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: 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

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 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.