Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Halloween decorations.

Just a week away now from Halloween. I assume you've made your preparations -- buying candy, eating the candy, buying more, repeat. What about the decorations? Got your pumpkin lights up? Your skeletal stockings hung? Were-wreath? Death tinsel?

Here's what I've been seeing about.

This was a picture in the Home Depot that I actually took in August, when they were assembling the Halloween lawn displays. Skeletons and skeletal dinosaurs were apparently expected to be the big thing this year. The T. rex was still missing his head, but it has been applied since. I must say, though, that I have yet to see one of these dinos on anyone's lawn, with or without the head. The fact that they run seventy bucks and higher might explain it. If you're wondering, the 16-foot inflatable dragon on the wall goes for $149. I haven't seen him on anyone's lawn yet, either.

Still, we have reports that this year will hit a record high for Halloween spending, and it's not all on David S. Pumpkins costumes. So perhaps before the day arrives I'll see some skeletal triceratops around. (Triceratopses? Triceratopii? For a dino with a small distribution he sure is popular.)

Now this is a little more traditional, and suitably scary enough to make little kids want to forego the candy at this place. It's the way the two creepy figures are aimed straight at the door, as if they're just waiting for you to ring that bell. Go ahead, my pretty. Maketh my day. Conversely, they could be waiting to snap up the people in the house the moment they walk outside. Good grief! Perhaps they already have!

Can you tell me what this is? I mean the main inflatable monster, of course, not the subsidiary monsters closer to the door. I saw it and immediately thought Balrog, but it seems to be just a random, everyday gargoyle. Maybe it's something from Minecraft. The wings are too tiny to be from the Gargoyles cartoon. In fact, although the eyes and face are scary, the wings are vestigial, almost hilarious. Good luck with those, Icarus. 

I found it on Amazon, and as far as I can tell it doesn't bear any pop culture significance beyond "gargoyle." With scary eyes. And silly wings.

On the friendlier side of the holiday, there's this, seen in a local hibachi spot:

The light-up inflatable Snoopy and Woodstock in a cheerful Schulz pumpkin is the perfect choice for the waiting area of the restaurant. It says Halloween without scaring anybody, and gives the kiddies something to look at. I regret that it did not have an inflatable Linus, who could have puzzled over the sincerity of this pumpkin and whether it was good enough to attract the Great Pumpkin. On that note, though, Woodstock should not be present, as he did not join the Peanuts strip (under the name Woodstock) until 1970, four years after It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown first aired.

So that's what I've seen so far. No one in my area has done anything really horrifying or disgusting in their holiday displays, at least not yet. No chainsaw massacres, no Pennywise butchery, no pile of severed heads. All pretty much PG at worst. How're things where you are?

Monday, October 23, 2017

I wanna eat it!

Hey, that looks delicious! I wanna eat it!

You cannot eat it as it is not food. 

But it looks so tasty! Yep, gonna eat it now!

Do not eat it. It says right on it. DO NOT EAT. In three languages.

Oh, that's just silly. Why make it look so delicious if you're not supposed to eat it? I'm a-diggin' in!

It is the dessicant from a bottle of pills. The pills use a gelatin capsule and must remain dry lest the capsule dissolve. The dessicant absorbs any moisture. It is not to be eaten. Just cut it out.

Now this one, this here? This also looks great. Lunchtime!

You are getting closer. That is a silica gel packet from a package of dog treats. It is also, I am sorry to tell you, not edible. This time in seven languages.

Looks mighty tasty. Smells good too!

That is the beef scent on the package. Knock it off. 

Boy oh boy, am I gonna eat good now! Stand back!

Part of a complete breakfast!

Knock yourself out, wild man. Unfortunately those items are not poisonous, but you may choke, so there's that.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

I was number six.

I found this in the pocket of my jeans before they went into the laundry hamper:

If you've gone to the supermarket you know just what that is -- a take-a-number ticket from the deli counter. And you know how it works. You pull a number from the little dispenser, look up at the tote board on the wall behind the deli workers, die a little inside, wonder if you can get everything else on your list before they get to your number, and just wait in place, beaming hate rays from your eyes at all the people before you, especially the old lady who is catering a wedding and has to get some of everything in quarter- to half-pound increments (and try a slice of each before she orders it).

The Hubert company, one of many outfits that make these things including the ticket above, refers to these as "call systems" or "crowd control."

I got there early, so I was 6. Sometimes you get there late and you're 6, because they got through a reel of tickets and started over again. Sometimes you get there and no one has taken a ticket because they just trickled in, but then it became a mob, and no one has a ticket, and there's mass confusion about who's next, and the hell with it. Oscar Mayer is fine.

The problem is that deli counters, like butcher and baker counters, have a tendency toward chaos. You have several workers and a lot of customers and the people behind the counter can't all be counted on to remember the order in which everyone arrived. The ticket system is a brilliant, easily grasped, low-tech, and inexpensive solution. (Four tickets for a penny, by my calculation.) It doesn't always work, as I indicated above. Hyun Lee with Qminder noted two issues with the tickets, the first being: "tickets are tangible objects, which means they can be damaged or lost. Ticket stand may also run out of paper in the most critical moment, preventing people from joining a queue."

Most of the real problems with the ticket system come from lack of effort on all our parts. We're the ones not maintaining ticket condition and presence or refilling the ticket dispenser. We can do this, people.

We need it for the deli counter, which is unlike any other department in the supermarket. The bakery is mostly stuff you grab, like the butcher, and only occasionally there are special orders. Not the deli! And outside of food service, no one else has found it necessary to use the take-a-ticket system--not furniture stores, car dealerships, gas stations, or funeral homes. It's a great solution for a narrow audience.

There are some alternatives to this, but they don't really change the dynamic. Another supermarket in my area has an electronic system where you can use a screen to place your cold-cut order; a computer voice announces over the PA when your order number is up. But that does not remove the need for the ticket system for customers who want to work with the luncheon meat wranglers at the counter; it acts like the line-cutting Disney FastPass, but it takes a wrangler out of queue service and doesn't eliminate the line any more than FastPass adds more seats to rides. Other high-tech alternatives (phone apps and such) are just more modern means of the old ticket system. Restaurants that hand out beepers are another example. They are not ticket systems but they operate on the same queue-without-a-queue idea.

According to a really good article on queuing in Management Today, the paper ticket system was created in the early 1970's to replace a system with reusable (and less hygienic) plastic cards. Did you know that longer belts on checkout lines keep us from feeling like we're on line? Once you get your groceries on the belt you no longer think of yourself as waiting in a queue. I learned something today!

I don't know when the reusable card system began. It seems like the "take a number" system has been with us forever. I couldn't find a patent for it prior to the paper tickets, and I wonder if it just sort of emerged. The Management Today article makes it seem like a British thing, a result of postwar shortages, but I always associated it with New York delis. It's in the culture. Certainly for my whole life I've heard people who are kvetching about something being told, "Yeah, take a numbah, buddy." Anyone with information on this topic is welcome to correspond with me in comments or at frederick_key AT yahoo DOT com.

The other problem with the ticket system is the whole number thing. Hyun Lee writes, "ticket queuing is a non-personal way of interaction between a customer and a business. Studies show that people react more positively when they hear or see their name, while a numbered system reminds them of a DMV office." I suppose the latter objection is true, but I just want my olive loaf. If the person behind the counter is good at the job and friendly, he or she can call me number 6 every day. You may say, "I am not a number, I am a free man!" That's fine, but the deli has no time for your I Gotta Be Me malarkey. They got a lot of meat to move, mister. We all got places to be.

As for me, I am number 6, and I'll have a pound of white American, thanks. Along with the olive loaf.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Psalt of the earth.

A few years back I was looking through the old Psalter at Lent in the hopes that exposing myself to more of the Bible I should become upright, upstanding, even outstanding in my goodness. Nothing ever seems to do it for me, though. I'm going to have to keep praying that Jesus drags me over the finish line.

Still, it can't hurt. As a side benefit, the Bible is the cornerstone of Western civilization, and anyone who wants to understand Western Civ should have more than a passing acquaintance with the book.

Since part of a psalm is read every Sunday, it seemed like a helpful part of the Old Testament upon which to focus. Read a few psalms a day and you're through all 150 before you know it!

Well, it proved to be a tougher assignment than I expected. I have the attention span of a 12-year-old, so sticking through some of the longer psalms is work. Theology is hard!

The psalms are heartbreaking in some cases, fearful, trembling, or joyful in others. They reflect the honest and strongest emotions of a people who know God knows exactly what they’re thinking. Many of the early Davidic ones reflect the various perils he encountered, so there’s a lot of similarities among them---my enemies are after me, they really suck, why won’t you help, I trust you Lord.

I can’t help feeling grateful that I was born when I was and not some time in the distant past, before air conditioning, cheeseburgers, and modern dentistry. If your man Fred had been a writer in the time of King David, the psalms might have been a much different and probably lousy affair. Here is my attempt at a psalm (Psalm 13½):

For the leader. A psalm of David. (By Fred! Woo!)

How long, LORD?
Have you totally blanked me out?
I’m in big heaping piles of trouble here.
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I go on whining and whining
Like a sniveling kid whose balloon broke
And he lost the top off his ice cream cone
And he didn’t get to go to the circus
Sorry: MR. DUDE Sir?
How long will my enemy keep beating on me?
He kicks my hienie
He slaps my face
He calls me Herbert
He knees me in the groin
Which was great on Jerusalem’s Funniest Home Videos
But didn’t win the 10,000 shekels.
Help, LORD!
I’m in trouble here!
I am not kidding, even!
Don’t let my enemy get away with this!
He’s a real jerk!
But I trust in your mercy.
Everyone around me doesn’t care,
But you still care.
No matter how much I whine
And lie
And cheat
And sin
And---um, could you forget about the last few verses?
Grant my heart joy in your salvation,
And I will sing of your mercy,
Because no one needs it more than I do,
Except my enemy
Who is a jerk.
Thanks, God!
(Sorry about the “Dude” stuff.)

And then David would probably have separated me from my neck.

"Zing! Like butter."

Friday, October 20, 2017

The ten-minute special.

Around the house I have a reputation for a five-minute special.Yes, you know what that means -- I can go in the bathroom dirty and come out showered in five minutes. Others around here who shall be nameless take longer. Take considerably longer, for that matter.

I don't want to be crass and sexist enough to point fingers at one gender or other, but let me just mention that we have a friend with four daughters, and until the older ones started to move out of the house he couldn't tell you what color his bathroom was.

But I have certain advantages, as will come clear when I describe the ten-minute special.

The five-minute special only works if I don't shave and am willing to start my shower under freezing cold water. It's really only for emergencies, The ten-minute special allows me to do the job right. Here's how it works:

1) Chase out the dog that followed me into the bathroom before he chews up the rug. (The timer does not actually start until the dog has been removed.)

2) Turn on the water. While water gets warm, shave with the Braun electric razor. It's not as good as a razor shave but it's considerably faster. Check for odd ear or nose hairs that must be removed. (Guys who don't bother with that last part can shave -- har! -- a few seconds off the time, but men, please. Come on. No one likes a hairy ear unless you're in the Lord of the Rings.)

3) Strip, jump in shower. (Elapsed time so far: two minutes, twenty-three seconds.) If using dandruff shampoo, put that on first and leave it there through the shower; a dermatologist once told me that it helps to get the medicine into the scalp. Scrub chest, torso, etc. Continue through various and sundry bodily parts. Using the same bar of soap or body wash as a shampoo will save a little time, and if you get buzzed like an alpaca the way I do it hardly matters. I don't exactly give my golden tresses 100 strokes with a boar-bristle brush morning and night. Rinse well.

4) Pop out of shower--elapsed time, six minutes and forty-five seconds. Towel off, apply antiperspirant, aftershave; run brush over scalp. Brush teeth (forget about flossing or singing "Happy Birthday" twice so you brush for two minutes; just get the choppers clean). Total time: Nine minutes, forty-two seconds. So there's even a little time to use a Q-tip or apply jock itch or athlete's foot spray if you need it.

5) Get dressed. Done! All in under ten minutes.

Here are some extra tips:

🚿 Opinion is divided about whether peeing in the shower saves time, and even if it does, is that okay. My take is: You're there to do a job (get clean), not pee. Urinate in the toilet, outside of the ten-minute window.

🚿 Don't have a really nice bathroom. You think I could get through a shower in ten minutes if I had one of these babies in my bathroom?

I might never leave the house.

🚿 This is not a good time to use Crazy Foam. It may make getting clean fun, but fun is not time-efficient.

In racing to get this done on time, it's easy to forget some key steps, so let me remind you once again: wash everything, rinse off, and make sure the water is on before you start. And get the dog out. He's gonna eat that whole freaking bath mat, man.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A seasonal induglence.

How many times do I have to tell everybody?



At least hire a proofreader.

This was a flyer I received in the mail from CVS, the Pride of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, #7 on the Fortune 500 list as of last June, the drugstore giant that pulled in more than $177.5 billion in sales (according to Hoovers). And yet with all that dough, all that moolah, all that Social Security money in their Scrooge McDuck-like vaults, they couldn't cough up fifty bucks to get a professional editor to look at this so they could spell INDULGE correctly.

This is a black eye for you, CVS, and I am doubly disappointed since just a few months back, in January, I mentioned how proud I was that you could spell stationery properly (meaning the paper stuff).

And yet I have had to take you to the woodshed before, CVS. In 2014, when I was posting on my old (now defunct and inaccessible) blog, you stopped selling cigarettes because (you said) you were so concerned about our health. I called you on your hypocrisy, on your attempt to get grace on the cheap. Not that I smoked at that time or since, not for quite a few years now, but I pointed out that you continue to sell candy, all the time, every day; there's a section of the store that's just candy, the seasonal aisle always has candy, and of course the checkout area is candy out the bazooty. (Never mind the snack aisle, which is very cookie-centric.) And I wondered if you were willing to cut off all that revenue, even though diseases of obesity are going to kill far more of us than diseases of smoking, and now our fatness is "astronomical," and even more out of control than it was in 2014. Heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer.... Well, CVS? Are you going to chase out the lardbuckets the way you chased out the puffers?


Now, about your complicity in the rampant and deadly opioid drug epidemic that you're only just now addressing...

$177.5 billion and they can't hire a proofreader. Sheesh.

Monday, October 16, 2017


October 16. You think the season is autumn.

But really... Christmasssstiiiiiiime is heeeeeeeerrre.....

In your mailbox!
In Home Depot!
At Walt Disney World!
I suppose there's no point in fighting it, although I would like them to wait until Halloween at least. Thanksgiving is pretty much a lost cause at this point, just a high-caloric speed bump on the road to the big wahoo on December 25.

I understand that people have to plan for the largest celebration of the year. If you're going to take the kids to Disney, for example, you have only a couple of weeks to figure out how to break into a bank vault or successfully counterfeit $100 bills. In addition to the catalogs shown, my wife gets a lot of craft catalogs, like from Michaels and JoAnn Fabric and Hobby Lobby and Yarn Bomb Monthly and Cross Stitch Hell and God knows what else. Of course, those outfits started with Christmas catalogs in June, but it takes a lot of time to knit that festive '69 Firebird cozy for Cousin Earl.

As I write this is, it is 70 days until Christmas. (That's 10 weeks, 1,680 hours, or 19.18% of 2017, according to TimeAndDate.com, for those of you playing Calendar Bingo at home.) For perspective, 70 days ago was August 7, which to my mind was pretty much yesterday. On August 7 I was complaining about bugs, as I was last Saturday, so it doesn't seem like much has changed. Therefore, Christmas will be upon us before you can take your next breath.

I guess what I mean to say is, tempus really fugits, especially when it comes to Christmas. Consider this your first warning.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Apple season.

At this time of year I hear all about my friends and their children all having a wonderful time picking apples, cooking with apples, posing with apples on social media, playing cornhole with apples for all the hell I remember. Well, I did some frigging apple picking too, damn it. In the cereal aisle.

Take THAT! losers
Regular readers of this blog -- your check is going out Monday, promise -- may recall that we've been closely following the Tiny Toast fiasco that began in 2016. General Mills released Tiny Toast in strawberry and blueberry to great fanfare, fanfare that quickly died down. A year later Tiny Toast was quietly shoved down the memory hole and the cereals were reintroduced as part of the Toast Crunch line. And now Apple Cinnamon Toast Crunch, another cereal that looks nothing like Cinnamon Toast Crunch. You can't slip this stuff by me, General Mills. I'm always watching.

My review: The Apple Cinnamon Toast Crunch is pretty good. Very sweet, of course, and with more of a genuine apple taste than I expected. I have to hand it to them; they say it's flavored with real apples and they've managed to do it or fake it convincingly. Point to you, G. Mills.

But you're wondering: What does Mr. Breakfast think? Well, Mr. B, being the world's greatest authority on breakfast, has waded in already, and his review is here. Money quote: "The more you eat - the more that apple tastes like apple flavoring as opposed to the real thing. But it's still pleasing and pretty much exactly what you'd expect."

That sounds kind of like "this appeals to the kind of people who would find this kind of thing appealing," but Mr. B knows what he's talking about. We don't expect that much from our fruit flavored cereals, just the effort. And I think this works better than most.

I'm still watching you, General M. You can only take this toast thing so far. Buttered Toast Cereal isn't going to work. Irish Soda Bread Toast Crunch, Bialy Toast Crunch, Bagel with Lox and Cream Cheese Toast Crunch... just leave well enough alone.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Six recipes, fast as you can.

Weird dream last night -- but they aren't they all? But this was a sign that I watch too many Food Network shows where chefs compete against other chefs. You may think that that would mean I was lolling in the sheets murmuring, "I didn't come here to lose" or "I'm here to prove that I've arrived," but no. I actually dreamed of complete rules for a cooking competition that made sense. It was a little like Chopped or Guy's Grocery Games, but probably too simple for TV. Here's the drill.

Six young contestants (self included) (I was a kid in the dream) in a supermarket were handed a sheaf of papers. They contained six serious chef recipes, including the lists of ingredients, each written out separately with all instructions. Each kid had the same recipes. But no one could look at them in advance. When the judge said "Go!" everyone jumped on a bicycle (because, dream) and we had to peddle off to get what was on the lists and make all the recipes. Whoever finished fastest got the most points, but other points were awarded based entirely on the proper following of directions. There was very little by way of subjective judgment in this contest.

I've had a lot going on this week, which is probably where the idea came from. The junior amateur chefs would have to coordinate six lists of ingredients and time everything they had to do in the most efficient manner possible, on the fly. Which is rather how my week has gone. Anyone who ever made a full Thanksgiving dinner for guests for the first time knows how this felt. "I gotta get the turkey in first, and then get the baking potatoes in, which can cook at the same temperature, but the green bean casserole cooks lower, and there's cranberry casserole, and I should have done the pie last night, and AAAAAUUUGGHHH!"

Feel the burn

What amazes me about the dream was that it presented me with a fully formed idea that was not that bad and made perfect sense. A contestant in such a match could strategize how to handle the situation, but ultimately you have to cook well and you really, really want to finish first.

Some elements of this idea, as I note, are not great television, but are in keeping with real chef competitions by brilliant chefs who never go on TV. I read a new book about Chef Roland Henin, the greatest American chef you never heard of; he made the Culinary Institute of America into a world-class school, he trained some of the most prominent chefs cooking today, and he coached teams of American chefs to excellence in competitions like Bocuse d’Or (which America won this year!). A lot of the Food Network competitions evolved from extant cooking events -- years before Chopped used mystery baskets of unknown ingredients, the American Culinary Federation was forcing chefs to cook with whatever came out of a basket. In fact, I think Food Network realized that viewers like this kind of thing when they used to show coverage of Bocuse d'Or and other international contests. 

I think my dream contest would be fun in real life. Like Bocuse d'Or it would take some time, and you'd have to restrict it to amateurs since professional chefs have a lot of experience in prioritizing in a snap in the kitchen.  

My dream skidded to a halt when I looked at the sheaf of papers and couldn't read anything. As we've discussed here before, you can't read in dreams, and I was only able to make out a word or two. Knowing I was sunk, I just woke up instead. Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey. Or coffee and cold cereal, which is all I can cook in the morning.

Friday, October 13, 2017


People think of spring or maybe summer as the time for insects, but sometimes autumn has them beat solid. In these temperate climes, autumn is a great season for spiders to try to sneak into the house. Deer ticks have a great run in the autumn. The gnats come back to say hi. And then sometimes you spot something really terrifying, just in time for Halloween.

I'm not saying that I scare easy. You can say it for me.

This little chum appears to be a Differential Grasshopper, near as I can find, a critter about as big as some of the chipmunks we have running amok in the area. The females grow up two inches, Wikipedia says, but I think this one was an overachiever. Melanoplus differentialis here was once one of 40 to 200 eggs, a hatchling who reached full maturity in 32 days. I'm surprised that I can pay the mortgage twice in 32 days. Like many of nature's little bastards, this huge grasshopper likes to swarm, and will take out an entire farm in less than a week. On their days off they like to stand on posts and terrify homeowners.

I guess we're luckier than folks in tropical areas, though, where winter never comes to kick the bugs' buts as they grow as big as Buicks. But this is big enough for me. I carefully skirted around the pole lest D.G. decide to jump on my shirt, at which point I'd have to run half-naked down the block.

A few moments later, though, she was gone. Bird probably got her.

Sometimes I like the Circle of Life.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Clip joint.

I used to care a little about where I went to get my hair cut. I wanted a manly barber with old guys who could shave your neck properly, with soap and a straight razor and a hot towel. Now I don't much give a damn, as long as it's short. My hair hates me, so I'm going to hate it right back. 

Last week my hair was getting kind of shaggy. It had grown to a length than in my teens I would considered "Marine." I tried a Great Clips nearby, for one crucial reason -- it was in the same strip mall as the supermarket. Location, location, location. Mind you, they probably get a lot of balding men and the children of harried mothers, but their job is to make money, not art. 

The gal behind the shears did a good job, although with her rubbing that electric device all over my scalp I began to feel sympathy for the alpacas of the world. It was over in no time and didn't cost more than any barber I ever went to. Did not get a proper neck shave, but she did buzz that too, so it was fine. Sideburns came out even. What more do I want out of life?

I was amused by the fact that they had a poster in the window, advertising for a mascot, someone to stand outside and hand out coupons and things. Basically this guy:

I told the lady when I sat down that I would be interested, but I already had a job and I already dressed funny. I may have been overqualified, really.

Not that I have anything against mascots -- as the French say, au gratin! I wrote an entire novel about a man who meets real-life mascots. Looking at that costume, though -- probably hot and clingy. Too much for me. I think of mascots as we would the purple cow, that I would rather see than be one.

It would appear, by the way, that the mascot's name is "Suds." Were I Suds, I would insist that "They call me Mr. Suds." I'm sure some terrified child would kick me right in the ol' curling iron. I would not last a day.

As for going to Great Clips, I think they're fine, even if you're not a wailing child or a middle-aged man in a state of abject despair over your male pattern baldness. And hey, they sponsor NASCAR, so that's kind of manly, don't you think? I wonder if the announcer ever says "The Great Clips car just cut the other driver off!" I would.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Cleaning up this town.

Need something superhero themed to amuse the kids? This looks like a job for SUPERMARKET!

Tucked in with the Mr. Bubble and the Johnson's Baby Wash is Crazy Foam, an aerosol body wash/shampoo/conditioner that I vaguely recall from my childhood. Apparently it went away in the 1990s, but is back now and as much fun as ever. Maybe more!

Well, everyone's in love with Wonder Woman again, following the success of the feature film earlier this year. Let's try that one.

Uhhhh....I know comics are what they are now, but that's a lot of cleavage for a product meant for the preschooler crowd. At least I think it is meant for the tots among us. That big hole where the mouth should be---I mean, I know I have a tendency to see potential Rule 34 situations, but the thing looks like it was the design for a prurient inflatable doll, IYKWIM (AITYD).

Well, let's try the soap. 

Okay, well, the soap isn't helping.

For the record, as an adult the soap is not so great. It is missing some key ingredient (sodium laureth sulfate, perhaps? It has sodium lauryl sulfate, though) that makes you feel like you're getting clean, although once done you actually do feel clean. I have no idea what I just said either. It's like with glycerin soap; gets you clean but without the lather you feel like you have to work twice as hard. For the kids, though, it's perfectly adequate to get the little stinkers clean. As Fran Lebowitz famously noted, "Even when freshly washed and relieved of all obvious confections, children tend to be sticky." Well, giving them some Crazy Foam might make them more eager to wash themselves, so that's something. Plus, it smells like bubble gum, which---

Uh-oh! Wonder Woman! What's wrong! She looks sick! Quick, the toilet's right there!

Phew. Another close call for Wonder Woman!

Now, in fairness, this Wonder Woman is a tie-in to the upcoming Justice League movie; you can get a less-cleavagey Wonder Woman from Crazy Foam's "DC Comics Originals" line, which features the characters as they tended to look in the 70's.
The Joker seems like he's really enjoying this gig, though, doesn't he?

Next time we'll see how supermarket life embarrasses other superheroes. Spider-Man string cheese, perhaps?

I guess that's not so bad, unless Peter Parker is lactose intolerant. But it does make me think of him shooting cheese from his webshooters, which... No, never mind.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

He has a feel for the material.

"When you said they were having a reading, I didn't think
you meant a map reading."

Monday, October 9, 2017

Who made whom?

A few years ago I wrote the following short piece on the old, extinct Blog.com blog, a piece that was itself developed from something I wrote years before that (maybe five years after 9/11) for another guy's blog (since taken down). Every year Christopher Columbus comes under more attack, along with everything else in Western history -- it's not enough that our history must be turned on its head, now it needs to be expunged entirely. But I am still an admirer of Columbus, and the more I've read about him the more I find him to be a brave, persistent, and intelligent sailor. A book I read in the last year about the myths of the Bermuda Triangle informed me of his cool head when his ships were becalmed on the weird Sargasso Sea. 

Anyway, here was my take:

Batman: You killed my parents.
The Joker: What? What? What are you talking about?
Batman: I made you, you made me first.
The Joker: Hey, bat-brain, I mean, I was a kid when I killed your parents. I mean, I say "I made you" you gotta say "you made me." I mean, how childish can you get?

I always think of this around Columbus Day. A couple of years after September 11, 2001, I was thinking about the manifold grievances that the Muslim world claimed to have about America, and all the mean things we did to them since around the time O'Bannon captured Derna in 1805.

Well, if it hadn't been for the Muslim domination of the trade routes to India and China (a domination that was not enforced by sternly worded letters to the editor), Columbus would not have thought to try a Western route to what used to be called the Orient. No Muslim blockade, no discovery of America. They brought us on themselves.

Oh, sure, someone would probably have gotten here from Europe anyway, someone with more staying power than the Vikings, who apparently couldn't find enough houses to steal or stuff to rape or women to burn to want to stick around. (To be fair, although the Northmen had great navigation skills, the Viking colonies outside of Europe were quite cut off from their home countries, which was a problem when things got rough.) 

To make a successful colony would have required better and bigger ships. It also needed someone as clever at navigation as Columbus also was at promotion, someone as brave as a barrel of sharks, someone with enough charisma to keep a small fleet intact on a voyage that could be straight to hell for all anyone knew, a voyage that by anyone's estimation was not exactly a Carnival cruise, then go back, and then do the round-trip again, three more times in all. For most of my life people have been down on Christopher Columbus, but by God the man had more guts than any next thousand guys you meet. There was a time when real courage, sustained over the long term, meant something to people. 

Well, it means something to me. I admire all the virtues, especially those I do not have. 

Happy Columbus Day!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Through a glass, bottlely.

Walking the dog in the woods a few days back and came across this curious object:

Not that it's odd to find a bottle in the woods. Oh, heck no. This isn't exactly the Appalachian Trail we were on. It was a patch of woods that runs behind a school, I think, and some homes, and I don't think it belongs to anyone but the town, but I'm not sure. 😬 Anyway, however suburban your New York town may be, there's always a pretty good chance of finding beer bottles and cigarette butts.

But this was odd -- a glass bottle that has been hanging around so long that it appears the elements removed all trace of the label. No cap evident. If there were a number of beer cans around it might have seemed less odd, really, but this was all by itself.

I suppose it's a pint bottle, the sort favored by sneaky drinkers. Many of those are plastic, though. This is thick, clear glass of good quality. The first thing I thought of when I saw it was not furtive boozing; it was that, in my youth, people liked to collect old bottles, clean them up, and put them here and there as decorative elements. They were often colored glass, not very big, sometimes from the 1800s. There's still a market, but people don't seem to do that much anymore.

I've always liked bottles, but never collected them. Too fragile. My reputation as a clumsy oaf influenced my decision, perhaps.

I have done my bit to empty bottles, however; more than I can ever estimate. Some I left in the woods, too. Some made things blurrier the more clear they got. Some made it harder for me to see entirely. Bottles can be like that.

I left the bottle where we found it. It had earned the right to be free, full of only autumn air.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

10 things no guy wants to hear.

Not even this guy.

1. “How much have you had to drink tonight, sir?”

2. “You don’t remember me, do you?”

3. “You’re like a brother to me.”

4. “Wow! According to the ultrasound, your kidney stone’s a lot bigger than the last one!”

5. “I’m so glad you took the day off! You can handle the kids’ birthday party!”

6. “Dad, you remember how our car looked this morning…?”

7. “I think the house would look much better if you paint it pink.”

8. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

9. “Male pattern baldness and weight gain are very common at your age.”

10. “You’re like a father to me.”

Friday, October 6, 2017

Bad Books Week.

Well, I missed all the fun of Banned Books Week again. I am so completely upset that once again no one has tried to ban one of my freaking books. I'd be on the best-seller lists and making a fortune.

I guess I've read a lot of the books that those self-righteous types celebrate on the Banned Books List, but I would never read one just because it's on the list. It may be striking a blow for freedom, but we don't ban a lot of books in this country (although we're starting to). When we used to think of banned books we thought of pecksniffian town elders getting so upset that a book contained a reference to a woman's ankle that their faces would pinch up like a dead man's anus. Now such old folks are desperately trying to be "down with the people" while banning is beginning to come from the same kinds of folks that celebrate banned books. So there's a good deal of insanity in the ranks.

Typically, though, it was really parents who wanted books to be banned, because they thought such books were inappropriate for young readers. For some reason it is reasonable to say that certain movies are not appropriate for youngsters, but you can no longer say that about books. And publishers seem to be thrilled about it, because when it comes to sex, depravity, and violence for the teen market, they are all in. (I should warn you that the link itself leads to naughty language because it's Cracked, but that should be obvious. Because Cracked.)

Personally I would like to lead a movement for Banned Bad Books Week. We're not going to get rid of books for young readers because they have sex, we're going to get rid of books because the sex in them is stupid and consequence-free. We're not going to get rid of them because they have violence, we're going to get rid of them because the violence is so ridiculous it makes your average superhero movie look like Saving Private Ryan. Above all, we want to ban books that are just bad. Publishers will say they print the books that teenagers want to read, but somehow if Nestle used that argument about Hot Pockets I don't think the nutrition watchdogs would buy it.

I've worked on a number of books for teen girls -- there are no books for teen boys, because boys don't buy books directed at teens when they buy books at all, which they don't -- and most of them end the same way. The heroine is someplace alone, bleeding profusely, but is such a badass she never quits. Here's my take -- and again, language warning, since I want to be accurate:


Kaszandra got up out of the pool of her own blood that was quickly starting to ice over. It had to be minus forty in this warehouse. Wasn't that the same in Celsius and Fahrenheit? Damn, wish I'd paid more attention in Ms. Horkdork's class, she thought. 

But this was no time to review math homework. She ripped the scrunchie from her hair and made a quick tourniquet for the bullet wound on her leg. Devlin DeVille was somewhere in this building, and none of his evil demonic power, none of his obscene wealth, would stop her from destroying him. 

She hopped forward, stifling the scream from the stab wound in her gut. It hurt. She wouldn't have believed there was that much pain in the world. It hurt more than any hurt ever hurt. But all Kaszandra wanted was to stop bleeding so she wouldn't leave a trail for DeVille to follow if he was coming up behind her. 

It was dark as coal in this warehouse, dark as DeVille's heart. Who would have guessed that the richest man in town, head of the local Republican committee, was also a vicious bastard who raped the entire fourth grade? Fucking asshole. She had to destroy him. 

But where was he? She listened carefully, but her ears were still ringing from when DeVille shot her in the head with a potato gun. 

Fucking asshole. 

If only Jassper were here to help, but for all she knew he was--- God, she hated to think of it. She'd hated to leave him under that pile of excelsior, but there was no way she could dig him out. DeVille had planned that trap for Kaszandra, and Jassper had walked right into it, damn his stupid beautiful head, his 24-inch python arms, his rock-hard washboard abs, his---

Whoa, girl, better cool it. Work to do. 

Kaszandra shifted into the shadows, quiet as a mouse in fuzzy slippers. With the fracture in her femur it was tricky, but those three years of ballet finally came in handy. Suddenly she heard a click, or a clack -- was DeVille here, behind those stacks of boxes marked High Explosives? Or was that an echo... an echo from the---

"Catwalk," said a voice, and a bucket of gasoline poured onto Kaszandra's head. 

"You son of a bitch!" shouted Kaszandra. That was the end of this blouse. She staggered back into the center of the warehouse room. Dimly lit above her was the catwalk that ran around the interior of the building, and on that, cinematically lit from above, was Devlin DeVille. 

"Feeling warm, Kas?" said DeVille. He struck a wooden match on his thumbnail and tossed it toward her. Kaszandra gasped and stepped back out of the way of the flaming stick of horrible death just in time. "Things are just starting to heat up around here."

"I'm going to destroy you, DeVille!" yelled Kaszandra, her gasoline-soaked hair billowing around her like a bronze cloud. "You've hosted your last Trump fund-raiser!"

DeVille chuckled. "You're difficult to kill, Miss Hendreson, but we're getting there. Fortunately you are unarmed and a sitting duck. A duck coated in gasoline, I might add."

He was right about the gasoline. But wrong about the duck. And wrong about her being unarmed. Carefully, slowly, never taking her eyes from DeVille, Kaszandra reached up to her sternum where his throwing knife had stuck in her ribs. This was going to hurt....


Oh, to hell with it. This is too easy. I'm going to start writing one of these today. I just have to sign my books F. P. Key and use my wife's photo for my author picture. See ya on the best-seller lists!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Goin' to the end of the line.

October 4, 2017 (Washington) -- President Trump last night to called on all Americans to "rally in the face of the Wilbury crisis that is plaguing our great nation."

"It is time to accept the grim facts," said the president on the nationally broadcast message. "Since the high point of the late eighties, a period often referred to now as 'peak Wilbury,' we have lost approximately 60 percent of this once great nomadic tribe."

The president spoke bluntly: "The recent loss of Charles T. Wilbury Jr. has struck us a blow. Having lost Lefty and Nelson years ago, we have reached the tipping point, a point between Majority Wilbury and Minority Wilbury. Sadly," he conceded, "Otis and Lucky are all we have left."

The president also expressed concerns about the weakness of the nation's "tactical Wilbury position," citing fears of a potential "Wilbury gap."

Mr. Trump's remarks were of a piece with his comments on Twitter the previous night, including, "We mourn the passing of Chaz W" and "Chuck to travel no more" and "Down to 2 Wilburys - Sad!" and "I had Lucky in the pool."

Congressional Democrats were quick to retort that America still had more than half of its full complement of Wilburys when they last occupied the White House. "Clearly, this administration has let the American people down, allowing its distractions to keep it from the crucial matter of sustainable Wilbury," said Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). "A Republican was in the White House when Lefty Wilbury left us, and a Republican was in the White House when Nelson Wilbury left us," she said. "And now Chuck's gone. Does that sound like coincidence to you?"

But a White House spokesman accused the senator of playing politics with the "Stationary Wilbury situation," saying, "The only coincidence is that Republicans have held the White House for twenty of the last thirty-seven years, which means that much more time for Wilbury attrition to take place."

In his speech, however, Mr. Trump tried to strike a chord of national unity. "We need to deal with this Wilbury twist as a family," he said. "We're all very rattled today, like we've reached the end of the line, but we're not alone anymore. Sure, we feel like the devil's been busy, and we feel turned inside out by the news. But if we handle this with care, we soon will be heading for the light, and find ourselves in a cool, dry place. Godspeed, Charles T. Wilbury Jr."

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Nervosaurus rex.

We're all a little jumpy now. Citizens against citizens. Lunatics shooting up concerts. Nuts shooting at Congressional ball games. Fat Man in North Korea threatening to drop Little Boy on us. There's so much to be grateful for -- and so much to be nervous about.

It's not surprising that the Fidget Spinner has become one of the most popular and most derided little toys of the 21st century. They give nervous hands something to do.

feel better?

Some people find it extremely distracting when others play with such things, though. Wikipedia says that some schools have banned them. I guess that it's a net loss when your nerve-relieving toy makes others nervous.

Now me, I know a little something about nerves. I grew up when nuclear holocaust was not just something we feared, it was something we expected. I didn't just bite my fingernails; I bit my toenails. I make coffee jumpy. I quit smoking a decade ago and I still want a smoke. I'd have been the Worrier King, if someone else hadn't grabbed the title years ago.

Despite all my fears, I would not let myself get some fidget spinning toy. That's for kids, not a grown man.

No, I got that toy at the top of this post. It looks like it might blow something up, but it's totally harmless. It's the Trianium Fidget Cube, billed on Amazon as an anti-stress/anti-anxiety and anti-depression cube. It's six sides of stress-easing goodness, with buttons to press, dials to turn, a ball bearing to -- do whatever it is you want to do with a ball bearing.

The button on top releases the kraken.
I thought it would be better to have this in my pocket than to bite my nails or jingle coins or beat a tattoo on the table during meetings. However, I realized as I sat near the head of the table at a meeting: this thing makes noise. The buttons and dials and switches click. In a quiet room, people can hear it. They want to know what it is and where it's coming from. And then I get paranoid that they're staring at me.

On the whole I think my stress-reliving toy just brought me more stress on balance. And I didn't even find it soothing when I was free to play with it. When you push buttons or spin spinners you expect something to happen; I find it frustrating when nothing does. The Trianium is like a flashlight with dead batteries. Click it all you want, ain't nothing happening.

Or is it? I have this idle fancy that the perfect combination of clicks and turns will set off a sequence that will lead to a Michael Bay-worthy explosion. Nobody who bought the toy has done it yet, but eventually one of us will.

Then one of us will be past worrying, anyway.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Everybody must get candy.

It's October, and time to start thinking about candy! Just as we do in December (Christmas), February (Valentine's), and April (or March, depending on when Easter falls). Okay, we basically think about candy all the time. Now our excuse is Halloween. Fine.

But where shall we buy our candy?

Dylan's Candy Bar has been ruining the dental work of Manhattan's Upper East Side trust-fund children since 2001. They have also opened branches in Chicago, LA, Miami, the Hamptons, Telluride, several other spots in Manhattan, luxury outlet malls, and a number of airports. They have a huge number of classic and hard-to-find candies (Chuckles, Turkish Taffy, and so on), but their main stock in trade includes big containers of homemade candy that are sold by the pound. You can make a bag filled with anything you want. At checkout they weigh it and charge you appropriately. There's also candy-related merchandise, including (of course) candy-themed pajama pants.

You need these.

We had a lot of fun looking around one of the stores one day, and managed to get out of there with less than half a pound of candy between us, almost all chocolate. It's not shopping for candy -- it's a shopping-for-candy experience.

There was just one problem -- the candy was kinda lame.

Seriously. Their homemade chocolate did not have a particularly good flavor. I'm not sure why. It had a delicate mouthfeel that would seem to indicate lots of lovely fat, but the flavor is weak. That goes for their toffee-graham-nut filled OMGs, too. Even they taste more of nuttin' than of nuts. The chocolate is not even up to the standards of the higher-end Hershey's or Nestle's stuff. It was terribly disappointing.

What makes me sad is that, by expanding the franchises into major airports, Dylan's spreads the word that this is New York City candy, much as See's Candies comes across as the Southern California candy. But See's are pretty good, and Dylan's are pretty meh.

Maybe it's just me. After all, I'm just a Twinkie-horkin' slob who's never seen an opera and couldn't tell a ChΓ’teau Margaux from a Carlo Rossi -- what do I know?

No, I'm right -- Dylan's is expensive and not too good. You'd be better off spending the same money on a huge pile of fun-size Milky Ways.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Today in history.

OCTOBER 1, 1943 -- Ethel Hooper, working for the US Army Air Force,
attempts an early version of "stealth tech" by knitting a plane cozy for a
P-51 Mustang. The drag on the plane from 100 pounds of yarn makes it
impractical, and it is later attacked by the camp cat, Hojo, while in the hangar. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Calypso Fred.

Calypso music? Not really my thing. I know you're astonished. I hate to say it, but Mel Brooks was probably my favorite folk and calypso singer.

Harry Belafonte, although born in New York City, is credited for popularizing calypso music in this country, and I say: good job. I'm not a fan; Belafonte seems to be unable to let go of any of the resentments or angers of his youth, and seems to hate everything about his native country except its money. Then again, he did appear on The Muppet Show, so that's something.

In the postwar era, Americans fell in love with calypso music, and perhaps that can be seen as patronizing, but I think it ties in with a longstanding love for foreign and exotic places, for music that takes us away from our humdrum duties. The Tin Pan Alley days were full of phony-baloney exotica like that. The stuff we were getting from Belafonte and others was the real thing.

Or was it? The most well known song may not even be calypso -- "Yellow Bird," or "Choucoune" in its original, was Haitian Creole, says Wikipedia; does that count? Calypso music is associated with Trinidad and Tobago. Belafonte covered "Yellow Bird," so maybe the song is okay. Probably for the majority of Americans it is music from someplace sunny off the coast, so it could be Polynesian for all we know. I said that we love exotic music, not that we're knowledgeable about it.

"Yellow Bird," of course, always makes me think of a scene from A. C. Weisbecker's novel Cosmic Banditos. In the book, one of the drug-smuggling bandits, Robert, is known to fall into a rage anytime he hears that song. One day in a bar the steel drum band starts playing it, and he loses his mind:
Suddenly a grenade appeared in Robert's hand. He pulled the pin with his teeth and lobbed it toward the band. It was a good throw. The grenade clattered around in one drum, bounced into another, rolled around the rim like a roulette ball, then came to rest in the bottom of the instrument....
The explosion was in B-flat. 
I do not, fortunately, share the low opinion of "Yellow Bird," alienated though I am by temperament from the music of the islands. Despite this, however, one morning I was inspired to write a calypso song, even though I am so white I am nearly transparent. You might say that me writing a calypso song is cultural appropriation, but let's be honest: no culture would want it. Anyway, anyone who wants to appropriate my culture is more than welcome.

I call my song: "Gnarly Banana":

Gnarly Banana

by Freddie Keys

Once we all grow fruit variety
Now Musa balbisiana is all you see
Everybody grow it as fast as he can
The only exception is the gnarly man

Chiquita guy say to the gnarly man
Dump your banana in the garbage can
American prefer banana soft and sweet
But gnarly banana taste like sweaty feet

The gnarly banana come from gnarly man
The gnarly banana it is artisan
The gnarly banana it is soft as rocks
The gnarly banana taste like dirty socks

Gnarly man say you can go to hell
I think all me gnarly fruit is really swell
Me grandfather raise it from seed to bloom
Until we have to send him to the rubber room


Many years later there's a Bezos guy
Seeking weird produce that he can buy
He ask, is organic? and gnarly say sure
He say we will sell it in the Whole Foods store

Now Brooklyn hipsters chew the gnarly treat
Gnarly man gets richer every time they eat
They force banana down with a gnarly grin
Then they go out riding on a vintage Schwinn

Chorus, repeat until someone throws a grenade.

Friday, September 29, 2017

What I learned from movies.

πŸŽ₯ Children are more intelligent than adults, and more resourceful

πŸŽ₯ A clever child can beat an experienced adult man in combat

πŸŽ₯ So can a woman--any woman

πŸŽ₯ Picking a fight is a great way to resolve family problems; screaming at each other is healthy

πŸŽ₯ More men died as a result of Joe McCarthy than as a result of Pickett’s Charge

πŸŽ₯ All authority is corrupt, except for vigilantes (who willfully break the law)—especially if they wear costumes

πŸŽ₯ Everyone decent person in the past, in any era or location, secretly believed in the exact same things Hollywood in the 21st century believes in, or would agree if they knew about them

πŸŽ₯ DNA can be identified within an hour by any city police force

πŸŽ₯ Silencers silence guns so they sound like a flea fart

πŸŽ₯ You can do everything better when you’re angry

πŸŽ₯ Fast hammering on a keyboard is the best way to hack networks

πŸŽ₯ Girls will and ought to sleep with you on the first date unless you're a catastrophic loser

πŸŽ₯ Crazy people are more knowledgeable, perceptive, and wise than noncrazy people

πŸŽ₯ Drinking continuously makes you fun and doesn't hamper your activities, especially if it's important

πŸŽ₯ Drugs, either

πŸŽ₯ And you can sober up enough to perform surgery or something with just a slap on the face and a bucket of water

πŸŽ₯ Any difficult task can be accomplished quickly with a pop tune and a montage

πŸŽ₯ The capture of vicious criminals is best accomplished by rogue cops working alone or with one faithful partner

πŸŽ₯ And may involve the destruction of large amounts of public property

πŸŽ₯ Best friends and lovers start by hating each other, every time