Sunday, December 31, 2017

Times Square: Bring a bag.

So we're part of the very cold weather that's gripped the East, of course, and now it's New Year's Eve. I suggest that people who want to join the celebration in Times Square bring a bag, so when their hinders freeze off they can carry them home.

Also, they may want to make an appointment to see a psychologist on Tuesday, because I think they're nuts.

crazy people in large numbers

I've lived my whole life in and around New York City, and I've never been tempted to spend New Year's at Times Square. That includes before terrorist douchebags made such events even more ridiculously miserable.

Right off the bat you have to deal with the weather. It's never balmy in Manhattan on December 31. It sometimes rains. It may even snow. Tonight the low is supposed to be 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Maybe with wind, which will drop it considerably lower. It will be either the second- or third-coldest New Year's in Times Square since they started dropping the ball in 1907. Accuweather says, "Wind chills are expected to fall as low as 5 to 10 degrees below zero tonight into New Years morning," and few Tristate Area denizens have Antarctic explorer gear.

And you have to be in this weather for hours. If you wished to go to Times Square tonight, here's what you would have to do, according to the official Times Square Web site:

"to get the best view, arrive early in the afternoon."

"Knapsacks, large bags and umbrellas are not permitted."

"There are no portable restrooms in Times Square during the celebration."

"Public drinking is illegal in New York City. Police will confiscate alcohol."

"There will be no licensed food and beverage vendors in Times Square."

"if you leave your viewing area to dine in a restaurant, you will not be able to return to your spot in a viewing area."

So you can freeze, stand in place for ten hours, not be able to eat, drink, or pee, and for what? To see the Tongliang Athletics Dragon Dance? The Kinjaz doing storytelling through dance? Or worse, Neil Diamond?

Think of it: Forced to stand in the frigid cold for ten hours without food, water, or bathroom use, to get blasted at the end by Antonique Smithh and Mariah Carey, and endure Andy Grammer playing the worst song ever written -- "Imagine." Under any other circumstances it would be a freaking war crime. The organizers would be hanged.

One New York Post reporter wrote that it "sounds like a urine-soaked hell," and as you can guess I am inclined to agree.

No, frankly, I think I will pass on joining 999,999 to 1,999,999 other humancicles milling about with bad music playing and crowds of grumpy people who can't pee.

We'll probably stay home and avoid Alcoholic Amateur Night entirely, perhaps watch TCM's annual run of all six "Thin Man" movies. Last year we forgot to switch the TV to Ryan Seacrest at midnight, and I hope to make it two in a row this year.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 Dead Celebrities Complain.

(AP) The Great Beyond, December 29 -- Celebrities who have passed away in 2017 issued a formal complaint this morning against the world's news media, complaining about "a lack of proper coverage" and "dearth of wailing and gnashing of teeth" compared to the coverage of celebrity deaths at the end of 2016.

"While we are touched by the outpouring of sympathy at our deaths," said the late actor John Hurt in a prepared statement, "we are saddened that no one is making a bloody big deal out of our passing the way they did for those who died in 2016. What's up with that?"

In a concurrent statement, Judge Joseph Wapner of The People's Court television show added, "It is clear that the confluence of a number of unfortunate deaths and an election half the citizens disliked caused an outbreak of self-indulgent distress that elevated said deaths to an illusion of apocalyptic status. But at least people cared about celebrities at my rank, or lower, last year. They would have heard about Clyde Stubblefield, certainly."

Ex-Patridge Family singer and ex-living person David Cassidy made no official statement but just said, "Remember that faux Sergeant Pepper album cover? Jeez."

Yes, we do.
Other celebrities who had shuffled off the mortal coil these past twelve months were less concerned about the lack of public concern. "Oh, it's no big deal," said the late Mary Tyler Moore. "Rose Marie just got here and we were chatting about this and that. We're just happy people remembered us at all."

The sentiment was echoed in a way by Haruo Nakajima (deceased), who had played Godzilla in twelve movies. He added, "No one knew I was alive until I died, and soon they'll forget that I was. Sic transit gloria mundi, Tokyo."

Said the late Abe Vigoda with a shrug, "Everyone kept expecting me to die, so I finally complied. What more do you want?"

Others are not so philosophical, however. Necron P. Morguise, president of the Degenerate Dead Pool Gamblers of Cincinnati, told reporters at a press conference, "This year has been a complete disaster. You know how many of us had Peter Marshall, Dick Van Dyke, Marty Allen, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, or Jerry Stiller? And Betty White? Holy crap, I don't even want to talk about Betty White. Fortunes were wiped out. Yeah, we finally got Abe and fate threw us a bone with Rose Marie, but come on. Olivia de Havilland is 101; isn't that a bit excessive?"

While disgruntled about their collective lack of attention, the celebrity complainants in general agree that being famous in death is not so bad, "even if our death is not taken asa sign of some national disaster," said the late Bill Paxton.

The non-living Jerry Lewis concurred, saying, "Eh, it's a living."

Friday, December 29, 2017

Next on Hallmark.

The Hallmark Channel presents Valentine's Date, a sequel to its Christmas film Christmas Date!

[Scene: The Christmas Shoppe, morning. The Christmas bells over the door jingle as PHYLLIS enters. ZEKE, a handsome young man with two days' worth of beard, is already behind the counter, painstaking assembling a gingerbread castle.]

Zeke: Good morning, Snowflake! How are you today?

Phyllis: Don’t call me Snowflake.

Zeke: Candy Cane?

Phyllis: No.

Zeke: Elfy Welfy?

Phyllis: Zeke, knock it off. I’m not in the mood. (Throws coat on counter)

Zeke: Ooh, someone’s being an icicle today.

Phyllis: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Zeke: (Puts down a gingerbread brick) How about a nice peppermint hot cocoa?

Phyllis: Oh, God, no!

Zeke: Okay, what’s wrong?

Phyllis: Oh, I don’t know…I mean I guess…I’m sorry, Zeke, but I’m…

Zeke: What? What is it, Fruitcake?

Phyllis: Zeke!

Zeke: Sorry, sorry.

Phyllis: It’s that… I’m tired of Christmas, okay?

Zeke: (gasps) No!

Phyllis: I know, I know, you taught me to love Christmas again and I fell for you…

Zeke: Yes, that’s right! Less than two months ago you were a mean, hard-bitten executive for Smashola Corporation looking to destroy our plucky little year-round Christmas store for the new Smashola headquarters.

Phyllis: Right, until you taught me that just because I didn’t get the bike I wanted when I was a kid---

Zeke: I thought it was the Barbie Malibu house.

Phyllis: That too. I had a long list. Never mind... That just because of that I should never have soured on Christmas, and you were right.

Zeke: See? And now you work with me and we’re going to be married! So what’s wrong?

Phyllis: It’s February 11th, Zeke! I am sick of snow, I am sick of mistletoe, I am sick of picking up pine needles, and I am sick of Christmas! (bawls)

Zeke: Aw, come on, Phyllis, it’s not that bad. Don’t tell me you miss the soulless life of a corporate lawyer.

Phyllis: No, but I miss the Audi.

Zeke: You remember what I told you about that?

Phyllis: “We’ll always have our sleigh.” Yeah.

Zeke: You laughed at that.

Phyllis: Until the first time we got a busted runner. Look, Zeke, this isn’t working out.

Zeke: Come on, Sugarplum.

Phyllis: Damn it!

Zeke: Let’s have some sugar cookies and talk this out.

Phyllis: Does everything have to be Christmas with you? All the time? Cookies and stockings and reindeer and Santa caps and twinkly lights and AAAAAAARRRRGH!

Zeke: But you said you loved my family’s store!

Phyllis: I do… but can’t you do other holidays too?

Zeke: Other? Holidays?

Phyllis: So you might have some customers? Like in July?

Zeke: But Old Mrs. Hawkins comes in once a week to buy gingerbread… Old Mr. Peabody likes to get some tinsel now and then?

Phyllis: Did you go over the books like I told you?

Zeke: Sure, I went over lots of books. A Christmas Carol, The Christmas Box, The Christmas Shoes, The Christmas Dog...

Phyllis: You know what? Never mind. (grabs coat)

Zeke: Where are you going?

Phyllis: (mumbling) To see if I can swing a used RS5.

[Scene: Street in front of Zeke’s store. As Phyllis emerges she runs into Pete, carrying three dozen roses. She and PETE, a handsome young man with three days' worth of beard, stumble into a comical embrace.]

Phyllis: Oh, sorry!

Pete: (smiles) I’m not.

Phyllis: I’m Phyllis.

Pete: Pete Lulubelle.

Phyllis: What’s with all the roses? There’s not a single thorn!

Pete: We never let a rose leave the shop with a single blemished petal or prickly thorn. I guess we’re old-fashioned that way, but I am the fourth generation of Lulubelle florists.

Phyllis: That’s quite a name! Where’s your shop?

Pete: Just down a couple of blocks. It’s called the Valentine’s Day Store. We've been--- Hey! Phyllis?

[Phyllis seen running as fast as she can in corporate lawyer heels the other way. End Act I.]

[Commercial break: Ad for the upcoming April Hallmark Channel film event, Arbor Date!]

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Old toys.

I had heard the View-Master was coming back, but I don't think I believed it until one day in Staples...

View-Masters have been around since 1939, and I'm sure you've stuck your eyes in one at some point in your life. I don't think I ever had one, but plenty of my friends did. In those days 3-D movies were a headache-inducing novelty and considered an old and failed theater promotion, but 3-D pictures were still pretty neat. With the View-Master's stereoscopic reels, you could view all kinds pictures -- often nature or science scenes, but a lot of cartoon stories and other lighter fare -- as if you were looking at it through a pair of binoculars. Hours of fun? No, not really, but of more than passing interest.

We have a tendency to think that these days the young whipper-snappers have no desire for old-fashioned toys, what with their jetpacks and hovercars. And there may be something to that. Kids are notoriously fickle and easily bored. The View-Master Classic, seen above with nature reels from Discovery Kids, might excite children who really dig wildlife (and there are many), but leave others bored.

But now there's also the View-Master Deluxe Virtual Reality Viewer, a collaboration of Google and Mattel, which uses apps and a reel and sound and all kinds of I don't even know. All I can tell is that it is a much more immersive experience from the old 3-D reels, or even a mere iPad game, and over $20 more than the old low-tech Classic set. I guess it would more closely track what kids today expect out of a toy.

My point today is not about the superiority or inferiority of new toys or old toys. New toys have novelty, which is a positive quality and prevents staleness. But old toys have endurance. What's simpler than a basketball and a hoop? And yet suburbia is riddled with them.

I will say that the happiest Christmas morning face I saw was on a little girl who got her baby doll. Just a simple doll; I don't think it even cried or wet like the old-school dolls. The key was that a sweet baby doll was exactly what she wanted and exactly what she got, and the joy on her face looked like something I'm not sure an adult can even feel. Pestered as we are by worries and duties, by the long view of love and loss, can an adult even have that complete and unmitigated joy, especially from something so simple?

When Jean Shepherd says at the end of A Christmas Story that he had gotten "The greatest Christmas gift I had ever received, or would ever receive," you understand. In life our loved ones may give us things of greater value, gifts even of great sentiment or sacrifice, but to be a plain and grateful recipient of a heart's desire is not something of which many of us are capable as adults. The gift of gratitude is the gift we give the giver and the gift we give ourselves.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Next up: Hershey's Myrrh.

Hello again! It is I, your post-Christmas pal, ten pounds heavier from the feast yesterday. By Jove, that goose must have been as large as a Victorian urchin! 

Which is why, if I'm going to write about Hershey's new candy bar, I think I'd better do it now rather than after my doctor's appointment later in the week, when he discovers that my blood test result reads 70% Dark Brown Sugar

Hershey's unleashed its first new Hershey's branded candy bar since the Cookies 'n' Creme in 1995, a sort of white chocolatey bar called Hershey's Gold. It was in all the papers. It's said to be made of "caramelized creme," which tells you very little, and includes "peanuts & pretzels." Here it is, clothed and naked. 

A few things you notice right off:

🍫 It's not chocolate. It's not, in fact, just colored white chocolate either. I don't know what it is if it isn't white chocolate. You'd think you would be able to tell by the taste, but it doesn't really taste like white chocolate.

🍫 It's very thin, like the original Hershey bar, so the peanut and pretzel bits are microscopic. I couldn't really tell they were in there, except for the very satisfying crunch. It gives the bar a nice texture, but the flavor, especially of pretzel, is barely detectable.

🍫 They played with the pieces. A normal Hershey bar is just a line of rectangles that can be snapped off for sharing (yeah, right) but the Gold bar has pieces of differing dimensions and is not lined up. Those Hershey rascals!

🍫 I liked the flavor quite a bit, and I knew it was familiar, a taste from long, long ago. It took me some time to realize what it was, and it was a surprising revelation:

Mary Janes.

I'm sure some Halloween along the line you had Mary Janes, the peanut butter chew from 1914 that Necco still makes. The distinctive taste of the Mary Jane comes from its combination of peanut butter and molasses. That's what I got from the Hershey's Gold.

Molasses is not listed as an ingredient on the label, but sugar is, and that could include sugar extracted from cane in the form of molasses. Or perhaps the caramelization of the "creme" made it molassesy. I happen to like the taste of it, and it's definitely nice here, not overpowering.

So my review is: If you liked Mary Jane candies but you didn't like the way they resulted in or yanked out fillings, you will probably like the Hershey's Gold. It has a lot in common with white chocolate, but not the flavor. Of course, your mileage etc. etc., and I welcome your thoughts, reviews, and general snide remarks.

Just remember to compare notes quickly; after New Year's, it's kale all day, every day. 😭

Monday, December 25, 2017


Hope you're hanging with your loved ones this Christmas.

Merry Christmas, Stiiv, Mongo, Mr. Philbin, the angelic Marshmallow (Mrs. Key), and all of you so kind as to visit this site. God bless us, every one!

See you on Boxing Day.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

I'm gettin' sickness for Christmas!

Here we are on Christmas Eve, and I'm still fighting off this damn cold. Day 4. Well, it could be worse. It was better on Day 3 than on Day 2, and better today than on Day 3. So, maybe I'll be well by the time Santa Claus comes by.

My wife thinks I lowered my immune system by working too hard in the last couple of weeks. I'll buy that. Oh, I had it easy compared to all the people in retail. My God, I was in the supermarket on Friday and it was a zoo. A festive, well-behaved zoo, but a zoo. In addition to people being off work already and people shopping to feed the family of 1000 that is about to descend, we had a snow scare that caused the usual milk-bread-TP-salt crowd to rush out. So, it was really busy for the supermarket staff.

As I mentioned the other day, the last few weeks have seen a bunch of stuff dumped on me by clients who wanted to get things wrapped up by year's end, and I've struggled to accommodate them. It was combined with shopping and decorating and cookies and church and and and and and, so yeah, maybe I ran myself a little ragged. Still, whoever it was that tagged me with the cold germs was more to blame, I'd say. And I'd say that person should wind up on Santa's naughty list, but I'm not sure I haven't passed the virus along myself, despite my best efforts. So, I publicly and loudly forgive the person who germed me.

When I am feeling stressed, I sometimes think that it would be nice to have an illness. Nothing serious, just something that would require me to stay in bed and have some recuperation for a day or two. Then I think, Well, I haven't had so much as a cold in years. And then I get one. Not only do I overwork myself, I also tempt fate. Because it never comes off the way I fantasize, my fantasies being based on when I was a kid and a cold meant doing nothing but sleeping and watching TV. Those dogs aren't gonna walk themselves. Those deadlines still have to be met. No one's gonna feed us if we're all wiped out by the flu and won't do it ourselves. I have to do everything I would normally do, just do it while sick. This is all part of "adulting," and I've been aware of it for some time.

I like being busy at the holidays, though, and so I also have to take responsibility for the ragged-running part. The manic projects are a lot of fun. So's the excitement of putting a magazine to bed or get a book out to press. It was always like this when I worked in offices, that knowledge that everyone or almost everyone would be gone between Christmas and New Year's, and we had to get all this stuff done OR ELSE!!! (!).

But I always have this thought that the work will taper off and I'll ease into the celebration of the holiday at the end, like a train slowing down to gently pull into the station. And yet it never feels like that at all. I finished a project yesterday, no deadlines for a while now, and I felt like Wile E. Coyote running off the edge of a cliff. Take about ten steps before realizing I'd run out of cliff; react with horror; cue the whistle and the POW at the bottom. Then Christmas-adrenaline junkie falls into a funk. Happens every year like that.

Maybe it's just as well that my retirement plan at this point is: Die. What would I do with myself? I might have to start specialty blogs just to pollute the Internet.

I hope your Advent has been light on the stress and free of all illness, and I certainly hope that for your Christmas. And whatever you do, don't brag about how you haven't had a cold or a flu in ages, or laugh at the idea that your sister's pork roast looks underdone, or go shoveling snow in your pajamas, or do anything else to tempt fate. You want to stay healthy for New Year's Eve.

Friday, December 22, 2017


It's December 22! Happy Christmas Eve Eve Eve!

One of the Christmas songs that always comes up in my iTunes this time of year, along with "Silver Bells" and "Santa Can't Stay," is "Sweet Gingerbread Man." Mark Steyn, who as a singer is an excellent writer, recorded it as a duet a few years ago with Jessica Martin, and I just love it.

I remembered this song running here and there when I was a kid, and liking the melody, but being totally confused by the lyrics.

Feel like I'm made out of gingerbread
Uh huh (uh huh) uh huh (uh huh)
Crumb pickin' lip lickin' gingerbread
Uh huh (uh huh) uh huh (uh huh)
Can't think about rainy weather now
I've finally got myself together now
Fresh out of the pan sweet gingerbread man
Fresh out of the pan sweet gingerbread man

What does that even mean?

Well, I guess it means the singer feels good, and you certainly get that. Kids like to sing cheerful songs, and this one is very easy to sing.

The thing is, it was not written as a Christmas song, despite the preponderance of gingerbread and peppermint mentioned in the song. It was written for The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart, a 1970 film that is definitely not for kids, and probably not for adults. I've never seen it, but I gather from the summary at the usual place that there's a lot of failure to launch going on in this movie. Which makes the dreamlike, childlike qualities of the song perfect for it. It sounds like sunshine pop, but in the context of the film in which it appears, it seems to have been intended as irony.

There is a creepy factor to it when you read the complicated and sad plot to the movie, all tangled up in group sex and suicide and drug use and loneliness and various pathologies. In other words, 1970. The movie was a flop, but the "Gingerbread" single did well, and the song's been recorded by a Sarah Vaughn, Bobby Sherman, Sammy Davis Jr., and other well-known vocalists.

It was also performed on The Muppet Show, which I found cranked the creepiness up to 11:

Sometimes the Muppets entered that uncanny valley; there's something about these stiff, clomping dancers with their dead eyes that makes them look like henchmen for Jadis the White Witch. I think I would have liked it better if the singer had been Frank Oz, doing it monster style, instead of that plaintive Jim Henson wheedle. We're in clown territory here.

Henson's stuff was usually a lot of fun, but not always good for kids. There are grown people who still have nightmares over The Dark Crystal. I remember a Sesame Street / Electric Company prime-time special called Out to Lunch that definitely had some dark business. (In one game show takeoff, a man loses his home and family and appears to be about to lose his own life.)

Well, you never knew what you were going to get in the magic garden of Jim Henson.

Remove the song from all its context, though, and you have a happy, peppy tune. Steyn and Martin perform it that way, and it's great. Makes a nice twofer with their duet on "Marshmallow World," in fact -- both sort of from the Christmas-songs-on-drugs genre. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Plaid Christmas.

My friend, Mr. Philbin, has taken me to task for whining about the little bit of snow we got so far this December, especially since the this week's above-freezing days have pretty much eliminated every flake. (I don't even want to tell you what he called me for my censorious stance over impersonal Christmas cards.)

It is probable that the stress of the season has gotten the better of me. I am not a tower of strength at the best of times. At the moment my clients are dumping all their year-end stuff on me, and I am trying to keep afloat.

Plus side: Good payday when those Christmas bills come due.


And now I have a cold.

I apologize for my grouchiness. I love all my Christmas cards. Snow is fine.

But please, keep your white Christmases; I'll deal with the snow in January. And no blue Christmas. There's enough heartache in the world. Green Christmas is only thrilling for Heat Miser. Pink Christmas? What am I, a flamingo? Orange Christmas? Don't even know what that is.

No, forget the colors; this year I want (no apologizes to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones): a plaid Christmas. I told Santa I wanted flannel -- and that means I want plaid!

That white Christmas nips my nose
Got a blue sheen on my toes
Southern folks' green Christmas rocks
The beach with mandals and black socks
I don't care what kind they had
Because my Christmas comes in plaid

Santa's got all kinds of things
But I hope that plaid is what he brings
Comfy, soft, but tough and mean
Woolrich, Walmart, L.L. Bean
Don't care what color, just what size
The pattern goes well with my eyes

The only way Christmas is bad
Is if I don't get Christmas plaid


I guess Bing Crosby's got nothing to worry about.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


I tip the mail guy at Christmas. Oh, why not. He's got a big route. He delivers freelance checks for me. He brings packages. He brings bills. Not his fault. He's okay. Merry Christmas.

A friend of mine was a mailman in the early 1970s. Back then the standard mailman tip was a bottle of Scotch. He made out like a bandit. Kept him hammered through Easter.

But things have changed now, and gift cards are more appropriate, I think. According to the United States Postal Service Web site, carriers are not allowed to accept cash or cash equivalents (gift cards that can be turned into cash, for example, or poker chips from the local casino). They can accept gifts worth up to $20. So, maybe cheap Scotch is still acceptable.

I don't know if there are limits to the amount you can give your sanitation crew. They're not federal employees, so probably not. I don't think my town has any concerns about it. I don't think enough people think to tip the trash men to make it an issue.

I've seen these guys at it in all weather, and they work fast and they work hard. Sanitation work is extremely important to a healthy society, just like clean water -- and like clean water, we have a tendency to take it for granted. We ought to appreciate it more.

Plus -- and not to put too fine a point on it -- garbage stinks.

So if you can, and if they do good work, tip your garbage collectors this Christmas. I sure as heck wouldn't want to do that job.

I mean, I clean up a lot of bad writing, but it doesn't hurt my back, and I don't have to take a shower afterward. Come to think of it, I never get tips, either.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Hercules vs. the Woman in HR.

“You wanted to see me, Ms. Oracle?”

“Yes, that’s right, Hercules. Please, have a seat.”

“Thank you. Say, if this is about that thing at the Saturnalia party, it's kind of a he-said they-said---”

“No, not about that. Now, I am told that you filed a petition based on this matter of—oh, my, tch-tch-tch.”

“Yes, ma’am, I know it looks bad.”

“‘Killed family again.’ I hardly think ‘looks bad’ sums this up, Hercules.”

“Yes, I know, but gosh darn it, Ms. Hera was really to blame, ma’am. I mean, I know I'm making a serious charge, and I know that when you point a finger you point three back at yourself and all, but she did it before. The craziness. You know.”

“Yes, that’s right. All here in your file. Mr. Apollo noted that you were a special case.”

“Yes, ma’am. Special Herc, that’s me.”

“I suppose that has something to do with your father being the head of the company…”

“Oh, no, no, not at all, ma’am. You know I’ve earned those Employee of the Century awards. No favors for me, no ma’am.”

“Yes, well… Seems like the last time this happened you had to do a great deal of community service.”

From the file.

“That was what the judge came up with, Ms. Oracle, and if I may say, I did a pretty sweet job with it all around.”

“Mmm-hmm. Mr. Zeus was never that thrilled with you killing his eagle.”

“Yes, well—I mean to say—look, I had to get Prometheus’s help and all. And then there was the Atlas situation. I think I did all right.”

“The stable thing was a neat job, though. In fact, our janitorial crew used the river idea after last year’s Saturnalia.”

“I know. My office still smells like mildew.”

“Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? If you want to stay on with the company, Hercules, you’re going to have to do another dozen tasks. Capiche?”

“On it. What’s the drill this time? Giant lions or bulls? Hydra? Get some more swag from Hippolyte?”

“Get with the times. That old-school stuff isn’t going to cut it now.”


“We had Mr. Apollo draw up a list for you, and I think you’ll find this reflective of our modern, forward-looking company, and yet truly challenging for a hero of your mettle.”

“Okay, my mettle, sure. Well, you know what I say: The challenging I can do at once; the impossible may take a little longer. Heh heh.”

“First, there’s a Superfund site in California that needs cleaning up.”

“Hey, no problem. I’ll—”

“If you divert a river at it you will contaminate a much larger area. You’ll have to come up with something else.”


“Next, we want you to go to Marvel Comics and get some of the vast fortune they made off that Jack Kirby version of you and give it to his family.”

“Oh, I was never that important in the Defenders—”

“Third, you are to become a movie star…”

“With these muscles? Easy.”

“…and win an Academy Award.”

“Ah. Tricky.”

“Fourth, we want you to solve the U.S. debt crisis.”

“You want me to what?”

“Tens of trillions of dollars owed and no one in the country has the guts to do anything about it. You find a way to pay it all back and put the country on a firm footing.”

“Oh, sure. Easy peasy lemonade squeezy. What’s next, peace between Israel and the Muslims?”

“No, silly. That’s number eleven.”



“Hold on, there, this is just getting silly. Come on, can’t I just go open a can of whupass on Poseidon or someone?”

“Fifth, you must write a novel and get it published, becoming a national best-seller.”

“Now, come on! What is that for? The last time my labors had some good purpose for others.”

“This is to teach you humility. Nothing gets humiliated faster or more thoroughly than a new author. We call it the Fred Key Method.”

“I’m not much of a—”

“Sixth, a lot of American bridges are falling into disrepair because municipalities have spent all their money buying friends and votes and none painting the bridges. You paint them.”

“All of them? There must be millions!”

“Only six hundred thousand or so. Now for number seven. Oh, this is a doozy.”

“Look, I know I’m Zeus’s kid and all, but even I can’t do all this! I mean, okay, the bridge thing, sure, but the novel? Forget it!”

“Hercules, sit down! If you wish to remain with this organization, these are the terms.”

“Hey, let’s not forget that I’m the victim here! My family is dead!”

“You killed them!”

“I was just the gun, Ms. Oracle. Just the gun. Ms. Hera pulled the trigger. She fired me.”

“Yeah, well, she’s not the only one. Unless you’re going to do the quest?”

“No. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to update my résumé. Maybe the gang at Asgard are hiring.”

Monday, December 18, 2017


Finally got my Christmas cards into a mailbox yesterday. Your should be along soon.


Oh, well. They were nice cards, too.

As I complained last year, most of the cards I get from friends and family are pre-printed photos with pre-written messages through outfits like Shutterfly. I wasn't kidding when I wrote that I get more heartfelt and personal messages from my mortgage company. This year I got a card from the insurance company that gave me more happiness than the average card from friends. Really, many people seem to treat Christmas cards as just a pain in the ass to get through as fast as possible.

So why bother? To support the post office?

Okay, Fred, you're such the arbiter of class and propriety. What do YOU do with your Christmas cards besides forget the stamps? you ask.

Well, I start with fresh organic recycled pulp, scented lightly with ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a soupçon of cardamom, which I hand-roll into paper and trim into shape for cards. (A lighter batch is used for envelopes.) Upon each card my team of artists paints a Christmas theme, generally religious based on the Renaissance masters, and a message inside written by an old lady of my employ who is an expert in shodō, or Japanese calligraphy. After enclosing a personal 800-word essay with each card, I seal using beeswax with larch resin, stamped with my signet ring, and delivered by my flock of trained messenger pigeons.

No, we just get nice cards from Hallmark or American Greetings, sign them with our own hands, add a personal note or well-wishes, and send them off.

Time-consuming? I suppose. But it means more than junk mail.

Sunday, December 17, 2017


My thoughts this week...

You! Internet! All of you dreaming of a white Christmas! Down there in Miami, in Brisbane, in São Paulo! In Mexico City, in St. Croix, in Quito! In Austin, in Johannesburg, in Southern California, God help you! (Really: God help you.) All of you with visions of a December 25 covered in fluffy white blankets of snow....


You're dreaming down there, but the snow keeps landing on me up here!

When I was a kid and we were all going to be killed by the Ice Age, I never, ever saw snow at Christmas. Just rain. My memory is a little wonky, but I think it rained every single Christmas from the time I was in kindergarten to two years after I graduated from college. Maybe I'm slightly off on that. 

But the point is, I don't live much farther north from the ol' hometown and it's snowed here three times in the last week. We basically get a white Christmas every year. Which means we risk acute myocardial infarction shoveling, take our families' lives in our hands to go visit Ma, and poor sanitation men have to be away from their own families to plow and salt the roads. 

If you live somewhere that never gets snow, I'm sure you'd like to see it at Christmastime. And then you'd go home. I'll be out there freezing with the dogs, or enjoying an acute myocardial infarction. You'll be back home at the pool. 

I know. It's festive. 


I blame Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby, of course. After Bing sang "White Christmas" in the 1942 film Holiday Inn, the song won an Oscar, sold 100 million copies, and held the record as the best-selling single from 1942 to 1998 (and remains the best-selling single of all time). From them on, people all started dreaming wistfully of snowy Christmases. Thanks, Bing. 

"Bing" is also the sound you make
when you fall in the winter.
To be fair, snow and Christmas were old pals in western culture before Holiday Inn. Father Christmas was identified with snow at least as far back as 1854, for one thing.

As I thought more on it, I was reminded of the writings of my friend G. K. Chesterton, or someone I would have liked to have been friends with, in his book The New Jerusalem:

When Jerusalem had been half buried in snow for two or three days, I remarked to a friend that I was prepared henceforward to justify all the Christmas cards. The cards that spangle Bethlehem with frost are generally regarded by the learned merely as vulgar lies. At best they are regarded as popular fictions, like that which made the shepherds in the Nativity Play talk a broad dialect of Somerset. In the deepest sense of course this democratic tradition is truer than most history. But even in the cruder and more concrete sense the tradition about the December snow is not quite so false as is suggested. It is not a mere local illusion for Englishmen to picture the Holy Child in a snowstorm, as it would be for the Londoners to picture him in a London fog. There can be snow in Jerusalem, and there might be snow in Bethlehem; and when we penetrate to the idea behind the image, we find it is not only possible but probable. In Palestine, at least in these mountainous parts of Palestine, men have the same general sentiment about the seasons as in the West or the North. Snow is a rarity, but winter is a reality. Whether we regard it as the divine purpose of a mystery or the human purpose of a myth, the purpose of putting such a feast in winter would be just the same in Bethlehem as it would be in Balham. Any one thinking of the Holy Child as born in December would mean by it exactly what we mean by it; that Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate.

And then I decided that it was okay if it snows on me, okay if you want it to snow on you, too.

I hope we all keep dreaming of Christmas, whatever color you'd like it to be.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Doornails: A review.

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
        Mind! I don't mean to say that I know of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the country's done for. You will, therefore, permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

So begins Dickens's A Christmas Carol, and while we best remember the expression "dead as a door-nail" from this introduction, Dickens makes it plain that the doornail predates him as a thing than which other things are as dead as.

So why a doornail?

Merriam-Webster doesn't even make any bones about it, defining "doornail" as "a large-headed nail - used chiefly in the phase dead as a doornail."

World Wide Words dates the phrase to at least 1350, and examines how it came to be:

The usual reason given is that a doornail was one of the heavy studded nails on the outside of a medieval door, or possibly that the phrase refers to the particularly big one on which the knocker rested. A doornail, because of its size and probable antiquity, would seem dead enough for any proverb; the one on which the knocker sat might be thought particularly dead because of the number of times it had been knocked on the head.  
    But William and Mary Morris, in The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, quote a correspondent who points out that it could come from a standard term in carpentry. If you hammer a nail through a piece of timber and then flatten the end over on the inside so it can’t be removed again (a technique called clinching), the nail is said to be dead, because you can’t use it again. Doornails would very probably have been subjected to this treatment to give extra strength in the years before screws were available.
Screws? No way! You mean it's not nails anymore? I'm going to look into this right NOW!


Well, "dead as a doorscrew" is probably not going to catch on.

But if no one uses doornails anymore, maybe we could come up with something new to be as dead as? After all, it's silly for doornails to only be used as things compared to which one might be said to have left this mortal coil. I grant you that you won't see a doornail get up and go dancing, but you won't see a toaster oven do that either and they're still all over the place. Nobody will be said to be as dead as a toaster oven.

So we need a new thing to be dead as. Something starting with a D, to keep that pleasant alliteration that goes so well with death. Maybe:

Dead as a dachshund

Dead as a DN100

Dead as a doody

Dead as a Denny's

Dead as a dodo

Dead as a Department of Motor Vehicles

Dead as a Datsun

Dead as a disco

Dead as a dandruff

Dead as a dik-dik

Dead as a dilophosaurus

Dead as a Doobie Brother

Dead as a Dickens

Dead as a dingleberry

Dead as Dumbledore

Dead as decorum

Mmmmmm... maybe this explains the continuing popularity of the doornail as a thing used for comparison purposes.

Say, if you were really sick, could you be said to be dead as half a doornail? Maybe if you got totally obliterated you would be dead as a whole box of doornails. There might be poetic considerations that even Dickens hasn't worked out.

Pace Dickens, I think the country will survive a little fooling around with a simile, don't you?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Friends till the end.

As you look over your Christmas card list, you may find yourself thinking various thoughts:

1) Why do I have fewer friends than I used to?


2) Why am I sending Christmas cards instead of just posting something on Instagram and calling it a day?

Well, the impersonal holiday messages you share online may have something to do with it, but often one simply loses friends over time.

Proximate cause: Kramden's Delicious Marshall

In fact, I have found that friendships break up over many things, but that those things are predictable in the varied stages of life. Here’s my handy list of common reasons friendships break up.

Ages 0-10

Your family moved
You stole my pudding
You ratted me out to Ms. Kloopheimer

Ages 11-20

You’re the opposite sex and there are social school rules about that
You spilled juice (or beer) on my best shirt
We both wanted the same girl

Ages 21-30

You fragged me on Facebook when I didn't pay you back the loan, which I was totally gonna do
My spouse thinks your spouse is insane
You had a baby and I didn’t

Ages 31-40

You took up golf, which I think sucks
You had more babies and I didn’t
You went to work for the competition

Ages 41-50

You moved to L.A. and I just can’t be bothered
You found Scientology
You became a better golfer than I am

Ages 51-60

You bought a motorcycle and I’m revolted by your pathetic attempt to hold on to youth
You stopped going to church when the kids left home
You stopped drinking

Ages 61-70

I finally got sick of your malarkey
You won’t stop talking about your miniature schnauzer, Mr. Piddles
I made a pass at your daughter when I was loaded

Ages 71-Up

We both wanted the same girl
You stole my pudding
I can’t remember who you are
You died

Occasionally you find people who have been friends from childhood and have never stopped being friends. They may be people who have stayed in the same social or geographic area throughout life, like poor people in the same lousy housing project, or rich people in the same small and rarefied atmosphere.

More often they are relatives of some kind in a tight family, so they’ve always been obliged to stay together through the rough patches. They may be inoperable Siamese twins.

Really, I’m not the guy to ask. I hate everybody. Except you. You I like.