Monday, November 12, 2018

Start training!

That's right, folks, it's time! I know Thanksgiving is ten days away, and you're saying, "Ten days! How can I ever get in shape by then?" Relax! Your old uncle Fred has done the research; you just have to do all the work.

Get ready.

Let's see how some of the pros do it.

For example, take Joey Chestnut, world-record champ, who ate 74 hot dogs (with buns!) in 10 minutes last Fourth of July. He begins his training two months in advance of the contest. It's so brutal that after his first practice he doesn't hold his second until a week and a half later. As quoted by ESPN: "It takes about two months to really know where I'm at, where I'm peaking, and my body's pretty much a hot dog-digesting machine."

But it's too late for that! You don't have two months to prepare!

Ah, that's all right -- cool your cranberries, pilgrim. Unless you have to eat your whole Thanksgiving dinner in 10 minutes, you don't need to achieve Chestnut levels of food inhalation. Of course, if your family is planning to go out for the Black Friday Doorbusters on Thanksgiving night, you may indeed only have 10 minutes. Next year start training in September.

Perhaps the distaff side of the sport of gourmands will yield something less brutal?

How about Molly Schuyler, who ate a record 501 chicken wings in at Wing Bowl in 30 minutes last February?

Normally, she says, she and her children eat a healthy diet. But the morning of the competition she drinks about three gallons of water to stretch the stomach. Put it another way, a pint being a pound the whole world 'round, she puts 24 pounds of water in her gut. And that's her equivalent of doing stretches in the outfield.

Are these the methods that will help you get through the turkey, gravy, stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, fruit salad, rolls, green bean casserole, candied yams, apple cider, creamed onions, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream?

Of course, you ought to bear in mind that competitive eating is not without risks. While you're devouring an entire turkey in 12 minutes, you might choke on a bone, you might have a heart attack, you might choke on your own vomit, and basically, you might die. Even drinking gallons of water to prepare can lead to water intoxication, which sounds silly but can throw your salts out of whack and -- you guessed it -- kill you. So maybe you should just eat what you can next Thursday and not go for Olympic gold here.

Of course, your Aunt Sally's green bean casserole might kill you all on its own, but that's a chance you'll have to take.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The man without a face.

When I was in college I had my only regular customer service job. Yes, I know, in a way all jobs are customer service jobs, as various enthusiastic vice presidents like to say, even if the customer is just the person in the next department. But I consider them to be jobs like McDonald's cashier or postal clerk or gas station attendant, where people arrive to make a commercial transaction and the kid is the person they see. I only ever had one job like that, in senior year.

There was one line, snaking up to the windows, and whichever clerk was free would call "next" to help the next person in line after we finished with the current one. You had to be on your toes, because you never knew what the next customer would want, but most of the time I liked the job well enough. The time went quickly. I would have hated the thought of doing it my whole life, but that's why I was in college.

One Tuesday when things were slow I looked up from finishing paperwork from the previous customer and noticed that the other clerks around me were all doing busywork at their stations, even if they had not had a customer recently. Some of us were quicker than others, but no one was a slouch. There was one person on line, standing quietly, and when I saw him I knew why no one had called him. He was the man without a face.

He had some face, but not much. He had one eye, most of the left side of his jaw. Where the right side of his face should have been -- eye, cheek, jaw, the whole nose -- was a white patch, about the size of his a man's hand, or a bit bigger. It flapped when he breathed. It was terrifying.

"Next, please," I said, bracing myself.

"Good afternoon," I said when he arrived.

He came up to the window easily, placing a pile of papers with instructions on the counter. I followed his directions meticulously, glad for something to do with my eyes, but a small part of me wanted to gawk like a child. I said nothing more until I had completed his requests, then handed him his receipts and said, "Thank you," as always. He nodded -- I  think -- and gathered up his papers, and I never saw him again.

That was a long time ago. Of the hundreds who went by my window that year, I remember four -- the guy who was mad because I was taking so long, the guy who tipped me five bucks when I caught a $20 error (it was not a business that expected or really allowed tipping), the lady with the counterfeit $100 bill, and this man.

I couldn't think of a way to ask any of the other employees about him without sounding like I was accusing them of ignoring him, so I didn't. I have always wondered whether he had suffered some horrible accident, some flesh-eating disease, some horrendous criminal act.

Or was he a veteran, someone whose war took his face.

Whoever he was, he lived in New York City and had a life harder than just about anyone I could imagine. Yet he still made it around, did what he needed to do. He clearly knew when the bank was likely to be empty. He probably spent his life knowing when things would be empty. How did he eat? Communicate? Did he live alone? Did he come back from war to a horrified family? Did he have regular medical help? What was under that bandage? Oh, God, do not let me find out. But I have certainly seen some U.S. military veterans who have suffered awful injuries, and am amazed how they carry themselves still with honor.

In the end, I have no idea if my customer was an injured veteran, but he was a human being and deserved respect, and I'm glad I gave it to him.

I wish that all our veterans will get the respect on this Veterans Day that they deserve. And if you are a United States veteran, I thank you for your service.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Mighty Unpronounceables!

One of the least-beloved Avengers, at least judging by the number of times the character has been killed, is the Jack of Hearts, created by Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen. For a while it seemed that every time the editors would sit around the Marvel bullpen saying, "We need to boost sales! Which hero can we kill?" they would look around hopelessly, scratching themselves, until they all snapped their fingers and said, "Jack of Hearts!" But you can only pull that trick so many times.

Part of the problem with ol' Jack (as Fred Hembeck once pointed out) was the horrible complexity of his jerkin thing -- a real pain for the pencillers to draw and the inkers to ink. Apparently Keith Giffen didn't mind, but lots of other artists may have.

It's the outerwear that's the issue.
He'll be fine if they stick him in one of their movies. Partly because you don't have to pencil every frame of a movie, and partly because all the superheroes in movies wind up wearing black anyway.

But there would be a problem with dialogue if some other heroes made it to the screen. I wondered if there were any comic book characters with unpronounceable names, aside from Superman's impish foe from the Fifth Dimension, Mr. Mxyzptlk (which in the animated TV show was rendered "mix-yes-spit-lick" -- and aptly voiced by Gilbert Gottfried, who may also be from the Fifth Dimension). Considering that some fairly common words are considered hard to pronounce, and as such make for popular topics of general interest publications and dictionary publishers, such unpronounceables would make for an interesting comic book group... Just think of it...


Colonel Onomatopoeia: All right, everyone, let's quiet down. Or shall I say, Bang, bang! with my gavel?

Captain Isthmus: Quiet, everyone!

The Sesquipedalian: Quiescence, please.

Colonel Onomatopoeia: Thank you. Welcome to the first meeting of the Mighty Unpronounceables. Our mission, to do justice and good deeds to all, despite the prejudice we have faced due to our unpronounceable names. I am Colonel Onomatopoeia (that's kernal ah-no-mah-toe-pee-ah), with the ability to cause destruction with sound effects. Now, who else is here? You, gray guy.

Molybdenum: I'm Molybdenum.

Colonel Onomatopoeia: Ah, yes, one of the Metal Men, I thought.

Molybdenum: Not anymore. They couldn't pronounce my name either.

Colonel Onomatopoeia: And what are your powers?

Molybdenum: All the powers of the element molybdenum.

Colonel Onomatopoeia: Which are...?

Molybdenum: Anti-corrosion, high melting point. Good conductor of electricity.

Colonel Onomatopoeia: Well... that's fine. Who's next? You, in the armor.

Conch: Conch.

Colonel Onomatopoeia: Because you conk things.

Conch: No, conch, like the seashell.

Colonel Onomatopoeia: Oh, sorry.

Conch: But I also conk things. I live by the sea. My archenemies are Boatswain and Coxswain.

Colonel Onomatopoeia: Bosun and Coxun?

Conch: Yeah. I used to hang around with Aquaman. 

Colonel Onomatopoeia: Oh, not anymore?

Conch: No, now that they have this movie coming out he's gotten too big for his fishes. Get it?

Colonel Onomatopoeia: Okay... Who's next?

Anemone: Me! I'm Anemone, the flower-powered superhero!

Colonel Onomatopoeia: Sounds... Well, I actually don't know what that sounds like.

Anemone: I can spew pollen, change color, lash out with fronds, and I have a secret bract attack.

Colonel Onomatopoeia: Awesome. You, with the... whatever that symbol is on your chest.

Captain Isthmus: It's an isthmus. I come from an isthmus. My home is an isthmus.

Anemone: And I'll bet when you get there you say, "Isthmus be the place!"

Captain Isthmus: No. I am too busy using my heightened combat abilities to fight our foes, those who would carve us off the mainlands to make an island, and those who would jam us onto one of the mainlands to make new beachfront property.

Colonel Onomatopoeia: That must keep you busy.

Captain Isthmus: Or those who fight from either mainland or both to take our land, or those who wish to sink us to open a shipping lane...

Anemone: Do you celebrate Christmas on your isthmus?

Captain Isthmus: Silence, flower child.

Conch: With fronds like these, who needs anemones? Heh heh heh.

The Sesquipedalian: And I, the Sesquipedalian, am present for whatever benefaction I may provide.

Colonel Onomatopoeia: What's with the book?

The Sesquipedalian: I merely indicate what I need in the Magical Merriam-Webster, and it appears, albeit temporarily. As long as it's not too intricate, labyrinthine, or enigmatic.

Colonel Onomatopoeia: So, like...

The Sesquipedalian: Entrenching tool, yes; aircraft carrier, no.

Recondite Woman: I am Recondite Woman.

Colonel Onomatopoeia: What do you do?

Recondite Woman: You wouldn't understand.

Dr. Otorhinolaryngologist: I'm Dr. Otorhinolaryngologist, with amazing powers of ear, nose, and throat! And I'm licensed to practice medicine in five states.

Colonel Onomatopoeia: I'm guessing that medical assistance is going to be needed with this crowd.

The Sesquipedalian: A specialist? How recherché.

Colonel Onomatopoeia: All right, let's talk about training. We need to -- Oh no! Ah-OOOGA! Ah-OOOGA! Alarm! Alarm!

Anemone: What is it?

Colonel Onomatopoeia: Look at the viewscreen! It's the Legion of Unspeakables! Anathema, Mischievous Man, Blackguard, Draught/Drought, Sir Synecdoche, and Mr. Ignominious are attacking City Hall! We have to stop them!

Molybdenum: How do you spell "mischievous"?

Colonel Onomatopoeia: Never mind! Quick, let's go! To the Unpronounceablemobile!

Recondite Woman: What's that?

Colonel Onomatopoeia: It's the Nissan Qashqai parked outside. Let's go!

The Sesquipedalian: Unpronounceables, agglomerate!


UPDATE: Our old friend Mr. Philbin PM's me to note that Anemone should have also described herself as a "pistil-packin' mama." I'm so ashamed for having missed this gag that I will have to resent him for the rest of my life.

Thursday, November 8, 2018


No dose of Vitamin Fred today, dear reader; Wednesday I was sick as hell. Not election-related, honest. Vertigo again. Yes, I chased down a woman who looks like my old dead girlfriend and made her dress like her.

No, no, this is a bad case of I-can't-stand-up vertigo, and it's happened twice before, years apart. It makes me helpless for eight to 24 hours.

My wife had to do everything. She's such a sweetie.

I would have thought all the ear exams I had over the summer for hearing problems would have found the cause, but no dice. Idiopathic -- just like me!

Anyway, things are getting back to normal; hope to have my usual complains and snide remarks for you on Friday.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Time, why you punish me?

I got nothin'.

The end of daylight savings time has hit me pretty hard this year, and I'm blaming that. Sure, I'm stressed, and I'm working on a project I don't like, but I'm always stressed, and I'm almost always working on a project I don't like. As a former coworker once told me, "That's why they call it work. If it was fun they'd call it play."

In years past I might get a little saddened when the clocks fell back. I'd leave work and emerge from the building in darkness. Meh, dark now, oh well. If you're young and something like that bothers you, you can just find someone and get a drink.

What's bothering me now isn't the darkness so much as that I just can't catch up. I'm writing this draft after nine p.m. on Tuesday and I feel like it's past ten. That's another thing: When you're in your early twenties, the first blush of youth, you don't feel different at 9:30 or 10:30. When you're older, you do. Time plays a lot of tricks on you.

I can't remember ever having so much trouble resetting the internal clock. I know the dogs are making it harder. For days now their bladders are telling them it's six a.m. when it's actually five. They're patient about that, but less so when the end of the day comes and they want to play and have dinner because the sun is going down, and when it did that on Saturday they had already played and were about to have dinner. Dogs have trouble grasping the notion of time. Snoopy isn't the only dog who goes by his stomach clock.

So I'm tired and grouchy and the dogs are confused and it's dark all the time. I hope I'll feel better tomorrow. And closer to on time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Last-minute pitch.

My fellow Americans,

Today I address you with concern and urgency. Concergency, I call it. Has a certain ring to it.

This is election day, as you know, because our technological overlords in Silicon Valley continue to remind us to vote. And we simple subjects know that vote we must, no matter how ignorant we may be. You may have been sitting there, looking for cat videos on Facebook, and suddenly Facebook reminded you to vote. Quick! Drop your iPad! Run out the door! Find a polling place! It hardly matters which! Just vote!

Yes, friends, the message behind my concergency (see? It's catching on) is this: Vote. Why? Because. Because we politicians need jobs. You have the power to provide them. You can make a difference. You, and a large variety of voters, dead voters, felons, and illegal al-- I mean, undocumented dreamers, can vote, and in some precincts may be able to vote many times. See what you can do.

Without your votes, we politicians have no jobs. It's sad to watch a fifteen-term congressman shuffle off, rejected by his constituency, to accept another $50 million paycheck as a K Street lobbyist. How much sadder if he's only been there five terms, and is worth so much less. Is it too much to ask that you do your bit to keep him going until he can get the big money? It would mean so much.

But make sure you don't waste your vote by voting for them. No, not THEM. They want to cut your benefits. They want to throw Grandma in the street. They want to burn down your schools. They want to arm toddlers with Uzis. Do you know how much recoil an Uzi has? They don't care. They're in the pockets of Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Coal, Big Chem, Big Banks, Big Rutabaga. You'd have to have a three-piece suit with two pairs of pants for all the pockets they are in.

We want sunshine and lollipops and unicorns and fairy dust. You like sunshine, don't you? Here's some now. Free!


I've heard your concerns. I know what you want in politics. You want clean government. You want lower taxes. You want jobs. You want all kinds of goodies like strong defense and healthcare and retirement money and free college and art grants and carve-outs for your industry. And I am here today to tell you, if you vote for me, you will be sure to get something. Not this stuff, but something. I guarantee it.

People worry that there's too much graft, too much nepotism, too much waste, too much bureaucratic nonsense. And I share your worries. In fact, my office paid my nephew to write a 15,000-page report on graft, nepotism, waste, and bureaucratic nonsense so we can get to the bottom of these problems, and indeed we will if he ever writes it and I ever read it.

You see, it's not a matter of pride or civic duty. It comes down to simple economics. Yes, it's the economy, stupid. Not that you're stupid! No, I'd never say that on a live microphone! What I mean is, you need a congressman, I need to keep my job, and we can work it out. And if you don't wish to vote for me, remember, there's a caravan of new voters heading for the border as we speak; next November will be a different story.

Yes, my concergency (yay new word!) should be yours, and thus you should definitely pull the lever to send me back to Congress. Please. At least until there are a few more openings on K Street.