song about his pal Two-Can Charlie, who had flunked his road test four times. Called "DOA at the DMV," it was supposed to be a heavy metal song. The only problem is, the more I read it over, the less funny I thought it was.

Much like the DMV itself. 

So it's been excised from the text. However, as one to never let a darling go to waste, I thought I'd share the poetry with you:

Doughnuts to the left of her
Doughnut behind
DMV lady drives him out of his mind
Takes his application
Laughs at his ass
Hands him the test that she knows he can’t pass

At the DMV I’m DOA
Doesn’t seem to be my day
DOA at the DMV
What an awful way to be

Jackwipe giving road tests
Don’t give a damn
Gonna make him flunk this stupid driving exam
Parallel parking
Makes him sweat and cuss
The only pass he’ll get is maybe one for the bus

At the DMV I’m DOA
Gonna have to walk away
DOA at the DMV
This will be the death of me

I thought about it for a while, and although it seemed funny in context, and perhaps if you've ever known someone who just couldn't manage to pass the road test*, but I decided I needed something funnier and stupider. Fortunately, funny and stupid are two of my favorite things. So if you're brave enough to read MacFinster II: MacFinster's Folly when it comes out, you'll have to let me know if I was right.


*Not me -- first time winner! Woo!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Didn't know they even made these.

Okay, I know it's been a parade of candy lately, but I didn't eat everything all at once, or even over the course of a week. Well, I might have, but that's between me and my pants.

Charleston Chews are usually found in vanilla, sometimes in chocolate, but I had no idea they came in strawberry.

Still, isn't that the Great Triumvirate of flavors? Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry? But strawberry was always the weaker member, at least in Neapolitan ice cream (a.k.a. harlequin, according to Wikipedia). Only one member of our family preferred strawberry, and she didn't live with us. The rest of us split between chocolate and vanilla.

You can argue which of those two is king. Chocolate is the one that supposedly does all kinds of healthy things and makes you feel all gaga, but vanilla repeatedly reigns supreme as an ice cream flavor. Vanilla is the best-known flavor of Charleston Chew, but then, all three flavors come covered in chocolate, so maybe that's the real draw. Vanilla Yoo-hoo was a failure, but chocolate and strawberry are still around.

Anyway, the strawberry Charleston Chew was tasty, totally artificial but really tasted like strawberry. I wondered if Tootsie Roll, which makes them, was going to spring some other hitherto unknown flavors on us, like pistachio, artichoke, or anchovy. But no; Tootsie's site confirms just the three Triumvirate flavors. Wikipedia says marshmallow and banana are former flavors. So at least I don't have to feel obliged to eat those.

And that's fine with me. I've come to appreciate strawberry ice cream, but the only thing banana-flavored I like is bananas.

Monday, June 15, 2015


More sugar. 

Interesting; something I'd not heard of.

Choco Stroopwafel?


Who are these mysterious Belgian Boys, and what do they want?

On their Web site they call themselves "Chubby and Skinny, the Troublemakers of Taste." And yet they don't look like rebels, with their bowler hats and curly mustaches.

What can we infer from the name? We know that the European Union is an antidemocratic conspiracy run out of Brussels, Belgium. So these Belgian Boys could be agents of the EU, fattening up Americans with their Choco Stroopwafels.

And I say: Bring. It. On.

I thought this "Belgian Boys" thing might be one of those "little companies" that actually turns out to be owned by a massive conglomerate, the way Kellogg's owns Kashi, and RJR Reynolds owned the Moonlight Tobacco Company, and Anheuser-Busch owns everything... and is itself owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev of Belgium. (Hmm.) But I could only trace the Belgian Boys to a limited liability company called Le Petite Belge, registered in the U.S.


Oh, yeah.

Worse: Although the one you see here was purchased in a gas station convenience store, it was no cheap piece of junk food; it had a light, crispy waffle, creamy and not tooth-ruining caramel, and rich, delicious chocolate. Obviously part of their plan to break our will.

So I think we need to investigate this more. You start researching the paper trail; I'm going to look more deeply into the ingredients used in these Belgian Boys treats. The secret lies in the Stroopwafel. I'm sure there are clues there if I can just consume---uh, that is, exhume---them.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Saturday, June 13, 2015

They called him Bruce.

This whole Bruce Jenner thing you may have heard about has gotten me rather sad.

When I was a kid and thought Bruce Wayne (Batman---shh, don't tell) was the coolest guy in the world, it bothered me that simultaneously the name Bruce had become a shorthand joke for an extremely effeminate type of homosexual. Batman is not like that! I wanted to say.

Some theorized that this joke on the name actually came from Batman, as a grown man living with an unrelated teenage boy, but I never bought that explanation. An exploitative adult male would, certainly in those days, not "ponce about" and draw attention to himself that way. He would just wear costumes at night and beat up clowns. Wait, this is getting confusing. (So is the rumor that Bruce Wayne is dead, but I think we can discount that. Famous characters dying in comic books has become the new impoverished country photo op; all the best people have to do it once in a while.)

I remember reading that Bob Kane, when he created Batman, chose the name Bruce Wayne from two very manly men of history: Robert the Bruce, the King of Scots, and Revolutionary War hero Anthony "Mad Anthony" Wayne. Very butch: Robert (whose last name was Bruce, not "the Bruce") beat up the British for Scotch independence. And you don't get a nickname like "Mad Anthony," or a recreation area named for you off the Palisades Parkway, by being a scaredy-cat. Kane meant for Bruce Wayne to be a very tough, virile guy.

And what about some of the other Bruces? Bruce Lee was a legend when I was a kid, even though he died when I was quite young; the playground stories were ferocious, about how he could pull out a man's heart with his bare hand and the guy wouldn't know about it until three hours later, when he was getting into his car and fell over---whoa! no way!

You don't mess with Bruce Lee. Even though he was dead, he could beat you up.

You didn't mess with Bruce Banner, either. Although he was not a manly man, until he got all Hulked up. Interestingly, when they made the Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk TV show back in 1978, they changed the character's name to David Banner because of all the flagrancy associated with the name Bruce at the time. At least that's what Stan Lee said.

Bruce Springsteen looked like an all-American manly man in the early '80s, but has turned out to be a typical tax-dodging showbiz jerk, with that great brand of socialism that divas love: income equality for thee... but not for me.

Then there was Bruce Jenner, a magnificent Olympic athlete. Although he always was too much of a California kind of guy to be a macho man. He wasn't the sort of athlete who went on to play Tarzan; he was the sort of athlete who went on to Hollywood Squares. So while he didn't hurt the Bruce cause, he didn't help it much. Now, of course, he's wounded it, perhaps fatally.

Maybe it was hopeless anyway. Some of the most famous names from comic books have become pretty rare in the real world, possibly because of the connection to the characters. Bruce, Clark, Reed, and Lois are extremely uncommon names now. Peter Parker's first name survives because he has a Biblical connection.

But there has been no St. Bruce. I checked.

(Some seem to be rushing to declare a St. Caitlyn, however.)

Friday, June 12, 2015

Fred Hollywood.

No, my books have not been picked up for the movies, but I'm sure they'll all be optioned soon. I hope some smart Hollywood producer will dump a pile of money on me for the rights. Not that I want the movies to be made, because they would ruin the stories; I just want option money. Big Scrooge McDuck piles of option money. Thanks!

Failing that, I'm thinking sponsorship.

This summer's blockbusters seem to have a ridiculous number of sponsor deals. It used to be that the #1 movie would have a sponsorship deal with McDonald's, #2 with Burger King, and the others would go catch-as-catch-can, picking up Subway (which had Green Lantern), Taco Bell (which had the 1998 Godzilla), and so on. Now every movie that comes along has got a sponsor, sometimes many, and it's not just fast food. Inside Out is being sponsored by Clorox and State Farm, for example. When did a Pixar movie ever do this kind of deal? (The Toy Story short "Small Fry" even made fun of the Happy Meal tie-ins.) And to do it with a cleaning product and an insurance company?

Jurassic World, opening today, has got Mercedes Benz and Dairy Queen. Are there two less likely bedfellows than Merc and DQ?

Seems to me I should be able to get my hands on some of this promotion dough. Too late for Jurassic World, although I like to eat ice cream and I've always wanted a Merc. I could have been the bridge between the sponsors! Let's look at some upcoming blockbusters and see how a little dose of Fred could help with the promotions.

Terminator: Genisys (July 1): Fred blogs about the time he fought off a Series 70 Terminator with a stale Twinkie and a badminton racket.

Ant-Man (July 17): Fred explains in depth over the course of a week why Ant-Man is the most rockin' Avenger of all time. Brings in mention of obscure Avengers characters (Jimmy Woo, Elsa Bloodstone, Captain Britain, etc.) to show off his bona fides.

Pixels (July 24): Fred sets up a game of Pac-Man on his blog, totally stealing it from the one Google did.

Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation (July 31): Fred takes massive doses of painkillers so he can write about what an awesome thespian Tom Cruise is.

Shaun the Sheep (August 7): Fred dresses his icon as a sheep for two weeks.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (August 14): Fred tries to gin up excitement for International Talk Like Robert Vaughn Day.

Crouching Dragon Hidden Tiger II: The Green Destiny (August 28): Hi-YA! Fred turns over the blog to his alternate Wudang personality, Fu Redd, to teach people how to climb walls with their toes and crap like that.

And that's just before Labor Day! So come on, Hollywood; drop Fred some green and let's make movie magic.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Leaves of three...

Got a small rash on my arm a couple of weeks ago---small enough that at first I thought it was a collection of bug bites from an army of very industrious, very tiny, very evil little bugs. But as a week went by and it was still sore and itchy, it reminded me of poison ivy, and so I think it was.

The odd thing was, I hadn't gone into the weeds or woods. I couldn't figure out where I might have been exposed. But judging by the pattern of the rash, I wondered if the dog had gotten some on his paw and then thoughtfully wiped it off on me. It was in the shape of his paw pads. Well, he didn't seem to be in any discomfort---although I know dogs sometimes try to hide it when they don't feel well, our dog seems to be inclined to let us know what he's feeling, all the time.

Normally I am very careful around nature. She's a shifty one, always whipping out some nasty trick. It pays to be cautious. I have a sensitivity to yellow jacket venom that has not gotten less with more exposure (thanks, little guys! Thanks so much!). And of course I know the old rhyme: Leaves of three, let them be, which neatly describes poison ivy, poison oak, and about a billion other plants that are not poisonous at all.

What is not well-known is that that line is just one of a much longer folk poem:

Leaves of one, ain't much fun
Leaves of two, whoop de doo
Leaves of three, let them be
Leaves of four, shut the door
Leaves of five, shuck and jive
Leaves of six, pick up sticks
Leaves of seven, smoke to heaven
Leaves of eight, put on weight
Leaves of nine, also fine
Leaves of ten, start again
Leaves of thirteen, burnin' & hurtin'
Leaves of thirty-two, smell like glue
Leaves of thirty-three, gotta go & pee
Leaves of fifty, ain't too nifty
Leaves of seventy, way too heavty....

All right, that's enough. That was even more stupid than I thought it would be.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Poopin' like a boss.

Many thanks for the kind words and suggestions about my dog Tralfaz and his drinking problem. For those joining our saga in progress: He refused to drink from his bowl, taking instead all his liquid from driveway puddles and ice cubes. Changing bowls, moving bowls, and every other suggestion we could find yielded no results. The boy was terrified and could not be coaxed, cajoled, treated, or threatened into drinking from the same bowl he'd used for more than a year. Result: Low energy, little pee, very little poop. Hey, you know what happens when you don't drink enough water. Same with him.

I'm happy to say that for the last week or so we have been out of the woods and into the bowl. And my boy has been poopin' like a boss. What kinda boss?

Serious kinda boss.

So what happened? Allow me to explain.

It all seemed to start when we had guests over. The doorbell rang; he went berserk; and while he was in that hyper state one of our guests accidentally kicked the water bowl. Not sure why this would disturb the dog---not like he had to clean it up---but ever after he was shy of the bowl, and within a couple of days he was avoiding it entirely.

What finally seemed to get him back to the dish was the brilliant Mrs. Key, who enticed the thirsty fellow with drops of water from her fingers. When he got close she held up water from his bowl in her cupped hands, which he lapped right up. Over time she (and later I) drew the cupped hands closer to the bowl until he was virtually drinking out of a cupped-hands bowl-within-a-bowl, and then he started forcing himself with audible effort to use the bowl himself occasionally. Now, a couple of weeks later, while there is periodic shyness about it, with the attendant whining, it is nothing like what it was. He drinks freely at all hours. Whee!

It took a lot of patience, a lot of resistance to the desire to solve the problem for him. Actually, we probably would have solved it for him if it were possible, but he had to find his own way. And it took time. Some things just take time, no matter how good or smart the effort is.

The L&T* wife also thinks it was just a phase, maybe more related to the lad moving into adult doghood than any water dish trauma. Could be. As I noted in the earlier post, though, he's always been timid of water, refusing to use the puppy pool I bought him. I don't think that's going to change, not even if I spring for a really good one.

But I might use it myself because it is AWESOME.
The point is, I'm glad he's able to drink water on his own again and is peein' and poopin' like a boss. And it is like a boss, because I'm the slob that has to clean up after him.


*lovely & talented, but you knew that.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Something else I shouldn't eat... Wait, this is okay.

A new product from Welch's: Freeze-dried grapes!

Apparently it is so new that it isn't even on Welch's Web site. Could be that the supermarket where I spotted it is one that gets a lot of advance stuff. One news report noted that this is a Welch's branded product that is actually developed by Healthy Food Brands, which has posted a ton of information on its own site. Maybe as part of the deal, Welch's can't put it on its own site.

It cost a buck so I had to try it. Also, the packaging noted that it was 35 calories for the whole bag. I liked that right off---not that it was so light, but that they were honest about a person eating the whole bag. Unlike some other individually packaged products. Not that it's a big bag, but still.

Anyway, let's see what we got.

Uh... looks a little weird. Like black olives on a burned pizza. Or really bad boogers.

The texture is strange too. These aren't just dried fruit, like raisins; these are freeze-dried, so they start sucking moisture from your mouth immediately. It's like astronaut ice cream. But the flavor is intense. All dried fruit gets a concentrated fruit sweetness and flavor, and this does too.

I did enjoy it, but it's more than double the price of the little box of raisins that parents stick in the kids' lunches, and unlike raisins it tends to have a lot of sticky crumbs. I'm sure it will be initially popular as a novelty, but I'm not sure of its long-term prospects. Anyway, I ate something that didn't have sugar added to it (or virtually compose it entirely), so I'm going to count it as a win.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Yet more sugar.

Never been a big fan of the Chips Ahoy! cookie. Its shortbread-like cookie seemed too hard and crumbly and even dusty; its chocolate, not very flavorful. And yet somehow I got suckered in again to Dunkin' Donuts latest criminal enterprise: the Chips Ahoy! doughnuts. Specifically the Chips Ahoy! Creme Donut.

What is it? It's a chocolate-covered doughnut with pieces of broken Chips Ahoy! on top, filled with Chips Ahoy! flavored creme. Which doesn't tell you much about the creme. I found that it did have a taste of a chocolate chip cookie, but was extremely runny and painfully sweet.

There's also a Chips Ahoy! Crunch Donut, which is a little more sane -- it's a regular chocolate-iced doughnut with broken cookie pieces on it. No filling. It was not so sweet that it whaled on you with sugar. And the Dunkin' Donuts chocolate more than makes up for any deficiencies of the Chips Ahoy! chocolate.

My larger concern is this move by Dunkin' to make doughnuts out of popular cookies, like the disappointing square Oreo cheesecake doughnut. It may seem like a good idea at first, but it will end in tears. The Lorna Doone Doughnut will turn people off. The Archway Oatmeal Cookie Doughnut will be problematic. The Stella D'Oro Breakfast Treat Cookie Doughnut will send people running to Starbucks. The Canned Danish Butter Cookie Doughnut will make people scream and demand refunds. The Dry Italian Bakery Cookie That Tastes Like Licorice And Sawdust Doughnut will result in closed franchises.

Trust me, Dunkin' Donuts; reverse this trend before it leads to Spam Doughnuts. That's the kind of crossover from which no one recovers.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


We've had a lot of robins around here this spring, as I've noted before. Now, one of them has decided to move in. 

Scared the hell out of me.

The deck is pretty high. One morning I walked under it to look for yellow jacket nests (it's a favorite spot for them to build, so I have to check it frequently in the spring) and the robin shot out of the nest, bonking her head (I assume it's female) a couple of times on the way out. I'd since hoped to get a picture of the bird in the nest, or a short video, but she always flees before I can get close enough with the phone.

I don't think that this is the smartest robin going. Before this nest got done, there had been several abortive nests up in the joists under the deck: a small pile of grass here, a piece of plastic cord there, a little muddy lump over here, all on spots exposed to the fast winds we sometimes get. Wikipedia reports that "Bird banders have found that only 25% of young robins survive the first year." If they're all this good at making nests, I can't say I'm surprised.

But it's a pity. Robins have a pretty song, and as tenants go, they're not too bad. If they eat yellow jackets, I might give them a stipend.

Anyway, I'll always have a soft spot for robins, one that has nothing to do with Batman. No, it was because of their mention in Jethro Tull's sweet song, "Home":
Down steep and narrow lanes I see the chimneys smoking
above the golden fields ... know what the robin feels
in his summer jamboree.
All elements agree
in sweet and stormy blend ---
midwife to winds that send me home.
I like home. Home is nice.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


The Minions movie doesn't open until July 10, and already we are being Minioned every which way. I've seen the ads for the Minions Tic Tacs. I've even tried the Minions Peeps, as I wrote a few months back. Then there's this:

Come on, guys. Just because it's yellow?

Too bad Nuprin is not around anymore. We could have Minion pain relief.

The Minions are shaped like cans of antiperspirant; can an Axe Minion Spray be far behind?

Part of the problem, though, is that while the marketing for the movie is fun, the movie itself looks like kind of a bust. Coming up with a big, epic Minion backstory robs them of their charm, I think. Worse, the story looks rather predictable and pedestrian, like Despicable Me without the redemption. Or maybe the redemption story is there, in which case it's just Another Despicable Me. The gags in the trailers that center around the modern Minion story fall flat. When your comedy trailer isn't funny, you have problems.

I hate to come down too hard on the little guys, though. I mean, I'm glad they're doing fine, and I hope the movie is better than it looks. I have to admit, too, that I've been told that they may be distant cousins of mine. I suppose it's possible, but personally I don't see any resemblance.

UPDATE: Okay, this is getting ridiculous.

UPDATE UPDATE: Honestly, the more things like this I see (and I have seen more), the more I think the movie is going to suck hard.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Benefits of self-employment.

I've been self-employed as a writer and an editor for some time now, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone sane. A friend of mine who writes out of his home office for newspapers says that it's ideal for him because "I don't play well in the sandbox with others."

Lately I've been doing most of my work at home too, rather than visiting client offices, and it definitely has its advantages. The dog is happy that I'm around to take him out and play with him all the time. I can sleep a little later... although the dog doesn't let me sleep late anyway---time, tide, and pee wait for no man. And yes, I can work in my PJs, although as it happens I sleep in a three-piece suit and necktie.

Of course, there are downsides to it as well. Some days the work dries up. Dry spells seldom last long, and they give me time to work on my own books. But being an overdramatic creative type, I quickly become convinced that I must have screwed something up, my name has been dragged through the mud, and I'll never work in publishing again. It doesn't help if the bills are piling up at the same time.

All that said, there are a few reasons I've found to enjoy being self-employed, and I'm glad to share them with you:

  • Who's employee of the month this month? Why... it's ME again!
  • Never have a problem finding a parking space
  • I've tried to lay me off, but I just don't have the heart
  • No one has ever stolen my red Swingline
  • At office parties, I get to eat all the cookies
  • Staff meetings take less than 30 seconds
  • Never have to fill out a self-evaluation

So there are advantages to this work arrangement, for those brave, independent, misanthropic souls willing to go for it. It helps that I didn't get into a field like automobile manufacturing, which would be difficult to do out of my home.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Dog answers your questions.

Dear Tralfaz:

My dog is a picky eater. How can I get him to eat his food?


Dear Concerned:

My vet says I could live on treats, or at least that's what I hope she said. So give your dog lots of treats. If he throws up, that's okay; he won't mind. In fact, he may just eat it all again. If he gets fat your vet will blame you for not exercising him enough, and your dog won't mind that either. Win-win!


Dear Tralfaz:

What does it mean when my cat hisses at me? She doesn't bite or anything.


Dear Concerned:

The situation you describe is very serious. It indicates that you have a cat. I suggest you rectify this at once by removing the cat and getting a dog. He will be your faithful chum, and he will never hiss at you, I promise.


Dear Tralfaz:

My dog always go nuts when the mailman comes by. I'm afraid he would bite the guy if he had a chance! What can I do?


Dear Unnerved:

Clearly there is a problem with this mailman. Dogs are excellent judges of character. Have you considered that he may be an enemy agent? Or maybe a dangerous man who kills lots and lots of people? Maybe you should consider moving. Trust your dog.


Dear Tralfaz:

My naughty puppy doesn't come when he's called. How can I correct his misbehavior?


Dear Upset:

Is it perhaps that your puppy doesn't come because of your attitude? Hmm? Negative words like "naughty" tell me that you're mad with your furbaby, and don't think he doesn't know it. Perhaps you could give him treats when he comes to you. In fact, you should give him treats pretty much all the time. And praise, lots of praise. And toys. And rub his belly. What doggie wouldn't come to someone like that?



Got a question for the Dog? Write in care of this author and we'll see if he answers it or chews it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Slip Mahoney: The Recap.

Well, folks, that wraps another Talk Like Slip Mahoney Day. The second. In a row! So it's all very exciting. Or, as Slip might say, it's been absolutely dogmatic and innocuous.

Here are some inspiring and completely unconfirmed anecdotes connected with this year's event, reported to us at TLSMD HQ:

  • An angry police captain in Houston was overheard telling a sergeant, "I oughta moidelize ya, ya bum."
  • Nationwide, bow tie sales were up 38% on the day.
  • A female pediatrician in Oshkosh told the mother of one of her patients, "She just needs ta get some good eats, some fresh air, and some ostracize."
  • Seven palookas in Cleveland went to Walmart to buy hats so they could hit one another with them.
  • A Baptist minister in Mobile told some congregants, "God sent his only kid to redeem our exegetical souls, and dat ain't hay, bruddah."
  • An elderly woman in Saskatchewan, faced with a picky-eating grandson, promised that, "If yeh don't eat dat tuna sanwich I'm gonna feed ya a knuckle sanwich!"

So we're positively immobilized with glee at da toinout.

Why do we honor the great Slip Mahoney? Why do we chase these ghosts of celluloid past? I'd say, we may be ghost chasers, but we're in excellent company.

See you next year. Tomorrow, back to foods I shouldn't eat (but did), dog anecdotes, miscellaneous complaints, pedantry, and observational humor!