Saturday, April 30, 2016


"Isn't it creepy, how his nose seems to follow you around the room?"

Friday, April 29, 2016

The grass has riz.

Finally got to give the lawn its first cut. Hauled ol' Black Beauty out of the garage and she started on the first pull. At least, the first pull after I remembered to reconnect the spark plug.

Here's the problem, because there's always a problem: Parts of the lawn overgrew very quickly this spring, and while my mower would take my hand right off my wrist, the thick, wet grass was a real challenge. I knew this would happen, but up until yesterday, whenever I had the time to do it we had rain; whenever the sky was clear I had no time. So now I'm using this little mower to cut damp grass six inches thick. So we kept stalling, over and over.

There was no way to get the grass dry enough to make the job easier. In fact, it rained last night after I finished. The only thing that helped at all was using the string trimmer to shorten it in the worst spots, as my neighbor suggested, which I hated to try because he's a pessimist. And it did help a bit, but it was still Stall City all morning. This same kind of situation doomed Black Beauty's predecessor, Mellow Yellow, which never recovered from a sodden late September swamp mow.

Fortunately, or really unfortunately, the grass doesn't grow in that thick in most places on the lawn. My lawn's like a guy going bald, real thin in main stretches, real thick on the sides, hair coming out the ears. It was only in certain spots, dog-fertilized in some regards, that I had a problem.

And it is a luxury problem. No question. I'm grateful I have a lawn mower. I'm grateful I have a lawn. I'm grateful I have a house in the midst of the lawn. I'm grateful I have a dog, even one that keeps getting green feet now, with all the damp grass clippings. It's all okay.

Now we're on to the new problem anyway -- recovering the ol' muscles that hadn't been used since October. You know you're getting up there when you keep your wholesale club membership just because you can get the big double-pack of Advil Liqui-Gels.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Daily column.

I met a traveller from an antique land, 
Who said—“A busted column for the yard 
Waits for the junk man. . . . Near it, on the ground, 
A fat flat black matte shadow lies, whose frown, 
Apparent in its sneering voice, and the sound
Tell disgust with the sculptor of this awful shard 
Here broken on the dirt, with hollow core, 
A shattered garden stand in Doric form; 
And on the pedestal, these words appear: 
My name is Pationias, King of Lawns; 
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! 
Broken into bits. Someone tapped an ash 
Upon that cheesy table, trayless, bare, 
And saw it shatter into useless trash.” 

[With no apologies to P. B. Shelley! None!]

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Don't fear the canned asparagus.

One of the advantages of working from home is that you usually can set your own hours, which means that instead of grocery shopping on Saturday with everybody else, you can go, like, early on Thursday morning. The only people in the store at that hour are a few moms with toddlers and the elderly.

Which is why I'm surprised that my local store likes running Late 70's / Big 80's music on the PA at that time. The moms of preschoolers were preschoolers themselves when the 80's ended; the elderly stopped buying records around the time Captain Beefheart stopped being a name to conjure with in the music business.

I don't mind shopping with the old-timers. God bless them, I hope I'm that spry when I'm 112. But it's kind of embarrassing even now for me to hear something a little raunchy on the loudspeaker (like "Love in an Elevator") while standing next to someone old enough to be my mom. My own mom has passed on, but those teen feelings of embarrassment when your parents caught you watching a sex scene on TV never go away.

The age problem also leads to other awkward moments. It was especially striking when I was in the aisle with about five senior citizens (total age: 627) and Blue Öyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) the Reaper" came on.

Uhh... hmm.

Personally, I'd be just as happy if they used the kind of pablum music that was actually used in the supermarket around the time the BOC recorded "Reaper":

Stupid, soothing, and didn't interfere with the mission: Find and buy food. Since when did the grocery store have to be cool?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Scouting scandal!

My wife has uncovered a scandal that is going to ROCK the Girl Scouts.

Everyone loves Girl Scout cookies, of course. The Samoas are my favorites. But every woman I know is hopelessly devoted to the Thin Mints.

The latest boxes were four bucks a pop, which is fine, because we're getting fat while supporting a good cause, right? And they are the greatest slim, minty, chocolaty cookie in the world.

Yes, shockingly, my wife prefers the Back to Nature brand of chocolate mint cookie to the Girl Scouts Thin Mints! It's a better cookie!

That said, there are things to consider here. The Back to Nature brand was $4.30 a box, and it's only 6.4 oz, while the $4 Girl Scout box is 9 oz. And as I exposed a couple of weeks ago, Kraft owns Back to Nature, so it's not like the cookies are so expensive because Ma and Pa Greengrass are lovingly forming each organic artisinal cookie by hand. Still, if my wife is right, and she always is, you have to ask yourself: Is it worth it to spend more money for fewer cookies if the quality is higher?

Me, I've generally been a quantity over quality guy. A bucket of cold Evian in your face may be bracing, but a swimming pool's worth of tap water will really get your attention.

We don't keep cookies around here much; they never last long anyway. (It's the dog's fault!) (Not really.) But since Girl Scout stuff is only around for part of the year, I'd say, if you support the Girl Scouts and want to help them pay the rent....

Midtown Manhattan: Not Cheap.

....then buy the Thin Mints when you can and go for the Kraft Back to Nature Fudge Mints the rest of the year. Or you may decide not to spend a mint on the mint and make your own cookies.

Meanwhile, there's another strange cookie scandal involving my Samoas, which Babble fearlessly exposed last year. I thought the name had been changed because of political correctness ("Stop insulting the Samoans! Struggle is reals, yall!") and then changed back due to customer ire, but it turns out to be more complicated an issue. (Hint: TWO bakeries!) (!!)

Who knows what cookie secrets have yet to be revealed? Margarine in the Trefoils? Savannah Smiles named for the late adult film actress rather than the town in Georgia? Peanut spread rather than peanut butter in the Do-Si-Dos? Is there a merit badge for COVER-UPS?

Sunday, April 24, 2016


After kvetching about bugs yesterday, I thought I'd better say something nice about Mother Nature today. (Also, I was too busy Saturday to write up a blog entry from my cornucopia of ideas.)

So here we go: Mother Nature, thanks for Spring!

The shrubs are budding!

The shrubs are flowering!

The trees are flowering!

The dandelions are... crap.
Okay, the lawns are under attack by weeds, but that's the only downside of spring.

Uhhhh . . .

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Rating the bugs: Backyard edition.

Nonaggressive and fun to watch. Good color pattern. Docked a grade because the story that they are aerodynamically incapabable of flight is not true. B

They burrow into your skin and spread disease. They came straight from Hell's glove compartment. F

Icky, awful in the house, sometimes vicious. Still, you have to admire their industry and organization skills. C

Cabbage Flies
Since I'm not growing any cabbages, these pests don't annoy me. And their drunken, uncertain flight path makes them comical and cheerful. B

Woolly Bullies
Also called Woolly Bears; fuzzy, colorful, and cute, until you remember that in the center they're bugs. Still used for predicting the severity of the upcoming winter, but that's another myth. However, we know for a fact that it was not their own PR department spreading the myth, so I give them a pass. A

Yellow Jackets
As I've noted before, the Devil cannot create. He took the blueprint for friendly honeybees and made them into these poisonous death wasps. One day they will return to his evil domain. F

I admire their dedication to the porch lights, but dislike what they do to my wife's sweaters, and thus my wife, when they get inside. D

Are you kidding? Vicious, vampiric, disease-spreading itch machines. I want my DDT! F

Completely useless, unless you were hankering for something small to fly into your eyes and mouth while you're working, and who wouldn't. Thank God they don't sting. D

The only use I've found for them is helping to locate the dog poop for removal. If we hadn't invented screens and air conditioning and stopped using animals for transportation (meaning crap all over the roads) they'd get an F; as it is, they're still close to failing. D

Who doesn't love butterflies? People who hate kittens and rainbows, that's who. A

Probably shouldn't grade these separately from butterflies, moths, etc., but they serve completely different functions, those being... uh, becoming butterflies, moths, etc. Many perish before making it to flight school. But the potential is there. B

Too many legs. Ick. D

Fireflies are probably the most beloved bug in the yard, because they light up at night, which is so freaking cool. Nothing else comes close to this kind of coolness. Other nocturnal bugs are almost uniformly annoying. Firefly FTW. A

Good for the lawn, but really dumb in the rain. Weeks after the last big flooding rain I still have carcasses all over the driveway. B

Little jerks tried to burrow into the planks around the garage door a couple of years ago. It was extremely difficult to replace those planks. Termites may be useful for cleaning up dead wood in nature, but I don't keep piles of dead wood around. And now that we're not allowed to soak our building materials in arsenic, they are renewing their assault on our homes. F

Some hear their nighttime chirp as peaceful and soothing; others hear them as the party animals of the outdoors. Anyway, they stay out of my way during the day and I can't hear them at night over the stupid frogs, so they're a benign presence. B

Praying Mantises 
Bigger than most of the bugs we get in this hemisphere, and thus scary, but totally harmless to humans, and they do look devout. They eat pests, too. However, they probably spread the false rumor that it was illegal to kill a praying mantis, and the females eat the boys after mating, and sometimes just for lunch. C

Cute and they eat aphids. A little creepy when I get a herd of them on the deck, but otherwise good. A

Pill Bugs
Harmless, not particularly icky, and when we were kids we liked to poke them to make them roll up. Actually, I feel a little guilty about that, which may have influenced my grade. A

While I appreciate the fact that they want to eat up bad bugs like mosquitoes, they cannot possibly eat enough to really tamp down the population. So, they are not useful enough to justify their creepiness. And a big one tried to eat Samwise GamgeeD

Just step on all of 'em.
Combined Class Score
C. Clearly you're all going to have to improve, bugs, or we're going to have issues. Get your act together.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Ban me!

The Great Lileks posted this old gem on his Tumblr site:

The Decameron by Boccaccio is known for having some stories with sexual content. Yowza! Supposedly it's been banned a bunch of times and in various places over the last 700+ years. Obviously that hasn't kept it from being popular, or at least continuously read. In fact, it almost certainly has kept its popularity up there.

Well, that means Boccaccio is another author who's done better than me. Damn it! King, Patterson, Boccaccio, Clancy---Clancy died in 2013 and since then the bastard's got 6 new books with his name plastered on the front. In other words he writes more new books dead than I do alive. Son of a bitch.

Anyway, taking a page from Boccaccio's lewd book, I decided that the best way to move a lot of my novels is to be banned. I know my fellow Bleatnik Stiiv (all together: STIIV!) supports me in this. All the librarians will rush to buy my books. Even if they are supposed corrupt the youth. Especially if they are supposed to corrupt the youth. Then the school librarians will go on hunger strikes to get my books available for the kids.

Does it matter than my books have very little sex and generally realistic (if any) violence? Shhh---don't tell them.

Just do me a solid and tell your local librarian that you are FURIOUS that some libraries are carrying those SINFUL and SHOCKING books by that ORGIASTIC PIG FREDERICK KEY, and you'd just as soon BURN THIS LIBRARY DOWN as see it feature any of FREDERICK KEY's books in its digi catalog. Because he is DISGUSTING and CORRUPTS the YOUTH. That name is F-R-E-D K-E-Y.

Seriously, let me know which libraries you target and I'll arrange to cut you in on the sales. You'll be happy, I'll be happy, the librarians will be happy... Win-Win-Win!

Boccaccio and Tom Clancy might not be happy for the competition, but that's okay. They're dead.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

It's a jungle out there.

Opened door, went outside with dog, and dog bolted off toward the side, where a cat was loafing over by the rock wall. 

Tralfaz doesn't usually go after cats, or squirrels, or bunnies, or other critters, being kind of a live-and-let-live fellow, but if they're on his territory, Katie, bar the door

The cat has come around here before, and usually does not stick around to talk things over with the dog. It made its escape quickly. I called after Tralfaz to stop him from pursuing out of his jurisdiction. In the past, my dog will argue that the doctrine of "hot pursuit" or "fresh pursuit" allows him to chase the deer or skunk into the neighbor's yard or even down the street. As he's gotten older, though, he's begun to appreciate that chasing off the miscreant is usually sufficient. 

As he was returning I realized that the cat had been playing with something, but without my glasses I was not sure what. Birds have been working (and failing) to build nests out in the back, and have left lots of long grasses and bits of rope around, so I thought at first it was something like that. But no, as I drew closer I saw it was a snake, and now Tralfaz had a new target for his ire. 

I was pretty certain it could not be a venomous snake, because if it had been, the neighborhood would be down one cat off the total. I think it may have been a smooth green snake or a green garter snake. Like I know from snakes? Where I grew up we only had the two-legged kind. 

Besides, I was mostly concerned with keeping Tralfaz from being overly friendly. He tried to make friends with a big snapping turtle a couple of years ago and almost got a nosectomy for his trouble. My job here was to keep him occupied until I could get the leash on his collar or until the snake could take a powder. 

Finally the snake, realizing he was no longer the helpless plaything of a sadistic cat, slipped through a hole in the rocks and made his getaway. Tralfaz sniffed up the area where his erstwhile playmates had just sat, and I let him until he lost interest. Then we went off to urinate!

I wish I could have gotten a little movie of the whole multispecies interaction, but even if I had not left my phone on the charger indoors, I would probably have fumbled around with it and missed the whole thing. I might have dropped it and the snake could have run off with it. Who knows? So I just compiled an emoji portrait to commemorate the event. 

I always wear my snappy fedora when I walk the dog.

Anyway, it was a reminder to me that you never know what's waiting outside the door, even here in suburbia. Maybe next time it will be a lion. Or maybe a penguin! We like penguins.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

They should have bought life insurance.

So I heard on the news that UnitedHealthcare has lost so much money on Obamacare patients that it is aiming to leave the health exchanges by next year. As it turns out, UHC is not even one of the biggest players in the field. Humana, Aetna, Anthem, and Blue Cross are more heavily invested and are suffering more and greater losses.

"My Heart Bleeds for You"
I hope all the insurance companies wind up begging for money, begging to be released from their commitments, because they could have stopped this thing. They may eventually realize that the plan was always for them to become wards of the state, eventually incorporated into the Department of Health & Human Services as part of US National Healthcare, but by then it may be too late. The greedy suckers only saw millions of people being forced by government's lethal power to buy their products, and they fell in line. Well, that bayonet points at everyone eventually, smart guys.

Will it be worth it to completely wreck what's left of our healthcare just to see the unindicted co-conspirators go down with the ship? No, but it will be a bit of consolation. Like enjoying the band as the Titanic takes us under.

I still have some hope that good, streamlined law could replace the bad, unwieldy law, something that perhaps doesn't require a million bureaucrats, arbitrary rulemaking, or brutal punishment for people who work for a living. I tried to do my bit toward that this morning, at the polls, but it's a long shot regardless of the outcome. We shall have to see.

In the meantime -- young and healthy people, keep sticking it to the Man by not buying health insurance, even if they make you pay a penalty. It's not a tax, no matter what the cursed and wicked Supreme Court says, so you do what you have to do to avoid it. That will bring the phony baloney structure down around their ears.

Meanwhile, my ears will be busy listening to the violin above playing for our friends in the insurance game.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Worse pants.

Last December I wrote about the fantastic lounge pants I got for Christmas, the Bat Pants!

They kicked the crap out of my Superman pants.
As I mentioned at the time, my wife, who gave me the Bat Trousers, refused to let me wear them outside unless it was pitch-black. Which is appropriate for Batman, I guess. But she didn't see them as appropriate, she saw them as embarrassing.

And yet she bought them for me. What does that say?

Well, having a look around at men's clothing on Amazon, I found a far, far worse pair:

Yes, emoji pants! And yes, they were in the men's department!

Those are some bad pants.

My first thought was that these couldn't be intended for men, but indeed they are. My second was to wonder if the well-known poop emoji was featured on the butt side.

Apparently it isn't. But for those obsessed with the little poop guy, there's always the leggings:

The culture degenerates in three sections:

1) Some guy has an idea for a product that degenerates the culture (say, Batman pants for adult men);

2) People like the product but have too much respectability to use it in public;

3) Some other guy, wanting attention, comes out with product #2 (emoji pants), which is much worse than product #1;

4) People see product #2 and think that product #1 was practically a tuxedo by comparison, and start using it in public;

5) A third guy now wants attention and comes out with product #3 (emoji poop pants)....

And the next thing you know we have cursing on basic cable, schools that are run only to protect union members, companies fleeing the nation, colleges terrorized by screaming campus garbage babies, rampant opiate abuse, horrible idiots and felons as presidential candidates. federal courts that emoji on the Constitution, and a Mad Max movie winning the most Oscars. Where does it all end?

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Limits of book learning.

When I was in college, and shortly thereafter, I was very hot on the wisdom to be found in books. I began reading Plato and some of the more modern chaps, hoping to fill the holes in my education and solidify the wisdom that I hoped above all attributes to possess.

You might have thought that I'd have been more wary. Not that the books were bad; I chose only the best, and I learned a lot. But I didn't figure in evidence of the limitations of book learning:

1) Real-world experience was an entirely different order of knowledge, which I knew since my old man was no college kid but still an extremely bright and accomplished guy -- and if I expected book knowledge to fill in my experience, that was not going to happen;

2) Books could only be as good as the reader, which my titanic struggles with trigonometry should have made obvious (I assume we had a good textbook in high school but I barely understood enough to know if it was);

3) A lot of books are written by numskulls, dimwits, shysters, con artists, thieves, dullards, dingbats, highbinders, gasbags, dodos, and miscellaneous knuckleheads, and they all have one thing in common: They want to sell books. So the blurb may be writing checks that the text can't cash.

I was reminded of all this when I saw this gem in the library the other day:

Now, for all I know, Teach Yourself Swahili may be one of the most revolutionary language texts ever written, one that has whole legions of English speakers babbling fluently in Swahili by page 10. Perhaps if I'd had books in the series about Spanish and French, those courses would have been Easy A's for me instead of difícil B's and misérable C's. But I doubt it.

If I have learned anything in life, it's that learning itself is hard. Sure, when you completely fall in love with a subject -- often something like fishing or poetry -- it may not feel hard, but if you looked at all the man-hours you put into learning it, you'd probably see it was a lot of time and thus effort. And how many things do we have to learn in life that spark real passion? Some people may be able to explain the uses of algebra eloquently, but does anyone love it? (I loved it more in retrospect when I ran up against the cheese grater of trig.) And not everyone will love a particular thing -- some people love to cook, but for others it is a horror show. I am suspicious of every attempt to make learning fun for kids, because at some point the fun is going to stop but the learning will have to continue.

Malcolm Gladwell touts the 10,000-hour rule, that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get very good at anything. I suppose that may be true. That would be five years of full-time work with two weeks off a year. But you have to work the right way. I don't think that spending 10,000 hours with Teach Yourself Swahili would get me to any real language competence, although I'd probably be able to get around. Except that the boredom would kill me before the five years was up.

One other thing I learned about books: It used to be a point of honor for me to finish any book I started. Not anymore. Life's too short. I encourage anyone to follow that rule, except with my books. You have to finish those. All the best stuff is at the end.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Box o' water.

Seen in the supermarket, and purchased:


Because when I saw it I was immediately reminded of Robert Benchley's classic essay, "Why We Laugh -- Or Do We?" in which he analyzes what was then said to be a popular joke:

A man who lived in a boarding house brought a horse home with him one night, led it upstairs, and shut it in the bathroom. The landlady, aroused by the commotion, protested, pointed to the broken balustrade, the torn stair carpet, and the obvious maladjustment of the whole thing, and asked the man, confidentially, just why he had seen fit to shut a horse in the common bathroom. To which the man replied, "In the morning, the boarders, one by one, will go into the bathroom, and will come rushing out, exclaiming, ‘There’s a horse in the bathroom!’ I want to be able to say, ‘Yes, I know.’"

What I wanted to do was slip this carton of water into the fridge and wait for Mrs. Key to say "There's a box of water in the fridge!" so I could say "Yes, I know."

Unfortunately she did not do that. She did say, "Is that a box of water in the fridge?" which does not lend itself to the answer "Yes, I know," thus ruining the joke. To make the situation even more dire, she had heard of the outfit, the name of which actually is Boxed Water Is Better. They claim (not without reason) that shipping their drinking water in cartons rather than plastic bottles is more environmentally friendly.

I had to judge it on two crucial criteria:

1) How did it taste?

2) How did the carton function?

And the answers:

1) Like water.

2) Poorly.

Really, from the start the carton affected the taste of the water, not by changing the flavor but by making me reluctant to drink it. The cap, a typical plastic cap as on many cardboard milk cartons, snapped open with no resistance at all; it bothered me that it seemed to have already been opened. I'm sure it hadn't been, but once your mind goes to that someone-peed-in-my-box-of-water place, it's hard to bring it back.

Would be tricky to pee into, in fairness.
And while I could mush the carton into a cup holder, it did not go all the way to the bottom, and in no way fit as well as the evil plastic bottle next to it.

I don't want to judge the product by the cap issue, as one cap does not a product make. And other cars may have more forgiving cup holders that can accommodate a square bottle, and at least it got in -- but if I spent a lot of time commuting in my car, it would actually be an issue.

So good luck, Boxed Water people. I'm willing to overlook my objections and applaud your motives. But as a setup for a joke, at least in my house, it sucked.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Lawn beasties.

On my strolls about suburbia with Tralfaz the Enormous Dog, I often see things that interest or surprise me. This surprised me:

I had to do a double-take. At first glance it didn't register because I had grown up in the city, where concrete deer were a commonplace on many of the postage-stamp lawns. Up in this area you never see them -- not even in the garden center -- because we have no need for them. We have actual deer, and plenty of them, wrecking gardens and ruining shrubs and running out in front of cars and crapping all over the place. When you have the real thing you usually have little desire to put up a phony representation, as in some fit of nostalgia. How can we miss them when they won't go away?

I wrote about other lawn pals almost exactly a year ago, gnomes and Mother Mary specifically. Of course there are toadstools and huge toads, too, and birdbaths, and St. Francis has become very popular, often among people who would have rejected the actual St. Francis and everything he stood for and 99% of everything he believed in.

Then there are lawn jockeys, about which I'll leave the reporting to our friends at Wikipedia, who seem to have been quite thorough. It's weird which topics Wikipedia covers well and in depth, as I've noted elsewhere.

But as I said at the beginning, most lawn statuary represents things you don't see normally -- comical figures like zombie cavalier jockeys, for example, as well as odd animals and cartoonish gnomes. (If you've been seeing Mary or St. Francis around in person, alert your local clergy.) So why the deer statue? Well, a lot of people around here have relocated from the city, self included, and I'd guess this little statue probably moved from a tiny yard in the Bronx to a nice big yard in the burbs. At least it's one deer that's not going to run out in front of my car.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Dave fiddles while Ken Burns.

Last night the first part of the Ken Burns documentary about Jackie Robinson premiered on PBS. I didn't see it. The Mets were busy getting @*#&^ slaughtered.

So I wasted my time while I could have been watching the work by Burns, America's most beloved documentarian.

"You loved Baseball, didn't you?"

Burns was at Citi Field the other day, talking about his new film in the booth during the game. Suddenly I had a stunning revelation:

Ken Burns is Dave Barry's more serious kid brother.

I'd say separated at birth, but Dave is a little older and looks it (born 1947 to Burns's 1953). But they're both originally from New York. They've both expressed a love for sports. Their last names have five letters and start with B. They've both had failed marriages. They've both won the top awards in their fields -- Pulitzer, Emmys. etc. And most importantly, they both have all their hair and cut it the same way they did in 1965.

See? Clearly related.

Now, this could lead to some bickering around the Burns/Barry dinner table at Thanksgiving, since Dave is a libertarian and Burns is a Democrat. Burns made The Civil War; Barry wrote Boogers Are My BeatBut I'm sure when they look at their many similarities, especially their hair, they will come to realize that what brings them together is more important than what pulls them apart. Mainly, their barber. And isn't that what the holidays are all about?

(It's unclear to me at this writing what Burns's position is on beer; if his PBS series Prohibition was very pro-beer, then I think we can say for sure they are brothers.)

Monday, April 11, 2016


"I'm headin' home, Bill; I think I've eaten enough crap for one day."

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Messers Natural.

I have said many times that you will see the F bomb on a label for Kashi cereal before you see the word Kellogg's, and yet Kellogg's has owned Kashi since 2000. There's a lot of that kind of thing about these days.

Cascadian Farm is a pleasant little farm in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, as we know; despite being small and wholesome and organic, it can somehow put cereal and cereal bars and frozen vegetables and all kinds of stuff in every supermarket in America.

They work very hard.
It is part of a group called Small Planet Foods, but they're just small outfits dedicated to healthy eating. Like Muir Glen -- see? Like naturalist John Muir? He probably founded Muir Glen!

Muir Glen and these other companies (Larabar, Food Should Taste Good) are owned by corporate giant General Mills.

It's funny; when French food titan Unilever bought Ben & Jerry's in 2000, environmental types ran around with their skirts up over the heads, fearful that the fearsome French would turn the hippie ice cream fat-dispensing company into horrible Breyer's or some other stupid brand that exists to make money. Ben & Jerry's wasn't about making money! It was about making a difference!

They needn't have feared; Ben & Jerry's continued to affect its tie-dyed pose while bringing in about $350 million in 2015.

Sorry to burst your bubble, organic lifestyle fans. General Mills also owns Annie's Naturals. Kraft owns Back to Nature. Coke owns Odwalla and Honest Tea. Clorox owns Burt's Bees. Mars owns Seeds of Change. Hershey's owns Sharffen Berger. Colgate Palmolive owns Tom's of Maine. Pepsi owns Naked Juice and through Frito Lay's, Miss Vickie's. MillerCoors owns Blue Moon. Anheuser-Busch owns Goose Island, Bass, Boddington's, Wild Blue, Hoegaarden....

The Burt's Bees one surprised me, I have to admit.

It doesn't bother me much that these big corporations are wearing the mask of small artisan organic friend-to-the-little-guy outfits like the genuine Bob's Red Mill. I think they're playing us for suckers, sure, but at least they know how to make the food and get it to the consumer. I suppose it's heartbreaking for many that Danone owns Stonyfield Farm. I don't lose any sleep over it.

In the 1960's and 1970's, corporate diversification philosophy demanded that the corporations get into every possible industry, I guess so that they'd have somewhere to land if their core business went belly-up. Westinghouse bought a toy company and a 7up bottler. CBS owned the Yankees. Hasbro owned a line of Galloping Gourmet cookware, for goodness sake. If this had continued, Ben & Jerry's would probably be owned by General Motors now. Boeing would own Burt's Bees. ConocoPhillips would own Annie's Naturals. So it could be worse, kids.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Let the dog be who he is.

I love dogs.

Even despite the memes that all-too-accurately reflect the trials of life with dogs.

I still think they're pretty great.

Especially my guy, Tralfaz.

But I was disgusted by the news that billionaire couple Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg cloned their dead dog through a South Korean firm.

There was a lot of disgust about the Internet over this, a lot of it centered on the fact that there are so many dogs in shelters that need homes, and yet this hugely wealthy couple had to use weird science to duplicate a dog instead of taking an existing one. I think that these objectors have a point, but that it doesn't adequately sum up why cloning a pet (let alone a person) is a deeply revolting act.

The Dillers may say that this is just like getting a twin, even a littermate, of their deceased companion animal, but we know it's not. "We loved Mary-Kate so much that we made Ashley!" gets closer to the heart of the matter. Twins may happen naturally, or even accidentally with reproductive medicine, but clones take a huge amount of effort. The Dillers may say they act out of love, but if you love someone, why would you want to steal the one earthly thing that is purely their own -- their uniqueness?

Identical twins are genetically alike but not the same; cloning a pet is intended to make another creature that IS exactly the same as the original. No one drops 100 grand to make a dog that just looks like their old dog. They want the old dead dog back again. And since they, unlike Jesus, cannot raise the dead, they seek to multiply it. It will be worse when they start to use genetic engineering to try to improve it.

I've got the best dog in the world, even with all the pee trips in the freezing cold and rain, the teenager-like ignoring of his master's commands outside, the poorly timed and toddler-like demands for attention inside, the mud, the weird phobias, the bolting toward passersby and other dogs... But he's a good guy, so full of love and enthusiasm. I would not take away his bad traits, because they belong to him. I try to discourage them, but he makes the choice. I love it all because it is part of him. I would not design his personality with science, nor would I want to try to duplicate it in another dog -- let that dog's personality be its own.

I hope the Dillers realize they have wasted money, but I doubt they will admit it if they do.

Scientists have been screwing around with cloning on kiwifruit and other plants since the 90's. Stick with the plants; leave the pets be who they are.

Friday, April 8, 2016



Please fill out the following questionnaire as part of your annual evaluation. Be complete, providing specific examples wherever possible. Your manager will discuss these issues with you during your evaluation.

NAME:  Jesse Spunt

DEPARTMENT: Measleyville Snails class A ballclub

POSITION: shortstop/utility infldr

What do you consider to be your primary job accomplishments since your last review?

i caught a lot of baseballs then threw them to the apropriat bases 

What are your areas of strengths? Areas needing improvement?

 .9861 fielding perc but .186 BA

What goals do you wish you had accomplished since your last performance evaluation, but did not?

 i wish i had got more hits but i didnt altho i'm working with coach sam who says if i crouch more and stop swinging at every goddam thing that comes my way i can work out more walks

Are there any changes that could be made to improve your effectiveness?

kinda wish coach sam wouldnt yell so much. also that stupid team mascot gnarly sgnail is always rippin on me  

Determine the components of your job that you would you like to change or eliminate. Why should they be eliminated?

 i wish the leage had a DH for shortstops (no thats a joke). maybe if the umps would start cutting me some slack once in a friggin while i could focus on making contact and people would notice my fielding more

How would you assess communication within your department? How well informed are you of the information necessary to perform your duties efficiently?

 coach sam sure does know how to communicate if by that you mean we can all hear him anywhere he is b/c he screams like a mother all the time, so i guess there is good communication from the top. when jose campo was running in from left field for a flyball that was obviously mine and i was backing up for it and he cleaned my clock and two runs scored? that communication was not so goddam good. and that stupid gnarly sgnail doesnt say anything but if i strike out he wiggles his butt and pretends to swing and miss and i know he does not do that to all the other guys. hector's BA is about as bad as mine but he could beat the crap out of anyone so the snail leaves him alone

What are your long-range career objectives? How do you plan to accomplish these objectives?

 i want to hit more baseballs and reach base safely more often and i want to keep improving on catching and throwing balls to the right bases (see that FP: .9861!)

What goals would you be interested in working toward between now and the next performance evaluation?

 i woudl like to hit more baseballs and reach base safely more than i currently do and i would like to continue doing a great job fielding (.9861!) for the snails or even a team higher up in the systum if that is a possibillity

Do you have any other comments you would like management to consider going forward?

i think if i could get enough at-bats i would prove to be a valuble asset to this baseball team and make everyone proud thank you. and i would like to kick that snail's ass if i could get a chance to catch him off the field

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The tines that bind.

Here's an odd kitchen tool I am definitely going to miss:

Yes, it's a fork, but not just a fork. This is a promotional item I got some years ago, when I worked for a consumer magazine. It's from Chicken of the Sea, the canned tuna outfit. The idea is that everyone needs a good fork to mix up tuna salad, so here it is, with the brand name on the handle. It is a long fork, with good strong tines that are spread wide. It is perfect for mixing tuna salad. 

In fact, it has turned out to be a great tool for piecrust crimping, too. And testing boiled potatoes, steamed carrots, and other root vegetables. And beating eggs. And pulling out a string of pasta to check. And fishing out bay leaves. And whisking small quantities. And, in a pinch, tossing salads, using as a carving fork, and getting those hard-to-reach places. In fact, the only thing it is not good for is eating. The tines are too wide at the end. 

But speaking of ends, this fork has come to an end. After years of hard use, hundreds of runs through the dishwasher, and so many dinners created, the handle gave way. The plastic broke.

I still have the metal part, but the plastic parts were not just meant to protect the user from heat; they also thickened the handle and improved the grip and, I think, the torque. I could hold on to it still, or wrap the handle in a wad of duct tape, but sometimes you just have to admit it's over.

Farewell to the Chicken of the Sea fork; it's been a great little tool, and will be hard to replace. I've never seen another like it. When you have a tool you like, your muscle memory gets used to its size and shape. A regular fork is going to feel weird.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


Had some of these not too long ago.

Raisinets, originally made by Blumenthal Brothers of Philly and now by Nestle, are delicious chocolate-covered raisins. Some prefer the other Blumenthal-created candy, Goobers, but I preferred the Raisinets. The two candies always seemed to be mentioned together, like Abbot & Costello or Penn & Teller.

Blumenthal also originated Sno-Caps. All these candies are well-known for being sold in movie theaters; in fact, they were rarely seen outside movie theaters, at least when I was a kid. Some candies are like that; Junior Mints (made by Tootsie), for example, were often seen only at the movies, which is why it's funny that Kramer took some to view a splenectomy on Seinfeld. The same can be said for Jujyfruits (made by Ferrara), which Elaine cannot resist buying when in a movie theater, leading to a breakup with her boyfriend.

Perhaps the blockbuster candy companies, Hershey's, Mars, and Nestle, managed to prevent the smaller companies from getting shelf space, leading them to make deals with theater chains to sell their wares. I don't know anything about the candy business; I just know what I like.

And what I like are Raisinets. Chocolate and raisins go together beautifully, better than any other fruit-chocolate combo, I think, and I've tried them all. Candy butchers have been combining chocolate with various fruits, like pomegranate and cranberries and cherries and tomatoes (you know someone's tried it), but raisins and chocolate rock the house.

If you do get a box of Raisinets at the movies, you know that even if the movie stinks, you'll enjoy something in the experience.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Liar's poker.

 A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Desk Jockey Saloon when I took a stool next to "Stapler" McGee. McGee was looking at a dollar bill with a quizzical eye, as if wondering if that little of a tip would get him a buyback anytime this century.

"What's up, Stapler?"

"Just lookin' at this here bill, Faxalong," said McGee. He rolled it up in his huge fist, a fist that had pounded many an IBM Selectric in its day, and said, "You ever play liar's poker?"

"You always lie in poker," I said.

"Naw, the game with dollar bills," he said. "It's real simple, kid. Take a buck outta your moth-eaten wallet and I'll explain."

I did.

"The object is to get the best poker hand with the serial number on the bill," he said. "Mebbe I see two 3's in my number. So I bid that. Then you have to beat that. You might see three 5's, which would be better than mine, so you could bid that. Or you could say you only have two 5's; you wanna hold something in reserve. Then I have to beat your pair. We go back and forth, or around and around if there's more of us, until someone's got to start lyin' to beat the last bid. If you think I lied, and call me on it, and I did, you win. But if I didn't lie and you call me, you lose. If you figure I told the truth and you can't beat me, you can either give up or try to lie yourself."

"Heck, might as well lie, then."

"That's why it's called liar's poker."

I gave him a squint and a grin and said, "You're on, Stapler."

He peered at his bill and said, "Two 6's."

I peered at mine. To my shock, I realized I didn't have a single pair! Eight digits and not two of them matched!

Looked like I'd have to start lying already.

"Two 8's," I said with artificial confidence.

"Two 6's and two 2's," he said.

"Three 8's."

He gave me a sidelong glance and said, "Full house, 6's and 2's."

Should I believe him? Should I bluff him with four 8's?

And then I saw it.

Smiling broadly, I said, "Straight flush to the 7."

His jaw dropped. "What? No way!"

I dropped my bill on the bar. "Read it and weep."

"I see the straight, but..."

"They're all green!"

Stapler smacked me in the back of the head, took my dollar, and said, "Go home, Faxalong. You're too dumb to drink today."

Monday, April 4, 2016

Frozen ropes.

Yesterday was the start of Major League Baseball's 2016 season! Spring is here!

Oh yes, we got snow, and 50 mph wind gusts. Tralfaz the dog was happy, because he lives in a blasted fur coat; we naked primates were less than thrilled. Most of it actually melted by the end of the day, but as I type this it's snowing again.

As for baseball, and the Beloved New York Mets, well, I'm glad they didn't open at home, considering the weather. And now, because Interleague Play doesn't already suck ash (or maple), the Mets had to get their World Series loss rubbed in their faces by opening the season in Kansas City. Stupid baseball. Stupid Royals. And stupid Mets. Picked up right where they left off, missing crucial opportunities (9 left on base, 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position!) and losing 4-3. It's great to have a fearsome pitching staff, but when you can't get the clutch hits you might as well have kooky klown pitchers out there. A close loss is a loss.

Will our fandom suffer all these heartaches?

Ha! Nonsense! Even our dog poop bags are ready in Mets orange and blue!

Let's hope the rest of the season isn't too dog-poop-related.

Sunday, April 3, 2016


Since Palm Sunday I've been thinking of Simon of Cyrene. There's a New Testament fellow with whom I can identify.

Simon appears in the Gospels of Luke, Matthew, and Mark, but he's not a major player (all quotes KJV):
And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross. (Matthew 27:32)
 And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus. (Luke 23:26)
 And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross. (Mark 15:21)
And that's all. For that he is a rare non-integral figure mentioned in three Gospels and the star of the Fifth Station of the Cross.

For a learned and brief essay on Simon, I'd recommend this one; for a dopey and briefer one, my comments below!

A few things that stand out to me:

Roman efficiency -- "We're not going to stand like stooges all day waiting for this guy to drag his cross around. You! Get over here and grab this thing!"

Roman undeniability -- You didn't say to the Romans, "Well, gosh, I'd love to help, but I got a thing, so peace out, bro."

There was no clear benefit to Simon to get dragged into this. He got no per diem for the job. There he was, some guy from out of town, just passing by (not even said to be a spectator like the others), and the Romans grab him. Now he has to appear with this condemned criminal in public (like they're besties!) while the latter goes to a humiliating death, and Simon looks like he's a co-conspirator or something. Whatever impelled him to travel all the way to Jerusalem from Cyrene, it wasn't this.

And it was a schlep to Jerusalem from Cyrene (now in Libya); it's about 1,130 miles by the land route, farther than New York to Des Moines. I guess he would probably have gone by the Mediterranean Sea, but even that was no Carnival cruise in those days.

I can totally identify with that. A long, maybe miserable trip to a town known for all kinds of trouble, and the next thing you know you're getting mixed up with criminals and oppressors and doing bloody manual labor for no pay. Boy, am I going to hammer Jerusalem on Yelp!

A Swiss actor named Jarreth Merz played Simon in The Passion of the Christ, and he did an excellent job, showing shock, dismay, horror, pity, and ultimately confusion, a man overtaken by events who senses that there is far more going on than he can know. Pretty much sums up my journey through life. (I might have tried to lie to the Romans, saying my lumbago was acting up, but the film didn't include that kind of embellishment.)

Simon, although sometimes known as the Cross Bearer, is not considered a saint, but tradition tells us that his children mentioned in Mark, Alexander and Rufus, became Christian missionaries and probably saints. Gets pretty confusing, actually, but the standing of Alexander and Rufus in the early Christian community would explain why they get a mention in Mark.

Anyway, Simon doesn't have a feast day or a patronage, but I feel for him. If there were to be a saint for those who get dragged into trouble, or people whose journeys take a bad turn, or people being randomly bullied by authority, or people who want to help but aren't keen on getting mixed up in distasteful things, Simon would fill the bill.

Best to you, Simon, and your sons, and may we all become more willing to help carry the crosses of the innocent who suffer.

Saturday, April 2, 2016


Prediction: The hottest movie of 2016 will be that picture about the superpowered flying hero against the mysterious caped crusader.

Of course, I am referring to these guys:

I got part of the script from a screenwriter with a fondness for mai tais. Here's the pivotal moment in the film: Spoiler alert!

(SCENE: In a dark alley in Empire City, Mighty Mouse lands. Courageous Cat whips into view, driving the Cat Mobile. He crashes into Mighty Mouse, who does not flinch although the car is destroyed.)

MIGHTY MOUSE: Next time they shine your Cat Signal in the sky, don't go to it. The Cat is dead. Bury it. Consider this mercy.

COURAGEOUS CAT: Tell me. Do you squeak?

(MIGHTY MOUSE sneers.)


MIGHTY MOUSE: (angry) Look, I know you were created by Bob Kane and all---

COURAGEOUS CAT: But you were just cooked up by Paul Terry of Terrytoons, not Siegel and Shuster, like that big flying human.


COURAGEOUS CAT: You're a ripoff. I'm an homage.

MIGHTY MOUSE: Yeah, Kane making fun of his own work. You're campier than I ever was!

COURAGEOUS CAT: (smiles) Didn't you supposedly get your powers from eating food in a supermarket? Or vitamins XYZ? You're about as serious as Super-Rabbit.

MIGHTY MOUSE: Oh, don't even---

COURAGEOUS CAT: And my career is far better. I had 130 adventures; you had 80...

MIGHTY MOUSE: I was in the movies! You were just on TV.

COURAGEOUS CAT: Like your Bakshi series in the 80's? Do you want to bring up your problems with drugs, squeaky?

MIGHTY MOUSE:: That was not drug humor!

COURAGEOUS CAT: Blah blah blah meow meow meow meow...

MIGHTY MOUSE: Well... Everyone knows my battle song. "Here I come to save the day!"

COURAGEOUS CAT: My theme was... wait... (thumbing phone) Okay, Wikipedia says it was influenced by the Peter Gunn theme and it was even covered by the New York Dolls. Get the idea? I was one. Cool. Cat.

MIGHTY MOUSE: Well, look... I can fly! You have no superpowers! You just shoot guns and things!

COURAGEOUS CAT: (muttering) I must have some kind of superpowers -- I always have like fifty different guns on me. Magnet gun, boxing gun, rope gun, parachute gun...

MIGHTY MOUSE: Huh. That's a lot of guns. Hadn't thought of that.

COURAGEOUS CAT: Well, yeah, I guess I hadn't either.

MIGHTY MOUSE: Funny that that Bat guy supposedly won't use guns, but that's all you do.

COURAGEOUS CAT: Mine are mostly nonviolent guns.

MIGHTY MOUSE: Hey, look, cat. Maybe we don't have to get into this stupid fight. Sorry about the Cat Mobile.


MIGHTY MOUSE: Wanna go get a coffee or some cheese or something?

COURAGEOUS CAT: Here. (Shoots Cup of Coffee Gun twice; mugs of coffee appear, followed by lumps of sugar and cream.)

MIGHTY MOUSE: Thanks... That's a lot of cream.

COURAGEOUS CAT: Sorry. Cat thing. Hey, can I get a lift back to the Cat Cave?


Friday, April 1, 2016

I made a rhyme (and eye liked it).

We're all familiar with eye rhymes, although I only discovered the term recently. An eye rhyme involves two words that look as though they should rhyme, like tough and through, but don't. At one time many of the words, which are spelled similarly, actually did rhyme, but changes in pronunciation caused them to cease doing so, especially during the Great Vowel Shift. Many lost their lives in that horrific seismic disaster.

I thought it would be a great idea to write a poem that doesn't actually rhyme, using only eye rhymes. I hope you'll play along at home by reading. To make it work properly, read the lines as if they actually did rhyme. Read aloud for the whole family to enjoy. Fun and educational!

"Moved by Love" 

by Frederick Key

The muse dost now within me move
To sing the virtues of my love
The perfect face, the perfect height
Long hair, and somewhat zaftig weight
All men say she’s a livin’ doll
(No, really! Here’s the latest poll!)
I bought her flowers at Ye Home Depot
Which she, forthwith, commenced to repot
Her taste proved flawless yet again!
Too bad her mother’s such a pain
Her father, though, is full of laughter
And fond of she, his youngest daughter
As well as all the family brood
Who swelled about me like a flood
One winter's day when, told to come,
I joined them in their modest home
And of my hunger I did slake
Upon some mushrooms (shiitake)
And bowls of peas and shredded wheat
Dad's generosity, it was great
But mother gave an angry cough
And said I ran through too much dough
She said that I would feel her shoe
Were I to eat just one more sloe
Dismissed, I sought a tree to climb
To reach my love from outstretched limb
To spirit her away to town
Elope, and make my love my own
But quelle surprise! And what a bother!
I got the window of her mother!
And with strong arms she used to knead
She threw me down upon my head
Now suffering grievous body harm
Through snow I slunk to go get warm
I sit in pain upon this tuffet
Within Ye Local Hometown Buffet
And muse upon my fortune low
With worried look on bloody brow
My heart within me deigns to break
My injured soul feels kinda weak
My hand so feebly inscribes this book
By just another lovesick kook.