Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Hulk M&M's.

Discovered something when a new product came over the transom since last week's Candy Roundup -- and that was the fact that we had a transom. Did you know this? Why doesn't anyone tell me these things?

Also, it occurred to us that Mars is now making these giant M&M's -- M&M's Mega, they're called. I'd seen the package before but finally got curious enough to buy. 

They're big.

But they don't MEGA MELT in your hand.
Three times the chocolate, says the gang at Mars, and I think that's right. The shell seems a little thicker too, probably to compensate for all that chocolately goodness packed in there. You don't want to load five pounds of baloney in a four-pound sack, and you don't to load three times the M&M's chocolate into a one-times shell.

Seems like these Megas would be the bullies of the M&M's world:

But when you get down to it, they're horribly outnumbered by the little M&M's of all the many varieties, which are: plain, peanut, peanut butter, crispy, minis, dark mint, almond, pretzel, dark chocolate, and dark chocolate peanut. I think the little guys can hold their own.

Plus, in May they'll have another flavor: caramel. I do not think I can contain my excitement over this development.


Another update to a post last week: The house that still had its Christmas tree up in the picture window? Took it down over the weekend. So they either got out of the hospital / lost the bet / won the bet / lost the dare / won the dare / remembered it was up / quit the weird sect / decided it was dumb to have it up all year, or next of kin came to the house, or Little Jimmy died / got well / got off his butt and took it down, or they saw my blog post and got ashamed. Or something else.

I have to admit I was sad to see it go, though; in these times of ephemeral relations and short attention spans, I have to admire such firm persistence, even in a preposterous cause.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Nothing naughty in the air.

I've been hoping to take a trip soon, which would be the first chance I've had to fly anywhere in a couple of years. Seems like a good time to get reacquainted with the Transportation Security Administration for the latest in the Prohibited Items list. You don't want to have your secret plan to smuggle liquid morphine come to ruin when the vial gets tossed in the trash for being 150 ml.

Fly the > 3.4 oz/100 ml Skies
Obviously you'll have to check your contraband in your luggage if you want to smuggle enough to make the trip pay. But what can you actually bring on the plane?

Like, suppose you get bored on the flight and you want to get a pickup game of softball going. Well, guess what? No softball bats allowed in the carry-on! It looks like you can bring gloves and balls and bases on the flight, but that'll do you no good.

Maybe you don't like waiting for the drink cart. I mean, who does? It takes for freakin' EVER. So you want to pack some little 3.3 oz bottles of 190-proof grain alcohol, just to, you know, take the edge off. Nope! You can't bring any alcohol of more than 140 proof aboard. How lame is that? You can't get properly, uh, de-edged on measly shots like that.

Suppose you're a handy guy, and you're thinking, hey, the average age of a domestic U.S. commercial airplane is 11 years. What if something goes wrong? I'll bring along my tool box so I can help out. BZZZT! No axes, crowbars, hammers, saws -- no wrenches over seven inches long! You can't fix an aircraft in motion under these conditions, I'm sorry.

The list of things you're not allowed to bring means an even longer implied list of things you're not allowed to do. Sharpen your rapier, bleach your underpants, juggle clubs, practice putting, tinker with the airbag from your Chevy -- all illegal. You're just supposed to sit there like a stooge the whole way, I guess.

Of course, we're all aware of the concerns about terrorism. So it's a good thing that firearms and explosives are prohibited! But what about other weapons? Some idiot could sneak a baseball bat on board! If so, and he starts menacing, wouldn't you like a handy canister of tear gas to take his terrorist heinie down? No can do, Rambo! "Self-defense sprays containing more than 2% by mass of Tear Gas are prohibited in both carry-on and checked baggage." Doesn't seem like some measly low-fat 1% tear gas is going to save the day, you ask me.

So between worry and boredom and lack of booze, the flight itself can be pretty awful. Maybe you should smuggle that morphine by taking it before you get on. That way you'll just sleep through the whole thing.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Cartoon Oscar.

I could not be less interested in the Academy Awards this year if you paid me. "Here, Fred, here is a large sum of money for you to be less interested in the Academy Awards!" you say. Trying... trying... No, keep your dough; it can't be done.

Like everyone, I do have some predictions, though, like:

1) I will never see what wins for Best Picture, because whatever it is, I'm sure it's something I wouldn't want to see; and

2) They'll give Streep another Oscar because they just love to give her chances to gas on about Trump.

Aside from that, my only interest is in Best Animated Feature. And that's odd, because I've only seen one of the nominees.

And that one was Kubo and the Two Strings, a magnificent story by Laika film company. The movie is a constant feast for the eyes; I ought to see it again, because the way the thematic origami is carried through every scene is just gorgeous. The script is almost dead perfect as well, a sharp work that has a lot of funny, clever dialogue, but doesn't sacrifice drama, atmosphere, or plot for the sake a stupid joke. Although I could have used more fire-breathing chicken.

In a lot of movies it annoys me that great voice actors have been replaced by big-name stars, but in this film Charlize Theron and (to a lesser extent) Matthew McConaughey are terrific. Art Parkinson, as the boy Kubo, is flawless. 

My main objection to the film regards part of the ending; not to give away spoilers, but it shared some of the same difficulties I had with the climax of another great animated film

Still, I recommend it without reservation. Laika should have won for 2009's Coraline but lost to Pixar's Up -- which was great, but it was no Coraline.

Meanwhile, the non-nominated features I saw included The Angry Birds Movie, based on the app (which you know I love). 

I had low hopes for this one, but Redbox is cheap and what the hell. I was curious to see how they would explain the birds and their various superpowers. Essentially they didn't. Why is Chuck so fast? Why does Bomb blow up? And why don't these birds fly unless they get shot out of a slingshot? No reason. Because that's the way it is in the game, is all. That's peeve 1 of 10. My other 9 peeves included:

Peeve 2) Red, Chuck, and Bomb get almost all the action, with some leftover for Terence and Matilda, but key game birds like Blue(s), Hal, Stella, and Bubbles are hardly seen at all.

Peeve 3) More blasted celebrity voices. Although Sean Penn made an excellent Terence. Got a big paycheck to grunt a lot. (Because that required an Oscar-winner.)

Peeve 4) Red's big motivational speech was lame. He's supposed to rallying all the birds to fight the pigs, to call on them to get angry, and he sounds like -- well, he sounds like the writers were afraid of telling children that it was good to get pissed off and hurt people. It was like Cookie Monster saying that a cookie is a sometime treat. Nuts to that. The birds just got all their eggs stolen; Red should have been telling them to go crazy, to GET FREAKING MAD and GET FREAKING EVEN and GET THOSE EGGS BACK. KILL THE PIGS!

Peeves 5) through 10) Josh Gad, Josh Gad, Josh Gad, Josh Gad, Josh Gad, Josh Gad. Oh, how I hated his whining weenieness as godforsaken snowdemon Olaf in Frozen; here he's turned one of the angriest of the birds, superfast Chuck, into a stupid, needy loser. Really hard to endure.

But when I was able to ignore Josh Gad, I got a lot of laughs from the movie. And it has the best response I have ever heard to a line like, "You have annoyed me for the last time!"

The other non-nominated cartoon feature I saw was:

Come on, guys; if The Croods could get a nomination in '13, why not The Secret Life of Pets this year?

This film too had its weaknesses. The plot was stolen from the first Toy Story -- happy beloved object of affection is supplanted by newcomer; they get lost and placed in peril because of their competition and have to learn to work together and blah blah blah.

Another problem is: Celebrity voices, damn it! Voice acting used to be an esteemed field, a specialty in the acting profession; think of Mel Blanc, June Foray, Paul Frees, Alan Reed. You didn't just slam a mike down in front of the latest flavor-of-the-week comic and hope for the best. Louis C.K. is dull as dirt playing main dog Max.

I admit, though, that Kevin Hart is brilliant and hilarious as crazed rabbit Snowball. But Jenny Slate, more of a voice actor than any of the other principals, steals the film as fluffy, squeaky Gidget. The scene where Gidget interrogates a cat almost literally put me on the floor. If I'd laughed harder my wife would have been calling 911.

There are indeed a lot of laughs along the way, which made this one worth watching. There was also a fantasy sequence during a feeding frenzy in a sausage factory, though, which was the most aggressively weird thing I've seen in a nominal children's movie since "Pink Elephants on Parade" in Dumbo.

So that's my take; I wouldn't have expected Pets or Birds to be nominated, and I hope Kubo wins. But the I confess I do not understand what criteria are used to choose these things. You can sometimes guess why films of questionable quality are nominated and why they win (often because the Academy thinks someone is due, or because of politics), but with animated films it's a mystery. For example:

πŸ‘Ž Maybe The Adventures of Tintin got totally snubbed in 2011 because of its use of motion-capture, but it was a sensational film, with some truly breathtaking action. Unfair!

πŸ‘Ž Big Hero 6, which brought home the bacon in 2014, was a fun but poorly constructed superhero film. It neglected four of its six heroes as badly as Angry Birds neglected half of its major game characters, and it was pedestrian in many ways -- it had a training montage, for God's sake.

πŸ‘Ž Inside Out won in 2015, but I liked The Peanuts Movie more and it didn't even get nominated. (I admit I've always loved the strip.) Shaun the Sheep, which was nominated but didn't win, was the funniest film I saw all year.

Upon reflection, I have decided that maybe you could pay me to care less. A few grand could make me say "Kubo? Meh." Or better yet, I think I could care less about other things for a fee. Maybe gardening? I'm no good at it but I try once in a while. For a nice pile o' pesos I would be happy to give it up entirely. "Gardening! Who needs it?"

See? Make me an offer.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Sweetness & Light.

Sweetness & Light were not the act that killed Vaudeville, but they roughed it up pretty bad.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Hope springs eternal.

The Beloved New York Mets' first spring training game is today. Look out!

It's true that the expression

Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be blest.

comes from Alexander Pope, but I would bet more Americans who know that it comes from a poem think it originated with "Casey at the Bat":

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast

In modern parlance, I guess we'd say Ernest Lawrence Thayer was sampling Pope.

I'm not one of these guys who goes insane watching spring training games. I save that for regular season games. I like to have spring training games on when I can, maybe when I'm working, just to see who's new, how the old guys are holding up, and start getting the spark for the coming year. As long as no one gets hurt, there's no pressure, no intensity. It's easy and breezy and something warm to look at if you're still shivering in the cold, as we often are when these games start.

Maybe that's the way sports should always be. Fun, free as a bird. Does it really matter so much to us jamokes on the sofa if one group of guys in one color clothing gets defeated by another group of guys in another color clothing? It's not like we're ceding territory or having our waterways closed off or even losing the Seagrams account. Does it matter?

Part of me knows it doesn't, and part of me knows it does. I keep trying to kick the habit but they keep sucking me back in. In 1997, after post-strike years of shunning, I was washing the dishes and just flicked on the radio to pass the time. Heard about this kid Todd Hundley, who had blossomed into a fan favorite during my three-year hiatus. Within days I was watching games on TV again.

Then, in 2014, following the post-2006 years of misery, when I had many other things on my plate and my baseball interest dwindled to a new nadir, I had a long drive one night and listened to an amazing game between Jake Peavy and this zygote named Jacob deGrom. And I was back again.

I guess I sound like a fair-weather friend, and it's true that baseball has never been a high enough priority for me to be a real die-harder.

The Mets have been fun to watch these last few years, and trust me when I tell you I watched them for a lot of years when they were anything but fun. We hope great things for them, but Mets fans know that if we have one key player he'll get hurt; if we have one prospect just about to go bananas he'll get traded; if we have one more series to win to get over the top the bats will all go cold.

Alexander Pope would have made a great Mets fan.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Mets never are, but always to be blest.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Candy roundup.

Been a while since we discussed things that are bad for you to eat here on Channel Fred, so without further ado...

From our "Is That Still Around?" file comes the Clark bar, a once very popular but now difficult to find candy bar. It's made by the New England Confectionery Company, better known as NECCO, who just had one of their biggest days of the year, as they make conversation hearts

Perhaps the Clark bar is bigger in New England -- NECCO is still based in Massachusetts -- but in the greater New York area you almost never see it (or Squirrel Nut Zippers, or Sky Bars, or most other NECCO products but Canada Mints and the classic NECCO Wafers). 

The Clark was originally made in 1917 by the D. L. Clark company. D. L. Clark had several owners from 1955 on, but was purchased by NECCO in 1999. It turns out that NECCO is building on the brand, offering new sizes and varieties. Their problem may be that the Clark is just too similar to Nestle's Butterfinger; I doubt I could tell the difference in a taste test. And in a head-to-head candy war, Nestle has the advantage of much deeper pockets. But the Clark is delicious and worthy of your candy dollar.

Speaking of companies trying to diversify a brand:

The Reese's Stuffed with Pieces seems like a natural. It's an extra-thick Reese's candy cup with E.T.'s beloved crunchy Reese's Pieces inside. So you get that great chocolate-PB combo along with the crunch of the Pieces, and there's more of it overall to savor.

But in practice, the Pieces get lost in the cup; they're there, but you don't get much crunch from them. You still get an oversize Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, which is not nothing, but the execution fails to live up to the promise.


A friend sent me a note to say that, with the constant stream of Marvel movies, he fully expects that by the next Super Bowl we will see an ad with Galactus, Devourer of Worlds, for Snickers.

I can buy that.

He and a buddy have this scenario:


(Mr. Fantastic stretches arm up with Snickers) "Try this."

(Galactus eats candy, smiles)


(Galactus has turned into Aunt May) "Thanks."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

More decor.

Mr. Philbin took issue with me following my piece yesterday on the family with that still has a Christmas tree in their picture window. He said I should have mentioned, especially as this site has a No-Santa-Shaming policy, that many people in such northern climes as these are stuck with their outdoor Christmas decorations until the spring thaw. And I concede the point. You may have put the lights along the edge of the second-story roof on a pleasingly cool day in November, but you do not want to take them off on a ice-ridden frost-bitten blustery nightmare from the Ninth Circle in February. 

Just saying, though, probably wouldn't be
too hard to bring this guy in off the porch.

We've had some mild days this winter, so most houses with any decoration at this point have Valentine's Day hearts and the like. 

The question is, when do you take those down? Christmas, as I've discussed ad nauseum, is a season, not one day; other holidays are one day. So should the hearts come down on February 15? But no one seems to be in a rush to do that around here, except maybe Irish families that are a little hard on the Irish Pride, who already have shamrock stuff up. As far as public decor goes, Valentine's Day will last until the end of the month.

We've gotten into the habit of thinking of months as the most popular holiday associated with them, and decorate accordingly:

January - New Year's
February - Valentine's Day
March - St. Patrick's Day
April - Easter
May - Memorial Day
June - First Day of Summer
July - Independence Day
August - Uhhh
September - Back to School
October - Halloween
November - Thanksgiving
December - Christmas

There are three problems with our approach:

1) August, obviously, needs a big holiday of some kind. Perhaps Bad Poetry Day (the 18th), National Dog Day (26th), or Be an Angel Day (22nd) could get some traction.

2) Easter sometimes falls as early as March, so you have a wreck when it collides with St. Patrick's Day, and then there's nothing for April but leftover bunnies and eggs.

3) Holidays like Presidents Day, Veterans Day, and even Labor Day get overlooked because of the more popular holidays that fall in the same month. Everyone loves Labor Day because of the long weekend, but how do you decorate for that? Getting the kids off to school is much easier and much better anyway.

So there's a lot to this holiday business we still haven't worked out. As for us, we're getting ready for Old Stuff Day on March 2, by throwing old stuff all over the lawn. Which is how some of my St. Patrick's days have wound up, too, come to think of it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Whither tree?

I've promised no Santa shaming on this site. If you want to keep your Christmas decorations up until Halloween, that's just fine with me.

But I can't help but wonder why.


While walking the big dog yesterday I passed a house with a large Christmas tree, fully decorated, still on display in a picture window. The house did not appear to be abandoned, as if the whole family had gone on vacation at Christmas and died of the plague; there were three cars in the driveway. So while I'm not shaming or blaming here, I just have to wonder... why?

I thought about this on the way back home. I asked the dog, but he was no help. Then I asked my wife, who did help. Here are some of the reasons we thought that a family might have its Christmas tree up at the end of February:

1) Everyone died of the plague after they came home from vacation, and when the cops finally open the door they'll be blown out of their shoes by the stink.

2) No one's dead, but someone is very sick, and either they don't want to make a lot of noise by taking down decorations or Little Jimmy is bolstered in his illness by the sight of the beloved tree.

3) Like the father of Lino Rulli, radio's The Catholic Guy, they just like having the tree up all year round and they don't care who knows it. (According to Rulli's book Saint: Why I Should Be Canonized Right Away, his father has had the tree up since 2004.)

4) They're a breakaway sect of Christianity that only worships the commercialism surrounding the holidays.

5) Someone lost a bet with a neighbor; loser had to keep up the Christmas tree in public view until spring.

6) There's an escalating dare on between them and a neighbor; in two months someone will put up Valentine's hearts; in August, Easter bunnies; and so on.

7) They are the laziest family in the neighborhood and they will take down the decorations when they're damn good and ready and not before. 

8) It's one of those houses where all the good furniture and knickknacks are in the living room, so no one ever goes in there. and they've totally forgotten the tree is still up.

9) They are new converts from another culture, conflating American holidays with Christian holidays, and are celebrating Jesus' Birthday until Washington's Birthday.

10) They are old converts from an ancient culture, and believe that Christmas is celebrated until Lent begins.

11) Their friends house-sat for them a week ago and as a prank put all the decorations back up; the family is plotting how to get even as they fume at the tree.

12) Jimmy, who is not sick or little but just a jerk, said that if they let him out of putting up the tree he would take it down; the rest of the family is getting angrier by the day while he just ignores it and plays Gears of War 4.

13) They're not two months late for Christmas, they're a month late for Chinese New Year, which they celebrate by leaving up all the decorations that were made in China.

That's a baker's dozen of reasons we thought of; if you have other suggestions, please leave them in comments. Again, I'm not trying to expose anyone to humiliation, but rather trying to understand what's going on. You see, I'm not judgmental, just nosy as hell.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A few minutes with Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin: I've quite enjoyed this visit with the modern era. Such wonderful inventions based on my old friend, electricity.

Fred Key: Yes sir, Mr. Franklin, you lit the way on that one!

BF: And I am most impressed that the nation has managed to stay together all this time.

FK: So far. Tell me, Mr. Franklin, if you had been younger, would you have wanted to challenge Washington for the presidency of the country?

BF: Oh, no, I would happily let such a thing to Washington. I found him an excellent man. As I told him, "Here you would know and enjoy what posterity will say of Washington. For a thousand leagues have nearly the same effect with a thousand years."

FK: Uh...

BF: I was in Europe at the time...

FK: Huh?

BF: A thousand leagues away in France, where his reputation was much better than it was in Congress.

FK: You were right, sir; we still love Washington, which is why he's on the one-dollar bill and the 25-cent piece.

BF: Is that one-dollar bill not the smallest denomination of paper money?

FK: Yes, he's on it so there'd be more pictures of President Washington in circulation, I've heard.

BF: Then why is he not on the penny rather than the 25-penny coin?

FK: Because... it makes no sense.

BF: And that is why I had little stomach for politics later in life. And you say I'm on the $100 bill?

FK: Yes, sir.

BF: The one that's least in circulation.

FK: Uh, yeah, but it is the highest denomination bill.

BF: That is something. Why, you could buy ten cows with a hundred dollars!

FK: Not quite so many cows now.

BF: Silence, sir; I'm considering it an honor.

FK: Please do. Well, it's been -- 

BF: Say, what is that thing? That looks like one of those monetary notes you were telling me about. The one with my portrait.

FK: Oh... This old thing?

BF: The hundred dollar one? That you couldn't show me?

FK: You can't expect me to have a bill that large, sir. I work in publishing.

BF: I see some things haven't changed. But what is this thing that looks like money?

FK: It's a... a beach towel. Made to look like money.

BF: As a counterfeit bill?

FK: No, just... People like money.

BF: And this beach towel is used to dry one's beach?

FK: No, no, you use it at the beach. Like a picnic blanket. You spread it on the sand and lay on it. Get some sunshine. Tan the skin.

BF: You do this?

FK: Not me; I burn like a fritter. But many young ladies do that.

BF: So young ladies are laying on my portrait. Not the worst fate posterity can offer. And which young lady uses this towel?

FK: Uhhh... My, look at the time! Well --

BF: Mr. Key?

FK: It's for the dogs.

BF: I beg your pardon, sir.

FK: I needed some cheap towels for my dogs, so I found this in the dollar store. When I take the dogs out and it's raining and they come in all wet...

BF: You use my portrait to dry off your dogs.

FK: Ummmmmm....no.... mmmm.... yeah, actually.

BF: My face is being used to dry a dog's rear end.

FK: Well, sometimes his face, too.

BF: Thank you for your hospitality, sir; I think I shall go back to being dead now.

FK: I understand.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Writer's misforune.

As a writer, I am very sympathetic to the occupational hazards that other writers face. One well-known problem is writer's block. 

Writer's block is a serious problem to someone who has achieved the freedom to write for a living. Wikipedia tells us that it's affected Fitzgerald and perhaps Melville, and Fran Lebowitz had a famous 10-year block at the height of her career. 

While one might think more or less of a writer's output, we all feel it when he goes down with the Block, just as every football player felt it when Joe Theismann came a cropper on Monday Night Football.

So I felt nothing but sadness and sympathy when I heard that one of America's most prolific writers was giving up the game over writer's block. News reports last Monday informed us that Donald Lau, the nation's #1 writer of fortune cookie messages, was packing it in after 30 years over a terrible case of writer's block. He said, "I used to write 100 a year, but I've only written two or three a month over the past year."

The blank fortune, staring back at you.

I'm sure that Lau tried everything to break the block. But just in case, I've adapted some tips from Writer's Digest's "7 Ways to Overcome Writer's Block" specifically for the fortune cookie author.

πŸ“ Do something else that's creative.
Paint a picture. Sing a song. Bake a cake and stick pages from your journal between the layers.

πŸ“ Try freewriting.
The act of letting the pen go where it wants. Jot down any old thing that comes to mind, As much as you can. Do it on a ¼ x 2" piece of paper.

πŸ“ Eliminate distractions. Get away from other people, away from your chores, away from your phone, away from baked goods.

πŸ“Write early in the day. Maybe over breakfast. Note some ideas and cram them in an English muffin.

All kidding aside, I want to point out that Mr. Lau achieved something most writers never do in making a living at writing. As T.S. Eliot once snipped, "Some editors are failed writers -- but so are most writers." Mr. Lau is a successful writer.

I see that he's training his replacement. I have to wonder what the position pays. Not a job for me, though. I tried my hand at a few last year, when I was complaining about the work of other, lesser fortune cookie authors, and I think I'd better stick to novels.

Friday, February 17, 2017


Google's Blogger software tells me that this is my 1,000th post on this site. To celebrate, I stole some artwork from someone else's site.


Also, for today, content is absolutely free to enjoy! In fact, if you act now, you can get the rest of the content from this point on absolutely free, too!

How can you get in on this great deal? 

Just show up!

I'd appreciate it if someone would try to comment. Not only have I been unable to add Disqus (using Disqus's own code) (!!) (?) but I fear I may have also screwed up the regular Google comments. I hope I fixed it last night, but something is still hinky. If you can't get through, remember, I'm at frederick_key AT yahoo.com.

Meanwhile, I would like to point out that I've managed to put up something in this space every day since May 25, 2014, the day I finally had enough of my old Blog.com site's malfunctions. Now, when I say I've never missed a day, I also quickly add that they haven't all been posts of great distinction. If I had to go back and read them all straight through, I'd probably quickly decide that:

(1) I complain a lot more than I think I do;

(2) My life is totally ruled by dogs and food;

(3) I talk a lot about the weather, for a guy who doesn't get out much;

(4) If I put the hours into a fitness regimen that I put into this, I can guarantee, without fear of contradiction, that I would have injured myself by now.

Dumb as it may be, the purpose of this site was always professional: to get in the habit of daily writing (or at least cartooning) and to promote my books. Which may be seen to the side over there. Right there, where you want to click, see? Thank you.

It's been fun, and I hope to continue through another 1,000 posts at least. Starting tomorrow I guess this blog will have had a longer run than Anne Boleyn. And no one's threatened to cut off my head to this point, which is nice. See you tomorrow!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ice and fire.

So: How I tragically gave myself a minor burn on St. Valentine's Day while cooking, a burn that was pretty much completely healed by Wednesday morning.

I blame the burn on the ice. 

If you live in the south, or otherwise have had very little experience with ice, you may not have experienced this: Sometimes snow will be followed by freezing rain, the cherry on the top of a misery sundae. We had that sundae on Sunday, leaving a hard crust on top of the extant snow. It breaks easily; here's a thrilling action film of the ice being broken.

The problem is that the dogs were having a terrible time with it, because at their height the hard ice shell was like marching through a field of triangular plastic shards. Or one foot might fall through to the snow beneath while the other three skidded on the surface. Even quadrupeds have trouble with winter.

What made me furious was that while I was trying to cook a delicious dinner for my loving wife, both dogs in turn wanted desperately to relieve themselves on that lawn full of shards, but when doing so were paralyzed with such icy discomfort that it turned into disaster, delay, and disgruntlement. Because I had food on the stove, a pot of pasta, a pot of sauce, and a pan with braciole. Also an injured wife, as I wrote on the 8th, which is why I wasn't asking her to tend to the mutts.

As you know if you've ever had dogs, they are infuriatingly picky about where they do their business. The little guy, Nipper, is facing his first winter, and it seems to be determined to throw something weird and new at him every week. He was as unable to poop as a guy who'd been on the cheese-rice-heroin diet for a month. The big guy, Tralfaz, normally loves winter -- I was caught a little while ago barking at him for loafing in the snow rather than, uh, loafing in the snow -- but he too was having a terrible time. I could tell he was not enjoying it when I saw him trying to do gazelle jumps to move without having to crash along the ice. Tralfaz is not equipped by nature to leap like a gazelle.

Meanwhile, my pasta was turning into a doughy clump, and everything else was drying out.

When Nipper and I gave up on one session, I rushed inside in a fit of pique to continue cooking. Unlike a toque, pique is not a good fit for cooking. I dumped pasta, stirred sauce, and then grabbed the handle of the pan.

The terrific pan I have, a Cuisinart number with a Cool Grip™ handle, can be grabbed safely with the naked hand -- but not if that handle has been dangling directly over the flame on the neighboring burner. Then you scream, freak out, curse a lot, and get your hand under cold water.

So that's how I got burned by ice -- ice that caused the dogs to be unable to defecate, which held up dinner (already in progress), which caused me to cook angry, which led to me to clutch a hot handle. Because I'm smart like that.

As for my wife, she was in so much pain from her fall on the ice that she went to the doctor, who sent her to a physical therapist, who found out she had whiplash. I barely knew whiplash was a thing, or at least a thing beyond fake lawsuits on shows like The Brady Bunch. But it is a real thing, and real painful too.

Whiplash and burns. What we don't do for our fuzzy little friends.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sick burn.

Burned my writing hand last night. Minor, first-degree or maybe zero-degree, but it made it hard to draft anything last night, and I have to get on the paying work today.

I want to tell you that it had nothing to do with Valentine's Day, nor my lovely Mrs., who gave me a thoughtful and useful gift. I'll give you the saga tomorrow, if you can stand it.

Just one thought for today:

Don't cook angry. 

Thank you.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love, exciting and new.

Yes, this Valentine's Day I'd like to reflect on one of television's most loving love shows that happened to be about love -- and a ship.

Love...won't hurt anymore.
ABC's The Love Boat ran from 1977 to 1986, week in, week out. It was a force of nature. It could not be stopped.

Well, obviously, it could be; everything eventually ends, except The Simpsons. Ratings declined and the network pulled the plug, but it still came back for four movie specials in the following years. And the show was revived on UPN in 1998 with a different cast, but by then the magic had sailed away and it only lasted one season.

The show was kind of an anthology show, using its regular cast as a framing device while guest stars played out their stories as cruise passengers. Usually there were three storylines that unfolded over the course of the voyage. One might be a dramatic love story, another a dramedy family story, a third just played for laughs.

Everybody showed up on that boat over the show's run. Wikipedia lists (if my math is right) 1,030 special guest stars on that show. It seemed like everyone on earth had a shot at being a guest star. A lot of them were stalwarts of TV in that era, including Jack Klugman, Nipsey Russell, Michael J. Fox, Joan Van Ark, and Lyle Waggoner, but the list includes people like Andy Warhol, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, Gene Kelly, Robby the Robot, various Osmonds, Reggie Jackson, the Hudson Brothers, Cab Calloway, Tom Hanks, Hulk Hogan, Dorothy Lamour, Sammy the Seal, and on and on. It is insane, the number and variety of people who schlepped through that ship.

Can you imagine being in the writers' room on that show?

"Who we got coming up in the next ep?"

"Uh... Loni Anderson, Betty White, Alan Ludden, Robert Stack, and the Village People. Knock something together in three days, okay?"

At one point the show's regulars appeared in a line of action figures.

I'll just leave that one there.

I guess what put me in mind of The Love Boat was the various tributes to Mary Tyler Moore (never a guest star on TLB) and her eponymous sitcom that came in the wake of her passing away on January 25. Gavin MacLeod may be most lauded for his wonderful work on her show as newswriter Murray Slaughter, but he spent more of his career as Captain Merrill Stubing, a very different character. I also thought of Bernie Kopell, a great comic actor who played Dr. Adam Bricker on the show through its run -- but when I saw him on The Tonight Show during that time, he preferred discussing the 14 episodes of Get Smart he appeared on in three years as Siegfried (KAOS's Vice President of Public Relations and Terror). And of course Fred Grandy, who played Gopher Smith, later spent eight years in Congress. I don't know what he did to be punished like that.

Still, there's no reason to go on about the show, except that today is the day we're all supposed to be thinking lovey thoughts, and it was probably TV's most successful production based on the idea of romantic love. At least in the U.S.; when they ran it in France it was called La croisiΓ¨re s'amuse, or The Fun Cruise. Because in France, love is fun, oui? 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Send in those box tops, kids!

I'm a little fascinated by the Box Tops for Education program, run by General Mills. If you have a kid and you live in the United States, you probably know that it's a program by which the public is encouraged to buy products with the Box Tops for Education logo (called Box Tops Clips), and cut them out for collection by the schools. Each Box Top Clip, which despite the name may be found anywhere on the box, is worth a dime. A school can cash in up to $20,000 worth per year.

"Your school can use the money for anything it needs!" says the Web site. "Computers, books, and playground equipment are just some of the ways schools have chosen to use the funds raised through Box Tops for Education."

Here's a whopping collection I got from a wholesale-club size box of dishwasher detergent:

This collection is worth 80 cents. Just $19,999.20 to go for our parish school to max out.

Schools really do encourage this stuff. They have collection drives and get parents to participate, and get kids involved in gathering and entering the Clips.

Since General Mills started the program in 1996, it's grown to include sponsorship by companies such as Pillsbury, SC Johnson, and paper giant Kimberly-Clark. One day in the cellar I was surprised to see a Box Top Clip on a box of Scott rags that I'd had down there for ages.

Uh-oh -- the Clip expired in 2012. Hope the rags are still good.
I think it's a nice thing to do, and it's always good to get people to do things together to support worthy causes. That's why when I see these things (and they haven't expired) I clip them out for the parish school's collection box. Always enjoy making a donation that doesn't cost me money.

On the other hand, as I look at the budget for our regional public school system ($165,000,000 in the current year), and divide it by the number of students in the system (6,900), I see that it costs $23,913 to educate just ONE student in the current year.


So go ahead and collect enough box tops to max out -- if you can get hold of 200,000 Clips for the $20,000, that won't even pay for one child. There are seven public schools in the district altogether, and each school can cash in 200,000 box tops for 20Gs each, so try to get 1,400,000 Clips (each person in the region -- person, not family -- would have to come up with 39 Box Tops; most participating packages have 1). And that would educate 5.85 children.

So it's kind of depressing, especially when I get my school tax bill for the year. We'd better be turning out freaking Einsteins by the score, is all I'm saying.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Happy birthday, Mr. Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln  was born on this day in 1809, into poverty of a kind we only see in the United States in the immediate aftermath of some kind of disaster. For his family, that was life. We can hardly imagine anyone rising from such humble beginnings to the presidency, partly because our prosperity has erased for most of us the memory of such a thing.

Part of what makes Lincoln so fascinating are his various contradictions. He was a religious doubter who became devout in the crucible of the Civil War; he was a man of action who suffered from painful and sometimes debilitating depression; he was a failure who became our president during the nation's greatest crisis and led us through it. Above all, he was a humble man who still harbored burning ambition -- no man rises to the presidency without it. (Not even Gerald Ford.)

Because of his stature in our history, as well as his actual stature (still our tallest president, still the guy with a beard but no 'stache), and his famous stovepipe hat, he is the easiest president to depict. Look, here's a Lincoln now:
As of this morning, IMDb lists no fewer than 422 portrayals of Lincoln, not counting stage, video games, or automobile advertisements. For contrast, there are only 233 Hamlets. Henry Fonda, Hans Conried, Dennis Weaver, Hal Holbrook, Gregory Peck, Jason Robards, Tom Hanks, Sam Waterston, Raymond Massey, and Daniel Day-Lewis all played Lincoln. Some actors, like Frank McGlynn Sr., basically made a career of it.

Massey in Abe Lincoln in Illinois

And then there's Gottfried.
Lincoln was the first president from a new party since Jefferson, the first president killed in office (or anytime else), the only president (to date -- hi, California!) to deal with a civil war; he was a genuine hater of slavery, a believer in the principles of our nation's founding; he was a slow mover but a fast thinker, a man of great physical strength and mental strength to match; a man who grew up in both North and South; a man with a dopey military career who was president during our deadliest military contest; an autodidact and, amazingly, an honest lawyer. Unless we have a president who single-handedly repels an invasion by Martians, it's hard to think of how a president could ever top Mr. Lincoln.

A tip of the stovepipe to you, Mr. Lincoln; thank you for all you did for our nation.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Coffee wars.

For a while there it seemed that every cable show was about war. Cake Wars, Cupcake Wars, Storage Wars, Shipping Wars, Parking Wars, Undercover Boss Wars. Why there's been no Coffee Wars show I cannot say, because there are coffee wars and they are heating up, man.

Dunkin' Donuts like to say "America Runs on Dunkin'."

Here's the starting line.

But the number of stores make that claim a bit tenuous. Dunkin' is king in the northeast -- there are more than 500 in New York City alone -- but the almost 12,000 Starbucks in the U.S. is more than Dunkin' has worldwide. Foreign invaders like Tim Hortons and Second Cup, and victim of overexpansion Krispy Kreme, are always circling around, looking for weaknesses in the big guys.

Dunkin' may be #2 in the United States, but it is fighting back. I think it did a much better job at getting its coffee into supermarkets, although it was late to the K-Cup party. Now it's going after some of Starbucks' other supermarket money:

Bottled by Coca-Cola, the iced coffee drink -- a bargain at just 290 calories -- has started appearing in stores near me, anyway. I bought this one, cooled it in the fridge, and enjoyed it.

Sort of. I mean, it's very similar to the bottled Starbucks stuff, in that it's okay if you like milk flavored with a little coffee.

The craziest new weapon in the coffee wars is Dunkin' Donuts Pop-Tarts, a production with Kellogg's. These have latte-based flavors, and I guess are aimed at your older, more discriminating Pop-Tarts eater.

Not sure where this is all going, but I won't be surprised to see frozen Starbucks meatballs in my grocer's freezer.

While all this is happening, another fast food outfit has been sneaking its coffee products right into supermarkets -- McDonald's, under the McCafΓ© brand. They won't bottle the Special Sauce but they'll do this.

I confess that Mickey D's coffee has gotten much better over the years; when I was a kid it was like hot water with a little dirt mixed in for flavor. With McD's 14,000+ U.S. locations, they could be the third-place coffee giant that changes the direction of the coffee wars.

Meanwhile, all is quiet on the tea front... TOO quiet...

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Excerpts from the Exhibition of Roughhewn Vandalism.

What Thi
Stick in Wet Concrete
Artist Unknown, c. 1980

What Thi appears along the top of a concrete wall, its casual but unfinished question juxtaposed by the permanence of its medium. The artist seems to question the wall, or the very idea of the wall, or walls in general. What Thi asks the wall builder, and the casual observer, to consider the nature of the barrier, its purpose and composition. In fact, the work's open and friendly handwriting invites us to join the artist in questioning. What is this thing? What is that thing? What is any thing? Why is any thing? We all begin to ponder not only the wall, not only the wall between ourselves and the other, but why there are walls. Without barriers, is a thing even a thing? How can a thing be unless it is in one place and is not in another? How can anything be concrete without concrete? We may indeed nod and say, "I too want to know what thi."

Suck My D
Paint on Broken Concrete
Artist Unknown, 2012
In Suck My D, the unknown artist poses a dilemma to his audience. Is she or he making a challenge? An invitation? Do we know? Does she or he even know? It would appear that we are being asked to imbibe or draw upon or muse upon something. Something that starts with D. Disgust, maybe with our modern stony silence? Diversity, a prideful statement of her or his liberalism in the face of a grim, white, denying, but crumbling edifice? Dust, contrasting her or his speed to the lack of speed in a concrete barrier? Perhaps she or he intends to ask us to "suck my dilemma," to ponder with her or him what message she or he intends to send.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Okay, that's enough February.

Tuesday morning I took out the trash. ("Hooray you!" you say, and I thank you for it.) I walked the can up the driveway. A light rain was falling. I spent some time with my flashlight, passing up and down the driveway edges to see if there was any dog deposits hanging around I could dispose of. Why am I sharing this?

Just bear in mind that the driveway, while damp, was fine for walking. Although it was dark, I had already taken the boys out once, and it was fine then too.

Went back inside and within five minutes the little guy had to go out again to drop a brick. Went out to the driveway and POW, right on my back. Black ice had formed within five minutes. Fell like a sack of Stooges. If I were a Hanna-Barbera character the whole frame would have shook. Hit my elbow pretty well, but not enough to break it. My hand landed on some old ice next to the driveway, and got a long, jagged, but shallow cut.

Fred badge of courage.
My wife got the treatment a couple of days back, but not from black ice; the snow that fell weeks ago is still here, but had melted and refrozen into a layer of ice on the yard. She took the dogs back there and WHAM.

So we've learned two things:

1) Although the dogs did not cause either of our accidents, they would not have happened if it weren't for the dogs, so our canine chums should be nicer to us.

2) Winter sucks.

The black ice vanished within an hour, by the way, as the temperature rose. Rained all day. So what horrible winter weather do we have for Wednesday? Sun, high of 53⁰F. Thursday? High of 31, eight inches of snow.


One place I will not be going today is the store.

"Oh my God, get more toilet paper! THAT'S NOT ENOUGH!!!!!"
To date we've only had two snow storms bad enough to require my friend Mr. Plow to clear the driveway; also, we have yet to crack the negative numbers, with or without windchill. The electricity and heat have not gone out, knock on wood. In a lot of ways the winter has been kind to us. And yet I am still tired of the whole thing.

An acquaintance of mine retired to Florida, but comes back north from time to time to visit his kids and grandchildren. He said when he first moved down there he would see people wearing coats when it was 50 outside, and he was still walking around in shorts and a windbreaker. Now that he's been there a few years, he wears a coat when it's 50 outside.

Winter toughens us up. Doesn't stop us from complaining, though.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


Monday was a tough day, and not because I was hungover from the Super Bowl. I was up late enough to hear the end of the game -- a bit later than this early-to-bed guy usually stays up -- and predict to a friend that Tom Brady was going to have a Lance Armstrong moment one day. Then I fell into a deep and sober sleep.

Sadly, that didn't last.

My poor wife was ill, and needed help in the night. No one got good sleep after that. Then, in the day that followed (including a visit to the doctor, watching the same news loop over and over in the waiting room), I had to get to work on a very dull instructional book that's due very soon.

I knew I shouldn't have taken the job, but I'll probably have to cough up a cashball to the IRS man this year, and every bit helps.

The problem is, the book is boring as hell to anyone not in its field, and uses a lot of text styles that require consistency and attention to detail. It's also pretty long for a book of its kind. Using data collected by Commonplacebook, I can tell you this book is longer than The Picture of Dorian Gray, and a lot longer than Fahrenheit 451 and The Scarlet Letter, although it is at least shorter than The Secret Garden. So there's that.

But when you're really, really sleepy, and you're working on something dull...

Come to papa.

Well, I didn't get as far in the book as I had hoped, but I did spend enough time that the dogs caught a resentment at all the time I did spend on it. Anyway, this is why today's entry is pretty lame. The important thing is that I was able to help the lovely and equally tired Mrs. Key. Once I get through this doggone book, I'm going to take a nap like you wouldn't believe.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Coffee tech.

We go through a lot of coffee here in Baldpate. A lot of it is dispensed with a Cuisinart brand K-Cup device, but at least two pots a day come from a standard coffeemaker. 

And our Krups krapped out on us.

So now it's time to look for a new one. Meanwhile, we have an old Mr. Coffee doing the drip duty, an appliance that we retain for just such emergencies. 

The Krups was just okay. There were issues. To get the coffee as strong as we desired would sometimes result in regurgitation of grounds. The little feature that told us it was time to clean the machine (a blinking light that said CLEAN) seemed to be going off a lot. It wanted more baths than a hypersensitive teenager. Ultimately we were merely whelmed by the coffee it made. 

So we're taking a look at brands outside of Krups. But should we go high tech or low? 

When I say high tech, I'm not talking about the zany features available for people who have EARLY ADOPTER tattooed on their scalps. Things like the Ratio Eight ($595), precision engineered to control the bloom, may be just what these people need. Or maybe the Smarter Coffee Machine (£180), an app-controlled WiFi-connected coffeemaker that can tell you how much water is in it and can grind enough coffee to match. But frankly, we never even used the features that the Krups had. Set up coffee to be ready when we get up in the morning? But the machine's still hot from that after-dinner cup. And it has to be cleaned. And the dogs just tuckered me out today, you know? I'm beat.

So do we go high tech anyway, like the Cuisinart DCC-3400, with a clock that I don't use that resets to 12:00 every time there's a power surge and water filters that don't matter because I use Brita-filtered water ($129)?
Or maybe just a slightly updated Mr. Coffee, that just has one button to do the one thing ($18)?

Actually it's a two-feature button. It turns the machine on AND off.

There are two techy features to the Cuisinart in its favor: the thermal carafe and the automatic off switch. Few people enjoy stale coffee, and no one likes coffee that's burned down to a ring of sludge on the bottom of the pot. But do more expensive coffeemakers actually make better coffee? In my experience not so much, and they are too inflexible about the amount of coffee included. And a lot of their bells and whistles are as annoying as -- well, bells and whistles.

And I could buy seven of these Mr. Coffees for the price of one of those Cuisinarts.

Or perhaps I should lose my mind entirely.

No, I don't think I could face that first thing in the morning.

Saturday, February 4, 2017


There is a particular sound I have always hated. Ever since I was just a wee Fred I remember it making my flesh crawl. It makes me angry because it irritates me so much. It's not something that bothers many other people. Not like fingernails on a blackboard. Never had a problem with that.

Whether a sound irritates a lot of us or just you, it's called misophonia. I just found out about that yesterday, thanks to the always-interesting Mental Floss.

This stuff has been studied a lot. Newcastle University tested many irritating sounds to find out which were the most irritating:

There are all pretty bad. Two that I'm surprised are not in the top ten, however, are a dental drill and someone eating noisily. Those drive me nuts.

If the dentist's drill sounded like a cello, I would not mind going to see him, despite the pain and the floss-shaming and the money.

I used to work near a guy who, like me, ate at his desk a lot. I've always been a pretty quiet eater. It's the one thing that the ladies liked about me. Even women who dumped me were probably thinking, "I'll never find another man who eats as quietly as Fred does." But the guy at the desk next to mine was the loudest, slobberingest, slurpingest, lip-smackingest slob I've ever heard. He was a nice guy and funny, and I enjoyed talking with him, but when he'd come back to his desk with a paper bag I would cringe. I was always surprised when people invited him to lunch. Don't do it, you FOOLS! I wanted to cry. Or bring earplugs.

In an earlier piece on misophonia, Mental Floss explained that it was unclear whether the phenomenon was distinct or a part of another mental illness. I have to wonder about that. So many people get really distressed by certain annoying sounds that you'd think it has to be more widespread than even a fairly common mental illness like depression. Perhaps the degree of annoyance is the key, though. Like, if you get annoyed by chalk squeaking on a blackboard you're normal, but if you take it personally, you're nuts.

Should I divulge what sound makes me crazy? I don't go full Banner on it, but it does make me want to scream, and if I'm alone in the car with the radio on and I hear it in a beer commercial, oh I will scream.

It's the sound of liquid being poured into a glass. Some people find it appealing, which makes the commercials worse, because they draw that sound out to make it alluring. I hate it like poison. No idea why. I don't think I was traumatized by a glass of water as a child. I don't mind waterfalls and streams and showers. But pour that water in a glass, and brother, you may have a fight on your hands.

Fortunately it's a sound that doesn't last long. I read that some people get all wacky at the sound of rain. That would be a bad thing.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Just one more.

Of course, this is a tribute to the great Jimmy Durante:

As I mentioned yesterday, though, when you write a punch line you like it's hard to let it go, especially if you don't have an editor or director making you let it go. This elephant thing turned into one of those contests where you have a drawing and have to come up with the gag, and I was all the contestants.

I think sometimes editors who run those contests know what gag they want, and they just wait until someone submits it. Like, you might see:

And he's just waiting for something like:

"Dan's on the juice."
Unless of course something funnier actually does come in.

Well, the four elephant jokes were the only ones I had that I liked, so it will be on to something else tomorrow. It will have nothing to do with elephants. But I will leave you with some of the best thoughts on the military application of elephants ever written. I refer of course to the Hannibal chapter from Will Cuppy's The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody:

Hamilcar also told Hannibal about elephants and how you must always have plenty of these animals to scare the enemy. He attributed much of his own success to elephants and believed they would have won the First Punic War for him if things hadn't gone slightly haywire; for the war had turned into a naval affair. But even when the fighting was on land, the Romans did not scare nearly so well as expected. The Romans had learned about elephants while fighting Pyrrhus, whose elephants defeated him in 275 B.C., and even before that, in Alexander's time, King Porus had been undone by his own elephants. Thus, if history had taught any one thing up to that time, it was never to use elephants in war.
Then Hamilcar … was drowned in 228 B.C. while crossing a stream with a herd of elephants.
Taking elephants across the Alps is not as much fun as it sounds. The Alps are difficult enough when alone, and elephants are peculiarly fitted for not crossing them.
Whenever a thousand or so of his men would fall off an Alp, he [Hannibal] would tell the rest to cheer up, the elephants were all right. If someone had given him a shove at the right moment, much painful history might have been avoided.
Most of the original group [of elephants] succumbed to the climate, and he [Hannibal] was always begging Carthage for more, but the people at home were stingy. They would ask if he thought they were made of elephants and what he had done with the elephants they sent before. Sometimes, when he hadn't an elephant to his name, he would manage to wangle a few from somewhere, a feat which strikes me as his greatest claim to our attention.
And he [Hannibal] probably believed, up to the very end, that everything might still come out right if he only had a few you-know-whats.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Yes, another one, with an explanation.

Yes, this is the third elephant in the coffee shop cartoon in a row, but there's some reasons for that:

1) It's Groundhog Day, so we do things over and over, right?

2) When I first started drawing a man sitting in a coffee shop with an elephant, I did not know what punch line to use. Eventually I came up with more than one, and you know, our punch lines are like our children. We love them all equally, even the slightly dopey ones.

3) I had intended to unveil the Disqus commenting feature today, but I have not been able to make it function. Disqus supplied the code, but when I followed the instructions it didn't work. Don't know why yet. Still banging away at it. I am not a coder. I speak HTML (pronounced "hatemail") like Dave Barry speaks foreign tongues -- in his case, just enough to get beer and find the toilet.

So today's cartoon is mainly brought to you by failure, and my reluctance to let jokes go. Will I have another elephant joke on Friday? No! No way! Absolutely not! Maybe.