Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sharker image.

You know it's really sad for the Discovery Channel when their big whoop Shark Week programming resorts to reruns of Jabberjaw

But it's even sadder when they have to get old episodes of Misterjaw (featuring his pal Catfish).

And when they go a game show based on the old Ideal Game of Jaws game....

It is very difficult for anyone under a certain age to understand the effect that the movie Jaws had on an astonished world. Back in the 1970's and early 1980's, one enormous movie could kick the culture into an unpredictable direction, and it happened several times: Jaws, Star Wars, The Sting, Saturday Night Fever, E.T., Raiders. I'd say in the 1960's the only time that happened was Dr. No, and even with Bond it took a fast run of movies to really dominate and change the culture. Apologies to Steven Spielberg, but compared to Jaws, he's been in a sophomore slump for 41 years,

These days I do believe popular culture is so broken and scattered that one movie can no longer have that power. I think it's a good thing, really. I mean, do we really need the Jaws game? A Saturday morning shark cartoon? Two Saturday morning shark cartoons?

The power of Jaws is still in force today. No Jaws, no Shark Week. No worldwide reports when a shark bites someone in New Zealand. No big scene with Bruce and Sharks Anonymous (or whatever they called it) in Finding Nemo. And definitely no Sharknado.

And no way would I have tried shark in a Spanish restaurant a few years back. I thought it would be funny to bite a shark before he bit me. What I didn't know was that uncured shark meat is full of urea, and so my nice shark steak tasted like pee.

So sharks, if you see me in the water, don't worry. I won't bite you. You taste terrible.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Books suck.


If it's not bad enough I have to work on other people's books all day, which labor is better for me than honest work like digging ditches (I have delicate knees, you know), I am compelled to work on my own books, which is a goddamn nightmare. There, I said it. 

What are books? Novels are stories lies about fake people. Histories are lies about real people. Self-help books are lies through and through. Who cares? Stupid books.

The U.S. Library of Congress, chock full of stupid, stupid books. 
Even my immature rampages don't come from nowhere, and mine is caused by a project I've been trying to get started. I had intended to write a mystery, a real whodunnit, and when you do that you face a sophisticated audience that's been reading these things for a century and is hard to surprise. So I've been plotting, plotting, plotting for weeks, and finally got an outline I thought would work. At last! After a challenging day of beating others' books into shape, I sat down to write.

Nothing came out.

I can't even write about how hard it suddenly was to write, because I couldn't write.

They call it writer's block, but it's more like writer's constipation, although one hopes the eventual product will be superior to that of the metaphor.

I feel like an ED sufferer, to switch medical metaphors: This never happened to me before! And while that's probably not true, it hasn't ever felt quite so... useless, shall we say. Like shooting pool with a rope, to quote the great Rodney.

And there are reasons. The last project I engaged in was not my idea initially, but rather was suggested to me; I wound up doing hundreds of hours of work for nothing. Hey, I'm no government employee; if I don't work, I don't get paid. How much time can I reasonably spend writing things on spec? Hollywood may be full of vipers, but everyone gets paid. Publishing? Not so's you'd know.

When I woke up this morning I realized what part of the problem was; I had intended to use a bit of exposition early on that would have made the opener bland, a kind of "and then this happened and then that happened" passage that would bore the character who was telling it, let alone the reader. By working in the information in with some more craft, I could remove the blandness and make the opener work better.

Aha! I'm a genius! Writing is great! Yahoo!

Please, someone, murder me. Thanks.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

A toast!

It was quite surprising, or at least it was to me, to hear that General Mills had not released a new cereal in 15 years. Didn't it always seem like Kellogg's and Post and General Mills were always throwing new cartoon characters hocking new cereals at us? But for General Mills, it's been status quo since 2001. 

Tiny Toast, available in blueberry and strawberry flavors, is that new cereal. It's crunchy little toast-shaped oat/corn/rice cereal with no artificial colors or flavors (if you care), no high-fructose corn syrup (boo! hiss!). I'm sure you have some questions about this epic new product.

Q: Does it really look like toast?

A: Unlike General Mills' Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which does not look like toast, Tiny Toast looks like little toast. Maybe more like croutons, come to think of it, but what are croutons but tiny toasts?

Q: How's it taste?

A: Like a crunchy summer breeze in a blueberry field. One that doesn't have too much sugar. There is actually something buttery to the cereal (contains no actual butter).  I recommend it.

Q: Does it have a cartoon mascot?

A: Unfortunately, no.

Q: Aren't you a little old to be eating sugary cereal? Shouldn't you be on to, like, Uncle Sam laxative cereal by now?

A: Yeah, probably. But I won't I won't I won't! You can't make me!

Okay, that's enough questions. I raise a toast to you, General Mills -- a tiny one, but a toast nonetheless. Good job, cereal tycoons! You still got it. Don't want until 2031 for the next new cereal.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The lighter side of doom.

A friend of mine likes to say, "Everything in life is either a blessin' or a lesson." Despite that, he's still my friend.

I wish I had his attitude, I really do. I don't know if there's any hope I ever will. As I told him, I come from a long line of pessimists. It is the way of my people. When things go right, we are pleasantly surprised; when things go wrong, we get to say "I told you so." The feeling is that this gives us a natural superiority. But we wonder why we don't want to get out of bed in the morning.

There's a book I have never read, but the original 1992 edition had one of my all-time favorite covers:

To be fair, co-author Doris Flexner also wrote The Optimist's Guide to History. But that book is not still in print. The Pessimist's Guide still is. In its third edition. My people are many.

Of course, there is a lot to be pessimistic about these days, what with the nation nominating felons and con artists to the highest office and all. We have defined deviancy down to the level of... well, exclusively of white Christian employed taxpaying males in committed monogamous heterosexual relationships. Our culture is garbage, our enemies sharpen their knives, and our leaders only see foes among their fellow citizens.

These things have a tendency to make SMOD look like the man of the hour, even though he is an extinction level event. Or rather, because he is an extinction level event.

Our problem is America is that we've always been too optimistic. Our stupid sunniness has not prepared us for such crappy times as are descending. That's one edge the Russians have over us: they're completely used to things going to hell and gone. It's not that they're dumb; as P. J. O'Rourke wrote in Eat the Rich, "In Russia... where chess is a spectator sport, they're boiling stones for soup."

Maybe the Russians lost the Cold War because they didn't want to get out of bed in the morning. Whatever. As we slide down the chute to domestic chaos and international strife, we may be able to draw wisdom from this wonderful video, "Complete History of the Soviet Union, Arranged to the Music of Tetris," courtesy of Pig with the Face of a Boy (via IMAO and the People's Cube). If, as some folks I know think, a Hillary presidency will take us farther down the road to Communist dictatorship, at least we can try to think of a catchy tune to go with it.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


No use denying it any longer: Summer is here at Stately Key Manor.

Our cows are lookin' good.
I've come to like longer days as I get older, as many of us do---one of the reasons so many flee to Equatorial areas in retirement---and only now does it strike me as odd that the moment we get to the warmest season of the year, the days start shortening up. Dramatically it's all wrong. The longest day of the summer should appear around August 25, not on the first day. That way summer builds to a climax and leaves time for the denouement. Who writes this stuff?

But I certainly can't argue with the set design. The sunsets in summer are famously gorgeous, but so are the sunrises.

This is when I know what Homer was talking about when he referred to "rosy-fingered Dawn" opening up the light of the day. He uses the term five times in the Iliad, twenty-one in the Odyssey (your translation may vary). Eos, goddess of the dawn, opens the gates of heaven and brings forth the sun. Dawn may be rosy at other times of the year, but never more so than summer.

It's easy to take for granted the little things, like not having to Nanook up when going outside, not having darkness before quittin' time, and all that. But I quickly focus on the burned-out lawn, the shvitzing in 95 degrees and 110% humidity, the guys strolling about with mandals on their ugly monkey feet. Well, I can't blame the last bit on the weather.

Summer's not actually my favorite season, not that it cares what I think. No one asked me.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


You are probably not aware of this, but a lot of pixels are being spilled on the question of Superman's pants. Specifically, briefs or no briefs?

Really, this is kind of a big deal. For about sixty years, Superman was always seen with those little red tights outside his pants, as rendered in this early Joe Shuster drawing. 

But in the more recent comics, as in the recent films, you'll be more likely to see him sans briefs.
Sometimes with a turtleneck, too.

It may be stupid, but it's almost an unsolvable conundrum for the folks at DC. Comics are full of these kinds of things now.

On the one hand, it's fun to change the look of a well-known character, to help keep it fresh. On the other hand, it's a well-known, trademarked character. You can't dump on success.

Various sources, including this pretty good article on, explain that the whole tights-outside-pants thing, nearly universal in comics' Golden Age; that in the Victorian era, acrobats and the like wore tights like that, to show that the hero was athletic.

Courtesy of Pinterest's stupid site.
And thus for generations American boys put their tighty whities over their pants and were instantly transformed into heroes!

Why did the circus athletes wear those tights? It's a good question, since they often don't anymore, preferring long spandex pants. Circopedia (of course there's a Circopedia) tells us that the one-piece leotard was invented by Jules Léotard, a French trapeze acrobat who obviously would have found the form-fitting outfit useful for not getting tangled up and dying while flying about. (Instead he died of infection at 32.)

The non-tight tights would preserve some modesty. 
So Superman's throwback pants were a reference to athletes who don't dress like that anymore, but everyone expects him to have the pants. Now what?

Beats me. Comic books have other problems. The main ones are continuity and the passage of time. In the sixties, when DC rebooted a lot of its heroes (only a few like Bats and Supes had been chugging along), it was resolved that the old heroes from the 1940s had been on a parallel Earth. That worked great until the 1980s, when the obvious passage of time began to be an issue again; I recall that Superboy stories were suddenly set in the early 1960s, even though that same Superman (not the Earth-2 Superman---if you aren't familiar with this, don't even think about it) had clearly been around since then. Since then repeated attempts have been made to reboot everything all over again, so we'd now have Batman meeting Superman and the Joker and everybody for the first time, except that that has its own problems---for example, they wanted to keep Dick Grayson as a grown-up called Nightwing, but if Batman was a new hero again, how could this be? And yet they didn't want to reprise Grayson's Robin years. (Not when there were other Robins, whose stories fans loved and didn't want to see just disappear down the continuity hole.)

When I tell you the latest mishegoss centers around Kid Flash... let's just walk away slowly.

These things don't tend to be a problem with other heroes like the Scarlet Pimpernel or Hopalong Cassidy, whose adventures are tied to a very specific era in the past, or Hercules, whose adventures took place in a sort of timeless, pre-technological era. And none of them, not even Herc, have racked up the history that someone like Green Lantern has. (Don't ask which Green Lantern.) (Please.)

There are other problems with comics today, but let's leave that for another time. Suffice it to say, Superman's pants are not that big a deal in the scheme of things. I suspect, though, that even if DC manages to get us to forget about the briefs, advertisements and sitcoms will continue to show underwear on the outside as part of a kid's superhero outfit for decades to come. Although they have to have the cape and maybe a mask too. Otherwise it's just exhibitionism.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Empty nest syndrome.

It was quiet for a week or two; no one was around at all. It was odd, since the place had always been jumping. But there wasn't a soul about.

Then I saw the sign appear.

Yes, the birds, whose nest-building, birth, nurturing, and growth I have chronicled on this blog have fled the nest. Mom's gone too. The nest is abandoned.

I watched the babies grow from little hungry beaks peeking up over the nest edge to big birds upon whose heads Mom sat at night. Then suddenly they were all gone.

As I mentioned to correspondent and all-around gentleman Mongo, I have no idea what kind of birds these were. Black with yellowish beaks. Growing up in the city, the only birds I ever saw were pigeons, gulls, mascots of baseball teams, and cartoon birds in children's books and on TV. Those cartoon birds always lived in nests all the time, or maybe a birdhouse, or a hole in a hollow tree. I had no idea as a child that when Mom defenestrated the children she, too, would become homeless.

But it makes sense. As George Carlin said, "That's all your house is---a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time." And birds ain't got no stuff.

Well, sign notwithstanding, I figured the birds wouldn't be coming back, so I got rid of the nest. There were no handy kids around who needed a science project, so I just pitched it.

I hope the birds make out okay. Yesterday evening, as the wife and I sat outside, enjoying the gorgeous weather, we saw four tiny black birds hectoring what we think (like I should know?) was a red-tailed hawk. That hawk was determined to go after what those four black birds did not want him to go after. They circled around and around for quite some time. Last I saw three of the black birds had peeled off, and the last one was following the hawk down into the trees. I have a feeling the hawk won.

It's a dangerous world out there in nature. Maybe the black birds should think about constructing something a little more solid, something a little more sheltering. Maybe out of bricks.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

They could call one another!

I hate to admit that any department of the City of New York ever did anything well online, but I liked this map from the Health Department:

It shows the popularity of licensed dogs' names by borough. As you can see, Max and Bella are the most popular names, just like in the rest of the country. Rocky, Coco, Daisy, Teddy, Lola, Lucky, Molly, Princess, Lucy, and Charlie are some of the also-rans.

These are all good names. Naturally, I was not surprised to not see the name of my dog, Tralfaz, up there, even though the name is quite famous as the original name of the Jetsons' dog, Astro. (I did find one other Tralfaz on the name search site, so someone else out there also spent too much time watching cartoons.)

Since naming our pooch, it has occurred to me that some of the cleverest names for dogs are those that they can pronounce themselves. Apparently dogs do understand that certain phonemes make up their names to some degree, sort of, and if they learn to attach certain sounds to certain other dogs, they can yell at each other by name!

Of course, their vocalization skills are limited, so there's no point in naming a dog Pilavullakandi if you want other dogs to call her. It's hard to exactly spell out a dog's vocalizations. Some say Woof or Bark or Bowwow or whatever else we think it might be.

Here are some I think might work, a few of which I have heard used as names for canines:


You could include made-up names like Ruff or Howell, but I only used legit first names, well-established nicknames, or classic dog names. Got any I missed?

As for the NYC map, it is very clever and is used as a means by the city to promote licensing and registration for dogs, which is a good idea. I'm sure that, done by the city, with standard contractor bidding processes, labor rules, kickbacks, and featherbedding, it cost only a quarter of a billion dollars to put together.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Bear up under it.

Okay, I promise, last snack-related entry for a while.

Something from the local Target: Gourmet Gummies from Project 7, birthday cake flavored. "Live. Give. Smile."

Project 7 is a brainchild of Tyler Merrick, an entrepreneur with a social conscience, they say. Just look at the back of this package:

Your purchase of Project 7 foods (and there are a number of them) plants trees, treats malaria, provides meals, educates dummies, etc. etc. Seems like a big responsibility for a little gummy bear, but they're bouncy.

A lot of things these days are supposedly flavored like birthday cake. Oreos has some birthday cake flavored cookies. Pop-Tarts tried it too. The first time I came across this phenomenon was at an ice cream stand that sold Perry's, and I saw one called Birthday Bash.

"What's that taste like?" I asked the girl.

"SOOOOO good!" she said.

"But... like what?" Meaning, did it taste like cake icing? Wrapping paper? Clowns?

"It's SOOOO good!" she repeated.

So I tried it. It was SOOOO good. Like a vanilla cake with icing. Not like clowns.

I therefore had high hopes for these Project 7 gummies. And I was crushed, because they tasted like the rubber stopper on a bottle of eye drops. Whuh?

At first I thought the lack of flavor was caused by their dedication to all-natural this and organic that, but as I gnawed on a second tasteless bear, it occurred to me: They just don't give a damn. The folks at Project 7 are not selling treats; they are selling ease of conscience. They can't or won't do the #1 job of a food manufacturer, which is make things people want to eat. They reminded me of government clock watchers and Soviet apparatchiks, soulless tools whose job is not to make something people will find useful or enjoyable, but whose job is to preserve their jobs and report on the number of reports reported. This candy is a waste of good calories, and an insult to bears.

I think I'm going on strike against companies that exist only to support their causes. Just as it's my standing policy not to give to charities that mail me unsolicited presents (tote bags or coins or whatever), so too will I not buy products from companies that try to bamboozle me with their good acts. You're not a blasted lemonade stand; you're a company. If you can't figure out a way to make a gummy candy that doesn't taste like Grandma's wart, you aren't an entrepreneur, you're a panhandler.

It's a tough call, because I like some of the Newman's Own stuff. Your thoughts would be appreciated. Meanwhile, watch out for those bears.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Manly men and boyly boys.

You ever play that game when you ask yourself what your parents were doing when they were your age, and compare your progress through life with theirs? I think about that with my late dad sometimes, and Father's Day brings it to mind again.

Dad was a hardworking guy, a physically tough man who could endure a lot of pain. When he spent a day in bed, you knew he was practically dead. I only remember a couple of occasions when he was flat-out sick (once from bronchitis and once when we all got food poisoning), aside from the illness that claimed his life.

I wanted to be just like him when I was little. We wound up being very different, for any number of reasons. It doesn't make me better than him, not at all. I certainly am not as hearty as he was, nor as hard a worker. He was omnicapable with anything construction related, and could fix any car up to the time they started putting computers in them. He was an extremely reliable human being.

I wonder if our country is still capable of making guys like Dad.

In her book Men on Strike, Dr. Helen Smith argues that American men have been so disdained, ridiculed, attacked, isolated, and denigrated that it's no wonder that they aren't marrying, making lives, being the pillars of society they once were. Why should they? They get no respect for trying---look at any TV show. Mom is the superhero; Dad is the comic relief. "The law and culture tend to protect women and to harm men. Men are starting to realize this, and women need to understand that men have few reproductive rights, have few legal rights in divorce, and are seen as the bad guy in marriages that go wrong. It is not immaturity for men to be reluctant to marry, it is a rational choice not to place oneself in a harmful legal contract that gives them no safety net."

It runs throughout the culture the way faith in God once did: girls need to be encouraged to be kickass geniuses, boys are boneheads who are more trouble than they're worth. But do girls need all this talking up? Women are now the majority of voters, the majority of college students and graduates. What are men the majority of?


Our local high school had pictures of the top 25 grads. Five were boys. (Only one was a Caucasian boy.) I don't wish to downplay the excellence of the other students, but it's been more than twenty years since our culture got obsessed with representative groups that "look like America." Does five boys out of 25 look like America?

Boys know that they get more attention when they mess up and no plaudits when they do well. They expect girls to be better students and they see no reason to compete. They see Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, supposedly heroes, being belittled by their more-intelligent female friends. A 1997 MetLife study (The Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher 1997: Examining Gender Issues in Public Schools, available here) reported that "contrary to the commonly held view that boys are at an advantage over girls in school, girls appear to have every advantage over boys in terms of their future plans, teacher's expectations, everyday experiences in school and interactions in the classroom." It's little wonder that boys think less now of book learning than they ever did.  

I see it with sons of friends. They may be okay with athletic achievement, but they discourage academic achievement among themselves. Why be a dork and get picked on by everybody?

We have rightly been concerned about inner city cultures that disparage academics. What happens when half the human race adopts that attitude? 

You can say that men had more privileges in my father's time, and you'd be right. But they also had a hell of a lot more responsibilities, and could take pride in the honor of fulfilling them. Now men are considered superfluous, and honor a sham, and have acted accordingly. As C. S. Lewis famously said, "We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst."

When Dad was my age, he had survived poverty, cancer, and he had to support a teenage me. He was a rock. Men today have been turned into those phony plastic rocks you see in landscaping. Some look good, but you can't build anything on them. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

How can you go wrong with bacon?


Up by the supermarket cash register were these meaty snacks, much to my surprise. An impulse buy for people who aren't into the candy.

What is an Epic Bar? The Web site says it is "Restorative Protein: Heals our body, our livestock and the land we depend on." Kind of a hard sell there on earth friendliess for what are essentially jerky bars. Still, I give them an E for effort---these are no simple Slim Jims, but combinations of fruits, nuts, and cured meats, some of the meats quite exotic for a snack food (wild boar , lamb, and venison, for example).

My store only had this Bison Bacon Cranberry Bar or the plain Chicken, so I went for the Bison. When lunchtime rolled around I asked the Mrs., who likes beef jerky, if she wanted to try it. She had a look at the label and the exposed meat product and reared back, saying, "I'm not eating that."

Exposed meat product.

Well, I did eat that, and I was not all that thrilled that I did, I'm sorry to say. It was an interesting treat, the meat cured to the point of preservation but not tough or really bacony. I found the texture a bit off-putting, actually, being like a cold slab of Nerf. I think it was the unfamiliarity that did it to me, though; there's nothing inherently bad about that. Tough and greasy ol' Slim Jims are, on the other hand, quite unpleasant, or so I've always found them to be.

The worst thing was the fruit; the cranberries were just sour, their distinct flavor beaten into submission by the bacon. Without good cranberry taste, dried cranberries lose their raison d'être (raisin d'être? heh). And sourness on its own does not pair well with meat.

I would certainly be willing to try other products in the line, however. The lamb with currants and mint sounds like a good combo all around. And where else, aside from a gourmet prepper's smokehouse, will you find wild boar snacks?

So I think these Epic guys may be on to something, and so did General Mills, so they bought the company. But that slogan -- "Heals our body, our livestock and the land we depend on"? Even if you argue (as Paleo guys will) that the protein is necessary and good for you, and the ranching methods are actually so green they prop up the local ecosystems, I have to wonder about the livestock thing. I mean, this ain't outpatient surgery.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The dope with the phone.

Things are pretty quiet in suburbia, so it's always fun when something exciting happens, like a car fire, as long as it's someone else's car. 

As I exited the store there was a small commotion, and someone said "smoke," and yep, one row away from the Fredsel, a black sedan was belching smoke under the hood.

There were already folks on the scene, and there would be more. The folks I observed included:

1) Employees of the store, one of whom appeared to have called 911.

2) The car owner, standing back with a worried look.

3) A couple of guys (one pictured) who looked like volunteer firemen; one had an entry tool, which he used to carefully bang on and pry up the hood of the car, from whence flame belched; he and the other guy had fire extinguishers, which they then sprayed under the hood.

4) The dope with the phone who took the above picture.

5) The lady who pulled up and asked me if they could use a half bottle of Diet Pepsi to help quench the flames, which seemed really weird, but she spoke like she knew what she was talking about (and suggested I get away from there in case the car blew up).

6) The onlookers standing by the store, not doing much but not getting in the way, discussing what might have made the car spontaneously combust.

7) The cops who pulled into the lot as I was getting into my car.

8) The fire truck that I heard coming down the street as I got out of there.

Now, if I'd been on my own and there'd been a nun or a baby or a dog trapped in the backseat, I hope I would have had the wherewithal mentally, physically, and courageously to save get she/he/it out; but as people who knew what they were doing were on the scene, and no one was in the car, it was best I just take my leave---after taking my picture. But I missed the cool shot where the flames were leaping out. "Excuse me, but could you guys pry up the hood again so I could try to get a fire pic? Yes, thanks a lot."

Nothing really happens to you unless you can post a picture of it online, right?

So, in sum, there's our suburban excitement for the day. I'm not going to be able to dine out on that story, but I hope the guys who leaped in with the tools and extinguishers got a bite to eat on it. And I hope that the person who owned the car had AAA and good insurance. Thanks for the show, sir!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dogs got the life.

A lot of people say that dogs have it easy, and when you consider that no dog has ever had to write a check for the mortgage, it's easy to see where the conception comes from. Certainly some dogs have it easy---free food, free toys, people who spoil them, sometimes even breeding privileges. 

Of course, many dogs have terrible lives, and we all know what kinds of things can be included in that category.

And even for the dogs who live well, I wouldn't want to trade the freedom to come and go and get snacks at will for what they got. 

But what I'm getting at isn't the pampered pooches, but the medications for dogs. Here's one:
NexGard is a once-monthly chewable treat that dogs love, and causes the death of fleas and ticks that try to latch on to them. That's crazy good. The grossest thing I had to do in 2015 was pull a live tick out of my chest; you bet I'd like something like this for people. 

And on that score, there is no human vaccine currently available for Lyme disease; there was one, but it was just 78% effective, required a three shots, and was pricey, so people didn't like it and they took it off the market. But my dog gets a Lyme shot annually. 

Wouldn't it be great if some clever chap came up with a candy that caused mosquitoes to die when they landed on you? With malaria, dengue, West Nile, and now Zika all being spread by the little bastards, mosquitoes obviously deserve to die. I've seen some homeopathic pill that claims to repel mosquitoes, but I want something that really works, and preferably kills the bugs dead. 

Could we at least have a collar or maybe a belt that repels fleas, ticks, bedbugs, and mosquitoes? Maybe wasps too? How hard can that be? 

I'm not even asking that they make human drugs taste like snacks. Not all dog meds do, and we don't want little kids mistaking drugs for treats. I just want to kill the vectors that spread disease and itching and grossness. 

And I'm not even going to get into how dogs get to chew things that brush their teeth. I have to rip up my gums with brushes and floss and they get to eat stuff. Not just Milk-Bones and the like, either; the makers of NexGard have come out with a prescription snack (!) to fight dental decay in dogs. And I get tut-tutting from my dentist. The top of the food chain is looking a little suckier right now. 

Come on, Pfizer! You're losing Viagra's patent protection in 2017; get cracking here! You'll need the dough! Save the teeth, kill the mosquitoes. You can do this! 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Coke and weed.

Last year I objected to Coca-Cola's nickname cans, which I still think was kind of dopey. The full disquisition is here, but in short, I did not wish to drink out of a can that said Sister or Wingman or any of a number of boneheaded things that Coke's people thought would be cute. So there, Coke!

But this summer we apparently must have bad songs shoved upon us:

I am white and apparently old and I had to look it up. So Flo Rida's deathless poesy is staring at me while I drink my Coke Zero. Why? What does this mean? They want me to think of fun music? If this were not surrounded by musical notes I wouldn't know it was musical at all. It's not even a clever line. You get a good feeling? I'm glad for you! Now get off my can.

Other dumb song quotes on cans include "Drop it like it's hot," "You've got a friend in me," and "I'm cool like dat." Well, I'm fluent in English like this, so get your dat out of my fridge.

(Some Australians have already made a list of lyrics they'd rather see on Coke cans [naughty words warning], so I won't add to the list.* And drop it like it's snot.)

In other luxury problems, does this irritate anyone but me?

Something about weeds sprouting up at the curbstone make me run for the Roundup. No one else seems to care; they may have much healthier lawns, rope dragging to get off the clippings, and edging like a billiard table, but they have hippie curbs. As the Coke cans might say: What up wit dat?

So those are my thoughts today on Coke and weed.

Why, what did you think I was going to write about?

*Well, except for:

"I need a little bit of Coca-Cola, I need me a shot of Ron Rico one fifty one"
"Dare to Be Stupid"

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ice cream candy?


Sorry about the lousy picture. 

The Freeze-It is something new from Russell Stover, It is dark chocolate candy bar; you can eat as is, or you can stick it in the freezer for half an hour or so. Many people like to freeze a Reese's or a Charleston Chew, but this is billed as an "Ice Cream Flavored Candy Bar." So it has freezing written into its destiny. And yet it's stable at room temperature. In other words, if you can't get hold of ice cream, you stick this in the freezer for a while and BAM! Instant Klondike Bar

Well, not really. Still, better than nothing.

The filling does kind of have that ice cream filling flavor, which is good. When eating one warm, I noted it had something like crunchy, crystallized sugar bits inside, which added to the ice sensation. I found the frozen bar a bit hard to chew, although I confess I froze it for a good deal longer than half an hour. And it's covered with Russell Stover chocolate, which is always a bit disappointing.

I love the idea of the instant ice cream bar, though, and I'm 100% certain no kid would have a problem with this. I do kind of wish Nestle had come up with it, as their superior chocolate would have really put it over the top, but I give ol' Russ a lot of credit for coming up with it. Stand tall, Mr. Stover! Ice cream anything is good enough for me.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Trapped with the TV.

Why oh why did I do it?

Why oh why did I take my car back to the dealer for an inspection and an oil change?

What am I, stupid?

Yup; next question?

There was a slight key issue that turned out to be a nonissue; the other reason was the coupon. The dealer has sent me coupons for oil changes, tire rotations, A/C check, and so on, but I never use them. I'd gone to the dealer for routine maintenance and it always took forever. So I usually go to the guy down the block. But this time, I don't know, I just thought they might have gotten better in the last three or four years.


Two hours for an inspection and oil change. They threw in an exterior car wash, but I would have happily told them not to bother if I had known they were going to do it. It might have saved me what, an hour and a half?

Yeah, sure.

Not that they don't try to make it comfortable for you. There is a lounge with magazines you'd never read, the newspaper one of the employees straight-up stole three minutes after I went in, and vending machines with no prices posted (but they'll take your credit card, so it's okay). The best of all was the TV that was on to one channel and could not be changed or shut off.

Now, if you work for a living, or otherwise avoid daytime television, you may not be aware that everything that is wrong with the United States of America can be determined by spending a couple of hours watching daytime television. I don't think it was as bad when I was a kid, as there were few talk shows and lots of game shows, and Mom never watched the soaps. What I saw on the idiot box while pining for my car told me that the acting on soaps was worse than ever, and that daytime talk shows are written and performed for morons.

I'm not sure what irritated me most about the talk show. Was it the celebrity suckup that was so powerful that James Dyson would have been envious? The heroic celebration of people whose accomplishments are minimal, self-centered, or stupid? Or the slavish pandering to the addle-pated crowd? ("That's what I think, amiright?" "YAAAY!") And there am I---because you can't leave, your car could be ready at any moment---looking toward the garage through the window like a sad Pierrot.

View from the window, my sad little clown face staring out.
Was Meredith Vieira ever really considered a legitimate journalist?

If the entire staff of the dealership hadn't been zombie-assing around like DMV employees on Ambien, I might had some sense that an effort was being made to get me on my way. If the idiot who figured out the bill had been able to figure out how to apply the coupon that the dealership sent me, I might not have told them they would never see my face again. (I told him to skip the coupon because I had to get back to work, which was true. At least one of us was willing to do some work that day.)

Maybe if the dealership spent more time getting non-dingdongs to work there and less time making signs telling everyone how great their service is, things would run better there. As it is, never again.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Pumpkin paradigm.

Had a casual meeting to attend the other day, so I decided it was time to bring a treat and mess with their heads!

Mwah ah ah! I gave them... PUMPKIN BREAD!

Pumpkin bread in JUNE? What mad insanity is THIS?

Even though their minds were totally BLOWN by giving them pumpkin four months in advance (yes, folks, Halloween will here in just four months, and the Halloween stuff will be here in one), they enjoyed it. I did not tell them why I was messing with them Jack-O-Lantern-style, as they might not have appreciated it, but I'll tell you.

Tralfaz the dog, Mr. McFussy Pants, has been a pain in the rear about dinner since he got some wet food a while ago. Mrs. Key wisely did not accede to his demands for canned stuff all the time. We tried to accommodate him by mixing wet and dry food, but his initial excitement turned quickly to disdain. Basically, Teen Wolf was becoming a pain in the ass about food, and that was before our current adventures with synthetic thyroid pills began.

Mrs. Key (comments here sometimes as Marshmallow) heard that some canned pure pumpkin mixed in with dry food was very attractive to dogs. So, I got a can, and Tralfaz rejected it instantly. So, now I have a can of pumpkin ($2.49) with about a teaspoon's worth taken out.

You know I'm not going to let food go to waste, not if I can mix it with sugar and turn it into something tasty. And let me make this clear: No part of the canned pumpkin made contact with the dog or his food at any time, save for the teaspoon that was removed with a clean spoon.

I got a recipe from Food Network, which you can see here; a very simple recipe for pumpkin bread. However, it turned out to be a problem in itself. It supposedly bakes up two large loaves in 30-40 minutes, which is horse hockey (and I would have been warned had I read the comments section). Worse, I had to run out when the bread was about forty-five minutes in and the toothpicks were still coming out gloppy. Mrs. Key took over for me, and guided the bread to their successful completion. I do recommend the recipe, but figure around 60 minutes to bake.

Having challenged conformity, confounded expectations, and outraged the great pumpkin paradigm, who knows what I'll do next? Peppermint macrons in August? Could be anything!

After all, you know what they say about paradigms: those and $2.55 will get you on the subway.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Bathroom sads.

This kind of thing always makes me a little sad. 

When you have to have a little bottle of hand soap instead of having soap in the dispenser. What could this mean?

I see three, not independent possibilities. Either someone has failed to get refills for the dispenser; they are unable to get refills for the dispenser; or the dispenser has stopped working. Any of these is bad tidings.

When a restaurant, shop, or other establishment falls down on the soap job, it's bad tidings. Covering up by getting a bottle of hand soap at least shows responsibility, but there's a reason that only very highfalutin joints avoid the wall-mounted dispenser: people engage in petty larceny. Plus, those bottles don't hold that much. If this bathroom is busy, that soap is going to vanish, one way or another.

It's worrisome too if the dispenser is unfillable or busted. It takes commitment to manage things at times like these; lacking such commitment, you wind up with a permanent ornament of dysfunction wedded to the wall, or a bracket where it used to be, which is just one of those signs that no one gives a damn anymore.

Maybe I'm overly sensitive to this, but I've done my tours in public schools. I know what not giving a damn looks like.

This bathroom has not reached the critical stage yet, not by a long shot. The towel dispenser still works---and still has towels! The lock on the door functions. The toilet flushes and is not repellent. There are lightbulbs. This soap bottle situation may have just been a temporary expedient while supplies are delayed or something.

Still, you have to beware the little things. First you have a nonworking dispenser; next, you're drying your hands on your pants; then the toilet itself performs a knockback feat when you walk in because of its state of grunginess. It's easy for this stuff to get out of hand, and it generally starts with the hand soap.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Birdie update!

Google celebrated Phoebe Snetsinger yesterday, in their continuing desire to celebrate people who are smart, hardworking, and often overlooked, as long as they are not white males. (See the Google Doodle Decision Tree here.)

Despite Google's prejudice, I don't mind when Google does quirky little celebrations like that. And there's no reason not to be impressed by the dedication of Snetsinger to our fine feathered friends.

Also, it gives me an opportunity to present the latest update on the birdies that have hatched under my deck:

Holy Moses! It's a bumper crop!

Those little birds---and I think there are four altogether---have doubled in size in a week, I think. I don't want to disturb them or get my eyes pecked out by Mom, so I haven't gotten out the ladder for a closer look. But they fill up that nest now. When Mom's away and they're sleeping, they're just this heaving feathery lump. Interestingly, Mom still sits on their heads at night; she barely touches the nest. It's interesting to me, anyway; I've never followed the progress of birds from nest-building to adulthood. Phoebe Snetsinger would shake her head and laugh at me.

I'm expecting it's almost graduation time at this rate, close to time to throw the kids out of the nest. Birds, unlike humans, are not going to stand for a 33 percent unemployment rate in the adult children. No, birds are much more along the lines of: You're grown, you're gone.

My wife has cautioned me to be careful next time I run the mower down there. Just in case there are four dazed chicks sitting on the grass, wondering what the hell happened, while Mom is watching HGTV and redecorating the nest.

Thursday, June 9, 2016


Oh, I had such an awesome blog entry to write for you today! Full of action, humor, thrills, pithy comments --- lots of pith, actually. I was going to write about grapefruit. Unfortunately, all of that is going to have to wait, because I have a dog, and the dog has a pill.

As I mentioned the other day, the dog is on a new medication. We had noticed that he was listless and off his feed; the vet suggested it might be hypothyroidism. It's common for dogs of his type (big + hairy, would be the type). So she prescribed synthetic thyroid hormone, twice a day. 

Problem is: He takes the pill and goes nuts. 

There's like a 15-30 minute fuse, and then bam! Joe Cool becomes Fussy McDog. 

Part of it is that fun puppy stuff, which is very cute and happy, even if it extends into working hours or bedtime. But part of it is the irritated toddler, which is never good. I'm hungry, I hate food, I want to play with this, I don't want to play with this anymore, I hate this, I have to go out, now I have to nap outside, no you have to stay with me, now I'm hungry again, WAH. And then sometimes it's just slumpy, disgusted teenager. 

Something like that.
Which makes me think about my feud -- well, I hate to call it a feud, really -- my disagreement with comic Jim Gaffigan. As you know, he's the world's most successful comedian right now, who likes to horn in on honest writers trying to make a buck by trading his fame for best-seller list positions when he should be doing his job. But his boorish behavior toward actual writers is not why we're having a tiff, but rather his disdain for the idea that raising a dog is like raising a child. I bring this up to point out to him that my dog on thyroid is like having a teenager and a terrible-twos-toddler combined. So there, Gaffigan! Didn't see that coming, did you? 

Last night was the worst. Poor dog (and I know it's not much fun for him either) completely wore out two grown adult humans. By the time he made his final poop and was, in fact, pooped, so were we. So all my deep thoughts about grapefruit -- pfft! Gone.

And then, guess what? YES! We had to go pee at 1:50 in the morning, followed by poop at 2:15. And when I say we, I promise you I was not doing any of that. I had to chaperone.

Oh, and by the way, yesterday was the day the vet called with the results of the blood test. The new pill has our pup's thyroid hormone levels where they ought to be. He'll be on the pill for at least a year.


So please excuse the technical difficulties, and if I can remember what I was going to say about grapefruit, or for that matter any citrus fruit, I shall pass on the knowledge another time. I can't let this dog situation get in the way of my pith. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Juggling act.

As a freelance editor, I have to juggle jobs based mostly on deadlines given by my clients. But the longer I do this work, the more strange my method of prioritization seems to be.

For example, as I write this (when I should be doing paying work) I have the following five jobs in the works:

  1. Copyedit one ms, due today
  2. Fact-check one article, due Thursday
  3. Proofread one galley, due Friday
  4. Copyedit another ms., due Monday
  5. Proofread another galley, due next Wednesday

The wet-behind-the-ears greenhorn, as once I was, might say, "I shall work on job #1 until it is complete, then go to job #2, then #3, and so on, in the order in which the deadlines occur. And if I can manage to turn anything in early, it demonstrates my dedication and tells the client I am ready for more work."

But that has not proved to be the way I have found best to manage my time. Why?

Say I focus on the first job and touch no others until it is done. If it turns out to be in worse shape than initially expected, I am going to be lucky to get it out the door on time; if it runs late, and there's always a chance one will, it's going to push all the other jobs back as well.

So I budget the time initially for all the jobs based on dividing it among the days I'm available to work. Say that means job #1 requires I copyedit 50 pages a day, and if I can make that goal it will be done on time. Okay, but job #2 is a fact-checking job, which does not conform to an easy X-pages-a-day schedule. Now what? And if both these jobs turn out to be complicated, what happens then? I've already had to plan to do 40 pages a day on job #3, but that has a bit of flexibility since it's a later deadline---but not much flexibility, because it's two freaking days away! Of course, jobs #1 and #2 are supposed to be gone by then, so I'll be able to pile on to finish #3 at the end of the week. And, by the way, job #4 actually is a rush job that was assigned after job #5, which called for a schedule alteration on the fly, and it looks like job #4 will keep me working all weekend....

It really winds up being more art than science by this time. But I absolutely must be flexible, because, whatever the quantum physicists say, in practical terms time is not flexible at all.

And of course, we all know what time equals.

I supposed for people whose home-based business includes projects with much shorter deadlines---baking cupcakes for a party, maybe---or much longer ones---planning the construction of a bridge---juggling deadlines is complicated in other ways. But words are my bag, baby; how do you roll?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Knights Anonymous.

Don: Hi, everyone, and welcome to this open meeting of Knights Anonymous. My name is Don Quixote, and I'm a recovering Knight.

All: Hail, Don!

Don: Let's read the preamble... Rodney?

Rodney: (reading) "Knights Anonymous is intended to help those recovering from knighthood, knight errantry, and knight missions. We have no affiliation with any kingdom, empire, or fief; have pledged no allegiance to any regent; announce no support for any cause. Our sole purpose is to recover from knighthood and help those in need of recovery."

Don: Thanks, Rod. As always, bear in mind that our program is anonymous, and our traditions insist that whatever one does or says here is confidential. And no dueling! Well, we have a small group here tonight. Rod, would you like to start us off?

Rodney: Oh, no, I shouldn't...

Don: Please.

Rodney: Oh, very well... I am Rodney, and I am a recovering knight.

All: Hail, Rodney!

Rodney: I was never really cut out for the knight shift. It just seemed like a good idea at the time, you know? But it became a knightmare. Back in Id, any gig that promised three hots and a cot put you way ahead of everyone else. And I always wanted to impress my girlfriend, Gwen. So I would pretend to be slaying dragons and stuff, when I usually ran away, or sometimes bribed them... Everyone knew, though. I was the last one to know I was a total coward, even when they called me "Rodney the Chicken-Hearted." Finally I got sick of being the king's flunky, and I was lucky enough to flee Id and find these rooms.

Don: Thanks, Rodney. We appreciate your admission of craven chickenhood.

Rodney: I know for sure today that I just can't handle knighthood anymore. Knighthood is fine for those who can take it. We make no judgments on that.

Don: That's right. How about you, Blackie? You want to go?

Blackie: Yes.

Don: Feel free.


Rodney: (sotto voce) Newcomer.

Blackie: WHAT'S THAT?

Rodney: Nothing! Nothing!

Blackie: It'd better not be or I'LL BITE YOUR KNEECAPS OFF!

Don: Blackie, maybe you ought to stand down.

Blackie: Is that supposed to be FUNNY?

Don: Why don't we come back to you a little later.

Blackie: I'm sorry, I'm sorry... I'm just not dealing with retirement well, you know? I mean, other knights go into recovery because they're coming out of delusion, or are abject cowards...

Rod: Mnmph.

Blackie: ...but I was brave! I was tough! My record was 65-0-1!

Don: Not sure about that draw, Blackie.

Blackie: Mnmph.

Rod: It helps to turn these things over to your Higher Power.

Blackie: Who, the KING?!?!

Don: No, no...

Sir Not Appearing In This Blog Post: Perhaps we should hear from the new fellow.

Don: Yes, you there! We don't wish to make thee, uh, you uncomfortable, but would you like to introduce yourself?

New Knight: Uhh... Not really, thanks; rather just listen.

Blackie: SCARED, are you?

Rod: Blackie, we don't want to make anyone uncomfortable... (ulp)

New Knight: No, no, it's all right. Hi. My name is... Lancelot....

All: Hail, La-- Lancelot?!

Lance: Yeah.

Rod: YOU? I mean, all knights are welcome here... but YOU?

Don: I think what Rod means to say is that, Knights Anonymous is for all knights who wish to begin a new life, but those who join are usually not so... so...

Lance: Successful?

Rod: Yeah.

Lance: Yes, I know. Greatest jouster, greatest sword fighter, bravest of the Table Round, slayer of the Worm of Corbin, slayer of this, slayer of that, slayer of the other thing... blah blah blah. But I'm... I'm...

Don: It's all right. You're among friends.

Lance: ...I'm the worst knight here! There, I said it!

All: No! No way!

Lance: Yes! Yes way!

Don: Now, just take it easy, Lancelot. You should hear some of our stories! Why, I jousted with windmills, thinking they were giants!

Blackie: I suffered grievous bodily flesh wounds in battle!

Rod: I got pantsed by the Huns!

Sir Not Appearing In This Blog Post: I didn't even show up for this joke!

Lance: Well, I...

Don: Come, speak, friend.

Lance: I, uh, slept with the queen, slaughtered a bunch of my fellow knights, violated my oaths, betrayed my sovereign, and brought death and destruction to Camelot.


Crickets: Chirp.

Don: Ah, yes, well, Lance, that's a pretty rough story.

Lance: Yeah, I sucketh.

Rod: Holy cow.

Lance: So... Is it okay if I hang around for the meeting?

Rod: Uh...

Blackie: Er...

Don: Um...

Lance: I brought doughnuts.

All: Okay!

~here endeth the tale~

Monday, June 6, 2016

I had too much to dream last night.

With apologies to the Electric Prunes, there was no drinking involved in my dreaming, but there was too much dreaming anyway.

It was probably because of a new medication -- a new medication the dog is on. He has not awakened me to go pee since he was brand-new and still had that new puppy smell. But lately he's been extra thirsty. At 1:30 Saturday night, he was whining like a fuzzy engine for whining, maybe just about the time I was going from dreamy REM sleep to flatline delta wave sleep. Or something like that. By the time we came back in it was hard for both of us to get back to sleep. So basically, I feel like I was in deep dreaming all night, when I wasn't out in the yard.

Two things I want to make 100% clear:

1) I have never been a student at Yale. I have never even been to Yale. I have never even passed New Haven. I have barely ever been in Connecticut. Members of my family are more likely to have gone to jail than Yale.

2) Prior to the last couple of months or so, I've never had any of those dreams of being naked in public. I know it's a very common nightmare, like falling or forgetting your lines on stage.

So why I would dream of being a student at Yale perplexes me. Worse, I was a new student in the middle of the semester, so everyone else was well along in their classes. Worse still, I was working my way through school by helping out with the buildings 'n grounds department, which the other Elis disdained. Worse worse still, my dog Tralfaz made a cameo as the school's dog, who dug up an underground vent, which I had to fix. Worsey worse worse, I realized that I had bonded with that crazy dog, and was very sad because when I left the school I would have to say good-bye to him. And totally worst or all, at some point in the proceedings I realized I had no clothes on -- maybe my wristwatch -- and had no idea how to get back to my dorm so I could get dressed.

There goes ol' Fred, streaking through campus.
This went on and on, and was far from my only dream that night. When I staggered awake my wife sent me back to bed, where I slept for another couple of hours, and still felt like a zombie all morning.

I don't know where all this nudity is coming from. It's not like I've never had anxiety dreams -- I have actually had that dream where I'm about to go on stage in a play and realize I have no idea what my part is. I've not been in a play since fifth grade, and the last time I was nude in public the doctor swatted my butt to get me crying. So I guess I'm due for a falling dream, which, with my fear of heights, could be the end of me.

If you should hear that Fred died in his sleep while clinging to the headboard, say a prayer. Because while people may think I went quietly, in truth I died while naked over Manhattan, losing my grip on the helicopter. (Which was probably being piloted by my dog.)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Mix to the roof of your mouth.

Found this on the checkout line at the supermarket:


Apparently this is a new or newish product that Welch's has put out, a trail mix with all kinds of stuff in it, as trail mix generally is. Welch's is the grape-intensive outfit owned by the National Grape Cooperative Association, and produces many grape-centered products, like juice, jelly... and even grapes!

So, raisins being a typical ingredient in trail mix, I guess we'll find a lot in this!

Um... Are they behind the cranberries?

The package says (according to Amazon and my own taste test), "A delicious blend of Honey Roasted Peanuts, Salted Peanuts, Grape Flavored Cranberries, Peanut Butter Coated Grape Flavored Cranberries, and Candy Coated Jelly Flavored Gems."

No actual grapes?!

I looked around the Welch's site and found plenty of fruit snacks, but no real raisins. Didn't see that coming! Welch's has branched out into all sorts of non-grape fruit stuff, but the lack of raisin products surprises me. Maybe I just missed them. Anyway, they aren't in this. Why use grape flavored cranberries, tasty as they are, rather than actual grapes?

Don't let that dissuade you, though, raisin fans! The trail mix itself is quite tasty and filling, and is made especially terrific by those little violet things. Those would be the Candy Coated Jelly Flavored Gems. Which would appear to be like a grape-flavored white-chocolate M&M's candy. They are delicious and quite sweet, and make a nice combo with the salty stuff.

But remember, kids, this is trail mix, not candy. Its high caloric content is supposed to make it a lightweight food to keep you going during energy-expending hikes, not to fatten you up while watching cartoons or, uh, writing blog entries. Wait, never mind. Just eat it.