Thursday, October 31, 2013

Yesterday was the best Halloween ever

Halloween has come and gone, it was the best ever, and I think I owe it all to math.

That’ll be a very confusing sentence to those of you familiar with the Roman calendar. For most of the country, Halloween is today.

Not in the tiny one-stoplight borough where me and about 980 other hallowed souls dwell. Ours was last night. For reasons I’ve for 20 years never understood, Youngstown never seems to celebrate Halloween on Halloween. This tends to infuriate people disposed to logical thought.

People like my wife. She once talked about running for town council on the single issue that if people voted for her she’d ensure that Halloween would be on Halloween. 

Imagine how different America would be today if Mitt Romney had thought to run on that platform.

As many of you may know, I’ve been crabby for the past few Halloweens -- and by “crabby” I don’t mean to infer I was wearing a crustacean costume.

I’ve been upset how Halloween’s become an all-consuming, month-long Caligulian candy fest so thorough I’m beginning to suspect the American Dental Association is behind the whole thing.

It’s become Sprawl-o-ween.

For some reason, this year it didn’t seem to bother me. Maybe it’s because I did the math.

Laying there in bed one night, I started doing some calculating involving the ages of two girls I dearly love.

One is 13.

I thought, man, in five slim years she’ll be 18. That means if opportunities arise, she might be away in college, serving overseas in the Army or -- who knows? -- maybe waitressing at some lunar golf resort.

Just because I don’t dress up for Halloween doesn’t mean I don’t have a lively imagination.

It dawned on me that this might be the last Halloween where Josie wants to participate in the town candy parade. And that sentence is not metaphorical.

In Youngstown, the kiddies, the parents, the grandparents and all the town dogs all line up in the church parking lot at 6 p.m. That’s when the volunteer fire fighters close down all the streets and lead a parade of fairies, princesses and dozens of darling little demons behind the big firetruck right down Main Street.

It’s Satanic Americana at its very best.

Without fail, that hour, the very essence of Halloween, is what I most enjoy about the holiday.

More math: this one involving a girl who is 80.

Mom’s doing great right now. Sure, she has a faulty memory -- big whoop -- but she’s utterly sweet, and I realize I’m blessed she’s for now able to live more or less on her own.

But who knows where an 80-year-old woman with mild dementia will be in five years?

She might be waitressing on the moon, too, only without ever setting foot outside her South Hills apartment.

So I thought I’m going to try and do this one Halloween right.

Boy, am I glad I did. Despite her protestations about not wanting to leave the comfort of her own home for an inconvenient overnighter, I drove into Pittsburgh to haul her old butt out here for Halloween.

She’d found a 1944 diary from when she was 12 and read it out loud to me the whole way home.

I learned 12 year old girls growing up in Punxsutawny, Pennsylvania, take a lot of baths. Here from memory is a typical entry from her life that historic year when the rest of world seemed intent on blowing itself apart: “Went to school. Had a good piano lesson. Came home. Took a bath.”

It was about an hour of that.

I decided to consider it charming.

It was a beautiful fall day. 

At home, I took Mom by the arm and went for a walk through the woods. I eased her into the hammock and watched her revel as the leaves fell down around her face. Best part was when Lucy got off the bus and ran up to join her for a snuggle and a picture that to me looks so perfect you’ll swear it was posed.

On this day when so many pretend they are the undead, Mom was for one afternoon once again fully alive.

So was I.

If this is, indeed, the last Halloween, then I’m happy the ghosts of it destined to haunt me will all be friendly ones.

Remember, it’s never too late to have a Happy Halloween.

Especially if you live where we do.

Related . . .

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

8days2amish Tweets of the Month (yet again)

One of these days, I swear, I’m going to do a readership survey to find out how readers feel about these lazy ass monthly twitter round-ups, but before I go to that trouble I think I’d better do a survey to find out if people respond to surveys.

Oh, and you can follow my tweets at 8days2amish.

I’m thinking tomorrow I’ll write about either Obamacare or how May-December CBS Morning News co-anchors Charlie Rose and Norah O’Donnell can’t seem to keep their hands off one another.

Survey says?

• Proof that cocaine disrupts logical thinking is that cocaine users call cocaine blow instead of sniff.

• Don't why it's taken me this long to learn this, but the opposite of postpone is prepone. Really. OED says that's the word for being early.

• Anyone typing the phrase “To err is human” should always feel obliged to include at least one deliberate tiepo.

• Joe the Plumber back in the news. He wouldn't have been near the sensation if he'd been Joe the Proctologist.

• Jessica Yellin out at CNN. Look for her to land at Fox where they're always eager to employ someone who can be described as yellin'.

• Asking a 7 yr old to convey with brutal honesty the flaws in her father's appearance is a mistake a grown man makes just once.

• So many people saying they're enjoying  on the toilet means I might change slogan to "Brightening Planet One Crap At a Time."

• I can only conclude anyone who says puns are the lowest form of humor has never seen an Adam Sandler flick.

• Enjoyed "Walking Dead" premier, but once for the sake authenticity I'd like to see a cliffhanger that ends with someone hanging from a cliff.

• I’ve cut my nose off so many times to spite my face it’s become physically impossible for me to stop and smell the roses.

• I’m surprised you don’t see more mug shots of people’s mugs.

• The were two genuine American heroes few honored by naming sons after them. Who? Orville and Wilbur. They were Wright, but it was wrong.

• It reveals an unpleasant cruelty about myself, but I enjoy looking at pictures of tranquilized bears falling out of trees.
Outlandish is a peculiar word. We already have a perfectly good word for what it means. It’s ocean.

• Not saying local volunteer fire fighters join for social aspects, but it is suspicious the town whore house catches fire every Friday.

• Join me in crafting more sensible spellings: let's all spell hyphen ... hy-phen!

• Often the things we most want are the things that’ll kill us the quickest if we were given unrestricted access to them.

• I try and be moderate in all things -- including moderation, a philosophy that allows me to engage in excessiveness whenever it suits me.

• The chances of finding suits in a suitcase are even less than those of anyone ever finding gloves in a glovebox.

• It's common knowledge you can hear the ocean thru a sea shell I just discovered you can also hear it through an empty toilet paper roll.

• Rejection and humiliation are challenges we can use to either defeat or fuel us. If that’s true, I have enough fuel to reach Pluto.

• I find it difficult to be grammatically proper on these dreary fall days. I fear I have Seasonal Effective Disorder.

• Editors who labor to remove the bull from carelessly written stories should be called decrapitators.

• Spanker devotees spend their lives in the pursuit of slappiness.

• I’m going to start signing all my proper letters, “Worm regards.” I think earthy people will really dig it.

• I fear the CNN special "Blackfish" is going to give what are commonly known as killer whales a really bad name.

• Just discovered Crayola has a color called “Macaroni & Cheese.” Be warned it tastes nothing like the real thing and Listerine won’t help.

• I wish elected officials would stop quoting "Art of War" author Sun Tzu and start quoting Fred Rogers.

• Unless you're a disabled pirate or a sympathetic cyclops, you'll never have a chance to see truly eye-to-eye.

• Kill Devil Hills, N.C., sounds like a great place to host a religious revival.

• I'm surprised even Angela Merkel's husband was listening to what Angela Merkel said on her phone.

• Given the derivative nature of pop music, I'm surprised we've yet to see a band called The Lovin' Forkful.

Related  . . .

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

When NSA intel gets really stupid

I have a hard time believing Angela Merkel’s husband was even listening to what Angela Merkel had to say on the phone.

It sounds like we’re devoting an awful lot of resources to spying on people who have very little to say.

The NSA scandal widened yesterday when it was learned another 60 million phone and text messages were intercepted.

I heard that and thought, wow, that’s a really big number.

Then I learned that was just one month -- one month! -- and that all 60 million of those messages originated in Spain.


Remember, they’re on our team. We like Spain. People vacation there. “Price is Right” contestants practically crap themselves when Drew Carey reveals their bid has earned them a trip to Spain.

For comparison, TPIR never includes Showcase Showdowns featuring six nights of shopping and shows in Karachi, Pakistan.

Spain’s cool!

And probably so are most of the Spaniards.

Why are we devoting so many precious resources to spying on Spain?

I have to believe about 59.9 million of those messages were along the innocuous lines of some guy named Pablo being told to go to the bodega to pick up some milk, garlic and sliced jamon.

If I’d heard we’d intercepted 60 million text and phone messages originating in Iran I’d have said, yep, that sounds about right.

For the past decade!

And who had to sift though all those messages?

High-side estimates are that the NSA employs 40,000 snoops.

Listening in on 60 million Spanish phone and text messages sounds like it should be a job for our 2.6 million convicts. Sure, the exercise would be utterly pointless, but it would reduce the down time felons had to perfecting more efficient ways to produce prison meth.

Or, better still, it seems like the kind of work that should be outsourced.

Straight back to Spain!

I say that in jest but things are so farcical in Washington today I can one day foresee a Congressional investigative committee witness testifying, “Well, we had so many Spanish intercepts we had to hire a Barcelona firm to translate and prioritize the 60 million Spanish messages we were gleaning each month.”

“How did you determine whether the Spaniards you hired were trustworthy?”

“We hired some Spaniards to spy on the Spaniards.”

It all kind of makes you long for the good old days of spying before computers ruined it all.

I tend to judge the coolness of any profession on how easily bragging about it leads to the braggart getting laid.

By that standard, no profession in the world has suffered more than those devoted to international espionage.

Revealing you were an undercover spy used to be a surefire way to get truly undercover. It’s my understanding no one excelled at this like the French.

I recall the story of the one Cold War French spy who was secretly photographed in bed making passionate love with a woman who wasn’t his wife. Eager to blackmail, his Soviet counterpart confronted the Frenchman in a Parisian coffee shop. He sneered he had photographic evidence that would ruin his marriage and his career and that the Frenchman had better start spilling secrets.

Then he revealed the illicit pictures.

The Frenchman looked at the flesh fest and said, “I’ll take this one, this one, this one . . .”

Ah, the good old days.

My how times have changed. 

Only an idiot would think boasting he or she worked for the NSA would lead to getting laid.

I’d be more curious about how people who sell shoes spend their days.

I imagine the NSA work environment is a lot like it was envisioned in the “The Simpsons Movie” from 2007. The film depicts a coliseum-sized warehouse with more than 10,000 droid-like functionaries sitting there closely monitoring the kinds of inane conversations you overhear when you’re on a traffic-stuck bus.

Yesterday’s parody has become today’s reality.

Just multitudes of bored people listening endlessly to pointless chatter, hoping to glean maybe one report-worthy nugget.

And it’s all done under the auspices of a classified budget estimated to be as high $10 billion in annual taxpayer moolah.

I mean, ay, caramba!

Oh, well, at least someone’s still getting screwed.

Related . . .

Monday, October 28, 2013

Maybe God & the devil should golf together

I wonder if God and the devil ever get together for cocktails or an afternoon of golf. They might be able to work some stuff out.

And I wonder if the devil gets upset that no one feels the need to capitalize his name the way we always do with God’s when we’re referring to God, the lowercase god usually being used to specify some handy blasphemy.

I checked The Associated Press Stylebook, the Bible of newspaper grammar mavens, for insight. It says it should always be the lower case “devil,” unless you’re using Satan, which, I guess, is the name his mama gave him.

The Satanic distinction doesn’t seem to make much sense, but then again neither do the AP rules on proper application of the semi-colon so let’s not quibble.

I’ve always wondered why it’s customary to ask, “Do you believe in God?” and “Do you believe in the devil?” But never the reverse.

For instance, it’s never, “Do you believe in devil?” Or “Do you believe in the God?”

It’s always “THE devil,” not “devil,” just like it’s always “God” and not “THE God.”

When we say “THE devil” it implies there are multiple, lesser devils and -- who knows? -- maybe there are. Off the top of my head I’m thinking maybe nicotine, reality TV, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

I do recall one other actual devil. That would be Devil Anse Hatfield, patriarch of one half of the famed Hatfield-McCoy feud.

His mother named him Devil because she believed bears, snakes and other West Virginia critters acted afraid of him, much like Kentucky McCoys did, too. Devil Anse was a murderous and sinful man and when he died his funeral was attended by several thousand of the only Baptists in history who could justifiably be called Devil worshippers.

I’d have to think by now God and the devil would have gotten together to just, you know, swap war stories -- and, man, do these guys have war stories. I’m talking apocalyptic.

This collegial sort of thing happens with ex-presidents all the time. Men who’ve engaged in bitter personal battles over things like NAFTA and WMDs often patch it all up over an afternoon round of golf. 

They say that those who’ve for even for a few years have been the most powerful man in the world share a bond too strong to allow petty differences intrude.

The devil’s in the news a lot these days. Halloween is Thursday and that means Wednesday is Devil’s Night (sorry, AP Stylebook).

And U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia just came out in a New York Magazine interview and said he believes in the devil’s existence, a theological belief shared by many good people.

I thought it would have been more newsworthy if Scalia said he believed in equal rights under the law for women, black voters and men and women who prefer light’s out cuddle time with other men and other women. 

“You know it’s curious,” he says. “In the Gospels, the devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen much anymore.”

Funny, I just spent last Sunday at Heinz Field where I saw a bunch of Baltimore Ravens fans behaving exactly like possessed pigs.

He says he thinks the devil’s gotten “wilier.”

Me, I just don’t know.

We know people who don’t believe in God are atheists. Do you know there’s no equivalent word for people like me who because we believe in God have trouble believing in the devil?

How could our loving Father, our creator, the omnipotent God almighty, allow something so evil as the devil to even exist?

Yet, the world seems beset with so much triumphant evil.

And nothing ever gets done about it.

Maybe it’s a waste of time wondering if it’d be a good idea for God and the devil to get together to play a round of golf.

Maybe that’s all they ever do.

Related . . .

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Re-run Sunday: A Sprawlidays survival guide

This one hearkens back to October 2009 when Jon & Kate Gosselin were all over the headlines so it’s a little dated. But I’m re-running it today because it includes a handy clip-and-save list of dates that’ll help you make it through what I call the Sprawlidays.

Happy Halloween!

For the past five nights, I’ve had a recurring nightmare that every trick or treater coming to my house was either dressed as Kate Gosselin or was actually Kate Gosselin herself.

She moves in with me. She brings her eight kids. Jon starts showing up to go through my drawers looking for money he can claim is his.

Worst of all, instead of having to ride herd over just two children through the week-long Mardi Gras of tooth decay that is what Halloween has become, I now have her brood and they’re asking if I’m going to be their new daddy.

I wake up in cold sweat.

I wonder if tonight any of the Gosselin children will dress up as the Gosselin parents. And I wonder if Gosselin neighbors had the puckish audacity to trick or treat at the Gosselin home dressed as the Gosselins themselves.

I’d do it myself but I’ve been consumed with trying to keep pace with just the latest example of what I’ve been calling the Sprawlidays.

Halloween used to be just one night. Now it consumes a full week even for those of us who are resistant to its pressures.

It’s everywhere. You can’t turn on the TV without seeing some juvenile talk show host or news caster dressed up to salute yet another holiday we’re determined to wrench from the kids.

It’s oppressive. We’ve already had about six kiddie costume functions in the community, at school and at church (the last has me for the first time wishing I belonged to one of those uptight fundamentalist sects that disdains the celebration because it prudishly considers it “too pagan”).

I’m sure I’d be a whole lot less curmudgeonly about Halloween and the other hollerdays if we could condense the crap out of them.

That’s not going to happen.

But because I don’t want my daughters to know I’m a mean, hate-filled misanthrope until they start dating boys, I’m going to try and focus on the positive. Here’s a short list key dates that’ll help me get through this annual unwelcome spread of enforced good cheer when mostly everyday I’ll feel like telling the good-will-toward-men crowd to just buzz the hell off.

• Nov. 1 -- Happy April Fool’s Day in November! I invented this holiday and I’m already looking forward to the malicious fun I can spread on Sunday. If we can have Christmas in July -- we do and it’s superior -- there’s nothing that say we can’t have April Fool’s Day in November. Enjoy!

• Nov. 25 -- It’s the night before Thanksgiving and that can only mean one thing: “3rd Rock From The Sun’s” Thanksgiving episode. I have the DVD for every episode of this hilarious show. Every night before Thanksgiving we watch the episode about how the aliens learn about Thanksgiving. It’s pure genius.

• Nov. 26. -- This day starts with the traditional playing of Ray Davies’s 2006 song, “Thanksgiving Day.” It tries hard to be cynical, but gives in to the sentiment of the one holiday that doesn’t have something infuriating about it (if you can avoid all the in-laws).

• Dec. 9 -- It’s Val’s birthday. Yes, it’s inconvenient for me having it smack dab in the middle of the sprawlidays -- and I suspect her parents planned it that way to add diabolical havoc to my already frantic calendar. But we always enjoy a nice meal out and it’s fun to give her the special treatment of which she is so deserving. Plus she usually goes to spend one day with her dad and takes the kids, an event I’m excused from attending that was addressed in numerous negotiated peace treaties.

• Dec. 18 -- I turn off the computer for the week and turn my office above the bar into a community wrapping station. Anyone can come in and we can wrap gifts together, drink beer and swap complaints about the holidays. This is the third year I’ll give my friends this option. If this year just one of them accepts my hospitality, he’ll be the first.

• Dec. 19 -- My Mom’s birthday. See what I have to go through? But she, too, is deserving of special treatment. Happily, her idea of a special day is us dumping the kids on her while we go out to dinner and movie. A Christmas miracle.

• Jan. 2. -- The day when we can all look forward to a string of pressure-free holidays like President’s Day and Groundhog Day. My friend/bartender/office landlord Dave and I invented this one. We celebrate it by not acknowledging it even exists.

Until then, I’m going to scrape by each day relishing the daily barrage of news involving Jon & Kate. God help me, I still can’t get enough of it. I read every word.

Now, that’s scary.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Yes! Trophies for all the kiddies!

My 7th grade daughter has her first swim meet on Saturday and everyone knows what that means.

By Sunday I’ll begin constructing an additional wing to our house we can use as her trophy room. 

It’s my understanding we live in an age where kids her age are awarded trophies for anything. She’ll get a trophy if she wins; if she finishes second; third; or anywhere between third and last. It’s likely someone’s going to hand her a trophy if she manages to get into and out of the pool without the emergency assistance of SEAL Team 6.

This is becoming yet another hot button issue in our culture wars. Many people believe it’s ruining a generation that’s being coddled into thinking there are no winners and losers.

Just trophy recipients.

I see many adults sneering and ridiculing the idea of every child getting a trophy. These parents rant excessive trophy distribution sends the wrong message, that healthy competition is necessary to inform participants of their playground worth.

I see these parents and think someone should have given them more trophies when they were kids.

I’m no expert but I believe it’s impossible to over-love a child.

And this I do know: There are often dreadful consequences to under-loving one.

An extreme historical example of the latter: “Mom was distant, Dad never loved me. Coach benched me for all the soccer matches. I was happiest when I was in a still, small room with just my brushes and paints, but no one ever gave me any trophies for my portraits. It was a very sad and unfulfilling childhood. I know! Now, I’ll show ‘em. I’ll invade Poland!”

Maybe it’s a dearth of childhood trophies that lead history’s tyrants to engage in other sorts of conquests. The historical data is incomplete.

Then there’s this: many of the people who are complaining most loudly about everyone getting a trophy are the same people most apt to assure us the world’s going straight to hell.

And who’s to argue?

The government shut-down is a perfect example.

The whole nonsense was engaged between groups of mostly men who since birth have been conditioned that total victory is the only objective. They had to win on the playgrounds and later in the voting booths. Coming in second wasn’t an option. Compromise was for losers.

They had to get that trophy.

Thanks for all that, fellas.

It wasn’t a game to most Americans.

Then there’s another prominent scourge on our culture directly related to our winner-take-all society. That would be our obnoxious world of sports.

We rail against prominent athletes for acting so entitled when we’re the ones that entitle them.

Just check out any NFL game this weekend.

You will see gloating, preening, taunting and gaudy showboating galore.

This is what happens when you spend an entire life telling children with under-developed psyches that they are better than everyone else. 

How different would these men be if in sixth grade they’d seen Timmy get a trophy because he, too, had tried really hard? Maybe an adult explaining why everyone’s getting a trophy would bestow some sportsmanlike compassion, some essential humility.

And, guaranteed, giving Timmy a trophy will in no way diminish the competitive edge or ego of our greatest athletes. I’ll bet Payton Manning never needed a trophy to know he’s a real winner.

So here’s what’s going to happen Saturday after the big swim meet and, win or lose, everyone gets their trophies.

Win or lose, I’m going to tell my daughter she’s the world’s greatest swimmer and that her Daddy will love her forever. Then we’ll all go to dinner together -- she picks the place! -- and we’ll set the trophy in the center of the table and all bask in its golden little glow.

Life, our most exquisite and patient teacher, will in its own good time reveal whether Olympic glory is in her future.

In the meantime I guarantee you tomorrow night, win or lose, that precious little girl will feel special and enjoy a childhood memory that’ll brighten her days when being an adult will do its damndest to try and grind her down to a sorry nub.

Thank you, one and all, for reading clear to the end of today’s post.

You can all pick your trophies up in the principal’s office.

Related . . .

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hair farms & the cure for baldness

(689 words)
Crafty headline writers over the past few days have rejoiced over the timely opportunity to describe a new baldness cure as “hair raising.” 

The news is that they were able to grow human hair on lab mice.

And let’s take a moment to exalt that we live in a world so free of want, poverty and deprivation that we can devote precious research dollars to tinker with mice cells just to satisfy the vanity of men like Larry David.

None of the stories I saw said anything if they’d used previously bald mice as guinea pigs -- and I can only begin to guess how that designation rates on the rodent status ladder.

I know I’ve never seen a bald mouse or even one with a cheap toupee.

Or have I?

Mickey Mouse makes Homer Simpson look like a hippie. In fact, when you apply a critical eye, Mickey not only looks bald but also appears to be a mouse of African-American descent, almost like Al Roker just not as cheerful.

News like this never used to interest me.

Then one day a friend showed me a picture of a balding middle-aged stranger with his arm around my daughter.

Instantly alarmed, I demanded to know the degenerate’s identity.

Then he told me the degenerate was I and my alarm spiked. The picture had been taken from behind. No one had told me I’d been succumbing to male pattern baldness.

This was strange because my daughters are reliable chroniclers of my many flaws. I can only guess the only reason they didn’t gleefully point out I am going bald is because they’re still too short to see the top of my head.

But now baldness is -- and there’s no other way to put it -- always on my mind.

The awareness led to an entrepreneurial idea recently when I thought about selling ad space on my bald spot.

Understand, I hadn’t thought of doing it because I’m vain. I’d thought of doing it because I’m polite. I have a great empathy toward people who are easily bored.

I was at a book signing a few weeks ago and I figured people were getting bored staring at the top of my head for the two or so minutes it takes me to sign a book.

I put a lot of heart and, yes, color into my book signings so it takes a while. In fact, it takes me just a little less time to sign a book than it takes guys like John Grisham and Stephen King to write ones.

I think if I had GEICO tattooed on my bald spot it would give people something to muse over while they were waiting. To be really colorful, I could have them spend the time contributing little drawings of their own.

As it is, they have nothing better to do than just sort of stare there the way people do when they’re waiting for a malfunctioning TV set to resume the broadcast.

The new treatment involves culturing altered human cells within tissue from the circumcised foreskins of newborns -- and talk about your waste not/want not -- and grafting the resulting structures on the backs of mice.

Call it “Foreskins for Fiveheads!”

Really, the whole process seems deviant enough to have even old Doc Frankenstein puzzling over the ethics.

I wonder about the inevitable glitches. Like what if the new hairs prove resistant to barbering and grow like kudzu or other invasive weeds?

Me, I prefer more organic solutions.

I’ve always envisioned there’d one day be vast follicle farms where bald men can go to harvest some hairs.

Imagine for a moment how beautiful it would look to see lush fields of auburn, blonde, chestnut and jet black, some curly, some straight, all waving in the wind. On weekends you’d see dozens of bald heads joyfully frolicking through the fields like deer through corn.

I imagine the transferral process wound require men spread a little manure on their bald scalps to encourage natural growth.

Or maybe not.

Maybe researchers will conclude many men like me have all the noggin manure we’ll ever need.

Related . . .