Monday, October 31, 2016


[As noted yesterday, I was challenged to write a story for Halloween in 1,000 words or less.
Here you go. --Fred]


By Frederick Key

Dr. Awler picked up the phone to call Dr. Jacoby, a fellow ENT, then put it down again.

He would not make that call, although he wanted to desperately.

Awler was shaken. Three terrible things had occurred on one pleasant afternoon. Each was worse than the last.

Talking to the police about the dead woman was the least of the terrible things.


She was a normal young woman, seeming to be in good health, although signs of exhaustion were obvious—pallid complexion, tired eyes. Her clothes looked loose on her. She was slumped forward on the table, her arms wrapped around her like she was in an invisible straitjacket. First glance showed an attractive redhead; second, a very fatigued and possibly ill young lady.

Awler pulled himself up and glanced at the clipboard. Kathleen Smyth, 27, new patient. Hearing things.

“Hello, Kathleen,” he said, “I’m Dr. Carl. How are you today?”

Her weary and gray face was a stark contrast to the blue and sunny sky outside the window next to her. “Can you help me, doctor?” she said in a weak, hoarse voice.

“I’d like to try,” said Awler. He’d had patients in the past with undiagnosed problems like thyroid or autoimmune diseases that caused their hearing problems; he looked for signs of such illnesses in her face, considering tests that might be helpful. He’d also had patients who suffered auditory hallucinations---awful cases. Either situation could account for her exhaustion. “My nurse says you’re hearing things.”

“Yes,” Kathleen, her voice even weaker. “A constant sound. For months. It’s crushing me.”

“All right,” he said. “I see you answered some questions here and had some quick tests. Shall we have a look at the ear?”

“Could you—can you hear what I’m hearing?”

The question caused Awler to hesitate for a second. Then he said, “It’s unlikely. Most of the time people who come to me because they hear things have tinnitus, and that’s nearly always what is known as subjective tinnitus. That’s often caused by hearing loss, nerve damage, and other unfortunately common problems. The sound is not actually audible to anyone else. Now, in very few cases there is what is known as objective tinnitus, in which case the sound is caused by vascular problems or the like, sometimes pulsing in rhythm with the heart. Those cause an actual sound that can be perceived by others with a stethoscope. But as I say, that’s pretty unusual.”

“Could you try?”

“Well, Kathleen, I expect that we’ll find out exactly what the problem is as we go.”

“Please,” she said. “Use your stethoscope on this ear and tell me if you can hear anything.”

Awler disliked humoring patients who might be delusional. Nothing you could tell them was really helpful or appropriate. But she looked so miserable, too weak to be a danger to anyone. He put on the stethoscope held it up to her left ear.

And was struck by the second-worst thing that would happen to him that day.


Awler, trembling in the hall outside the examination room, tried to think of someone he could call. His nurse was busy with the next patient. No, he needed another doctor. There was one downstairs, that DO; or should he bring in an audiologist? Sweat ran down past his eye, and his breath came in short gasps.

He’d heard what he’d heard. He didn't say it, but she’d seen it on his face. He got the otoscope and, shaking, looked in her ear to see if there was some small bit of technology causing the sound, some grain-size receiver, but there was nothing. Now what was he supposed to do?

You’re next, Kathy. 

That was the whisper coming from her ear. Over and over.

You’re next, Kathy. You’re next, Kathy. You’re next, Kathy.

He excused himself from the room, stammering, so he could pull himself together.

An X-ray. That was it. There had to be something in that young woman’s head that was causing that sound. Some tiny speaker of some minuscule design. He would get her X-rayed and they would find it. Someone was trying to make this girl crazy. They’d find the device and they’d find out who put it there.

He opened the door, which glided open easily. A waft of air greeted him. Then the sound of horns on the street below. “Kathleen, what I’d—”

The window was open.

The girl was gone.


Awler sat in his condo, thinking. He’d tried to tell the police. He’d asked to speak to the medical examiner. He said something was wrong with the girl. She was hearing things. They nodded, of course, a crazy woman taking a header out a four-story window, sad, happened a lot.

No, he wanted to say. She wasn’t crazy. I heard it too.

But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

They would not let him near her. She was beyond the help of a doctor, they said, but when the ambulance arrived they acted like she might be saved. She couldn’t be. He knew that from twenty feet away, but he wanted to get close to her. To listen to her ear again. But they kept him away. Maybe thought he'd thrown her out the window.

He asked again, please have the examiner call him. He knew they would do an autopsy for a suicide. But whatever was there, in her ear, in her skull, was so tiny, it would easily be missed. They had to know what to look for. He gave his card to the detective, wrote his personal cell number on the back.

They nodded again, sad, told him it wasn’t his fault, he wasn’t a shrink.

Awler sighed. He finished his drink. How could he sleep now?

He sat back in his chair, exhausted. Switched off the lamp.

Then he heard it.

You’re next, Carl. You’re next, Carl. You’re next, Carl…

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Countdown to Pumpkin Day.

Tomorrow is the big day, so let's run down the checklist of things to do:

1) Dust off the old Ben Cooper costume.

Check! Got the Fonz costume ready to roll! Aaaaayyyy!!

2) Practice your apple-bobbing. I know, despite all your preparation you've never once been invited to bob for apples. This could be the year!

3) Buy more candy to replace all the candy you ate. That was supposed to be for the children, you know.

4) Go on Facebook; post your plans, inflated by at least 40% coolness. Watch as others proceed to top you.

5) Finish your holiday reading. I was late off the mark this year, but I'm thoroughly enjoying the third book in Jonathan Stroud's Lockwood & Co. series:

Yes, it's a young adult novel, but who cares? It's brilliant. And if you haven't read Stroud's Bartimaeus series, you're a bad Halloweener. 

6) Paint the walls with dripping red to look like blood. Sure, it'll be hard to cover after the holiday, but come on: Halloween comes but once a year.

7) Now buy more candy to replace the new candy you bought and ate. Do you want to be stuck giving out fruit and canned goods on Halloween night? Talk about asking for the flaming bag of dog poop.

8) Bake 800 little cupcakes all meticulously decorated to look like mummies, monsters, vampires, and so on. Eat them instead of the candy, since trick-or-treaters will not be allowed to take baked goods from strangers.

9) TP your own trees. Save the kids the trouble.

10) Write a scary story. Dear friend Mr. Philbin has challenged me to write a Halloween story in under a thousand words, and I have done so; it will be posted in this space tomorrow.

11) Remember, All Saints Day is on Tuesday, followed by All Souls Day on Wednesday. After all this, and with the prospect of Election Day in the offing, not to mention the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year's machine about to chew up the rest of your year, you'll want to do some praying.

Friday, October 28, 2016

What about Bob?

I don't have anything against Bob Dylan, really I don't. Okay, I hate folk music, and his voice has always annoyed the crap out of me, so I have two things against him. But he's written some songs I truly admire, although none of the ones you're thinking of, and he is definitely in my top five favorite Traveling Wilburys.

He's the one on the left.
But why the Nobel Prize hander-outers opted to give him the Nobel for literature this year completely bewilders me. The fact that he hasn't accepted as I write this actually puts him up several notches in my book. Even if he does eventually cave and go get the award---hey, $880,000 is $880,000---I will be grateful for him keeping the squareheaded jerks waiting for a long time over this.

Why do I care? I shouldn't, not when the Nobel gang has had such a checkered and sometimes stupid past of picking ludicrous nonentities or worse for its various awards, such as occasionally giving the Peace prize to those with no accomplishments, those who are flat-out liars, and those who are best described as bloodthirsty killers. But this lit prize is just books, right? Poetry, man. Who cares?

I care, and here are my reasons why.

1) Musicians get enough awards
Not to mention groupies. Musicians who have managed to clear the hurdles from living-on-sofas to one-hit-wonders to rock-institutions are always handing each other trophies. Isn't that enough? No one outside publishing has heard of most writing awards. I don't care if The Iliad was supposed to be sung as a performance piece; no one admires Homer for his snappy tunes. Giving a musician a literature prize is like giving a football player the Cy Young.

2) It screws over actual writers
Those of us who moil for gold in the barren fields of literature can't help but be repulsed by the idea of a wealthy man from a totally different discipline getting the big bucket o' golden dynamite. A really sensational author who is recognized only in small-press circles---he or she should have gotten the award this year, not someone who is in the Institutionalized Revolution of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

3) Triumph of the Boomers
We tend to think of the Baby Boom as an American thing, but it went on all over the postwar world. And they're all jerks. Oh, all right, they're not all jerks, but they have had an awfully strong tendency to want to think that the world began with The Howdy Doody Show and it's a thickheaded, immature wickedness that has now been passed to their children and grandchildren in spades. Bob Dylan's a talented guy, but the recipient of the world's greatest award for writing is supposed to go to someone who can stand with the titans of the written word. You know, your Shakespeares and Miltons and Flauberts and Tolstoys and Ibsens. That crowd. But when you think the world began the year you were born, you have no perspective.

4) Triumph of the Cult of Celebrity
This is the one that offends the most, the one that shows the corruption of the Nobel institution at the highest level. Our cult of celebrity has given us (and other nations) completely unqualified political leaders who win a following because of fame. The current presidential election in the U.S. is a horrible example, featuring two candidates unworthy of the trust of any nation. But we suck up to famous people because they're famous. Now the Nobel Committee has done exactly the same thing, overlooking some poor novelist eking out an existence somewhere so that they can swoon over another celebrity. It is the most wicked and humiliating thing the Literature judges could have chosen to do, but they're only understanding that now as Dylan has given them the cold shoulder.

I keep waiting for a bucket of cold water to wake everyone up, but I suppose we've gone into a celebrity coma. I don't know what it will take to replace the silly children who run the world with sober grown-ups.

(For the record, when I talk about worthy writers who have been overlooked, I'm not clearing my throat and looking skyward innocently. I think my books are dynamite, sure, but despite that I'm not Nobel material.)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Run, Woolly!

And now, 13 seconds with everyone's favorite worm, Woolly Bully.

Determined little chap, isn't he?

And it isn't just because the puppy was trying to eat him as I was recording this. The worm was in a hurry before we encountered him.

Generally I frown on the dogs consuming a lot of insects. You don't know where they've been. Also, Nipper's uncle enjoyed eating hummingbirds, and I maintain that if you start consuming cabbage flies you end consuming hummingbirds. I like hummingbirds and have no desire to clean up dog crap with little beaks in it.

But back to our fuzzy friend, the worm. Colorful and carefree, the woolly bully is a favorite of schoolkids everywhere. It is also the focus of the "Woolly Worm Festival" held each October in Beattyville, Kentucky, and more power to them. Of course, as I noted last year, and in the spring, it's a myth that the thickness of the woolly bully coat is an accurate predictor of the depth of the forthcoming winter. For that matter, last year's woolly bear seemed to be indicating a ferocious winter, and instead we got one of the mildest since we moved north of the city. So I decline to make any predictions based on my pileous pal above.

Practical use or not, I root for you, Pyrrharctia isabella, my little lepidoptera love, and even if you eat sweaters as in the spring you fly about (I have no idea) I shall keep the dogs from eating you. I'm also not getting a hummingbird feeder.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Ask Dr. Fred!

Dr. Fred, Medical Genius, is here to answer your questions. 


Dear Dr. Fred:

Which tie looks better with my shirt, the red checked or the blue stripe?


Dear Wondering:

Please focus your questions on medical topics. Dr. Fred is a Medical Genius, not a Fashion Guru.

--Dr. Fred


Dear Dr. Fred:

Do these jeans make me look fat?


Dear Concerned:

This is a medical question, because in point of fact your jeans do not make you look fat. It is your fat that makes you look fat. I prescribe an improved diet and more exercise.

--Dr. Fred

Dear Fr. Dred:

Can you absolve me of the sin of leprosy?


Dear Icky:

Please note that I am Dr. Fred, not Fr. Dred. Fr. Dred, the well-known Jamaican cleric, can absolve your sins, but note that leprosy is not a sin but a disease. See your medical practitioner for a series of strong antibiotics. If you are actually asking about lechery or another moral failing, please contact Fr. Dred.

--Dr. Fred

Dear Dr. Fred:

Can you help? It hurts when I do this.


Dear Pained:

It pains me to see such a sad, woebegone old medical joke being inflicted on my audience. You, sir, are what is wrong with modern medicine. 

--Dr. Fred

Dear Dr. Fred:

I know Halloween is right around the corner, and that means zombies. As a medical man, you would be able to tell me how to defeat zombies in combat. And are they different than zuvembies? Should I worry about zuvembies?


Dear Armed: 

Do not worry about zombies. Allow me to refer you to this article published in a prominent medical journal (that allows F-bombs), which explains in depth why a zombie apocalypse cannot happen. If you fear normal people dressed as zombies, I'm afraid I cannot help you. As for your other question, a zuvembie is nothing more than a Comics Code compliant zombie, and should be regarded the same way. 

--Dr. Fred

Dear Dr. Fred:

When I look in the supplements section of the drugstore I freak out. All those vitamins and minerals! Fish oil! Coconut oil! Safflower oil! Baby oil! What do I need? And if they make fish oil out of fish, what do they make baby oil out of? Ew!


Dear Freaked:

Most supplements have overrated claims. If you eat a healthy diet and have not been diagnosed with any nutritional deficiency, you should be fine without them. Perhaps a multivitamin as a safety measure, and a calcium supplement if osteoporosis is a worry. Especially the chocolate ones. Yum. Baby oil is of course for babies, not from babies, and is made from minerals and generally includes a fragrance of some sort. 

--Dr. Fred

Dear Dr. Fred:

Are you a real doctor? You've never mentioned being a doctor before. 


Dear Concerned:

You will note, please, that unlike Dr. Weil and Dr. Oz, I am not mentioned anywhere on Quackwatch. Note, too, that I am a Medical Genius. We have established that. 

--Dr. Fred

Got any medical questions? Write to Dr. Fred, Medical Genius, at frederick_key AT

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The dog ate my homework.


I always thought that dog-ate-my-homework was the lamest possible excuse, as bad as a note from Epstein's Mother, but it seems like there's some truth to it. Nipper, the junior varsity dog, enjoys eating paper and will do so if you give him a chance. It was not a problem three months ago, when he was the size of a large potato, but now he can actually reach the counters and desktops. Trouble! Especially on days like yesterday, when a couple of checks came for me in the mail. Put them on top of the fridge, stat!

When your dog eats paper, you have to ask yourself, is it pica? No, this is elite! Ha ha, little Selectric joke there. No, actually, I think it's the teething, combined with puppy curiosity, the constant hunger of someone growing like a weed, and a desire for attention. After all, I was working and ignoring him until he jumped up and chomped my paper, after which attention was garnered.

The senior varsity dog, Tralfaz, has never been interested in eating paper. He's more of a cardboard man. He showed interest in chewing on the corner of the Coke Zero 12-pack, and I let him because it was a cheap toy. He would just chew it up and leave it. Now he's started to swallow it, so no more cardboard. In his case it could be pica, exacerbated by anxiety about the new kid.

And the new kid causes us all a little worry. He is growing so fast, but he's growing up, too. The question is, can we get him well-behaved enough to be trusted before he gets too big for the pen, crate, and all the other means we have of keeping him out of trouble? The race is on!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Memories of plastic.

Where did these things come from?

And where did they go?

Someone passed along that picture, and I got that weird feeling when you see something that was extremely familiar, something from childhood that was just part of the landscape, and you didn't know it was gone until it showed up again ages later. It's like finding the key to a locked door. When I saw this picture I remembered these decorations, and not only those but the dozens of similar wall hangings that were all over the place when I was a kid. They were made of some weird plastic that looked like little pasta shells; the colors were so bright that they made vivid decorations for various holidays.

But we also saw a LOT of Snoopy.

Well, sorta Snoopy.

Some people call them melted plastic popcorn, but as I recently found out, the company that made them called them Glitter Plaques. If you were a kid in America in the 1960s through the 1980s, you saw these around. Kage, the outfit that made them until 2008, is still around, too, according to this helpful history from RetroPlanet. (Sadly, Kage no longer makes anything fun; in fact, since this MacRae's page was posted I'm not sure they're even still around.)

You can find a lot of Glitter Plaques on eBay, but since the RetroPlanet piece reported that more than 80 million of these were made, where did they all go? After all, plastic is forever, right?

The usual things happened, I guess---the girl became a teenager and redecorated her room, and out went the Sylvester and Road Runner.

Into the trash or the attic; if your attic is like mine, the thin plastic pieces might not have survived a summer. The plaques did have a tendency to bend. And kids were always picking at 'em, wondering what they were made of. Or maybe that was just me.

So why did such cheery things stop being made? They may have gotten associated with an era, like knotty pine paneling. "Oh, they're still making those?" And they were made in America, which became more expensive over time. I think they were probably also hit by higher licensing fees. While Kage made a lot of non-character plaques, you know kids would mostly have wanted plaques of Saturday morning cartoon characters. Licensing characters was a nothingburger in the early 70's compared to even ten years later. I'd wager King Features, Warner Brothers, Disney, United Feature Syndicate, and all the rest wanted a bigger slice of that small plaque pie, which would have been the beginning of the end. But I'm just guessing.

The existing plaques probably suffered over time, especially the non-seasonal ones. Plastic is not exactly forever. UV rays decompose it, and a wall hanging can get a lot of those. But the seasonal plaques would have only been out for maybe one month a year, and they wouldn't have been so tied to the age of the child, so I'll bet there's still a lot of those. The cellars of America hold many treasures, and I'll bet a lot of Glitter Plaques make an appearance every year---like Big Band music and soft jazz, they only return to the public consciousness for holidays.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


Just a quick note today; last night was absolutely crazycakes, dogs running amok, work crises, thunder and lightning, rats and bats and elephants... Anyway, just want to give a tip of the cap to the Cubs.

The team has been its own worst enemy for a very long time, but they finally broke through. Their patient fans have waited 71 years, but they won another pennant. Congratulations, Chicago!

Now they have to get through the Indians, who are also pretty hungry for a championship, it having been 68 years since their last one. Of course, the Cubs had already been waiting 40 years for another championship in 1948, so Cleveland's not going to get any mercy wins.

The Cubs last won the World Series 108 years ago; 108 years before that, John Adams was president, the U.S. had 16 states, the capitol moved from Philadelphia to Washington, DC, and no one had ever heard of baseball.

What I'm saying is: It's time.

Can they do it? Who knows? Things looked dicey for them against the Dodgers three games into that series, but they came back. They have great talent, and a real turnaround artist for a manager. This could be the one.

As for the Cubs' championship being a harbinger of the end of the world, don't worry about that. It's already too late. W. P. Kinsella, who just died, wrote "The Last Pennant Before Armageddon" a long time ago, a story in which God promises that the Cubs will win the National League title, but it will be the last one before the end of the world. So we're already past that.

Will the world, then, come to an end before the World Series? I suppose it might. The story didn't mention the Cubs winning the championship. Election Day will not occur until after the Series is over, though, so we can't blame that on our politics.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Everything is scaaaaary.

It's almost Halloween! The supermarket is scaaaaary!

Okay, wait -- Cap'n Crunch has a Halloween-themed cereal?

Quaker Oats, the parent company, has lost their minds. Or have they? After all, the Cap'n is supposed to be a kind of historical figure, a contemporary of pirates like the wicked Jean LaFoote, and pirate stories are closely allied with ghost stories. Skulls 'n stuff, you know. The Cap'n also battled inhuman beasts like the Soggies. So why not Halloween Crunch, with marshmallow ghosts that turn milk green? Mr. Breakfast says it's been around for some time, but I've never seen it before. Maybe in years past it was too SPOOOOOKY for me to see in daylight.

Well, if Cap'n Horatio Magellan Crunch can gear up for Halloween, then surely the General Mills line of spoooooky cereals like Boo Berry, Franken Berry, and Fruit Brute are really getting gung-ho for the big day, right?

Well, yeah---but the wrong big day:

It would appear that while other non-monstrous cereals are gearing up for Halloween, the monstrous cereals are getting worked up for Election Day.

I only saw the Boo Berry box on this foray. It seems that he's got the ground game going. But despite that, it looks like Count Chocula is running away with the voting so far, at least as I write. (Franken Berry is only winning one state so far---Montana. Weird.)

So Halloween is scaaaaaary. Election Day this year is ever scaaaaaarier, you ask me. But regular readers (and God bless you!) know that I'm alternately terrified and peeved by the rapid passage of time, helped along by retailers who can't wait until the current holiday or season is over before pushing the next.

So what was the scariest product I saw at the store?

Christmas-themed storage bags! Aaaarrrrgh!!!!!


P.S.: Yeah, I know Fruit Brute bit the dust years ago. Some people say he got a shave and a real job, but I ain't buying it. I think he joined the Peace Corps, got hooked on khat in Africa, started up with heroin when he got back to the States, and is living on the streets of Fresno. Weirdly specific theory, I know.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Drunken Octopus, part 2.


"Oh, BOY!"

You'll get hours of ACTION-PACKED ACTION from the mighty mollusks of the DRUNKEN OCTOPUS COMBAT CREW! Each set comes with FOUR PSYCHO CEPHALOPODS ready for a FISHY FIREWATER FRACAS!

These ferocious fighters are a force of DIPSOMANIACAL DESTRUCTION!

"My octopus can beat YOUR octopus!"

"Oh, YEAH?"

Each set of the DRUNKEN OCTOPUS COMBAT CREW comes with this FIGHTING RING so you and your friends can BATTLE IT OUT with your DELIRIOUS DENIZENS OF THE DEEP!

"Sushi Joe's gonna tentacle-ize ya!"

"Four-Eyed Fabio's gonna slap you SILLY!"

Look out, Joe, he's going for the flip!

And Joe is out of the ring!

"Take THAT, Sushi Joe!"

"We'll get you next time, Four-Eyed Fabio!"

The DRUNKEN OCTOPUS COMBAT CREW! By Kenner! Wherever fine toys are sold!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Drunken Octopus, part 1.

We've probably all seen drunken octopus, if not on the inside of our own bathroom doors, then certainly via the Internet meme:

That little x-eyed sucker is itching for a fight, and someone's got to deal with it.

Since that started making the rounds, we'll never look at robe hooks the same way.

I was impressed by something I saw in the Home Depot the other day, while I was actually looking for some octopus hooks:

Yep, up with standard clothing hooks was one designed to actually look like a real octopus. It's interesting to find this kind of thing at Home Depot, which does not expend a lot of rack space on whimsical touches. Barring holiday decor, they tend to leave that kind of thing to Bed, Bath and Beyond and other, more froufrou places, and concentrate on the building stuff. Sturdy hooks, not cute hooks. Simple shower curtain rings, not shower curtain rings shaped like starfish. Plain white switch plates by the gross, not switch plates like this:

Yep, BBB.
But sure enough, you can get the Young House Love branded octo-hook on the Home Depot site, if you're so inclined. (More on Young House Love here.)

Anyway, I kind of admire this kind of lampshade hanging; instead of a hook that just kind of looks like a drunken octopus, they've made something that looks exactly like a drunken octopus. Next step would be to nail an actual octopus to the door, but I think you'd have to have a hell of a taxidermist if you want to hang your robe off it.

All this has given me a brilliant idea for a new product, though, based on my new set of drunken octopi.

Tune in tomorrow for Drunken Octopus, part 2, and get ready to amend your Christmas list!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Pwned, pregnany, and bligged.

The other day (or perhaps the otehr day, as will explained) Merriam-Webster's Web site had a nice piece (or pieve) on the term pwn and its origins. I knew about it, but it bears repeating:
Pwn is a lot like own, then, in the sense of 1b, "to have power or mastery over (someone)." (This is, of course, no coincidence. The word likely has its origin in a mistyping of own, what with the p and o being so close to one another on the QWERTY keyboard and all.)
I kind of like that, as someone who makes a lot of typos myself. Oh, sure, it looks all neat on screen now, but that's because I go back and fix it. But what frustrates me is that there are some words I screw up over and over again. You'd think that I would learn to stop my fingers from snarling the same words, but the muscle memory seems to have recorded the data wrong and is multiplying the error daily. Here are some of my constant screw-ups:

Error  /   Should be
near  /  neat
pieve  /  piece
ot  /  to
whcih  /  which
otehr  /  other
pregnany  /  pregnant
teh  /  the*
anythoing  /  anything
taht  /  that
qyeen  /  queen
chanfge  /  change
juts  /  just
pf  /  of
opf  /  of
tge  /  the
yu  /  you
corrext  /  correct
ekse  /  else
myabe  /  maybe
knoe  /  know
blig  /  blog

One of the things I like about Microsoft Word---yes, really!---is that if you make consistent errors like these you can add them to the AutoCorrect function so they are automatically fixed. Unlike a lot of Word functions, it doesn't make you want to put your fist through the screen. It does have its drawbacks---I can't have it always replace near with neat, obviously. Word sometimes can tell by context that I meant neat instead of near, but not always. And philosophically speaking, you'll never get the motivation to change your poor skills if you have something cleaning up your mess for you. But it is not nearly as annoying as the classic texting autocorrect, which has inspired so much hate.

Now, to show you what my typing is like when I go fast and don't correct my typing, here is the big sensational closing paragraph:

When I was a young men my father told me, "son, always remember that the quick brown fox jumpeed over the lazy dog." I said, "Thanks, Dad, but is sit not true that now is the tuime for all good men to come to the aoid of theiur party?" He said, 'Son, You've been watching too many stupid movies." The end.**


**How did we ever survive typewriters?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Human beans.

I haven't done one of these in a while---a promotional cookbook from the stack I inherited a while ago. Previously we've looked at cookbooks from Swanson chicken, CreametteWaring Blendor, some booze outfits, Coke, a wok maker, and so on. Here, from 1980...

This of course comes from the Goya company, the pride of Jersey City, producer of fine Spanish foods since 1936. They produced this 44 years later, and 36 years after that I looked it over.

I like this book. The recipes are pretty straightforward, lots of bean faves like Hoppin' John, Three-Bean Salad, Pasta e Fagioli, and Refried Beans (or as it's styled here, ¡Refried Beans!). In 1980 Mexican, Cuban, and other Spanish-derived foods (including ¡Spanish!) had become quite popular already, but I think Goya was just starting to make its presence known to the English-speaking shopper. When I was a kid the Goya products were all in their own little ghetto in the supermarket. They still are, in fact, but it's a much bigger ghetto, and I think Goya likes it that way. If the shopper of any ethnicity is looking to make chili or paella or something and wants Spanish canned or jarred things, you go to that aisle and fill the cart, no temptation to try a different brand.

Some of the dishes are a little atypical, like Pigeon Pea Curry Dip and Spiced Meatballs & Maple-y Beans. Here's a recipe with red beans and canned mandarin oranges, which makes it one of the more unusual recipes, but I get a kick out of the name: Red Beans in a Sunset.

This would have been a reference to the song "Red Sails in the Sunset," a classic since 1935 but probably best known from Nat King Cole's 1951 recording. Everyone recorded that song at one time or another, and it would have been familiar to any American who picked up this book in 1980. Now, no one remembers it. Not too many songs are universally known anymore. They might have called a recipe Beanhemian Rhapsody or something now.

I love the look of this book. With yellow, beige, and black on heavy stock they made a fun book for people who haven't used beans a lot. I love all the little bean people that adorn many of the recipes, but they all have the same dialogue:

Because Goya had different size cans, but all their recipes used the 16-ounce can.

The Goya label has hardly changed in 36 years:

Although they do use more prominent Spanish and lowercase letters now. And strangely, the cans have gone down an ounce; the standard size is now 15 ounces.

But seriously, who else has pigeon peas?
Fortunately their English-language slogan is no longer "Goya! Oh boy-a!"

I can certainly vouch for the quality of their beans, so you need never fear buying Goya even if you are as white as an anemic polar bear in a blizzard.

Before we say farewell to Goya Class of 1980, let's pay one last call on the cartoon human beans that some nameless cartoonist inked all those years ago:

Cheerful bunch, aren't they?

Monday, October 17, 2016

NF Hell.

Americans, you are being called on to do your patriotic duty and watch the Jets (1-4) vs. the Cardinals (2-3) on ESPN's Monday Night Football.

America football is an American institution that's all Americany and stuff. But the National Football League's Monday Night Football ratings have been down this year -- way down. No one knows why! It's a mystery! So you have to do your bit to turn this around.

Actually, Thursday night ratings have also been down. And Sunday night. And, uh, all of Sunday too.

Whatever could be the cause? Well, there's a lot of answers. Possibly that people are fleeing regular TV, right? Everyone's streaming, right? Yes, that amazing technology did not exist before September, so you could see how it's suddenly a thing. Which is why in August Major League Baseball had a 5% increase in ratings. Because streaming video and Internet TV didn't exist then.

What's that? You think it has something to do with the NFL players showing anti-patriotic protests during the National Anthem, insulting the flag that so many football fans have gone to war for? Many protests starting right on September 11? To which the NFL did nothing? Even though if YOU tried to make a political protest on company time your ass would be out the door so fast your shoes would have to run to catch up?

Silly American! The NFL sees "no evidence" that concern over player protests has anything to do with this. None! No, the NFL knows what the problem is. Sure they do! In fact there are many reasons the NFL offers:
--Fans think our October pink stuff looks kinda swishy
--Small children are scared of Old Spice commercials; older children throw up
--Antiques Roadshow reruns have been killing it on Mondays
--Fantasy football, like other fantasy commodities, is proving to be much more popular than real football
--People are still upset that Jeromey Clary retired
--The Vikings are 5-0 and the Cubs three wins from the pennant; people think that the apocalypse is coming and are busy praying
--Fans a little miffed about our "Real Estate/Ticket Swap" plan
--St. Louis boycotting us over Rams' move to L.A.; Californians not aware that Rams moved back yet
--Color Rush uniforms too sophisticated
--Johnny Manziel keeps saying mean things about us
--Stupid Trump voters are showing solidarity for his stupid USFL
--Denver is too stoned to realize it is the defending champs
--Our campaign to draft first trans-player ("The Jackie Robinson of the Taffeta Line!") is not as popular as expected
--That darn Minecraft!
--No one is really sure that the Jaguars are an actual NFL team
See? Just because the most patriotic audience for anything in America might be offended by millionaires on the field insulting them and what they believe is no reason to think those morons out there in TV land will stop watching. No way! In fact, the NFL Players Association is already getting ready for the "Christianity Is a Hoax" protest from some of the players, and the NFL is cool with that too.

So let's us morons all get off the stick and onto the couch and watch lots of NFL crap, buy lots of overpriced NFL made-in-China merch, and eat Official Chips and Lite Beers of the NFL. It's our patriotic duty!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A song for the season.

All the talk last week on this dopey site about music from TV shows, like the number (ha!) from Sesame Street called "1-2-3-4-5" or jingles from various perfume ads, somehow got me thinking of the once-fertile genre of game show music.

For example, this ditty might be familiar to some as the theme from Jackpot, a game show produced by Bob Stewart that ran on NBC 1974-1975:

I knew it better as the music from This Week in Baseball. (Fans of the departed Hinderaker-Ward Experience podcast may recall that they used it for their "This Week in Gate Keeping" segment.) The tune was called "Jet Set," and it was written by Mike Vickers, once a member of Manfred Mann, who went on to write tunes for TV shows and films.

But the game show theme I was thinking of was the one used in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the show To Tell the Truth. That Bob Stewart-produced show had been on since 1956, but this wasn't the original theme, as you can tell by its swingin' sixties sound.

And those funky graphics:

The gimmick of the show was that three people would enter the studio, each claiming to be a particular interesting person; one was the person, the others were lying. The celebrity panelists had to use a series of questions to guess who the real person was; winnings were based on the liars' ability to fool the panelists. ABC did a brief revival not long ago, but the closest show on the air now to that is probably Food Network's Cooks vs. Cons. People too young to have seen the show in its original run, which ended in 1978 (and then 1981, 1991, and 2001), may have seen a clip from the show in the film Catch Me if You Can, since the real-life Frank Abagnale actually did appear on the program in 1977. (He didn't look like Leonardo DiCaprio.) I believe many of the old episodes have also aired on the Game Show Network.

In this political season, though, I thought the cheerful ditty used as the theme was appropriate for our national anthem.
It's a lie, lie. You're telling a lie.
I never know why you don't know how
To Tell the Truth, truth, truth, truth
You don't know how To Tell the Truth.
The rest can be seen here.

Catchy, huh?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Tralfaz the hero.

My older dog, Tralfaz, is a hero.

I had to take the boys out to make some more brown patches on the lawn, because the lawn isn't bad enough as it is, and hey, they gotta go. The big fella decided he didn't have to, though, just wanted to enjoy some fresh air and chillax on the porch, so I let him. Figured it wouldn't be long.

Well, I started around the back with the little guy, Nipper. Nipper apparently had to do more than just pee, judging by the fussiness level, but he seemed to be having a bit of trouble getting the engines going. So in the back I let him off his leash to play a little fetch; a little exercise usually does the trick.

Big mistake.

See, it was a blustery day, and the kid is not yet five months old. He's never seen autumn before. He's never seen leaves blowing around in the yard before. What I saw as a typical fall afternoon became a magical wonderland of flying toys to the little guy.

Gotta get 'em all!

So he goes charging after a leaf, then another, then another, never put off by the disappointment of any of them turning out to be just a leaf. A leaf! Bah! On to the next! Hey! There's PLENTY more up there!

In the street!

Nipper goes streaking alongside the house. Two months ago I could have caught him; not anymore. He's gotten much, much faster since the last time he ran amok. Also now he can maintain a single direction instead of toddling hither and yon.

Also the last time did not occur in the middle of the day when there was traffic.

The trajectory was undeniable, and I could not catch him. And there was a car coming.

Then, flying off the porch...

Tralfaz shot passed me, barking; he swung right around Nipper and distracted the little dude from his prey (leaves in the street). Nipper, alarmed, ran, and Tralfaz drove him in an arc back toward the house, back toward the porch.

By nature and by breed, Tralfaz is built for hauling, not for herding; built for muscle, not for speed. And, I ought to mention, Tralfaz himself was reprimanded severely for crossing the street on his own a few months ago when one of his pup pals was being walked over there. But this time he seemed to know what the right thing to do was, and he executed it in nothing less than heroic fashion. He may have saved the little squirt's life.

Well, you never heard so much praise since the national political conventions, except I meant it. Milk-Bone's largest treat was dispatched to much rejoicing. Tralfaz got so much love, so well-earned. His stature went up quite a bit in my eyes, and it was already up there.

Good dog.

I, of course, got a well-earned lecture on letting puppies off the leash before they were ready for it.

Bad daddy.

As for Nipper, he did drop his load soon after. He had to by then. Tralfaz had scared it out of him.

Friday, October 14, 2016

While walking the dog.

Some autumnal scenes while walking the big dog. The little guy is still too little to go far. Thanks to the cool weather, the big hairy guy has a new leash (har!) on life.

Here's some trees:

Nice. But you see what I meant yesterday about arboreal coordination? Some of these guys will be bald when the rest start to go. Come on, gang! Get it together!

The swamp. Kind of a stagnant pond, very popular with ducks by day, frogs by night, foxes when they want to eat ducks and frogs. 

Some kind of fall-blooming daisy. Shasta daisies, I think, based on two seconds of Google. How did we ever know anything before the Internet? 

Sorry for the crummy shot; it was early and dim and so was I. But I can tell you, that birdhouse is still nicer than my first apartment.

Some quality of grayness in an Autumn sky is a little different. Especially on a Sunday morning. It looked like a hangover.

They're grrrrrrate! This is right on the sidewalk, and Tralfaz wouldn't walk over it. I don't blame him. Once on a dare I walked over a train trestle from abandoned tracks with unsound and sometimes missing ties (which inspired a scene in my book Faster & Closer). It was scary. I can't imagine how much scarier it would be if I had hind feet that I couldn't see while walking. This could have made for a broken leg for my dog. We went into the street.

Sometimes autumn looks good just lying there.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Coordinating trees.

I've written before about the difficulty of judging peak leaf day here in the Hudson Valley---or for that matter anywhere where there are deciduous trees in significant masses.

The problem is that we can't get the guys all together out there. Some trees start losing their leaves as early as August. August! Then what do you have come the latter part of October? Nature's glory on 85% of the trees, 7% still clinging to green like a deluded dowager, 8% naked like some old fart who gave up entirely.

I think we need to get nature's act together here so that we know where we are. Here's my suggested schedule for the month of October:

Pretty straightforward, right? Good for the tourist trade. Makes it a lot easier for people who want to get out of town and look at leaves. Helps the yardwork industry; they know that they won't need to swing by Home Depot and fill the truck with workers until Halloween. You know where you are with a schedule like this.

So what do you say, nature? Let's get it together out there!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Loathe thy neighbor.

Decided in church that I am the definition of a terrible Christian.

No, seriously; what are we always told to do? Love thy neighbor.

There was a time when the only person I would not speak to on the street was my neighbor.

Why? Well, I didn't start the fracas. I did not initiate anything, nor was I accused of initiating anything. It was begun by the crazy member of his family, and all the rest of them closed ranks rather than admit they were embarrassed by the brainless lunatic that started the mess. If I am remembered for one axiom, let it be this: The craziest person in the house holds all the others hostage.

Anyway, even had I been tempted to make a Christian effort at reconciliation, it was prevented by the box they put me in. The one thing I could not do, say that I was wrong---because you cannot lie your way to grace---was the only thing that they would have wanted to hear.

So, there we were.

And I came to thoroughly dislike my neighbor.

My wife told me that the commandment was not to "like my neighbor." I had to love him, but I didn't have to be pals with him. Would I push him in front of a bus, or out of the way of a bus?

Suppose I saw the family's house was burning down; would I call 911?


Sure, but it might go like this:

"Hello, is this 911? ... Hi. How are you today? ... Me? Oh, nothing. No, I'm fine... Yes, that's right, emergency, right. This is 911, right? Because first I dialed 912, then 921... Butterfingers, that's me... What? ... Yes, yes, sorry, yes, there is an emergency. Uh-huh. ... No, no, it's not me. We're just fine. In fact, my little puppy is doing great in obedience class! You should see him. Hey, I could send you some pic-- What's that? ... No, no, wait, please, there really is an emergency. My mind just wanders. Getting old, I swear. Now, let's see, what was it again? No, no, let me guess! It was on the tip of my tongue. Starts with S... No, no, F. Fire! That's it. Yes, there is a fire. Can you help? ... You can? Oh, isn't that nice of you. Thank you. It does my heart good to hear--- What? No, no fire with us, we're fine. In fact, our little puppy... Oh, sorry, I guess I didn't sleep too well. Not focusing today at all. I need more coffee, right? Heh heh... Fire, yes, that's right, sorry. Well, you see, it's like this. I looked out the window a little while ago? And I noticed my neighbor's house, the one next door. And it was on fire. ... Oh, yes, big gouts of flame and smoke, it's really something. ... Home? Yes, I'm home now. Oh, are they home? Well, I really don't know. I'm not their social secretary, you know. Why don't you ask them? ... Address? Yes, I suppose you'll need to know that. Well, let's just see. Heading north on the block the numbers go up, right? So they must be number--- No, wait, that's wrong. On our block the numbers go down as you head north. Northeast, really, but why be picky? So that would make them number 129. So that's their address. ... I didn't tell you the street? How silly of me. It's right here in town. Can you guess? ... You can? ... Caller ID? Well, yes, that's right! Aren't you folks clever down there at 911! Hey, guess what I'm wearing! ... No, it's my college sweatshirt, but you were close. ... Now, there's no need to take that tone with me, young lady. Let me have a look, and--- Oh, you know what? It's burned down. Never mind. But thanks so much for your time."

That's nuts. I would never do that.

The fire could have spread to my house. Wouldn't THAT be infuriating!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Another musical mystery.

Hot on the heels of last Sunday's questions about the very catchy tune "1-2-3-4-5" from Sesame Street comes another one, all caused by Gilbert Gottfried.

The comedian hosts a foul-mouthed but funny and sometimes fascinating podcast, and several episodes recently were devoted to songs that charted by bands that disappeared---one-hit wonders. Like Middle of the Road, performing a song that sounded awfully familiar to me. I give you 1971's "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep":

I thought it sounded familiar, as I say, but no idea why. The song did break into the top 40 in America, but barely; while Middle of the Road's version hit #1 in the UK, it didn't chart in the U.S. The composer, Lally Stott, got to #92 with his own cut that same year, but it got its best reception here by Mac and Kate Kissoon, reaching #20:

And yet that didn't ring a bell with me either. But a day or so later it occurred to me where I'd heard it, or thought I did:

This campaign ran to death in the 1980s, for L'Air du Temps perfume. There was an UK version with French lyrics---same melody, though. It's different from "Chirpy," but that simple wavering melody seems to run through both.

Someone must have noticed this resemblance before. Did Lally Stott write the jingle? Depends when it was written; he died in an accident in 1977, age 32. No info on him doing commercial work.

Both the song and the ad campaign have a bird theme at work, so the same birdsong could have inspired both. It could be a coincidence, or a ripoff, or maybe I'm just hallucinating. The melody sounds pretty similar to me; what can I say?

Online I see that some people think Prince Matchabelli's Wind Song is a copy of L'Air du Temps, or vice versa, so someone's copying someone over something, I guess. In any event, the Wing Song jingle was a lot different, so you can't blame Matchabelli for this:

Your Wind Song stays on my miiiiiiiiiinnnnddd....

Boy, if I'd been at the fart joke age when that ad came out I'd have had a field day with it.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Dog haiku.

Things smell different
Rain-coaxed new scents blossoming
Papa's getting soaked

Throw the ball, fetch it
Throw the ball, fetch it again
Throw the--oh, skip it

I must bite my leash
You won't let me run amok
Take that, leash! Bite! Bite!

Hey! It's a squirrel!
Squirrel! Squirrel! Squirrel! Hey!
Damn! It got away!

Think I gotta poop
No one here to take me out
This could get ugly

The bowl is empty
No, that's okay, I don't mind
I'll just whine and whine

No, it was not I
That chewed the sofa cushions
I suspect the fish

Man from UPS
Bark bark bark bark bark bark bark
There---showed him who's boss

I learned not to jump
To sit, to stay, and to heel
I'm a PhD

Ran around and played
Walked and pooped and smelled the world
It's been a great day

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Fun with Five.

The other day I was doing math---checkbook, not just for fun---when I thought of the old animation from Sesame Street about counting to five. Well, there were many of those; Sesame Street thoroughly indoctrinated us in the importance of counting up to numbers 2 through 12, and it seemed to require hundreds of different animated bits to spread the idea.

I didn't think anyone but I remembered it. Ha! Did it come after 1970? Then the Internet remembers:

I had remembered it even nuttier than this, that the singers were counting to five and cheering, as if it were the most fun party game ever and maybe everyone was so loaded that they thought it was. Five! Whee!

The Muppet Wiki, which I had no idea covered Sesame Street non-Muppet activities, tells us that Jim Henson produced the bit, that it was written by Keith Vernon Textor and Alan Robert Scott. Which one wrote the lyrics? (Hyuk!)

It also appeared on a 1975 Sesame Street album called The Count Counts, "covered" by the "band" Three Bat Night.

I have to wonder where Textor and Scott came up with the melody. I just picture them writing it to be part of a song, maybe something like "My Love in the Dew" (it was 1971, and many songs had titles like that) and not being able to get anyone interested in it. "The heck with it, let's give it to Henson," they said, and the rest is history. Or maybe Textor did the melody alone and Scott did the animation. The Muppet Wikia is silent on many of these details. But we know there's a story behind everything, and often it's quite interesting, After all, Keith Textor was a professional musician from the 1950s, and wrote the theme song for Candid Camera, which was heard for many years on TV. The Internet is less forthcoming about Alan Robert Scott, his partner.

So if Messers Textor or Scott are out there and can weigh in on the origin of "1-2-3-4-5," please drop us a line at frederick_key at The Internet has solved many mysteries, but we have to fill in the gaps. We're counting on you!