Monday, January 30, 2017

Things go wrgon.

Yesterday was a day with issues.

Actually started late Saturday night, when Tralfaz, elder dog, got the intestinal meltdown. Maybe something off the lawn he ate, if he ate something loaded with enough bacteria that they could be seen with the naked eye. Very possibly so --- we have a lot of miscellaneous critters around here, and like all dogs he is interested in their souvenirs. 

The lovely and tired Mrs. Key stayed up with him until four o'clock in the morning, taking him out several times. This is in itself quite the chore at the moment, because the snow we got last week melted & froze & melted & froze until now it's rock hard and has footprints (human and canine) carved into it. Dogs don't like to use surfaces like this for their evacuation needs. Watching Tralfaz and his kid brother, Nipper, ice skate on the lawn is fun, but makes it harder on all of us. 

At four I tagged in and sent the Mrs. to bed, and it became my turn to take out Tralfaz over and over again. 

This made getting to church Sunday a little tricky. 

Sick puppies, like sick children, are like having a drunk in the house. There's random puking and crapping, there's unpredictable behavior and destruction and surliness, there's weird noises in the night, and if you make any plans, be prepared to cancel them without warning.

Fortunately, ol' Fazzy was not destructive or surly, just sick and exhausted. 

There were other issues.

"One job, you had" -- Yoda

I had an event to go to in the afternoon; once Tralfaz was pooped (so to speak) and able to be left in my wife's care again I was able to go. Which was good, because I was the one that was supposed to bring the cake. I had ordered it for the event. It was a quarter sheet cake, decorated in the honor of the celebrant, a cake that, by the way, the supermarket from which I ordered claimed to have not gotten the order for. I didn't even have time for them to slap another cake in a box; I just grabbed an Entenmann's on the way out.

I actually did make it to our parish's Last Chance Mass at 6 p.m. Although I think the pastor had a cold. The Gospel was the Beatitudes, so he was not going to go short on the homily even if he was dying. We all got through.

But the late Mass screwed up our plans for dinner, so instead I grabbed McDinner on the way home. And McD's screwed up the order. I think they had a trainee, which is fine (we all start somewhere) but how do you not put the ice in the Iced Mocha? My wife got Room Temperature Mocha, which is not quite what she had requested. I did try the new Grand Mac, which, if you're curious, is: A Big Mac, only more so. If you're saying to yourself, "I'm hungry, but a Big Mac is just about 25% not enough," then they have the burger for you. 

So, a lot of juggling, a little running, and a lot of (in multiple ways) crap.

But you know something? It was a good day. 

Tralfaz was on the mend by nightfall, feeling more like himself and being very sweet to us. The event for which I got the cake came off, and no one complained about not having the cake, not even the celebrant -- and the group saved $15. I made it to church, which was nearly the first time in 11 years I didn't -- and I didn't have to cook.

Most people I know would agree with me that it would be a bad day if you started by reaching in the fridge for the milk and finding it (and everything else) as room temperature as a poorly made Iced Mocha. But we'd all agree that we've had days that were so bad we would gladly trade them for one that just featured a busted refrigerator. 

It was a good day.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Bowl game.

I have an awesome idea.

We need to make sure that Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl beats the Super Bowl in the ratings.

Now, I know it sounds crazy, since the Super Bowl is routinely the highest rated thing on TV all year. And why would I want to ruin everybody's fun?

Just hear me out.

1) As I noted in passing earlier this season, the NFL's ratings have been down. And that's all been entirely their own fault. The organization should be punished for allowing employee misbehavior that no other company would tolerate.

2) Everyone hates the Patriots outside of the New England area (you see Tom Brady pitching Oreos or Chryslers? How about Aaron Hernandez?) (Oops!). And no one cares about Atlanta. Southern teams, except maybe the Dolphins and Cowboys (and only because they have a bunch of championships), are not very successful unless they're in the NCAA.

3) The Super Bowl promotes drinking, gluttony, fighting, and gambling.

4) The Puppy Bowl promotes puppy adoption. If you bet on the Puppy Bowl you are a real degenerate gambler. Get help.

5) Lady Gaga, doing the halftime show, is repulsive. The only thing worse than Madonna is a Madonnawonnabe.

6) Conservatives are mad at the NFL for the way they allowed anti-police and anti-American demonstrations.

7) Liberals are always mad at the NFL because it's American and violent and gives people concussions.

8) But everyone loves puppies.

9) Even the Super Bowl commercials are no fun anymore. Look, here's one now:

Stupid guy holding bag of chips makes remark
Other stupid guy makes comment
Something ridiculous, freaky, creepy, and unexpected happens using CGI; likely to be violent, sexist, or ugly
Someone makes a snotty remark and eats chip
Show product

That's like every commercial you're going to see next week, and I pulled that out of my butt in twenty seconds. I just saved you five hours.

People, it's time we teach the NFL a lesson, as we did to baseball after the 1994 strike, and teach our betters in the entertainment industry that we are independent humans and will not be prodded, pressured, or anything else to do what they expect us to do. Piss us off and watch us vote with our remotes. Show 'em who's boss.

Screw this stupid game, seeing Tom Brady cheat his way to another ring. I'm watching puppies.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Disqus among yourselves.

Question for the audience:

I don't get a lot of comments on this site, but there's usually a good amount of traffic -- and thank you very much! -- and it's been suggested to me that adding Disqus for comments would help.

Disqus is a neat platform; I use it for commenting on sites like Instapundit and the Great Lileks's place. Login once and you appear with your username and icon all over the place. Apparently the Google-supplied comments feature on this site (Blogger is a Google subsidiary, as are we all) is irritating or otherwise not too useful.

Google doesn't make it easy to switch, but I hear it can be done. The things I want to know is do you, the blog-reading public, support the move to Disqus comments. You may chat about it yourselves in comments, although I guess if you could do that it wouldn't be such an issue. You could also write me at frederick_key [care of] to weigh in on that or other issues of the day.

And if you don't wish to discuss this problem, perhaps one of the other topics will spur your conversation:

1) Would Carole King's Tapestry have been as big an album if she sounded like Brad Roberts of the Crash Test Dummies?

2) Oprah + Weight Watchers: Match made in heaven or sign of the apocalypse?

3) New England Patriots. Dallas Cowboys. New York Yankees. Philadelphia Flyers. Which is a greater force for badness in the world?

4) Dungeons & Dragons: Would it be just as good without the dungeons, and maybe more dragons?

5) Speaking of dragons: Today begins the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Rooster. The other animals are bunnies, monkeys, dogs, etc. etc. ... and dragons. Why is there only one fictional animal in Chinese astrology? Did they really truly believe in dragons the way they believed in tigers, snakes, and pigs? Should we ask them to replace it with something real, like the Tasmanian Devil? Wouldn't that be great?

6) What's the best shampoo to use when you're going bald? Does it matter or is it okay to just keep scrubbin' the ol' scalperoo with Lava Soap?

7) If a girl decides she doesn't want to be badass but just be a nice little girl, will she have to beat up everybody so she can do what she wants? Or can she only do what she wants if she wants what she's supposed to want?

8) Black hole vs. Galactus eating contest -- who will you pick to win? Who would Stephen Hawking pick, hmm?

9) Why dogs are better than cats. Sorry, that's not a question, just a statement.

10) But enough about me; what do you think is awesome about me?

Select among these and let me know what you decide. Show all work.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

I miss everything.

The Night Chicago Died: Had to get up early next day

The Day of the Dolphin: Home sick with the flu

The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia: Visiting Mom that weekend

The Night They Raided Minsky's: Couldn't find my wallet

The Day the Music Died: Holed up bingewatching MST3K

Was in Detroit on business.

Night of the Lepus: Food poisoning; never got out of the can

The Day of the Pelican: I had a thing

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down: Stuck on a bad blind date

Day of the Falcon: Got lost driving through Pennsylvania

Night of Destruction: Flight delayed

Day of Reckoning: Getting a double root canal

The Night of the Living Dead: Was that this Tuesday? Dang

The Day of the Jackal: Nephew's piano recital ate the afternoon

The Night of the Hunter: Working late on the Niederblix account

Three Days of the Condor: Was in Canada; don't remember why

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

For excellence in plumbing...

Regular readers know that I've been very down on the Nobel Prize Committee over the last few years. I thought that it was silly and petty when they gave Obama a Peace Prize before he'd even had a chance to do anything, just to poke Bush in the eye. I thought it was almost as silly when they gave Bob Dylan a Literature Prize for something he barely ever did (i.e.: write). I've complained that they've never given one to Stewart Adams, inventor of ibuprofen; not to mention the inventors of Viactiv and Undo.

But those Swedes have a chance to redeem themselves now.

Of course I'm thinking of the new American Standard ActiClean self-cleaning toilet.

Just to make sure you caught the relevant part:

We're talking about a SELF-CLEANING TOILET, people.

Physics, Chemistry, Physiology... the ActiClean could take two or three Nobels.

And maybe the Peace Prize too. Cleaning the toilet, although not a laborious job, is the #3 cause of household fights, after money and kids, according to this official type chart I just drew up:


  1. Money
  2. Children
  3. Cleaning the Toilet
  4. Lamp Decor
  5. What to Get for Dinner Because It's Your Turn But I Hate Your Choices

A toilet that cleans itself could ensure domestic harmony like little else.

"But Fred," you say, "this toilet may clean itself on the inside, but someone still has to get all the hairs off the outside and disinfect the seat. It's not really totally self-cleaning."

Well, thank you for pointing that out. I admit it is a flaw in the design, and perhaps puts their Nobel in jeopardy this year. However, I think the geniuses at American Standard will take this suggestion to heart and work on a seat-cleaning device that also uses static electricity or something to get dirt and hair off the outside of the unit. ActiClean 2.0 will undoubtedly have such features, although I'd rather not volunteer for the beta testing.

Look, we all know that we are years behind the Japanese (so to speak) in toilet technology. This is the chance to nail our colors to the mast, American Standard, and grab the brass ring of toilet supremacy. Are you with me?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dog pants.

No, not this kind.
As I type this the little dog, Nipper, is in the pen behind me, having finished up his morning pants. He pants 5000000 times a day to keep in shape. He's perfectly healthy, says the vet, so it must work. But Nipper is fortunate to be perfectly healthy just now, because I nearly committed Nippercide this morning.

Let me back up.

As I said yesterday, the end of the world was coming in the form of a nor'easter. Well, we're still here, and I hope you are too. Didn't even lose power, at least not yet. The storm laid down a nice thick coat of ice and slush and topped it with delicious frosty snow. It's not thick, but it's very heavy and very treacherous. They closed all the schools, not surprisingly. You could go down fast and hard in this stuff.

Enter my puppy.

I pause for a moment to try to think of a good analogy for going on the porch in a slick ice storm with an excited 75-pound puppy on a leash, but there's nothing quite as stupid, very little so primed for injury. The kid pulls like a Clydesdale, only they can be trained. Multiple times I almost got pulled off my feet, but you can't let go because he's got a history of breaking for the road.

I managed to stay upright and unfractured, as did Nipper. I shoved him in the backyard kennel to teach him a lesson, though, where he promptly pooped and played with his toys. It's like trying to punish a kid by sending him to his room. He's got his laptop, Xbox, and hidden snacks in there; you just did him a favor. 

Fortunately my wonderful wife stopped me from throttling the little creep. She reminded me that our older dog, Tralfaz, is a very good chap now, as affectionate as one could hope from a Nordic breed, but he didn't start out that way.

Some months ago she said that puppies were cute but dogs were much better. Puppies are destructive, completely self-centered, and sometimes very aggressive. By the time they grow up they're less cute, but have improved in every other way. The cuteness keeps us from committing acts of aggression of our own.

However, I will say that Nipper is at that age where a lot of family dogs wind up in the shelter, because the little controllable puppy isn't controllable anymore, plus he's got all the negative baby traits and hormones.

I hope he gets it together soon. We're not going to give up on him, of course not, and I'm not really going to hurt or kill him. But I'd better work on getting myself better patience in the meantime. And balance.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Ragnarok 'n roll!

It's the end of the world tonight -- which sucks, because I have a deadline Wednesday.

The weather report says we're to expect a Nor'easter, which has always sounded to me like a Yankee slur. "Yep, them durn nor'easters always comin' in here with their citified ways, their indoor plumbin' and 'lectric lights..."

But it's a weather phenomenon, and it means Ragnarok, Armageddon, and the End of the World.

Meteorological map. Everything is a cold front.
Nor'easters head toward the northeast (thus the name), bringing high winds and lots of misery. Wikipedia describes it as "a macro-scale cyclone," the kind of phrase that makes you drop what you're doing and rush out for toilet paper, milk, water, bread, and plywood. Normally at this time of the year a nor'easter means a huge snow dump for us in the Hudson Valley, north of Manhattan. Sometimes it goes easier on us than on the city and Long Island, as the nor'easter wants to get out to the ocean and will race along below us. This time too; Long Island is expecting some hurricane-force winds, but we may get no more than gusts up to 40 mph. On the other hand, we may get snow, ice, and sleet, whereas a little further south it could be just lots and lots of rain. Also coastal flooding.

Why do I bring this up? Well, being the end of the world and all, I may not be alive to report in after today. That would also compromise my ability to turn in the book I'm editing on time. But also because if the power goes out I may not be able to post tomorrow. Our power lines are buried, which is nice, but they haven't gotten around to burying them on the next block over, and in our experience here, when ice and wind conspire to break a line over there, it take our juice with it. Unfortunately our gas furnace can't start without electricity, so we may either freeze to death or have to spend Tuesday morning buried under blankets and dogs.

So that's the state of play as we look at what could be the first really miserable storm here of the winter. Or the whole thing could be a bust. The South Pacific seems to have escaped a tsunami, thank God, so maybe we'll be lucky too.

Or just lucky to have warm, fuzzy dogs.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What does winter taste like?

What does winter taste like?

Dunkin' Donuts seems to think they know. 

I guess this is my weekend to blog about sugar -- proof that I did not make new year's resolutions, eh?

So: What is Dunkin' Donuts on about here?

We who are addicted to their coffee know of Dunkin's long history of seasonal doughnuts. I've even addressed the topic in the past. In New York they sponsor both the Giants and the Jets, so when football season rolls around they have doughnuts in both team colors. In spring they've done doughnuts frosted in pastels. For holidays like Valentine's Day one usually finds red doughnuts, maybe one plain with a red frosting and one filled with something red. 

But here we are in January. Christmas is over. The Giants and the Jets are playing golf. Valentine's Day is weeks away. Dunkin' Donuts needed to find something seasonal to do.

I have been resisting the siren call of their wares, but I got to wondering what winter frosting would taste like -- ice? snow? rock salt? Eskimo Pies? Crystal Pepsi

Let's find out!

And the verdict is... winter frosting tastes just like Dunkin' Donuts' standard vanilla frosting with food coloring. The same frosting that they use for the football teams, the spring doughnuts, other holiday doughnuts, and their standard vanilla frosted doughnut. That last one normally has sprinkles rather than drizzle. but otherwise they're identical, minus the food coloring.

To be fair, Dunkin' called these "Winter Frosted," not "Winter-Frosted." With the hyphen it would mean "frosted by winter" or perhaps "frosted by Edgar Winter." Without the hyphen it could mean anything; frosted in a winter style, frosted during winter, frosted while thinking about skiing, and so on.

I don't recall seeing Summer Frosted Donuts, but they should consider some. Orange would be a good color for that, right? Bright yellow is more springy. Autumn's totally given over to pumpkin these days, so that's a lost cause. Maybe they could consider a Tax Season doughnut. It'd be just a third of a doughnut and taste like rue.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Shine on, you Pepsi diamond.

Guess who's back? Back again!

I'd heard a rumor that Crystal Pepsi, the great failed beverage project of the early 1990's, was going to return last summer, but I didn't see it and began to think it was a myth. Then I spotted this bottle in the supermarket. Whoa, I said, and Dude, and put it in the cart. The checkout lady was stunned; she'd never heard of it, didn't even know the store had stocked it.

What is it? It's supposedly a cola that happens to be clear, no caramel coloring or anything else that would give it a hue. I am old enough to remember the first run of Crystal Pepsi, but if I tried it back in its original 1992-1993 run, it left no impression on me.

Pepsi never stopped believing in the product, I guess, or thought that 90's nostalgia was good enough for a short burst of sales before taking it off the market again. The big change from the original Crystal Pepsi is caffeine, which it did not have back in the day but does now.

Hasn't helped.

Crystal Pepsi looks like nothing and tastes the same. It has less flavor than rock candy, which at least tastes like the cane sugar from which it is made. This is no diet soda, but it doesn't even taste like sugar. Corn syrup has very little flavor. Maybe my taste buds have become jaded, but it seems that there's just no there there.

I think I never did try Crystal Pepsi in the 1990s; its lack of flavor would have disappointed me then too. Sort of an anti-impression. I think I would have remembered that.

Ultimately I think Crystal Pepsi is a waste of empty calories. I don't want to get all philosophical on you, but: Cola that doesn't look like cola is kind of neat, but cola that doesn't taste like cola is not cola. It's not really anything.

Friday, January 20, 2017

All the world loves a clown?

I have to say I was sorry to hear that Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey is (are?) hanging it up. Seems like a sad ending to a great chapter of Americana. The warning signs were there. Locally, the Big Apple Circus went bankrupt last fall and is selling off its assets.

When I was a kid we went to see Ringling Brothers Barnum Bailey Pierce Fenner & Ziggy at Madison Square Garden and the place was jammed. I think it was a weeknight, too. I guess crowds like that just don't come anymore. I guess people just don't like circuses anymore.

We know that people are down on animal acts. The campaigns against circus animal acts were never going to stop. If Ringling Brothers et al had nothing but a flea circus, PETA would be mounting a "Save the Fleas" campaign.

The trapeze artists and other death-defying acrobats can always find work, I guess. Cirque du Soleil and stuff. Those acts are amazing to see in person. However, I don't know that you get the same effect looking at them on a stage as you do under the big top or in stadium, where the vast three-dimensional space in which they play makes them look so small and yet mighty, fragile, fast, and graceful. They'll all land on their feet.

Another part of the circus experience that's very hard hit, though, is the midway. I think that's been dying off, though. Who needs a freak show when you have YouTube?

The saddest story in the whole thing to me was that of Kristen Michelle Wilson, the first female ringmaster in the 146-year history of Ringling Brothers. The circus said she would be "inspiring and empowering children everywhere to follow their dreams." Days later they might have added, "Straight to the unemployment office."

So that's very sad. But won't someone think of the clowns?

Worse for the circus than the animal acts, I think, is that we have become an anticlown nation. They used to be beloved makers of fun. Now we think the very worst of them.

I admit that I too have done my bit to wound the Clown-American community. I'd like to say that some of my best friends are clowns, but even there, my friends would not take that as a compliment.

There was a time when clowns were seen as happy, fun, or at least nice, like Emmett Kelly and Bozo -- and children were expected to like them and did. But starting decades ago, concerns about what those chuckleworthy chaps were thinking under that makeup made us start worrying about what they were really up to.

Maybe it all began with Pagliacci, Toscanini's tragic and murderous clown story, famous since its 1892 premiere. What was going on behind that greasepaint, eh? Irony! Then there was the scheming Scaramouche of the 1921 Rafael Sabatini novel, plotting his revenge behind his powdered visage.

Next thing you know, clowns were turning bad. Really bad.

There was the Joker, based on the jester playing card; homicidal maniac, archfoe of Batman. Pennywise, the evil clown figure of Stephen King's It. There was the horrid Krusty the Clown of The Simpsons. There was Twisty the Clown from American Horror Story. There were even Killer Klowns from Outer Space, thought to be one of the worst movies ever made by no less an authority than my father, who usually didn't review movies. And there was Stucco the clown.

Well, no, Stucco from Rob Harrell's late strip "Big Top" is a nice clown, but even he seems less human than the animals around him. Like clowns were some weird alien species.

I'm just saying it's been really hard for all the nice clowns out there, with evil clown sightings and grown men and women suffering from coulrophobia. Look at Party City -- the majority of men's clown costumes are evil clowns, not sweet, fun clowns.

People blame the animal acts for killing the circus, but I'm telling you, it was clown terror that did the circus in, and it was creative folks who loved to have funny, friendly characters be evil that made everyone scared of clowns.

What are the nice clowns supposed to do now, huh?


P.S.: I mentioned to Mr. Philbin that this would be today's topic of disquisition, and he remarked that it seemed like a suspicious coincidence that it would run on Inauguration Day. I deny this accusation, because when you deal with politics, every day is evil clown day.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

It's a mystery.

"Why, yes, as a matter of fact I do own a Golden Retriever! How could you possibly know that?"

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Better shop around.

I love writing. I love everything about it. I love the inspiration of key ideas or characters or images. I love hammering out an outline, which feels very much like beating metal into useful shapes. I love crafting the introductions to characters, the twists, the openers, all the blocks that go into building a satisfying story. 

What I hate: Peddling.

I'm trying to find a new agent. I don't want to go into a lot of detail, but I spent much of 2015 working on a book based on an "understanding" that it would be just the right thing for the market -- and wound up with a pile of paper and no publisher. So I decided to give up on this writing crap.

But I can't, because I love to write.

But I hate to sell. If I could sell, I'd be a salesman and making some actual money.

If you've written and you're not from New York, you might think that someone like moi, who has lived and worked in the city, especially in and around the publishing business, for more than 20 years would use my connections and secret handshake to get my work published at the finest houses for huge advances. It doesn't work that way. I might as well be working in a gas station in Tugaske. Why? Because I've worked in the wrong end of the business -- copy work is the necessary but unglamourous side of editorial. Also because I spent a lot of that time at magazines, not book publishers, and there's not that much crossover. And because unless you're a real insider, you still run up against the gatekeepers. Just as in Hollywood everyone's writing a screenplay, everyone in the world is writing a novel, and editors don't want to see yours -- or mine -- unless it has at least gotten an agent to bless it. Even if they've known you for years. After all, if I show Editor Smith a novel that she hates, but then she makes a deal to publish a similar book, she might get hit with a lawsuit from me for plagiarism. That's where we are now in this litigious age.

I have lots of friends in the biz, but as the immortal Rodney Dangerfield once said, "My problem is that I appeal to everyone that can do me absolutely no good."

Part of my problem, too, is the stuff I want to write. This new book is a mystery novel about desire, but there's nothing X-rated -- as Dirty Harry said in Magnum Force, "A man's got to know his limitations," and I don't want to win the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Further, there are no scenes with naked, trembling women locked up in underground dungeons, and the overall body count is low. There's no massive conspiracy. In other words, I think the zeitgeist has passed me by.

But I do think it's a good book, a good story, and I think it's worth a shot. Will keep you posted if there's any good news.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Shouts and alarums.

It went all crazypants here last night, and I still don't know what happened. 

I was in a back room, but my wife was in the front of the house. She asked me if I saw all the flashing red lights. I had not. Sure enough, coming through the curtains were the unmistakable crimson lumens of commotion. 

Outside were a number of emergency vehicles, including at least three cars, possibly an ambulance, and two full-size fire trucks. 
A little bigger than this one.
None had made so much as a bloop of the siren when they pulled up.

Did a house burn down? I would have been sad, but not surprised. I think every house around here but ours has a fireplace, and I'm pretty sure most people don't follow the endless list of safety and maintenance guidelines for fireplaces. I did smell a little smoke when I stepped outside, but because it's chilly and people are tossing on the ol' Duraflames, so the neighborhood has been smelling a bit smoky for a month.

All these vehicles were parked all along the street, so I couldn't even tell which house they had been called to. You might have thought all the other nosy neighbors like me would have been outside being looky-loos, but I didn't see a soul but the shadowy figures of officialdom, and I didn't want to get in their way.

Eventually a guy in an SUV all flashing like Christmas pulled up, came out with some kind of light-up wand, and walked toward the hullabaloo. Maybe it was a device to detect carbon monoxide or natural gas leaks? Were the sewers about to blow from methane buildup? Would we have to evacuate? WHAT WAS GOING ON?

I still don't know. Twenty minutes later I went out with the little dog, and they'd all vanished without trace.

My suspicion was that someone called in a gas leak, and this being a fairly quiet town, the fire department just sent everyone. At least they'd get in some practice loading up and moving out. The guy with the light saber could have been with the utility company; it was too dark to see what was on the SUV besides flashing lights.

So it's a mystery, and I hate mysteries. Maybe I can find out something today, but I don't know if anyone around here was home when it happened. I don't even know which home caused the ruckus.

If necessary, I'll just make up a story in my head to explain it. Memory can play tricks on me like that. Decades from now in the old farts' home I'll be telling the nurse how the guy across the street burned down his house with his fireplace. Oh, it was a wild night, yessiree.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Snow diary.

Dear Diary: Today Michelangelo and I went for a walk
and we made snow angels.
Friggin' showoff.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Art rocks!

Apparently there is a fellow in the Hudson Valley who spends some time stacking rocks by the side of the road.

And he doesn't just stack rocks on each other; he will also stack rocks on tree stumps as needed.

Who is this mysterious man of mystery?

I have no idea, but a friend of mine says he's seen the man at work. In fact, those stacks of rocks were a good bit higher in the summer, but fall and winter weather have taken a toll.

To take a line from Weird Al, what on earth would make a man decide to do that kind of thing? Is it some kind of art project? A compulsion to impose neatness on a disordered world? Or just something to do while walking the dog?

My first thought was none of these; I wondered if he was a member of the Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things.

But I am informed that there may be a spiritual side to the practice; as a Baptist News writer says, "The spiritual practice of stacking stones claims ordinary moments of life for God and invites those who pass by to notice the holy ground on which they already stand."

And yet in today's world, it is impossible to do anything without pissing off somebody:
“It’s not one or two stacks. It’s when you come across an area, particularly in national parks, when there are dozens or hundreds. … The builders don’t necessary understand the landscape around them and don’t understand that others might be bothered by it. When you have one cairn it’s fine, but all the sudden you have 60 … you can be degrading habitat in that area. These fragile ecosystems are being harmed by this proliferation of stacking stone.”
So the problem is one of volume, which I can understand; if one person stubs out a cigarette butt on my lawn today it's no big deal, but if a thousand people do it it's going to look a bit messy.

Besides, rock-stackers, other nature buffs don't want to see any evidence of you:
First, if they're set in a random place, they can lead an unsuspecting hiker into trouble, away from the trail and into a potentially dangerous place. Second, we go to wilderness to remove ourselves from the human saturation of our lives, not to see mementoes from other people's lives.
I'm not going to wade into this rock-stacking controversy -- yay! Another freakin' thing to fight over! -- except to say that a world that has no place for the Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things is a world that's gotten much too serious.

Meeting adjourned.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Fluff and guts.

The big dog, Tralfaz, introduced us to the brutality of the canine world when he was a puppy, pulling the head off a stuffed pig and ripping out the fluffy guts inside.

The little dog, Nipper, has surpassed his brother in the category of proving that a toy labeled "indestructible" is just a toy that has not yet entered our house.

REE REE REE REE REE bomp bomp bomp
We spent some time and considerable money trying to find toys that Tralfaz would not reduce to garbage and particulate matter in minutes. I threatened to buy anvils. But there were some successes along the way. Toys designed to dispense treats usually got treated with the respect one might give an annoying maitre d' -- you could splatter him with one punch but you have to endure him to keep the delicious food coming in the future. Really hard plastic toys like the Unbreakoball survived. Toys that were no fun for him like the Goughnut survived too -- maybe he didn't like it because it was too tough, maybe it seemed too tough because he wouldn't play with it -- who knows?

Very few toys full of stuffing survived his first year. One that did was this red and green bone, stuffed to the point of firmness with enough white fluff to make a Santa suit. It didn't squeak -- Tralfaz might have roughed it up more if it did. However, it also seemed to be so tough that maybe this one really was dogproof.


The horror!
What you see is a very small amount of the fiber fill that Nipper got out of that thing. It was all over the room. It was enough to stuff a pillow, crammed into a bone that could easily fit in a man's hand. Fortunately the little pup knows it's not food; he just wants to rip out the entrails for the pack, I guess.

Which brings me back to one of my hobby horses, to turn a toy-related phrase; the evil sickness of the Toy Story film series.

Buster, the family dog who pops up at the end of the first film and is shown to be friends with the toys in the second, would either have behaved toward his own toys as no other dog ever has, or he would have been committing horrific murder on a scale that would have made Andy's toys freak out. Worse, since we know Sid's toys didn't die despite the horrible surgeries performed on them, Buster's toys would not have even had the sweet release of death. Those people at Disney and Pixar are sick, I tell you, sick!

I try not to think of these things when the boys tear apart their playthings. Also, I try not to see how little fun they get out of the money I spent on them. But to be fair, Tralfaz has outgrown the toy annihilation phase, and I retain hope that Nipper will too.

Woody and Buzz would be relieved.

Friday, January 13, 2017

20th Day.

Okay, the tree is still up. Hey, man, this is a Santa-Shaming-Free Zone. Don't hate me because I'm resplendent.

I've been really busy, all right?

As you may know, I'm a freelancer, and I didn't travel over the holidays. In fact, I took just one day off entirely -- Christmas Day. Several clients wanted me to have projects ready for them either right after New Year's Day or the week after, depending on when they came back from their holiday travels. I'd like to say they turned to me because I am indispensable, but I know it was because I was available.

But it was fine, because I have Christmas bills to pay. Of course, all these clients' accounting offices are still behind because they all went traveling over the holidays....

Never mind. It wasn't just work. We were also doing a good bit of dog training, and some socializing, and then we had a sick dog to nurse. And anyway, we don't take anything down until Epiphany, which was a week ago.

The tree is about the end of it, though. The porch has returned to its normal nude winter state, decorated only by a shovel and broom. Lights are out of the windows. We've sort of de-decorated from the outside in, and the inmost decor is the mighty tree. It's a fake tree, of course, or else by now it would be a withered matchstick. It's also the most complex feature of the whole Christmas presentation, with the lights and ornaments all coming from disparate boxes, destined to be returned to same. It takes a lot of effort in either direction, although less coming down because there's no aesthetic judgment calls being made.

I suppose I could have really gotten the push on this week and gotten everything put away, but I confess the whole thing is depressing. Holidays of all kinds, as well as other fun events like weddings, are sad when they're over -- and sad when things hang around and hang around after the event. It's like being stuck at the airport with interminable delays on your way out of a vacation destination. Yeah, the trip was great, and going home and back to work sucks, but GET ME OUT OF THIS FREAKING AIRPORT and let's GET ON WITH IT. (Why yes, that has happened to me! How did you know?)

Ultimately the Christmas season is a break from the 10.5 months of the year that are not, a period that doesn't generally require special projects and paraphernalia and jocularity, at least not on the same level. But it is also a holy time, which can make me feel at the end like I'm moving away from the source of that Light that shines even when the tree is dark.

Well, Ash Wednesday is on March 1 this year, so before you know it we'll be off on a different and different kind of holy period.

'The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
  And God fulfils himself in many ways,
  Lest one good custom should corrupt the world."

The candle lights a candle in turn; its wick fails but the flame endures. Our tree is dark this morning; it's also fake, but all about it is real.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Wash your mouth out.

Every year Santa finds some weird bathroom product for my stocking. Last year, I'm sure you recall, I got a small bottle of Poo-Pourri, the stuff you spray in the toilet to stop it your deposits from shriveling the hand towels.

This year I got the Steripod

These little clip-on pods are like those protective covers you put on the head of your toothbrush when you travel to protect the bristles. You always want to protect your bristles, right, boys? But these little suckers do more than just protect your bristles. I'll let the manufacturer explain:
Enclosed inside each steripod toothbrush protector is a laboratory formulated thymol compound. The compound is encapsulated in plastic with small holes that allow the thymol vapors to escape and surround your brush bristles. It's the vapors that do all the work. The entire steripod is shipped sealed in a medical quality enclosure - ensuring that the compound is not activated [by air flow] before you unwrap. All you have to do is clip the steripod on your brush! - compare to other toothbrush products and you'll love the no batteries, no socket, no hassle of steripod!
The thymol pad is supposed to last for three months, which is about when you should replace your toothbrush anyway, according to the American Dental Association. The ADA page also has a lot of information about bacteria on toothbrushes: "Toothbrushes have been shown to harbor bacteria (including fecal coliform bacteria that can be released into the air when the toilet is flushed or can be spread to the toothbrush when the owner touches a contaminated surface before handling his or her brush)." Ewwwie! Now, they do say that "there is no evidence that these bacteria cause adverse health effects," so go ahead and enjoy the fecal coliform bacteria.

Well, not me, mister!

Here is my actual toothbrush, reposing in its new Steripod like the late Michael Jackson in his hyperbaric chamber:

I guess it would be better for it to be upright, so moisture on the bristles can come down the neck. It's not airtight, nor is it supposed to be. But it does prevent the easy airflow toothbrushes normally enjoy. In fact, the design of the pod may be a problem; the ADA, those buttinskis, have this to say (emphasis added):
Rinse it with tap water to remove any remaining toothpaste and debris. Store it upright and allow it to air dry. If you store your toothbrush with other toothbrushes, make sure they are separated to prevent cross contamination. And do not routinely cover toothbrushes or store them in closed containers. A moist environment such as a closed container is more conducive to the growth of unwanted bacteria than the open air. 
Hmm. So does the Steripod prevent that because it has thymol to kill all the bacteria? I suspect they manufacturers will have a long way to go to get the coveted ADA approval seal.

Well, the toothbrush certainly smells clean. My first thought when I unwrapped the pod was, "That smells like my pediatrician's waiting room." I guess he used thymol to disinfect the place, maybe among other chemicals.

I'm already thinking way too much about my toothbrush now. I'm going to turn into Adrian Monk at this rate. The advantage for my bathroom is, between the Steripod killing airborne fecal coliform bacteria and the Poo-Pourri proactively killing odors, it'll be like no one ever poops in there.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hot time in Scandinavia.

"'Oh, no, the tide's still going out,' you said. 'Just give the ship a little shove and it'll go right off,' you said.
Now it's back and the whole beach smells like barbecued Sven."

Monday, January 9, 2017

Fee Fi Fo Dumb.

Oh, well. The Giants took a mediocre season and gave us a fun run. Shouldn't complain too much. 

No matter how good your team is, most of the time they're going to come up short. Yankees fans love to brag about their team's 27 World Series championships, but not the 13 World Series that they lost, let alone the 72 that had no Yankees in them at all.

During the Giants-Packers game I was embarrassed by dropped balls (I mean footballs) (shut up) and stupid special teams play, but you have to let it go. Now it's time to root for the Packers against the Enemies of All That Is Good and the Texans against the Other Enemies of All That Is Good. I do not want to see a Cowboys/Pats Super Bowl. I would have to root for cancellation due to a gas leak that sickens both teams and causes massive explosive diarrhea on worldwide TV. Kind of Super Bowl as Seth Rogen movie.

Meanwhile, at the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep apparently used the occasion of getting some kind of statuette to attack the president-elect, because we all love it when politics insinuates itself into every goddamn thing in the world, and the half of the country that voted for Trump loves to be told they are stupid and/or evil. You know why we have Trump, Meryl? That's why we have Trump, Meryl. Thanks for ensuring his reelection.

I'd rather watch every game the Giants lost this year in full telecast than fifteen minutes of celebrity adulation. At least the Giants were trying to not suck.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Pan demonium.

Yesterday I lodged a complaint against beans. Today I lodge a complaint against Lodge. Looks like this is my year for grumbling. 

When I say Lodge, I don't mean the Raccoons, or Great Wolf Lodge, or the log cabin where the natives hunker down. I'm talking about Lodge, makers of the popular cookware and cartoon head-smackers like this:

There it is, seven pounds of iron, second maybe only to the rolling pin for casual comic strip violence. As we know from clips like this from the Disney documentary Tangled, you can wallop people as hard as you want with such kitchen utensils and only induce a sort of temporary sleepiness; no broken teeth, shattered skulls, or death.

The cast-iron pan is a magical device, capable of frying, broiling, baking, anything, at home or on the road or on the trail or in a ditch by the side of the road or in hobo camp. You name it!

But it has one awful weakness:


I have a Cuisinart pan with a metal handle (a metal handle, by the way, that stays cool while frying) that can cook on the stovetop and then go into the oven, for when I want to make -- if I wanted to make something that starts on the stovetop and then goes in the oven. Or vice versa. To clean that pan, I rinse it out and -- follow me closely here -- put it in the dishwasher. Then I dry it on the dish rack and put it away.

Does that work for Mighty Cast-Iron? Let's ask Lodge:
Wash cast iron by hand with a nylon bristle scrub brush. If needed, use a pan scraper for stuck on bits.
For extra sticky situations, simmer a little water for 1 minute, then use the scraper after cooled.
Dry promptly and thoroughly with a lint-free cloth or paper towel.
Rub with a very light layer of cooking oil or our Seasoning Spray, preferably while the cookware is still warm.
Hang or store cookware in a dry place.
Sensing a few extra steps in there?

Seems like the mighty cast-iron cookware is as brittle as a ballerina on amphetamines. If it were any more demanding it would expect all the brown M&M's to be removed.

I know all the chefs swear by cast-iron pans, and people are willing to lug half a ton of metal with them on camping trips to use them, but I guess I don't know why. What's the big advantage over a lighter pan that can do the same things? I admit I've never been to hobo camp; perhaps they could tell me why so many people prefer cast-iron.

Maybe they're wives with husbands who have developed an immunity to the rolling pin. Or maybe they think they'll have to duel three royal guards and a horse.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Bean there, done that.

I'm done with these little fiends.

Yes, beans. After all I've done for them. Making chili, bean dip, bean soups, beanie weenies, cassoulet... I even dedicated an episode of this blog to an old Goya bean cookbook.

But we're not friends anymore, beans.

At least not the dry beans.

All I want to know is... why?



Why can't I ever get these freaking dry beans soft?

I soaked them for 12 hours or more. I used salt. I stopped using salt. I boiled the crap out of them. I slow-cooked them. I soaked them 12 hours, put them in the slow cooker 12 hours, and then baked them 4 more hours. And they still came out like little bullets.

Screw you, dry beans, you bastards.

Some exceptions: split peas are okay. I've made split-pea soup that cooked for hours and hours and came out fine. (My wife's not a fan of soup for dinner.) I've made black-eyed peas in hopping john that came out all right. (My wife dislikes black-eyed peas.) Lentils have not been a problem. (My wife hates lentils.) My wife likes most beans, but all the ones she likes--red kidney, black, pintos, cannellini, navy, marrow, great northern... all these beans stubbornly remain about as soft as brass when I try to cook them from a dry state.

The only thing I haven't tried is grinding them up in the food processor before soaking and boiling. Bean mush.

I don't know what the problem is. Maybe it's this New York water. Makes us all tough.

The last time, when soaking and boiling did nothing, I resorted to trying to find recipes for baked beans. And you know what most recipes started with? Canned pork 'n beans. Even Paula Deen's started with canned pork 'n beans.

The hell with it. I'm through with dry beans. Sticking to the cans from now on. You can't get all the varieties of heirloom beans that way, but you can get beans you can eat, which is more than I have been able to make at home.

Can it, beans.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Enough with the drumming.

We made it! It's the twelfth day of Christmas!

Pace Bob and Doug, the song traditionally mentions twelve drummers drumming as the gift for this day. We know there was the Little Drummer Boy on Christmas Eve, and now we're up another eleven drummers. How do they keep getting in?

Tomorrow is Epiphany, after which even we die-hards will be taking down the lights (although the actual day of Epiphany is celebrated in the American Catholic church on the following Sunday). I have time to squeeze in one more bit on decorations.

Star Wars stuff was very popular this year. I didn't get a picture of the ones I saw with R2D2, C3PO, and Chewie, or the inflatable BB-8, but here are their sales photos:

I did get shots of these:

Now, first off, we know from important sources that the Star Wars worlds, existing a long time ago in a distant galaxy, do not appear to have Christmas. Merely a Wookie holiday called Life Day. So the connection to out holiday is strange and tenuous.

What else do we see here? Yoda is at least trying to show the proper spirit, putting on the Santa outfit, as are the others. Darth Vader shows contempt for Christmas, as he does for all that is right and good. "I shall not celebrate this Christmas. And I shall not wear any stocking caps on my helmet!" So... how is Darth a Christmas decoration, exactly?

One thing it does remind me of, though, as do all the other Star Wars-themed objects -- that movie was absolutely brilliant in having so many nonhuman and masked stars. Lucas, and now Disney, has now made approximately half the money on Earth selling stuff made in the likeness of something other than the humans who actually appear in the movies. Actors own their own faces and can expect royalties.

Enough of that; it's been a great Christmas season, and I hate the way it peters out. But it kind of peters in, too. We didn't all slap up our decorations on the day after Thanksgiving; we're not taking them all down on the same day either.

The cheerful lights are a little sad, now, with the kids back at school and the adults back at work and two months of solid winter still grinning at us. But the days are getting longer already. The Light that doesn't fade will still be with us, too.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What shall we fight about in 2017?

The old battles of 2016 are now behind us. Trump/Clinton, Kanye/Taylor, the Rock/Diesel, Kelly/Michael, Putin/Entire World -- we need to let these things go. But what will be the big fights that threaten to tear us to pieces in 2017?

Here are my predictions.

1. Hazelnut vs. Real Coffee

Gonna be a rumble tonight

People like hazelnut coffee. Well, some people do. I mean, some people must. Someone's buying it, right? It wouldn't exist otherwise. And who else has money besides people? Leftover Neanderthals? Martians? Kardashians? Okay, Kardashians have money but they can't be drinking it all.

But the rest of us really dislike hazelnut coffee, even if we like actual hazelnuts, and recoil from it like a stressed vampire on Easter morning. Anyone who ever got a snootful of an old, burned Mr. Coffee pot with a hazelnut grease slick in the bottom of the decanter can remember that smell and recall it in horror.

I think this is the year it all goes violent.

The hazelnutters are far outnumbered on this one, but to keep sucking down the hazelnut coffee in the face of universal disappropriation they must be fanatical in their devotion and willing to put up a strong fight. Watch for this one to break out in March, after a winter of being stuck inside offices with the food and coffee choices of our coworkers reeking (har!) havoc.

2. Underwear vs. Commando 

The fatter and older we get as a nation, the more skin we seem to want to show. This may be considered an error as well as an attack on modesty, not to mention prudence. And this is the year that the commando look becomes a big deal.

What does it matter if others want to run around without underwear? For one thing, we know from the experience of nude beaches that the people who go nudist are almost always the people one would least want to ever, ever see nude. Same here. Those loudest about their lack of underwear will be those whom you would most want to put on extra clothes, just in case the clothing they have on rips. Then you realize you just shook hands with one of them.

Hygiene will be the proper and adequate club used to fight back against the scourge of underwearlessness, but in a world where drunk people make permanent ink-stained errors on their own flesh and pay real money for the privilege, it's still going to be hard sell.

This fight will begin in summer, when people start sweating in earnest.

3. Fluoride vs. No Fluoride

Those Truthers who blamed Bush and Cheney for the 9/11 attacks have gone rather quiet since the man they backed has failed to disclose evidence of such conspiracy after eight years in the White House. Others, who just assume Obama is now in on it, may be getting tired of the topic and want something new to write placards about.

Just gets to be the same ol' same ol' after a while
So what good conspiracy theory can get people brawling? Contrails vs. Chemtrails? Too complicated. Vaxx vs. Anti-Vaxx? Meh, measles is coming back. Fluoride vs. No Fluoride? Hey...

Sure, the American Dental Association claims fluoride in the water supply saves teeth, but they didn't even bother to prove that flossing is good for you. So what does fluoride really do? Makes you docile and easy to controlThat's why revolutionary small companies like Tom's of Maine make a fluoride-free toothpaste -- they're helping us break free!

This should start a good screaming match later in the year, especially as reason and evidence only proves to guys like the man shown above that you're part of the conspiracy. (My check is late, by the way, Mr. Illuminati....)

4. Marvel vs. DC

The all-time classic nerd battle, spilling out into the streets this year. In the 1960s, Marvel stole a march on DC by writing comics for more mature kids; in the 1980s, DC struck back; now Marvel has the more successful movies, but DC has the more mature movies and more successful TV shows. With eight DC and Marvel movies coming out this year, expect the geek-out freakout to begin around the release of Justice League in November. Also enjoy the internecine side fights (TV Flash vs. movie Flash, Holland vs. Maguire vs. Garfield as the webhead, etc.).

Well, those are my predictions for this year's big throwdowns. I'm sure we'll find a lot more to argue about, since when you put any two of us in a room you can get a fight.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Don't mova muscle.

Is 2017 going to be my year of pet peeves on this blog? Oh, yes, it sure looks that way so far.

What's wrong with this headline?

If you said the single quotes around 'Open for Business,' you wouldn't be exactly wrong. U.S. usage insists on double quotes for quotations. But newspapers have always fought for ways to squeeze more words on the page, and this is one of their tricks. We let them pass on that. The real problem is the stationary.

Stationary means the state of being still. Stationery is froufrou paper products. A stationery store sells monogrammed paper, sealing wax, and fancy pens. A stationary store does not move around.

I see this error all the time, and it irks me. Irk, irk, irk, all day long.

The following was from an e-book I was reading, which I cannot identify since I know people who work for the publisher and it would embarrass them:

That got past at least two editors and two copy editors.

Come on, people! Even your local CVS can get this right!

I know this is one of those frustrating things, words most of us don't use every day that are almost spelled identically but mean completely different things. It's the kind of error spellcheck will not catch. How can we remember which is which?

If you notice, I provided a mnemonic in the header; mova muscle gives you the A in stationary. Then again, move would normally be spelled with an E, so maybe that mnemonic sucks. How about this?

If stationery has an E
Writing letters you will be
If stationary has an A
Surely you will sit and stay

What? Don't give me that face. I'm an editor, not an SAT coach.

Try to find something that works for you. And I'll try to find a mnemonic to remind us all that the first M in mnemonic is silent. How about:

Pneumonia has a silent P
Mnemonic has its M
Take it out upon the Greeks
Who stuck us all with 'em

Ugh. I guess I'd better not wait for that call from Khan Academy.