Friday, September 30, 2016

Tweet come-back month: September's best

I think the reason many writers disparage twitter is because they’re not that good at it. They’re incapable of the little bursts of wit it requires to reliably compose something funny or insightful. Maybe twitter isn’t for people who aspire to compose soaring literature; maybe it’s for people who aspire to compose fortune cookie sayings. Either way, I enjoy it and was bummed the last three months when my @8days2Amish twitter mojo seemed to have vanished.

So I’m happy to report the mojo is back. I had a bunch of good ones this month. I seem to have found my groove again. See if you agree — and have a magnificent weekend!

• Do brain-eating amoeba tell picky children it tastes just like chicken?

• As long as there are bugs/heat/noise, eating outside will always be overrated. In fact, outside is the reason years ago man invented inside.

• My soul aches for those who live under tyranny, but I feel even worse for those who reside in places so remote they can't get decent pizza.

• Because of the blatantly exclusionary composition of the mythical unit, I propose we henceforth spell harem, "herum."

• I’d like to see a movie about 13 WWII badasses freed from prison to bake cookies. It'll be "The Dirty Baker's Dozen.”

• I’d like to see a rock game show with Mick & Bruce that asks, "Who can say, 'Are you ready to rock?'" in most foreign languages. 

• I’m such a reflexive pacifist the only thing I instinctively kill is time.

• I’m petitioning to get the town name changed to Thebutt because it'd be funny to hear newscasters say, "A man was shot in TheButt.”

• ”Last Baby Boomer" earns another 5/5 star review. So if you had me in your Rotisserie Author League you owe me a beer. 

• The idea of car pooling the kids to swim practice strikes me as redundant, but maybe I'm just too literal.

• Confidence is being 76, looking like this — Roger Ailes — and thinking, yeah, women sleep with me because I’m just so damn sexy.

• It’s because of my years at Ohio University I drink responsibly whenever I should & irresponsibly whenever I can.

• I’m fearful I'm no longer as cool as I used to be. Should I consider hip surgery?

• People who worry excessively that their spell checkers are broken are typochondriacs.

• Try on this day to realize how much more beneficial it'll be to whenever you fixate on your smartphone to instead fixate on a loved one.

• People who stare at people who stand in lines are Wait Watchers.

• I’m so convinced I'll 1 day die of random gunfire I'm thinking of getting a bullseye chest tattoo just to give the morgue folks a good story.

• I have always resisted vasectomy on grounds every male may one day die & it'll be up to me to repopulate planet. Am I optimist or pessimist?

• I wonder if fruit flies ever tire of their holier-than-thou diet one day just say, "Screw it. Tonight I'm having cheeseburger!”

• Does the CIA consider it a red flag when countries choose to fly red flags?

• Anyone know if the police have ever charged The Energizer Bunny with battery?

• I hear in my mind every single time I pass through sets of sliding glass doors the theme from "Get Smart." It buoys me.

• Huge faux pas with a friend I hadn't seen in years. Asked when the baby was due. So embarrassing. Not sure Burt'll ever speak to me again.

• I wonder if attending church is mandatory in heaven or if that's considered sort of redundant.

• Dressmakers who grow their own cotton sew what they reap.

• Scientists declare earth is 4.54 billion years old. My question: when is it's birthday? Earth Day?

• I wish Bishop Desmond Tutu had a son named Bishop Desmond Tutu so Bishop Desmond Tutu could be called Bishop Desmond TuTu II.

• The easy way isn’t always the right way, but it’s always easy and that’s alright with me.

• The song "Still Crazy After All These Years" would have way more musical validity if it'd been written by Ozzy Osbourne.

• Daughters incredulous that there's a man whose name is pronounced Dick BUTTkiss and no one's ever made fun of him.

• I’ll bet there are many days each week when Dick Cheney wakes up and is stunned to realize he's no longer President of the United States.

• I wonder if pot-bellied pigs feel no incentive to endure meaningful exercise.

• Because I'm reluctant to do anything that might contribute to drastic climate change, I'll no longer sign off notes with warm regards.

• As a believer in American equality, I don't miss Jim Crow; as a believer in American folk music, I do miss Jim Croce.

• I’m so non-violent I refuse to tell jokes that include punchlines.

• The idea of a stairway to heaven is ingrained in our collective psyche, but if there isn't an escalator, geez, my Mom ain't gonna make it.

• Your life will be more fun if you don't judge new friends on their virtues, but instead on their potential compatibility as cellmates.

• Bruce Springsteen has money, adulation and legacy. Yet he still suffers from depression. Only thing I can figure is he's never seen The Muppets.

• If Tom Petty was starting out today guaranteed some record exec would insist he change his name to Tom Magnanimous.

• No wonder the world is such a mess. The place is bi-polar to the core.

• Perhaps the word "plans" is an acronym standing for "Purposeful Lists Amounting to Nothing Special.”

• Daughter, 10, expressed frustration our canine can't yet be considered a watch dog. Told her to give it time.

• The fact is repugnant to animal preservationists, but at one time someone some where said: "Try this. It's delicious! It's panda!”

• All global warming solutions are earth-centric. I propose we cool the sun. Can someone calculate just how much ice we're gonna need? 

• I find it a medical irony anytime doctors diagnose bald men with hairline fractures.

• I wonder how often Hubble-telescope monitoring astronomers catch themselves humming, "I can see for miles and miles and miles …" #TheWho

Related …

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Yukkin' it up over laugh track history (from '15)

I plan to spend tomorrow commemorating the 2003 death of Charles Douglass by laughing my merry ass off.

I’ll chortle, giggle, titter, guffaw, hoot, howl, cackle and generally spend the day behaving like I’m being tickled by invisible feathers. 

Douglass died 12 years ago tomorrow at the age of 93. If his funeral was a sad one, I think Douglass would have disapproved. His funeral above all others should have been a laugh riot.

Douglass was the father of the modern laugh track.

From the late 1950s through well into the ‘80s, Douglass was responsible for  mechanically producing nearly all the laughter for America’s golden age sitcoms. TV Guide profiled him and said in 1966 he’d built a monopolistic empire on canned laughs.

Douglass’s recorded laughs are the uncredited co-stars of “Bewitched,” “The Munsters,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Lucy,” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

It was very expensive, but apparently less costly than producing anything that was genuinely funny on its own.

“Cheers was filmed before a live studio audience.”

Except when it wasn’t.

Every episode of  “Cheers,” one of my all-time favorites, kicked off with those words, a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that verified the laughs you were about to hear were authentic.

The problem is Douglass’s tickling fingerprints are all over “Cheers,” too. Same goes for “Frazier,” “Barney Miller,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Taxi,” and a host of others.

Many of the supposedly “taped live” shows were artificially sweetened by what was known in Hollywood as Douglass’s “mysterious laff box.”

Want to hear something funny?

The laughs over the years are all the same. Many of the laughs you still hear on today’s shows were harvested from shows from decades ago and simply replayed.

So a truly discerning listener could conceivably go back and detect the same precise laugh from the same man or woman who laughed one time at a show that today is 40-years old.

The humor changes. The laughs do not.

I became hyper-sensitive to laugh tracks, I guess, when I started being bludgeoned by the ones Disney Channel uses on shows designed to appeal to girls like our young daughters.

Each punchline produced the uproarious kind of laughter you’d hear down at the old Bada Bing after Tony Soprano told a knock-knock joke.

The only ones not laughing were the intended target audience right there in the room.

The blatant manipulation was infuriating. They were watching something because they thought it was funny even when they reflexively understood what they were watching wasn’t funny at all.

As a father, it was upsetting. It was upsetting, too, as a hockey fan because I wanted to throw their asses the hell out of the room so I could watch the Penguin game.

But, no, they kept staring at the mysterious laff box like it was bestowing the gift of spontaneous hilarity.

Does the laugh track make something funny even when it is not?

“Seinfeld,” maybe the funniest show ever, uses a heavy, but deft laugh track. 

Would it be as funny without? I think so.

“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” its sort of alter-ego uses none and it’s every bit as funny.

Would this blog be funnier if I had a chorus of gigglers to prompt you where you’re supposed to chuckle?

Maybe it’d be worth a try.

I guess I feel the same way about laugh tracks as Milton Berle did. He was at first reportedly miffed his humor needed any sweetening. He didn’t become a believer until one of his favorite jokes failed to click with the actual audience.

“Well, as long as we’re here doing this, that joke didn’t get the response we wanted,” Berle said, directing laughter be added. First some, then more and then until finally his ego was satisfied.

“See,” he said, “I told you it was funny.”

Related . . .

Monday, September 26, 2016

RIP Arnold Palmer: a lucky local says goodbye

Half the fun of watching Arnold Palmer golf was watching him extricate himself from impossible situations.

I don’t think he can club his way out of this one.

Then again he’s only been dead one day.

I’m touched by the number of people who’ve reached out to me over the death of a man I was privileged to call a friend.

They say it’s going to be alright, that time heals all wounds and that he’s gone on to a better place.

I say any place Arnold Palmer goes is automatically better.

I imagine years from now newcomers getting heaven orientation tours and hearing winged old-timers say, “Yeah, well, it’s always been heaven, but it just got so much better when Arnie got here.”

People ask how I’m doing.

I tell them I’m feeling about one part heartbreak; three parts euphoria — roughly the same proportions one would find in a refreshing Arnold Palmer tea.

Heartbreak because I’ll never again be able to banter with one of the most legendary and beloved men America’s ever produced; euphoria because, by God, I once did.

It didn’t start out that way, not back when I treated him with all due reverence.

I treated him the way you’re hearing him being treated in many of today’s loftiest eulogies. I’d preface my questions with accolades about his accomplishments, his humanitarian endeavors, his historical significance, etc.

In short, I’d blow sweet smoke up his ass.

That’s not my description. It was his.

After we’d become friends — I interviewed him more than 100 times from 2004 through August 16 — I sat down in his office and began the interview by saying how much I looked forward to our breezy exchanges. 

His exact words: “And I can’t tell you how much I look forward to you coming in here to blow so much sweet smoke up my ass!”

I kept waiting for the day he’d ask me to pull his finger.

Understand, this is the same guy who the week before had been at the Bush White House dining with Queen Elizabeth.

Talk about having the common touch.

Arnold Palmer, the drink, is one part lemonade; three parts unsweetened ice tea.

Arnold Palmer, the person? It was like he was one part champagne; three parts beer.

My assignment during most of my hour-long interviews was to get him to answer questions dictated by upcoming content of the next Kingdom Magazine (Kingdom is his luxury boutique magazine about all things posh and Palmer).

But my goal was always to say two or three things that would get him to throw his head back in wild laughter.

I remember one autumn interview that started late because he’d just come back from having a tooth yanked. Did he want to reschedule?

Hell, no.

First question: “It’s my understanding you’ll soon be departing Latrobe, where we’re about to endure four months of bitter weather, for sunny Orlando. My question is … Will you take me with you?

He roared with laughter.

Then he said no.

I don’t envy the men and women who are right now tasked with composing a proper obituary for a man so monumental.

Do you start that he was a great golfer who transformed sports? Or that he from scratch built a business empire Forbes estimates at $700 million?

Or do you start with the philanthropy? All the scholarships, the charity initiatives and the two renown hospitals that bear his name?

Certainly, you must include that he in 1976 set an aviation record for zooming around the globe in just 56 hours.

I wondered in 2013 why he agreed to so publicly endorse my “Use All The Crayons!” book. Then it dawned on me. I had it backwards.

My book is a de facto endorsement of his entire life.

My favorite quote about Palmer comes not from a golfer or president, but from an actor whom he barely knew. It was Kirk Douglas who in 1970 said, “No one — not Frank Sinatra, not John Wayne or Ronald Reagan — has more charisma than Arnold Palmer.”

John Paul Newport of the Wall Street Journal wrote on Palmer’s 80th birthday, “Lasting popularity of Palmer’s magnitude simply cannot be explained.”

The last question I asked him was August 16 (it may have been his last formal interview). The question: “Do you think there’ll be golf in heaven?”

Inconceivably, editors cut it from the story, hedging their bets, I guess, that Keith Richards wasn’t going to be the only one who’s going to live forever.

Palmer said: “Oh, I think there will be a lot of golf in heaven. I’ll bet Nelson and Hogan are up there having a match right now. I know a lot of guys who’ve been good golfers who are looking forward to resuming great matches with friends and family just like they did here on earth. I think the courses will be a lot like the ones here. But the hazards will include clouds that get in the way of approach shots. I’m sure it’ll be great.”

Had I known then it would be the last time I’d ever see him, I’d have dropped my pencil and thrown my arms around his once-robust, now-tottering frame and told him how much I loved him.

I’d have tried to do it in a way that would have convinced him I wasn’t just blowing sweet smoke up his ass. 

Who’s to say if there is golf in heaven?

All I know is heaven just got way more heavenly now that Arnold Palmer’s calling heaven home.

Related …

Sunday, September 25, 2016

RRS: Dining discounts for device-free families

A growing number of restaurants are giving 5 percent discounts to families who agree to put the damn devices down and engage loved ones during vital meal time.

Their motto: “Disconnect phones, reconnect families.”

I think it’s a great idea. I read about on my phone last week while I was ignoring my family at a local restaurant.

I think it would be fun to exasperate a waiter or waitress by insisting I was entitled to the discount anyway because, indeed, even though I’d been on my phone my calls dealt with uniformly grave matters.

Then I’d let the server overhear me talking about my blog.

Of course the best thing to do would be to as your order was being taken would be to pretend to answer your phone and shout, “No! No! No! Make the incision behind the left ear! The left ear!”

Then set the phone down and say, “And I’ll have the lasagna.”

I’m always fascinated by the increasingly common site of the family unit sitting at the restaurant and appearing as socially distant from one another as the planets of the solar system.

When did it all go so wrong? What if you need the salt? Text the request?

What about if you need a genetic match for a new kidney? I guess you could try Craig’s List, but there are merits to asking a sibling.

And, most pressing, could that one day be me and mine?

See, I’ve been at that table as both son and father. I understand how family dynamics can pulverize efforts to even appear civil in public. We had a night out a couple of weeks ago that was brutal.

The sisters were warring. Val was angry. The tension was palpable.

Heck, I was the only one who managed to appear serene and the only reason for that was because I was the only one who’d had the good sense to stop at the bar and get a good snootful before our table was called.

It happens. I mean, we can’t all be as happy as Jon & Kate Gosselin. 

The difference these days is disgruntled family members can e-scape to places that make them feel loved and important.

Places full of total strangers using fictitious names!

I admit the only time Val and I halt our ceaseless gazing at our electronic devices is to admonish our children to halt their ceaseless gazing at their electronic devices.

But she and I would never dream of using our phones in any dining situation. Like so many parents, we’re trying to set a good example. It seems to be understood by the 14 year old. She’s yet to push back on the policy.

How that’ll work with Lucy, 8, remains to be seen. After all, she’s the one who when we tell her she can’t have dessert reacts like young Damien Thorn does in “The Omen” when his parents try to take him to church.

What do these people — children and parents — have in common?

The only thing I can figure is a desire to feel important, to feel needed.

It’s confounding. 

Our lives become appreciably more balanced and sane the instant we realize our jobs aren’t nearly as important as we think they are.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say.

I haven’t taken what I consider a really important phone call since the mechanic called and said, sorry, my car wouldn’t be ready ’til 2 p.m. and I had a 1 p.m. tee time and my clubs were in the trunk.

So I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be truly important.

Still, I’ll never understand how so many people allow the need to appear important usurp the need to be loved.

Because each and every one of us has the opportunity to be truly important in ways that matter most.

Just don’t be disappointed if it’s only to the person you’re asking to pass you the salt.

Related . . .