Monday, November 30, 2015

Other misfit toys.


Grim Putty

Cabbage Patch Cabbages


Pick-up socks

Monopoly: Russian Kleptocracy Edition

Nerf Surgery Kit

Raggedy Otis

"We're definitely not the worst losers on the island anymore!"
Roller gloves

Jar Jar Action Figure

Teddy Thugspin

Ibsen™ dollhouse


G.I. Bleeding


Exceedingly Difficult Bake Oven

200-piece bucket of conscientious objectors

Hurla hoop

LEGO Illinois DMV Office set

Beulah, Barbie’s fat surly Goth cousin


Sunday, November 29, 2015

A hairy winter?

I always heard that the hairier the caterpillar, the worse the winter would be. That woolly bullies somehow knew what was coming and focused their natural hair-growing talents to force out lot of hair.

I got this picture early in November, and let me tell you, he looks pretty hairy to me.

The woolly bully, or woolly bear, is a moth caterpillar, so the fuzzy little friend in fall is the sweater munching sweetheart in spring.

The Old Farmer's Almanac has an interesting article about how a famous series of forecasts gave the woolly bear his fame as a fearless forecaster, but neglects to tell us whether these predictions were accurate. Curse you, Almanac! Is this your secret method of predicting weather? Looking at bugs? Are you being coy?

It would appear that the Old Farmer's Almanac has about a 50-50 shot of being right in its weather forecasting, as it turns out, which may not be that much better than common sense and throwing darts. "January 5... snowy, clear, foggy, et cetera..." Whish! Thunk. "Snowy. Okay, January 6..."

Well, the Farmer's Almanac and my woolly friend both seem to be predicting another strap-your-pants-up-'cause-your-butt-is-about-to-freeze-off winter, same as last year. Which would be three really exceptionally cold New York winters in a row. But last year we got about six inches of snow on Thanksgiving, and [knocks on wood] nary a flake yet so far this year.

But I can give you about a 100% accurate prediction that the above caterpillar, which I turned loose, will return in moth form next year and be found amid my wife's sweaters, for which I will be to blame. As with so many things.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


The third human being with whom I spoke on Thanksgiving morning promised to sic the police on me.

I don't want to dwell on it. It was a lovely morning, and no one else in the house was up, so I took Tralfaz for a walk in a neighborhood with which I wasn't familiar. (We both enjoy trying new paths on our walks sometimes.) Turned out we wandered into a small, crummy, run-down apartment complex with a "no trespassing" rule. Suddenly I heard someone pretending to growl like a dog; then we were getting yelled at by some bald guy with a ponytail---always an appealing look---who threatened to call the cops if he saw us there again.

I wished him a happy Thanksgiving. Although clearly, with his attitude, that was not going to be possible.

Maybe he's the maintenance guy and he is always having to clean up dog poop. Hey, I can relate, mister. No need to be a complete jackass right out of the gate, though.

I know that as you get older you begin to appreciate the pillars of civil society in a way you don't when you're younger, you come to see that civil society is more fragile than you thought, and you tend to see rudeness as a threat. People that care about civil society do, anyway, unlike Ponytail Joe.

Jackassery is all over, and creeps in everywhere. Like the bus I saw a couple of months ago that was in the right lane that pulled out into the center of the street while I was passing him. He'd had the flashers on, showing he was picking up passengers, and it was perfectly legal to pass. But suddenly he wanted to go, and he wanted to get around some construction at the curb. He didn't look to see if someone was going by on the left, or if he did, he didn't care. I had to make an instant choice to slam on the brakes, swing into oncoming traffic, or let the bus he didn't own smash the car I do own. What choice did I have?

When you're not the lead dog, the view never changes,
Jerks are running the media, of course, and we're to blame for letting them do it. When I was a kid, daytime TV was pretty anodyne, even the soaps; now it's a swirling cesspool of broken lives and miserable people who make bad choices. I see that the ABC Family channel is changing its name to Freeform in 2016, the better to reflect the fact that it has not for a long time been a place you could rely on for something that won't shock Grandma or confuse Little Jackie or embarrass Teen Queen (who canNOT believe that she has to WATCH all this SEX STUFF with her PARENTS in the room). The name ABC Family conveyed---falsely, for a long while---that it contained what we used to call family entertainment.

Freeform promises nothing, hints at almost exactly the opposite of that. The executives at the network literally danced with joy when they announced the name change, freed from the shackles of having to pretend they cared about families.

Thanks, Disney!

So the whole world feels like it's going to worse than the dogs---it's going to the jackasses.

Or is it?

As I mentioned at the top, Ponytail Joe was the third person I spoke with on Thanksgiving morning. Persons 1 and 2 were two lovely young ladies out walking their tiny dogs when I came across them with my humongous dog. We chatted happily for a bit while their little dogs sniffed and jumped around my big fellow, and everyone complimented one another's pup, and it was a delightful way to start the day. It's sad that my pessimistic mind is more geared to focus on one asswipe than two polite and cheerful young people, but you always notice the tooth that hurts, not the 31 that don't.

Which is why it's easy to think that everything is going to hell, all the time.

But this weekend I'm going to try to focus on the 31 that don't hurt. On the two that are nice rather than the one that is naughty. I'm going to try to be grateful, and hope for the best.

And drive carefully around buses. Those drivers are nuts.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers! Some of you have asked me if the Fred Balloon was going to appear in this year's Macy's parade, as in years past.

Sadly, the answer is no; there was that tragic incident last year when the balloon came free from all of its handlers except Max "Stinky" Binko, who clung on to his rope in terror. (I knew the handlers should have stayed away from Santa's elves; those punks were chugging hard nog at five a.m.) The networks didn't show it on TV, but the balloon drifted in the wind down to West 38th Street, where some elves were drinking and watching the parade from the Refinery Rooftop. They blew cocktail picks from straws at my balloon, causing a massive deflation, which actually would have been helpful if it had not shot down the avenue, with Stinky, and flattened the cast of the Grapes of Wrath musical, Grape!, who were warming up for their big number, "Plantin' Grampa (Way Way Down)."

Needless to say, parade officials have not returned my calls this year.

So we'll be spending the day quietly at home.

I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving once more, and I am thankful for many things, including your visit.

One last word of advice, if you're doing the pies, from that font of movie wisdom:

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Full moon tonight.

Joe was known to be combative, and proud of his new flashlight. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


As I've mentioned before, I'm the guy who got a SodaStream for Christmas a few years ago and is still using it to this day. I know you were wondering who it was. Yes, it is I.

But SodaStream has pulled a shenanigan I do not like. Normally I don't mind a shenanigan or two. A good shenanigan is just fine with me, in fact. But this one, I don't cotton to, no sir.

On the left is one of the older 16.9-oz. bottles of the SodaStream syrup (what they call soda mix). On the right is one of the new 14.8-oz. bottles. Naturally, they are sold for the same price. So now you get 2.1 fewer ounces.

Is the taste any better? Not that I can tell.

Countertop beverage production has become a jungle. No, really. I had heard a rumor that SodaStream was hoping to get bought up by Keurig, inventor of the K-cup, but Keurig rebuffed them, electing to come out with the Keurig Kold. The latter had one huge advantage over SodaStream: brand-name sodas. (Sodastream has had Kool-Aid and Crystal Light and Ocean Spray flavors, but not big soda names like Coke and Dr Pepper.) And now, Sodastream has countered by making a deal with Pepsi and making a machine that works similar to the K-cup for it.

All this fighting has got to cost big money, and that's why I'm getting gypped 2.1-oz. on every new bottle. Plus, the new measuring cap is a little larger; the old cap was marked to hold just under a 1/4 cup per 1L bottle; now you're expected to use a full 1/4 cup per bottle. So you would go through the soda mix faster even if they hadn't knocked 2.1 ounces off the size.

Why does SodaStream have to balance its books on my back? And considering what we drop on K-cups around this place, I feel like I'm being taxed to pay both sides in this war.

What's that? I could drink water? Tap water?

I'm sure I don't know what you mean.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dog vs. Child.

I have a bone to pick with Jim Gaffigan.

This is very difficult, since both of us are well-known eaters, and two rottweilers would probably be more civil over a bone than he and I. Further, I'm a nobody writer and he's one of the country's most successful comics. He was the Hot Pockets Guy, for goodness sake.

But now he's a best-selling author too, which for those of us who just toil at our writing and don't get up on stage and haul in wads of cash seems like poaching. Anyway, he wrote this:

And it is an, unfortunately, very funny book, all about raising his five children, or rather, about his wife raises five children while he tries to nap and eat. But in that book he often writes about how people in Manhattan, where he lives, react to his family, especially in restaurants, church, etc. As you can imagine, horror is high on their list.

In the piece "Dogfight," though, we come to our disagreement. "Occasionally," he writes, "a dog will be presented as some training method for having a baby. 'My girlfriend and I got a dog. We are going to see if we can handle that before we have kids.' This is a little like testing the waters of being a vegetarian by having lettuce on your burger."

I object! Kind of. I mean, I'm not arguing with the heart of his premise, that raising a child is much, much harder than raising a dog. No fight there. And he does yield some things in favor of the dog difficulty, like "With children, you can look forward to a time when they eventually learn to feed and bathe themselves." But he's on weaker ground with pro-dog statements like "Dogs come when you call their name." If he's ever had a dog, I would guess he never had one go off to chase after a bunny.

I think there are legitimate reasons why getting a dog might make a good test run before having a child. The idea is that you need a means to break through the modern person's self-consumption, and a dog can help with that. You can't sleep in anymore when you have a dog; he's used to routine, and part of his routine is that he gotta pee at the same time every morning whether it's Wednesday or Saturday. Oh, sure, you're the master, and he has to wait... if you don't mind torturing your poor little doggie. (Guilt is good training for having children, too.)

There will be times when the dog heaves, and maybe in the middle of the night! There will be times when he goes from being sweet lovey pup to someone who flouts your affection for personal gain in minutes and makes you crazy. There may be vet visits with bills that make you wonder what you'd be doing with all your excess dough if you hadn't gotten a dog. There will be times when he's so disobedient, even so mean, that you think it's a good thing you never found a secret place to hide corpses because it would be getting a dog one soon. And there will be times when he follows you and you know he'd follow you anywhere, anywhere at all; or he just sits there waiting for a pat like it's the most wonderful thing in the world; and you think that the only thing sadder in creation than the fact that you will probably outlive him is the possibility that by some twist of fate he could outlive you.

And that's why I don't find it objectionable that someone could think getting a dog is a good test to see if he or she is too selfish to have a child. It's not a guarantee---"I handled a dog, so I could handle a baby!"---more like an initial screening test.

I had to say my piece, but don't want to get into an actual fight with Gaffigan. He should know that you never punch down. And he looks like a pretty big guy. Anyway, with five kids, he's much too busy to deal with guys who write books and don't have TV shows.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Why does the heart get all the songs?

People who get heart transplants don't suddenly wind up with the emotions of the person who donated the heart, as far as we know. Neurologists will be happy to tell us at length that the emotions, while influence by other biological processes, all come out of the brain. But we still think of emotions as being seated in the heart.

It is reasonable---when you get an emotional response, it's your heart that responds. When you say that your heart dropped, your heart skipped a beat, your heart ached, your heart melted, even that your heart broke, you're describing legitimate physical feelings that occur in the vicinity of the heart. When you say your brain froze up during a test, you don't actually feel like ice is forming on your head. At least I've never felt that.

No, the heart grabs all the credit for the emotions, and the heart gets almost all the songs. Eyes get some songs; heads a few; some dirty songs give us some more base organs. But that's about it.

What about all the other organs that we all have? Other organs we all enjoy, that we would all hate to part with? Just because the heart feels doesn't mean our other organs shouldn't get a song. Take the nose. Aren't we are all glad that we have noses?

Aside from these guys, I guess.
But then I looked over some well-known heart songs, and...

My Nose Will Go On
Noses Afire
This Nose of Mine
Hard-Nosed Hannah
Your Nose Is as Black as Night
Young Noses Run Free
Nose and Soul
Tell It to My Nose
Cold Cold Nose
Me and My Broken Nose
How Can You Mend a Broken Nose
Nose of Glass
Nose of Gold
Nose of Stone
Nose Wants What It Wants
Don’t Go Breaking My Nose
Nosebreak Hotel
Un-Break My Nose
Hole in My Nose (All the Way to China)
Total Eclipse of the Nose
With a Child’s Nose
Nose-Shaped Box
Nose Like a Hand Grenade
Noseache Tonight
Hungry Nose
The Nose of the Matter
Two Noses
Two Noses Beat as One
Yeah, I guess we'll stay with the hearts.

Unless... Pancreas songs...?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

This holiday season, give yourself to the Dark Side!

What says "Happy Christmas" more than an stuffed-toy ornament featuring a guy who'd destroy a planet full of innocent people just to prove a point? 

I'm not going into my song and dance about the flaws of the Star Wars universe and the foolishness of lovin' baby Darth all over again. You can read all about that here, if you like. 

I know Hallmark has been making Star Wars ornaments as part of its Christmas ornaments for a long time, at least since 1997. But those have been normal-looking Vaders, as far as I've seen, not the cute 'n cuddly Disney-fied Vader. I noted in that earlier commentary that Disney had not yet made a Darth Vader Tsum Tsum but that I expected it to happen, and this ornament is pretty close. 

Why do people want to put a mass-murdering stooge on the tree, anyway? To scare the kids? "If you keep being naughty, instead of Santa paying you a call you'll get THIS GUY... And he finds your lack faith disTURBING...."

Maybe next year we could have an ornament of Hannibal Lecter chomping some dude.

Geez, I shouldn't give anyone any ideas. 

I guess it could be worse. People might actually want to put THIS GUY on the tree:

Noooo! Not OLAF! The HORROR!!!!!

Friday, November 20, 2015


If you're an earthworm, or an earthwormophile, you may wish to look away... the following blog entry contains some images you may find disturbing.

Solid rain all day yesterday, driving earthworms out all over the pavement. So many will never find their way back to soil, and become bird food or desiccated worm corpses (and then bird food). This seems to be my week for encountering dead or dying animals.

I can't remember seeing so many flushed out in the fall. In the early spring, when the ground is still partly frozen, you expect to see it after a deluge.

Hard life for a worm. It occurs to me that probably not until the advent of tar-bound macadam did earthworms have this problem. Sure, they've always gotten flushed out, but when a worm gets flooded onto dirt roads, cobblestones, or gravel, access to the earth was just inches away. Now they can be swept whole feet or even yards from the precious loam. That's quite a way to crawl for an earthworm aboveground. And that's if he sets off crosswise on the path and not lengthwise. It's not like earthworms have GPS.

I've always felt a bit of kinship with earthworms, having had to eat plenty of dirt in my career. The earthworm was the only thing I ever had to dissect in school, as I managed to be ill on Frog Day (and budget cuts put an end to Fetal Pig Day). They're about the only thing above or below the surface of my lawn that's actually good for my lawn. And here they are, flooded out onto the short road to ruin.

Ah, earthworm! Ah, humanity!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Feeling squirrelly.

We city slickers tend to think of spring as mating season, but of course that's silly; the reason we see baby critters in the spring is because the mating went on when the weather was getting cold.

I'm told the deer are getting frisky, and they certainly are acting weird. One buck started stalking my dog, until my dog noticed and chased him away. Despite the largeness of my pup, this was no weight class mismatch like a heavyweight vs. a welterweight; this was like a heavyweight vs. the baby child of a flyweight. But the huge deer was quickly vanquished nonetheless.

According to one fellow who sounds like he should know, squirrel mating season does not begin again until December. But when I spotted this ex-squirrel in the street, gone to join the Choir Invisible, my first thought was: He had to be chasing a dame.

We know what it's like, right boys? You're humming along on the telephone wire, doing fine; next thing you know there's some dame, and you rush out into danger like a moron, and---

Maybe I'm projecting.

What made it so on-target, though, was that I found this poor critter on the street outside a funeral home. I would have liked to have gotten a picture of the squirrel in the foreground and the funeral home in the background, offering undergraduate-level picture art expressing Irony and Juxtaposition and Deep Thoughts. But I didn't because:

A) I would have had to stand in traffic;

B) To get the squirrel and the funeral home in the same shot would have rendered the squirrel an unrecognizable speck at the bottom of the shot;

C) In these litigious times, the funeral home might have sued me for making them look sloppy about their space. (If you see a lovely, well-kept home in any American town it is probably the funeral home.)

I'll leave you with the classic song "Three Squirrels" by Joe Williams (not this one) (no, not this one either) (or him) (don't even think about him) (this is the one), courtesy of YouTube, in memory of all our nutty little gray friends. Stay safe out there, boys!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Had fun stormin' the castle.

A few weeks ago I got a bad bit of news that really set me reeling. I needed something to give me a little peace of mind, something to help me let go and relax for a few minutes. Something to give me some breathing space so I could get some perspective. 

I needed the Castle.

White Castle, that is. Oh, you notice that the little burger box I'm holding there is empty, eh? That's because I couldn't stand not eating the burgers long enough to get a picture of one.

To those who do not love White Castle, no explanation will suffice. To those who love White Castle, no explanation is necessary.

It did the trick. I felt much better after six of those little square burgers. Chocolate is fine, and I'm thrilled to have it, but sometimes a man has to have his comforts.

I have to say, the White Castle I went to (not the one pictured) may have been the best-run fast food place I had ever been to. It was far from home, on Forest Avenue on Staten Island. The ladies running the place were working so hard, but were as bright and cheerful as you can imagine. And the joint is open 24 hours a day.

White Castle had breakfast all day long before McDonald's even seriously considered it. You can go to the Castle Web site and place your order online. And they sell White Castle stuff, like neckties. Really, they're making McDonald's look silly here.

If you haven't had White Castle burgers, you can learn a lot about them here. Just be careful when you try one for the first time. The burgers are very, very easy to eat. And they look so small and harmless.

Once I took a young lad from the office to a White Castle in midtown; he was an innocent from the West Coast, and had never tried them. Against my advice he got a huge amount of those little cheeseburgers and fries and a giant orange soda, and was useless all afternoon. It would have been easier on him if I'd gotten him liquored up.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Wok this way.

If you didn't get the idea from yesterday's post about Korvettes, I'm pretty much a geezer by now and that's why I have old stuff. Because to me it's still new stuff. Because it's my age and I'm young! Except I'm not, so it's old stuff.

Here's another bit of proof---another booklet from Mom's recipe folder that she held on to for years. This one's not nearly as old as some of the previous exhibits I've posted, though, and if you're my age it may bring back memories.

Yes, those of you who are indeed my age are nodding. Mom bought the Great Wok of China. As seen on TV!

They really did move a lot of these woks. The father of a friend of mine got one and, like my mom, set forth to wok everything in sight. My buddy said, "Everything goes in the wok; beef, pork, fish, the cat..."

In time the novelty passed; our wok went in a cupboard, then in a more distant cupboard, then failed to come along when they sold the house. But Mom kept the book.

Normally I like to check these booklets for any horrible recipes, but this one is very basic, very simple, and as sloppily designed as it is, is not a bad introduction to popular Chinese restaurant dishes. Some are a little out there for the average American, like the hot & sour cabbage, but nothing is too weird. Maybe the sweet & sour meatballs:

Make your meatballs as tiny as possible, people. C'mon.

Pretty sure Mom never tried that one.

There's also this unhelpful illustration to show dumb Americans how to use chopsticks:

Trim your nails, Louise! 

Dads all over the country were probably encouraged to use this illustration to try to learn to eat like a Chinese person, then went back to the fork, muttering, two minutes later.

Anyway, I remember we had fun with the wok, and it did introduce some new dishes to the rotation, at least for a while. Feeding whiny kids is no one's idea of a good time, unless for some reason you think M&M's for dinner is what they need. If the wok was also fun for Mom and got us to stop complaining about boring ol' dinnertime, then she got her money's worth, and God love her for it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Before there were doorbusters...

...there were blockbusters!

There are a couple of reasons why I would include this ad, which comes to us from December 1976:

1) Ha ha lookat funny oldtime pepel with theyre ankshient tecnology and they say Christmis insted of holiday

2) To take this opportunity to discuss Korvettes. Korvettes (or E. J. Korvette) was a department store that I spent a lot of time in when I was a wee lad. Since it went out of business in 1980, I ought to tell you kiddies about it: It was nicer than Walmart but not as nice as Sears. They moved a lot of consumer electronics. I seem to recall you could always get a new needle for a record player at Korvettes.

But I also wanted to tell you old-timers one thing about Korvettes.

When I was a kid, I heard that the name of the store came from the founders, Eight Jewish Korean War Veterans. It was a source of pride to some of the Jewish families I knew; in fact, the father of one of my Jewish friends was the one who told it to me. It's still widely believed by those of us old enough to remember the store. The problem is that it's a load of horsefeathers.

It's true that the founder (singular) was Jewish, and that his name was not really E. J. Korvette, and that the store's name was inspired by the founder's war service. His name was Eugene Ferkauf, a World War II vet, and he founded the store in 1948, two years before America's involvement in Korea. He said:
I had a name picked out for the store, E.J. Korvette. "E" is for Eugene, my first name, and "J" stands for Joe Swillenberg, my associate and my pal. As for "Korvette," it was originally meant to be spelled with a "C" after the Canadian marine sub-destroyer, simply because I thought the name had a euphonious ring. When it came time to register the name, we found it was illegal to use a naval class identity, so we had to change the spelling to "K."
I bring this up because people have insisted to me that the name comes from "Eight Jewish Korean Veterans" even after presented with the facts. For some reason people would rather stick with the familiar story than the truth, I guess because it is familiar, or because they trusted the person who spread the falsehood, or because they like the neat idea of the abbreviation.

But it does a disservice to Mr. Ferkauf, who worked hard to establish a store that would discount deeply for an America determined to get back to normalcy after the war, who made a fortune and after 18 years sold his business for $20 million. Fourteen years later the boneheads who bought the chain ran it out of business, and Ferkauf lived another thirty-two years beyond that. I wonder what he thought of that.

Anyway, Singular Jewish War Veteran Mr. Ferkauf, as we schelp into Christmas shopping insanity, we salute you, and your blockbuster sales.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Also tumble, fumble, and Greg Gumbel.

I'm surprised to see the new in the lifelong saga of Rocky Balboa, Creed,  is actually about him mentoring the son of the late Apollo Creed, who as we all know was killed in the ring in Rocky IV. (Sorry! Spoiler alert!)

It strikes me as about ten years too late, since Rocky IV came out 30 years ago, and if his kid was born right at that time he'd be over the hill for a boxer starting out. Maybe they deal with it in the script. Maybe Creed's kid was born of his frozen--- Oh, never mind.

Looking at the cast list, it appears Michael Buffer, the ring announcer who trademarked "Let's get ready to RUMMMMMBLLLLLEEEE!" will not be in this one, although he was in Rocky V and Rocky Balboa (a.k.a. Rocky VI).

This means that they cannot legally use the phrase "Let's Get Ready to Rumble!" in the movie. It's a pity; people seem to expect that in big extravaganzas, which is why Buffer has appeared as himself in everything from Harlem Nights to Phineas and Ferb.

We can't have the ring announcer just standing there saying nothing when the big climactic fight gets going. Of course, had they asked me, I could have suggested some substitute non-trademarked expressions, like:

Let's get ready to CRUMBLE!

Let's get ready to RAMBLE!
Let's get ready to BUMBLE!

Let's get ready to RUBBLE!
Let's get ready to ROUBLE!

Let's get ready to RHOMBUS!

Let's get ready to RUMPOLE!

Let's get ready to ROOMBA!
Let's get ready to GUMBALL!

Let's get ready to RIMBAUD!
Okay, that's enough. This could go on for hours. Never mind.

Although maybe Creed would be better with Rimbaud in it. Or Barney Rubble.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Language alert.

I have little to say about the horrendous attacks in Paris yesterday by the Islamic State, but I'll add these:

When I was a kid, the song "Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let It Begin with Me" had been around for decades but was as popular as ever, and continues to be popular. Even then I found it treacly, but I appreciated its sentiment.

However, I was never going to wage war against innocent people, so I never had to make that promise. The people who ought to are not taught to sing that song in ISIS training camp.

If I say a farewell to arms, and lay them down, it doesn't stop some asshole with a gun from killing me and everyone me. If I or someone else responsible and decent picks up arms, it may. The problem with the world is that there is a mighty and powerful death cult that has infected millions of people, turning them into murderous assholes; they do not deserve to have willing victims.

As with all these mass murderers on a suicide mission, I wish they would simply begin with the suicide. Just kill yourself, Jihadi Jackass, and then we'll talk about killing others. Sing it: "Let There Be Death on Earth, and Let It Begin With Me."

Europe is in the grip of the most insidious and wicked threat to its survival, perhaps ever, since it has lost its faith, lost its culture, and thus is run by fools who inadvertently abet the murderers. Once again the lamps are going out all over Europe, and this time I truly do believe we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime, or perhaps ever.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The strange case of Tiddledywinks.

First of all, it was not "tiddleywinks" originally, which is how we always said it in my family. Somehow the third D got lost over the years. 

Merriam-Webster's site backs the original spelling up; describing it as "a game whose object is to snap small disks from a flat surface into a small container." 

And here it is!

We actually did play some Tiddledywinks when I was a kid; it was something my parents remembered from their own childhood (not in 1890, no). As you can see by the illustration, the game is similar in its way to Quarters, only with a more sophisticated and trickier delivery method and without the vomiting.

I don't suppose I need to tell you that there are entire Web sites devoted to Tiddledywinks, including that of the North American Tiddlywinks Association, from whence the above image comes. It gives you the rules and other helpful information, especially good if you want to set up your own league or something. You will notice that the site does spell it without that third D, though---apparently the rampant popularity of the game led to many imitators and I suspect unlicensed copycats, and you always get knockoff spellings in cases like that. A long history of the game can be found at the site as well, a history that explains another aspect of the strange case: How did Tiddledywinks come to be synonymous with trivial pursuits? (As it was put in my family, "What are ya doing, playing tiddlywinks?" or "Well, I ain't playing tiddlywinks!")

"Tiddlywinks was an adult craze in the 1890s, then fell into 'disrepute' as a simpleminded children’s game," said the author, and that's where my folks picked it up. Whether my parents did play the game much in their own childhoods, I'm not sure; I know my dad was more a pitch penny and stoopball kid on the city streets. Mom always loved the indoor games, though.

One of the comments on the Merriam-Webster page notes that in his childhood they used the term to mean something of little value, and gives the example "What you are doing is not worth tiddlywinks." He is surprised as I to find this meaning not listed on the dictionary page.

Personally, I suspect the English Tiddlywinks Association got to the dictionary editors. It wouldn't take too much. Squop a few strategic winks and the rest will fall in line.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Scooby snack!

One of my practices when overbuying for Halloween is to get some real emergency snack packs, something I'd give out after the candy that could conceivably be eaten by an adult if left over. (Ahem.) Something like those little packs of pretzels you can put in the kid's lunch.

If you run out of candy, you can nearly satisfy (and vaguely annoy) the later kids with pretzels. But you don't have to resort to fruit or spare change or cans of soup.

Still, I wouldn't have gone for the Scooby snacks if I had not had a coupon.

Scooby-Doo Fruit Snacks. Betty Crocker makes them. Excellent source of vitamin C! Which is good, since our kids are all sickened with the scurvy.

They come in six flavors and shapes, handily labeled on this illustration for you:

Shaggy is sort of grape flavored, Fred is kind of lemony or maybe orangey, and so on. They're not as hard to tell apart by taste as, say, Flintstone vitamins, or even M&M's. (Only Daredevil can tell M&M's apart by taste.) But like the original Flintstone vitamins, they made the main vehicle into one of the shapes, which I thought was interesting. (NB: Betty replaced the Flintmobile in 1995.)

How are they? They're tasty. They're sugary. The kids would enjoy them. But not as much as candy.

I hope Velma Dinkley is proud of this moment, though. You know you've really made it in the world when you have your image as a fruit snack. You don't see any old Vanderpump on a fruit snack, do you?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

You find my lack of enthusiasm disturbing.

I was as big a dork as anyone growing up, but I can't get myself psyched about Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, opening on December 14. I almost certainly will not fight the crowds to go see it in theaters, and probably won't ever see it.

I'm not just a contrarian by nature---well, maybe a little, but if I am excited by something I will want to experience it, even if it is popular. In the case of Star Wars, I have good reasons for my poor attitude:

1) Ewoks: The third movie should not have had little bears in a pitched, lethal battle with the Empire. Hey, I liked the little guys, but if you're going to have space teddies you have to play them for laughs, like Poul Anderson did with the Hokas. This is first on my list because it was clear evidence that the whole thing was going to crap right in the original trilogy.

2) Vader love: Everyone loves Darth Vader until he destroys your planet, even after you give up the location of the rebels. Sure, he mind-strangles people in business meetings, which we'd all like to do sometimes, but look at the big picture. You know what we can the annihilation of millions? Genocide. You know what Vader calls it? Tuesday. And yet people love the bastard and find it perfectly okay that he gets to go to Jedi heaven because he bailed out his kid. Come on. 

3) Bad biology: The original picture was mystical. The prequels were biological. In trying to make the Force (and those in whom it is strong) more scientific, the screenwriters made it more insane. I'm sure there was a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why the midichlorians, which were microscopic power critters, could give magic Jedi powers to people even after they died, but you know what I was by then? Past caring. 

4) Misplaced trust in Disney: In recent years the studio has given us great pictures like Tangled, but on the live-action front they've given us Tomorrowland, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, John Carter, The Prince of Persia, The Lone Ranger, and in SF animation, Mars Needs Moms... You trust them? Granted, they have yet to come out with Star Wars Tsum Tsums, but it's probably just a matter of time. Cute li'l Vader can play with cute li'l Stitch (who was created as a weapon of mass destruction---just saying). Meanwhile, you can get these at the Disney store:

If there were real Wookies, they would kill us all for that. 

5) Unreasonableness: Almost forty years later, people still want to know why the planet-size Death Star could have a preposterous flaw that enabled its destruction with a single blast. That's like building an aircraft carrier that could be sunk by a revolver and a lucky shot. The movies are full of stuff like that, but it may be the most famous example. Another is the way the Jedi started to look pretty evil in the prequels---not Empire evil, but evil, the freelance jerks of the galaxy. Others have written loads about that, so I'll leave the explanation to them. Any if Darth Vader built C-3PO, why doesn't he recognize the bot years later? Don't get me started.

6) Humor: Virtually nothing funny in Star Wars is funny---Jar Jar Binks being People's Exhibit A. (Watch the pod racing contest in the first prequel again and tell me how funny the two-headed race announcers are if you doubt me.) On the other hand, moments of high drama have been absolutely hilarious ("Hold me, like you did by the lake on Naboo...."). Which leads us to:

7) Emotional immaturity: Contrary to popular belief, mass murders like Anakin Skywalker don't become monsters because they caught a few bad breaks. If the little creep had been psychotic from childhood, or brought up in a nihilistic culture and religion of death, he might be understandable. But trying to use the building blocks of the Star Wars universe to explain how he became a towering force for evil would be like building Leonardo's Last Supper out of Lego blocks---and expecting it to be mistaken for the original. They tried... and that is why they failed. There is no try.

8) Timeline: The mighty empire lasted what, twenty years? Thirty? I forget. I don't care. That's not  an empire, that's an aberration. No one refers to the Nazi Empire because it was battled constantly and it lost, thank God. In the first movie you got the idea that the Empire had been around for some time, but it turns out that Obi-Wan had socks older than the Empire. 

So that's why I've lost interest in the whole franchise. Even if the movie gets raging rave reviews from the saner, non-fanboy critics, I doubt I'll get fired up. I can never forgive them for the lake of Naboo.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sticker shock.

I was not in the market for a used car, but sometimes you see a bargain that's so good it really tempts you to reconsider your financial priorities. 

Normally I also don't pay much mind when I see a vehicle by the road with "For Sale" soaped on the window or something. In this case, I was walking around town with the dog when I came across it. And let me tell you, this little beauty is a real eye-opener. 

Quite a grille, eh? I imagined myself in this mean machine, riding through villages and down country roads, the sun in my face, the wind in the sad remnants of my hair.

It was the sticker shock that did me in, though.

I know, right? What a steal!

My wife thought it was my midlife crisis mobile, that I was trying to use this snazzy yellow number to recapture my youth. I said I'd never had a sports car, so it had to be something I captured, not recaptured. She didn't buy it.

And I must confess, it's a little small for me. I like something with a little more room, something with the horsepower to handle the rough winters we get up here.

If you're in the area, though, check it out; seems like we have great deals on wheels around here.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

They're out there.

They don't tell you this, but people are not generally abducted by aliens. Actually the aliens hypnotize people, using their fiendish mind-control powers to make people self-abduct. One day you're sitting at home, minding your own business. Then the phone rings.

Next thing you know, you're in a sterile white room without your clothes, wondering how you got there. 

The creature was large, round, a strange and wild looking thing with hair on its nose, nothing at all like the depilated bubbleheads one usually sees in science fiction. It attempted to speak English, but I could not understand much of what it said. Perhaps they form language differently where it comes from, rather than with mouth and air. Still, you have to appreciate the effort. 

Even if the alien did not look like what I'd heard, the rest of my encounter of the fourth kind was right on target. Prodding. Light rays. Electric things. Probes. Anal probes. All the while I was as docile and helpless as a baby. Must have been the mind control. 

I was released eventually, finding myself in the middle of town. Thank heaven my clothes had been restored. On the whole it was a horrifying experience, and I'm stocking up on my Reynolds Wrap headgear. 

What really made me mad is the bill I got for the blood test and the the copay. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Back to the things I shouldn't eat.

When shopping for Halloween candy, I sometimes feel guilty, knowing that far too many of those calories are going to find their way behind my belt. So I may make the attempt to get a sack of something that I don't like, hoping that the kids will, but knowing that even if they don't it will be buried in the trick-or-treat bag and they won't remember which house it came from. 

So I got a sack of these:

The classic Necco Wafers. Dating from 1847. Almost all of them went to the kids. There were a few of these small rolls left over.

I remember Neccos from my childhood. (Which occurred after 1847, yes, thank you.) I never liked them. Old-man candy, we thought, like Mary Janes and Smarties and Nips and, God help us, Starlight Mints. They would be November 7th candies, the kind of thing you got to a week after Halloween, after you ate everything else.

As I said, there were a couple of these Necco rolls left over, so I ate one.

They're excellent.

I always thought they were like eating slices of chalk, and they are---slices of chalk flavored with awesome. Powerful fruity sugary flavor. Except for the licorice one, which was better than I remembered. Delicate crunch. Refreshing. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Necco wafers are not old man candy; it may just mean I've become an old man.

May I should get some Starlight Mints....

Friday, November 6, 2015

Something I SHOULD eat?

Regular readers know how often I eat things I should not eat. (Irregular readers should be more concerned about their own diets.) But this week I ate something I possibly should eat, and the results were amazing!

The first amazing thing is that I ate something with "pod" in the title. Pods are either vegetable-related or dehumanizing or both. I'll let you decide which.

The Chia Pod is a healthy snack from The Chia Co, maker of---Chia Pods, I guess. I don't think they make anything else, although the pods come in seven flavors, so they make a lot of them. It's possible that some big well-known company full of meanies owns them and won't reveal their name, the way Kellogg's owns Kashi and Bear Naked.

The strawberry one, which I tried, contains "chia seed gel (filtered water, chia seed), strawberry puree, coconut milk, coconut palm sugar, aronia berry." Sounds healthy, although I don't know what aronia berries are and I'm too lazy to look them up right now. Here, you do it.

The second amazing thing is that I didn't get this for me, I got it for my wife. She's always looking for a healthy protein-filled snack, and I'd heard chia seeds are pretty good at that (4g protein in this pod), so what the heck.

Thought she was going to heave.

My wife is very sensitive to food textures. Polenta makes her ralph. She can't stand slimy stuff, and this was a bowl full of slime. She got half of one tiny viscous spoonful into her and almost shot it out. She may be thinking that Chia Co. is owned by ExxonMobil.

I'm not so moved by texture, so I ate the rest.

It was okay. Kind of just okay. It hardly had any flavor at all, I thought; you could taste the strawberry, but I didn't think there was one half strawberry in the whole 6 oz cup. Just a very mild flavor. And very slimy texture. I guess I could have felt noble and wise for eating it, but I just felt like a guy who ate a bowl of berry slime. Not like I burst forth with energy like Underdog.

Let it never be said that I've never eaten anything healthy. There, I did it, okay? Can I wait ten years until the next one? Thanks.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Rumble turkey.

If you had the patience to stay with me the last three entries while I complained about how much my life sucked in recent days: Thank you. I appreciate patience in others, believe me. I know I'm not the easiest person to live with. Ask my wife. Ask my dog.

I just wanted to say today that I know I'm not the only person in America with problems.

I was outside with the dog, when I heard the classic turkey "Gobble!" cry. It was more like "Kagobbububbahhgle!" actually, but you get the idea.

This didn't surprise me. Eastern wild turkeys often pass by this time of year. It's very seasonal. We are at exactly the same latitude as the Pilgrims were (41 degrees N), so I guess turkeys just come along around November. Not that they migrate. I don't think. I have no idea. Look, they're just hanging around a lot, that's all I know. And don't go pointing out that the Pilgrims mostly ate venison at the first Thanksgiving. They probably had turkeys, too. Maybe as canap├ęs.

Anyway, I turned to look across the street and saw the big black turkey fluttering angrily. Then I saw the big brown cat slinking away from it toward the house on the left.

The cat had a demeanor that said, "I have decided to let you live today, turkey, but in future you had best not let me see you." Far from being intimidated, the turkey began to follow the cat. The cat picked up the pace a bit. And then, from behind the house on the right, came two more turkeys. Then three more. Then four more after that. Then I lost count.

The cat disappeared behind the house, possibly waiting for a discreet moment to run like merry hell. The turkeys also began, one or two at a time, to go out of view. I expected to hear a kitty screech or a mangled "Gobble!" as the cat determined to make their victory a costly one.

But it was all over. The turkeys began to reemerge. The cat did not reappear.

I could not get any video of the action; just a bad picture of the triumphant turkeys returning to whatever it is turkeys do.

I'm sure the cat got away unharmed. He had to be faster than the turkeys. He just had to wait until no one was watching. Cats don't like to be seen chickening out, although they are very good at it.

So while I may have to contend with thieves, and ticks, and Kansas City Royals, turkeys have to deal with home-based predators and hungry Pilgrims, and cats have to deal with roving packs of poultry. We all have our problems. Thank you for letting me share mine.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The recap: Part 3.

Before the miserable end of the World Series, before Halloween, before the weekend even started, we had a hurricane.

Not much of one, of course, and believe me, Patricia's visit was nothing in the Hudson Valley compared to her visit in Mexico. But then she got on a bus, snuck over the border, hitched a ride, and made her way up here, and last Wednesday night we had a hell of a rain and fierce wind. The trees that were still in full brilliance on October 28 were wet & naked as a newborn on October 29. And, Hurricane Patricia tried to kill me.

Back up:

A few weeks ago I wrote about a tree that was being choked to death by a pokeweed vine. After that I realized that in my own backyard, just outside the boundary of my property, a tree that has been dead for some time was covered in the same tangle of vine, that the vine might have killed it, and now might be the only thing holding it up. But beyond a few comparisons to the situation in Europe, I didn't give it much thought.

Had the storm blown the tree down a couple of degrees toward the north, it would have been off the grass and I would have left it alone to rot. But it landed in my yard. I didn't want the dog getting at it, so I plotted to drag the wood into the tall weeds outside the boundary. It was not very hard to do, since it had broken into chunks when it came down. Had to chop some of the vine off, though.

Just a wee bit snarled.

The labor was not intense enough to require a second shower on the day. Unfortunately.

Because the next morning I was showering up, and I found that something had stuck to my chest. A mere pass with the soap didn't pull it off, as you might with a wad of lint. Nope, it was buried into my flesh. I had to get the tweezers and pull the frigging tick out of me. It had its disgusting little head as far into me as---well, as a German politician has his head up his own ass.

It was less than 24 hours since I'd been at that tree, exposing my delicate writerly self to nature, so it is unlikely I could have caught any of your usual tick-borne illnesses. Unless the little bastard left parts in there. I can assure you it was dead by the time I got it out, and that required some effort.

So the leftover hurricane knocked down the trees, which caused me to deal with dead wood and high weeds, and now I have to watch for symptoms, just to be sure. The main symptom I had after pulling the thing out was pain, a spot of pain that lasted for days, and felt like I got stabbed by a pixie. The CDC doesn't mention that.

So nature sucks, the Mets let me down, someone tried to steal my identity, I have to eat all this candy, and I'm still tired from helping the dog survive trick-or-treating and adjusting to the clocks going back an hour. Basically I'm just still tired and grumpy.

It was a tough weekend. Was it a Halloween curse?

Area restaurant with window painting of Harry Pumpkin casting a Cruciatus Curse at me.
Halloween sucks. But at least I have all this candy to eat.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The recap: Part 2.

The second part of the weekend recap was, of course, how my beloved Mets blew the World Series with a sudden lack of clutch hitting, foolish errors, and poor management, and basically turned back into the June version of the team that was flirting with a .500 season. Great time to run out of gas, boys.

As a friend of mine asks, is it better to have never followed a team, given that only one gets the championship each year---and that for the rest, as Vin Scully said, losing feels worse than winning feels good?

Can't say. Too much pain. Philosophy is never negated but may be paused when pain is acute.

I congratulate the Royals, who came back for another shot after losing the Series last year. Congratulations! Now, go tear some tendons or something.

The problem that many of my friends don't acknowledge is that, when you're the Mets, you don't put together a powerhouse team and stay in contention for seven or eight years. When you're the Mets, you get one shot every ten years, if that. If you don't win it all, your stars flee or develop injuries, your phenoms crap out as soon as they arrive,  your ownership runs into money crises (even linked to major criminals), you pick up sluggers for big money who turn into stooges overnight, and the guys you have to cut go across town to the Yankees and become world-beaters. The Mets are the small-market team in a big market. All the media hellfire, none of the rewards.

I guess people who say "Wait till next year!" are thinking of those great followups to the World Series-losing 1973 and 2000 seasons, right? Finished in fifth place in 1974; 1974-1985 showed eight losing seasons in 11 years. They finished third in 2001, and 2001-2014 saw nine losing seasons in 14 years (and two of the winning seasons, 2007 and 2008, each featured end-of-year slumps of epic proportions that left them out of the playoffs). There is no next year for the New York Mets.

And down we go!

I heard a woman call in to a radio show on Friday morning, who had just won tickets to Game Five. She mentioned how in 2000 her then-young son told her, after the Mets lost the Series to the Yankees, "I don't want to be a Mets fan anymore. It's too painful." She told him that she was sorry, but he had no choice.

I hope she enjoyed her tickets to the game Sunday night, but I doubt it. I wonder if she's wondering if there really is no choice.

One more crappy recap tomorrow.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The recap: Part I.

Was a little too tied up yesterday to give my Halloween recap, but here it is today:

1) Overbought Again: When we bought our house and left the city more than a decade ago, we got a rude surprise---trick or treaters. Back in the confines of NYC we would get hardly any kids, nothing that a couple of bags of fun size stuff couldn't handle. Up here in the Hudson Valley it was a different story. I left work early and got home to find the neighborhood crawling with costumed schnorrers. I was cleaned out in seconds. My wife got home and I yelled, "Go to the store! Buy more candy!"

I have never forgotten the terror of running out of the varmint-appeasing chocolates, and since then I have always stocked enough candy to have gotten all of Napoleon's army home safe from Russia. The problem is, it seems that all the kids in the area grew up. Like everyone moved into the area and had babies at the same time, and now those babies aged out of the trick-or-treat demo, dwindling every year.

I think the doorbell rang seven times yesterday, and maybe we got 21 children. They all made out well, especially the latecomers. But any year could be the big one. Halloween is not like other holidays, where you pretty much know how many people are coming over. I have been overbuying for some time, and will probably do it again next year.

2) Best Costume: It was a tough call between the little girl in the pink unicorn suit and the baby in the pumpkin outfit in the stroller. I'm giving it to the unicorn. She was shy but she still came up to the door. The baby just sat there. Lazy babies.

3) Biggest Shock: Did not get any surly teenagers with Mom's pillowcases and no costume. We had some teenage girls, but they bothered to dress up, and were polite.

4) Oddest Candy: Had to be the Milky Way Caramel Apple Minis. They really taste like apple, which is all wrong. And yet they taste oh so right. Too good to waste on children, although many were.

5) Dog Disturbance: My dog, who sleeps through thunderstorms and fireworks and fireworks shot off during thunderstorms, cannot rest while strangers are thumping around the front door, ringing and knocking, and him not permitted to go slobber on them. Poor guy got no rest at all.

6) Biggest Scare: Had nothing to do with Halloween. Some schmuck tried to steal my identity and use my credit card number. Thank God, the company caught it and stopped the theft, and will issue a new card. The representative that called asked if I had any questions, and I wanted to ask, "If the cops find the guy, do I get to break his jaw?" I mean, really, this gets me bewitched, bothered, and bewildered. Who would want to steal my identity? Has he actually seen me? He'd think twice.

Anyway, that was Halloween, and aside from a random attack by an evildoer I don't have much eeeevil to report. But there will a second recap tomorrow, on another painful subject.

Sunday, November 1, 2015