Friday, March 31, 2017

Old sayings.

One bit of weather wisdom my mom always said -- when appropriate; she didn't just go around repeating it all the time -- was: "Mackerel sky, not 24 hours dry."

Here is a picture of the sky I took yesterday at 9:43 am. Note the fish scale-like clouds skimming the expanse of blue.

And here I sit, 21 hours later, and it's raining.

Plus snow. That counts as non-dry.

I have never known that rhymey bit of folk wisdom to fail. 

I used to hear other Old Farmer's Almanac kind of rhymes, like "Red sky at morning, sailor take warning; red sky at night, sailor's delight." I don't know if that one works. I'm not even sure what that one means. A sailor might be delighted with a good stiff wind that would blow the shingles off my house; that wouldn't be too good for me. Maybe delight refers to something else? That's even scarier -- you know what they say about sailors.

Not all of them rhyme, or work at all. The tale that March either comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb or vice-versa is nonsense. Around here March comes in like a pain in the ass and takes a powder the same way.

Ben Franklin was good at these kinds of maxims, but his don't always rhyme and they're not always predictive. His Poor Richard's Almanack gave us gems like these: 

A false friend and a shadow attend 
only while the sun shines.

Analysis: True. Does not rhyme; is not predictive.

A flatterer never seems absurd: 
The flatter'd always takes his word. 

Analysis: True. Rhymes; is not predictive.

An honest man will receive neither 
money nor praise, that is not his due.

Analysis: True. Does not rhyme; is predictive. 

A cold April
The barn will fill.

Analysis: No idea if true. Sorta rhymes, is predictive. 

I would like to be thought a genius like Franklin, but as I am not a genius, maybe I could at least make a better presentation than he. In other words, write some terrific folk maxims that both rhyme and tell the reader what to expect. Here are some I whipped up just now:

On Saturday you hear the knell
Jehovah's Witness at the bell

Unless you like to be annoyed
All attorneys must avoid

He who discards a lone sock Sunday
Is destined to find its brother Monday

Car wash today
Rain on the way

If you're not careful
When you boff
Nine months later
Mazel tov! 

All right, so they suck. I told you I wasn't a genius. I can't make a famous scientific experiment by flying a key on a kite out there in the rain. Might make headlines, sure, but when Franklin did it he was brilliant; if I did it I'd just be lit up.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Clips from Justice League!

All the dorks down in Dorkville, the tall and the small, have been atwitter since the weekend when the really, true, honest trailer for the Justice League movie dropped. 

If you're one of the three people on Earth who have not seen it, here it is:

And now there are two.

YouTube is packed with trailer reactions, mashups of trailer reactions, reactions to trailer reactions, Easter eggs from the trailer, reactions to Easter eggs from the trailer, probably reactions to the mashups of the reactions to the Easter eggs of the trailer... 

Did we ever get this excited about trailers being released when we were kids? Don't we have anything else to do with our time?

Dork I may be, but I can afford to take a superior attitude here. I have something much better than a trailer. Through a series of strange events, I actually have come into possession of Justice League clips

Don't tell the Warner Brothers, either of them. They'll be mad. 

Have a look:

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Do Not Follow.

[Dear Reader: As I noted on Sunday, all of my entries on the old blog have now gone down the digital hole along with the provider, except for some I backed up. Therefore I present today one of what I euphemistically call a Fred Classic, or rather, to use that very low bar, "The Best of Fred."]
"Construction Vehicle / Do Not Follow"
Why not follow, I say?

Are they shy? We all know that people like to watch construction. But do the construction guys not like to be watched? "Don't follow me! I don't want you to hang around watching us all day! We're awfully shy!"

When I've seen construction crews, shy is not the word that springs to mind.

Maybe they're secretive. Like, they're hiding their trade secrets. Or maybe they're hiding construction magic! We know that little boys love trucks---maybe they sense the secret truck magic. They say kids are intuitive about these things.

Puts me in mind of Tennyson:

Not of the sunlight,
   Not of the moonlight,
   Not of the starlight!
   O young Mariner,
   Down to the haven,
   Call your companions,
   Launch your vessel,
   And crowd your canvas,
   And, ere it vanishes
   Over the margin,
   After it, follow it,
   Follow The Truck.

Or something like that.

Maybe the Who:

Every day I get in the car (Too much, the Magic Truck)
To follow the truck that takes me too far (Too much, the Magic Truck)
I'm so nervous, I just sit and smile (Too much, the Magic Truck)
The site is only another mile (Too much, the Magic Truck)

But I think I can write my own Chaucer-like ode to the Truck That Cannot Be Followed:

O mitey trucke that schleppes alonge
The secret paths I don't belonge;
Belching diesell all the dayes,
Thou goeth mystick fairey wayes,
Doun hidden traille and secret roade
Thou growleth neath thy hevy loade.
Construction trucke, were I to followe,
Perhaps you'd lede me to Apolloe,
In harde hatt, with his lyre swete!
I'd laye the bryck and pour concrete
I'd bilde a golden rebar gate
With Teemsters (locall 308).
Alas, I cannot bilde, O Trucke!
My bilding prowes sure doth sucke;
With trowel and rivett I am but dumbe;
I hammer on my precious thumbe.
Fare well, O Trucke; I am not fitte
With you to worke and scratche and spitte.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Blizzard, where is thy sting?

It's hard to believe now that two weeks ago was the biggest blizzard of the year.

It was easy to believe at the time.

Getting hit that hard that late in the season seemed like a dirty trick, not to mention a huge inconvenience. Even for me, working at home, there were many challenges. For one thing, the snow-loving dogs have been wet for two weeks. For another, it has been hard to play fetch.

It's in there somewhere, puppy! Keep looking!

But the bright side of a blizzard in the middle of March is that it can't hang around forever. If that nor'easter had whacked us in January, we'd have been climbing over crusty crap for two months. You'd hardly know now that we'd gotten walloped so hard.

What's that greenish stuff? 
That shot was from yesterday; on Sunday I had the big dog for a walk and the snow was still considerably higher. People were looking for spring, though, getting those flower pots ready for action.


Yesterday was rainy, as is this morning, and between that and the snow melt everything is muddy. I'll take it. It's also causing a lot of fog, sometimes at sunrise and sunset but even mid-morning yesterday. I like fog. It's mysterious.

Mysterious fog of mystery

Fog is great if you don't have to drive in it. In fact, the same could be said of snowstorms. I'd go so far as to say that I was much more forgiving of weather when I was a little kid, when I didn't have to drive in, shovel, climb over, wait for a bus in, look professional during, worry about the house during, pay for the removal of, or otherwise deal with the more serious aspects of weather. A dark, dank, rainy morning was the best time to be in school, if you had to be there.

I'll say this for snowstorms, though -- blizzards may be the least bad major weather event you can get hit by. Hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, cyclones, tidal waves, wildfires, mudslides -- geez, give me a blizzard anytime.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Old blog, new tricks.

Approximately 1,038 days ago -- actually exactly that many, since that's how many entries I've done on this Blogger site -- I left my old blog behind on Why? Because, despite its name, is the worst site ever created for blogging. Mostly because it does not work. Only found out now that the Better Business Bureau has straight-up flunked it for "Failure to respond to 5 complaint(s) filed against business". I get the feeling that a couple of stoners snagged the URL in the 90's expecting to be bought out for millions, money that never came.

The site would crash, sometimes my page, sometimes everything. Half the time you either couldn't upload pictures, or when you did they wouldn't display. When I finally had enough I left a sign on the site directing people here, and left the free part of the site up. But now everything is down. It would appear that is no longer a going concern. 

I'm rather annoyed by this. Not because my old site was a marvel of unsurpassed brilliance. Even I'm not so beguiled by myself as to think that. In fact, I didn't back up all that much of it because the content was topical, or consisted of reviews of things from the dollar store, or was just stuff that was fun at the time but didn't seem like something I would want in my papers at my university library after my passing.

But there are some things I backed up, which I may trickle out just so that they once again appear somewhere online. Stuff like how I got to be such an awesome cartoonist:

 My opinion of Twitter:

And my answer to the Buddy Cop movie:

I hope you'll bear with me if you see any familiar retreads in the weeks ahead. Some of my old gags are like my wee little children, and I hate to see them vanish. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017


There's been a movement about to remove the stigma of addiction; they say (as on this site) that it punishes those who are sick. You wouldn't punish someone for having cancer, would you? But people who suffer from addictions are terrified of their secret coming out, and so they stay in the shadows until the darkness claims them.

I sympathize with this view entirely; few things bring as much shame on a person than the effects of addiction. I wonder if anyone suffers from the addict's behavior more than the addict does. Getting clean is a mighty, even titanic, struggle.

But here's my question: Is removing the stigma from addiction not actually normalizing it, thus legitimizing it? I know some people who believe they were born alcoholic, had all the characteristics that psychologists associate with the disease long before they took that first drink -- why can't they just say "I was born this way" and not do anything about it? Self-righteousness and victimhood is one way of dealing with some of the suffering of addiction -- getting rid of the humiliation. It's a poor way, but it's a way.

You think that Addict Pride sounds like a crazy idea -- heard of any other ideas lately that would have seemed crazy 40 or even 30 years ago?

It is absolutely true that shame can keep people from going to get help, but it sure as hell can also motivate people to go and get help. And they should try to get some kind of help, if only to protect everyone around them. 

The thing is, addiction may be an illness, but it's not like other illnesses. Cancer, diabetes, heart disease, these things don't cause this:

You know what that is? It's a seal over the tank of a toilet bowl in the place where I go for blood and urine tests as part of my annual physical. They have to use sealing tape to prevent a guy who's clean from leaving a vial of his own pee hidden in the tank for his buddy who's coming in next to take a drug test for work (maybe as a school bus driver) or as part of his parole. After I left my own sample a tech probably checked the room to make sure I didn't leave anything around. Cancer patients don't smuggle in someone else's blood so they can beat the CBC and go on having cancer.

That's why some people don't buy the disease model of addiction, or allow that it's a kind of insanity -- this kind of behavior is crafty and lucid. Everybody else has to struggle to stay a step ahead of the guy who is trying to kill himself with drugs or alcohol. How could you take the stigma from that even if you wanted to?

No one really knows if more people or fewer people will get treatment if the shame of addiction is removed. They can point to the anonymity of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and other similar organizations as proof that people will seek help if they can go someplace where they will not be exposed to the whole world and will be with those who understand. And that's true -- but it's not like those organizations have been outlawed, They're still there. One can recover with one's addiction unknown to the outside world (if one's crash hasn't been too public). We can't expect that removing the stigma of addiction will turn the whole world into a safe zone. It doesn't work that way. AA and NA stress that the alcoholic or drug addict must take responsibility for his condition, and that includes dealing with the world as it is, not as he'd like it to be.

As Mitch Hedberg said, "Alcoholism is the only disease you can get yelled at for having." That was before he died of an overdose at age 37. People knew he'd been in trouble for drugs. He admitted it. He was out of the shadows and died anyway. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Hot stuff!

Brace yourself -- this is terrifying:


Well, it's another kitchen gadget from Santa! Yes, I got the Oven Pull Monster, a helpful if fearsome silicone chap whose mouth is perfect for pulling out the oven rack without burning yourself. He's heat resistant to 500 degrees, can move racks, pots, pans, whatever you have in there, and keeps you a hand's length away from the heat. Which is nice, since as we know, oven mitts are not always as heat resistant as they look.

Of course, if you're like me -- and if so I'm sorry -- you can't pick up your Oven Pull Monster without making monster noises.


This is true whether you got the red one, as I did, or one of the green ones.


It's a handy tool, and I support any product that makes kitchen burns less likely without compromising the food. Plus, I can carry it around and use it to alarm people I encounter. So I got that going for me.

It turns out that some bug-eyed monsters can be very helpful in the kitchen. Not all of them, of course.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

I've been work work work work working...

I was copyediting a book the other day and got to thinking about a former coworker of mine whom I recall fondly. As the dullness of the book slowly tilted me toward unconsciousness, I suddenly realized that most of my assignments -- as a freelance editor, but really, everything I've ever done for money -- could neatly fit one of the squares on this chart:

If I'd had more time -- in other words, if I didn't have to do all that doggone work -- I'd have shown it as a scale for each block; the boring and difficult jobs would go way up on the left side, then as they got easier they'd move closer to the blue block below, and as they got more interesting they'd lean farther toward the pink block on the right, and so on.

Maybe I was thinking of work because of St. Joseph, whose feast day just passed. We celebrate him as the patron of workers on May 1, but he always remembered as the saint for the working man or woman (as well as the patron of the Universal Church, unborn children, fathers, travelers, and immigrants, and of course the patron saint of a happy death, which some of the boring jobs have made me wish for).

As regards my chart, obviously jobs that are boring and difficult are the hardest, since they require the utmost concentration and ensure the least desire to concentrate. A job that's difficult but interesting can at least keep me engaged. One that's boring but easy I can fly through, the greatest danger being that I'll detach too much and make mistakes. And a job that's easy and interesting is the best, because that's easy money.

Which is when I remembered my old office pal, Patty, who liked to say, "They call it work because it sucks. If it was fun they'd call it play."

As I considered my chart, I realized that if we scaled to the boxes to the assignments I actually get by volume, it would look more like:

They wouldn't pay you if it was all fun and games. And that's why I get paid, although of course, not enough.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Momma nuke.

A couple of weeks ago I ran 25 tips for home cooks, things I'd learned, many the hard way. I had one more tip, but it was really about cleanliness and kitchen safety rather than cooking.

The question is: How do you clean the microwave?

You have to put food in there, so bleach products and ammonia are out. You want an ammonia-flavored Hot Pocket? It's an electronic product, so scouring powders are a bad idea. Oven cleaner? Not made for microwave ovens.

You need an angry mama.

The Angry Mama Microwave Cleaner arrived at Christmas, and is a handy little gizmo. It works by the same principle I've always used, that of nuking up a bowl of water really hot and letting the steam loosen the gunk on the oven interior. Some elbow grease does the rest. 

The problem with this method is one I found out the first time I tried it -- superheated water is dangerous. The FDA reports "serious skin burns or scalding injuries around people's hands and faces as a result of hot water erupting out of a cup after it had been over-heated in a microwave oven. Over-heating of water in a cup can result in superheated water (past its boiling temperature) without appearing to boil." I did not get burned, fortunately, but here's what happened: I put in a bowl of water with some lemon juice and set the timer to Kill; when it was done I opened the door. "If superheating has occurred, a slight disturbance or movement such as picking up the cup, or pouring in a spoon full of instant coffee, may result in a violent eruption with the boiling water exploding out of the cup," says Mr. FDA, and opening the door was enough. BANG! 

The Mythbusters did a nice demo on this years ago:

After my escapade I adapted my method by superheating the water and then leaving the bowl in the microwave until it had cooled off, 10 minutes or so. 

You still have to do this with Angry Mama. Since Mama is plastic, she seems to require less time to get past the explosive state (instructions say to wait two minutes after nuking before lifting), and she has those stay-cool arms for safe removal. The manufacturer recommends a mixture of vinegar and water rather than lemon juice. You'll still have to use some muscle to scrub the inside of the oven -- those cheesy splats bake on like concrete -- but the job is far easier. For one thing, she has steam holes in the head to blast steam at the ick that forms on the microwave roof. When the job is done, she's ready for a bath in the dishwasher. 

So we're glad we got the Angry Mama, and recommend her. Better and safer than the old bowl method. But she never does stop looking mad. I guess she's seen the state of the refrigerator.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Toilet Tuesday!

I was in Lowe's a week or so ago and, while waiting (and waiting and waiting) for help in the plumbing section, I saw something that totally blew me away, toiletwise.

At first I was no more bowled (Ha!) over than you. White toilet, so what? The claim below, "Unmatched clog resistance," just tells you it's as bad as all our modern low-flow toilets. But then I saw this!

"Engineered to prevent clogs; flushes a bucket of golf balls in a single flush."

How did I miss this in the newspapers? 

We have a clutch of toilets and I wouldn't bet on any of them flushing one golf ball. 

I checked American Standard's Web site and sure enough, they stand by this outrageous claim

Removes 2.2 lbs of waste in a single flush (1,000g MaP score - the highest rated flush performance possible!)
Flushes a bucket of golf balls in a single flush.

I could hardly have been more gobsmacked if they said, "Flushes a five-pound watermelon in a single flush." Well, I suppose I would really have wanted to see that to believe it.

But about this golf ball business. Since my trip to the hardware store I've been thinking about it, and I have some questions:

1) How slowly do they pour in the golf balls? Yes, I question whether the primary toilet here at Baldpate Manor could flush a single golf ball, but let's assume that it is possible. Well, if I flushed one a day, eventually I could flush an enormous number of golf balls. Ah, but they're onto me; the claim is that they can flush a bucket "in a single flush." Unless the thing is designed to flush over the course of twenty to thirty minutes -- which would likely violate the federal government's 1.6-gallon maximum flush capacity -- their claim grows more not less impressive.

2) How big is the bucket? This is a real bone of contention, because "a bucket" means different things on different golf courses, or even on the same if your course's driving range sells different size buckets. Putting the question "how many golf balls in a bucket?" on Google gets you a number of varying answers from golfers, and a few from science and math teachers who want to give students a formula to calculate a population of spheres from available volume. It seems that while the so-called federal government can force us to use the same toilet capacity, it's all just Wild West out there for driving range bucket capacity. I would like to think American Standard would not fiddle with us by using a rocks-glass size bucket that holds two golf balls; certainly their illustration makes it seem that we're dealing with at least a bucket of 30.

3) Would anyone actually put this to the test? I wouldn't. Not in my house. Even if my new supercrapper could handle a bucket of 300 balls, I would just expect them to get stuck in the plumbing, clogging the sewer outlet or something. No Liquid-Plumr or Drano is going to dissolve a bunch of golf balls. People with septic tanks would probably be even less inclined to try this at home. I think American Standard is expecting that we will take them at their word, and I think I'd have to.

4) Might this start a plumbing themed war over sporting equipment? Will Kohler respond with a toilet that they claim could flush billiard balls? Will Ove counter by flushing fully inflated regulation NBA basketballs? This could get ugly. And awesome.

All that said, I can almost guarantee my next toilet is going to be the Champion 4. I've dealt with plungers too often over the years in our home, and I'm not going to sit for it any longer. The only way I'll not get the Champion 4 is if the company releases a new toilet that can flush the entire 2,631-piece "Identity and Landscape" set of Lego bricks in one fell swoosh. Now that would be awesome.

Monday, March 20, 2017


At 6:28 this morning, it became Spring here on the East Coast of the United States. 

Less than a week after the worst snowstorm of the year. Readers of the Great Lileks and fans of MST3K will understand what I mean when I say it felt like Coily had been at work. 

Should I start whining about all the yard work I have to do? Nah, let's wait until I can actually see the yard. We got up to 40⁰F or so yesterday and it melted a ton of snow, but the grass is still buried under about six inches of the stuff. I have no idea where any of the dogs' toys are. Under there somewhere.

I shall try not to focus on the yard or other housework that will need to be done. If I think about the spring cleaning too much I'll be yelling for another blizzard. Instead I shall focus on baseball, warmth, Easter, and not shoveling snow.

Here's what we can expect to see in a few weeks:

I don't mind plowing so much, but Oxen Local 425 is threatening a strike. And how do Bumpus's sheep keep getting in here?

There's a lot to look forward to. I'm not going to get upset about the spring projects that need doing, anymore than I'm going to get upset about the winter projects that never got done. We do our best, or try to, and on we go!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lousy Lent.

I'm not gonna lie: So far Lent has sucked.

I tend to see Lent as a spiritual journey, and indeed it is often described that way in homily and song. But I never got off on a good foot this year. I had no directions, no ideas, no inspiration. Definitely no road map.

This actually would have been an improvement.

I feel like that first step dropped me into the Slough of Despond, and there I wallow.

Oh, sure, I had some plans, the usual giving up of this and intending to do that. Usually I make it a point to do some appropriate reading in Lent as well as Advent -- the Gospels, Acts, the Epistles, some of the more crucial prophets, books about the faith, as well as books by great Christian authors like Lewis and Belloc, have all been in my reading list at these times of year. This year it's been a failure. I decided to read G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man, which I probably last read close to twenty years ago. I got a couple of chapters in and I got stuck. It's not Chesterton's writing, which I love, or his arguments or anything else. I just would appear to be having some kind of revolt against books.

You probably know about these novels I've written; you may know that the bulk of my freelance work comes from editing books. I've been devoted to the written word since childhood. Now I want to start my own little book burning in the backyard. (With all my books it would rival the Texas A&M Aggie bonfire.)

It's true; the last book I finished with no one paying me to do it was John Delaney's A Woman Clothed with the Sun, my Advent reading. It's not a fun read. Yet somehow a handful of months ago I was able to get through that, and now I can't make myself read a book I love.

I fear I may be dealing with a case of depression. I've been diagnosed with major depression in the past, and submitted to counseling and medication for a while, but it has not reared up at me in a few years. Back then I was still able to read, although unable to write. Maybe because I was working in magazines at the time rather than books.

Even worse, I've come to a place where I can no longer trust my hunches or instincts at all. "Go with your gut" is pretty good advice -- but no longer for me. Nowadays if I have a strong conviction or inspiration, I guarantee you I will be proved wrong. If there is a bundle of primordial nerves that give us good direction when our higher brains fail, or if there is a guardian angel seeking to lead each of us to good decision and good action, I'm telling you I cannot get proper messages from either of them.

I'll grant you there's a lot of things going on right now, some of them frustrating or depressing, but whose life does not have challenges and even dangers? If my faith isn't helping me deal with these things, then there's something wrong with it or there's something wrong with me. Experience tells me to suspect first that the problem is sitting in my chair, typing on my laptop, right this second.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

There's got to be a morning after.

"Oh, not much, Max; the kids had something at school... How was your St. Patrick's Day?"

"Yeah, we made snow leprechauns and...
What? Can I recommend a criminal
defense attorney?"

Friday, March 17, 2017

St. Patrick's dough.

Dunkin' Donuts has dropped the ball on St. Patrick's Day this year. 

Seriously, with all the seasonal doughnuts they make (including the bizarre Winter flavored doughnuts I noted in January), it's surprising that all they've done is one chocolate-frosted doughnut with a small fraction of shamrock sprinkles. 

Always after me lucky charms.
As I think of it, though, a lot of outfits that make hay out of holidays don't do anything for this one. Sure, McDonald's has Shamrock Shakes, but who else? There are bags of green M&M's but they don't make a holiday themed bag. There's no Reese's Shamrock. No St. Peeptrick. Sure, Google did a doodle, but you can't eat it.

I guess there are some understandable reasons for this sugar-shunning of St. Patrick's:

1) It's an ethnic holiday. Popular and universally celebrated in the States as it is, important as it is for the Catholic and universal church, it's always been a big day for the Irish people. (You may say Duh!, but remember, it's about a non-Irish-born saint, not the people he spent his life saving.)

2) And on that note, it's a religious holiday. No Jesus, no St. Patrick.

3) And it's also sometimes a political holiday, yes. The Irish have always used it to tweak the noses of people they don't like -- that is, the British -- even though Patrick was himself born in Britain.

These are the kinds of things that turn secular candy and baked goods companies off holidays. So I guess we'll have to eat corned beef and drink green beer. Or we could drink Shamrock Shakes and eat Lucky Charms. The sugar high might actually leave us with a case of the shamrock shakes, actually.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

What'd you do with the money, Ralph?

Jackie Gleason's 101st birthday passed a couple of weeks ago on February 26, but that's not why I was thinking about him. I was shoveling snow and remembered (if I remembered correctly) that bus driver Ralph Kramden met his wife Alice during a snowstorm in New York during the Depression, while he joined a work crew digging out the city. Alice was handing out the shovels.

Ralph Kramden, her of The Honeymooners, always wanted to get rich, but he was not a lazy dreamer. We know he worked hard; driving a bus in a major city is not an easy way to make a living. But one thing has started to bother me about the show:

What'd you do with all the money, Ralph?

It always bothered me a little that the Nortons had considerably more than the Kramdens. Ed Norton worked for the sewers, but that was 1955, long before John Lindsay was giving away the store. And yet the Nortons had things and the Kramdens had nothing. Why?

I was trying to run the numbers, but numbers are hard to find for a casual researcher. I do have these:

In 1958, according to the Census Bureau, the average transportation worker made $5,808 annually. Maybe they earned a little more in the big city, so we'll say Ralph scored that as early as 1955. According to Curbed, in 1955 a three-room elevator apartment on West 88th Street was advertised at $98 a month. Now, no way did the Kramdens pay that for their two-room apartment in Bensonhurst, but for ease of financial calculation let's say the postwar boom drove rents way up ten years after the end of the war, so they had to pay $1,200 a year for their crappy apartment.

What happened to the other $4,608, Ralph?

Of all the poor families ever seen in American sitcoms, the Kramdens may be the poorest. They had nothing. No phone, no TV, no decent furniture. Alice had nothing but dowdy dresses. They made the Evanses from Good Times look like the Drummonds from Diff'rent Strokes. But the Nortons had nice furniture, a TV, a tape recorder, curtains, a telephone, and generally were a step up. Where did all the Kramdens' money go?

There are some theories to account for it:

It went into Ralph's stomach. We know Ralph loved to eat, and was a sucker for that Neapolitan knockwurst. But Norton, like other skinny comedy guys Jughead Jones and Shaggy Rogers, may have been even more voracious. And neither of them could hold their liquor, so they didn't drink. They smoked (never on camera) but cigs were dirt cheap back then. It doesn't seem like Ralph's appetites could have ruined his family.

Ralph blew it on extracurricular activities. Bowling, pool, miscellaneous gambling, and of course the Raccoon Lodge. Could he have spent that much? Ralph and Alice would fight about money, sure, but it's hard to believe that a woman of her fiery disposition would allow herself to sink into poverty for the sake of the Raccoon Lodge or games of pitch penny.

Ralph's get-rich schemes. This may have some currency, so to speak. Ralph certainly took a bath on that Chef of the Future business. But Norton got pummeled in that one too. I'll just say it's a possibility.

Hidden generosity. Ralph's blustery exterior concealed a heart of gold, as we all know. Maybe even a philanthropic nature. But I guess that would be a non-canon theory, since throwing money around to help the destitute never played into an episode.

Here's my theory: The show did not have an accurate picture of the life of a teetotal bus driver of simple tastes in New York in 1955. But it may have accurately portrayed the financial straits of a boy and his mother in 1925, when Jackie was nine and his father abandoned the family. His mother went to work for the subways, as a subway attendant, a job of lower skill and lower pay than a bus driver, at a time women really did get paid less for the same jobs as men. (The theory then was that a man would be supporting a family and a woman who had to work must be single and childless.) The only other member of the family, Jackie's brother Clement, had died at 14 in 1919.

In short, I think Gleason was thinking of his Brooklyn childhood when he developed the show, but his creation did not jibe with the facts for an honest working man in 1955's Brooklyn. Which was why it was even so much sadder when, in later decades, he made Honeymooners revivals that showed Ralph and Alice still childless, still living in the same dump.

I don't know if it's true that behind every comedy genius is a deep well of pain, but Gleason surely suffered a lot of pain in his life. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, he created an enduring and much copied TV show with unforgettable characters and brilliant comic situations. He was a comedy genius, no question about it. But 1925 never left him.

And so while good things could be allowed to happen to Ralph Kramden, he was never going to be allowed to hit that high note.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Storm Diary, part 2.

March 14, 9:28 am: It’s nice and toasty in the house, and I have a lot of work to do. Whistle while you work, blah da da blah da da dooo… Meanwhile, the snow outside is falling fast. We’ve had a lot of power failures around here, usually when ice pulls down lines, but I’m not discounting the power of this storm. Once I lose power on the laptop, I won’t be able to work. Worse, without electricity our furnace won’t start. We have no fireplace. We’re gonna die.

9:44 am: Have corresponded with a client in the south. He says it’s under 50 degrees and everyone is bitching. Asks how long it takes to dig out after two feet of snow. I said it’s like everyone has the flu for a week. If we’re lucky and it turns warm, we just have flooding everywhere.

10:34 am: We got ourselves a blizzard.

Meteorologists say a blizzard has to meet three conditions, per ABC News:

1. Sustained wind or frequent gusts of 35 mph or greater.
2. Considerable falling and/or blowing snow reducing visibility to under a quarter mile.
3. These conditions have to continue for at least three consecutive hours.

We are there.

Or, a Blizzard could be a tasty dessert from Dairy Queen. I’d much prefer that kind of blizzard.

My plow guy just came to do the driveway, because if he waited until the end of the storm he wouldn’t be able to do it. He’s got to be paid for each visit, of course, and well worth it. That was visit #1.

1:00 pm: Was out with the little dog, who isn’t even that little, and I could not even tell if he peed. I had dug him a little trench to pee in but it got filled up with more of the white crap. Now the wind is whipping around really good. The big dog, who looooooves snow, actually wanted to come in after a while. No kidding, that is the first time in three years he’s wanted to come in out of the snow. My wife says he was shivering. It wasn’t doing me a bit of good either.

3:32 pm: Spent a good solid two hours working. All the while the crystalline menace grew deeper and colder, the wind erasing my shoveled path. I felt like St. Augustine, or one of his lesser scribes, scribbling away as the Vandals knocked at the gates of Hippo.

4:37 pm: Little dog has been a pain in the rear end most of the day. He’s seen snow before, but never anything like this. I finally did catch him in the act of peeing, but to do it he first had to watch big dog to see how he would manage the vast piles of snow. More is caught than taught, they say.

Remember last July, when the country was roasting under the blistering hot heat dome and I was so miserable? Good times.

5:51 pm: The dog hater down the street, Bat Fastid, finally came out with his snow blower, only to find that his snow blower doesn’t work that well in two feet of snow. He somehow managed to keep it going, for which I thank God, because if it exploded and left him standing there blinking like a guy in a cartoon it would have been more than Christian charity could bear. It could have even been dangerous for me.

6:55 pm: The snow, which was light and puffy as fairy dust, no good at all for making a snowball, has suddenly packed on the ground into a solid layer of crap, about the consistency of Lego blocks. That was a dirty trick, Winter. I know I brought it on myself for wishing ill on the dog-hating jerk, even if he is a jerk.

7:06 pm: Just got word that the county is lifting the snow emergency, effective at 11 pm. Which will be followed by the snow plow drivers’ drunk driving emergency as all those guys go get hammered.

9:21 pm: Completely exhausted. Accomplished work goals, shoveled a lot, made dinner. Ready to die. And I never even made it as far as the sidewalk today.

And we’re supposed to get more snow tomorrow.

March 15, 6:51 am: The walkway has a solid block of snow three inches deep that cannot be removed without possibly damaging the bricks. With a high of 22 expected, it doesn't seem likely to change soon. On the other hand, the top is crunchy and can be crossed in safety. Better yet, God has smiled on us, and it looks like we will have only some flurries today. And we didn't lose power.

Our plow guy never returned for plow #2, and the weight of the stuff on the driveway makes me worry that he broke his truck somewhere along the line. It's a very strong truck -- he pulled my car out of a snowbank once, for real -- but it isn't very new, and neither is he. I hope he's okay for his sake; he's a good guy. Maybe he's a little hungover.

Final totals for our town: between 19.3 and 22 inches, depending on whom you believe. Also included in totals: One frantic puppy, one dog who found out that his beloved snow is not always his friend, and two exhausted and achy adults.

Oh, St. Patrick and St. Joseph, pray for us, that we might see some sign of spring on your feast days!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Storm Diary, part 1.

March 13, 3:45 pm: The sun is shining, the temp is a delightful and seasonal 31. The leftover snow from the last storm, which barely merited shoveling, is passing into mud. A few clouds, but just the scrim over the sky; nothing would indicate to the casual viewer that the snowfall that will end civilization will be slamming us in a few short hours. I know how that guy felt, the one who wouldn’t leave his home on Mount St. Helens back in 1980. Harry Randall Truman was his name, and he was determined to stay. 

His remains have never been found. 

Oh, well. He was 83. It’s a safe bet he’d be dead by now. People don’t generally live to 120. 

6:51 pm: Outside with little dog. Sure is nice to have sunlight at sevenish. Just finger clouds brushing over the sky. No sign here of a blizzard—we’ve been upgraded from a winter storm warning to a blizzard warning—but there was five hours ago at the supermarket. I foolishly forgot red onions for a dish I’m making Tuesday, so I popped into the ol' market to get it. Madhouse. Ten deep at the self-checkout 15-items-or-less line. Rumors that another market had completely run dry of milk. What is this, Venezuela? 

8:37 pm: Outside with big dog. Still see stars through the cloud cover. Snow is supposed to be less than four hours away. They’re sticking with the 24-inch forecast, with 2-4 falling per hour Tuesday morning. Is it devastating other places right now, an inexorable Mongol-like march toward my little house? 

8:47 pm: Tomorrow is trash day. Will they try to pick it up? I hate when they miss a day. Worse since I have a barrel in the back that is kind of the dog version of the Diaper Genie, if you get my drift. Let’s check the town Web site to see if there’s a notice about that… It says all town offices will be closed, but the trash guys are independent contractors. Okay, I have no idea. I expect I will be dragging a trash can up the snowy driveway at six in the morning so that it can be buried in the snow and thrown over by snowplows. Or I can leave the can in the garage and wave as the trash collectors go by. No matter which route I follow, I expect to be wrong. 

9:31 pm: Everybody’s tired. Big dog got groomed today, which he hates, and little dog was upset that big dog was gone and wouldn’t nap. We worked, but I think there’s a real sense that we’d better be well rested for whatever Tuesday is going to throw at us. Schools will be closed, stores, most workplaces. Of course, I work from home, so I’m going to have to work anyway, in between bouts of shoveling. Going to bed early. Flakes fallen thus far: 0.

9:57 pm: Took the boys out on one last pee run. No stars visible at all, no moon. Dum dum DUUUMMM….

March 14, 4:10 am: It’s true what they say—when you get older, pulling an all-nighter means you slept through the night without having to use the can. When I got up I peeked out the blinds. White as an SJW’s worst nightmare out there. Hoo boy.

6:00 am: Outside with the lads. About four inches of snow already. They’re going crazy. So am I, but in a bad way. Shoveling the walk; got to do it several times, rather than wait until the storm is over. Do not want to wind up like one of those guys who goes out with his jolly shovel to face two feet of snow and has a coronary. The walkway isn’t that long, but by the time I get to the end of it the beginning is covered again. Glad I didn’t take out the trash; the neighbor who did last night has quietly retrieved his can.

6:58 am: This storm will continue until nine tonight, when blustery winds start up to blow all the snow back on the places we’ve cleared. My wife says it stretches back to Canton, out to Boston, up to Ottawa, down to Cuba. I see the Weather Channel is not giving up on its stupid idea to name snow storms; this one is Stella. I guess so we can all stand around and scream at it like Stanley Kowalski. I hate the Weather Channel, and at the moment I’m not too wild about weather itself. 

What will happen in part two of Storm Diary? Will our hero have a coronary? Will the dogs drive him insane? Will his house collapse under the weight of the snow? Tune in tomorrow!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Mammals from Mars.

There's a squirrel on Mars!

As reported in that stalwart organ of honest reportage, England's Sunday Express, NASA followers spotted this small fuzzy squirrel-like rodent in a 2012 surface shot by the Curiosity Rover. In fact, this story is five years old, and I can't believe it's only now being brought to my attention.

Obviously there's a cover-up.

If you need more proof, just consider this:

So it's clear there is some connection. 

Some questions remain, of course, despite this evidence:

1) Is this a photo of a native Martian creature? 

2) Was it an Earth squirrel shot up there by NASA... or abducted from Earth by aliens?

It was Dave Barry's blog that brought this story to my attention. Barry, of course, is a longtime chronicler of squirrels' war on humanity, and he and his commenters suggested more possible scenarios to this horrifying reality:

1) The squirrels have their own space program

2) The squirrels are in league with the Martians to enslave Earth

3) Squirrels are Martians and have been working against us this whole time, disguised as cute arboreal critters

All these possibilities are bad, but the solution is clear: We need more dogs. Dogs are not good at climbing, but sometimes these "squirrels" don't get away.

Keep alert, and keep watching the trees. The truth is up there.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The eve of pup-struction.

The puppy, Nipper, is nine months old and capable of destroying anything.

I'm serious. I once complained about his big brother, Tralfaz, being Death, Destroyer of Toys, but he was not in Nipper's class. I suspect that just being an outsize giant dog caused some of Tralfaz's destruction; he did not know his own strength. These days he's pretty mellow with objects and sort of totally past the whole toy thing, you know. (Except when he isn't.)

Nipper gets hold of something, toy or not, and he is on a mission.

We have to stay one step ahead of him when he's on the loose, closing doors to rooms he shouldn't go in, keeping power cords from dangling off the counter. He's gotten taller, so his range keeps improving. The only time we can trust him is at night, in the crate, and even then we think he might rip something up if he wasn't so tired. During the day he spends a lot of time in a pen, because he sleeps a lot and won't sleep unless he has at least semi-enclosure, and so that we can turn our backs on him for a second.

This is not a neglected dog, bored and resentful. He just likes to rip stuff up. See the following:

Exhibit A: Frisbee #1, under 10 minutes

Exhibit B: Frisbee #2, in the time it took
me to empty the dishwasher (it is not a
large dishwasher)

Exhibit C: Chewy football toy, less than 20 minutes
The last one sent us in a brief panic, because he swallowed most of that plastic. We called the vet, who told us to let him know if he had any gastrointestinal symptoms or otherwise acted ill, but Nipper never did. I guess it passed on through, but given the football's color it was, uh, hard to tell.

For the record, Tralfaz had a football just like that before it got lost in the woods, and even during his own destructo period he never broke the ball. Nipper had been pulling on the rope part, but wasn't swallowing bits of rope, so we said fine, let him chew on it a little bit. The moment our backs were turned he set to destroying and eating the football.

This kid is like a toddler, if a toddler had 70 pounds of muscle and could run 15 miles per hour.

My wife did some research and it does seem like Goldens are particularly fond of annihilating objects at this age. I immediately got to wondering why Stan Lee didn't (to my knowledge) make a monster puppy as one of the many Marvel Comics monsters over the years, guys like Mummex and Fin Fang Foom and Groot (who started out as a monster). Yeah, there's Lockjaw, but he's an alien and he's not a baby.

I was thinking, in true Jack Kirby fashion, of a giant Golden Retriever puppy; can you see the cover?

He'd chew apart Avengers Mansion just for fun.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Old Man JERK.

Guess who's back?

Sure, the sleigh is fun, but I'm sick of hauling wood. So's the dog.
Yeah, Old Man Jerk Winter has decided to kick us in the ass one more time on our way out.

Two weeks ago or so we were sitting on the porch with the dogs, digging the sun, spring fevering, and everyone was joking around, Ha ha, global warming's A-OK with me!

Yesterday started out sunny and pleasant, 45 degrees F, a typical pre-spring day. The onion grass was growing.

Onion grass: growing.

And this morning it's snowing and the schools are closed. Sunday the low will be 10.

See, March, this is why people don't trust you.

Winter's weird to begin with. Look at this icicle. The little tree it's on is in an empty field. It's hanging from teeny branches. There's nothing to drip but sap -- out of teeny twigs?

Yes, it's an icicle, not a condom or something; I tapped it and it broke, taking the twig with it.

So winter has this bizarre sense of humor, as we know, and March is the room of its house where it plays the nastiest tricks. Thanks, stupid winter.

One nice thought: The cloud of gnats that swarmed around me and the big dog had to have gotten an even worse surprise than we did. Go ahead, winter, kill all the bugs around here; that's fine with me. Heh heh heh.

Thursday, March 9, 2017


No, this isn't weird at all.

So you're thinking, O brave new world, that has such Peeps in it! Or, What unholy mess is this now?

Both understandable thoughts.

If you have not seen the Peeps Oreos, I can assure you that they are a real thing. It's the vanilla cookie used for the Golden Oreos, with a pink Marshmallow Peeps-ish filling.

You may be wondering, is that filling really all that pink?

Yes, yes it is.

It's a pretty impressive collaboration for a couple of reasons, the main one being that neither Nabisco nor its parent company, Mondel─ôz International, own Just Born, makers of Peeps. So you know big sugary confabs had to take place to make this product happen in time for Easter. Also, high marks to the clever food scientists who were able to make the white Oreo filling quite Peeps-ish, not only in color but in mouthfeel. It does not have that marshmallow flavor, not that I could detect, but it does have a bit of that sugar-crystal texture that coats the outside of the Peep. Well done, you savants of snacking.

The reason you may have heard of these Limited Edition cookies, however, is the story in the news that the pink filling is turning people's feces pink:
One reviewer claims the filling is the same one used in the Marshmallow Crispy Oreos, but with one major difference: It's bright pink and appears to turn your mouth—and even your dung—bright pink, too.
Forgive me if I tread into TMI territory, but I will say that I did not notice any effect of the kind. It may be that you have to eat a lot of these cookies in one sitting, perhaps a dozen or more, which I did not do. Anyway, it's harmless food coloring that is blamed for the phenomenon, so I suppose if this happened you could just chalk it up to festiveness.

On that scatalogical note: Our little dog, Nipper, seemed to be getting into the Mardi Gras feeling a day or two before Fat Tuesday, when his poop came out partly neon green and pink. Turned out he'd been eating the fuzz off some of his toys. If he'd gotten some purple in there too it might have looked like a King cake. We'll plan for next year.