Monday, August 31, 2015

Repost, reschmost.

In the writing game, you occasionally you get e-mails like these:

Dear Fred: Why aren't you on Facebook? We fans could keep up with your stupid life much more easily if you were on FB. You could write about your problems with work, and the dog, and every thing else no one cares about. So get on FB! P.S: Your books suck butt too.
Love, I. P. Daley

Well, Ms. Daley, you sure make it sound tempting! I have been on Facebook in the past, though, and found the experience less than rewarding. It seems like a forum in which high-strung people who cannot tolerate being jabbed like to run around poking people. Didn't seem to make a lot of sense to me.

But I think the thing that frustrated me the most were serial posts like these:


Kind of diminishes the award, doesn't it?


I'm too dumb to spell anem.

See what I mean? It's like people are always telling me to do things and if I don't do them I'm a bad person. In the early days of e-mail I used to get demands like that once in a while, with exhortations about the wonderful things that would happen if I spread this blessing to seven friends or the horrible curses that would befall me if I broke the chain. I never got that many chain e-mails, and I was happy to ignore them. But Facebook's news feed is like an endless list of chain e-mails, alternating with needy trolling for likes. It makes even the least demanding of my friends and acquaintances look like a wheedling salesman with low self-esteem.

So that's why you won't find Fred on Facebook. I haven't ruled out Twitter, but as you can see, I'm not capable of complaining in short form.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Stupid guilt.

I feel guilty about things that would barely rise to the level of acknowledgment for other people. Sure, we all feel guilty about some little things---badmouthing a co-worker, dropping trash on the street, foreclosing on a sickly old widow---and well we should.

But I suffer stupid guilt, about things other people probably wouldn't even think about. Here are five examples.

1. Renting a Redbox movie and failing to watch it. Not because I blew the $1.25 plus tax, but because someone else may have had their heart set on watching Scooby Doo! Meets KISS and I ruined his Saturday night for nothing. If I'm going to ruin someone else's night for my selfishness, by depriving him of seeing the long-awaited teaming of Scoob and Doctor Love, at least I ought to get something out of it.

2. Doing something naughty in a dream. I know I don't have any control of the programming; as a fellow I knew once said, "The things in your head are for entertainment purposes only." But I always kind of think that the evil thoughts I've piled up lead me to dream of doing wicked things. Frankly, though, even in my dreams they're pretty tame. But I still feel guilty.

3. Taking an elevator to the second floor.

Seriously, I got legs. What the hell's wrong with me?
4. Taking the last cookie. Or brownie, or whatever was put out at the office. Yes, it's the Piece of Shame, an appellation that would indicate that taking it ought to bring one shame and guilt, but when I take it I tell myself I am rebelling against tribal groupthink. But I make sure to take it when no one is looking.

(Don't get me started on throwing away food; I was the kid who actually wanted to put my leftovers in a box and mail them to starving Third World countries.)

5. Not playing with apps. I have a crossword puzzle in progress! The Languinis need me! That Candy won't Crush itself! Who gives a damn? I do!

I don't think counseling will help me. I need to be persecuted; it's the only way to relieve me of my guilt. But I'm a white male American Christian; I'm supposed to be the guy doing the persecuting. And I know that billions of people would like me to feel guilty about that.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Key's keys.

Ever come across one of these?

Yep---mystery key.

Why does this keep happening??!?!?

Is what I'd have said as a youth, when the junk drawer in our ancestral home kept filling with keys to which there seemed to be no locks. I thought it was fate, mocking our family name, but eventually I discovered that it happened to every homeowner. 

A key without a lock may seem like a spirit separated from its body, and yet it's not as bad as a lock without a key. That could get you in a real jam. A lock without a key is a problem; a key without a lock is a nuisance. 

Why is a solo key a nuisance? My example is the one above, which I found in a very little-used drawer. It's a Kwikset; that's my only clue. The tag was blank. I know we've replaced several locks---was this one? 

I basically have three choices: 

1) Throw it away and hope it doesn't fit a lock where it might come in handy (even though that clearly has not happened in more than a decade); 

2) Try every lock in the house and see if it works on any of them, and if so, label it correctly; 

3) Put it back in the drawer and forget about it for another 10 years. 

Give ya one guess!

And there it shall probably sit, until I lose something again that brings me to the Mystery Drawer of Hidden Delights, or until we move, whichever comes first. If we move I will probably be forced to check every lock in the house with the key as a service to the new owners, and then throw it away because we got rid of its lock twenty years before. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dog day was ruff!

Yesterday was National Dog Day, an actual sponsored event (unlike, say, Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day) dedicated to the celebration of our little hairy canine chums. And celebrate him we did.

Not everyone does, though. I think I have mentioned that Tralfaz is a really big dog---well over 100 pounds---but friendly to a fault. Really, too friendly; we have to make sure he doesn't run across the street to stand in front of joggers, his face all like, "Hi! You smell like sweat! I'm your new best friend forever!"

The other day I was waiting for a man who was coming to give us an estimate on a job; he hadn't been to the house before, so, it being a nice morning, I sat on the porch with the dog. This way I could greet the man when he arrived, and he'd know he was in the right place. Soon a big pickup came along, and a huge man got out of it. When Tralfaz and I came down the porch steps, Tralfaz on a leash, the guy stopped cold---he looked terrified. I had to put the dog in the house before he'd come up the walk.

Now, some people are badly allergic to dogs, and that can be scary enough. But some people have a phobia, or have had terrible experiences with dogs. I'm not discounting anyone's fears. I just feel bad that the world's friendliest dog (mine) is an unintended victim of them.

What I decided to do was borrow the theme from the old Caspar the Friendly Ghost cartoons and write up a little song we can sing when people come to the house:

Tralfaz the friendly pup
The friendliest dog you know
Though some folks might look at him with fright
The rest of us love him so!

There's no reason to fear
'Cause he's really glad to meetcha
Except for skunks and deer
He's kind to every living creature

Some folks don't understand
And think that he'll eat them up
But we all know and we love him so
Tralfaz the friendly pup!

Maybe it will help.

By the way, Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day was August 8. You missed it. Don't try to do it now, especially if you live near me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A big giant reality show.

I'm becoming increasingly perplexed about the mission statements of cable TV stations. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about them, but I suppose any amount of time could lead one to perplexity.

I'm old enough to remember when TLC stood for The Learning Channel. It really was; there was an absolutely outstanding series in the 90's called The Learning Channel's Great Books, most episodes narrated by Donald Sutherland. In one-hour episodes you could learn about the books' story and the characters (in the case of fiction), the topic and development (for nonfiction), the author, the history, the impact, and the importance of a great world classic. Can you see TLC running that today? The network that does shows about enormously fat people, little tiny people, hugely tall people, gigantic families.... I won't call it the freak show network, as I have respect for the individuals on these shows, but it appears that to TLC it is their mission statement: Freaks On Parade.

But really, all the channels now are sliding this way. They all want a show where you have a family or a business full of oddballs so they can show us their hilarious or touching interactions. Fine---but it leads to shows that don't seem to make sense for the channel on which they appear.

Animal Planet has shows about tree house builders and pool builders. What's that have to do with animals? The tree houses aren't for squirrels. Tanked at least features fish, along with the goofballs who run the business.

Much as I love the Duck Dynasty high jinks on A&E, the Robertsons are not Arts and they are supposedly reality, not Entertainment. Bravo was supposed to be a high-class culture channel once upon a time, not a Real Housewives channel. Not sure how much Discovery is going on with Discovery's Naked and Afraid---the title probably tells you all you need to discover. I guess the car restoration shows on History are historical, but it's a far cry from the all-documentary channel it once was.

Basically I see all these channels slowly tending to put the same kind of shows on, and as they become less attached to their original raison d'etre, the channels will morph into one single channel called Reality. And then you might as well turn off the TV and go outside.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tired of summer?

I passed a scummy pond that had become as green as a crayon, what with stagnant water, little rain, and the stink of rank, August days. Going out of the house at dawn these days has been like walking into a humidor that stores old meat. Then I thought about what's coming.

Dreary gray skies, an endless scrim of snow and mud, darkness and rain and ice. Yippie!

An optimistic chap would think of the advantages of each season. Spring's refreshing rain! Summer's balm of warmth! Fall's wild, colorful parade! Winter's crystal, bracing breeze! But I tend to see the year as a round of sogginess, burns, humidity, slipperiness, freezing, and misery. Yes, something to hate at all times of the year. What an ungrateful slob I can be.

I do understand people who have retired to the south saying that they miss the change of seasons. When you grow up within a temperate zone, your eyes come to hunger for the next season. A friend of mine who spent a couple of years in Quito said, "You can get tired of the perfect weather." Enough of this dull green sward, this blinding sun! Bring on short days and mounds of snow!

I think the great Lileks once wrote that in Minnesota, seasons hang on just long enough to overstay their welcome, and there's something useful in that. If the seasons must change, it's better that we are happy greet them.

Seems like there was a time we felt that way about the seasons of our lives, too, but maybe that's just wishful thinking of the past. After all, St. Paul might have noted that when he became a man he put away childish things, but perhaps he thought of that because he saw men not putting away childish things. It'd be like thinking you could hold on to spring forever. If it doesn't ripen to summer, it will choke to death.

This comes from a guy who likes cartoons and PBJ, so take it with whatever grains of salt you wish.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Enough of this crap!

While walking Tralfaz, my faithful pup companion, we came across this:

I was a bit perplexed by this because the spot where it's posted doesn't look like anyone's property. But there are adjoining houses, and who wants dog poop all over the neighborhood? Children actually do run around barefoot sometimes in suburbia. (We never did that in urbia, broken beer bottles being a fixture of the landscape.)

As tacky as homemade signs such as these are, I'm glad to see them. People in suburbia should clean up after their dogs, even if they think it is on unclaimed land. Even people in the city don't always clean up after their dogs, and it's been the law there since 1978. I don't know if it is the law in the town in which we were strolling, but I doubt they have cops patrolling every residential street on foot, looking to catch poopers in the act.

The thing is, it is rude to let your dog crap on someone else's property and not pick it up. Most people understand that, but judging from the fact that someone saw the need to post this sign, not everyone does.

Tralfaz used to go after other dogs' poop when he was a little guy; a lot of dogs do (dog doo! Har!) and it's a good way to pick up illnesses from other dogs. So I appreciate people making the effort to keep it clean.

And I don't want any people in my own neighborhood thinking Tralfaz is the guy leaving surprise packages. Tralfaz almost never goes anywhere off his home lawn, but when we're out and about I always carry a bag, just in case. (He surprised me once in the town park; in almost a year he had only pooped at home. Fortunately, on a whim, I had grabbed a poop bag before we got to the park.)

So I'm glad people are willing to put up signs to educate those who just don't realize that leaving dog crap around is rude. They may think it dissolves with the dew. They are mistaken.

Speaking of dogs, I uploaded a video of my pal's pup on YouTube -- I'm not saying this dog is cuter than Tralfaz, but this clip---puppy vs. ice cube---may be the cutest thing on planet Earth.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Cooking 101: Home Ack.

Late August is here, and despite my recent warnings to the contrary, many young idiots are heading off to college. Many of these youngsters will be away from home for the first time, or perhaps living in off-campus housing for the first time. For a lot of them they will find that they have to cook their own food. They may have thought they could order pizza whenever hunger struck, or buy a rotisserie chicken from the local supermarket, but that kind of thing gets pricey and cuts into the beer money. Also, how many Cup Noodles and store-brand frozen chicken pot pies can a person stand?

Fred is here to help, youngsters! I started cooking when I was in college, and it was a lifesaver. There's no need to panic: With the aid of a toaster oven and a microwave, you can cook actual food that doesn't suck and will not burn the dorms down. I hope to present some extremely simple recipes from time to time over the upcoming weeks that can be made by people with virtually no cooking skill at all. We have to crawl before we can run, and I don't mean the kind of crawling one sees late in the wee hours on Pledge Week.

Here is a starter recipe, a tuna casserole that was a staple of my recipe book for years until my wife got sick of it.

You Will Need:

  • 1 10.75-oz. can of Cream of Mushroom soup*
  • 1 5-oz. can of tuna (solid white is the best, but anything will do) (except cat food)
  • Half of a 16-oz. box of elbow macaroni
  • Milk**
  • Something to crumble for a thin coating on top -- corn flakes, potato chips, stale (non-moldy) bread, Italian bread crumbs, Doritos, tortilla chips, all good
  • Probably a can opener, although some cans have pull-tops now
  • Spoon
  • An ovenproof container big enough to hold 1.5 to 2 quarts -- you can get a foil one cheap***

2 pints = 1 quart
1 quart = .946 liters, or as close as makes no difference

Also: Something to eat it off and tools to eat it with.

Bring it all back to your toaster oven or, if you're in a house, an actual oven oven. Set the oven to 350 degrees.**** Most new ovens will have some means of alerting you when they reach the target temperature; if yours doesn't, let it heat up for 20 minutes. (You will hear a gas oven stop burning when the temperature is right, but that won't work for an electric oven.)

Take a spoon. Scoop the contents of the can of soup in the container. You will have to open the can to accomplish this. Fill the can up with milk and mix that in the container with the soup. Put the tuna into the container too. Yes, that can will also need to be opened. If you want to get crazy, drain the tuna before adding it, but you can skip that part. Add the macaroni. Put the unused macaroni somewhere safe, preferably in a sealed container or plastic bag to discourage vermin. When the macaroni is mixed in with the soup and milk and tuna, top it with whatever you like as a topper. Don't make it an inch thick; just enough to cover. Stick it in the oven for an hour. If your casserole dish (for that is what it is) has a lid, leave the lid off.

After an hour the tuna casserole should be warm and bubbly. If it instead looks like a charcoal briquette and there is a fireman busting down the door with an ax, then you probably set the oven too high.

One of the nice parts about this recipe is that you don't have to boil the macaroni before you add it to the other ingredients; it softens up as it bakes. If you undercook it the macaroni will be hard, but at least you won't kill anyone because the tuna comes out of the can already cooked.

Another nice thing is that you can fancy it up. Maybe you have a date coming over, or find yourself having to entertain the Queen of Finland due to a long series of comical events. You can substitute Campbell's Golden Mushroom soup for the cream of mushroom; you can add some peas and/or carrots, or a small onion, chopped.*****

This recipe will feed a couple of hungry guys, one guy with the munchies, three women, or five women who pretend they don't eat when they're around one another and then raid the candy machine later.


* I'm not going to tell you to buy Campbell's, but it's like what they do in magazines to avoid annoying advertisers---the size I specified is that of the Campbell's can. So buy Campbell's.

** Don't use chocolate milk, whey protein shake, leftover McDonald's McFlurry, or anything a month past its expiration date. Show some self-respect.

***Don't bring a bucket of water into the store and start filling all the containers to find the right size. They are usually marked. 

**** Fahrenheit, not Celsius. 350 Celsius is 660 degrees Fahrenheit, and you will burn down the dorm. If you are going to school in Canada or something and the oven uses Celsius, set it to 180. 

***** Oooh, Culinary Institute of America stuff! But remember to chop the onion. Don't just put a whole onion in it.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Flex this.

I'm happy to note that my woes from last week with the company that owes me money have been sort of resolved. In other words, I got the majority of the cash they owe me. Which is a tremendous relief. Of course, it wasn't enough, but there's never enough. 

Gee, thanks.
Last week, when I was whining about how poorly editors are paid, I was not just whining Dixie. I suggested that it would be better to send your children to trade school than college, and I stand by that.

Here's why:

1) College is impossibly expensive and will be for the foreseeable future. It's $46,272 per year for a moderate private college. Every solution to this problem is to throw more money at colleges and make it easier for students to acquire debt, which prevents colleges from examining why their costs have completely outstripped inflation since I went to school and doing something to bring them back in line with reality. If your progeny wants to go into the sciences or technology or into medicine, it really is an investment. Otherwise, it's daycare for 18- through 22-year-olds.

2) White-collar jobs want a flexible workforce, but the economy is not based on a flexible population. Bills are not flexible. A thirty-year-mortgage is not a flexible piece of paper; it's a stack of papers so thick it will not flex. We have an economy that expects people to plant and grow equity, and yet still pick up stakes and leave at a moment's notice. When you have a trade you have the potential to make money wherever you go. When you have a skill (especially a liberal arts skill) backed up by a diploma, losing a good job is a catastrophe.

3) The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook gives us these median annual earning figures (2012):

Editor: $53,880
Plumber/Pipe Fitter/Steam Fitter: $49,140 
Writer/Author: $55,940 
Electrician: $49,840 

Slight advantage to the wordsmiths... until you factor in the $28,400 average student loan debt (much higher for those at private snooty-league colleges). Also, the fact that editors and writers are mostly concentrated in the cities, especially New York, where a dollar isn't worth nearly as much as elsewhere.

On top of it all, your dedicated neighborhood idiot editor/writer, who slaves away at the craft of wordsmithing for decades, opens the newspaper one day while reclining on his pile of rejection slips and sees that the #1 best-selling novel in the country is Plumbing the Depths, a thriller written by a plumber who got bored one day and started knocking it out on his wife's iPad. The plumber now has a six-book deal and just got a $5,000,000 check from Hollywood.

So, friends, unless you want your offspring using their excellent language skills to compose a suicide note, be sure to encourage them to do something useful with their lives. Like joining a chain gang.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Work needed for slightly used mascot.

We are all very happy about the return of the Twinkie a couple of years ago. When Hostess closed its doors at the end of 2012, it looked like Twinkie the Kid was washed up. But just eight months later, I saw a poster in Times Square announcing the triumphant return of the Twinkie.

Well, now it's gotten even more serious. Not only are Twinkies back, but...

Chocodile Twinkies!

You kids out there may not understand why these are called Chocodile Twinkies rather than just Chocolate Twinkies or Chocolate Basted Twinkies or something.

It has to do with this guy:

Yes, that's Chauncey Chocodile (or Choco-Dile), the original mascot for Hostess's Chocodile. It was a chocolate-coated Twinkie then, but they didn't call it that. See Chauncey in action here:

The question is: Where's Chauncey now?

This is no idle question from a guy who wrote a novel about advertising mascots come to life (see Larry and the Mascots, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, iBooks...). While Hostess may have brought back the Chocodile, its pitchman is still in limbo. Instead, Twinkie the Kid has been pressed into service, as if the Chocodile was just another Twinkie.

I can't improve on Dinosaur Dracula's insane rave of joy about the return of the Chocodile. All I can say is: I'm glad it's back, but does anyone have an opening for a slightly used sort-of-crocodile-shaped mascot?*


*As it happens, Captain Cupcake and Fruit Pie the Magician are also MIA; do you think Twinkie the Kid has survivor guilt?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Angry Birds 2: Even Angrier Birds?

I probably saw the original Angry Birds on the iTunes App Store first, but I didn't think it would be something I would like. Then a friend of mine mentioned over cards that his daughters had gotten him completely hooked on this stupid cartoon catapult game. It was cheap, so I tried it, and I was disgustingly hooked. Got hooked on the Seasons game, too. And the first Rio game.

If you've been offline except for this blog and your flip phone, here's the description: a bunch of green pigs have stolen eggs, and the birds are mad. They pursue the pigs to kill them and reclaim their eggs. Each different bird has a different ability (speed burst, explosive egg drop, splitting into three, etc.), but they all have to be launched from a slingshot. You kill pigs, you move on to the next board. It never ends.

When I changed phones and lost all my progress, I lost the will to live. No, kidding! I lost the will to start the games again and go through all the frustrating levels of the past. I never much enjoyed the Space or Star Wars versions; I thought the Epic game was little fun, and the racing game (Angry Birds Go!) was pretty much the same thing over and over: Here's a race! It's over! Buy upgrades with actual money! It looked like that would be it for me and the Birds of Anger.

Now there's Angry Birds 2.

First off, I really dislike in-game purchases, but that's the way of the game world now. You get a free game and you progress either through skill and patience or through buying access. Kind of the way of the actual world, I guess, so maybe there's a lesson there. They also use advertising inside the game, which you can use to your advantage---watch an ad and get an extra bird, for example. Which is worth the thirty seconds of your life when you're thiiiiiiiiiiis close to getting through a board. It also has the lives system that Candy Crush made so popular: When you're all out of  birds, you will have to wait half an hour to get them back. You may get the ad-watching option. Or you could buy some more lives, if you're impatient and want to pee away money.

I'm sad that three excellent birds, Stella, Bubbles, and Hal, are not in this game. Bubbles especially is awesome. Hal, the boomerang toucan, would have had limited advantage; this game uses spitting flowers (they spit back whatever falls into them) and teleportation portals (the pigs can't build a decent house but there's teleportation?), so around-the-back shots are not as crucial. In the original game, you were given your birds in the order in which you had to use them; here you're given random birds and you can choose among three for any given shot, unless you have fewer than three birds left. Repeating a board does not mean it will be identical; in keeping with the "under construction" theme of the game, there are possible differences each time. There are also magic spells you can use... unless you run out or (doy!) want to buy some more. The advertising can help you in another way: You may have to watch an ad for Honey-Nut Cheerios, but the game may also randomly give you a Honey-Nut Cheerio spell to attack pigs with for a round.

Whereas the original game was a puzzle that required skill, the new game is more skill and luck based. Boards less often have a particular means of completion. In fact, the setup is very different in that, rather than having a level made up of a number of boards, as in the original game or Candy Crush, you have levels made of boards that are themselves made up of a series of three or more boards; you have to budget your birds to get through the series. You can earn extra birds in the series by scoring lots of points, or you can... dare I say it?... buy more.

Do I like the game? Sure; it's always fun to destroy things in the name of justice. And there is some relief in retrying a board and finding it set up easier on the second go-round.

Am I disgustingly hooked? Not really. The original game was so challenging I would have to resort occasionally to instructional videos on YouTube; can't see me doing that here. A game ought to not be impossible, but should occasionally make you nuts. It isn't love if it can't make you crazy.

On another note, I hear that there is an Angry Birds movie coming out next May. It could be fun... but I liked the grittier live-action version that came out a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The mean Sesame Streets.

Many dresses are up over many hysterical heads over the news that Sesame Street will be first-run on HBO (of all places) before running on PBS. I can't imagine why this is considered a good move by HBO, which has celebrated its gross inappropriateness (to say the least) for decades.

People have reacted as if this is the equivalent of the Bada Bing opening next to the Hundred Acre Wood. I say, not quite.

When I was a kid the Great Society was in full swing. That meant all kinds of things that would have today's well-meaning youngsters soiling their Underoos. Busing, enormous housing projects, and tremendous amounts of concrete were everywhere, and (not coincidentally) lunatics literally being let loose from asylums. White people, who had been enticed to suburban living with the advent of the automobile, now ran screaming to the suburbs. Fun times!

When Sesame Street debuted in 1969 it was a typical hippie project of the era. It seemed to be intended to connect to urban kids, who prior to this were only seeing children on TV living in whitebread suburbs. No problem with that---except that the cities were falling into the crapper, and cheerful idiots like New York's Mayor John Lindsay were pulling the handle. So forget the Muppets---episodes were full of street scenes from the city that probably looked funky and cool  to the producers, and looked like an absolute horror show to small children at home.

Dumpy, dreary housing projects!
Of course, they looked even worse on our old black-and-white TV.

Gritty, dreary housing projects!
We learned that the show's city clips were a good time to go to the bathroom or try to wheedle a snack out of Mom.

So don't tell me that Sesame Street doesn't belong on the mean streets of HBO. It had a bird with a hallucinatory "friend"; an unemployable blue hairball with the perma-munchies; and a con artist who was selling shady or possibly stolen goods. For decades it has featured a cranky bum living in a garbage can! What the hell was the idea? I mean, I like Oscar just fine, because I am now a cranky bum, but was this supposed to teach children that the alcoholic nutcase living on the street could be their pal? The more I think of this, the more I think it should have been on HBO in the first place.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Touch not the spoon!

Every home cook seems to have some tools they cannot bear to be without. This is one of mine:

Daaa...daa....daaaaa.....DA DUM!!!! (dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum)

This large spoon has been in the family for years. My immediate family, that is. We bought it at a Lechter's. "A what?" you say? Lechter's Houseware was an excellent chain of home supplies, including many kitchen items. This spoon was part of its Cooks Club line.

The chain imploded in 2001 due to increasing challenges from national chains like Bed Bath & Beyond, overexpansion, and cash flow problems. It went from almost 500 stores in 2000 to none the next year. But the spoon marches on.

Incidentally, one of Lechter's most ferocious competitors was Linens 'n Things---which itself collapsed as a chain of stores in 2008. We still have a bunch of LnT things, too.

I know my mom had a lot of tools that she was loyal to, tools that she stuck with because they seemed to be unbreakable and they worked just the way she wanted. They were the right size, or held the right amount, or were fireproof when other tools of the type were not, or just stuck around so long that they became the tool. She had a colander that outlived her that finally developed a crack, and I kept using it until it was nearly split in half. It may have been older than I was when I had to let it go.

If you're interested in Greek food, or just really good food, I recommend the Kukla's Kouzina site, which features wonderful recipes by the author, Kelly Staikopoulos, her sister, and their late mother and grandmother. Their grandmother wrote down her old family recipes in Greek, but she didn't know how to write (not having been schooled), and the recipes came out as one loooooong sentence. Their mother was an educated woman, but she tended to use all sorts of things for measurements:
We started writing this cookbook with our mother in 1997 but, unfortunately, she was diagnosed with cancer one year later. During that year before her diagnosis an ominous feeling compelled us to learn not only how to read her Greek script, a challenge to be sure, but also to record measurement amounts for typical Greek recipe terms like “a handful”, “1 wine glass” or “1 water glass”—the most daunting being “1 little plastic cup.”
Their mom could use such inexact measurements because they were exact for her. She did not see the need to upgrade her tools.

I wouldn't be surprised in the least if professional chefs also have their favorite idiosyncratic tools. They like to make a big fat display of their beautiful knife sets, as if they were precision surgical tools, and the good sets cost about as much as something that usually has four wheels---but maybe somewhere they have an old spoon, or a cheap paring knife, or a cracked colander, or 1 little plastic cup, things they would hate to have to cook without.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Food chain jealousy.

So there I am Saturday, working away, and where is the dog? Tralfaz is enjoying a restful snooze in a spot by the A/C vent, relaxing until it is time for his treat. Maybe later he'll take a turn in the yard, see if the deer left him any presents. Me, I'm trying to pile up billable hours to pay for everything.

For this I made it to the top of the food chain?

I have long been taught not to compare my insides with others' outsides, for one never knows what secret sorrows and insecurities gnaw at the breast of one's fellows. That said, Mr. Dog looks pretty cheerful no matter which way you look at him.

I thought I might compare the advantages of being the human to being the canine. Maybe there's something I'm overlooking. Here is the list I drew up:

ME: Control of the larder      

DOG: Which he can access food from by being cute, in addition to his two solid meals daily

ME: Have to go to store with money earned by the humans, buy food, schlep it home

DOG: Can get treats just by being cute 

ME: If I go wild and attack dog, it's my fault

DOG: If he goes wild and attacks me, it's my fault

ME: Lifestyle requires long hours of work

DOG: Lifestyle requires long naps

ME: Toys come from Best Buy and cost a fortune

DOG: Toys come from PetSmart or, even better, the lawn, and cost little or nothing

ME: Have to write checks for the mortgage, electric bill, cable bill, water bill...

DOG: Does not have to write checks for the mortgage, electric bill, cable bill, water bill...

ME: Can drive a car wherever a car may go

DOG: Has no idea that there's anyplace you would want to drive a car to; therefore doesn't care

ME: Can use the comfortable climate-controlled bathroom

DOG: The entire world is his bathroom

ME: But for baby and wisdom teeth, got all my original parts

DOG: Um....

You know what? Maybe it's not so bad being the human after all. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Proofreading and copyediting.

I'm in the midst of a fight with a publisher. Rally 'round the flag, boys!

And I don't mean I'm fighting with the fine people who work with me on my books; heaven, no. Most writers of novels do other things to help pay the mortgage while they wait to hit the big James Patterson payday. Many teach, the poor sorry souls. Many others edit books or magazine articles. Still others, like your humble Fred, do a lot of copyediting, as well as some proofreading and fact-checking.

Everyone knows what fact-checking is: It's what newspapers and magazines desperately need but usually fail to do; or they pay money to hire people as blinkered by ideology as the writers, which is just a waste of money. ("'Hmm---'Handguns kill more people annually than every other single cause of death combined.' Sounds good to me!")

But few people outside the industry know the difference between copyediting and proofreading, and it is the cause of my current conflict.

In brief: There are three distinct editorial jobs in standard book publishing---editor, copy editor, and proofreader. The editor is the most creative of the three, usually working with the author to improve structure and development of the book, whether fiction or nonfiction; the editor may correct the written language as he goes, but it is not his real concern. That falls to the copy editor, who corrects spelling and grammar, adjusts the book to the house style (for example, some publishers would never use the generic "he" anymore as I have done in this paragraph), queries inconsistencies or other problems, make suggestions to fix such problems where possible, and essentially functions as the first reader---the man outside the creative process who will approach the book with the eye of the public. The proofreader is the nitty-gritty man, looking at each line and word and letter to fix that spelling and grammar; he doesn't care what the book says as long as it says it properly. (Much more about the process if you're interested at Upwork.)

A publisher whose name I shall not divulge---yet---hired me to proofread an instructional book. What I did not know at the time is that it had not been copyedited. Even a little. It also appeared to have not been edited.

You can get away with this if you have a highly competent writer who is dedicated to turning in a clean, well-organized, well-written manuscript. That would describe the writer of this book... on Bizarro World.

Proofreaders work very hard, often just at staying awake. But there is a reason that copy editors get paid more. Copyediting is much more time-consuming. You can zip over sentences when you're not reading for sense. When you copyedit, you have to make sure each sentence is logical, each paragraph, every page. This is the position I found myself in when I got into the book (under a very tight deadline, I may add).

At first I thought they had sent me an early draft by mistake---but no, they expected it to be proofed as is.

Let me offer an example of the problem on two lines of text:
This is a lnie that can easliy be fixed in teh proofreading stage.
This a required line   is copy editng . Must be dun.  
As you can tell, the writing done on the second line is barely understandable, but is the kind of thing a copy editor can deal with. You query things a lot. If you're getting a whole book of that crap, you cannot call what you have to do proofreading. It would be like taking a crate of parts to your mechanic and asking him to assemble a Buick.

When I complained, I was told that I just had to buckle down, take a deep breath, and proofread as best I could. I explained that it is impossible to proofread something that is so completely bollixed up---proofreading is for minor errors, not major overhauls. I insisted that they pay me the higher copyediting rate. This went on for days, during which time I continued to work on the thing because (A) I am an idiot and (B) I never expected them to hold out on me in the face of reason. After all, they are publishers, with a company that releases hundreds of titles a year; surely they must know the difference between copyediting and proofreading, right?

Finally, reluctantly, seethingly they agreed, with the warning that they would not do me this huge favor again in the future. I agreed, promising that I would look over each job before I agreed to do it and refuse if it was improperly assigned. So we shook hands like professionals (well, over e-mail, but you get the idea) and they continued to assign me work.

Here's the problem: They have not paid me for the book, and this all went down in June. I've been paid for two jobs I did, but about a dozen more have been billed, and of those three were billed more than 60 days ago; five more than 30 days ago. Either they are broke, they are irresponsible, or they have it in for me. I'm sensing the latter.

And this is the kicker: When all the dust settled, the difference between what I asked for on the job and what they wanted to pay was a little over SIXTY DOLLARS. Because they offered a flat fee rather than an hourly wage, I was so underpaid that Bernie Sanders wanted to make me a poster boy.

So, I'm being forced to consider legal action; I hope it doesn't come to it, but for the sake of any other idiots they hire I think they need a lesson. And I guess my lesson for you is: Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be copy editors. Please, please tell them to skip college and go to plumbing school. Yes, sometimes they'll have to deal with real crap rather than metaphorical crap. But they'll be happier and probably be seen as more useful members of society. And while their clients may occasionally try to stiff them, they'll still be clearing more money than your average editor.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


3 bears
At home the next afternoon, Goldilocks was surprised to find that the bears had taken matters into their own paws.

Friday, August 14, 2015


Strange symbols appearing on the street:

My neighbor thought this meant they were going to tear up the road to go after the sewer lines, so we would have weeks of open sewers and no street. But I know better.


That's right: Landing instructions for the little green men. (They really are little and green, according to my secret UFOlogy connections. I'm not trying to be sexist here---they really are all men when they go on off-planet missions, but once home they can change back to one of their three primary genders: Male, Female, and Caitlyn.)

How do I know all this? My connections keep an eye on the spies planted by the little green men, the spies who go around painting landing instructions on quiet suburban streets, that's how.

I don't know too much more about the aliens, except that they intend to subdue us, have spent a lot of time on our planet, and they are said to be in control of all our major colleges and universities---which would explain a lot. I also have reason to believe these strange creatures are in control of the following:

  • the We network
  • Amway
  • the Presbyterians
  • Luxembourg 
  • the zinc trade
  • most U.S. Laundromats
  • Kim Jong-un
  • the Academy Awards
  • Portland (both of them; actually pretty much anyplace named Portland)
  • Hillary Clinton's e-mail server
  • the weather

If you think about it, it answers a lot of strange and mysterious questions. Why is The Simpsons still on the air? Aliens. What happened to all the bowling alleys? Aliens. The popularity of soccer? Aliens. The EU not falling into smithereens? Aliens. Trump? Aliens. Missing socks in the wash? Do I even have to say it?

The little green men, by the way, have a terrible weakness for Easy Cheese, so carry a can with you at all times. Keep an eye out for mysterious markings on the street, and keep watching the skies.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Orion's back!

Was outside very early Wednesday morning and saw the constellation Orion just about peeking over the southern horizon.

Not my picture, of course; this comes from the Hubble Space Telescope, courtesy of the University of Arizona Astronomy Department. When I saw Orion yesterday he was almost sideways on the horizon---relaxing in the glow of dawn.

Wikipedia tells us that during the summer Orion is in the northern hemisphere sky in the daylight hours, so we can't see him. I'm used to seeing him in the evenings during the winter, and since we got the dog (and I'm constantly being taken outside) I've seen him more in the last two winters than in my entire life prior to this. In any event, I didn't expect to see him in August, and I gather it's because the days are shortening up. The constellation must have been rising after sunup through July; now it's just before sunup.

I've liked Orion for a long time. I liked the Jethro Tull song first:

(Except for that one rhyme---"I'm high on" always made me cringe a little.)

I also liked the fact that Orion is very bright and very recognizable. When you grow up in a big city you don't see many constellations.

Orion the hunter had a pretty rough time of it in the myth. He did some terrible things, but so does absolutely everybody in Greek mythology. He paid some pretty heavy prices for his sins, and his destruction came at the hands of the gods, at least according to some stories; Apollo either tricked his sister Artemis into killing Orion, or Orion went crazy and threatened to kill every beast on earth, so Mother Earth sent a giant scorpion to take him out. However it happened, Orion got smited, and was placed among the stars.

When I see Orion I know that winter is on the way, so we're all about to get smited, too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Sic Transit Gloria EVOO.

Let me say up front that I have nothing against Rachael Ray. Or not much against Rachael Ray. It's always good to see something successful come out of Glens Falls and/or Lake George. So there is that.

The cutesy stuff annoys me, I will confess. "EVOO" for extra-virgin olive oil and "Yum-O" and the line of pet foods ("Nutrish"), all that stuff---I'm fine with cute stuff, but leave it to Hello Kitty. Then again, I'm not the target audience. I don't watch daytime talk shows (I don't hold it against those who do) and I generally only watch shows on Food Network that have some chefs in blood feuds against other chefs, because it combines sports and food, two of my favorite things.

I don't follow the Q Scores, so I don't usually know how well a celebrity is doing until suddenly his show is yanked and he winds up hosting a streaming video show out of a garage studio or, God help the person, writing a daily blog to get attention. I do follow the supermarkets, though. As the family shopper I see things all the time like this:

That was a Wheat Thins box from about 2007/2008, when you could not swing a dead cat in the supermarket without A: Getting the store targeted by health inspectors (dead cat -- come on) and B: Hitting something with Rachael Ray's picture on it. She was about as omnipresent as the Minions are now. I remembered this box because I was in the cracker aisle when I saw an old man and his son looking at it.

Old Man: "There she is again."

Son: "Rachael Ray?"

Old Man: "Yeah."

Son: "You don't like her?"

Old Man: "No, but... it's too much. She's on everything."

I remembered that exchange when I saw this for sale at the store a couple of months ago; 99 cents a box:

Instant oatmeal usually runs between $2.50 and $3 around here. This was a clearance sale. Is it the first sign that the Rachael Ray empire is starting to wane?

Well, she still has the talk show, and the appearances on Food Network, and the Nutrish stuff (Nutrish -- bah) is in the dog aisle, and I see Kohl's is still selling the EVOO crap. So perhaps not. Maybe the oatmeal was just a bridge too far.

Still, when you reach the top of the mountain, there's nowhere to go but down, and life doesn't let you just sit there. It's knowing when you're at the top that's the tricky bit---and the bit where the analogy falls apart, too. After all, when you get to the top of the mountain in real life it's not like you can keep climbing.

Well, Ms. Ray, take comfort in the fact that Target has dropped the Giada De Laurentiis line, so you have plenty of company. No worries---I'm sure neither of you is going to be hitting the bricks anytime soon. Or, God help you, writing a daily blog to get attention.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Dog toys.

Tralfaz and I disagree on a few things, as longtime readers of this space will know. Dogs and we have different priorities. I do not approve of his plan to lick the inside of my mouth to see what I've been eating, and have disallowed it. He thinks my refusal to provide treats on demand is some breakdown of the human/dog convention. We agree to disagree, though, and go on as best we can.

We also disagree on what his best toys are. He likes the kind you can fill with treats the best, but for outside play he's a big fan of anything you can quite literally sink your teeth into. He enjoys Frisbees, sure, but they aren't very pliable. A good, tough football-like object is more his speed. But not an actual football; with his teeth he would deflate that sucker faster than Tom Brady's equipment manager.

I, on the other hand, am a big fan of the Flying Squirrel by Chuckit!

It flies like a Frisbee, but it's made of a flexible fabric; that and its wingtips cause it to bank and even boomerang much better than a Frisbee. When thrown properly it can make amazing curves, banks, dips, and rises. It is extremely tough; Tralfaz has chewed on it hard and played tug-of-war with it, and it spent a month buried under semipermafrost in the backyard last winter with no ill effects. Tralfaz enjoys it, don't get me wrong, but it's not his favorite. It is mine.

Don't just take my word for it; here's a product review done by a thoughtful dog owner with more time on his hands than I have:

And remember, it's not all that weird to enjoy playing with your pet's toys, with or without the pet:

Monday, August 10, 2015



What's the Munch?

The Munch is essentially a peanut brittle bar, and, as you can see on the label, is made with all natural ingredients---and only six at that: peanuts, sugar, soy lecithin (yum!), corn syrup, butter, and salt. It is quite nice, a mild but delightful peanut flavor and a brittle that does not threaten to pull every filling out of your head while creating the need for new fillings.

The real mystery is, who makes it? I do not recall ever having seen it before, and I certainly had never eaten one. There are precious few American candies that I have not eaten.

The wrapper seems to be trying to keep its origin a mystery. In tiny print on the back---too tiny for my phone to photograph---it says it comes from the makers of the Snickers bar. Well, the Munch bar doesn't appear on, but Snickers is made by Mars. Sure enough, in microscopic print on the back of the Munch wrapper, you see the name Mars Inc. But the Munch bar does not appear on the list of brands on the Mars Web site either.

What the---? Did I get hold of a 40-year-old candy bar? Is there something toxic about the Munch bar that Mars wants to keep on the QT?

Wikipedia says that the Munch was introduced in 1970 as the Snickers Munch bar. They also link to the Munch Web site, which makes no bones about being a Mars candy. But here's where we see something interesting:
MUNCH® Peanut Bar is a snack food with a low Glycemic Index. What are the benefits of eating low-Glycemic Index snacks? They may keep you feeling fuller longer, be part of a balanced diet, and provide long lasting energy.
Indeed, the Munch wrapper makes mention of its low glycemic index as well. It got me to thinking that the Munch bar might be one of those candy bars that are recommended for diabetics. I don't know much about diabetes, but I know that candy is useful for diabetics when blood sugar crashes; not chocolate, though, which slows the sugar from getting in the bloodstream. So is that connected to the glycemic index?

Apparently not, says the American Diabetes Association, which tells us that for people on diabetes the GI does not really matter. Besides, hard candy is the way to go for low sugar crises, and I don't think peanut brittle counts.

In the lack of other evidence, I have to conclude that the Munch bar, which considers itself a healthy snack and makes fun of other candies with long lists of ingredients (hmm... the Snickers contains artificial flavor, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, lactose, and palm oil, I see), may not play well in the sandbox with the other Mars candies. So Mars sort of pushes it off into its own health ghetto.

And way off---I found this Munch bar on a trip to Pennsylvania. The product locator on the Munch site says that there are none for sale within 15 miles of my zip code; the closest Munch bar is 16 miles from here.

Too bad---it was pretty good.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

August is the month of death.

I heard an ad for LegalZoom on the radio yesterday that said that August "is Make-A-Will-Month."

Seems a little morbid, doesn't it? "Hey, you! You playing with the kids in the yard! You with a box of hamburgers ready to grill, dance music on the speaker, guests on the way, pitchers of margaritas! You enjoying your life in the summer! GO MAKE A WILL BECAUSE YOU ARE GOING TO DIE."

We all should have a will, yes, and we're all going to die sometime, but this kind of puts a shroud over the proceedings, doesn't it?

Who decides these things anyway? We have three calendars in the house and none of them say it's Make-A-Will Month. Maybe if I had a complimentary calendar from a law firm it would say that, but ours are from the church (sponsored by a funeral parlor), Boys Town, and a Realtor. The funeral parlor might have wanted to slip MAW Month on---or maybe Buy-A-Casket Month---but perhaps the church wouldn't let them.

The totally unverified (and unverifiable) Holiday Insights site tells us that August is also:
  • Admit You're Happy Month
  • Family Fun Month
  • National Catfish Month
  • National Eye Exam Month
  • National Golf Month
  • Peach Month
  • Romance Awareness Month
  • Water Quality Month
  • National Picnic Month
Who makes this stuff up? I'm sure the Peach Growers' Association or whatever they're called is behind Peach Month, and I could see Congress voting for Water Quality Month or Eye Exam Month or even National Picnic Month. But Romance Awareness Month? We need a month for this? Admit You're Happy Month? I don't even know what that means.

I guess they figure August is as good as any for Make-A-Will Month. If you're together with the kids just before they leave for school, maybe you will think about your will. You wouldn't want to in December; much as the winter's start makes us think about Death, the lawyers would not want to try to compete with St. Nick. January could be good, though. Spring would be a terrible time for Make-A-Will Month.

No, I'm thinking it should have been January. You can have a provision in the will that the credit cards from Christmas should be paid out of the estate. So if you die, you don't have to worry about them!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Thirty things I learned from self-help books.

  1. Never take those pills and things from those greedy pill-pushing doctors again! Break the grip of dependence!
  2. Take these herbs religiously every day or you will feel like crap.
  3. You are as tough as nails, sister!
  4. Formaldehyde in your nail polish will kill you.
  5. We’re born doing everything perfectly until “civilization” screws us up.
  6. Your breathing is all wrong!
  7. Never be a follower! Stand up for yourself!
  8. By following these role models.
  9. The world is all brand-new today!
  10. Follow this ancient wisdom.
  11. Be gentle with yourself! You don't have to suffer!
  12. Pain is just weakness leaving the body.
  13. You are charming, beautiful, powerful, perfect.
  14. And humble.
  15. Traditions are wonderful and to be treasured.
  16. Don't believe anything your ancestors would have given their lives defending.
  17. You are a human being, not a human doing.
  18. Do this stuff. 
  19. You are responsible for your own happiness.
  20. All those toxic people are responsible for your unhappiness.
  21. You are perfect and wonderful just the way you are.
  22. Now change!
  23. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of you.
  24. Here’s how to look like a million bucks!
  25. Your destiny is written.
  26. Here’s how to grab control of your life. 
  27. You can have bliss each and every day!
  28. The path to wisdom comes through surviving misery.
  29. You don’t need anything you don’t already have. 
  30. Except this book and its sequels. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Lawn gone.

Looking over old blog entries from two or three years ago, I realized how obsessed I used to be with the lawn. Every spring and summer it was:

  • How can I stop it from being crappy? 
  • Why is it so crappy? 
  • Whom can I blame for my lawn's crappiness?
  • Can I burn the lawn to ashes with kerosene and not take out the house?

Not so much anymore. It still irks me severely that, despite the weed & feed stuff that I put down every year, when August rolls around there's always more weeds than grass. Always.

But I've had to try to make peace with it. First, because I am not going to water the lawn every night. It is not going to happen. My dad did it on our tiny front lawn when I was a kid, but I have more property since I am not in the city and I am not going to spend money and water on this. As if I had the time.

Second, and more important, these last two summers I have had this huge dog.

You may have heard me mention him before.

Tralfaz is a big boy. He does not destroy the yard by digging; not his thing. And yet, with his acidic streams of gold and his legendarily large poops, the lad could knock out half a roll of sod's worth of grass in one day. The brown spots may lead to great green spots next year, but this year? Fertilizer burn.

So there's no point in getting myself in a pet over things I can't control, or could try to fix only with an enormous effort I do not wish to expend. I'd love the lawn to look like place where they slap green jackets on golfers, but it's never going to be that way.

And yes, I thought about paving the whole blasted thing and calling it a rock garden, but you need a lot of Roundup to keep the grass out. Grass only grows where you don't want it, you know. It's coy that way.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Hoping for a normalass.

I recently worked on a book in which the author kept quoting people, each of whom she referred to as a "badass." Could be anyone. Martin Luther King Jr.: Badass. Elizabeth I: Badass. Ben Franklin: Badass. John Lennon: Badass. Raoul Wallenberg: Badass. Mother Teresa: Badass. Liberace: Badass. Gandhi: Oh you better believe Badass.

It appears the author's criteria for bestowing badassery titles on people were these:

1) She saw a quote she liked on the Internet attributed to the person;

2) The person was interesting enough to make her want people to think she sat around reading thick books by or about them for inspiration;

3) She desired the reflected glory of having a colossal critical mass of badasshood in her book---if she can decide who is or is not a badass, well, that would make her one too, wouldn't it? Takes one to know one.

I suppose it ought to be obvious that none of the quotes had ever been checked. And as I have often mentioned, my years of fact-checking have taught me that the more frequently a quote appears on the Internet, the less likely it is of being attributed properly, and that likelihood approaches zero just by virtue of its being on the Internet.

You can quote me on that.

I can't even get mad anymore about writers who snag quotes off the Internet without verifying them. It's like getting mad at people who park poorly. You'd just be mad all the livelong day if you let yourself get bothered by it.

What I am bothered by is a grown woman who thinks it's cool to go around bestowing the badass title on people like some addlepated 12-year-old. I'm just imagining the look on Frederick William III's face on being told by the spunky young thing, "You're a real kingolicious badass, Freddy Wills!"

He was, but come on.

Are we ever going to behave like adults anymore, or is this going to be the kind of conversation I can look forward to the rest of my life?

Don't even answer that question.

I don't think that everyone she quotes deserves the title anyway; guys like Andrew Jackson or William Tecumseh Sherman, who would probably be condemned by her as killers and oppressors, are what I would think of as badasses. The fact is, your average badass usually garners wishes that he would walk into an open manhole by those around him. Badassishness may be something to aspire to, but usually because of dire circumstance (like war), or in sadder cases, by moral bankruptcy.

Personally, I'd rather be around some goodasses, or at least some normalasses. Is that so much to ask?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

And no birds sing.

The robins I wrote about in June have abandoned the nest under the deck. I made sure they were gone for weeks before I got the ladder and removed the nest.

Looks like I was wrong about the little beak I saw when I thought the egg had hatched.

Never did.

The shell looked intact, but nothing has sat on that egg in at least a month. The little robin never hatched.

I'm kicking myself. I always take the dog around the back, and Mama Robin would fly off at our approach. Did we keep her off the egg too much? Was it too cold?

Probably not; probably just one of those things. Still, I feel bad about it.

Look, I'm not going to tie myself in knots. Life is hard, and sadly some animals never even get that far. It's too bad about what happened to Cecil the Lion, but it's over and I'm not going to wail and rend my garments, especially considering the kind of man-on-man butchery going on in the Middle East and elsewhere. The expressions of grief over a lion no one ever heard of before yesterday and no one will remember next year have gotten embarrassing. Cecil would have eaten me for lunch; I can't get too worked up. We've totally lost all perspective about animals.

Still, I wish the robin had made it.

Monday, August 3, 2015

There, I bled it again.

We had a blood drive recently, and as you know, Fred is always first in line to sign up to drop a pint. Is it because, like with Henry Higgins, the milk of human kindness runs by the quart in every Fred vein, and thus is so much more valuable for the blood bank?

Or is it for the free snacks?

The world may never know.
Actually I didn't drop a pint, exactly; they sold me on being an apheresis donor. In a normal donation they drain a pint of blood from you; in an apheresis donation, they pull out a bunch of blood, separate it into plasma, platelets, and leukocytes, keep what they want and pump the rest back into the donor. This was specifically an automated double red blood cell donation, It is basically twice as useful as a regular whole blood donation. It supposedly takes half an hour, or can take up to two hours, and it's a little weird. We're used to sending fluids out, but only taking them in orally. Maybe it was my imagination, but I felt a little like a bike inner tube during the pump-back-in phases.

"You see the little man in the upper right corner of the screen?" asked the phlebotomist, handing me a plastic bike handle wrapped in paper towels.


"When the arrow is coming out of him, squeeze every five seconds. When the arrow is heading into him, stop squeezing."

"Like the world's worst video game."


As I say, it was a bit strange, but I found myself less light-headed than I sometimes do from a whole blood donation, and I felt like I recovered faster. Time permitting, I would donate that way again.

I'd also note that this form of donation is more exclusive, which appeals to me; not just any mere slob can drop a double like that. The Red Cross says only type O, A-, or B- donors can donate with this method. So it's another opportunity to fluff up my ego thanks to something over which I have no control. We creative types always enjoy that.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Manly man in manly can.

logging camp toilet
"All right, which one of you guys left the seat down?"

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Dirty deed.

Yes, it's a dirty deed, but someone has to do it.

Be glad I didn't post a picture of the toilet.
When I got married---really, as a condition of getting married---I had to promise that I would maintain the bathroom. My fiancee was willing to clean the entire rest of the house, but could not face the can. I agreed. (Subsequently the deal has fallen to pieces except for one part; guess which!)*

I don't mind doing the toilet, I really don't. It's not like cleaning the toilet in a public place, like the Sara D. Roosevelt park bathroom on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, whose fumes were so toxic they hospitalized a maintenance worker. No one uses the can here but us, and those I allow in the house, so it's not too horrible a job. Besides, when going after the inside of the bowl you have brushes and powerful chemicals on your side. It's the outside of the toilet that bothers me.

No, really; that's where all the hairs collect, and clumps of dust. The vacuum won't pull them off that damp, cold porcelain. You have to get down there and wipe them off, with rags or paper towels or wipes, and the hairs and stuff still cling like it's the last lifeboat off the Titanic. After all that, the sink and shower are a piece of cake.

I've long said that cleaning toilets is a good way to work on humility. People who want to big themselves up start by hiring someone to clean the house. But as long as I have the physical capability to clean myself, I don't mind. Besides, I won't steal from the valuable collection of Franklin Mint coins and Danbury Mint figurines I display in the can. Can't say the same for the help.

*(Love you, honey!)